JOHN HERMAN BRIAN
Executed for robbing and burning the House of Peter Persode, Esq., St James's Street, Westminster, in October, 1707
The crime for which this man suffered is defined by the law to be arson, or arsonry; that is, wilfully setting fire to another person's house, whether by day or by night.
It is in this case a capital offence; but if a man burns his own house, without injuring any other, it is only a misdemeanour, punishable by fine, imprisonment, or the pillory.
By the 23rd of Henry VIII, cap. 1, the capital part of the offence is extended to persons (whether principals or accessories) burning dwelling-houses, or barns wherein corn is deposited; and by the 43rd of Elizabeth, cap. 13, burning barns or stacks of corn, in the four northern counties, is also made felony, without benefit of clergy.
By the 22nd and 23rd of Charles II, cap. 7, it is made felony, to set fire to any stack of corn, hay, or grain; or other outbuildings, or kilns, maliciously, in the night time; punishable with transportation for seven years.
By the 1st George I cap. 48, it is also made single felony to set fire to any wood, underwood, or coppice.
Other burnings are made punishable with death, without benefit of clergy. viz, setting fire to any house, barn, or outhouse, or to any hovel, cock, mow, or stack of corn, straw, hay, or wood; or the rescuing any such offender: 9 George I cap. 22.
-- Setting fire to a coal mine: 10 George II cap. 32. -- Burning, or setting fire to any windmill, or water-mill, or other mill (as also pulling down the same): 9 George III cap. 29; but the offender must be prosecuted within eighteen months. --Burning any ship, to the prejudice of the owners, freighters, or underwriters: 22 and 23 Charles II cap. 11; 1 Anne, stat. 2. cap. 9; 4 George I cap. 12. -- Burning the king's ships of war afloat, or building; or the dockyards, or any of the buildings, arsenals, or stores therein; 12 George Ill cap. 24. And finally threatening by anonymous or fictitious letters to burn houses, barns, etc. is by the act 27 George 11 cap. 15 also made felony, without benefit of clergy.
John Herman Brian was a native of Dully, a village in the bailiwick of Monge, in the Canton of Berne, in Switzerland, where he was born about the year 1683. He left Switzerland while very young, and went to Geneva, where he lived in the service of a gentleman above four years, and then made a tour of Italy with a person of fortune.
On his arrival in England, he lived in several reputable families for the space of about three years, and last of all, for about two months, in that of Mr Persode, when, being discharged, in about two days after he broke open, plundered, and burned his dwelling house, for which he was indicted at the sessions house in the Old Bailey, 16th of October, 1707, for burning and consuming the mansion-house of Peter Persode, Esq., in St James's Street, Westminster.
He was likewise indicted a second time for breaking open the said house about three o'clock on the day above mentioned and taking from thence a gold tweezer case and chain, value fifty pounds, a gold watch, seventeen guineas, and valuables.
Mr Persode deposed that the prisoner had been his servant for the space of two months, and was discharged from his service the Monday before the fact was committed, and that the Wednesday following, about ten o'clock at night, he left all his doors and windows fast.
Mrs Persode deposed that when she went to bed she locked up her tweezer case, watch and other articles; and that about three o'clock in the morning she awoke and smelt a strong smell of smoke. Getting up, she went out of her chamber and found a lighted flambeau in the passage, which had burned the boards; that she then opened the door of a parlour, which was full of smoke, and immediately the room was all on fire, which rushed out of the stairs and raged with such fury that the house was consumed in a quarter of an hour, they not being able to save any of their goods.
Mr Stevenson and Mr Acton, goldsmiths, deposed that the prisoner offered to sell the tweezer case to them, and asked eight pounds for it, which gave them reason to suspect he had stolen it, and thereupon they stopped it, but the prisoner went away; and upon inquiry they found it to be Mr Persode's property; that afterwards, he coming again to demand the goods, they seized him, and on searching him found two pistols and a dagger about him, with which they were informed he designed to shoot or stab them if they refused to return the tweezer case.
The prisoner denied the fact, and said he bought the goods of a strange man, but could give no proof of it, nor where he was the night the fact was committed; whereupon the jury found him guilty of both indictments.
All the time he was under condemnation at Newgate he seemed only to meditate on making his escape. He made repeated efforts to escape out of Newgate, by unscrewing and filing off his irons; but being detected, he was properly secured till the time of his execution; and being asked, by the ordinary of Newgate, how he could waste his precious time in such a fruitless attempt, he answered that "life was sweet, and that any other man, as well as himself, would endeavour to save it if he could".
He was executed in St James's Street, near St James's House, Westminster; and hanged in chains at Acton Gravel Pits, 24th of October, 1707.