Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 The Newgate Calendar: Cornelius Wood


Executed at the Old Bailey for the Violation and Robbery of Mary Ayres

THE following case, of the forcible violation of the person of a female, has never, perhaps, been equalled in brutal atrocity, since that of the unfortunate MARY ASHFORD, recorded in the fourth volume of this work.

On the 8th of December, 1824, two respectable young women, one named Mary Ayres, and the other Jane Green, the latter a married woman, of very slender frame, and far advanced in a state of pregnancy, proceeded from the house in which they lodged in Cleveland-street, Fitzroy-square, to the village of Finchley, to inquire after a situation in service there for Mary Ayres, which they heard was vacant; -- they remained at Finchley until five o'clock in the afternoon, and at that hour called at the White Lion public-house, from whence stages start for town, to inquire if they were likely soon to meet with one. Mr. Paris, the landlord, told them that be feared not for a considerable time; but seeing a one- horse light cart near his door, with a man in it, about to proceed to London, Mr. Paris asked him if he would take the two young women to town, which he agreed to do, and they accordingly got into the cart, and soon after a young man got into the cart also, and all four set off for town.

The driver proceeded at a brisk rate, keeping the young women in familiar conversation along the road, but the other man scarcely speaking to them at all, so that they noticed him very little until they arrived at Highgate, when suddenly the driver turned aside out of the public road, and directed his course towards what is called Holloway-road, assigning as a reason for doing so, that it was to avoid the turnpike, which satisfied the young women for the time. After proceeding some distance along this road, the cart stopped at a public-house called the Cock, opposite a by-lane which leads towards a very intricate part of the country, with which the young women were wholly unacquainted. At this public-house, the driver and the other man, in a very presuming tone, demanded of the young women to treat them with something to drink; and although they neither liked the manner of the demand, nor the delay it was likely to occasion, they consented, more through fear than anything else, and gave the men a shilling to purchase some gin, which they did, and drank; and immediately after which, to the dismay and astonishment of the young women, the driver said, that they must now get out of the cart, as he could take them no farther, and they must make the best of their way along the opposite lane, which the men told them would lead directly towards town. Compelled thus to quit the cart, they proceeded some distance along the lane, as directed, leaving the two men behind; one, the driver's companion, wrapped up as he had been the whole way, in a large rough coat. The young women had not got above half-way down the lane, it being quite dark, when they were overtaken by a man in the dress of a groom, who accosted them, and said that he had heard the conversation that had passed between them and the two men in the cart, at the top of the lane, and that seeing the man had directed them in a wrong course towards town, he had followed to put them in a correct line. The young women thanked him, and he then pointed out some lamps at a distance, which he said were the lamps in Tottenham-court-road, and that if they would proceed with him across two or three fields, they would, by that short cut, be within five hundred yards of home. The young women, delighted at this intelligence, tired and frightened as they were, consented to accompany him, and he led them across two fields, and into a third, where every thing was still as death. It now occurred to Mary Ayres that they were not proceeding in the direction to town at all, and she intimated as much to the man; and at that instant, looking in his face, she discovered at once, even dark as it was, that he was the same man who had accompanied them from Finchley in the cart, and whom they had left behind with the driver. She instantly exclaimed to the other young woman that this was the case, but she had no sooner done so than the ruffian knocked her down with a desperate blow, and then threw himself upon her; being, however, a young woman of some strength, she disengaged herself from him, and got up, when he knocked her down again, and struck her a third blow. The other young woman, in her state, terrified beyond all description, made an effort to escape up the side of a hedge about four feet in height, but she had no sooner got half-way up, then, through fright and exhaustion, she fell back into a ditch, and probably was only saved from suffocation and death by coming upon her feet again; but she sunk in the mud up to her knees, and was as completely held fast there as if she had been screwed in a vice. The villanous assailant of Mary Ayres had by this time completely destroyed all power of resistance in her, and she now lay bleeding and resistless, the victim of the most merciless violence, until her brutal assailant had accomplished that act which for ever destroyed her peace, and cost him his life, within a few yards, and in sight of her unhappy companion, who was unable to extricate herself from the mire in which she was held fast, and lend, as she endeavoured to do, perhaps at the hazard of her life, all the aid her feeble frame could permit of to her distressed and fallen friend; but the only aid she could give was that of her voice, and her piteous cry for help was all that disturbed the gloomy and horrid silence that reigned around. Having effected his brutal object, the ruffian was determined to add the crime of robbery to that of rape; and after the completion of his first offence, he rose from the ground, and seized the shawl from his victim's shoulders, and a hand-basket which lay by her side, containing, among other things, a half- sovereign and six shillings in silver, with which he made off. Poor Mary Ayres made some resistance to the dragging of the shawl from her shoulders, and she got upon her legs with the effort; after which the fellow deliberately took the money out of her basket, which latter he flung at her head, and again knocked her down with the force of it, and there left her to her fate.

After recovering in some degree from her barbarous treatment, her first endeavour was to extricate her miserable friend, now more dead than alive, from her deplorable situation; and so completely exhausted were both, that it took near an hour before she was got clear out of the ditch. The unhappy creatures then endeavoured to crawl back towards the lane from which they had been seduced, and proceeding on to its extremity, they were suddenly overjoyed to hear the barking of a dog, which, although they could see no trace of a human habitation, gave them hope that someone was at hand. Proceeding on a little farther, they suddenly fell against what they supposed at first to be a hedge, but which happily turned out to be a miserable mud-cabin, inhabited by a poor old man and his dog; and the barking of the latter having awoke its master, who had some time retired to bed, it being now past ten o'clock, the old man got out of his cabin, naked as he was, to see from whence proceeded the lamentations and cries for pity that just then struck upon his ear. He soon discovered the two unhappy young women, and led them into his poor habitation, where having heard their melancholy tale, he pressed them to remain that night in his cabin, and share what hospitality he could afford them. This, however, they declined doing, as they required surgical and other aid, and besought the old man to put them on the right road towards their home. The old man instantly dressed, and arming himself with a bludgeon, and accompanied by his dog, he proceeded with the young women towards their home, declaring that with his life he would defend them from further molestation. After be had got them clear of all intricacy, he met with an acquaintance, whom he knew to be a constable, and into his charge he delivered the young women, and this latter person conveyed them in safety to their house in Cleveland-street.

Fortunately for the ends of justice, Schofield, an active officer of the police, happened to be on business at Finchley on the very day that the young women were there, and was standing near the White-Lion public-house at the very time that they set off with the two men in the cart; and as he himself wanted a conveyance to town, he observed to Mr. Paris, the landlord, when the other man got in with the driver, that he wished he had been a little sooner, and he would have had that seat. This circumstance induced him to notice particularly the driver, the other man, and the colour of the cart and horse; and the moment he was employed on the business, he recollected the whole transaction at Finchley; and although the young women could give him no clue to the offenders, he did not doubt but that he should soon have them in custody. For several days he was actively engaged in tracing them, and from his exertions discovered that the principal offender was in the habit of frequenting a public-house in that neighbourhood, called the Plough; and in a room in this house he placed the young woman, Mary Ayres, at an hour that he had information the man would enter, and in a few minutes after, Cornelius Wood, a farmer's servant, came in, and the moment the girl saw him she made a violent hysterical exclamation, and fainted away. Schofield instantly secured him, and in the course of the same day apprehended Francis Day, the driver of the cart.

Day at once acknowledged that he had driven the cart, and that Wood got out of it soon after the young women, and followed them, but declared that he knew nothing whatever of the intentions of Wood or had any connivance with him in the affair. Wood at first denied that he knew anything whatever of the transaction alluded to, or that he had been in the cart at all; but when he found that Day had recognised him as the person who was in the cart, he no longer denied it. The young woman, Mary Ayres, fully and clearly proved the commission of the two offences by Wood. The dress worn on the night in question by Mary Ayres was produced before the magistrate, and never was there exhibited a stronger proof of the violence she had suffered, and the resistance she must have made. A strong bombasin gown was torn to pieces in every part, and covered with mire and blood, as was also her cloak; and her under-dresses were in a state that we cannot attempt to describe. She bore on every part of her person marks of the most brutal violence. The scene of the outrage on being examined by the officer, and a number of persons who went to inspect it, was found to be torn up for several yards of the field, as if some furious animal had been prancing on it. The depth of the ditch where the other young woman got fixed was measured by the officer, and it was found that her legs were sunk to the depth of a foot and a half.

On his trial Wood made a feeble attempt to prove that he was not the person who committed the violence, but the testimony of the unfortunate victim of his atrocity, as well as that of her companion, was so clear and decisive, and the whole chain of collateral evidence so conclusive and complete, that he was immediately found guilty by the jury, and forthwith admonished to prepare for the dreadful fate that must necessarily follow crimes like his.

As the period approached for carrying into effect the awful sentence of the law, considerable efforts were made by his friends to save him from his impending fate, and a petition to obtain a pardon was drawn up, and application made to the prosecutrix for her signature. This, however, with a painful recollection of the violence and indignity to which she had been subjected, she very properly refused to grant.

Up to the time of his execution he continued to deny his guilt, and it is melancholy to reflect that this desperate and abandoned young man went out of the world uttering a falsehood almost with his dying breath. The whole tenor of his life had been wicked in the extreme. Not twelve months before his disgraceful end, he had appeared as a witness against a man for horse-stealing, and before he had concluded his evidence, the jury were so completely convinced that his testimony was false and perjured, that they acquitted the prisoner; and subsequent circumstances transpired which implicated Wood in the commission of the very crime for which be attempted to swear away the life of an innocent man.