CHARGE OF ATTEMPTED MURDER
Joseph BELL, 27, coal miner, imperfectly instructed, was charged with
feloniously and with malice aforethought attempting to kill and murder one John
BELL and one Martha BELL, by means of an explosive substance, at the parish of
Dalston, on the 20th June, 1882.
Mr. PAGE and Mr. LOWTHER appeared for the prosecution, and the prisoner was
defended by Mr. MATTINSON.
Mr. PAGE, in opening the case, said the outrage which the prisoner was
charged with having committed was so well planned and so skillfully executed but
that for the presence of mind of a witness named John BROWN, the duty of the
jury would have been of a more serious character than it fortunately was.
The house into which the explosive substance, which they believed to have
been tonite, was thrown is situated at Dalston, four miles from Carlisle. It
was inhabited by some sisters of the name of BROWN, and their nephew, a man
named John BROWN.
On first sight on looking at the house it would appear that the window into
which this explosive substance was thrown did not belong to the house
occupied by a man named BELL and his wife. The BROWN’s house appeared to be a house
which in front of it has two windows on the ground floor and three windows
on the first floor, and that seemed to be the whole of the front of the house.
Next door to it there was a shop kept by Mrs. BELL, and above that shop was
a window, which any person passing by would naturally suppose to be a window
of a room occupied by the BELLS; but it really was a window of a room
occupied by the bROWNS. On the night in question, the 21st June, Miss. BROWN and
her sister had gone early to bed, and she was sleeping in this bedroom which was
over BELL’s shop. At about two o’clock she was awakened by the sound of
something falling on the floor and hearing a fizzing. She shouted that the house
was on fire. Her nephew, who was sleeping in an adjoining room, rushed in
and saw in the floor what appeared to be about a yard and a half of India
rubber or gutta percha pipe with a round hard ball at the end of it. This pipe
clearly was a fuse, which in the natural course of things in a moment or two
would have communicated its fire to the substance in the hard ball at the end.
John BROWN, the nephew, with great presence of mind took up this thing, and
thinking that there might be some difficulty in throwing it out of the
window, he deliberately threw it out of the room into the passage, and on falling
down a terrific explosion occurred, the whole house seemed to be shaken, a
staircase window was blown out, and other very serious damage was done to the
A few hours afterwards a piece of gutta-percha tubing was found amongst the
rubbish, and a small hole was found in one of the panes of the bedroom
window, and a piece of glass that had evidently been knocked out of the window on
the dressing table, proving that the missile must have been thrown in from
the outside of the window. The position of the window was an important fact,
and one which they must bear in mind.
It was known that the BROWN’s had not an enemy in the world, and it
occurred to those in whose hands the investigation of this case was placed that the
injury was meant for BELL, who is the prisoner’s brother, or for Mrs. BELL,
the sister-in-law, or for both. The prisoner as a result was apprehended. He
would show conclusively how the prisoner was connected with the outrage.
On the 17th February, this year the prisoner went to live with his sister,
Mrs. THOMLINSON, at Birkenhead, and while living with her he was employed in
the tunnel which is being made to connect Birkenhead with Liverpool. He left
on the 17th June. During the time he was living with his sister at Birkenhead
he was expecting to receive, from a brother-in-law in America, money to pay
his passage to that Country. He did not receive this money, and he said that
the reason of it was that his brother-in-law’s mind had been poisoned against
him by his sister-in-law, Mrs. BELL, against whom and her husband he several
times used threats. On the 22nd May, he got his niece, Mrs. THOMLINSON’s
daughter, to write the following letter to his brother, Mr. BELL, in Dalston: -
“52, Park-street, Birkenhead, May 22nd, 1882
“Dear Brother, - I write these few lines to tell you I have received a
letter from America, but there is no pass, as you have written to him and told
him I was both lazy and drunken. I want to know what good it has done you for
telling such lies. What do you think you deserve for it? I mean striking square
with her for what she has done. It shows you were guilty in not answering
the letter I sent you before. I think you have a very nice wife to hinder your
brother from going to America. The faggot! She should be gibbeted. I am not
working now, nor does not intend to in this world. I have not worked since the
letter came. This is the last letter I send to you. If you are going to
write soon and give account of yourself why you have done it it would be the best
job you ever did for to send me £8 to carry me out to America.
No more at present from your brother, Jos. BELL.
The prisoner left Birkenhead on the 7th June. On the 18th he called on his
cousin, named RILEY, at Whitehaven; and on the evening of that day his cousin
saw the prisoner start for the train to Maryport. On the 19th at one o’clock
in the afternoon he was seen by Mrs. PIGGE at Crofton Toll Bar, about four
miles from Dalston, asking the way for the village, and telling her he had been
wronged and he was going to America.
At three o’clock the same day he was seen by a working man named JAKES,
near Cardew Lodge, with whom he entered into conversation, during which it
appeared that the prisoner, who was not in the habit of smoking, had a box of
matches. Later he was seen by a man named GRAHAM about a mile from Dalston, and
afterwards by a girl named JOHNSTON still nearer the village. Had he come to
Dalston for a proper purpose he would have gone to his brother’s, but he did no
On the 21st he was found in a stable near Maryport, when he stated he had
come from Newcastle, and on the 22nd he got employment at the Ardrossan
Shipping Company at Whitehaven. Here he said he wanted to go to Liverpool, and some
money was given to him to make up his fare. He told the workmen that he had
received a wound in his hand. When this wound was afterwards examined by Dr.
HAIR, that gentleman accidentally let a piece of gutta percha fall on his own
hand, causing a wound similar to that of the prisoner’s, and it was argued
that the wound was received from a piece of melted gutta percha from the fuse
on lighting it at Dalston.
At Whitehaven, before he was apprehended he pawned a revolver for 5s. The
fact of his possessing a revolver suggested that he was determined one way or
another to murder his brother or his brother’s wife. On the 23rd he was
apprehended at Whitehaven, when he told a story as to how his time had been
occupied, which certainly was not consistent with the truth. On being searched a
match was found in his pocket, and he said he was surprised at that as he did
not expect that he “had one then.”
The tonite, it was argued by the prosecution, was got by the prisoner in
the tunnel at Birkenhead, in which it was in constant use for blasting, as many
as 300 charges being used every day. The case was one of circumstantial
evidence, and if they thought all the links in the chain were sound, as he should
prove they were, it would be their duty to find the prisoner guilty of the
offense with which he was charged.
Evidence having been given in support of the opening statement of the
learned counsel for the prosecution.
Mr. MATTINSON addressed the jury on behalf of the prisoner.
His Lordship then summed up, and the jury, after a deliberation of a few
minutes, and without leaving the box, returned a verdict of guilty upon that
count in the indictment charging him with the attempted murder of Martha BELL.
His Lordship, in passing sentence, said the crime was happily a new sort of
crime in this country, and it must be suppressed. He sentenced him to twenty
years penal servitude.
The Court adjourned at six o'clock.