John Grosset Muirhead, 1825

The following newspaper reports concern the very interesting case of John Grossett Muirhead of St George's, Hanover Square. In 1825 Muirhead met an apprentice outside a print shop in Sackville Street, off Piccadilly, where he showed him some indecent prints and books, and two "skins" (i.e. condoms) which he bet he could not fit into. One of these condoms was later produced in evidence in court, and its use had to be explained. He took the young man to a coffee house for a pint of cider and biscuits, where he showed him some more dirty pictures, held his hand and fondled him, gave him a half a crown, and arranged for another meeting to have sex. The lad thought Muirhead was "a good-natured old gentleman" and was not averse to his attentions, but two other boys to whom he told this story said he had to be careful. The following Sunday Muirhead took all three boys, one aged 14 and one aged 21, to an oyster shop, where he showed them more pornography and fondled them and gave them half a crown apiece. Before he could proceed any further, two officers, by previous arrangement, burst in and arrested him. Muirhead did not deny the events, but he argued that there were no legal grounds for a prosecution: "first, that it was not an assault, because the prisoner had the consent of the party; and secondly, it was not an offence indictable in the present shape, because it was committed in private". But the judge replied that "In crimes of this atrocious description, consent or non-consent did not alter the offence, and it was an offence against public morals, not only because it was committed in a public coffee-room, but because it was an attempt to destroy the morals of youthful members of society". His crime was exacerbated by the fact that he was a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and a Director of the Auxiliary Bible Society of St George's in the Fields! He was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment for the first offence and six months for the second. He pleaded for clemency on the grounds that he was 72 years old and infirm, and not likely to survive prison. The judge said he would be treated humanely. He certainly did survive prison, for three years and nine months later he was arrested in Dover for a similar offence (July 1829), and fled to the continent.

23 August 1825

Yesterday Sir George Farrant and Mr. Conant, Magistrates, were occupied for a considerable portion of the day in the investigation of a case which involved, perhaps, as much of human depravity as can well be imagined, and considerably more than we can venture to pollute our columns by detailing in full. It was known in the morning that a person of rank and fortune had been incustody ssince the day before, upon a charge of a very scandalous nature, and the Office was in consequence crowded at a very early hour as well by the friends of the accused person, as by others who came led thither from motives of curiosity. Various and repeated applications were made, in the most urgent manner, to the Magistrtes to have a private examination in the case, but the latter very properly gave a decided negative to such a proposal.
          The prisoner in this case is John Grossett Muirhead, Esq. residing at No 16, Sloane-street, brother in law to the Duke of Athol, and otherwise connected with some of the first families in Scotland. At one o-clock the prisoner was brought into the Magistrate's private room, where the case was heard, the Public Office being occupied by Mr Roe in hearing the ordinary business of the day. He is a very venerable and genteel looking man, apparently about 70 years of age, wore powder, and was dressed in a blue coat, and nankeen breeches and gaiters. He was attended by Mr. Smith, a Solicitor, and a host of friends besides, many of whom seemed deeply affected and much agitated from the situation in which Mr. Muirhead was placed.
          The first witness examined was Charles Burton Lane, a remarkably handsome youth, 16 years of age, and apprenticed to Mr. Spilsbury, jeweller, No 8, Poland-street, Oxford-street. This witness deposed, that on Monday, the 15th inst. he was standing, between twelve and one o'clock in the day, looking at some pictures in the window of a print shop a the corner of Air-street and the Regent's Quadrant, when the prisoner, whom he had never seen before, came up and stood close to him, and began to make some remarks to him about some sporting prints in the window; immediately after which he drew out of his pocket a thing like a piece of bladder (the same now produced), and offered to lay a wager with witness (the purport of this wager is too gross to be stated). He then asked the witness to walk a little way with him, and they walked together in a public house at the corner of Mary-le-bonne [sic] street, where they went up stairs to a room on the first floor, but there were some other persons there, and they went out again. Prisoner then led him to a coffee-house at the corner of Old Burling-street and Regent-street, where they went into the coffee-room, and sat together in a box. The prisoner called for some cider and biscuits, which they used while sitting in the box. The prisoner pulled out a book (the same now produced), containing a number of prints of the most indecent and shocking nature, and shewed them to him, pointing out and explaining the character of each. After exposing many of these prints to him, the prisoner took hold of his hand — (Here the witness described what we cannot.) – Prisoner also took liberties with the person of the witness. They then quitted the coffee room, and when they got into the street, the prisoner made witness a present of a large parint of an indecent nature (the same now produced), gave him half-a-crown, and at the same time made an appointment to meet him on the Sunday following – that was, last Sunday, at 10 minutes after 12 o'clock, at the end of Cranborne-street, in Castle-street, Leicester-square; and he took down his (witness's) name and address. On the Friday following, however, witness received from the prisoner, desiring that the meeting on Sunday should be at half-past 12, instead of 10 minutes, as he had named. Witness communicated his meeting with the prisoner, and his appointment to meet him again, to his master, who brought him to this Office on Saturday night last, and stated the particulars to Mr. Plank, who directed him to be sure to keep the appointment with the Gentleman on Sunday; and accordingy he went, at half-past 12 o'clock, to Cranborne-street, but did not see the prisoner. After waiting about 20 minutes, however, he made his appearance, and witness accused him of being behind his time; but prisoner said, it was time enough, and enquired if he had received his letter. Witness said he had, taking it out of his pocket. The prisoner immediately got hold of the letter, and tore it into pieces. They then walked together into Leicester-street, Leicester-square, and there they met a young lad, whom witness did not know, but to whom prisoner spoke familiarly, and they all three walked together, and were led by the prisoner to an oyster shop, No. 3, Long-acre, where they went up stairs into a room on the first floor, and the prisoner called for some oysters; after which, he closed the shutters of the windows partly, and drew the curtains. They then all three sat down in a box together, and the prisoner began to conduct himself in the same manner as he had done at the coffee house in Burlington-street; and at this instant Mr. Plank, and two other Officers, entered the room.
          This witness was sharply cross-examined by the prisoner, who took the duty of a Solicitor entirely out of Mr. Smith's hands. He asked him, if he had not concealed from his master, from the Monday until the Saturday, that he had received the half-crown, and all the other proceedings; and if the Coffee-room in Burlington-street was not an open room, with several Gentlemen sitting in it, and the waiter passing in and out. – The witness said, that there were other persons in the Coffee-room, but not within view of their box; and as to concealing what occurred until Saturday,he did not, for he mentioned it, and showed the picture to the foreman of Mr. Spilsbury when he got home on the Monday.
          Thomas Miles, the foreman in question, stated, that the last witness did tell all the particulars when he came home on Monday, of his meeting with an old Gentleman, who gave him an indecent picture, and half-a-crown.
          The prisoner was about to put some other questions; when Mr. Conant assured him, that by such a course he was doing himself more injury than service; and Mr. Smith also advised him to be silent.
          The next witness was a very fine intelligent youth, also 16 years of age, named Thomas Hodson, the orphan son of a Clergyman of the Church of England, and apprenticed by the Clergymen's Orphan Society School, where he was brought up, to Mr. Dickinson, a Surgeon and Apothecary, in Wardour-street, Soho.
          This witness deposed, that, about five months ago, he saw the prisoner, for the first time, who came into his master's shop and made some purchases, and occasionally he came afterwards for the same purpose; but never made any proposal to witness until about six weeks ago, when he asked him if his master ever gave him leave to go out; he replied, that he did on Sundays. Prisoner then asked him to meet him on the following Sunday, in Leicester-street, Leicester-square, at half-past twelve o'clock, which he accordingly did. The prisoner then walked with him, and led him to the oyster shop, in Long-acre, named by the first witness, where they went up to the first floor, and had some oysters; but the prisoner, on that occasion, took no liberties with him further than shewing him several prints of an indecent description; he believes the same as those produced. They then parted, making an appointment to meet again on that day fortnight, also in Leicester-street, where they accordingly did meet, and went to the same oyster-shop; but when they went up stairs, the room was in a state of disorder, and not cleaned since the over night; so they did not stop there, but went to another oyster-shop, in some court in the neighbourhood, where they had a lobster, and some ginger-beer; and then went back to the old shop in Long-acre which had the room up stairs cleaned by the time. Here they had some oysters, and the prisoner closed the window-curtains, and exposed himself; (the witness now described a scene too shocking to mention any particulars of) and, at the same time, had various prints of the most disgusting nature spread upon the table, and occasionally pointing the attention of the witness to some of the figures of each. After this scene they parted, with an appointment to meet a third time on last Sunday, in Leicester-street, where witness was waiting for the prisoner; when he came up, accompanied by the first witness, and they allwent together, as has already been described, to the same oyster-shop, and were all taken into custody by the Officers.
          Mr. Conant asked this witness if the prisoner did not give him some money? – Witness replied, that he did, on every occasion, give him half-a-crown; and to a question from the prisoner, he acknowledged that he never mentioned to his master, or any body else, any of the circumstances.
          The next witness examined was Clements, one of the Officers of this Establishment, who deposed that he went, accompanied by Mr. Plant, the Chief Officer, and Schofield, to Cranborne-street, Leicester-square, on Sunday last, according to an arrangement made with the first witness Lane, and there he saw the prisoner join Lane in a few minutes, and they walked together to Leicester-street, where the witness Hodson also joined them, and all three went along Lisle-street, and on to the oyster shop in Long Acre, where they went in. The Officers waited for some time outside, and then suddenly entered the shop, and proceeding up stairs, they went into the room on the first floor, where the prisoner and the two youths were together, and the curtain of the windows closed. Mr. Plant instantly went up to the prisoner, and asked him his name. He replied by asking the Officer what was that to him; but at last he said Jemison. Witness then seized hold of the prisoner, said he ahd a warrant aainst him, and he must search him. To this he objected, saying he had no right to do so, and offered every resistance in his power. Witness, however, held up both his arms, and saw that the lower part of his dress was quite unbuttoned, and hanging down, and witness called to Plank and Schofield to observe it. They then searched the prisoner, and took from his pockets all the books, papers, &c. now produced.
          Plank and Schofield confirmed the statement o the last witness, and said, that after some time the prisoner gave his real name and address; they then brought him to the Office, and he was ordered by Mr. Conant to be detained for re-examination yesteray. Plank said, that he also toko the boy Hodson into custody, not knowing at the time who he was, but in the course of Sunday Mr. Dickinson, his master, became bail for his appearance.
          The books, papers, &c. found upon the prisoner consisted of a collection of the most abominable indecencies, in point of language and prints, that can be conceived; there were also severla of those things like bladder, spoken of by the first witness, to which the prisoner, in the hearing of every one in the Office, shamefully gave the name by which they are known; there were also found on him lozenges of different sorts, intended, it is supposed, for excitement, and an ivory 12 inch rule, the use of which, in his hands, was also mentioned. In his pockets were several letters, which, from their contents, evidently came from other youths who had had meetings with the prisoner. One letter, of a very curious nature, was from a man named Tuck, of the same age, it was said, as the prisoner.
          This closed the case against the prisoner, who was asked by the Magistrate if he wished to say any thing. He said, he considered it a very hard case if a gentleman could not have in his possession, either about his person or at his house, such prints as those, without being liable to punishment.
          Mr. Conant said, that a man may undoubtedly do any thing, however detestable, but he must take thie consequence of it.
          But (said the prisoner) I wish to know, is it an offence against any law to have possession of such prints? – No (said Mr. Conant); but it is an offence against law, and against morals, to use them for the corruption of these youths.
          Mr. Conant then told the prisoner, that he must produce two responsible bail in 500l. each, and himself be gound in the same of 1000l. upon each of the two charges against him, to apepar at the next Westminster Sessions; that is, in the whole, recotgnizances to the amount of 4000l.; and he must also give 48 hours notice of bail, and be brought up again on Wednesday morning, to see if any further charges should be preferred against him.
          The prisoner said, that he hoped the Magistrates would send him to a prison where he might have tolerable accommodation; he was now in his 72d year, and he required some indulgence.
          Mr. Conant said, that his age was an aggravation of his offence; but he should be sent to the House of Correction, where, no doubt, he would have all that was necessary for his accommodation.
          The prisoner said, he understood that it was said by one of the Officers of this Office, that he knew him, and had seen him at 12 o'clock at night, going to a house in Pall-mall, in company with a footman. Now the fact was, that he never went out after dinnere, as was well known to his servants, except in his carriage.
          Here Schofield came forward, and said, that he was the person that said so; and if Mr. Muirhead wishes, he should have all the particulars then stated. This, however, the prisoner declined.
          Dr. Veitch, of Cadogan-place, attended, as a friend of the prisoner, and declared it as his opinion, that the conduct of the prisoner arose out of a strange fatuity, that sometimes seizes on men in a very advanced stage of life.
          The prisoner was then committed.
          Several requests were made of the Magistrate to lessen the amount of bail; but the prisoner being understood to be a man of nearly 10,000l. a year, the bail was not deemed at all too exorbitant. (Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser)

23 August 1825

. . . The masters of the two youths were bound in 30l. each for their appearance to give evidence. (Globe)

25 August 1825

Yesteray bieng the day named for the further examination of John Grossett Muirhead, Esq. in custody upon a charge of a very revolting nature, long before the house appointed (one o'clock), the Office was crowded to excess, chiefly by persons attracted by curiosity to see a person who was stated to have so scandalously degraded the station which rank, fortune, and eduction, had assighed to him in society. There were none of Mr. Muirhead's private friends who attended on the first day on this occasion; and Mr. Smith no longer appeared as his Solicitor, but was succeeded by Mr. Harmer, as being, no doubt, better acquainted with criminal law.
          A rew mintues after one o'clock, four Magistrates, Sir George Farrant, Mr. Dyer, Mr. Roe, and Mr. Conant, having taken their seats upon the Bench, the prisoner was brought into the public Office, and placed at the bar where very other description of offenders are made to take their station. He seemed to have suffered something in point of health since his former examination, but was to all appearances perfectly at ease, and indifferent about the proceedings.
          John Charnton, a young man, about 18 years of age, being sworn, stated, that about nine months ago the prisoner came into the shop of Mr. Beatie, oil and colourman, No. 18, Little Newport-street, where witness is apprentice, and purchased some trifling article, for which he paid, and quitted the shop without having said any thing of a particular nature to the witness; he, however, came to the shop several times after, on many of which occasions he introduced very indecent topics of conversation, and used to the witness the most disgusting, and (to use the witness's phrase) blackguard language. – (Here the witness repeated, at the desire of the Magistrate, the language alluded to, which is by much too gross for us more particularly to allude to.) – He also proposed to the witness, after asking him if his master ever gave him leave to go out, to meet him, and go with him to an oyster-shop, at the corner of Mr. Hamby's livery-stable, and said that if he (witness) would consent to certain proposals (the witness here stated those proposals, which we cannot do), he, the prisoner, would give him a new coat and a 10l. note. To get rid of the importunities of the prisoner, witness consented to send to him and let him know what day he could get out; but he never did so, nor had he any idea of performing such a promise. Indeed, after the prisoner was gone, he mentioned to his master the prisoner's proposal; and Mr. Beatie desired him, on no account, to meet him, or suffer him to enter the shop, and the prisoner did not come afterwards, and he saw nothing more of him.
          Mr. Harmer here interfered, and said, that really it was too much to make a disgusting conversation of this kind, if it even did take place, evidence against Mr. Muirheaed, and asked the witness, if the prisoner had ever attempted to lay hands on him, or take any personal liberties with him. – Witness replied, that he never had; for he would not have permitted him to do so.
          The prisoner here exclaimed – "So help me God, I never did! This is a conspiracy against me; and undue means have been used to bring forward this witness."
          Mr. Harmer requested Mr. Muirhead to be silent; but he requested in vain; for the prisoner went on talking and laughing, as if in derision of the charge and evidence against him, until Mr. Harmer at last said – "Mr. Muirhead, if you are determined not to be silent, I cannot make you; but unless you are, my attendance must be useless and unnecessary."
          Mr. Harmer now submitted, that the evidence of the last witness went for nothing, for he had proved nothing that was cognizable by the Magistrates.
          Mr. Conant said, that he certainly did understand that this witness could have given very different evidence, and gone much farther than he had done; and it seemed to him (Mr. Conant) that some tampering had been used.
          Mr. Harmer said, that his client was also of opinion, that tampering had been used to bring him forward.
          Mr. Conant now observed, that he understood there was a Gentelmen present who had some other evidence to give respecting the prisoner.
          Here Mr. Fores, who keeps a print and caricature shop at the corner of Sackville-street, in Piccadilly, came forward, and said, that he had something to state.
          Mr. Fores was then sworn, and said, that he has known the prisoner a long time as a most detestable character; he has often observed through his window, at which there is generally collected a crowd of persons, the prisoner make his way gradually through them, until he got close to some youth. – (Mr. Fores here described the most scandalous practices on the part of the prisoner.) – He (witness) having seen repeated instances of this kind of conduct in the prisoner, thought it his duty to consult two Magistrates, to know if he could not have him apprehended for it; but they gave it as their opinion, that Mr. Fores's evidence would not go far enough. Witness has often endeavoured to make the prisoner aware that he knew what he was at, and, if possible, to shame him away from the place, by holding up to his face a print of the Bishop of Clogher; but instead of going away in consequence, he stood and looked at it with the utmost unconcern.
          And is this you, Mr. Fores, (said the prisoner) who comes forward against me – a man whom I have patronized, and done material services to. – Done me a service! (said Mr. Fores); I would not accept a service at the hand of such a wretch. I believe you once laid out 4s. or 5s. in prints at my shop, if you call that a service; but you know I know you well, and have seen your practices at my window, with boys, often; and you know that it is as long as 16 years ago – you were the talk of the town. I remember my opposite neighbour, Mr. Lincoln, the hatter, calling out to me one morning, as I stood at my shop-door, "There is that rascal, Muirhead, gone up the street with a country-looking young boy, that he has just got hold of, along with him;" and I ran as fast as I could after you, but your disappeared.
          Mr. Harmer asked when this took place. – Mr. Fores said two years ago.
          Mr. Harmer submitted that it was really too bad to hunt a man down in this way, by detailing circumstances and stories of a man's conduct at such a distance of time.
          Mr. Conant said, that although he did not propose to make this evidence against the prisoner, yet he did nto think it unfit to have it stated, because until he had heard what Mr. Fores had to say how could he judge if it were evidence or not. If he (Mr. Conant) were disposed to make all the facts and circumstances stated to him evidence against Mr. Muirhead, he could tall Mr. Harmer that he could trace these practices of the prisoner not to two but to 20 years back.
          I can speak to 16 years back myself, said Mr. Fores. – Mr. Harmer. I beg you will hold your tongue, Sir.
          Mr. Fores. You provoke one to speak, Sir, it excites a man's indignation to hear any thing said in favour of such a wretch.
          Mr. Harmer now said, that he had a proposal or rather a request to make on the part of his client to the Magistrates, which was that the amount of bail required on the former day should be reduced, as being quite exorbitant and excessive, and far aboe any bail ever before required for a similar charge. He was also instructed to say that it was entirely out of proportion to the income of Mr. Muirhead.
          Prisoner. It is, Sir, quite out of proportion. I can prove by my rent roll, which I now hold in my hand, that my income, since the failure of some collieries on my estate, does not exceed 2000l. per annum, and on that there are several incumbrances. Besides, it is not likely I should run away; my estate is an entailed one, and, if I were to disppear, the next heir would take it, and cut me out altogether.
          Mr. Conant said, that he should wish to have some more satisfactory evidence of the prisoner's property than his own bare statement.
          Mr. Harmer said, that all Mr. Muirhead wanted was, to reduce the amount of bail to his sureties, which at present stood at 2000l. and let his own recognizance remain as it did, or increase it, if the Magistrates thought fit.
          After some conversation amongst the Magistrates, Mr. Conant said, his present impression was, that the bail was not excessive; but he would take a short time to consider, and Mr. Muirhead should have an answer.
          Mr. Muirhead said, he felt very much obliged to Mr. Conant, and took that opportunity of thanking him for his kindness, in having better accommodation provided for him in the prison. – Mr. Conant. You own me no obligation, Sir: and I can assure you, I feel no disposition to do you any particular act of kindness; but it having been represented to me that you were in a bad state of health, and that the place in which you were confined was damp, I directed that you should be moved to another.
          "For which I thank you," said the prisoner; "I am in a very bad state of health; I am lingering under rheumatism and ague, and am in my 72d year."
          The prisoner was then removed from the bar; previous to which, however, he said, that since he has been in custody on these unfounded charges, he has had several letters from most respectable persons, ready to come forward to rescue his character. One signed "HUMANITAS," the contents of which would do honour to human nautre, and the writer of which desired an answer to be sent to him at the Office of "The Morning Post."
          After the prisoner was removed from the Office, an elderly, respectable-looking man, who had been listening attentively to the whole proceeding, came forward, and stated to the Magistrates, that he had lived as Steward with Mr. Muirhead about 40 years ago, but he was obliged to quit his service very soon, from practices he observed in Mr. Muirhead at that time of such a nature, that no man of character could live in his service.
          Forty years ago, said Mr. Conant: why, then, when I said 20 years, I was considerably under the mark. – Indeed you were, Sir, said the Steward.
          Mr. Boe asked the Steward what he considered Mr. Muirhead's property to be. – He replied, that when he lived with him, (40 years ago) his rental was above 2000l. a year, and snce then several coal mines have been discovered on the estate. The property is entirely situated near Glasgow, in Soctland, and he never knew of his having any other estate. He may, however, have since made purchases, and he believed he had; for he was a close man, and never spent half of his income.
          The prisoner has not as yet given any notice of bail. (Public Ledger and Daily Advrtiser)

25 August 1825

. . . The prisoner (who took a paper out of his pocket) said, that his income was not so large as it had been represented. The extent of his rental was 2,000l. per annum, and its decrease was owing to a failure in the collieries. He pledged his honour to the truth of his assertion, and he scorned to lie.
          Mr. Harmer again begged him to be quiet, or to conduct his defence himself.
          Prisoner: I have not attempted to do what I am charged with; I have had no spark of such feeling in my nature (here he laughed) for many years, and you might put me to bed with your daughter without any danger. . . .
          Before the prisoner left the office, a young man, who is shopman to Mrs. Johnson, an elderly lady, who for twenty-five years has kept an oyster-shop in Long-acre, complained to the Magistrate that, owing to one of the newspapers having stated that Mr. Muirhead was in the habit of bringing boys to his mistress's shop, it had been the means of doing his mistress great injury. – Mr. DYER said that he was very sorry for it, and asked how that could be, as there was no imputation against the parties who kept the house? – The young man said, that persons passing the house stopped before the window, and made observations of a most unpleasant nature, and some of them said, "this is old Muirhead's shop." He begged to state that the report in The Times newspaper, stating that there were curtains to the window, was untrue.
          Mr. DYER said, that he could not prevent reports from being inserted in the papers; he was not aware that any thing had been stated which had not been sworn to before them.
          Mr. CONANT interrogated the young man, and he said that Mr. Muirhead had been for a considerable time in the habit of coming to his mistress's shop, he also visited other shops in the same neighbourhood. He had called repeatedly in his carriage, and sometimes with his servant in livery. He had also called with boys – sometimes he came with two, sometimes with three, and on some occasions he has had four boys with him; and they shewed him their writing-books. Hew gave them ginger-beer, and then they left the house. His mistress had no suspicion of his doing anything wrong; his apparent respectability, and his stating that he belonged to a public institution, and that he was desirous to get situations for the boys, caused them to have no doubt or suspicion whatever of his being a bad character.
          Mr. CONANT: How often did he come to your shop?
          Shopman: Two or three times a week, and he generally came on a Sunday.
          Mr. CONANT: And notwithstading that he brought different strange boys to your house, you never thought it was a singular circumstance, although his visits were so frequent?
          Shopman: We never did.
          Mr. DYER said that it was very improper in any one to endeavour to affix odium on Mrs. Johnson, because the prisoner happened to use her house. It was a place of public resort, and he might have chosen any other house. He (the Magistrate) had no doubt, that if an ill feeling did exist agaisnt Mrs. Johnson, that it would die away in a few days.
          The prisoner was conveyed to Tothill-fields Prison. The street was crowded, and he was saluted by the mob with groans and hootings.
          The documents found in the possession of the prisoner led to a discovery of the names of other youths, whom he had occasionally met, and summonses were served upon them to compel them to attend and give evidence against the prisoner; but the relatives of the boys had sent them out of the way, being fearful that the exposure of a public examination would disgrace the families to which they are related.
          The bail demanded by the Magistrates is unusually heavy, it is believed that the prisoner will not be able to obtian it, and that he will consequently remain in Tothill-fields Prison till Westminster Sessions, when his trial will take place. (Morning Chronicle)

Saturday 27 August 1825

The London papers of Tuesday contain the details of a most atrocious case. The offender is no less a personage than John Grosset Muirhead, Esq. brother-in-law to the Duke of Athol, seventy-two years of age, who has been held to bail in 1,000. to appear at the sessions to answer the charges brought against him. It is a great oversight in the law as at present constituted, that a poor man who steals a loaf for the support of his starving family will not be admitted to put in bail, whilst the indulgence may be granted to so loathsome a miscreant as the individual in question. – There is another account in the same papers of the capture and examination of a club of twenty-five beastly wretches for similar practices. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

Saturday, 27 August 1825

The manner in which the examination in the case of Mr. MUIRHEAD was conducted at Marlborough-street Office on Thursday, and it is by no means a solitary instance, is not calculated to give a very high idea of our knowledge of the limits between one stage of criminal procedure and another. On various occasions in the course of the examination, Mr. HARMER interposed objections to the reception of hearsay evidence, contending that legal evidence only should be admitted. These objections seem to us to be founded on a complete misconception of the end and object of examinations previous to commitment or dismissal of a charge. "I contend, on the part of the accused," said Mr. HARMER, on one occasion, "that the idle and filthy conversation which passed between the prisoner and the witness is not evidence, unless it is intended to follow it up by some substantive charge, to which this conversation leads." In preliminary investigations, the Magistrate is not bound by the rules which must be observed at a trial. He is here acting in the two-fold character of Public Prosecutor and Judge, and he examines persons, not merely with a view to ascertain what they themselves know, but to discover in what quarters he may look for further information. If hearsay evidence were to be rejected in this preliminary stage, it would often be impossible to procure any evidence whatever. What is wished for is evidence, and every circumstance which affords a clue to the discovery of it, ought to be carefully taken advantage of. When all due pains have been taken to obtain evidence, the Magistrate is enabled to say whether the proceedings ought to be followed up by some substantive charge, but not before.
          It strikes us that in the whole business of tracing the evidence in support of a charge, there is no room for the interference of the Counsel or Attorney of a Prisoner. Their agency ought to be confined to the watching the evidence obtained, with a view to aid the prisoner in bringing forward such evidence in contradiction as may be necessary, under the circumstances of the case, in order to save him, if possible, from commitment. – The Magistrate, in our opinion, ought not to suffer a word toescape the lips of a Counsel during the critical period of his pursuing the track of crime. An interlocutory remark may shut the mouth of a witness able to afford material aid to the Magistrate in the investigation. The Counsel's business is to guide and direct the prisoner, to acquaint him with the import of the evidence against him, and to ascertain from him how far he can destroy the accusation, and here his agency ought to stop. When the whole of the evidence has been obtained, it may be necessary for him to endeavour to enlighten the Magistrate as to the import of it, to prevent his client from suffering from ignorance or erroneous views.
          Great vagueness of conception seems to prevail among our Magistrates in all that relates to matters of this kind. The consequence is, that they are frequently browbeat & confused by Attorneys, who know their own business better than the Magistrates know theirs. Mr. PEEL would do a material service both to the "great unpaid" and the Police Magistrates, were he to employ some skillful lawyers to draw up a complete system of criminal procedure, by which they might be guided in its different stages. At present the greatest helplessness is frequently manifested. The Judges on the Circuits are perpetually complaining of blunders; Mr. Justice BAYLEY stated the other day that it would be necessary for him to make representations to Mr. PEEL on account of the perverse adherence of the Manchester Magistrates, year after year, to the most objectionable mode of taking depositions. (Morning Chronicle)

Wednesday 31 August 1825

A correspondent informs us that "John Grossett Muirhead, Esq. of Bradiesholm, county of Lanark, brother-in-law to the Duke of Athol, is a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality, and Vice-President of the Auxiliary Bible Society of St. George's parish." Our correspondent makes some pertinent remarks on the chief subject of his communication, but it is one which we would rather not enter upon. – Examiner. (Hereford Journal)

7 September 1825

Charles Burton Lane, the apprentice of Mr. Spilsbury, of Poland-street, one of the witnesses against Muirhead, whom we yesterday stated to have entered into the service of the East India Company, has been taken into custody by the orders of the magistrates, and is at present in prison, to be brought up in a week, and then disposed of as may best suit the ends of justice. Lane says that the only reason he had for enlisting, was the ill treatment he had received form one of the shopmen; but the explanation is very much doubted. (Globe)

Saturday 10 September 1825


One of the witnesses bound over to appear against the Duke of Athol's brother-in-law, Mr. G. Muirhead, has been taken out of the way. It is to be hoped that this disgusting wretch will not escape with impunity. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

22 October 1825

This trial was appointed to take place at 12 o'clock this morning. He was brought from Tothill-fields Prison, by Alfred Pople, the officer, in a coach, about half-past eleven o'clock. The Court was excessively crowded when he entered, and all eyes were instantly directed towards the hoary-headed offender the moment he entered. He took his stand for some time by the side of the prisoner's dock, till the Counsel and Solicitors on each side stated that they were prepared for the trial. The prisoner was then placed at the bar. He was dressed in a blue coat and a brown top-coat. He wore spectacles, and did not appear to have suffered much from his confinement. He commenced writing as soon as the trial was called on, & often handed notes to Mr. Alley, his Counsel, but that gentleman did not look at them, but invariably handed them to Mr. Harmer, his attorney, who acquainted him with the nature of the communications. Mr. Adolphus and Mr. Phillips were also of Counsel for the prisoner, and Mr. Broderick and Mr. Law for the prosecutoion. – Mr. ALLEN, the Clerk of the Arraigns, read the indictment as soon as the Jury were sworn. It charged the defendant, John Grossett Muirhead, of St. George's, Hanover-square, Gent., with being a person of filthy, beastly, and profligate habits and disposition; did unlawfully exhibit to Chas. Barton Lane, certain indecent pictures, prints, and books, and also commit an assault on the person of the said Lane, and attempt to invite him to suffer him (Muirhead) to commit the horrid crime of —— against the peace, &c. The other counts varied the form of the charge. The sixth count omitted the assault, and merely charged the unlawful exposition of the said prints, pictures, and books, with the intent to incite the said Lane to commit —— practices.
          The prisoner, in a very emphatic tone of voice, pleaded Not Guilty.
          Muirhead: I am very ill with rheumatic pains in my back, Mr. Chairman.
          CHAIRMAN: Let him take a seat.
          Mr BRODERICK said, that it was his unpleasant and painful duty to lay the facts of this case before the Jury. the charge against the prisoner at the Bar, a person who was unquestionably a Gentleman by birth, and who had moved in the first society, was of that disgusting description which was calculated to excite our detestation and abhorrence against the individual guity of such horrible practices, but more especially when that person, a man in years, and enjoying high rank in society, should wickedly attempt to destroy the morals of youth, and incite theem to practices of the most beastly description. He (Mr. B.) would not offer one word more upon the nature of the offence, but would content himself with giving a concise statement of the evidence which he whould bring before the Jury. Having narrated the evidence, he called the following witness.
          Charles Burton Lane: I am an apprentice to Mr. Spillsbury, of No. 8, Poland-street, Oxford-street; I know the prisoner at the Bar, Mr. Muirhead; on the 15th of August last I was looking in at the window of a print shop, at the corner of Sackville-street, Piccadilly, between one and two o'clock in the afternoon, at a hunting picture, and the prisoner came up to me and entered into conversation, by making some remark upon it. The prisoner afterwards produced from his pocket-book 2 skins, and offered to bet me a sovereign to a penny, that I could not ——. He kept talking about this skins (one of the skins was produced). He asked me to go with him to a public-house, and take some cider; I said that I had no objection; we went to a public-house in Mary-la-bonne street, and we found persons in the room drinking and smoking, and the prisoner came out into the street, and said, that we would go to some other house. When we came into the street, the prisoner shewed me a book (a book was produced), and made some observations upon the pictures it contained. The book now produced is the same; I know it by one of the pictures. I went into a coffee-house in Old Burlington-street with Mr. Muirhead, at his request. He said, "I'll give you a pint of cider." We sat down in a box at the farther end of the room; the boxes had curtains, and Mr. Muirhead drew them, and sat himself by my side; he called for a pint of cider and some biscuits, and whilst we were taking refreshment, he took out of his pocket a print; he shewed it to me, and gave it to me. – (A print was here produced, and shewn to witness.) This is the print he gave to me; he also gave me half-a-crown, and told me to get an honest livelihood (laughter); he took hold of my hand as I was sitting by his side, and ——. He asked me where I lived, and my name; I told him my name, and the name and address of Mr. Spillsbury, my master; he asked me if I would meet him on the Sunday following, at ten minutes past twelve o'clock, in Cranbourne-street, Leicester-square, I told him that I would; I put the picture and the half-crown he gave me into my pocket, and we parted in the street. On the following day I shewed the print to Miles, a journeman in my master's employ, and I also shewed him the half-crown; he asked me how I came by them, and I told Miles the whole of the transaction with Mr. Muirhead. On the Friday following I received a letter by the two-penny post, which I shewed my master, and I went with my uncle (Mr. Fletcher) to Marlborough-street-office, where I had communication with the officers; I there shewed the letter to the officers, and it was agreed that I should go to Cranbourne-street, at the time appointed, and the officers should be on the watch. I took the letter with me, & I went to meet the prisoner on the Sunday, according to my promise; I waited some time, and the officers were watching near at hand. The prisoner arrived in Cranbourne-street about half-past twelve o'clock, and I said to him "You are late, Sir." He replied, "Did you not receive a letter from me?" "I said yes," and shewed it to him, and he took it and tore it in pieces. Thje prisoner said he had to meet a Mr. Hodson in Leicester-street, and we walked in that direction.
          Mr. ALLEY objected to evidence being given of any other transaction.
          Mr. BRODERICK disclaimed any such intention.
          Witness continued: On arriving in Leicester-street, we met a young man, and the prisoner said, "that's him," and he beckoned to Hodson to come and join us; he did so, and the prisoner said, "come down into Long-acre, and I will give you some oysters;" we went to an oyster-shop in Long-acre, and took our seats in a box opposite the door, in a room on the first floor. The prisoner pulled down the window-blind, and drew the curtains round the box; no person, except myself, Hodson and the prisoner, were in the room at the time. The prisoner produced books and pictures, which he laid on the table, and shewed them to me and Hodson (three books were produced). These are the same. The officers afterwards took them from the person of the prisoner. The books and pictures were displayed openly on the table in the oyster-room, and the prisoner asked us what we thought of them, and if we did not think they were good things? The prisoner took hold of my hand, and ——. I resisted, and he put his hand over towards me —— (This part of the evidence was exceedingly disgusting). Scholefield and Clements, the officers, entered the room, and the prisoner took up the prints and books, &c. and put them into his pocket, and one of the books he put under the seat. The officers searched the prisoner, and asked him his name; he replied that it was Jaimeson. I had the half-a-crown in my possession, which the prisoner had given to me, and the prisoner said that I had asked him for some fruit, but I had not done so.
          Cross-examined by Mr. ALLEY: I promised to meet the prisoner on the Sunday, and I intended to have kept my word, but for the discovery which took place in consequence of my exhibiting the pricture to my fellow shopmen. I did not tell my master of this till the Friday, when I shewed him the letter. I only went to one place with the prisoner on the Sunday. The waiter attended upon us, but I did not communicate to him what took place. I went to the oyster shop, well knowing what I should be subjected to.
          Thomas Miles sworn: I am a journeyman in the employ of Mr. Spilsbury. I remember the witness, Lane, shewing a picture to me, and my fellow shopmen on the 15th of August. This is the same. I asked him how he got the picture, and he communicated the whole of the transaction to me, and it was communicated to Mr. Spilsbury on the Saturday.
          Cross-examined by Mr. ADOLPHUS: I am under twenty-one years of age, and am not a married man. Lane shewed the print about the shop as a pleasant sort of thing. He appeared ignorant that there was any thing wrong about it. He said a good-natured old gentleman had given it to him, and he had promised to meet him again. I do not know who it was that put it into the boy's head to go before the Justices, and complain against the prisoner. I had the picutre for two days in my possession, and shewed it some of my acquaintances. It was an indecent picture, but nothing more.
          Re-examined by Mr. LAW: The boy did not appear to know what was the nature or intention of the prisoner in giving him the print. He said that he was a kind old gentleman, who had given him money, and he believed there was nothing wrong about his intentions. I cautioned him not to meet the old gentleman again, and suggested to him that there was something wrong in his intentions towars him.
          Mr. ADOLPHUS: You say there was nothing of an indecent nature in the print? Witness: It was obscene.
          CHAIRMAN: The print will speak for itself (laughter).
          Mr. Spilsbury: I reside in Poland-street; Lane is my apprentice. He produced a letter on the Friday evening to me, and in consequence of what he told me, I communicated with his uncle, and laid an information at Marlborough-street Office against the prisoner, and afterwards conferred with the officers Plant, Clements, and Scholefield, on the subject of apprehending him.
          Thomas Hodson, a boy about fourteen years of age, sworn: I am an apprentice to Mr. Dixon, a chemist, in Wardour-street; I met the prisoner on Sunday, the 21st of August, in Leicester-street; Lane was with him. We went from thence to an oyster shop in Long-acre. The prisoner drew the blind of the window down, and also the curtains of the boxes. We sat down in a box, and the prisoner produced prints and book. I looked through the window part of the time; I did not see the prisoner do any thing to Lane; I saw the officers search the prisoner, and take prints and books from him; these now produced I believe are the same; I observed a button off the clothes of the prisoner, and I thought it fell off in the scuffle of searching him.
          T. Clements: I am officer of Marlborough-street; I saw the witness Lane on Sunday, Aug. 21, & went in company with my brothe4r officers, Plant & Scholefield, towards Castle-street, Leicester-square; we followed Lane at a distance; I had previously seen a letter received by Lane on the Friday. It was about half-past twelve o'clock in the day, when Lane was in Castle-street, and soon afterwards the prisoner Muirhead joined him; they conversed together, and I saw the prisoner take out his watch at the time; the prisoner and Lane went from Castle-street to Leicester-street, and there met a boy named Hodson; I and my brother officers watched them from thence to Long Acre, and they entered an oyster shop after a few minutes had elapsed, we went into the oyster shop, and entered a room up one pair of stairs; the prisoner, and Lane and Hodson were sitting in a box; the prisoner was doing something to his pockets; I asked the prisoner his name, he said it was Jaimeson; I told him I had a warrant to apprehend him; he said, to apprehend me? I replied, yes, and that I must search him; he resisted a little, and I observed the state of his apparel, and called Plank's attention to it; we found these articles upon him (the books and prints he produced).
          The prisoner rose from his seat, & addressed the Court. Mr. Chairman, I have to complain of the conduct of these officers, who robbed and plundered me of my property. They took my pocket book, contianing private family papers; they took my knife, and also my handkerchief and my money. They acted illegally, and I will prosecute them, but another tribunal will have to decide upon that transaction. I was arrested upon a warrant, charging me with merely a common assault, and yet my property was taken from me, and I will not, Mr. Chairman, receive that property again unless you say that it should not prejudice me on the trial which I shall institute against these fellows for robbing me. The warrant was, I contend, illegal, but at all events it could not justify them in seizing any property and taking my knife from me. They compelled me to purchase a handkerchief, having taken mine from me by force.
          CHAIRMAN: You have called the attention of the Court to a very minor part of your case, viz. the taking of your property from you by the Officers. There can be no objection to your having your property returned to you, and though a warrant for assault only was issued against you, yet that assault was of a very peculiar nature, and the officers had a right to take your papers for the purpose of producing them in evidence against you.
          Scholefield continued: I found a skin on the person of the prisoner when I searched him, and he told me the use of it. * * * * * *.
          Samuel Plank examined: I am the Chief Officer of Marlborough-street. I went with my brother officers on Sunday, the 21st of August, to Castle-street, Leicester-square, to watch the prisoner. I saw Lane go up Castle-street, and the prisoner joined him. I saw them walk to Leicester-street, when Hodson [line illegible] minutes had elapsed before I and my brother officers entered the house, and proceeded to a room on the first floor. I saw Lane and Muirhead in one of the boxes, sitting. Hodson stood with his back towards the window, and I did not observe if the curtain was drawn. The prisoner, on our entering the room, was doing something to his pockets. I told him that I had a warrant against him, and I must search him. He said I could not have a warrant that would justify my searching him. I saw that hs clothes were disordered. He urged me to let him go, but I told him that I must take him before a magistrate. I returne dhis watch and money to him, as soon as I had searched him; but I kept his pocket-book, as I supposed the contents might be of importance. I know nothing of his handkerchief. It might have been used to wrap up the prints, book, &c. When I would not return his pocket-book, hs said, "You are robbing me." I said, you will have your property restored, and I said your name is not Jaimeson, but Muirhead, and you must go with us. I and my brother officers watched them from thence to Long Acre, and they entered an oyster shop after a few Scholefield, the officer, gave evidence corroborating the other witnesses. I and my brother officers watched them from thence to Long Acre, and they entered an oyster shop after a few Mr. ALLEY rose, and took several objections to the indictment, which he prefaced by expressing (with considerable warmth) a desire that the observations which he felt it his duty to offer to the Court, might not be either misunderstood or misrepresented to the public. The first count in the indictment was good, but the evidence did not support it. The prisoner was charged with attempting to commit a felony, and the evidence did not sustain that charge. That the prisoner had published the prints, which were libels, there could be no doubt; but though that was in indictable offence, the form of the present indictment did not meet it. In an indictment for publishing libels of the indecent description of those produced, they must be set out es nomine in the indictment. (Here the Learned Gentleman took occasinn to remark, that in standing up to defend a person charged with such a crime as the prisoner, he was like Ishmael, his voice was against every one, and every one's voice was against him.) The indictment charged the defendant wiht an assault, with a felonious intent. He contended, that no assault had been committed. What had been done was with the entire consent of the witness, Lane. Hoawkins, who, in his opinion, was one of the first writers on criminal law, gave the following defition of an assault: – "An assault is an attempt with force and violence to do a personal injury to another against his will and consent, either with our without a weapon." Could any one say, that the counts charging the defedant per se, with an assault, are satisfied upon the evidence which has been adduced? He was positive they were not. If he permitted a man to put his hand into his pocket, and take his money out, he could not charge him with an assault and robbery. He contended, that the offence of the prisoner was not indictable at Common Law in the shape of the present indictment. What the defedant had done was contra bonos mores, and if there had been any count in the indictment charging the publications of the prints as libels, and they had been set out es nomine, or if there had been a count charging the defendant with conspiracy, then the indictment would have been good; but as the offence, however immoral, was committed in private, and with the consent of the parties, the indictment was bad in its present shape. The Learned Counsel cited the case of Sir F. Delaval and Nan Catley, the actress, which came before the King's Bench, in 1738, as illustrating his argument. That was a case of as gross lewdness as any he remembered. She lived in open prostitution with Sir Francis; and an information was applied for in the Court of King's Bench aainst the parties; but the Court said that as the immorality was committed in private, it was not an offence indictable at common law, except in the shape of an indictment for conspiracy. The Court of Session had no power in that case, but the Ecclesiastical Court had. The Court of King's Bench as the custos bonum of the nation, refused the information, but granted process for a conspiracy against all the parties concerned in the offence, except the father of the lady. The next case he cited in support of his argument was that of Lord Gray and Lady Harriet Barclay. In this case the Noble Lord cohabited with his wife's sister, and an applicationn was made to the King's Bench for an information against the parties. The crime was incest, and though an offence for which the parties could be punished in the Ecclesiatical [sic] Court, yet as it was committed in private, and not an offence against the public, the King's Bench could not take cognizance of it, except as a charge against the parties of conspiracy. – The case of Sir Charles Sedley, who exposed his person in a balcony, in Covent=garden, was a public offence, and therefore, an indictment at Common Law was the proper mode of proceeding against the party. The Learned Gentleman further contended, that the intent of the prisoner was not of that criminal nature (viz. to commit a capital felony) which was laid in the indictment. The exposition of the prints before the boy might have been intended to excite the passions of the parties; but the intent of committing the offence imputed, was not, by the evidence, made out.
          Mr. BRODERICK replied, that his Learned Friend did not advance the position, that the offence was not indictable; but he said it was not indictable in the present shape. Hawkins said, that laying a finger on a person for an unlawful purpose, was a battery. The witness in this case proved a fact which made the offence complete. To satisfy the legal definition of assault, it was not necessary that a person should be knocked down. – It was contended that it could not be an assault, because the party consented. In practices of this horrible description, it was an offence, whether the consent was given or not; and not like a case in which a man has the consent of a female to commit fornication or adultery, which is not an offence at common law. It was said that this offence was committed in private. the witnesses had sworn that it was committed in a public oyster-room. What the intent of the prisoner was, in exciting the passions of the boys, by exhibiting the prints and books, and in assaulting them, was a question for the Jury to decide. His Learned Friend (Mr. Alley) had said, that the parties ought to have been charged wiht conspiracy, but he knew well that one person could not be charged wiht that offence; and his answer to all the cases cited by Mr. Alley, was, that at least two persons must be concerned in a conspiracy. That it was a public offence, no one could doubt; it took place in a public coffee, or oyster-room, and though the case of Sir C. Sedley, cited by his Learned Friend, had taken place in an open balcony, yet it would have been an indictable offence if he had exposed his person in a public coffee-room. The case of Sir C. Delaval was very different; the parties lived in adultery, and the offence was not cognisable by common law; but practices committed with or without consent, in public or private, were crimes cognizable by the common law of the land. In the case of Lord Grey, Lady Harriette Barclay, when she awas put into the witness box, admitted that she consednted to be carried off by Lord Grey; she lived with him as his mistress, and though an offence subject to ecclesiastical censure, yet it was not indictable at common law. His Learned Friend, Mr. Alley, had done all in his power in behalf of his client, but that all amounted to nothing.
          Mr. LAW, on the same side, said, that his Learned Friend, Mr. Alley, had taken two objections to the indictment – first, that it was not an assault, because the prisoner had the consent of the party; and secondly, it was not an offence indictable in the present shape, because it was committed in private. His reply was briefly this: In crimes of this atrocious description, consent or non-consent did not alter the offence, and it was an offence against public morals, not only because it was committed in a public coffee-room, but because it was an attempt to destroy the morals of youthful members of society.
          Mr. ALLEY replied, and urged his former objections.
          CHAIRMAN: You say, Mr. Alley, that there shoudl be a count charging a publication of the prints as libels, without the assault?
          Mr. ALLEY: Yes; and a count for conspiracy.
          CHAIRMAN: The sixth count charges an exposition of the prints, and the charge of assault is omitted.
          Mr. ALLEY: The prints were exhibited in private, and they are not, set out, es nomine, as libels in the indictment, which difficulty has been avoided by the present course of proceedings.
          CHAIRMAN: If that is your objection, I have no hesitation in overruling it. I am of opinion that there was no possible mode of describing the offence, which would have been so clear and less objectionable than the manner in which it is stated in the indictment; and I think all your objections are fully answered by the evidence. If the party was not liable to be indicted at common law, except for a conspiracy, the offence might be committed with impunity. Who were the conspirators? One person could not conspire alone. In his opinion the indictment was good; and the Jury would decide as to the intent of the party accused.
          Mr. ALLEY having nothing further offer, and the case being concluded,
          The CHAIRMAN summed up the evidence, in the course of which he adverted to the very extraordinary conduct of a person in Court (a tall thin man who wore spectacles, who had thrown a heap of indecent prints into the dock during the trial, which the prisoner took possession of). He told the prson that he was liable to be indicted for publishing the indecent prints, and his conduct was most impudent. (The man attempted to say something, but was prevented.)
          The CHAIRMAN concluded his address to the Jury, and said it was peculiarly their province to decide whether the intent of the prisoner was to incite the boy to commit the capital offence or not; if they were of opinion that he had no such intent, but that his object was merely to excite improper feelings, and to play unjustifiable tricks with them, and that his exhibiting the infamous prints and books was not with the criminal intent imputed in the first indictment, they would find him guilty on the sixth count only, which charged him with the publication of the prints, &c.
          The Jury, without any hesitation, found him Guilty of the charge to the full extent.

The prisoner stood again indicted for a similar offence. The prosecutor was Thomas Hodson, a boy, about fifteen years of age.
          Thomas Hodson: I am an apprentice to Mr. Dixon, chemist, of Wardour-street; I first saw the prisoner about five months ago. He called at the shop of Mr. Dixon, to buy lozenges, about twice a week; on the 7th of July I met him by appointment; on the 24th of July I met him again; he asked me the Sunday before, when I met him, to come and take some lunch with him; I met him about twelve, or half-past, and went with him to an oyster-shop in Long-acre; I was in Mr. Dixon's shop when I made the appointment; we went to oyster-shop in a Court first, and took some ginger beer, and returned to the oyster-room in Long-acre; in the first-floor, we had a lobster and more ginger beer; while taking lunch, the prisoner shewed me books and prints of an indecent description (a book was shewn to witness). I believe this is one he shewed to me on that occasion.
          Muirhead: It is not, for I only bought it two days before I was apprehended. He has perjured himself already. – Witness: I will not swear that is the book, it was like it. The prisoner behaved very indecent on that occasion. He gave me half a crown, and bid me good morning. Nothing further passed on that day. I met him again on the 21st of August, in Leicester-street, by appointment; Lane was then with hm. I accompanied them to the oyster-shop in Long-acre [line missing] ... The officers came into the room, and took the prisoner into custody. – Cross-examined by Mr. PHILLIPS: the prisoner was acquainted with a Mr. Walmesley, who resided at Mr. Dixon's, & came to him to get medicines for his horses, & that was the way I became acquainted with him. He did not pick me up in the street.
          The Police Officers, who were examined on the former trial, were again examined, and confirmed Hodson's evidence.
          Mr. ALLEY addressed the Jury for the prisoner. – The CHAIRMAN summed up, and the Jury returned a verdict of Guilty generally.. – The CHAIRMAN consulted for some time with the Magistrates on the Bench, and addressed the prisoner: he said it remained for the Court to pass sentence on the accused for the crimes of which the Jury had found him Guilty. It was usual, in passing sentence, to speak of the crimes of which the party had been convicted, and also of their rank and character in society. He, however, disclaimed an intention of making any allusion to the rank in which the accused had moved, or to his connections; but as to his offence, it was of that abominable description, and so clearly and indisputably proved by the evidence, that the Jury could not hae returned any other verdict than the one they have. It appeared that the prisoner had looked out for boys of a certain age, to tempt them in a way that was likely to have a most baneful effect on their dispositions, that he might effect his diabolical purposes; & he took those liberties with them, which had brought him before that Court to answer for his conduct. To pass a slight sentence upon him, would be a mere mockery of justice, and the Court was called upon to make an example of him. – The prisoner put his hand before his eyes, and appeared, for the first time, to feel the situation in which he stood.
          CHAIRMAN: John Grosset Muirhead, the sentence of the Court upon you is – that for the first offence you be imprisoned nine months in the House of Correction, and pay a fine to the King of 500l.; and for the second offence, that you be imprisoned six calendar months, after the expiration of the former imprisonment, and that you be further imprisoned till the fine be paid.
          When the sentence was passed, the prisoner said, "Mr. Chairman, I am 72 years of age, and afflicted with rheumatism; I hope, therefore, some consideration will be taken on account of my age and infirmities. It is very likely that I shall not survive fifteen months, and I know that I cannot, unless the Court allow me some indulgences which are not allowed to common prisoner. If I have no fire I cannot possibly live, and I hope the Chairman will be so kind as to allow me to have apartments in the Governor's house."
          The CHAIRMAN said, that he would have every indulgence his situation demanded; and that the Prison Committee would make such regulations as were consistent with humanity and justice. (Morning Chronicle)

22 October 1825

. . . The officers, after the verdict, returned the property taken from the prisoner when he was apprehended. The prints were only retained; they were considered a public nuisance, and ordered to be destroyed. . . . In the course of the trial of the first charge against Muirhead, an individual in Court threw a bundle of obscene prints to the prisoner, who retained them, and said no person should see what they were. . . . (Morning Advertiser)

24 October 1825

. . . [Re Hodson]: The defendant first knew him by coming to his master's shop to buy lozenges, and after having known him for four or five months, he met him by appointment on two different Sundays (the boy only having permission to go out every second Sunday), when he took him to the oyster-rooms in Long-acre. He met him a third time, which was on the occasion alluded to in the foregoing case. . . .
          The defendant continued in court for some time after it had risen, to give the crowd time to go away. (Evening Mail)

Wednesday 26 October 1825

At Westminster sessions yesterday J. G. Muirhead, was found guilty of having indecently exposed his person to C. P. Lane, on the 15th last August, and of assaulting for an improper purpose T. Hodson, an apprentice to a surgeon. For the 1st offence he was sentenced to 9 month's imprisonment and to pay a fine of 500l. to the King, and for the second offence to six months' imprisonment in addition to the fine. (Hereford Journal)

Friday 28 October 1825

At Westminster sessions, on Friday, John Grosset Muirhead, 72 years of age, was convicted on the clearest evidence, of a crime which has lately disgraced our police annals. There were two indictments, and he was found guilty on both. The chairman, in pronouncing judgment upon the defendant, dwelt upon the enormity of his guilt, in seeking out and corrupting the minds of innocent boys. The situation of the defendant rendered his offence more aggravated, because he filled a rank in society to which the public looked up for example, and therefore it called for a heavier punishment at the hands of the Court. Under all the Circumstances, the sentence of the Court was, that for the first offence he be imprisoned for a period of nine months, and pay a fine of 500l. to the King; and for the second offence, that he be imprisoned for an additional period of six months, and that he continue in prison until the above fine be paid.

Saturday 29 October 1825

At the Westminster Sessions, on Oct. 21st inst. John Grosset Muirhead, Esq. was convicted of an indecent misdemeanour. He was tried on a second indictment, and found guilty. – The sentence of the court was, that for the first offence, he be confined nine months; and for the second six months, to be computed from the expiration of the first sentence; and to pay a fine of 500. to the king. (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser)

Friday 4 November 1825

J. Grosset Muirhead, Esq. who married a sister of the Duke of Athol, to be imprisoned 15 months, and pay a fine of 50; his offence we need not name: he is 76 years old! (Chester Chronicle)

23 July 1829

A man named Muirhead was apprehended on Friday, at Dover, on a charge of committing a disgusting offence with Wm. Rowley, a boy about 16, and has been held to bail, himself in 300l. and two sureties in 150l., for his appearance at the Sessions. Muirhead is 75 years old, and is represented to be very rich. He was a magistrate for 40 years, and his unfortunate lady, who is with him at Dover, has a title, and is sister to a Scotch Duke. (Globe)

25 July 1829

MUIRHEAD. – About three years ago, an old wretch of the name of Muirhead, who is, by his marriage, connected with a noble family, was convicted in London of assaults upon several boys, who were picked up by him at print-shop windows, and where taken to oyster-shops in the neighbourhood of Leicester-square, where he exhibited to them obscene and filthy prints. Having undergone the punishment of his crimes, he was some time ago let loose again upon society; and on Saturday last he was apprehended at Dover for committing an assault upon a youth of a most disgusting nature. He was examined before the magistrates, and ordered to find bial – two sureties of 1000l. each; and the boy was ordered to find bail in the sum of 200l., to appear and prosecute. (Bucks Gazette)

25 July 1829

An old fellow, named Muirhead – his age stated to be 75, – a married man of large fortune, a Magistrate of 40 years standing, his Lady the sister of a Scotch Duke, – has been held to bail at Dover for odious practices with a lad of 16 years of age, named Rowley, son of the Town Crier there. (Berkshire Chronicle)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "John Grossett Muirhead, 1825", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 17 January 2012; updated 1 February 2019, 13 Sept. 2020 <>.

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