Thursday 4th December, 1862
Maidstone, Dec 3.
Crown Court. – (Before Mr. Justice Biles.)
This day had been specially appointed for the trial of the poachers for the manslaughter of the gamekeeper in the terrible struggle between gamekeepers and poachers at Roydon-hall in January last. The case has excited great interest, and illustrators forcibly the real nature of the offence called poaching and the true character of the man who engaged in it.
The history of the case is as follows:- Early in the morning, or just after midnight, on the 23rd of January last, on a fine moonlight night an under-gamekeeper of Major Cook, of Roydon-hall, East Peckham, in the parish of Nettlested, and an assistant were out watching, and, hearing guns fired in a wood they went and called up Gray, the head gamekeeper, and, with four others, making seven in all, went through the wood towards where the report of the guns were heard. After passing through the wood they entered a meadow, and there sae a party of from 10 to 13 men walking towards another part of the wood on the opposite side of the meadow. When the men saw the gamekeepers after them they turned round and faced them, being, it will be seen, nearly twice their number, and armed, whereas it did not appear that the gamekeepers had weapons (except poor Gray, who had a flail), and drew up in a line. Gray, the deceased gamekeeper, and five of the assistants went forward towards the men, and on coming near them one of the prisoners cried, “Helloa! Where are you coming too?” This man seemed to have a stick, or a gun in his hand, and the man next to him had a gun, and said “If you come another step I’ll shoot.” The other said “Yes, shoot, shoot.” The gamekeeper, Gray, said “You’ll not be so cowardly as to shoot,” and one of the poachers, with an oath, cried out that he would. What took place after this was, of course, involved in some doubt, as it appears that the men rushed on each other, and the poor gamekeeper was shot through th thigh and fell. A short but terrible struggle took place, which resulted in the flight of the poachers, and in consequence of their great preponderance in number none of them were apprehended on the spot. They all made off towards Wateringbury, which is in the direction of East Malling, where two of the prisoners (Luck and Eversfield) resided. Poor Gray earnestly begged to be taken home. “Take me home,” he said, “as quickly as you can, for I am dying. Let me see my dear wife and family once more before I die.” He lingered a few hours in agony, and died. At the spot where the affray occurred gun-caps &c., were found; and on the route home a gun; and these, it will be seen, were traced as the property of one of the prisoners. The great difficulty in the case, it will be readily perceived, was as to identity, and the particular nature of the evidence will be seen from the report of the trial. Two of the men (Luck and Eversfield) were indicted at the last assizes for manslaughter. In consequence, however of the arrest of seven other of the men, and the discovery of fresh evidence, the case was postponed, ad bills for murder were at this assize preferred against the two men first named, who were supposed to have been the two men mentioned as having threatened to shoot.
The learned Judge charged the grand jury on the case with special reference to the evidence upon the dispositions of an affray with Gray before the firing of the fatal shot, and the use by him of the flail; and he told the grand jury that, as the poachers were not engaged in a felony, the use of the flail with violence might reduce the offence to manslaughter, the men having the funs in their hands ready loaded.
In consequence of this the grand jury threw out the bills for murder, and found true bills against all the prisoners for manslaughter.
Nine men altogether had been apprehended, but in the course of the assize, as we mentioned two days ago, the counsel for the prosecution applied to the learned Judge for leave to have one of them (Hawkes) admitted as a witness for the prosecution, and the learned Judge, having the assurance of the learned counsel that it was necessary for justice, allowed this to be done. The other eight men were accordingly not arraigned at the bar charged with manslaughter, and also with night poaching. Their names were Luck, Allchin, Eversfield, Stevens, Obey, Clapsen, Burgess, and Catt.
Mr. F. Russell and Mr. F. J. Smith were counsel for the prosecution; Mr. Addison was counsel for five of the prisoners – the last five named; Mr. Ribton was for the two first named, Luck and Allchin; Eversfield was not defended by counsel.
Mr. Russell, having described with great clearness the general history of the affray, said the witnesses having been actually engaged in it, and not calm spectators, it was to be expected that there would be some discrepancies in their evidence, though not more so than was natural and inevitable where persons who had been engaged in such an affray were giving the best account they could of it. The learned counsel, adverting to the prisoner Hawks, who had been admitted as Queen’s evidence, said no doubt he would give evidence under the reasonable expectation that if he gave it truly he would escape punishment, or all but slight punishment; and no doubt the jury would be told, and told truly, that his evidence ought not to be relied on unless it was confirmed; but he said there would be abundant evidence to confirm it. The learned counsel went on to charge Luck more particularly as the man who had fired the gun. The confirmatory evidence as against him was strong. He did not go home until 2 o’clock in the morning, his head was bleeding, his gun was found covered with blood, and he had all the marks of having been engaged in a deadly struggle. As regarded Eversfield there was some difficulty, bit one of the guns picked up would be proved to have been in his possession; and he and all the other prisoners had admitted that they were engaged in the affray, though they had all denied that they had fired the gun. As regarded Eversfield, the learned counsel said the approver Hawks had stated that he was not there, and the police were not disposed to doubt that statement. Without, therefore, at once withdrawing the case as against Eversfield, the learned counsel said he should take any course his Lordship in the trial of the case might suggest. They learned counsel then went on to state the law as applicable to the case. By the 14th and 15th Victoria, cap 109, sec 11, any person might arrest men found committing an indictable offence at night.
The learned Judge observed that there was another power to arrest in such a case, under an older Act (9th George IV.) not repealed.
Mr. Russell said that was so, and he supposed he might take it, then, that the gamekeepers had power to arrest the poachers in this case; and if the gamekeeper killed had used no unnecessary violence, and had acted temperately in his efforts to apprehend them, the man who shot him would have been clearly guilty of murder. But if, in attempting to arrest them, he had used a weapon likely to inflict a serious injury, and did not act with caution and temperance, it might well be that the provocation given by such violence might reduce the crime to manslaughter. And it might well be that as regards offences committed, not against the person, but merely against property, so much violence would not be justifiable as in the case of violence offered to the person. Still, however, if the man who fired meant to kill, the offence would, at the very least, be manslaughter. And as regarded the other prisoners who were all present engaged in the common purpose of committing an indictable offence, and also in the common purpose of resisting with deadly weapons lawful apprehension and arrest, they were all equally guilty in the eye of the law of the same crime of manslaughter. The learned counsel concluded his opening statement, which was equally clear and temperate, by entreating the jury to give to a case so exceedingly serious their calm and dispassionate consideration.
The first witness called was Sexton, one of the watchers. He said they heard no less than six shots before they men the men. The poachers came to within six or seven yards of them, and quite near enough to hear what was said. Seven of them had guns; the gamekeepers had none, but Gray had a flail, which was produced. One of the poachers said, “The first man that sets a step forward I’ll shoot.” Gray called out, “Oh, you would not be so cowardly as to shoot.” The man cried out, “So help me God, I will.” Another gamekeeper called out, “No, no; the same God who is over you is over me. You won’t shoot.” One of the poachers with an oath declared he would. The witness could not say who it was. Gray then said to his men, “Are you ready?” and they answered “Yes.” Then (said the witness) we all made a go at them. One of the men (he could not tell which of them) fired his gun, and Gray was shot in the thigh. I believe (said the witness) that he was shot before a blow was struck.
The learned Judge. – What blow?
Witness. – Before my blow was struck. He was shot, I believe, before any one was hit. He did not fall at once. He struck one of two blows after he was shot. Then he fell.
This witness gave his evidence very clearly, and to all appearance very truthfully, and neither of the learned counsel for the prisoners attempted to shake his testimony by cross-examination. They only asked one or two questions, not tending at all to have that effect. They elicited that Gray had flourished the flail, but not that he used it before he was shot.
Wood (the man already mentioned) was the next witness. He said he now saw he had sworn at first before the magistrates to the wrong man. Eversfield, the man he had seen, was another of the prisoners (whom he now pointed out), and whom he had not seen since the night in question. He now recognised him, and said that he had been mistaken in swearing to Eversfield.
This witness gave his evidence with great appearance of frankness and truthfulness; and it should be observed that Eversfield and the man he now identified had a general resemblance and were about the same age and stature, and something of the same appearance in complexion and cast of feature.
The witness went on to say that the poachers had guns and stood in a row, and he thought there were 13. He spoke to the same expressions, but could not say who used them. He said, “You won’t shoot?” and the man said, “So help me God, I will!” and the man he now identified said, “Shoot, shoot!” All the men down the row said so, or seemed to say so. Gray said, “Go in to them; they won’t be so cowardly as to shoot.” The men said, “By God we will.” The witness said, “The same God is over you as is over us; you won’t shoot.” Gray rushed forward, and whether (said the witness) he hit the first blow of not, I don’t know, but I heard the flail rattle before he was shot. Whether he made it rattle to guard a blow or not I can’t say; but I heard his flail rattle before he was shot. The poachers had not moved from their places before the shot. He could not say who fired the gun. The keepers then tried to get hold of the guns, and (said the witness) “I did my best, but three of them were on me at once, and gave it to me so warm that I couldn’t stand it.” He went towards Gray, who was on his back, with a man over him,, of whom he had hold, while they were struggling. Witness hit this man several times, and the man called out to the others, and the witness was at once knocked down, being struck on the back part of his head. They took the man away from Gray and stood together, and then one said to the others, “Now, we may as well start.” Gray was bleeding from a shot wound in his thigh, and said. “Take me home as soon as you can, and let me see my dear wife and family before I die, for I am a-dying,” and he added, “They’re Malling men.” He died at 5 o’clock that morning. Witness was with him when he died.
Cross-examined. – The witness said he did not see Gray strike anybody, nor see him swing the flail round. He heard the flail rattle, that was all. He could not say whether he used it or not. He was pressed a good deal as to whether before the coroner he had not said that Gray had struck one of the poachers. This he denied, but he admitted that he had said there was a “regular fight and right down hard beating,” and “so there was,” he said.
Hammond, another of the watchers, described the scene in a similar way, but stated that the poachers, when they saw the gamekeepers, “formed themselves into a line, as one of the ordered them to do.” He believed it was Luck who fired the gun. He saw it fired, and, to the best of his belief, Luck was the man. He could not say whether Gray struck any one, but he did not strike that man (Luck); not before he fired. After the shot was fired the witness was knocked down, and he could not recognize any other of the men.
Cross-examined. – He believed that Luck was the man who fired the gun; he was just like him; he believed him to be the man; he was not quite sure. He saw the man point the gun. He could not say how far he was from him at the time.
Another of the gamekeepers’ assistants named Masters described the poachers as “in a line across the meadow.” He saw one of the poachers turn the butt of his gun up to strike Gray who said, “That looks a little more manly than shooting.” Then the witness said he believed that Gray made a blow with the flail, and as soon as he had made a blow he was shot by another poacher, not the one he had struck at. The man pointed the gun at Gray and shot him in the thigh; who it was the witness said could not say positively, but believed it was Luck. He said so next morning when he saw him.
Another of the assistants described the poachers as “standing in a row.” The witness picked up a cap dropped by one of them, and it was bloody inside. He spoke as to Burgess, but no other prisoner.
A surgeon, who had been called in to see Gray, and was with him when he died, stated that he had died from exhaustion, caused by bleeding. The wound was just where the femoral artery lies. Gray was 40 years of age, a tall man, nearly 6ft. high. He was shot on the very night of his birthday.
The next witness called was John Hawks, the approver. He was a prisoner in gaol, and had to be fetched therefrom. His appearance at the bar seemed greatly excite the prisoners at the bar. He said he was a labourer at Snodland and he remembered the night when Gray was shot. On that night Catt and Burgess came to his house and asked him if he was minded to go and have a “shoot,” and he said he did not mind. The three went into a publichouse at Snodland, and left it – at what house he could not say – together. They went to Ham-hill, and called for Stevens and Clapson, who joined them. They then all went to a place called Larkfield, and there William Allchin (not the prisoner of that name, but his brother), met them. They then went to East Malling. There two of three more joined them. He went to a publichouse and had some beer. Burgess and Luck went round by the road; the witness and the others went across a field, and they met again; the witness was a stranger to the place himself. They all then went into the woods. There were several who had guns. The witness said he had one himself, and Burgess, Luck and Catt had guns; he did not know how many others. When they got into the woods several shots were fired at birds. Then they went into a meadow, and then the keepers came round before them and stopped them. All of the men were there at that time. Eversfield was not there at all. Gray was the first who came down to them; he had a flail and a life-preserver. The men asked him to let them go. He said he had been looking for them; and he hit at one man with the flail. He said, “My good fellows, don’t shoot, there’s a God above us all.” Catt said, “You ben’t agoing to hit am man with that flail, are you? He said, “Stand back – that he wasn’t going to handle ne’er a one.” After that (apparently after the struggle had begun) the witness stated that Gray had said he would smash their brains out before they should go. The men had started on when he began to hit them. He hit one man (the witness could not say which). There was then a tussle, and the gun was fired. Luck was the man who fired it. The witness said he was standing on the right hand of Luck at the time. Then there was a struggle, and Allchin, Obey, Burgess, and himself “drawed off.” Orders were not given by any one that the witness heard, but Allchin and Luck led them into the wood.
Cross-examined by Mr. Ridton. – There was another man, the prisoner Allchin, who first gave information, and he (the witness) was first apprehended on his information.
Mr. Ribton. – Why, there was a race between you who should give information first, wasn’t there?
Witness. – I don’t know about that.
Mr. Ribton. – Did you now at first say you knew nothing about it?
Witness admitted that he had.
Mr. Ribton. – When did you first admit you were there?
Witness. – When we were had up in the lockup-house.
Mr. Ribton asked him whether he had not said one day to the Allchins that if something was not done to keep Luck’s wife quiet she would be talking, and that it would be best to say that Luck fired the shot.
The witness said he did not say that; he could not remember exactly what was said, but he had said nothing about that. He was next to Luck, and saw the flash of the gun and saw it go off in his hands. There was a tussle before the gun went off.
The witness seemed to give his evidence fairly, and it will be seen it was not at all shaken, nor was he at all discredited by anything beyond his acknowledged complicity in this particular affair.
A witness from one of the beershops mentioned by the approver spoke to Burgess, Hawks, and, he believed, Catt as having left at 9 o’clock on the night in question.
A witness was called who had picked up a gun in the route to Wateringbury, and this and the cap were traced to Luck.
A policeman proved that Eversfield, when apprehended, said he feared he was “fixed,” and he must make up his mind to bear his punishment. (It will have been observed that the approver had sworn that Eversfield was not there.)
The learned Judge desired the constable to repeat this statement, and he said that the officer had charged him with night poaching and the murder of Gray, and then he said, “I can see I am fixed, and I must put up with the punishment.”
The learned Judge pointed out the verbal variance between the two statement.
The witness said the words were, “I see I am fixed.”
The learned Judge observed that this was a third variance.
The constable said the words were, “I can see I am fixed,” &c.
The learned Judge. – Don’t suppose I suggest that you have given your evidence improperly; on the contrary, O think you have not; but I merely wishes to test your recollection of the precise words used, since your evidence is very important as against the prisoner Eversfield.
The constable was a very honest-looking fellow, and gave his evidence with an air of great truthfulness, and no one in court seemed to suppose that the slight verbal variances in his evidence were marks of falsehood, but the entire contradiction of his evidence to that of the approver excited some sensation.
The next witness, another constable, who had taken Luck into custody, said he had found that he had a marked of a cut on his temple, which he said he had “got in the Crimea.” This was three months after the affray. The witness stated also that a constable had said to Eversfield, “A gun which some one lent you had been found at Roydon-hall,” and Eversfield said he had given it to his son. Afterwards he said he had burnt it. The constable said he could not have done so, as he had got it. Eversfield said he should like to see it, and after looking at it he said he gave it to young Cook, the son of a beerhouse keeper at Malling, who kept the house where some of the poachers had met.
This evidence also surprised everybody who had heard the approver’s evidence.
Another constable, who had been to Luck’s house and asked him to show him the gun he had a Roydon-hall, and he did so, and the witness now produced it. It appeared to have been broken in several places, and riveted, as I it had been broken by blows given with it. This constable said that Allchin had given some information before the approver hawks.
There was an attempt to elicit from some of the witnesses in cross-examination that the men were on a footpath in the meadow.
A labouring man proved that Luck had no mark of a blow before the affray; that after it he had a black eye and a cut over the temple. On this being remarked, he said he had run against a fellow’s fist the other night. He was not observed at work again until two of three days after the night in question.
A very respectable woman with whom Luck had lived, and who gave her evidence against him with evident emotion, stated that on the night in question he had taken away a gun and the cap produced. He left soon after 9, and said he was going to Peckham. She did not see him against until 2 o’clock in the morning. He came home alone, his face covered with blood, and very much knocked about on the head and body. He had four large wounds on his head and one on his temple. He brought back the gun with blood on it/ He said there was a fight, and that he was the first man knocked down with the flail; that he was knocked about while down and quite insensible; that he could not say how long he lay there, but when he came a little to himself he saw his mates and the keepers all fighting together; that he went to get up to help them, but before he could get to his feet was knocked down again, and lay until Allchin helped him up. He was brought back a billycock hat which was soaked in blood, and which the witness said she burnt. She did not see the cap, he had taken the cap in his pocket when he went out, and had put the billycock on.
In answer to Mr. Ribton, the witness said that he had always told her he had not known that a gun was fired until he was going home, when one of his mates told him so.
By the learned Judge. – I have lived with him as his wife for four years.
Hulse, a policeman had gone to Eversfield’s house in Malling, in April last, and asked him to produce the gun his master had lent him. He at first denied it, but when told that his master had stated that he had lent it, he said he had given it to his son, then that he had burnt it, and then that he had given it to Cook, the son of the beerhouse-keeper. A few days later the witness stated that he told Eversfield one of the watchers had identified him (the witness Wood), and that he was charged with the night poaching and the death of Gray, the gamekeeper. Upon that he said, “Well, if they identified me, I suppose I must