Executed on Pennenden Heath, August 23, 1813, for the Murder of Mr and Mrs Bonar
PHILIP NICHOLSON, the assassin of Mr and Mrs Bonar, was born near Belfast, in Ireland, and was obliged to fly his country for some reason with which we are not acquainted. He enlisted in the 12th dragoons, and being a smart active young fellow, was chosen for an officer's servant: being wounded in action, he contrived to obtain his discharge, and a pension of nine-pence per day. -- Having a good character from his officers, he procured a situation as servant with the city remembrancer, and from thence got into Mr Bonar's family as footman. His father is also a pensioner, and lately came from Ireland to receive his pension in Chelsea, where he now resides, and works at haymaking. The wretched subject of this paragraph, Philip Nicholson, called a few days before he committed the murder at the house of Mr Munro, a respectable publican, in Jew's-row, Chelsea, where his father used to call, and to whom both were known. He sent for his father, to whom he brought a bundle of clothes, some cold roast beef wrapped up in paper, and paid his score in the house. After he quitted the house, his father enquired of Mr Munro if his son had ordered him any weekly allowance until he received his pension; he was answered that he had not; when his father made use of this remarkable expression, "D--n him, the rebel, he was a rebel in Belfast, and long since deserved the gallows." The wretched man was a catholic, and much bigotted; he constantly attended mass, and regularly said his prayers morning and evening. Whilst he was in the public-house, the conversation turned on the catholic bill. He lamented much the fate of it in the house of commons, and cursed those who opposed it: it is said that when he waited at dinner on his master, Mr Thomson Bonar, the day after the bill was lost, he heard Mr Bonar express his high satisfaction at the result, and it has been thought Nicholson was resolved to be revenged on him; but it appears from his own declaration that this was not the case.
A more atrocious murder than that which it is now our painful task to relate, has not of late years disgraced the criminal annals of this country. It appears that the Sunday evening preceding, Mr Bonar went to bed at his usual hour: Mrs Bonar did not follow him till two o'clock, when she ordered her female servant to call her at seven o'clock in the morning. The servant, as she had been directed, at the appointed time went into the bedroom of her master and mistress, and found Mr Bonar mangled and dead upon the floor, and her lady wounded, dying, and insensible in her bed.
Such a scene of horror as the bed-room presented was never before witnessed; The first object which met the eye on entering, was the dead body of Mr Bonar, with the head and hands dyed with blood: the skull was literally broken into fragments, in two or three places; and there was a dreadful laceration across the nose, as if effected by the edge of a poker. His hands were mangled in several places, apparently by the same instrument: there was also a severe wound on the right knee. From the numerous wounds on the body of Mr Bonar, from the swollen state of his mouth, and the convulsive adhesion of his hands and knees, it is dear that he had struggled with all his force against his horrid murderer. -- His nightcap, which lay a few paces from the head, was drenched in blood, with a lock of grey hair sticking to it, which seemed to have been struck from the skull by the violence of the blow of the poker. The pillow of his bed lay at his feet also covered with blood. The manly athletic person of Mr Bonar (for though advanced in life he seems to have been a powerful man,) gave an increase of horror to this afflicting sight. The view of Mrs Bonar, though equally distressing, excited more pity than terror; though her head had been fractured in a dreadful manner, yet there was a calm softness in her countenance, more resembling a healthy sleep than a violent death: it might have been supposed that her life had parted from her without one painful effort. The linen and pillow of the bed in which she lay were covered with blood, as was also the bed of Mr Bonar. They slept in small separate beds, but placed so close together, that there was scarce room for a person to pass between them.
A bent poker which was lying on the ground, as well as the fractured condition of the heads of the unfortunate victims, plainly denoted with what instrument the act had been committed. As there were some remains of life in Mrs Bonar, servants were sent express to town for surgical assistance. Mr Ashley Cooper arrived with all possible dispatch, but it was too late: the wound was mortal, and she expired at eleven minutes past one o'clock, having been, during the whole previous time, insensible, and only once uttering the exclamation of "Oh! dear!"
About seven o'clock in the evening, Mr Bonar, jun. arrived from Faversham, where he was on duty as colonel of the Kent local militia. In spite of the efforts of Mr Angerstein, jun and some other gentlemen, he rushed upstairs, exclaiming, "Let me see my father: indeed I must see him." It was impossible to detain him: he burst into the bed-chamber, and immediately locked the door after him. Apprehensions were entertained for his safety, and the door was broken open, when he was seen kneeling with clasped hands over the body of his father. His friends tore him away, and hurried him, tottering and fainting, into an adjoining chamber.
Such are the circumstances connected with the fact of this horrid catastrophe: there had been no attempt at robbery, and no motive could be imagined for the assassination of two persons who were not only inoffensive, but universally beloved for their kindness and benevolence. It is a curious circumstance, that the poker with which the crime was evidently perpetrated, does not belong to any part of the house, and must have been brought there by the assassin. No part of the house was broken in, though it was reported that the house door was found open in the morning. Mrs Bonar, as we have already stated, did not retire to bed till two o'clock; and at four o'clock a woman, who goes there to wash, let herself in. None of the servants appeared to have been alarmed by any cries in the night, but their division of the house is at some distance from the wing in which Mr and Mrs Bonar slept. Though the room was covered with blood, it appears rather strange, that there was no trace of a bloody footstep in the ante-room or hall, and only one or two drops of blood in the hall.
About seven o'clock in the morning, when the alarm was raised among the servants, the footman, Philip Nicholson, rode express to London on one of the best horses in the stable: he went first to Mr Ashley Cooper, then to the Red Lion, near Bedlam, where he saw Dale, a man who had lately been discharged from the service of Mr Bonar, and to whom he used, (as is reported), these remarkable expressions: -- "The deed is done, and you are suspected: but you are not in it." He then proceeded to the office at Bow Street, to give information of the murder, and stated that he had seen Dale at the Red Lion, together with what had passed, which induced the officers afterwards to go to Dale. Nicholson appeared intoxicated at the office: indeed he had been seen to take three glasses of rum at the half-way house. The officers then directed him to follow them but lost sight of him in Brydges-street.
Dale, to whom the officers went, in consequence of what fell from Nicholson, had been a butler in the family of Mr Bonar and was discharged about a fortnight ago on suspicion of ill conduct. Mrs Bonar, it is said, wished to have him prosecuted, but Mr Bonar was content to send him away. He came down with two of the Bow- street officers, and underwent an examination before the magistrates, but was dismissed, as we understood, because he had clearly established an alibi, shewing that he was at the Red Lion from eleven o'clock on Sunday evening till six o'clock on Monday morning. He was, therefore, suffered to go away to his wife, who resides in the village of Chislehurst.
The unfortunate subjects of this narration, had resided at Chislehurst about eight or nine years: their mansion is called Camden-place, and is remarkable as being the spot from which the late Lord Camden, who resided there, took his title. Mr Bonar, was upwards of 70 years old. There is not a man to whom a more generally favourable testimony could be borne. Both he and his lady died regretted by all ranks in the vicinity of their residence.
Their remains were deposited in the grave at Chislehurst. Their mangled corpses were attended through the last ceremonies by Mr and Mrs Bonar, and Miss Bonar, the latter the only daughter of the deceased, Mr Hankey, Mr Wiguland, and Mr Angerstein, jun., Mr Thomson, Mr Charles Hammersley, Mr George Hammersley, and Mr Angerstein, sen., Mr Lockwood, (the rector), Mr Locke, Mr Wollaston, and a young lady. The mournful cavalcade moved slowly, attended by undertakers, pages, mute, &c. around a part of the heath, and from thence to the church at Chislehurst, where, after the performance of the usual rites, the coffins were carried, parallel with each other, to the grave.
The Rev. Mr Lockwood performed the funeral service in a very impressive manner: Mr Bonar stood on his right hand, with Mrs Bonar holding one arm, and Miss Bonar the other. It was a most afflicting spectacle, and powerfully excited the sympathies of a numerous body of spectators.
Suspicion having fallen on Philip Nicholson, footman to the deceased, a warrant was granted by the lord mayor for his apprehension, and Forester, one of the city officers, went in quest him. After a diligent inquiry, on Monday, the officer traced him to Whitechapel, where he found him on horseback, drinking at the inn door of the Three Nuns, with an old acquaintance. The officer laid hold of the bridle of the horse, and after a smart scuffle, in which Nicholson received some slight bruises, he was secured, and conveyed to Giltspur-street Compter. The prisoner was in a state of intoxication, approaching to insanity. Sir Charles Flower, and Mr Ashley Cooper, saw him there, and asked him various questions; but nothing like a confession, or admission of guilt, could be drawn from him. On the same day he was examined before the lord mayor; but such was the drunken state of the prisoner, that a rational answer could not be obtained from him, and he was remanded for a further hearing next day.
Tuesday he was again brought to the Mansion house. From the questions put to the prisoner, it appeared, that he had conducted himself since the death of his master and mistress in the most imprudent and unfeeling manner, which tended more to induce suspicion than any other evidence brought against him. He said, that the night preceding the murder he went to bed about twelve o'clock, and knew nothing of what had happened until called up by the housemaid about eight o'clock next morning. He was the only male servant that slept in the house. Some of the windows he had fastened inside at the usual hour, and the rest were attended to by the housemaid.
On the murder being discovered, and the servants assembled, he with others went to the room where lay his master and mistress. The former was found quite dead in a mangled state, and the latter just discovered signs of life; he was able to as certain the fact by placing his ear near to the mouth of his mistress. The floor was covered with blood and other matter which had come from his master. He conceived he was doing right in taking the sheets off his master's bed and with them to clear away the nuisance; having done so, he took the soiled linen to the room where he slept. The groom was present, and assisted him to pull the upper sheet from his own bed to wrap those of his master's in. The sheets altogether he put under his own bed.
On this point he was close pressed, and was desired to explain his particular motive for using the sheets to absorb the blood, and then afterwards to fold them in the linen from his own bed, when he ought to have known that in such cases nothing should be disturbed about the persons of the deceased. He answered he was ignorant of that: what he had done was with the best intent, conceiving as he did that so horrid and unpleasant a sight would have been offensive to any person having occasion to enter the room. The other servants, he admitted, would touch nothing, and did not think themselves justified in doing so. His night shirt, he said, he left in his bed when he got up, and might be found. He was then asked as to a foot mark in blood, which appeared on the stairs leading from his apartment to that in which the murders were committed. He said, if there were any, it might have been done when he went backward and forward with the soiled sheets: but he was told, that the mark had been seen before he left his room in the first instance. He was stripped and examined in a private room, in order to see if he had any bruises about him, which he might have received in the conflict with Mr Bonar. Trifling bruises were found on his person, particularly one on his forehead; but those were explained to have been received in the scuffle with Forester. The city officer being called to this point, admitted that it was probable the fresh wound on the prisoner's forehead had been received as stated, from the manner in which he came in contact with the ground.
On being questioned as to his conduct on the way to town, the prisoner admitted that he left Chislehurst a little after eight o'clock, and that he refreshed himself and the horse three times on the road, himself with three glasses of rum, and the horse with three pints of porter; and notwithstanding this, it appeared both from his own admission, and from information derived from Mr Ashley Cooper, that he performed the whole of his journey in about forty minutes. He first went to Mr Cooper to give that gentleman information of his mistress still exhibiting signs of life, and after that he went in quest of Dale, a butler, whom Mr Bonar had lately discharged from his service for improper conduct. He found him at the Red Lion public-house, and told him he was glad he was there, as his master and mistress had been murdered, and that he (Dale) was suspected. Nicholson said, he next went to give notice at Bow-street of the murders, and to request proper officers might be sent down to Chislehurst.
Here the prisoner was reprimanded for having gone to look after Dale, who was at least a suspicious character, before he went to Bow-street, which gave him the opportunity, in case had been guilty, of absconding, and eluding justice. After giving the necessary information at Bow-street, instead of returning home to Chislehurst, he repaired to Whitechapel, to call on his friends, with whom he was making merry when he was taken into custody.
All the questions which were deemed necessary having been put to the prisoner, he was sent to Chislehurst, in custody of Adkins and another officer, to give evidence before the coroner's jury, who were to sit on the bodies of the deceased at six o'clock in the evening.
The first witness called was Mary Clarke: she had been lady's maid in the family for two years, first as servant to Miss Bonar, and afterwards to the old lady. Mrs Bonar always retired late to bed, sometimes at one, sometimes at two, and now and then, though very seldom at three o'clock. Mr Bonar generally went to bed earlier, at about twelve o'clock; the last time she saw him alive, was on Sunday evening, at ten o'clock, when he was reading prayers to his servants in his sitting-room. About twenty minutes after twelve o'clock, Mrs Bonar rang her bell, and the witness went to her in her dressing room, which adjoins the bedchamber; Mrs Bonar said, she had ordered the footman, Philip Nicholson, to fasten the lawn door, but that he had not done it; witness offered to go and do it, but her mistress said it was unnecessary, as she had locked the other door herself, meaning, as the witness supposes, the folding door, which is between the lawn door and the hall: witness then went into the room, and undressed Mrs Bonar, and warmed her bed; Mr Bonar was then in his bed in the same room; the witness then went to her own room as usual, to lie down till Mrs Bonar should ring a second time; about twenty minutes past one the bell rang again, when witness went into her mistress's dressing-room, and folded up her clothes. Mrs Bonar was then in her bed-room; in about a quarter of an hour the bell rang again; her mistress was in bed, and the witness gave her the string which communicates with the door to open it more or less; she then went out of the room, being first desired to call her mistress at half past seven o'clock; she lighted the rushlight as usual, in the ante-room, and went to bed, leaving, according to custom, the doors both of the bed room and ante-room wide open; witness on going to bed, waked the housemaid who sleeps with her, and asked her to call her at half-past seven o'clock: the housemaid waked her as she had requested, and told her there was a bad smell in the ante-room coming from the bedchamber of her mistress: and asked the witness whether she had lit the rushlight, which was gone, and whether she had locked the door of the ante-room on the outside: at the same time she told the witness that there were footmarks in the ante-room. Witness immediately was much alarmed, and cried out (as she is told, for she was too much agitated to have any recollection of the circumstance) that there had been murder. The unusual circumstances which had been mentioned to her induced her to think that something dreadful had been done. She went upstairs with the housemaid, and knelt down on the floor of the ante-room, to see what the marks were, and thought they looked like blood: she did not know whether she then looked into the bed- room; but thought she did, and saw the toilet thrown over and some things lying on the floor. Witness then went to the wash- house, to the laundry-maid, and asked her to go back with her, to see what was the matter; they proceeded together to the bed-room, when the laundry-maid went in and opened one of the window- shutters, when, on looking back, she clapped her hands together and screamed: witness saw the bed clothes and other things on the floor: she then ran downstairs, leaving the laundry-maid behind: in the servant's-hall, she saw the coachman, who made her sit down, as she was fainting: when she recovered herself, she saw the footman, Nicholson, coming into the servant's-hall, with what she thought were bloody sheets in his hands; he took a sheet from his bed, and folded the bloody sheet or sheets in it: the footman then said to witness, "Mrs Clarke, go to your mistress, she is still alive, perhaps she may be recovered;" she then ran upstairs, and saw her master's body covered with, she believed, a blanket on the floor; her mistress was in bed, and still breathing; did not see her mistress afterwards, till she was dead; had not seen the footman since.
Susannah Curnick was next sworn: she had been a housemaid in the family three weeks last Saturday: the footman was in the place before she came: she never heard him express any anger or disappointment against her master: she put the rushlight in its usual place in the ante-room about ten o'clock: it was cracked about half way down: she went to bed between ten and eleven: she remembered Mrs Clarke coming to bed, and desiring to be called at half-past seven: she rose herself about hall-past six, leaving Mrs Clarke in bed: in passing through the hall she observed the house door about half open, a circumstance she had never seen before: the shut the door, and then went to the lawn door, which was shut, but the shutters were open. The window shutters in the library were all closed: she then went into the drawing-room, where all the windows were shut but one in the centre, which was wide open: she went upstairs, and found the ante-room locked, with the key outside: she opened the door, and saw foot-marks on the floor, and the rushlight gone from its stand. She then repaired to her own room to call Mrs Clarke, to whom she told the circumstances which she had witnessed. Mrs Clarke exclaimed in great alarm and agitation, "Then my master and mistress are murdered!" She helped Mrs Clarke on with her gown, and they went together to the bed-room. Mrs C was afraid to go in, and witness did not go in, as she had never been accustomed so to do. They knelt down and saw that the footsteps were bloody. They then went together to the pantry. Witness did not go up again till after the footman came down with the sheets. The footman cried out for assistance, saying his mistress was not yet dead. She saw him with the sheet or sheets covered with blood, which he wrapt up in something, she does not know what. The footman left the bundle in the hall, and said he would go to Mr Ashley Cooper, and for his master's partner, as he said he was, the properest person to know what had happened. He then went down the yard with the coachman. The poker in the bed- room lay between her master and the blanket, on the floor. She had never seen it before. All the pokers belonging to the house were in their place. Had never seen anything particular in the footman's conduct. Saw him both before and after the discovery in the morning; he appeared sober. He looked rather sharp at her when he first passed, but that was usual with him when anyone passed him.
Penelope Folds had been laundry-maid in the family fifteen years. She rose a little after four o'clock on the Monday morning, and soon after the washerwoman came, who let herself in by the laundry door. About half-past seven Mrs Clarke came to witness in the laundry, and said she was afraid something was amiss; and asked witness to go upstairs with her. She did so, and went into the bed-room, and opened part of one of the window shutters. She saw her master's body lying on the floor, and blood on her mistress's pillow. She came downstairs and went up again, when she saw the footman covering her master with a blanket, and then stooping, as if meddling with the clothes on her master's bed: she found her mistress still breathing; she afterwards saw the footman wrapping up the sheets, taken from his master's room, in a sheet pulled from his own bed; he had not been desired by anyone to do so; he said that Mrs Bonar was still alive; he was the first who made this remark: it was not made to him: he said he must go to town, though she desired him not to leave the house without a man in it.
William Evans, the groom, had been in the service of the family since December. He was in the house till after twelve o'clock on Sunday evening, sitting with the footman, and never saw him in better humour. He had never heard him say anything disrespectful of his master or mistress, except now and then an angry expression at being overworked, -- such as "the old woman, she wears me out." When the examination of this witness was finished, he begged to state a circumstance which he had just recollected. He said that he saw the footman dabbing the sheets in the blood, at the foot of the bed. Being pressed upon this point, he said that the housemaid, who was in the room at the time, could tell more about it.
Susan Curnick being called, said that she never was in the room with the footman, as stated by the groom; she said also, that the groom had exclaimed, at the foot of his mistress's bed, with a dreadful expression, "This comes of keeping company with the Jews."
W. Randall had been coachman in the family for eight years: slept over the stables; came to the house about half-past seven, and went to call Nicholson; found him sitting on his bed-side; almost immediately heard the cry of murder from the female servants. It was not long before he saw Nicholson come downstairs with bloody linen, and wrap it up in a sheet in the servants' hall. The footman was a very quiet, good fellow-servant, but used, when he had money, to get drunk. The rest of the servants observed they could not have handled the sheets as Nicholson did. Nicholson was very anxious to go to London, and would have a horse. Coachman thought Nicholson wild-looking when he went away, and appeared as if he could not ride, though he had been in the dragoons.
Charles King had been a labourer for seven years in the family: slept in Green-lane, Chislehurst; came to work at between five and six on Monday morning. The washerwomen were up: he came to the house about twenty minutes alter six, got into the house by the laundry, went into the hall, and found the front door open. Philip was then in bed; he went to him and said, "How is it you sleep with the door and window-shutters open?" He answered, "I did not know that they were open." I am sure he was in bed with his shirt on.
Williams, a washerwoman, came to the house about four in the morning. The hall windows were all open.
Philip Shillington, the gardener, got up between three and four o'clock. About four o'clock observed the middle drawingroom window open, which he did not shut.
Philip Nicholson was then called, and asked what he had to state. He replied, nothing but what he had said before the lord mayor. The windows of his bed-room were shut when he went to bed. No further questions were asked of him, and he was ordered into the custody of Lavender.
Mr Smith, another witness, came over on the morning of the murder, and saw the bodies and bent poker. He then went to the servants'-hall, and found a bundle, which he opened: it consisted of two bloody sheets, the one fine and the other coarse, which was the most bloody of the two: they were wrapped in a third, which was scarcely stained. He gave the two bloody sheets to a servant called Sweetapple, to take to Mr Bonar's room. A candlestick in Mr B.'s room was bent and broken. There was a small spot of white paint on the poker.
Lavender, the Bow-street officer, stated, that he arrived on Monday about one o'clock: he found a pair of shoes by the side of the footman's bed, which he compared with the traces in the ante- room, and, as he thought, the impressions corresponded with the shoes: the shoes are not fellows; a night cap was found on the footman's bed, with some stains, apparently bloody.
Foy, of Marlborough-street, compared the shoes, which he had found on Tuesday morning in a closet in the servants'-hall, with the foot traces, and found they tallied: the shoes were odd; one common heeled, and worn at the toe; the other with a spring heel, as was the case with the shoes which Lavender found; there was blood both on the soles and the upper leather. He had just shewn them to Nicholson, who acknowledged them to be his, and said he believed one of them had slipt off in the room from which he fetched the sheets. Foy found them together in the cupboard. Nicholson had also acknowledged the night-cap, and said he supposed the bloody stains came from the blood on the sheets.
The groom was called again, and said he found the shoes that morning, in the closet where he went to look for a stick to beat Mr Bonar's coat; he saw they were bloody, and shewed them to King, and then put them back again.
King confirmed this statement.
The poker was then produced: it was bent in the upper part: it was a common kitchen poker, about two feet four inches long.
The inquest closed their sitting at one o'clock on Wednesday morning, and returned a verdict of wilful murder against Philip Nicholson, the footman. At twelve o' clock, news was brought before the court that the vile assassin had cut his throat The utmost consternation prevailed at the time, lest suicide should prevent the vengeance of the law, for this unparalleled murder, which plunged a virtuous family into the deepest affliction, and occasioned an irreparable loss to the surrounding poor. The wretched man had secreted a razor from the butler's pantry, where he was first confined, in the pocket of his small-clothes, and cut his throat whilst in the water-closet. A surgeon, who attended the inquest was at hand, who immediately sewed up the wound, which bled most profusely. An express was also sent off for surgeon Ashley Cooper, who arrived in haste. The wound had not much injured the windpipe, but, although deep, it inclined upwards under the chin, it is remarkable, that none of the servants ever heard the fellow complain of either his master or his mistress, excepting, to use the expression of the groom, he had complained as other servants sometimes did, of being harassed by his mistress having the carriage out so often. It is evident the assassin disguised himself in one of the sheets of his own bed when he committed the diabolical assault on his amiable master and mistress, from the blood upon it, but happily, for the detection of his enormous crime, he left his sheet in the room, which accounts for his anxiety to get the bloody sheets out of his master's chamber.
He had been in the custody of two officers of Bow-street, and of the city, and had been permitted by them to enter the abovementioned closet in the passage leading to the servants'-hall; and cut his throat the moment he was released. The gash was so deep and dreadful in appearance, and he bled so copiously, that it was supposed he could not live many minutes. The wound was so large, that an hand might have been inserted in it: the head seemed almost severed from the body. But fortunately, Mr Roberts, and Mr Holt, surgeons, of Bromley, were in attendance; and the latter gentleman immediately rushed forward, and seized the gushing arteries with both his hands, and, with great presence of mind, contrived to stop the blood with his mere grasp and pressure, till more regular means could be applied. An express was sent to Mr Ashley Cooper, who arrived in three hours; and it was the opinion of this gentleman, as well as of the surgeons of Bromley, after dressing the wound, that the man would recover. At seven o'clock on Wednesday evening, he was in a favourable state. He had for some hours, been able to speak, though he had said very little: he would make no confession, nor give any explanation, but persisted in declaring his innocence. To a question put to him by Mr Angerstein, jun. in the presence of Mr Bonar, whether he had any concern in the horrid murder? he looked directly in the face of the inquirer, who he seemed to know perfectly, but moved his head slightly as if denying all knowledge of it. He appeared calm and composed during the whole period that he was sensible; but there was a fixedness and determination in his countenance, from which it may not unfairly be inferred, that he would, if possible, have repeated his attempt at suicide. Very strict precautions were accordingly observed to prevent such an attempt. He was laid down enveloped in a strait-waistcoat, his arms being likewise held by two persons, one on each side of him; his head also was kept in a steady posture, to prevent any motion which he might make to open or increase the wound. An officer of Bow-street and servants were always in the room to watch him.
He persisted for a considerable time in asserting his innocence, but on Monday the 7th of June he confessed himself to be the perpetrator of this atrocious murder. On that day he was visited by several persons of distinction, among whom were lord Castlereagh, lord Camden, and lord Robert Seymour, and showed repeated symptoms of annoyance and agitation: this circumstance, together with the attempt to make him look more cleanly, caused his wound suddenly to bleed afresh. This happened about seven o'clock in the evening. The haemorrhage being of an alarming nature, an express was immediately dispatched for Mr A. Cooper. He arrived about eleven o'clock: Mr Bramston, the priest, came about the same time with Mr Bonar. The wound was dressed, and nothing farther then took place. Tuesday morning at half-past six o'clock, Nicholson voluntarily requested Mr Bramston, who had been with him a short time, to bring Mr Bonar to him immediately. Mr Bonar went to him, when Nicholson burst into tears, and begging pardon of Mr Bonar, expressed his wish to make a full confession. Mr Wells, the magistrate, who resides at Brickley house, in the neighbourhood, was sent for: and in the presence of the magistrate, and other gentlemen, Nicholson made, and afterwards signed, a deposition, acknowledging himself to be the murderer.
He stated, that on Sunday night, after the groom left him, he fell asleep upon a form in the servants'-hall, the room where he was accustomed to lie: that he awoke at three o'clock by dropping from the form: he jumped up, and was instantly seized with an idea, which he could not resist, that he would murder his master and mistress: he was at this time half undressed; he threw off his waistcoat, and pulled a sheet from his bed, with which he wrapped himself up: he then snatched a poker from the grate of the servants'-hall, and rushed upstairs to his master's room: he made directly to his mistress's bed, and struck her two blows on the head; she neither spoke nor moved: he then went round to his master's bed, and struck him once across the face: Mr Bonar was roused, and from the confusion produced by the stunning violence of the blow, imagined that Mrs Bonar was then coming to bed, and spoke to that effect: that when he immediately repeated the blow, Mr Bonar sprung out of bed, and grappled with him for fifteen minutes, and at one time was nearly getting the better of him; but being exhausted by loss of blood, he was at length overpowered: Nicholson then left him groaning on the floor. He went downstairs, stript himself naked, and washed himself all over with a sponge, at the sink in the butler's pantry. He next went and opened the windows of the drawing-room, that it might be supposed some person had entered the house that way: he then took his shirt and stockings which were covered with blood (the sheet he had left in his master's room), went out at the front door and concealed his bloody linen in a bush, covering it with leaves: the bush was opposite the door, and not many yards from it: he then returned without shutting the outer door, and went to the servants'-hall: he opened his window-shutters and went to bed (it was not yet four o'clock): he did not sleep, though he appeared to be asleep when King came for the purpose of waking him at half-past six o'clock. He stated, in the most solemn manner, that no person whatever was concerned with him in this horrid deed; and to a question put to him, whether he had any associate, answered, "How could he, when he never in his life before the moment of his jumping up from the form, entertained the thought of murder." He can assign no motive for what he did: he had no enmity or ill-will of any kind against Mr or Mrs Bonar.
This deposition was regularly given before the magistrate, and attested by Mr A. Cooper, Mr Herbert Jenner, the Rev. Mr Lockwood, Mr Ilott, and Mr Bonar.
It appears that Nicholson had been drinking a great quantity of the beer of the house during the Sunday; and though it is not stated that he was intoxicated, yet the quantity might have had some effect on his senses.
In consequence of Nicholson's information, search was made for the linen, and it was found in a laurel bush close to the house covered with leaves, except about two inches: the stockings were very bloody, and the shirt was rent almost to rags about the neck and front.
Nicholson, who, before the confession, looked gloomy and fierce, was afterwards perfectly calm, and had even an air of satisfaction in his countenance.
He was tried at the following Maidstone assizes, and within a few minutes after the doors were opened the court-house was completely crowded.
Exactly at eight o'clock, Mr Justice Heath was on the bench, and Nicholson was immediately brought to the bar. His looks were sad and gloomy, but upon the whole his appearance was composed. He was indicated for petty treason. The indictment differed from a common indictment for murder, by an averment, stating, that Nicholson was servant to Mr Bonar, and that he traitorously as well as feloniously murdered his master. He pleaded Not Guilty, in consequence, he said, of the persuasions of several persons.
Mr Roberts opened the pleadings; after which Mr serjeant Shepherd rose and addressed the jury.
The evidence of the witnesses did not differ materially from that given on the inquest, and we think it therefore unnecessary to detail it. The examination being concluded his confession was read, which also corroborates their testimony.
DECLARATION OF NICHOLSON: I, Philip Nicholson, to clear the innocence of others, and tell the truth of myself, I committed the murder.
Question by Mr B. -- Had you accomplices? -- No, Sir, I would tell you if I had.
I do not mean accomplices in the room, but others? -- No, Sir, I did not know it myself five minutes before.
Explain how it happened. -- I was sleeping upon the form, and waked about three o'clock; I put the sheet around me, and took the poker from the hall-grate, and a lighted candle in my hand from the hall. -- I entered the room, I looked about when I entered, and gave my mistress two blows; she never moved. I left her, and went round to master, and gave him two or three blows; and he said, "Come to bed, my love," and then he sprung from the bed and seized hold of me. I hit him in the struggle about the arms and legs; we struggled fifteen minutes or better, he was very near getting the better of me; I got him down by force, and left him groaning. I went down to wash my hands in the sink of the butler's pantry, and then opened the house-door, and drawing-room windows.
What motive had you? -- I had no bad intention: I did not know what provoked me to do it, more than you do.
You were heard to complain of going so much behind the carriage? -- Yes; but I never thought of doing it from that.
Did you ever feel resentment for going so much behind the carriage? -- No, Sir; I never thought much about it.
Had you thought or talked of this murder when you were drinking with the groom the night before in the hall? -- No: I never thought of it myself, or had any idea of it myself.
How long was it after you waked that you went upstairs? -- I jumped up: I was half undressed when sleeping upon the form: I undressed, and put the sheet about me.
Why did you put the sheet about you? -- That they might not know me.
When did you drop the sheet -- In the struggle: I had it on when I gave the first blow.
By Mr A. C. -- Did Dale the butler know anything about it? -- No, Sir.
Did any of the maid-servants know anything about it? -- Not a word.
Why did you go to Dale in London? -- Nothing particular.
Was it your intention to take anything away? -- No, Sir.
What was your intention? -- Nothing particular: but when I went into the room I saw my master and mistress asleep, and I gave her two blows.
Were you drunk when you went to bed? -- No, Sir. I had drunk nothing but beer. I had not had a drop of spirits all day.
Had you at any former time thought of this murder? -- No, Sir, I never thought of such a thing in my life.
What did you do with your bloody things? -- My shirt, neckcloth, and stockings, I put opposite the hall-door, in the shrubbery, under some leaves, near the little gate. The breeches I kept on all day. When I waked from the form, I only took off my waistcoat.
What did you wipe your hands with? -- With the sponge in the sink, which I left there.
What did you do with your shoes? Did you put them into the wood closet? -- I might; but I do not remember.
What did you do with the rushlight? -- I threw it into the coal closet.
Why did you take the rushlight? -- It was dark in the house.
Why did you think it was three o'clock? -- By the break of day.
Why did you open the shutters of your room? -- To shew me light.
Was it to see your clothes? -- No, I had seen them by the rushlight in coming downstairs.
Did you go to sleep after committing this act? -- I went to bed, but could not sleep. I was awake when King entered the room.
In the presence of Almighty God, thinking I am on my death-bed, I hereby declare this to be my voluntary confession, to prevent innocent people being accused of this circumstance.
Acknowledged as the signature of Philip Nicholson, before me, June 8, 1813.
(Signed) JOHN WELLS.
We whose names are hereto subscribed, do attest this to be the voluntary declaration and signature of the within named Philip Nicholson. Signed before me, one of his majesty's justices of the peace for the county of Kent. (Signed)
JOHN WELLS, T. BONAR, THOS. ILOTT, ASTLEY COOPER, JOHN CUTTS LOCKWOOD, HERBERT JENNER. Chislehurst, June 8.
We, whose names are hereto subscribed, do attest, that we were present, when his shirts and stockings, mentioned in the above declaration, were found in the situation described.
(Signed) JOHN WELLS, J. CUTTS LOCKWOOD, HERBERT JENNER, STEPHEN LAVENDER.
Chislehurst, June 8, 1813.
Lavender, after the confession, searched and found the clothes nearly in the place described; (the shirt was much torn and bloody, and also the stockings); they were produced.
Thomas Ilott, surgeon, was then called: on the 31st of May he went to Chislehurst: went into Mr Bonar's room: saw his skull fractured: the teeth loosened, and jaw broken: saw a poker, which he had no doubt was the instrument of his death.
The prisoner being called upon for his defence, merely asked, whether Mr Ilott had any doubt of the truth of the confession?
Mr Ilott -- Certainly not.
The prisoner then called Mr Frederick Tyrrell as a witness to his character, who said he was the son of the city remembrancer: the prisoner had lived three years with his father, and his conduct during that time was humane and gentle: he appeared to be a man of a kind disposition.
Cross-examined by Mr Gurney -- said the prisoner was turned away from his father's service for drunkenness: he had frequently seen him drunk, but not outrageous: it was not considered safe to retain him.
Re-examined as to this last point -- he said that he was no further unsafe than any other drunken person, on account of the risk from lights, &c.
Mr Justice Heath then summed up the evidence: he said he never knew a case more clearly proved; even of circumstances there was so well connected a series as must carry conviction, independently of the confession: the bloody footsteps; the conduct and demeanour of the prisoner; his taking the sheets; his night-cap stained with blood, which could not have happened in the way he said, because when he brought down the sheets in the morning he was dressed, and had no night-cap; and the bloody shoes, which exactly corresponded with the footmarks.
All these things seemed to remove all doubt; and then, the confession confirmed all these circumstances. If, however, the jury had any doubt, they would acquit the prisoner.
The jury immediately returned a verdict of Guilty.
The prisoner was then addressed in the usual form, and asked what he had to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. He said "he had nothing to offer."
Mr Justice Heath then proceeded to pass sentence nearly in the following terms: --
"Prisoner, after a minute trial, you have been convicted by a jury of your country of traitorously murdering your master; whom, instead of attacking, it was your duty to protect at the peril of your life. What was your motive for so atrocious a crime does not appear: it does not seem to have been revenge; you were not intoxicated, nor offended at your master, against whom it was impossible to feel resentment, for his whole life was a series of kindness and beneficences, for which he is now gone to receive his reward. You, Nicholson, must soon appear before a tribunal more awful than this: and I solemnly recommend you to employ the short interval which remains to you, in making your peace with Heaven. Nothing that I can say can aggravate the sense of your guilt in the minds of this assembly. I shall, therefore, proceed to discharge my duty in passing upon you the sentence of the law, which is, that you be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and on Monday next be drawn on a sledge to the place of execution, and there hanged till you are dead, and then your body shall be given to be dissected and anatomized."
Immediately after the sentence, the prisoner put in a paper, and desired it to be read. The judge said this was irregular, but looked at the paper, and told the jury that it contained a confession of crime, which was imputed to excessive drinking.
The prisoner, during his trial and the sentence, appeared more sorry and ashamed than agitated: his manner was at once dejected and firm. He was immediately after the trial re-conveyed to prison.
The paper which he put in and desired to be read after his sentence, was as follows: --
"I acknowledge, with the deepest contrition, the justice of the sentence unto death which has just passed upon me. My crimes are, indeed, most heavy; I feel their weight, but I do not despair; nay, I humbly hope for mercy, through the infinite mercy of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who bled and died for me. In order to have a well-grounded hope in him, my all-merciful Redeemer, I know that it is my bounden duty not only to grieve from my heart for my dire offences, but also to do my utmost to make satisfaction for them. Yet, alas what satisfaction can I make to the afflicted family of my master and mistress, whom, without any provocation, I so barbarously murdered? -- I can make none beyond the declaration of my guilt, and honor of soul that I could perpetrate deeds so shocking to human nature, and so agonizing to the feelings of that worthy family. I implore their forgiveness, for God's sake; and, fully sensible of their great goodness, I do hope that, for his sake, they will forgive me. I freely give up my life a just forfeit to my country, whose laws I have most scandalously outraged. Departing from this tribunal, I shall soon appear before another tribunal, where an eternal sentence will be passed upon me. With this dread sentence full in my view, I do most solemnly declare, and I desire this declaration to be taken as my dying words, that I alone was the base and cruel murderer of my master and mistress; that I had no accomplice; that no one knew or could possibly suspect that I intended to perpetrate those barbarities; that I myself had no intention of committing those horrid deeds, save for a short time, so short as scarcely to be computed before I actually committed them: that booty was not the motive of my fatal cruelties; I am sure the idea of plunder never presented itself to my mind: I can attribute those unnatural murders to no other cause than, at the time of their commission, a temporary fury from excessive drinking; and before that time to the habitual forgetfulness, for many years, of the Great God and his judgments; and the too natural consequence of such forgetfulness, the habitual yielding to the worst passions of corrupted nature: so that the evil that I was tempted to do, that I did: the Lord in his mercy has, nevertheless, spared until now my life -- that life which I, in an agony of horror and despair, once most wickedly attempted to destroy: he has most graciously allowed me time for repentance; an humble and contrite heart must be his gift -- that gift I hope he has granted to my most ardent supplications; -- in that hope, and bearing in mind his promise, that an humble and contrite heart he will not despise, I freely offering up to him my sufferings, and my life itself, look forward, through his most precious blood, to the pardon of all my crimes, my manifold and most enormous crimes, and most humbly trust that the same mercy which he shewed to the penitent thief who was crucified with him, he will shew to me: thus meekly confiding in thee, O Jesus, into thy hands I commend my spirit. Amen. This 20th August, 1813, PHILIP NICHOLSON.
The signature was in Nicholson's hand-writing: the rest appeared written by another hand.
After sentence of death was passed, Nicholson was placed in the condemned cell, which, in the Maidstone gaol is under ground, and the approach to it is dark and dreary, down many steps. In this cell Mr Bonar had an interview with the prisoner, at half-past five on Monday morning. On his approaching the cell, he found Nicholson on his knees at prayer.
At about twelve o'clock, the preparations for the removal of Nicholson being nearly completed, Mr Bonar, accompanied by his brother, and Mr Bramston, the Catholic clergyman, had another interview with the unfortunate man: soon after which, the hurdle or sledge, which was in the shape of a shallow box about six feet by three, was drawn up to the gaol door: at each end was a seat just capable of holding two persons. Nicholson, double-ironed, was first placed in it, with his back to the horses; he was also pinioned with ropes, and round his shoulders was coiled the fatal cord; by his side sat the executioner; opposite to the prisoner the Rev. Mr Bramston took his seat, and by his side sat one of the Maidstone jailers with a loaded blunderbuss. Everything being in readiness, the procession advanced at a very slow pace towards Pennenden- heath, which is distant from Maidstone nearly a mile and an half, on which was erected a temporary new drop, which had a platform raised about seven feet from the ground, and was large enough to contain about a dozen persons. A little before two o'clock the hurdle arrived, and stopped immediately under the gallows, when Mr Bramston and Nicholson knelt down on it, and remained for some time in prayer. Some time previous to this Mr Bonar arrived on the ground in a post-chaise, and took his stand within twelve yards of the fatal spot, with the front windows full on the gallows, and which he kept open during the whole time: but each of the side windows was closed by blinds. So anxious was Mr Bonar to get from the unfortunate wretch his very dying words, as to whether he had either motive or accomplice, that a person was deputed to ascend the platform after the cord was round the prisoner's neck, and to ask him the following questions: --
Q. "Now that you have not many moments to live, is all that you have stated, namely, that you had no motive that you can tell of, nor had you any accomplice true?" -- A. "All that I have stated is true."
"Then there is no creature living on earth who had anything to do with the murder but yourself?" -- "No, no one."
"You had no accomplices? " -- "None."
"Had you any antipathy to either your master or mistress before you committed the horrid murder?" -- Clasping his hands together as well as his heavy irons would permit him, "As God is in heaven, it was a momentary thought, as I have repeatedly declared before."
The above were the last words of this unhappy man: in a few minutes after they were uttered, the bottom of the platform, which, we have before stated, was constructed like one of the new drops, was let fall, and Nicholson was launched into eternity.
He died unusually hard, being greatly convulsed. After hanging an hour, the body was put into a post-chaise, which drove off in the direction for Bromley.
Nicholson ascended the gallows by a ladder, with a firm step, and remained unshaken to the last moment of his existence. He was asked repeatedly during the morning of Monday how he felt himself, and his answers were, that he had never felt himself so comfortable since the commission of the crime: that he died with a full persuasion that he had made his peace with God Almighty, there cannot be a doubt: he assured all who spoke to him of his hope of salvation, and said, so firmly was his mind made up, and so satisfied was he to die, that if a free pardon were to be laid down to him, he would much rather die than accept of it. The number of persons assembled to witness the execution was immense.
The following is a copy of Nicholson's will, which he made while in prison: -- -
"It is the wish and desire of me, the undersigned Philip Nicholson, now in custody of the governor of the House of correction of the county of Middlesex, that the wearing apparel, and other my property and effects, may be disposed of and given to the persons after named: viz, my wearing apparel, of whatever kind it may be, to my father, Patrick Nicholson.
"To my said father, Patrick Nicholson, the sum of four pounds to defray his expenses home to Ireland.
"And all the rest and residue of my property, linen, monies, and effects whatsoever, to my mother, Bridget Nicholson,
As witness my hand this 17th day of August, 1813. PHILIP NICHOLSON. Witness THOS. WEBBE, I. HENSON. And I authorise and empower Mr Webbe to see that my above wish and desire is carried into execution PHILIP NICHOLSON.