Illustration: Thurtell, when nearly overpowered, cutting Weare's throat.
For cold-blooded villainy in its conception, its planning, and its perpetration, this murder must be allowed to stand unparalleled. The sensation which it created throughout the country was such, as was probably never exceeded in any previous case.
John Thurtell, the principal actor in the affair, was the son of a respectable and worthy man, Alderman Thurtell of Norwich, who twice filled the office of mayor of that city. Early in life he went to sea, and on his return obtained a lieutenant's commission in the German Legion, then serving in Portugal. He also served in Spain, and was at the storming of St. Sebastian. In 1821 he was residing at Norwich as a bombasin manufacturer, and in that year, he came to London to receive 400l. for goods which he had sold to a respectable house, and which, on his return, he was to pay among his creditors. Instead of doing so, however, he fabricated a story that, as he was walking along a lonely spot, near Norwich, he was stopped by footpads, and robbed of it; but his creditors did not hesitate to tell him that he had invented this tale for the purpose of defrauding them; and, to avoid their importunities, he set off for London, in company with a girl, with whom he had lived for some time. Here he commenced business, in conjunction with his brother Thomas, but soon failed. On the 26th of January, 1823, their premises in Watling-street were burnt down, and very strong suspicions were entertained that the fire was wilful, and that the object of the Thurtells was to defraud the insurance-office.
About two years before this event, by which the brothers were thrown out of the immediate means of subsistence, John Thurtell had become a frequenter of a public-house in Bow-street, called the Brown Bear, which has since been removed, but which was then well known, as the resort of sporting men, and as a house much frequented by persons addicted to gaming. There was a room at the back of the premises, where high play was frequently countenanced among the customers, and where Thurtell, almost on his first introduction to the society, lost 300l. at blind hookey in the course of a very short time. Mad at his loss, he appears to have almost formed a resolution to quit a house for ever, where he firmly believed that unfair play was resorted to; but at the persuasion of his new friends, he became reconciled, and seemed to enter into the sporting circles, with somewhat of a determination to endeavour, by any means, to retrieve his own losses, and to profit by the inexperience and indiscretion of any, who might come in his way. He was doomed to be again disappointed, however, and to be again taught a somewhat severe lesson. The fights between Hickman, the Gasman, and Oliver, and between Jack Randall, and Martin "the master of the Rolls," were at this time on the tapis, and Hickman and Martin were in training at Wade's Mill, Herts. Thurtell was too good a flat to be given up yet, and on his exhibiting some anxiety to become acquainted with the men, he was conducted to them and introduced to them; the object being to deprive him of any little money, which he might still possess. Weare, who was his subsequent victim, was no less a frequenter of the Brown Bear, and no less an admirer of all the sports of the ring, and of the field; and having by a pretty long acquaintance with the "flash" world obtained a good knowledge of its members, and of its habits and proceedings, he was selected as the "plant," to be put upon the pigeon, who was to be plucked; or in other words, he was to be introduced to Thurtell as a new hand, and by pretending little acquaintance with the ways of the sporting world, was to draw him out, and then, bringing his real knowledge of all the habits of playmen into operation, was to fleece him of all he possessed. The plan being agreed upon was soon carried out, and another 300l. being eventually won from Thurtell, he swore vengeance against those who, he now clearly found, had conspired to rob him. They saw, however, that it was useless to proceed further against their dupe with any chance of getting anything from him, and in order to conciliate him, they determined to let him into a secret, which cost them nothing, and by which he might be able to secure some return for the losses, which he had sustained, by their instrumentality. He was therefore informed of a "cross," which was about to take place, that is, an unfair fight, which was to be fought, and by introducing him among their acquaintance, they procured for him a bet, by which he secured a sum of 600l. Thus successful, no effort could induce him to quit a circle, for which he appeared to have formed a strong partiality; and he soon became known as one of a gang of the most unprincipled and successful gamblers. In his rounds, he frequently met Mr. Weare, and it appears that that gentleman had originally possessed a very considerable property, but, unfortunately, from his being a dupe, had himself become a gambler. It was not until Thurtell had been for some time acquainted with this person, however, as will be seen by the evidence, that the plan was laid for his murder; and the inducement for the commission of this diabolical offence is now well known to have been a "private bank," which Mr. Weare carried about him, in a pocket in an under waistcoat, and to which he had been frequently seen to convey money, when any "chance" turned up in his favour; and from which he had also been seen to take the necessary funds for carrying on any game, when he saw the likelihood of winning by the hazard of a large stake.
The circumstances immediately attending the murder are so fully and so well detailed in the opening speech of Mr. Gurney, (now Mr. Baron Gurney,) who was employed to conduct the prosecution, on the trial, which took place at Hertford, on the 6th January 1824, that it is almost unnecessary to do more than to give it at length.
The prisoners, who stood indicted, were John Thurtell and Joseph Hunt. The former has been already described; the latter was at that time well known as a public singer, and was somewhat celebrated for the talent which he possessed.
Mr. Gurney, in opening the case to the jury, stated that the deceased, Mr. William Weare, was known to be addicted to play, and to be in the habit of frequenting gaming-houses, and that the prisoner, Thurtell, was acquainted with him, and, as it was said, had been wronged by him, in respect to some play, in which they had been engaged, and had been deprived by him of a large sum of money. The prisoner Hunt, was also known to Mr. Weare, but was not in habits of friendship or intimacy with him. He would next describe a person, whom he should have to call in evidence against the prisoners. He alluded to Probert, who was a party to the murder, after its commission, although it did not appear that he had any hand in its actual perpetration. He was engaged in trade as a spirit-dealer, and he rented a cottage in a secluded spot, called Gill's Hill Lane, situated about three miles from Elstree. He was himself usually engaged in London, in his business, during the day, and his wife lived at the cottage, which was a small one, and was fully occupied by his wife, her sister, (Miss Noyes,) some children of Thurtell's brother, Thomas, a maid-servant, and a boy. The vicinity of this cottage was selected by the prisoners as a fit spot for the perpetration of the murder, which had been already determined upon; and the mode of the commission of which, he should now proceed to describe. Thurtell and the deceased met at a billiard-room, kept by one Rexworthy, on the evening of Thursday, the 23rd of October, and being joined there by Hunt, Mr. Weare was invited by Thurtell to go to Probert's cottage, for the purpose of enjoying some shooting in the neighbourhood, for two or three days. He accepted the invitation, and the following day was fixed for him to meet Thurtell, who promised to drive him down to the place. On the forenoon of the Friday, the deceased called at Rexworthy's, saying, that he was going out shooting with Thurtell, and at about three o'clock he went home, to the chambers, which he occupied in Lyon's Inn, and having partaken of a chop dinner, he packed up some clothes in a green carpet bag, and the laundress having called a coach, he went away in it, carrying with him the carpet bag, a double-barrelled gun, in a case, together with a back-gammon board, containing dice, &c. He left his chambers in this manner before four o'clock, and drove first to Charing Cross, and afterwards to Maddox-street, Hanover square; thence he proceeded to the New Road, where he got out of the coach, but returned after some time, accompanied by another person, and took his things away. At this time, Thomas and John Thurtell had need of temporary concealment, owing to their inability to provide the bail requisite to meet a charge of misdemeanour; and Probert had procured for them a retreat at Tetsall's, at the sign of the Coach and Horses, in Conduit-street, where they remained for two or three weeks previous to the murder. On the morning of Friday, the 24th of October, two men, answering in every respect to the description of John Thurtell and Hunt, went to a pawnbroker's in Mary-le-bone, and purchased a pair of pocket-pistols. In the middle of the same day Hunt hired a gig, and afterwards a horse, under the pretence of going to Dartford, in Kent: and he inquired at the stables where he could purchase a sack and a rope, and was directed to a place over Westminster Bridge, which, he was told, was on his road into Kent. Somewhere, however, it would be found that he did procure a sack and cord; and, on the same afternoon, he met at Tetsall's Probert, the two Thurtells, and Noyes. Some conversation took place at the time between the parties, and Hunt was heard to ask Probert if he, "would be in it,"-- meaning what they (Hunt and John Thurtell) were about. Thurtell drove off from Tetsall's between four and five o'clock, to take up a friend, as he said to Probert, "to be killed as he travelled with him:" and he requested Probert to bring down Hunt in his own gig. In the course of that evening the prisoner, Thurtell, was seen in a gig, with a horse of an iron-grey colour, with a white face and white legs. He was first seen by a patrol, near Edgeware; beyond that part of the road he was seen by the landlord of a public-house; but from that time, until his arrival at Probert's cottage, on the same night, there was no direct evidence to trace him. Probert, according to Thurtell's request, drove Hunt down in his gig, and, having a better horse, on the road they overtook Thurtell and Weare, in the gig, and passed them without notice. They stopped afterwards at a public-house on the road, to drink grog, where they believed Thurtell must have passed them unperceived. Probert afterwards drove Hunt until they reached Phillimore Lodge, where he (Hunt) got out, as he said, by Thurtell's desire to wait for him. Probert from thence drove alone to Gill's Hill cottage, in the lane near which he met Thurtell on foot, and alone. Thurtell inquired -- Where was Hunt, had he been left behind? and added, that he had done the business without his assistance, and had killed his man. At his desire, Probert then returned to bring Hunt to the spot, and went to Hunt for that purpose. When they met, he told Hunt what had happened. "Why, it was to be done here!" said Hunt, (pointing to a spot nearer Phillimore Lodge,) admitting his privity, and that he had got out to assist in the commission of the deed. When Thurtell rebuked Hunt for his absence, "Why," said the latter, "you had the tools." "They were no good," replied Thurtell, "the pistols were no better than pop-guns: I fired at his cheek, and it glanced off". He then proceeded to detail to them the mode, in which he had committed the murder. He said that when he fired, Weare jumped out of the gig, cried for mercy, and offered to give up his money; but that he had pursued him up the lane, and finding the pistol useless, had knocked him down; that they then struggled together, and he tried to cut his throat with a pen-knife; but that eventually he had killed him, by driving the barrel of the pistol into his forehead, and then turning it in his brains. Mr. Gurney then continued to state, that a few minutes before the time at which the murder must have been committed, a gig was heard to pass Probert's cottage at a rapid pace, and the servant boy, who was in momentary expectation of his master's return, imagined that it was he. He found, however, that he did not arrive at the cottage, and he proceeded about the work on which he was before engaged. In about five minutes after this, some persons who were near the road distinctly heard the report of a gun or pistol, and then voices, as if in contention. Groans were next distinguished; but they became fainter and fainter, and at length they altogether died away. The spot from which these noises proceeded, was Gill's Hill Lane, near the cottage of Probert. At about nine o'clock Thurtell arrived at the cottage, and although he had started from town accompanied by a friend, he now was alone; but he had with him the double-barrelled gun, the carpet bag, and the backgammon board, which Mr. Weare had taken with him from his chambers. He gave his horse to the boy, and it had the appearance of having been sweated; but it was now cool, and it appeared as if, after having been driven fast, it had been allowed to stand. The boy inquired after his master, and was told that he would soon arrive, and then Thurtell went out again. His meeting with Probert had been already described; and Hunt having been again taken into the gig by the latter, from Phillimore's Lodge, they all returned to Probert's cottage together; Thurtell walking by the side of the gig. Probert on his arrival immediately went into the parlour, and acquainted his wife with the circumstance of Thurtell and Hunt having come down, as they were not expected; and presently on their joining him, Hunt, who was a stranger to Mrs. Probert, was formally introduced to her. They then supped on some pork-chops, which Hunt had carried down in the gig from London; and afterwards they all three went out together, professedly with the intention of calling on Mr. Nicholas, a neighbour, but in reality to visit the body of the murdered man. Thurtell conducted his two companions down the lane, and having led them to the spot where the murder was com mitted, they dragged the body through a hedge into an adjoining field, and there rifled the pockets of his clothes. Thurtell had already taken away his purse and watch, and they now secured a pocket-book, and any other valuables which he had in his possession. They then went back to the cottage, and Thurtell, with a sponge which was in the gig, endeavoured to remove some marks of blood which were on his clothes, many of which were distinctly seen by Probert's boy; and having been partially successful, they all proceeded again into the parlour. In the course of the evening Thurtell produced a gold watch and seals, but without a chain; and he also displayed a gold curb chain, which when single might be used for a lady's neck, or when joined, was fit to be used for a watch. Opening the chain, he remarked, that it was more fit for a lady than a gentleman; and he pressed it on Mrs. Probert, and eventually made her accept it. Some conversation then took place, and Hunt sang two or three songs, and then an offer was made, that Miss Noyes' bed should be prepared for the two visitors, and that Miss Noyes should sleep with the children. This, however, was declined, and Thurtell and Hunt declared that they would rather sit up all night in the parlour. Mrs. Probert and Miss Noyes at length retired to rest, leaving the three men down stairs; but something had raised suspicion in the mind of Mrs. Probert, in consequence of which she did not go to bed, nor undress herself. She went to the window, and, looking out, saw that Probert, Hunt, and Thurtell were in the garden. It would be proved that they went down to the body, and finding it too heavy to be removed, one of the horses was taken from the stable. The body, enclosed in a sack, was then placed across the horse; and stones having been put into the sack, the body, with the sack, was thrown into the pond. Mrs. Probert distinctly saw something heavy drawn across the garden. The parties then returned to the house; and Mrs. Probert, whose fears and suspicions were now most powerfully excited, went downstairs, and listened behind the parlour door. The parties proceeded to share the booty; and Thurtell divided with the rest, money to the amount of six pounds each. The purse, the pocket-book, and certain papers which might lead to detection, were carefully burned. They remained up late; and Probert, when he went to bed, was surprised to find that his wife was not asleep. Hunt and Thurtell still continued to sit up in the parlour. The next morning, as early as six o'clock, Hunt and Thurtell were seen in the lane together. Some men who were at work there observed them, as they called it, "grabbling" for something in the hedge; and being spoken to by these men, Thurtell observed, "that it was a very bad road, and that he had nearly been capsized there last night." The men said, "I hope you were not hurt." To which Thurtell answered, "Oh! no, the gig was not upset," and then went away. These men, thinking something might have been lost on the spot, searched, after Thurtell and Hunt were gone. In one place they found a quantity of blood, further on they discovered a bloody knife, and next they found a bloody pistol --- one of the pair which were purchased by Hunt. That pistol bore upon it the marks of blood and of human brains. The spot was afterwards still further examined, and more blood was discovered, which had been concealed by branches and leaves; so that no doubt could be entertained that the murder had been committed in this particular place. On the following morning, Saturday, the 25th of October, Thurtell and Hunt left Probert's cottage in the gig, carrying away with them the gun, the carpet bag, and the backgammon board, belonging to Mr. Weare. These articles were taken to Hunt's lodgings, where they were afterwards found. When Hunt arrived in town on Saturday he appeared to be unusually gay: he said, "We Turpin lads can do the trick. I am able to drink wine now, and I will drink nothing but wine;" and he seemed to be very much elated at the recollection of some successful exploit. It was observed that Thurtell's hands were very much scratched; and some remark having been made on the subject, he stated "that they had been out netting partridges, and that his hands got scratched in that occupation." On some other points he gave similarly evasive answers. On the Saturday, Hunt had a new spade sent to his lodgings, which he took down to the cottage on Sunday, when he again accompanied Probert in his gig. When he got near Probert's garden, he told him that it was to dig a hole to bury the body in; and soon after their reaching the house, Thurtell joined them. On that night Probert visited Mr. Nicholls; and in the course of a conversation which took place between them, that gentleman remarked that some persons had heard the report of a gun or pistol in the lane on Friday night, and that he supposed that it was a joke of some of his friends. He denied all knowledge of the circumstance to him, but on his return home he communicated what had passed to Thurtell and Hunt. They were much alarmed at it, and the former declared that "he was baked;" and they all became extremely desirous to conceal the body effectually, more especially as Probert considered that he should be in danger, in the event of its being discovered in his garden. Thurtell and Hunt promised to go down to do it on the next evening; and in order that Probert's boy should be out of the way, they took him to town with them on the next day, and lodged him at Tetsall's in Conduit-street. They returned, in obedience to their promise; and while Hunt engaged Mrs. Probert in conversation, Thurtell and Probert went into the garden, and having drawn the body from the pond, placed it in Thurtell's gig to be carried away. Hunt was then apprised that all was ready; and he and Thurtell drove away with the body, refusing to tell Probert the place in which they intended to conceal it. He should now describe the circumstances under which this fearful and cold-blooded crime had been discovered, and its perpetrators brought to justice. The discharge of the pistol in Gill's Hill Lane, and the subsequent suspicious finding of the blood-marks, and of the knife and pistol, were circumstances which had induced great alarm in the minds of the inhabitants and magistracy of the surrounding neighbourhood; and although at first there was little to prove the absolute fact of murder having been committed, the whole of the appearances of the case were such as to leave little doubt that the two prisoners and Probert could explain, if they would, the real cause of the events which had produced so much confusion and suspicion. They were all, in consequence, taken into custody; and although Hunt had shaved off his whiskers, which had been previously very large, and had otherwise disfigured himself, he was proved to have hired the horse and gig which Thurtell had taken to Gill's Hill, and in which it was known that a person who was now nowhere to be found had accompanied him. Strict inquiries were made, and the most active investigation carried on by the magistrates, but nothing could be elicited which could in the slightest degree lead to the discovery of who was in reality the murdered man, for that murder had been committed was now presumed to be beyond a doubt; but at length, on the Thursday morning, Hunt, upon a species of understanding with the magistrates, pointed out a pond near Elstree, at a considerable distance from Probert's house, and there, sunk to the bottom by means of stones, in a state of nudity and covered only by a sack, were discovered the murdered remains of a man, who afterwards proved to be the unfortunate Mr. Weare, the former friend and companion of the prisoner Thurtell. The learned counsel having stated these circumstances, declared that in order to prove them all, he should be compelled to call before the jury Probert as a witness, who was confessedly privy to the concealment of the body, if not to the actual murder; but he should so build up and corroborate his testimony by that of other witnesses, that he conceived that no doubt could be entertained of its veracity. With regard to the prisoner Hunt: he was charged as an accomplice before the fact. He hired the gig, and he procured the sack. The gun, travelling-bag, and backgammon board, were found in his lodgings. These constituted a part of the plunder of Mr. Weare, and could be possessed only by a person participating in this crime. Besides, there was placed about the neck of Probert's wife, a chain, which had belonged to Mr. Weare; and round the neck of the murdered man there was found a shawl, which belonged to Thurtell, but which had been seen in the hands of Hunt.
The collateral circumstances were then proved by a variety of witnesses, whose examination occupied the court during several hours.
Ruthven, the officer, deposited on the table a pistol and a pistol-key, a knife, a muslin handkerchief spotted with blood, a shirt similarly stained, and a waistcoat, into the pockets of which bloody hands had been thrust. A coat and a hat marked with blood were also produced, all of which belonged to Thurtell. Ruthven then produced several articles belonging to the deceased -- the gun, the carpet bag, and his clothes.
Symmonds the constable, when sworn, took from his pocket a white paper, which he carefully unfolded, and produced to the court the pistol with which the murder had been committed. It was a blue steel-barrelled pistol, with brass about the handle; the pan was open, as the firing had left it, and was smeared with the black of gunpowder and the dingy stain of blood. The barrel was bloody; and in the muzzle a piece of tow was thrust, to keep in the horrid contents, the murdered man's brains. Against the back of the pan were the short curled hairs, of a silver hue, which had been dug from the dead man's head, and were glued to the pan firmly with crusted blood.
We shall now give the evidence of Probert and his wife, who were called, and which discloses the circumstances attending the murder, and the disposition of the property of the deceased, with more exact minuteness than the statement of the learned counsel. Probert's evidence was as follows:
"I occupied a cottage in Gill's Hill Lane for six months before October last; my family consisted of Mrs. Probert, a servant maid, and a boy. In the month of October, Miss Noyes lived with us, and two children of Thomas Thurtell, a brother of the prisoner's. I have been for some time past acquainted with the prisoner John Thurtell; and he had often been down to my cottage sporting with me: he knew the road to my cottage, and all the roads thereabouts well. Gill's Hill Lane, in which my cottage stood, is out of the high road to St. Alban's, at Radlett; my cottage was about a quarter of a mile from the high road, and fourteen miles and a quarter from Tyburn turnpike. In the latter end of October, the prisoner, John Thurtell, lodged at Tetsall's, the Coach and Horses, in Conduit-street; Thomas Thurtell lodged there also. On Friday the 24th of that month, I dined at Tetsall's with John Thurtell and Hunt; and Thomas Thurtell and Noyes were also there. After dinner, Thurtell said something to me about money, and I paid him 5l. which I had borrowed of him four days before. He then said, 'I think I shall go down to your cottage tonight; are you going down?' I said that I was, and he asked me to drive Hunt down with me, which I promised to do. Some further conversation took place, and he said, 'I expect a friend to meet me this evening a little after five; and if he comes, I shall go down. If I have an opportunity, I mean to do him; for he is a man that has robbed me of several hundreds. I have told Hunt where to stop; I shall want him about a mile and a half beyond Elstree.' He then desired me to give Hunt, who had just come in, a pound, and I did so; and Thurtell told him, in case I should not go, to hire a horse and to go to Elstree, saying, 'You know where to stop for me.' Hunt made no answer. At a little after five o'clock, Thurtell started from the Coach and Horses in a gig. He drove a dark grey horse; and I went away some time afterwards with Hunt in my vehicle. In Oxford-street Hunt got out and bought a loin of pork for supper; and at the end of Oxford-street he remarked, 'This is the place where Jack is to take up his friend.' We then drove on, and about four miles from London we overtook Thurtell, who was driving, accompanied by another man. Hunt said, 'There they are; drive by and take no notice. It's all right; Jack has got him.' We, in consequence, passed on; and when we got to the Bald-faced Stag, about seven miles from London, and two miles short of Edgware, we stopped. It was then about a quarter before seven o'clock. On our way I asked Hunt who the man was who was in the gig with Thurtell; but he answered, 'You are not to know his name; you never saw him; you know nothing of him.' I went into the Bald-faced Stag, as I supplied the house with liquor; but Hunt walked on, saying, 'I won't go in, because I have not returned those horse-cloths I borrowed.' I stopped about twenty minutes; and then I drove on, and overtook Hunt at about a quarter of a mile from Edgeware. I took him up, and we drove on to Mr. Clarke's at Edgeware, and there we had a glass of brandy and water. A little further on we bought half a bushel of corn for the horse, and put it in the gig; and then we went on to the Artichoke, kept by Mr. Field. It wanted now only about eight minutes of eight; and Hunt said, 'I wonder where Thurtell is; he can't have passed us.' We pulled up at the Artichoke, and had four or five glasses of brandy and water; and we stayed there more than three quarters of an hour, waiting for Thurtell to come up with us. We then drove on; and at Mr. Phillimore's Lodge, which is about a mile and a half further on, Hunt said that 'he should remain there for John Thurtell;' and he got out on the road. I drove through Radlett, towards my own cottage; and when I was within about a hundred yards of it, I met Thurtell on foot. He cried out, 'Hallo! where is Hunt?' and I answered that I had left him at Phillimore's Lodge, waiting for him. He replied, 'I don't want him now; for I have done the trick.' He said that 'he had killed his friend that he had brought down with him; he had ridded the country of a, villain, who had robbed him of three or four hundred pounds!' I said, 'Good God! I hope you have not killed the man?' and he said, 'It's of no consequence to you, you don't know him; you never saw him: do you go back and fetch Hunt -- you know best where you left him!' I returned to the place where I left Hunt, and found him near the same spot. Thurtell did not go. I said to Hunt when I took him up, 'John Thurtell is at my house -- he has killed his friend;' and Hunt said, 'Thank God, I am out of it; I am glad he has done it without me: I can't think where the devil he could pass; I never saw him pass anywhere, but I'm glad I'm out of it.' He said, 'This is the place where we were to have done it' (meaning near Phillimore's Lodge). I asked him who the man was, and he said, 'You don't know him, and I shall not tell you.' He said it was a man that had robbed Jack of several hundred pounds, and they meant to have it back again. By that time I had reached my own house; John Thurtell stood at the gate as we drove into the yard. Hunt said, 'Thurtell, where could you pass me?' Thurtell replied, 'It don't matter where I passed you; I've done the trick -- I have done it. But what the devil did you let Probert stop drinking at his d--d public-houses for, when you knew what was to be done?' Hunt said, 'I made sure you were behind, or else we should not have stopped.' Having taken the loin of pork in the kitchen, and given it to the servant to cook for supper, I went into the parlour and introduced Hunt to Mrs. Probert; he had never been there before. Thurtell followed immediately; we had stopped in the yard a short time before we went in, and when I spoke to my wife, I told her that we were going to Mr. Nicholls's to ask for a day's shooting. We then went out together, Thurtell carrying a sack and a cord with him, which he had taken from the gig. We went down the lane, and I carried the lantern. As we went along, Thurtell said, 'I began to think, Hunt, you would not come;' when Hunt answered, 'We made sure you were behind.' I walked foremost; and Thurtell said, 'Probert, he is just beyond the second turning;' When he came to the second turning, he said, 'It's a little further on,' and he at length said, 'This is the place.' We then looked about for a pistol and knife, but could not find either; we got over the hedge and there found the body lying; the head was bound up in a shawl, I think a red one. Thurtell searched the deceased's pockets, and found a pocket-book containing three five-pound notes, a memorandum-book, and some silver. He said, 'This is all he has got; I took the watch and purse when I killed him.' The body was then put into the sack head foremost; the sack came to the knees, and was tied with a cord; we left the body there, and went towards home. On our way Thurtell explained how he had killed him. He said, 'When I first shot him, he jumped out of the gig and ran like the devil, singing out that "he would deliver all he had, if I'd only spare his life." I jumped out of the gig and ran after him: I got him down, and began to cut his throat, as I thought, close to the jugular vein; but I could not stop his singing out: I then jammed the pistol into his head; I gave it a turn round; and then I knew I had done him.' Turning to Hunt, he said, 'Joe, you ought to have been with me, for I thought at one time he would have got the better of me. Those d -- d pistols are like spits, they are of no use.' Hunt remarked, that he should have thought one of the pistols would have killed him dead, but that at all events he had plenty of 'tools' with him; and then we entered the house and had our supper. In the course of the evening Thurtell produced a handsome gold watch and seals, and a gold chain. He offered the chain to Mrs. Probert, saying, that it was more fit for a lady than a gentleman: but she at first refused it, although after a time she consented to accept it as a present. He then put the watch and seals into his pocket. A proposal was then made, that Hunt and Thurtell should sleep in Miss Noyes' bed, and that Miss Noyes should sleep with Thomas Thurtell's children; but they refused to consent to such a course, and declared that they would rather sit up and take a turn on the sofa. Hunt then sang two or three songs, and Mrs. Probert and Miss Noyes went to bed between twelve and one o'clock. When they had retired, Thurtell produced a pocket-book, a purse, and a memorandum -book. The purse contained sovereigns, but I cannot say how many. He took three five-pound notes from the pocket-book, and giving a note and sovereign to Hunt, and a similar sum to me, said, 'That's your share of the blunt.' The papers and books were burned, to avoid any discovery, and then the carpet bag was examined. Its contents were replaced, and, as well as the backgammon board and the gun, were taken away on the ensuing day, by Hunt and Thurtell, in a gig. When this examination was completed, Thurtell said, 'I mean to have Barber Beaumont after this, and Woods.' The former is a director to an insurance company, with whom Thurtell had had some dispute; and the latter kept company with Miss Noyes. A general conversation then took place, the particulars of which I cannot recollect; and he may have mentioned other names, but I do not now remember them. At length Thurtell said, 'Well, Joe, we must go and get the body, and put it in the pond, meaning the pond in my garden. I said, 'By G--d, you shan't put it in my pond, or you will be my ruin;' but at length they induced me to consent, Thurtell saying, 'Had it not been for Hunt's mistake, I should have killed him in the other lane, and then returned to town and inquired of his friends why he had not come.' The two prisoners then went out together, and I waited for their coming back; but in a short time they returned, and Hunt said, 'Probert, he's too heavy; we cannot carry him; we have only brought him a little way.' Thurtell invited me to accompany them, and said, that he would put the bridle on his horse to fetch the body; and then we all went out together. We took the horse from the stable, and Thurtell and I went and fetched the body, while Hunt remained at the gate. The horse having been put into the stable again, we dragged the body down the garden, and putting some stones into the sack, we threw it into the pond. The man's feet were then found to be, perhaps, half a foot above the water; and Thurtell got a cord, threw it over the legs, and giving me one end, while he held the other, we drew the body into the centre of the pond, where it sunk out of sight. We all three then returned to the cottage, and I went to bed almost immediately. I found my wife up. Next morning I came down about nine o'clock. Thurtell said, in presence of Hunt, that they had been down the lane, to look for the pistol and knife, but neither could be found. They asked me to go down the lane and seek them, in the course of the day; which I promised to do; but when I went down the lane, I saw a man at work near the spot. That morning they went away after breakfast. On Sunday they came down again; and Thomas Thurtell and Mr. Noyes came also. Hunt brought a new spade with him. He said it was to dig a grave for the deceased. Hunt returned with the gig after setting down Thomas Thurtell, and brought out John Thurtell and Noyes. Hunt was very dirtily dressed when he came down, and went up stairs to change. When he came down, he was well dressed -- in almost new clothes; and he said the clothes belonged to the deceased: he told me he had thrown a new spade over the hedge into my garden, and I found it there afterwards. John Thurtell and I walked to the pond. He asked me, if the body had risen? I said no; ,and he said it would lie there for a month. In the afternoon Hewart called, and I went with him to Mr. Nicholls's. On my return, I told Thurtell and Hunt that Mr. Nicholls had told me, that someone had fired a pistol or gun off, in Gill's Hill Lane, on Friday night, and that there were cries of murder, as though some one had been killed. He said it was about eight o'clock, and added, 'I suppose it was done by some of your friends, to frighten each other' John Thurtell said, 'Then I am booked.' I said, 'I am afraid it's a bad job, as Mr. Nicholls seems to know all about it; I am very sorry it ever happened here, as I fear it will be my ruin.' Thurtell said, 'Never mind, Probert, they can do nothing with you:' and I declared that the body must be immediately taken out of my pond again. Thurtell answered, 'I'll tell you what I'll do, Probert: after you are all gone to bed, Joe and I will take the body up and bury it.' But I told them that would be just as bad, if they buried it in the garden. John Thurtell said, 'I'll bury him where you nor no one else can find him.' As John Thurtell was going into the parlour, Hunt said, 'Probert, they can do nothing with you or me, even if they do find it out, as we were neither of us at the murder.' Thurtell and Hunt sat up all that night: I, Noyes, and Thomas Thurtell went to bed. Thomas Thurtell slept with his children. In the morning, John Thurtell and Hunt said that they had gone to dig a grave, but the dogs were barking all night, and they thought some one was about the ground; and he added, 'Joe and I will come down to-night and take him quite away, and that will be better for you altogether.' Thomas Thurtell and Hunt, and my boy, Addis, went away in the chaise after breakfast and John Thurtell, Thomas Noyes, and Miss Noyes in another. The boy was sent to town to be out of the way. That evening John Thurtell and Hunt came again in a gig about nine: they took supper; after supper, John Thurtell and I went to the stable, leaving Hunt talking to Mrs. Probert. Thurtell said, 'Come, let's get the body up; while Hunt is talking to Mrs. Probert, she will not suspect.' We went to the pond, and got the body up; we took it out of the sack, and cut all the clothes from it, and then we returned to the house, leaving the body naked on the grass. After a short time we all three went into the stables and took out Thurtell's gig; and Thurtell having produced from it a new sack and a cord, we put the body into the former, and then Hunt and Thurtell put it into the gig; but I refused to have anything more to do with it: they then drove away with it. On the ensuing morning I destroyed the clothes which we had cut from the body, and subsequently on the same day I was taken into custody."
Mrs. Probert, on being examined, corroborated the testimony of her husband with regard to all the circumstances which occurred in the cottage up to the time of her going to bed on the Friday night. She then went on to say -- On my going up stairs, I did not go to bed directly, and my curiosity being aroused at my husband remaining below, I went to the head of the stairs to listen. I leaned over the banisters, and I heard a whispering going on, and what I took to be a trying on of clothes. The first words which I could distinguish were, 'This, I think, will fit you very well.' There was then a sound as of the rustling of papers on the table; and then they seemed to be thrown on the fire and burned. I afterwards went into my own chamber, and subsequently hearing something in the garden, I looked out. I saw two men go from the parlour to the stable; and then they led a horse out, and opening the yard gate, they took the horse into the lane. Some time after that, I again heard them in the garden; and there seemed to be something heavy dragged along the path. It appeared to be dragged in a direction from the stable to the garden, along the dark walk. I looked out, and had a view of it as they took it out of the dark walk, and it looked to be in a sack. After this I heard a noise, which sounded to me like a heap of stones thrown into a pit -- I can describe it in no other way. In addition to the conversation which I have already detailed as having taken place in the parlour, I also heard a voice, which I think was Hunt's, say, 'Let us take a five-pound note each.' I did not hear Thurtell say anything; but then I heard my husband bay, 'We must say that there was a hare thrown up in the gig, on the cushion -- we must tell the boy so in the morning.' I next heard a voice, I can't exactly tell whose say, 'We had better be off to town by four or five o'clock in the morning;' and then, I think, John Thurtell it was, who said, 'We had better not go before eight or nine o'clock;' and the parlour door then shut. I heard John Thurtell say also (I think it was his voice), 'Holding shall be next.' I rather think it was Hunt who next spoke; he asked, 'Has he (Holding) got money?' John Thurtell replied, 'It is not money I want, it is revenge; it is Holding who has ruined my friend here.' I did not at first understand who this friend was; I believe it meant Mr. Probert, my husband. I cannot say whether Holding had anything to do in the transactions of my husband's bankruptcy. 'It was Holding,' said John Thurtell, 'who ruined my friend here, and destroyed my peace of mind.' My husband came to bed about half-past one or two o'clock; I believe it was; I did not know the hour exactly."
The whole of the evidence in support of the case for the prosecution having now been adduced, the learned judge inquired of the jury, whether they conceived that it would be better at once to proceed to the conclusion of the case; or whether they would prefer that the defence of the prisoners should be postponed until the morning. The jury expressed their wish that the case should be at once concluded; but at the desire of the prisoner Thurtell, who respectfully pressed on their attention the long and harassing time he had stood at that bar, and begged for a night's cessation to recruit his strength, previous to making his defence, the court adjourned, the jury being locked up until the following morning.
The trial then proceeded, and Ruthven and Thomas Thurtell being recalled to be examined on some trifling points, in a short time Mr. Justice Park informed John Thurtell, that he was ready to hear any observations he had to make.
The prisoner then commenced his defence;-- speaking in a deep, measured, and unshaken tone, and using a studied and theatrical action.
"My Lord, and Gentlemen of the Jury -- Under greater difficulties than ever man encountered, I now rise to vindicate my character and defend my life. I have been supported in this hour of trial, by the knowledge that my cause is heard before an enlightened tribunal, and that the free institutions of my country have placed my destiny in the hands of twelve men, who are uninfluenced by prejudice, and unawed by power. I have been represented by the press, which carries its benefits or curses on rapid wings from one extremity of the kingdom to the other, as a man more depraved, more gratuitously and habitually profligate and cruel, than has ever appeared in modern times. I have been held up to the world as the perpetrator of a murder, under circumstances of greater aggravation, of more cruel and premeditated atrocity, than it ever before fell to the lot of man to have seen or heard of. I have been held forth to the world as a depraved, heartless, remorseless, prayerless villain, who had seduced my friend into a sequestered path, merely in order to despatch him with the greater security -- as a snake who had crept into his bosom only to strike a sure blow -- as a monster, who, after the perpetration of a deed from which the hardest heart recoils with horror, and at which humanity stands aghast, washed away the remembrance of my guilt in the midst of riot and debauchery. You, gentlemen, must have read the details, which have been daily, I may say, hourly published regarding me. It would be requiring more than the usual virtue of our nature to expect that you should entirely divest your minds of those feelings which such relations must have excited; but I am satisfied, that as far as it is possible for men to enter into a grave investigation with minds unbiassed, and judgments unimpaired, after the calumnies with which the public has been deluged -- I say, I am satisfied, that with such minds and such judgments, you have this day assumed your sacred office. The horrible guilt which has been attributed to me is such as could not have resulted from custom, but must have been the innate principle of my infant mind, and must have 'grown with my growth, and strengthened with my strength.' But I will call before you gentlemen whose characters are unimpeachable, and whose testimony must be above suspicion, who will tell you, that the time was, when my bosom overflowed with all the kindly feelings; and that even my failings were those of an improvident generosity, and an unsuspecting friendship. Beware then, gentlemen, of an anticipated verdict. Do not suffer the reports which you have heard to influence your judgment. Do not believe that a few short years can have reversed the course of nature, and converted the good feelings which I possessed, into that spirit of malignant cruelty, to which only demons can attain. A kind, affectionate, and a religious mother, directed the tender steps of my infancy in the paths of piety and virtue. My rising youth was guided in 'the way that it should go,' by a father, whose piety was universally known and believed -- whose kindness and charity extended to all who came within the sphere of its influence. After leaving my paternal roof, I entered into the service of our late revered monarch, who was justly entitled the 'Father of his people.' You will learn from some of my honourable companions, that while I served under his colours, I never tarnished their lustre. The country which is dear to me I have served; I have fought for her; I have shed my blood for her; I feared not in the open field to shed the blood of her declared foes. But oh! to suppose that on that account I was ready to raise the assassin's arm against my friend, and with that view to draw him into secret places for his destruction -- it is monstrous, horrible, incredible. I have been represented to you as a man who was given to gambling, and the constant companion of gamblers. To this accusation, in some part, my heart with feeling penitence pleads guilty. I have gambled. I have been a gambler, but not for the last three years. During that time I have not attended or betted upon a horse-race, or a fight, or any public exhibition of that nature. If I have erred in these things, half the nobility of the land have been my examples: some of the most enlightened statesmen of the country have been my companions in them. I have indeed been a gambler. I have been an unfortunate one. But whose fortune have I ruined?-- whom undone?-- My own family have I ruined, undone myself! At this moment I feel the distress of my situation. But, gentlemen, let not this misfortune entice your verdict against me. Beware of your own feelings, when you are told by the highest authority, that the heart of a man is deceitful above all things. Beware, gentlemen, of an anticipated verdict. It is the remark of a very sage and experienced writer of antiquity, that no man becomes wicked all at once. And with this, which I earnestly request you to bear in mind, I proceed to lay before you the whole career of my life. I will not tire you with tedious repetitions, but I will disclose enough of my past life to inform your judgments; leaving it to your clemency to supply whatever little defects you may observe. You will consider my misfortunes, and the situation in which I stand -- the deep anxiety that I must feel -- the object for which I have to strive. You may suppose something of all this; but oh! no pencil, though dipped in the lines of heaven, can portray my feelings at this crisis. Recollect, I again entreat you, my situation, and allow something for the workings of a mind little at ease; and pity and forgive the faults of my address. The conclusion of the late war, which threw its lustre upon the fortunes of the nation generally, threw a gloomy shadow over mine. I entered into a mercantile life with feelings as kind, and with a heart as warm, as I had carried with me in the service. I took the commercial world as if it had been governed by the same regulations as the army. I looked upon merchants as if they had been my mess companions. In the transactions I had with them, my purse was as open, my heart as warm to answer their demands, as they had been to my former associates. I need not say that any fortune, however ample, would have been insufficient to meet such a course of conduct. I, of course, became the subject of a commission of bankruptcy. My solicitor, in whom I had foolishly confided as my most particular friend, I discovered, too late, to have been a traitor -- a man who was foremost in the ranks of my bitterest enemies. But for that man, I should still have been enabled to regain a station in society, and I should have yet preserved the esteem of my friends, and, above all, my own self-respect. But how often is it seen that the avarice of one creditor destroys the clemency of all the rest, and for ever dissipates the fair prospects of the unfortunate debtor! With the kind assistance of Mr. Thomas Oliver Springfield, I obtained the signature of all my creditors to a petition for superseding my bankruptcy. But just then, when I flattered myself that my ill fortune was about to close -- that my blossoms were ripening -- there came "a frost -- a nipping frost." My chief creditor refused to sign, unless he was paid a bonus of 300l. upon his debt beyond all the other creditors. This demand was backed by the man who was at the time his and my solicitor. I spurned the offer -- I awakened his resentment. I was cast upon the world -- my all disposed of -- in the deepest distress. My brother afterwards availed himself of my misfortune, and entered into business. His warehouses were destroyed by the accident of a fire, as has been proved by the verdict of a jury on a trial at which the venerable judge now present presided. But that accident, unfortunate as it was, has been taken advantage of in order to insinuate that he was guilty of crime, because his property was destroyed by it, as will be proved by the verdict of an honest and upright jury in an action for conspiracy, which will be tried ere long before the Chief Justice of the King's Bench. A conspiracy that was, but where? Why, in the acts of the prosecutor himself, Mr. Barber Beaumont, who was guilty of suborning witnesses, and who will be proved to have paid for false testimony. Yes; this professed friend of the aggrieved,-- this pretended prosecutor of public abuses -- this self-appointed supporter of the laws, who panders to rebellion, and has had the audacity to raise its standard in the front of the royal palace -- this man, who has just head enough to continue crime, but not heart enough to feel its consequences,-- this is the real author of the conspiracy, which will shortly undergo legal investigation. To these particulars I have thought it necessary to call your attention, in language which you may think perhaps too warm -- in terms not so measured, but that they may incur your reproof. But
"The flesh will quiver where the pincers tear,
The blood will follow where the knife is driven."
When, before this, did it ever fall to the lot of any subject to be borne down by the weight of calumny and obloquy, which now oppresses me. The press, which ought to be the shield of public liberty, the avenger of public wrongs -- which above all should have exerted itself to preserve the purity of its favourite institution, the trial by jury -- has directed its whole force to my injury and prejudice: it has heaped slander upon slander, and whetted the public appetite for slanders more atrocious: nay more, what in other men would serve to refute and repel the shaft of calumny, is made to stain with a deeper dye the villainies ascribed to me. One would have thought, that some time spent in the service of my country would have entitled me to some favour from the public under a charge of this nature. But no; in my case the order of things is changed -- nature is reversed. The acts of times long since past have been made to cast a deeper shadow over the acts attributed to me within the last few days; and the pursuit of a profession hitherto held honourable among honourable men has been turned to the advantage of the accusation against me. You have been told that after the battle, I boasted of my inhumanity to a vanquished, yielding, wounded enemy -- that I made a wanton sacrifice of my bleeding and supplicating foe, by striking him to the earth with my cowardly steel; and that after this deed of blood, I sat down to plunder my unhappy victim: nay more, that, with folly indescribable and incredible, I boasted of my barbarity as of a victory. Is there an English officer, is there an English soldier or an Englishman, whose heart would not have revolted with hatred against such baseness and folly? Far better, gentlemen, would it have been for me, rather than have seen this day, to have fallen with my honourable companions, stemming and opposing the tide of battle upon the field of my country's glory. Then my father and my family, though they would have mourned my loss, would have blessed my name, and shame would not have rolled its burning fires over my memory!-- Before I recur to the evidence brought against my life, I wish to return my most sincere thanks to the high sheriff and the magistrates for their kindness shown to me. I cannot but express my unfeigned regret at a slight misunderstanding which has occurred between the Reverend Mr. Lloyd, the visiting magistrate, and my solicitor. As it was nothing more than a misunderstanding, I trust the bonds of friendship are again ratified between us all. My most particular gratitude is due to the Reverend Mr. Franklin, whose kind visits and pious consolations have inspired me with a deeper sense of the awful truths of religion, and have trebly armed my breast with fortitude to serve me on this day. Though last, not least -- let me not forget Mr. Wilson, the governor of the prison, and the fatherly treatment which he has shown me throughout. My memory must perish ere I can forget his kindness. My heart must be cold ere it can cease to beat with gratitude to him, and wishes for the prosperity of his family."
The prisoner then proceeded to read first a long written comment on the weaker parts of the evidence which had been produced against him, and then a number of instances from the Percy Anecdotes, exhibiting the fallibility of circumstantial evidence; but either the paper was so ill-written, or he was so imperfect a reader, that the effect was quite fatal to the flowery appeal which he had just before delivered to the jury. After having exhibited the utmost confusion, and stammered and blundered in a most extraordinary manner, he concluded his address in the following terms: "And now, gentlemen, having read those cases to you, am not I justified in saying, that unless you are thoroughly convinced that the circumstances before you are absolutely inconsistent with my innocence, I have a claim to your verdict of acquittal? Am I not justified in saying, that you might come to the conclusion that all the circumstances stated might be true, and yet I be innocent? I am sure, gentlemen, you will banish from your minds any prejudice which may have been excited against me, and act upon the principle that every man is to be deemed innocent until he is proved guilty. Judge of my case, gentlemen, with mature consideration, and remember that my existence depends upon your breath. If you bring in a verdict of guilty, the law afterwards allows no mercy. If upon a due consideration of all the circumstances you shall have a doubt, the law orders, and your own consciences will teach you to give me the benefit of it. Cut me not off in the summer of my life! I implore you, gentlemen, to give my case your utmost attention. I ask not so much for myself as for those respectable parents whose name I bear, and who must suffer in my fate. I ask it for the sake of that home which will be rendered cheerless and desolate by my death. Gentlemen, I am incapable of any dishonourable action. Those who know me best, know that I am utterly incapable of an unjust and dishonourable action, much less of the horrid crime with which I am now charged. There is not, I think, one in this court who does not think me innocent of the charge. If there be, to him or them I say, in the language of the apostle, 'Would to God ye were altogether such as I am, save these bonds.' Gentlemen, I have now done. I look with confidence to your decision. I repose in your hands all that is dear to the gentleman and the man. I have poured out my heart before you, as to my God. I hope your verdict this day will be such as you may ever after be able to think upon with a composed conscience; and that you will reflect upon the solemn declaration which I now make -- I am innocent! so help me God!"
Hunt was next called upon, but his feeble voice and shrinking manner were strongly contrasted with the overwrought energy which had been displayed by his fellow-prisoner. He spoke of his agitation and fatigue, and desired that a paper, which he handed in, might be read by the clerk of the arraigns. It was accordingly read in a very feeling manner, but it contained little in reference to the charge against him, and insisted strongly upon the promise held out by the magistrate, on his first giving information upon the subject of the murder. The prisoner subsequently read a few words of comment upon Probert's evidence, but in a very dejected voice; and at its conclusion, he hung down his head, evidently completely overcome by his situation. Mr. Justice Park then summed up the case to the jury at very great length, and in a manner which brought the whole of the material facts of the case under their attention in the clearest and most impartial manner. After an address of several hours' duration, the jury retired to consider their verdict. In about twenty minutes they returned into court, and declared both prisoners guilty.
They were then immediately called up to receive judgment in the customary manner, when Thurtell addressed the court in the following terms: --
"My Lord, before you pass sentence, I pray you to take into your serious consideration what I am about to say: I now for the last time assert that I am innocent. I entreat a short delay in the execution of the sentence you may pass, as I have friends now at a distance, with whom it is necessary that I should transact some business. It is for the sake of some friends who are dear to me, that I ask this indulgence; not for myself, for I am at this moment ready. My request I hope your lordship will take into consideration; and beyond Sunday is all I ask."
The learned judge, at the conclusion of this address, which was once or twice interrupted by the ebullition of the prisoner's feelings, announced that it was impossible that the request which had been made could be complied with, and immediately passed sentence of death upon both convicts. They then shook hands and quitted the bar, from whence they were at once conducted to their respective cells. Hunt, however, received an intimation that in consequence of the representations made with respect to the promise given by the magistrates, his punishment would, in all probability, be commuted to transportation for life.
The extraordinary interest and excitement which had been produced by this most remarkable case, from the first discovery of the perpetration of the murder, through the disclosure of the whole of the circumstances attending it, and up to the committal, trial and conviction of the prisoners, was now increased to an extent which may be pronounced to have been quite unparalleled. During the whole of Thursday, the day succeeding the termination of the trial, persons of all ranks and appearances were seen driving from every quarter into Hertford, in order, if possible, to obtain a sight of the execution of the malefactor, many being influenced in a very great degree by the anticipation that Thurtell would make some extraordinary disclosure in his dying moments. All the inns of the town were completely filled; and in many private houses beds were let at an enormous price. The most active preparations were made in the course of the day by the magistrates to prevent accident, and at the same time to afford as great a portion of the assembled multitude an opportunity to obtain a view of the scaffold and the execution; and arrangements were made, by which the space ordinarily occupied by the public in such instances should be very materially increased.
Meanwhile the proceedings in the jail on the part of the prisoners was of a nature to be most interesting. At ten o'clock on Thursday night, Thurtell expressed an anxious desire that Hunt might be permitted to pass the night in his room. His wish was immediately granted, and Hunt was introduced and was received with a strong manifestation of cordiality. Thurtell took him by the hand, and said, "Joe, the past is forgotten. I am on the brink of eternity, and we now meet only as friends. It may be your fate to lose your life as ignominiously as myself; but I hope the royal mercy will be extended to you, and that you will live to repent of your past errors. Although you have been my enemy, I freely forgive you." Hunt, who had entered the room with feelings bordering on apprehension that some unfortunate turn had taken place in his affairs, and that he was himself to suffer, was suddenly relieved by this address, and, squeezing Thurtell's hand most vehemently, burst into tears; he then sat down by the fire, and Thurtell and he continued to pray and to read until one o'clock. Soon after one the former showed symptoms of fatigue, and lying on the bed, in a few moments afterwards he dropped into a profound sleep.
On Friday morning, at daybreak, every road leading to Hertford was thronged with travellers. At half-past six, Mr. Wilson, the jailor, entered Thurtell's room and found him fast asleep. The prisoner Hunt was also in a deep slumber. Mr. Wilson, unwilling to disturb their repose, retired, and at seven o'clock returned again; but the wretched men were still asleep. Mr. Wilson now approached the bed of Thurtell, and called him by name, when he started up, and for a moment seemed lost to his situation, not even knowing where he was, but his recollection quickly returned. His breakfast was then brought in: it consisted of some tea and bread and butter; but he partook only of the former, and that but slightly.
At half-past eleven Thurtell and Hunt were conducted into the chapel, where the Rev. Mr. Franklin administered the sacrament to them. Thurtell read the appropriate prayers in a distinct and audible voice, and seemed fully impressed with the importance of this solemn rite. At its conclusion, Thurtell turned round to Hunt, and grasped his hand repeatedly, and renewed, in the most forcible terms, the assurance of his perfect forgiveness of the past, and of his being about to die in peace and charity with all the world. The chaplain and Mr. Nicholson, the under sheriff, then retired from the chapel, leaving Mr. Wilson and the prisoner Thurtell alone. Hunt having previously been reconducted to his cell overpowered by his feelings. Mr. Wilson, turning to Thurtell, said, "Now, Thurtell, as there is no eye to witness what is passing between us but that of God, you must not be surprised if I ask you a question." Thurtell turned round, and regarded him with a look of surprise. Mr. Wilson continued -- "If you intend to make any confession, I think you cannot do it at a better period than the present." Thurtell paused for a few moments, when Mr. Wilson went on to say, "I ask you if you acknowledge the justice of your sentence." Thurtell immediately seized both Mr. Wilson's hands, and pressed them with great fervour within his own, and said, "I am quite satisfied. I forgive the world; I, die in peace and charity with all mankind, and that is all I wish to go forth upon this occasion."
The chaplain then returned to the prisoner, and offered him some further words of comfort, asking him, whether there was anything he could do to ease his mind with respect to his family and friends? Thurtell replied that he was anxious that the reverend gentleman should write to his father, and inform him of his extreme contrition, resignation and penitence, which Mr. Franklin promised faithfully to do. The unfortunate man uttered a short prayer, that the minds of his family might be strengthened under the deep affliction they must feel, and of which Ire had been the unhappy author.
At twelve o'clock precisely, Mr. Nicholson tapped at the door with his wand, as the signal that the hour of execution had arrived. Thurtell immediately seized Mr. Franklin's hands, and thanked him, not alone for all the personal kindnesses for which he was indebted to him, but for that Christian spirit with which he had inspired him, and with which he was about to depart this world; and the chapel door being thrown open, the prisoner went forth with a steady and assured step. He looked round with perfect calmness. The distance from the chapel door to that leading to the scaffold was not more than ten yards, and thither he was accompanied by the chaplain, the under-sheriff, Mr. Wilson, an assistant of Mr. Wilson's, and the upper turnkey. The church bell tolled as he advanced. On their arrival at the door, Thurtell again squeezed Mr. Franklin's hand, and again exclaimed, 'God bless you, sir; God bless you.' He then mounted the steps, preceded by the under sheriff and the executioner, and followed by Mr. Wilson and the head turnkey.
Thurtell, on taking his station under the gallows, looked round with a countenance unchanged by the awfulness of his situation. His manner was firm and undaunted, at the same time that it betrayed no unbecoming levity. After regarding the crowd for a moment, he appeared to recognise an individual beneath him, to whom he bowed in a friendly manner. Previously to his mounting the scaffold, he had begged that as little delay as possible might take place in his execution, after his appearance upon the platform, and he now repeated the request to the executioner. His hands, instead of their being confined in the customary manner with cord, were held together by handcuffs, and his arms were not pinioned. He was still ironed, as he had been since his conviction, his shackles consisting merely of a moderate-sized chain, which was confined at his ankles, and held up to his waist by a Belcher handkerchief, tied round his middle. He was respectably attired in mourning, and wore a pair of black gloves on his hands. The moment he placed himself under the fatal beam, the executioner commenced the performance of his office, by taking off his cravat. He stood perfectly calm and collected while this was going on, and held up his head, in order that it might be the more easily removed. A white cap was then put on his head, and drawn over his eyes; but it was so thin as still to enable him to look about him; and he appeared anxiously to avail himself of the opportunity afforded him, by quickly looking round in all directions. As the clock sounded the last stroke of twelve, the rope was placed round the neck of the unhappy convict, and while the executioner was attaching the other end to the beam above, he looked up, and turning to him, begged him to "give him fall enough." The hangman replied, "that he might be assured he should have plenty of fall, and that all would be right." Thurtell next turned to Mr. Wilson, and repeated the same request; and that gentleman assured him, that his wishes had been fully attended to. All being now in readiness, Mr. Wilson drew close to the prisoner, and, squeezing his hands, exclaimed, "Thurtell, God Almighty bless you:" the prisoner pressing his hands in return, responded, "God bless you, sir."
Mr. Wilson then stood back upon some boards placed immediately behind the drop, and the executioner having previously retired, the under sheriff, with his wand, gave the last fatal signal, the drop suddenly fell, and the unhappy man was in an instant dead. His sufferings were but momentary, for, with the exception of a few convulsive motions of his hands and legs, he seemed to be deprived of all sensation. Thus perished, in an untimely manner, a man, who, but for untoward circumstances and the violence of his passions, might have been the pride of his family.
During the whole of this appalling ceremony there was not the slightest symptom of emotion discernible in his features; his demeanour was perfectly calm and tranquil, but though his fortitude was thus conspicuous, it was evident, from the alteration in his appearance, that in the interval between his conviction and his execution he must have suffered much. He looked careworn; his countenance had assumed a cadaverous hue; and there was a haggardness and lankness about his cheeks and mouth, which could not fail to attract the notice of every spectator.
There were many in the crowd who looked upon him with an eye of the greatest commiseration for his youth and manly appearance; but it cannot but be obvious that such a feeling must be considered to have been thrown away, upon a wretch capable of a crime like that of which he was guilty.
We cannot close our notice of this case, without bringing under the attention of the reader a report which was in circulation for a considerable period after the last sentence of the law had been carried out on this unhappy man, and which obtained almost universal credit. We have already alluded to Thurtell's connexion with the sporting world, and especially with that portion of it which patronised the manly exercises of the "Ring." Admirable as we shall ever hold that custom to be, which has been so often cried down, but which has always had for its object the maintenance of those principles, by which the courage of the British nation has been in no small degree supported, in opposition to that frightful and un-English alternative, "the knife," we cannot but admit that some of the members of the body, through whose instrumentality those principles have been sought to be upheld, have at times exhibited themselves to be unworthy the notice and patronage which they have received. It would appear that Thurtell, in his acquaintance with fighting men, had so far obtained their esteem, that even after his commission of a crime which should have been most detestable in their eyes, and in the sight of every man of honest principles, some of them volunteered to assist to perform an act which would certainly have been unprecedented, had it been carried into effect. It was neither more nor less than to bear him away from the scaffold, before his execution, in defiance of the law, and in the face of the vast mob, which, it was known, would be collected on the occasion of his execution, the confusion produced by which, however, they well knew would aid rather than oppose their object. The volunteers from a body so limited as the members of the prize ring, it must be obvious, would be too few to put this design into execution without the assistance of others; and the means of procuring that assistance was yet to be obtained. With this object a communication was opened with the friends of the prisoner, before his trial; but the sum demanded, which was said to be 500l., not being forthcoming, the plan was given up; although not until the very morning of the day, on which the execution took place, for up to that time it was believed probable that the demand would be complied with. It was reported, also, that the scheme proposed was communicated to Thurtell by a confidential friend, and that he, knowing the facility with which the few javelin-men, who were mostly aged and decrepit, in whose care the preservation of the peace and of the limits without the scaffold was reposed, could be overpowered, fully believed, up to the moment of his execution, that it would be carried into effect. The extreme calmness of demeanour of the unfortunate prisoner at the place of execution, and the confidence which he displayed, added to the anxiety which he exhibited when the ceremony approached its fatal termination, favour this belief; and although his conduct in the gaol was of a character to lead to the supposition that he was in reality prepared to meet that death which he was doomed so soon to receive, it is by no means unlikely that he was at the same time treasuring up in his own mind the possibilities of his escape from the fate which awaited him.
With regard to the inducement which we have already noticed as having been generally believed to have led the wretched man on to the commission of so foul a crime, namely, the hope of procuring a large booty; for the supposed "bank "of Mr. Weare was generally believed to amount to nearly 1,000l.; from the testimony of the witness Probert, it would appear that he was unsuccessful in his object, while at the same time the observation made by Thurtell, on their going to search the body, (itself a corroborative fact,) that he had got all except the pocket-book, clearly exhibits that the anticipation was that which we have pointed out. Where or how the "bank" was disposed of, has never been shown; but there were not wanting those among the companions of Probert and Hunt, who suggested that it had been in reality found, and hidden by Thurtell, until an opportunity was afforded for its removal, unknown to his companions in the plot. It is a well ascertained fact, that he was not previously in possession of means sufficient to defray the expenses of a defence, which was known to have cost a very large sum of money; and it was very generally believed that the produce of the double robbery of Mr. Weare, and of the prisoner's companions, from whom he kept their share of the booty, (if the suggestion thrown out be well founded,) was applied to the payment of his attorney's bill.
We have only to add that Hunt was reprieved, and was subsequently ordered to be transported for life. It was for some time reported that he had died on his voyage to Australia; but he in fact arrived in Sydney in good health; and by his excellent conduct while there procured for himself a ticket of leave, by which he was exempted from all the immediate consequences of his conviction, although he was not absolutely restored to freedom. He was subsequently appointed chief constable at Paramatta, a large town in the interior, when he became generally well liked from his quiet manners; and it has been reported that he died in the colony, within the last few years, but the truth of the rumour cannot be ascertained by reference to any document in this country. Probert met the fate which he so justly deserved within a short time of his escaping from punishment for his connexion with this case, in a manner and for an offence which we shall hereafter in due course describe.