Executed October 31, 1814, for the horrid murder in Kentish Town
WE have seldom heard of a more atrocious murder than that of Elizabeth Dobbins, a poor washerwoman, residing at Millfield Farm, in Kentish Town. Her mangled remains were first discovered by her husband, the turncock to the north division of St. Pancras parish, who, on returning home from his ordinary labours, found his wife lying on the floor with her head under the copper furnace. At a short distance from her he found a kitchen poker, which was considerably bent, and covered with blood and brains, that having been the instrument with which the wound on his wife had been inflicted. Her head was laid open from the right eye to the back of the skull, having been fractured in the most dreadful manner. Life still remaining, he went out to procure assistance, and met a man in the custody of James Ceel, from whom he learned they had taken him in a field near the spot belonging to Mr Thomas Greenwood, upon suspicion of having stolen a couple of bundles, which they found in his possession. Dobbins at once communicated the horrible scene that he had discovered in his own house, and it was concluded the prisoner was the murderer. In this persuasion they conveyed him before George Ivers, Esq. a magistrate for the county, residing in Kentish Town.
Ceel stated, that as he was at work upon a new well in Millfield- lane, he saw the prisoner pass him with a bundle under his arm, with which he crossed the foot of Highgate-hill into Mr Greenwood's field. Suspecting, from the cautious mode of the prisoner's progress, that he had not obtained the property honestly, he followed him, and on overtaking him he found him examining the bundle, which apparently contained wearing apparel: he asked him how be had come by them? the prisoner said he had bought them of a gypsy for 9s. Not satisfied with this account he took him into custody, and was conducting him towards the road when Dobbins met them and informed him of the murder of his wife. Dobbins then examined the bundle, and perceived that it contained dothes which his wife had received to wash.
From the circumstances, and the evidence before the coroner, no doubt remained of Sharpe being the murderer, and his guilt was fully proved on his trial, which came on at the Old Bailey the same month in which he committed the crime.
The counsel for the prosecution having opened the case, James Dobbins, the supposed husband, was called as the first Witness, and stated, that he lived in a cottage in Millfield-lane, Kentish Town, and was in the employment of the Hampstead Water Company. The deceased lived with him, and had done so for twenty years. He was not married to her; she was a widow, and her name was Buchannon. On the day of the murder went home to dinner at twenty minutes after one; staid three quarters of an hour; left the deceased at home going to wash some linen; there was a passage leading from the front door, into which the door of the room in which he left his wife opened; worked with a man named Clarke, with whom he returned to the cottage about three o'clock; he went first to a barn, about fifteen yards from his door, to deposit some tools in it; Clarke said he was thirsty, and he went to the cottage to get some drink; he came back and gave an alarm, saying he found the door fast, and heard a groaning; witness, in a few minutes, went to the cottage, and found both doors open; in the room he saw the deceased lying on the floor near the copper; she was groaning; called for Clarke, who came to his assistance; lifted the deceased upon a chair, and found her head dreadfully cut; the bones of her skull were lying about; saw a poker bent and bloody standing by the copper; the deceased expired in a quarter of an hour.
Wm. Clarke returned with Dobbins to the barn about three o'clock; went to the cottage for some water, found the door fast; called to Mrs Dobbins, but got no answer; thought he heard groans; alarmed Dobbins, who in about ten minutes went to the cottage; witness stopped in the barn, but by being called by Dobbins, went to him, and found what has already been described.
Charles Bateman, a carpenter in Kentish Town, went by Dobbins' cottage about half past two on the afternoon of the 4th October; saw the prisoner standing at the gate; had no doubt of his person; saw him an hour after in custody.
Wm. Taylor was at work at Mr Whitehead's, near Dobbins' cottage; went to Mrs Dobbins to borrow a barrow; saw the prisoner standing in the passage, within the door, eating a large piece of bread and butter; saw him the same afternoon, and had no doubt of his person.
Thos. Camber was digging a foundation within two or three hundred yards of Dobbins' cottage; two men, named Ceel and Brimmer worked with him; about half past three o'clock he saw the prisoner come towards them from Milifield-lane; he had an arm full of clothes hanging loosely about him; when he saw witness he turned across the road, and went into a field; witness, Ceel, and Brimmer, followed him, and found him on one knee packing up the linen in a red handkerchief; Cell asked him where be got the linen? he said he bought it of a gypsy near Edgeware, and gave 9s. for it; Brimmer and Ceel then took him before the justice; witness went to see if he could find the owner of the linen; afterwards heard of the murder.
James Ceel corroborated the testimony of the last witness, and further stated, that when he accused the prisoner of theft, he denied his guilt, but offered to give up the linen, and begged, for God's sake, that he would not take him to a justice, as he was the eldest of twelve children. The clothes found in his possession were afterwards given to the care of Birch, a constable.
James Dobbins recognized some shirts found in the bundle as his property, and as having been in his cottage before the murder of the deceased. The poker produced was the same which he had seen under the copper; it was much bent, and stained with blood.
The case for the prosecution was here closed.
The prisoner being asked what he had got to say in his defence? said that he had bought the linen.
The jury, without hesitation, pronounced a verdict of Guilty.
The prisoner, on being asked what he had to say, why judgment of death should not be pronounced upon him? said he knew nothing of the murder.
The Recorder then pronounced sentence of Death upon him in the usual manner, and ordered him to be executed on Monday morning next.
The prisoner immediately cried out, "May the curse of God be upon you night and day, both in this world and the next." It is impossible to describe the shock which this horrid exclamation excited.
The prisoner throughout the trial seemed perfectly at his ease. He was dressed in a gaol jacket, and his appearance was completely that of a character capable of committing the event imputed to him. He was of short statue, dark eyes, overhanging brow, and swarthy complexion, rather sharp featured, with two moles on his right cheek. He was a native of Layton, in Essex, where his father is a very respectable tinman. The unhappy parent did every thing in his power to reclaim his unfortunate son. The prisoner had been long known to the different police officers as a notorious character, and was before confined twelve months for a riot, in endeavouring to rescue some of his companions from the Hatton-garden officers. When his time had expired, and he had obtained his discharge, he observed to Barry Wheeler, the turnkey, that when he did anything again, he would do it capitally.
Mr Ivers, the magistrate who committed Sharpe, accompanied by the Rev. E. Chaplin, a resident in Kentish Town, and one of the ministers of St. Martin's church, called frequently on the wretched man during his confinement. Mr Chaplin was present at his original examination, and both the gentlemen having treated him throughout with the greatest humanity, they seemed to have gained his confidence, and they were induced to hope that, after his conviction, he would atone as far as he was able, and make an ample confession of his crime. On their last visit before his trial, his countenance softened, he appeared to view them as friends, and in a low plaintive tone of voice, made his wants known to them -- "he had no money, and could not get a drop of tea or beer." These wants were relieved, but no question was put to him as to his guilt or innocence; he was only exhorted to turn his thoughts seriously to religion, the true balm of all our woes, and to prepare himself for whatever might happen. "This he would do, he was well brought up, but he would confess nothing until after his trial." Notwithstanding the ferocious conduct of the criminal after sentence had been passed upon him, these gentlemen made a last effort on Saturday, and visited him in the condemned cell. They found him sitting upon his bed, with a bible and prayer-book laid by him, and smoking his pipe in apparent tranquillity. He recognized them on their entrance, and they conversed with him upwards of half an hour, during which time he seemed collected and composed, but nothing could induce him to admit that he was guilty. "He was innocent, both of the robbery and the murder, and he was determined to die with that assertion." In mild and persuasive language, the danger of final impenitence was pointed out to him in vain, and the gentlemen were obliged to leave him, hopeless, and with heavy hearts.
He was executed the Monday morning following, and the public were led to imagine that his exit would be attended with some extraordinary circumstances; that he, who upon his conviction, seemed to leave his malediction upon mankind, would spurn the idea of feeling as one of the species even at the moment of his death, The general opinion was, we are happy to say, a mistaken one. He came forward subdued, and terrified, and died with the name of God in his mouth, and a repentant spirit It was but half an hour before he was conducted from his cell, that he shook off the awful apathy which marked his conduct during his trial. "I am a murderer," said be, "but there is a merciful God." When he was passing through the press-yard, he addressed the prisoners in a few words of admonition, apd while the officer was striking off his irons be prayed most fervently. At last he appeared upon the platform, to which he advanced with a hurried step, and a wildness in his countenance, very different from the spectacle it presented when his bloody work was described and detailed in all its monstrous particulars. He muttered a few words and died.