Two days ago, we noticed imprisoned English radical John Hobhouse, noticing a hanging. (Not his own.)
As jarring and “frightful” as this event was, we are at this moment in England of the Bloody Code — the tail end, to be sure, but still a world answering to Blackstone’s lament that “It is a melancholy truth that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than a hundred and sixty have been declared by act of parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.”
Our wretched sodomite from two days past, John Markham, was the 108th. The 109th and 110th were reserved for New Year’s Eve: John Booth and Thomas Wildish. And two days on from the last execution, our author Hobhouse has already begun numbing to the horror:
Friday December 31st 1819: Two men, Wildish and Booth, hanged at eight o’clock — they had a psalm sung under the gallows — I looked out a moment after they dropped — could not discern any motion except a little tremor in the hands of one of them — I am quite certain that the contemplation of these scenes frequently would very much diminish in me the fear of dying on a scaffold — I felt much less shocked this day than I did on Wednesday last.
Emoting a bit more than Hobhouse, the newspaper report (this version taken from the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of Jan. 3, 1820) described the exit of these unfortunate crooks thus:
EXECUTION. — The execution of J. Booth, for embezzling money letters from the General Post Office; and T. Wildish, for uttering a quantity of forged 10l. notes upon the Dover Bank, took place in the Old Bailey … Booth had held a situation in the Post Office for some years, and was much respected. His father, it appeared, had been in the domestic service of the King. He was about 10 years of age, and had a wife and child.
Wildish was a fine looking young man, of about 25 years of age. His father is an innkeeper in Kent, and he was also respectably connected. The crime for which he suffered appears to have been his first offence in that way, and he was led to the commission of it by the art of two notorious venders of forged notes, one of whom is at present suffering the judgment of the law for the minor offence.
Great exertions were made to save the life of Wildish, but without success. Mr. Alderman Rothwell, who knew his family, was particularly active in endeavouring to effect this object. Wildish had also a wife and a child, who, together with those of Booth, had a parting interview with the unhappy men in their cells on Thursday afternoon. The scene was truly afflicting, particularly with Wildish, whose wife is extremely young and interesting, and whose infant is but 12 months old.
From the moment of their conviction, each of the unhappy men evinced the most exemplary conduct, invariably acknowledging the justice of their fate, and betaking themselves in the most fervent devotion. The Rev. Mr. Cotton, and some religious friends, spent that night with them alternately in prayer. They were visited by the former at an early hour next morning, and after spending a considerable time in singing and prayer, they partook of the Sacrament. During this ceremony Wildish appeared quite enthusiastic. Booth seemed equally happy, but not so animated as his companion. The latter, upon receiving the cup of wine, (either from thirst or religious fervour) drank off the entire contents, nearly a pint.
On their way to the scaffold, they embraced all they met. Wildish was first le[d] out. He was most ardent in recommending his wife and infant child to the care of the Almighty. Booth, upon being led forth, embraced his companion, and both joined in hymns and prayer together. The fatal preparations being made, and they again joined the Ordinary in a short prayer, and at 20 minutes after eight were launched into eternity.
An old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn — mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starv’d and stabb’d in the untill’d field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edg’d sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
Religion Christless, Godless — a book seal’d,
A Senate — Time’s worst statute unrepeal’d,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.
Osborne’s execution date was also his 28th birthday.
Mustachioed assistant executioner Harry Allen kept a handwritten journal of the executions he officiated in his 23-year career — a journal recently sold at auction. From it we have notes on each prisoner’s height (5 feet, 6.5 inches in Osborne’s case), weight (188 pounds) and the consequent length of the rope’s drop (8 feet).
Very good job? but not expected to be so. Was hung on his 28th birthday at HMP Leeds by S. Wade got highly complimented on the speed of the job.
The diary (pdf) of a man imprisoned at Newgate recorded for this date in 1819 that
A man was hanged this morning for an unnatural crime. Had my windows fastened up but could not sleep. They began putting up the scaffold at 4 o’clock. The tolling of the bell at 8 was frightful. I heard the crash of the drop falling and a woman screech violently at the same moment. Instantly afterwards, the sound of the pye man crying, “all hot, all hot.” ‘Tis dreadful hanging a man for this practice.* There are two, a man and boy now in jail, who were caught in flagrante delictu — and yet only sentenced to two years imprisonment. The poor wretch was half dead, so they told me, before he was hanged.
Of this poor soul fallen away into the indifferent cries of the pye-man we have this from The Morning Post of December 30, 1819 (see also Rictor Norton):
John Markham was obscure, no doubt; his condemnation literally was for unspeakable acts, since it barely rates a line at all in the Old Bailey’s archives.
But the aural observer of his death was not obscure at all.
All of this occurred in the tense wake of the Peterloo Massacre, which saw British cavalry ride down their countrymen in Manchester for assembling to demand the reform of a parliament long grown egregiously unrepresentative. (Manchester was a case in point: it had no M.P. at all based on a centuries-old allocation of boroughs even though it had now boomed into one of the realm’s leading centers of industry.**)
Following the Peterloo outrage, our correspondent Mr. Hobhouse had suggested in one of his many combative pamphlets that absent such brutal exertions the members of Parliament “would be pulled out by their ears” at the hands of an aggrieved populace. Given the all-too-recent aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars — and their antecedent, the French Revolution — the potentialthreat in these words seemed to the powers that be a step beyond mere colorful rhetoric.
Accordingly, the House of Commons judged Hobhouse guilty of a breach of privilege and had him arrested earlier that same December. His cause more advanced by the martyrdom than inconvenienced by a gentleman’s loose detention — Hobhouse’s at-liberty associates not only held political meetings in his ample prison apartments but planned and advertised them in advance — the man won election to that selfsame House of Commons from Westminster the following March.
On this date in 2006, the People’s Republic of China executed a gentleman by the name of Qiu Xinghua.
Qiu’s offense, at bottom, was one of anger management: believing the abbot at a mountain temple in the interior province of Shaanxi was making time with his wife, Qiu went on a homicidal rampage at said temple where he
cut out the abbot’s eyes, heart and lungs and fried them in a wok. He had used the victims’ blood to write “Deserved to die” on the temple wall.
“The victims” comprised nine other people besides the abbot, plus another one killed while on the run from the law for five weeks after his temple frenzy. (He also torched the temple.)
The enormity of the crime, and the attempts by Qiu’s team to raise doubts about his sanity, attracted wide public attention in China.
Somehow a year passed before Stone was brought to trial at Canterbury as a traitor. The execution of the inevitable sentence might then have been held up to coincide with the arrival to Canterbury of Anne of Cleves, the German Protestant princess who was (ever so briefly) Henry VIII’s fourth wife. Welcome to England, honey! It’s a great scene to imagine, but obviously the story — and hence this date — smacks of propaganda.
Whatever the true date of execution was, what we do have for certain is the butcher’s bill — itemizing the operation of tearing apart a religious dissident into rigorous accounting straight from your corporate expense report.
Paid for half a ton of timber to make a pair of gallows to hang Friar Stone, 2s. 6d.; to a labourer that digged the holes, 3d.; to four men that helped set up the gallows for drink to them, for carriage of the timber from Stablegate to Dongeon, 1s.; for a hurdle, 6d.; for a load of wood and for a horse to draw him to the Dongeon, 2s. 3d.; paid two men that set the kettle and parboiled him, 1s.; to two men that carried his quarters to the gates and set them up, 1s.; for halters to hang him and Sandwich cord and for straw, 1s.; to a woman that scoured the kettle, 2d.; to him that did the execution, 3s. 8d.
Tuesday morning last I was horrified at the announcement by a friend that Jas. Utz, Paul’s companion and leader in their attempt to go South, had been executed, being hung on Monday, the day after Christmas, in the jail yard.
It plunged me in a stupor or excitement from which my mind was not free for the entire day. The sentence barely issued and the punishment instantly carried out! The hurry, the suddenness was most revolting. No time given for taking leave of family, friends! No time for appealing for mercy or for a reprieve. No time allowed for composing himself for death!
-Diary of a family member of Paul Fusz, one of Utz’s secret party. (Fusz, only 17 when captured, was pardoned after serving six months at hard labor.)
On Christmas Day of 1553, the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, noted as the founder of Santiago, Chile,* was executed by Mapuche Indians who had captured him in battle.
Valdivia got his start in New World bloodsport in the train of the Pizarro brothers, and cashed in with mining concessions as a reward for his able service in the Pizarros’ campaign against yet another conquistador, Diego de Almagro.
Not content to wax fat on Incan silver, Valdivia secured permission to pick up Almagro’s aborted mission: the conquest of Chile. With a force of about 150 Spaniards and many times that number of native allies, he successfully crossed the Atacama desert (bypassing Andean tribes that had proven hostile to Almagro) and attained the Mapocho river valley. There he created Santiago** on February 12, 1541, and almost immediately established the Spanish colony — distinct from Peru — whose headquarters it would be.
It didn’t take long for these interlopers to incur native resistance which would long slow the imperial development of Chile. Later in 1541, an Indian attack razed Santiago, although its Spanish defenders just managed to hold on to the rubble and begin a laborious process of vigilant rebuilding.
While the future metropolis, which lies about the north-south midpoint of the present-day state, grew stone by stone, Valdivia endeavored to carry his conquest to the south. This would soon provoke the furious resistance of the Mapuche people and become the Arauco War, which simmered for decades. (Or centuries, depending on the degree of continuity one might attribute to various rebellions.)
Having seen the Spanish throw up a chain of forts in their territory the better to control new gold mines, the Mapuche counterattacked and overran the fort at Tucapel — led by a bold young commander named Lautaro, who had only recently fled from the personal service of Valdivia himself. Grievously underestimating the vigor of his foe, Valdivia set out to pacify the rebels with a mere 40 Spanish soldiers “because at that time the Indians were but lightly esteemed.” (Marmolejo; see below) Approaching an eerily empty Fort Tucapel on Christmas Day, his token force was suddenly engulfed by thousands of ambushing Mapuche and massacred to a man.
Almost to a man.
Valdivia had the misfortune of being taken alive.
The conquistador was put to death shortly after the battle. The chronicler Jeronimo de Vivar simply said that the commander Caupolican ordered him speared to death — but others went in for more frightful descriptions of an event they surely did not witness.
Alonso de Gongora Marmolejo, who like Vivar was a contemporary to the death of the governor, claimed (Spanish link) that “the Indians kindled a fire before him, and cut off his arms from the elbow to the wrist with their blades; they took care not to permit him his death, and so devoured his roasted flash before his eyes.”
As a founding figure in Chilean history, Valdivia has enjoyed frequent literary treatment, as has his impressive mistress Ines de Suarez. (Isabel Allende’s Ines of my Soul is a recent example.) It is likely that none will ever surpass in literary importance the 16th century epic of of the conquest of Chile La Araucana. Although its author, Alonso de Ercilla, did not sail for America until several years after Valdivia’s death, he — naturally — made the late conqueror one of his principal subjects.
The NKVD caught him in January 1941, but his residence in the discomfiting environs of Lubyanka prison was ended by the Soviet Union’s arrangement with Poland following Operation Barbarossa. Paroled back into the field, he played a leading part for the Polish Home Army for the balance of the war — finally becoming its supreme commander in the last weeks of the war.
Now that the Nazis were no longer knocking on the gates of Moscow, the Soviets renewed their interest in detaining Okulicki, which was again effected with relative ease. (Comparing German and Soviet secret police, Okulicki would say that the NKVD made the Gestapo look like child’s play.) Sentenced “only” to a 10-year prison term at the Russians’ postwar show trial of Polish leadership, Okulicki disappeared into Soviet detention and was never seen again.
In the Khrushchev era, the USSR revealed that Okulicki had died on Christmas eve of 1946 at Butyrka prison; subsequent revelations of the medical records there revealed that he had succumbed to organ damage suggestive of having been beaten to death — perhaps as punishment for hunger-striking.
The post-Communist Russian state has posthumously exonerated Okulicki of his show-trial conviction; he is, of course, an honored figure in post-Communist Poland where many streets and squares bear his name.
Autos were also enacted for benefit of the subjects in the hinterlands of Spain’s global empire — especially since lapsed Jewish conversos, who were one of the principal interests of the Spanish Inquisition, were known to seek safety in the periphery.
All three were the playthings of Inquisitor Cristóval Sánchez Calderón — whose prosecutor’s office, then as now, enjoyed a wide scope for mischief.
According to the public domain The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies, one distant predecessor in the post had “aroused indignation” with his “arbitrary and scandalous conduct”: planting spies in the palace, and brazenly taking concubines. According to a report submitted to Toledo, this bygone inquisitor
was in the habit of walking the streets at night dressed as a cavalier, brawling and fighting, and on one Holy Thursday he supped with a number of strumpets … He was involved in perpetual contests with the [viceregal] judges and royal officials, whom he treated without ceremony or justice, interfering with their functions, of which a number of cases were given which, if not exaggerated, show that the land was at the mercy of the inquisitorial officials, who murdered, robbed and took women at their pleasure, and any who complained were fined or kept chained in prison.
But Inquisitors liked to keep busy with the pleasures of destroying the flesh, too.
Francisco de Ulloa, a Jesuit mystic “of little education but of high spiritual gifts,” had gained a small following who revered him as a saint by the time he died in 1709. For the Inquisition he looked like a possible exponent of heretical quietism, whose founder had been forcibly shushed by the Inquisition in the late 17th century. A half-mad expelled Jesuit named Juan Francisco Velazco was caught up in the same charge, and although he died in prison in 1719 the legal machinery proceeded against both he and Ulloa just the same — albeit without any great hurry.
Meanwhile, in 1726, a beautiful (multiple sources of the time dwell on this characteristic) noblewoman named Ana de Castro was turned in by a lover as a possible Judaizer. Her case along with those of the late Jesuit heretics languished for a decade for unclear reasons,* but when Calderon (who only became Inquisitor in 1730) turned his attention to her, she was tortured on three different occasions — treatment that her sex ought to have exempted her from.
Apparently (pdf) one basis of the case against her was her continued recourse to Jewish rituals learned in her childhood, whose observance she thought was immaterial to Christianity — things like Jewish mourning practices. But if the subsequent reports of the skeptical chief Peruvian inquisitor Mateo de Amusquibar are to be believed, Calderon was determined to send her to the stake in order to gratify his auto with a live human sacrifice. (Absent Castro, the auto’s apex sentences would have been mere floggings of various misbelievers and polygamists.)
In doing so, Calderon ignored an explicit directive straight from the mother country not to execute her; he may even have ignored Castro’s own attempt to claim the sanctuary of penitence — something her situation should have allowed her.
Amusquibar reported that the day before the auto she sought two audiences; no record was made of what occurred, but there could be no doubt that she confessed more than enough to entitle her to reconciliation; even if she did not entirely satisfy the evidence, what more could be expected of a poor woman in such agitation of mind…?
Amusquiar … states that there was no record that she was notified of the sentence; that the book of votes id not contain such a sentence and that, even if there was one, it was invalid in consequence of the absence of the Ordinary; moreover that, in spite of her confessions, no new consulta de fe was summoned to consider them. Altogether, if Amusquibar is to be believed, it was a cold-blooded judicial murder contrived, like the burning of Ulloa in effigy, for the purpose of rendering more impressive the spectacle of the auto de fe.
But there was a robber with the nickname “Golden Farmer” — it just wasn’t William Davis.
John Bennet, alias John Freeman, was hanged one year and one day after Davis, on December 22, 1690, part of a huge batch consisting of no less than 14 men and women.
John Bennet, far from the winning outlaw of the Newgate Calendar, led a gang responsible for numerous violent home invasion robberies, sometimes working with another criminal famous enough for his own nickname (and his own fabricated adventures), Old Mobb. One victim of the “Golden Farmer” described how he harvested his crop:
the Prisoner, with others, to the number of nine came on the 16th of October 1689 to her House at Grays in Essex, and entring forcibly, pretended, with horrid Oaths and Excerations, That they had the King’s Broad Seal to seize all the Mony, &c. having Vizard Marks on and Pistols in their Hands, and that they drove her Husband and Servants into the Celler, and there set a Guard over them, threathing Death to those that Stirred; and then forc’d this Deponent, with many Threats of Death, and often clapping Pistols to her Breast, to go with them from Room to Room to shew them where the Plate; Money, and Goods of value were; and perceiving a Soldier belonging to the Block-house coming by whilst they were rifling, they fetched him in, under pretence of drinking with some good Fellows, and put him into the Gutter; and so carryed off to the value of 5 or 600 l. in Money, Plate and Jewels.
Though his identity was known, his habit of constantly relocating his residence made him difficult to track. At last, one victim had his wife and sister stake out Bennet’s own wife until they could get a bead on him. At that point, they raised a hue and cry for the watch. Bennet killed a gendarme named Charles Taylor in his flight (this is the crime he hanged for, though many of his thefts would have secured the sentence just as well); with a furious mob now in pursuit, Bennet was finally subdued by a hail of brickbats, but only after shooting someone else, too.
To judge by the length of his entry, the Newgate Ordinary harrowed Bennet ceaselessly, and though the robber “shed many Tears” and “did acknowledg this Crime” he refused to make any more than a generic breast of his outlawry — perhaps to protect those of his confederates who were still at large. Despite the standard threats of hellfire “I could not prevail with him to give any Testimony of his syncere turning to the Lord, to whose all-discerning Eye and determination of his Soul’s State I must leave him,” concluded the exasperated Ordinary.
Bennet was hanged at “Salisbury-court end in Fleetstreet, near the Place where he had committed the Murther” and hanged “without making any Speech or Exhortation.” The other 13 doomed souls were then taken to Tyburn for a more conventional mass execution.
It appears that Bennet’s nickname became carelessly attached to William Davis through a 1714 bestseller with the voluminous title The History of the Lives of the most noted Highwaymen, Footpads, Housebreakers, Shoplifts and Cheats of both Sexes in and about London and other places of Great Britain, for above 50 years last past; wherein their most secret and barbarous Murders and unparalleled Robberies, notorious Thefts and unheard of Cheats are exposed to the Public, by Captain Alexander Smith. Smith, writes Lincoln Faller in Turned to Account: The Forms and Functions of Criminal Biography in Late Seventeenth- and Early Eighteenth-Century England, probably had to have known that Davis was not the Golden Farmer but “cared not at all for historical accuracy and sought (when he felt the need of it) only after its appearance. Happening to have a name and a date at hand, he attached it to some appropriate adventures.” Then, “later writers follow Smith’s version of the Golden Farmer’s life even more slavishly, repeating the same errors, telling (with occasional embroideries) the same fanciful anecdotes about him.” Hence, our Newgate Calendar figure — the distant echo of a real criminal distorted by a succession of fabulists.
* Dick Turpin had a similar criminal profile that ended up being subsumed by his knight-of-the-road reputation to posterity.