IN action against the enemies of his country, how courageous is the British seaman; and when his foe has yielded to superior valour, compassion and generosity possess his noble heart. In peace, and deprived of the element which habit had rendered most natural to him, he considers the shore alone fit for recreation and idleness. His mind inactive, he oft becomes sullen and discontented; and having no natural enemy to combat, he quarrels with, and falls upon, his own messmate. In the present unfortunate case, both the murder and the murdered, had been seamen in the British navy, and both were pensioners in Greenwich Hospital.
Lawrence Innis was tried at Maidstone Lent assizes, 1803, for the wilful murder of John Price. John Miller, a witness for the prosecution, deposed, that he was a Greenwich pensioner, and his berth was in the Clarence Ward: his cabin was next to that in which the deceased slept. On Tuesday night, the 20th of January, just as he was in bed, he heard the prisoner and the deceased come up the gallery together; they were talking; the deceased said to the prisoner, "Go to bed, and then there will be no more on't." The prisoner replied, "I won't." The prisoner then went away to the fire-place in the hall, but soon returned to the cabin-door of the deceased, and cried out, "Price! Price! Jack! Jack1 to which the deceased did not answer. The prisoner then went away, but shortly after returned a second time, and called out as before. The deceased then answered him, and said to the prisoner, "You will prepare to appear before the captain of the month to-morrow; I have you upon the complaint, for striking me to-day at the Tyger's Head, in London-street." To this the prisoner replied, "Then you have done me, have you? but d-n you, I'll do you in return." The prisoner accompanied these words by a blow, which knocked the deceased down. The deceased called out. "Murder!" upon which the witness jumped out of bed, and the prisoner was secured; and the next morning he was carried before the committee, and mulcted two months' tobacco money for his ill-behaviour. This was the morning preceding the night of the murder. As he came out of the committee-room, he said to the witness, "Miller, you have borne false witness against me, but I hope to God I shall live to seek revenge."
On the same evening he did not see the prisoner till eleven o'clock; he then saw both Price and Innis go to their cabins. After he had been in bed a short time, he heard the prisoner come out of his cabin, and go to the cabin of the deceased. From that he went to the fire-place in the hall as fast as he could go. He returned a second time to Price's cabin. He stayed a second or two, and then again went to the fire place, and once more returned to Price's cabin. In a little time he heard him shut the door softly, and thought no more of it till about a quarter of an hour afterwards, Bryan came to him, and told him for God's sake to get up, as the boatswain, Price, was murdered.
John Hawford, another pensioner, corroborated the above account.
James Bryan gave evidence as follows:—"I lay in the same cabin with the deceased; we were talking together not ten minutes before he was murdered. The prisoner's cabin was nearly opposite to ours. I heard the prisoner open our door softly, and he looked in; we appeared both asleep. As soon as he looked in, he went away towards the hall fire-place. He had on a great coat and two night-caps. He came back, and when he came in our cabin, he looked at me attentively. He again went away, and returned with the poker. He turned round, and gave me another attentive look, and immediately after struck Price four or six heavy blows on the head. At the first blow his head crashed, but I don't know whether the others hit him. As soon as he had done it, he again turned and looked at me, but I lay still as though asleep. He then went out, and hauled the door softly after him, but did not lock it. As soon as he was gone, I got up and gave the alarm, and the prisoner was secured."
James Curran, another pensioner, described the state in which he found the deceased.
The prisoner's defence was, "that the witnesses were in a conspiracy against him;" but the jury instantly found him guilty. He was executed, and his body dissected in the Hospital.