07 May 2007

John Waller's punishment in Pillory

Exposed on the Pillory

Like other traditional punishments such as the stocks and penance, the pillorypunished through humiliation. By publicly exposing the culprit this punishment announced to the community that he or she could not be trusted. The audience were expected to contribute to the convict’s shame by throwing polluting objects such as mud, rotten vegetables and eggs, dead cats, excrement and blood and guts fromslaughterhouses. Although sometimes the crowd chose to applaud the convict instead,in other cases the missiles included bricks and stones and the damage done to the target was to more than just his reputation; at least seven died on London pillories during the century.

John Waller had ‘a fruitful genius, which he applied to the wrong purposes’,and his fraudulent use of the law made him many enemies:

He used to worm himself into the acquaintance of people who had butsmall fortunes, or such as they acquired by their daily labour, andparticularly those who had families to maintain. He would cause such asthese to be arrested at his suit, and would not scruple to swear that theywere indebted to him in sums sufficient to have them committed to jail,and then under a specious show of compassion would bring them to acomposition. He thought he could take advantage of the poorer sort,many of whose families were reduced to beggary by his illegalproceedings.

As a solicitor, he also took money from clients to pursue cases which he had no chance of winning. Worst of all, he was a corrupt thieftaker, who prosecuted men on trumped-up charges in order to secure a reward. His technique was to identify men whose reputations were poor and who were already considered suspicious and to manufacture charges against them. His most famous prosecution was ofthe well-known street robber James Dalton, whose gang terrorised London during the late 1720s. In April 1730 he enquired at the Wood Street Compterto determine when Dalton had been released from prison in the precedingyear.

Dalton had robbed him in the fields near Tottenham Court. There were noother witnesses to the alleged crime, but to confirm his accusation Waller used inside knowledge to claim that the pistol used in the attack was thesame one Dalton had brandished during his robbery of another man, Dr Mead, for which crime he had already been convicted.6Dalton admitted his many crimes, but always denied that he had robbedWaller. As reported in the Proceedings, Dalton:Denied the fact charged upon him by Waller, and exclaimed against him as a man of a vile character, that he was a common affidavit man, and was but lately, before the time charged in the indictment, come out of Newgate himself. That though he himself had done many ill things, and had deserved death many times, yet not for this fact, he being innocentof it; and said, Waller was as great a rogue as himself, and there was never a barrel the better herring. Despite his protestations of innocence, Dalton was convicted, sentenced to death and executed on 17 April.

Waller’s reward for the conviction was £80.The following year, when Waller prosecuted Charles Knowles and Sarah Harper at the assizes in Hertford for robbing him near Newington, the court treated his evidence much more sceptically. The judge observed:Though the prisoner Harper was a person of bad character, yet John Waller’s being worse, rendered himself notorious, and he having sworn robberies upon several persons [probably only for the reward] who wereacquitted as innocent, and had hanged Dalton. The court thought noregard was to be given to his evidence, and thereupon the jury acquittedthe prisoners.

Justice finally caught up with Waller in May 1732 when he was tried at the Old Bailey for perverting the course of justice by falsely charging John Edlin with a highway robbery in Hertfordshire. In his typical self-aggran-dising manner, Waller claimed:That he called at the George at New Market, and that either John Eldinor Uriah Davis came and begged alms of him, and then he being moved with compassion, gave him six pence, and afterwards treated him on the road, as they both travelled the same way, but at the bottom of Botsam’sHill, this man having no sense of the kindness that had been done tohim, was so ungrateful as to assault him. And the other man coming upat the same time, they robbed him of three jacobuses, nine guineas, anda piece of mechlin lace. And then they stripped him, and bound him;and there he lay till he was relieved by a passenger.9Waller, conscious that he was no longer trusted, made the accusation undera false name, John Trevor.

As the justice of the peace, Justice Gifford, testi-fied at Waller’s trial:The prisoner, by the name of Trevor, charged John Edlin, and another,who was then in Newgate, with robbing him on the highway betweenColney and St Albans.
prisoner, and that I had seen the prisoner before, but I could not recollect who he was. I sent to enquire after the prisoner’s character, andwas told that he was an honest man, and then I committed Edlin toNewgate. After this Waller came to me again, and told me, that I hadmade a mistake in committing Edlin on the information of Trevor, itshould have been on the information of Waller, says he, for my name is Waller, and therefore must beg you to alter it. Oh, is it you Mr Waller?says I, I thought I had seen your face before. Had I known your name when you made this information, I had turned you out of doors, as I didfive years ago, when you swore against two street robbers; but since it is so, I shall take a note of it.When the case came up for trial on the Home Circuit Assizes, Waller,perhaps knowing that his evidence would not be trusted, failed to appear withhis two witnesses and the defendants were acquitted. But he did not give up;he simply took his accusations to a different court, as the under-clerk of theNorfolk Circuit of the Assizes reported:John Waller having ill success at Hertford, came to Cambridge on theTuesday following, and gave me an information against two men forrobbing him, and they were both capitally convicted. The country was not satisfied and there were suspicions that Waller was a rogue. Baron Cummins ordered me to enquire into his character. I enquired of agentleman at Thetford: Waller, says he, why, he’s the vilest fellow living; he makes a trade of swearing away men’s lives for the sake ofthe reward, granted for convicting robbers. This gentleman gave me direction to write to a gentleman for a description and character of theprisoner. I wrote, and received an answer at Bury. The answer describedhim exactly, and by good fortune it came just time enough to preventthe execution of the two men.Waller was convicted at the Old Bailey of making a false accusation and was sentenced to a smorgasbord of punishments, reflecting the court’s severedisapproval of his actions, and its wish to make the fact of his punishmentknown as widely as possible.

John Waller is to stand once in the pillory at the Seven Dials, in St Giles in the Fields, and once in the pillory against Hicks Hall, for onehour each time. And to stand on the pillory at the same places, at twoother different times, for one hour each time with his hat off, that hemay be known by the people. An account of his offence to be written on a paper, and stuck on the pillory every time. To pay a fine of twentymarks; to be imprisoned for two years, and not to be dischargedafterwards, till he has paid his fine, and given security for his goodbehaviour during his life.Word that Waller would appear in the pillory soon spread and his manyenemies looked forward to it with relish. About a week before he was to appear Edward Dalton, the brother of James Dalton, told everyone he saw that.

He would be revenged on Waller, because Waller had hanged his brother. By God, he said, he shall never come out alive, for I’ll have his blood.Similarly, Richard Griffith alias Sergeant told Thomas James ‘that he would do his business’. Even the carman who was responsible for carrying the pillory to St Giles told a witness ‘that he had carried almost a sack full of artichokes and cauliflower stalks in readiness; and swore that he would do Waller’s business, and he should never live to stand at Hicks Hall’. The day before Waller’s first stint on the pillory, William Belt alias Worrel, who had been employed to oversee the punishment, observed: ‘He’ll stand but once. He had better be hanged, for he shall never come back alive’.

On the morning of 13 June a huge crowd gathered in Seven Dials.Spectators climbed lamp posts and fences and stood on carts in order to geta better view. At 11.00 William Belt brought Waller out of Redgate’s ale housein nearby King Street and placed his head and arms through the holes in the pillory. Immediately, ‘the mob, which was very numerous, having been provided with large quantities of cabbage, cauliflower and artichoke stalks,began to pelt him in a most outrageous manner’.These rotten, or not so rotten, vegetables and their stems clearly had the potential to cause serious injury, but some of the crowd were unwilling to leave it at that.

After only afew minutes, Edward Dalton and Richard Griffith stepped onto the pilloryand assaulted Waller. One of the spectators, Cartwright Richardson, describedthe attack:

Griffith took hold of Waller’s coat, and Dalton of the waistband of hisbreeches, and so they pulled his head out of the pillory, and he hung a little while by one hand, but pulling that hand out they threw him on to the pillory board. Belt tried to put him back into the pillory:But Dalton and Griffith and a chimney sweeper laid hold of Waller, and stripped him as naked as he was born, except his feet, for they pulled hisstockings over his shoes and so left them; then they beat him with cauliflower stalks, and threw him down upon the pillory board. The chimney sweeper put some soot into his mouth, and Griffith rammed it down his throat with a cauliflower stalk. Dalton and Griffith jumped and stamped upon his naked body and head, and kicked him and beat himwith artichoke and cauliflower stalks, as he lay on the pillory board.They continued beating, kicking, and stamping upon him in this mannerfor above one quarter of an hour, and then the mob threw down the pillory, and all that were upon it. Waller then lay naked on the ground.

Dalton got upon him, and stamping on his privy parts, Waller gave a dismal groan, and I believe it was his last; for after that I never heard him groan nor speak, nor saw him stir.While they were stamping on Waller, ‘Griffith said to Dalton, well played partner. And Dalton said, aye, damn him, I’ll never leave him while he hasa bit of life in him, for hanging my brother

After an hour, Waller was taken up and carried to St Giles’s Roundhouse and then to Newgate Prison where his mother, Martha Smith, was waitingfor him. But the turnkeys of Newgate Prison refused to accept his dead body,and instead it was placed in a coach with his mother:As soon as Dalton and Griffith saw her go in, they cried out here’s theold bitch his mother, damn her, let’s kill her too. So they went to thecoach door, huzzaing and swearing that they had stood true to the stuff.Damn him, says Dalton, we have sent his soul half way to hell, and nowwe’ll have his body to sell to the surgeons for money to pay the devilfor his through passage. Then they tried to pull him out of the coach, but were prevented.From the vantage point of the coach, Martha Smith described the sameevents as follows:

My son had neither eyes, nor ears, nor nose to be seen; they had squeezed his head flat. Griffith pulled open the coach door, and struck me, pulled my son’s head out of my lap, and his brains fell into my hand.When Mr King, the coroner, saw the body the next day, he too was appalled:

I never saw such a spectacle. I can’t pretend to distinguish particularly inwhat part he was bruised most, for he was bruised all over. I could scarce perceive any part of his body free. His head was beat quite flat,no features could be seen in his face, and somebody had cut him quite down the back with a sharp instrument.A jury was summoned, and ‘hearing the depositions of several witnesses,brought in a verdict of wilful murder by persons unknown with unlawfulweapons’.Although the inquest was inconclusive regarding the identity of thoseresponsible, Dalton, Griffith and Belt were subsequently indicted for themurder of John Waller and stood trial at the Old Bailey on 6 September.There was substantial evidence that Dalton and Griffith had actively intendedto kill Waller, but William Belt was able to successfully claim that he was powerless to stop Waller’s attackers. As one witness testified:I was there, and neither saw nor heard of any hurt that Belt did to Waller, but so far from it, that he run the hazard of his own life, by endeavouring to put Waller’s head in twice. It was not in his power to prevent the abuses the other prisoners committed, for he was forced to get off the pillory to save himself.Other officers supported this testimony and Belt was acquitted by the jury,while Edward Dalton and Richard Griffith were found guilty and sentenced to death. The judge, Baron Thompson, condemned ‘the liberty of the mobin presuming to insult a person defenceless in the pillory, under the sentenceof the law, however great his crimes might be’.12Both were executed on 9October at Tyburn, with Griffith maintaining that he was innocent of the murder to the end.

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