GEORGE ROACH, ROBERT ELLIOT AND JONAS PARKER
Who were convicted, the first two of stealing, and the other of receiving Part of a Lead Coffin from Aldermanbury Church, in 1778
Of all descriptions of robbery, that of entering the Temple dedicated to the Almighty for the commission of crimes is surely the most heinous. This leads us, perhaps vainly, to question the equal dispensation of justice. A gang of villains, breaking into the dwelling-house of a mortal, and stealing thereout one quarter of the value of this sacrilegious theft, would have been hanged; but the robbers of a vault within the sacred pile, dedicated to God alone, were sentenced to merely three years' labour, on the Thames. [Note: The term labour was but a name, for no one will deny but that every well-disposed labourer, at his liberty, striving to maintain his family, laboured more in one day, than the convicts on the Thames did in three.] These men were indicted at the Old Bailey in April, 1778, the two former for stealing a leaden coffin, of three hundred pounds weight, value 5l. the property of William Thornton Aston, Esquire, and Parker was indicted for receiving fifty pounds weight of the lead, value 5s. knowing the same to have been stolen. The second count or part in the indictment laid the lead to be the property of the parishioners of Aldermanbury, and stolen by Roach and Elliot; and the third count charged Jonas Parker with receiving it, being the property of the parishioners of Aldermanbury, well knowing it to have been stolen.
William Thornton Aston, Esq. deposed, that, on the first of January preceding, his brother was interred in a leaden coffin, in the church of Aldermanbury; that the coffin was stolen out of the church, and was missed on the seventh of March.
James Gould, who had been admitted an evidence, deposed, that Roach, Elliot, and himself, were journeymen carpenters, working under Mr. Augurs, in the repair the church. He said that on Friday the 6th of March, he and Roach went into the vault, and unscrewed all the screws of Mr. Thornton's coffin except two, after which they returned to the work; and that, afterwards, themselves and Elliot agreed to work again on the coffin. On the Saturday morning they went to the church, and about five o'clock a watchman followed them in, and desired a board to be planed, which was done by Gould. The accomplices then loosened the other screws, and turned the coffin's bottom upwards, taking off the outside coffin, and leaving only the shell. They then cut the leaden coffin, in pieces; and, replacing the other coffin on the shell, screwed it down again. These transactions lasted them till near eight in the morning, when they took the pieces of the coffin, and having concealed them under the children's gallery, they conferred on selling what they had stolen; when Elliot mentioned Parker, in Grubb street, as a likely purchaser. The lead being in two pieces, Gould put one of them in a bag, and took it away, and the other was put in a basket, and carried by one of the accomplices. When they got to London-wall, Elliot beckoned Gould, and they went to a shop, where they offered the lead to sale, to a person who refused to be the purchaser. They then went to Parker's, who weighed the lead, without asking them any questions: said it was forty-two pounds, and paid them three shillings and sixpence for it, being at the rate of a penny a pound. [Note: This was not one-third of the real value of the lead. Receivers of stolen goods, as well as securing half the value to themselves, always count short of weight and measure, of the articles they purchase.]
When they were going away with the empty bag, Mr. Augur's apprentice came in and seized on Gould, desiring Parker, who was a constable, to assist in conveying him and Elliot to Mr. Augur's. Parker said, "You had better go to your master, and try to make the matter up." They went, and were all charged with the felony. Parker said, "Give them a trevalle for it." Gould, being asked what he understood by that term, said he did not know exactly what it meant; but supposed it was a hint to attempt making their escape; on which they made a run for it (to use his own words), and Parker likewise ran away; but they were stopped and taken into custody, before they had got to any considerable distance.
John Brotherous, apprentice to Mr. Augurs, confirmed so much of the former testimony as related to himself. He said, that passing by London-wall about eight in the morning, he saw Roach coming down Wood-street, with a basket on his back; and that Roach seeing him, crossed over the street. Brotherous demanded what he had with him: he said his tools, and turned round, as if to prevent his looking in his basket; but he did look in, and saw there was lead; on which he seized Roach, and sent for a constable to take him into custody. This was the occasion of his going to the house of Parker, whom he knew to be a constable. On his arrival at Parker's, he met with Gould and Elliot coming out of the house with empty sacks; on which he supposed they had sold something there. He charged Parker with the prisoners; but he said, "You had better go to your master quietly, and make the affair up." Brotherous told his master what had passed; and he caused all the prisoners to be apprehended, who endeavoured to make their escape as the proper officer was conveying them to the Compter
Mr. Reynolds, an undertaker, deposed, that he buried Mr. Thornton in a leaden coffin; that he surveyed the vault on the 7th of March, when the coffin was missing: that he compared the pieces that were found at Parker's with the rest of the coffin, that was found under the gallery of the church; and when all were beaten together into the same form, they made out the shape and quantity of Mr.Thornton's coffin; the plate, with Mr. Thornton's name on it, was found in Roach's chest: the lead, to the, weight of fifty-two pounds, was found under the counter in Parker's shop; and this deponent added that it was a sort of lead worked in a fashion peculiar to coffins, and that people in the trade knew very well that it was coffin lead.
Isaac Mather deposed, that old lead was worth about thirteen shillings and sixpence the hundred weight, or three-halfpence the pound.
By way of defence, Roach said, that Gould put the lead into his basket, but that he knew nothing of its being stolen. Elliot likewise denied all knowledge of the stealing of the lead, and said he never received any money, or other thing on account thereof, but was in Parker's shop buying a hinge for his own use; but was astonished when he saw Gould there, and still more at his master's apprentice giving charge of him. Parker's plea of defence was, that the evidence came into his shop to sell some lead, which he did not know was stolen; that when he had weighed, and was paying for it, Mr. Augur's apprentice entered, and gave him charge of the prisoners; and that, when at the master's house, he charged him likewise; but that he immediately mentioned where the two pieces were which he had bought; in consequence of which they were found. All the prisoners called persons who gave them good characters: but the jury, having fully considered the nature of the evidence, gave a verdict, "That they were guilty:" in consequence of which, at the close of the sessions, Roach and Elliot were sentenced to labour three years on the Thames, and Parker to be imprisoned for a like term of time.