15 June 2020

An Execution at Execution Dock

St Mary the Virgin, Wivenhoe, Essex Headstone to the memory of Joseph and Harlow Martin

In the churchyard of the sleepy Essex riverside village of Wivenhoe there is a headstone standing against a wall, one of many. Since the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin was 'tidied up' in the 1960s it no longer marks the place where those named on it are buried. But it recalls a vicious murder which happened in the middle of the English Channel in the summer of 1815.

Formed in 1809, the Preventive Waterguard was the sea-based arm of revenue enforcement and complemented the "riding officers" who patrolled the shore. The Waterguard was initially based in Watch Houses around the coast.

Mary Cole was six or seven months pregnant when she married Joseph Martin, the father of her unborn child, on 5th November 1789. Their child, named Joseph after his father, was born in Wivenhoe two months later on 17th January 1790. Baby Joseph appears to have died in infancy.

Their next child, born in November 1791, was another son who they named Edward. He survived infancy and went on to become a Master of the Royal Navy and for thirty years commanded the Marquess of Anglesey's yacht Pearl. He is remembered today by a stained glass window in Wivenhoe's parish church.

Joseph and Mary's third child, born in 1793, was their first daughter. They named her Mary Elizabeth Martin. She went on to marry ship and house builder Thomas Harvey - my great-great-grandfather.

Their next two children followed with only eleven months between them. Joseph and Harlow were born in June 1794 and May 1795 respectively. They must have grown up together almost as twins. So it is scarcely surprising that when it came to finding a career they both chose to join the Preventive Waterguard.

By 1815 they were both working on the revenue cutter Fox patrolling the English Channel, looking out for smugglers who had - ironically - thrived during the Napoleonic Wars. Joseph aged twenty-one and Harlow aged just twenty. Fox was designed for speed rather than carrying capacity - catching smugglers was her job.

On 13th August 1815 Colchester witnessed a sad scene and one that brought news to the Martin family in Wivenhoe which they did not want to hear. One of the small rowing boats belonging to the Fox arrived in Colchester a couple of miles upriver from Wivenhoe. Captain Hore was in command and with him were several men who had been wounded by the crew of a large smuggling lugger between the Goodwin Sands and France. The lugger had run down the Fox's rowing boat which had been chasing her. The smugglers had fired at the crew and killed Joseph Martin, second mate of the Fox, his brother Harlow, two other men, and wounded all the others in the boat.

The Wivenhoe parish records contain no mention of the Martin brothers' burial in the churchyard, so it seems probable that their bodies were not in that small rowing boat. The account of the remand hearing (below) strongly suggests that Joseph Martin's body was not recovered, and that this may well have been the case with Harlow's body as well. Nevertheless, their family ensured that they were both remembered on this headstone.

Several months seem to have passed while the case was investigated. Bow Street Runners
were dispatched to France to interview witnesses, and one of the smugglers gave evidence against his former colleagues.

In November, one of the smugglers was captured and turned King's Evidence. By December, the case was sufficiently sound for a remand hearing at Bow Street Magistrates' Court.

From the Kentish Gazette, 2nd December 1815

Bow Street

Charge of Murder

Saturday a long examination took place at this Office ;before Richard Birnie, Esq. relative to the murder of four of the crew of the 'Fox' revenue cutter on the 8th of August last.

The Solicitor to the Customs conducted the proceedings for the prosecution and called William James who said he belonged to the 'Fox' cutter on the employ to the Excise.

On the 6th of August last witness was in the cutter's boat with the following persons comprising the crew,viz. Joseph Martin, second mate of the cutter; Harlow Martin, William King, John Bland, William Horrocks, Luke Underwood and Thomas Strutt, about six leagues off the South Foreland; witness, on leaving the watch, saw a lug-sail boat bearing S.S.E.; he gave notice to the master and the cutter's boat then at anchor was soon got under weigh and gave chace [sic] but did not fetch their object.

They put about and on nearing the smuggler, which was then on the opposite tack, the crew of the latter waved their hats in answer to which Harlow Martin fielded up the Fox's colours. The smuggler kept off; and the Fox's men fired several muskets upon which the smugglers lowered their main lugsail. As they were near running the boat down, Martin said to them "keep off;" some of their crew replied "you precious ------, you perish every soul of you."

The stern of the smuggler immediately struck the boat and her crew discharged their arms and shot Joseph Martin and King; Martin then discharged two pistols and attempted get into the smugglers' boat, some of whom pushed him overboard and he was seen no more.

King kept in the boat's bow but was afterwards shot dead. Four of the Fox's men boarded the smuggler for the boat was sinking. Harlow Martin was also wounded and thrown overboard but recovered and swam back to the boat and clung to the gunwale. The smugglers hove John Bland out their boat into the Fox's. The boats were then cleared and the Fox's boat fell over upon her side. The Fox's people still clung to her and two hours after Harlow Martin said to his associate Bland "Good bye, dear John, I can't stop any longer," and fell dead into the water.

The witness was here ordered to look upon the prisoners, Gillham [The majority of sources spell this Gillam] and Brockman; but could not say that they were the men. The three other survivors were called but they could not swear to the prisoners. An accomplice, however, identified Gillham as the Captain the smuggler and the other having been a party concerned. They were remanded.
With Gillam and Brockman on remand, a month went past before the case was heard by the Court of Admiralty [The Court of Admiralty was responsible for crimes occurring at sea] at the Old Bailey.

From the Kentish Gazette, 26th January 1816

Adjourned Admiralty Sessions

Monday, Jan. 22

Trial for murder

At Justice Hall in the Old Bailey before Sir William Scott [Judge of the High Court of Admiralty] and Sir Vicary Gibbs [Chief Justice of the Common Pleas], John Gillam, William Brockman (alias Brock alias Billy Rock) and Samuel Brice stood capitally indicted for the wilful murder of Harlow Martin, Joseph Martin, William King and William Horrox [Horrocks] on the high seas, within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty of England, about six leagues from Ramsgate, in the county of Kent, the 8th of August last.

Mr. Bolland opened the indictment which contained various counts charging them with the murders of the individuals mentioned separately.

The Attorney-General [Sir Vicary Gibbs had actually retired from the post in May 1812] at considerable length stated the case.

William James, the first witness, deposed that he was a seaman belonging to the Fox revenue cutter on the 8th of August last. He was in the eight-oared boat of the cutter that day together with the deceased and others of the crew. They were lying about six leagues [18 nautical miles; 20.7 statute miles; 33.3 km] from the South Foreland, about half way across the Channel [South Foreland is the closest point on the British mainland to the European continent at a distance of 20.6 miles (33.2 km); this is at odds with the "six leagues"]. About one o'clock at noon they observed sail which appeared to be coming from the coast of France. It was a lug-boat. She was then within five or six miles of the Fox. The boat neared them and they hauled anchor and made a tack to come up with her. She neared them to within about a mile and half and the Fox then hoisted her colours and fired a gun bring the boat to but the signal was not obeyed.

Witness and his companions neared them to within half a mile and the boat of the prisoners then made towards them. The deceased Joseph Martin, who commanded the boat of the Fox, waved his hat and called out to them to keep off. The reply of the crew in the prisoner's boat, however, was "you shall perish every soul of you."

Their boat immediately ran in upon them and cut the side of that belonging to the Fox. The prisoner John Gillam, who commanded the smuggling boat, and his companions then commenced firing blunderbusses and other fire arms by which Harlow Martin and others of the crew were wounded.
Witness and three others boarded the smuggler when they were attacked and beat by the crew of that boat. Harlow Martin was shot in the breast and afterwards received a blow on the side of the head with a musket and was thrown overboard.
Witness and Bland escaped back to their boat much beaten. William King was then sitting in the boat labouring under a musket wound the neck of which he afterwards died. Harlow Martin was this time clinging to the end of the boat and on the point of sinking. The boat of the prisoners then stood away from them and the boat the Fox became a complete wreck the flat bottom being turned up.
After rowing some distance from them towards France the prisoner's boat again put towards them and witness and the other survivors asked for assistance: the crew however laughed at them, some of them waving their hats and pointing downwards as if they meant to say "sink". Harlow Marlin fell from their hold which he had some time maintained and was lost; William King, Joseph Martin and William Horrox were also lost.
The conflict commenced about three o'clock and lasted some minutes. The witness and his surviving companions floated upon the wreck of their boat until seven o'clock in the evening when they were picked up a Deal boat. The names of these surviving companions were Thomas Strutt, John Bland, and Thomas Underwood. While floating upon the wreck witness and his companions saw prisoner's boat row for the English coast.
Strutt, Underwood and Bland confirmed the testimony of the last witness. All of them particularised the kind of boat which the prisoners were in the inhuman manner in which they attacked and fired upon them particularly Harlow Martin and the still more cruel conduct they evinced when the boat of the Fox had become a wreck and four the hands that had not sunk were floating upon it.
John Atkins, one of the crew the prisoner's boat, but who had since become an evidence deposed that in the month of August last he saw the prisoner Gillam who was the master in Walmer Roads. The latter engaged him to go a voyage to Boulogne and he agreed to go tor 7 guineas. It was long white galley and was generally called a Centipede. It was quite new and newly rigged and they went from Deal to perform their trip.
The three prisoners were then on board. There were also the brother of the witness Henry Atkins, Joseph Brown, Thomas Andrews, William Daniel, Thomas Epps, "Jack of Clubs", and Duckey Wells making in all eleven, ten oars and John Gillam who steered.
They arrived at Boulogne the day after, and took in a cargo of spirits in tubs, or half anchors as they are called, each holding about three gallons and half. The boat might hold rather more than 200 tubs.
They left Boulogne for England about eight o'clock on the morning of the 8th of August last with this cargo, the whole of the persons already named returning in the boat. Witness did not know that there were fire arms aboard when they left Deal, but discovered that there were two blunderbusses, two pistols and some musquets there when they sailed from Boulogne.
On their passage home they fell in with number of fishing boats upon the oyster beds between Calais and Gravelines. They got a basket of oysters on board from one George Church, and in return gave him three bottles of cherry brandy. They then set sail again, and had nearly got halfway across, when they observed a boat at anchor, with her sails down.
Having neared her a little more, she got under weigh and advanced closer, she fired a gun to bring the prisoner's boat to. Witness and his companions however kept their course and refused to answer the signal. The sail wore towards and gained upon them, but she did not appear so long or large as their own boat.
Upon each coming within hail, witness heard a cry from the boat of the Fox, "Keep off, we don;t wish to have anything to do with you." Two or three of the crew cried out to Gillam to do so, but the latter replied, "no; he would either go on board or sink them." Gillam, who steered, might have gone clear if he pleased.

After making some manoeuvres, their boat ran in upon the side of the boat, and commenced firing. One man from the boat of the boarded them, but he was knocked overboard. There was a considerable firing and conflict, which lasted about five minutes, when they stood away towards the French coast.

They afterwards veered again and bore to the eastward; witness heard "Billy Rock" say he had shot one man. On turning round and again passing the boat of the Fox, he saw four men floating on her broad bottom wreck. One of the crew said, "let us go and put them out of the way." This, however, was objected to, and they were left to their fate.

The witness and his companions then made their way to England, and arrived, at twelve o'clock that night, in Herne Bay. The goods they had board were landed safe.

They afterwards took the boat a little along shore, and put in some beach as ballast. While engaged this way, a boat came up, and demanded to know what their boat was? Gillam replied, it was "a wooden one." This appeared to be the boat of another revenue cutter, and after searching their boat, it put off. The fire arms which they had board were left upon the banks, after which Gillam gave orders to put to sea, and they went to Gravelines.

The same crew that went Boulogne and returned, were still on board. They all went on shore at Gravelines to the house of one Rosa Le Clerq. They slept there that night, and next day John Gillam left them to come to England. Witness's brother, and "Jack of Clubs", were wounded in the conflict with the boat of the Fox. They all remained until Saturday in Gravelines, when a person called "Gipsey Jack" came from England, and brought some news!

Witness heard from him that four of the Fox's men had been picked up, and he immediately resolved upon coming home. That afternoon himself, his brother, W. Brice and Thomas Epps left Gravelines. They were followed two others the party, with "Gipsey Jack" to Calais, from whence, in two separate vessels, they sailed for Dover.

A few days after his arrival in England, he met Gillam in the neighbourhood of Deal. From him he received eight guineas for his voyage, observing to him that there was one extra account of the fray which had happened. Gillam was soon after taken into custody, but was again liberated when he observed to the witness, "he was glad had been taken, as he would take care he would not he secured again."

Witness was apprehended in November last and was since detained to give his evidence.

Cross-examined by Mr Alley

Determined to give his evidence in four or five days after he was taken up. His testimony, however,
was not received by the Magistrate for 14 days, he kept a lodging house at Walmer, but was never indicted. Did not exactly know that there was £1000 reward offered the present case, until sometime after he had determined to give evidence. He had heard £500 and subsequently the £1000. Never threatened do Gillam an injury. Witness informed against all the parties, not excepting his own brother. Never knew the prisoner Brice before the transaction in question.

Re-examined by the Attorney-General

Gillam proposed him about fortnight after the affair to go smuggling again? He refused, as did his brother also. Gilliam then said, "if you don't with me, then you'll never go at all.""

George Church deposed that on the 8th of August last was fishing upon the oyster grounds between Calais and Gravelines. Remembers seeing a large boat come from the direction of Boulogne with her main lug set. She came within stone's throw of witness and other persons fishing there. Witness went in a punt belonging to one Jemmy George, with two lads, alongside the boat in question gave them a basket of oysters, upon which some persons on board asked if they would have any cherry brandy?

Witness accepted of three bottles for different persons, and left the boat; one the parbailed, and said, "is she nicely trimmed; does she look deep." Witness replied she looked very well. He could not identify the prisoners, but had some slight recollection ot Gillam.

Hart, the son-in-law of the last witness, remembered the lug-boat, the transmission of the oysters, and the receipt of the brandy. Witness remembered Billy Rock in the long white boat, but could not speak with certainty to the others.

James George corroborated this testimony; saw the boat or centiped; Gillam and John Atkins were on board; knew them both about two years, and had no doubt of their persons.

Cross-examined by Mr Alley

Witness did not give information of what knew until about five weeks ago; had since heard, and not before, that a reward had been offered to the conviction the persons who committed the crime in question. He was not since out of town, being advised by Mr Mahow, the solicitor to the excise, not to go. That gentleman was to defray his expenses while detained.

Examined by the Attorney-General

No other boat than that of Gillam's had given his boat brandy or them oysters.

Henry Tillman was one of the petty officers belonging to the Scorpion revenue cutter. On the 8th of August last he left her with five others and went on board the long boat in Herne Bay as "look out." About two o'clock on the following morning, they saw a long white boat lying on the shore at Beltinge. She appeared to be from forty to fifty feet in length. Witness approached and asked what boat she was. A man said he did not know but looked into her himself and saw nothing but ballast with which they were filling her. He saw the crew about her, eleven in number and the boat put to sea.

George Warren and W Barfield corroborated this evidence. and produced the fire arms which they had found after the departure of the boat, already mentioned, from the shore.

Rosa Le Clerq deposed that she lived between the harbour and town of Gravelines. Many persons resorted to her house. She knew Gillam for three or four years - knew John Atkins about the same time. Gillam frequently came to her place, and remembers his being there particularly the 9th of August last; ten others came with him, they were all Englishmen, and with them was Billy Rock, J. Atkins, and J. Brown. She does not know names of the others - knew person of Brice but could not swear to him; they remained there all night.

The parties came in a long white boat, and two of them were wounded. One called Jack of Clubs was hurt over the eye; she saw him wash it with milk and water, his hair was also cut about the wound. The prisoner Gillam went away, as he said, to England on the following morning. Some person came in a few days after and took away six more. Jack of Clubs, Brown, Billy Rock, and another remained.

Gillam returned in a few days. Witness told him she had heard he had been put in prison. His reply was "you see I am not." In some days after, he, with the four already mentioned, went away and said they were going to Dunkirk. Witness saw them go away in the long-boat, which like others, was used by Gillam and the smugglers, conveying spirits from the French coast. Witness remembered Taunton and Howley, two Bow Street officers, afterwards coming to her house.

John Louis Le Clerq, husband to the last witness, confirmed her testimony. He remembered the party of eleven, of which Gillam was the head, coming to his house. He was employed by that person to watch the boat, of he which took the charge for sixteen nights. The party were all Englishmen. He was paid by Giilam for his labour, and was well acquainted with his person; knew the prisoner Billy Rock; also, and remembered the witness, Atkins, being of the party; he remembered the departure of Gillarn and his return; the departure of six of the original crew, and the circumstance of six other hands being brought to man the boat to Dunkirk.

The prosecution having closed, Sir Vicary Gibbs desired to know if the prisoners had any thing to offer in their defence.

Gillam asserted his innocence. He had frequently risked his life for persons in distress and never injured anyone to his knowledge. He had offended Atkins by not taking him out in board him, and had sworn to be revenged on him which he was now doing by swearing away the life of an innocent man.

Brockman denied any concern whatever in the transaction, and said that a severe illness for more than a year, precluded the possibility of his having been engaged in such an undertaking.

Brice in the most solemn manner, denied any knowledge of, or participation in, the crime.

The prisoners called no witnesses.

Sir Vicary Gibbs then proceeded to sum up the evidence. He observed that if the Jury had merely to scrutinise and examine upon the evidence of accomplice Atkins, unsupported by other testimony, even the most trivial in the case, related by him, were confirmed by, he would say, "a cloud of witnesses", there was less embarrassment in this exercise of their painful duty. If his evidence, therefore, supported by the testimony they had heard, was to be credited, he feared it must be fatal to the prisoners.

If a doubt remained on their minds of a rational and well founded nature, the Jury would no doubt give the benefit of that impression to the prisoners. With regard to the prisoner Brice, he knew there was other identify[identification] of him beyond that of Atkins; but if all that person had detailed was so incontestably confirmed, it remained with the Jury to say whether, with respect to his evidence, it was not as complete and as correct as it had been throughout.

The Learned Judge concluded by recommending the Jury to weigh the case dispassionately; and if they felt themselves painfully bound to convict the prisoners, not to shrink from their public duty.'

The Jury then retired, and after an absence of about hour and a half, returned with a verdict of acquittal on the part of W. Brice, and finding John Gillam and William Brockman, alias Brock, alias Billy Rock, guilty.

Sir William Scott, in the most solemn and affecting manner, immediately proceeded to pass the awful sentence of the law upon the two last prisoners, which was, that they should be executed on Wednesday morning next, at Execution Dock, and their bodies to be afterwards given over to surgeons for dissection.

This sentence, however, was afterwards respited to Wednesday the 31st instant on account of the tide not serving at an hour for the purpose contemplated in such cases [according to custom, the hanging would take place below the low water mark and then the incoming tide should cover the body once dead; what is being said here is that the tide was not at the right level to allow for the body to be covered].

W. Brice was afterwards put to the bar and arraigned upon the several indictments which imputed to him the murder of the other persons of the Fox cutter, who met with their death on the 8th of August. On each of these he was respectively acquitted, and dismissed with an admonition from the court.

From the Evening Mail, 2nd February 1816:


ln the course of Monday the sacrament was administered to these unfortunate men in the condemned cell by the Rev. James Rudge [Dr James Horace Rudge (1783-1852), minister of St Anne's, Limehouse], who, at their express desire, has attended them daily since their conviction.

Previous to their receiving the holy sacrament of the Lord's Supper, they fully acknowledged Mr. Rudge the justice of their sentence, and their deep conviction of the crime for which they were to suffer.

After the ceremony, Mr. R. conducted their respective friends to them for the last lime.

Yesterday morning they were hanged at Execution Dock. At a quarter past nine the unfortunate wretches entered the cart from the felons' side of Newgate, attended by the executioner and a great number of officers. Gillain seemed much dejected; but in the appearance of Brockman there was no alteration since his trial.

Before they entered the cart, they shook hands with their friends, and said to them that they were going upon a more prosperous voyage than any they had yet taken, and that they would reach it sooner. Gillam looked with great benevolence upon all around him. He took from his neck silk handkerchief, which he begged the gaoler would deliver to an intimate friend. The unfortunate delinquents arrived at the fatal spot about a quarter past ten o'clock, and met their fate with calmness and resignation.
The hanging of Gillam and Brockman at Execution Dock

This image of the execution of Gillam and Brockman is taken from the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, specifically Treasures from the Library, 49, The Bulletin of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 89(5), p. 184.;"Murder in the English channel"

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