March 21st, 2013 Headsman
From the London Times, March 26, 1857.
AN EXECUTION AT MARSEILLES. — Matraccia, the Italian who, as reported in the Messenger, was some short time back condemned to death by the Court of Assizes of Aix for a series of extraordinary murders at Marseilles, was executed in the latter city on Saturday morning.
At 4 o’clock he was awakened by the chaplain and director of the prison, and told that the petition for a commutation of punishment which he had sent to the Emperor was rejected, and that he was about to be executed. He received the announcement with the greatest calmness, and getting up, seated himself on the side of the bed, and took some coffee and smoked several cigars.
At 6 o’clock he attended mass, and during the service he appeared very devout. The mass was followed by a sermon, which seemed to make a great impression on him. The service was attended by all the prisoners.
When it was concluded, Matraccia was taken back to his cell, and supplied with breakfast. Shortly before 7 o’clock the clerk of the Court of Assizes read to him the text of his condemnation, the chaplain translating it into Italian. He listened to the reading and translation with great resignation, and when they were concluded embraced the clerk and all the persons present, most of whom were so affected that they shed tears.
Shortly after the executioners of Aix and Nismes, accompanied by an assistant, arrived, and proceeded to pinion the condemned. He was then freed from the irons on his legs and he asked if he could not be allowed to walk to the scaffold, but was told that he must be conveyed in a cellular van.
He then begged, as a special favour, that he might be accompanied by one of his friends, a countryman, who had been with him all the morning, and that his parrot, which was in a cage in his cell, might be taken with him to the scaffold. Both these requests were granted, and he was placed in a van, the chaplain being in attendance on him.
Arrived at the scaffold, which was erected in the Place St. Michel, and which was surrounded by an immense crowd, consisting of at least 30,000 persons, the vehicle stopped, and the cage containing the parrot was, to the surprise of the spectators, first placed on the scaffold; the criminal, his friend, and the chaplain then alighted from the van, Matraccia cast a glance at the guillotine, and embraced several persons who were present.
Then, supported by his friend and the chaplain, he ascended the steps of the scaffold, and in doing so it was observed that he slightly trembled.
When he reached the platform he kissed with great fervour the crucifix which the chaplain presented; then he embraced the chaplain and his friend, and then, turning to the parrot, he said in Italian, “Your master is about to die, and he embraces you for the last time.”
Afterwards he advanced towards the front of the scaffold, and cried to the people, “I demand pardon of the inhabitants of Marseilles for the scandal I have occasioned. Pray for me, for in a few minutes I shall pray for you.”
He was then seized by the executioners, and in a few seconds all was over.
Also on this date
- 1644: Mary Latham and James Britton, adulterous lovers
- 1873: William Foster
- 1979: Gu Shan, of The Vagrants fame
- 1804: Louis-Antoine-Henri de Bourbon-Condé, duc d'Enghien
- 1556: Thomas Cranmer, architect of Anglicanism