A Poor Boy, convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing, and presented with a Deluge of Shillings
THE miserable subject of the present case, an emaciated lad of about fourteen years of age, appeared at the bar at the Old Bailey. He was indicted for stealing a jacket, being almost naked, valued at fourteen shillings. The evidence against him was too clear.
Being asked what he had to say in his defence, he told an artless, affecting tale : that he came from the United States of America, and was a cabin-boy in a merchant vessel from that country, which arrived six months before, but returned without him; that he found himself destitute and without a penny; and that cold and hunger alone had compelled him to steal clothes and food.
One of the jury asked him if had eaten anything that day, to which he answered : " No, sir; nor a bit the day before." He then burst into tears, which produced such an effect that the sheriff gave him some silver, and the jury, before they gave their verdict, each handed him a shilling. They then asked whether such misery and hunger could possibly plead his excuse in a court of justice. The learned judge said he sympathised with the jury, but was bound to inform them that no distress whatever could, in the eye of the law, excuse the prisoner's offence. The jury, bound by their oaths to do strict justice between their country and the prisoner, reluctantly found him guilty.
The judge then ordered that the boy should be taken care of, until an opportunity offered to find him a proper master, and observed that he would then procure his pardon. While this child of poverty and wretchedness was withdrawing, shillings, from all parts of the court and gallery, were thrown to him, which amounted to a sum sufficient to clothe and nourish him.