Posts filed under '18th Century'

1751: William Parsons, Grub Street fodder

Add comment February 11th, 2018 Headsman

We return for this post to a hanging we have previously attended, an uncommonly interesting February 11, 1751 dectuple execution at Tyburn.

Hulking pugilist turned Hogarth allegory James Field was one featured attraction in this batch; the other was the Eton-educated, dissolute son of a baronet, one William Parsons.


This is considerably higher society than a baronet, but we don’t need much excuse hereabouts for a Barry Lyndon tribute.

In the broadest strokes he was the sort of parasitic failson whom the more common stock have long loved to detest, his dissipation having seen him first disinherited, then sent abroad with the Royal Navy (he washed out), then rescuing his situation with a favorable marriage and an army appointment before “the extravagant manner in which he lived, and the loss of large sums of money in gambling, compelled him to throw up his commission, and to return … to his country, a beggar and a vagabond.”

Sentenced by a lenient court to the hard New World frontier of Maryland, Parsons leveraged his family’s good name to escape almost immediately from the drudgery of indentured servitude and risked a return to the mother country where he took to the roads to espouse the classic profession of the embarrassed gentleman, and made men stand and deliver.

It sufficed in the end to recognize him returned from transportation to secure his condemnation, at which Parsons excites the loathing of contemporaries and posterity alike by making bold to beg mercy of his judge “in regard to the family to which I belong, who never had a blot in their escutcheon.” Escutcheon this.

In the scheme of things, his career of self-destruction makes the man nothing but a minor malefactor. However, at least for a season his precipitation — because nine Britons in ten would have looked with envy on his situation even as a disinherited ensign or for that matter as a man with the pull to self-parole from penal transportation — made for the sort of morality play ideally suited to the mass print culture burgeoning in the gallows’ shade.

As we have previously noted in an Irish context, the scrabbling biographers of the latest doomed criminal themselves forever arrived at loggerheads, their rival pamphlets chasing preeminence in authority and rapidity before yesterday’s outrage could be displaced in the public memory by tomorrow’s.

The institutional voice of this racket was of course the Ordinary of Newgate, who by this point had for decades been gobbling up publishing residuals thanks to his didactic and ever more embroidered Ordinary’s Accounts. His entry for February 11, 1751 is a fine exemplar of the genre, running to 19 pages of which the last two are taken up with revenue-pumping advertisements.* With apologies to James Field, the Parsons narrative entirely overawes that of his nine fellow-sufferers, with six full pages devoted to lovingly reminiscing this one man’s tragedy.

Among those lines, we find our divine has relaxed his focus on the salvation of his patients long enough to throw an elbow in the direction of the independent hustlers who will be contesting the marketplace against the Ordinary’s own forthcoming Parsons biography.

N. B. If a certain independent Teacher, or any one else intends to print a Life of Parsons write by himself, take Care left he has imposed upon your Credulity, as he has done to all that had any Thing to do with him.

The “teacher” referenced here is probably Grub Street hack Christopher Smart, who had abandoned a praelectorship at Pembroke College for the charms of movable type … but it’s likely the Ordinary merely selected this allusion because his happened to be the flashiest brand at that moment among the scabrous-broadsheet set, like a present-day critic might metonymize media with the name of Rupert Murdoch.** Richard Ward has argued in his Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London that this moment occurs amid an “explosion in printed crime reporting in London in the years 1748-55 … created in large part by [publishers’] efforts to generate and sustain public interest in crime.”

The Rev. John Taylor would indeed like any self-respecting scribe collect a second purse on his prose by recycling his Ordinary’s Account version (prepended with the trial transcript) into a distinct standalone publication — “The Trial and Remarkable Life of William Parsons” &c., which Taylor authenticates on the title plate with the notation, “Publish’d by the Minister who attended him while under Sentence of Death, and at the Place of Execution”.

We have nothing like an exhaustive catalogue of the print ephemera swarming Old Blighty in those days, but at least one rival publisher attempted to “impose upon the Credulity” of Parsons gawkers. Francis Stamper’s† “Memoirs of the Life and Adventures of William Parsons, Esq.” claims to have been “Written by Himself [i.e., Parsons], and Corrected (with Additions) at his own Request by a Gentleman.” It runs upwards of 60 picaresque pages.

In a like vein is “A Genuine, Impartial, and Authentick Account of the Life of William Parsons, Esq.” &c. promulgated by Thomas Parker, a regular haunt of the Old Bailey crime blotter; however, close readers might notice that Parker is also one of the publishers of the Ordinary’s Accounts‡ and for that reason his edition is presumably more commercially congenial to that clergyman. Parker promises besides the expected biography a trove of correspondence to and from Parsons in the dungeons — we might well suspect whose hand has procured it — a good deal of which is taken up in Parsons imposing pleas for intercession upon a friendly earl, on his prosecutor, and upon his family to pull whatever strings they might.

* One of those ads hyped publication of “A COMPLEAT HISTORY OF JAMES MACLEAN, The GENTLEMAN HIGHWAYMAN”; that man had just hanged four months previous. This volume went abroad under the imprimatur of Charles Corbett, who shared with Thomas Parker the contract to publish the Ordinary’s Accounts.

** A satirical poem called “Old Woman’s Dunciad”, itself a travesty of Pope’s “Dunciad”, was in those weeks burning up the London bestseller lists. Smart is targeted for satire in the poem but was also suspected to be the author. In fact, it was the work of another knight of the low literature called William Kenrick — but both Kenrick and Smart intentionally muddied the authorship lurking behind the pen name “Mary Midnight”, which both men employed. (For context on the dizzying 1750-1751 publishing scene, see Christopher Smart: Clown of God.)

† Stamper was a collaborator of William Kenrick’s (see preceding footnote).

‡ Look for it on the first page of the Ordinary’s Account: “Printed for, and sold by T. PARKER, in Jewin-street, and C. CORBETT, over-against St. Dunstan’s Church, in Fleet-street, the only authorised Printers of the Dying Speeches.” This notice is to be found repeatedly in Ordinary’s Accounts of the period; moreover, Corbett and Parker sometimes advertise their potboilers in those same accounts, in language that makes explicit their alliance with the Ordinary. For example, we have this from the March 23, 1752 Account:

In a Few Days will be Published, The Only Genuine and Authentic NARRATIVE OF THE PROCEEDINGS Of the Late Capt. LOWREY, Both before and after he became Commander of the Ship MOLLY: As the same was delivered by himself, in Manuscript, into the Hands of the Rev. Mr. TAYLOR, Ordinary of NEWGATE, some short Time before his Execution.

Printed only for T. PARKER, in JEWIN-STREET, AND C. CORBETT, in FLEET-STREET.

On this day..

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

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1707: Baron Otto Arnold Peikel

1 comment February 4th, 2018 Headsman

A few line breaks have been removed for readability, and most of the author’s original footnotes excised, from this source text.

CHARLES XIIS TREATMENT OF
LIEUTENANT-GENERAL BARON PEIKEL.

By Charles Dalton, Esq.,
Editor of English Army Lists and Commission Registers, 1661-1714.

BARON PEIKEL (or Pykul) has been mistaken by several writers for his kinsman the better-known Count Patkul, the famous Livonian patriot, who was executed, after being mercilessly broken on the wheel, at a village near Casimir, in Great Poland, October 10th, 1707, by order of Charles XII. The confusion occasioned by the similarity in names may also be traced to the remarkable fact that both Peikel and Patkul held the rank of lieut.-general in the Polish Army; and the former succeeded the latter in command of the Saxon contingent which fought on the side of Augustus, King of Poland, against Charles XII. Fate decreed that both Peikel and Patkul should fall into the hands of the iron-hearted King of Sweden, and after a long imprisonment be executed within a few months of each other.

Here the parallel between these two Livonian patriots stops, as Peikel (English Wikipedia entry | Latvian) was neither a great commander nor a diplomatist, but he possessed one remarkable talent which alone makes him intrinsically interesting and worthy of a niche in the Temple of Fame. Baron Peikel claimed, and was allowed by impartial and trustworthy witnesses, to have discovered the secret of making gold!

The Province of Livonia [present-day Latvia and Estonia -ed.], which had been a bone of contention between the northern countries of Europe for centuries, was ceded by Poland to Sweden in 1660. The confiscation of Livonian estates, and the heavy taxes imposed by Charles XI, alienated the Livonian nobility and people from Sweden and Swedish rule.

The sympathies of the conquered province were with Poland, and thus it came to pass that when Russia and Poland engaged in war with Sweden, in 1700, some of the leading Livonian noblemen were found ranged against Charles XII, whose proclamation summoning them to return to their allegiance was treated with open defiance. Prominent among the Livonian revolters was Baron Peikel, who sided with Augustus II, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony.

Passing over the fluctuating fortunes of the Polish arms under Augustus the Strong (who was deposed in 1704, but re-elected some years later to the Polish Crown), we find that a battle was fought near Warsaw, in the summer of 1705, between the Saxons and Poles on one side, and the Swedes on the other. In this engagement the Saxons are said to have fought well, but not being supported by the Poles, who fled on the first discharge, had to retire. The loss on both sides was equal. General Bond (the Swedish commander) was killed, and Baron Peikel (the Saxon general) was taken prisoner. Peikel and several other Saxon officers taken on this occasion were sent to Stockholm, where they suffered a rigorous imprisonment.

In November, 1706, a treaty was concluded between Charles XII and Augustus II The cessation of hostilities only hastened Peikel’s doom. He was tried by the Advocate Fiscal in Stockholm as a traitor to his country, and being found guilty was sentenced to death. On the face of the evidence against Peikel, this sentence was doubtless a just one. But the prisoner had a strong argument in his favour against his condemnation, as appears from a contemporary MS.

Peikul (sic) happened to be born in Poland about three miles from the Livonian border, and this fact was used against him in a law-suit he had with an uncle for a considerable estate. After going through all the Livonian Courts it was, as is customary, brought to the King for decision, for to him is the last appeal in all civil causes. The King gave judgment against Peikul for this only reason because he was an alien and not his natural-born subject. However, this determination, unjust as it was, afterwards was brought as a good argument for Peikul against the King, when his Majesty condemned him as a natural-born subject of Sweden. But it seems, though his being born out of the King’s dominions proved a good reason for depriving him of his estate, it proved ineffectual to the saving of his life.

The sympathy of the Queen of Sweden (who was acting as Regent of the Kingdom during her grandson’s absence with the army), her ineffectual efforts to obtain a pardon for Peikel, the condemned nobleman’s extraordinary offers to the Queen and Senate for filling the Swedish Treasury, then at a very low ebb, provided his life were spared, and the remarkable proof he gave before witnesses of his ability to perform what he promised, are fully and graphically detailed by the British Envoy at Stockholm in his official letters to the Right Hon. Robert Harley, Secretary of State:

Mr. Robert Jackson to the Secretary of Stale.
Stockholm, January 5th, 1707.

An order is now come from the King to suffer all the Saxon officers now prisoners in Sweden to go where they please, except one Lieutenant General Pykull (sic), a native of Liefland [Livonia], who was taken about two years ago in Poland, and in November last was condemned here as a traitor for serving against this Crown, which sentence the King not only lately confirmed, but gave also at the same time express order for his execution as on the 7th instant; but the Queen-Mother and all the Royal family here having interceded for him, and not yet got his Majesty’s answer, her Majesty has therefore by her own authority reprieved him for a month, yet it is thought his pardon will not be granted at last.


Mr. Robert Jackson to the Secretary of State.
Stockholm, January 30th, 1707.

The King has renewed his former orders for the execution of Lieutenant-General Pykull, not having thought fit to hearken to the Queen-Mother’s intercession on that gentleman’s behalf.


Mr. Robert Jackson to the Secretary of State.
Stockholm, February 9th, 1707.

The Saxon Lieutenant-General Peikel was beheaded on Monday last;* he chose to be executed with an axe (though it be esteemed very dishonourable in this country) rather than with a sword, by reason of the unskilfulness of the executioner. There was no other crime laid to his charge in the Fiscal’s accusation than that he, being a native of Liefland, presumed in disobedience to his Majesty’s avocatoria** to serve his enemy, wherefore it was thought here that the King’s neither hearkening to the many high intercessions made on his behalf, nor the advantageous proposals he made to save his life, proceeded from the knowledge his Majesty must have of some other crimes of a blacker nature.

But the morning Peikel suffered he told the divines which assisted him, and administered the Sacrament to him, that having heard of a report spread as if he had been one who had particularly encouraged King Augustus to begin this war, on the prospect of the Lieflanders, his countrymen, revolting from Sweden; and also of another that he had been engaged in a design upon the King of Sweden’s person, he therefore took that opportunity to declare in that solemn manner that all such reports were false, and that he never had acted anything against his Swedish Majesty’s person, or Kingdom, contrary to the principles of a man of honour. And since his one crime was that he was born in the Swedish dominions, he could not allow to have deserved death merely for that reason.

But he added that it having pleased God some time ago to bring him wonderfully to the knowledge of a great secret in Nature, whereby he could not only himself have lived in the greatest happiness, but likewise have been capable of doing much good in the world. Yet he nevertheless suffered his ambition to prevail against his reason, which led him to accept the command of those troops amongst which he was taken prisoner, and for that he said he had justly incurred the punishment which was to be inflicted on him.

The secret he speaks of was making gold to a prodigious advantage; and he actually gave such proofs to the archiater at the Court, as well as some other knowing persons, of his profound knowledge in chemistry, that nobody now doubts of his having been able to perform what he pretended, and also proposed in case the King would have given him his life; and for your Honour’s curiosity I shall presume in my next humble account to send your Honour an extract of the said proposals (whereby, if he could have fulfilled his promise, would have arose a yearly revenue of five hundred thousand ducats to this Crown), and also an authentic relation of an experiment of his having had that secret performed by the Advocate Fiscal, and one Colonel Hugo Hamilton, a native of Ireland, who is Commandant of this city, and had the custody of Monsr. Peikel during his imprisonment, which papers being but lately come to my hands I have not yet had time to translate them.


Mr. Robert Jackson to the Secretary of State.
Stockholm, February 16th, 1707.

Having in my last presumed to mention several things relating to the lately executed Baron Peikel, I therefore now further presume to transmit, along with this, the translation of his proposals together with Colonel Hamilton’s relation of the experiment he made, both which papers I humbly take the liberty to beg may be managed with a little secrecy for fear of injuring some persons here, who are thought to have employed themselves too much in favour of the said Baron.

Translation of the extract of Lieut.-General Peikel’s proposals to the Queen and Senate.

That it having pleased God to bless his study and labour for bringing him to the knowledge of a great secret; and he now laying under sentence of death was willing, in case he could thereby save his life, not only to reveal the said secret to any one person, to be under an oath of secrecy, whom his Majesty should think proper to appoint, but would likewise oblige himself to make at his own charge this year four hundred thousand ducats for his Majesty; and in case he performed not he then desired no mercy, but that not only the punishment of death might be inflicted upon him by virtue of the sentence lately pronounced against him, but that also there might be added any further punishment, as a just reward, for his demerits in presuming to abuse his Majesty.

He further obliged himself to make yearly, so long as he lived, the same quantity of gold for the King’s use, his Majesty building only a proper house for carrying on the work, and being at the charge of providing materials, and maintaining the servants which should be found necessary to be employed therein, the whole charge of which he computed would not amount to twenty thousand ducats yearly.

When he had performed what he thus proposed two years he then desired to have a reasonable enlargement, but in the meantime to be under the strictest confinement that was possible, and besides he would bind himself by the most solemn oath never to endeavour to make his escape, neither during the time of his confinement nor when he should have his liberty; and for further security he would forthwith dispose of his estate in the Brandenburg country and buy other lands of like value in Sweden and establish his family here.

And to confirm the probability of his being able to perform what he proposed, he desired that Colonel Hugo Hamilton and the Advocate Fiscal might be commanded to give an account of the experiment they were eye-witnesses to, or rather had themselves performed by his directions, he only having now and then been present during the operation. The whole charge of which operation cost not above twelve crowns and yet produced the weight in gold of forty-nine ducats, and the officers of the Mint attested the gold to be perfectly fine as any they ever saw.

These proposals were presented along with a petition to the King, January 4th, 1707.

Translation of Colonel Hugo Hamilton’s relation.

To the Queen’s Majesty most humble relation:—

Whereas Peikel, who lies under the sentence of death, has, in all humility, informed your Majesty of his having the knowledge of making gold and likewise offered to reveal the said secret, agreeable to what I also in all humility lately had the honour to acquaint your Majesty; wherefore in obedience now to your Majesty’s most gracious commands that I should in writing give a further humble account of that matter, therefore with the same humble intention for the service and advantage of my most gracious Sovereign as in all humility I formerly represented, I do now, by the oath and duty wherewith I am bound, declare that when Peikel first intimated to me his having that secret I suspected the truth of it a long time, and looked on his making me that confidence as a design he had the better by one means or other to make his escape.

Wherefore I also took care to have him the better guarded; but he several times after repeating the matter, and withal offering in my presence to make a proof thereof, to convince me that what he said was a real truth, I thought that such an opportunity of serving my most gracious King ought not to be neglected, and therefore I asked him if he was willing that I might take a second person to be also present, whereto he agreeing I thought none could be more properly employed than the Advocate Fiscal, Thomas Fehman, his accuser, whom, Peikel approving of, I acquainted the said Advocate Fiscal therewith and requested him to be a witness at the operation, who thereupon expressed himself that in case there was any reality in the thing he could not be a faithful subject who would not endeavour to forward so important a work; yet for his own person he was unwilling to be concerned therein lest he should thereby incur too many undeserved censures, however I importuned him till he at length promised to be present.

I forthwith permitted Peikel to begin the operation, which he did by dissolving of a powder of mineral antimony and winestone from Montpelier; this was set forty days in digestion, and afterwards was burnt with a prepared spirit that produced a greyish-coloured metal, which being beaten to powder was likewise set forty days in fermentation; when that time was expired it was taken out and mixed with powdered common antimony, brimstone, and a little lead, and was afterwards melted in a melting-pot and cast into a pot of brass metal, at the bottom whereof it left a weighty and substantial white metal, which being afterwards again melted in a melting-pot produced the same pure and fine gold that I showed your Majesty; and lest that any other than the true powder should be conveyed into the said pot, the Advocate Fiscal and I did by ourselves make the experiment, and found that the like quantity of the powder by us weighed produced the same effect as when Peikel was present.

I must acknowledge that during this operation I always suspected some deceit would be therein practised, and therefore more narrowly observed everything that Peikel undertook, as did likewise the Advocate Fiscal, whereto we frequently admonished each other. And whereas the best opportunity to practise the deceit seemed to be by conveying gold among the common antimony wherewith the chemical prepared powder was to be mixed, I therefore directed Peikel, the evening before, to weigh the same, but when he was gone I cast it away and took the same quantity of other common antimony, and the effect the virtue of the other powder produced both the Advocate Fiscal and I were witnesses to; and I do further declare upon my salvation, and the disfavour of my most gracious Master, that I do firmly believe, and do not otherwise know, but he the said Peikel is really possessed of the knowledge he pretends, and this the Advocate Fiscal must likewise, as a faithful servant of his Majesty, confirm whenever he is called upon.†

It was further between us agreed and resolved on, according to the oath and duty wherewith we are bound, to make a discovery of this affair, whatever sentence Peikel should receive; that this has thus been transacted I own, but the great secret, which consists in a very small composition, and which he prepared in an hour’s time, and is laid at the last melting amongst the other powder, I neither know, nor desire to know, it only having been both our sincere intentions to promote what we judged might conduce to the advantage and service of our most gracious King.

(Signed) Hugo Hamilton.‡

The refusal of Charles XII to entertain the proposals made to him by Baron Peikel, or to allow the Queen Regent’s intercession to turn him aside from his fixed resolve, does not in any way throw discredit on Peikel’s honesty of purpose or belief in his ability to carry out what he had undertaken. Charles’s utter recklessness where money was concerned is a matter of history. When this monarch ascended the throne in 1697, at the age of fifteen, he found a full treasury and the country at the height of prosperity. In a few years’ time the treasury was well-nigh exhausted, and Sweden was engaged in a gigantic struggle with Russia.

Any other monarch, at the period in question, would have taken Peikel at his word and put him to the crucial test. Had the promised gold not flowed from Peikel’s crucible, Charles could have satisfied his own revengeful spirit by putting Peikel to death in the same barbarous manner that disgraced the execution of the unfortunate Count Patkul. The Lutheran minister who attended Patkul in his last hours, and who wrote a MS. narrative of the Count’s chequered career and miserable death, has left on record the following anecdote regarding Baron Peikel, which story, if true, leaves an indelible stain on the character of Charles XII whose many noble qualities were marred by an implacable spirit which neither knew how to forgive nor how to forget.

After King Charles had entirely got the better of Augustus (King of Poland), and the latter was forced to comply with everything required of him, Augustus, in order to put the best face he could on a bad matter, made great entertainment for the King of Sweden at a very fine pleasure-house not far distant from Dresden. Peikul’s poor lady and children had taken a great journey from Stockholm, on purpose to solicit for her husband’s pardon; and King Augustus with his courtiers, as well as several of the King of Sweden’s officers, had promised her to make use of the utmost of their interest in his behalf; and had contrived the matter so, that after the usual jollity and good humour, caused by a great feast, she, with her children, should unexpectedly come into the dining-room, and fall at the King of Sweden’s feet, imploring his mercy for her husband; to which King Augustus, with all the other noble guests, were to join their intercession.

So far matters were well concerted; but the King of Sweden, having by some means or other got an inkling of this design, after he was come to the place appointed for the feast, and being resolved that nothing should prevent his intention, desired leave to retire for a few minutes before dinner, into a private closet, where he called for pen, ink, and paper, and wrote and signed an order which he sent by express for Peikul’s immediate execution upon receipt of it. After this he came out to dinner, which being ended, the poor woman and her children came in and flung herself at King Charles’s feet, as it had been forecasted, in the midst of the mirth, King Augustus with all the company mixing their intercessions with her tears.

The King of Sweden, after some seeming struggle, granted the pardon which was desired, and signed an instrument to that purpose, which by Peikul’s friends was presently despatched away. But the King’s courier arrived first at Stockholm, and poor Peikul was beheaded about four hours before the second got thither.§

Voltaire tells us in his History of Charles XII that when King Augustus (whose Saxon subjects had been heavily subsidised by the Swedish monarch) heard that Peikel had been executed, he said “he did not wonder that the King of Sweden had so much indifference for the Philosopher’s Stone as Charles had found it in Saxony.”

Baron Peikel’s great secret died with him. By his own showing he had expected the greatest happiness from his chemical discovery, but the path he pursued was not the “golden mean” which Horace recommended when he wrote the lines:—

Auream quisquis mediocritatem
Diligit, tutus caret obsoleti
Sordibus tecti, caret invidenda
Sobrius aula.

[Whoever cultivates the golden mean avoids both the poverty of a hovel and the envy of a palace. -ed.]

* We’ve grappled often with calendar ambiguity in these pages, but this one is a fun case. England was still on the Julian calendar at this point so the most recent Monday as of Jackson’s letter would have been Monday, February 3.

However, Sweden in the first years of 18th century was trying its own calendar: a strategy to “catch up” to the Gregorian calendar gradually over a period of 40 years instead of all at once. So, locally in Sweden, the calendar was off from both the Julian (one day ahead) and the Gregorian (ten days behind) and the beheading occurred on Monday, February 4. This is also the date supplied by Swedish volumes that have primary source access; by the same token, correspondence on the same event from a German perspective reports (p. 234) the equivalent Gregorian date of Monday, February 14. (Protestant German states, together with Denmark and the Netherlands, had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700.)

Incidentally, Sweden’s strange attempt at calendar incrementalism proved a massive bust. A few years after Baron Peikel lost his head, Charles XII gave the Nordic calendar the chop too — ordering Sweden reverted back to the Julian schedule by the expedient of doubling the next leap-day. As a result, Sweden had a February 30, 1712. A free pack of Executed Today playing cards for anyone who can document a February 30 execution for the annals!

** Dalton’s original footnote on this word reads: “Royal Proclamation for all the King of Sweden’s subjects to return out of foreign service.”

† Sweden’s Royal Coin Cabinet still preserves the medal that was struck by the triumphant alchemist or prestidigitator out of his transmutation, stamped hoc aurum arte chimica conflavit holmle 1706 O. A. V. paykhull. (O. A. Von Paykhull cast this gold by chemical art at Stockholm, 1706.) This post badly wants an image of said artifact.

‡ A Scots-Irish officer, heir to the long tradition of Celtic involvement in Sweden.

§ Dalton’s footnote sources this anecdote to vol. 13 of Lord Somers’s Tracts by Walter Scott.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Sweden,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1715: Ann Wright, branded

Add comment February 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1715, a longtime petty thief named Ann Wright — or was it Martha Wright? or Ann Hutchins? or Elizabeth Jolly? — hanged at Tyburn.

In the absence of modern trappings like a standing police force, criminal dossiers, and systematic record-keeping — innovations that lay decades into the future — small-time criminals could float at the margins for the duration of many years and many offenses by relying on the forgetfulness of the legal apparatus: with nothing but a casual alias, one might hope to appear over and over again as a new offender.

Here we see Ordinary of Newgate Paul Lorrain deploy his own investigative acumen to trace for us one woman’s career, a very much more penetrating biography of an Early Modern commoner than we can usually access. We can see from his account of offenses — for how many crimes must Lorrain be omitting in this register? — that he was greatly aided by Wright’s own body which bore the mark of our Old Offender’s repeated brandings. That included scars earned during the brief period from 1699 to 1707 when brands could be applied to an offender’s cheeks, a fate which apparently befell Ann Wright on no fewer than five occasions.*

By the time he came to Wright’s terminal adventure, Rev. Lorrain had held the post of ministering to convicts for fifteen years and could probably boast as expert an acquaintance with London’s criminal underworld as any square; whether he knew Ann Wright on sight or knew her by reputation, he knew her.

Ann Wright, condemn’d for breaking the Lock of Eliz. Barrot’s Chamber-Door, with an intent to rob her, on the 30th of October last. She was about 38 Years of age, and liv’d in the Parish of St. Dunstan, Stepney. She would hardly confess her self guilty of the Crime for which she was justly Condemn’d; neither did she readily acknowledge, that she had done several other Facts of the like heinous nature, and was an old Offender: But when I laid before her, and charg’d her with diverse Burglaries and Robberies, which I knew she had committed, then she could not deny her being Guilty of them.

Here I shall give the Reader a Particular of some of those wicked Facts of hers, and the several Punishments she receiv’d for them, the Time when, and the various Names she went by.

1st, She was (under the Name of Martha Wright) Burnt in the Cheek at the Old-Baily, on the 10th of July, 1702, for entring the House of Mr. James Gee, and taking thence 4 Muslin-Neckcloths, 2 Holland-Aprons, a Hol-Smock, a Cloth-coat, Wastcoat and Breeches, with diverse other Goods, on the 2d of the said Month of July.

2dly, She was (under the Name of Ann Rebel alias Ann Hutchins, which latter, as she said, was her Maiden-Name) also Burnt in the Chek at the
See original Click to see original

Old-Baily, on the 11th of September, 1702, for Robbing the House of Mr. Joseph Lineum, on the 7th of August before, and taking thence 6 Hempen-Aprons, 6 Dowlas-Shirts, 6 Smocks, &c.

3dly, She was again (under the same Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 9th of July, 1703, for stealing 5 ounces of China-Silk from Mr. John Sheppard, and other Silks from Mr. Nathanael Wichel, on the 19th of May before.

4thly, She was in like manner (under the Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 2d of June, 1704, for stealing 4 Buck-Skins from Mr. Tho. Boddington, on the 4th of May preceding.

5thly, She was (under the Name of Elizabeth Jolly alias Hodges, which latter she said was her Husband’s Name) again Burnt in the Cheek, at the Old-Baily, on the 17th of January, 1704/1705, for stealing 16 yards of Silk, a Stuff-Gown and Petticoat, 12 ells of Holland, 26 yards of Lace, and diverse other Goods of Mr. Edward Kenworthy’s, on the 14th of June, 1704.

6thly, She was (under the Name of Eliza. Wright) on the 6th of July, try’d at the Old-Baily, and order’d to be whipt, for stealing a Silver-Spoon and a Cambrick-Handkerchief, from Mr. Anthony Moreing, on the 17th of June before.

7thly, She was (under the Name of Ann Hicken) Burnt in the Hand, at the Old-Baily, on the 26th of February, 1707/1708, for stealing 10 ounces of Silver Orrice-Lace, and 12 ounces of Gold-Lace, from Mrs. Margaret Tiplady, on the 3d Day of the same Month.

8thly, She was again (under the Name of Ann Hutchins) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 9th of July, 1708, for Robbing Mrs. Mary Collier’s House, and taking from thence 1 pound 15 ounces of Raw-Silk, on the 26th of the preceding June.

9thly, She did (under the Name of Ann Hodges alias Hodgkins) receive Sentence of Death, at the Old-Baily, on the 6th of May, 1709, for Breaking the House of Mr. John Marsh, and taking from thence a Psalm-book, two Cloth-Coats, a Diaper Table-cloth, 10 Napkins, and several other things, on the 11th of April before; for which having obtain’d a Reprieve, and afterwards a Pardon, which she pleaded in Court at the Old-Baily, on the 8th of December, 1710, (at which time she was order’d to the Bridewell of Clerkenwell for 2 Years) she no sooner had her Liberty (which she got by breaking out of that House of Correction) but she return’d to her former wicked Way of Robbing. So that,

10thly, She was again (under the Name of Ann Hutchens) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 12th of April, 1711, for stealing 4 Holland-Smocks that hung up a drying in the Yard of Mr. William Baker, on the 28th of March preceding.

11thly, She was (under the Name of Ann Hodges) Burnt in the Hand at the Old-Baily, on the 28th of February, 1711/1712, for Stealing a Coat, Wastcoat, and Breeches, Linnen, Gold-Rings, and other Goods, of Mrs. Susannah Butterwick, on the 12th of the same Month.

12thly, and Lastly, (to mention no more of these sad Particulars) She was again (under the Name of Ann Hodges, alias Jenkins, alias Jeatzin) Burnt in the Hand, at the Old-Baily, on the 2d of May, 1712, for a Felony, in stealing Pewter and other Goods out of the House of Mr. John Simmonds, on the 5th of the ‘foregoing March.

All these her notorious Facts, of which I had taken a particular Account, I laid before her, together with some others she had been try’d for, but acquitted of, for want of positive Evidence to convict her, tho’ there was no great reason to doubt her being guilty of ‘em: And moreover, I put her in mind of her having frequently broke out of the Workhouse, to which she had several times been sent, for her Correction and Amendment; the former whereof she would not receive, nor bring her self to the practice of the latter, but plainly shew’d her ill Disposition and wicked Desire of returning (as she did so fast as she could) to her sinful Course of Life; of which I exhorted and press’d her to make a free Confession, and repent. Whereupon she acknowledg’d her Guilt in these Matters, saying, (in general) That she had done many ill things, but her discovering them in particular (were she able fully to do that) would be now of no use to the World. Having some just Suspicion that she had been concern’d in Facts committed in Surrey, and try’d for them in that County, I put the Question to her, which she answer’d in the Negative, thinking (I suppose) that those Facts could not so easily be known to me, being done not only at a distance, and in a County where I have nothing to do, but also under Names which she thought fit at times to take and shift, as suited best her Occasions of disguising her self, and concealing Who and What she was. I found her all along very stupid, and insensible both of her sad Condition, and the Cause of it. When I examin’d her in private, she was very sullen, spoke but few (and those angry) Words, and shed fewer Tears: What her inward Thoughts were, I can’t tell; but she gave little sign of true Repentance. As I observ’d her in that harden’d Temper, so I told her, That she behav’d her self just as I had seen others do, who were guilty of Murder, whom (above all other Sinners) the Devil does what he can to hinder from repenting; and therefore I must needs plainly say this to her, That I was afraid she had been concern’d in some Bl[oo]dy Fact or other; for she seem’d to me to be more than a common Sinner. To this she answer’d, That she never committed any Murder in her Life. No? said I to her; Did you never kill a Bastard-Child, to hide your Shame when you were in Service? (for I knew she had been a Servant in some Families in and about London.) At this Question she startled, and after a Pause (not without some discomposure) said, She was very clear of that Crime. However I gave her to understand I greatly suspected she was not, for she had been a very wicked, lewd, and debauch’d Woman; and so I offer’d her some ghostly Advice herein. Then I further ask’d her, Whether she knew any thing of the Murder of Esq. Hanson and Mr. Carlton, who (some Years ago) were found murder’d, viz. the first near the Vinegar-house beyond Moorfields, and the other between Rosemary-branch and Cambray-house, in Islington Parish. To which she reply’d, That she had indeed heard of those Murders, but was not in the least concern’d in ‘em, nor knew who had committed them. This is all I could get from her, who (as I observ’d with great Concern) instead of making a right use of the long Time and good Instruction she had under this Condemnation, seem’d (all the while) to have nothing so much at Heart as getting a Reprieve, and avoiding this Death; tho’ I endeavour’d to make her sensible, there was no manner of ground for her Hope of Life in this World; and, that if she were wise she would (as ’twas infinitely better she should) seriously consider her sad and miserable Condition by reason of her Sins, and so by all the Acts of Repentance she was capable of exerting, prepare herself for her great Change that was approaching and inevitable. And this important Consideration I urg’d to her, to the very last.

At the Place of Execution (whither both she and George Hynes were this Day carried from Newgate in a Cart, and where I attended them for the last time) she seem’d to be much dejected and sorrowful; and no Wonder, for she had great Cause to be so. Hynes likewise cry’d bitterly, lamenting and bewailing his past sinful Life. Here I gave them proper Admonitions; and after I had pray’d, and sung some Penitential Psalms with them, and made ‘em rehearse the Apostles Creed, I advis’d, that they would (and accordingly they did) desire the Spectators to pray for them, and take Warning by their Fall; To keep the Sabbath-day, serve God, and live honestly. Then I withdrew from them, recommending their Souls to God, and leaving them to their private Devotions, for which they had some Time allotted. After this the Cart drew away, and they were turn’d off, crying all the while to God for Mercy, Pardon, and Salvation.

* We’ve previously seen that London authorities didn’t mind applying the brand several times to a habitual offender.

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1782: Jose Antonio Galan, for the Revolt of the Comuneros

Add comment February 1st, 2018 Headsman

Ni un paso atrás, siempre adelante, y lo que fuere menester … sea!

-Jose Antonio Galan

On this date in 1782, Comunero rebel Jose Antonio Galan was executed in Bogota, New Grenada (present-day Colombia).

Spain’s New World precincts had risen in response to intensified taxation exacted by the empire’s modernizing reforms and particularly accelerated when Spain went to war against Great Britain in 1779; similar pressures likewise helped to trigger the 1780-1781 Tupac Amaru insurrection in Peru.

In New Grenada, pontaneous resistance to new viceregal edicts coalesced into one of the most serious rebellions of the Spanish colonial era — albeit one that aimed at reform, not revolution.

Shouting demands for tax reductions and greater local autonomy, a force of 10,000-20,000 rebels marched on Bogota in the spring of 1781, routing a column of government soldiers sent to disperse them and forcing authorities to terms that the latter had no intention of honoring. This is one of the oldest ploys: offer concessions to end the rebellion, then declare the concessions null and void as obtained under duress when the rebels are safely out of arms.

An illiterate mestizo peasant, our man Galan (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the much more satisfactory Spanish) was not the principal captain of this rebellion but he seems to have exceeded them in foresight — for Galan and his more radical followers continued the revolt even after the main body of Comuneros went home satisfied with the government’s specious pledges. North of Bogota, Galan threatened a more Tupac Amaru-like experience, attracting a multi-racial lower-class force* which he turned against hacienda landowners.

Captured in October of that same year after reinforcements arrived at Bogota to begin laying down imperial law, Galan was so popularly admired that no free blacksmith would accept the contract to forge his irons — all the more reason for his exemplary sentence:

We condemn José Antonio Galán to be removed from jail, dragged and taken to the place of execution, where he is hanged on the gallows until dead; when lowered, his head is to be cut off, his body divided into four parts and passed through the flames (for which a bonfire will be lit in front of the scaffold); his head will be taken to Guaduas, theater of his scandalous insults; the right hand placed in the Plaza del Socorro, the left in the town of San Gil; the right foot in Charalá, place of his birth, and the left foot in the place of Mogotes; his descendants are declared infamous, all his goods are confiscated to the treasury; his house is to be pulled down and sown with salt, so that his infamous name may be lost and consigned to such a vile reputation, such a detestable memory, that nothing remains of him but the hate and fright that ugliness and crime inspire.

Despite the sentence, it’s said that an unskillful executioner not knowing how to hang his man shot him dead instead, so that he could proceed to the butchery.

* The main insurrection that had so meekly disbanded itself was heavily led by Creole local elites with a clear inclination towards deal-making.

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1725: James Casady, aged beggar

Add comment January 27th, 2018 Headsman

Original Dublin broadsheet via James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches: From Eighteenth-Century Ireland:


THE LAST SPEECH AND DYING WORDS OF
JAMES CASADY

Beggar Man who was Executed this Day, being the 27th of this Instant January, 1724-5* at Kilmainham, for Robbing on the High-Road.

Good People,

I was Born in Artlow in the County of Wicklow, and had very honest Parents, who gave me good Edication.

When I came to my Tryal before the Judge at Kilmianham, one Margaret Nowland and Owna Callahan, Swore I was a Robber these thirty Years past, and they also said that I was concern’d in Robbing the Bishop of Dublin, for which I was Try’d and Clar’d; the above Witness also Swore that I was concerned in a Robbery of a Gentlemans House in Great Britain Street, about three Years ago; The said Owna also Swore that I, one O’Neil, and a Piper was concern’d the last Robbery, and that she was one of their Comrades then, and watch’d in the Street while the said Robbery was doing.

They also swore that I had plates and Dishes in my Custody; which I brought out of the sd. House, Also that the above Margaret swore that when she heard the great dogg bark, that she came down stairs, and seeing me and agove 3 Men coming out of Capt. Gratons House, she heard the sd. Casady speak to the rest of his Comrades to Murder her, to which the said Ona Cry’d out and spoke to ‘em, and begg’d that there should be no murder, Committed where she was, this is what the above Per-[sons?] swore against me at the Sessions-House in Kilmainham.

Now I do hereby Declare before God, the sheriff, and all the rest of my Spectators, that as I am here to suffer this untimely Death; tho’ I cou’d not live much longer, for I am about 80 years of Age.

As for what Money I had by me, it was very honestly got, and I design’d it for my Son, but having an extravagant Wife, was the reason that I always carried the sd. money always with me, wherever I went a begging, or to work any where, which I am sure that the sd. money is the cause of this my untimely end.

I James Cassedy do further declare at this my Dying Minute, that I do not know any of these my Prosecutors, and on the Dying Words of one who expects Salvation I know nothing of the matter that I am Charg’d with.

I do not blame the Judge nor Jury, and I forgive all the World, I would die a Roman Catholick, and the Lord have Mercy on my poor Soul.

He was buried under the Gallows in his Cloaths.

* 1725 by our present-day reckoning; because England’s new year at this time did not officially occur until March 25, it was still legally 1724. Many documents of this period write dates in this manner (“1724-5″) for clarity, since it was a potential confusion to contemporaries as well. Calendars are aggravating sometimes.

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1716: Stefan Cantacuzino, Wallachian prince

1 comment January 21st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1716, the Ottomans extinguished their Wallachian (Romanian) client king — and with him native rule on that soil.

The Cantacuzino family has bequeathed Romania no small quantity of notables down to our present time. Our man Stefan Cantacuzino (English Wikipedia entry | Romanian) got the throne of the Ottoman satellite principality of Wallachia via intriguing against a cousin whom the Ottomans deposed and executed in 1714. That guy is a saint today for refusing to convert to save his life.

Stefan Cantacuzino aimed perhaps at a more secular apotheosis, tipping the Austrians to Turkish battle plans as the frontier slid into war between those empires. Who knows what reverential murmurs would attend his name had he been able to attach the Danubian Principalities to Christendom?

But considering that summary death at the command of dissatisfied sultans was an occupational hazard for Wallachian princes, he can’t have been surprised to find the bowstring around his own neck instead.

“With him terminated the rule of the native princes,” notes this 19th century history — and began that of “the so-called Phanariote governors,” a class of Greek magnates initially resident in Istanbul. The Porte’s arbitration among these as deputies for Wallachia enabled it to maintain much better control of the troublesome province than entrusting succession to the treacherous local boyars.

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1767: John Williamson, cruel husband

Add comment January 19th, 2018 Headsman

From the London Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Feb. 2, 1767.

An Account of the CRUELTIES, exercised by JOHN WILLIAMSON on his wife, whereby she left her life, and for which he was lately executed in Moorfields.

JOHN WILLIAMSON, Journeyman Shoemaker, a widower with three children, who all starved together in a garret in an alley in Little Moorfields, found a woman who had upwards of 60l. weak enough in understanding to marry him; but she did not bed with him above two or three times; yet they continued sociable for two or three weeks. But the poor woman soon after finding herself ill-used, and denied common food, made complaints to some neighbours; which he resenting, debarred her from going abroad.

The wife being subject to fits, used to turn up the whites of her eyes, at which a neighbour, and Williamson’s daughter, of fifteen, pretending to be frightened, he thought proper, when he went out, to tie a rope around her waist, and fastened it to a post near the bedstead: but afterwards he procured some hand-cuffs, which were put on in the daytime, and she permitted to sit on a trunk.

Besides having fits, and turning up her eyes, she once drank a dish of tea left in the pot for the little boy, and filled the pot with water; she slapped the boy’s face when he had done a fault; the husband once missing a pair of soles, he supposed she must have made away with them; she struck a light with one of his working knives; she often begged of him for victuals; and he as constantly beat her for it, and once when her husband had been out with other company, and returning about nine at night, her usual time of going to bed, she was found asleep, which was reported to be drunkenness.

These things were thought sufficient reasons by her husband to hand-cuff her, with her hands behind, and tie her up in a closet; he tied a rope to a staple, put it through the hand-cuffs, and drew it up to a nail over her head, so as to cause her to stand on tip-toe, and left her in that condition and posture for near a month together, without being set down or going to bed — not even when she was in fits.

Her husband gave her every day a bit of bread and butter, laying it on a shelf she could easily reach with her mouth, when she could not, sometimes they would put it close; they used to hold water to her mouth while she drank. When she asked for more bread and butter, the husband would not let her have it.

She was also beaten, bruised, and wounded, and frequently sluiced in the face and all over with cold water.

Want of every necessary, and the repetition of the above cruelties, were too much for a woman, and she sunk under them. The day before she died, she was let out of the closet, and offered meat when she could not swallow; she was also then allowed to warm herself, but in ten minutes she was told she was warm enough, and should sit there no longer, but must get into her kennel; she staggered to the closet, and the door was shut; she fell into a delirium, and died in strong convulsions in the evening.

Casualties of Williamson’s abuse outlived the man and his poor wife: Williamson’s children landed in the workhouse of St. Giles’s Cripplegate, whereas elsewhere …


Item from the May 18, 1767 Boston Evening Post.

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1772: Bryan Sheehen, cuck

Add comment January 16th, 2018 Headsman

Colonial Massachusetts sailor Bryan Sheehen culminated a life of warped relations with the opposite sex at his hanging on this date in 1772.

According to the pamphlet An Account of the Life of Bryan Sheehen, as a child in Ireland, Sheehen‘s family split up by gender with the Catholic father taking the boys and the Anglican mother taking the girls. While the legacy of this childhood trauma can only be guessed at, it looks suggestive in hindsight

Sheehen migrated to Newfoundland and then to Massachusetts where he eventually indentured himself as a household servant to colonial shipwright Benjamin Hallowell, a “father” from whom the young adult Sheehen again fled, this time to fight in the Seven Years’ War.

Unfortunately upon his return from only six years away he found that his wife had impatiently [re]married herself to a Frenchman, a humiliating risk and fear of the seagoing set. Sheehen forced the woman to choose between the rivals but when she chose Sheehen, the latter found that he was still so disgusted with her that he preferred to abandon the wife, and the child she had borne him, and the child she had borne the Frenchman. Psychologists have a lot to unpack here already.

Relocating to Marblehead, Mass. our reborn swinging single now developed “the character of a wicked, profligate person” and eventually began stalking a woman named Abial Hollowell … her surname eerily echoing that of Sheehen’s own former master. In fact, Abial’s husband was also named Benjamin Hollowell. His advances rebuffed, Sheehen

went up, in the middle of the night, to the room where Mrs. Hollowell lay, found her asleep, awaked her, and swore, if she made the least noise, he would kill her; and then stopping her mouth, perpetrated the atrocious crime. After which (to prevent, it seems, a pregnancy) he abused her with his hand, in an unheard-of, cruel and shocking manner: Insomuch that her life was for some time almost despaired of; and she was not able for ten days after to get off her bed without help.

That’s as per a case summary appended to “A Sermon Preached at Salem, January 16, 1772″ by the Salem Rev. James Diman. The good preacher was so chagrined that Sheehen’s persistent denials had led some citizens to murmur against Mrs. Hollowell that for “justice to the woman’s character” he devotes about a page and a half to traducing Sheehen’s. Sheehen, Diman charged, was just the sort of vicious wretch who would imperil his soul by going to the gallows with a lie upon his lips, perhaps because, as a Catholic, “he might swear falsely, he might doubtless speak falsely to Hereticks, as they call all whose religious principles differ from theirs.”

Last and most important, Diman claimed to have it on good authority from “two credible persons”

that there was a young woman, daughter of one Williams, of Goldsborough, in the Eastern part of this province, abased in the same manner Mrs. Hollowell was. That she was way-layed in the the evening, between her father’s house and a neighbour’s; was seized, forced, and wounded to such a degree, that her friends were obliged to carry her home, she being unable to walk, and that the next morning early she died. That the villain, who perpetrated this crime, returned after he had done it, to his companions, who, it seems, were before, or then, made acquainted with his enterprize; for such wretches declare their sin as Sodom: And that one of them told him he would probably have a child to maintain: He answered so, that he had taken care to prevent that, and that she would never have a child by him, nor by any other man.

This guy, his informants said, was an Irishman named something like Bryan Sheehen — and he had escaped town after the incident.

* The Hallowells were notable British loyalists during the American Revolution, and returned to England when their estates were sacked by Patriots. The grandson of Bryan Sheehen’s employer, Admiral Sir Benjamin Hallowell Carew, was one of Lord Nelson‘s Band of Brothers. During the Battle of the Nile, Admiral Hallowell’s supplied the literal fireworks by defeating the French battleship Orient — whose spectacularly exploding magazines highlighted all the artistic commemorations of that victory. He later presented to Nelson as a gift a coffin fashioned from the Orient‘s mast, “that when you have finished your military career in this world you may be buried in one of your trophies.” Nelson was indeed laid to rest in Hallowell’s trophy in 1805.


The flaming Orient illuminates Thomas Luny’s Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1798 at 10 pm.

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1792: John Philips, a wretch robbed of life for so trivial a robbery

Add comment January 14th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1792, sailor John Philips was hanged in Dublin, Ireland after being convicted of robbing a man of his hat and coat.

Philips, a 50-year-old sailor with a wife and five children back home, was based in London and knew no one in Dublin. He was unable to retain counsel for lack of funds, and the government was not required to provide him with one.

The jury who convicted him recommended mercy “in consideration of the apparent severity of robbing a wretch of life for so trivial a robbery,” but the Recorder of the Dublin, Denis George, sentenced him to death.

While awaiting his execution, Philips had a petition drawn up and sent to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, asking for a commutation on the grounds that he was drunk at the time of the robbery.

As Brian Henry says, in his book Dublin Hanged: Crime, Law Enforcement and Punishment in Late Eighteenth-Century Dublin,

The Lord Lieutenant would in all probability have respited his hanging if he had received it in time. On the back of the petition was written, “has anything been done in this?” A stark answer followed: “was executed the 14th — Received 31st Jan 1792.” Philips was hanged at the front of Newgate on Saturday 14 January 1792.

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1769: John Martin Andrew, John Fielding prey

Add comment January 11th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1769, a prolific Swedish burglar named John Martin Andrew went to Tyburn for burgling a Foster Lane jeweler to the tune of

  • seven pair of snam-garnet gold buttons, value 6 l. 6 s.
  • six pair of garnet ear-rings, set in gold, value 3 l.
  • one other pair ditto, value 8 s.
  • one pair of Moco buttons, set in gold, value 1 l. 15 s.
  • two pair of ditto, value 2 l.
  • two pair of clutter ditto, with garnets, value 3 l.
  • one pair of crystal ditto, value 18 s.
  • two pair of small ditto, value 1 l. 8 s.
  • one three stone topaz gold ring, with a diamond, value 1 l. 14 s.
  • one ditto amethyst with diamonds, value 1 l. 13 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one ditto, garnet with diamonds, value 1 l. 5 s.
  • one ditto, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one stone ditto with garnets and diamonds, value 6 l.
  • one single garnet stone ditto, value 1 l.
  • one single crystal stone ditto, value 17 s.
  • one sapphire ditto, value 1 l.
  • one Moco ditto, value 18 s.
  • four Moco ditto, set round with garnets, value 4 l. 4 s.
  • one cluster garnet with hair in it, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one case for rings, value 2 s.
  • one pair of three drop cluster garnet ear-rings, set in gold, value 8 l.
  • a pair of single drop ear-rings, with knots in silver, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • six pair of fancy ear-rings, and cases in silver, value 5 l.
  • a girdle buckle in silver, value 10 s.
  • a pair of crystal buckles, set in silver, value 15 s.
  • a pair of topazes ditto, set in silver, value 2 l. 12 s. 6 d.
  • a pair of children’s stone buckles, in silver, value 10 s.
  • a pair of knee stone ditto, in silver, value 8 s.
  • a stone shoe buckle, in silver, value 12 s.
  • one child’s silver buckle, value 2 s.
  • a pair of garnet shoe buckles, in silver, gilt, value 2 l.
  • a pair of crystal ditto, in silver, value 18 s.
  • a pair of cluster garnet buttons, in gold, value 1 l. 15 s.
  • six pair of buttons and wires
  • three silver and twelve gold ear-rings, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • thirteen stone buttons, set in silver, value 18 s. 6 d.
  • one pair of cluster studs, value 2 s.
  • three gold diamond rings, value 6 l.
  • one ditto false stone, value 5 s.
  • three pair of stone buttons, set in silver, value 1 l. 2 s.
  • one pair of garnet buttons, set in gold, value 18 s.
  • one pair of cluster Moco, set in gold, value 1 l. 10 s.
  • one pair of crystal ear-rings, set in silver, value 6 s.
  • one pair of cluster paste, set in silver, value 7 s.
  • one heart trinket, set in gold, value 7 s.
  • one gold seal, value 1 l. 3 s.
  • one pair of stone knee buckles, set in silver, value 8 s.
  • a purple paste hoop-ring, set in gold, value 12 s.
  • two paste crosses in silver, value 12 s.
  • one pair of large garnet buttons, set in gold, value 3 l.
  • four pair of Moco ditto, set in gold, value 4 l.
  • four pair of garnet ditto, set in gold, value 4 l.
  • three pair of Moco studs, set in gold, value 2 l. 5 s.
  • one pair of garnet ditto, set in gold, 1 l.
  • six pair of single drop ear-rings, set in gold, value 3 l. 12 s.
  • two pair of three drop ear-rings, set in ditto, value 3 l. 3 s.
  • five pair of garnet and topazes, set in ditto, value 1 l. 17 s. 6 d.
  • one pair of night ear-rings, value 11 s.
  • thirty hoop rings in gold, some paste, some garnets, value 14 l. 16 s. 6 d.
  • five gold seals, value 8 l. 8 s.
  • four diamond rings, value 8 l. 8 s.
  • about thirty rings, value 12 l. 13 s.
  • nine garnet buckles, set in gold, value 5 l.
  • about fourteen gold lockets, some sapphires, some garnets, value 2 l. 10 s.
  • two pair of sham garnet buckles, set in gold, value 1 l. 16 s.
  • five stock buckles, value 2 l. 10 s.
  • five shirt buckles, set in silver, 2 l. 5 s.
  • about three pair of fancy ear-rings, value 2 l. 12 s. 6 d.
  • about twenty-four pair of stone shoe buckles, value 19 l. 4 s.
  • about twenty-eight stone knee buckles, value 11 l. 10 s.
  • a large garnet unset, value 3 l.
  • a mettle watch-case, value 12 s.
  • about six pair of gold wires, and one gold ring, value 1 l. 1 s.
  • one cluster locket, value 1 l.
  • about twelve pair of silver shoe buckles, value 7 l.
  • two heart trinkers, value 14 s.
  • one garnet cross, set in silver, value 4 s.
  • twelve large waistcoat buttons, silver, value 12 s.
  • four breast buckles, value 1 l. 8 s.
  • three girdle buckles, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one solitair, value 1 l. 4 s.
  • one king William and queen Mary’s half-crown
  • one pocket piece, larger
  • and sundry pieces of small money, in a chip box, value 10 s. 6 d.

As the charge sheet’s thorough inventory suggests the jeweler knew his business — or rather, it was known by his wife Mary Knight, who with the man of the house laid up with illness very coolly delivered the court the testimony that would hang their thief. It seems the Knights had the diligence to inscribe a business sigil on most of their pieces, and even on their business papers. It was this that enabled their property’s recovery.

Mary Knight also knew precisely where to turn to make that recovery, and when the sun came up on her burgled home she “immediately had warnings dispersed about, from Goldsmiths hall, and went to Sir John Fielding.”

The “Blind Beak of Bow Street” — “beak” was just slang for someone in charge — John Fielding had followed his half-brother Henry as London’s chief magistrate. Together the Fieldings fathered policing in England, Henry as the pioneer before his sudden death in 1754, and the energetic and innovative John for the quarter-century following.

Incredibly from the standpoint of posterity, London at around 700,000 souls mid-century had no professional police; indeed the populace was bitterly suspicious at the idea as tending to despotism. Despite favorably describing autocratic France’s far more developed marechaussee, the English observer William Mildmay remarked that “such an establishment is not to be imitated in our land of liberty, where the injured and oppressed are to seek for no other protection than that which the law ought only to afford, without flying to the aid of a military power” as the latter would be “either dangerous to our liberties or unconstitutional to our form of government.” The French critic Le Blanc, abroad in England in the 1730s, was perplexed by his hosts’ preference for the taxation of highwaymen to that of any state organ that might secure the roads.

Those institutions of public security that existed in the Great Wen* were a wormeaten quiltwork of minutely local and almost determinedly ineffective entities, and “there was a rivalry and jealousy rather than co-operation and mutual help between the Watch, King’s Messengers, Press Messengers, city marshals and sheriffs, and the other ad hoc bodies.” (Frank McLynn, Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England) Meanwhile, the responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes after the fact fell to victims themselves, and these prospective vendettas were so prohibitive that neighbors were known to form “prosecution associations” to insure one another against the expense. The acme of the perversity had been attained in the 1710s-1720s business empire of Jonathan Wild, the “thief-taker” who was simultaneously the criminal kingpin, ingeniously skimming the margins on the city’s entire economy of robbing, fencing, and private rewards.

This was the world that the Fieldings set themselves to remake.

When he attained the magistracy in 1748, Henry set up his home in Bow Street as the headquarters of a protozoan police force. Six constables of his recruit would be the founding coterie of what was soon known as the Bow Street Runners.

His kinsman and assistant John would inherit leadership of this enterprise in 1754 and make it his life’s work. With a state stipend that grew over the years with his successes, John Fielding made the long-dubious racket of thief-taking into a respectable office, his tireless pen relentlessly advertising (exaggerating, McLynn claims) the honesty and effectiveness of his enterprise and forever “dragg[ing] the unwilling authorities in the direction of the creation of a national police force.” (McLynn again) Fielding kept his offices open for long and reliable hours; in the case we have at hand, the first search warrant for John Andrew Martin’s lodgings was granted not by he but by a subaltern while Fielding was out at dinner. He also widened his constables’ investigative scope beyond the narrow parishes to which they had historically been attached, and counseled Parliament on policy. He was particularly busy here in the 1760s, as a crime wave following the post-Seven Years’ War demobilization was engulfing London.

Cataloguing and disseminating information about criminals was a particular interest and the Blind Beak had a reputation for being able to recognize thousands of rogues by the sound of their voice alone. So it was in our case, for “when the prisoner was taken before Sir John Fielding, Sir John knew him very well; and asked him how long he had been come back from transportation?” There were, the Old Bailey transcript dryly notes, “fourteen other indictments against him for burglaries.”

At Tyburn, Martin’s “behaviour was manly and decent … He was about five feet ten inches high, forty years of age, genteely dressed, with his own hair tyed behind.”

* The term “Great Wen” as a slur for London wasn’t coined until the 1820s, by radical journalist William Cobbett, a great advocate of rural England.

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

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