John Bodman’s Trial


James Watt was a stout young man in the employ of Mr Issac Wilkins of Clapmanslade, Wiltshire. He left his master;s home at about ten o’clock on Friday night with a wagon and horses for the purpose of procuring a load of coals at Writhlington near Radstock in Somerset. He proceeded as far as Norton St. Philip in safety and at about one o;clock he got into his wagon and rested his head against a truss of hay where he had not remained for many minutes before a horse pistol was presented to his breast over the rail of the wagon and the person holing it said “Deliver your money, and be quick, or I’ll blow your brains out”. Surprised and alarmed, Watts was in the act of snatching his whip from the bed of his wagon, when the trigger was pulled, the muzzle of the pistol being close to his beast, but providently it missed fire. On this Watts immediately jumped out of the wagon and closed upon his opponent, who was a tough able bodied man, and by whom in the struggle which ensued between the parties and which lasted a considerable time, he was almost overcome. Watts however rallied and at last succeeded in forcing the pistol from the hands of the assailant, with the butt end of which he struck him across the left temple, which bought him to the ground, and after giving him a few more blows, he left him bleeding and senseless. With the pistol in his hand, Watts then went in quest of his wagon an in doing so met a carter whom he knew, and they both returned together to the spot, but the villain was gone, they however picked up his hat, a cap and a very remarkable stick which Watts kept and immediately made known in the next village, what had befallen him. On the next day, Mr Greenhill of Farley, a village about 3 miles from the place where the circumstances happened, wondered why one of his men named Bodman did not come to work as usual and in the evening went to the house, at the door of which he found some children; and on questioning them he found that “father was bad” and one of them adding “I must not tell what’s the matter” Mr Greenhill procured assistance and went into the house, where he found Bodman most dreadfully beat around the head and bloody. He immediately caused him to be apprehended on suspicion, and on seeing him, Watts instantly identified his person, which he was enabled to do from the great light that rained across his face at the time he attempted to fire his pistol. Bodman underwent a long examination before Sir R Baker, Dr Godfrey, E Anderson and J Wiltshire esqrs when the stick and cap picked up by Watts were sworn to as the prisoners property. The pistol was also sworn to by Mr Noad of Farleigh who stated that a short time since Bodman’s son tried to purchase it off his servant, the pistol must have been stolen by Bodman. During the whole of the examination, the prisoner appeared in great pain but maintained the most hardened indifference. He was fully committed for trial. About  13 years ago, Bodman was one of the London Patrole and his beat was from Hyde Park Corner to Kensington during which time he stated at Farleigh not long ago that he and another faithful guardian of the night robbed a man of 1L (one pound?) and his watch.

The London Patrol was probably part of the Bow Street Runners who preceded the Metropolitan Police Service. Bow Street’s historic role dates back to 1740 when Sir Thomas De Veil (1684-1746) a Westminster Justice, set up rooms in his residence at 4 Bow Street for use as a magistrate’s court. From this office de Veil also took responsibility for investigating and pursuing crime. Two years after De Veil;s death Henry Fielding (author of Tom Jones) moved into Bow Street as a magistrate. He and his brother began to administer justice often without charge to the poorest thanks to a government grant. They established the Runners and experimented with patrols along the main thoroughfares. The success of Bow Street finally encouraged the government to pass the Middlesex Justices Act of 1792. This established seven police offices, each staffed by three stipendiary (paid) magistrates and up to six paid officers or constables. In addition to Bow Street these offices were set up at Queen’s Square (Westminster), Great Marlborough Street (Westminster, about 1km from Hyde Park Corner where John Bodman patrolled), Worship Street (Shoreditch), Lambeth Street (Whitechapel), Shadwell, Union Hall (Southwark) and Hatton Garden. A river police (Thames Police Office) was created at Wapping in 1798. By 1816 there were between seven and eight officers at each station. The Shadwell Office had closed, but a new one had been opened in Marylebone High Street. By 1800 the Bow Street night-time Foot Patrol was 68 men. They policed the main metropolitan thoroughfares and roads into London. Five years later a mounted patrol joined them for speed in deterring and preventing highway robberies. There were problems with some of the Bow Street police. Corruption was a significant issue. In 1816 George Vaughan, a member of the Bow Street Horse Patrol, was sentenced to five years’ hard labour for setting up five men for a burglary in Hoxton. He arrested them in the act for a reward of £40 per man. Known thieves were apprehended even though they had committed no offence.

Records shows John Bodman, aged 57 of Farley Castle was committed to Ilchester between 12th and 25th January 1817  for assault with the intention to rob. (Goal returns 1815-1820 ref. QAGi13/2)

He was sentenced to death on 3rd April 1817 at Taunton Assizes and again sent to Ilchester gaol.