The trial

The prisoners faced court again on 6 January 1827. In addition to the original line up of George Ransley, Thomas Dennard, Thomas Gilham, Robert Bailey, Samuel Bailey, Richard Wire, and Charles Giles those tried also included James Hogben, James Smeed, Thomas Wheeler and William Wire.

The indictment charged the prisoners with assembling with up to 80 people, armed with firearms, at the parish of St James the Apostle of the Port of Dover on 30 July 1827. Richard Wire was charged with ‘maliciously and feloniously’ shooting Richard Morgan, a person lawfully employed to prevent smuggling, inflicting three mortal wounds to his breast from which he languished for an hour before dieing. The other prisoners were charged with being present, aiding, assisting and comporting Richard Wire in the commission of the murder. All pleaded not guilty.

Following some discussion between the lawyers and Mr Justice Park, other untried prisoners were also brought to the bar: John Bailey, Richard Higgins, Paul Pierce and James Quested. They joined Samuel Bailey, Thomas Dennard, Thomas Gilham, George Ransley, James Smeed and J Wilson and were indicted for assembling with numerous other persons unknown on 16 March 1826 at New Romney, armed with fire arms, to aid and assist in the landing and running of uncustomed goods. They were also charged with willfully and maliciously shooting at customs officers Patrick Doyle and Cluryn Macarthy. Other counts, similar in substance, were also heard.

All the prisoners pleaded guilty. Their offences involved smuggling activities at Dymchurch on 10 May 1826 and involving the shooting of William Wynn; at Woolmer on 10 June involving the shooting of W H Brady; at Deal on 9 July and shooting at John Millings; at Hythe on 1 August and shooting at William Spillane.

At this point, the ten prisoners charged with Morgan’s murder were left at the bar and the Jury was impanelled. However, the Solicitor General stated that as the prisoners’ guilty pleas to the other charges would lead to the forfeiture of their lives he did not intend to present evidence on the murder charge. He could not say that their lives would be saved but they would have the benefit of his recommendation and would probably be transported for life. In this way, Robert Bailey and Thomas Wheeler, who had been indicted only for the murder and not for the other charges, were wholly acquitted.

Mr Justice Park then addressed the fourteen remaining prisoners before passing sentence of death.  The calendar stated that the prisoners were to be executed on 5 February but that it was not expected that any of them would suffer.

Kentish Chronicle

The following report is taken from The Kentish Chronicle of 12 January 1827.

The Trial of the Aldington Smugglers

[extract] … His Lordship said they had pleaded Guilty to an offence of a most heinous nature, the commission of which struck terror into every well disposed mind. They had assembled in numerous bodies to aid in the running of uncustomed goods, and in so doing, aiding, had fired upon persons who were only doing their duty. 

Perhaps from the darkness of the night, it might have been difficult to fix on the ten the crime of murder, but they had confessed being guilty of a very serious offence. Perhaps no human eye saw the hand that actually committed the murder and his Lordship doubted not that, in the decision of the Solicitor-General, he had exercised a sound discretion; but it was very manifest that he had dealt with the prisoners most humanely; for if any of them had been convicted of the murder they most certainly would have been executed on Monday next.

His Lordship disclaimed in any way a party to the course that had been adopted, for he should not feel himself warranted in recommending them to the mercy of the Sovereign, though the Solicitor-General had promised to do so and would doubtless keep his word.

Prisoners had admitted that they assembled in gangs of as many as 80 – a gang numerous enough to overawe the peaceable part of the community. These things could not be suffered to go on with impunity. He trusted that the present proceedings would have a proper effect and convince the offenders that the arm of the law was long enough, and sufficiently powerful to reach and punish even the most distant and desperate.

 It must be made known throughout the country, that if an offence of this nature were again committed, no mercy would be shewn to the offenders. His Lordship would now repeat what he had said to the Grand Jury, that if persons in the higher stations of life were not to purchase smuggled goods, there would be an end to smuggling; but many persons laboured under the delusion that defrauding the Revenue was no crime….

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