Murder at Elizabeth Castle

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Murder at Elizabeth Castle


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This article researched at Jersey Archive was first published in the website of Bailiwick Express

1721 witness statement

The island’s earliest copy of a formal witness statement dates back over 300 years and tells a story of alleged murder at Elizabeth Castle.

Held by Jersey Archive, the statement was taken in February 1721 and is by Elizabeth Bowes, whose late husband Ensign Thomas Bowes, of the Company of Invalids, was stationed at the Castle. She came before the Royal Court four months later, accusing Captain John Crosby and Lieutenant George Lee of "being the cause of her late husband’s death".

In her statement Elizabeth testified that a few weeks earlier, on 7 December, between 12am and 1am, her husband was ‘misused’ by Captain Crosby and Lieutenant Lee at the guard door of Elizabeth Castle, where he was on duty.

It appears that Captain Crosby and Lieutenant Lee were returning to the Castle and on seeing officers on their way back, the Sergeant who was also on duty, turned out the guard. Ensign Bowes then asked the Sergeant why he had done this and ordered him to reverse the order because they had turned out without his command.

Elizabeth’s says this enraged Captain Crosby, who “flew up to the said Bowes, seized him by the cravat and said: ‘Raskall do you refuse to turn out the guard to me, you informing raskall I will proove you a Scoundrell and Mr Bowes answered ‘when I come to England I will prove myself as good a gentleman’s son as you’.”

Struggle

While Captain Crosby and Ensign Bowes were struggling together, Lieutenant Lee entered the fray and, on hearing her husband gasping for breath, so did Elizabeth, who was also present. She recounts that she pulled Lieutenant Lee off her husband, at which point he said: “You bitch, what doe you doe here upon the guard bed?”

Captain Crosby then cried out: “a mutiny a mutiny”, and Lieutenant Lee ordered the drum to beat the alarm. Ensign Bowes seized Captain Crosby’s arm to try to take him prisoner and called the Sergeant to help him. According to Elizabeth’s statement, the dispute then seems to have dissipated with Captain Crosby saying: “Lett me see the man that dare touch me, that’s what I want.” Captain Crosby and Lieutenant Lee went on their way and Ensign Bowes remained on guard.

Elizabeth testified that Ensign Bowes became ill that night and 19 days later he died. “The day before he dyed he declared that the blows Captain Crosby and Lieutenant Lee had given him were the cause of his death." There was a division of opinion in the Royal Court between the Crown Officers, who decided against Elizabeth, and the Lieut-Bailiff, who decided in her favour. A letter from the Crown Officers to John Lord Carteret, one of HM Secretaries of State, reveals that on 15 June 1722, Crosby and Lee were discharged by the Court and that in their opinion, the accusation of murder was malicious and frivolous.

Thomas Bowes’ will was made on 26 December 1721, a short time after the incident and just before his death. He described himself as an Ensign with Captain Byng’s Independent Company of Invalids. In his will he appointed Elizabeth as his executrix and left all his property to her, aside from a ring of 20 shillings to his brother, George, and a single shilling to his brother, John.

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