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Moretonhampstead Murder

Moretonhampstead Murder

Here is a story from 1836 that illustrates the type of itinerants that were roaming the countryside and travelling with the various country fairs. This is a true story concerning the murder of Mr Jonathan May who on the 16th of July 1835 had travelled from his home at Sowton Barton near Dunsford to go to the fair at Moretonhampstead. Here he sold some cattle and attended to various other business affairs. The villains of the story are Thomas Oliver, alias ‘Buckingham Joe‘ and Edmund Galley, alias ‘Turpin‘. The tale is told from the proceedings at the trial:

The first witness to take the stand was a local shopkeeper called George Norrish:

I live at Moreton. I knew the late Mr Jonathan May. Moreton fair was on Tuesday, the 16th instant. Mr Day came into my shop about 7 or 8 o’clock that evening. He paid me £1. 8s. 3d., and I gave him a receipt for it, which he put in his pocketbook, and he put that book in his coat-side pocket. He was perfectly sober.”

It was also ascertained that there were a lot of vagrants at the fair, the second witness to be called was the innkeeper of the White Hart, Samuel Caun:

I keep the White Hart at Moreton. Mr May was at my house on the 16th of July. He left about 10 at night on horseback. He was the perfectly sober. He was rather a powerful man. It was a light night.”

The next witness to be called was James Norsworthy who was the tollhouse keeper:

I keep the tollhouse on the Exeter side of Moreton. Mr May passed through my gate about 10 that night, he was going towards his home. He was riding very slow. He wished me good night.

So, here we have a “perfectly sober,” man who visited the shop of George Norrish, a shoe maker, between 7 and 8 pm and then visited the White Hart where he left about 10.00pm and passed through the tollgate just after 10.00pm. The next witness was Nicholas Taverner:

I live at Harcourt, about one mile and a quarter from Moreton, on the Exeter road. About a quarter of a mile from Moreton I turn off the public road, and go on a private road. I left Moreton about half-past 11. I was walking home with my wife and some other persons. As I was going along I found a horse saddled and bridled, but without a rider. I went in search of the rider. I rode into Moreton, and then returned another road. When I got near Jacob’s Well I found a person lying in the road on his back. I lifted his head up, and the blood came bubbling out of his nose and mouth. It was Mr May. I called out “Murder,” and then got on the horse and rode homewards, when I met my party. I left them there, and I rode for a doctor and alarmed the people of the town. I got a cart and put Mr May into it, and took him to Moreton.”

It also transpired that May had not been dragged along the road, also his waistcoat and smallclothes were unbuttoned. The next witness was Taverner’s wife, Grace:

“After my husband found the horse I went home, and then I returned in search of my husband. I heard my husband call murder; I went up and saw Mr May lying in the road in a gore of blood; his pockets were turned inside out.”

Next, John Tallamy takes the stand:

I went with other persons to the body. I searched his pockets; there was nothing in them. There were two £5 notes in a concealed pocket in the waistcoat. There was no pocket book nor watch. It was 2 o’clock in the morning.

Tallamy’s wife, Mary followed him:

I stayed with Mr May till he died the following evening. These are his clothes (they were saturated with blood). Mr May was never conscious and never spoke.

The next witness to give evidence was a surgeon called John Ponsford:

I was called up about 2 in the morning. I went to the White Hart Inn, and found Mr. May; he was in bed. He had a wound over his left eye, three others on the upper part of the head, two others on the back part of the head, another by the left ear. He died about ten minutes before 9, that night. He did not recover any consciousness. I had a post mortem examination; the skull was fractured; the injury on the head was the cause of death; it could not well have been caused by accident; a stick or kick might have occasioned it. There was no mark of violence except on the head.

It was also established that it was impossible the injury could have been caused by a fall from a horse or indeed a kick from a horse. Next came another surgeon called Alfred Puddicombe:

I agree with Mr Ponsford; the fracture extended 10 inches in length. I think it impossible that a fall from a horse could have occasioned such extensive injury.”

Having established how May died another witness called Henry Luscombe was called:

I am a thatcher. On the morning of the 17th of July I went to Jacobs Well, where Mr May was found. I discovered a stick with fresh blood upon it; the stick appeared to have been lately cut.”

Next came Mr Backwell:

I found part of a stick which had been broken from the stick produced by the last witness; there were marks of bloody fingers on it. I also found the frill of a shirt which was completely covered with wet blood. There was blood on the hedgebank. It appeared to me as if the murdered man had crept some 50 or 60 yards. The hedge was sprinkled with blood for 7 or 8 yards. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Then came the testimony of a woman who had been convicted for felony and had been sentenced to seven years transportation. Her name was Elizabeth Harris who at this point of the trial had a free pardon put in:

I am 22 years of age. I travelled about for two years. I travelled a year with Avery I remember July in the last year. I have been at Moreton. I was there in July 1835; it was the fair. I was there the night before the fair. I know the two prisoners. I saw them at Moreton on the fair-day. I had seen them before. The last time was at Brimble Fair. I had seen them at Dorchester and at Weyhill-fair, and at many other fairs. They were always together when I saw them. I saw them about 4 o’clock in the afternoon at Moreton fair in July. I saw them again in about an hour; they were still together. I heard them talking to themselves, but unless they were travellers no one could understand them. Buckingham Joe said to Turpin, “It’s a fine looking gaff, and there’s some quisty looking-blocks; we must have some gilt in the rot.” I knew what it meant’ “gaff,” meant “fair” – “blocks” meant “farmers” – the gilt is money – “rot” means “evening.” I then lost sight of them. I was close to them. I saw them again in three or four hours. In the evening, about 9 or 10 o’clock, I went out of the town to go to Exeter. I went as far as the first milestone, not being able to overtake the cart, I returned back to Moreton. I met the two prisoners not a great distance from the turnpike gate. They passed close to me. I saw them quite plain. They had smockfrocks on. They were walking a stiff pace down the hill. I stooped down to slack my bootlace, and I heard some one at the tollgate say “Good night.” I then met a farmer on horseback coming from the tollgate, riding a very slow pace. I returned after him, and followed him on the road. I kept sight of him. I followed him till he came within a few yards of the first milestone. I had on a dark dress. He had not quite to the top of the hill Buckingham Joe then came over the right hand hedge, and laid hold of the horse’s head. Something was said. Turpin then came from the same hedge, behind the farmer. He had a stick with a head as big as my fist, and he gave the farmer two blows with it on the left side of his head. The farmer did not quite fall of his horse. Buckingham Joe then pulled him off, and in doing so Mr May and he fell together. Turpin was standing close by. Many blows the passed. They were struggling on the ground five minutes. I heard one say to the other “Have you got it?” The other said, “I have” and at that time I saw Buckingham Joe give Turpin what appeared to be a book. I heard something rattle like a watchchain. I heard the farmer say, “If you rob me, for God’s sake don’t take my life.” It appeared to me as if Turpin give him two kicks to the head. They then got over a gate into a field, where there was some kind of corn growing. I never saw them after. I stopped about 10 minutes before I could get myself to go back, I was so much frightened. I heard the farmer groan once or twice, but I did not observe him move. I was standing close by the hedge all the time. I went back to Moreton; the next morning I was apprehended, but afterwards discharged. I said nothing about it till I was in Exeter gaol the last time, about four months afterwards. I was in custody upon another charge. I was tried and convicted, and it was after my conviction that I mentioned this affair.

Galley/Turpin then cross examined the woman and suggests that she has mistaken him for somebody else and that he had never seen her before, never seen Oliver/Buckingham Joe before or ever been to Devon. Elizabeth Harris then states:

I am sure, if the men had seen me, they would have taken my life. Although I slept with Avery that night I did not speak to him. Many other persons were also taken up. I told of it because I thought I should go into another country with my mind free of it. I never had a pardon in my thoughts.

At this point further witnesses are brought forward, James Salter was the first:

I found the stick with  large head to it near the spot about two months after the murder.

Then an attorney from Moretonhampstead named Moses Wollen Harvey took the stand:

On the day after the murder I went to Jacob’s Well. I noticed blood on the hedge, and among the bushes there was the appearance of person’s having walked along. There is a gate in the hedge into a field. There was barley growing in that field. There was one track of some person going through the barley. There were then two tracks, which shortly united again, and continued to another gate, which opens into a road leading to Kennock which is about six miles off, and there is then a road to Chudleigh, in which road is Crammer’s Brook.

Then a labourer named William Crocker gave his evidence:

I am a labouring man. In February last I found a pocket book in Crammer’s Brook, in a hedge. It contained papers and I threw it down. It appeared to be rotten. Casely took up some of the papers.”

William Casely stands up:

“I was with Crocker when he found a book. I brought home some of the papers which came out of the book. I gave them to Joses Cleave.”

The papers were then identified as belonging to May. Then a London police sergeant named Thomas M’Gill gave evidence:

In consequence of some information, I went to Coldbath-fields Prison, where I saw the prisoner Galley. In answer to questions I put to him, he said his name was Edmund Galley, that he was born at Kingston; that he went by the name of Turpin. He said he had never been in Devonshire; that in the middle of July, 1835, he was at Reigate races; he said he did not know a person named Buckingham Joe, nor a person of the name of Thomas Oliver. On the 30th of April I apprehended him and took him to Bow-street. There was a placard as to this murder in the room. Galley read the bill and said, “That I suppose is what I am charged with.” I asked him how he knew that? He said, “Because it is in Devon.” I asked him, “who told him so?” He said, “Baker of Mill Lane.” Baker keeps a lodging house.

The magistrates’ clerk then produced the examinations of both prisoners but the Judge decreed that he could not admit the examination of Oliver/Buckingham Joe. Galley, in his examination stated that he was never in Devonshire in his life, but was at Dartford on the 16th of July at William Roe’s and that he never saw Oliver. William Roe then testified that he knew Turpin but did not see him in July 1835 but did see him in the August. Then another witness named Ann Carpenter was brought forward:

I travel with lace. I was in Exeter on the 13th of July, and stopped at Mrs Marengo’s. The prisoners were there with Black Nance. The prisoners went away in the afternoon. They said they were going to Zeal fair, near Okehampton. On the 10th of August I saw Oliver at Wilton, near Salisbury. Two other men were with him and Black Nance. I asked Oliver if I had not seen him at Exeter, but he said no, and asked what county it was in. Black Nance brought in a smockfrock from the garden. He held it up and said it was not washed clean, and some words and blows ensued between them about it. Oliver said he had spilt vitriol over it. Elizabeth M’Kinley turned round and said it was more likely to be the blood of Mr May. Oliver made no reply.”

A smockfrock was produced which Oliver was wearing went he was taken into Exeter gaol, it only had a small patch that had been washed. Ann Carpenter’s daughter then corroborated her mothers evidence. After which Catherine Gaffney was produced:

I travel with Mrs Carpenter, and was with her at Exeter on the 12th of July. I had seen Joe at Daventry and at St. Alban’s before. I saw him and Turpin at Mrs Marengo’s on the Sunday night and the Monday morning. Black Ann was with Buckingham Joe. I am sure they are the men.

Then another traveller called Mary Smith gave her evidence:

I am a traveller. I was at Exeter on the 10th of July, at Mrs Marengo’s. The two prisoners came there on Sunday, the 12th of July. I had seen Oliver before at Daventry and at St. Alban’s. I told him I had seen him at those places. He denied having been there. I told him my mother had cooked some rice-milk at Daventry, and he laughed; but he still said I had never seen him before. Black Ann was there.

When cross examined and asked how she was sure she saw the men on the 12th of July to which she replied because it was her birthday. Then Mary Marengo gave evidence:

The two prisoners came to my house on Sunday, the 12th of July, and lodged there one night; they went away on Monday. They asked if I could tell them of any fairs. I made inquiry, and told them it was Zeal fair that day. They went and brought a smockfrock. They came back again on Wednesday morning, and remained till Thursday; they went away that day between 12 and 2; Black Nance went with them; they said they were going to Moreton fair. Before they went they called me upstairs and said they had something to show me, and they produced a gold ring, a silver snuffbox, and a pair of spectacles. They said I must buy them, or they could not pay me for the lodgings. I brought them off them, and sold them for the same money I gave for them. They told me they should come back again the next day, with the blessings of God, if they had any luck. The prisoners never came back, but the woman came back on the Friday-week afterwards.

The Charlotte Clarke came forward:

I sell lace caps. I was at Moreton fair in July 1835, I went from Exeter. I went into the Lamb Inn on the road. Oliver came into the Lamb and another man called Turpin. The prisoner Galley is not the man; it appeared to me a different man altogether. I talked to the one called Turpin. I had seen these two men before at Taunton. Black Nance was at the Lamb with Oliver. We all went out together towards Moreton. As we were going along the road I saw Oliver take a pistol out of his pocket. We arrived at Moreton between 5 and 6 o’clock. The man that was with Joe had not any teeth out, but had a nice mouth of teeth, and was a respectable looking man. I am sure it was another man; he had largo dark whiskers that met.

Then various witnesses were brought forward from Moretonhampstead, the first being Ann Bennett who kept the Lamb Inn:

I keep the Lamb Inn, on the Moreton road. The two prisoners are the men who came into my house when Charlotte Clarke was there, on Moreton fair-day. Turpin changed his smockfrock before he went out.

Closely followed by Harriet Langbridge:

My husband and I kept the Golden Lion Inn at Moreton. On the evening of the 16th of between 7 and 9 o’clock, I was in my cellar. Turpin came and asked me to give him a cork, which I did. I am certain the prisoner is the man. I observed he had lost a tooth or two.

Then Betty Crook:

I live at Moreton. On the 16th of July I saw a man playing the thimblerig game. I stopped a quarter of an hour looking at him. I spoke to him, and he answered me; I observed a vacant space in his mouth. He had lost a tooth or two. The prisoner Turpin is the man, I am certain. I had never seen him before.

Next came a criminal called John Hiscox:

I live at Broadway, Dorsetshire. I was confined in Dorchester gaol. Oliver was there also. He came in about the 15th of September. I had the care of the ward in which Oliver was confined. I had repeated conversations with him. He said he and Turpin were in Exeter in July, and they were also at Moretonhampstead fair; that Mr May was robbed there of some money and checks, and that one Pardue was on bail about it, but he (Oliver) was sure he knew nothing of it. I asked if they were not afraid of being taken? He said no, for Turpin always carried loaded pistols with him, and would shoot any man who should attempt to take him; that they went from Moreton to London by way of Taunton and Bath, and stayed at the Fox and Hounds, in Walcot-street, Bath; that they were afraid to stay there, and he (Oliver) went to the York-house and paid their fare to London; that Turpin was a good man to go to work with, because after they and robbed a man he always kicked the man in the front of the head. I left the gaol in March.

The prisoners were then called to give their defence where Galley protested his innocence stating that he had never been to Devonshire and was in Dartford the previous July from where he went to Lee races and then returned to Dartford. He also stated that only Oliver knew whether the man he referred to as Turpin was him. Oliver then confirmed this saying he had never seen Galley before until he met him in Exeter gaol. Oliver then asked for George Avery to give evidence who was brought from the gaol where he stated:

I know Elizabeth Harris. I was at Moreton fair with her; she slept with me the night of the murder. I think I went to bed 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour before 10 o’clock. The town clock struck 10 just before we got into bed. She must have come into the public house about 9 o’clock; we then parted company for about 20 minutes. I never saw Turpin before in my life.

Avery also confirmed that he did not usually go to bed as early as 10 o’clock when he was at a fair but he and Elizabeth Harris had “had words the day before the fair.” He also said that there was a man called Turpin that had been transported at the last Exeter assizes. The judge then summed up the case and the jury retired for deliberation. Ten minutes later they returned with the verdict of guilty. At this announcement Galley burst into tears and pleaded his innocence and turned to Oliver and pleaded, “If you know anything about it, my good friend, do for God’s sake tell the truth for you know I am innocent.” Oliver replied, “It is all over now; it is no use telling a lie about it, you are innocent, and know nothing about it.” The officer of the court then asked the prisoners to say why the court should not give judgement upon them according to the law. Once again Galley loudly protested his innocence saying that he, “should suffer on account of his having gone by the name of Turpin – that the witnesses had sworn falsely, and that the Almighty, knew his innocence and would punish them for it.” Oliver the added,

Indeed, my Lord, they are mistaken; don’t let me ascend the scaffold with this man, for he knows nothing about it and I wish I may instantly be hurled into eternity, if that is not the truth.”

The judge then put on his black cap and spoke to the prisoners:

Edmund Galley and Thomas Oliver, you have been convicted of the crime laid to your charge, after a long, I trust a patient, and I am sure I may add, a most impartial inquiry, in which every circumstance, omitting nothing that could be supposed in any degree to bear in your favour, has been most zealously and industriously presented to the jury, who are the judges of the fact of the crime. The jury, who, as I said before, are the judges of the fact have come to the conclusion that you are guilty on grounds, I think too strong to be doubted. They are satisfied of the credibility of the witnesses who have been examined. They have had full opportunity of witnessing the manner in which those witnesses have given their evidence, particularly the female witness, Elizabeth Harris – they are I repeat, satisfied of the truth of her statement, confirmed, as the consider, and doubtless very rightly consider, by the other circumstances which have been brought forward, and which it was impossible to say were not most powerful in establishing the truth of her evidence. With respect to the nature of the offence, it is not my intention to aggravate your feelings by any observations on what the feeling of men have been ever since history recorded them, in regard to the circumstances of the trial or temptation that offence has been committed. Assuredly there is nothing present in this case which distinguishes it from others of the same class, or offers any circumstances to mitigate the sentence.

At which point much to the amazement of the court, Oliver interrupted the Judge saying:

My Lord, I have a statement to make, and I hope your Lordship will hear me. I am innocent of the murder, but I know who did it; it was not this man, and he knows nothing about it; he was never with me in the county; it was a man who goes by the name of the Kentish Youth, with a full mouth of teeth, and as clever looking man as you will see.

The Galley added:

My Lord, would you not think it hard to be condemned when you were innocent? I am sure you would not sentence an innocent man to have his life taken away. God knows I am innocent, and I thank God for it, and I hope he will receive my soul. I know that if a man commits murder he ought to die, and if I was guilty I should expect to die; but, my Lord, I am innocent; and I never was in the county before may.”

Oliver agreed, saying:

My Lord, he never was. He is mistaken for another man.”

The Judge then continued with his sentencing:

I can now only strongly recommend you to employ the short time you have remaining to live in earnest and anxious endeavour to obtain forgiveness in that quarter to which you have so frequently appealed, to obtain that mercy which in this world cannot be extended to you, and which you must not expect. I would earnestly recommend you, foregoing every other consideration, and abandoning every other idea and hope, to resign yourself to that express and single purpose – that of obtaining forgiveness in that quarter where alone it may be obtained. The duty – the very painful duty, now devolves upon me – and God knows how willingly, how gladly I would at any expense and any sacrifice, have avoided this duty. It is now my bounden duty to pronounce that sentence.

With one last desperate appeal, Oliver says:

I hope your Lordship will not hang an innocent man – I hope you will not. He (Galley) was not with me in the county. I never knew him before we met here.”

The judge continued:

The evidence that you were together is accumulated to such a degree as to leave no doubt on the minds of the jury. I never in the whole course of my experience saw such a quantity brought forward. The sentence of the court, therefore, on you Edmund Galley, and you Thomas Oliver, is, that for this offence you be taken to the place from whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, and there you be severally hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your bodies be interred within the precincts of the prison in which you have been confined; and may the Lord have mercy on your souls.”

A further newspaper report dated the 9th of August 1836 remarks how after the trial, Oliver, who was in prison awaiting his execution still was protesting Galley’s innocence. He maintained that the other ‘Turpin’ who was with him when May was murdered was a good three and a quarter inches taller than Galley. Oliver said that he never saw Elizabeth Harris and in his opinion there was no way she was as near to the crime as she stated because during the robbery, May’s horse, “kicked and plunged a great deal,” of which she made no mention.

The newspaper also mention two other suspects that were originally detained after the murder, one being an Irishman called Andrew Carter. Carter was a linen pedlar and was found shortly after the crime at Moretonhampstead with 20 sovereigns in his pocket and blood stains on his trousers. It later transpired that the money had been given to Carter by a former master in Ireland and the blood was that of a calf which had been sprinkled over him in jest whilst passing a butcher who had just slaughtered a calf. Carpenter was sent to prison where he became ill and at his trial he was acquitted only to die shortly afterwards. The other detainee was not named but it was reported that all the time he was in custody he was “restless, feverish, and greatly excited.”

Oliver or Buckingham Joe was hanged but Galley alias Turpin was in the end transported to Australia. Here he continued to plead his innocence which resulted in some influential people in Britain fighting his cause. Forty years later, on Friday the 25th July 1879, after a lengthy Commons debate the Home Secretary reluctantly agreed to put a humble address to the Queen requesting a Free Pardon for Galley.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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