A trip to the fair, an elephant, and a case of pickpocketing

Gunsmith William Cavers in London shows up in Old Bailey court records, not as a criminal, but as a victim of crime.

He had gone to the Bartholomew Fair, on 3 Sep 1828, an annual fair held in London and very popular with the local people. He had taken his eleven-year-old son Charles with him, and was carrying another son in his arms, possibly little William. The family group had gone into Wombwell’s booth, run by George Wombwell who kept a famous menagerie of exotic animals, and would regularly show them at the annual Bartholomew Fair. The Cavers family were seeing an elephant as the crime happened, as little Charles said in evidence to the court:

I am the prosecutor’s son, and am eleven years old: my little brother was on my father’s shoulder – the prisoner was talking to us, and telling us the nature of the wild beast – we were looking at the elephant and he was walking round us for a good bit; my father turned round and caught his hand pretty nearly close to his pocket – I am sure it was his hand, nobody else was near; the people were quite on the other side of the booth – I did not know the prisoner before.

William Cavers gave an even more detailed account of events:

I was inside Wombwell’s booth; I felt somebody at my pocket, turned round, and saw the prisoner – I found his hand near my pocket; he was drawing his hand from my pocket – my money was safe ten minutes before; I was sure it was the prisoner’s hand that came from my pocket, for nobody else was near me, except my two children, one of whom was in my arms, or I could have taken him in a moment; I put the child down in a minutes and a half, and was going to secure him, but he had disappeared: I went to the door, to inquire for an officer – the people at the door said they kept no officer; I said I had been robbed by a person who I knew – I am certain the prisoner is the person whose hand I found coming from my pocket – I remained there a quarter of an hour, and then found him in the same booth.

Cross-examined by MR. CHURCHILL. Q. You turned round and saw somebody near you? A. It was the prisoner; there might be one hundred or one hundred and fifty people in the booth, but nobody except the prisoner was near me, for I did not like to trust my children in the crowd, who were following the keeper, as he gave a description of the beast – I explained them to my children myself; the prisoner’s hand was in my pocket – I felt it there; I did not see it in my pocket – I saw his face: I cannot say whether he went out of the booth, but he disappeared in an instant; I cannot say whether he ran, for the child, being on my shoulder, was a total eclipse to me. When I went to inquire at the door for an officer, the people said “People who come to the fair, must take care of themselves.”

The accused John Clark was apprehended in a nearby street, and subsequently indicted for stealing 1 half-sovereign, 5 shillings, and 4 sixpences, all from William Cavers.

Clark was convicted of theft, and sentenced to be transported for life.

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