I own a property in Billingshurst which I used to run as a Farm Shop and Tea Room.  My love of local history brought many locals in, who would willingly tell me their stories of the history of Billingshurst.  One story, told to me by a Gentleman called Roger Knight, caught my interest because it concerned a Mary Burdfield of Toat Farm in Itchingfield back in 1844.

The theft of a copper from Mary Burdfield’s wash house in Itchingfield, Sussex  turned into a major court case resulting in tragedy.  This is the story of Peter Kensett, gleaned from newspaper articles found at the British Newspaper Archives, together with information produced by Wendy Lines of Billingshurst and a pamphlet written by Leonard J McQuire.

Peter Kensett was born into a family of devout non-conformist Baptists.  It was at a time when religion ruled.  Idle time was taken up with travelling far and wide to listen to Ministers giving their take on the books of the Bible.  The modern equivalent would be those of us who travel far and wide to listen to our favourite bands.

They believed that labour and industry is a duty to God.  They would address people, whatever their rank, as “thou” and would refuse to doff their hats.  Peter Kensett was part of a small but effective national network;  they were also to repudiate violence and, in time, to become renowned for their philanthropy.  Some of them rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and became Unitarians.

Peter Kensett was born on the 1st August 1794.

A diary of his exists dating from 1819 (from shortly after his marriage) to 1844, shortly before his conviction.  I believe it is held at the West Sussex Record Office, together with a roll of papers connected to the Court Case.  I have a photocopy of some of the extracts.


Nearly all the information written about the Court proceedings are from a report written in the Brighton Gazette dated Thursday, January 9, 1845.  The sworn statements and information about Bermuda are from a small Occasional Paper published by Leonard J Maguire, South Croydon, June 1994, on behalf of The General Baptist Assembly, 14 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0AG.  I have also used information from

Peter Kensett’s family:

John Gosling of Waldron – father of Mary

William Kensett of Slaugham married Mary Gosling of Waldron

4 Children:  ? ? Peter, Kezia

Peter married Susanna Dancy, daughter of John Dancy of Cuckfield

Kezia married John Tusler


List of people who took part in the story:

Peter Kensett

Henry Read

Thomas Coles                          John Butler

Mary Burdfield

John Holland

James Andrew

Richard Andrew

John Coppard Gower              Mr Stedman                Mr Flanagan

William Wood

James Holden

Benjamin Cranstone

Thomas Woolbury

George Bellcahmber

In Court

Sergeant D’Oyly         Chairman of the Sessions

Mr Johnson                 Prosecution

Mr Hill                        Prosecution

Mr Creasey                  Defense for Kensett

Mr Wyatt                    Defense for Kensett

Mr Burrell                   Defense for Kensett

Mr Cobbett                 Defense for Read


12 Gentlemen of the Grand Jury



Lloyds Chemist and the carpet shop next door are the original property of Peter Kensett, where he had his drapers shop.  You can see the beautiful Horsham Stone on it’s roof.

Photo from Billingshurst Shops  Website.

At the Quarter Sessions of the Peace to be holden at Petworth on Thursday the 2nd day of January, 1845


Calendar of Persons for Trial

3          Thomas Coles              Labourer          23        reads well

4          Henry Read                 Sweep             15        unable to read or write

5          Peter Kensett              Draper             50        reads and writes well

Committed by:  James Tuder Nelthrope, Esq. 14th November, 1844


The said Thomas Coles and Henry Read having broken and entered a certain building within the curtilage of the dwelling of Mary Burdfield situate in the Parish of Itchingfield on the 2nd Day of November, inst. And stealing in the said building a copper value £3 5s the property of the said Mary Burdfield.

And the said Peter Kensett with feloniously receiving at the Parish of Billingshsurst on the 2nd Day of November inst. the said copper well knowing it to be stolen.

Kensett and Read pleaded Not Guilty and Coles pleaded Guilty

Sadly no record has been  found of any defence or plea of mitigation offered by or on behalf of Peter Kensett.


From the Brighton Gazette dated 9th January, 1845

MR SERJEANT D’OYLY (Chairman of the Sessions)

“Gentlemen of the Grand Jury, I am happy to say that the calendar which you will have before you is not so large as we have some times had,  neither are the cases, generally, of a very serious description.  There are, however, two or three to which I think it requisite to call your attention.  There are two cases of horse stealing, which offence you know was but a few years back visited with a more severe punishment than now.  It is necessary that serious attention should be given to cases of this sort, affecting property, which is much exposed.  There is also a case of house breaking, and another, that of copper stealing, to which you will please, to pay particular attention.  In the latter, two men, names Thomas Coles and Henry Read, are charged in four different indictments, with copper stealing;  and Peter Kensett is charged with receiving in each.  You will have a great number of witnesses before you, and will perhaps find it a complicated case.  I need not tell you that it is necessary that twelve of you should be agreed in your verdict, and that on the oath you have just taken you will keep your own and each other’s counsel.  You will have some bills sent to you directly:  and the Court will feel obliged by your returning a few as soon as you can.”



Mr Johnson and Mr Hill conducted the prosecution;  Mr Creasy, Mr Wyatt and Mr Burrell defended Kensett and Mr Cobbett defended Read.

The Jury (none of whom were challenged) having been sworn, the Itchingfield case was entered upon.


“Gentlemen of the Jury, as you are aware; this case has gained considerable notoriety in our County and has excitement consequent thereon.  I urge upon you the necessity of throwing from your minds any feeling on the subject and confine yourselves wholly to the evidence before you.  I beg you not to allow any local knowledge or any hearsay evidence to influence your verdict, but that you will look only to the true ends  of justice;  and, however necessary it might be to look at the unhappy situation in which the prisoners now stand, it is still more necessary,  that if, after hearing all the evidence, included  before you, you consider the prisoners guilty, that you should return a verdict which would place the neighbourhood in more security than it has hitherto been.”

“The reason why there are so many counts laid in the indictment are these courts might make the indictment very long, and consequently to you very difficult; but I can assure you the matter is very simple.  It is necessary to have so many counts, in order that I might be able to withstand the formidable array of learned gentlemen opposite“



Toat Farmhouse


I am a widow, and reside at Itchingfield.  On Saturday morning, the 2nd November, I went to my wash-house, between six and seven o’clock in the morning.  The wash house is away from the house, and is built with brick and stone.  I came from the wash house the evening before, and I turned the key, and took the key indoors.  The door was latched.,  I last saw my copper safe between  nine and ten o’clock on Friday morning, the 1st November.  The brick work was all fast in the evening.  When I went to the wash house the next morning I found I could not turn the lock.  I lifted up the latch and opened the door, on which I saw some bricks lying about the floor, and on going up to where the copper had been, it was gone.  The copper was built up with bricks.”

“I saw the prisoner, Read, on the  Friday, 1st November, about eleven o’clock in the morning, close to the building, Coles was with him.  They were on the footroad very near the house.  I’d never seen Read before.”

“When I missed the copper, on the Saturday, I went into the farm house, which stands a short distance off, and gave an alarm.  The two Andrews’ came out.  I went into the garden, and there I saw some tracks, they were a little way from the house, coming away from the wash house.  About ten o’clock I went to the shop of Mr Kensett, (the prisoner) at Billingshurst, and asked him whether he had had a copper that morning.  He had some in the open in his shop.  He said he had.  I said some one stole my copper that night.  We went into a room, a sort of a warehouse, where there were four coppers, standing two by two, – one on the other;  He showed me one which he said he had bought that morning and I told him, ‘twas not mine.  I then went a little farther, where there were two coppers, and on looking at one at the bottom, I said ‘that is more like mine.’  The first copper was doubled up, and so was the second, which I thought was like mine.  He said he had bought this a month ago, – he would take his oath of it.  I did not examine the other two, as they did not look like mine.  I asked Mr Kensett if these were all the coppers he had, and he said ‘Yes, they were all he had.’  He said “ I expect I shall have your copper next week, no doubt but yours is sunk in a pond, “ and he said he would let me know about it.”

“I then left the house, and went to Five Oaks, which is about half way from my house, to Kensett’s.  When I got there, I turned and went back to Mr Kensett’s.  This was between ten and eleven o’clock.  Mr Kensett came to the door, and I asked if he would tell me of whom he bought the copper.  He stood a little while, and then said, “I do not know.”  I said, “You told me that you did.”  He said, “Only by sight.”  I asked him whether there were two came or one.  He said ”One.”  I asked, “How was he dressed?”  He said.  “A shortish man, with a dyed blue frock.”  I said, “That is he.”

“On Sunday morning, about ten o’clock, Kensett came to my house and said, “You haven’t been out of my mind since yesterday morning, you were at my house.  I will give you a trifle, as you are a widow women, and the copper must be a great loss to you, and a little help is worth a great deal of pity.”  He unbuttoned his coat, and was going to put his hand into his pocket, when I said “Not today, sir, I shall be glad of a trifle another day, they have taken the men.”  He said, “Oh have they, and what di’em say?”  “ I don’t know” I replied.  He asked where they were and I told him Bucks Green.  Bucks Green is about four miles from my house.  He then went away.  I met Kensett afterwards in the day, he was going towards Bucks Green, where I had been with my son-in-law.  I saw a boot after I saw the tracks.  It appeared to me as if the impressions I saw had been made by it.

“I saw the prisoners, Read and Coles, in custody at Bucks Green.  Read had a blue frock on.  The prisoners were examined before the magistrates at Horsham on Monday.  I was there, Mr Kensett was there also.  I saw the copper which he produced.  It was not mine.  It was the first copper I’d seen at his house.  Mr Kensett was not then in custody.  The other prisoners were remanded.”

Between two and three o’clock on the Tuesday, James Andrews went with me to Billingshurst, to Mr Kensett’s.  I saw Mr Kensett, and told him I was come to look the coppers over again.  He went into the same room where we went on the Saturday,  morning at eight o’clock.  He said “that was he that was gone to Horsham on Monday, meaning the copper.  James Andrews said “that warn’t he,” Mr Kensett said “it must be”.  Andrews said “No it is not.”  I said “I can’t see my copper now, and what a loss it is to me.”  Mr Kensett said “I will give you a new one.”  I was going out of the room when Mr Kensett stood before me and said “Say yes.”  I said, “I’ll stop a day or two longer, “ and then went away.

I first saw my copper on Wednesday night, in the hands of Gower;  that was neither of the coppers I saw at Kensett’s, – I am sure it wasn’t.  I saw the copper again on Thursday, and since the prisoner’s commitment I have seen the copper fitted at my house.  It corresponded where the bricks weren’t torn out.  This was the same copper I saw on the Wednesday, and is the one now produced.  I’ve been using it for over twenty years.  I know it by those three marks and two rivets.  It was doubled up when I saw it on the Wednesday, and it has since been beaten out.  That copper is mine.

JAMES ANDREWS (Servant to Mrs Burdfield)

On Saturday morning, the 2nd November, the consequence of being called by Mrs Burdfield, I went into the wash house and from thence into the garden, where I got the track of one man going towards Billingshurst.  My brother Richard was with me.  We followed the footsteps across two fields, about a quarter of a mile, there were other marks on the ground.  The same steps were tracked in the road, a carriage road,  all the way to the Kings Head Inn, Billingshurst which is about 10 yards or so from Mr Kensett’s shop.  In the track was the impression of two ridges of nails on each side and in the centre the mark of a pelt.

On the way to Billingshurst we met Read and Coles,  Read had a blue frock on.  There appeared to be a cloth under his Coles’ arm.  I took a look of Read’s track as I met it on the road.  I took particular notice of it.  When I saw them they were opposite the King’s Head.


I then went to Kensett’s.  I knew Mr Kensett, but had never been in his shop before. It was a rainy morning which is why I went to buy a hat.  He said “Come this way” and we went upstairs.  The stairs were in a passage which joined the shop.  Any person passing through could see the coppers because they were in the open.  As I came downstairs I saw a copper at the foot of the stairs.  It was doubled up and appeared to be wet and dirty.  I did not recognise the copper.  I afterwards saw the same copper at Horsham.  When I came downstairs I asked Mr Kensett if he had had a copper today.  He said that yes, he had.  I said “Mrs Burdfield has lost one.”  Kensett said “ it had come from quite far away.  The copper he had taken that morning had come from Chiddingfold.  He knew of the man.  He said that ours was sunk in a pond and he should have it about next week.


On the next Tuesday, I went with my mistress to Mr Kensett.  She asked him if that was all the coppers. He said that what she saw was every bit of copper he had.  She then asked where the copper was that stood at the foot of the stairs.  He said that it had been carried to Horsham.  I said “It had not”.  Mr Kensett said.  “It must be”  I said  It was not.  Kensett then said to Mrs Burdfield that he would give her a new one, but she said “Not today,” but that she would be glad of a trifle another day.”


A piece of mould had been dug up with the foot mark on it and carried to Bucks Green where it was shown to the Magistrates with the boot which corresponded to the footmark.  When Andrews had met Read on the way to Billingshurst, his footmarks were the same.  Richard Andrews, brother to the witness corroborated to the tracking of the footsteps.

JOHN HOLLAND Farmer of Warnham and Son-in Law of Mary Burdfield

 Mrs Burdfield’s son-in-law, John Holland of Warnham, also corroborated to the tracking of the footsteps and comparison of the boot with the footmarks.  He likewise dug up a piece of earth, a spit, with one of the footmarks on it which was taken in the spade to Bucks Green, and he identified the copper produced as belonging to Mrs Burdfield.

“On Sunday morning I went with my Mother-in-Law to Bucks Green.  Coles and Read were both there in custody.  When coming back we met Mr Kensett about a mile from Bucks Green.  Mr Kensett was driving in a Gig, and when he came up to us he pulled up and said “I have seen Mr Stedman and Gower, and they say you can’t do anything, because you did not find the copper on the prisonsers”  I said, “When Mr Gower hears my story, perhaps he will say different.”.  Mr Kensett then drove off.  I put Mrs Burdfield down, and follwed Kensett toward Bucks Green and went to the public house where the prisoners were.  I saw the constable Woolbury,  and Kensett went into the room where the prisoners were.  I ran in.  Kensett had got in about three minutes.  When I went into the room, the constable was standing at the door holding it, and Kensett was in the corner, talking with Coles and Read.  I said, “This is not a fair thing, Mr Kensett.”  Mr Kensett then said to Coles, “You are the man I bought the copper off.”

I first saw the copper on Wednesday night, the 6th November, at Gower’s, it was then beaten in and is the same now produced.  I afterwards took Mr Gower and the copper to my Mother-in-law’s and fitted the copper in.  The bricks were pulled down in front of the copper, so as to wrench it out.  It exactly corresponded with the place, and I am certain it was taken from there.  I recognised the copper from the rivet.  It holds about thirty gallons, and on the Saturday before, I saw it when potatoes were being boiled in it.  It was then a very good copper.”

WILLIAM WOOD, Labourer from Slinfold.

“On the 2nd November I got up about half past six, and I was going upon the hard road leading to Five Oaks, (Itchingfield to Billingshurst) when I saw two men, who passed me as I was getting over the gate.   It was light enough to see and walked behind them some distance.  I believe Coles and Read were the same men.  The tall one had a dark frock and the short one a blue frock.  The tall one had a load in a cloth, which looked black. I walked behind them and thought it looked like a copper.  When I got to the pay gate the tall man set down his load, and the other, Read, took it up;  it seemed heavy, and as much as he could do to throw it up.  I didn’t really think about it being a copper until I heard that a copper had been lost.  I don’t think the parcel which the men had was in the same shape as the copper now.

JAMES HOLDEN Blacksmith of Billingshurst

“I live on the opposite side of the road to Kensett, about forty yards off.  I saw Coles, on the 2nd November, about seven in the morning coming in the direction from ~Five Oaks.  He had a large pack on his back;  it was something covered with a cloth, and it appeared to be heavy.  I saw a cloth and a copper produced before the Magistrates:  and they then appeared to correspond with what I saw Coles carrying that morning.  The pack does not look as the copper does now.When Coles passed my shop he went to Mr Kensett’s carrying with him what he had on his back.  He was gone about a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, and came out without the parcel.  On the same morning I saw Read; he came into my shop about ten minutes after Coles passed.  He had a blue frock on.  He came in the same direction as Coles.  When Coles came out of Kensett’s, Read went out of my shop, joined Coles, and they then went in the direction of Five Oaks.

I have known Mr Kensett some twenty years.  He keeps a shop, a very large shop for a village.  Mr Kensett had, during the time I’ve known him, borne the highest character, and is considered a highly respectable man.  I know him as the keeper of the Post Office, the collector of taxes, treasurer of the turnpike trusts, agent to the fire-office, and holding other offices of trust.  I have had business with him, and always found him an honest, conscientious man.”


“On the 2nd November, I was going into the tap room of the public-house at Five Oaks, between six and seven o’clock, when I saw the two men Read and Coles pass.  Coles had a dirty white, and the other a blue, frock.  ~They were coming from the direction of Itchingfield.  Read had a pack at his back; it appeared to be heavy, and was done up in a cloth.  About an hour and half afterwards, I saw the two men again;  they cam into the tap-room.  They had nothing with them then,.”

THOMAS WOOLBURY Constable of Rudgwick

“I apprehended the two prisoners, Read and Coles, on the 2nd November, at the beer-shop at Tisman’s Common, between three and four o’clock.  I took them to the public-house at Bucks Green.  Tisman’s Common is about five miles from Billingshurst.  On Sunday I took Read’s boot off, and compared it with an impression brought up in some mould by Holland.  It corresponded with it.  The boot produced is the same.  There were two impressions brought;  one was brought on a shovel, and the other on a spade.  Holland showed me that he brought, there was a track in the mould.  He looked at the boot before he put it into the impression.


I am shopboy to the prisoner Kensett.  I remember Saturday, the 2nd November.  Coles came to my master about half past seven.  He brought a copper wrapped up in a brown cloth.  Kensett asked him where it came from.  He said, “Burdock.”  My master then bought it.  I afterwards saw it at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the Warehouse, where the hats are.  The copper was doubled up.  No other copper was bought that day.  Mr Kensett deals in hardward, which he has of Mr Brooks.  My master was in the habit of supplying old metal ti him, and receiving cutlery back.   Wadey the Billingshurst carrier used to take the metal.  The cutlerys was sold in the shop.  It was a large general Drapers shop.  Packmen who go about the country used to come to the shop for goods and in the course of business used to bring old metal.  What my master did is not ….. his retails trade, he used to sell to his agent in Horsham and received goods in return.  The coppers were …, just as they received them.  He had not helped to steal them away.  It used to be in the ……

JOHN COPPARD GOWER (Constable of the Parish of Horsham)

On Sunday the 3rd November, the prisoner Peter Kensett came to see me at my house and asked if I had two men in custody for stealing a copper.  I said I have not, but there have been some coppers stolen.  He said I understood you had two men in custody for stealing a copper – there are some suspicious circumstances attached to two men.  They were tracked from Toat Hill to Billingshurst.  I bought a copper on Saturday morning, but that is a twenty gallon copper, and the one stolen is a forty gallon copper.  I said, there was a forty gallon copper stolen from Cowfold, where was this one stolen from?  He said Toat Hill.  I said, “ When?”  Friday night, and they have tracked the men from there to Billingshurst.  I bought a copper Saturday morning but that is not big enough by ten or fifteen gallons.  He said it looks suspicious against the men, but I cannot see how they can find them guilty for nobody saw them take it, if they were the men who stole it they must have met somebody else and changed the copper as they do Horses sometimes.  I said, “I know nothing at all about it.”  He left.

I saw him again on the Examination of the prisoners Thomas Coles, Henry Read and John Butler on a charge of stealing Mrs Burdfield’s copper.  I said have you brought the copper you purchased from these men on the Saturday morning.  He said, “Yes I have, it is in my Gig.  I went with him and assisted in taking a copper out of his Gig.  I said this is certainly not a forty gallon copper, but I think it is more than twenty gallons.  Is this the copper you bought off the men?  He said, “ Yes.”  I said, “it is not big enough.”  He said “Oh bless you, I have tried it and it will go thirty.”  I said, “Well, I do not understand it Mr Kensett.  They tell me there is another copper that you will not produce which is the right size.”  He said, “ Oh yes there is but I bought that a month ago.  If Mrs Burdfield had kept quiet I have no doubt I should have had her copper brought to me for sale or somewhere about here – most likely they have drowned it.”

During the Examination the prisoner, Peter Kensett said, “ I have bought but one copper for more than three months.”  I said, “ Mr Kensett you know I was able to trace stolen property to your shop more that three months ago.”  He said, “I did not know that.”  I said, “ Oh yes you did because we corresponded, and you said in a letter to me you were afraid that you had purchased something which was not right and you would never purchase another copper.”  He said, “ Did I sir?”  I said, “ Yes you did.  I can show you your letter.”

The Prisoner Peter Kensett stated before the Magistrates in conversation, “ I have purchased but one copper for between three or four months which I purchaced of the prisoner Coles until I bought one on Saturday.”

“I should not have bought that of him, but he sold me one, three or four months ago.  I told him I did not like to buy it, but if he would leave it I would let him have two or three shillings, and if I found that his story was right, I would pay him for it, if he would call again.  I made inquiries and found it right and that induced me to buy the copper off him, last Saturday morning.”  The Prisoner Peter Kensett was asked who the person was he made the inquiries of?  He said, “ it was so long ago, I have forgotten but it was some person at Chiddingfold.”

In the evening of the same day I went to the house of the prisoner Peter Kensett at Billingshurst and asked him “show me those coppers which you have got? “ He had previously told me that he had three besides the one he had brought to Horsham.  He took me into his Warehouse and showed me two coppers and a brass boiler.  I said “is that all you have?”  He said, “ Yes it is”.  He pointed to one copper and said, “This is the copper I showed to Mrs Burdfield as being about her size but I bought this more than a month ago.  I told you a month when I was at Horsham but I have inquired of my young man, he tells me it is more than a month.”

I said, “ I do not know Mr Kensett, but no one would like to suppose that a person of your standing in society would buy property that was stolen if you knew it was stolen.  Are you sure you bought this copper a month ago?  It looks to me like a copper which was stolen from Cowfold, but was not stolen more than a fortnight ago.”  He said, “ it was more than a month.  You inquire of my young man.”  I said “I had the Authority of the Magistrates to look at your coppers.  I should like to take this copper and I will call for it when I come back from Petworth.”

I called again and James Flanagan was with me.  We searched a large cask which was standing in the Warehouse.  I asked him if he had any coppers in it?  He said “No I have only those coppers which you have seen.”  We found in the cask three coppers, and two brass furnaces.  Two of the coppers were broken to pieces, one which was broken appeared to be nearly new.  I said, “ How is this Mr Kensett, you said you had none?”  He said, “They must have been there so long I really had forgotten they were there.”  After considerable more conversation I took the copper I had previously looked at.

On Wednesday the 6th instant in consequence of information I went to Billingshurst.  On the road between Horsham and Billingshurst I passed the Prisoner Kensett in a cart.  After I had passed him I turned my cart round and drove after him and called after him.  I thought he had something heavy in the cart, the springs being weighed down.

I called to him two or three times and he got out of his cart and came to me.  He said, Do you want me?  I said Yes, I am afraid you have been doing something not quite right.  He said Oh indeed.  I said I have information you removed some coppers from your premises late last night.  He had promised me that the coppers on his premises should remain till I wanted them, if I did want them.  He said moving coppers?  I said Yes.  He said Only those two old things you saw the night before  I did not want them about my p0remises.  I said, Have you got any coppers in your cart?  He said, No I have got no coppers there.  I drove close to the side of his cart and said I shall search your cart.

At the top of the back part of the cart there was a piece of rush matting thrown over and under the matting and under some straw I found two coppers tied up in cloths.  One is the same now produced and identified by Mary Burdfield.  I said, “I shall take possession of these coppers, cart and all, in the Queen’s name.  You had better drive me back to Billingshurst,  He said, “I do not know about it.”  I said, “You must!  I shall not get out of the cart until I have the coppers.”

He went with me to Billingshurst.   I went with a Constable to the house of George Belchamber.  The Prisoner drove with us.  Belchamber came out of the door and the prisoner Kensett said “They want those two old coppers Belchamber.”  I saw he was very much confused, and I said to Belchamber, “Do not talk to him, you have quite enough to answer me I can see.  I come to search your house.”

I said to Belchamber, “How many coppers have you got in our house?”  He said, “Two.”  He showed me into a dark room where I found one copper and one brass furnace.  I called for a light and said, “How may more have you got?”  He said, “Two.”  I said, “Two besides Two.  Is that it? “ He said “Yes.  I have two more up-stairs.”  I went upstairs with a light, to a loft which opens out of a bedroom under the roof and searched a little dark loft, under the eaves of the house;  and there, I found four more entire coppers doubled up. And were in sacks. The door of the loft was nailed up before I went in.  When I brought the coppers downstairs, I saw Kensett.  I said, ”These two are turned into six.”  I asked Belchamber whether Mr Kensett brought the coppers himself?  He said, “No, I brought them myself, and his man.”  I took the coppers back to Kensett’s and asked him “to allow me to search his house.”  I had no warrant.  He gave me leave, and said.  “I have no more coppers that what you have seen, but I don’t suppose you’ll believe me.”  I said, “No, I can’t.”  He said, “Now you have found these coppers at Belchamber’s.  I will tell you the truth;  I have no more coppers but what you have seen.”  I went to his house, and brought the coppers away which I had previously seen, making in all fifteen.

I apprehended the prisoner Peter Kensett on the Wednesday 6th November instant in the afternoon.

Sworn before me  James Tuder Nelthorpe

HENRY ATTREE Horsham Hairdresser

On Wednesday, the 6th November, I was with Gower going to Billingshurst when we met Kensett in his cart.  Gower remarked that Mr Kensett had something heavy in his cart.  When he had passed, Gower hailed him, and as Kensett did not stop, Gower turned and went after him.  When Gower overtook him, he asked what he had in his cart.  Kensett said nothing but matting.  Mr Gower searched and found two coppers.

Mr Kensett denied having them.  We then went to Billingshurst.


Very difficult to transcribe the next bit.  Very feint.


JAMES FLANAGAN Inspector of the East Sussex Constabulary.

On the Tuesday 5th November I went with Gower to Kensett’s.          I saw      in the cask.  He said “No. I have not.”  I found three coppers and two brass furnaces.  …….


CHARLES E……. Horsham carpenter ?

I saw Kensett in the beginning of July, I called at his shop and told him I had just apprehended a  man who had stolen a copper which he was going to bring to his shop, and had put him in the hands of the Police.  I cautioned him about buiying of these characters.  He said he would not, and if any more came he would call for an officer.  Did he know whether he was called Lawyer Feist.  He wouldn’t …..being a lawyer  ….. He thought it necessary to give his advice to Mr Kensett.


WILLIAM STEDMAN, Clerk to the Magistrates of Horsham.

I was present at the examination of Coles and Read, on the 4th November.  Kensett was there, and made a deposition, which was written by me and signed by Kensett.  I have heard the statement today made by John Holland as to a conversation between me and Kensett.  I never had any such conversation with him.  Read also made a statement afterwards at the last examination;  it was written and read to him.  He made his mark;  and the committing Magistrate Mr Nelthorpe, also signed it.

The deposition and statement were then read.

The small copper produced before the Magistrates was then brought forward, and identified by Gower.

THOMAS LOMAS Horsham Coppersmith

The largest copper of the two was brought to me by Gower; and I unfolded it.  It was beaten in very much to be about half its size.  The copper was not in a state of old metal; it would have lasted many years, with ordinary use.  It is about a 40 gallon copper.  The copper is a trifle above the standard weight that coppers are made;  they are generally made about 1½ lbs to the gallon.

MATTHEW WALKER Horsham Ironmonger

The last witness works for me.  The large copper produced was brought to my shop, before it was broken up.  I should have considered it a sound copper;  it is about the standard weight of new coppers general.  I have known Mr Kensett some years and have always considered him a very upright man.



Mr Cobbett then addressed the jury on the part of Read and was followed by Mr Creasy for the prisoner Kensett.  The learned gentlemen seated, during his address, a very forcible one, to be suffering from the effect of an accident which occurred to him on his journey hither.


Mr Creasy, having concluded his address for the defence called the following witnesses to speak to Kensett’s character:

William Brook, of Westminster, hardwareman and ironmonger, had known the prisoner and done business with him thirty years.

John Luttman Ellis, of Petworth, coroner for West Sussex, had know him twenty years, and always considered his character very high.

David Brent Price, of Guildford, gentleman, had known prisoner twenty years.  His conduct had been most exemplary.

Thomas Sparing of Pulborough, farmer, had know Mr Kensett fourteen years; and always considered his character stood very high.

Henry Sandle had know Mr Kensett nine or ten years having worked for him.

Henry Wood Rowland, of Hurstpierpoint, draper, had know him severl years.

Henry Beath, vicar of Billingshurst, had know Kensett twelve years and always considered his character good.

William Bull of Arundel, grocer, had known prisoner severl years and always had a high opinion of him.

Levi Wadey, of Billingshurst, had known Mr Kensett and worked for him nine years;  always found him honest.

Own Ireland, of Haslemere, draper was apprenticed to Mr Kensett, and found him always very honest.

James Wilmshurst, a commercial traveller, had known Mr Kensett twenty years.  He was a respectable, honest man.

John Mutton, commercial traveller, had know Kensett twenty years.  His conduct had been considered highly honourable.

Stephen Evershed, of Billingshurst, veterinary surgeon, had known the prisoner twenty four years.

John Crosskill of Guildford, Draper, had known Kensett twenty years.

Henry Miller of Crawley, saddler and harness maker had known him twenty eight years.

Henry Bridger of Crawley flour dealer, had known the prisoner thirty years.

Arthur Daintrey of Petworth, solicitor, had known Kensett about ten years, as treasurer to the Five Oaks Turnpike Road

Robert Bishop, of Crawley, had known prisoner upwards of thirty years.

Elijah Ford, farmer, had known Kensett upwards of nineteen years.

Gideon Duplock, of Petersfield, bookseller, had known Kensett more than twenty years.

Richard Evershed, of Billingshurst, timber merchant, had known Kensett thrity years.

Huh Clement, of Pulborough, farmer had known Peter Kensett twelve years,

John Knight of Crawley, tailor, had known Mr Kensett for thirty years.

Joseph Nash, of Capel, farmer, had known Mr Kensett forty years.

Matthew Caffin, of Billingshurst, land surveyor and timber merchant, had known him twenty years.

James Cooper, Minister of the Bap0tish Chapel of Billingshurst, had known the prisoner four years.

Thomas Phillips, of East Cheap, City, grocer, had known the prisoner between twenty and thirty years.

William Evershed, of Arundel, soap manufacturer, had known Mr Kensett eighteen years.

James Potter, of Billingshurst, farmer, had known him above thirty years.

Thomas Potter of Godalming, draper, had known him upwards of thirty years.

William Turner, of Billingshurst, farmer, had known prisoner nearly twenty years.

Joseph Nash of Pulborough, general shop keeper, had known him for nearly twenty years.

John Turner of Billingshurst, farmer, had known prisoner for twenty years.

Farncis Botting, f Billingshurst, farmer had known prisoner nearly twenty years.

William Evershed, of Horsham, farmer, had known the prisoner for twenty years.

Hesse Heath of Horsham, road surveyor, had known him for nearly twenty years.

James Tussler, of Crawley, shopkeeper, had known Mr Kensett for thirty years. (His brother-in-law was John Tussler, who rented his – Kensett’s, shop in Crawley)

John Tugwell, of Horsham, stationer and postmaster, had known him some years.

George Arnold of Petworth, postmaster, had known him twelve years.

Richard Holland, of Itchingfield, farmer, had known prisoner all his life.

Thomas Baker, of Billingshurst, surveyor and clerk, had known him nearly twenty years.

The whole of the above witnesses spoke very highly as to the honesty and integrity of the prisoner.


The learned Chairman began to sum up at half past eight o’clock.  He went through the whole of the evidence, alluding where it seemed necessary, and explaining the points of law necessary for the information of the jurors.


The jury deliberated for about five minutes, and then returned a verdict of Guilty against both prisoners.


The other indictments were then abandoned.


The Court having concluded for a short time, the Chairman deferred the sentence till the next morning.


The Court then  … being within a … minutes of ten o’clock broke up.



The Court re-assembled this morning at ten o’clock, when the prisoners Read and Kensett were …to the ar, Kensett having expressed a desire to address the Court, permission was given.  He hoped, he said, he should be pardoned for addressing the Court after the very able defence of his counsel

Therefore, and for truth, had never been surpassed within the walls, nor perhaps any other.  The learned counsel had listed nothing but the truth, when he said the prerequisite he used was through a want of ….. torment the ….. he had to into and not from any guilty knowledge on his part.  Precedence had been placed to bless the labour of his  …. And  had increased his wealth;  and was it, therefore, likely that he should try to  …… it by the

(very feint and impossible to transcribe)

The Court had had before it, a host of witnesses to his character, the evidence of gentlemen who had known him for twenty, or thirty and forty years – of gentlemen whose surety, integrity, and honour might be depended upon, and whose evidence was enough to convince any jury of this  …… of the crime now  …. To him.  He should for ever remember with gratitude the manner in which these gentlemen had come forward, and the evidence they gave, evidence, he again said, that any jury might safely ……….  He then entered into the recited of some acts of clarity which we have heard from private sources were very  …. Performed by him, by which he had been mainly instrumental in establishing people in life; and asked if it was likely that he would, with a guilty knowledge, that the coppers were stolen, have bought them, disposed of them and devoted their profits of them to acts of charity.  It was against his nature to do this.


He had ever borne a good character;  he had ever been considered an upright and honest man;  and he had ever endeavoured to live so that he might fully hear out the opinion held of him.  He would declare before the court, and before Heaven, that he was perfectly innocent of the crime charged to him;  and he implored the court to restore him again to his numerous and distressed family, to allow him to carry on that character he had ever borne and which if should be his earnest desire to carry down with him to the grave.


The prisoner then bowed to the Court.




After a short consultation, the learned Chairman addressed the prisoners as follows:  “Prisoners at the bar Henry Read and Peter Kensett, you have been found guilty of the crimes charged against you, after a most patient and searching investigation, but a jury of your countrymen;  and the Court is unanimous in considering that verdict a just one.

The evidence brought against the prisoners, more especially againstf of the, Peter Kensett, has been of a most clear and decisive character;  for it appears monstrous to me that a man should have bought so many coppers as the prisoner had done, without a guilty knowledge.  Kensett says that he did not know they were stolen.  No, it was not likely that when Coles brought Mrs Burdfield’s copper, that he would say, “There is a copper I stole tonight;” but did not the transactions carry upon their face that these sort of people did not come honestly by the coppers?  Kensett knew there were a great many coppers stolen;  and why had he not, like an honest man, when Mrs Burdfield came to him about her copper, have said, “Yes; I bought one, “ and have shown it to her?  If the evidence given today did not carry conviction, I do not know what would.  It appears to me of the clearest character.

As regards the prisoner Read, it appears that he was in company with others, who were begging and looking about them at Mrs Burdfield’s; and on the same night her copper was stolen.  And the evidence I certainly think brings the charge home to him.  You must be aware prisoners at the bar that every attention has been paid to your cases.

We have had for you, Kensett, such a number of witnesses of highly respectable appearance as I never before saw in any Court; but as I asked, in summing up to the Jury, would these gentlemen give the same character of you, if they knew of these transactions, as they have done?  A man may bear a highly respectable character for many years; and, in one unfortunate moment, lose it.  It appears that you, Kensett, had been warned of your danger, and of the critical situation in which you stood;  yet you did not stop, but went on buying these things till you are brought to your present situation.

The sentence of the Court, and it is unanimous in that sentence, the sentence of the Court is, that you Peter Kensett, be transported beyond the seas for a term of fourteen years; and that you Henry Read be transported beyond the seas for the term of twelve years, and that you be both kept in the Petworth House of Correction till the time of your removal.”


The prisoners were then removed from the Dock.


I have not found any documentation relating to Henry Read and have copied documents relating to Thomas Coles and Gower below.   ABB    


We have never witnessed more interest in a case than was evinced in the above.  The Court was crowded by a large and respectable audience during the whole of the trial; and at the termination we heard sentiments of regret from every lip – regret that a man who had borne the high position in society that Kensett had, should so degrade himself, for everyone who heard the evidence – at least we did not hear one exception, acknowledged the justice of the verdict, though many were not prepared for so heavy a sentence.

That the prisoner did not escape the verdict given for want of a good defence or high testimonial to character, no one can doubt who was present.  It has seldom been our lot to hear so powerful, so feeling, and so impressive a speech as that addressed to the Jury by Mr Creasy.

As regards the witnesses, we do not doubt that there could have been five hundred people brought to give the like testimony of that tendered by the defence, had it been necessary, but character could not prevail against facts.  The distress and anguish of his family, all of whom, we believe, bear excellent characters, may be better conceived than described.


This particular case became well known across the country and was even reported in the Dundee Courier, Scotland:

“Some weeks ago we endeavoured to draw attention to the great importance of punishing Resetters of stolen goods;  and we think it would operate as a great check to theft, which has of late prevailed to an alarming extent in may towns in Scotland.  The following is a striking instance of how this matter is viewed in England, and we hope that the vengeance of the law will not henceforth be allowed to fall solely upon the poor and destitute thief alone, while the wealthy Resetter is allowed to escape with impunity.”

The trial had occupied the court for several days.  The evidence established the guilt of all the prisoners, and tended to show that a number of robberies of a similar description had been committed in different parts of the county.  There were other indictments against the prisoners, which, as a conviction was obtained on that on which they were tried, were not proceeded with.

The prisoner Kensett was a general shopkeeper, a draper, doing a very extensive business, at Billingshurst, in the County of Sussex, and was possessed of considerable wealth.    This, in his address to the Court, before receiving sentence, he urged as a presumptive proof of his innocence of the crime charged against him.  And yet this wealthy man, whose reputation for honesty and charitable deeds was spoken to by a host of respectable witnesses, who appeared to give him a character, was actually proved to be a receiver of stolen goods on a large scale; buying whatever was brought to him by the depredators with which that part of the country was infested.


Observation by ABB
It is interesting to map the burglaries from the villages all around Billingshurst which is clearly at the centre.  Was Kensett the reason for the infestation of depredators in the area?
At no time were Kensett’s son Edwin and his employer Charles Cooke brought in for interviewing.  Charles Cooke was a Copper Smith in Guildford and Edwin Kensett had been his apprentice. In 1841 Edwin is listed as being a Journeyman (inbetween Apprentice and Master).  Was Peter Kensett doing this to pay for his son’s apprenticeship and lodgings in Guildford by supplying the very material needed for his son to learn his trade?


Peter Kensett was taken from the Court to the Petworth House of Correction until Wednesday 15 January when the Sussex Advertiser reported (on 21st Jan 1845):

“On Wednesday last, a great number of persons collected to see Kensett, the individual convicted at Petworth for receiving the stolen coppers at Billingshurst, pass through Guildford by the Chichester coach, on his way with his fellow convicts to the Hulks at Woolwich.  Kensett appeared very much affected by the interest he excited, and tried to avoid the gaze of the crowd, who seemed to have no respect for his sufferings, but continued to stare during the whole of the twenty minutes that the coach stopped in Guildford.”


Kensett was put onto the Hulk, the Warrior and would have worked in a chain gang constructing the barracks.  Then on the 24th March, he was transported to Bermuda, where he would have been put onto one of the four Hulk’s anchored there, where convicts quarried limestone and constructed the  naval dockyard there.  Life on the Hulks in Bermuda is very well documented, particularly the Dromedary where, it is said, a workshop producing counterfeit coinage existed.  It was also described as having such a stench, that not even a tallow lamp would stay alight.




The following information is from research carried out by      and Mrs Sheila Crosskey, who carried out their research at the Public Record Office, Kew and the National Maritime Museum at Greenwhich. August 1994. An amazing amount of research to discover so much information.

Entry on the Warrior Hulk register.

In the Charles Dickins story Great Expectations, Abel Magwitch escaped from a Hulk

In 1845 transportation was thought to have been generally to the West Indies but no civilian vessel carrying convicts at that period could be traced in the Index (ADM101) at Kew.  It was the Journal of Convict Patients of the Royal Naval Hospital at Bermuda (ADM191.10/1) which provided the clue.

Convicts first arrived in Bermuda in 1799 and increased after 1823 to construct the Naval Dockyard.  No more were sent after 1861.  In all 9,094 convicts were sent between the years 1823-1861, of which 2,041 died from the experience.

Many of the convicts were skilled men, sentenced for up to six years for petty fraud or small scale thefts.  All were accommodated in the Hulks in appalling conditions and appear to have worked in irons.  Members of the Garrison were also accommodated in the Hulks until the barracks, also built by the convicts, were opened in 1851.

When the ship arrived in Bermuda, Peter Kensett was transferred to one of the Hulk’s.  He would have arrived there, about the beginning of May.  There were three Hulks and another being used as the Royal Naval Hospital.  Kensett was on the Hulk known as The Dromedary.  What is clear is that he became seriously ill whilst on the “Hulk” and was then transferred to the Royal Naval Hospital, where he eventually died

For such a delicate, but intelligent Gentleman, life on the Hulks would have been debilitating, to say the least, let alone the sea journey from Woolwich to Bermuda.  There appears to be no information concerning Kensett, except that he was accommodated on the Dromedary – a place where the stench was so acrid, not even a tallow flame would burn.  Undoubtedly, he became seriously ill and was transferred to the Royal Naval Hospital.

“From the symptoms and the autopsy details recorded in the Journal, Mrs Crosskey took the view that Peter Kensett had contracted either Typhus or Typhoid Fever whilst on the hulk, the latter being the more probable.  In 1845 little was known of the subject nor was it until much later that it was discovered that these two fevers were quite different from each other.”


“The Surgeon, who supervised the treatment of Peter Kensett, was O.Evans MD, had been appointed Deputy Medical Inspector in June 1844 along with an Assistant Surgeon and a Hospital Mate, also an MD.”  Medicine then, was very much in its infancy and following a treatment of Mercury to reduce the fever, Kensett died.


The Museum has in its collection a water colour drawing of the Royal Navy Hospital in 1823.  It was still in use until 1951 but becoming unsafe,  the building was finally demolished in 1972.


A useful reference work on Bermuda during the period under consideration is “The Story of the Royal Navy in Bermuda 1795-1975” by Leiutenant Commander Ian Stranack, Bermuda Island Press 1977.




Voluntary testament of Thomas Coles, 9th November, 1844.


“The first copper I ever stole was two from Mrs Brown of the Crabtree.  Them I took to Mr Kensett myself and I received eighteen shillings and eleven pence that was the value.  Seventeen shillings he paid me and he kept back one shilling and eleven pence because he said he thought I had not come honestly by them.  He said he had had a caution from Horsham and he must be careful what he bought.  I told him had no call to fear for I have them in my possession two days.  I think that was the 11th October.


The next time I went in company with Read and Read took a Brass Boiler which we stole from Mrs Moody of Rusper at the Brewhouse.  We were there drinking on Saturday and stole it Sunday night, or Monday morning.


The copper marked Brown No. 1, I stole myself and sold myself.  That is Mrs Moodys copper marked Moody No. 2.  That was sold to Mr Kensett for eight shillings and I think fourpence.  The next time Read and me went in company and stole a copper which I think is the copper Mr Flanagan accuses Butler and me of stealing but Butler is innocent.  Read sold that to Mr Kensett for six and twenty shillings and fourpence.  The copper marked Bellamy No. 3 is the same copper.


The next one Read stole was from Mr Baker that I sold Mr Kensett for five and twenty shillings and two pence halfpenny weighing thirty pounds.  The copper marked Baker No. 4 is the same copper.


The next one we stole was from an empty house just of of Horsham, that Read sold to Mr Kensett for thirteen shillings and eight pence weighing thirty pounds.  The copper marked Holmes No. 5 is the same copper.


The next copper was stole from Itchingfield.  I sold that to Mr Kensett for six and twenty shillings and eightpence weighing fifty six pounds or more? That was the money I got for it.  I told Mr Kensett I bought it the other side of Chiddingfold.  The copper marked Burdfield No. 6 is the same copper.


There is one piece more I stole some long time ago from Northchapel about the School, the pieces of the copper marked Northcahpel is the same.  The other pieces of copper came from the Parsons at Lurgashall.  They were stolen by a man they calls Bargeman Jack and a man they call Big Davey.  A brass furace marked Dunsill, Turners Hill was stole by Bargeman Jack.”



Taken by James Tuder Nelthorpe


Retaken before James Tuder Nelthorpe on 14th day of November, 1844.




Once Kensett and Read were removed from the dock:


Thomas Coles was then called to the bar; when Mr Johnson, on the part of the prosecution, prayed for the mercy of the court towards the prisoner, as it had been though his instrumentality that the present proceedings had been instituted.  The prisoner had made a full confession; but as he had pleaded guilty, he (Mr Johnson) had been unable to put it in evidence.


Mr Shirley said that not only had this been the case, but he had prevented a burglary from being committed, if not something worse, murder.*


The Governor of the Gaol remarked that the prisoner had behaved in a most exemplary manner during the time he had been in prison.


The Court having consulted for some time, the Chairman addressed prisoner Coles, telling him that from the recommendation of the prosecutors, coupled with the fact that through his means a burglary had been prevented, the Court was inclined to deal with more leniency in his case than it had done in that of Read.  He hoped this would prove a caution to him, for as he would now stand a convicted felon, should he ever again be brought into a Court of Justice on a charge of felony, nothing could save him from transportation.  Under the circumstances just, stated, the sentence of the Court was that he be imprisoned in the Petworth House of Correction for six months, the first fortnight and the last week of the second month, and the last week of the third month in solitary confinement.


This terminated the trial of prisoners.


*A property was known to have a large amount of money in it and a burglary had been planned with the intention of murdering the occupant should he have prevented them taking the money.

JOHN COPPARD GOWER Horsham Police Constable


Once the prisoners had left the Court, the learned Chairman called John Coppard Gower to the Bar;


After some consultation among the members of the Bench, when the Duke of Richmond said the Court had power, under an Act of Parliament, to allow a sum of money to be given out of the county rate to any person who might exert himself in forwarding the ends of justice.


The Court could not but highly approve the conduct of Gower during the proceedings of the case and to mark its sense of that conduct, the Court  wished to present him with an acknowledgement for it.  He had said they had power to do this from the country rate, but he knew that the rates already pressed heavily on the rate payers and he was always anxious to decrease, instead of increase, these burdens; he should therefore, propose that instead of a sum being paid out of the country rate, a sum, which had been collected by the Magistrates present, should be given to him.  And he, the Duke of Richmond, thought that this would be paying Gower a higher compliment than giving him a sum from the rate.


Sir Charles Burrell, one of the Magistrates attending the Horsham Petty Session, begged to bear witness to the general character of Gower.  He had never known one among the numerous cases in which he had appeared where he was the least to blame.  In fact, he was ……. In the discharge of his duties, so opposed to drawing a line between the rich and poor, that he had gained the ill-will of many of his neighbours on that account.  On one occasion two persons had been brought to trial for ill using Gower, and the expenses not being allowed, the Magistrates of the Horsham Bench were so insistent that they should be paid. Mr Stedman having paid them out of his own pocket that they wrote to the Secretary of State on the subject.  Sir James Graham wrote a very short reply to them, refusing to give the order.  He, Sir Charles, had mentioned these cases to show the high estimation in which Gower was held by himself and his other Magistrates.


The learned Chairman then presented Gower with the amount of subscription, £15 10s addressing him with a few words of commendation.


Mr Gower thanked the Magistrates for their kindness, more especially for the high …. They had …. his conduct.  He had always been anxious to do his duty.  He was about to retire from his order; but he would still feel it a duty, at all times, to …. The ends of  justice by bringing delinquents to punishment.


Gower became the Master of the Poor House in Bletchingly, Surrey.