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John White - the Crafty Poacher

Elderly farm labourer, John White was due to appear, back in November 1859, before Blandford Magistrates charged with poaching. He was up before Magistrates JJ Farquarson (above) from Langton Long, W P Okendon from Turnworth and Lord Portman from Bryanston. As Dorset landowners and local gentry he knew they would show little sympathy towards a poacher. Indeed there were many Dorset folk who had been transported as convicts to Australia for this crime.

Witness Robert Fookes came forward in the Courtroom and identified John as the man he had seen trespassing in the pursuit of game on Baron Hambro’s land. He had seen him with four dogs stop and pick up something which he had put in his pocket. As he could not afford a lawyer, John had to conduct his own defence. He endeavoured to show that neither he, as a silly old man, nor his ‘poor bitch’ nor his three ‘pups of two months old’ could ever be guilty of such an offence.

The Magistrates were so amused by the old man’s eccentricities and dry humour that in the absence of more direct evidence they dismissed the case. However, they counselled John to be more careful in future, to which he retorted:

‘Thankee gentlemen, you will never catch I poaching again.’

A roar of laughter broke out around the Blandford Court but as the Magistrates had already made their decision they felt unable to change it. (Dorset County Chronicle – 17th November 1859)

(Illustration: Magistrate JJ Farquarson)


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