A Navy Court Martial

1807


Tuesday, 6 October 1807

COURT MARTIAL.

On the 2d instant a Court Martial was held on board the Salvador del Mundo, in Hamoaze, Plymouth, on charges exhibited by Captain Dilkes, of His Majesty's ship Hazard, atgainst William Berry, First Lieutenant of the said ship, for a breach of the 2d and 29th articles; the former respecting uncleanness, and the latter the horrid and abominable crime which delicacy forbids me to name.
     THOMAS GIBBS, a boy belonging to the ship, proved the offence, as charged to have been committed on the 23d August, 1807. Several other witnesses were called in corroboration, among whom was
     ELIZABETH BOWDEN, a little female, who has been on board the Hazard these eight months; curiosity had prompted her to look through the key hole of the cabin door, and it was thus she became possessed of the evidence which she gave. She appeared in Court dressed in a long jacket and blue trowsers.

The evidence being heard in support of the charges, but the prisoner not being prepared to enter upon his defence, begged time, which the Court readily granted,until ten o'clock on Saturday, at which hour the Court assembled again, and having heard what the prisoner had to offer in his defence, and having maturely and deliberately weighed and considered the same, the Court were of opinion, that the charges had been fully proved, and did adjudge the said William Berry to be hanged at the hard-arm of such one of his Majesty's ships, and at such time, as the Right Hon. the Commissioner of the Admiralty shall direct. – Sir J. T. Duckworth was the President.

The unfortunate prisoner is above six feet high, remarkably well made, and as fine and handsome a man as is in the British navy. He was to have been married on his return to port.
          (Morning Chronicle; this cutting is in William Beckford's scrapbook now in the Beinecke Library.)

Saturday, 10 October 1807

On Friday a Court Martial, at which Sir J. Duckworth presided, was held on board his Majesty's ship Salvador del Mundo, in Hamoaze, Plymouth, on charges exhibited by Captain Dilkes, of his Majesty's ship Hazard, against William Berry, First Lieutenant of the said ship, for a breach of the 2d and 29th articles of war; the former respecting uncleanliness, &c. the latter the commission of an unnatural crime with thomas Gibbs, a boy belonging to the Hazard, on the 23d of august, 1807. The evidence being heard in support of the charges, the prisoner not having prepared his defence, begged time, when the Court readily granted, till Saturday at ten o'clock. At that hour the Court assembled again, and having heard what the prisoner had to offer in his defence, and maturely weighed and considered the same, the Court was of opinion the charges had been fully proved, and accordingly adjudged the prisoner to be hanged at the yard arm of such one of his Majesty's ships, and at such time as the Commissioners of the Admiralty shall direct. One of the witnesses on this awful land horrible trial was the little female tar, Elizabeth Bowden, who has been on board the Hazard these eight months. She appeared in Court in a long jacket and blue trowsers; that part of her evidence which respected the prisoner, curiosity had prompted her to observe through the key-hole of the cabin door. (Jackson's Oxford Journal, Issue 2841)

Monday, 12 October 1807

COURT MARTIAL. – On Friday a Court Martial, at which Sir J. Duckworth presided was held on board his Majesty’s ship Salvador del Mundo, in Hamoaze, Plymouth, on charges exhibited by Capt. Dilkes, of his Majesty’s ship Hazard, against W. Berry, First Lieutenant of the said ship, for a breach of the 2d and 29th articles of war; the former respecting uncleanliness; &c. the latter for the commission of a crime we do not chuse to mention. The Court having heard what the prisoner had to offer in his defence, and having maturely considered the same, was of the opinion that the charges had been fully proved, and adjudged the prisoner to be hanged at the yard-arm of such one of his Majesty’s ships, as the Commissioners of the Admiralty shall direct. One of the witnesses was a little female Tar, Elizabeth Bowden, who has been on board the Hazard these eight months. She appeared in Court in a long jacket and blue trowsers; that part of her evidence which respected the prisoner, curiosity had prompted her to observe through the key-hole of the cabin-door. (Glasgow Herald)

22 October 1807

EXECUTION OF LIEUTENANT BERRY.

On Monday the sentence of the court-Martial was put in execution on Lieutenant Berry, late First Lieutenant of the Hazard sloop of war. The prisoner, being removed from the Salvador del Mundo, to the Hazard, lying alongside a hulk in Hamoaze, at nine o'clock uppeared, and mounted the scaffold with the greatest fortitude; he then requested to speak with the Rev. Mr. BIRDWOOD, on the scaffold; he said a few words to him, but in so low a tone of voice that he could not be distinctly heard: and on the blue cap being put over his face, the fatal bow-gun was fired, and he was immediately run up to the starboard fore-yard-arm, with a 32lb. shot tied to his legs. Unfortunately the knot had got round under his chin, which caused great convulsions for a quarter of an hour. After being suspended the usual time, he was lowered into his coffin, which was ready to receive him in a boat immediately under, and conveyed to the Royal Hospital, where his friends mean to apply for his body to inter. He was a native of Lancaster, and only 22 yars of age. For the last week he seemed very penitent, and perfectly resigned.

A curious circumstance occurred while the prisoner was in the cabin with the Clergyman, receiving the sacrament. A woman came alongside the Hazard's hulk, and handed a letter up, signed Elizabeth Roberts, addressed to the Commanding Officer, which stated that Lieutenant William Berry could be yet saved, and that the person who could do it was alongside; – it was by marriage. The woman was ordered on board, and put under the care of a sentinel. When the execution was over, Captain DILKES, with the Clergyman and others, questioned the woman: she said she had dreamed a dream last night, that if she went on board the Hazard this day, and that if Lieutenant Berry would marry her, he would not suffer death. On being asked who advsed her, she replied that she told her dream to some women where she lived in Dock, who recommended her to go, in consequence of her dream. She was admonished, and sent on shore.
          (The Times; the "curious circumstance" was also reported in the Aberdeen Journal for 28 October.)

Monday, 26 October 1807

EXECUTION OF LIEUT. BERRY.

PORTSMOUTH, OCT. 19. – This morning, at eight o’clock, the signal for an execution was made on board the Salvador del Mundo, 112, Admiral Young, in Hamaore; and repeated by the Hazard, 18, Capt. Dilkes on board which ship the execution was to take place. About nine a.m. a boat from each ship, manned and armed, attended round the Hazard. Lieut. Berry was then conveyed from the flag-ship, attended by the Provost Martial, in a boat to the Hazard, where he spent some time in prayer, attended by the Chaplain of the flag-ship. He was then conducted along the gangway to a platform erected on the forecastle: the executioner then reeved the rope round his neck, when, declaring he was ready, the fatal bow gun fired, and he was run up to the fore-yard arm. He appeared to struggle for a few moments, by the struggling soon ceased. – After hanging an hour, his remains were lowered into a shell in a boat alongside, and conveyed to the Royal Naval Hospital to be delivered to his friends for interment. – Thus perished, by the hands of the executioner, a young gentleman, in the bloom of life, for a crime not fit to be named among Christians. He was of a respectable family in Lancashire, and his father and uncle are overwhelmed with grief at the unhappy exit from this world of a favourite son and nephew.

Tuesday, 27 October 1807

[Report of Berry's execution identical to that of The Times, but with the following addition:]
          For the last week he seemed penitent, firmly collected, and prepared to meet his fate. – Thus perished by the hands of the executioner, a young gentleman in the bloom of life, for a crime not fit to be named amongst Christians. – He was of a very respectable family; his father and uncle are overwhelmed with grief at the unhappy end of a favourite son and nephew. (The Hull Packet and Original Weekly Commercial, Literary and Genderal Advertiser, Issue 1085)


CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "A Navy Court Martial, 1807," Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 26 November 2006; updated 2 March 2011 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1807berr.htm>.


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