A Sheriff Officer, convicted of stealing Two Ducks, and sentenced on 23rd of July, 1796, to Transportation for Seven Years
CHARLES SCOLDWELL was a sheriff officer, and the extraordinary crime of which he was convicted took place at Bedfont, near Hammersmith. The trial came on at the Old Bailey, before the recorder, on the 23rd of July, 1796. The indictment charged him with feloniously stealing two live tame ducks, and it was stated by Mr Ally, counsel for the prosecution, that this theft, or act of grand larceny, was attended with many aggravating circumstances of oppression.
The prisoner, who was a servant of the law, was executing a writ which he had against the prosecutor, Mr Spurling; the debt amounted to sixteen pounds, seven shillings. At ten at night the prisoner obtained admission to Mr Spurling, and informed him that he had a writ against him, and he must immediately go with him to Newgate. To this the prosecutor demurred as to the harshness of the intended removal, for if there was any demand against him he was ready to settle it. The prisoner replied: "No, no, you shall not settle it; you must immediately come with me to Newgate, and you must hire a post-chaise." Poor Mr Spurling replied: "It is hard to be obliged to hire a post-chaise to carry oneself to Newgate; if you will take me in a humble single horse-chaise, which I have of my own, I will go with you to Newgate." The prisoner's follower, whose name was Taylor, said he thought they had better settle the matter; and, in the prisoner's presence, asked him what kind of accommodation he could afford. Mr Spurling said: "I have fifteen pounds in the house that you shall have, and something else to secure the balance, being one pound, seven shillings." Upon this the prisoner asked him if he had a watch, and he replied in the affirmative. The prisoner immediately said: "I must have that." This treatment was the more oppressive at that period as his wife was then very near that crisis when every good husband is more than ordinarily careful of his wife's safety, and therefore Mr Spurling, rather than leave his wife in that situation, gave the prisoner his watch, which he took, together with the fifteen pounds already mentioned. Scoldwell had no sooner got possession of these than he increased his demand. Said he: "This is a trifling thing; such gentlemen as we are cannot come into the country without something to bear our expenses." Upon that he asked the prosecutor for some money; who replied that he had only a few halfpence left, which he had taken in the course of his trade that day, and which amounted to about ten shillings. The prisoner, Scoldwell, received that ten shillings also. Soon after he asked if there were no fowls about the house. Mr Spurling told him he had only one or two. Then the prisoner inquired for a goose, because, he said, his wife was very fond of goose. The prosecutor said he had one; and the prisoner said he would take it to town.
On the prosecutor's remonstrating with him, the prisoner said he must have a goose. The prosecutor then let him have one. Still the rapacity of this man was not satisfied. He was no sooner possessed of this but, taking advantage of the prosecutor's peculiar situation with respect to his wife, he pursued his demands, extending even to the lease of the house. The prosecutor, wearied with his repeated exactions, told him the lease was his all, for he had expended three hundred pounds on the premises a short time before. However, the prisoner obtained possession of this lease also. These demands being thus complied with, the prisoner at the bar was still discontented. He said: "I must have a note for forty pounds on condition that the lease, watch and everything shall be mine, unless this debt and costs are legally settled within twenty- one days." This note, also, the prosecutor gave him; and here was a termination to such almost boundless rapacity. The prisoner left the prosecutor at about four or five in the morning, who, having to prepare his bread, retired to his bakehouse. He saw the prisoner, however, going towards the stable, in which were those two ducks which were the subject of inquiry. The prisoner soon after left the stable and went away. About six in the morning the prosecutor's wife ordered the ducks to be let out and fed, as they formerly, had been, but the ducks were gone from the stable. The prosecutor, it appears, saw those two ducks there about two hours before; and he could prove positively that they were actually in the stable at that very time. He could also prove that nobody went into the stable but the prisoner; and a sort of confession, or at least an admission, by the prisoner himself was established that he was the person who stole these ducks, for it happened that the prisoner, as he was coming back to town, met with a driver of a stage-coach. He got on the top of the coach, and in the course of a few miles, not foreseeing, at the moment, the event of the evening, tapped the coachman on the shoulder, and cried out: "Quack! Quack! Tick! Tick!" The coachman asked what he meant. The prisoner replied: " I have done the baker out of his ducks! have done the baker out of his watch! " When they had proceeded a great way farther, the coachman stopped to water, and the ducks falling out of the prisoner's pocket the coachman said to him: "Mr Constable, if you do not take care you will lose the ducks you have stolen." His reply was not a denial of that charge. "No, no," says he, I will take care; I will keep them fast."
After the examination of several witnesses, the fact, as laid in the indictment, being clearly proved, the recorder summed up the evidence; and the jury, after half-an-hour's consideration, returned a verdict of guilty.
The prisoner, aged forty-one, was sentenced to be transported for seven years.