The report gives a vivid glimpse of life in Cleveland during the Napoleonic Wars.
It is very likely that the victim of Thomas Richardson's assault was Matthew Milburn, rather than Melbourn, and that the place recorded by the reporter as 'Life' is in fact Lythe. Similarly, 'Kilden' is probably a mishearing for Kildale (the final syllable of Kildale being unstressed in the dialect).
Country bank notes (that is, local bank notes) again feature in this story ...
York Herald, Saturday 16 August 1806
THOMAS RICHARDSON, late of Whitby, was charged with violently assaulting and beating Mathew Melbourn [Milburn?], of Stokesley, in the foot-way leading from Seamer to Stokesley, and taking from his person a watch, several country bank notes, and some silver.
Mr Melbourn, the prosecutor, stated that he was a hatter, and resided at Stokesley: and that on Friday the 28th of March, he went from Stokesley to Stockton, and on his return in the evening, called at a public house at Seamer to get some refreshment; at this house he saw the Prisoner, this was near eight o’clock in the evening: after some conversation, it was mentioned to the Witness, that the Prisoner was going to Stokesley, and it was agreed that they should go together.
The Prisoner proposed that they should go on the high-road, but the Witness said he knew the foot-path very well and it was much nearer.
After remaining about a quarter of an hour, in which time he had two pints of beer, they left public-house: the landlord accompanying them to the door with a light and looking after them.
The Witness walked first and the Prisoner followed at a little distance; about 40 yards from the house the foot-path left the road on the left-hand, and the Witness here observed to his companion that it was a fine moon-light night; the Prisoner gave no answer, but followed him a little nearer: after passing through a field or two, they arrived at some marshy ground, in which were three deep drains: when the Prisoner advanced sharply towards his left-hand, and struck him a blow on the side of the head with a large club stick, and said,
“damn your eyes if you do not immediately give me your watch and money, I will kill you”and without waiting for a reply struck him another desperate blow; the Witness then endeavoured to defend himself with a small walking stick, but without effect; the Prisoner repeated his blows until he brought him to the ground in a state of insensibility, which was not however so complete as to prevent him from feeling the Prisoner jump upon his breast with his knees, and afterwards rifle his pockets.
The Witness said he could not tell how long he remained on the ground, but as soon as he came to himself he crawled as well as he could to the Inn he had left.
The Witness to the repeated questions of the Counsel and Judge, said he was perfectly sure that the Prisoner was the person who accompanied him from the Inn, and made the assault upon him, for it was very moon-light, and he had a distinct view of the Prisoner’s face.
The Prisoner indeed removed all doubt of his being the person in whose company the Witness left the Inn, by objecting to the assertion of his going the foot-way, and said they there parted, he (the Prisoner) going the highway.
The Prisoner asked the Witness how he knew that it was a stick that he struck him with; the Witness said “he saw it when he was in the act of striking:” the Prisoner then asked the Witness where he got the stick, as he had not one when he was in the public-house with him; the Witness said “he might easily get it out of the hedge.”
The Prisoner then observed, that it was possible a man might have jumped over the hedge from the high-road, and have attacked him.
The Judge said it certainly was possible, but advised the Prisoner, if he had any more questions to put to the Witnesses, to suggest them to him, and if he thought them likely to serve him, he would ask them, for he (the Prisoner) had already done himself the greatest possible mischief by the questions he had put.
Mr Melbourn having resumed his narrative said, that he had on his person previous to the robbery, a black leather pocket book, containing three five guinea notes, ten small notes of one pound each, and a purse containing fifteen shillings in silver, and a silver watch, to which was attached a string of unbleached linen yarn in three plaits, and a black steel key, the whole of which property was taken from him.
Mr Milestone (the landlord of the public-house above mentioned) was next examined: he stated that the Prisoner had been in his house nearly the whole of the afternoon of the day on which the robbery was committed, and continued there until Mr Melbourn came, whom he agreed to accompany to Stokesley; that the Witness went to the door with them, and had the curiosity to stay, to see whether they went the high-road or the foot-path, some difference of opinion having been expressed on the subject; and he could speak with certainty to their both leaving the common road, as it was very moon-light, and the distance was not more than 40 yards.
This Witness proceeded to state, that in about an hour Mr Melbourn returned to their house nearly covered with blood, and appeared to be shockingly bruised about the head; his clothes were torn, and his pockets turned inside out.
As soon as they understood how he had been treated, three men were immediately dispatched to Stokesley in pursuit of the Prisoner, but without success.
Ann Webster, daughter to the last Witness, corroborated his testimony in every material particular.
Mrs Duck was next examined, who stated that she keeps a public-house at Life [Lythe?], a distance of 24 miles from Stokesley, and that she remembered the Prisoner calling at her house early on Saturday morning, the 29th of March, (the day after the robbery,) and she thought he appeared much tired; he called for breakfast and some rum, and took out of his pocket a number of notes; he tendered her one which she refused, and she observed that one of the notes was for five guineas; the Prisoner gave her another note, which she took and gave him the difference.
The Witness could not speak to the number of notes, but she thought there were six or seven.
She asked the Prisoner where he had come from that morning, he answered from Kilden [Kildale?]; to another person who asked the same question in her presence, he said, from Ayton; and to a third inquirer, he said he had come from Darlington.
James Sawyer said that he keeps a public-house near Whitby, and that the Prisoner was at his house on the 29th of March, where he offered a silver watch for sale, and the Witness bought it of him for a guinea; but hearing the next day that a robbery had been committed, and apprehensive that the Prisoner might have been concerned in it, he refunded his watch, and got the guinea returned, that he had given for it.
The Witness added, that when he bought the watch, it had a linen yarn string which he took off and threw away, and put another in its place.
Wm Pearson stated that he lived at Seamer, being employed to search the field where the robbery was committed, he found a leather pocket book (on the Monday following the robbery,) containing a five guinea note.
The Prisoner made no defence.
The JUDGE after recapitulating the evidence said that the only question that could arise on a review of the evidence, was whether the Witness Mr Melbourn, after receiving so severe a blow, could be depended upon as perfectly competent to identify the person who gave it: the Jury had heard his evidence, which was given with very great fairness; that the Prisoner was the person who left the public-house in company with Mr Melbourn, was abundantly proved, and admitted by the Prisoner himself; and that he at least entered upon the foot-way with him they had the evidence of the Landlord.
On the following morning he is seen at Life [Lythe], a distance of 24 miles; apparently much fatigued, and on the same day he is offering a silver watch for sale; with an appendage similar to that described by the Prosecutor.
His Lordship greatly lamented that the Witness Sawyer had done what in him lay to defeat public justice, for it was his most bounden duty with the suspicions he evidently entertained of the Prisoner’s having committed a felony, to have caused him to be apprehended, and to have preserved the watch and the string until he was regularly called on for them.
His Lordship concluded with observing, that as the life of the Prisoner depended on their verdict, they would, before they pronounced it, weigh all the circumstances of the case with careful deliberation, and if they could reasonably doubt of the guilt of the Prisoner, acquit him of the charge; but then it must be a reasonable doubt; they should remember that public justice had also demands upon them.
The Jury, after retiring for a short time, returned to Court with a verdict of – Guilty.
The JUDGE in his address to the Prisoner, when was going to pronounce sentence of death upon him, said
“he greatly lamented that there was not one circumstance in his case, which could justify him in interposing to prevent the full execution of the law.He could hold out to him no hope of mercy; and he intreated him to devote the few, the very few days he had yet to live, in imploring the Being whose laws he had so grievously violated, but whose infinite compassion might extend that mercy to sincere repentance, which the essential interest of human society rendered it impossible for an earthly tribunal to afford.”
Yesterday, (August 15) a sermon was preached at the Chapel in the Castle, by the Rev G Brown, from Psalm ii. 19, 20, to the above unhappy person, and who is to suffer death this day.
from the Criminal Chronology of York Castle
Saturday, August 16th, 1806. – Thomas Richardson was executed at the new drop, behind the Castle walls, for robbing on the highway near Stokesley, Mr Melburn.
He confessed his crime, and died penitent.
The gallows known as the "new drop" were built in 1801 in St George's Field just outside the Castle walls.
St George's Field is now the car park nearest to the York Castle Museum; the door through which the condemned were led from prison to execution apparently remains and can be seen to the right of the Museum.