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Benjamin Cheney

Murdered 6th July 1855
(death certificate)

Northampton Mercury 14 July 1855

The Court met at ten this morning, and proceeded to try THE MURDER AT ROWELL.

ISAAC PINNOCK was indicted for the murder of Benjamin Cheney. Prisoner pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Sergeant Miller and Mr. Maunsell conducted the prosecution; Mr. Sergeant Miller stated the case against the prisoner. The deceased, Benjamin Cheney, was a farmer and miller. On the 6th of this month he left home for the purpose of attending the market at Kettering. He was an old man. He started soon after noon on Friday last. His wife had given him a cheque for £20, fourteen shillings, and sixpence in half-pence. He was seen coming along the footway which leads from Rowell to Kettering, about 20 minutes past twelve, the last time he was seen alive. About a quarter before one he was found lying dead on his back on the Kettering side of the fourth stile. There was a deep incised wound on his head, cutting into the brain as if with an axe. The silver was gone, and the copper, excepting one half-penny, which lay between his thighs. The pocket-book containing the cheque remained in his pocket.

The facts against the prisoner constituted what is called circumstantial evidence. Deceased must have been murdered between half-past twelve and a quarter before one.—[The learned Judge here asked the prisoner whether he had employed any attorney. He replied in the negative, upon which his lordship requested Mr O'Brien to conduct the defence.] Prisoner lives at Rowell, and, as they saw, was in a paralysed state. He should prove to them that about eighteen minutes before one he was seen going along under a hedge, where there is no pathway, and, for him, at an unusual pace. There were peculiar tracks along the close; the track of the left foot was that of an ordinary foot, while that of the right was a kind of sweep, as if the leg were dragged or swung round. Next morning the police found an axe about a foot distant from the termination of those marks, and on that axe were blood and grey hairs. He should be under the painful necessity of calling the prisoner's father, who would prove that axe was his property, and that he had missed it from his possession.

This was an outline of the case.

—Prisoner denied having gone along the place where the footmarks were traced and generally denied that he had committed the crime with which he was charged.

The learned Counsel then called Mary Cheney: I am the widow of Mr. Benjamin Cheney, who lived at Rowell.  He was 81 last August. He was in the habit of attending Kettering market. Last Friday he started for Kettering and before he went I gave him 14s. in silver, and sixpenn'orth of half-pence. The silver he put in his breeches pocket, and the half-pence in his waistcoat pocket.  He had a cheque for £20 in his pocket-book. He left the house about 12.

Daniel Haycock: I am a labourer, living at Rowell.  On Friday last I was by the side of the brook in the field called Slate's close. The footway from Rowell to Kettering passes through that close.

—Mr Ginns, land surveyor, of Rowell: Prisoner is a native of Rowell. He walks leaning with a stick in the left hand, drawing his right foot nearly to the ground, bearing with the toe, which is turned inwards, hard upon the ground, so as to make an indenture where the ground is soft. The plan produced is an inch to a mile.

—By Mr O'Brien: I had noticed these peculiarities before this murder. Have never had my attention called to his footprint before, but I have noticed his peculiar walk. Rowell contains about 2,400 inhabitants. Kettering about twice the size, or more. The footpath from Kettering to Rowell is quite a frequented path.

—Daniel Haycock's examination resumed: Saw the late Mr Cheney coming down the footway from Rowell.  I looked at my watch at that time, and I found it was 27 minutes past 12.  I kept on my line by the brook side till you get to the plank that crosses the brook and then lost sight of him.

—By the Judge: When I first saw him I was in the same close with him.  I looked at my watch because I thought Mr Cheney was rather later than usual.

Sarah Driver: I am the wife of John Driver, of Rowell. Last Friday I was going with my mother, Rhoda Tye, to take my husband's dinner.  It was a quarter or ten minutes to one.  As I went along the foot road from Rowell to Kettering, when I got to the fourth stile I saw Mr. Cheney lying dead. I was on the Rowell side; deceased was on the Kettering side, nearly close to the stile. I saw a great deal of blood. My mother went back to Rowell, while I remained there till John Jones came up.

John Jones:  I  am a shoemaker, living at Rowell. In consequence of being informed that a body was found, I went to the fourth stile and found Mrs. Driver there.  The body of Benjamin Cheney was lying there about a quarter of a yard from the stile. He was lying almost flat on his back or a little inclined to the left side.  Both his breeches pockets were wide open.  A halfpenny was on the ground between his thighs. The bell was ringing one when I got over the second stile.  Assisted in carrying the body home.

—By the Judge: The church bell rings at one 1 o'clock.

Patrick M'Losky: I am a surgeon at Rowell.  Last Friday I was called in to see the body of Mr. Cheney. I found a wound behind the left ear dividing the integuments and the bone. The external wound was about four inches in length, dividing the covering of the brain, and penetrating the substance of the brain. The lateral sinus was open. There was a scalp wound which left the bone bare.  I have seen the axe. [The axe was produced.]  The back part might produce the contused wound. The wound which caused death might have been produced by the cutting surface. The wound being on the left side in a transverse direction might, if the head were low, have been inflicted by the left hand. 

By Mr. O'Brien: The wound must have been the result of considerable force, because it had entered the skull and caused a wound two inches long and one deep in the brain itself.

—by Mr. Sergeant Miller: The effect of the contused wound might be to knock the deceased down.

Charles Morris: I am a labourer living at Rowell. On last Friday I went to Kettering market along the pathway that crosses the brook. I saw the prisoner on the Kettering side of the fourth stile at half-past eleven. He was standing still. I went on to Kettering.

—By the learned Judge: Prisoner is not capable of work; he wanders about. There was nothing out of the way in his being there. I passed him close. He had nothing but his stick in his hand. He had a longer coat on than that he has now.  [The jacket was produced.]  There is no pocket there in which an axe could be.

John Botterill: I am a baker at Rowell.  Last Friday I went along the footway to Kettering.    Saw the prisoner standing against the fourth stile on the Kettering side. He walks with a stick. Did not see his stick then. Spoke to him. It was about twelve, or ten minutes past. Went on to Kettering. On looking back I saw him still standing against the stile. I only saw the prisoner all along the foot road.

Samuel Taylor: I am a farmer, living at Rowell, and am in the occupation of the two closes called Slate's and Slate's Piece. On Friday last I was on the Slate's Piece and saw the prisoner there.  It was 17 or 18 minutes before one.  I saw him by the hedge marked in the plan. He was going towards Rowell. He was as close as he could be to the hedge; a ditch runs along the hedge. There is no footway there—no beaten path whatever. People sticking, wandering about, go there—nothing more. Have known prisoner long, and have observed his usual pace. On this occasion he was going more quickly than usual.

—By the Judge: When I got to my own house it wanted ten minutes to one by the church clock, and it would take me seven or eight minutes to ride from the spot where I saw him, at the pace I was going then. I was on the same side of the hedge as the prisoner. I was riding home when I saw him. I was perhaps a quarter of an hour in Slate's Piece among the beasts. It would not take a quarter of an hour to go from the fourth stile to the place where I saw the prisoner. If the prisoner had had his attention drawn to Slate's Piece he might have seen me.

Thomas Beeby: I am a cooper at Rowell, and occupy the field in which Mr. Cheney's body was found, and the field below down to the brook. Shortland's close adjoins mine, from which it is divided by a hedge and stile. In consequence of what I heard, I went on Friday last to the fourth stile. I perceived a track down the side of the hedge in my field. It is a mowing grass field. I examined the footsteps from the brook to the rails, when the track was lost in a beaten road. Mr. Taylor pointed out where he had seen the prisoner. Traced the footsteps from the brook close up to the fourth stile. There were peculiar marks in the grass. The grass was twisted round by the right foot. The left foot was straight, there was a mark of a stick in the grass, as if trailed along. The track was of one person only. The impression, of the right foot was on one side, like the tread of a club foot.  Did not trace them any further than from where the body was found to the brook. There are some rails between my field and Shortland's. Shortland's close joins Slate's Piece. I noticed two tracks from the rails to the brook and back again. Went afterwards with Keep the inspector over this ground. This was half-past two o'clock.

—By the Court: The trailing of the stick was occasioned by the long grass. The mark might have been there some days. I had heard the prisoner was suspected, and knew he walked with a stick.

—William Keep: I am inspector of police at Kettering. Went over to Rowell on Friday last. Prisoner was then in custody. I went with Beeby to the fourth stile where the body was found, and he pointed out to me traces which he had observed when he examined the place by himself. I traced the marks Beeby had pointed out. I traced them from where the body lay down towards the brook under the hedge. I traced them back again to some rails leading to Shortland's close. From Shortland's close there is a bridge over the brook into Slate's close. The left foot track was of the same description as any other person's. The right foot was round, and the grass was drawn down. There were also traces of a stick, which must have been carried in the left hand. I have seen the prisoner walk: he draws the right foot near the ground, and turns it inward. There was a bare piece of earth just over the gate. There was an impression such as the club–foot boot would have left. Looked for what I could find, but found nothing. Next morning I retraced the steps, and where they terminated there I found an axe, within a yard of the rail. It was tucked into the long grass. It might have been there the previous evening. When I found it I was pulling the grass aside. Several persons had been looking for it previously. There was blood upon the axe and grey hairs, which I suppose to be human. I saw deceased and observed he had grey hair. I examined the prisoner's coat, and found some hairs in the left-hand pocket. They do not correspond with the hairs on the axe. Deceased's hair was not all grey, but mixed rather. Saw deceased's hat. It was very much broken. By Mr. O'Brien: There is a foot­path from the rail up to Slate's piece. It does not go to the Glendon road. There is no footpath by the brook. It was half-past six when I went to examine the fields. The grass was a good deal trampled. Received the prisoner into my custody about eight. He was taken into custody about three or four o'clock. By the Court: I turned the pocket with the hairs in it inside out, and found no marks of blood in it. I examined the coat on the Monday, and took it from him on Saturday night.  He was wearing it all Friday and Saturday last while he was in my custody.

John Pinnock—I am father of the prisoner. This axe is mine. One daughter and the prisoner lived with me. On Friday last I searched for the axe, and could not find it. I had last used it, on the Monday morning, to knock a scythe in; and whether I left it in the yard or not I cannot say. My yard is an open one. My house comes to the road-side. Another man was going to mow with me at the time.

Carpenter York: I am a shoemaker, at Rowell. Prisoner was given into my charge last Friday. I said—"Isaac, I wonder your father don't come down to see you." He said—"He don't want to see me. He's a mowing for Mr. Taylor, and don't leave off till eight o'clock. He made trouble enough about the other job, but this will be a bigger trouble than the other." I asked him what job. He said—"About the school."
By Mr. O'Brien: He declared his innocence over and over again.

Robert Moore: I am a blacksmith, at Rowell, and work with my father. About two weeks ago I heard voices out­side, and went to the door and saw Mr. Cheney and Pinnock there. Mr. Cheney asked him what he had been doing with his locks. If he caught him again he'd gaol him.

This was the case for the prosecution.

Mr. O'Brien, now that they had heard all the evidence, said it was for them to pronounce their decision as to its value. It was his duty to ask them, if they had heard anything of this case before they came into this court—if any rumour, or any wave of rumour had reached them, not to allow their minds to be affected by it, but to apply themselves to the evidence alone: he asked that confidently, knowing as they did the fearful issue. The unfortunate prisoner, on whom the hand of affliction seemed to have fallen heavily from his birth, was charged with an offence which, crippled as he was, it seemed almost impossible for him to have committed, but which, if proved against him, would consign him to an ignominious and public death.

[The learned Judge here interposed, and recalled the witness Jones, who stated that he saw the policeman search the body when it was taken home. A pocket-book, with a cheque in it, was taken from his breast pocket. There was no silver in his breeches pocket, and no coppers in his waistcoat pocket.]

Mr. O'Brien resumed his address, and expressed his belief that, when all the facts were carefully examined, they would fail to present such a body of evidence as would justify the jury in finding a verdict of guilty. As his learned friend had told them, in opening the case, it rested solely on circumstantial evidence. A great crime had no doubt been committed, but he submitted that not a single fact had been proved which was not consistent with the innocence of the prisoner. He was seen loitering about on a market-day in a public footway; but they must remember that an unfortunate cripple like him was necessarily always loitering about.  He was unable to work: he had no amusement at home; and he could only seek amusement in the open air, watching the people pass to and from. It was not as if a stranger had been found there. He contended that the footsteps, supposing them to be his, were entirely consistent with his innocence. Grant that he had made that track, what evidence was there that it had not been made hours or even days before the murder. He reminded them that although the prisoner had been apprehended within two hours of the murder, no trace of the silver or copper, which it was certain had been taken from the pockets of the murdered man, were to be found. Then, too, the dress of the prisoner had not a spot of blood upon it, although the axe was covered with blood, and the case for the prosecution went upon the supposition that he had carried it a considerable distance before he had concealed it. The axe had, indeed, been identified as the property of the prisoner's father, but the father was believed to have left it on the previous Monday in a yard, open to the road, and to which any stranger might have had access.

The learned Judge summed up with great care and minuteness, and observed that there was no question as to manslaughter. The prisoner was either guilty of the whole charge of wilful murder or he was wholly innocent. Whatever hand inflicted the blow must have been guided by the premeditated intention to destroy the life of the unfortunate deceased. The evidence was circumstantial, and they could hardly be too cautious as to their conclusion, at the same time that they must not mistake timidity for caution.

—The jury retired for about half an hour, and then returned into court and delivered a verdict of GUILTY.

—The learned Judge put on the black cap, and addressing the prisoner at the bar, said that after a careful inquiry into the evidence on which the dreadful charge was founded, and he was sure after a dispassionate consideration of an the circumstances, the jury had come to the painful conclusion that the prisoner was guilty. He had told them that if they were of opinion that the prisoner was guilty of taking away the life of that poor old man, there was not a single circumstance in the case to be urged in mitigation of the fearful crime. He repeated that observation now. He must have inflicted the blow which put an end, happily with­out suffering, to his aged existence, with the full intention to destroy his life. He had given that old man no time for consideration. He himself would, however, have the opportunity, during the few days of life that remained to him, of receiving the admonitions of the clergyman of the gaol, and he did beseech him to cast away all expectation of prolonging his existence in this world, and seek for mercy only in that which is to come. That could only be done by a full and free confession of all his sins, and by earnestly seeking pardon through the merits of the Saviour. The sentence, said the learned Judge in conclusion, is that you be taken to the place from whence you came, and that you be taken thence to the place of execution, and be hanged by the neck till you are dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

The prisoner, considered as a murderer, is a very remarkable person. He is nineteen years of age, spare, and with a long thin, pallid face. His eyes have a squinting expression, but he does not appear to be wanting in intelligence. The whole of the right side is completely paralyzed; the arm is utterly useless, and hangs a dead weight. When he desires to move it he is compelled to lift it with his left hand. The leg is in the same state, and when he walks his action is like that of a person under a violent spasm. The paralysis appears to have partly affected the spine, for the head seems to be kept in an upright position with difficulty, and is generally inclined on one side or thrown backwards or forward, as if the vertebra were disjointed or too weak to maintain it erect any length of time. When the jury delivered their verdict a sort of sudden twitch of the whole frame was evident, and when he stood up to receive sentence (he was allowed to sit during the trial) he was affected with a shaking like that known as St. Vitus's dance; it was not clear, however, that this affection was not habitual to him. He showed no other symptom of emotion, and slid himself down the stairs from the dock without assistance.

Northampton Mercury 21 July 1855

THE LATE MURDER AT ROWELL still engrosses the attention of the neighbourhood.

The few particulars we have been able to gather since the trial possess at this moment a painful interest. The prisoner has confessed his guilt to the chaplain of the gaol. No written confession, however, is believed to exist, and the details are very properly kept secret. The money has been found concealed in the spot where Pinnock stated. One fact, however, has transpired, which deserves especial mention.

On the Friday previous to the commission of the crime the prisoner, according to his own statement, went to the stile at the opposite end of the close, with the intention of murdering Cheney on his passing by. Some time having, however, elapsed before Cheney's arrival, he actually lay down and fell asleep, and during his sleep the old man passed by unnoticed. We suppose this fact to be one of the most remarkable recorded in the annals of crime. We are glad to learn, on good authority, that the story of a grave being dug in Pinnock's garden, which appears in our Kettering intelligence, is not believed to be correct.

The day of execution is still kept a profound secret, in virtue of a custom adopted in the case of Mrs. Pinckard, a custom which we should be glad to see adopted elsewhere.

Northampton Mercury 28 July 1855

THE convict Pinnock. — Notwithstanding the statement in the public journals that this wretched man had been reprieved, a large concourse of persons again assembled on Tuesday morning in the belief that the execution would take place. Several persons came on their ghastly errand a very considerable distance. We need hardly say they were disappointed. Late on the night of yesterday week a respite, until the further signification of her Majesty's pleasure, was received by the authorities; and, early in the course of the present week, the Mayor, in reply to a memorial to the Secretary of State, received an intimation that Sir George Grey would recommend that the convict should be reprieved. Under these circumstances there is little doubt that the execution will not take place, although no positively official notice to that effect has yet reached the authorities.

Northampton Mercury 4 August 1855


W. Dennis, Esq., Mayor of this town, received at six o'clock yesterday evening a telegraphic message, announcing the reprieve of this wretched young man. The medical inspector of prisons was sent down on Wednesday last to inquire into the state of the culprit's faculties, and petitions numerously signed both from this town and Rowell, praying for a mitigation of the sentence, were presented to the Home Office. Yesterday morning a number of persons collected at the back of the County Gaol, in expectation of witnessing his last moments.

Isaac Pinnock appears to have been committed to the Invalid Convict Prison, Knaphill, Woking. He is listed among the convicts there in the censuses for 1861, 1871 and 1881.

He died at Broadmoor Asylum, Sandhurst, Berkshire on 9th February 1888, at the age of 51. An inquest into his death was held by William Weedon, Coroner for East Berkshire, on 11th February 1888. The cause of death was given as epilepsy.

"The case of Mrs. Pinckard" refers to Elizabeth Pinckard who was indicted for the wilful murder of Elizabeth Pinckard, her mother-in-law. The defendant was the wife of a farmer residing at Thrupp, near Daventry. The deceased was the second wife of the prisoner's father-in-law. The trial took place at the Spring Assizes in Northampton on 27th February 1852. [reported in The Times, Monday, Mar 01, 1852; pg. 6; Issue 21051; col D]

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