The Trial of Henry Spettigue
THE TRIAL, at Bodmin Assizes. Charged with Attempted Murder
March 22, 1862 Cornwall Lent Assizes. Henry Spettigue v. the Crown.
In charging the grand jury, the judge entered minutely into the charge of shooting at Miss Ellen Burt, by Henry Spettigue, at Launceston. His remarks were chiefly directed to the questions whether it was an accident as alleged by the prisoner, and if he was responsible for his actions at the time. These were matters, however, which the jury would have to decide.
Attempt to murder. Henry Spettigue, 28, was at half-past one on Wednesday formally arraigned for feloniously shooting at Ellen Burt, with a pistol loaded with gunpowder and a leaden ball, with intent to kill or murder her, at Launceston, on October 22nd, 1861. A second court charged him with intent to do her grievous bodily harm.
Mr WC Gurney conducted the prosecution and Mr Cole appeared for the prisoner. – – from the opening statement of the learned counsel it appeared that the prosecutrix, aged about 22 years, is the daughter of Mr CN Burt, saddler &c., of Newport, in the parish of St Stevens by Launceston. The prisoner is the son of Mr William Spettigue, a gentleman formerly residing in the same parish. Prisoner had endeavoured to pay his addresses to the young lady, but she rejected his advances and refused to accept his presents, and had accepted the attentions of a young gentleman of Launceston. On more than one occasion the prisoner had been heard to use threatening language in reference to the prosecutrix. In September he borrowed a pistol of Mr M Pearse, a clerk in the Devon & Cornwall Bank, the latter on October 21st, requesting him to return it, and he promised to do so. The same evening the prosecutrix attended a lecture at the Mechanics Institute with a young gentleman, the prisoner also being present. On the following afternoon, Tuesday, the prosecutrix, in company with Lucy, a younger sister, went to Launceston, calling at the shop of Mr Smith, confectioner, outside the South Gate. On their return through the South Gate they were met by the prisoner who had just left Mr Maddox’s shop, and just after he was seen by William Kent, a lad in the employ of Mr Powell, grocer, to fire the pistol at the prosecutrix. Her dress was looped up, and in it were found fourteen holes and seven in her mantle, the shots appearing to pass between prosecutrix and her sister. He fired off the remaining chambers of the revolver in a field occupied by Mr Trist, in Ridgegrove lane, and then proceeded to the residence of the prosecutrix whence he was ejected by her brother, then going over opposite to the shop of Mrs Henry Burt, appearing excited and exclaiming “Good God! What have I done?” and said the pistol had gone off accidentally.
On being taken into custody he said the occurrence was accidental. The facts of the case were reported in the Launceston News at the time.
The witnesses who offered for the prosecution and deposed to the facts as above, were the prosecutrix and her sister Lucy, William Kent, Mrs Elizabeth Burt, Maurice Pearse, Mr CN Burt, Mrs G Burt, Edward Barrett, policeman, and Inspector W Fleet.
In reference to the threats Miss Margaret Martyn said she heard prisoner say he would do for prosecutrix; that he would shoot her and himself afterwards. Mary Ann Stacey, a servant in the employ of prisoner’s father, heard him say he would do something for her or the family some day.
Henry Hortopp heard the prisoner say he would be d – -d if anyone else should have her if he could not.
Prisoner: Hortopp, that’s false, I’ll not bear this, I’ve borne it for years. I would rather be dead.
Witness (by Mr Cole]: I was prosecuted by Mr Spettigue for larceny.
By the judge: I was acquitted.
Mary Grigg said she went to the police-station when the prisoner was in custody; he said he had been at Maddox’s shop, and as he came out he saw Miss Burt, and he thought he ‘would shoot the b- – .’
By Mr Cole: Witness knew the prisoner. She was sorry to give evidence now. Her evidence was corroborated by police-constable Thomas Rickard. Inspector Fleet said prisoner said it was an accident. George Burt said prisoner came to his house and said he wanted to explain; it was an accident.
Mr Coles, for the defence, contended there had been no intention to shoot the prosecutrix; the four remaining chambers of the pistol were undischarged after the alleged attempt at murder. According to his instruction from the prisoner, he was about to proceed for practice at Lawhitton Down, when the pistol went off accidentally in the street.
His Lordship having carefully summed up, the jury deliberated for about twenty minutes, and without leaving the box, at the conclusion of that period, said they found the prisoner guilty of shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm, with a recommendation to mercy on the ground that prisoner was greatly excited at the time of the occurrence.
His Lordship, in reply to Mr Cole, said he would not hear evidence as to prisoner’s mind.
The prisoner, who had remained in a somewhat excited state while the jury were deliberating, on being challenged in the usual way, stood apparently calm to receive sentence.
Mr Justice Byles then addressed the prisoner as follows: “Henry Spettigue, it is due to no care of yours, but the providence of Almighty God, who protects us to our last appointed moments of life, that you do not stand in that dock to receive sentence of death; for, had that bullet taken effect, even if the intentions were only to do grievous Bodily harm, you would have been guilty of wilful murder and you would undoubtedly have been left for execution. If the jury had found you guilty with intent to murder, I could have done nothing else than inflict the full penalty of the law, and that would have been penal servitude for the term of your natural life.
As it is, the sentence of the court for this your offence can be, with a view to the protection of the public, no less than this, that you be kept in penal servitude for the term of twenty years.”
Prisoner here, turning to his left, where some of the witnesses for the prosecution were standing, exclaimed: “I hope no one will go away with the thought that I have any feeling of revenge towards those that have come against me. I couldn’t help it.”
The sensation which prevailed in court on the delivery of the sentence was very great. The prisoner took it remarkably calmly, and was at once removed.
Bodmin Gaol Records:
27885 – SPETTIGUE, Henry: Shooting at Ellen Burt with a revolver pistol, intending to kill her, at St Mary Magdalene.
Tried at Lent Assizes 1862. Guilty of maliciously shooting with intent to do grievous bodily harm. Sentenced to Twenty Years Penal Servitude.
Has a scar over right eye. Sent Ten letters to his mother Emily at Marhamchurch, Stratton, and received Thirty-six from her. Sent Nine letters to Mr Scantlebury, Eating House keeper, Bodmin, and sent and received letters from his Sister Jessie Susan.
Sent to Millbank Prison, London, 21st April 1862, in charge of Bramble and Davey.
Henry Spettigue. Bodmin Jail No. 27885; no occupation; Launceston; age 28;
Job in Gaol – cleaner.
Sent to Millbank Prison, Pimlico, London 21st April 1862, in the charge of Warders Bramble & Davey.
Henry was born in 1834 to William and Emily Spettigue at Launceston. His father was a coal merchant and farmer. He served his time and returned to Launceston where he died in 1892 having never married.
Ellen was born in 1839 to Charles and Elizabeth Burt at Newport, Launceston. Her father was a saddler and inn keeper running the White Horse. Ellen married Joseph Ford Geake in 1866 at Launceston. They set up home in Westgate Street with Joseph running a drapers business which was later run from Broad Street. Together they had seven children, Charles, Ford (who died as an infant), Ellen, Frank, Katie, Marianne, and George B. Ellen died in 1893 at Launceston.