Pitt, John

Pitt, John        1880 April 10th

Throwing The Man Into The River Avon

The excitement consequent upon the election having somewhat subsided, considerable attention was in the earlier part of the week evinced in the sad fate of “poor John Pitt,” whose almost inanimate body was dragged from the river Avon on Tuesday morning, the 30th ult. The interest has been by no means allayed by the verdict returned by the jury. “Wilful Murder of John Pitt,” was the result of their investigation, and on that charge, Henry Bungay, the accused, stood arraigned on the following morning.

As the old pensioner answered to the charge, he presented a not unprepossessing appearance, considering the life he has of late led. Evincing at the introductory portion of the proceedings an eager interest in the examination, though apparently otherwise calm, the old man responded almost with a cry of despair, at the termination, to the interrogation of the Town Clerk. “I don’t want to hear any more,” he ejaculated, “ten witnesses called, and not one for me – all are against me.”

Between he and Pitt there appears to have been a long-standing breach. Pitt was not, according to Mr Knight, a particularly quarrelsome man, but Bungay, in his cups, was an extremely pugilistic character. More than once, it appears, has he used threats of a violent character against Pitt, and all these will be thrown into the scale of discrimination between the sentence for murder or manslaughter.

Then there is his attempt at concealment immediately after commission of the crime, which, though he attempts to explain with the assurance of his hope that from an orifice in the closet he should see and be able perhaps to rescue Pitt, will undoubtedly go, when before a body of his countrymen at Winchester, very much against him. After the old man had made his statement to the Bench, the written recapitulation was handed to him for signature, and he signed his name with a very agitated hand. Before removal to the police-station the seriousness of his position seemed to burst fully upon him, and the expression of interest and eagerness gave place to one almost of blank despair.

The Coroner’s Inquest

The inquest on the body was resumed (having been formally opened only at the Infirmary) at the Council Chamber, on Wednesday morning, before Mr George Smith, city coroner, and a jury. The following gentlemen composed the jury : Mr A C Kemm (foreman), Messrs Joseph Naish, Frank Simmonds, Frank Highman, Edward Alexander, Charles Clements, Frederick Pearcey, Frank Alexander, Charles Luxton, John W Butcher, Frederick Pyke, Thomas Brooks, and Samuel Hayter.

Mr Superintendent Mathews, continuing his evidence from the adjourned inquiry, said : Since the 30th of March last, the date of the sad occurrence, I have examined the spot where deceased was supposed to have fallen into the water. I find the stream 3ft 9in deep at the side, and in the centre 5ft 6in. There are, however, several large holes near there, which are much deeper. At the time of the occurrence there were two hatches up, which would doubtless increase the depth to 6ft or 7ft. Of course the water was flowing swiftly, and, the mill being at work, was naturally very much disturbed. After the deceased was taken from the water, I saw him at the Infirmary, and he appeared to have struck his head, there being a bruise on the temple.

Stephen Everett was next examined, and he stated : I reside at Little Langford and am employed at dairy work by Mr Andrews. On the day in question – the 30th – I put my horse and cart up at the “Shoulder of Mutton.” Between one and half past one I went to the stables intending to fetch my horse and go home; and whilst standing at the stable door I could see the water flowing from the mill, which was evidently at work. One of the three hatches – that near the spot where deceased “went” in – was not up. I had got up to the two half-doors dividing the yard of the stable with the mill yard, when, on looking round – an action I can’t exactly account for, but perhaps to see whether I had the sack which I carried some corn in – I saw a man take hold of another “sort of” by the shoulder and by the head with both hands, and push him against the rail, which was rather slanting across the stream. The one that was pushed fell down to the ground, and his opponent then took him hold “sort of” by the head and the top of the shoulder whilst he was on the ground, and pushed him into the water. During the time he was being pushed into the water, the poor fellow tried to save himself by clenching at the ground, and holding to the rail. I did not hear him call for assistance, and, in fact, I heard nothing of them say a word. Neither did I see any actual blows struck. After the commission of the act the culprit looked round towards the stable door, and then went into the closet close by. I don;t think I could tell the man again if I saw him. The whole transaction scarcely took ten moments in its commission. I told several in the outer stable-yard of what had occurred – amongst others, the ostler; and subsequently the body was taken out.

By a juryman : The scuffle took place on the side nearest the water-closet.

Mr Mathews here remarked that there was a deep hole just at that point.

The witness was then taken from the Council Chamber to the police-station to see the accused, and he identified him as the man who pushed the other into the water.

Robert Long, ostler at the “Shoulder of Mutton,” said he resided at 117, Castle-street. He was informed between one and two on the 30th ult., that a man had pushed another into the water. He said to the person who informed him, “Where is he?” (meaning the man who pushed the other into the water). The reply was, “Down below, near the closet.” I (witness) went to the closet, and opening the door saw this old pensioner, whom we call Sergeant Bungay. I said to him, “What have you been at with Jack Pitt.” He said, “I haven’t seen him.” I then stepped on to the stone of the flood hatch, and said to several persons, “I can’t see him.” Immediately I had spoken, however, I saw Pitt’s head come up to the surface of the water. I said “All right” and crossed over to the middle of the stream by means of the stones projecting from the mill. There I got into the water, and I caught hold of the deceased. Seeing some people on the bridge, I asked them to lend me a helping hand, and Mr Leaver immediately came to my assistance. Together we got him out of the water, and the poor fellow was then taken to the Infirmary. Some time previous on that morning I had seen Pitt, and then he certainly appeared as though he had been drinking. Some time ago Pitt and Bungay had a scuffle in the yard, and Pitt succeeded in giving his opponent a black eye.

Henry Thring deposed that he lived in the Friary, and was coachman to Mr Lee, medical practitioner, of Salisbury. Between one and two o’clock on the 30th, he was in Lewis Thring’s van, in the “Shoulder of Mutton” yard, when Lewis Thring said to him, referring to Pitt and Bungay, who were quarrelling close to the water, “Them two will be in the water directly.” One man had hold of the other’s hand with the other raised, but he saw no blows struck. Witness and his companion then got out of the van, and on looking for the men again found they had disappeared. He immediately ran down to the closet, and there he saw Bungay, who had been with Pitt. In answer to his interrogatory, Bungay said Pitt had slipped into the water. He went down to the closet before Long. On leaving the closet he at once raised an alarm.

Mr William George Knight, proprietor of the “Shoulder of Mutton,” said his attention was called about one o’clock on Tuesday, March 30th, to the fact that a man had fallen into the river behind his premises. He hurried to the spot, but the deceased had already been taken from the water. He saw the deceased and immediately recognised the body as that of John Pitt. Upon several occasions he had heard Bungay use threats of a violent nature towards Pitt. In fact, he had never seen Bungay at his house without his quarrelling with Pitt. On the last occasion – about Christmas – when he heard Bungay threaten Pitt (they had been fighting in his bar), the words Bungay used were, “I will do something for thee, if it isn’t for twenty years.” Neither of the men were in is employ. Pitt had been drinking in his bar on the morning of the 30th March. The last time he saw him before the occurrence was about eleven o’clock; then he was not exactly sober and not drink.

Mr Gilbert Harris, butcher, of 23, Fisherton-street, deposed that he saw Pitt and Bungay – whom he had identified at the police-station – together on the 30th of March, about half past one. Having occasion just at that time to go to Mr Knight’s stable yard, he saw the “Sergeant” standing against the closet door. Afterwards he saw Pitt and Bungay together, the former leaning against the rim of the water-closet, and the “Sergeant” standing by his side in a threatening attitude. They appeared to be quarrelling, but he did not hear what was said, and saw no blows struck. He left them there together. He did not notice at the time that Pitt was tipsy, but he should certainly say that the “Sergeant” was the worse for beer. About three quarters of an hour after he heard that Pitt had been found in the water.

George Pearcey, of the Old George-place, High-street, said he was in Mr Knight’s stable-yard brushing down a horse on the 30th of March, between one and two, when he saw John Pitt come down the yard and go into the closet. Bungay shortly after followed him, and on Pitt coming out of the door Bungay caught hold of him by the right arm. He then turned round to brush his horse, and when he again looked both had disappeared. He could not hear what was said by the men because of the roar of the water. They were, however, both in liquor, Pitt more so than Bungay. The ostler, as soon as Pitt was missed, sent him for the police.

Edward Carter, of Mist’s Court, Milford-hill, deposed that he occasionally assisted the ostler at the “Shoulder of Mutton,” and on the day in question he saw Pitt go down the yard between one and two towards the closet, and he appeared to have been drinking. Shortly after the “Sergeant” came down the yard – he also appeared to have been drinking – and also went towards the closet. When this occurred, he (witness) was cleaning horses. When Pitt came out of the closet, Bungay and he stood together against the water. He could not hear anything that was said on account of the rushing of the water. He saw Bungay with Pitt’s right-hand in his right-hand; and he then thought they were playing. Bungay’s hand was however raised; but he did not see any blows struck by him. As he was at this point called away to take charge of a horse he did not see any more. Shortly after the alarm was given that Pitt was in the water, and he at once ejaculated, “For pity’s sake, I believe both of them are gone over,” immediately going to the edge of the water. At this time Bungay was in the closet. The ostler jumped across from pier to pier, and having got into the water, rescued the body.

By a juror : He never knew Pitt had fits.

By another juryman : Some one asked Bungay, when he was in the closet, what he had done with Pitt, and he replied, “I know nothing about it.”

Mr Frederick Fawson Lee, medical practitioner of Salisbury, said he saw the deceased at Fisherton Bridge, after he had been taken out of the water. He then believed him to be dead. He tried, with Mr Kelland, who shortly afterwards arrived, to artificially inflate the lungs and to restore breathing. Subsequently he, at the Infirmary, assisted Mr Kelland and others in attempting to restore animation, but their efforts were in both instances unsuccessful. From the first he considered it a hopeless case, but, nevertheless, used every effort. He was present during a subsequent examination of the body; and he considered that death resulted form a shock – due to a sudden immersion in the water – accelerated by disease and habits of intemperance, rather than from suffocation. There was no indication of any violent struggle for breathing having taken place. There were a few scratches on the right side of the forehead and on the nose, but those could be accounted for by the body scraping against the body of the river.

It was here remarked by a juryman that deceased had suffered from fits.

Mr Lee said there was nothing to indicate he was in a fit when he entered the river. He was, however, not prepared to say that if he had been in a fit from the commencement, there would have been any indication of it. Death from suffocation by drowning or by the results of a fit might produce evidence of a similar character.

Mr James Kelland, house surgeon of the Salisbury Infirmary, was the last witness and he corroborated the evidence of Mr Lee.

The Coroner then read over the evidence and commented on various portions. If the evidence of Mr Knight were to be believed – and of course he did not see why it should not – Bungay threw the man into the water purposely. Then the question arose as to whether the offence of manslaughter of or murder was committed. In the case of murder, they must be satisfied there was malice aforethought; in the case of manslaughter malice may not be evident. The Act stated “malice is either expressed or implied in law; express malice is where one in a sedate, deliberate mind and formed design kills another, which formed design is evidenced by external circumstances, discovering that inward intention as lying-in-wait, antecedent menaces, former grudges and separate schemes to do him bodily harm.”

The question was whether the malice Mr Knight had spoken of was sufficient to constitute the offence of wilful murder; if they thought it not they must return a verdict of manslaughter. Drunkenness was no excuse for an offence of this kind. It was illegal and if persons got inebriated they must accept the consequences of their acts. It did not follow if the deceased did not die by suffocation but by shock caused by sudden immersion that the person who caused that immersion was not guilty of murder. There was no evidence to show that deceased had a fit at all, whilst there was ample evidence to show he was pushed into the water; and the medical evidence proved that the direct cause of death was by drowning. If express malice preceded the act, it constituted the offence of murder.

Whilst considering the verdict a juryman asked, “If a man pushed another into the water and did not try to rescue him would he be guilty of murder.”

The Coroner : I should say so.

After about half-an-hour’s deliberation, the foreman of the jury announced the verdict to be Wilful Murder against Henry Bungay.

A conversation here ensued as to the desirability of protecting this portion of the stream by railing. It was stated that formerly there had been rails there, but that they had been removed to enable workmen engaged at St Thomas’ Churchyard to wash their sand. It was the wish of the jury that the landlord should be requested to protect this portion of the stream.

Magisterial Hearing 1880 April 10th

On Thursday the accused Henry Bungay was brought up before the Mayor (Mr W Hicks), Deputy-Inspector-General Read and Mr Stokes, at the Council Chamber, and charged with having wilfully murdered, with malice aforethought, one John Pitt.

Mr Supt Mathews then recapped the case for the prosecution, which followed the same evidence at given at the inquest, with the exception that Mr Mathews stated that Bungay was not so much in liquor as had been previously thought. There then followed a statement by the defendant, as follows,

When asked if he had anything to say prisoner attributed the death of Pitt to an accident. He said, and he wished it taken down in writing, “I tell you why I came to the yard. I was standing near the Market-house when a soldier from Stratford came to me and said, ‘Will you take these things to the railway-station for me.’ I said, ‘Yes,’ and he replied, ‘I will give you 6d.’ Accordingly I took the articles to the South-Western station, and on returning down Fisherton, I was suddenly taken ill and obliged to turn into the “Shoulder of Mutton” yard. Pitt went on just before me, and consequently I had to wait at the closet door. When he came out I saw he was in beer – very heavy in beer. I said, ‘Come out of the way,’ as I was in a hurry to pass in. As he did not pass, I took him hold by the hand to get him out of the way, and when I let go his hand he wheeled round and fell backwards into the water. Then I went into the closet; and that’s all. That’s how I came into the closet.”

The Mayor said, ‘The Magistrates have decided to commit you for trial on this charge at the next Assizes, to be held this month at Winchester.”

Prisoner : This month?

The Mayor : Yes.

Prisoner : Do you know what day?

The Mayor : About the 20th, on Monday or Tuesday week.

The witnesses were then bound over, and the examination terminated.

Winchester Assizes Trial 1880 May 1st

The case here depended largely on the defence evidence, which was used to suggest that the charge of murder was not sustainable, due in part to the possibility that the two men were the worse for wear and struggling between them, that the fencing rail was dilapidated, that it was not a premeditated act, and that it took place with six pairs of eyes watching and none of the witnesses doing anything to prevent.

The jury threw out the charge of Wilful Murder, and instead convicted 63 year old Bungay on Manslaughter, and he was sentenced to ten years penal servitude with hard labour.

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