|Thames Police: The Wapping Coal Riot|
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Death in the High Street.
From the transcript of the trial we can see that from the beginning of the disturbance events moved swiftly. Those inside the office secured the building as best they could but plainly considered themselves to be in some considerable danger. When a large stone smashed through a window an officer, (Perry) took a pistol and fired a shot into the crowd, that shot killed a rioter (Unnamed). The crowd seemed to quieten and withdraw slightly. Perry implored the magistrates to leave the building where he obviously felt at great risk. Having gone into the street, Colquhoun read the Riot Act to the crowd, ordering them to disperse. They did not.
Gabriel Franks was a master lumper employed by the Marine Police Office. It would appear that at the time of the riot, Franks was in the nearby Rose and Crown public house in the company of some friends. Upon hearing the commotion, he made his way to the police office with two other men (Peacock and Webb) and asked to be admitted. He was told however that nobody was to be allowed in or out of the building. Franks decided to return to the main street and observe the disturbance with the intention (it would seem) of gathering useful information and evidence. Franks instructed Peacock to keep observation on one particularly active rioter whilst he himself went to try and secure a cutlass for their protection. Peacock stated that about a minute later he heard a shot ring out from the direction of the Dung Wharf, he then heard Franks cry out that he had been shot. It appears from the evidence that the two shooting incidents happened in quick succession. Indeed one witness (Elizabeth Forester) tried to persuade the court that both men had been killed by the one shot fired from the police office. Her evidence was easily discredited and several witnesses referred to her as a woman of "Infamous character".
Franks did not die immediately but lived on for several days, during which time he was conscious and apparently lucid. His injuries were treated by William Blizzard, a surgeon at the London Hospital. During this time Franks was questioned about the incident but he plainly had no more idea as to who had fired the shot that he knew was about to kill him, than anyone else. The identity of the person who pulled the trigger and fired the fatal shot will never be known and we can only speculate as to the motive for the killing. Franks would have been known as someone associated with the police office and may well have been deliberately singled out for revenge as he walked alone to towards the Dung Wharf. Or, he may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time and got in the way of a stray bullet.
James Eyers, the man whose behaviour at the court was the initial spark that ignited the incident, was eventually arrested and charged with the murder of Gabriel Franks. There was never any evidence to suggest that he had actually fired the fatal shot. Indeed, the only witness to place him anywhere near to Franks during the incident was the discredited Elizabeth Forrester. The prosecution simply held that because of his actions in starting the riot, he was, in law responsible for Franks' death and demanded that he should face the death penalty... a view that the court obviously shared.
On the 9th January 1799 James Eyers was convicted of the murder of Gabriel Franks. He was sentenced to be hanged the following Monday morning. In passing sentence the judge, Mr Justice Heath, donned the traditional black cap and spoke the usual and well known phrase... "Prisoner - May the Lord have mercy upon your soul." Eyers replied "Amen, I hope he will."
Continue to the next page "Hyperlink to the Old Bailey trial site." to learn more about the Wapping Coal Riot.
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