Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (August 18, 1860)

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After the division in the House of Peers of Friday night last, the principle of the amalgamation of the two services may be considered as out of further peril. The point, which is a capital one to the future security of the empire, has been carefully considered since the suppression of the great mutiny. There is a great conflict of authorities upon the subject. On the whole, a majority of English statesmen are for the change—a majority of Indian statesmen against it. Of English statesmen, the supporters of the present government are for it,—the leaders of her Majesty’s opposition against it. Lord Clyde and the Queen’s officers are, for the most part, for it,—Sir James Outram and the Indian officers, for the most part, against it. Is not the inference from this plain statement of facts, which are beyond all dispute, almost irresistible! Each of these statesmen—each of these officers, although jealous of his country’s honour, and giving utterance, no doubt, to his honest convictions, regards the subject from his own point of view. The prejudices, the aspirations of his class, even the political incidents of the time, operate upon the minds of each of the speakers and writers; and to say this is but to say that all are men. We had rather not dogmatise upon a point on which statesmen, and officers of the longest experience and of great fame are at issue; but yet we think that, on the whole, the country will be content with the decision at which the Houses have arrived. It is idle to suppose that the military service of India can ever be carried on without a large co-operation from the native forces. At the present moment there are actually 46,000 of the old Sepoy force under arms in the provinces which were the seat of the mutiny; of Sikhs and Native Irregulars, in addition to these, about 30,000 more. We have not done with the native soldier, and never can have done with him as long as we hold British India. The question, however, is not whether we shall govern with or without the assistance of native troops—not even, with regard to the European local corps, of whether the status quo shall be maintained; but whether the system of local corps shall be indefinitely extended to the practical exclusion of the soldiery enlisted for the general service of the empire. The local system does not appear wise or prudent, either as far as the stability of things Indian, or the general security of the empire is concerned. As far as India goes, our recent experience of the fidelity of local European soldiers is not very encouraging. Taking a broader view, and regarding the empire as a whole, it seems as though India is the natural parade ground of the British nation, as much as Manchester is its chosen spot for the manufacture of cottons, or Portsmouth is its arsenal. Is it a good thing for a soldier or officer to gain experience in his profession, send him to India. If you want trained officers to guard the empire in any sudden emergency, draw them from India; or from the men who have served there. The Duke of Wellington learnt his trick of fence in India. Again if India is to be held by British troops, there will be the less necessity for that intimate knowledge of the habits of the natives, and even familiarity with their language, than heretofore. The grand ignorance of the British soldier—may we venture in all courtesy to add—and officer will almost prove an additional security, inasmuch as it will lessen all chances of seduction, or even hesitation in his allegiance to the Powers that rule in the little island beyond the sea. The task of reconciling the millions of India to our rule by gentle means, had perhaps best be entrusted to other hands. In addition to these considerations, we should not banish from our recollection the part which the railway, the screw-steamer, and the electric telegraph will play in our future relations with British India.


We cannot hope that any words we may write will be of much avail to help the mourners who are now deploring the loss of the two Artillery Volunteers, killed on Thursday evening last by the explosion of a gun at Dover. We would, however, offer an expression of sympathy with their sorrow, and we are very confident that in so doing we represent the feeling of all our readers. Mr. G. T. Thompson, a solicitor of Dover and coroner for the town, one of the Lieutenants, and Mr. G. Manger, a tobacconist of the same town, were killed upon the spot. Mr. Harris, the commander of the corps, received an injury from which concussion of the brain followed; and he lies in a precarious, but not, at the time we write, in a hopeless state. Mr. Hadlow, a painter, Mr. Gilfillan, a tailor, and a young man named Boulding, are sufferers, though in a less degree. As far as the facts have yet been ascertained, no blame is to be imputed, either for want of skill or negligence, to the sufferers from this lamentable accident. The damage arose from a defect in the gun, which had been too long in use. Very severe tests are applied to a gun to ascertain its fitness when it is fresh from the manufacturer or founder’s hands. We know not what precautions are exercised after the weapon has once been brought into use. How carefully after each journey the soundness of every wheel in every railway-carriage is tested and ascertained! It is not held sufficient that they were known to be fit for use when they were delivered in the first instance from the maker’s yard. Be this, however, as it may, we have now arrived at a point when we are made painfully aware that the Volunteers of England have taken upon themselves a duty which involves serious risks even before they are called upon to meet an enemy in the field. In the discharge of their self imposed duty, they should be supported by the full strength of public opinion, and public feeling. These young men lost their lives in the service of their country. It is no exaggeration to say so, when they were killed in the discharge of their duty, and whilst engaged in the exercises necessary to prepare themselves for conflict with an enemy, if any such should ever venture to attack our shores. The families of the sufferers by this tragic occurrence ought to know that their private loss is regarded by all as a public affliction.


Last week has been unusually fertile in savagery. Of course the occurrence of the assizes revives the wretched blood-chronicle of the last six months in all our minds; but independently of this we have a crop of fresh horrors. We have just had another case as bad as that of the infamous Mrs. Greenacre, in the person of a schoolmistress who was doing her best to torture to death a wretched little girl whom she had adopted, from what other motive than a good one, in the first instance, one cannot see. She seems to have revelled in the spectacle of the poor creature’s sufferings. We must not soil our pages with full details of the case; but when the child was exhibited at the Southwark Police Court, it bore upon its body such marks of violence, that every one present shuddered at the sight. There was nothing to suggest insanity as a palliation of the prisoner’s brutality. We are left to the conclusion, that a woman may be of sane mind, and yet feel a kind of sensual gratification in the agony of a child. The other day a coroner killed himself on his wedding-tour. The other day, too, a ruffian of the name of Foley was brought up at the Bow Street office charged with having committed a series of the most savage assaults on his wife and daughters—the youngest daughter, a child nine years of age, he had literally thrown on the fire. John Fenton has just been hung for the Walkeringham murder, and a gentleman who was present at the execution hung himself next morning. The number of the “Times” for Monday of last week (August 6th), contains such a catalogue of murders and attempts at murder, that it is clear enough our civilisation is not worth so very much. The first of these was tried at Carlisle before Baron Martin. George Cass was charged with the murder of Ann Sewell at Embleham on the 26th of March last, and substantially convicted on his own confession. We would invite particular attention to this confession, inasmuch as it gives some little insight into the clumsy workings of the ruffian’s mind. Here is the autobiography of George Cass at the only interesting period of his brutal life. The fellow’s intelligence is obviously scarce higher than that of a bullock. He thinks as much of the three halfpence out of which Sarah Dixon cheated him when he sent her for the ’bacco, as he does of the blood he had spilt. How differently a fashionable novelist would have dealt with the phenomena of the murderer’s mind! As far as our own recollection extends, this document is what collectors of bric-à-brac would call unique, and certainly is a literary curiosity. Here it is:—

George Cass saith,—“How it was done you know. She made me mad, you know; and I was coming from righting a ewe. She was in the passage or lobby, as some folk call it, coming out of the front door, leading into the yard opposite to the stable. I had been in the orchard righting the ewe. She wanted me to do something with her caulkers; and then, you know, as I would not bother with her caulkers, and then she began to bother and call me. She had a knife in her hand, and I was standing between the stable-door and the house-door, and then she threw the knife at me, and the haft just catched me on the left cheek, just below the cheek-bone. Well, then, I clicked it up in my madness, and I just took it up and threw it at the deceased Ann Sewell. She was then standing just within a yard from the door in the passage, and it struck just about there (prisoner pointing to the apple of his throat); somewhere about the part of the throat which projects out. Well, then, you know, she ran from there down to the bottom of the passage. She did not scream out ‘Oh, dear.’ She says, ‘Come here and put me away altogether.’ She said she could not find it of her heart to go out again. Well, then, I said, I did not like. She begged and prayed of me either twice or three times to do it, and then I just took up t’knife, which I had in my hand, and just came a stroke across the left side of her neck. When I was coming a second time she put her hand up to the left side of her face, and she said it did not seem to go far enough in. ‘Give us another.’ I gave like a second one, when she asked me: and then she stood a little bit, and then she dropped. She never said nout (nothing) more after she dropped, and she laid there. Then I came up into the kitchen, and I took the knife up with me and thought I would wash it, and then I rued—I would not; and I just went and put it into her hand, and there was just a drop of blood about the size of a half-penny on here (pointing to his waistcoat), and then just with that John Robinson came up to the door. I was in the back-kitchen at the time washing my waistcoat-breast with my hand. I just stepped aside till he went away, and he went into the stable, and then he came out again and went away home. When I saw him off I washed my hands and waistcoat out, and then I went like down into the kitchen and went out of the front window into the orchard, and then I got my mare out of the stable, and then when I got her into the field she would not stand until I got the gear on. She went galloping back into the fold. Then I went and brought her back and yoked her. About a quarter of an hour after that, I saw Mr. Boys going down. A little bit after that there was a young lad went down on a cuddy donkey, and then I saw nothing more till Mr. Boys’ girl came to take me home that night. Then, when I got home, Mrs. Fearon told me to go in at the front window, and I said, ‘No, I could get in at the back door.’ I had got in many a time at it, and then I opened the door for the mistress. I opened the door with that piece of iron that Mr. Brown had there. [Cass was here cautioned a second time, but said he only wanted to tell the truth.] Then at night, after we had all gone to bed, I went up-stairs into Ann Sewell’s room. Her and me was down at Cockermouth one night before that a bit, and she wanted to get some things, and she had forgotten her purse, and she asked me if I had any money in my pocket, and I said I had a half-crown if that would do aught for her, and so I lent her it. So, as I thought I had lent her the half-crown, I thought I would have it back again. Then I just looked into her box, and there was a little bag, you know, that they hang over their arms, and I opened this and I found a purse in it, and I just opened it, and there was just eighteen-pence in it, and then I just put the eighteen-pence in the purse in my pocket, and then I groped her frock-pocket, as I thought there might be something more in it, and there was a half-crown in it. I put that in my pocket In the morning I was putting the half-crown into the purse with the eighteen-pence, and at one side of the purse there was a little hole in it, and a sovereign in it. I did not know what to make of the sovereign, and I owed our folk a sovereign, and so I was over home on Wednesday night after I got the sovereign, and I just left the purse and sovereign with my mother. Then I spent the half-crown, and got some drink on the road. And then I had eighteen-pence left; and then I ran out of ’bacco, and sent for another ounce. Then I had like fifteen-pence left. But Sarah Dixon, the person I sent for the ’bacco, only gave me three-halfpence, instead of threepence. I had given her a sixpence out of the eighteen-pence. That is all, I think. I do not wish to add anything more to this statement. I have made it voluntarily, and of my own free will.”

After hearing the statement read over, the prisoner said, “That is all, I think. It would be as near half-past three, as near as I can tell, when this happened. There was no one with me. I have done it all myself, and I was very sorry, too, after I had done it.”

George Cass.

He took exactly four shillings by the transaction. Some years ago, a fellow was executed at Brussels for committing a murder in the Wood of Soigny; he had realised by the business exactly three half-pence, and the handle of an old knife—the blade was gone. George Cass was found guilty, and left for execution.

On the same day we have the report of the trial of one Thomas Sowerby, for the murder of Simon Manassa at Penrith. This is the case which has been spoken of as the Penrith murder. It turned out that there was no ill will between the men; nor had his little stock of money been removed from the pockets of the dead man. The discovery was brought about curiously enough. On the 10th of April last, very early in the morning, George Pattinson was going to his work, and was going over a field, when he picked up a stick covered with hoar-frost. The hoar-frost melted, and, on examining his hand, George Pattinson found that it was bloody. This roused his suspicions; he looked round him, and saw the body of a man lying in the corner of the next field. The prisoner was within fifty yards of the place at the time Pattinson made this discovery. When hailed a second time, Thomas Sowerby turned back, joined Pattinson, and looked at the body. He said he had seen it before, and promised to give information. Suspicion afterwards fell on him, and when his clothes were examined, blood was found upon his leggings, upon the cuff of his kytle, and upon a button of his coat. He subsequently admitted that he had killed Simon Manassa; but that the death had been the result of an affray betwixt them, in which Manassa had been the assailant. When attacked Sowerby had thrown his opponent a cross-buttock in old Cumberland fashion, and without intending his death, had afterwards beaten him with a stick. It was held that his story might be true. He was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to eighteen months of imprisonment, with hard labour.

Again, on the same day, we have a report of the trial of Francis Price, at Warwick, for the murder of Sarah Platt, his sweetheart. He seems to have been a very respectable young man. He was the son of a “minister of the Gospel”—probably of a Dissenting minister. He had been a prize-walker in his youth, and was actually a shoemaker by trade. There was some dispute between the lovers as to a woman with whom the deceased had associated, and whose acquaintance Price had wished her to give up. After a fruitless effort at reconciliation, upon the 18th of April last he sent for her to the house of an old woman named Agnes Hone, and when Hone had turned her back for a moment, Price cut Sarah Platt’s throat in the passage with a shoemaker’s knife. Almost immediately afterwards he said: “Is she dead? It is Mrs. ——, and Mrs. ——, and them women, that are the cause of it. I shall not tell you a lie about it. I loved her as I loved my life. I know my fate. My days are numbered!” His right hand was stained with the blood of Sarah Platt—even whilst he was speaking.

The crowning horror, however, of this week has been the Walworth murder. William Godfrey Youngman stands charged with the wilful murder of his mother, his two young brothers, and his sweetheart, Mary Wells Streeter. As the prisoner has not yet taken his trial, we abstain from all comment, which might have the effect of prejudicing his case. His defence is, that his mother had slaughtered the three other victims, and that, to save his own life, he had taken hers. Youngman had effected an insurance of 100l. upon the life of Mary Streeter, payable to him after her death.


The Spartan matrons have been fairly outdone by our fair countrywomen, if all tales are true which pass current at Paris just now. It was all very well for a classical virago to send out her sons to death or victory, but in order to make the heroism perfect, she might have gone herself. A high-spirited lady might tap her son’s shield, and say to him in a significant way,—“Agasippus, my dear boy, with this, or on this—you understand your poor old mother:” but it would have been far more edifying had his parent added, “and I will go with you!” There has been a good deal of talk lately about our national defences. Despite of Sir Frederick Smith, backed as that gallant officer has been by the professional experience of Mr. Edwin James, we are about to fortify Portsdown Hill, and look after the defences of our arsenals. What with regular troops, and militia-men, and volunteers, we are doing our best just now to take care of Lord Overstone’s till. We trust that in a short time we shall be beyond the necessity of following his advice, and offering the Zouaves a ransom if they will be good enough to march out of London. All these clumsy precautions of armies, fleets, fortresses, volunteers, &c., &c., are quite unnecessary—at least so we are told upon excellent French authority. The fact is, we are safe. Our countrywomen have volunteered en masse, shouldered their rifles, and stand ready to answer any overtures from the perfidious Gauls with a Minié bullet, or the point of a bayonet. “Brunettes, form square to repel cavalry.” “Blondes, advance in loose order.” “Orders from General Charlotte to Colonel Louisa to silence that battery.” The Zouaves and Chasseurs d’Afrique will soon learn what they have to expect from the stern coquetry of the British female.

There is published every week in Paris an illustrated newspaper, called “Le Monde Illustré.” In a recent number, the editor has favoured his readers with a full page cut which represents three of our fair countrywomen in Knickerbockers, and Mandarin hats, standing at ease and leaning upon their rifles. These three ladies are described as samples of “Les Riflewomen (ou les bataillons de Volontaires féminins en Angleterre).” It must not be supposed that this is what would be called in the rude language of camps “a shave.” The intelligent editor heartily believes in his own announcement, and by this time our French neighbours are perfectly convinced that our countrywomen have really turned out with arms in their hands, in defence of their helpless fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, nephews, and male cousins. The editor is courteous, sarcastic; grave, merry; witty, and exceedingly dull at our expense. “There is a fact,” he says, “which France would refuse to believe, if it was not supported by the evidence of photography, ‘ce témoin irrécusable.’ England, not satisfied with raising with one effort an army of 150,000 Volunteers, has pushed the principle of patriotism a little further; one may even say, has exceeded the limits assigned by right reason even to public spirit. This is the turn which things take amongst a people disposed to mistake exaggeration for enthusiasm.” After this fine moral reflection, the editor adds:—“But let us come to the point; it is time to give an explanation to those amongst our readers who may be stupified by a glance at the engraving in the next page.” The engraving represents the three ladies in the Knickerbockers, &c. We can’t do these things as well as they are done in Paris, and so let it be understood that what follows is written not with English, but with French ink.

A society of English ladies, who had been dreaming of Zouaves, has risen up like a single man (the irony is italicised in the original), and has determined to go halves with the Riflemen in the defence of the country. It is not exactly proved that the fatherland is in danger, but it would be cruel to say a word which might calm these alarms, and so deprive these ladies of the “prétexte complaisant” for playing at soldiers. Their fancy is quite harmless. The intelligent writer does not seem to apprehend any serious danger to an invading force from the efforts of these heroines. He does not even see why they should not be thoroughly drilled, if only precaution is taken that their rifles shall not in any case be loaded. Here is a box on the ears for the British female. The writer is a sad fellow, and proceeds with his odious sneers. He is pleased with the thought that this institution of the British Riflewomen will throw a little variety into our military pictures. MM. Horace Vernet, Yvon, Dumarescq, and all the modern Van-der-Meulens must set their pallets afresh. At the next exhibition M. Albert de Lasalle’s prophetic soul foresees “Bivouacs of English Ladies,” “Patrols of English Ladies,” &c. Who would not lead a forlorn hope against such enemies as these? One would think that M. de Lasalle might have left the poor things quiet after grinding them down to the dust in this way. Not a bit of it. He pretends to fear that our legs of mutton may get scorched, and that poor Paterfamilias’s false collars may sometimes need a button, whilst his martial spouse has gone where glory waits her, and is perfecting herself in the principles of “la charge en douze temps” whatever that may be. Mais que voulez-vous? . . . . Il fallait opter. When called upon to choose between the welfare of the country and that of the stew-pot, the British female could not hesitate. After pelting our wives and daughters with these pitiless sarcasms, M. de Lasalle turns round upon us, the men of England. He tells us, that there is compensation in store for us. Although our roast mutton may be burnt, and our “dickies” may be without buttons, we shall escape with fewer turns of service whilst our fair countrywomen are doing duty for us. Besides, there is this farther advantage, that whilst they are on guard, we may learn how to look after the cooking, and—oh, death! oh, fury! oh, vengeance!—how to darn stockings.

After he has treated us in this shocking way, M. de Lasalle proceeds to soothe our wounded pride in more courteous tone. He says: “At the bottom of all this, as at the bottom of all things English, there is a serious thought, and the sentiment which has inspired the idea of the formation of a force of Riflewomen is most praiseworthy. The spirit of the ancient Amazons, and of the women of Sparta, has animated these ladies, whom we may regard as funny in their military costume, but ridiculous—never!” Thank you, M. de Lasalle, for this scrap of consolation. A strong head and a kind heart always go together. Would that you had persevered in this view! Why, after half lifting us from the ground with one hand, do you knock us down again with the other? Why tell us, that if an intelligent Frenchman was inclined to be calumnious, he might just suggest that feminine coquetry might realise heavy profits out of this martial arrangement. The elegance of the costume worn by the Riflewomen—which, to M. de Lasalle’s personal knowledge, was a powerful recruiting agent—might, if a man was inclined to be ill-natured, inspire him with certain ideas, not to say convictions, upon this critical point. Voyez plutôt comment on se met dans ce joli bataillon! Then follows a description of the uniform of the Riflewomen; and as it will be quite as new to our readers as to the well-informed French public who rely upon the “Monde Illustré” for their facts, here it is. “The hat is of circular form, something like the Spanish sombrero (it is, in fact, our old friend the Mandarin). The coat fits tight at the waist, and is embroidered and fashioned like that of the old mousquetaires; unmentionables à la Zouave; and from the garter downwards (Fie! M. de Lasalle!) discloses the form of the leg, which is covered by tight elastic hose. In the hat there is a plume, which is the sport of every wind. On serait jolie à moins!” So far M. Albert de Lasalle.

May we venture to suggest to him, that he has mistaken a pretty little photograph, which is just now to be seen in our shop-windows, for the indication of a serious fact. As well might we suppose that all the matrons of France and Belgium have taken to dancing the cancan because engravings of “La Reine Pomaré” engaged in that delightful exercise are still extant. Let our French neighbours come over to us as friends, not as enemies, and no doubt they will surrender at discretion before the sustained fire of our Riflewomen; but at least, in such a case, defeat will be agreeable, and death without pain.