Oldalképek
PDF

examination was going forward, the junior counsel on both sides were busily engaged out of court in the endeavour to effect an agreement by which the action might be settled without going to the jury. This was at last accomplished. Mr. Serjeant Shee, addressing the Judge, said: My lord, we have agreed to withdraw a juror. It has been arranged that the plaintiff and the defendant shall divide the value of the property which has been the subject of the action, and that the plaintiff shall confirm the title of the defendant by all proper means, so that there can be no doubt whatever in future as to the validity of his title. A juror was accordingly withdrawn. Mr. Baron Martin then said: The deed of July, 1855, and the will of September, 1856, must be impounded, and the witness must be taken with them at once before a justice of the peace, who will immediately take the depositions in order to commit him for trial.— I presume, to be tried before the Central Criminal Court. The witness William Roupell was then removed in custody, and the Court broke up. Immediately after the adjournment of the court, the prisoner was taken before the borough justices, by whom he was fully committed to take his trial at the Central Criminal Court. The trial of William Roupell was appointed to take place at the Central Criminal Court on the 24th of September. Meantime, the prisoner was held in confinement in Horsemonger-lane Gaol, where he remained, wholly unvisited by any of his relatives, with or from whom he neither made nor received any communications.

When arraigned at the opening of the session at the Central Criminal Court on the two indictments—first, of forging the deed of 1855, and, second, of forging the will of 1856, the prisoner declined to plead—whereupon the Judge directed a plea of Not Guilty to be entered. On the day of trial, however, it was intimated to the Court that the prisoner desired to withdraw that plea, and to plead Guilty to both the charges; and with the consent of the presiding Judge (Mr Justice Byles), he was permitted to do so. The prisoner was then placed at the bar He walked to the front of the dock with a firm step, and throughout the remainder of the proceedings exhibited the greatest firmness and self-possesS10n. Persisting in the plea of Guilty, he was asked in the usual form what he had to say why judgment according to law should not be passed upon him. In a clear voice he responded as follows:– “My lord, I am aware that a British judge will do his duty uninfluenced or unbiassed by either eloquence or professional skill; my words, therefore, shall be few and simple. I am guilty of these crimes, and I confess them, but I must add that my life has been one continued mistake. In my youth I suffered privations of which the public can have no conception. At the age of 21 I incurred a debt to purchase books —that debt was contracted with one who was connected with me by the most intimate tie. My friend who lent me the money suddenly became involved in grievous pecuniary troubles, which caused him to meditate suicide. I could not

pay him the money I owed him. I could not get assistance, and I risked my soul to save my friend. (The prisoner here exhibited slight emotion.) I will not say how that friend requited me. Whatever I have suffered I have deserved. I don't wish to cast blame on any man; the guilt is mine alone, and I admit that it is unmitigated guilt. It is true that I have had to bear peculiar trials, but I have not been tempted more than I should have been able to bear, and I repeat that the guilt is mine, and mine alone. I wish to cast blame on no (ne. I am most desirous to clear every one connected with me from any share in this most monstrous guilt, and I particularly allude to those professional men who had transactions with me, and who were retained by me to make these deeds. No precaution could have prevented them from being deceived. No precaution could have prevented them from being imposed upon by a desperate man such as I was. I grieve that so many innocent persons should have suffered by my proceedings, and that they should lose the property which they believed they had legally purchased from me; but the motive for the course I have now taken is simple. There is no truth in the suggestion that has been made in many quarters, that my conduct is to be explained by the fact that, being myself irretrievably ruined, I have been induced to make these admissions in order simply to benefit my family at the expense of others, without any regard to truth or justice. I submit, my lord, that such a supposition as this carries its own refutation with it. The crimes that I subsequently committed were all the consequences of my first false

step. It is true that my father just before he died, continued to express the confidence he reposed in me, and he undoubtedly retained that confidence in me after the great fraud that I had already committed. It is also true that he was desirous that I should take possession of the whole of his property, and that I should have the entire control over the property, subject to annuities of certain amounts which he desired to be given to the different members of the family. But I was prevented by my previous crimes from carrying out his wishes in the way he desired, though when I committed my subsequent crime of forging my father's will, I really believed that I was merely carrying out his intentions, and that I was justified in the course I pursued. I do not think so now. My ruin has been the result of the course I adopted. I do not say how that ruin has been consummated – it would be too long a story. Since I have been in prison I have written the history of my life at great length; but, upon cousideration, I have come to the conclusion that, if published, it would only cause unnecessary pain to others, and would be of no public good. I lave, therefore, resolved to suppress this story; and I will content myself by saying that many of the statements made at the trial at Guildford, and the comments that have been made in some of the cheap newspapers, are incorrect, and are only calculated to mislead the public. I am a living paradox; no one can solve my conduct but myself; and I cannot, therefore, ever hope to be understood by the public. I will, however say this—I do not argue ; I simply state the fact. It is not true that I am personally extravagant; it is not true that I ever gambled; it is not true that I am a libertine. Those who do not wish to believe me will probably remain unconvinced. To those who love me my statement is unnecessary. I will not allude at any length to the terrible events that induced me to leave England, but I will state that when I resolved to take that step, I felt that my first duty was not to my family, but to those who had advanced money to me or purchased property of me to a very large amount, believing that I had a legal power to dispose of that property, and confiding in my honour and in my representations. Before I left England, I took steps to make the whole of these persons fully acquainted with my guilt, and informed them of all that I had done. I told them that I had committed these offences, but they would not adopt any proceedings against me. I remained in England for more than a week after I had made the disclosure, and after I had made a full confession of my guilt, but they did not take any proceedings against me, During this time I carried my liberty as it were pinned to my shoulder. I offered to surrender. I had made no provision for myself, and intended to make none, my sole object being to retrieve the past. I pressed them to tell me what they intended to do. In reply, they told me they did not believe a word of my story; that they thought it had been cleverly concocted for the purpose of benefiting my family; and that, if any of my family dared to take any proceedings to disturb them in the possession of the property, they would prosecute them and me also

for conspiracy. This prevented me from effecting any compromise, and I found that I had no alternative but to leave the country. I did so, and quitted England in despair; but it should be remembered that I had ample resources —that I was full of youth and strength, and the capacity for enjoying life, and that there were many quarters of the world open to me where I could have spent the remainder of my days in perfect safety. Notwithstanding this, I resolved to return, and I came back a self-convicted criminal, actuated by sincere repentance for my crimes, the only object I had in view being to serve the interests of justice. I know what I have to expect—a terrible fate awaits me —terrible to any man; still more terrible to any man of education and refinement. But if I do possess these qualities, I must admit that they only make my guilt the greater. I repeat that I know what I have to expect—and that it is a dreadful fate. I have, however, looked it calmly in the face, and I deliberately prefer penal servitude for life to the existence I had before me—one of continued disgrace, concealment, and passive remorse. My lord, I make no appeal for mercy; I only ask you to believe in my sincere repentance, and my sincere desire that justice, complete justice, shall be done. For mercy, I appeal only

to that still higher tribunal where

alone an appeal for pardon in such a case as mine can fitly be made. My lord, I await my sentence.” Mr. Justice Byles, who exhibited considerable emotion,said, “William Roupell, you have pleaded guilty to two charges of forgery, one of them being the forgery of your father's will and the other the forgery of a deed having reference to some of his property, two of the most serious crimes known to the law; and from the dock at which you now stand many a poor wretch, whose crime in comparison with yours was venial and insignificant, has gone to the gallows. By the humanity of the Legislature, however, the last penalty of the law is no longer inflicted for these and other crimes. In the address you have made to the Court you have stated that your whole life has been one serious and fearful mistake. I can well believe it. That mistake consisted in the absence of that perfect rectitude of intention and of that well-regulated mind which are the only safe guides in human life. The man who once deviates from the path of rectitude takes the first step towards a precipice, and he soon finds that to stand still is impossible, that to retreat would be ruin, and to advance destruction. You have stated that your conduct at the last assizes and your proceedings of to-day were dictated by a sincere, though a late, repentance. Whether that statement is true or false is only known to One besides yourself. The law has intrusted to the judges, and has very properly intrusted to them,

owing to the great diversity in the character of the cases brought before them, a very large discretion as to the amount of punishment to be inflicted. But, in your case, you must be aware—and you have properly stated that you are aware —that the crimes to which you have pleaded guilty are of such a nature as to render it utterly impossible, having regard to the interests of justice, that any mercy should be extended to you; I have only, therefore, to say that the sentence upon you is that you be kept in penal servitude for the term of your natural life.”

The prisoner smiled slightly when the sentence was pronounced, and, turning round, walked quickly out of the dock, evidently pleased that the painful ordeal to which he had been subjected was concluded.

Such was the ignominious close of the flagitious career of William Roupell. Read by the light of his own extraordinary confession, his conduct still remains a mystery, and will probably continue to constitute one of the world's wonders, unless at some future day the culprit shall be tempted to issue from his prison's depths that history of his life which he has at present suppressed.

THE WINDHAM CASE.

At the commencement of this year the attention of the public was much occupied by an inquiry which had been legally instituted to ascertain the mental competency of Mr. William Frederick Windham, of Fellbrigg Hall, Norfolk, to manage his own affairs. This young gentleman, the only son of

the late Mr. Howe Windham, who died in 1854, and the great grandson of Mr. Windham, the celebrated politician, became of age on the 9th of August, 1861, when he succeeded to the Fellbrigg Hall estate, worth upwards of 1200l. a-year, and to other properties in which he had a life interest, and which, in the year 1869, would yield him 9,000l. a year more. During his minority, he had been left to the guardianship of his uncle, General Windham, of Crimean renown, and of his mother, Lady Sophia Hervey, sister of the late Marquis of Bristol. From infancy he had exhibited many loathsome peculiarities of disposition, and many unhappy infirmities of mental capacity. As he grew up, these peculiarities and infirmities (in defiance of every effort made to eradicate them) appeared to strengthen rather than diminish ; and when he became of age, one of his first acts—in addition to many of a very unbecoming nature—was to marry a woman of loose character, upon whom he bestowed jewellery of the value of 1200l. or 1400l. ; and upon whom he settled a present annuity of 800l., with a further annuity of 1500l. contingent upon his coming in to the whole of his property in 1869. He also sold, in a wild and reckless way, and upon terms of the utmost disadvantage, the whole of the timber, ornamental as well as useful, on the Felbrigg estate. Altogether, his conduct, as soon as he became his own master, was such as to threaten a speedy dissipation of the whole of his property, and to raise a reasonable doubt as to his being mentally capable of managing his own affairs. Under these circumstances, Gen. Windham, his late guardian, felt it incumbent upon him to take some steps to preserve the Windham estates from becoming utterly wasted. At his suit, therefore, a commission de lunatico inquirendo was issued, to ascertain the state of the young man's mind, and to say whether he was or was not fit

to be entrusted with the management and control of the large property of which he was the inheritor. This commission was opened in the Court of Exchequer by Mr. Samuel Warren, a Commissioner in Lunacy, and a special jury of twenty-one persons, on the 16th of December, 1861, and did not close till the 30th of the January following, thirty-four of the intervening days having been wholly occupied by the inquiry; upwards of one hundred and fifty witnesses having been examined, and almost all the leading talent of the Bar of England having been heard in support of the various interests involved in the investigation. Into the details of this case, as developed in evidence before the commission, it would be inconsistent with every sense of decency and propriety here to enter. No public advantage would be derived from bestowing upon them such a permanent record as these pages would give ; whilst every sensitive mind, recoiling from the description of them, would earnestly desire that so sad, so humiliating and so revolting an instance of human infirmity should be left without a historian. It is enough to say that the courses of this young man's life, as exhibited in his habits, tastes, and conversation, were shown to be such as to leave no doubt of his being completely unworthy of the station to which he was born ; but upon the main point of the inquiry—the question of whether he laboured under such a congenital infirmity of the brain as to render him irresponsible for his actions, and to incapacitate him for the management of his affairs, the medical testimony was so discor

« ElőzőTovább »