I have read the transcript from the trial at The Old Bailey which took
place on 17th February 1820. I have also looked at various newspaper
articles between then and their execution eight weeks later on 19th
April. What follows is my interpretation of how things panned out.
John and George Bird were already known by police to be connected to a
notorious gang of local thieves long before burglars broke into the house of
William Wyllie in Fulham about midnight on 29th January 1820, which coincidently was the
night King George the third died. After forcing entry through a
wooden shutter, the burglars entered the house and stole various items :
value 10 s.; three candlesticks, value 25 s.; three pair of snuffers, value 4
s.; one extinguisher, value 2 s.; one snuffer-tray, value 5 s.; one pair of
sugar-tongs, value 5 s.; one sugar-bason, value 5 s.; two pair of nut-crackers,
value 5 s.; four salts, value 3 s.; two decanters, value 5 s.; two miniature
paintings, value 5 s., and one table-cloth, value 3 s.
A total of goods with a value of £3 16s. There are different ways
to measure the value of old money, but it was probably somewhere between
£500 - £1,000 worth in today's terms.
The Court was shown a crow bar which had a particular shape which could
apparently be matched to items damaged during the burglary. The Court was
also told that a chisel and a centre bit had been used to make a number of
holes in the wooden shutter on the window to enable the forced
GEORGE & ALFRED POPLE, brothers and both policemen, initially apprehended
the Bird brothers in The Bell Public House in Westminster. They both
went to John Bird's lodgings and found an iron chisel behind a table.
George Pople sent his brother to search George Bird's lodgings and
he found a crow bar in a cupboard. The point was broken at one
end. The following day George Pople decided his brother may have
missed something when searching George's lodgings the previous day, so went
back to look himself. This time he found a centre bit in a table
drawer. He then revisited John Bird's lodgings and discovered a pair of
steel snuffers which were hanging on a nail and which were not in sight the
night before. He then returned to the burgled property in Fulham and was
able to show that the crow bar was the exact shape as the one used during the
burglary but found the holes in the shutter and sideboard
were "rather larger than the instrument" (the centre bit).
The chisel fitted the marks on the shutter.
WILLIAM WYLLIE identified the
steel snuffers and had no doubt they were the one's stolen.
Evidence was given from the prosecution that both brothers had been in The
Bull Public House on that evening. One witness, THOMAS
CORDWELL, claimed they told him "they were going on a crack"
and showed him a chisel and a crow bar with the end broken off. JAMES LEDSHAM, the publican, verified that the brothers had been drinking there that evening and that he had even had a drink with them.
GILLINGHAM said he saw the two brothers walking towards the property which was
to be burgled at half past eleven.
George Bird's defence was that he wasn't at The Bull but was at The
Wheatsheaf Public House from eight o'clock in the evening until twenty past
midnight and couldn't possibly have carried out the offence. THOMAS
HUISH who recognised George by sight verified that George was certainly there
until half past eleven and he remembered the night as being when the King had
MITCHAM said he and George came out of the pub about midnight together.
He was questioned at length on his memory of this and was not broken down by
the cross examination.
The publican of The Wheatsheaf, WILLIAM ILET, remembered George being there
that night but couldn't verify at what time he had left. He said George
had some oysters and was on a table with him, another man and six members
of the 2nd Regiment of Guards. He also remembered an incident earlier that
evening involving George :
There was a
poor man, who was discharged from the Guards, came in with pies to sell about a
quarter before nine o'clock, and a person for mischief knocked his tins over,
and about sixpenny worth of his pies were thrown down. There was a subscription
to defray the expense, and the prisoner, George, subscribed 2d. I think Mitcham
should you know Bird was there any more than Mitcham - A. It was partly the
prisoner's fault that the pies were kicked down. I was very much displeased at
it, and spoke crossly to Bird about it.
HENRY COLLWELL said he had
been mending a pair of boots for the landlord of the Wheatsheaf that day
which he had collected at four o'clock. He said he went back
at eight o'clock and saw George Bird there. He stayed
drinking in the pub until eleven o'clock and sat on the seat opposite
George. He couldn't say when George left, only that he was definitely
there at eight o'clock.
THOMAS BENTLEY sells oysters
in the Wheatsheaf about six times every day. He confirmed George "in
the smock-frock" bought some oysters from him on the last
Saturday in January. He said George was there at five and six o'clock and
still there at eleven o'clock.
John Bird's defence seems to have consisted around whether the snuffers found at the house he was staying were those stolen in the burglary.
ELIZA JACKSON was living at the
lodgings where the snuffers were discovered. She said John Bird
visited occasionally. She claimed the snuffers were hers
and they were given to her two years ago by a young man named
Cooper who is "gone out of the country" (transported). She said they
were plain steel snuffers, about six inches long, and always kept hung
on a nail in the room and she never used them. She said they were
there when the police first searched the room in plain view. She said she
had borrowed the chisel to mend her bedstead. "I am an
unfortunate girl", she added.
ANN ALLEN verified
that the snuffers had belonged to Eliza since April and claimed
she was in the room when Cooper gave them to her. She said she
had cleaned them herself but said they had only been used once or
J. BIRD - GUILTY . - DEATH . Aged 26.
G. BIRD - GUILTY . - DEATH . Aged 20.
First Middlesex Jury, before Mr. Common Sergeant
Newspaper reports leading up to their execution