Thomas Gibson Cant : a fishy tale

Thomas Gibson Cant, a Penrith solicitor with strong convictions about Justice, stood up for ‘the ordinary man’ against Penrith police. 

Part one of his story can be read in this post, but it was The Fish Cases that really caught the eye of the local newspapers across Cumberland.

Robert Hindson

Robert Hindson and his wife Isabella were no strangers to the courts. And in February 1868, their daughter Mary Ann Hindson, aged eleven, admitted stealing 28 items, from beef to pairs of boots, from a number of people. She was jailed for a fortnight, then sent to a Reformatory for five years. Isabella Hindson denied receiving the stolen goods – her defence said Mary Ann was

 ‘an evil-disposed little girl over whom her mother had no control.’

The jury found Isabella guilty and she was jailed for 18 months with hard labour.

 In March 1868, Robert Hindson was fined for assaulting Inspector Charles Stephenson in the course of his duties. In October 1868, police caught ‘two notorious poachers,’ Robert Hindson and Thomas Nicholson. A year later, a Robert Hindson was fined for being drunk on the highway. Thomas Gibson Cant appeared for the defence.

None of this, of course, means they were any less entitled to fair treatment from the police or courts than, say, the local vicar. A principle Thomas Gibson Cant was to persue with vigour.

The first fish case

In March 1872, Robert Hindson and Isaac Hodgson, ‘well-known poachers’ were charged with illegal fishing, and a violent assault on Sergeant Bertram and Constable Coulthard. When the officers asked to search their bag, they attacked them about the head and face with large sticks.

They were each jailed for four months for the assault, which they had denied. Hindson was fined £5 plus costs, or two months further in prison, for having salmon fry in his possession. The bag also contained fresh-water trout…

Mr Cant thought it that as the police were effectively the prosecutors and witnesses, and had the magistrates onside, the trial was unfair. He also thought it unfair that officers had stopped Hindson and Hodgson and demanded to search the bag in the first place: this was an infringement of their liberties.

In August 1872, Thomas Gibson Cant appeared for Hindson and Hodgson, seeking 14 shillings from the two police officers for ‘unlawfully seizing and detaining’ the trout. 

Mr Cant claimed that PC Bertram had made up the assault claim. He also blamed the Liberal Government for the 1862 Night Poaching Act (effectively, it seems to have allowed the police to ‘stop and search’). He also brought in other matters. 

The judge told him several times to stick to the actual case. 

Mr Cant repeatedly advised Hindson, in the witness box, not to answer ‘where did the fish come from?’

The judge adjourned the case.

The second fish case

In November 1872, another case came to trial. The foreman of the jury was William Nevison – we will come back to him later. 

(Of interest to Cumbrian Characters, one of the other jurors was coach builder Robert Graham Pears). 

This time, the allegation was the PCs Robert Bertram and William Henderson Kelly had illegally seized and detained about 57lbs of fresh-water trout belonging to Robert Hindson.

Mr Cant said the police had later dumped the fish on the pavement, and they’d ended up as breakfast for the poor people living near the police station.

He started on about the 1862 law and the highways previously being ‘sacred to the foot of the poor man,’ before the judge suggested they get to the evidence.

Mr Cant started to talk about Imperial Rome. His honour said they had nothing to do with Imperial Rome and Mr Cant was just trying to excite the feelings of the jury.

After several more arguments, the judge warned him he’d adjourn the case if he carried on: 

“It is too preposterous.”

Mr Cant then spoke at length about the right to enjoy the fragrance of hawthorn blossom from the streets of one’s market town, before another political diatribe about the the Liberal government…

His honour: “I really must discharge the jury.”

Mr Cant continued his flow, but did bring it to the actual case in hand.

Robert Hindson again refused to say from where he’d got the fish. 

The judge advised the jury that in law, there ought to be a verdict for a very small amount of money for Robert Hindson.

The jury duly found for Hindson: damages, half-a-crown.

The first perjury case 

A few weeks later, Robert Hindson charged ‘Inspector Robert Bertram’ with perjury. The allegation was that Mr Cant had applied for the fish to be released BEFORE and after Hindson and Hodgson were tried in the March case. And Inspector Bertram had, in a later case, said on oath that no demand for the fish was made until AFTER the trial. Mr Cant swore that Mr Bertram had been present when he asked Inspector Fowler before the trial. 

Mr Cant was asked if he was summonsed for assault in 1865, but declined to answer ‘unless I am allowed to explain’.

The bench said there was so much confusion in the case, they couldn’t sent it for trial. Robert Bertram should be discharged.

The court door

A week after that, a similar perjury case was heard against Superintendent John Thomas Fowler. 

But it started with Mr Cant complaining that defence solicitor Mr Arnison had entered court through the inner door, when he, Mr Cant, had been stopped from using it in the previous case. 

When the bench told him they didn’t care about the door, Mr Cant spoke about:

‘the acts of impudence and insults that have been heaped upon my by the police for the last six months’.

He was effectively told to give it a rest. But didn’t.

When he got to the reason they were there, it was the same as before. Superintendent Fowler had said under oath no demand had been made for the fish till after the trial. This was not true.

After introducting more irrelevant allegations into the court, and quoting Horace, he called on Hindson to give evidence. 

While the bench deliberated the case, Mr Cant went through the inner door, ‘to see if they stop me,’ amid considerable laughter.

The magistrates ruled there was no case to answer. 

John Hindson (Robert’s son) was then up for perjury, for saying at the same trial he had applied for the fish in the morning. The magistrates dismissed his case as well.

But it didn’t end there.

Calls for a re-trial

FISH CASE.—APPLICATION FOR A NEW TRIAL. Mr. CANT said he would now, with some reluctance, trouble his honour with an application for a new trial in the case of Hindson v. Bertram and Kelly. on the ground that the summing up of the learned judge inpoint of law was erroneous.

17/12/1872. Penrith Observer

Mr Cant first spoke at some length about court fees. claiming they should be paid out of the magistrates’ fee fund (used to pay Mr Bleaymire the clerk’s £120 and their annual dinner, among other things). Refused.

He wanted a re-trial over whether the fish were legitimately in Hindson’s possession.

Robert Hindson (in a written submission, read out) said Mr Cant had advised him to object to William Nevison being on the jury, as he was ‘not a fit man to try any case’ and he’d been involved in a County Court case at Wigton lately in which Mr Cant was also involved. 

He’d told Mr Cant he wanted William Nevison on the jury, as 

he’d sold him many a pound of fresh-water trout and many a hare.

He’d since heard that William Nevison had talked to the police before and after the trial. And that Nevison had told a load of people in the Crown Hotel afterwards that the jury had wanted to give him (Hindson) £3 for the fish, but he (Nevison) had beaten them down to half a crown.

His Honour saw no grounds for a new trial.

And still it didn’t end…

For Mr Cant called a public meeting in Penrith Market Hall to ‘consider a few points which have arisen’ from the cases.

He addressed the large crowd ‘with a few words’ regarding Superintendent John Thomas Fowler, John Dunne (the head of police for Cumberland and Westmorland) and Mr Oliphant Ferguson, the chairman of the magistrates in the most recent case.

The Carlisle Patriot reported that his speech last more than an hour and a half, and attacked more than one magistrate, the police (especially Supt Fowler) and others.

At the end, Mr Cant passed down the hall, arm in arm with Robert Hindson and Isaac Hodgson. The trio then proceeded down the street, followed by a large, cheering crowd.

William Nevison

If this is William Nevison, tobacconist, then in 1870, a woman called Elizabeth Murphy said she wasn’t sure if he or a Hexham solicitor called Mr Welford was the father of her son William. She’d had another child by William Nevison, but that child had died. She’d had three children altogether. 

Was this what Mr Cant meant about ‘not a fit man’?

The second libel case

All the above, and the libel case from part one, were to be significant in a libel case brought by Thomas Gibson Cant against the Carlisle Journal

One thought on “Thomas Gibson Cant : a fishy tale

Comments are closed.