The archives of the Old Bailey contain a number of cases involving criminal events in Dulwich’s history. The following case dates from 29th February 1836 and involves well known local people and places and illustrates the opportunities for corruption which existed at a local level.

SAMUEL THOMAS was indicted for feloniously discharging at Richard Thomas (no relation), a certain gun, loaded with gunpowder and divers shot, with intent to kill and murder him. 2nd Count, stating his intent to do him grievous bodily harm.

Messrs BODKIN, DOANE and CHAMBERS conducted the Prosecution. Mr PAYNE (In the spirit of “ Garrow’s Law “) conducted the Defence

RICHARD THOMAS. I live on Sydenham-hill, and am overseer of the poor of Dulwich parish, in Camberwell. I know the prisoner perfectly well - I have heard he has been in the police - he has not been chargeable on the parish since my time - he was employed on the parish roads to do work - I was on the committee of the highways - the sweepings of the highways were sold for the benefit of the parish and it was the duty of persons employed on the roads to put the sweepings in heaps and leave it for the contractors, who come and take it away- I saw the prisoner so engaged on Saturday fortnight - I think it was the 13th of February - he was in the company with a person named Dowse - I saw them wheeling the road-stuff off the road, towards the Greyhound- the prisoner had just returned- the other man had the barrow in his hand- seeing them so engaged, I first asked the prisoner where he was wheeling it- I understood him to say, “You may find it out”- nothing more passed between me and the prisoner - and I went a few yards distant and then asked Dowse where he was wheeling it - he pointed to the place where he had been - the prisoner might be near enough - Dowse did not say, to the Greyhound- he pointed to the place- I made a report of what I had seen to the Board- the result of that was, that the prisoner was dismissed by the chairman and the committee at large,(the committee of the highways)- on the following Monday- I left the vestry on the Wednesday evening, the 24th of February on horseback- I went in the direction of my house-when I got to East Dulwich Chapel, and the Plough public house, I observed something on the road-it was half-past eight o’clock and quite dark- immediately a voice called out to me, “Who are you? Or, “Who comes here” - I do not know which- I immediately drew up to the person addressing me, quite close- I could have touched him- I then saw distinctly who it was - it was the prisoner at the bar- I observed he had a gun in his hand- he said something, but I cannot recollect what- I was agitated and touched the mare very quickly, and when I got a short distance I turned my head, and saw the prisoner leveling the gun, presenting it to me- I immediately threw myself on the neck of the mare, and hung on- I got the distance of the mare, and then fell off on the road - I immediately scrambled and got up and ran off- I distinctly heard the snap of the gun - I am sure of it- I then ran on as fast as I could to the toll-gate I was about 300 yards from it- the keeper’s name is John Morris - I took shelter and remained there about twenty minutes- I saw the prisoner outside the gate while I was there- I heard him say to Morris he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and was inviting me to come out- he was continually talking to Morris, but I did not hear what he said- he was a full twenty minutes outside the toll-house- I had him taken into custody that night- I saw nothing more of the gun till it was produced at Union Hall-that was Friday. I think- Simmonds, I believe, took him.

Cross-examined by Mr Payne. Q. How long before this Wednesday night was it that you made the report to the Board? A.. On the Monday night- I met Mr Hall on the Tuesday evening- I do not know how long it was before the dismissal was communicated to the prisoner- I saw him at work on Tuesday, in the middle of the day as usual- I did not see him on Wednesday working on the road- I have not been to the Board since- I told the Board that Mr Hall had given no orders for the road drift to be removed - I was about the length of the mare from him when he called “Who goes there?” - it was dusk- I could not see distinctly who it was- when I fell on the ground the prisoner was about two or three lengths of the horse- I touched the mare with my heel- I do not wear spurs- I distinctly heard the snap- the mare’s hoofs made no particular noise - not so much, I should think, as the click of a gun- the name of the place is Lordship Lane, Dulwich- I leaned forward and grasped the neck of the mare- I ran to the toll-house- I went home with a policeman - I did not see the prisoner again till he was at the office.

JOHN MORRIS. I am toll-keeper of the New-Road Gate (Court Lane), Dulwich. On 24th February, in the evening I saw Mr Thomas about half-past eight o’clock- he was on foot, running- I pushed him into the toll-house- I saw the prisoner following him about twenty yards- there was light enough from the room to see him- I had known him before for years-I did not shut the door- Mr Thomas slammed the door to himself- the prisoner came up- I went through the gate and stopped and talked to him- the prisoner was walking, and had a gun in his hand- I walked out, and then he stopped still - he said he would shoot Mr Thomas if he would come out- I said nothing to him about the gun- I was agitated- the prisoner remained there from twenty minutes to half an hour, Mr Thomas still continuing in the toll-house- the prisoner had the gun in his hand all the time- I did not notice the trigger - he made no expression, than that as Mr Thomas had taken away his bread from him, he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb - he might as well be hung as starved to death- when the prisoner went, he went towards Sydenham- that is the direction for Mr Thomas’s house - they both live in the same direction- Mr Thomas shortly after left - I went in, and told him the prisoner was gone- the prisoner came again in about half and hour - he knocked at the door, and asked if Mr Thomas was there - I told him he was gone - he had the same gun - he was not in liquor, I am quite sure.

Cross-examined. Q. You say it was a moon-light night? A. Yes; I should think there was light enough for a person to see another at a mare’s length- I could myself- I should think if he intended to shoot him, and not merely frighten him, he could have seen him sufficiently without calling out to him at a mare’s length - I did not say anything to the Magistrates about the prisoner saying that Mr Thomas had taken his bread from him, and he might as well be hanged as starved to death- they did not ask me so many questions - the prisoner went away of his own accord.

CHARLES SIMMONDS (police-constable P 153) On the evening of Wednesday the 24th, about a quarter before nine o’clock, I was going on duty from my own house - I met the prosecutor just as I got out of the door- in consequence of what he said, I took the prisoner into custody at the Crown public-house in Dulwich- I had another policeman with me - I told him he must go along with me to the station-house - he told me he knew it; he expected it - there was a person in the room named John Jones who said, “I did not think you meant it, though you said it” - I had not at that time said what I took him for- on the road to the station-house he asked me what he was being taken for- I said “For attempting to shoot Mr Thomas” - he told me he could not attempt to do that, as he had nothing but a piece of wood to do it with- I found no gun on him - when he got a little further, he laughed and said, although it was a gun, he had got nothing in it. On the next day I met John Jones- the prisoner was not with me. I got the gun I now have in my hand from Mrs Dowse, who lives on Dulwich Common. I got it on Friday morning about ten o’clock - I examined the gun - it was not loaded - I examined the pan and touch-hole and there was black powder - it presented the appearance of having been recently discharged.

Cross-examined Q. A man of the name of Jones said he did not think he meant it, though he said it? A. Yes- I got the gun from Mrs Dowse on Friday, at ten in the morning.

ANN DOWSE. I am the wife of Thomas Dowse: the prisoner worked with my husband on the road, I remember Wednesday the 24th- about five o’clock in the afternoon, the prisoner came and asked me if my husband was at home - I said no, he was gone to London - he said he wanted to borrow his gun - I lent him the gun - this is the same gun I lent - he went away - that was about five o’clock - I saw him again between nine and ten o’clock that evening - I heard the report of a gun just as I opened the door, and he said he had brought the gun - there was a knock at the door - the report was before the knock - I asked him if there was any danger - he said no, he had just let it off - I gave the gun to the policeman on Friday morning.

Cross-examined. Q. When was your husband discharged from working on the roads? On Wednesday morning he knew it - he came back about ten o’clock.

COURT Q.. Do you happen to know whether it was loaded when you gave it to the prisoner first? A. It was not loaded - we never keep it loaded - I have seven children.

ELIZABETH BEAMSLEY. I am a shop-keeper, and live at Dulwich: I knew the prisoner perfectly well for a great many years. On Wednesday evening of the 24th of last month, he came to me for an ounce of gunpowder and a quarter pound of shot- I served him - he paid me 2_d. The shot was No. 6 - I counted it out on the scale, put it into the bag, and gave it him with the bag.

Cross-examined. Q. Had you known him long? A. Yes - my house is a quarter mile from his.

WILLIAM EVAMY. I I live at Norwood, and am an occasional waiter. I remember, on Wednesday evening the 24th of February. I was at the tap-room of the Crown Inn, Dulwich, between seven and eight o’clock - I saw several persons there, and among them the prisoner at the bar - when I went in, he was sitting down - he had a gun with him - I saw him get up, and take the gun with him to another part of the room, and do something with it - I saw him take something out of a bag with the bowl of a tobacco-pipe, and put it into the gun - he then put something in to the pan of the gun; and when he had done, he sat down again - when he put something in the gun, I heard it make a grating noise, as I conceived, against the tobacco-pipe - I did not notice that it made any noise in the gun - someone said, “Are you going a-poaching?” or something like that- he said, “A man has shot a man, and I am going to shoot a man.”

COURT. Q. Did you not say before the Magistrate that he said, “A man has shot me, and I am going to shoot a man ?” A. That was my evidence before the Magistrate - after that he said Thomas had shot Thomas, and Thomas would shoot Thomas- I said, “I hope you are not going to commit any act to get yourself unto any trouble.”

Q. Did you not say “That is your joking way?” A. Yes, he is a jocular man at times - he made some short reply, that that was his business, or something - he went away in about a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes - he said, “Good night, gentlemen” - he took the gun with him.

Cross-examined. Q. How many other persons were in the room? A. There might have been eight or ten - they were all about talking, not paying any attention to him - I was a small distance from him - I was not paying particular attention - I was showing some books - I thought it was only his jokes.

WILLIAM OUZMAN. I am a journeyman butcher, living at Dulwich. I was in the tap of the Crown with the last witness, on Wednesday the 24th - I was near the prisoner - I observed him put the ram-rod into the gun, and ram something down - I do not know what - he looked at the lock of the gun, lifted up the pan, and put it down again - I heard him say, when he sat down, that Mr Thomas had shot him, and he intended shooting Mr Thomas.

Cross-examined. Q. Did you ask him where Mr Thomas wounded him? A. No - I knew Mr Thomas - I was about a yard from the prisoner when he was ramming something down.

JOHN JONES. I am the driver of a fly, and live at Dulwich, I was in the Crown tap on that evening - I saw the prisoner there- he was sitting with a gun- I saw him take something from a bag, and put it into the gun, which rattled down like shot, but I cannot say it was- I heard him say Thomas had shot Thomas, and Thomas would shoot Thomas- he left between seven and eight- he came again about twenty-five minutes before eleven o’clock- I and another were drinking, and we asked him to drink with us - he asked if it was porter or half-and-half, and we said porter- he said he would drink with us, as, perhaps it might be the last time- I saw Simmonds and Wilks come- Simmonds said, “I want you to go with me”- the prisoner said, “Very well,” he was waiting for him, he expected him.

Cross-examined. Q. You drive a fly? A. Yes, in constant employment- I work for my brother, Jones, of Dulwich- I cannot say how long I had been in the public house - I had been there about an hour before I saw the prisoner with his gun- I saw the last two witnesses there- I was about one yard from him when he put something into the gun - there were many persons talking in the house- there was a buz, but I heard the rattling in the gun- I saw no ramming, and nothing about the lock.

CHARLES COBDEN. I am one of the beadles of Camberwell parish. I knew the prisoner about three years and a half- he was at all times resident in the parish - he has lately been working on the roads - he received 14s. a week - he was discharged on Tuesday evening, the 23rd - he told me so when I saw him next morning- he gave his tools up to me- he walked with me round the end of the house to the gate, and then said, “Well, now I will go and get some powder and shot, and to a-shooting” - and then I said, “That will be but a very poor game, you will not kill enough to pay for powder and shot” - he said, “Oh,oh! I shall kill all that I want to kill” - and then he left me.

Cross-examined. Q. You are beadle of Camberwell parish? A. Yes; I do not know who contracts for the road drift - I had no idea that Mr Thomas was contractor at that time, but I have since heard different - I have since heard it was his man.

JOHN PETTY. I am a labouring man, in the employ of Mr Thomas, the prosecutor. I remember on Wednesday the 24th, being at my master’s house- I saw the prisoner call about a quarter before eight o’clock in the evening - he asked if my master was at home - I told him no- he asked me what time he would be at home - I asked the female-servant, and she told me, and I told him she expected he would be rather late- I asked if he had any message- he said no, he wanted to see him- I did not notice whether he had anything in his hand.

Cross-examined. Q. What servant are you? A. A day servant - I have nothing to do with the road -drift- one of his men has.


Q. Were you on the Saturday fortnight by yourself, or by your servant, the contractor of the road-drift? A. I was the sub-contractor - I was interested in it - I represented to the Board that the prisoner had been removing the drift contrary to the orders of Mr Hall.

VERDICT: NOT GUILTY before Mr Justice Park