The Murder of Jonathan May

This is the story of a murder, or we should now probably say mugging, which took place on July 16th, 1835 near Jacob's Well on the road between Moretonhampstead and Cossick Cross. Jonathan May was a farmer from Sowton Barton, near Dunsford, who was riding home after having sold cattle at Moreton's Great Fair.  Two men, both known as petty criminals, were eventually arrested for the murder and tried in Exeter on July 28th, 1836. One, "Buckingham Joe", was hanged; the other, Edmund Galley or "Turpin", was eventually transported to Australia, although he continued to protest his innocence, and  "Buckingham Joe" said to the end that they had got the wrong man.  At the trial a map was produced which is useful as showing the town centre and the road layout in 1835, and shows the inns and some other houses involved in the story - click here for the complete map and here for an enlargement of the town centre part. The original map hangs in the bar of the White Hart.

This was an important case in legal terms, because influential people in England continued to push for further investigation of Galley's case, and eventually, forty years later, in spite of the resistance of successive Home Secretaries, after a lengthy debate in the House of Commons Galley was granted a free pardon.

The full story of the Murder is told in a book by R. Heath (see Bibliography) which is available in the Information Centre; the purpose of this note is to highlight the Moretonhampstead people and places in the story.

First, the fair itself. This was the important Summer Fair, a three-day event where livestock sales were important, but also an occasion for side-shows, wrestling matches and entertainment generally. It always attracted petty thieves from other parts who made a habit of going from one fair to another to see what they could pick up.

After selling his stock, Jonathan May visited Thomas White, the tanner (living on the corner of the Square) to collect payment for oak bark for tanning, and spent some time with him. Then he went to the shoemaker, George Norrish, to pay a bill for boots and repairs, then on to the White Hart, where he had left his horse, for refreshment. He finally left the White Hart at about 10 pm and passed through the toll-gate (near Folly Cottage) where James Nosworthy, the tollkeeper, spoke to him.

Nicholas and Grace Taverner, and Grace's brother John Tallamy and his wife, set out to walk home to Harcot at about midnight, going by Shute Lane instead of the main road, but near the top they heard the sound of Jonathan May's horse in the hedge. Nicholas took it back to the town, and then realised whose it was, and road back up the main road, where he found Jonathan May unconscious and injured. He rode back to Dr Alfred Puddicombe's house in Cross Street (now the Old Rectory) to rouse the doctor, then got a horse and cart to take the injured man down to the White Hart. Dr Ponsford, who was May's doctor, was also called, but the two doctors could not save him and he died at 9 pm on the Friday. Others who visited the scene of the crime were Henry Luscombe, thatcher, and William Backwell, stonemason, who found the stick which had been used to hit Jonathan May. Woolland Harvey, a friend of May and an attorney (living in Cross Tree House), took an active part later in agitating for further investigation of the crime when the immediate suspects had been proved innocent of this particular crime.

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