1728: Joseph Barret

January 17, 1728:

Joseph Barret, of St. Giles’s in the Fields, was indicted for the Murder of James Barret, (his Son, aged 11) by flinging him down, and giving him a mortal Bruise on the left Side of the Head of which he instantly died. He was a second Time indicted on the Coroner’s Inquisition for the said Murder; to both which Indictments he pleaded Not Guilty.

Thomas Belcher depos’d, That he saw the Deceas’d on the 29th of Decemb. about Noon at the Vault, that going in, his Father, the Prisoner followed him, and the Deceas’d having shoul’d himself the Prisoner kick’d him, and call’d him Dog and Son of a B – h; and going up Stairs the Deceas’d followed him, and then the Prisoner turned, and kick’d him on the Head without Provocation, repeating it again at the Stair-Case. The Prisoner desired this Deponent might be ask’d, If he did not know the Deceas’d followed bad Courses? To which be answered, He only heard of this once staying out all Night.

Elizabeth Nichols depos’d, That she saw the Deceas’d in Bed some Time before this happen’d, and that he was without a Shirt, and his Arms were beat black and blue; that he got out of Bed, and would have made use of the Pot, but his Father would not suffer it, saying, he should go down, which he did, and returning, his Father said, he had foul’d himself before he got to the Vault; that the Prisoner then shov’d him, that he fell, and he then kick’d him on the Head; that this Deponent then said, The Boy is dying, the Prisoner said, he is only fallen, and taking a Cat of Nine Tails, he hit him two or three Slashes as he lay on the Ground, that after the Prisoner kick’d or stamp’d on him he never spoke more, but gave 14 or 15 Breathes, and then departed.

This was likewise confirm’d in every particular by another Evidence, they both agreeing that the Deceas’d was very weak, and could scarcely creep up and down Stairs.

Mr. Rainby the Surgeon depos’d, That he being desir’d by a Neighbouring Justice to examine the Body, he observed it to be bruised in several Places, particularly the Head: for dividing the common Teguments, a Confusion, with a small Tumour without a Wound, appeared on the Left side, extending from the sore, to the back Part; the Skull being laid bare, there was no Fracture nor Depression, which he said might probably to owing to the Tenderness of the Bony Fibres in so young a Subject, and taking off the upper part of the Cranium, and dividing the external Membrane of the Brain, a great Quantity of extravasated Blood lay between this and the Membrane that immediately covers it, which must have been occasioned by some Violence, and very likely the same that produced the external Contusion, and was undoubtedly the Cause of his Death.

Some witnesses appeared in Behalf of the Prisoner, to prove that he had before this Time been a very loving, indulgent Father to the Deceas’d: But the present Fact appearing plain, the Jury found him Guilty. Death.

Ordinary‘s Account, February 12, 1728:

Joseph Barret, (as he said) Forty-two Years of Age, of honest, but poor Parents, who gave him little Education, for he could not Read much, and knew but little of Religious Principles. When of Age, he was not put to any particular Trade, but wrought at Husbandry, or any thing he could get to do in the Country. Afterwards he past some Years at Sea, in Station of a Marine, and when he came Home and Married, he serv’d as a Labourer to Plaisterers, and such Tradesmen.

And said, that he always liv’d Soberly and work most Laboriously for his Family; that the Son, of whose Murder he was Convicted, was of a first Marriage, and turn’d most Extravagant in wicked Courses of any Boy of his Age; for some Weeks before he Died, staying out Night after Night, and sometimes coming Home in the greatest Disorder imaginable; adding that he beg’d, or got Money from People and bought Gin with it, drinking till he appear’d worse than a Beast, quite out of his Senses; and that he was a most notorious Lyar, and withal, that he was of an obstinate Temper, and Disobedient to his Parents. Upon these, and such like Accounts, he was forc’d to use the Rod of Correction against him in an extraordinary Manner, and for that purpose, prepar’d a Cat of Nine-Tails for his Chastisement, as not being in any Danger of breaking Bones.

I told him, that he had certainly been too Severe upon the Boy, and that gentler Methods might have been more proper for reducing him; the way of Correction he us’d, being the Punishment inflicted upon Men of Age and Strength, on Board of Ships. He said, that he never intended harm, but only to reclaim him (if possible) from his wild Courses; and that any excessive Correction was given him, proceeded from the Instigation of his Wife, Mother-in-Law to the Deceas’d, who (it seems) did not Love the Child, and for the spite she bore him lost her Husband, and Ruin’d her Family.

He reflected upon the Witnesses, as not having Sworn true, in the Points of Fact, for which he was Convicted; particularly, that he did not Kick nor Strike the Child down, either below, or as he was coming up Stairs, and that he did not stamp upon his Head with his Foot in the Room. He believ’d, he had treated the Child too Severely, by Advice of his Wife, without any Malice or Thought of wronging him.

I told him, how Barbarous it was to beat the Child, till his Arms and parts of his Body were in a manner Corrupted with the Blows, when he saw him Indispos’d, and scarce able to rise from the Bed. He said, that he was so Sullen as not to tell him that he was Bad, and that he knew nothing of it. Upon the whole, he acknowledg’d that he had been Cruel in his Chastisements; that he remember’d not his Kicking him on the Head with his Foot, which was the immediate Cause of his Death; he could not deny but that the Evidence had Sworn the Truth; only but said, he had never corrected the Child but three Times in an extraordinary Manner, but that whatever Misfortunes happen’d, he had no Evil Intention.

I exhorted him to Repent of all his Sins, and particularly, that unnatural and brutish Sin of killing his own Child. He appear’d to have been a very Ignorant, illeterate Fellow, and, as appears from the usuage of his Child, of a Cruel, brutish Temper. He complain’d upon his Wifes going into the Country, and doing nothing for him, after she had expos’d herself and two young Children to the greatest Hardships, by her foolish and inconsiderate Advice. He declar’d himself truely Penitent for all his Sins, particularly the great Misfortune of Murdering his Son; that he believ’d in Christ his only Saviour, and Died in Peace with all the World.

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