On this day in 1892, Frederick Bailey Deeming was hanged in Melbourne, Australia for the murder of his second wife, Emily Mather. She was not his only victim; he’d also murdered his first wife, son and three daughters.
Deeming was born and raised in Ashby-de-la-Zouch in the UK. One of seven children, he was reportedly a “difficult” child. He later claimed he’d spent years in mental hospitals as a youth, something his brother disputed.
Deeming ran away to sea at sixteen and began committing crimes, mostly thefts. Wherever he went, he swindled and stole from people.
Deeming married Marie James in 1881 (his brother married Marie’s sister) and they moved to Australia. They went on to have four children.
In 1888, Deeming and his family moved to South Africa. His movements around that time are unclear, but he was definitely back in England by November 1889, and separated from his wife and children, who lived in another city.
Deeming bigamously married Helen Matheson in 1890, and deserted her shortly after the honeymoon. He visited his wife, gave her some money and told he was going to South America and would send for her and the children once he’d settled. Before he left he conned some jewelers in Hull; as a result, he was arrested upon his arrival in Montevideo, Uruguay and sent back to England to serve nine months in the clink.
In 1891, after his release from prison, Deeming took the name “Albert Williams” and leased a house in the village of Rainhill. A woman and several children were seen visiting him; he claimed they were his sister and her children.
The woman and children disappeared — off to an extended holiday, Deeming said. A short time later, complaining that the drains were defective, Deeming had the floor of his house re-concreted.
In fact, the “sister” was his first wife Marie and the “nieces” and “nephews” his own children — Bertha, 9, Marie, 7, Sidney, 5, and Leala, 18 months. And in fact, they were “vacationing” permanently, under the concrete floor. Authorities believe he killed them on or about July 26, 1891.
By that time, Deeming was already courting Emily Lydia Mather. They married on September 22 and by December 1891 had up and moved to Melbourne.
Emily didn’t make it past Christmas before Deeming had her entombed under the fireplace.
In January 1892, Deeming moved to Sydney. On the way he met a delightful young lady named Kate Rousenfell. He gave her several expensive gifts, including jewelry he’d stolen while he was in Melbourne, and proposed marriage. She agreed and said she would join him in Western Australia when he moved there.
But the course of true love never did run smooth, and Miss Rousenfell was cheated of her bridegroom by Deeming’s March 11 arrest for Emily’s murder.
Emily’s body had been discovered on March 3, after the house’s owner, investigating his new tenant’s complaints of a strange smell, raised the hearthstone. Her throat had been cut and her skull was fractured. When Deeming was taken into custody, he had some of her things with him, including her prayer book.
The murder case received extensive publicity and when those back in England heard of it, they decided to have a look at Deeming’s former home in Rainhill. There they dug up the bodies of Marie and the four children.
At his trial, Deeming claimed insanity and brain damage from epilepsy and tertiary syphilis, and said his dead mother’s spirit had ordered him to commit the murders.
He told the jury that Marie wasn’t dead and had, in fact, left him for another man. In the three weeks between the verdict and the hanging he penned his biography and some bad poetry. English publishers offered him £1,000 for the rights to his writings, but the Australian government had them all destroyed.
There have been suggestions, in Deeming’s time and ours, that he was the serial killer Jack the Ripper, who slaughtered and mutilated a handful of London prostitutes in 1888. The fact that evidence indicates Deeming was in South Africa at the time of the Jack the Ripper murders hasn’t stopped the speculation. He allegedly told his cellmates he was the Ripper, but when asked directly by the authorities, he refused to answer yes or no.
Gold attracts all kinds of people but has a particular allure to crooks and corrupt politicians. When gold was found in California they flowed in from all over the world. Soon the gamblers and thugs had the run of San Francisco. Politicians and judges were bought and paid for. Crime went unpunished. (Usually.)
At the same time San Francisco was growing fast, and was filled with the flimsiest, most flammable wooden buildings imaginable. By 1850 huge fires began to rake the city and while they leveled block after block criminals would loot the homes and businesses of the good citizens who were out trying to fight the flames.
The first vigilance committee formed in 1851 after the fifth fire simply because the city government would do nothing to protect the people. The committee, made up of most of the leading citizens and with the backing of almost every honest person, hung a few men and chased a lot more out of town. Within months things improved dramatically and the committee disbanded.
But it’s hard to keep crooks that are in cahoots with corrupt politicians under control for long and by 1855 things were in terrible shape once more. Gold production was down, voting fraud was rampant, banks and business failed, a city supervisor slipped out of town just before his imminent arrest for a major real estate scam involving city money and a pier we now know as Fisherman’s Wharf.
James King of William, a once well-known banker who had lost everything in the collapse of 1855 was now running a small newspaper, The Evening Bulletin, devoted to exposing the corruption in the city. King was fearless in his reporting and ruthless but impartial in his editorials.
Yet things were still a mess in 1856 when the gambler, Charles Cora, took his doxy, a high powered and wealthy Madame called Belle, to the theater. By her presence she offended the young and ambitious US Marshal Richardson and a heated dispute arose between the two men. Then, days later, after that dispute was resumed in a local saloon, Cora shot Richardson in the chest in cold blood at point blank range.
King denounced the city officials who were holding Cora for trial, saying that the man could not be found guilty of even such a blatant crime in a city as corrupt as San Francisco. And as King predicted, amid charges of bribery, the jury in the trial of Charles Cora could not reach a verdict and Cora had escaped his punishment for murder. King then went after James P. Casey, a city supervisor, and exposed him as having once been a prisoner in New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison.
Casey was incensed and on May 14th stormed into the offices of the Bulletin and protested loudly. King ordered him out. Casey went but waited just up the street. An hour later, when King left for the day, Casey walked up to him in the middle of Montgomery Street and shot him down with a Navy Colt.
The news spread fast. Tens of thousands of people soon gathered.
Casey, joined by his powerful friends, went straight to the jail where Cora was still held for his own protection. Soon the crowd arrived. The local militia was called in to guard the place and there was no trouble that night. The next morning members of the old Committee of Vigilance met and by the time King died on May 20th a new committee had been formed and already had 3,500 members.
By now most of the militia sided with the vigilantes, so when the committee marched in mass to the jail and surrounded it, the jailers soon were soon persuaded to turn Casey over. A short time later the committee returned for Cora. The prisoners were taken to the committee’s headquarters, known as Fort Gunnybags, on Sacramento Street and held there under guard.
Both men were appointed lawyers and put on trial by the vigilantes. Each was convicted with a unanimous verdict.
On May 22nd they were hanged from short platforms extending from second floor windows of Fort Gunnybags before an enormous crowd of San Franciscans who filled the streets, buildings and roof tops all around. The Committee of Vigilance continued to operate until they were convinced that all corrupt politicians and crooks had been purged from city. This resulted in a wholesale change of the political power in San Francisco.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, an exciting tale of the early California gold rush. His rich history of that incredible era at can be found at mygoldrushtales.com.
In 1881, the Hawaiian [Po’olua] grew enraged when his when his common-law wife, according to the papers, “paraded her infidelity” before him and slaughtered her with a “big butcher knife.” Then, in a fit of remorse, he draped his house in mourning with black crepe paper.
… The experts of the day — family doctors and preachers — were conducted in to interview the bewildered man. They questioned him and concluded that he was not insane. Po’olua himsel agreed that he was sane but “darkened in my mind.” … the Reverend H.H. Parker explained the man’s actions this way: “A Hawaiian would do many things which a white man would not.”
When it as found that Po’olua had a heart abnormality and that he would likely die soon anyway, letters of clemency were circulated on his behalf. But he was hanged on May 20, 1881. Permission was sought for a post mortem to investigate the state of his heart, but officials denied the request. The Advertiser remarked that it “should have been done. Being attended to, might have laid him quiet in his grave; but being forbidden, his spirit will rise up Banquo-like for many a day to come.”
Two centuries ago today, the only man to assassinate a British Prime Minister was hanged for his trouble.
The man at the end of the rope, John Bellingham, was a Liverpool businessman who had gone to Archangel, Russia to do some export/import trade and there been spuriously accused a debtor and slapped in prison for five years.
His target, Spencer Perceval, was the pious Tory heir to the late William Pitt, and famous (or infamous) for his evangelical personal rectitude and an accompanying status-quo smallness. (He was physically short, too.) “He has looked at human nature from the top of Hampstead Hill,” snorted his contemporary Sydney Smith, “and has not a thought beyond the little sphere of his own vision.”*
Though others judge more generously of him, Perceval’s overall reputation is that of the prim caretaker, violently anti-Bonaparte, anti-Catholic, anti-adultery, anti-worker, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, anti-slavery. Anti- a lot of things.
Anti-cluttering up his schedule was the thing that did him in.
John Bellingham returned from his sojourn in the Romanovs’ dungeons in 1809, understandably embittered over his ordeal and the bankruptcy it had driven him into. He then besieged the government with demands for compensation, but met a cold reception all over and got no reply at all for his request to meet with Spencer Perceval.
So Bellingham did what anyone would do: he walked up to Perceval at Westminster on May 11, 1812, and shot him dead.
Then the strange perpetrator with the private grievance re-seated himself comfortably by the fireplace (rather than exploiting the hubbub to fly), where he was promptly arrested. They didn’t mess around back then: John Bellingham was on trial for his life four days after pulling the trigger.
Nevertheless, as the rumor first spread there were fears — or in some cases, hopes — of Jacobin intrigues afoot. And it’s safe to say that the nation’s magnates had better cause than its underclasses to mourn Perceval. “Among the multitude,” one parliamentarian remembered of those days, “the most savage expressions of joy and exultation were heard: accompanied with regret that others, and particularly the attorney-general, had not shared the same fate.”
Clearly something less than fully rational, Bellingham was also more than lucid enough for the hemp. A minister who visited him in the hours before his execution found him unsettlingly unrepentant, and attributed to “the perverse inflexibility of his character” Bellingham’s delusional “self-vindication. He had accordingly taken his ground, and there he obstinately stood; and the weakness of his allegations only increased the firmness by which he was determined to maintain them.”
He had, indeed, maintained them openly at trial, bizarrely casting his homicide as a blow for better government to remind ministers of state to keep longer office hours.
Finding myself thus bereft of all hopes of redress, my affairs ruined by my long imprisonment in Russia through the fault of the British minister, my property all dispersed for want of my own attention, my family driven into tribulation and want, my wife and child claiming support, which I was unable to give them, myself involved in difficulties, and pressed on all sides by claims I could not answer; and that justice refused to me which is the duty of government to give, not as a matter of favour, but of right; and Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claims in Parliament; and I trust this fatal catastrophe will be warning to other ministers. If they had listened to my case this court would not have been engaged in this case, but Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claim in Parliament I was driven to despair, and under these agonizing feelings I was impelled to that desperate alternative which I unfortunately adopted. My arm was the instrument that shot Mr. Perceval, but, gentlemen, ought I not to be redressed; instead of that Mr. Ryder referred me to the Treasury, and after several weeks the Treasury sent me to the Secretary of State’s office; Mr. Hill informed me that it would be useless to apply to government any more; Mr. Beckitt added, Mr. Perceval has been consulted, he would not let my petition come forward.
Gentlemen, A refusal of justice was the sole cause of this fatal catastrophe; his Majesty’s ministers have now to reflect upon their conduct for what has happened. Lord Gower is now in court, I call on him to contradict, if he can, the statement I have made, and, gentlemen, if he does not, I hope you will then take my statement to be correct. Mr. Perceval has unfortunately fallen the victim of my desperate resolution. No man, I am sure, laments the calamitous event more than I do. If I had met Lord Gower he would have received the ball, and not Mr. Perceval. As to death, if it were to be suffered five hundred times, I should prefer it to the injuries and indignities which I have experienced in Russia, I should consider it as the wearied traveller does the inn which affords him an asylum for repose, but government, in the injustice they have done me, were infinitely more criminal than the wretch, who, for depriving the traveller of a few shillings on the highway, forfeits his life to the law. What is the comparison of this man’s offence to government? or, gentlemen, what is my crime to the crime of government itself? It is no more than a mite to a mountain, unless it was proved that I had malice propense towards the unfortunate gentleman for whose death I am now upon my trial. I disclaim all personal or intentional malice against Mr. Perceval.
According to a Frenchman in England at the time, the still-sympathetic public raised for Bellingham’s widow and orphan a subscription “ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances.”
A few topical books
* In Peter Plymley’s Letters, which is full of vituperation for Perceval’s harsh Irish policy … words that could go just as readily for many a reputed statesman in many a time and circumstance over the two centuries elapsed since.
I cannot describe the horror and disgust which I felt at hearing Mr. Perceval call upon the then Ministry for measures of vigour in Ireland. If I lived at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of my own begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed; if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort — how awfully would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland! How easy it is to shed human blood; how easy it is to persuade ourselves that it is our duty to do so, and that the decision has cost us a severe struggle; how much in all ages have wounds and shrieks and tears been the cheap and vulgar resources of the rulers of mankind; how difficult and how noble it is to govern in kindness and to found an empire upon the everlasting basis of justice and affection! But what do men call vigour? To let loose hussars and to bring up artillery, to govern with lighted matches, and to cut, and push, and prime; I call this not vigour, but the SLOTH OF CRUELTY AND IGNORANCE. The vigour I love consists in finding out wherein subjects are aggrieved, in relieving them, in studying the temper and genius of a people, in consulting their prejudices, in selecting proper persons to lead and manage them, in the laborious, watchful, and difficult task of increasing public happiness by allaying each particular discontent. In this way Hoche pacified La Vendee — and in this way only will Ireland ever be subdued. But this, in the eyes of Mr. Perceval, is imbecility and meanness. Houses are not broken open, women are not insulted, the people seem all to be happy; they are not rode over by horses, and cut by whips. Do you call this vigour? Is this government?
Further to that body’s sanguinary campaign against papal political domination, they authored an attempted kidnapping and/or assassination of the Vatican’s Romagna enforcer, Cardinal Rivarola. Rivarola had recently issued mass condemnations against carbonari.
Which is very nice. But they didn’t get the Cardinal.
Ubiquitous 19th century papal executioner Mastro Titta conducted the executions — the 266th through 269th of his career (he’d also done Gaetano Montanari’s better-known brother Leonida three years before) — and devoted a chapter of his memoirs to the occasion. You can call the carbonari terrorists if you wish, but the Ravenna populace’s fearsomely cinematic display of solidarity with the doomed makes eloquent historical testimony on their behalf.
The execution took place on May 13 on a large square in Ravenna, occupied by the military so that nobody could not approach the gallows other than the executioners, the soldiers, and the prisoners. The windows and doors of the city and the shops were all closed and many were hung with black. Not a person was seen on the streets. Ravenna seemed transformed into a necropolis. All attempts to convert them were vigorously rejected by the prisoners, who did not want confession nor religious comforters, and protested against the accompaniment of two friars ordered by the Cardinal.** The wagon crossed streets deserted and silent, all surrounded by soldiers on foot and horseback riding at a brisk trot. Arrived at the foot of the gallows, the condemned went down with a firm step, and one by one they boldly climbed the stairs of the gallows, and before the gallows clutching their necks shouted in a voice strong and fearless:
– Viva Italia! Down with the papacy!
The execution was conducted rapidly. I departed with my aide that night under guard, because it was rumored that the conspirators wanted to skin us.
* It appears to me — although it’s not completely clear from what I’ve seen — that a fifth man, a Jewish poisoner named Abramo Isacco Forti (aka “Machino”), was also executed in this group, for collaborating with the carbonari on a different murder. He’s listed on Titta’s roster of victims without date or explanation, but specifically named in, e.g., this Italian book’s roster of death sentences handed out by that same court.
The five Anarchists sentenced to death for complicity in the dynamite outrages here during the Corpus Christi procession last year were shot at 5 o’clock this morning in the moat of Monjuich Castle. The troops intrusted with the carrying out of the sentence fired repeated volleys at the criminals, who all met their doom calmly, their eyes fixed on the public, who were kept at a distance by a large force of soldiers. The condemned men, who all had their hands tied behind them, bowed to the public as they arrived at the scene of execution. Mas asked the firing party to come nearer. Nogues, Molas, and Alsina exclaimed: — “We are innocent! This is murder!” Just before the first volley was fired all cried together: — “Long live Anarchy! Long live Revolution!” Molas then gave the word for the soldiers to fire. Four of the prisoners fell dead immediately, but Alsina remained on his knees not even wounded. At the second volley he fell, but was not killed outright, and it was not till a third volley had been fired that he was pronounced to be dead. (London Times, May 5, 1897)
The “outrage” that occasioned the executions this date in 1897 was the previous June’s bombing of a Catholic processional, attributed by police to an unidentified anarchist and by anarchists to a police agent provocateur.*
Whoever chucked that egalitarian explosive triggered an outrage of the law, els procesos de Montjuic — wherein the wholesale arrest of hundreds of accused “terrorists” under a general suspension of civil liberties resulted not only in this day’s five executions but in countless tortures courtesy of the Inquisitorial equipment still on hand in the venerable Montjuic dungeons.
It was not only anarchists but liberals and republicans who felt the effects of this right-wing crackdown; 87 people were tried in camera by drumhead military tribunals under emergency antiterrorist legislation. Notary Salvador Dali Cusi, father of the famous painter, appeared as a defense witness in one trial, successfully persuading the court that one of his lefty friends nevertheless sported impeccable patriotic credentials and required “merely” exile.
The upshot of it all was to smash up the militant Catalan working class.
Said smashing notably failed to settle the small matter of who actually threw the bomb. As per their dying proclamations, it almost certainly had nothing to do with Lluís Mas, Josep Molas, Antoni Nogués and Joan Alsina — men who were alleged by the state to have been party to an ambitious bombing campaign all over the city. This campaign never went off and the only evidence supplied for its existence came from men tortured to describe it.
Tomas Ascheri, a militant anarchist whose confession helped get the others shot, has long been suspected a police plant, a hypothesis at odds with Ascheri’s shared presence at the wrong end of the firing squad this date. Occam’s Razor — and somebody probably used an Occam’s Razor on Ascheri in between the thumbscrews and the strappado — suggests that the guy’s betrayal was likewise nothing but an inability to withstand “enhanced interrogation.” (Nogues and Mas also signed “confessions” under torture. This public-domain Spanish text by another post-Corpus Christi torture victim denounces that nation’s methods both in Montjuic and in thePhilippines.)
Over in England, the Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo was incensed by the executions, and the tortures suffered by Spanish refugees who had fled to England. “Angiolillo saw, and the effect surpassed a thousand theories,” wrote Emma Goldman. “The impetus was beyond words, beyond arguments, beyond himself even.”
* The argument for a false flag operation is a circumstantial one: the parade included a number of high muckity-mucks, like a right-wing general and the Bishop of Barcelona, detested by anarchists … and yet the bomber managed to let all the VIPs pass and attack only a knot of common people at the tail end of the train.
According to this book, a French journalist later reported that one of his countrymen by the name of Jean Girault, a genuine albeit “misguided” anarchist, did the deed. Girault fled to France and eventually to Argentina.
On this date in 1861,* a peasant rebel was shot for demanding a little too much emancipation.
The scene is a village — aptly named Bezdna, which is Russian for abyss — in the Kazan Province, and the time is the critical reign of tsar Alexander II.
This reformer, who ascended the throne in 1855, saw his historic task as modernizing and liberalizing Europe’s most backward great power (fresh off a salutary clock-cleaning at British hands in the Crimean War). Ultimately, he wouldn’t advance Russia’s feudal despotism far enough, fast enough before revolutionaries murdered him, and his descendants suffered the consequences.
Here in 1861, all that bloodshed remains many years to the future, and a young Alexander is reordering Russia with the landmark emancipation of the serfs.
But, you didn’t really think the power and property interests that nobles held in their serfs were just going to be thrown over willy-nilly, did you?
Quite the contrary. Emancipated serfs got small plots of land** along with obligations to pay off their lords, restrictions on using lands designated to aristocrats, and new bureaucracies to answer to. In short, this wasn’t exactly the freedom of the open road. This was swapping an old set of onerous legal encumbrances for a new set. Sort of tsarist Russia’s 40 acres and a mule moment.
The Bezdna unrest started when a charismatic local peasant named Anton Petrov started convincing his neighbors that the the local officials interpreting the new reforms were lying, and that volya, a true open-ended liberty, had been proclaimed. One should bear in mind here that most serfs were illiterate, and both depended upon and distrusted the legal interpretations bandied about by literate country squires who also happened to be directly interested parties in the law they were announcing. Russia had some issues.
Some form of this grumbling must have been common throughout the Empire, but in Bezdna it became even more serious than that. Transported by Petrov’s “perverse interpretation” of the law, emancipated serfs refused to fulfill their alleged obligations to nobles or recognize the legal authorities who were those nobles’ handmaidens.
Klavdy Lebedev‘s painting of Alexander II personally announcing emancipation to serfs. Maybe it’s a good thing he didn’t actually do that.
This experience of volya was as short-lived as it was intoxicating. Within days, troops arrived to “emancipate” the peasantry properly.
On April 12 (April 24 by the “New Style” Gregorian calendar), thousands of unarmed and peaceful ex-serfs were confronted by a detachment of the Russian army. According to a report to the Minister of Internal Affairs translated and excerpted in Daniel Field’s Rebels in the Name of the Tsar, the troops demanded Petrov’s surrender — but
the people kept replying the same thing: “We will not surrender him, we are united for the tsar, you will be shooting at the Sovereign Alexander Nikolaevich himself.” The soldiers, drawn up in ranks, made five or six volleys; they shot the first few without aiming, so that at a distance of 300 paces [only] three or four men fell, but then they became outraged by the peasants’ stubbornness, and hit with every shot on the fourth volley. The poor people stood motionless like a wall and continued to shout, “We will not yield, it is the tsar’s blood that is flowing, you are shooting at the tsar.” After the last volley they wavered and fled, and then Anton Petrov appeared, holing the [Emancipation] Statute on his forehead, and was arrested.
It must have been a riveting spectacle, to see this peaceable and resolute mass of humans fired by the promise of freedom, absorbing volley after volley from their savior tsar’s own foot soldiers. Well over 50 civilians died.
These people, at least, did not endure the last volley of a judicial massacre. Petrov only was punished, lashed to a telegraph pole and shot in public.
Publishing from exile in England, Russia socialist Alexander Herzen lamented the martyred serfs’ suicidal adherence to that venerable myth of the good tsar.
If only my words could reach you, toiler and sufferer of the land of Russia!… How well I would teach you to despise your spiritual shepherds, placed over you by the St. Petersburg Synod and a German tsar…. You hate the landlord, you hate the official, you fear them, and rightly so; but you still believe in the tsar and the bishop … do not believe them. The tsar is with them, and they are his men. It is him you now see — you, the father of a youth murdered in Bezdna, and you, the son of a father murdered in Penza…. Your shepherds are as ignorant as you, and as poor…. Such was another Anthony (not Bishop Anthony, but Anton of Bezdna) who suffered for you in Kazan…. The dead bodies of your martyrs will not perform forty-eight miracles, and praying to them will not cure a tooth ache; but their living memory may produce one miracle — your emancipation.
* The officer sent to suppress the revolt reported that “the military court passed sentence on April 17, I confirmed it the same day, and it was carried out on the 19th” — referring to the Julian dates, which correspond to April 29 and May 1, respectively. However, this is quoted by Field, who believes that officer is himself mistaken about the 19th; since I don’t have access to the primary documents which lead him to that conclusion, and all the secondary sourcing on the execution date is pretty squishy, I’m just going with the self-reported April 19/May 1 date.
rose at seven o’clock and drove to see an execution. A stout, white, healthy neck and breast: he kissed the Gospels, and then — Death. How senseless … I have not received this strong impression for naught. I am not a man of politics. Morals and art I know, love, and [understand]. The guillotine long prevented my sleeping and obliged me to reflect.
The spectacle made such an impression on me that it will be long before I get over it. I have seen many horrors in war and in the Caucasus, but if a man were torn to pieces in my presence it would not have been so repulsive as this ingenious and elegant machine by means of which they killed a strong, hale, healthy man in an instant. There [in war] it is not a question of the rational [will], but the human feeling of passion, while here it is a question of calm and convenient murder finely worked out, and there’s nothing grand about it. The insolent, arrogant desire to carry out justice, the law of God. Justice, which is determined by lawyers every one of whom, basing himself on honor, religion, and truth, contradicts each other. With these same formalities they have murdered both the king and Chenier, both republicans and aristocrats.† . . Then the repulsive crowd, the father explaining to his daughter what a convenient and ingenious mechanism it is, and so forth. The law of man — rubbish! The truth is that the state is a conspiracy not only for exploitation, but chiefly to corrupt its citizens. But all the same states exist, and moreover in this imperfect form. And they cannot pass from this system into socialism . . . For my part, I can only see in all this repulsive lie what is loathsome, evil, and I do not want to, and cannot, sort out where there is more and where there is less. I understand moral laws, the laws of morality and religion, binding on no one, that lead people forward and promise a harmonious future; I feel the laws of art which always bring happiness; but the laws of politics constitute for me such an awful lie that I cannot see in them a better or worse. All this is what I felt, understood, and recognized today. And this recognition at least to some extent relieves the burden of the impression for me . . . From this day forward I will not only never go to see such a thing again, but I will never serve any government anywhere.**
He wasn’t kidding about that long insomnia, either: the impression startled him, permanently. Recalling the effect years later in his Confessions, Tolstoy still attributed to it an important confirmation of his egalitarian philosophy.
When I saw the head separate from the body, and how they both thumped into the box at the same moment, I understood, not with my mind but with my whole being, that no theory of the reasonableness of our present progress can justify this deed; and that though everybody from the creation of the world, on whatever theory, had held it to be necessary, I know it to be unnecessary and bad; and therefore the arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, and is not progress, but is my heart and I.
Tolstoy developed the same theme further a few years later in What Is to Be Done? … the shade of the long-forgotten Francis Richeux still haunting the great man of letters.
Thirty years ago in Paris I once saw how, in the presence of thousands of spectators, they cut a man’s head off with a guillotine. I knew that the man was a dreadful criminal; I knew all the arguments that have been written in defence of that kind of action, and I knew it was done deliberately and intentionally, but at the moment the head and body separated and fell into the box I gasped, and realized not with my mind nor with my heart but with my whole being, that all the arguments in defence of capital punishment are wicked nonsense, and that however many people may combine to commit murder — the worst of all crimes — and whatever they may call themselves, murder remains murder, and that this crime had been committed before my eyes, and I by my presence and nonintervention had approved and shared in it. In the same way now, at the sight of the hunger, cold, and degradation of thousands of people, I understood not with my mind or my heart but with my whole being; that the existence of tens of thousands of such people in Moscow — while I and thousands of others over-eat ourselves with beef-steaks and sturgeon and cover our horses and floors with cloth or carpets — no matter what all the learned men in the world may say about its necessity — is a crime, not committed once but constantly; and that I with my luxury not merely tolerate it but share in it. (PDF source | Original Russian)
* Among Tolstoy’s other activities in Paris was hanging around Turgenev … but the two mostly irritated one another. Nevertheless, they shared a distaste for the guillotine, at least to judge by Turgenev’s repulsion at seeing it in action years later.
** Two days after the execution, Tolstoy left Paris for Geneva. Execution-disgust is a suggestive speculation, although Henri Troyat argues that it merely gave him a “dramatic excuse” to stop putting off travel plans he had already made.
Until Fred’s drunken, possessive outbursts led Jane to flee the house. Let it be said that a partnership in the hospitality industry might not be the ideal choice for your controlling type.
Jane and the couple’s three children actually took refuge with Fred’s own kin, the husband’s father barring his own son from the home. Horry got around that by showing up with a revolver and shooting her dead in an act of coldly calculated passion: he immediately handed the gun to his stunned brother and stayed to await arrest, saying, “You have no notion, Tom, how I loved that woman, but I could not stand the jealousy.” Nor did he show any interest in appealing for clemency; he hanged within days of his conviction.
If this reads to modern eyes like the unedifying passion play of an abusive, loutish spouse, many in Burslem were ready to consider Fred Horry “a martyr, more sinned against than sinning.” (The funeral oration of a rector!) Three thousand people lined the streets to respectfully see Horry’s coffin to its rest; even the requisite crime broadsheet concurred in the apparent public judgment about Jane’s culpably easy virtue.
Now all you who give way to jealous passion,
And the crimes which it entails,
I hope that you will learn a lesson,
From my sad and mournful tale.
Their married life has ended early,
For his wife he says his temper tried
But for them now it is all ended,
For her faults she bled and died.
The man tasked to mete out the lesson for Horry’s jealous passion was, heretofore, a Horncastle cobbler.
Already into his fifties by this time, William Marwood was strictly self-educated in the science of hanging … but it is he who would bring the exacting mechanical arts to the hangman’s ancient craft.
(Actually, Marwood was fond of distinguishing himself from the mere hangman. “Calcraft hanged them,” he said of his notoriously slipshod predecessor’s operations. “I execute them.” He went so far as to assert his professionalism with business cards.)
To make this famous mark in the annals of capital punishment, Marwood the cobbler first had to talk his way into the Horry job. This was surely facilitated by the fact that the most recent execution at Lincoln Castle, that of Priscilla Biggadike or Biggadyke, had been a bit of a botch, with one of the realm’s forgettable barely-competent hangmen clumsily fitting the noose to the front of the convict’s throat on the supposition that this would snap her neck. Instead, she strangled.
Marwood’s arrival spelled the quick end to folklore and guesswork on the scaffold; his was the rational hand of industrial Britain finally touching the ancient hanging ritual.
For most of English history, the hanging had entailed simply shoving the unfortunate subject off a ladder or a cart, leaving them to gradually choke to death at the end of the noose. This protracted process was sometimes associated with unruly public scenes, and with “executed” criminals surviving (and even intentionally calculating to survive) the hanging. “Such as have but a very superficial Notion of Anotomy, may easily conceive how a Person very soon cut down may shew even strong Signs of Life,” the Ordinary of Newgate had passingly remarked in 1736, as if it really were no big deal.
Of course, it had long been understood that adding a little plummet could generate the force necessary to break the neck, to the advantage of both speed and certainty. Guy Fawkes is supposed to have exploited the carelessness of a Stuart executioner to hurl himself off the ladder when they were just setting up for the non-fatal hanging portion of his “hanged, drawn, and quartered” sentence — and thereby cleverly offed himself before they could do the agonizing Braveheart bits to his living body.
Small drops came into use with the move towards hanging platforms late in the 18th century, and by the mid-19th century larger drops of some kind were standard operating procedure: witness the description of the setup for the country’s first private hanging a few years before our date.
But the length and the nature of the drop remained very much within individual hangmen’s ad hoc discretion. The science of dropping would only arrive in the 1860s and 1870s.
The Irish doctor Samuel Haughton in 1866 published a landmark paper, “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” (read it here), in which he noted that whereas a short-dropped prisoner’s death by apoplexy or asphyxiation is “preceded by convulsions, lasting from five to forty-five minutes,” a broken neck “is instantaneous and painless, and is unaccompanied by any convulsive movement whatever.”
“It seems to me unworthy of the present state of science,” Haughton continued, “to continue a mode of execution which, as at present used, is extremely clumsy and also painful to the criminal.”
In a mass of equations abstractly working out foot-pounds’ shock expended on the neck and which vertebrae constituted the superior articulating surface, Haughton proceeded to suggest a protocol (adapted from the American drop method) “to give hanging all the rapidity of death by the guillotine without the painful spectacle of bloodshed.”
Haughton was just a theorist. Marwood actually put those concepts into practice.
Marwood is presumed to have been influenced by Haughton’s studies; although the basis for that renowned hangmanexecutioner‘s calculations is not known, Marwood is distinguished as the creator of the “long drop” hanging method — giving variable 4- to 10-foot falls to his subjects based on their body weight, with the knot stationed under the left jawline.
He was able to do all that because this first hanging of William Horry went off without a hitch. Still, as a nonentity at first, Marwood had to continue to hustle his hanging assignments — as with this solicitous handwritten 1873 pitch (page 1, page 2) to work an upcoming death date.
But Marwood’s clean long drops — he was the only executioner using the technique — soon secured him appointment as state executioner and the official London and Middlesex hangman. Over an 11-year career from 1872 to 1883, Marwood put 178 humans to death, the bulk of British executions during that period.
Marwood’s legacy — not his direct creation, since it was formalized in the years following his death — was the bureaucratic standardization of the hanging in the form of “drop tables” defining the length of rope to use relative to the weight of the executed prisoner to guarantee the death penalty would be implemented “in a becoming manner without risk of failure or miscarriage in any respect.”
On this date* in 1815, Anthony Lingard was hanged for murder and robbery at Derby.
Lingard strangled the widow who operated the Wardlow Miers tollbooth in order to rob her poor possessions and lavish those ill-gotten proceeds upon the girl he had impregnated — “with a view to induce her to father the child upon some other person.” That’s the world without contraception for you.
Lingard’s girl thought this bribe fishy and gave him back the widow’s incriminatingly distinctive shoes after hearing reports that footwear had been taken from the murder scene. Then, she testified against him at the Derby Assizes (Lingard had also confessed the crime). Tried on Saturday the 25th, convicted “after a few minutes,” and strung up in front of the county gaol at noontime Tuesday, Lingard “met his fate with a firmness which would deserve the praise of fortitude if it was not the result of insensibility. He appeared but little agitated or dejected by his dreadful situation.”
Rather than the increasingly standard post-execution coda of anatomization, Lingard’s body was given over to a use of more ancient vintage: gibbeting.
Hung up in chains on the aptly named Gibbot Field in Wardlow near the spot of the murder, Lingard’s bleaching bones provided a grisly object lesson to passersby of the consequences of crime. Or, maybe not: though the novelty at first made a crowd-pleasing spectacle, it soon faded into the scenery.
If what was left of Anthony Lingard failed to overawe his criminal counterparts, it did at least leave an impression on poet William Newton, who penned this sad meditation on the local landmark, found in full here. (It must have helped his perspective that Newton was into his sixties when the young pup hanged.)
“The supposed Soliloquy of a Father, under the Gibbet of his Son; upon one of the Peak Mountains”
TIME — Midnight. SCENE — A Storm.
Art thou, my Son, suspended here on high? —
Ah! what a sight to meet a Father’s eye!
To see what most I prized, what most I loved.
What most I cherish’d, — and once most approved,
Hung in mid air to feast the nauseous worm.
And waving horrid in the midnight storm!
Let me be calm; — down, down, my swelling soul;
Ye winds, be still, — ye thunders, cease to roll!
No! ye fierce winds, in all your fury rage;
Ye thunders, roll; ye elements, engage;
O’er me be all your mutual terrors spread.
And tear the thin hairs from my frenzied head:
Bring all your wrathful stores from either pole.
And strike your arrows through my burning soul :
I feel not, — fear not, — care not, — shrink not, — when
I know, — believe, — and feel, — ye are not men!
Storms but fulfil the high decrees of God,
But man usurps his sceptre and his rod.
Tears from his hand the ensigns of his power.
To be the petty tyrant of an hour.
My Son! My Son! how dreadful was thy crime!
Thy name stands branded to remotest time;
Gives all thy kindred to the eye of scorn,
Both those who are, and those that may be born;
Scatters through ages on thy hapless race
In every stage of life, and death, — disgrace:
In youth’s gay prime, in manhood’s perfect bloom.
Ah! more, — it ends not, dies not, on the tomb!
O woman! woman! choicest blessing given.
If pure; — the highest gift of highest heaven!
If lax, corrupt, deceitful, — worse than hell!
Worse than the worst of demons dare to tell!
It was thy lot, ill-fated Son! to find
Thy doom pour’d on thee by the faithless kind;
Fraudful, and false, their treacherous snares they spread.
And whelm’d destruction on thy thoughtless head.
To die, to perish from the face of earth.
Oblivion closing on thy name and birth.
Hid under ground from each invidious eye,
From every curious, every rancorous spy,
Was what thy crime deserved: — not more;
The rest seems cruelty. — When heretofore
Our barbarous sires the aweful Gibbet rear’d.
The Gibbet only, not the laws were fear’d:
The untutored ruffian, of an untaught clime,
Fear’d more the punishment than dreaded crime.
We boast refinement, say our laws are mild.
Dealt equally to all, the man, the child: —
But ye, who, argue thus, come here and see,
Feel with a Father’s feelings; — feel with me!
See that poor shrivell’d form the tempest brave.
See the red lightning strike, the waters lave.
The thunders volleying on that fenceless breast! —
Who can see this, and wish him not at rest?
At rest, — vague word! — the immaterial mind
Perhaps even now is floating on the wind: —
Ah! no, — not mind, — not spirit, — but the shell;
The mind ere this has drank of Mercy’s well:
‘Tis not for that I feel, for that I sigh.
But sweltering, putrid, rank mortality.
O! blind to truth, to all experience blind.
Who think such spectacles improve mankind:
Bid untamed youth on such sights feast his eyes,
Harden you may, but never humanise.
Ye who have life, or death, at your command.
If crime demand it, let the offender die.
But let no more the Gibbet brave the sky:
No more let vengeance on the dead be hurl’d.
But hide the victim from a gazing world.
Anthony Lingard was the last person ever gibbeted in Derbyshire. England abolished gibbeting and hanging in chains full stop in the 1830s.
* The date March 8 is widely attributed on other sites, but the primary documentation for March 28 is unambiguous. I want to suspect a seminal typo somewhere that’s been copied a thousand other times over.