Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 John Perry

A true and perfect account of the examination, confession, trial, condemnation and execution, of JOHN PERRY, his mother and brother

for the supposed murder of WILLIAM HARRISON, Gent.

Upon Thursday, the 6th of August, 1660, William Harrison, steward to the Lady Viscount Campden, at Campden in Gloucester, being about seventy years of age, walked from Campden aforesaid to Charringworth, about two miles from thence, to receive his lady's rent; and not returning so early as formerly, his wife, Mrs. Harrison, between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, sent her servant John Perry, to meet his master on the way from Charringworth. But neither Mr. Harrison nor his servant John Perry returning that night, early the next morning Edward Harrison, William's son, went towards Charringworth to enquire after his father. On the way he met Perry coming thence, and being informed by him that he was not there, they went together to Ebrington, a village between Charringworth and Campden, where they were told by one Daniel, that Mr. Harrison called at his house the evening before, in his return from Charringworth, but stayed not. Then they went to Paxford, about half a mile from thence, where hearing nothing of Mr. Harrison, they returned towards Campden. And on the way hearing of a hat, band and a comb, taken up on the highway between Ebrington and Campden, by a poor woman then leasing [gleaning] in the field, they sought her out. With her they found the hat, band and comb, which they knew to be Mr. Harrison's; and being brought by the woman to the place where she found the same, in the highway between Ebrington and Campden, near unto a great furze-brake, they there searched for Mr. Harrison, supposing he had been murdered, the hat and the comb being hacked and cut, and the band bloody, but nothing more could there be found. The news hereof coming to Campden, so alarmed the town that the men, women and children hasted thence in multitudes to search for Mr. Harrison's supposed dead body, but all in vain.

Mrs. Harrison's fears for her husband were now much increased, and having sent her servant Perry the evening before to meet his master, and he not returning that night, caused a suspicion that he had robbed and murdered him. Thereupon the said Perry was the next day brought before a Justice of the Peace; by whom being examined concerning his master's absence, and his own staying out the night he went to meet him, gave this account of himself. That his mistress sending him to meet his master, between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, he went down Campden Field towards Charringworth about a land's length,[1] where meeting one William Read of Campden, he acquainted him with his errand, and farther told him that as it was growing dark he was afraid to go forwards, and would therefore return and fetch his young master's horse and return with him; he went to Mr. Harrison's court gate, where they parted. He stayed till one Pierce coming by, he went again with him about a bow's shot into the fields, and returned with him likewise to his master's gate, where they also parted; and the said John Perry averred that he went into his master's hen-roost, where he lay about an hour, but slept not, but when the clock struck twelve, arose and went towards Charringworth, until a great mist arising, he lost his way, and so lay the rest of the night under a hedge. At break of day on Friday morning he went to Charringworth, where he enquired for his master of one Edward Plaisterer, who told him he had been with him the afternoon before, and received three-and-twenty pounds of him, but stayed not long with him. He went to William Curtis of the same town, who told him he heard his master was at his house the day before, but being not at home, did not see him. After which he said he returned homewards, it being about five o'clock in the morning, when on the way he met his master's son, with whom he went to Ebrington and Paxford, etc. Curtis being examined, affirmed what Perry had said concerning them to be true.

Perry then being asked by the Justice of Peace how he, who was afraid to go to Charringworth at nine o'clock, became so bold as to go thither at twelve, answered that at nine o'clock it was dark, but at twelve the moon shone. Being further asked why returning twice home after his mistress had sent him to meet his master, and staying until twelve of the clock, he went not into the house to know whether his master was come, before he went a third time, at that time of night to look after him, he answered that he knew his master was not at home, because he saw a light in his chamber window, which never used to be there so late when he was at home.

Yet notwithstanding this that Perry had said about staying forth that night, it was not thought fit to discharge him until further enquiry was made after Mr. Harrison, and accordingly he continued in custody at Campden, sometimes in an inn there, and sometimes in the common prison, from Saturday, August the 18th, to the Friday following; during which time he was again examined at Campden, by the aforesaid Justice of Peace, but confessed nothing more than before, nor at that time could any further discovery be made as to what was become of Mr. Harrison. But it hath been said that during his restraint at Campden he told some (who pressed him to confess what he knew concerning his master) that a tinker had killed him; and to others he said that a gentleman's servant of the neighbourhood had robbed and murdered him; and others, again, he told that he was murdered and hid in a bean-rick in Campden, where search was in vain made for him. At length he gave out that if he was again carried before the Justice, he would discover that to him which he would not do to anybody else; and thereupon he was, on Friday, August the 24th, again brought before the Justice of Peace, who first examined him. And asking him whether he would confess what had become of his master, he answered he was murdered but not by him. The Justice of Peace then telling him that if he knew him to be murdered, he knew likewise by whom he was, so he acknowledged he did, and being urged to confess what he knew concerning it, affirmed that it was his mother and brother that had murdered his master. The Justice of Peace then advised him to consider what he said, telling him that he feared he might be guilty of his master's death, and that he should not draw more innocent blood upon his head, for what he now charged his mother and brother with might cost them their lives. But he affirming he spoke nothing but the truth, and that if he were immediately to die he would justify it, the Justice desired him to declare how, and when they did it.

He then told him that ever since he came into his master's service his mother and brother had lain at him to help them to money, telling him how poor they were, and that it was in his power to relieve them by giving them notice when his master went to receive his lady's rents, for they would then waylay him and rob him. And further, he said that upon the Thursday morning, when his master went to Charringworth, going on an errand into the town, he met his brother in the street, whom he then told whither his master was going, and if he waylaid him he might have his money; and further said, that in the evening when his mistress sent him to meet his master, he met his brother in the street before his master's gate, going as he said to meet his master, and so they went together to the churchyard, about a stone's throw from Mr. Harrison's gate, where they parted. He going the footway beyond the church, they met again, and so went together the way leading to Charringworth, until they came to a gate about a bow's shot from Campden church that goes into a ground of the Lady Campden's, called the Conygree, which to those who have a key to go through the garden, is the nearest from that place to Mrs. Harrison's house. When they came near unto that gate, he (the said John Perry) said he told his brother that he believed his master was just gone into the Conygree (for it was then so dark they could not discern any man, so as to know him). But perceiving there was no way but for those who had a key through the gardens, he concluded it was his master who had gone through, and so told his brother if he followed him, he might have his money, and he in the meantime, would walk a turn in the fields. Which accordingly he did, and then followed his brother. About the middle of the Conygree, he found his master on the ground, his brother upon him, and his mother standing by. Being asked whether his master was dead, he answered, No, for that after he came to them, his master cried, "Ah, rogues! Will you kill me?" At which he told his brother he hoped he would not kill his master; his brother replied, "Peace, peace, you're a fool"; and so strangled him. Which having done, he took a bag of money out of his pocket, and threw it into his mother's lap; and then he and his brother carried his master's dead body into the garden, adjoining to the Conygree, where they consulted what to do with it, and at length agreed to throw it into the great pool by Wallington's Mill, behind the garden.

His mother and brother bid him go up to the court next the house, to hearken whether anyone was stirring, and they would throw the body into the pool; and being asked whether it was there, he said, he knew not, for that he left it in the garden, but his mother and brother said they would throw it there, and if it was not there, he knew not where it was, for that he returned no more to them, but went into the court gate, which goes into the town. He met with John Pierce with whom he went into the field, and again returned with him to his master's gate. After which he went into the hen-roost, where he lay until twelve o'clock at night, but slept not, and having, when he came from his mother and brother, brought with him his master's hat, band and comb, which he laid in the hen-roost, he carried the said hat, band and comb, and threw them after he had given them three or four cuts with his knife, in the highway, where they were after found. And being asked what he intended by so doing, he said he did it that it might be believed his master had been there robbed and murdered. And having thus disposed of his hat, band and comb, he went towards Charringworth, as hath been related.

Upon this confession and accusation, the Justice of Peace gave order for the apprehending of Joan and Richard Perry, the mother and brother of John Perry, and for searching the pool where Mr. Harrison's body was said to be thrown, which was accordingly done, but nothing of him could be found there. The Fish Pools, likewise, in Campden, were drawn and searched, but nothing could be found there either; so that some were of opinion that the body might be laid in the ruins of Campden House, burnt in the late wars, and not unfit for such a concealment, where was likewise search made, but all in vain.

On Saturday, August 25th, Joan and Richard Perry, together with John Perry, were brought before the Justice of Peace, who acquainted the said Joan and Richard with what John had lain to their charge. They denied all, with many imprecations on themselves if they were in the least guilty of anything of which they were accused, but John on the other side affirmed to their faces that he had spoken nothing but the truth and that they had murdered his master, further telling them that he could never be at quiet for them since he came into his master's service, being continually followed by them to help them to money (which they told him he might do by giving them notice when his master went to receive his lady's rents), and that meeting his brother Richard in Campden Town, the Thursday morning his master went to Charringworth, he told him whither he was going, and upon what errand; Richard confessed he met his brother that morning and spoke with him, but nothing passed between them to that purpose. Both he and his mother told John he was a villain to accuse them wrongfully, as he had done, but John on the other side affirmed that he had spoken nothing but the truth and would justify it to his death.

One remarkable circumstance happened in these prisoners' return from the Justice's house to Campden, viz., Richard Perry following a good distance behind his brother John, pulling a clout out of his pocket, dropped a ball of inkle,[2] which one of his guard taking up, he desired him to restore it, saying it was only his wife's hair lace; but the party opening it, and finding a slip knot at the end, went and showed it unto John, who was then a good distance before and knew nothing of the dropping and taking up of this inkle. Being showed it, and asked whether he knew it, he shook his head and said, yes to his sorrow, for that was the string his brother strangled his master with. This was sworn upon the evidence at their trial.

The morrow being the Lord's day, they remained at Campden, where the minister of the place designing to speak to them, if possible to persuade them to repentance and a farther confession, they were brought to church; and in their way thither passing by Richard's house, two of his children meeting him, he took the lesser in his arm, and was leading the other in his hand, when on a sudden both their noses fell a-bleeding, which was looked upon as ominous.

Here it will be no impertinent digression to tell how the year before, Mr. Harrison had his house broken open between eleven and twelve o'clock at noon, upon Campden market-day, whilst himself and his whole family were away, a ladder being set up to a window of the second story, and an iron bar wrenched thence with a ploughshare, which was left in the room, and seven score pounds in money carried away, the authors of which robbery could never be found. After this, and not many weeks before Mr. Harrison's absence, one evening in Campden garden his servant Perry made a hideous outcry, whereas some who heard it coming in, met him running and seemingly affrighted, with a sheep-pick in his hand, to whom he told a story how he had been set upon by two men in white, with naked swords, and how he defended himself with his sheep-pick, the handle whereof was cut in two or three places, as was likewise a key in his pocket, which he said was done with one of their swords.

The passages the Justice of the Peace having before heard, and calling to mind upon Perry's confession, asked him first concerning the robbery, when his master lost seven score pounds out of his house at noon-day, whether he knew who did it? He answered, Yes, it was his brother, and being further asked, whether he was with him, he answered, No, he was at church, but that he gave him notice of the money, and told him in which room it was, and where he might have a ladder, that would reach the window; and that his brother after told him he had the money, and had buried it in his garden, and that they were at Michaelmas next to have divided it, whereupon search was made in the garden, but no money could be there found. And being further asked concerning the other passage, of his being assaulted in the garden, he confessed it was all a fiction, and that he did it having a design to rob his master, so that rogues being believed to haunt the place, when his master was robbed they might be thought to have done it.

At the next assizes, which were held in September following, John, Joan and Richard Perry had two indictments found against them, one for breaking into William Harrison's house, and robbing him of one hundred and forty pounds, in the year, 1659; the other for robbing and murdering the said William Harrison on the 16th day of August, 1660. Upon the last indictment, the judge of the assizes, Sir C. T., would not try them, because the body was not found; but they were then tried upon the other indictment for robbery, to which they pleaded not guilty. But someone whispering behind them, they soon pleaded guilty, humbly begging the benefit of his Majesty's gracious pardon and Act of Oblivion,[3] which was granted them. But though they pleaded guilty to their indictment, being thereunto promised (as probable) by some who are unwilling to lose time and trouble the Court with their trial as the Act of Oblivion pardoned them; yet they all afterwards and at their death, denied that they were guilty of that robbery, or that they knew who did it. Yet at his assize, as several credible persons have affirmed, John Perry still persisted in his story that his mother and brother had murdered his master, and further added that they had attempted to poison him in gaol, so that he durst neither eat nor drink with them.

At the next assizes, which was held the Spring following, John, Joan and Richard Perry were by the then judge of assize, Sir B. H., tried upon the indictment of murder, and pleaded thereunto severally not guilty. And when John's confession before the Justice was proved, "viva voce", by several witnesses who heard the same, he told them he was then mad and knew not what he said. The other two, Richard and Joan Perry, said they were wholly innocent of what they were accused, and that they knew nothing of Mr. Harrison's death, nor what was become of him; and Richard said that his brother had accused others as well as him of having murdered his master, which the judge bidding him prove, he said that most of those who had given evidence against him knew it, but naming none, nor did any speak to it. And so the jury found them all three guilty.

Some few days after being brought to the place of their execution, which was on Broadway Hill, in sight of Campden, the mother, who was reputed a witch and to have bewitched her sons, so that they would confess nothing while she lived, was executed first. After which, Richard being upon the ladder, professed as he had done all along that he was wholly innocent of the fact for which he was then to die, and that he knew nothing of Mr. Harrison's death, nor what was become of him, and did with great earnestness beg and beseech his brother, for the satisfaction of the whole world and for his own conscience, to declare what he knew concerning him. But he, with a dogged and surly carriage, told the people he was not obliged to confess to them; yet immediately before his death, he said he knew nothing of his master's death, nor what had become of him but they might hereafter possibly hear.

Mr. Harrison's account of his being absent two years, and of his return home, addressed to Sir Thomas Overbery, Knight

Honoured Sir,

In obedience to your commands, I give you this true account of my being carried away beyond the seas, my continuance there and return home.

On Thursday, in the afternoon, in the time of harvest, I went to Charringworth to demand rents due to my Lady Campden, at which the tenants were busy in the fields, and were late ere they came home, which occasioned my stay there till the close of the evening. I expected a considerable sum, but received only twenty-three pounds and no more. In my return home, in the narrow passages amongst Ebrington Furzes, there met me one horseman, and said, "Art thou there?" and I, fearing that he would have rode over me, struck his horse over the nose, whereupon he struck me with his sword several blows, and ran it into my side, while I with my little cane made my defence as well as I could. At last another came behind me, ran me in the thigh, laid hold on the collar of my doublet, and drew me to a hedge near to the place. Then came in another. They did not take away my money, but mounted me behind one of them, drew my arms about his middle, and fastened my wrists together with something that had a spring lock to it, as I conceived, by hearing it give a snap as they put it on; then they threw a great cloak over me and carried me away.

In the night, they alighted at a hayrick, which stood near unto a stone pit, by a wall side, where they took away my money. This was about two hours before day, as I heard one of them tell the other he thought it to be then. They tumbled me into the stone pit. They stayed, as I thought, about an hour at the hayrick. When they took horse again, one of them bade me come out of the pit. I answered they had my money already, and asked what they would do with me, whereupon he struck me again, drew me out, and put a great quantity of money into my pockets, and mounted me again, after the same manner. And on Friday, about sunset, they brought me to a lone house upon a heath, by a thicket of bushes, where they took me down, almost dead, being sorely bruised with the carriage of the money. When the woman of the house saw that I could neither stand nor speak, she asked them whether or no they had brought a dead man? They answered, no, but a friend that was hurt, and they were carrying me to a surgeon. She answered, if they did not make haste their friend would be dead before they could bring him to one. There they laid me on the cushions and suffered none to come into the room but a little girl. There we stayed all night, they giving me some broth and strong waters.

In the morning, very early, they mounted me as before, and on Saturday night, they brought me to a place where were two or three houses, in one of which I lay all night on cushions by their bedside. On Sunday morning they carried me from thence, and about three or four of the clock, they brought me to a place by the seaside, called Deal, where they laid me down in the ground. One of them staying by me, the other two walked a little off to meet a man, with whom they talked; and in their discourse I heard them mention seven pounds, after which they went away together, and about half an hour after returned. The man (whose name, as I after heard, was Wrenshaw) said he feared I would die before they could put me on board; then they put me into a boat, and carried me on ship-board, where my wounds were dressed.

I remained in the ship, as near as I could reckon, about six weeks, in which time I was indifferently recovered of my wounds and weaknesses. Then the master of the ship came in and told me and the rest who were in the same condition, that he discovered three Turkish ships. We all offered to fight in defence of the ship and ourselves, but he commanded us to keep close, and said he would deal with them well enough. A little while after, he called us up, and when we came on deck we saw two Turkish ships close by us; into one of them we were put, and placed in a dark hold, where how long we continued before we were landed, I know not.

When we were landed they led us two days' journey, and put us into a great house or prison, where we remained four days and a half, and then came to us eight men to view us, who seemed to be officers. They called us and examined us of our trades and callings, which everyone answered. One said he was a surgeon, another that he was a broad-cloth weaver, and I, after two or three demands, said I had some skill in physic. We three were set by, and taken by three of these eight men who came to view us. It was my chance to be chosen by a grave physician of eighty-seven years of age, who lived near to Smyrna, who had formerly been in England, and knew Crowland in Lincolnshire, which he preferred before all others in England. He employed me to keep his still-house, and gave me a silver bowl, double gilt, to drink in. My business was most in that place, but once he set me to gather cotton wool, which I not doing he struck me to the ground, and after drew his stiletto to stab me; but I holding up my hands to him, he gave me a stamp and turned from me, for which I render thanks to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who stayed his hand and preserved me.

I was there about a year and three quarters, and then my master fell sick on a Thursday, and sent for me, and calling me, as he used, by the name of Bell, told me he should die and bid me shift for myself. He died on the Saturday following, and I instantly hastened with my bowl[4] to a port almost a day's journey distant, the way to which place I knew, having been twice there employed by my master about the carriage of the cotton wool. When I came thither I addressed myself to two men who came out of a ship of Hamburg, which, as they said, was bound for Portugal within three or four days. I enquired of them for an English ship, they answered there was none. I entreated them to take me into their ship, but they answered they durst not, for fear of being discovered by the searchers, which might occasion the forfeiture, not only of their goods, but also of their lives. I was very importunate with them, but could not prevail. They left me to wait on Providence, which at length brought me another out of the same ship, to whom I made known my condition, craving his assistance for my transportation. He made me the like answer as the former, and was as stiff in his denial, until the sight of my bowl put him to pause. He returned to the ship, and after an hour's space came back again accompanied with another seaman, and for my bowl, undertook to transport me; but he told me I must be contented to lie down in the keel and endure much hardship, which I was content to do to gain my liberty.

So they took me on board, and placed me below in the vessel, in a very uneasy place, and obscured me with boards and other things, where I lay undiscovered, notwithstanding the strict search that was made in the vessel. My two chapmen who had my bowl, honestly furnished me with victuals daily, until we arrived at Lisbon in Portugal, where, as soon as the master had left the ship and was gone into the city, they set me on shore moneyless, to shift for myself. I knew not what course to take, but as Providence led me, I went up into the city, and came into a fair street, and being weary I turned my back to a wall, and leaned upon my staff. Over against me were four gentlemen discoursing together; after a while one of them came to me, and spake to me in a language that I understood not. I told him I was an Englishman and understood not what he spoke. He answered me in plain English, that he understood me, and was himself born in Wisbech, in Lincolnshire. Then I related to him my sad condition, and he taking compassion on me, took me with him, provided me with lodging and diet, and by his interest with a master of a ship bound for England, procured my passage; and bringing me on ship board, he bestowed wine and strong waters on me, and at his return gave me eight stivers and commended me to the care of the master of the ship, who landed me safe at Dover. From thence I made a shift to get to London, where being furnished with necessaries I came into the country.

Thus, honoured Sir, I have given you a true account of my great sufferings and happy deliverance by the mercy and goodness of God, my most gracious Father in Jesus Christ, my Saviour and Redeemer, to whose name be ascribed all honour, praise and glory. I conclude and rest,

Your Worship's, In all dutiful respect, William Harrison

Before I part with this story, it is proper for me to remark that though it does not contain any extraordinary mark of the wisdom of Providence, yet being in its nature strange and hitherto having escaped any other collection, I thought it not improper to be preserved here, since some of the circumstances are of such a nature as not to be paralleled in any English story.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] A local term for a strip of furrowed land.

[2] A kind of broad linen tape.

[3] Passed at the Restoration, in 1660, granting "free general pardon, indemnity, and oblivion for all treasons and state offences" committed between 1 Jan., 1637, and 24 June, 1660. The regicides and certain Irish priests were excepted.

[4] That is, the silver-gilt one his master had given him.

Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals