4 February 1884, West Indian Samuel Trott, murders storekeeper John Jackson in Dutoitspan village.
DID YOU KNOW
It is difficult to imagine a citizen of the West Indies islands being executed for murder in Kimberley, but that is exactly what happened when the Bermudian Samuel Trott was hung next to the South American George Stanley on the gallows on 20 June 1884.
Trott, described as having the “appearance of an ordinary native”, resided in Church Street, near the Market Square, in Beaconsfield, but worked in the De Beers mine as an engine driver for the Victoria Diamond Mining Company. He killed John Percy Jackson, a storekeeper in the nearby Dutoitspan village, by stabbing him with a butcher’s knife on Monday evening, 4 February 1884, Jackson succumbing to his wounds in the Kimberley hospital the following day.
Like many such murders, it was a crime of passion, of uncontrolled jealousy, but unlike most, the man who died was an innocent, a pawn in the greater saga of a Queen attempting to checkmate her own King. Hendricka Richards, Samuel Trott’s common law wife, had lived with him as man and wife for at least two years before the arguments and quarreling began. Hendricka was a midwife, a job that forced her to work at night on many occasions, and this led Trott to believe that she was having illicit affairs. The couple had first met in England in December 1881, and Hendricka had come out to Kimberley afterwards together with her three children to live with Trott.
Trott and Hendricka had argued on many occasions and she finally left him in October 1883, returning during the day and particularly on Saturdays to see her three children, Sarah (aged 18), and another two aged eight years and six years. A further six of her children had died. Hendricka moved in with John Jackson the day she left Trott and she stayed with him until he had been killed, although Trott was unaware of this until a few days before the murder.
This hostility between Hendricka and Trott reached its zenith on that Saturday night prior to the stabbing when Trott abused Hendricka when she was visiting her children and struck her several times. “I went to get my clothes. He tried to smother me by pulling the blankets over my face, and he poured hot tea over my face. He also struck me. He was in a passion at the time. I tried to run but he wouldn’t let me. After that I got away.”
She left immediately for her Jackson’s home, taking most of her clothes that she had collected, and vowed never to return. Trott, at that stage, knew exactly where she had gone and told her daughter, Sarah Rosetia Richards, to go to Jackson’s house and to tell her mother to come home or there would be trouble. Sarah did as she had been requested, went to Jackson’s home, and delivered the message. Hendricka refused to go back to Trott, saying that she was frightened of him.
While Sarah was delivering the message, there was loud knocking at the door. Trott had arrived to take his “wife” back home: “Where’s that woman?” he demanded, and looking at Sarah standing behind Jackson, said: “Sarah, your ma’s in here.” Jackson then stepped into the fray, telling Trott that he didn’t “want your nonsense around the house. I’ll fetch a policeman.” With that, Trott ran off into the night. Sarah, together with her boyfriend Frederick Collis, returned to Trott’s home where they resided. Trott was sitting at the back of the house, and asked Sarah to go back to her mother and ask her to return. Sarah refused to go in an attempt to keep out of the drama, although Collis did go, returning a little while later with the news that Hendricka was no longer there and had gone to Kimberley.
The whole of the next day, a Sunday, Trott was beside himself with suspicion, and his resentment towards Jackson built steadily, Sarah saying that he was “very much excited” and talking a great deal about her mother. On Monday Trott did not go to work, but stayed at home the entire day. In the morning he again asked Sarah if she would go, ask her mother to return to him, and “that if she did not come home there would be a death bed for her.” Sarah got that message loud and clear, and this time did go and speak to her mother. Hendricka remained adamant in that she would not return to Trott. When Sarah relayed the message back, Trott said, “It’s all right, it can’t be helped.”
Sometime between two and three o’clock in the afternoon Trott went back to Jackson’s house. He arrived at Jackson’s house and hammered three times on the front window. He then moved off across the market square, according to Charles Olsen who ran a boarding hostel adjacent to Jackson’s house. Jackson exited via the side door. “You son of a bitch, I’ll cut your liver out and eat it now”, yelled Trott at the man he presumed was his rival for Hendricka’s affections before he moved off and went back home.
A short time afterwards, at approximately four o’clock, Trott again left his home, this time with a six-inch butcher’s knife in his pocket. Before long, Trott arrived at Jackson’s house in Dutoitspan village and hid in the back garden. He did not have long to wait as the toilet facilities were in the same garden, and as Jackson passed his hiding place Trott attacked, moving towards Jackson and pulling the newly sharpened butcher’s knife out of his pocket, plunging it into the man. In a state of shock Jackson ran back for Hendricka, shouting, “Come this way. He stabbed me”. He then ran to the Spass’ house next door and collapsed on the verandah, knocking himself unconscious in the fall. He had a most fearful wound on the left side of his chest, blood pouring out in a stream from under his arm. When Doctors Harris and Currie came to his side, Jackson was haemorrhaging internally. Despite medical assistance and removal to the hospital, the doctors had little hope for his recovery and it came as no surprise when Jackson died at 7pm on Tuesday evening without regaining consciousness. Dr Henry Wolf, the hospital doctor, said that the deceased had been unconscious most of the time, and had been suffering chronic spasms as a result of the stab wound. Apart from signs that he was a drinker, Jackson had been in a reasonably healthy state until he was stabbed.
The murderer, in the meantime, had gone back to his own home, arriving there as the sun set. He was in an excited and agitated state according to Sarah, and went into his bedroom to change his bloodstained trousers. He called Sarah, and a 16 year-old lodger Alice Nicholls (who would die of drowning in one of Kimberley’s flash floods shortly before the trial), into his room and confessed that he had stabbed Jackson in the stomach but that they must not be frightened. Trott swore Sarah and Alice to silence, and that if anyone asked about the matter they were to say that he had come from the direction of Old De Beers and not from Dutoitspan. However, he said, he “had left the knife in the wrong place.” He had dropped the knife near where Jackson had fallen, and the police had recovered it. It would prove to be the most damning piece of evidence as all who knew Trott, knew that the butcher’s knife was his, and with blood stains right up to the hilt, showed that when Trott stabbed the deceased, he had really stuck it in with determined intent. The knife was taken to the police station at Dutoitspan village and identified as Trott’s.
After the inquest the Resident Magistrate laid a charge of murder against Samuel Trott and he was arrested at home by Sergeant Blyth the day after Jackson died, appearing in court on 22 February 1884. Trott was cool and collected, and although able to sign his name to his statement, could not give his age (which appeared to be about 35-40 years), although Trott claimed to be 34.
It was the statement made by the recently drowned 16 year old Alice Nicholls that assisted in convicting Trott of the murder, as well as a letter that Trott wrote prior to the murder. William Blongina, Additional Resident Magistrate of Kimberley, had taken the statement from the child at the time of the investigation into Jackson’s death. Alice had hidden the knife but had seen Trott find it in the bedroom and she had seen him sharpen it before leaving the house. She had not seen the knife again until the inquest and had recognized it.
Samuel Trott had sent a letter to a schoolteacher named Murphy, written the day before the murder, 3 February. “My wife has proved false to me,” he wrote, “so I will kill her dead on the spot. You may come down as soon as you get this, and you will find my remains. I kill her and then myself. I wish you as a friend to collect enough money amongst our chaps to bury me decent, so that my remains go to the grave decent (sic). I have nothing more to say, so goodbye for ever.”
The summing up of the trial presided over by Judge Laurence, ended with the letter. It would be most damning, despite urgings to the jury by the defence that the evidence was mostly circumstantial. After the Judge had summed up the case, the jury retired for 34 minutes, coming back with the verdict that Trott was guilty of murder. Asked by Justice Laurence if he had anything to say before sentence of death was passed upon him, Trott said that Hendricka had “got her children to swear his life away”, and that he knew nothing about the knife and was perfectly innocent of the crime of which he had been found guilty.
“In my mind and that of the jury there is no doubt whatever that you did commit this crime, that you did wickedly kill and murder this man Jackson,” His Lordship Mr Justice Laurence said, “The evidence is only circumstantial, but unless we can believe the witnesses, and almost all of them, are wilfully and cruelly perjuring themselves to swear your life away, there can be no doubt whatever of your guilt. The law says he who takes a man’s life away, by man shall his life be taken. The law is more merciful than you. You sent your unhappy victim – the victim of your evil passion of jealousy – without warning, and without opportunity of preparation, to his last account; but the law gives you time to repent and to prepare to meet the doom which awaits you.” Deeply affected by having to pronounce the death sentence, Mr Justice Laurence donned the black cap and passed sentence of death upon Samuel Trott. The convicted murderer was then led away and the judge thanked the jury for their attendance.
Trott, the sailor from the West Indies who had come to the Diamond Fields to make his fortune, had instead met his fate. He was executed on 20 June 1884 on the gallows next to George Albert Stanley.