Commonly called "The Monster." Convicted 13th Of December, 1790, of a brutal and wanton Assault on Miss Ann Porter
SEVERAL months previous to the apprehension of this man, a report ran through all ranks of society, that young females, had been secretly wounded in different parts of their bodies, in the public streets, and often in the daytime, by a monster, who, upon committing the brutal crime, effected his escape.
At length a man named Renwick Williams was apprehended on the charge of one of the young ladies thus brutally wounded, and his trial came on at the Old Bailey, on the 18th of January, 1790.
The indictment charged, that with force and arms, in the parish of St. James's on the king's highway, Renwick Williams did, unlawfully, wilfully, and maliciously, make an assault upon, maim, and wound, Ann Porter, against the peace, &c. A second count charged the said Renwick Williams, that on the same day and year, he did, unlawfully, wilfully, and maliciously, tear, spoil, cut, and deface, the garments and clothes, to wit, the cloak, gown, petticoat, and shift, of the said Ann Porter, contrary to the statute, and against the peace, &c.
Miss Ann Porter deposed, that she had been at St. James's, to see the ball, on the night of the 18th of January, 1790, accompanied by her sister, Miss Sarah Porter, and another lady; that her father had appointed to meet them at twelve o'clock, the hour the ball generally breaks up; but that it ended at eleven; and she was therefore under the necessity either of staying where she was, until her father came, or to return home at that time. Her father, she said, lived in St. James's Street, and that he kept a tavern and a cold-bath. She agreed to go home with her party.
As they proceeded up St. James's Street, her sister appeared much agitated, and called to her to hasten home, which she and her company accordingly did. Her sister was the first to reach the hall- door. As the witness turned the corner of the rails, she received a blow on the right hip; she turned round, and saw the prisoner stoop down: she had seen him before several times, on each of which he had followed close behind her, and used language so gross, that the court did not press on her to relate the particulars.
He did not immediately run away when he struck her, but looked on her face, and she thus had a perfect opportunity of observing him. She had no doubt, she said, of the prisoner being the man that wounded her. She supposed that the wound was inflicted with a sharp instrument, because her clothes were cut, and she was wounded through them.
Miss Porter further deposed, that on the thirteenth of June last, she was walking in St. James's Park, with her mother and her two sisters, and a gentleman of the name of Coleman. The prisoner at the bar met and passed her; she was struck with his person, and knew him; she found he had turned to look after her. Upon appearing agitated, she was questioned, and pointed him out to Mr Coleman. She said she knew him, when he was brought up to the public-office, at Bow Street.
Her gown of pink silk, and her shift, which she wore the night she was wounded, were produced in court, and were cut on the right side a considerable length.
Miss Sarah Porter was next called. She swore, that she had seen the prisoner at the bar, prior to the 18th of June last, but had no acquaintance with him. He had followed her, and talked to her in language the most shocking and obscene. She had seen him four of five different times. On that night, when her sister was cut, she saw him standing near the bottom of St. James's Street, and spying her, he exclaimed, 'O, ho! are you there?' and immediately struck her a violent blow on the side of the head. She then, as well as she was able, being almost stunned called to her sister, to make haste, adding, 'Don't you see the wretch behind us?' Upon coming to their own door, the prisoner rushed between them, and about the time he struck her sister, he also rent the witness's gown. There were lights in the street, and she knew him.
Two more sisters, Miss Rebecca Porter and Miss Martha Porter, also bore unequivocal testimony, as to the identity of the prisoner, with respect to his having accosted them in company with their sisters, with the most obscene and indecent language.
Mr. John Coleman was the next witness called. He swore that he was walking with Miss Ann Porter, and the rest of her family, in St. James's Park, on the evening of Sunday, the thirteenth of June, 1789. That, upon observing Miss Porter much agitated, and enquiring the cause, she pointed out the prisoner at the bar, and said, 'the wretch had just passed her.' Having pointed him out, the witness followed him to the house of Mr. Smith, in South Moulton Street, and upon going into the parlour where he was, expressed his surprise on the prisoner's not resenting the insults he (the witness) had offered him; and demanded his address. Mr. Smith and the prisoner both expressed their surprise at such a demand, without a reason given; he therefore said, that he, the prisoner, had insulted some ladies, who had pointed him out, and that he must have satisfaction. The prisoner denied having offered any insult; but, upon his persisting, they exchanged addresses.
The prisoner's address was produced by the witness, No. 52, Jermyn Street. The witness and the prisoner then mutually recognised each other, as having been in company with each other before, and the witness then departed. On his departure, he repented having quitted him, and turning back, he met with him at the top of St. James's Street; he then accosted him again, saying, 'I don't think you are the person I took you for; you had better come with me now; and let the ladies see you.' The prisoner objected, as it was late at night; but upon his saying it was close by, be went with him.
On his being introduced into the parlour, where the Miss Porters were sitting, two of them, Ann and Sarah, fainted away, exclaiming, 'Oh! my God! that's the wretch!' The prisoner then said, 'The ladies' behaviour is odd. They don't take me for the monster that is advertised?' The witness said, they did.
The prisoner was there an hour before he was taken away, and in that time said nothing particular.
Mr. Tomkins, surgeon, was next called. By his description the wound must have been made by a very sharp instrument. He had also examined the clothes, and they must have been cut at the same time. The wound itself was, at the beginning, for two or three inches, but skin-deep; about the middle of it, three or four inches deep, and gradually decreasing in depth towards the end. The length of the wound, from the hip downwards, was nine or ten inches.
The prisoner being called upon for his defence, begged the indulgence of the court, in supplying the deficiency of his memory, upon what he wished to state, from a written paper. He accordingly read as follows:
'He stood,' he said, 'an object equally demanding the attendon and compassion of the court. That, conscious of his innocence, he was ready to admit the justice of whatever sufferings he had hitherto undergone, arising from suspicion. He had the greatest confidence in the justice and liberality of an English jury, and hoped they would not suffer his fate to be decided by the popular prejudice raised against him. The hope of proving his innocence had hitherto sustained him.
'He professed himself the warm friend and admirer of that sex whose cause was now asserted; and concluded with solemnly declaring, that the whole prosecution was founded on a dreadful mistake, which, he had no doubt, but that the evidence he was about to call, would clear up, to the satisfaction of the court.'
His counsel then proceeded to call his witnesses.
Mr Mitchell, the first evidence, is an artificial flower maker, living in Dover Street, Piccadilly. The prisoner had worked for him nine months in all; he had worked with him on the eighteenth of January, the Queen's birthday, the day on which Miss Porter had been wounded, from nine o'clock in the morning, till one o'clock in the day, and from half past two till twelve at night. He bad then supped with the family. He gave the prisoner a good character, as behaving with good nature to the women in the house.
Miss Mitchell, the former witness's sister, told the same story.
Two other witnesses, domestics in the same house, likewise appeared on behalf of the prisoner; but the whole of the evidence, on his part, proved rather contradictory.
Mr. Justice Buller, with great accuracy and ability, went through the whole of this extraordinary business, stating with great clearness and perspicuity, the parts of the evidence that were most material for the consideration of the jury, with many excellent observations.
He said, it had been stated in various ways, that great outrages had been committed by the prisoner at the bar, and therefore, in his defence, he had very properly, not only applied to the compassion of the jury, to guard against the effects of prejudice, but also to their judgment. It was very proper to do so, and in this he only demanded justice; prejudice often injured, though it could never serve, the cause of justice.
In this the jury would have only to consider, what were the facts of which they were to be satisfied, and on which it was their province to decide. This being done by them, and if they should find the prisoner guilty, upon the present charge, he would reserve his case for the opinion of the twelve judges of England, and this be should do for several reasons; first, because this was completely and perfectly a new case in itself; and, secondly, because this was the first indictment of this kind that was ever tried. Therefore, although he himself entertained but little doubt upon the first point, yet, as the case was new, it would be right to have a solemn decision upon it. So that hereafter the law, in that particular, may be declared from undoubted authority.
Upon the second point, he owned, that he entertained some doubts. This indictment was certainly the first of the kind that was ever drawn in this kingdom. It was founded upon the statute of the 6th Geo. I. Upon this statute it must be proved, that it was the intent of the party accused, not only to wound the body, but also cut, tear, and spoil the garment; here the learned judge read the clause of the act: one part of this charge was quite clear, namely, that Miss Porter was wounded, and her clothes torn. The first question, therefore, for the consideration of the jury would be, whether this was done wilfully, and with intent to spoil the garment, as well as to wound the body. That was a fact for the jury to decide, and if they agreed upon this, then, whether the prisoner was the man who did it.
He observed, that there might be cases in which the clothes were torn, and yet where this act would not apply; such, for instance, as a scuffle in a quarrels where clothes might be torn wilfully, but not with that malice and previous intent which this act required. It should be observed, that here there was a wound given, with an instrument that was not calculated solely for the purpose of affecting the body, such, for instance, as piercing or stabbing, by making a hole, but here was an actual cutting, and the wound was of a very considerable length, and so was the rent in the clothes. It was for the jury to decide, whether, as both body and clothes were cut, he who intended the end, did not also intend the means. He left it to the jury to say, upon the whole of the case, whether the prisoner was guilty or innocent.
The jury intmediately, without hesitation, found the prisoner guilty.
Mr. Justice Buller then ordered the judgment in this case to be arrested, and the recognizances of the persons bound to prosecute, to be respited until the December sessions.
The court was crowded with spectators by nine, when this trial began, which ended at five o'clock at night.
All the witnesses were examined separately.
At the commencement of the sessions at the Old Bailey, on the 10th December, Judge Ashurst addressed the prisoner nearly in the following terms: 'You have been capitally convicted under the stat. 6 Geo. I. of maliciously tearing, cutting, spoiling, and defacing, the garments of Ann Porter, on the 18th January last. Judgment has been arrested upon two points: one, that the indictment is informal; the other that the act of Parliament does not reach the crime, Upon solemn consideration, the judges are of opinion, that both the objections are well founded: but although you are discharged from this indictment, yet you are within the purview of the common law. You are therefore to be remanded to be tried for a misdemeanor.'
He was accordingly, on the 13th of the same month, tried at Hick's-hall, for a misdemeanor, in making an assault on Miss Ann Porter.
The trial lasted sixteen hours: there were three counts in the indictment, viz, for assaulting with intent to kill, for assaulting and wounding, and for a common assault.
The charge was that he, on the 18th January, 1790, made an assault on Ann Porter, and with a certain knife inflicted on her person a wound nine inches long, and in the middle part of it four inches deep. The same witnesses were then called in support of the charge, as appeared on the trial at the Old Bailey; they gave a very clear, correct, and circumstantial evidence, positively swearing to the person of the prisoner. The facts proved were nearly the same, with very little variation indeed with those which were given in evidence on his trial for the felony at the Old Bailey; for which reason we forbear to enter more fully on this trial. The prisoner produced two witnesses, Miss Amet and Mr. Mitchell, who attempted to prove a clear alibi, and the credit of their testimony was not impeached by any contradiction.
The question therefore was, to which the jury would give credit; for the evidence on both sides was equally fair and unexceptionable.
The prisoner was again put to the bar at ten o'clock the next morning, and tried on the remaining indictments, on three of which he was found guilty; when the oourt sentenced him to two years' imprisonment in Newgate for each, and at the expiration of the time to find security for his good behaviour, himself in 200L. and two sureties in 100L. each.
This singular case excited universal attention; but many were by no means convinced of his guilt, believing that the witnesses, a circumstance which we have shewn too frequently to have happened, mistook the person of the prisoner. The particulars we have given of this brutal attack on the defenceless, by a monster of the stronger sex, with our full report of the trial, will sufficiently prepare our readers to judge for themselves on the case of Renwick Williams, divested of the popular prejudice then strong against him.