Wroes’ burglary: the miscarriage of justice

Picking up on the story of the three men convicted in August 1842 for the burglary at Brandy Carr House, and their sentence of transportation to Australia...

Leeds Intelligencer
Saturday 17 August 1844

INNOCENT PARTIES TRANSPORTED

Our readers will remember that about two years ago, the house of Prophet Wroe, of Wakefield, was broken into and a silver watch stolen; also, that three men, called Benjamin and John Pickersgill and James Ramsden, were tried for the robbery at York Assizes, in August, 1842, and transported for ten years. It now appears, however, that the men were in no manner connected with the robbery, and are perfectly innocent of it. This information has been obtained from James Hudson, now a convict at York Castle, who has made a voluntary confession to the Governor of the Castle, by which it appears that the robbery was committed by himself and five other men, whose names he gives; he details the proceedings on the night of the robbery, and what was done with the property. We trust the Magistrates will take measures by which these innocent men will be restored to their homes.

Shocking that what we would consider a major news story, although covered in many of the papers, is tucked away in seemingly random ‘local news’ type columns. And that’s it, there’s no further coverage, nothing about when the men did return home. A very different news agenda to that of today.

Burglary at the Wroes: three transported to Australia

Here’s the well-known local story of the burglary at Brandy Carr House, Jerry Clay Lane, as reported by a couple of the papers at the time. A couple of points: it says Alverthorpe because Jerry Clay Lane was in the Alverthorpe-with-Thornes township; and, don’t you just love the term ‘burglariously’.

Yorkshire Gazette
Saturday 13 August 1842

BURGLARY AT PROPHET WROE’S RESIDENCE

Betwixt twelve and one o’clock, on Thursday morning last, the premises occupied by Mr John Wroe, the notorious Prophet, situate at Brandy Carr, Potovens, near Wakefield, were burglariously entered by six villains, who cut a pane of glass out of a window, and then opened the window and got into the house. Prophet Wroe was that night sleeping at his establishment in Thompson’s yard, Wakefield, and the only persons in the house were Mrs Wroe, Miss Wroe, and a servant girl. In an outhouse, however, there were sleeping B A [Benjamin Apperley] Wroe, the prophet’s son, and a servant man. The ladies heard a noise in the house, and got up to see what was the matter. The six men were proceeding upstairs, three lights their hands, and two armed with pistols and one with a gun. The ladies screamed aloud, and the thieves threatened to take their lives if they did not cease to cry out. One of the burglars, presented a pistol at Mrs and Miss Wroe, and demanded their money or their lives. One of them opened a drawer in Mrs Wroe’s room and took out a gold watch, to which was attached a gold chain and a key. The servant man in the outhouse heard the cries of the ladies and awoke B A Wroe, and they went into the house and encountered the six men coming down the stairs. B A Wroe threatened to shoot the men, but his gun was not loaded, and whilst he loaded it the thieves got off, taking the watch, &c, with them. B A Wroe fired alter them, but with no effect. The men’s faces were blackened, and they had on colliers’ working dresses. On Monday Benjamin Pickersgill, John Pickersgill, and James Ramsden, colliers, residing at Bragg Lane, near Potovens, were brought up by the police, at the Court House, Wakefield, charged with being of the party who committed the above burglary. They were committed for trial at the ensuing York Assizes.

The Gazette also produces the calendar for the upcoming Assizes.

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

Calendar of the Prisoners for trial at the ensuing assizes be holden this day, before the Right Hon Thomas Lord Denman, and the Hon Sir William Henry Maule, Knight.
William St Quintin, Esq, High-Sheriff

130 131, and 132. BENJAMIN PICKERSGILL (51), JOHN PICKERSGILL (25), and JAMES RAMSDEN (24), charged with having, at Alverthorpe, committed a burglary in the dwelling house of John Wroe.

The Bradford Observer is one of several titles that covered the trial in York.

Bradford Observer
Thursday 1 September 1842

YORKSHIRE SUMMER ASSIZES

THURSDAY, AUGUST 25TH
BEFORE MR JUSTICE MAULE

BURGLARY AT MR WROE’S (COMMONLY CALLED “PROPHET WROE’S”) HOUSE

Benjamin Pickersgill, (51), John Pickersgill (25), and James Ramsden (24) were indicted for having, on the 4th of August instant, at Alverthorpe, burglariously broken and entered the dwelling-house of John Wroe, and stolen therefrom one gold watch and one gold chain. Sir Gregory Lewin and Mr lngham appeared for the prosecution; Mr. Wilkins for the prisoners Pickersgill; and Mr Roebuck for the prisoner Ramsden.

This case excited some little interest in consequence of the peculiar notoriety of the prosecutor, who is the founder, we believe, of a sect of religionists professing very singular tenets, and who wear the distinctive badge of a beard. The prosecutor has been long known by the cognomen of “Prophet Wroe”, and his followers as “Wroeites”; but he himself at present carries on the secular occupation of a wool merchant at Wakefield. His residence, known as “Brandy Carr House”, is at Alverthorpe, a short distance from Wakefield ; but when the occurrence, out of which the charge arose, took place, he was not sleeping at home.

This was on the 4th of the present month, at about two or three o’clock in the morning, at which hour Mrs Wroe was alarmed by a whispering noise and footsteps, and soon after heard the door unbolted, and people walking in the passage. She rang the bell for her maid servant, who came up into her room, and soon after she saw six men in the house, three of them with lighted candles in their hands. One of them presented a pistol at her, and exclaimed, “Your money or your life”; to which she replied, “We have no money, we don’t keep it here”, and took refuge again in her bedroom, from which she screamed out loudly for assistance. Two men, of whom Ramsden she said was one, followed her into the bedroom, and threatened to blow out her brains. From a small box, one of the men took a gold watch, key, and chain.

At this juncture, Benjamin A Wroe, a youth about 16 years old, the son of the prophet, who is a master printer at Wakefield, and was sleeping in an adjoining outhouse with the groom, was alarmed by his mother’s outcries, and forcing his way into the kitchen window by breaking the glass, seized an unloaded gun, with which he confronted the six robbers whom he met in the passage, and presenting it at the breast of one of them, threatened to shoot him if he spoke or stirred. The men shrunk back, and three of them ran up the stairs, upon which young Wroe returned for the purpose of loading the gun, and the men seizing the opportunity decamped, carrying with them the watch, key, and chain. Young Wroe, who had just got his gun charged, fired after the fugitives.

Soon after the three prisoners were apprehended, and each of them was identified by Mrs Wroe, Miss Susannah Wroe, and Master Benjamin Wroe. All the prisoners were found guilty, to be transported for ten years.

But as we know, the prisoners’ ordeal didn’t end there…

Transportation for horse theft

The case of the men wrongly sentenced to transportation for burglary at Prophet Wroe’s home, Brandy Carr House in 1842 is well known. Here’s another transportation case from Broom Hall at the other side of Wrenthorpe which predates the Wroe story by ten years.

It starts with a rather run of the mill theft piece in the Leeds Intelligencer.

Leeds Intelligencer
Thursday 1 November 1831

HORSE STOLEN

In the course of Friday night last, grey mare, five years old, was stolen from a field at Potovens, near Wakefield, the property of Mr George Thompson. A reward of five guineas has been offered for the apprehension and conviction of the offender.

A couple of days later the Leeds Mercury provides more information about the theft in its Public Notices section. By now the reward had increased to seven guineas.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 3 November 1832

SEVEN GUINEAS REWARD

STOLEN or STRAYED out of a field at Potovens, near Wakefield, on Friday Night, the 26th of October, or early on Saturday Morning the 27th, a Dark Grey MARE. Five Years Old, about Fifteen and Half Hands High. A large White Star on the Forehead, which rather inclines to the far side: at little White on the near Hind Foot, and White Hoof. Had a long Switch Tail, (has been docked), there has been Two small Warts on the far side, one near her [?]: she is very clean in her Legs, very broad in the Chest, and supposed to be in Foal.

If Strayed, whoever will deliver her to Mr George Thompson, Potovens, the Owner, shall be handsomely Rewarded for their trouble, or if Stolen, whoever will give such information as will lead to the Apprehension of the Offenders or Offenders, shall, upon Conviction, receive the above Reward, on Application to Mr George Thompson, Potovens: or to Mr Joshua Ellis, Police Officer, Wakefield.

Wakefield, October 27th 1832.

With such a vivid description of the horse, it wasn’t long before the miscreants were apprehended. Two labourers from Halifax – Yeoman Morton (34) and William Smith (39) – were arrested and brought to trial on 6 March, the following year at the Yorkshire Spring Assizes, York.

Leeds Mercury
Saturday 9 March 1833

HORSE STEALING AT POTOVENS

YEOMAN MORTON, who pleaded guilty, and WM SMITH were charged with having stolen a Horse on the 26th October last, the property of George Thompson, of Potovens near Wakefield. Mr Dundas stated the case on the part of the prosecution and Mr Cottingham appeared for the prisoner. It appeared that the horse was left safe on the 25th Oct. and that on the following morning it was gone. The prisoners sold the horse under the pretence of its belonging to the sister of Yeoman Morton, to a person at Holmfirth, from whom it was afterwards taken to Glossop Hall, in Lancashire, where it was owned by the prosecutor. The Jury returned a verdict of guilty. Transported for Life.

The men were transported to Australia on the ship Heroine, arriving at New South Wales in September 1833. A harsh sentence perhaps, but the case reported in the newspaper column above Morton and Smith’s is even more severe. William Moorhouse of Bradford is sentenced to death for stealing a gold watch and snuff box.