Few occurrences of the nature of that which is now before us, have attracted more marked attention than that of the dreadful and most mysterious death of Mr. Joseph Millie, assistant-clerk in the Savings' Bank at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The discovery of this event took place at two o'clock in the morning of Friday the 7th of December, 1839, when flames and smoke were observed to be issuing from the offices of the Savings' Bank. The aid of the engines having been procured, the fire was in a short time extinguished, and the police then entered the house, for the purpose of ascertaining the cause of the conflagration, and that all danger was passed. Upon their going into the clerk's office, they were astonished at perceiving Mr. Millie lying extended on the . hearth-rug, with such wounds upon his person as left no doubt that he had been murdered. His skull had been literally smashed in, and his brains were scattered about the room; and what was more singular, his pockets were found to be filled with coals, as if the object of his murderer had been to prevent the discovery of his dreadful crime, by securing the destruction of the body of his victim by fire.
In the adjoining room, they were more alarmed to find that Mr. Archibald Bolam, the actuary, was also lying on the floor, apparently insensible. He was lifted up, and some slight wounds were discovered in his throat, which passed through his stock; but before many minutes had elapsed he was sufficiently recovered to give an account of the mysterious affair. He said "I have lately had two or three anonymous letters, threatening to do me harm; and one was put under the door of the Savings Bank, last evening, after dark, saying that something would happen to me at home. In consequence of this, though I generally get my tea at the bank, I went home, the other clerk, Millie, having previously gone to his tea. I returned about half-past seven o'clock in the evening, and finding the door locked as I had left it, I opened it, and put the key into my pocket. When I got into the bank I saw Millie lying on the rug, and I thought he had fallen asleep. He also has a key, and sometimes locked himself in. I then went towards my desk, intending immediately to go and speak to Millie; but while I was about to open my desk, I thought I heard some one coming behind, and was in the act of turning round, when I received a blow on my right temple from a man in disguise, with his face blackened. I immediately started up, and ran shouting towards the window, intending to give an alarm, on which the fellow followed me, and said if I stirred, or made the least noise, he would serve me as he had served the other man. He struck me again when I was near the window; and when I was down, I felt a knife at my throat. Shortly after this I became insensible for a while; but afterwards my recollection seemed to return, and I heard somebody in the other office, as I supposed, going about and making a noise. I dared not make the least outcry. I burnt the threatening letters which I had previously received. The one which I found last night under the waiting-room door I left upon my desk. I cannot well describe the man, excepting that I think he was under the middle size, and spoke roughly, but apparently in a feigned voice. I had a few shillings in my pocket, and I think 4l. 10s. in my desk, which was left by Mr. Airey to deposit on Saturday. In the inner safe I had a further sum of 80l. of my own, which I kept to meet current expenses." Further than this, Mr. Bolam said he had no recollection of what took place.
A story so extraordinary at once excited suspicion, more especially when it was discovered that the apparent object of the supposed murderer, namely plunder, had been left unfulfilled. The greater part of the papers and books of the bank were discovered to be undisturbed, and uninjured by the fire; and although the outer door of the strong-box was standing open, the inner lock was still fast. The key of this lock was stated (by Bolam) to have been left by him in his desk, but it was now nowhere to be found.
At a coroner's inquest held upon the body of the deceased, Bolam was examined at great length; but the confusion which he exhibited, and the inconsistency of his declarations still further increased the belief which was generally entertained, that he had himself committed the murder, and had fired the house to conceal the act, while he hoped to divert suspicion from himself by a simulated attempt at violence on his own person. The inquiries and statements of the police confirmed this suggestion; and at the conclusion of the inquest, a verdict of "Wilful Murder" was returned against him, and he was taken into custody. The investigation, however, was still carried on by Stevens, the superintendant of the constables of the town, with the most praiseworthy diligence. At a search of the house of the prisoner new evidence was procured. This consisted of the discovery of the key which was missing from the Savings' Bank, and also of a considerable sum of money in gold, which was concealed behind some books. It was also ascertained that Bolam had been seen at his own house at a period later than that at which he stated he had quitted it; and many other minute facts were learned at variance with his declarations. A new and more extensive search at the Savings' Bank brought fresh cause of suspicion to light. The absence of blood on the spot where the prisoner had been found lying, and the evident fact of the blood having flowed down his clothes, as if the wound had been inflicted while he was in a sitting posture, clearly showed the falsity of his story in this particular; and the further circumstance that three of the most recent account-books were missing, tended in some degree to supply a motive for the commission of such a crime by him, although it could hardly be supposed, that where means so much more easy to procure their destruction, had such been his object, could have been resorted to, he would have been guilty of an offence so atrocious in order to attain so simple an end. The excitement which prevailed upon the subject throughout the kingdom was very great, and motives and reasons for the commission of the crime by the prisoner of all descriptions were assigned; but the most reasonable, and that which was eventually adopted by the jury upon the trial was, that some misunderstanding having arisen between Bolam and Millie, the former, in the heat of passion and anger, had assaulted the latter with the poker, and destroyed him; and had then arranged the tale which he subsequently narrated, and the appearances which were exhibited in order to conceal his guilt.
The sympathy which was created for the family of the unfortunate Millie was extraordinary. He had been left a widower with four children, and he had striven hard amidst adversities and vicissitudes of the most painful nature to maintain his children in a respectable station. Through the instrumentality of Bolam he was appointed to the situation which he held, the salary of which was 60l. a year, and he had performed the duties attached to it with great credit. The managers of the bank took care that his family should not be left entirely destitute in consequence of his death, and they liberally provided them with the means of immediate support; but an equally generous feeling was displayed by the public, and in less than one month 1000l. were collected by subscription to be appropriated to their use.
At the Spring Assizes of the year 1839, a bill of indictment was preferred against Bolam, for the wilful murder of the deceased; but in consequence of the very strong feeling which then prevailed against him, and the uncertainty which might be said to exist as to his obtaining a fair and impartial trial, the conclusion of the proceedings against him was postponed to the ensuing Assizes.
On Monday, the 29th of July, 1839, he was tried at Newcastle before Mr. Baron Maule. The case for the prosecution occupied the greater part of two days. At its conclusion, a great number of witnesses were called to the prisoner's character. The learned baron, in summing up, after having remarked upon the evidence produced to substantiate the crime of murder, said, "The prisoner may be guilty of the death of Millie under other circumstances. Some difference or altercation may have taken place between them. The evidence goes to show that there was no ill-will or malice; but among a thousand causes some spark of anger may have been kindled and blown up; a scuffle may have ensued, and the man at the bar may, in a state of excitement, have been the death of the deceased; and if he were so, and blows passed between them in conflict, he would have been guilty of manslaughter, and that would furnish motives enough for a statement which would, in his opinion, screen him from banishment from his native country and his friends. This view furnishes motives quite sufficient for the fire as well as for the other facts. I do not say that this is the inference you ought to draw, nor has it been suggested on either side; it is for you to consider it." The jury seem to have adopted this suggestion; and after having been absent considering their verdict for three hours, found the prisoner guilty of "Manslaughter."
He was subsequently sentenced to be transported for life, and quitted the country in pursuance of this judgment.