Illustration: The Berrymans Robbing the Hancoxes
This atrocious outrage was committed on the night of the 2d of November 1832, at a place called Tunley, within two miles of Disley and six miles of Gloucester, at a farm-house, the residence of Mr. Hancox. Mr. Hancox, it appears, had a family consisting of two sons and several daughters, who resided with their father and mother at the farm of Tunley. The young Hancoxes assisted their father, who was becoming aged, in the management of the farm, while their sisters were equally engaged in such occupations as befitted their sex and age.
On the night of the 2d of November, the elder of Mr. Hancox's sons was in the homestead or farmyard attached to his father's house, when he observed three men approaching whose appearance was strange to him, and whose intentions he was disposed to believe were not honest, as the farm was considerably out of the main road, and nearly two miles from any other house. He determined, therefore, to retire to the cover of the dwelling to procure the assistance of his father and brother, in case of any intention to commit violence being shown, in order by their united efforts to repel any attack which might be made. To reach the house in a direct line he sprang over the garden fence, but in taking the leap his foot caught something, and he fell to the ground. The approaching strangers by this accident were enabled to come up with him at the moment he entered the kitchen-door; and the young man, now convinced of their evil designs, called to them to know what they wanted, at the same time advancing to the fire-place to reach down a gun which was suspended over the mantelpiece, in accordance with the custom of most farm-houses of the district. An observation was made by one of the party, the precise nature of which was not heard; and young Hancox turning round to ascertain what was said, suddenly received in his face and eyes the greater portion of the contents of a pistol discharged by one of his assailants, consisting of small shot and sand. The unfortunate young man blinded, and for a moment deprived of his senses, fell to the ground; but his father entering the kitchen at the moment of the discharge of the pistol, was also wounded by some of the shot. The disturbance created by this sudden attack instantly attracted to the spot the other inmates of the house; and Mrs. Hancox and her younger son directly afterwards entered the kitchen. They were, however, felled to the ground by the same ruffian who had fired the pistol; and then a second fellow armed with a sword advanced to them, and swore he would murder them if they made any outcry, or attempted any resistance.
Thus overpowered, Mr. Hancox at once perceived the uselessness of making any effort to prevent the object which he conceived his assailants to have in view -- that of robbery; and the foremost villain, with the man who had hitherto taken no active part in the affair, instantly proceeded to ransack the house for valuables. Demanding that Mr. Hancox should first give him what money he had in his possession, they received from him a sum of 65l. in bank-notes and gold, and then they proceeded to the upper rooms to secure whatever portable articles they could find which might be worth being carried away. The daughters of Mr. Hancox had been dreadfully alarmed at the proceedings of the robbers in the kitchen, of which they had been partial witnesses, and terrified lest violence should be offered to them also, they had run in different directions from the house to the garden and out-houses, in order to conceal themselves. The two thieves on whom the task of searching the premises had devolved, had made their examination of several rooms, when they reached the apartment occupied as the sleeping-room of the eldest Miss Hancox. They had a light with them which reflected through the window, and the youngest Miss Hancox supposing that it was her sister going to bed, yet afraid to re-enter the house, which she knew the thieves had not yet quitted, threw a handful of gravel at the window. The boldest burglars, it is well known, may be easily alarmed, and so it proved in this case; the villains, whose consciences doubtless pictured to their minds the approach of powerful assistance to repel their attack, made a precipitate retreat from the house, carrying with them some articles of silver plate; and running in a direction contrary to that by which they had approached it, were soon lost to view in the darkness of the night.
Instant medical aid was now procured for Mr. Hancox and his son, who were suffering severely from the wounds which they had received; and the youngest son was despatched to Disley with intelligence of the outrage, and a request that assistance might be immediately afforded in searching for its perpetrators. The village soon sent forth all its male inhabitants to assist in the inquiry, but in vain; and after many hours' watching they were compelled to return home without having learned anything tending to convey any suspicion in their minds as to who were the guilty parties. Young Hancox, it was found, had been severely wounded both in the face and eyes, and to the grief of all it was ascertained that his eyesight had been destroyed entirely, and for ever.
On the following day information of the event was conveyed to London, together with such a description of the persons of the robbers as Mr. Hancox and his family were able to give. Their features had been partially concealed by red comforters which covered the lower part of their faces, and by black crape; but Mr. Hancox and his family had a strong impression upon their minds of the general appearance of the men, whom they declared they should be able to recognise if they were again to see them.
Upon the facts of the case being stated to the magistrates at Bow-street, Ellis, an active and shrewd officer of that establishment, was instructed to exert himself in securing the offenders. A few inquiries on the spot were sufficient to put him upon a scent, which in the sequel proved the correctness of his judgment. Three brothers of the name of Berryman, natives of Gloucestershire, but now resident in London, were the persons to whom his suspicions attached the guilt of the transaction; but he found that he had wily game to follow. The apprehension of one without the others would have been to destroy his chance of complete success; for to let it be known that they were suspected, would be only to cause their instant flight. To secure his object, therefore, he had to act with extreme caution. He found that James Berryman, one of the brothers, was engaged as a journeyman hatter in the service of Mr. Straight, in Charlotte-street, Blackfriars-road, while his brother William, the youngest of the three, was occupied in the uncertain calling of selling pies and sweetmeats in the streets, his usual haunt being the neighbourhood of Goswell-street. The third brother, Thomas, was to be seen occasionally with each of his relations, but appeared to have no fixed occupation or employment. Ellis, with an assistant, a lad named Goodison, was for several weeks intent upon watching his prey without being able to find the favourable moment to pounce upon them, and disguised in almost every variety of costume he continued his observations of them. At length, on Wednesday morning, the 5th of December, he succeeded in finding them all together in Goswell-street, and closing upon them he secured them and carried them to Bow-street. James and Thomas Berryman were then instantly recognised by the younger son of Mr. Hancox, who had been awaiting their apprehension in London, as having been parties to the robbery, and Ellis declaring his impression that he should be able also to procure evidence against the third brother in Gloucestershire, they were all three ordered to be conveyed to Disley.
Upon their arrival there they were examined by a local magistrate, by whom they were remanded until a subsequent day. On that day James Berryman was distinctly sworn to as the man who had discharged the pistol, and his brother Thomas was recognised as having been one of his associates; but the third brother, William, against whom there was no proof whatever, was discharged out of custody. The testimony of the family of Mr. Hancox as to the identity of the prisoners was not left wholly unsupported, but by the indefatigable exertions of the officer other corroborative evidence was procured. This consisted of proof of the absence of the prisoners from London on the day before and the day after the robbery; of their arrival at Cirencester from London on the afternoon of the 2d of November in a van, and of their almost instant departure from that place in the direction of Disley; and finally, of their presence at the Bird-in-Hand public-house, about twenty-five miles on the London road, apparently foot-sore and fatigued, at mid-day on the 3d of November; and of their departure from that place in the evening in the waggon for London, and their subsequent arrival in the metropolis.
Upon this evidence the prisoners were committed for trial at the ensuing assizes; but Ellis was still convinced of the practicability of securing the third man, who had been engaged in this atrocious outrage. He had reason to believe that he was a relation of the Berrymans, named Desmond, alias Hunt; and after considerable difficulty he at length succeeded in securing him by a stratagem, while he was working at his trade of a shoemaker in the Goswell-street-road.
This new prisoner, however, expressed his anxiety to disclose all he knew upon the subject; and although it was known that he was implicated in the transaction, the uncertainty of procuring his conviction operated in his favour, and he was admitted to give evidence for the prosecution.
On Saturday, the 6th of April 1833, the trial of James and Thomas Berryman took place. The testimony of all the witnesses tended at once to attach the guilt of firing the pistol to the former prisoner; and the latter was also positively identified as having been a party to the robbery. The statement of the approver confirmed the declarations of the other witnesses, and both prisoners were found guilty.
The superior atrocity of the conduct of the prisoner James Berryman, marked him as a fit object for the infliction of a punishment of a serious nature, and he was sentenced to death, while his brother received sentence of transportation for life.
The sentence of death was executed upon James Berryman at Gloucester, on Saturday the 20th of April.