A Greenwich Pensioner, eighty years of age, executed 23rd of December, 1822, for the murder of a woman with whom he had cohabited
AT the Kent Assizes, for December, 1822, John Smith, a pensioner of Greenwich Hospital, was indicted for the wilful murder of Catherine Smith, a woman with whom he had for some time previously cohabited.
The prisoner, a fine robust old man, nearly six feet high, entered the court with a firm and steady step, although nearly eighty years of age. The following is a digested abstract of the evidence for the prosecution:
On the morning of the 4th of October, about half-past five o'clock, he went to a public-house called "The Cricketers," sat down near the bar, and called for a pot of porter. Immediately afterwards, addressing himself to the landlord, he said "Hawkins, have you seen my woman this morning?" He replied in the negative; upon which the prisoner said, "If you see her go past, call her in." About ten minutes before six, the deceased came into the public-house in company with another Greenwich pensioner. The deceased called for two glasses of gin. The landlord drew a glass of gin, and set it before her on the bar; when she said, "You know I take it with peppermint." The landlord was turning round to get the peppermint bottle, when in an instant the prisoner, who was sitting close to the deceased, rose up and stabbed her with a knife in the right breast. Before this not a word had passed between the prisoner and the deceased. The deceased immediately exclaimed, "you have killed me! you have killed me!"
The unfortunate woman was urged by the landlord to run to the infirmary immediately. She went out, but before she got the distance of forty paces she dropped down dead. The prisoner was immediately seized by the landlord, who said to him, "You wicked old man, how could you do so rash an act?" He replied, "She has been with that fellow all night."
The prisoner was afterwards searched, and the knife was found upon him, stained with blood; and being asked whether that was the instrument with which he committed the murder, he said it was, and owned that he did it. The point of the instrument, which was a common pocket knife, upon being examined, appeared as if it had been recently sharpened.
The prisoner, in his defence, entered into a long statement of quarrels between him and the deceased, which, he said, had irritated and made him unhappy. She had come from London to live with him, and take care of him, he being old and infirm; they had lived together for about fifteen months; but a short time before this transaction, she was greatly altered in her behaviour towards him. He had, through friends of his own, procured her a situation as helper in one of the wards of the hospital; she became cold and unkind to him, and at last be discovered that she kept company with Levett, another Greenwich pensioner. On the morning of the 4th of October he went to "The Cricketers" public-house to get some beer; while he was there, he was cutting a piece of stick- liquorice with his knife, when the deceased and her lubber came into the house and stood close to him; he had been drinking the night before; the appearance of the deceased with her paramour affected him very much, and the deceased having trod upon his corns, he in a moment of rage committed the fatal act; but without knowing what he did, and certainly not intending to kill the unfortunate woman. Under such circumstances he hoped a merciful view of his case would be taken.
The Judge having summed up the evidence, left it to the Jury, who immediately returned a verdict of Guilty, and the prisoner was ordered for execution on the following Monday. He retired from the bar with the same firm step and demeanour with which he had entered the Court.
At twelve o'clock on Monday the 23rd of December, the dreadful sentence of the law was carried into effect on Penenden Heath. He appeared to be very penitent and resigned, and partook of the sacrament a short time before he left the gaol. At the place of execution he addressed the people, who were assembled in great crowds, and said, "that women were the cause of his downfall." He prayed aloud and very fervently, until the drop fell, frequently ejaculating, with a clear and audible voice, "Lord have mercy upon me! Christ have mercy upon me!" and with these words upon his lips was launched into eternity.
After hanging the usual time, the body was taken to Greenwich College, where it laid one day for public view, and was afterwards dissected and anatomized in the Hospital.
Previous to his execution, this man exhibited one of the most remarkable instances of mental abstraction, that perhaps has ever been manifested under the awful circumstances of deliberate murder. He sent for a gentleman of Maidstone, who, attending the summons, received from the prisoner a vehement injunction to make public what he called a history of his life. The surprise of the gentleman may be conceived, when, on examining the paper, he discovered it to be a concise narrative of the place of the prisoner's birth -- his propensities -- and, finally, his motives for committing the murder, described in doggerel verse. Although the production of an illiterate man, it is truly astonishing that the mind of a man nearly fourscore years old could, by any possibility, under circumstances so peculiarly awful, for a moment be so abstracted from his situation as to admit of so extraordinary a production. The levity of the concluding lines is not the least striking part of this extraordinary effusion. The original has been followed literatim et verbatim.
In the County of Wicklow I was born'd but now in Maidstone die in scorn I once was counted a roving blade but to my misfortune had no trade women was always my downfall but still I liked and loved them all a hundred I have had in my time when I was young and in my prime women was always my delight but when I got old they did me slight a woman from London to me came she said with You I would fain remain if you will be constant I'll be true I never want no Man but You -- and on her own Bible a Oath did take that she never would Me forsake and during the time that I had Life she would always prove a loving Wife and by that Means we did agree to live together she and Me -- but soon her vows and Oath did break and to another Man did take Which she fetch'd home with her to lay and that proved her own destiny So as Jack Smith lay on his bed this notion strongly run in his Head then he got up with that intent to find her out was fully bent swearing if he found out her Oath she'd broke he stick a knife into her throat then to the Cricketers he did go to see if he could find it out or no not long been there before she Come in with this same fellow to fetch some Gin then with a Knife himself brought in immediately stab'd her under the Chin and in five minutes she was no more but there laid in her purple gore Now to conclude and end my song they are both dead dead and gone they are both gone I do declare gone they are but God knows where --