Above (on the south side of) Chapel Street (and just above the Prince of Wales beerhouse) was Smith’s Yard, with two or three cottages in it.
Mr. Smith had a small shoe shop against his double-fronted, white washed cottage, standing back, with low wall in front.
He had three sons, George, Henry and Edward, and one daughter, Sarah. (Adeline refers to her also as Hannah) She married Aaron Aldred, a machinist, at Carrier’s and the brother of Isaac Aldred, of Jack Lee’s Yard.
We are now almost opposite the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Bath Street.
Views of the Property of Joseph Smith. (IP August 1861) © Trustees of NEWSPLAN2000
These were taken from drawings made by South Street joiner and builder William Warner for reference at the trial.
Shortly after nine o’clock on Monday morning, July 29th 1861, George Clay Smith, eldest son of Joseph and Harriett (nee Clay), found himself standing in the dock at Derby Assizes, facing a packed courtroom. There he was accused of wilfully murdering his father at Ilkeston, on May 2nd, 1861 and pleaded ‘not guilty’.
He was a young man, 20 years old, 5ft 5ins tall, with reddish yellow hair and pleasing features. On this occasion he was neatly dressed, including a blue scarf and turn-down collar.
The verdict and sentence
After the judge had summed up the evidence, the jury deliberated for only a few minutes before George was found guilty. The judge then donned his black cap and began to pass sentence at which point George interrupted and was allowed to continue..
“…..I have not taken the life of my father. I stand here with innocence and I can stand before the Almighty Maker of heaven and earth with a clear conscience. And if I come to die upon the gallows tree I will still say that I am innocent….But, my Lord, if you think I have done this crime, pass sentence on me……
(then speaking to the people in the galleries) ” I speak like an English son and like an English brave man; I want nothing but my rights. I would scorn to kill my own dear and beloved father. Could I stand here accused of this crime and speak to you this way if I was guilty? Could I raise my right hand as I do now, if it was stained with my father’s blood?…..Gentlemen, friends and fellow countrymen – Not that this right hand of mine has been stained in the blood of my father; far from it”.
The judge was not impressed by George’s words, considering they were those of a sinful, deceitful and unrepentant man. His conclusion was therefore unavoidable.
“The sentence of the court is that you be taken from the place in which you now stand to the place from whence you came, and from thence to a place of execution, and that there you be hanged by the neck until your body be dead, and that your body, when dead, be buried within the precincts of the jail where you shall have last been confined”.
(At the coroner’s inquest into Joseph Smith’s death, on the days immediately after his murder and three months before the trial, the coroner was clearly convinced that George had committed premeditated murder and conveyed this to the jury. The conclusion there was that the cordwainer had died as a result of “being shot by his son” and a verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ was returned. Thereupon George was committed on the Coroner’s warrant to be tried at the Derbyshire Assizes. And thus the Nottinghamshire Guardian felt free to report an extensive account of how ‘the wicked wretch’ George had murdered his father, again nearly three months before his trial).
Confession and punishment
Shortly after he had been returned to the county jail in Vernon Street, Derby, George made a full confession.
Events had occurred as the prosecution evidence had suggested although the motive was not one of greed, nor had the murder been long in the planning. He had bought the pistol with the intention of killing his father if he started questioning him about the bank book, and had returned from Nottingham with murder on his mind. The pistol was primed. However after further drink and a game of bagatelle at the Queen’s Head these thoughts vanished, and George finally went home, still vexed but wanting to sleep. An argument soon developed however. George became angry with his father who, in turn, was annoyed with him and banished him from home, at which point an intoxicated George took the pistol from the drawer and shot his father.
George was now fully repentant. He was visited regularly in prison by the Rev. Ebenezer Sloane Heron of the Ilkeston Independent Chapel, although George’s background was with the Methodist chapels in Ilkeston where he had recently attended services.
Other visitors included his sister, brothers and Ellen Cox, a lass from Belton whom he had intended to marry. Many tears were shed.
George had a less cordial meeting with his uncle Samuel who volunteered to hang George himself if no-one else was available.
He wrote several long letters to his Primitive Methodist Sunday School teacher, Mr. Samuel Shaw, asking him to warn his scholars against ‘drink, Sabbath breaking, smoking, going to dancings, playing at dominoes, and keeping pigeons’ all of which would keep them from school on a Sabbath day.
His work friend at Balls’ factory, Emanuel ‘Man’ Barker of Awsworth Road, also received word from George; he now thought kindly of Henry and Reuben Davis though they had spoken against him at his trial; he sent best wishes and advice to his friends, Richard Booth, Mark Wheatley, Gervase West, Thomas Ironmonger, George Rigley, John Riley of Stanton, and all his work-mates.
He sent best respects to Emma Eyre of Awsworth Road who had recently given birth to her daughter, whose father she claimed was George and whom George was never to see. This child was Annie Eyre, born on April 25th 1861.
Since being in prison George had put on a stone in weight, had had no drink and tobacco, and had never been in better health in his life!
George did not neglect his relatives. He wrote kindly to his sister Sarah, to his brothers, thanked his uncle Henry Clay, innkeeper at the Mundy Arms, for his kindness, and said goodbye to his aunt Ruth Steer of New Street, sister of Henry Clay, although he rather indelicately reminded her that ‘you will not be long before you are numbered with the dead’. (She was then 52 years old and died of liver and kidney disease in 1866).
At this point the Pioneer felt driven to assess George’s character:
“ There was in Smith the elements of a fine character, such as his strength of nerve, bold daring, self-control, ability to carry out his design, fluency of speech, and a mind capable of much labour, and with cultivation would have enabled him to excel in anything he chose to undertake: but he was frivolous, false, and given to change, awfully licentious, self-indulgent in the extreme; thus his fine faculties were shut up in a prison of steel – the animal was indulged at the expense of the intellect”. (August 22nd 1861)
This is a poem said to be written by George as he awaited his execution.
You feeling Christian pray attend, And listen unto me,
While unto you I will unfold, This dreadful tragedy;
Committed by a guilty one, As you shall quickly hear,
Upon his father at Ilkeston, Well known in Derbyshire.
Oh! The dreadful deed was done. A father murdered by a son.
I hope you will a warning take, By what I now relate,
And think on my untimely end, For wreathed is my fate;
I might have lived in happiness, As you shall quickly hear,
All with my aged father, At Ilkeston in Derbyshire.
Sure Satan must have temped me, Upon that fatal day,
My kind and tender Father, To take his life away;
All with a deadly weapon, It was full intent,
I gave him not the shortest time, On earth for to repent.
I was confined in Derby gaol, My trial to await,
For the awful crime of murder, My sufferings were so great.
The jury found me guilty, And I am condemned to die,
And awful death of public scorn, Upon the gallows high.
The black cap being in readiness, When I was tried and cast,
The learned judge with solemn voice, The awful sentence passed;
You must prepare to meet your God, We can no mercy show
So pray for mercy from above, For none is here below.
I dread to think upon the hour, All on that fatal morn,
When I must ascend the scaffold high, To die a death of scorn,
To the fatal spot thousands will come, That dreadful sight to see,
George Smith to end his days, Upon the gallows tree.
I have brought disgrace upon myself, My friends and family,
No one I’m sure with sympathize Or soothe my misery.
I must prepare to meet my God, I hear the solemn knell,
My time is come I must away, Farewell, a last farewell.
As his final day approached George immersed himself further and further into the Bible, reading texts carefully and praying often. On Thursday evening, August 15th, he spoke with the chaplain of the prison and then with the Rev Mr. Heron for two hours. At 11 o’clock he went to bed, quickly fell asleep and remained so until nearly 4 o’clock the next morning, at which time he was awakened. More prayers and Bible reading followed for several hours.
On Friday afternoon, August 16th, 1861, George was hanged in front of Derby jail before an estimated crowd of 20,000 to 50,000 persons — depending on the source — several of the spectators making the journey from Ilkeston to witness the execution. It was a hot day and many women and children fainted in the crush of the crowd.
In the morning George had sung and prayed in the prison church. On his way to the scaffold he conversed with several of his fellow prisoners and with some of the prison staff, seeming calm and composed, many in the crowd showing more emotion than George. He spoke a short prayer and at ten minutes past noon he was executed.
After being taken down, his body was buried in quick lime within the precincts of the jail.
“An excellent cast was taken of Smith’s head by Mr. Barton, sculptor, of Derby”.