As Thomas Perkins of Fleckney recounted his view of the events at the Leicestershire Assizes on August 7th, 1828, he was anxious to assure everyone of his impartial and thorough methods of tracking down the suspected thief of his missing ewe lamb. He recalled counting his sheep in a field between three and four o’clock that day and finding them all present, but had returned at five and found one to be missing. He had spotted a footprint in the ground and took the measure of it with a stick. Asking around gave him some more clues and he headed with a friend uphill towards the next village of Saddington and the house of a possible suspect. The house was empty, but in an outhouse at the back he found a ewe and a lamb, one of which he recognised as his own lost lamb. He took it back to his own field and it was immediately taken and suckled by its mother.
Thomas then went across to Shearsby and met with John Peberdy, the son of the owner of the house where the lamb was found. He confronted him with the recovered lamb, accused Peberdy of stealing it to sell to his father, to which Peberdy confessed “I did”. Perkins than asked to check Peberdy’s shoes, noting eight rows of nails lengthways, exactly agreeing with the tell-tale footprint back in the field. Peberdy did not make any resistance to be arrested, and if he had suffered any distress of mind while in prison, Perkins knew nothing about it.
According to the Leicester Chronicle’s report of the case: “The Judge, in summing up, observed that the fact had been clearly proved, and the jury found the prisoner guilty. – Sentence of death recorded”.
But in Shearsby people thought that there was more to this story. Mary Peberdy, John’s wife organised a petition among her neighbours and prompted letters in support of her husband. Grounds for clemency pointed to a transaction between Thomas Perkins and John Peberdy in which John had ended up not being paid. Added to which, the Peberdys had four small children, stole while temporarily insane and had a nervous irritability. A letter from surgeon John Marriott certified a history of insanity in the family, with John’s mother having committed suicide and four other family members noted as lunatics. Whilst remanded he had failed to recognise his wife and she had also missed the opportunity to speak up for his good character at the trial. Nine Shearsby residents stood up for their neighbour by putting their names to the petition.
Whether as a result of this petition, or not, John Peberdy’s sentence was commuted to imprisonment and in September 1828 he was sent down to the Milbank Penitentiary for life.
- The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, August 16, 1828
- The Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, September 20, 1828
- HO 17/58/81. 1 individual petition (Mary Peberdy, wife) and 1 collective petition National Archives.
Who were the people who signed Mary Peberdy’s petition?
Who were John and Mary Peberdy’s children and how did they fare?
The featured image on this post is a Leicester Longwool breed kept in Speeton, Yorkshire since 1834. What sort of sheep were commonly kept in Fleckney at the time of John Peberdy’s theft?