Newspaper Reports, 1829

Thursday 8 January 1829

That great injustice is done every day by Juries, and has always been done, is matter of notoriety. We need not go to Edinburgh for instances. There are now in Newgate, under sentence of death, two raw Irish lads, convicted of an unnatural offence, on the evidence of one female, contradicted on the trial by several witnesses as well as by the circumstances of the case. Except the Jury who convicted these youths, we do not believe there is to be found in this wide metropolis one individual who believes them guilty. . . . In this way the fate of individuals in this country is determined. The guilty are often acquitted, and the innocent condemned. The best reason for the existence of the Institution is, that bad Judges under bad Governments would convict, against evidence, all whom it was wished to convict, and acquit, against evidence, all whom it was wished to acquit. In this way the minds of men would be completely prostrated. On the other hand, the injustice of Juries is of the nature of chance, and does not discourage men, the disposition to rely on our good fortune being a part of our nature. The errors in judgment of Juries, too, serve occasionally to correct bad laws, which are thus defeated, but which the Legislature would not repeal. Injustice by accident is like suffering by accident. . . . (Morning Chronicle)

Friday, 9 January 1829

BOW-STREET. – EXTORTING MONEY BY THREATS. – FREDERICK WILLIAM FORREST, a man nearly six feet in height, was charged before Sir Richard Birnie with the capital offence of extorting money from a gentleman named Finch, residing at 38, Dean-street, Soho-square, by threatening to charge him with an unnatural crime.
          Mr. Finch, who is a solicitor, stated that the prisoner had been in his service as messenger and light porter. He took him into his employ in 1822, and he continued in his service, on and off, till 1826, when he was tried and convicted of an attempt to commit an offence of an unmanly description with two boys in the Park, and was sentenced to a year and nine months' imprisonment. Towards the latter part of last year, when the prisoner was discharged from gaol, the period to which he had been sentenced to imprisonment having expired, he came to the house of witness, and told him a most lamentable tale of his being without a place to shelter himself, or a bed to lie upon, and that if he had not some relief he must be driven to some act of desperation to obtain subsistence, or die in the streets. The prisoner said that he could procure a lodging at the rate of five shillings a week, and he agreed to let him have the sum of one pound a fortnight till Christmas. He had repeatedly given the prisoner money, and when Christmas arrived he declined giving him any more. On Wednesday evening he received a letter, which he believed to be in the hand-writing of the prisoner, signed “F. W. Stevans,” which he produced, and in which there was a charge of improper intimacy between him and the prisoner, and a threat to expose him if he did not send him the ten shillings which he had promised. He applied at this office for assistance, and under the direction of George Ruthven, the officer, he marked four half crowns and gave them to the officer, and wrote a letter to the prisoner, stating that if he would meet him in Long-acre that evening he would give him the money he demanded. About six o-clock that evening the officer gave him the four marked half-crowns, and he walked with a friend into Long-acre, the officer walking behind. At the corner of Cross-street the prisoner met them, and witness offered him the ten shillings; but he said he would not receive the money in the presence of a third person, and he left his friend, walked a few yards on with the prisoner, and gve him the four half-crowns. He lifted his hat from his head, a signal he had agreed upon with Ruthven, and the officer came up and took the prisoner into custody.
          Ruthven, the officer, corroborated the evidence of Mr. Finch, and added, that he found on the prisoner two letters. The one proved to be the letter sent by Mr. Finch in reply to the threatening letter, inviting the prisoner to meet him in Long-acre at six o-clock; and the other document was a letter from a person, proposing an assignation with the prisoner. The prisoner exclaimed, on the letter being taken from him, “that he would not part with it, as his life depended upon it.” He also said to Mr. Finch, “this ought to have come out years ago.”
          Sir R. BIRNIE said to the prisoner, “I know you, we have had you here before; you were discharged from the Life Guards.
          The prisoner said he should reserve his defence for another opportunity. – Committed. (Morning Chronicle)

Tuesday, 3 February 1829

The two Frenchmen so very improperly convicted, at the Westminster Sessions, of an attempt to commit an unnatural offence, and sentenced to a long imprisonment, have obtained a free pardon. A contemporary (The Times) says, that “the pardon was grounded on the objectionable manner in which the case went to the Jury.” As it is proper that every Magistrate should have the credit of his own works, we ought to mention that the Magistrate who acted as Chairman on the occasion was Mr. MARRIOT. We know that some of the Magistrates who were on the Bench with him were quite thunderstruck on hearing the charge, and equally so on hearing the verdict of the Jury. It is but justice to acknowledge the attention which Mr. PEEL instantly bestowed on the case when it was brought before him, and the promptitude with which Mr. PHILLIPS, the Under Secretary, interposed his authority with the gaoler, to obtain the instantaneous liberation of the poor foreigners, who must otherwise have remained three days longer in prison, til the formalities were gone through. The unfortunate men were exceedingly affected by the announcement of their pardon. They certainly have had a most narrow escape.
          A Contemporary (The Globe) some time ago observed, with reference to some remarks of ours on the mode of conducting trials in England, that though the guilty frequently escaped, there was a general persuasion that the innocent were seldom found guilty. We believe that, in weighty crimes, the innocent are seldom convicted, and that the guilty often escape. But we believe also, that in those extensive classes of trials in which prisoner and prosecutor are both on trial great injustice is very frequently done. When a thief is prosecuted for picking a pocket, for pilfering, or robbing, an acquittal conveys no imputation against the prosecutor, and it is known that evidence is frequently kept back from a variety of causes. But when a charge of rape is brought forward, or an attempt to commit an unnatural offence, an acquittal is a sentence of condemnation against the prosecutor; and it is here that Juries and weak Judges are particularly to be dreaded. The Juries too frequently when an offence is odious, instead of exacting a more rigorous proof, endeavour to show their abhorrence of it by laying hold of almost any evidence to convict a prisoner. A very able and respectable Magistrate, of much experience, assures us that he has too often witnessed this bias in Jurors, originating in something like a dread lest an independent exercise of their judgment should expose them to a charge of partiality, for the offences they were trying lead them to great injustice towards prisoners. These cases require the ablest Judges and the most enlightened Jurors; and they are precisely the cases which have generally the worst. Much wickedness, malignity, and artifice are often at the bottom of the prosecutions, and great discernment and ability to sift evidence are necessary, in order to decide justly. But these cases are banished to Sessions, where there is at least as great a chance of the Magistrates being silly as wise, and of their setting the Juries wrong as setting them right. In cases of heavy crimes, the business of a Juror and Judge is comparatively easy. The evidence for the prosecution, except in cases of blood-money, now almost unknown, is seldom chargeable with more than the fallibility which attaches to all testimony. The corpus delicti is generally placed beyond question, and though suspicion, and perhaps vengeance, may occasionally lead to the straining of testimony, yet we have often been struck with the general fairness in that respect. Hence the paucity of cases in which verdicts of guilty are given, to which the public do not subscribe, however many there may be of acquittals from fastidiousness respecting evidence, or from technical objections, that leave the prisoners under a taint. But in the other description of cases the prosecutor, and prosecutor's relations and friends, all strain every nerve to obtain a conviction, and the defendants and their evidence, no doubt, often act in the same manner. The Jurors are naturally enough sorely perplexed, and in nine cases out of ten, the most experienced barrister cannot anticipate the verdict, which is a lottery.
          But the consequences are byeond measure serious to one party or the other. A man convicted of certain offences, may only suffer imprisonment for a year; but he is ruined in his prospects, and unable to hold up his head. The sumpathy lavished by the public on the burglar, the murderer, reaches not him, as the extent of his suffering is not obvious. The case of the two Frenchmen was so unequivocally favourable, that no painful sifting of evidence was necessary. They who could believe that two foreigners, strangers to the country, and unacquainted with the language, would assail a young man at seven o'clock in the evening, at so public a place as near the statue of Achilles, and take for such an incredible story the evidence of a young man, who lived without doing any thing, and was loitering about there at that hour, would swallow any thing. There never was a case so little perplexed with difficulty. But how many cases are there, where the innocence is as undoubted, but where there is at least a shew of evidence against it. This is the weakest part of the English Judicial system. Unfortunately the class of misdemeanours and the description of crimes alluded to, are most comprehensive. (Morning Chronicle)

February 1829
[See The Case of John Richmond Seymour.]

Saturday 15 August 1829

West v. Pratt. – This was an undefended action for slander brought by the plaintiff, a miller, against the defendant a gamekeeper, both residing at Felthorpe. – It appeared by the evidence of Robert Wortley and W. Stevenson, that on the 10th of april last, a quantity of persons were assembled at the King’s Head public-house from the neighbourhing parishes, when the defendant charged the plaintiff with being guilty of an unnatural crime, that the defendant could prove it and hang the plaintiff for less than 50. – Verdict for the plaintiff, damages 5l.. (Norfolk Chronicle)

Tuesday 1 September 1829

Mr. Riley, late secretary to Mr. Wm. Cobbett, the political writer, applied for a warrant against Mrs. Ann Cobbett, old William’s wife, for charging him with committing an unnatural offence! Thiw was on Monday last: the magistrate could not interfere, but directed the complainant to an attorney. (Chester Courant)

Wednesday, 23 September 1829

. . . Among numerous instances which might be cited of the evils of the regulations of 1806 [regarding disability and pensions in the Army], we will particularise one. By this code a soldier had a legal right to a pension for life when he had served a prescribed period, or was discharged in consequence of being disabled or unfit for service, unless he was specifically deprived of that right by the sentence of a court martial, or that the disability for which he was discharged arose from “vice or misconduct,” thereby occasioning physical disability. It has been decided by the opinion of counsel, that moral depravity does not, udner the Act and Regulation of 1806, cancel a soldier’s claim to a pension for length of service. For example:–
          R—— N——, was admitted a pensioner, at 9d. a day, in Dec. 1826. Discharged, after having suffered 12 months’ solitary confinement for having made an attack on the lives of two men of the regiment.
          I—— H——, admitted a pensioner in June, 1825, at 1s. 2 1/2d. a day. Discharged, in consequence of having been convicted by the civil power for an unnatural crime, and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, with hard labour.
          C—— R——, admitted a pensioner at 1s. per day, in Nov. 1821. Discharged with every mark of infamy and disgrace for unnatural & base propensities.
          It is unnecessary to multiply examples of this kind.
          The opinion of the Attorney-General was taken in one if not two of these cases, and the Commissioners found they were not legally warranted in withholding the pensions on account of crimes, however, gross theymight be. The regulations have therefore a tendency to encourage moral depravity; for when a man has served the prescribed period which entitles him to a pension, he may either endeavour to procure his discharge from the service by feigning disabilities; or if he thinks that a tedious or irksome process, he may, by the commission of crimes, render it a measure of necessity to discharge him from a corps; he is morally, although he may not be physically, unfit for the army. In framing the above-mentioned regulations, it seems never to have been contemplated, that a man might become disqualified for the service by an extreme propensity to vice.
          It is essential for the discipline of the army, that in the awarding of pensions, a decided preference shoudl be given to men whose conduct has been good, and who have creditably distinguished themselves; and we hope, that in the new regulations, this mode of encouraging the praise-worthy soldier, and of discouraging moral turpitude, will form a prominent feature. (Morning Chronicle)

SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given. (Many reports were repeated verbatim across several newspapers, but I have not included them all.)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Newspaper Reports, 1829", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 10 February 2015 <>.

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