It appears that about midnight on the 24th of December 1849, the deceased Thomas Simpson, his younger brother William, Henry Wilkinson and two notorious poachers named Richard Johnstone and Isaac Johnstone were shooting pheasants in Bessy Gill near Bolton, when they were surprised by Lord Lonsdale’s watchers. They immediately ran off, and took refuge in a cattle creep, but the noise of the watchers continuing, they came out of their hiding place and ran up the gill. After proceeding some distance, Thomas Simpson turned round and saw Isaac Johnstone stoop down as if to turn up his trousers; then a gun went off and he heard cries of distress. The party ran on, and when Isaac Johnstone came up he said he had shot a man, that he was very sorry for it, and that he would never lift a gun more. The man who was thus shot turned out to be Robert Orphan, who was with four others in pursuit of the poachers. He was not killed but blinded in one eye. The poachers were apprehended and taken to Penrith, where the two Simpsons turned Queen’s evidence. William Simpson (who fainted several times while giving his evidence) admitted that he had pointed a gun at one of the keepers, but only to frighten him. The trial came on at Appleby spring assizes in the spring of 1850. Richard Johnstone and Wilkinson, who were only indicted for night poaching, were sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment; and Isaac Johnstone who was indicted for shooting with intent to kill Orphan, was sentenced to fifteen years transportation.
(Magistrates office, Penrith)
… Mr HASELL then read to the bench his correspondence with the Secretary of State with reference to the grant of a free pardon to any accomplice in the murder, not being the actual perpetrator, who should give such information as should lead to the conviction of the murderer or murderers, and stated that Sir George Gray had granted the application. The following hand bill was then submitted, approved of and ordered to be extensively circulated.
“Whereas, the body of Thomas Simpson, gamekeeper to Charles Fetherstonhaugh, Esquire, of Staffield Hall in the County of Cumberland, was on the morning of the 17th November 1856, found murdered in the river Eden, adjoining a field and wood called Eden Banks, in the parish of Ainstable, in the said County, with several wounds upon his head, such as would cause immediate death, which had been inflicted by some heavy blunt instrument, previous to being put in the river. A reward of 100 pounds will be paid to any person who shall give such information, and evidence, as shall lead to the discovery and conviction of the murderer or murderers; and the Secretary of State will advise the grant of Her Majesty’s gracious pardon to any accomplice not being the actual murderer, who shall give evidence as shall lead to the same result. Information to be given to Superintendent Samuel Robinson, County Constabulary, Penrith.”