William Pinder was a man no one would want to add to their family tree. But his life story tells us a surprising amount about crime and punishment in the mid-19th century.
In Westmorland, a crime of a fairly prosaic kind, was reported on April 9, 1853 in a round-up of the Easter Sessions at Kendal Town Hall.
Following up what seemed at first like a harsh punishment led to the ‘trail’ of a man whose 43-year life included some unspeakable crimes – and the realisation that offences were ‘weighted’ very differently for seriousness in the mid-19th century.
It showed that transportation was far from a one-way ticket for life, as you might imagine.
And it also uncovered a daring – but rather stupid – jail break attempt by a lesser offender.
William Pinder the thief
In 1853, William Pinder and James Leonard, both put at ‘aged 24 (reads and writes imperfectly)’, were charged with stealing a cow’s head on March 31 from Mr John Todd, butcher, of Kendal. Leonard admitted the theft, but Pinder pled not guilty.
The short version is that Mr Todd hung a cow’s head and tongue from a hook in the front of his stall in Market Street and Leonard stole it.
When caught, it was William Pinder who was carrying the head, but his plea was on the basis that he was just carrying it for James Leonard.
They’d both been drinking and James Leonard claimed he’d been so drunk, he’d not known what he was doing.
Leonard was jailed for four months, with hard labour, in Kendal House of Correction. But it was far worse for William Pinder, who was found guilty by the jury.
Transportation wasn’t a one-way ticket
He’d been convicted in Appleby in 1846 for a felony and been transported for 14 years. However, due to good behaviour, he’d been pardoned after seven years and had been back for about six months.
The cow’s head incident cost him another seven years’ transportation.
What had William Pinder done to merit the 14-year sentence in 1846? He’d stolen a smock frock from a lodging house (Mrs Mary Sandwick’s) in Peppercorn Lane, Kendal, the property of George Clerk, of Kirkby Lonsdale, who’d taken a bed there, sharing a room with Pinder and two other men.
Pinder’s defence was that he’d been very drunk when he took it.
Appleby gaol: brave but stupid
In June 1853, William Pinder was removed from Appleby gaol to the government prison at Wakefield. Meanwhile. James Leonard was moved, for some reason, to the debtors’ side of Appleby gaol where, on June 11, he was allowed into the yard to use the privvy.
Leonard used the opportunity to try to escape over a wall, only to fall 22 feet into the road the other side, breaking his left leg badly (a compound fracture) and severely injuring his right ankle. Spikes were swifly added to the wall to prevent further such attempts.
The Kendal Mercury pointed out that it was a bit pointless, given he’d only been serving a short sentence and would now face a longer one, and a lot of pain, but described him as ‘the hero’ of the ‘rash exploit’. The Westmorland Gazette said he was a sailor by occupation.
William Pinder’s vile deeds
William Pinder was given a ‘ticket of leave’ in August 1856. In November 1856, he was sentenced to six months’ hard labour for attempting to rape a 10-year-old girl at Skelsmergh. On release in May 1857, he was then taken to London, to be transported. Unfortunately for Westmorland, he was back by 1860 – when, in May, he attacked a 12-year-old girl. Described as a hawker of needles, cottons and laces, of Kendal, he was arrested, escaped, and recaught by Lancashire Constabulary. Described as having ‘a diabolical cast of countenance,’ he was sentenced to two years’ penal servitude, the Appleby sessions chairman regretting it couldn’t be more.
He got out in July 1862 and a few days later was back inside, for one month, for drunken and riotous behaviour. In September 1862, he attacked another child, ‘under nine,’ and got six months with hard labour.
At least in May 1863, then a vagrant. the charge was only stealing a handkerchief.
Punishments – strange values
The most he’d got for sex attacks on children was two years.
For stealing a handky, he was jailed for seven years.
William Pinder shows up on the 1861 census as William Pindar – in the County Jail, Appleby. He’s 31, a cotton weaver, and it says he was born in Penrith.
It doesn’t seem fair to detail his parents, except to say they moved to Kendal.
He died in 1871, aged 43, in the House of Correction, Kendal. The inquest heard he’d been transported twice and in prison 16 times since the age of 16, spending 25 of his 43 years behind bars and only two at liberty.
He’d died of natural causes.