March 31st, 2010 Headsman
Until the very end of public hanging in 1868 and thereafter in prisons, hangmen were unreliable executioners…
In nearly every year the grim chronicle of bungled executions and lackadaisical hangmen was extended … [William] Calcraft the hangman simply miscalculated the drops required to effect a speedy death. In office since 1829, Calcraft was ‘a mild-mannered man of simple tastes, much given to angling in the New River, and a devoted rabbit fancier’. Nice to rabbits, he had a casual way with people. He hanged them like dogs, it was said. Another dismal apotheosis was reached in the Newgate execution of William Bousfield in 1856. The night before his execution Bousfield* tried to kill himself in his condemned cell by throwing himself into the fire; next morning [March 31, 1856] he had to be carried to the scaffold swathed in bandages. Calcraft was nervous; he had received a letter threatening his assassination. He pulled the bolt to let the drop fall and disappeared hastily into the prison. Astonishingly, Bousfield drew himself up and lodged his feet on the side of the drop. Pushed off by a turnkey, he again found the side of the drop; and yet again. He was defeated only when Calcraft was summoned back to drag on his legs and ‘the strangulation was completed’. In front of an angry crowd, Bousfield gurgled his way to death as church bells rang to celebrate the end of the Crimean War.
* Charles Dickens scribbled a few rambling thoughts on the subject of Bousfield’s trial.
On this day..
- 1832: James Lea and Joseph Grindley, arsonists - 2017
- 1777: James Molesworth, in the words of the Founding Fathers - 2016
- 1843: A bunch from Heage hanged - 2015
- 1949: Dr. Chisato Ueno, because life protracted is protracted woe - 2014
- 1923: Konstanty Romuald Budkiewicz, Catholic priest in the USSR - 2013
- 1312: Pierre Vigier de la Rouselle, Gascon - 2012
- 1984: Ronald Clark O'Bryan, candyman - 2011
- 2001: Mariette Bosch, love triangulator - 2009
- 1947: Qazi Muhammed, father of Kurdistan - 2008