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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Captain John Sutherland
Posted on Dec 31, 2004 - 06:06 AM by Bill McCann

CAPTAIN JOHN SUTHERLAND Commander of the British Armed Transport, The Friends. Executed at Execution dock, on the Banks of the Thames, 29th of June, 1809, for the Murder of his Cabin-Boy.


AT the Admiralty Sessions, on Friday, the 22nd of June, 1809, before Sir William Scott, President, and Sir Nash Grose, one of the judges of the Court of King's Bench, John Sutherland stood capitally indicted for the wilful murder of William Richardson, a boy thirteen years old, on the previous 5th of November, on board a British transport ship, named The Friends, of which the prisoner was captain, in the River Tagus, and within the jurisdiction of the High Court of Admiralty.

Sir Christopher Robinson stated the case on the part of the Crown. The first witness called was John Thompson, a negro mariner, who, being sworn and examined by the Attorney- General, stated that he was a seaman on board The Friends, in the Tagus, at anchor about a mile from Lisbon, on the 5th of November; that he had been, about a month previously, engaged by the prisoner, in Lisbon; that on the day above stated the captain and mate were on shore, as were also the other two seamen belonging to the ship's crew, and no person left on board but himself and the deceased, a boy of thirteen, who usually attended on the prisoner. About eight o'clock in the evening the prisoner came on board, and immediately went down to his cabin, and called the deceased down to him.

A few minutes afterwards the deceased came upon deck and told the witness to go down also, which he did. The Captain asked him how it could be managed to keep watch on deck for the night, the mate and the other two seamen being on shore. The witness answered he could keep watch until twelve o'clock. The prisoner agreed to this, and desired the witness to be sure to call him at twelve, and in the meantime not to suffer any boat to come alongside without letting him know. He then desired the witness to go on deck and send down the boy, which he did. About five minutes afterwards witness heard the boy cry out loudly to him; he called him by his name, Jack Thompson. The witness did not go down immediately, for he supposed the Captain was only beating the boy, as usual. The boy continued to call out loudly several times; and at last the witness went down, and saw the Captain standing over the boy, with a naked dirk or dagger in his hand, which he waved to and fro.

The boy was lying on the cabin floor, and he immediately said to the witness:

"Jack Thompson, look here: here Captain Sutherland has stabbed me";
and immediately lifted up his shirt and showed him a bleeding wound upon the left side of his belly, near his groin, and his entrails hanging out. The prisoner said nothing at the moment; he heard what the boy said. On the witness turning about to leave the cabin the prisoner said to him:
"Jack, I know I have done wrong."
The witness, who was not above three minutes in the cabin, answered:
"I know very well you have ";
and immediately returned to the deck and hailed the next ship to him, which was the Elizabeth transport, for assistance.

The Elizabeth not being able to send a surgeon, the prisoner insisted on going ashore with witness and finding one. There a British and a Portuguese soldier came up to them, to whom the witness told what had happened. The Captain then came back with the witness to the ship. When they came on board they found that two surgeons had been there, dressed the wounds of the deceased, and put him into bed. He was removed the next morning on board the Audacious, as were also the prisoner and the witness. At the time Captain Sutherland came on board, after going to seek the surgeon, the mate, who had meanwhile returned, asked him what he had to do with such a weapon - referring to the dirk.

The prisoner answered that he would never hurt anybody else with it, and then threw the dirk overboard. After the witness was on board the Audacious he heard the prisoner say to the deceased he was very sorry for what he had done; but he did not hear the deceased make any answer. He heard him repeat his sorrow at another time. The witness was on board the Audacious when the boy died, nine days afterwards.

Other witnesses were called, and the jury, after a short consultation, returned their verdict of guilty. Sir William Scott then passed upon him the awful sentence of the law, which was, that he be hanged at Execution dock, and his body afterwards delivered to the surgeons for dissection. The unhappy man, who had a wife and five children, retired from the bar greatly agitated, and was so overcome as to require the support of the attendants. He was about forty years old. At the rising of the Court Sir William Scott signified to the sheriffs that the execution must necessarily be deferred until the following Thursday, on account of the state of the tide. On that day, accordingly, this unfortunate man was launched into eternity.

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