No need for a spoiler alert – there you have it in glorious colour – Captain Moir shooting his victim William Malcolm.
When I came across this image of what appears to be a clear-cut case of murderous assault that occurred on Wednesday March 17th 1830 in the English county of Essex, I was immediately curious about motive. Was this cold-blooded attack on a fisherman in such a brutal and direct manner really as depicted in the lithograph or merely artistic licence?
Why would an ex-military Captain be so full of venom and hatred as to mount a charge upon a poor unarmed fisherman and shoot at him at such close range, and what future faced the Captain for engaging in such insanity?
Indeed had he perhaps lost his reasoning? Also was there really a witness as depicted – what appears to be a young man holding up his hands in sheer horror at what he is seeing?
Interestingly, in our modern times when the claims of false news are rife, the publisher of this so-called same-day little imprint depicting the murderous image, wishes all his readers to be wary of the very same issue – false news.
This publisher is one Mr. Chubb of number 2, Tottenham Court Road just on the corner of London’s famous Oxford Street. Here are Mr. Chubb’s personal assurances that he is the real deal:
With Mr. Chubb as our guide to protect us from a ’tissue of falsehoods’ and other ‘trash’ reporting on this event – I hope you’ll accompany me in my quest to find out more about this case and the answer to why Captain Moir shot William Malcolm in what Mr.Chubb declares to be an ‘inhuman murder.’ Was it really a direct, brutal murder as claimed?
Unfortunately Chubb has not got off to a very good start as I soon discovered the attack on Mr. Malcolm by Captain Moir took place on Wednesday March 17th 1830 – a week earlier than Chubb’s report – so much for the falsehoods promise. You’ll also notice he condemns the ‘catch-penny publications’, for he happens to charges threepence for his, however to give Chubb his due, he has produced an enticing publication so here’s true story of what Chubb chose to label an ‘inhuman murder.’
It begins with the simple pleasure of a day’s fishing expedition in the vicinity of the picturesque village of Hordon-on-the-Hill in rural Essex in the parish of Little Warley.
(If you’d like to explore old Essex a little more – here’s a useful link.)
William Malcolm, aged thirty-five, lived in Hammersmith, London with his wife and six children, (soon to be seven). He worked hard as a fisherman to keep his family housed and fed. On occasions, William Duke, a young lad from Wandsworth, Surrey would join him for a fishing expedition.
Duke had known Malcolm for some seven years now and on this day – Wednesday March 17th, 1830 – they set off down the river Thames in Malcolm’s boat towards Holy Haven on the Essex side of the river – they also had Malcolm’s oldest son and an apprentice named Goddard with them to look after the boat. All four set off and docked the boat at Borley House. Here Malcolm and Duke left the boat in the care of Malcolm’s son and apprentice and they set off with their net and long boat hook pole across some meadow land towards Shelhaven Creek.
They reached the creek close to the sea wall and laid out their net.
Before long, an irate gentleman accompanied by his manservant, strode over to them demanding to know what they thought they were doing on his property. This was Captain William Moir – at thirty-six – a year old than Malcolm, together with his servant, William Raven.
(You will have noticed that all involved are christened Willam – this was a very common situation).
Malcolm had replied; “We have a right to lay a net here.”
Moir snapped, “If you do not take it up, I will cut it all to pieces.”
Malcolm was alleged to have said by Moir’s manservant, “Damn your eyes, I’ll take them up,” but according to Duke, Malcolm had merely said, “Pray sir, don’t cut it up, we will remove it.” Either way there is no dispute as to Moir’s reply to Malcolm:
“If you were a man, I’d give you a good thrashing,” and he called Malcolm , “a bloody saucy blackguard.”
Moir claimed Malcolm raised the stakes somewhat by pulling off his jacket telling him to do it if he could and called him “a bloody Scotch bastard.” It was later claimed by the manservant that Malcolm had also said to his master, “You are a great paunch-gutted bastard or you would have fought me.”
Moir immediately told Malcolm and Duke to leave his property by the sea wall route and not to cross his land ever again. Malcolm had replied that he did not mind a walk and together with Duke, they parted making their way to Mrs. Baker’s cottage to trade their fish for potatoes. They stayed with widow Baker for a while, and as they left, they stopped briefly to speak to an acquaintance, William Grubb.
(Yes – another William!)
As Malcolm, followed by young Duke, set off back the way they had come along a beaten footpath across the meadow, he saw Moir on horseback galloping at speed towards him. They were no more than around one hundred yards from the cottage.
Moir shouted, “I thought I told you not to come across those meadows again.”
Malcolm called back, “I will go.”
Moir however rode around him, turning to aim and shot his pistol.
Malcolm dropped the boat hook pole, and basket of potatoes, and clutching his arm shouted, “Oh sir, you’ve broke my arm – you’ve broke my arm.”
Moir immediately turned to Duke and said he’d get the same treatment if he did not get off his land. Moir then rode away shouting he would send for a doctor.
Duke helped Malcolm back to the cottage and widow Baker tried to stem the blood flow from his arm with flour and herbs. Around forty-five minutes later, James Dodd the local surgeon from Stanford-le-Hope, arrived at the cottage. Duke took that opportunity to set off back to the boat to fetch Malcolm’s shoes, hat and warm jacket.
Now having checked and double-checked, Mr. Chubb’s account of this event, we can certainly trust this version of what the Stanford-le-Hope surgeon, James B. Dodd, had to say about exactly what happened next. Here is his statement that was later provided to the authorities about the incident he was called to by Captain Moir that afternoon:
The doctor admitted that one of the reasons for calling on Moir was to check if he was sober and he agreed that he was. The other was to borrow a horse and cart to take Malcolm to hospital in Stanford-le-Hope. Moir showed no regrets for his action and boasted:
This might be the very moment to learn a little more about William Moir, for as soon as this event was reported, Captain Moir surrendered himself to the local magistrate, Dr. Hogarth and was committed to Barking Gaol to await investigation.
Captain William Moir was a native of Angusshire (more commonly called Forfarshire at this time – nowadays Forfar is the capital of Angus council area in Scotland). Right from the start of this saga, the press seemed strangely ‘seduced’ by Moir’s good looks and constantly reported less on Malcolm’s condition and more on Moir’s appealing appearance, referring to him as a very handsome man, thirty-six years of age, six feet tall and of gentlemanly manners with good connexions, and has always been much respected.
They reported how he had served seventeen years in the 14th, 37th and 40th regiments of foot and had seen much service. They told their readers how he had been in France, Spain and in America where – at twenty-six – he met and married his wife (then aged only fourteen years old) and she was now twenty-eight.
Moir, they reported, has three children, the oldest fourteen, and the youngest seven. The papers even gave away the information that he owns a town residence at No.13 York Place, in Pentonville and is only renting Shelhaven Farm, consisting of about four hundred acres which unfortunately for William Malcolm included that small patch of land that, for Moir, was declared to be “his castle” (albeit a rented castle!)
We have already established William Malcolm, thirty-five, as a family man, with six children and one on the way. He was also equally well-known in his area of Hammersmith as a keen sailor, winning many local sailing contests. The press described him as a ‘fine young man’ who was ‘greatly esteemed by aquatic amateurs.’
Malcolm’s shattered arm wound was tended and examined by several doctors over the next few days and they were satisfied it would heal but then Malcolm began to exhibit signs of lockjaw – a fatal condition, and the diagnosis changed dramatically to one of certain death.
(Note: nowadays we mainly refer to this as Tetanus, it is still a very serious condition that can lead to death but not certain death as in the 1800’s)
Malcolm lingered until Thursday March 25th and with his death that afternoon, this also changed the outlook for Captain Moir who was now likely to be charged at least with manslaughter, if not murder.
Moir, however, expressed his view, with great confidence, that such a case would have to terminate in an acquittal, as he never intended to take away the life of Malcolm, and that the act of firing the pistol was unaccompanied by any malice.
Saturday, March 27th, 1830 saw the inquest being held in Stanford-le-Hope at the George Inn and Captain Moir was brought in custody from Barking Gaol. He was kept in an adjoining room, while the Coroner took witness statements.
Again the media were at pains to remark on his height and good looks, The Morning Chronicle commenting “He is a fine looking man, about six feet high, and of a most determined aspect”
(Source: Morning Chronicle, Monday March 29th, 1830)
The whole saga of the fishing expedition was retold to the Chelmsford Coroner, Robert Bartlett and, in particular, the evidence from Mr. Dodd, the surgeon was critical. For it was in his evidence that Moir had quite clearly expressed ‘malice aforethought,’ telling Dodd, “The man got no more than he richly deserved”, alongside his comments about how he’d do exactly the same again given the chance.
There was no question that Moir had deliberately set out with his pistols to take premeditated action against Malcolm whose wounds from the pistol ball shattering his arm allowed lockjaw to take hold of him from which there is no possibility of recovery.
The Coroner’s Jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Moir and he was now committed to Chelmsford Gaol to await trial.
The question left hanging in the air was whether William Malcolm’s death was a direct consequence of the pistol ball wound or not?
Moir’s strategy was twofold. One was to challenge the quality of care administered by Mr. Dodd the surgeon and his colleagues, in effect saying that it was their fault Malcolm went on to develop lockjaw and to insist on a further medical examination by an independent medical man (friend!) paid for by Moir.
The clear indignation of the Coroner, towards an accusation by a friend of Moir that Malcom had been the victim of “unskillful treatment” by Dodd and his colleagues misfired dramatically.
The second of Moir’s strategies, was to claim that in his trespass on Moir’s land, Malcolm had acted threateningly with his long, curved hook, boat pole, sufficiently so, to cause Moir to fire his pistol in his own defence.
Both tactics quickly collapsed given the indignation aroused in the doctors who cared for Malcolm and the request was refused by the Coroner. Also, Malcolm’s body was now being cared for by his brother in Hammersmith in preparation for the funeral and no such permission would be given by him.
The second tactic of a perceived threat to Moir from the boat hook pole being pointed threateningly by Malcolm, only had Moir’s manservant as testimony to this. You may recall William Grubb who spoke with Malcolm and Duke as they left widow Bakers’s cottage. He saw everything that happened on that fateful day and was able, together with Duke, to counter that accusation head-on.
Consquently, Captain Moir’s trial at Chelmsford Assizes on July 30th,1830 became a much sought after seat for what had been a mere argument in a meadow in Essex over a minor trespass. This had now become a murder trial of extreme local significance with a likely execution of an important local figurehead in the offing.
Again – right from the word go – the celebrity-style reporting of Moir’s looks became paramount. What really intrigues me about this was how the paper’s usual, over-long clumsy, rambling sentences suddenly – in his case – became uncharacteristically short and dramatic. I have re-produced below exactly how the Leicester Chronicle began their piece about Moir’s appearance in court:
“The trial excited great interest in the town and neighbourhood.
The Court was entirely filled.
Captain Moir’s countenance is open and manly.
He was dressed in black.
He is about six feet high and well proportioned.
He was charged with the wilful murder of William Malcolm by shooting at him with a pistol.
He pleaded Not Guilty.”
(Source: The Leicester Chronicle, or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser, Saturday, August 7th, 1830)
The trial re-lived all that we have recounted so far, if anything, the many witness for the prosecution were more vigorous in their horror of what they had seen happen to an unarmed man carrying a basket of potatoes with one arm and his boat hook pole with the other.
There could be no defence for a close-range pistol shot from a determined and experienced army Captain on horseback who had deliberately planned his ambush of a mere fisherman and his lad with the assistance of his manservant.
Again, Moir did himself no favours by offering the following observation to the jury:
“Of the unfortunate deceased, I had no knowledge; and nothing but his improper conduct could have led to the result which originated the present proceedings. I was in the habit of carrying pistols from the first. This place was so lawless, I was obliged to do so in my own defence. The rest I leave to my Counsel, to your Lordship and a British jury.” (ibid. p.3)
Lord Tenterden in his summing up, reminded the Jury that no man had a right to attack another with a pistol, even if he were trespassing on his ground. Such a weapon was only to be used in self-defence and here the prisoner was clearly not attacked by Malcolm.
Twenty minutes later, the jury returned a verdict of “Guilty.” Below are the comments of the Judge to the condemned man, but even The Times, had to succumb in the end to this bewildering, magnetic attraction of this military man:
Moir may not have been visibly moved, but his solicitor burst into tears along with many others at this verdict, particularly the many women who packed the public seats, and within minutes, arrangements were in place for an appeal to the King for clemency.
A petition was begun to be taken to his neighbours as well as his old regiments and London contacts to raise as many signatures as possible before the early August deadline.
The Petition failed and the execution went ahead as scheduled for 9am on August 2nd 1830, at Chelmsford Goal – his new media image in death now that of a ‘stout, heavy man.’
Chubb is not around to vouch for the veracity of that declared annuity of one shilling a week said to have been bequeathed to Malcolm’s widow, as he did not follow this story beyond that of the coroner’s inquest, let alone the trial. We’ve left our seeker of falsehoods way behind at this stage.
Returning to my initial curiosity about Moir’s motive that began this blog.
After the execution, The Times newspaper did some reflective journalism on Moir’s mental condition, discovering that while posted in Gibraltar he had suffered from yellow fever and his brain had been severely affected.
The pains in his head were sometimes so severe, that apparently, while posted in Canada, he made blows to his head with a hatchet in frustration, leaving scars on his forehead. When he drank he became – according to his acquaintances – like a madman you could not reason with. So the procession of character witnesses in court that had testified to his patience and good nature,were really accustomed to prolonged episodes of exactly the opposite.
The most interesting psychological aspect – before any such diagnosis was possible – was that at the highest point of excitement, Captain Moir imagined himself to be the most calm and collected individual according to their investigations, and a very severe case of sunburn whilst posted in France, led to a further inflammation of the brain when he returned to Canterbury. Consequently, his reason for retiring so young from the army and living in a remote rural area, now becomes clear. Here is the final part of The Times report on their reasons for what they termed, Moir’s “tyrannical impatience,” (The Times,(London, England), Tuesday, Aug 03, 1830; pg. 3)
A concluding comment from The Times that says it all – albeit rather bluntly is:
“The ill-fated William Moir is no more.” (ibid, p.3)
Finally, here is another version of that enticing lithographic depiction of the scene of what, in the event, became a murder charge (Courtesy of Harvard University library), and is perhaps a little more illustrative of what we now know to be Moir’s “tyrannical impatience,” rather than Chubb’s “inhuman murder.” Although, of course, the end result was exactly the same.
I’ll leave you with a tribute to Malcolm’s ordeal at the hands of Captain Moir, courtesy of Chubbs, ‘catch-penny’ rival James Catnach, also a London Printer from 7 Dials. Here are his ‘Solemn Verses’ that truly capture the arrogance and rage of the late Captain Moir and his tyrannical impatience: