Arson 1840

In this 1840 case George Honor’s home was set alight, presumably to cover up a theft. His lodger was charged but found not guilty. I have capitalised the first instance of each new person in the following newspaper report.

Entry from The Times, Monday March 15 1841

Before the Lord Chief Justice TINDAL

Henry FRYER, aged 21, was indicted for wilfully setting fire to the dwelling house of one George HONER, on the 15th October, 1840.

Mr BYLES prosecuted, and Mr Sydney TAYLOR defended the prisoner.

The prosecutor [ie George Honer] was at the time of the occurrences which gave rise to this prosecution, for he is since dead, a farmer living at Wing, near this town. By much industry and frugality he had saved sufficient money to purchase the house in which he resided and three others adjoining, which were let to divers tenants. The prisoner had been lodging in his house since the summer of 1839. The prosecutor slept in a room up stairs which lay through the prisoner’s, and in that room he kept in a box the title-deeds of his estate and his money. The prisoner might see this box when the door between the two bedrooms chanced to be open. About 7 o’clock in the evening of the 15th of October, the prosecutor was returning from “seeing his pigs safe a bed” when he met the prisoner running across his yard in the utmost hurry. He asked the prisoner what was the matter, and the man answered “he was very ill within side,” and he then ran to the privy. The prosecutor advised him to take some brandy, and went into his own house. As he was going up stairs a man came running in calling “Fire” whereupon the prosecutor came down again, and saw his barn, which stood at the end of the yard, in a blaze. When he saw this disaster he ran back into his bedroom to secure the box in which his title-deeds and money were stowed, when he was immediately followed by the prisoner, who caught him at the top of the stairs, collared him, and insisted upon his leaving the house, “or he would be burnt alive.” The old man, however, (for he was 85) struggled and got away, and going to his box found the hasp of it broken, and one of the hinges forced off. With a trembling and an anxious hand he opened this repository of his treasures, and then discovered that all, both parchment and gold, were gone. Eleven sovereigns had been stolen. A policeman at this time came up stairs, and found the old man, sitting upon his rifled box, bewailing his loss, and saying “he was undone for ever; his money was gone, and he’d as lief be burnt as not, now.” The fire continued to rage, and ultimately the whole of the prosecutors property, except one end of his own dwelling, was consumed. As soon as the fire had spent itself, several people, amongst whom was the prisoner, had assembled at the village alehouse to discuss the disastrous occurences of the evening. The prisoner complained of having received an injury to his head, and forthwith fell into a state which the bystanders thought was a fit. They had great difficulty in holding him down, and the village doctor was sent for. As soon as he had arrived, he said he must cut off the prisoner’s hair as the first step to recovering him from his “fit” whereupon the prisoner opened his eyes and declared that his hair should not be touched. This naturally excited the suspicions of the surgeon, who asked him several questions, to none of which did he receive any answer. The doctor then felt his pulse, which he found regular and healthy, and his opinion was, that the prisoner, though for what motive he could not divine, was shamming an illness. He was put to bed and his pockets searched, and in them was found a lucifer match box without any matches in it, a file, and a pair of pincers. With respect to the former, it appeared by the evidence of the village chandler that about quarter of an hour before the discovery of the fire the prisoner had purchased at his shop a box of lucifer matches, containing about 50. The box when found in his pocket after the fire was, as abovementioned, empty. With respect to the file and pincers, it appeared upon examining the old man’s box that it had been forced or attempted to be forced open with some such instrument as the former, and marks were left both on the lid and on the body of the box exactly corresponding with the size and marks of the file so found. These were the main features of this mysterious case.

Mr S Taylor addressed the jury in a long speech on the part of the prisoner; and the Lord Chief Justice minutely summed up the evidence, commenting as he proceeded upon the leading features of the case.

The jury deliberated for half an hour, and then returned a verdict acquitting the prisoner.