Posts filed under '18th Century'

1800: William M’Ilnea, true to the cause

Add comment April 19th, 2019 Headsman

The Caledonian Mercury of Edinburgh reported on April 26, 1800 news from across the Inner Seas at Carrickfergus, north of Belfast. (Line breaks have been added to the trial report for readability.)

CARRICKFERGUS ASSIZES

At an Assizes held at Carrickfergus the 14th April inst. the following persons were tried: —

William M’Ilnea, for the murder of Alexander M’Kelvey at Ballygoland, to be hanged on Saturday the 19th April, inst. which sentence has been put in execution.

James Parks, gent. for sending a challenge to Edm. Alex. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned one year, and until he pays a fine of 50 marks, and gives security before the Mayor of Carrickfergus to be of the peace and good behaviour for seven years.

Henry Wray, Esq. for delivering the challenge wrote by Mr Parks, to Edm. A. M’Naghten, Esq. to be imprisoned a fortnight, and until he pays a fine of one mark and gives like security.

TRIAL OF WILLIAM M’ILNEA.

It appeared in evidence, that the prisoner was a blacksmith by trade, that a person of credit and respectability, walked in company with the deceased and M’Ilnea, a few perches along the road, as conveying him towards home; it was nine o’clock at night on the 29th of July last, of course nearly dark; the witness returned home, and left the deceased and M’Ilnea still walking together, but in a few minutes was alarmed with the hue and cry of Alex. M’Kelvey being killed; witness went immediately to the house where the deceased lay and found him languishing in extreme pain under his mortal wound.

A woman of credit deposed, that she was returning from milking, and near her own house saw the deceased and M’Ilnea as in a struggle together, and heard from the deceased a lamentable cry of “Oh Billy, Billy!”

Witness ran up to them, and laying her hands on M’Ilnea’s shoulders, exclaimed, “what the devil are you doing?”

On this she received no answer, but looking at the deceased, she found, “he had his bowels in his hands,” and he cried out to witness, “observe that man, Billy M’Ilnea, my murderer!”

Deceased then ran into witness’s house, where he languished in great torture till the next day, when he was visited by two surgeons and two magistrates, before whom he gave a clear and circumstantial account of the murder, by the hand of the prisoner, declaring upon his oath, that while M’Ilnea and he were walking in apparent friendship, and mutual confidence, the former, taking him by one hand under a friendly mask, with the other treacherously drew out a concealed instrument called a butridge, used by smiths in shoeing horses, and therewith ripped open his belly and stomach, so that his bowels instantly fell out:

The examinations of the deceased to this effect were produced in court, and verified by the magistrates who took them.

M’Kelvey died in 30 hours after he was wounded. It appeared there had been a former dispute between the parties, which probably might produce a wish in M’Ilnea to be the instrument of vengeance, but there arose strong grounds to believe that the deceased owed his fate to an ill-founded suspicion that he was an informer; but even this most honourable and religious pretence for massacring him in cold blood was unfounded.

The fact being thus fully proved home, upon M’Ilnea, to the most perfect satisfaction of the whole Court — the prisoner, vainly attempted a ridiculous defence, by producing some of his near relations, to traduce the character of the deceased, and to prove that the prisoner had no weapon in his custody at the time of the murder. It was treated with the contempt it deserved, and the Jury without hesitation, returned a verdict of Guilty — when the learned Judge, after a short, but most pointed and pathetic address, instantly pronounced the awful sentence of the law, viz. “Execution at the common gallows, on the next day but one (Saturday) and subsequent dissection at the county Infirmary.”

He was accordingly hanged on the day appointed.

Such was the delusion of this unhappy man: that after the most solemn and public appeals to God of his innocence, he was privately heard to say to a near relation, “do not on any account acknowledge that I killed the man, for I must die true to the cause.”

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

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1726: Edward Burnworth and his gang, London Lives

Add comment April 12th, 2019 Headsman

Edward Burnworth and his gang — a group of villains who “seem to have risen to notoriety on the downfall of [Jonathan] Wild” by the estimation of the Newgate Calendar — were executed on this date in 1726, and thereafter hung in chains.

We endorse a bio of this coterie of thieves turned murderers on LondonLives.org. This wonderful site “makes available, in a fully digitised and searchable form, a wide range of primary sources about eighteenth-century London, with a particular focus on plebeian Londoners”; it’s in the spirit as the oft-cited-by-Executed Today site Old Bailey Online site, and involves some of the very same principal authors.*

Their zoom-in on Burnworth et al finds the gang slaying one Thomas Hall, a gin shop owner who was attempting to set up as a thief-taker in the vacuum created by the hanging of the aforementioned Jonathan Wild — previously London’s preeminent thief-taker and (simultaneously) crime lord. Burnworth, William Blewitt, Thomas Berry, John Legee, John Higgs, and Emanuel Dickenson all suffered together and were gibbeted in chains thereafter, two apiece at St. George’s Fields, Putney Common and Kennington Common, although the last of these was given over to his friends for burial after just one day of exposure in consideration of his father’s honorable military service.

(Burnworth unsuccessfully attempted to exonerate of theft a man bound for the gallows a month before him, by confessing to the crime.)

* Tim Hitchcock, a historian now at the University of Sussex and a director instrumental to both sites, has previously provided some commentary directly to Executed Today as well, weighing in for example on the controversial identity of “Smugglerius” as well as OldBaileyOnline.org digitization practices. There are several other related “history from below” sites in his orbit: Locating London’s Past, Connected Histories, and The Digital Panopticon: The Global Impact of London Punishments, 1780-1925.

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

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1713: Edward “Ned” Bonnet, the terror of Cambridge

Add comment March 28th, 2019 Charles Whitehead

(Thanks for the guest post to Charles Whitehead for the guest post — originally an entry in his true crime classic Lives and exploits of the most noted highwaymen, robbers and murderers, of all nations. This Bonnet biography’s mode of pithy episodic adventures cinched by a choice witticism or instructive event is highly characteristic of its genre. -ed.)

Edward Bonnet was born of respectable parents in the isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, received an education superior to many of his companions, and when he was only ten years old, gave the following proof of his promising genius. He was sent to the parson with the present of a sparerib of pork, wrapped up in a cloth in a basket. Ned knocked with some degree of importance at the door, which a servant answered, inquiring his business. “I want to speak with your master.” The master came. “Well, my dear, what is your business?” “Why, only my father has sent you this,” said young Ned; and gave him the basket, without moving his hat. “O fie! fie! child, have you no manners? you should pull off your hat, and say, — Sir, my father gives his service to you, and desires you to accept this small token. Come, go you out again with the basket, and knock at the door, and I ‘ll let you in, and see how prettily you can perform it.” The parson waited within until his impatience to receive and examine the contents of the basket incited him to open the door. But Ned was at a considerable distance, walking off with the present. “So ho! so ho, sirrah! where are you going?” “Home, sir,” replied Ned, in an equally loud voice. “Hey, but you must come back and do as I bade you first.” “Thank you for that, sir, I know better than that; and if you teach me manners, I ‘II teach you wit.” The father smiled at the story, and retained his sparerib.

At the age of fifteen, Bonnet was sent apprentice to a grocer, served his time with credit, was afterwards married to a young woman in the neighborhood, and continued in business until he had acquired about six hundred pounds. Unfortunately, however, he was reduced to poverty by an accidental fire. Unable to answer the pressing demands of his creditors, he left the place, and came up to London. Here he soon became acquainted with a band of highwaymen, and began with them to seek from the highway what had been lost by fire.

Nor did he long continue in the inferior walks of his new profession, but providing himself with a horse which he taught to leap over ditch, hedge, or toll-bar, and to know all the roads in the country, whether by day or by night, he quickly became the terror of Cambridgeshire.

Upon this horse, he one day met a Cantabrigian, who was possessed of more money than good sense, morality, or wit, in a calash with a dashing courtesan. Ned commanded the student to “stand and deliver.” Unwilling to show his cowardice before his companion, he refused. Without any respect for the venerable university to which he belonged, Ned by violence took from him about six pounds, and presenting a pair of pistols, constrained the hopeful pair to strip themselves, then bound them together, and giving the horse a lashing, the animal went off at full trot with them to the inn to which he belonged. But no sooner did these Adamites enter the town, than men, women, and children, came hallooing, shouting, and collecting the whole town to behold such an uncommon spectacle. The student was expelled for disgracing the university, and the courtesan was sent to the house of correction.

Humorous Ned next met with a tailor and his son, who had arrested him for five pounds. He commanded him to surrender, and received thirty-five in place of his five. “I wonder,” said the innocent son, “what these fellows think of themselves? Surely they must go to the place below for committing these notorious actions.” “God forbid,” replied the tailor, “for to have the conversation of such rogues there, would be worse than all the rest.”

Ned’s next adventure was with an anabaptist preacher, whom he commanded to deliver up his purse and scrip. The latter began by reasonings, ejaculations, and texts, to avert the impending evil. Ned instantly put himself in a great passion, and replied, “Pray, sir, keep your breath to cool your porridge, and don’t talk of religious matters to me, for I’ll have you to know, that, like all other true-bred gentlemen, I believe nothing at all of religion; therefore deliver me your money, and bestow your laborious cant upon your female auditors, who never scold with their maids without cudgelling them with broken pieces of scripture.” Whereupon, taking a watch and eight guineas, he tied his legs under his horse, and let him depart.

On another occasion, Bonnet and a few associates met a nobleman and four servants in a narrow pass, one side of which was enclosed by a craggy and shattered rock, and the other by an almost impenetrable wood, rising gradually considerably higher than the road, and accosted them in his usual style. The nobleman pretended that he supposed they were only in jest, and said, “that if they would accompany him to the next inn, he would give them a handsome treat.” He was soon informed that they preferred the present to the future. A sharp dispute ensued, but the nobleman and his men were conquered; and the lord was robbed of a purse of gold, a gold watch, a gold snuff-box, and a diamond ring.

Being conducted into the adjacent wood, and bound hand and foot, the robbers left them, saying, “that they would bring them more company presently.” Accordingly, they were as good as their word, for in less than two hours they contrived to increase the number to twelve, on which Ned cried, “There are now twelve of you, all good men and true; so bidding you farewell, you may give in your verdict against us as you please, when we are gone, though it will be none of the best; but to give us as little trouble as possible, we shall not now stay to challenge any of you. So, once more, farewell.”

Ned Bonnet and his comrades now going to the place of rendezvous, to make merry with what they had got, which was at a by sort of an inn standing somewhat out of the high-road between Stamford and Grantham, it happened at night to rain very hard, so that one Mr. Randal, a pewterer, living near Marygold alley in the Strand, before it was burnt down, was obliged to put in there for shelter. Calling for a pot of ale, on which was the innkeeper’s name, which was also Randal, the pewterer asked him, being his namesake, to sit and bear him company.

They had not been long chatting, before Ned and one of his comrades came down stairs and placed themselves at the same table; and understanding the name of the stranger, one of the rogues, fixing his eyes more intently than ordinary upon him, in a fit of seeming joy leaped over the table, and embracing the pewterer, exclaimed, “Dear Mr. Randal! who would have thought to have seen you here? it is ten years, I think, since I had the happiness to be acquainted with you.”

Whilst the pewterer was recollecting whether he could call this spark to mind or not, for it came not into his memory that he had ever seen him in his life, the highwayman again cried out, “Alas! Mr. Randal, I see now I am much altered, since you have forgotten me.” Here, being arrived at a ne plus ultra, up started Ned, and with as great apparent joy said to his companion, “Is this, Harry, the honest gentleman in London, whom you so often used to praise for his great civiIity and liberality to all people? Surely then we are very happy in meeting thus accidentally with him.”

By this discourse they would almost have persuaded Mr. Randal that they perfectly knew him; but being sensible of the contrary, he very seriously assured them that he could not remember that he had ever seen any of them in his life. “No!” said they, struck with seeming astonishment; “it is strange we should be altered so much within these few years.”

But to evade further ill-timed questions, the rogues insisted upon Mr: Randal’s supping with them, which invitation he was by no means permitted to decline.

By the time they had supped, in came four more of Ned’s comrades, who were invited also to sit down, and more provisions were called for, which were quickly brought, and as rapidly devoured.

When the fury of consuming half a dozen good fowls and other victuals was over, besides several flasks of wine, there was not less than three pounds odd money to pay. At this they stared on each other, and held a profound silence, whilst Mr. Randal was fumbling in his pocket. When they saw that he only brought forth a mouse from the mountain of money the thieves hoped to find piled in his pocket, which was only as much as his share, he that pretended to know him started up, and protested he should be excused for old acquaintance sake; but the pewterer, not willing to be beholden, as indeed they never intended he should, to such companions, lest for this civility they should expect greater obligations from him, pressed them to accept his dividend of the reckoning, saying, if they thought it equitable he would pay more.

At last one of them, tipping the wink, said, “Come, come, what needs all this ado? Let the gentleman, if he so pleases, present us with this small treat, and do you give him a larger at his taking his farewell in the morning.” Mr. Randal not liking this proposal, it was started that he and Ned should throw dice to end the controversy; and fearing he had got into ill company, to avoid mischief, Randal acquiesced to throw a main who should pay the whole shot, which was so managed that the lot fell upon Randal. By this means Randal, having the voice of the whole board against him, was deputed to pay the whole reckoning; though the dissembling villains vowed and protested they had rather it had fallen to any of them, that they might have had the honor of treating him.

Mr. Randal concealed his discontent at these shirking tricks as well as he could; and they perceiving he would not engage in gaming, but counterfeited drowsiness, and desired to be abed, the company broke up, and he was shown to his lodgings, which he barricadoed as well as he could, by putting old chairs, stools, and tables against the door. Going to bed and putting the candle out, he fell asleep; but was soon awaked by a strange walking up and down the room, and an outcry of murder and thieves.

At this surprising noise he leaped out of bed, and ran to the door, to see whether it was fast or not: and finding nothing removed, (for the highwaymen came into his chamber by a trap-door which was behind the hangings,) he wondered how the noise should be there in his apartment, unless it was enchanted; but as he was about to remove the barricade to run and raise the house, he was surrounded by a crew, who, tying and gagging him, took away all his clothes, and left him to shift for himself as well as he could.

One day having the misfortune to have his horse shot under him, Bonnet embraced the first opportunity to take a good gelding from the grounds of the man who kept the Red Lion inn. Being again equipped like a gentlemen, he rode into Cambridgeshire, and met with a gentleman, who informed him that he had well nigh been robbed, and requested him to ride along with him for protection. As a highwayman is never out of his way, he complied, and, at a convenient place, levied a contribution, as protector of the gentleman, by emptying his pockets of eighty guineas. He, however, had the generosity to give him half-a-crown to carry him to the next town.

After having, according to computation, committed three hundred robberies, another thief [Zachary Clare -ed.], being apprehended, in order to save his own life, informed against Bonnet, who was apprehended, not upon the highway, but in his own lodgings, and sent to Newgate, and at the next assizes carried down to Cambridge, sentenced and executed before the castle, on the 28th March, 1713, to the great joy of the county, which had suffered severely by his depredations.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1752: James Lowry, despotical nautical

Add comment March 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1752 the tyrannous Scottish sea captain James Lowrey or Lowry was hanged at London’s execution dock for beating a crew member to death.

Lowr(e)y came to public notice in 1751 after the return to English shores of his merchantman, the Molly, from a run to Jamaica: ten of his ex-crew subscribed a public advertisement accusing him of murdering their mate on board, to which Lowry replied with advertisements accusing those accusers of mutiny.

Right away the British public knew it had a page-turner on its hands.

The captain had become unreasonably enraged with Kennith Hossack for lagging in his duties as he recovered from an illness, and upon a purported accusation of theft he had the mariner tied up and personally battered him about the head using a doubled-over rope as his cudgel, on Christmas Eve no less. Hossack at last dropped dead, at which point the heartless captain slapped his man and denounced him for “shamming Abraham” (i.e., feigning injury to skip work). Lowry evidently really had it in for Hossack, for the first mate explained that “I don’t know that he ever came upon deck twice in a week without beating him: my heart has bled for him many and many a time.” In the mate’s opinion, these beatings were always for no adequate reason.*

That’s a remark from the Admiralty Trial of Captain Lowry, where his former seamen developed the picture of an intolerably Queeg-like commander liable to take bitter umbrage if his men managed an illicit extra ration of sugar or rum, a guy who carried around a beating-cane with its own name (“the Royal Oak Foremast”) just in case he felt like doling out a disciplinary bludgeon. Three days after Hossack’s death, he came to blows with the second mate; two days after that, a fed-up crew “took the command from him” and ran the ship themselves, although they did not forcibly confine him.

Once the ship put in at Lisbon for repairs on the return journey, Lowry lodged a piracy complaint against his crew, but despite the incredibly serious charges and countercharges, everybody sailed on together for home thereafter, each party perhaps silently calculating the odds that the other would dare to press the case further as against getting on about their lives. Lowry does not appear to have made himself scarce until his former comrades went public with their claims, although once they did so he incriminatingly avoided the thief-takers and the small private reward set upon his capture for a few weeks.

On March 25, 1752, the brute was carried from Newgate Prison to the Execution Dock on the Thames, in a cart surmounted by a silver oar emblematic of the Admiralty. There he was hanged, and his body afterwards put in irons and displayed in infamy down the river at Blackwall.


Lowry pictured as part of a “Scotch Triumvirate” of Caledonian evildoers, along with the Scottish officer William Cranstoun, blamed for seducing Mary Blandy to the gallows, and the more mysterious “Major James MacDonald” whose papers suggest involvement in the South Sea Bubble 32 years prior (?). I’m in good company with my confusion on this MacDonald fellow, as the British Museum can’t identify him either. Check out britishtars.com for a fascinating exposition on the iconographic detail of the Lowry images in this post; we have also featured in this narrative several additional links to that same site’s various posts about the events on the Molly.

We have revisited a few times in these pages the intense commercial bustle among publishers of crime ephemera — in England as well as Ireland. Naturally this headline-grabbing execution excited plenty of competitive hawking.

Two examples appear below; the first of them is by a pair of publishers named Harris and Scott; the second, by Parker and Corbett, who at this time had the deal to publish the Ordinary of Newgate’s accounts. Harris and Scott were first to the market here, in an environment where rapidity counted for a lot; the Ordinary wanted to be sure the public knew that his “official” (according to him) version would be soon forthcoming, so he burdened the pages of London newspapers and even his own Ordinary’s Account of ‘regular’ Tyburn criminals with adverts to that effect.


This image from the London General Advertiser of March 26, 1752, one of several papers to carry the notice. For more on the relationship between publishers and crime in this era, see Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London by Richard Ward

Read on below to enjoy both.

* In fact, one nugget from this case is that an adequate reason for corporal punishment at sea might sit at a much higher threshold than we commonly assume today. Although the Royal Navy was (in)famous for the discipline of the lash, multiple experienced sailors testified at this trial that they never knew floggings or beatings to occur on merchant vessels.

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

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1738: Nicolas Doxat de Demoret

Add comment March 20th, 2019 Headsman

Swiss officer and military engineer Nicolas Doxat de Demoret — also referred to as Doxat de Moretz or Doxat von Morez — was beheaded on this date in 1738 for surrendering to a Turkish siege.

Native — as his name suggests — of Demoret, Doxat was a career soldier who had served the Austrian empire since 1712. The generation of Doxat’s service saw Austria’s greatest expansion into the Balkans, with Turkey forced to cede to the empire most of present-day Serbia. Doxat emerged with some war wounds and a general’s epaulets.

Unfortunately 18th century Vienna did not have access to the Internet articles informing it that this would represent its greatest expansion in the Balkans — for, in 1737, Austria jumped into a Russo-Turkish War with an eye to gobbling even more, and instead started suffering the defeats that would return its conquests to the Sublime Porte.

General Doxat owned one of these defeats, the October 1737 surrender of the Serbian city of Niš to an Ottoman siege — yielded too readily, in the judgment of Austrian authorities. He had weeks of supplies remaining but with little water and no prospect of relief he judged the situation hopeless and accepted an arrangement that permitted the honorable withdrawal of his garrison.

Despite the appeals of comrades in arms for clemency, the emperor confirmed the sentence of a war council, and Doxat was beheaded* in Belgrade on March 20, 1738. Barely a year later, that city too was in Turkish hands.

* The beheading, conducted in the botch-prone seated position, was botched — the first blow gouging the general’s shoulder and knocking him prone, where he was inelegantly finished off.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Military Crimes,Nobility,Serbia,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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1749: Fontauban, spy

Add comment March 5th, 2019 Headsman

A spy named Fontauban was hanged at the northern city of Lille on this date in 1749.

From the scanty information to be had he appears among the more pathetic traitors. Disinherited by his father he had gone into his peculiar trade to great effect during the continent-spanning War of Austrian Succession.

Demobilization was a tough transition for spooks as for everyday soldiers; needing to maintain his income, he made an fatally unsuccessful attempt to engage service with the British — and not for any mere document-copying, but for betraying the king himself.

Despite having been open to outright regicide in exchange for a few grotes, Fontauban’s sentence was commuted to hanging (from the proposed burning and quartering) as a gesture of mercy.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Spies,Treason

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1771: Edmund James and Joseph Jordan, runaway slave aides

Add comment March 1st, 2019 Headsman

From this doctoral dissertation (pdf) by Gabriele Gottlieb:

The early 1770s in Charleston also saw the largest number of executions of whites who had been convicted of crimes connected with slavery. On March 1, 1771, Edmund James and Joseph Jordan were hanged for “aiding runaway slaves.” Jones [sic], the master of the schooner Two Josephs, and Jordan, a sailor, allegedly had stolen the schooner, taking with them several slaves. Thomas Dannails, a third condemned defendant, was pardoned after he was “recommended to Mercy by the Jury.” Several slaves, likely some of those who had run away on the Two Josephs, were hanged together with Jordan and Jones.

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1794: Jean-Pierre du Teil, Napoleon mentor

Add comment February 27th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1794, the French artillery general Jean-Pierre du Teil was guillotined at Lyon.

The baron du Teil (English Wikipedia entry | French) numbered among many ancien regime officers whose talents were needed but allegiances were suspect in the citizens’ army of revolutionary France. Such figures were forever vulnerable to attack as secret royalists; du Teil while serving in the Army of the Alps fell prey to that very charge made by the ferocious Jacobin rulers of Lyon, Collot d’Herbois and Joseph Fouche.

He’s noteworthy to posterity as a mentor to the young Napoleon Bonaparte at the Royal Artillery School of Auxonne. Du Teil took notice of the precocious teenage artillerist and honored him with special assignments — “a mark of unheard-of favor,” Napoleon gushed in private correspondence.

Napoleon upon his death left 100,000 francs in his will to du Teil’s son “as a token of gratitude for the care this great general took in me.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1719: Lt. Edward Bird, ungentlemanly

Add comment February 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Three hundred years ago today, a bad-tempered brute called Lieutenant Edward Bird found he could not buy his way out of a noose.

This man’s journey to the halter began in a bagnio, where he was supposed to be relaxing but instead threw such a fit over the servants’ delay in drawing a bath that the master and mistress of the house were roused in the middle of the night to quell him — for (per the trial record) “I have seve[ral] of consideration in my House” being perturbed by the racket. To this Lt. Bird replied by immediately running servant Samuel Loxton through with his sword, killing him instantly; it’s a good job that the owners were both there together, along with another servant, for all were needed to subdue the guest as he ranted threats to murder all the rest of them. At least, that was their evidence against him; Bird’s story was that they attacked him first, and he had dispatched poor Mr. Loxton in self-defense.

At the time, ordinary criminal prosecutions were privately initiated, and so it fell to the servant’s poor widow Diana to bring the case against Edward Bird.

Although not of high estate, Bird had the werewithal to make himself less accessible to Diana Loxton’s justice than the average footpad or highwayman — first using actual or feigned illness to slow-walk his arraignment from October of 1718 to January of 1719, then calling to his defense “several Persons of Credit and Worth” who attested “his Reputation and peaceable demeanour, [and] who gave him a very good Character.”

Despite his condemnation he must have called on these same reserves of social capital liberally in the subsequent five weeks, for that diligent Ordinary of Newgate named Paul Lorrain was exasperated to find that he could barely get a word in edgewise so preoccupied was his charge with his more corporeal affairs:

I found him always so busie, sometimes in Writing, and at other times with Company, that I could hardly have any Opportunity to speak to him of his Future State. Nevertheless I endeavour’d to prepare him for his great Change, and for a better Life, by perswading him sincerely to repent of all the Sins he had committed in this, and earnestly to pray for GOD’s Pardon and Mercy, through the infinite Merits of CHRIST: Which if he did not now he had time; for it, I desir’d him seriously to consider what might become of him to all Eternity. To this he seem’d to give a little Attention; but something coming into his Mind which he said he must do presently, he desir’d me to leave him; saying, he would send for me another time, when he was at leisure. Accordingly he did, but when I came to him, I found he had not sent for me to pray by him, or discourse him about Divine Matters, but only to shew me the Draught of a Paper which he said he had prepar’d by the help of a Friend, and which he intended to publish. Upon this, after I had (as he desir’d I should) read it, I told him plainly, that the Drift of that Paper, being to insinuate he had not Justice done him at his Trial, he must not think that the World would believe him to be (as he endeavour’d to appear) innocent of the Murder he Was condemn’d for.

Bird did indeed publish such a document. His potentially most compelling juridical claim was one that would strike the modern reader as an utter irrelevancy, but that went to the heart of system of private prosecutions: Bird argued that Samuel Loxton was a bigamist and thus Diana Loxton nee Seedwell as his second wife had no standing to harry him in the courts. This of course entailed besmirching the reputation of the victim and his surviving family and in-laws; with his life on the line, Bird was bold enough to put out payola for dirt on the Loxtons, and even to feel out Diana Loxton herself for the price of her cooperation.* Call it a bit of blood money, payment to be rendered in guineas for reputation.

It’s hard to gauge how much traction this appeal ever gained with the elites in a position to spare Bird’s life. Surely with a more pliable prosecutor he might have had a hand to play: to his grief, he discovered that Diana Loxton was a foe whose tenacity ran quite a bit deeper than his purse.

The London Saturday’s Post reported on February 21 that the incensed widow “presented a petition to his Majesty when he came from Chappel, setting forth the many Difficulties which she laboured under to bring the said Lieutenant to Justice; His Majesty, moved at her just Complaint, ordered a Cabinet Council to meet the next Day, and the Deputy Recorder of London to attend, in order to re-examine the Matter; when the Board, shocked at the wicked Artifices that had been made use of to obstruct the Course of Justice, his Majesty … was pleased to order a Warrant to be made out for the Execution of the said Criminal on Monday next at Tyburn.”

Bird fought his losing corner to the end, even resorting to poisoning and stabbing himself on the eve of his hanging in an attempt to cheat the gallows. All was for naught.

Carried to Tyburn in a comfortable mourning coach where he tarried an hour with his mother (plus three other, all of whom, says Lorrain, “could work no Good on him”), Bird one last time “inveigh’d against Diana Loxton, saying, that if he had time, he could prove she was the second Wife of the Deceas’d, and therefore had no Right to bring an Appeal. He ask’d for a Glass of Wine at the Tree, and being told there was none, he desired a Pinch of Snuff, which was given him.” (London Post Boy, Feb. 21-24, 1719) Then with a salute to the health of his gathered gentlemen friends, who would within the hour claim his body to protect it from the scalpels of ravenous doctors, Lt. Bird was noosed up and turned off, dragged down by the weight of all those unspent gratuities still a-pocket.

* e.g., Powell’s Weekly Journal, Feb. 14-21 1719, speaking of the widow’s outraged reaction to “an Account of that Trial come out, seemingly calculated for the Advantage of the Criminal, and with all the Disadvantages on the side of the Prosecution, by the means of a Printer, who, it is to be feared, did not shut his Eyes against Bribes, as she has done.” She insists against any public suspicion of “being privy to any Intercession that is said to be making in Favour of the Murtherer of her deceased Husband, and to giv[ing] Ear to any Terms of Accommodation with the hateful Cause of his Death, by way of Premium and Reward, in Exchange for his Blood” for these “are Actions so abhorrent to her Nature and unalterable Affection for his dear Memory, as not to be passed by without the utmost Protestations of her Innocence … she has Knowledge of some Application intended to be made to her for putting a Stop to the Prosecution of the Lieutenant before Trial; and a Relation can bear her Witness, that she was offered 100 Guineas to make interest with her to take 2000 l. for that End”; likewise another servant, Loxton claims, turned down “a considerable yearly Estate to be settled upon him and his Children for ever” and instead testified against Lt. Bird, while a charwoman in the Loxton house was offered and refused 40 quid for “swearing any thing scandalous relating to the said House.”

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1726: Margaret Millar, infanticide

Add comment February 10th, 2019 Headsman

This broadside hails from the National Library of Scotland’s wonderful archive of such documents, and the curator notes that as a “coal-bearer” — the backbreaking work of toting mined coal from the business end of the mine up and out the shaft — it’s unlikely that Millar was as educated as implied by the prose style that publishers put to her name.

The last Speech and dying Words of Margaret Millar, Coal-bearer at Coldencleugh who was execute [sic] 10. February I726 at the Gibbet of Dalkeith, for Murdering her own Child.

My Friends,

The present Age is so degenerate into Vice and Immorality, That they have the Ascendant over Godliness and Vertue; whereas Religion and Piety are run down by manifest Profanity, Dissimulation and Hypocrisy: So the Sin of unnatural Murder (while one Relation barbarously embrues their cruel Hands in the innocent Blood of another)[.] The Parents theirs in the Blood of their tender Children, the Children theirs in that of their dutiful and affectionate Parents: And in short, That of the Inhuman and cruel Servants (for the love of Money) barbarously butchering their kind and obliging Masters and Mistresses[.] That all these horrid Actions and abominable Sins, are the ready Means to bring down the heavy and just Judgments of GOD upon a People, or Person, who avowedly do commit the same, and whatever Secrefy may be gone about, in the Perpetration of any of these, yet the all-seeing Eye of the Almighty will bring the hidden Things of Darkness to Light, That the guilty Offenders may by the Hand of Justice be brought to condign Punishment, for a Terror and Example to others, who shall or may be guilty of the like Crimes.

Dear People, since I am by the just Sentence of the Law, condemned to suffer this Day a shameful and cursed Death, for that unnatural and cruel Fact, it will be expected by you all, to hear something from me, as to the course of my frail Life, which is now near to a Period.

The place of my Birth was at Dysert in Fife. My Father John Millar was a Salter under my Lord Sinclar there, and I being in my Nonage left to the Care of an Uncle, who put me to the Fostering, and after being wean’d from the Breast, was turn’d from Hand to Hand amongst other Relations, when my Friends being wearied and neglecting me, I was obliged to engage with my Lord Sinclar’s Coalliers to be a Bearer in his Lordships Coalheughs: So being unaccustomed with that Yoke of Bondage, I endeavoured to make my Escape from such a World of Slavery, expecting to have made some better thereof: But in place of that I fell into a greater Snare; which was in a Millers House near unto Lithgow, where my Masters Son and I fell into that Sin of Uncleanness, and I brought forth a Child unto him; which Child was fostered, and lived until it was three or four Years of Age, and died in the small Pox.

After which Time, I came from the foresaid Service into this Place, where I engaged in the Coalcheugh of Coldencleugh, under the Service of Christian Lumsden, which I most solemonly regrate this Day, and which was my Misfortune, she reduced me to great Extremities, by not paying up of my Wages, so duely as I was needful of it, to buy me Cloaths to go to the House of GOD upon his Day, which made me to ran into an Hurry of Dispar, my Land-Lady and others in the Coalheugh suspecting I had an Ear with George Lauder Coal-grieve there, began to make Reflections upon me, which prompted me to greater Vice, as most unhappily hath now fallen out: Which Vice hath brought me to this unhappy and untimely End; he having had that Opportunity of inducing me into that horrid Sin of Adultry, and after which Time I came to be with Child to him, I acquainted him thereof, and when the Time of Birth came, I finding no Subsistance from him, I did most unnaturally imbrue my Hands in the innocent Blood of the Fruit of my Womb.

I must own, that even in my younger Years I was addicted to all Vice, such as neglecting Duty towards GOD, Breach of his Sabbath, and neglecting of his Ordinances: Now I desire that all Persons take a warning of me this Day who am but an Ignorant, or a Castaway, That they be not Breakers of the Sabbath, Despisers of his Ordinances left that their End be such an untimely one as mine.

F I N I S

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Women

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