Drink & Theft
In October 1883, James and Thomas Pursey found themselves up before the judges at the Bristol and Somerset Assizes. Both turf sellers, James, 29 and Thomas 27, were charged with stealing a silver watch valued at £2 [about £100 today] and with using violence on the victim – one James Marshall.
According to the report in the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, the two Purseys drew up on their cart at the Merry Harriers, a pub between Pitminster and Wellington. Here they had a good few drinks whilst the played skittles. On leaving, they offered Marshall and his friend a lift to Wellington – a lift that would have serious repercussions for the brothers. They had barely started when a scuffle began. It ended with them being accused of stealing the watch. They denied the charge but before the landlord of the pub could search them, they drove off.
In court, Marshall admitted to having shared “a gallon of cider, two gallons of beer, a half pint of gin and that a third gallon of beer was called for”. Despite the volume of alcohol consumed, the landlord said that “though the men were merry, he could not say drunk”!
Later in the trial, it emerged that Thomas had later met a certain Ellen Duddridge and asked her to pawn the watch for 15 shillings. She later redeemed the watch, meeting the brothers in the Dolphin in Taunton. However, on leaving, she was arrested. Upon which, one of the brothers or another in their party was heard the exclaim that the ‘mitnies’ (the police) were after them.
The brothers left in a hurry, making their way to the Shakespeare Inn where they tried to bargain with the landlord to buy a pony and cart.
Needless to say, the jury found the brothers guilty – James of stealing (although not with violence) and Thomas with receiving stolen goods. In summing up, the judge said that James was evidently a “turbulent person having been frequently convicted of assaults”. He noted sadly that Thomas, of previously good character, had come under the influence of his brother. He noted that Thomas had served served his country gaining two medals for service in the Egyptian war.
[James and Thomas were both born in Ashcott to John Pursey (born 1833) and Louisa Pocock.]
Both brothers were sent to prison; James for six months, Thomas for four – both with hard labour.