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Murder of Edward Biggs


Trial of Peter Meredith (Continued)

Two other witnesses, named Thatcher and Potter, deposed to having seen Meredith strike the deceased near the bridge, in the manner described by Louisa Matthews.  Potter, in answer to the court, said there was a crowd on the bridge at the time, but no rioting.  Both witnesses stated that Meredith came from the opposite side of the street to Biggs, and strike him.

The London Times
John Thatcher. – On that evening I saw the deceased walking peaceably without any stick.  Heard the deceased cry out.  Meredith came across and struck him on the head with the staff.  He said to the deceased, “What do you mean?”

[Thatcher’s answer after being cross-examined]
By the Judge – There were 12 or 14 people on the bridge.  There was no tumult about the Black Horse.

Ann Bowyear and Sarah Hawthorne were next called, and both distinctly swore to having seen Johnson and Haywood strike the deceased whilst lying on the ground; there was, they said, rioting at Kidderminster that night, but not at the bridge.

The London Times
Ann Bowyer – Saw Johnson and Haywood there.  They had staves.  There were four or five of them.  I did not know the others.  I saw Biggs standing on the bridge.  The prisoners were surrounding him.  They knocked him and his son down.  When they were down Haywood and Johnson beat them.  I saw the son help the father up, and lead him towards the bridge.

S. Hawthorn – Knew prisoners Johnson and Haywood.  Saw them there with staves.  This was the boy (Biggs).

[Hawthorne’s answer after being]
Cross-examined – This was the boy before the coroner.  I did not know him before.  I was terrified, and made my way off.  He has been _ out as the person knocked down.  I did not see any other beating these two.

Mr. W. Doughty.  I am a surgeon at Kidderminster, and have been in practice there 14 years.  I was called in to attend Biggs, the deceased, on the morning of Thursday, the 13th December.  I found him labouring under symptoms of concussion and compression of the brain; and which continued until his death on the 17th of the same month.  Mr. Doughty then went on to state, that he examined the scull and body of the deceased after death.  He found a fracture of the parietal bone, and between the dura mater and brain there were three or four ounces of extravasated blood; some slight bruises were also perceptible on the right breast.  He had no doubt the death of the diseased ensued from injuries sustained on his scull, from a weapon like a constable’s staff.  The witness produced a portion of the fractured scull to the Court; and, in reply to a question from his Lordship, stated that the blow must have been a most severe one to have occasioned such an injury.

The London Times
Mr. Dowty, a surgeon at Kidderminster – Saw the deceased on the Thursday morning, labouring under concession of the brain, and a contusion on the right eye and the temple.  He died on the Monday.  There was a fracture of the parietal bone, and a _ of blood on the brain.  Some light bruises were on his shoulders.

[Dowty’s answer after being]
Cross-examined – I had put a plaster on his head; that, in my opinion, was a proper remedy.

Mr. Thomas Bradley said he was a surgeon at Kidderminster.  He assisted the last witness in the post mortem examination of the deceased.  The appearances were as described by Mr. Doughty, and he fully concurred with Mr. Doughty that death had been occasioned from the wounds of the scull.  Before quitting the witness box, Mr. Bradley, in answer to Mr. Whateley, said he had been High Bailiff of Kidderminster, and was at present one of the Magistrates of the borough.  The prisoner Johnson was a watchman of the town, and having known him for some time in his official capacity, he could speak to his character.  He had always considered him a judicious valuable officer, and that he discharged his duties on all occasions with the utmost humanity.  He had suffered considerably in his duty, having last year lost an eye.

Mr. Lea – This is the case for the prosecution, my Lord.

Meredith, being called upon for his defence, said that what he did on the evening in question was only in the discharge of his duty.  A number of persons had assembled on the bridge; he charged them to disperse but they would not go away.  Mr. Tomkins, the solicitor for the prosecution, was then called at the request of Meredith, and, in answer to questions from whom, Mr. T. said that Meredith observed him passing through the streets of the night of the 11th, and volunteered to protect him.

The Judge here rose, and said there was no pretence for charging the prisoner with murder; at the utmost, it could only be considered as an indiscreet exercise of the power with which they were entrusted.  It was not likely, if the prisoners intended to take away the life of the unfortunate deceased, they would chosen such an occasion or used such weapons.

Mr. Saunders, the Clerk of our county Magistrates, at Kidderminster, was then examined at the desire of his lordship, and proved that the Magistrates had sworn in 400 special constables to aid in keeping the peace of the town during the election.  Mr. Saunders added that he knew the prisoner Johnson, that he was an excellent officer, and a humane man.

Mr. Richard Laughter, Mr. Wm. Merrefield, Mr. Joseph Southan, Mr. Joseph Weaver, and Mr. William Johnson, were then called on behalf of Haywood and Johnson, and severally testified to the excellent character for steadiness of conduct, humane disposition, and general good behavior; these two prisoners had hitherto borne.  Mr. Merrefield stated that he had been entrusted by the Magistrates to find men to serve as special constables, and that he had selected Johnson, particularly, knowing his value as an officer, and that he was not likely to exceed his duty.  The witness also spoke in favor of Meredith.

His Lordship then summed up and repeated that there were no circumstance in the case whereon to found the charge of murder.  The Coroner’s inquest on the body of the deceased had returned a verdict of manslaughter, and rightly so, for that offense had clearly been committed by Meredith.  The blow he had struck the deceased was a most illegal one, there was no rioting at the time, and he was consequently not justified in using his staff in the manner he had done.  As against Meredith, therefore, the verdict of the jury must certainly be that of manslaughter; with respect to the other prisoners, he left it for the Jury to say whether they considered whether they had sufficiently participated with Meredith in the offence to be included in the same verdict. 

The London Times
The Judge told the Jury that there was no ground for trying this as a murder.  A decision of Manslaughter as found by the jury would be the proper charge.  The blow appearing to have been illegal, the Jury were to consider whether they were justified that the said persons Johnson and Haywood had also struck the deceased; because, if so, they were also guilty of manslaughter; but he left it to them to say whether they were satisfied on the evidence against them.

The jury, having first pronounced all three prisoners not guilty on the indictment for the murder, returned a verdict of manslaughter, on the Coroner’s inquisition, against Meredith; and acquitted Johnson and Haywood.  As soon as some other cases had been gone through, Meredith was placed at the bar for judgment, and sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment, as a warning to others who might be called out to act as special constables, to be cautious that they did not overstep their duty.

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The Morning Chronicle (London, England)
Friday January 4 1833

Three men have been committed to Worcester Goal, charged with manslaughter in having occasioned the death of Edward Biggs. The melancholy event out of which this charge arises, occurred in a disturbance which took place during the progress of the late election at Kidderminster, on which occasion the three prisoners were special constables. The inquiry before the coroner occupied two days. The deceased had left a widow with nine children, six of whom are unable to work, and the poor woman is near her confinement again.

Attributed to the Hereford Journal



© 2016, Bill Draper. All Rights Reserved.

UPDATED: January 9, 2016