The Trial of Peter Miller for Theft by Pickpocketing

This is another trial of a young boy, where Garrow persuaded the jury to use their discretion and reduce the amount involved to avoid a sentence of death or transportation.

Peter Miller (aged nine) was charged at the Old Bailey on 22 April 1789 with feloniously stealing ten shillings in money from the person of Thomas May.

Thomas May testified that he was a poor man in a workhouse who did not see or know the prisoner robbed him.  The boy helped him put his coat on and he felt his hand in his pocket which contained two half crown and five shllings..  However, he had no suspicion of the theft.  The next morning he missed the money and asked Peter if he had seen  it.  The boy replied that he had not but on being asked again brought out two half crowns and four shillings which he admitted belonged to Mr May.  When the witness said he wanted another shilling the boy replied that he had spent it.  The witness threatened Peter with prison and Peter produced another nine shillings saying he had spent the remaining one shilling.

The Judge asked May how he came to indict the boy with a capital offence for a shilling asking, “Do you know that he is tried for his life?”   The witness replied that he did not know.

Court:  Have you never been told that? No, I never was.

Did not the officer who drew the indictment tell you he had made a capital charge of it?   No.

Garrow:  You have told the Judge that to your knowledge they did not tell you it was a capital charge; do you mean to swear that they did not tell you so?  No, Sir, not to my knowledge.

Garrow:  Will yo swear positively they did not?  I have been lame these three years.

Garrow:  Do you mean to swear that since Monday last nobody has told you that if this boy was convicted he would be hanged?  No.

Do not you know you would have a reward?  I know there is some reward.

Garrow:  Have you not heard there is a reward of 40s?

Prisoner:  No, I heard it was some reward.  I do not know who told me so; I have heard so from people.

Garrow:  Who told you so?  I cannot tell now.

Garrow:  Did not the magistrate tell you that the Court would order you your expenses or that you would  have a reward?  No.

Garrow:  Is your memory affected by your poverty?  No.

Garrow:  Is your head affected?  It is a good deal.

Garrow:  You’ll be mistaken this time as to the reward.

In view of the evidence Peter was found guilty by the jury and he was sentenced to be whipped.


Full details of this trial: Old  Bailey Proceedings Online. ( 3 March 1012) 22 April 1789, trial of Peter Miller (Ref: t17890422-92.

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