On the night of 17th January 1831, William Allard, aged around 70 years, was awoken at about midnight by four intruders who had broken into his Pebworth house. He found two of the young men had entered his bedroom and they proceeded to assault him with sticks. One of them, John Bennett, struck him with several violent blows to different parts of his body, causing severe wounds. They all then proceeded to rob the house until they were disturbed by a noise and fled.
The four men concerned in this incident were John and Thomas Bennett of Wickhamford, aged 22 and 19, and William Holland (19) and William Allard Junior (18) of Badsey. The younger Allard was a grandson of the assaulted man and he had told the others that his grandfather had around £5 in the house. The Bennetts were sons of Thomas and Fanny Bennett, who had a cottage in the village in the field to the south of Pitcher’s Hill farm. John had been baptised in Wickhamford in July 1808 and Thomas in January 1812.
William Allard junior was the son of William and Mary Allard of Badsey, who had been baptised there in September 1811 (his age later recorded in the prison register as 18 was incorrect). The family background of William Holland is not known, but he was also a Badsey resident at the time.
Planning the crime
The day before the robbery, William Allard junior had told his accomplices that he knew where they could get £5. It was then agreed to rob his grandfather and a place was pointed out where they could get some sticks. They met in the neighbourhood in Pebworth the following night and tied handkerchiefs around their feet to avoid making any noise. They broke in to the house and made for the bedroom, where John Bennett carried out the assault.
Capture and trial
The men were caught and taken to Gloucester to stand trial, as Pebworth was in that county at that time. The entry in the charge book against all four men read:
“Charged on the oath of William Allard of Pebworth with a burglary and felony and malicious cutting with intent to murder the said William Allard on the night of the seventeenth day instant”.
The book also gave detailed physical description of the men and all had the occupation of “labourer”. For example, Thomas Bennett was 5’7” tall, with dark hair and a large nose and illiterate. He had several scars on his body and the tattoo “T B” on his left arm. William Allard was shorter, at 5’2”, was literate and worked as a butcher. He, too, had a tattoo on his left arm of his initials “W A”. Their demeanour in prison was also noted – Thomas Bennett was “Indifferent”, William Allard was “Orderly”, John Bennett was “Bad” and William Holland was “Orderly”. The latter was also noted to have “Admitted King’s Evidence”.
There were various witnesses who saw the men fleeing from the house and William Holland, who had agreed to give evidence against the other three men, did not stand trial. One witness recovered some sticks from a hedge where they had been thrown and one was marked with blood. During the course of being examined, the three prisoners made various attempts to incriminate one another. The prisoners had no learned counsel to represent them and the prosecution was carried out by Messrs Phillips and Cooper before Mr Justice Patterson on Saturday 2nd April 1831. The Judge, in his summing up told the jury that if they believed the evidence of their accomplice, there could be no doubt as to their guilt. They also had the evidence of William Allard, the victim, who swore that they were the men who broke into his house and that John Bennett was the person who struck him.
Verdict and Punishment
The jury found all three defendants guilty. Mr Justice Patterson, according to a report in the Evening Mail of 4th April, proceeded to give a sentence of death upon John Bennett “in an extremely impressive manner”. His Lordship said the offence was one of great enormity and gross violence. He had almost deprived an old and defenceless man of his life. Sentence of death was also recorded against Thomas Bennett and William Allard junior, but these were later reduced to transportation for life. The date for the execution of John Bennett was set for 16th April 1831. Prisoners at that time in Gloucester gaol were hanged on the roof of the prison gatehouse using the “New Drop” style gallows, a position which was open to public view. If convicted of a crime other than murder the body of the executed person could be claimed by his family. If this was not done it could offered for medical dissection. The fate of John Bennett’s body is not known.
Petitions for lenience
Thirteen petitioners, four from Wickhamford, seven from Badsey, one from Pebworth and William Allard senior pleaded for clemency for John Bennett. They signed the petition on 8th April 1831 and it said that they had known him since childhood and never suspected him of being dishonest and he had worked satisfactorily as a labourer for over half of them. They hoped that the Royal Mercy could be extended to John Bennett so that he could have the opportunity to repent of his crime and become a useful member of society in a foreign land. The plea came to nothing and he was executed on 16th April 1831. The pleas for clemency for the other two had an effect and the death sentences for Thomas Bennett and William Allard junior were commuted to transportation for life
Following the death sentence on John Bennett, another petition was submitted by thirteen inhabitants of Wickhamford and Badsey and also the victim, William Allard of Pebworth, on behalf of his brother Thomas. He was said to have been of good character and William Allard asked for mercy for him. Those from Wickhamford appealing on behalf of Thomas Bennett included John Taylor of Elm Farm, Thomas Taylor, a churchwarden, Samuel Taylor of the Manor, Joseph Taylor, Alice Sawyer of Pitcher’s Hill Farm, Alice Gibbs and John Partington. Another signatory was Mr Beale Cooper of Bengeworth. He was a magistrate in Worcester and Gloucester and after whom ‘Coopers Lane’ in Evesham is named. His appeal was rejected by Viscount Melbourne, the Home Secretary, who saw no grounds to warrant recommending the prisoner to His Majesty for any further extension of Royal Mercy (letter dated 20th April 1831).
The High Sheriff of Gloucester authorised the transfer of Thomas Bennett and William Allard junior to the custody of J.H. Cooper of the prison hulk Cumberland on 19th April 1831. The Cumberland was moored at Chatham, Kent. From there they were put aboard the Lord Lyndoch at Sheerness, which departed for Australia on 20th July 1831 on its first such voyage. After nearly four months at sea the ship arrived at the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 18th November. There were 264 other convicts on their sailing. The ship’s captain was Master John H. Luscombe and the surgeon was Gilbert King R.N. The ship’s company also included Capt McCummings of the 4th Regiment leading 51 soldiers, together with five wives and eight children.
From the records at this time the description of William Allard junior was of a man with brown hair and hazel eyes, who was 5’ 2” tall. He could read and write and had not been in gaol before. He was tattooed with a fish on his left arm and also “W A Aged S G 19 1831”.
Thomas Bennett was taller, at 5’ 7”, with dark hair and a large nose. He could not read or write. He had several scars on his body and was tattooed with “T B” on his left arm.
Life in Van Diemen’s Land
Thomas Bennett’s convict record states that on 11th August 1836 he refused to go to work and was punished with 3 months hard labour. Other reports of bad behaviour and drunkenness followed and he was not given a conditional pardon until 6th September 1846. This record also noted that apart from the crime for which he had been transported, he had had an earlier prison sentence of 3 months for poaching.
There are a number of records for men sent to Tasmania of the name Thomas Bennett, so following his life after his pardon is difficult. There is death recorded for a Thomas Bennett on 24th March 1860, aged 48, in Horton, and this would fit with the baptismal date in Wickhamford. The Death Register records “a man believed by a jury to be Thomas Bennett”, who was a farmer who had been burned to death.
William Allard was punished for being drunk in charge of a loaded team of bullocks on 29th April 1835 and making threats with a knife when taken in charge. This resulted in him being kept to hard labour in chains for 12 calendar months. On 5th February 1842 he was found to be living in a state of adultery “with a woman”. He was recommended for pardon on 18th August 1846, but this was not approved until 21st September 1847.
With his unusual surname it is possible to find a few references to William Allard in the Tasmanian records. There is a record of a permission to marry being granted for William Allard on 22 March 1843, to Grace Hazelhurst. He died in the Hobart Registration District on 7th May 1885, aged 75. He was a labourer, living in the New Town Pauper Establishment, born England, and cause of death was given as “Senilis”.
[In 1835, at Chester, Grace Hazelhurst had been convicted of “Larceny before convicted of felony” (she had been previously convicted of larceny in 1831 getting 9 months in gaol) and was sentenced to transportation. She left England on 11th June on the convict ship Hector together with 133 other women convicts, arriving in Van Diemen’s Land on 20th October 1835.]
The Bennett family in Wickhamford
John and Thomas Bennett’s parents, Thomas and Fanny, continued to live in Wickhamford after the events of 1831. They had two other children, June (baptised 1814) and William (baptised 1822).
Thomas and Fanny Bennett are both recorded in the 1841 census, together with son, William, then Thomas died in 1849, aged 67, and was buried in the churchyard on 24th May. Fanny Bennett, a pauper, was still living in the cottage by Pitcher’s Hill farm in 1851 and she was buried on 25th April 1858, dying at the age of 69. Neither’s place of burial is marked with a gravestone. For the 1851 census, William Bennett, aged 30, was married with two young children and living in a cottage next to his mother’s home. This family had moved away from Wickhamford by the time of the 1861 census, firstly to Broadway and then to Badsey. William Bennett became a market gardener and was buried in an unmarked grave in Badsey in 1884. The cottages the Bennett family lived in at Wickhamford were demolished in the 1890s.
The Allard family
William Allard’s parents, William and Mary, lived in Brewers Lane, Badsey at the 1851 census. He died in 1858 and she in 1862.
Of the man who gave evidence against his accomplices, William Holland, very little is known. He was living in Badsey at the time of the attack but had not been born there. He may be the William Holland who was living in Stratford at the 1861 census, who had been born in Bengeworth. This man was a capmaker, married to Margaret, who were both recorded in Warwick in 1871.
If the Thomas Bennett mentioned above, who died in a fire in Van Diemen’s Land when working as a farmer, is the Wickhamford man, he would appear to have made a success of his life in Australia. He may have been employed on one or more of the farms in Wickhamford and been looked upon as a reliable worker, as three of the farmers appealed on his behalf for remission. William Allard appears to have been of a much worse character, by involving others in robbing and assailing his own grandfather. He ended up dying as a pauper in Australia.
The Evening Mail, after reporting the case at Gloucester, added that there had been an increase in delinquency since a recent Act of Parliament allowed the opening of more beer-shops. It is quite possible that drink played a part in causing the four men to plan and carry out the crime in Pebworth.
Not many years after this case, the death penalty was no longer applied for cases of assault that did not result in the death of the victim. John Bennett would not then have been hung. Transportation to Australia was abandoned in 1867.
An interesting event took place in Wickhamford in early 1833, less than two years after the Pebworth case. A building for use as an inn and smith’s shop was erected by the main Evesham to Broadway road, which became The Sandys Arms. This was developed by Joseph Taylor of Wickhamford Manor, one of the residents who appealed for clemency in this case. Could he have been attempting to keep the village drinkers within sight, rather than having them wandering the lanes to places like Badsey, Bretforton and Honeybourne?
Tom Locke and Val Harman – May 2018
See also an article on Emigration to Australia