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Colonial Cases

R. v. Tommy and others [1821]

slave court - murder - capital punishment

Slave Court

26 October 1821

Source: Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh, Scotland), 31 December 1821, issue 15652, from the British Library's 19th Century Newspapers site

Trial and execution of negroes for murder.

Falmouth, (Jamaica), Oct. 27.

On Friday a special slave court was held at the Court House in this town, before the Hon. William Fairclough, assisted by James Cunningham, Henry Gordon, William Miller, and George Ogilvy, Esquires.

Tommy, alias Tom Brown, and Hamlet, were indicted as principals in the wilful murder of Mr Henry Edwards, their late overseer, on Linton Park estate, in this parish, on Thursday night, the 30th August last, by inflicting several wounds on his head, of which wounds he lingered until Saturday the 1st September, when he expired; and Sparks and Cuffee, the first and second drivers, belonging to the said estate, were indicted as accessaries [sic] before the fact.

Murphy, a principal in the murder, was admitted King's evidence. He stated that Sparks had formerly been head cooper on Linton Park estate, but was made head-driver by the late Mr Edwards; that owing to the early hour at which the negroes were turned out in the morning, many were not present when the overseer went to the field; that Sparks in consequence ran away, and was concealed in Cuffee's house - that one day when witness was in Cuffee's house, Sparks gave him half a dollar, and Cuffee gave him six bits, to kill Mr Edwards, which witness refused to do, unless they gave him help, when they desired him to take George or Tommy, one of the prisoners! that Sparks sent George to witness, and told him he must either do the business or return the money. Witness in consequence laid wait for Mr Edwards, and was joined the first night by Hamlet and Tom, who were sent by Sparks and Cuffee; they had larges stones in their hands. Witness, Tom, and Hamlet, laid wait for six nights, at different times and places, but never had an opportunity of effecting their purpose. The night on which Mr Edwards was killed, Cuffee came to witness and told him that the overseer was gone to Chester; and Sparks told him that he must do the business good, and he should be the better of four pounds. Witness was placed by Cuffee at the gate leading from Chester to Linton Park estate, who left him for the purpose of going to take his orders, to prevent suspicion. Tom and Hamlet were also with witness; they waited a considerable time, but Mr Edwards did not appear; they fastened the gate with the chain, so that when Mr Edwards came up to it he must get off the mule. Witness was half asleep when Mr Edwards came home, and he attempted twice to open the gate with a supple-jack without getting off his mule; witness then went behind him, and struck him a blow on the head with a large stick, and he immediately fell from his mule. Tom struck him next, and afterwards Hamlet. Mr Edwards never spoke a word after the first blow was given, and they left him for dead. Hamlet proposed returning to finish him at once. Witness declared that he was instigated by Sparks and Cuffee to commit the murder, as they hated Mr Edwards. Witness never received the four pounds from Sparks; they had not any thing but sticks, sharpened at the edges, and one was a pointed one.

Mr W. Mowat, overseer on Chester estate, sworn. The prisoner Hamlet acknowledged to witness that he was present at the murder of Mr Edwards, but that he did not strike him. Mr Edwards, the night previous to the murder, on his return from Chester, observed some of the negroes make signs to each other as he got near home, and he observed to witness, he hoped they did not intend to trouble him.

George Simpson, a negroe belonging to Chester, a Christian, sworn. Witness apprehended Hamlet be desire of Mr Mowat, and also brought the prisoner down to gaol. On the road he acknowledged that he was present at the murder of Mr Edwards, but did not strike him. That Cuffy and Tommy said, that in a little time they would serve Mr Mowet the same as Mr Edwards - that Murphy knocked Mr Edwards off his mule, and Tommy struck him next - Cuffee's family knew all about the murder, but they had taken the swear.

Dr Vernon sworn. - Saw the late Mr Edwards the next morning after he was attacked; he was not quite dead, but was unable to speak. There were seven wounds about the head, four of them very deep - they were inflicted by different instruments; the slightest of the wounds would have caused death. There were three puncture wounds; one through the nose, and one on the outer side of each eye; does not think these wounds could have been produced by a stick, but by some metallic instrument.

The evidence for the Crown being closed,

Mr Jackson addressed the Jury in behalf of the prisoners.

The indictment was handed up to the Jury, who, having retired for a short time, returned their verdict, finding Tommy, alias Tom Brown, and Hamlet, Guilty of murder; and Sparks and Cuffee, Guilty of being accessaries [sic] before the fact.

The Bench having deliberated a considerable time, his Honour the Costes, who, from his agitation, was evidently very much affected, proceeded to pass sentence on each of the prisoners separately, which was - "That you be taken hence to the place from whence you came, and that on Monday next you be taken to Linton Park estate, and there, between the hours of ten and twelve, you be hung up by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be afterwards buried in the King's highway."

On Sunday night, between eleven and twelve o'clock, Cuffee effected his escape from gaol, being assisted on the outside by a negro slave, who, with a drunken foreigner asleep at the time, alone had the charge of the condemned negroes. It is to be hoped that Cuffee will soon retaken, [sic] as he is a most notorious villain. Since his condemnation he confessed that, a few years ago, he poisoned mr Joseph Linton, formerly the proprietor of Linton Park estate, and also one of the sons.

At daylight on Monday morning, Tommy, alias Tom Brown, Hamlet, and Sparks, were taken from the gaol, escorted by the Trelawney Leeward troop, who at Chester estate were joined by the grenadier and 1st battalion companies of the Trelawney regiment, and they proceeded to Linton Park, the place ordered for execution. Here the unhappy culprits remained in the cart from eight o'clock until ten minutes to twelve, as no previous preparation had been made for erecting the gallows, and one by one they were launched into eternity.

The Reverend Thomas Alves, curate of this parish, visited the prisoners in gaol on Sunday, and likewise attended them at the place of execution. They all confessed their guilt, and acknowledged the justice of their sentence. Hamlet and Sparks appeared to be the most penitent. A short time previous to their being turned off, George, the brother of Tommy, found means to give him a knife, with which he cut his throat, but not so effectually as to prevent the sentence of the law being carried into effect. After hanging the usual time, their bodies were cut down, and buried in the highway, near the spot where they committed the murder.

George is the negro who, as stated by Murphy at the Slave Court, was sent to him by Sparks, to say that unless he murdered his overseer, he (Murphy) must return the money given to him by Sparks and Cuffee.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School