The Trial of James Pratt and John Smith, 1835


NOTE: The following is the trial of the last two men executed for sodomy in England. See also the reports of their execution.


Before Mr. Baron Gurney.

THE KING against JAMES PRATT, JOHN SMITH, and WILLIAM BONILL.

CENTRAL CRIMINAL COURT (to wit.) – The jurors for our Lord the King upon their oath present, that JOHN SMITH, late of the parish of Christchurch, in the county of Surrey, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, labourer, not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor regarding the order of nature, but being moved and seduced by theinstigation of the devil, on the 29th day of August, in the sixth year of the reign of our Soverign Lord, William and Fourth, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, with force and arms, at the parish aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, had a venereal affair with one James Pratt, and did then and there, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and agains the order of nature, carnally know the said James Pratt, and with him the said James Pratt did then and there feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, commit and perpetrate the detestale, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind, against the form of the statute insuch case made and provided, against the peace of our said lord the king, his crown and dignity. And the jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do further present, that the said JAMES PRATT, late of the parish of Christchurch aforesaid, in the county of Surrey aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, labourer, not having the fear of God before his eyes, nor regardng the order of nature, but being moved and seduced by the isntigation of the devil, then and there, to wit, on the same day aind in the year aforesaid, with force of arms, at the parish aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, was consenting to and did permit and suffer the said John Smith, in manner and form aforesaid, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, to have a venereal affair with him, and said James Pratt, and then and there carnally to know him the said James Pratt, and within him the said James Pratt, in manner and form aforesaid, to commit and perpectrate the said most detestable, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind, against th3e form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace of our lord the king, his crown and dignity. And the jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do [Appendix, p.1] further present that WILLIAM BONILL, late of the parish of Christchurch aforesaid, in the county of Surrey aforesaid, labourer, before the felony aforesaid was done and committed by the said John Smith and James Pratt in manner and fore aforesaid, to wit, on the same day and in the year aforesaid, with force and arms, at the parish aforesaid, and within the jurisdiction of the said court, feloniously and maliciously did incite, move, procure, counsel, hire, and command the said John Smith and James Pratt the felony aforesaid, in manner and form aforesaid, to do and commit, against the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace of our said lord the king, his crown and dignity.
          GEORGE BERKSHIRE. I live at No. 45, George-street, Blackfriars-road. I keep a coal-shed and horses for hire – I know the prisoner Bonill – he has lodged with me for about thirteen months – he occupied the back room first floor, and no other.
          Q. Have you known of any occupation that he has had? A. Not any.
          Q. Has he had visitors? A. Yes, he has.
          Q. Men or women? A. Men.
          Q. Frequent or seldom? A. Frequent.
          Q. Have you known them come singly or in company with each other? A. Generally two.
          Q. Has there been more than one couple in the course of a day? A. At times there have.
          Q. On Saturday, the 29th of August, did either of the prisoners come to your house? A. The prisoner Smith.
          Q. About what time? A. About four o'clock in the afternoon, ora little after.
          Q. Did he inquire for any body? A. He came into the shop, and asked if Bonill lodged there: I said, "Yes, he does; but I believe he is not within" – he replied, "Yes, he is; for I saw him at the window" &'150; he walked through the shop, the passage door being open: I saw him go up as far as the turn of the stairs; he turned back momentarily, went down, and opened the private door, and the other prisoner, Pratt, came in – Pratt went up stairs – Smiith shut the door, and followed him up into Bonill's room – I heard them shut the door, but did not see them go in.
          Q. In consequence of suspicions which you entertained, what did you do? A. I went out to the back premises of my place – there is a loft over a stable right opposite Bonill's window – I moved a tile, and had a very good sight of his room.
          Q. What did you see? A. I saw Bonil sitting on one side of the window and Smith on the other, looking out of the window and talking together – after a few minutes I saw Pratt come and put himself down on Bonill's knee.
          Q. Sitting on his knee? A. Yes: it was but a short time – he then rose up, as if pushed by Smith, and placed himself on Smith's knee; and there I saw him for five or six minutes – I then shifted myself, as I was rather cramped, and when I turned my head, Pratt was away – I saw Bonill and Smith sitting at the window – they seemed to be laughing together and in conversation – I then went in doors.
          Q. Did you say something to your wife? A. I did; and then went into our back room to my tea.
          Q. Some time after that, did your wife say something to you? A. Yes; five or ten minutes after.
          Q. In consequence of that, did you go up stairs? A. Yes, and I looked [p.2] through the key-hole of the door, and I saw Pratt laying on his back with his trowsers below his knees, and with his body curled up &*#150; his knees were up – Smith was upon him – Pratt's knees were nearly up to Smith's shoulders – Smith's cloths were below his knees – I put my shoulder agains the door and burst it open.
          Q. Well, you saw Pratt on his back, Smith lying on him, and both their trowsers down? A. Yes.
          Q. Did you see any motion take place? A. Yes; the motion of the body, and a great deal of fondness and kissing.
          Q. What kind of motion? A. The motion we might make –
          Q. Supposing it had been connexion between man and woman? A. Yes, equally the same – I put my shoulder against the door, and burst the catch of the latch from the door, opened it, and saw Pratt and Smith – Pratt said, "Oh, my God, we are caught," or, "caught at last," I will not swear which.
          Q. Did they change their position? A. They did, as quick as possible – Smith got upon his knees – I saw his private parts as he was getting up.
          Q. In what state were they? A. I cannot say, but I saw them.
          Q. At the moment of your bursting the door, was Smith laying on Pratt? A. Yes.
          Q. In the posture you have described? A. Yes – when Smith got off his knees, Pratt turned himself round on his right side, and I did not see his person – both their trowsers were down then – as soon as Pratt got up he exclaimed very bitterly to me for mercy – they pulled their clothes up as quick as they could, and both fell on their knees, and offered me their purses, and begged hard for me to let them go – Bonill was not in the room at this time.
          Q. Did he return to the room? A. Yes; three or four minutes after I burst the door open, Bonill returned to the room with a jug of ale.
          Q. How long had Bonill been away? A. I did not see him go out myself, but I suppose a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes.
          Q. What more passed? A. Bonill came into the room – he seemed surprised at seeing me there, and asked what was the matter – I called him an old villain, and said, "You know what is the matter; you have been practising this in my place for some time past." – he said, "I know nothing of what is done in my place, I have been absent" – he asked me to drink; I said, no, I would not drink in any such society – a lodger came in – I left them in charge of my lodger, and went to the station-house for a policeman myself.
          Cross-examned by MR. BODKIN. Q. The key-hole of the door, I suppose, was the ordinary height from the ground? A. Yes – the key was not in it – it is a smallroom.
          Q. How near to the door were the men when you saw them? A. About six feet.
          Q. Is the door in the side of the room? A. Yes.
          Q. You would look across the narrowest part of the room, would not you? A. I should rather think it was; it is not quite a square room – it is all but the fire-place.
          Q. How wide is the room there, do you think? A. I suppose ten feet square, if it had been square, but the fire-place takes the square off – they were rather nearer the door, than the middle.
          Q. Then they would not be six feet from the door? A. I cannot positively say – I rather thank they were nearer the door than the middle. [p.3]
          Q. Looking through the key-hole, you would look in a slanting direction? A. No, I looked across their persons.
          Q. You could not see the floor close to the door, through the keyhole? A. Within a foot or two, I could – there was a bedstead, some tables, and a chair or two, in the room.
          Q. Was there any furniture between the door and the place you saw them in? A. No, only the carpet – it is a turn-up bedstead, and their heads were up against it – they were on the floor.
          Q. You burst the door – did you find it fastened? A. I did not try that – I drew the staple of the spring-latch.
          Q. Was that a latch which would open with a handle outside? A. Yes.
          Q. Did you ascertain, on looking afterwqrds, that it was not fastened, and you might have opened it without bursting it open? A. I did not.
          Q. How was it fastened? A. With a spring-latch, which is separated from the lock – the lock was not locked – the key was not in the door.
          Q. Is there a handle to the latch outside the door? A. Yes, I believe so.
          Q. By removing the fastening of the latch, by your force you opened the door? A. I drew the staple of the latch – at that moment I was not aware whether the door was locked or not.
          Q. Did you afterwards find it was not locked? A. I believe I did, but it was the next day.
          Q. Did not you ascertain that you might have opened the latch with the handle outside? A. Yes; could.
          Q. Whatever the men might have been about, your sudden opening of the door interrupted them, and they got up? A. Yes.
          COURT. Q. How long had you observed them, before you opened the door, you saw kissing going on? A. Not half a minute, but it might be nearly a minute from the time I had burst the door open – I burst it open momentarily.
          JANE BERKSHIRE examined. Q. Do you remember the 29th of August? A. Yes.
          Q. After your husband had said something to you, did you go up stairs to Bonill's room? A. To the door.
          Q. Did you look through the key-hole? A. Yes, I did.
          Q. What did you see? A. I saw one man undo his trowsers.
          Q. What then? A. He laid down on the floor.
          Q. What did the other do? A. He undid his trowsers and laid down.
          Q. What posture did the one lay in who laid down first? A. He laid on his back.
          Q. And his trowsers were down? A. Yes.
          Q. How did the other lay down? A. He laid down on him.
          Q. Was his face towards him, or his back? A. His face was towards him.
          Q. Did you see the naked person of either? A. Both of them.
          A. The man that laid down on the top of the other, did you see his private parts? A. I did.
          Q. In what state were they? were his private parts laying down, or in a state of erection? (Not answered.)
          Q. Were his private parts in a state for connexion? A. Yes, my Lord.
          Q. You saw them lay down, one on the other? A. Yes. [p.4]
          Q. What next did you see? A. I only saw their bodies in movement.
          Q. What do you mean by being in motion? A. They were moving.
          Q. Do you mean such a motion as would take place in connexion between a man and a woman? A. Yes.
          Q. The man who was laying undermost, did you see in what state his knees were? A. His knees were up.
          Q. From what you saw of the posture in which they were, and the motion which took place, what do you believe took place between them? A. There was every appearance of a connexion between them.
          Q. Have you any doubt of that? A. No.
          Q. Did you then go down and inform your husband? A. Yes.
          Cross-examined by MR. BODKIN. Q. Had your husband told you what he had seen through the tiles in the shed? A. Yes.
          Q. Was it in consequence of that, you went up to look through the key-hole? A. Yes.
          Q. Was it by your husband's desire you went up to do so? A. No; he did not tell me.
          Q. Had he told you the nature of the proceeding he had observed? A. Yes.
          Q. Was your husband going to get his tea? A. He was getting his teA.
          Q. It did not suggest itself for you to send him up instead of going yourself? A. No.
          Q. You thought it a fit thing for a modest woman? A. I wished to see if there was any thing wrong or not.
          Q. I suppose when you did look, you did not wait a moment? A. No; I did not wait long.
          Q. How long? A. Not a minute.
          Q. Have you told us all you saw take place? A. Yes.
          Q. When you said there was every appearance of criminal connexion between them, did you mean any other appearance than you stated before, that is, the posture they were in, and the motion of the body? A. Yes.
          Q. Did your husband go up instantly on your going down? A. Yes.
          JURY. Q. Was Bonill in the room? A. No, he was out.
          Q. Do you know how long he had been out? A. I should think he was out altogether twenty minutes.
          ROBERT HOWARD VALENTINE, policeman, examined. Q. Were you fetched on this occasion by Mr. Berkshire? A. Yes; I took the prisoners into custody – I examined the linen of Smith and Pratt – I found the linen of Smith in a very dirty state in front – the back part of his linen was clean.
          Q. What kind of dirty do you mean? A. It appeared to me dirt from the fundament – I asked Smith the cause of the dirt being on his shirt &*#150; he said he had had the bad disorder, which was the cause of it.
          Q. Was it the appearance of excrement or disease? A. Excrement – I said, "A surgeon will prove whether it is that or not," and then he said he had not the bad disease – the front of Pratt's shirt was clean, but the back was in a very foul state – it appeared a different matter from Smith's, of a sort of slimey, glutinous nature, and rather yellow.
          Q. Did it resemble the seed of man? A. Yes, my Lord; I asked him the cause of his shirt being so dirty – he said he had been bad in his bowels. [p.5]
          Q. Was it in a wet or dry state? A. In a wet state – it apepared to be receently done – I took them all three into custody – Bonill's linen was clean.
          Cross-examined by MR. BODKIN. Q. What you saw on Pratt's shirt was in a wet state? A. Yes.
          Q. What you saw on Smith's was not so? A. It was a different substance.
          Q. Was it dry? A. It appeared dry.
          Q. Was his shirt on when you examined it? A. Yes.
          Q. Was this on the lower part of Smith's flap? A. The inside of Smith's shirt was dirty.
          Q. But was it the lower part of the flap? A. Yes; the bottom part of the flap.
          Smith's Defence. I am not guilty.
          Pratt's Defence. I am innocent of the charge.
          Bonill's Defence. I am quite innocent.

Witnesses to the prisoners' character.
FANNY CONIN. My husband is a carman. I know Pratt – I do not know either of the others – I have known Pratt nine years – he is a married man, with a family – he bore a very good character for morality, decency, and every thing that is good – he always bore a most excellent character in all his situations, in every respect – he was living with his wife and children at the time this happened, and he dined with me between one and two o'clock that day – I wished him to stop to tea, but he said no, he must be home by six o'clock, for he was going to seek after a weekly situation – he had been drinking that day – we had two pots of half-and-half at my house, and he appeared a little affected with liquor – he went away from my house with a friend.
          COURT. Q. Where do you live? A. At No. 1, Swan-yad,m Holborn-bridge. My husband is a carman – Pratt at that time lived with his wife at Deptford – he was a footman in his own capacity, but was going to get a weekly situation – he was a footman out of place.
          JACOB PIGGOTT. I am a drayman, in the employ of Barclay and Perkins. I have been in their service fourteen years last May – I knew Pratt well – he was a married man, living with his wife and children – I have not known much about him since I left Camberwell, but I heard of him frequently – he bore a very good character for decency of conduct during the whole time I knew him – I always found him decent in conversation.
          COURT. Q. You have not known much of him for the last few years? A. No; he has been living at Greenwich.
          JOHN KELLEY. I am out of place, and live in Swan-yard, Holborn. I have known Pratt nine years down to the present time – he bore the character of a decent, well-conducted, moral man – I always thought so – he was every thing to the contrary of what I have come about.
          COURT. Q. How lately have you been to his house? A. I dare say it is six months ago.
          Q. Have you known any thing of him for six months? Yes; I saw him this day month at Mrs. Conin's – that is all – his wife is here.
          GEORGE WYMAN. I live at No. 1, Juniper-court, Borough. I am no profession at present – I have been acquainted with Pratt upwards ofd two years – I was not on very intimate terms with him – our acquaintance has continued down to the present time – I have not seen him at his house [p.6] with his wife and family – I did not visit him there – I have seen him at Mrs. Conin's – he bore a very good character – he was very decent in conversation, and always conducted himself very gentlemanly.
          SUSAN TURNER. My husband is a sailor, and lives at No. 27, Gibson-street, Debtford. I have known Pratt for ten years, to the present time – he lived with his wife and family at Debtford – I have lodged in the house with them for the last year and a half – I was lodging there when he was taken into custody – he was living with his family at the time – he always bore a good character; and when my husband came home from sea, and I was in my confinement, he slept with my husband – my little girl is now five years old – the prisoner's wife attended me, and nursed me.
          MARY ORCHARD. My husband is a ship-calker. We live in Gibson'street, Debtford, at No. 27, in the same house – I have lived these seven yars – the prisoner Pratt, with his wife and family, have lived there about six years – he bore a good character for decency and morality in every respect – during the time I have nown him I never heard any thing amiss – he left home at ten o'clock on the morning in question.
          SUSAN TURNER (re-examined.). Q. His sleeping with your husband, I suppose, was for convenience during your confinement? A. Yes; I had but one room.
          JURY to MRS. BERKSHIRE. Q. The window of the room is a back window? A. Yes; it is a corner house.
          Q. Might a person coming to your house see a person at the back window? A. Yes, there is a view of the window from the side street.

          SMITH – GUILTY. – DEATH. Aged 40.
          PRATT – GUILTY. – DEATH. Aged 30.
          BONILL – GUILTY. Aged 68. – Transported for Fourteen Years. [p.7]


SOURCE: Central Criminal Court Sessions Paper, Eleventh Session, Heldn September 21, 1835, Minutes of Evidence, Taken in Short-hand, by Henry Buckler. Appendix to Capital Convictions. London, 1835.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Trial of James Pratt and John Smith, 1835", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 12 September 2014 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1835prat.htm>.


Return to Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England