1888: Pedro, the pirate Ñancúpel 1801: Hyacinth Moise, Haitian Revolution general

1738: George Whalley and Dean Briant, wife-murderers

November 8th, 2020 Headsman

At a hanging-day at Tyburn on this date in 1738, 11 men (no women) were executed en masse.

Nine committed different varieties of malappropriation: burglaries, highway robberies, horse-thefts, even a charge of coining, all of whom can be read about in thumbnail at that date’s account by the Newgate Ordinary.

The other two were men who murdered their wives. While the prelate here does single them out for committing the elevated crime of homicide, he does not especially dwell on the domestic and gendered nature of these men’s attacks upon their wives. The excerpts below from the mouths of neighbors who were privy to the relationships in question open a terrifyingly intimate window on a pair of violent relationships.

These of course are far from the only domestic murders in the voluminous archives of the Old Bailey. However, most violence by husbands against wives obviously fell short of the criminal annals, and the nature and extent of that violence is difficult to reckon. From the perspective of decades and centuries, historians perceive a long-term — too long-term — decline in “everyday” wife-battering.

“It has been noted that even by the mid-eighteenth century the physical violence alleged in marriage separation suits was not necessarily life threatening, and tended to be less serious than that described in the seventeenth century,” notes the topical volume Marital Violence: An English Family History, 1660-1857. (Review.) Yet “while all historians of violence agreed with Stone* that there was a decline in the number of recorded [conjugal] homicides, and that this was particularly marked for the period between the Restoration and the start of the nineteenth century, it took further research for historians to conclude that there was little change over time in the proportion of homicides that were domestic.” So that suggests less a special abhorrence of violence in the home, and more a wider social evolution making masculine personal violence ever less routine — the same trend that, for instance, gradually saw off the formerly ubiquitous practice of dueling.

All this falls into the active space of historians far wiser than any mere headsman. And all, of course, was cold comfort to Hannah Harding and Mary Briant.


George Whalley, a 60-year-old carpenter, knifed his wife Hannah Harding in the head on June 10th. She languished with the wound for nearly a month before succumbing on July 6. It was his second marriage, and while he had seemingly lived amicably with his late first spouse, George had furious rows with Hannah over money. Testimony from his trial:

Eliz. Dur. The Yard that belongs to the Prisoner’s House and our Yard join together, they are parted by a thin Wainscoat Partition, and there is a loose Board that lifts up between the 2 Yards. On the 10th of June I was in our own Yard, and heard the Deceased say, she would not be lock’d into the Kitchen. I listened, and heard the Prisoner curse and swear at her in a violent Manner, then he shut her and himself into the Yard, and told her she had robb’d him of all he had, and that he had not a Farthing to help himself with. She told him she had not, and the Quarrel encreasing, I lifted up the loose Board, and saw him take Hold of her Shoulder, and pull off a Handkerchief which she had upon her Neck; then she cry’d out Murder, and I observed a large Clasp Knife in his Hand upon her Shoulder. This is the Knife, and the Blood is still upon it. I was not above a Yard from him, and saw him plainly cut her across the Shoulder; then he moved his Hand higher, and cut her in the Neck; and then he moved it again, and cut her nearer her Ear. After he had cut her in this Manner, he open’d the Kitchen Door, and push’d her into the Kitchen. Our Sink likewise is parted from theirs by some slight Boards, and when I ran to alarm our Family, I saw her leaning over the Sink, and bleeding into it in a very violent Manner. When the Neighbours came in, he open’d the Door and ran away. I have often heard him abuse and curse her, and never heard her give him any Provocation. This was the 10th of June between 5 and 6 in the Afternoon.

Nathaniel Harris. On the 10th of June, when I came Home to Dinner, (I live in the same House) the Prisoner was cursing and swearing at his Wife, because a Gentleman that had got his Money, would not let him have it again, but had told him he would make him knuckle down to his Taw. The Prisoner told her, the Gentleman wanted him to go into the Country, away from his Wife, but he said he would not go, for they shou’d not live together long, and she would die first. He very frequently cursed and abused her, – the House was never at Peace for him. He has been in the Counter before, for abusing her. I told him I would hang myself if I was he, no, (he said) he wou’d not; so I went from Dinner between 1 and 2, and saw no more of it.

Prisoner. I was overcome by her aggravating me.

Mary Hignal. I liv’d on the same Floor with the Deceased, (Mrs. Harding) she chose that Name, and did not care to be called by the Prisoner’s. The Morning this happen’d, I went into the Kitchen, and heard him call the Deceased a great many Bitches. I reprov’d him, and he call’d me Bitch, and told me, if I did not be gone, he would murder me. Upon this, I went to the Door of my own Room, and heard him continue to abuse her; after some Time, she went up two or three Stairs, toward another Apartment; he got hold of her to pull her down, and she clung to the Bannisters of the Stairs; but he kick’d her under the Arm, tore her down Stairs, and kick’d her again on the Breast. While she stood in the Passage, he went into the Kitchen, and bid her come in; she refused, and said he had got a Knife, and had some ill Design against her. He said he had none, but I heard a Knife clasp. Then he went down Stairs, and was in and out all Day. But about six in the Evening, he came into the Kitchen again, and spit in my Face, and I spit in his Face, and went out. Immediately the Prisoner shut himself in, with his Wife, and I run up to Harris’s Room, and said, I believ’d the Man was going to kill his Wife. Upon this, Mrs. Harris and I, came down, and heard the Deceased cry

Murder

in the Yard but I could neither get to them, nor see them; and being in a very great Fright, I ran down, and went into a Chandler’s Shop, and told the People, the Prisoner had murder’d his Wife. They said, perhaps I might be mistaken; I ran up Stairs again, to see if I could get into the Kitchen, and I met the Prisoner coming down Stairs into the Alley, with one Hand bloody, and the other in his Pocket. When I got into the Kitchen, I found Mrs. Harding (the Deceased) leaning upon her Hand, and bleeding very much. I believe I saw a Gallon of Blood which she had lost.


Dean Briant or Bryant stabbed his wife Mary in the back with a clasp knife, killing her. Testimony from his trial:

Lydia Cole. On the 7th of July in the Night, I was very ill with the Tooth-Ach, and an Ague in my Head, and not being able to sleep, I walked about my Chamber, which is a Ground Room, and joins to the Prisoner’s. About half an Hour after One, I heard somebody knock at his Door once or twice, and cry softly in a Man’s Voice,

Molly! Molly! Molly!

three Times. The Door was immediately open’d, and he was let into the Room that joins with mine. No sooner was he got in, but Words arose; then I heard a Blow given. Then Words, — then a Blow. At last I heard a Woman in a soft Voice cry,

don’t! don’t! don’t hurt me!

And the Man’s Voice answer’d,

then d-mn your Blood you Bitch, don’t follow me.

After this there were many Words pass’d; and the Woman talk’d to him in a very moving Manner. When the Watchman came Two o’Clock, I heard no Noise, so I lay’d myself down on my Bed; but I had not lain long, before I heard the Woman either crying or squeeling. I jump’d from the Bed again, and heard her groan, for a Quarter of an Hour, and every groan, grew fainter and fainter, ’till I could not hear it at all. From this Time, I heard no Noise, but only a dragging of something along the Floor, and then I imagin’d the Man went out of the House again.

Margaret Carter. I know nothing of the Murder; but I can speak to the Prisoner’s Behaviour to his Wife at other Times. The Prisoner, the Deceased, and I, have been acquainted many Years. He always has been very vile in his Behaviour to her: beating and abusing her frequently, though she always behav’d very mildly to him. The worst Words I ever heard her use to him, were,

why do you use me so? ’tis worse usage than I deserve.

I have seen her fall on her Knees and entreat him not to abuse her, and instead of being mov’d with Compassion, he has beat her ’till she has bled. On the first of February last, she sent for me; I found her darning, or running the Heels of his Stockings. As soon as she saw me, she burst out a crying, and said, she was now at a Distance from every Friend, and had no one to ease her Mind to. Her Husband (she said) was gone abroad in a great Passion; and had told her, that he would neither bed with her, nor ever eat or drink with her more, and that if he met her in the Street, he would certainly kill her; nor would he ever be Friends with her, unless she would own, she took a Guinea and a Half out of his Pocket, which she profess’d she had never touch’d. I was concern’d at her Tale, and went down to the Waterside to see for him, but not finding him, I returned again to the Deceased. While I was with her, the Prisoner came in, and to get him into a good Humour, I invited him to come a House-warming to my House, but he refuss’d: The poor Woman burst out a crying again, and told him she had made him some Broth, and beg’d him to eat some; he reply’d,

no, d-mn you for a Bitch, I won’t touch it, nor ever eat any Thing with you, ’till you have acknowledged you took the Money.

She fell on her Knees, and hung about his Knees, declaring with a great many Tears, that she was Innocent; but he up with his Fist, and dash’d her away from him with such Violence, as to set her a bleeding.

* “Interpersonal Violence in English Society 1300-1980,” Past and Present 101 (1983).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions

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