|Crime and Punishment: James Donally|
by Bill McCann
London’s streets have always been crime-ridden. This series presents the tales of some of the individuals convicted of crimes, small and great, at the Middlesex and London assizes, Star Chamber, Court of Aldermen, etc. and their subsequent fate. Tyburn and Newgate are words that are resonant with the extremes of punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries and, naturally, both loom large in the series. However, there will also be articles on some of the more famous crimes in London’s more recent history.
Crime and Punishment: James Donally
by Bill McCann
A Blackmailer, who was convicted of Highway Robbery, 22nd of February, 1779
James Donally was examined at Bow Street on a charge of having extorted money, by the vilest of all insinuations, from the Honourable Charles Fielding, second son of the Earl of Denbigh; and the magistrates, deeming that the offence amounted to a robbery on the highway, committed him for trial; and Lord Denbigh was bound to prosecute on behalf of his son, who was under age.
James Donally, alias Patrick Donally. was indicted at the sessions held at the Old Bailey in February, 1779, for
that he, on the King’s highway, in and upon the Honourable Charles Fielding, did make an assault, putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and stealing from his person, and against his will, half-a-guinea, on the 18th of January;
and there was a second count in the indictment for robbing the same gentleman of a guinea on the 20th of the same month.
Between six and seven in the evening of the 18th of January, Mr Charles Fielding was going from the house of a lady with whom he had dined to Covent Garden Theatre, when he was accosted in Soho Square by Donally, who desired he would give him some money. Mr Fielding, astonished at this address, asked him for what. Donally said he had better comply, or he would take him before a magistrate and swear that he had made an attempt to commit a most foul crime. Terrified by this insinuation the young gentleman gave him half-a-guinea, which was all the money he had about him; and returned to the house where he had dined and borrowed half-a-guinea of the servant, with an intention of going to the play.
Two days afterwards he again met the prisoner in Oxford Road, when he repeated his threats of carrying him before a magistrate, and to prison; saying that he knew very well what had passed in Soho Square the other night, and that unless he would give him some more money he would take him before a magistrate and accuse him of the same attempt at crime which he had threatened the other night. He added that it would go hard with him unless he could prove an alibi.
Terrified by these threatenings, Mr Fielding went to Mr Waters, a grocer in Bond Street, to whom, under the immediate impressions of his fear, he gave a guinea to give to the prisoner.
It happened, providentially, that on Saturday, the 12th of February, Lord Fielding was going up Hay Hill, when Donally, owing to the great personal likeness to his brother, accosted him in words which he did not rightly understand. His lordship said he believed he had mistaken him for some other person, for he did not know his face. Donally said he believed he must know him, and asked if he did not remember giving him half-a-guinea in Soho Square. He likewise mentioned the money given him at the grocer’s – a knowledge of which his lordship, as well he might, utterly denied.
The prisoner again asked if he did not recollect having given him any money, when his lordship asked him what was his present demand; and when requested to explain himself, some further altercation ensued; on which Lord Fielding desired the prisoner to go before a magistrate, with which he seemed to comply, but at length stopped and said he would not go. During this contest his lordship was somewhat terrified; and, scarcely knowing what kind of charge to make against the prisoner, he was, as he owned on the trial,
weak enough to loose his collar and let him go. Donally then turned about, addressed him by the title of ” My Lord,” and said he should hear from him again.
On the Tuesday following, as Lord Fielding was walking near the same spot, he heard a voice over his shoulder saying: ” Sir, I have met you again,” or some such expres- sion. His lordship, recollecting the voice, turned round and seized him by the collar. Donally complained that he had used him very ill the last time he saw him. The other replied that he used him too well, for he had let him go, but he would take care to do better this time.
Donally now desired to be treated like a gentleman,saying he would not be dragged, but would go quietly. Lord Field- ing, not seeing any person who was likely to assist him, and apprehending a rescue, told him that if he would walk along quietly to the next coffee-house he would not drag him. They walked down Dover Street together; but the prisoner increased his pace, so Lord Fielding followed, and seized him. He fell down twice, but was again seized as soon as he rose. By this time a crowd had assembled: and Major Hartley and two other gentlemen happening to come by, the prisoner was seized and conveyed to Bow Street, where the magistrates, on hearing the evidence, thought that the crime amounted to a highway robbery, and committed the prisoner for trial accordingly.
Donally, in his defence, acknowledged that he had met Lord Fielding twice; that he had addressed him with decency, and desired him to hear something respecting his brother; and that Sir John Fielding had made the Honourable Charles Fielding carry on the prosecution. He did not deny the receipt of a guinea at the grocer’s in Bond Street; but averred that he did not deserve death on account of the charge against him. Mr Fielding swore that he had given the same account at Bow Street as on the trial, and the jury, having considered the whole evidence, brought in a verdict of guilty; but Mr Justice Buller, before whom the offender was tried, reserved the case for the opinion of the judges, on a point of law.
On the 29th of April following, the judges met and gave their opinion on this case, pronouncing it a new species of robbery to evade the law, but which was not to be evaded. He therefore underwent its sentence, which he had, with most abominable wickedness, brought upon his own head.
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