William along with his accomplice Thomas Wootton was apprehended and convicted in 1847 for breaking into a warehouse in Atherstone, England, and stealing a number of items. The following information has been transcribed from the local newspapers which reported on the Coventry Assizes and describe the theft and apprehension in detail.
Saturday, August 7, 1847 [Page 7]
Midland Circuit Coventry
On Monday, the commission for this division of the county of Warwick was opened before Mr. Baron Rolfe. There were about thirty-eight prisoners on the calendar, but not a single cause of Nisi Prius1. Mr. Baron Rolfe, in charging the Grand Jury, remarked that he supposed some convenience must result to the county from the holding of two assizes, one at Warwick and another at Coventry. To him, however, it appeared strange that two Grand Juries should be required to transact the business of the county. With the exception of the county of Lancaster, where, under peculiar circumstances, such an arrangement was desirable, Warwick was the only county in which two assizes were held. But, however, with that they had nothing to do; they must discharge the business which would be brought before them; and he should feel obliged by their returning some bills as soon as they should have found them.
Crown Court, Tuesday
Extensive Warehouse Robbery at Atherstone
William Harris and Thomas Wootton, two stout and determined-looking young fellows were indicted for having on the night of Sunday the 25th of April last, feloniously broken into the warehouse of John Gilbert Minion at Atherstone2, in this county, and stolen and carried away 16 pieces of mousseline de laine3, 59 cashmere shawls and scarfs, 5 pieces of gambroon4, 780 yards of silk, 18 satin, and silk handkerchiefs, 2 gallons of brandy, &c., value £160, the property of the said, John Gilbert Minion.
We gave in our paper at the time of the occurrence, the circumstances connected with this daring and extensive robbery, with an account of the manner in which the prisoners had been apprehended, but it may be necessary to recapitulate the leading facts as elicited in evidence during the trial.
Mr. John Gilbert Minion was the first witness examined. He said he assisted his father, who was a wharfinger5, carrying on business at Atherstone, on the banks of the Coventry Canal6. On the night of Sunday, the 25th of April, one of Pickford’s boats arrived at the warehouse, and amongst other goods was a box directed to Messrs., Sawbridge, of Atherstone, and a truss directed to the same party. Both packages were deposited in the warehouse, which was closed between eleven and twelve o’clock. At about three o’clock, his brother called him up, when he found that the warehouse door had been broken open. The box had also been broken open, and the contents were gone. The truss was also gone except for the outside wrapping. A cask of brandy in the warehouse was also upended, the beading partly knocked in, and there wanted about two gallons to fill it.
Mr. William Edward Minion was next examined and proved that the brandy was safe on Sunday evening. On visiting the warehouse the following morning, he found the head of the cask stove in, and part of the spirits spilled on the ground. A crowbar was lying near the door, which had been forced open. There was a hamper of empty bottles belonging to Mr. Oakden, of Atherstone, also in the warehouse, and this package had also been opened.
Mr. John Biddle, the constable of Atherstone, proved the state in which the premises were found by him on the morning after the robbery.
Joseph Norwood, a woodman in the employment of Sir Robert Peel, met the prisoners at Hopwas7, about eleven miles from Atherstone, about five o’clock on Monday morning; they were sitting on two large bundles tied up with shawls, under Tambourne Bridge, it being raining very hard at the time. They were drinking something out of black bottles and offered him some, but he declined, although he had no objection to a drop, and they also offered to sell him a silk handkerchief, but he refused to purchase it. After some time, they went in the direction of Street Hay. Here they were seen by William Bond, a brickmaker, at about eight o’clock the same morning. Bond said he had known both prisoners before. They had bundles with them on entering his house, when Harris demanded something to drink, the best he had, and he gave them some beer. He saw both the bundles opened in a lane near his house; one contained shawls, the other silk. Wootton said he should think the goods were worth £20. Harris observed that he should not care if they had £10 for them. Harris again said they had galloped a b—y horse that morning with the goods. Bond received one handkerchief from Harris, but before then he had sent information to the police by a gentleman who was passing in his gig and delayed them until the police arrived. He had heard of the prisoners before, but it was not about this charge. It was upon a charge of stealing malt in Staffordshire. The police told him if he met with them, to get something from them.
Joseph Oldham, a constable in the employ of Trent and Mersey Canal Company, deposed to apprehend the prisoners near Handsacre8, about a quarter of a mile from the place they were found sleeping on a bank, and together with the bundles which were lying beside them.
Mr. W. Sawbridge, a draper at Atherstone, identified the goods, which he had purchased from Messrs. Carlton, Walker, and Lewis, of Manchester, on the 22nd of April, and placed upon them his private mark. Other witnesses also gave evidence as to the forwarding and delivery of the goods, and after an address from Mr. Adams, who contended that there was no evidence to prove that Wootton was concerned in breaking into Mr. Minion’s warehouse and that the property had not been traced from Manchester to Stoke upon-Trent, Mr. Baron Rolfe summed up the case to the jury, who immediately found both prisoners guilty.
The learned Judge passed the highest sentence the law allowed him to pass for such an offence, seven years transportation.
- Nisi Prius: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nisi_prius
- Atherstone: https://goo.gl/maps/r3EcVL6V4tAD8xv66
- Mousseline-de-laine: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/mousseline-de-laine
- Gambroon: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/gambroon
- Wharfinger: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/wharfinger
- Coventry Canal: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f8/Coventry_Canal_Map.png
- Hopwas: https://goo.gl/maps/ViEyHGt75JRRX46x9
- Handsacre: https://goo.gl/maps/ViEyHGt75JRRX46x9