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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Joseph Moses
Posted on Jun 08, 2002 - 11:27 PM by Bill McCann

In 1811, Joseph Moses was convicted by a jury of receiving the Skins of Royal Swans from the Serpentine River, in Hyde Park, knowing them to have been stolen. He was fined and imprisoned.


In the beginning of the year 1811 the swans of the Serpentine river were missing; and, on search after them, their bodies were found on its banks, stripped of skin and feathers. The runners of justice soon began a pursuit of the uncommon robber, and in a short time traced the feathers, which had been sent by an Israelite to one Ryder, to be dressed, for the decoration of pretty Christian misses. Moses, not being able to convince Limerick, the Christian catch-poll who seized him, of his honestly coming by the plumage of the royal birds, was taken before a Bench of Magistrates, who committed him for trial.

On the 5th of April, 1811, he was brought up to the bar of the sessions-house at Hicks's Hall, charged with having received into his possession six swans' skins, knowing them to have been stolen.

William Baker, the first witness called, stated that he was park-keeper under the Right Hon. Lord Euston, Ranger of Hyde Park; there were six swans kept in the Serpentine river, two of which had been stolen in the latter part of January, 1811, and he found the carcasses of the remaining four lying on the bank of the pond, the skins having been stripped from them. A few days after, Limerick, the officer of Bow Street, brought six skins to him, which, on being applied to the carcasses, were found exactly to correspond, and so he had no doubt they were the stolen skins.

A man of the name of Devine, and an officer of the name of Lack, proved finding six swans' skins in the possession of the prisoner; they were hanging up in his shop in Welbeck Street, where they were found. A young woman of the name of Mary Brush, who had been his servant, but who had recently quitted his service, proved that on Monday evening, the 25th of February, 1811, her master came home about five o'clock, and had something wrapped up in a bundle. She saw him open it in the parlour and take two swans' skins out of it. She further deposed that on Tuesday, the 26th, a man came to her master's house, and asked if Mr Moses was at home, and left four more swans' skins.

A person of the name of Hart swore that he saw the defendant buy two swans' skins in Leadenhall Market, and give two pounds for them, on Monday, the 25th of February. He was not believed. It appeared, however, that the skins tallied exactly with the bodies of the dead swans; for, wherever a part of the skin stuck to the bodies, a part in the same position was equally wanting from the skins.

Several persons -- of the Hebrew persuasion and others -- gave the defendant a good character; some knew him upwards of twenty years. The chairman summed up the evidence, and the jury, after retiring upwards of half-an-hour, returned a verdict of guilty.

As soon as the verdict was recorded, Mr Alley, counsel for the prisoner, raised some objections to the indictment, contending that, swans being what in law is termed ferae naturee, the stealing of them did not amount to a larceny; and, as there was no thief, there could not therefore be any receiving. The counsel on the other side contended to the contrary, and the Court overruled the objections. The prisoner was fined, and imprisoned.

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