Last time we looked at one side of game keeping but it was not always a safe rural occupation that gave a man some standing among his neighbours and some loathing by those out to nab one for the pot to feed the family. Poaching was big business in the 18th and 19th centuries and organised gangs would go out armed with shot guns and game keeping became a dangerous occupation when a man could lose his life defending his employer’s property.
This was how Charles Dines, (1772-1815) gamekeeper to the Whitbreads at Southill, Bedfordshire lost his life. Charles was a family man aged 43 when he was struck down, who left a widow and four children including a baby coming up to her first birthday.
I recently came across an entry in The Times, dated December 20, 1815 when I was browsing on http://www.ancestry.com which adds a bit more to what is reported in A Fascination of Dines.
The Times report gives extracts from the information of John Pryor, an under gamekeeper on Mr Whitbread’s estate at Southill, which was taken before the magistrate William Wilshere, Esq. Charles Dines, the head gamekeeper of Southill, lived in the park. Pryor lived about half a mile from the park, with James Gurney, who was usually employed by Dines as an assistant when they patrolled the grounds at night. It was about half past eight on Saturday evening, 9th December, when Charles Dines arrived at Pryor’s cottage and told them that he had heard two guns fired in the park while sitting at home, and another as he was coming see them. Dines and Gurney were each armed with a double barrelled gun and Pryor with a pistol as they walked about the park till half past ten, without hearing anything. They sat down to rest in a shed near the cottage, and almost immediately afterwards heard a gun, which they thought had been fired near the head of the Lake.
Pryor took the gun from Gurney and they ran towards the lake and a few minutes after arriving they heard the sound of footsteps, they heard another gun fired and after a short interval, a third in a thick plantation adjoining the park pales (fences). Dines said, ‘I know they are here.’ He directed Gurney and Pryor to go into the wood abreast with him. He said, ‘Mind what we are going about; don’t shoot at any man, unless you see him point his gun at you.”
‘I am a dead man’
Pryor heard ‘a rogue’ call out, ‘Come on,’ and saw some six or seven men about ten yards away. There was a moon but the sky was cloudy; the men standing still in silence. Dines told them they were ‘imposing’ on the manor and that they should leave. He turned off to walk towards a park path and the men were about 50 yards from the fence. Pryor was sent off to get help from the White House nearby and he was half way back when he heard a gun and at the same moment heard Dines saying: ‘Lord have mercy upon me, I am a dead man.’ Pryor ran forwards and heard two reports which he recognised as Dines’ gun. He said Gurney had been knocked down and was moaning. When Pryor reached Dines he was lying on the ground but managed to say: ‘My dear fellow given me your arm, I am a dead man,’ adding that after he had been shot he had fired both barrels and thought he must have wounded some of them. Dines who had been shot in the belly died the following day at about six in the evening.
A Coroner’s inquest sat on Monday the 11th and a verdict of wilful murder by persons unknown was returned. On the Monday evening warrants were issued against a gang of poachers at Bigleswade (sic) and six men were arrested: Edmund Chamberlain, John Twelvetrees, John Hopkins, William Albone, Thomas Jefferies, John Sutton, and John Humberstone. The Times reported that the gang had set out from Bigleswade about 10 o’clock on Saturday night (December 10) armed with guns and bludgeons, to shoot pheasants at Southill, about four miles away. They had agreed to stand by each other and not to be taken. They had killed two pheasants before they were pursued. Chamberlain, Twelvetrees, Hopkins, Albone, Jefferies were examined by Mr Wilshire before being committed to Bedford gaol together with Henry Albone (brother of William) who though not present at the time of the murder is implicated.
Chamberlain said he was the man who fired at Dines and Jefferies said that when Dines said that he would see them off the manor Chamberlain had snatched a stick from Sutton and struck Gurney on the head knocking him down before throwing away the stick, and then, levelling his gun fired at Dines. Dines, after declaring he was a dead man, sunk down one knee, and fired both barrels of gun. He must have taken a very steady aim because he wounded Twelvetrees, Hopkins, Jefferies and William Albone. Hopkins was found to have received more than 100 shot in his back spreading from next to the loins. William Albone received part of the charge of the first barrel on his left shoulder, and part of the second on his right arm. Jefferies was shot in the right shoulder and arm and one shot passed through his right ear. Twelvetrees received a few on his loins and on his right thumb. None were critically wounded.
The prisoners were conveyed to Bedford gaol under a military escort sent on purpose from Bedford, and numerous constables from Bigleswade, just as the delinquents were marched off to prison the bell commenced tolling for the funeral of poor Dines, who was a respectable character and faithful servant, and shortly afterwards they met the hearse on their way to gaol, conveying the body of the deceased for interment.
‘Don’t shoot until he points his gun at you’
Charles Dines was very careful to point out to Pryor and Gurney that they should only shoot if they were shot at. This was to prove, if necessary, that they were acting in self-defence. This was something that his nephew Richard was to fail to do 24 years later when he was way over on the other side of the world facing a charge of manslaughter. But that is another story which you can read in the book.