CAPTAIN WILLIAM MOIR
Executed on 2nd August, 1830, for murdering a Fisherman who had trespassed on his Farm at Barking, Essex
THIS unhappy gentleman was a native of Forfarshire, in Scotland, where he was born, of a family of the highest respectability, in the year 1794. At the age of nineteen he entered the British Army, and during a period of seventeen years served with great credit in the 14th, 37th and 40th Regiments of Foot, in France, Spain and America. In the course of his sojourn in the latter country (in the year 1816) he was united to a young lady of exceedingly amiable disposition, who at that time had reached only her fourteenth year; and upon his return to England he resided with his wife in the vicinity of London. Here he became acquainted with many families of high standing in society; but, tired of an idle life, he determined to devote his time to the occupation of farming, and at Michaelmas 1829 he entered on the possession of Shellhaven Farm, which consisted of about four hundred acres of land, and was situated near Stanfordle-Hope, in the vicinity of Barking, in Essex. At this time he had three children, whose ages were respectively twelve, ten and seven years; and there appeared every prospect of a continuance of that happiness which he had so long enjoyed with his family when, by an act attributable rather to passion or insanity than to preconceived deliberation, he subjected himself to the infliction of the severest penalty of the law.
Captain Moir was in the habit of pursuing a strict line of discipline with regard to trespassers upon his farm, and was considerably annoyed by the constant appearance of fishermen upon his lands, who resorted thither for the purpose of dragging a portion of the river which passed through them, and which was supposed to contain an abundance of fish of a superior quality and size.
On Wednesday, the 24th of March, 1830, a poor man, named Malcolm, who resided at Hammersmith, quitted home, in a boat, accompanied by his apprentice and a brother fisherman, named Duke, for the purpose of fishing. They proceeded to Shellhaven Creek, where Malcolm threw out his nets. Shortly after Captain Moir made his appearance, armed with a knife, and accompanied by a servant named Raven, and ordered the nets to be removed. Malcolm offered some observations of abuse towards him and reluctantly retired; he was proceeding to cross Captain Moir's meadows, to go to the house of a man named Baker, when he was called back, and ordered to go round by the sea-wall. He directed some further abuse towards the Captain and took off his jacket, as if to fight him, but at length went away. Captain Moir then returned to his house, and Malcolm and his assistants went to Baker's cottage. They had not been there more than an hour and a half when they went back to the creek, where Malcolm's boat was lying. At this time Malcolm had a boat-hook over his shoulder, to which was suspended a basket of potatoes, which he had obtained from Baker, and the party was again crossing Captain Moir's meadows, Malcolm being about seven yards in advance, when the Captain and his servant were seen riding furiously towards them. The former exclaimed that he thought he had ordered them not to trespass upon his lands; when Malcolm answered that he would go, or that he might go and be d--d; the precise observation was not distinctly heard. Captain Moir then suddenly presented a pistol and discharged it at him. Malcolm exclaimed that his arm was broken, and dropped his boat-hook; and the Captain threatened to serve his companions in the same manner if they did not instantly retire.
Malcolm was soon afterwards carried back to Baker's cottage, where he was attended by Mr Dodd, a surgeon, at the direction of Captain Moir, and was found to be in a position of such great danger as to render his immediate removal necessary. The poor man was subsequently attacked with lockjaw, and died after the lapse of two or three days. A conversation took place between Captain Moir and Mr Dodd upon the subject on the day of the occurrence, when the former justified his conduct, declaring that his land was his castle, and that he would do the same again the next day, under similar circumstances.
A coroner's inquest was held upon the body of the deceased fisherman, and a verdict of wilful murder was returned, and Captain Moir was committed to Chelmsford jail, to take his trial at the ensuing assizes.
The case came on for investigation at Chelmsford before Lord Tenterden, on Friday, the 30th of July, when every effort was used on behalf of the accused, but to no purpose, and a verdict of guilty was returned upon the capital charge. The prisoner urged the absence of all malice on his part towards the deceased, and alleged that he had been compelled to retain loaded pistols constantly in his house, in consequence of the desperate characters by which his neighbourhood was surrounded. All, however, was of no avail, and sentence of death was passed in the usual terms.
After his conviction a strong and urgent appeal was made on his behalf to the Government, founded upon the suggestion that there was little doubt that the act on the part of the unhappy man had been dictated by insanity. It was declared, however, that it was too late to hope for mercy upon any such grounds, which ought to have been made the subject of inquiry at the trial, where, had they proved well founded, they would have relieved the prisoner from all criminal responsibility.
In the meantime the wretched prisoner, unconscious of the measures which were being taken by his friends with a view to secure his safety, diligently applied himself to the only duty remaining for him to perform on earth -- that of making his peace with the Almighty. He attended divine service in the chapel of the jail on Sunday, and was afterwards visited by his wife, then only twenty-eight years of age, his mother, his sister, and some friends, of whom he took a most affectionate farewell. At about seven o'clock on Monday morning he received the Sacrament, and expressed himself perfectly resigned to his fate, declaring at the same moment that he had not the smallest degree of animosity against the ill-fated man whose death he had caused, and whom he had had no intention to kill. Throughout the dreadful concluding scene of his life he conducted himself in the calmest manner. He ascended the scaffold declaring that he was at peace with all mankind, and repeatedly denied that he had had any feeling of unkindness towards Malcolm. At nine o'clock the fatal bolt was drawn, and the ill-fated gentleman died instantaneously.
Captain Moir at the time of his execution, which took place on the 2nd of August, 1830, was only thirty-six years of age. He was a remarkably fine man, and stood upwards of six feet in height. He was brother-in-law to Sir James G. Baird (a near relative to the gallant Sir David Baird), and was first cousin to Sir William Rae, at the time of his execution the Lord Advocate for Scotland. He was descended, on his grandmother's side, from the heroic Bruce, and was also connected with the distinguished families of Blair of Blair, the Stewart and the Butes.