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1697: Three at Tyburn, multiply sinning

Add comment September 15th, 2018 Headsman

An account by the Ordinary of Newgate Samuel Smith … in fact,

A True Account of the Behaviour, Confessions, and last Dying Speeches of the Condemned Criminals, that were Executed at Tyburn on Wednesday the 15th of this Instant Sep. 1697.
On the Lords-Day, after the Condemnation of the Condemned Criminals, a Sermon was Preached on this Text, Reve. 2. 21. I gave her a Space for Repentance; yet she Repented not.

In these Words are three Observations

  1. THE Lord gives the worst of Sinners a suffficient Time for Repentance. I gave her, even Jesabel who seduced others to commit Spiritual Fornication, in grose Idoaitry.
  2. The Lord doth not only afford a sufficient Time for Repentance, but adds many advantageous Opportunities, and the assistance of his Spirit to compleat it.
  3. To Sin against all the advantageous Encouragements, which might promote Repentance, by persisting in Impenitency, deeply aggrevates the Sinners Condemnation.

The necessary Ingredients which constitute and compleat the nature of Repentance; without which it cannot be available to Salvation, in.

1st. A strict search into the frame of the Heart; to find out the mistery of Iniquity in our most secret and indulged Lusts. There must be a deep Humiliation for the universal Corruption of the Sinners nature, and the peculiar Sins of every Age of his Life.

2ly. An universal hatred of the least Sin, because it offends God, as contrary to his Holy Nature; and for Ingratitude against all the endearing Obligations of divine Mercies, which should soften the Sinners Heart; yet usually these extinguish all good resolutions of Amendment, and the flood of Afflictions more inflame and irritate Men’s Lusts.

3ly. Sincere Repentance includes not only an universal forsaking every evil Way, but also a watchful Circumspection and fixt Resolution to avoid all the occasions of Sinning.

4ly. A turning to God with the whole Heart, in the constant practice of all those Christian Duties which the Lord requires of us.

The second Query.

What are the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities, wherein to promote the work of Repentance?

1st. Whilst clear and strong Convictions are imprest upon the Conscience, before these be stifled or made ineffectual by the Sinners Corrupting or bribing the sentiments of right Reason; yet many Sinners strive to wear out the Convictions of their Consciences, so that they do no execution on their Lusts.

2ly. When the fond Love of the World is imbittered by sharp Afflictions, now turn the Stream of this Worldly sorrow into the Channel of Sincere Repentance: I affirm that a gracious Person prefers the sharpest and longest Afflictions Sanctify’d, in impressing the divine nature deeper on the Heart, than if the Lord should heap the confluence of worldly injoyments, which usually are abused to Pride, Wantonness, or Slothfulness in his Duty.

3ly. When by an Eye of Faith we behold our Redeemer Crucify’d a fresh in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as a memorial of his dying Love, to make Sin more bitter to us; now let thine Heart be contrite with Godly sorrow, and pour out the blood of every Lust at the foot of the Altar, as an acceptable Sacrifice to the mortifying Spirit of Christ.

4ly. Comply with the Lord’s design, when he sets out other Sinners as the Monuments and Examples of his severity: The Lord will take this very ill when he writes our Duty in the blood and Destruction of other Sinners Less peccant. and yet such who are spared, have no Impression of an Holy Ingenuity to learn Righteousness in the amendment of their Lives.

5ly. When the Lord makes deep Wounds in thine own Conscience, do not presume to heal them by a few slight Formalities in Relenting, neither let the fountanel of Godly sorrow dry up, which should drain out the malignant Humors of thy defiled Heart.

6ly. When thou undertakest any great Service for God, attended with difficulties and discouragements, now is a Time to renew Godly Sorrow, for offending a gracious Lord who puts an eminent Honour on thee, in that he will employ thee in his Service.
Also when thou desirest success in entring upon any new state of Life, thou can’st not expect any blessing from God unless thou cleanse thy self from all filthiness of Flesh and Spirit, contracted before in any part of thy Conversation.

7ly. When thou observest the wickedness of other Men, mourn by a sad Reflection on thine own corrupt Nature: This is alike if the Lord had not renewed it by his Regenerating Spirit: Mourn that you have not been faithful in reproving Sinners; because hereby you have Adopted their Sins to become your own.

8ly. When good Resolutions are formed up within us in any Duty of Religion, let us step presently into the Pool of Repentance, for our former not Compliance with the blessed motions of God’s Spirit.

Here a Case may offer it self to be stated. It is thus.

Considering that God gives a fit space of time to the worst of Sinners, to accommodate their Repentance; What Time is requisit for the Magistrate to afford Condemned Criminals to prepare them for their Death?

This cannot be stated Absolutely, so as to limit the Power of the Magistrate in this Case. Neither ought any Minister to repine or grudg at the length of Time, as being sparing of his utmost endeavours to save Souls: Yet some think that a compleat Weeks time at least is fit to be granted, if Criminals do not abuse it by being ungovernable, in attempting to break Prison. But much longer Time may make Condemned Persons more secure in presuming that they shall be Pardoned: Hereupon the means of Grace work not so effectually upon them: For when they have no hopes of Respiting their Death, their Convictions are usually the more strengthned, their Prayers more fervent, and their Resolutions to Repent the more settled and confirmed. It is an honourable remark of Piety, and Clemency in the Magistrates of England, that they allow a convenient Time for Reconciling the Souls of Condemned Persons unto God. Yet how strange and deplorable is this, that tho’ a sufficient respiting the execution of the Sentence be indulged; Criminals draw on themselves deeper security in Sinning; a stroke far worse than Death, because not felt.

Hopes of Life, Dead praying, and Men’s promises of Improving the Space for Repentance, are blown away, when the fears of Death are abated. Impenitent Sinners abuse God’s sparing Mercy; and as I have observed, are not so fit to dye upon a long Reprieve: They are more Solicitous in employing their Friends to make intercession for their Pardon, than themselves are careful to set forward their Repentance thereby, to be Reconciled to God, by whose Smiles or Frownes Men’s Souls are disposed of in Happiness or Misery, throw all the Ages of Eternity.

The conclusion was thus Directed to the Condemned.

You have heard discrib’d unto you the fittest and most advantageous Opportunities to set Repentance on Work, that it may be compleated unto Salvation; also the dreadful pernicious Effects of willful Impenitency. Yet you have Presumptuously adventured to multiply Sinning, tho’ this hath sharpned stinging reflections in your guilty Consciences. Your Ears have been very attentive to the Councils of ungodly Associates: But you have out done the deaf Adder, in stoping your Ears against all God’s counter-charmings of your sensual Lusts, by the instructions of Heavenly Wisdom. Do not dare any longer to elude or frustrate the main design of God, in exhibiting the offers of Salvation. How durst any of you cast your Repentance into your last Accounts, which ought to have been the first and choicest Work of your whole Life.

Oh! That you would duly consider that all Supernatural Probationary Acts of Grace, such as Repentance, and the severity of mortifying your corrupt Nature, ought to be swiftest toward the end of your Lives, because it is not possible, and cannot be Available to renew them after Death in the rectifying, of any mistake. Consider that there is great difference ‘twixt a Conscience legally wounded for the dreadful Shameful Punishments of Sinning, and a Conscience Evangelically contrite, out of an Holy ingenuity for offending a gracious God, who hath long waited to overcome the Sinners Stubornness with his Clemency. Fear, least after some short Anguish in your Consciences, you should perish in your delay to compleat Repentance.

Consider the Spiritual benefits which sweeten the difficulties, and austerities of sincere Repentance: Tho’ sensual Sinners despise a contrite Heart, as effeminacy and baseness of Spirit; yet it is the best Demonstration of love to God, and a genuine fear of his long suffering; not to Sin against it by vile ingratitude. It doth not dispirit Men’s Courage in dying, but contemn Life when it cannot be prolonged with the safety of the the Souls integrity and loyalty to Christ’s Laws; it casts forth the oppressing load of sensual Surfeits, which defiled the Souls heavenly Purity. In the midst of National amazing Confusions, penitential Converts to God shall be as safe as Salvation it self can make them: Yet consider how difficult it will be to unravel the Web of Sinning, when Men never Communed with their own Hearts, to search out those Iniquities which are confirmed by a long Custom in Sinning. Familiarize therefore to your selves the severities of sincere Repentance: Justify God in his sharpest Corrections of you, to reduce you from wandring in the Bewildring devices of Sinning, and condemn your selves for the minutest Errors of your Lives. Be not slow and slight in so solemn a work; your whole Life ought to have been a continual exercise of Repentance, and of mortifying your Lusts, as a meet disposition for Eternal Life.

Take heed of dying in an obstinate contempt of God and Godliness, least the Lord harden his Heart against you, so that when you cry for Mercy, under the anguish of your Consciences, the least glance of it should be denied you.

I proceed to give an Account of the Behaviour and Confessions of the Condemned Criminals.

I. John Dewin, Condemned for Counterfeiting the Coin of this Kingdom: Aged thirty four Years. He was born in Norfolk: Was Prentice to a Shoemaker in the Northern parts. He kept Shop four or five Years; but left that Employment to deal in Cheese and Bacon at Waltham-Abby. He confest that tho’ he had not wronged any Man in his Trading; yet, that he had not led a Religious Life towards God: For he neglected the Duty of Praying to him; kept the Sabbath very slightly; that he was guilty of Swearing; but seldom Drunk in excess. He wept and said, That it now grieves him that he hath in many things sinned against the Holy Trinity: And yet that he doth not Repent as he ought, for his being so negligent of his Duty to God. But he begs of him earnestly to change his Heart, and not only to pardon his Sins; and hopes that if he might be spared he should never return to any Customary provoking his most holy Creator, but become a reformed Man.

II. Isaac Blount, Condemned for Stealing a Gelding: Aged twenty three Years. He was born in Gray’s-Inn-lane. He was an Hackny Coach-man , and drove as a Journy-man for some time, till he wrought for himself. He confest that he had many ways offended God, in prophaning the Lord’s Day; in omitting often the Duty of praying that he might be kept from bad Company; that he had kept Company with bad Women, but not lately; that he was not addicted to Swearing nor Drunkenness, yet had at times committed these Sins. He said, that he now is sensible of his evil Courses, and mourns for offending God by them, and hopes that he will so soften his Heart, that the Convictions which are in his Conscience may work to a thorough Repentance.

III. John Chamberlain, Condemned for Felony and Robbery: Aged twenty six Years: Born in Herefordshire. He was Journyman to a Butcher. He left that Employment about three Weeks since; but was joyned to bad Company before. He denied not the Crime. He confest that he did not performe the Duties of the Lord’s Sabbath, but walkt in the Fields with idle and vain Persons; that he was no much given to Swearing, and had somtimes been overcome with excessive drinking; yet he hopes that being now penitent for all his Sins, that God will pardon them. I stated for several days the nature of true and false sorrow for Sinning, also the nature of true saving Faith; wherein it differs from a presumptuous reliance on God’s Mercy and Christ’s Merits, and the danger of Sinning in hopes of future Repentance; so that they desired me to pray for them, that they might not deceive themselves with false hopes of Heaven.

IV. Mary Taylor, Condemned for a Burglary. She was born in Chancery-Lane. Was a Servant for eight Years to several Persons of Quality. She said, That altho’ she knew her Duty to God, yet she had Sinned against the Convictions of her Conscience; whereby she had much wounded it. She confest that she had not taken former warning, altho’ she had been punished for an evil practice, and that therefore God had justly inflicted this dreadful Scourge upon her, to bring her as she hoped to Repentance. She said, That now the chief trouble of her mind is for offending God her Creator and great Redeemer. She said, That she heartily desires that she may be cleansed with the Blood of Christ. O how merciful said she, is God! that he thus Corrects me, and moderates his Justice toward me, in this, that I am Respited from dying, for the space of six Months, till I am delivered of the Child I am quick with; hereby I have time to Repent of my Sins of Presumption, for I knew God’s Will, but obeyed it not; such deserve a more terrible Condemnation.

The other Women Condemned, were also found with Child, as the Jury of Women affirmed; therefore they are reserved for a longer time before they suffer. I am sorry that they make so ill an use of it, that they grow secure; yea, obstinate, in refusing to come on the last Lord’s Day, and at other times to receive Instruction, in order to bring them to a sensibleness of their evil Courses. Callow especially was obstinate, who is Condemned on two Indictments, for picking of Pockets.

On Wednesday the 15th of September, 1697. John Dewin, John Chamberlain, and Isaac Blunt, were convey’d to Tyburn; the first on a Sledge, and the other two in a Cart. But Flora alias Flower, he died in Prison the 12th of September. The Prisoners being brought to the Tree, were tied up. Dewin would not own his Crime, but desired all good People to take warning by him, how they led their Lives, least by their sinful Courses they should come to such untimely ends. Isaac Blunt would not own his Crime, but said, he had been guilty of divers such Crimes; he did not shew any outward appearance of Repentance. John Chamberlain said, That he was a great Sinner, and had been drawn in by evil Company to do the Fact for which he now suffers; he desired all good Christian People to pray for him, and to take warning by him, and eschew evil Company, and have regard to the Sabbath; he said, That he was bred a labouring Man, and one that did use to work hard for his living; but forgetting God and following Idleness brought him to this untimely end. The Ordinary prayed with them for some considerable Time, and sung a Penitential Psalme. And afterwards they were turned off.

This is all the Account that I can give of this Sessions.

Dated Sept. 15.

Sam. Smith, Ordinary .

LONDON, Printed for E. Mallet, in Nevil’s-Court in Fetter-lane, 1697

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1961: Henryk Niemasz, the last hanged at Wandsworth

Add comment September 8th, 2018 Headsman

Wandsworth Prison hosted its 135th and final hanging on this date in 1961.

The star of the show was Henryk Niemasz, who became infatuated with a married woman and shot her dead when she refused to break up her marriage for him. Niemasz was also married himself, to a wife who surely deserved better given that Grypa Niemasz was willing to give her husband a fake alibi for the time he was off shotgunning his paramour.

The death penalty departed English shores in the 1960s, but the Wandsworth gallows was kept in working order until 1993, just in case. (It would have been in case of treason, which was the only remaining capital statute by then.)

The prison itself, which dates to 1851, remains in operation to this day. According to friend of the blog Another Nickel in the Machine, Wandsworth’s former condemned cell “is now used as a television room for prison officers.”

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1678: Five at Tyburn

Add comment September 6th, 2018 Headsman

Three men and two women hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1678.

Our text here is one of the earliest of the Ordinary’s Accounts, a far shorter and less ostentatious affair than examples of the genre even a few years later from the hand of a clergyman who has scarcely begun to grasp his true calling, moving copy.


THE CONFESSION AND EXECUTION Of the Five PRISONERS That suffered on the New Gallows at TYBURN On Friday the 6th of September 1678.</p>
<p>At which time were Executed</p>
<p>Daniel Massey. John Johnson. Sarah Brampfield. Hannah Smith, otherwise call'd Hebshebeth Cobb. Anne Davis, alias Smalman.</p>
<p>With Brief Notes of Two SERMONS Preached before them after Condemnation, their Carriage in Prison, and last Speeches at the place of Execution.

The Confession & Execution of the several Prisoners that suffered on the New Gallows at Tyburn, on Friday the 6th of September 1678.

AT the last Sessions there were in all Ten persons Condemned to die; Four menf or Robberies on the Highway, and Six women for Felonies here in Town, either Lifting (as they call it) of Goods out of Shops, or else Robbing those whom they pretended to serve: both which wicked Practises are become so common, and more than once followed by these incorrigible Prisoners, that it was highly necessary to make them Exemplary. Two of the before-mentioned men, viz. those concerned in that barbarous Assault and Robbery, whereof a particular Narrative hath been made publick by the unexpected Mediation of some generous Friends; and the women whose Crimes had not been so great and obstinately continued in as the others, obtained his Majesties gracious Reprieve: and another woman, immediately after she stood attainted, was reprieved by the Court, in reguard she was found by a Female Jury to be quick with Childe.

The Rest came this day to suffer, being charitably indulged in pity to their Souls, so long time to sit and prepare themselves for their great and terrible Change. In order to which, on the Lords-day before, there were two Sermons on most suitable Texts preached before them in the Chappel of Newgate. That in the Forenoon on the fifth verse of the 38 Psalm — My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness: Wherein the Minister very pathetically laid open the deplorable Condition such sinners are in by Nature, wallowing not onely in their original Depravity and Corruption, but in continued actual Transgressions against the holy Laws of God; whereby they become abominable, and as a loathsome stench in the Nostrils of that pure Majesty and all good men; and all this occasioned by their own foolishness, that is, their wilful rebellion and obstinacy against all the dictates of Reason, offers of Grace, and impulses of the Holy Spirit upon their Consciences. Which having, like a true Bonaerges, hereby endeavoured to awaken, and put them into a serious sense and apprehension of their lost, undone, and perishing Estate, without speedy and sincere Repentance.

In the Afternoon, as a Son of Consolation, from the 147 Psalm, vers. 3. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds, he came to shew them the infinite Mercies of God, and Love of Jesus Christ, if they would come in and accept of Pardon and Salvation upon Gospel-terms. That although they had made their wounds to fester and rankle by their foolishness, and had Souls all over bespread with a filthy Leprosie, yet there was Balm in Gilead, an Almighty Physician, both able and willing to heal them, if they would submit to his Prescriptions. In order to which, he gave them divers most necessary and excellent Directions; Not to deceive themselves with a false and palliated Cure, but to close with Christ on his own Terms, and in all his Offices, as their King to Rule them, and their Prophet to Guide them, as well as their Priest to Intercede and make Atonement for them. To hate Sin more, because it was displeasing to God, than because it brought upon them temporal or eternal Punishments. To be as desirous to be Holy as to be Happy; because none can be justified until they are sanctified, Etc.

During the whole time of Religious Worship, and the Sermons, they behaved themselves very Reverently and Attentively; nor was the Minister wanting afterwards, daily to visit them, with pressing Exhortations, and necessary directions to sit them for their last end; especially charging them to disburthen their Consciences, and give glory to God by a free and hearty Confession of their Sins; which had so good an effect, as to bring them to an Acknowledgment; not only in general term, but particularly bewailing the Ill Courses of their past Lives; in neglect of the publick Divine Worship, Violation of the Lords day, Drunkenness, Swearing, and continual practises of Lascivious Debauchery; Two of them above the rest abounding in expressions of Penitence, and endeavouring to improve those few moments of their Lives, to work out their Salvation, and make their peace with God; begging heartily forgiveness from his most holy Majesty, for their Rebellion against his Precepts, and of all those whom they had wronged, by violent taking away their Temporal Goods.

Some of the Women had been Condemned before, and would often bewail the wickedness of their Hearts, that would take no warning thereby: the Men alleadged, they were ignorantly drawn in to that ill Fact, for which they suffer’d, being their first of that kind, and rather by the unhappy operation of too much Drink, than any premeditated design; yet confessed, they had more than once deserved to Dye, and freely acknowledged the justice of the punishment they were to suffer.

At the place of Execution they said little, besides those common, but too much neglected Exhortations, desiring all present to take Warning by them, and remember their Creator in the days of their youth; Not to suffer themselves to be seduced by Ill Company, or sensual pleasures, which had been the means of their destruction, and would be so of all, that did not continually keep a reverent fear of God, and his Worship and Laws in their Hearts.

Thus heartily praying to God for Forgiveness, and to receive their Souls for the alone Merits of his blessed Son; and desiring all good people to joyn with them and for them in those Supplications, they submitted to the Sentence, and taking their leave of all things in this world, were wasted into the unfathomable Regions of Eternity.

FINIS.

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1650: Four condemned and one reprieved on appeal from the Wiltshire Assizes

Add comment August 21st, 2018 Headsman

From the Journals of the House of Commons

Die Mercurii, 21 Augusti, 1650

PRAYERS.

A LETTER from Henry Roll, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, from Taunton, of the Fourteenth of August 1650; and a Certificate from them of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, at the last Assizes, in the County of Wiltes, were this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the honourable Parliament, on Thursday the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of Nicolas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goffe, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes, for the Murdering of one Joel Swettingham (a very honest Man, and had been a Soldier and Drummer in the Service of the Parliament), at the Town of the Devises, in the said County of Wiltes, and continued faithful unto the Parliament until his Death;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared before us to be thus:

That the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, and new-raised Men, for Ireland, were quartered at Cannyngs, some Two Miles from the Devises: And some of the said Soldiers coming to the Devises, some Three Days before the said Murder committed, and offering some Incivilities unto the People of the Town, they were questioned for it by the Constable and Officers of the said Town; and were detained in Custody for some time; but were the same Day released; and so went back to their Quarters at Cannyngs; and from thence, within a Day or two after, the said Soldiers removed their Quarters to Bromham, about Two Miles likewise distant from the said Town of the Devizes: And, the next Day, being the Day when the Murder was committed, the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, came to the said Town of the Devises, and expressed some Dislike against the said Townsmen, for Imprisoning of some of their Company, the Day or Two before: And the said Goff, coming into the Mayor’s Shop of the Devises, and talking with John Imber his Apprentice, cast out some Words of Dislie concerning the Imprisoning of the Soldiers a Day or Two before; and then asked of the said Apprentice, whether there were not a fat Constable in the Town; meaning one Fitzell, a very honest Man and who had been ever faithful to the Parliament: And the said Goff expressed himself to be much discontented with the said Constable, for Imprisoning of the Soldiers some Two Days before: Then, saying, That he would be revenged to the Death of the said Constable, calling the said Constable Rogue: And, shortly after, the same Day, the said Goff, meeting with one Thomas Street, a Youth of the Devises, asked the way to some Place in the Town: The said Street told him, He might go which way he would: And the said Goff presently drew his Sword, and run the said Street into the Thigh: Whereupon the said Street’s Brother took the said Goff’s Sword, and endeavoured to break it; but, could not: Yet he bended it very muh: Whereupon the said Goff run after the said Street’s Brother, with his Sword in his Hand: And, the said Street’s Foot slipping, he fell: And the said Goff laid on the said Street with his Sword very much: Which some of the Townsmen seeing, came to rescue the said Street from Goff: Whereupon the said Goff, Westwood, and Cowdry, and Two or Three Soldiers more unknown, fell on the said Swettingham, who had nothing to do with them, being then Gathering up of Monies for the Rent of the Butcher’s Shambles; and, having only a wooden Hilt of a Hatchet in his Hand, defended himself as well as he could; but, in short Space, he was run into the Groin by the said Goffe; and received another Wound in the Buttock, by the said Cowdry: And, feeling himself so wounded, run away very feebly, from them, into a House: And they all Three followed him: And there the said Westwood gave the said Swettingham a great Wound on the Shoulder: But Swettingham got into the House, and shut the Door, to keep out the said Westwood, Goff and Cowdry; for that they thrust very hard at the Door, to come in after him: But the said Swettingham, and some others, which were in the House, kept the Door fast, and kept them out: But the said Swettingham was so mortally wounded by them, that, within a short Time after, the same Night, he died. Upon which Evidence the Jury found them all guilty of the Murder: Upon which, Sentence of Death was given on all Three, in regard they were all Three present and Actors in the said Murder.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, by the Parliament, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, according to Law; notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting their Execution.

A Certificate from Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Thomas Dirdo, at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, was this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the Honourable Parliament, dated the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of one Thomas Dirdo, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared to be thus:

That the said Dyrdo, with some other Persons, came to the House of one John Pitt, an Innkeeper in Wiltes, somewhat late in the Night: and desired Entertainment; and, having set up their Horses, and prepared something for their Suppers, finding most Part of the People gone to Bed, set on the rest of the People of the House, and bound them: And then the said Dirdo, as the said Pitt affirmed, on his Oath, to be one of the said Robbers, took, of the Goods of the said Pitt, a Sack and Three Shillings Eight-pence in Money: And the said Pitt affirmed further, That the said Dyrdoe, and the rest of the Company, went into a Chamber in the said House, where one Matthew Kynton, a Carrier then lay, with their Swords drawn; and demanded of the said Kynton his Money: And thereupon the said Kynton delivered them a Bag of Money, wherein, he said, was Ten Pounds: And then the said Dirdoe, and the rest of the said Company, cut the Packs of the said Carrier, and took thence certain Broad Cloths; a Part of which said Cloth one Coombes sold to one Blake, who shewed the said Cloth, in a Suit on his Back, at the Tryal of the said Dirdoe, and the said Coombe, and one Hussey; and also took his oath, That the said Coombes affirmed he had the said Cloth, at the time of the said Robbery: And he also affirmed, on his Oath, That the said Coombes and Hussey told him, That they did the said Robbery: Upon which Evidence, the Jury found them all Three guilty of the said Robbery: And thereupon, Sentence of Death was given against the said Dirdoe and the said Coombes and Hussey: And we further certify, That we were credibly informed, That the said Dirdoe was burnt in the Hand, at the Sessions at Newgate, for a Felony by one Levendon Blisse and him committed.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Thomas Dirdo, according to Law, notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting his Execution.

The humble Petition of Edward Hussey, now a condemned Prisoner in the Gaol at Sarum, lately a Soldier in the Service of the Parliament, was this Day read.

The Certificate from the Justices of Assizes, upon the former Order, touching Thomas Dirdo, was again read.

Resolved, that Edward Hussey, who stands condemned at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, be reprieved, until the Parliament take further Order: And that Mr. Speaker do issue a Warrant to the Sheriff for that Purpose.

Ordered, that the Judges of Assizes for the County of Wiltes be required and enjoined to make Certificate to the Parliament of the whole State of the Matter of Fact touching Edward Hussey, who was condemned at the last Assizes in the County of Wiltes.

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1786: Five men at York Castle, under the “Bloody Code”

Add comment August 19th, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1786, five young men were hanged together before a large crowd in front of York Castle. They were William Nicholson, John Charlesworth, James Braithwaite, William Sharp and William Bamford.

William Knipe’s Criminal chronology of York castle; with a register of criminals capitally convicted and executed at the County assizes, commencing March 1st, 1379, to the present time records,

The above were all executed at Tyburn without Micklegate Bar.

Nicholson, aged 27, labourer, for stealing two geldings, the property of Robert Athorpe Esq., of Dinnington. Thomas Whitfield, Mr. Athorpe’s man, was the principal witness against him.

John Charlesworth, of Liversedge, clothier, for breaking into the house of Susan Lister, of Little Gomersal, single woman, and stealing various articles of trifling value; also further charged with stopping William Hemmingway, of Mirfield, clothier, and robbing him of three guineas and a half and some silver and copper. He was 21 years of age.

Braithwaite, for breaking into the dwelling-house of Thomas Paxton, of Long Preston, innkeeper, and stealing various article therefrom. He was a hawker and a pedlar, and 30 years of age.

William Sharp, labourer, aged 26, and William Bamford, labourer, aged 28, for robbing Duncan M’Donald, of Sheffield, button-maker, by breaking into his house, and carrying away a number of horn combs, a silver threepenny-piece, and fourpence in copper. Sharp was a native of Conisbro’, and Bamford, a native of Clifton.

It was noted that Nicholson, Charlesworth, Sharp and Bamford all left a widow and children behind, but Braithwaite had “two wives and three children by his lawful one, and two by the other, to whom he gave £70, and appeared most attached to her, as he would not permit the former to take leave of him.”

This British Library article on crime and punishment in Georgian Britain explains why these individuals were punished so severely for what, to modern eyes, look like relatively minor offenses:

The 18th-century criminal justice system relied heavily on the existence of the ‘bloody code’. This was a list of the many crimes that were punishable by death—by 1800 this included well over 200 separate capital offences. Guilty verdicts in cases of murder, rape and treason — even lesser offences such as poaching, burglary and criminal damage — could all possibly end in a trip to the gallows. Though many people charged with capital crimes were either let off or received a lesser sentence, the hangman’s noose nevertheless loomed large.

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1765: Andrew Oliver lynched in effigy to the Liberty Tree

Add comment August 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1765, Boston patriots lynched the merchant designated as the imperial taxman. They only did so in effigy, but the “execution” scared him permanently off the job while also making a gallows-tree into one of the earliest symbols of American independence.

One of the key pre-revolution irritants for the future United States, the 1765 Stamp Act imposed taxes in the form of stamp duties on a variety of printed products, for the purpose of funding the British army deployed to North America. It was a levy long familiar to London lawmakers but it sent the colonies right around the bend, and since the colonies sat no Member of Parliament who could flip an official wig it also popularized the classic revolutionary slogan about “taxation without representation.”*

Enacted in the spring of 1765 and due to take effect in November, the Stamp Act drew immediate outrage in the colonies and especially in that hotbed of subversion, Boston.

There, Andrew Oliver, scion of a shipping magnate clan, was tapped to collect the levy. It figured to be just the latest in a series of lucrative state appointments. How was he to know in advance that this particular legislation would unleash the crazies? Perhaps he should have given more heed to the publication of ominous warnings over the roster of tax collector names.


Boston Post-Boy, August 5, 1765

On the morning of Wednesday, August 14, a crowd of irate Bostonians mobbed the corner of Essex Street and Orange Street (present-day Washington Street) and upon a large elm tree strung up an effigy of Oliver alongside a boot — the footwear comprising a second, punny, effigy of the Stamp Act’s sponsor the Earl of Bute.

“What greater Joy can NEW-ENGLAND see,” ran the menacing note pinned to the mannequin, “Than STAMPMEN hanging on a Tree!” As is clear from the following newspaper account, versions of which circulated widely in New England, these were no mere theatrics but a very proximate physical threat; even the elm’s property owner dared not take down the provocative display for fear that the crowd would pull down his house. Likewise taking the better part of valor, Oliver pledged to anti-tax colonists that he would not take the office, and he kept his word.**


Providence Gazette, August 24, 1765

After this triumphant debut, the elm in question became a common rallying-point for the hotheaded set, a frequent stage for speechifying, rabble-rousing, and fresh instances of popular justice all further to the patriot cause until, as Nathaniel Hawthorne put it, “after a while, it seemed as if the liberty of the country was connected with Liberty Tree.” Of course, it’s all a question of whose liberty; a Tory gloss on this deciduous republican made it “an Idol for the Mob to Worship; it was properly the Tree ordeal, where those, whom the Rioters pitched upon as State delinquents, were carried to for Trial, or brought to as the Test of political Orthodoxy.” When besieged in Boston in 1775-1776, British Tories cut the damned thing down, so for subsequent generations it was only the Liberty Stump.


“The Colonists Under Liberty Tree,” illustration from Cassell’s Illustrated History of England, Volume 5, page 109 (1865)

The Liberty Tree is commemorated today at its former site, and forever in verse by revolutionary firebrand Thomas Paine.

In a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.

A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.

The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.

Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.

Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.

With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.

But hear, O ye swains, ’tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;

From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defence of our Liberty Tree.

* Visitors to the U.S. capital of Washington D.C., whose 700,000 residents cast no votes in the Congress they live cheek by jowl with, can find this familiar grievance right on the city’s license plates.

** How far this surly bunch was prepared to go on August 14, 1765, one can only guess at; however, in later years, there would be several instances of Bostonians tarring and feathering various tax collectors. These guys did not do civility politics.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,England,Executed in Effigy,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Massachusetts,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,USA

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1875: Joseph Le Brun, the last public hanging in the U.K.

4 comments August 12th, 2018 Headsman

Joseph Le Brun starred in the U.K.’s last public execution in the U.K. on this date in 1875.

Although capital punishment had been moved behind prison walls in Great Britain several years earlier, the relevant statute did not apply to Crown dependencies like executions in the Channel Islands. And it is upon one of these rocks, Jersey to be precise, that Joseph Le Brun allegedly killed his sister. The names in this post are Gallic, as was much of the Channel Islands populace.

The milestone case was a strange and unsatisfying one. It entered the view of the judiciary on the evening of December 15, 1874, when a neighbor of Nancy’s reported to the police that Nancy had been murdered and her brother-in-law Philip Laurens wounded in a shooting. The unmarried Le Brun was a frequent dinner companion of this couple as he had been on this night as well, and there was no hatred known to exist among the trio. According to a True Crime Library summary, police

asked Laurens, who had face injuries and an arm wound, who had attacked him, and he replied: ‘My brother-in-law Joseph shot me.’ They found the body of Nancy covered in blood sitting on a sofa. There was a shawl covering her face and her stockinged feet were in a bucket of water.

They arrested Le Brun, who was in bed, and took him to the house where Laurens was awaiting a doctor. Laurens called Le Brun a ‘hangdog,’ and asked, ‘Why did you fire at me?’ Le Brun replied, ‘It wasn’t me.’

At the inquest on Nancy, Philip Laurens said that when he opened his front door on returning home Le Brun pointed a gun at him and shot him in the face. I said to him, ‘What have you done? You have shot me.’ He made no answer.

This evidence of Philip Laurens’s cinched the hemp for Joseph Le Brun. Certainly Philip did know his brother-in-law well. But on the other hand, well, the guy cracked open his front door, in the dark, and immediately got the business end of a rifle in his face. These are circumstances not conducive to the orderly cognitive processes that you’d prefer in a witness.

There was the suggestion that Le Brun might have contemplated such a crime to rob his sister of 28 quid she had recently come into; however, “there was no blood on his clothes, no powder on his hands, and only small change in his pockets” … besides which Nancy was a drunkard who could have been easily relieved of her windfall without the need for homicide. In fact, all three of the principals involved were known to get into their cups.

The crown prosecutor was openly discomfited by the prospect of executing Le Brun on this evidence and the jury likewise. It returned a guilty verdict for the non-fatal shooting of Laurens, but could not come to a unanimous decision about Nancy — the murder charge that would demand the prisoner’s hanging. It was only because Jersey permitted majority verdicts that Le Brun went to the scaffold after the court polled the 24-man panel. Even so, jurors joined the island’s public sentiment and wrote the Home Secretary begging in vain for a reprieve.

Le Brun too maintained his innocence all the way to the end. On the eve of his death, his brother-in-law paid a visit to the man his evidence had doomed, and their queer exchange only deepened the mystery.

Laurens: Joe, I’m sorry to see you here.

Le Brun: And you still wish to say that it was I who did it?

Laurens: Yes, I repeat, you murdered my wife, as you wished to murder me, and no one else but you did it.

Le Brun: You have proof of that?

Laurens: I did not come here to argue with you. I forgive you, but I say that you committed the crime. Adieu!

(Source)

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1718: Purry Moll and Elizabeth Cave

Add comment August 6th, 2018 Headsman

Tyburn on this date three hundred years ago saw the hanging of two women, both transgressors of the booming capital’s purported sexual mores.

The Ordinary of Newgate Paul Lorrain favored Mary Price (alias Purry Moll) and Elizabeth Cave for the occasion with “A Dehortation from living after the Flesh, that is, after the carnal Desires and sinful Lusts of our Corrupt Nature, which brings forth Death, even Eternal Death.”

Purry Moll‘s sinful Lusts didn’t really have that much to do with her crime; it’s just that she and her husband had walked away from an unedifying union after the banns of marriage were already published. It seems that her post-hubby lover upon putting out to sea had left her a tobacco box as a mark of his affection but — and this gets a little tangled — her mother‘s lover had snatched the box. Moll, clearly in a domestic passion which the scarce words on file at the Old Bailey hardly even attempt to convey, strangled to death a three-year-old girl who was the daughter of mom’s lover. (But not by mom.)

So grief-stricken was she that she insisted on pleading guilty despite the court’s repeated admonition that “if she confess’d it she must be hang’d: To which she replied, if she did confess it, she confess’d nothing but the Truth.”

With her was a woman “about 40 Years of age” of whom the Ordinary noticed — and his narrative is unfortunately truncated by a missing page — “her Face to be extreamly disfigur’d, even to that degree as to have her Nose and Lips eaten up (as it were) with the foul Disease.” Ms. Cave confirmed that “she had been a very lewd Woman, debauch’d.”

She was, in fact, a whore, as would be obvious to any 18th century cad by the cursory narration of her trial: a fellow named Sampson Barret “depos’d, that going through Drury Lane at about 11 o’Clock at Night, there was 6 or 7 Women kind standing together, who divided and made a Lane for him to go through them” whereupon Elizabeth Cave followed him and picked his pocket.

Now, with apologies to the children’s rhyme, there’s really only one reason a guy would be traversing Drury Lane at 11 o’clock at night and that he’d bump into six or seven women on his way … and baked goods weren’t the reason.

This street was a hub of London’s vigorous sex trade. Pronging off “the great thoroughfare running east from the Royal Exchange, along Fleet Street, to St. James’s Park, linking the financial and trade centre of the City with the political power base of aristocratic West London,”* Drury Lane channeled into the far less reputable Covent Garden and from the 17th century had developed into the heart of the red light district that earned this zone the sobriquet “great square of Venus.”

Here, tarts offered their wares amid the bustle of theaters and taverns, often pursuing their profession under the guise of a nominally legitimate street-hawking occupation such as flower-selling.** But little pretense was necessary: from the mid-18th century there was even an annual catalogue of area working girls, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies which by the end of its run in the 1790s was selling 8,000 copies per year. So great a boon was sex work to the economy that a German visitor half-joked that if suppressed, “London would soon be depopulated; the fine arts would be frightened away; one half of the inhabitants would be deprived of subsistence.”


In the “Morning” plate of William Hogarth‘s Four Times of the Day cycle (above), men rendezvous with prostitutes outside a notorious Covent Garden dive, Moll and Tom King’s Coffee House.

We catch an interior glimpse of this same environment in plate three of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, wherein said rake frolics at a Covent Garden brothel (below).

Unsurprisingly, venereal diseases such as that suffered by Elizabeth Cave were quite common among the more proletarian pros to be found at an hour to midnight on Drury Lane; nevertheless, they had no shortage of customers.

If Cave did indeed rob this passing john, it was unfortunate for her that she took currency. In order to save small-time criminals from the gallows, juries routinely applied “pious perjury” to downrate the value of stolen objects below the absurdly low one-shilling (12-pence) threshold for felony larceny; such maneuvers were obviously impossible when it was actual shillings that had been pilfered.

* The trade spilled aggressively out upon that same august thoroughfare, which was the route Defoe alluded to when complaining in the 1720s of “being in full Speed upon important Business, [and] have every now and then been put to the Halt; sometimes by the full Encounter of an audacious Harlot whose impudent Leer shewd she only stopp’d my Passage in order to draw my Observations to her; at other times by Twitches on the Sleeve. Lewd and ogling Salutations; and not infrequently by the more profligate Impudence of some Jades, who boldly dare to seize a Man by the Elbow and make insolent Demands of Wine and Treats before they let him go.” (Source)

** “Flower girl” consequently developed into a euphemism for a tramp. One literary artifact of this history is Eliza Doolittle of the G.B. Shaw play Pygmalion and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady: it’s never overtly stated in the text, but because Eliza begins as a Covent Garden flower girl her virtue is implicitly suspect … hence her repeated insistence, “I’m a good girl I am!”

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1540: The Botolph Plotters of Calais, the last English Carthusian, and Thomas More’s son-in-law

Add comment August 4th, 2018 Headsman

The 4. of August, Thomas Empson sometime a monke of Westminster, which had beene prisoner in Newgate more than three yeares, was brought before the Justices of goale deliverie at Newgate, and for that he would not aske the king pardon for denying his supremacie, nor be sworne thereto, his monkes cowle was plucked from his backe, and his body repried till the king were informed of his obstinacie. The same 4. of August were brawen to Tiborne 6. persons, and one led betwixt twaine, to wit, Laurence Cooke, prior of Dancaster, William Horne a lay brother of the Charterhouse of London, Giles Horne gentleman, Clement Phillip gentleman of Caleis, and servant to the lord Lisle, Edmond Bromholme priest, chaplaine to the said lord Lisley, Darby Gening, Robert Bird, all hanged and quartered, and had beene attainted by parliament, for deniall of the kings supremacie.

-John Stow, Annals of England to 1603 (see page 977 of this archive.org version)*

Tyburn hosted a mass execution on this date mingling several different offenders with a Catholic bent from Henrician England’s religion/politics bloodsport.

The most politically intriguing are Clement Phillip (or Philpott) and Edmund Brindholme, two members of the retinue of the Viscount Lisle. Lord Lisle governed Calais, Henry VIII’s vital French bridgehead.

Phillip and Brindholme were part of the “Botolph Plot”, so named for a fellow-servant called Gregory Botolf or Botolph.

Botolph was an energetic conspirator and/or trumped-up con man who represented to his mates that he was shuttling mash notes with the exiled Cardinal Reginald Pole, Henry VIII’s once-loved, now-despised nemesis noted for his noisy denunciations of the king’s break with Rome. Botolph’s declared objective was to “get the towne of Calais into the hands of the Pope and Cardynal Pole; this was the matter that I went to Rome for; and I have consulted with the Holy Father the Pope and with the Reverent Father Cardynall Pole.”

The implausibility of these fanciful pretensions — one chronicle calls this guy “Gregory Sweetlips” which gives you an idea of his credibility — stood in inverse relationship to the damage such a plot’s execution would inflict: Calais was a commercially and strategically important port that had been in English hands for nearly 200 years; for a dynasty perpetually nervous of its prestige, fumbling it away could have proven catastrophic.** So once a plan to betray it from the very governor’s household was exposed, the crown prosecuted it ferociously, although as best I can determine Botolph himself appears to have successfully escaped the royal vengeance.

Lord Lisle himself was also clapped in the Tower† for his servants’ misbehavior but no attainder was ever proceeded upon. In 1542, Henry cut him a break and released him; Lisle would already have been near or past the age of 70 by this point, which we mention as context in reporting that news of his intended release caused the poor ex-governor to keel over dead of a heart attack. “Henry VIII’s Mercy was as fatal as his Judgments,” one waggish historian would later remark.‡

Things might have gone less mercifully for Lisle had not his situation happened to overlap with the fall of Thomas Cromwell, which unfolded that same summer of 1540.

Cromwell was beheaded on July 28, significantly upstaging this August 4 coterie, and events in Calais might have played a part in that unhappy end. Politically weakened by his authorship of the failed Anne of Cleves marriage, Cromwell’s defeat is sometimes read in the light of excessive reformation zeal unleashed in Calais. (Like most theses about Tudor England, the Calais-reformers line has its detractors.) One possible way to read the Botolph Plot stuff is as one of Cromwell’s very last, desperate gambits: threatened by the conservative Duke of Norfolk, who had the whip hand during this brief interval thanks to his kinship to incoming queen Catherine Howard, Cromwell struck back against his persecutors “with the concentrated energy of a desperate gambler” (Source) … by going hard after the papist plot in Calais and implicating in the treason Howard’s ally, the aforementioned Lisle.


In William Horn(e) the crown completed the destruction of the Carthusian order, which had been violently suppressed several years previous — with 18 executions into the bargain. Eleven more Carthusians had avoided the scaffold only to be consigned to the dungeons where pestilence and neglect took their toll, until only Horn survived.

Nobody seems quite able to put a finger on why Horn was kept alive all that time: was he just hardier or “luckier” than the rest, or was he being intentionally saved as an accent upon an occasion such as this? With him went Friar Lawrence Cook, the last Carmelite executed in the king’s suppression of that order: he hailed from Yorkshire and had once countenanced that region’s subversive (in Henry’s eyes) Pilgrimage of Grace.

In a similar vein, we also find among this batch Giles Heron, a son-in-law of the first name in Catholic obstinacy, Sir/Saint Thomas More. Heron had kept his head about him and even sat on the Middlesex grand jury that recommended proceedings against Anne Boleyn, which is the sort of thing a Thomas More client wouldn’t mind doing at all.

Alas, he was in the judgment of a contemporary “wise in words, but foolish in deeds” during such dangerous times. Comfortably situated as a rentier landlord, Heron appears to have fallen into a ferocious tiff with a tenant who revenged an eviction by informing to Cromwell’s spies about Heron’s divergences from the new orthodoxy. The evidence of this tenant, one Lyons, eventually led Parliament to attaint Heron. The confiscated estates would be restored to Heron descendants under Queen Mary.

Darby Gynnyng — to use a more Gaelic rendering of his name — was a bit more forceful about his dissidence, for he came “late of Dublin,” where he “has maintained divers of the King’s enemies in Ireland, especially Fitz Garrard whom he succoured and accompanied.”

* A somewhat different roster for the same date is supplied by Wriothesley’s Chronicle (p. 121 of this archive.org version) which might be double-counting his “six persons more” to suggest so many as 13.

This yeare, the fowerth daie of Awgust, were drawen from the Tower of London to Tiburne, Giles Heron, gentleman, Clement Philpott, gentleman, late of Callis, and servant to the Lord Lile, Darbie Gynning, Edmonde Bryndholme, priest, William Horn, late a lay brother of the Charter Howse of London, and another, with six persons more, were there hanged drawn, and quartered, and one Charles Carow, gentleman, was that daie hanged for robbing of my Ladie Carowe, all which persons were attaynted by the whole Parliament for treason.

** The Tudors actually did lose Calais to French siege in 1558. These were the last months of the ailing Queen Mary’s rule; she’s reported to have wailed on her deathbed that “When I am dead and cut open, they will find Philip [her husband] and Calais inscribed on my heart.”

† Seized upon Lord Lisle’s arrest were seven years of correspondence comprising more than 3,000 distinct documents. This trove has survived to present times and become an invaluable resource for historians’ exploration of Tudor life. It’s known as the Lisle Papers; there are published collections and commentaries on them available by the late Muriel St. Clare Byrne.

‡ Still, this was a better fate than that enjoyed by the next Viscount Lisle, John Dudley, who briefly exercised de facto rulership of England only to have his head cut off after the fall of Lady Jane Grey.

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1940: Udham Singh, Jallianwala Bagh massacre avenger

Add comment July 31st, 2018 Headsman

A national revenge drama 21 years in the making culminated on the gallows of Pentonville Prison on this date in 1940.

The story of Udham Singh‘s hanging begins long before and far away in the British Raj.

There, a crowd of 20,000-25,000 protesting for independence in the restive Punjab city of Amritsar were wantonly fired upon by Raj authorities — an atrocity remembered as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. British authorities acknowledged a staggering 379 dead; Indian accounts run much higher than that.

The massacre’s principal immediate author was the army commander Reginald Dyer, who fired on the crowd without warning and with so much premeditation as to bar exits from the Jallianwala Bagh garden for maximum bloodshed — his acknowledged intent “not to disperse the meeting but to punish the Indians for disobedience.” but Punjab Lieutenant Governor Michael O’Dwyer, for many years a noted rough hand in the suppression of national militancy on the subcontinent, had his back. “Your action correct,” read an O’Dwyer-to-Dyer telegram on the morrow of the bloodbath. “Lieutenant Governor approves.”

British opinion was not quite so approving; indeed, many Britons were outraged and both Dyer and O’Dwyer ended up sacked. But as is usual for a horror perpetrated under the flag they also never faced any sort of punishment.

Until Udham Singh, avenger, entered the scene.

A survivor of that horrific day — when he’d been dispatched from the orphanage that raised him to serve drinks to the protesters — Singh had unsurprisingly thrilled to the revolutionary cause. A Sikh by birth, the name he adopted, Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, gestures to his movement’s now-remote spirit of unity across sect and nation.

Come 1934 Singh had made his way to London, where he worked as an engineer and quietly plotted revenge against O’Dwyer, pursuant to a vow he had taken many years before. (Dyer escaped justice in this world by dying in 1927.) And on March 13, 1940, he had it when the retired colonial hand addressed a joint meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society at Caxton Hall. As proceedings concluded, Singh produced a concealed pistol and fired six shots at the hated O’Dwyer, killing him on the spot.

Like many (not all) of his countrymen, Singh gloried in his long-awaited triumph in the few weeks remaining him.

I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him. For full 21 years, I have been trying to seek vengeance. I am happy that I have done the job. I am not scared of death. I am dying for my country. I have seen my people starving in India under the British rule. I have protested against this, it was my duty. What greater honour could be bestowed on me than death for the sake of my motherland?

Many countrymen shared his exultation, even if those in respectable leadership positions had to disapprove of assassination. Nevertheless, a few years after the subcontinent’s Union Jacks came down for the last time, Pakistan independence leader-turned-president Jawaharlal Nehru publicly “salute[d] Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free.”

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