Benjamin Berry

The Bradford Observer of 10 March 1836 records the trial of Benjamin Berry and John Smith for highway robbery – what we would probably call a “mugging” today. Benjamin was the brother of our ancestor Hannah, a matriarch of the Shearer line.

In the newspaper article, the victim (Mr James Murgatroyd) is referred to as “the prosecutor”.  At that time, before the Prosecution of Offences Act 1879, even criminal cases had to be brought by a private individual. The use of lawyers in court was a recent innovation and our ancestor possibly even had the services of a barrister.   

Despite their legal representation, Benjamin and John were found guilty and “judgement of death was recorded against them.” This did not, however, mean they were to be executed. Under the Judgement of Death Act 1823, this form of words could be used by the judge who would then commute the sentence as necessary. In our Benjamin’s case it was commuted to transportation and he departed for Australia on 27 September 1836, part of the Second Fleet.

Trial of Benjamin Berry

This is the transcript of the article in the Bradford Observer:

HIGHWAY ROBBERY NEAR BRADFORD. – Benjamin Berry (20), and John Smith (17), were charged with commiting a highway robbery upon the person of James Murgatroyd, of Heaton, near Bradford. _______Mr Wasney stated the case for the prosecution ; and Sir Gregory Lewin defended the prisoners. The prosecutor was on his way home from Bradford, about ten o’clock, on the night of the 3rd of October last. When he had got about a mile out of the town, when near a plantation, he was attacked by six men, who stopped up his mouth, pinioned his arms, and robbed him of a 5L note, 9 sovereigns, his watch, and other articles. He swore positively to the prisoners, as being two of the men who robbed him. _______ Thomas Gibson, a coal-heaver, who also resides at Heaton, was going home from Bradford about the same time, and near the place described by the prosecutor saw five men, two of whom came towards him, but ran away again on his speaking to them. ______ Mr. Brigg, the constable, apprehended the prisoners from the description given of them by the prosecutor. ______ Smith made no substantial defence; Berry attempted to prove an alibi, and adduced two witnesses, who swore that he was at home at the time that the robbery was stated to have taken place. The jury found both the prisoners Guilty, and judgement of death was recorded against them.

We know that Benjamin lived a successful life in New South Wales, married and founded a family there. Thanks are due to his Australian descendants for their story. Particularly Mel Blake, whom I found on and to our “cousin” Mick Berry, who came to England and spent a day in Bradford. Here we are:

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