Northampton Mercury March 4th 1843
The Arson at Cosgrove
William Bignell, aged 18, was charged with having, at Cosgrove, maliciously set fire to certain stacks of corn, grain, straw and hay, the property of Jabez Scrivener, and to certain barns, cowhouses, hovels and other buildings, in the occupation of the said Jabez Scrivener. Mr Miller appeared for the prosecution and Mr Flood for the defence.
John Durham, land surveyor, of Stony Stratford, made the plan produced and vouched for its accuracy.
Jabez Scrivener lives at Cosgrove, and farms some land there. Another portion of the farm is about a mile distant. The latter consists of two fields called upper and lower oxhouse. There is a cottage there occupied by John Bignell, father of the prisoner. On the 5th of January last had a stack of hay, a rick of oats and some straw on the premises. Employed prisoner about four years ago. Refused to employ him about a fortnight ago on the application of his mother. On the evening of the 6th of January last, there was a fire, which burnt part of the hay, all the oats, the straw and part of the farm-buildings.
Cross examined by Mr Flood. The farm-buildings consisted of barn, stable and cowhouse.
George Ratcliffe is a labourer at Cosgrove. About a fortnight before, saw the prisoner in Mr Jelly’s field. Witness’s brother and Joseph Jones were there. Jones had a pipe. Bignell lighted it for him with a lucifer. The pipe went out, and Jones asked Bignell for another light, but he said he could not give it him. On the evening before the fire, went to look for work with Bignell and Perkins to Newton Longueville. Did not obtain it, and Bignell and witness slept in Mr Scrivener’s hovel. In the morning went together to Bignell’s cottage and had some breakfast, and then went on to Stony Stratford to see the relieving officer. On the way back, prisoner said he would set some place on fire before long. Witness said he should not say such words as that, as very likely it would get him into a “skirmish”. Parted with him at the Green Bridge, Cosgrove, about half-past ten. Saw no more of him that day.
By the Bench. Was himself charged with this fire.
Rd. Anstell is a baker, in the employ of Mr John Rolfe, baker, of Newport Paguel. On the 6th of January was in the employ of a brother of his present master, of Stony Stratford. Took some bread to Bignell’s cottage. On his way he passed through Johnson’s meadow, the upper oxhouse ground, the farm-yard; and along the lower oxhouse ground, and when at the end he saw the prisoner. Went on with the bread; stopped at Bignell’s house two or three minutes, and set out back again by the same route. Saw prisoner about the same place. He said he had lost his knife and he would go along with him to see if he could find it. He went up the meadow with witness as far as the farm-yard. The footway goes by the lower part of the rick yard. There prisoner went up towards the ricks, saying he must look for his knife. Witness went home. It was a damp evening. It mizzled with rain and witness ran as hard as he could. When he got to the turnpike road he turned towards the bridge, and then he saw some men watering horses. They were about 20 or 40 yards off. Could not see them distinctly as it was getting dark. On getting to the bridge he saw a fire at the rick yard. (The distance from the rick yard to the Bridge is 628 yards, and from Bignell’s house to the rick yards, on the other side, is 662 yards, so that it is nearly mid-way.) Went on to Stony Stratford and then returned to the bridge. There was a crowd of persons there, and among them the prisoner. He said he had got in the little meadow near home when he smelt smoke, and turned around and saw the fire. Witness saw no men about the rick-yard, nor anywhere till he got to the bridge, and saw the two men with the horses.
Cross examined by Mr Flood. Went back to the fire. A great many persons were there.
Richard Chibnell is relieving officer of the Potterspury Union. Saw the fire at Mr Scrivener’s rick-yard. Prisoner had been that morning to ask for work. Witness did not give him a paper as he was going from home. Went to the fire and saw the prisoner there, near the sheep pens, about 50 yards from the sheep pens. Asked him where he was when the fire broke out. He said he was at home. Witness said he could not see the fire at his father’s house, as the windows looked at an opposite direction. He said he was in the field.
Cross examined by Mr Flood. Prisoner had a pail in his hand.
Thos. Hogg, a police officer, was present when the prisoner was apprehended on the 9th of January. Asked him if he knew why he was apprehended. He said he guessed about the fire. Afterwards he said he and Ratcliffe slept in the hovel the night before the fire, breakfasted at his father’s, went to Stratford to see the relieving officer, then to Wolverton and got home about one. He was employed the whole afternoon gathering sticks which Mr Scrivener had given his father. About four o’clock he went in, and was never out till about five. He then went out for a few sticks, saw a smoke, and heard the cry of fire, and then ran up to Cosgrove and afterwards to the fire. When he came out of his father’s house he saw two or three men standing against the pens under the hedge. He thought they were Mr Scrivener’s men spreading manure. Witness searched him, and found some fragments of Lucifer matches in his waistcoat pocket. He said he did not know how they came there.
Mr Congreve produced the statement of the prisoner before the magistrates. It was to the same effect as his statement to Hogg.
Mr Scrivener re-called. The prisoner was the first who gave the alarm to Mr Scrivener. A third person was taken up on this charge.
Mr Flood addressed the jury for the defence in a speech of some length; but the jury found the prisoner Guilty, and the Learned Judge sentenced him to Fifteen Years’ Transportation.
William Bignell was removed from Northamptonshire County Goal. He was ordered to be placed upon the York Hulk, at Portsmouth, but in consequence of the vessel breaking from her moorings he was placed on the Leviathan.
William was eventually one of 500 convicts transported on the vessel HMS Anson on 23rd September 1843 bound for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The ship docked at Plymouth and set sail on October 1st 1843. HMS Anson arrived in Hobart on 4th February 1844.
William is not listed in the Convict List for Van Diemen’s Land.