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Source: Bell's Weekly Messenger, No.1828, Sunday, April 10, 1831

Singular charge of Arson

On Thursday, a young man, who stated his name to be Boswell, and that he was an ornamental painter, was charged at the Greenwich Petty Session with having been found in Richardson's itinerant theatre, with the intent to fire it, on the night of Tuesday last.

Mr. Richardson stated that, a few mornings previous to the fair commencing, he received a letter by the twopenny post, signed "Thomas Johnson, an actor belonging to the Surrey Theatre," wherein the writer threatened to burn down his theatre, and all his property. He had written to Mr. Elliston upon the subject, requesting to know if be had a man named Johnson in his company. Mr. Elliston wrote him back, saying that he had not such an individual belonging to his theatre, and advising him to treat the theatre with indifference, as he (Mr. Elliston) had done when similar letters were sent to him. He (Mr. R.) had done so, but still he determined upon making the circumstance known at the Phoenix Fire-office, wherein he was insured for 1,800l. and, at the desire of the insurance Company, be had kept a watchman night and day about the premises; and on Tuesday night the prisoner was arrested under very suspicious circumstances as would be related by the witnesses.

At the desire of the Magistrates Mr. Richardson produced the letter, of which the following is a copy:—

March 26, 1831.

"Mr. Richardson—Be pleased to pay advice to your well-wisher.—First, let me inform you that you have got secret enemies about you, of whom I am one, although I am tired of my way of living that I have followed for some time; and having an inclination to join your company of performers, I must now inform you that on Monday morning, the first day of the fair, at about four o'clock, there will be about tea men prepared to set fire to your theatre, and every thing belonging to it. I shall be with you about time, or soon after, So no more from your well-wisher,

"Late an Actor of the Surrey Theatre.

"To Mr. John Richardson, at his theatre, Greenwich."— (Private.)

James Knighton and David Ayme, two persons employed in the theatre, swore that, at about half-past nine o'clock on Tuesday night, when the theatre was crowded, they observed some person in the act of striking a light under the stage—they saw a spark through a hole in the flooring. They instantly gave information to Mr. Richardson, and they, together with two policemen, proceeded underneath, and pounced upon the prisoner, whom they took into custody. He seemed terribly agitated, and begged hard to be allowed to escape, offering them any money. They took him behind the scenes and searched him, when they found in his possession a phosphorus-box and a quantity of matches, and a bottle in the shape of a kaleidoscope-case, nine shillings and fourpence, a silver watch, chain and seals, and some camel-hair pencils. After searching him he was placed in the station-house when he became very reserved, and refused to answer any question whatever.

Mr. Richardson said that when he saw the prisoner be asked him for what purpose he had gone under the stage? but he declined giving an answer. The detection of the prisoner was most fortunate, as at the time the theatre was crowded in every part; and the materials being so light and inflammable, they would have been destroyed in a very short time. Mr. Richardson said he never had seen the prisoner before.

The prisoner declined saying any thing then, but should reserve his defence till a future period. He was committed for trial at Maidstone, and the parties bound over to prosecute.