The Saffron Hill Murder (7) — The Old Bailey

The stage was set for a full trial at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey — the trial that Sir Henry Brackenbury recalled so many years later.  The presiding judge was Baron Martin — the generally amiable Sir Samuel Martin QC (1801-1883), Anglo-Irish Baron of the Exchequer.  Not everyone was as persuaded of his impartiality as Brackenbury had been.

Baron Martin

William Ballantine (1812-1887), whose own involvement in the case was yet to come, recalled in his Some Experiences of a Barrister’s Life (1882): “This learned judge had been a very successful advocate upon the Northern Circuit, where, however, he had not had any experience in the criminal courts, and although essentially humane and kind-hearted, was hasty in forming opinions, and slow in changing them … very early in the case he took a strong view against the prisoner, and summing up in accordance with it, a verdict of guilty was pronounced.  Sentence of death was passed, the judge stating in the course of it that “he had never known more direct or conclusive evidence in any case”.   It would serve no useful purpose to discuss the testimony given by the various witnesses called … it was extremely conflicting, and there must have existed upon one side or the other very gross perjury”.

His thoughts on the handling of the case by the police were no less pointed and his analysis of the testimony fully justified: you could choose to believe one side or the other, but there was no middle ground.  There is a 13,000-word transcript on the Old Bailey Proceedings Online website for those who would like it in full.

A legal heavyweight had been appointed to prosecute — Hardinge Giffard (1823-1921), a future Lord Chancellor, created Earl of Halsbury in 1898, and remembered for the monumental Halsbury’s Laws of England (1907-1917).  His assistant was William Cole Beasley (1816-1888).  For the defence, J. G. Lewis had retained the Irish barrister William Ribton (1817-1889), remembered as a powerful advocate, author of New Trials in Criminal Cases (1853), assisted by Lewis’s son, the rising young barrister Frederic Hyman Lewis (1834-1889).  Also in court, acting as an unofficial assistant to Lewis, was his great friend, the celebrated barrister Montagu Williams (1835-1892), who was also to feature in later events.  Williams later recalled it “as one of the most remarkable cases in my career” (Leaves of a Life : Being the Reminiscences of Montagu Williams, Q.C., 1890).

Hardinge Giffard

Although Pelizzioni could have elected to be tried by a mixed jury — half English, half Italian — he was content with an English one.  Opening for the prosecution, Giffard summed up the known facts “almost in a nutshell”.  The only real issue was whether or not the prisoner was the man who stabbed Harrington. 

Fred Shaw repeated his previous evidence, adding some additional elucidation of the geography of the house.  He had known Pelizzioni by sight for some months, but had never previously spoken to him.  He later rather contradicted that by declaring that “he can speak as good English as I can; better English than he can Italian”.  He was challenged over some inconsistencies, but he had not seen the stabbings, so it mattered little.      

Alf Rebbeck was the next witness — still far from fully recovered.  His evidence remained confusing, especially as he now added that in consequence of something an Italian named John had said to him in the taproom, he went to alert the company in the bagatelle-room that trouble was brewing.  Something had been said about knives and Rebbeck had found time to provide some impromptu weapons — “two blind-rollers, a copper-stick, and a broom-handle”, possibly more, “I don’t know, I did it all in a flurry”.  The salient point remained that he knew Pelizzioni and was quite certain that this was the man who had stabbed him.  John the Italian subsequently turned out to be Giovanni Mogni, brother of the missing man Gregorio — he had also gone into hiding.       

Maria King repeated her earlier testimony about being knocked down.  The button-maker Mellowship, here called Mellership, now said “I saw several other Italians trying to get into the room, but they were forced back … I swear that he was the only Italian that came into the room”.  His earlier statement was read back: “The prisoner rushed in first; there were several other Italians behind him; when the Italians came into the room, the deceased had just finished singing a song”.  Under questioning, he repeatedly denied any collusion: “I have not been talking over this matter with anybody since; not with any of the witnesses or Mr Shaw … it has not been the subject of conversation once between Shaw and Potter and me”.

Stanley backed him up: “The door was shut upon him immediately, he being the only Italian in the room”.  Liddle, the french-polisher, said the same: “No other Italian besides the prisoner got into the room at the time … I swear that”.  And William King: “Seraphini had got into the bagatelle-room; nobody else”.  His earlier deposition was also read out: “The prisoner and other Italians came into the room”, to which he replied, “That is a mistake, because no one entered the room but him … I have not been conversing with anybody about it — I swear that; I have never talked of it in the way of gossip and conversation over a pint of beer … I have never spoken to anybody about the transaction since”.

The policemen Elliott and Fawell repeated their earlier evidence, both adding the familiar refrain, “There was no other Italian in the bagatelle-room besides the prisoner”.  The latter added that he had made enquiries concerning Gregorio, but had been unable to find him.  

Inspector Potter was subjected to what Montagu Williams remembered as “a very severe cross-examination by Mr Ribton, but nothing of any material importance was elicited”.  It did emerge that Potter had been asked to look for Gregorio and his brother.  Curiously, he denied that David Wells, Shaw’s father-in-law, had been assisting him, but then admitted that he had in fact sent for Wells to try to identify some men found at the “Bordessa”.  The prosecution concluded with Pearless the surgeon and Baldock the policeman confirming their previous testimony. 

Ribton’s first witness was Anne Sams, the young woman who had been dancing with Pelizzioni – just a single dance, which they did not finish as she felt giddy.  She did not see him again that evening: “I recollect the row commencing … I saw another man, who I knew by the name of Gregorio, with a dark moustache — he is like the prisoner — I saw him strike the blow at Mr Shaw … Mrs Shaw pushed her husband away, and told him to go into the parlour — Gregorio’s brother was with him — I saw them both rush from the side-box, to open the side-door, to go to the bagatelle-room … I saw Gregorio’s brother … he pushed the bagatelle-room door open … I did not see what was done in the bagatelle-room … Gregorio was the first one that came out … him and his brother — Gregorio came out without a cap … his brother seemed in the heat of passion then, and very white — I saw no blood — I was too frightened to look at him — I went into the side-box where Mr Shaw was first struck — I heard Gregorio … ‘You bloody old bugger, if you come out I will serve you the same’ … Gregorio said that to Mr Wells”.  Shaw then asked her to get a cab — “I had not heard before I went for the cab that anyone had been wounded, and I did not know who it was for; Mr Shaw asked me to fetch it, and I did”.

Cross-examined by Giffard, she added that she had not seen Mrs King knocked down.  She only knew Gregorio by sight.  Questioned further by Ribton, she was at pains to point out, “I am not a girl of the town, and I should not like to be one; I get my living honestly — I did not see any knives … I saw a rush made but I can’t tell how many made it — I never heard that they were using knives at all … I heard they were fighting in the bagatelle-room, and in the dancing-room they were fighting with sticks from one door to the other — I heard nothing about knives that night”. 

Rocco Angelinetta repeated his earlier evidence about Gregorio’s disappearance and then a new witness, Giovanni Marizzoni, testified that Gregorio, whom he knew well, “came to my house … about a quarter to ten at night, and asked me whether I would allow him to sleep on the shavings in my workshop — I said, ‘Yes’, and asked him whether he had left his master”.  When asked whether Gregorio had said anything about the “Golden Anchor”, Giffard immediately objected.  Ribton countered that something said by Gregorio was part of the res gestae and could be given in evidence.  Baron Martin ruled it inadmissible, and Gregorio’s evident admission of guilt went unheard.

Gaspane Mossi (the Gaspar Mossio of the earlier hearing), confirmed that likeness between the two men: “I was in the taproom — there is a passage going into the bar, and I saw Gregorio there; I saw nothing in his hand — he said, ‘You want six Italians; I will have six English’, and then he gave him [Shaw] a punch in the mouth … I was the last Italian who was there … I saw Gregorio strike Mr Shaw, and then go into the bagatelle-room, and in two minutes I saw the people rush out, and a chap held the door not to let them out — I moved opposite — they opened the door and I saw five or six sticks, fighting, and three or four Italians were there — that was the taproom — I did not see anything going on in the bagatelle-room, only they were going from one door to the other — I saw Gregorio with a knife in his hand; he showed it to Mrs Shaw, and said, ‘If you do not go and get my hat from the bagatelle-parlour I will give you one, and afterwards I will give it to your father’: he meant, ‘I will stab you and stab your father’ — he had a knife in his hand … Mrs Shaw said, ‘Don’t be stupid; I will go and get your hat’ … Mr Wells was there, and he said to me and my wife, ‘You had better go out’ — they sent me out at the side door, and I saw no more”.  The point about the hat was of course that if Gregorio’s hat was in the bagatelle-room, he must have been there.

Pietro Maznelli (probably the Pietro Mazzuchi of the earlier hearing) confirmed that Mrs Shaw had given Gregorio his hat.  Gotardo Bercini recalled her saying “Go away, run away” to him.  He had not noticed any knife.

Giacomo Mantua and Francisco Pongini (or Grachomo Montoa and Francisco Ponzini, as they appear in the transcript), confirmed their previous evidence, but the former now claimed (without it being declared inadmissible) that “I saw Gregorio after the row was over, not exactly inside the Bordessa, but in front of the house, between seven and a quarter past — he said he had wounded three men”.   

A new witness called Giacomo Buleti said with the aid of an interpreter, “I saw the bagatelle-room door … I then saw several Englishmen come out with sticks in their hands; then I saw a mixture of English and Italians together, fighting”.  He had not seen Pelizzioni at all.

Again through an interpreter, Pietro Maralizzi said, “I was at the Golden Anchor — I saw Gregorio there — he asked Mr Shaw, the landlord, if it was him that would knock down six Italians — he gave Mr Shaw a blow — there were a lot wishing to get into the bagatelle-room — I do not know whether they did get in … I was caught by the collar of my coat by some person, and was dragged out — Gregorio was standing with a knife in his left hand … I said, ‘For God’s sake, Gregorio, put away that knife’ — he said, ‘Let me alone’ — I do not know what became of him after that —there was great confusion towards the bagatelle-room”.

Another fresh witness was Elizabeth Lambert: “I was in the back-parlour when it first commenced — I do not know a man named Gregorio — I did not see anybody strike the landlord — there was a great row in the bagatelle-room, and confusion — they were quarrelling and fighting — the landlady came in and said that the Italians were in, and three or four of them were using their knives”.  Giffard again successfully objected to hearsay evidence.  She continued: “The landlady ran into the bar-parlour — I had one view just as the door was open, and I saw the Italians and the others up towards the fireplace fighting — I mean in the bagatelle-room — there were fourteen or sixteen Italians in the bagatelle-room … I saw the police drag the man out of the bagatelle-room — I had seen fighting going on only just about two minutes before that — the door of the bagatelle-room was only just pushed open, one ran in and another ran out — fighting was going on then — there was a man passed into the bagatelle-room, and I looked through the door at the time”.

Giffard asked where she was when she saw all this: “In the bar — when you are in the bar you can see the passage between the bagatelle-room and the taproom, you can see the entrance — there are two doors to the bagatelle-room, and I got the glance through what they call the bagatelle-room door … I was looking through the door which leads from the bar-parlour into the bagatelle-room — you cannot see that door from the taproom; that is further on — I saw fourteen or fifteen or perhaps sixteen Italians — there were a great many in there together — I called them Italians — I mean people altogether, I do not know how many Italians were there, but a good many ran in directly I entered, and as I entered — no one went in through the door through which I was looking, and I could not see the other door”.

Giffard was hostile: “Will you swear you were there that night at all?” — “Yes; I saw Rebbeck there after he was stabbed … I saw a lot of fighting up by the fireplace”.  

Libalio Pedrazolli had seen Gregorio strike Shaw: “He told me he would go in and do for the Englishmen — he opened the knife and said, ‘I will go in and settle all the lot by myself; I will clear them out’ — he went in, and I saw him enter the room with the knife open, and there was a scuffle … I could see Gregorio among the English, with the knife open … when I saw the knife open, I went and watched at the door — I could see inside, but could not see what was doing … Gregorio went in at one door, and came out at another”.  Ribton asked him more plainly, “Did you see Gregorio with a knife among a number of Englishmen?” — “Yes, the first time was in the dancing-room; that is at the entrance of the bagatelle-room”.

Dominico Cetta repeated that Gregorio had given him a knife at the “Bordessa” — “I held the knife a little while, and then threw it into the yard … Gregorio resembles the prisoner much”.

Thomas Cowland was Pietro Bordessa’s seventeen-year-old brother-in-law, working as a pot-boy at the “Bordessa”.  It was he who found the knife next morning: “I gave it up to a woman … I thought it was her husband’s — I opened it, it had been lying in the water all night … it looked rusty, but I did not think of this affair … I assisted Inspector Potter to get it again”.  Potter then produced two knives, but Cowland responded, “This is not the knife, nor is this — it is like this only the spring is broken”.  Potter insisted that one of the knives was the one he had been given, but Cowland was adamant: “The knife I found and gave to Inspector Potter, was looser than this”.  Giffard tried to browbeat him, “Do you really mean that this is not the knife you gave to Inspector Potter?” — “This is not the knife”.  Ribton clarified, “Was the knife like that?” — “Just like it — I kept it in my pocket about two hours without looking at it; it was exactly like this but the knife was looser than this”.

If matters were not already sufficiently confusing, a man called George Ayton was another of the company in the bagatelle-room.  Although appearing for the defence, his evidence tallied in almost all respects with what had been said by the prosecution witnesses.  He did add that Rebbeck had “got out at a window at the back, and got some sticks which were broken up, and laid on the bagatelle-board”, but with the unlikely claim that this was after he had been stabbed.  He also said there had been “fighting between the doorways and in the little passage”, but added “I cannot say who by, because there were a great many of them, English as well as other parties”.  Damage had undoubtedly been done to the defence case.  As Montagu Williams later admitted, “the evidence was not particularly satisfactory”.

Five character witnesses were then called, including Charles Galli of Hatton Garden, who all spoke of Pelizzioni as a “humane, good-tempered man, who was not at all likely to resort to the use of the knife” (London Evening Standard, 4th February 1865).

In his final address, Giffard simply reminded the jury that six eye-witnesses had unequivocally sworn to the fact of the prisoner having struck Harrington.  In his own summing up, Baron Martin stated that it was for the jury to determine guilt, but could suggest nothing which might warrant a verdict of manslaughter.

The jury only took ten minutes or so: the verdict was guilty.  Baron Martin approved: in his view Pelizzioni had been convicted on “the clearest possible evidence, and he must say the most direct and conclusive he had ever, in the whole course of his experience, heard”.  Pelizzioni was sentenced to hang.

To be continued …

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. He teaches annually at the London Rare Book School, University of London. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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