1836: Pierre François Lacenaire, Manfred of the gutter 1915: Mewa Singh, Sikh martyr-assassin

1848: Thomas Sale, game

January 10th, 2020 William Hepworth Dixon

(Thanks to Victorian historian William Hepworth Dixon for the guest post, excerpted from his John Howard, and the Prison-world of Europe The date is confirmed, as many dates hereabouts often are, by reference to the voluminous logs at CapitalPunishmentUK.org. Dixon’s distaste for the execution spectacle was received opinion among his class of bourgeois chin-strokers by this time; not for nothing, public executions became within the ensuing generation a thing of the past.)

It is, we fear, a capital mistake, under any circumstance, to lend an air of importance to the death of a criminal; and to invest or environ it with anything like beauty, dignity and romance, infinitely mischievous. There should be nothing of the heroic about public punishments — nothing which the vulgar mind could possibly deem desirable, or in which the most depraved heart could sympathize.

Only a few months ago [10 January 1848 -ed.] the writer was present at the execution of [Thomas] Sale the murderer. The crowd collected to see the exhibition was enormous. Amongst that crowd was the mother of the culprit. When the wretched man came forward on the scaffold, he looked pale and ghastly; but his bearing was insolent, and he died with the apparent insensibility of a dog. “Bravo!” cried his mother, as the drop fell, and the murderer was launched into eternity, “I knew he would die game!” A woman who had lived in adulterous intercourse with the malefactor was with her; they had made up a party to come and see the last of “poor Tom,” and when the tragedy was over, sallied off to a public house and made a day of it. Nor was this all. Among the party was another of the Sales, — brother to the murderer, son of the woman who, instead of shame, had found a glory in his death; he had been liberated from gaol only two or three days before the execution. His history is the moral of the gallows. Within a few weeks he was again arrested on a charge of robbery; the crime was clearly brought home to him, and he now lies under sentence of transportation. Another brother had been already sent off to a penal colony, these terrible warnings — hangings and transportation — were inoperative, even to the blood of the sufferers. From the altitude of its own scaffold, to hurl defiance in the face of society, in the presence of thousands of witnesses, is a point of honor and of pride with the criminal class. It is being game. Within its own sphere the family of which we speak enjoys a sort of high pre-eminence — a heroism in guilt. Dr. Moore is not far wrong when he says that our mode of punishing murderers is such as to warrant the idea that our object is not to prevent any one from following their example. Death punishments should be secret, but at the same time swift and certain; surrounded by all the terrors of an unseen but inexorable doom. When he passes from the court in which he receives condemnation the culprit should be seen of the world no more. This arrangement would be merciful to him, for no sufferer can be wholly unmindful of the vast tribunal before which he is now called upon to die, and a thousand thoughts of who may be there, what eyes may gaze upon his fall, and how he must and will deport himself in presence of these exacting judges, rush into and occupy his mind, to the exclusion of all better and more needful thoughts: at the same time, it would be far more terrible to his compeers in guilt — as much more terrible as the dark mystery of a doom which leaves no room for hope, and yet much scope for fear, always is, — than an end which we have seen, a worst which we have known.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions

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