1751: Thomas Quin, Joseph Dowdell, Thomas Talbot, and five others at Tyburn

Add comment June 17th, 2020 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

THOMAS QUIN, JOSEPH DOWDELL, AND THOMAS TALBOT

A Gang of Notorious Thieves, executed at Tyburn, June 17, 1751, for robbery.

At length these miserable robbers see,
Unhappy fruit, suspended on the tree;
They teach, sad lesson! in their wretched state,
That shame and ruin are the villain’s fate;
And that too late each guilty man will find,
Justice, though sometimes slow, is never blind.

The villains disclosed in this narrative, will shew the necessity of the act of parliament for inflicting punishment on masters and mistresses giving a false character. of a servant.

A corrupt servant is the most dangerous inmate of a house; and therefore too much caution cannot be used in admitting such domestics.

Quin, a murderer in his own country, Ireland, was recommended to London as a youth of good morals; while his disposition was base to a great degree.

Dowdell, who in his apprenticeship had injured his first master, procured a recommendation to another, to whom he also proved a villain.

The Case of the unhappy WILLIAM GIBBS, now under Sentence of Death.

On the 13th of March I went to the House of John Duncombe, at Nine at Night, to get a Pint of Beer. I lived five Doors from him. I sat down to drink my Beer, and in came Litchfield, Corbet, Smith, Jackson, and one Gordon; Litchfield went away, and left the rest; Smith and Corbet went to Cards, and Wine came in plentifully. I being a Neighbour, was desired to take Part, which I did. About Two o’Clock Mrs. Duncombs took her Purse, and dropt it over the Bar, I believe, in the Sight of all, except Jackson, who was drunk, and asleep on the Ground, notwithstanding he took upon him to swear hard against me, and was scarce able to stand or sit upon a Chair. I seeing Mrs. Duncombe so careless, and for no other Reason than to make her careful another Time, took the Purse, thinking it was Silver, (and not imagining a Sum of that Consequence would be so heedlessly handled) took it, and went and laid it on a Bulk, (which, by the bye, was his own Wife’s Green-Stall) a few Yards from Duncombe’s Door. Mrs. Duncombe missing the Purse, cried out, I have lost twenty-three Guineas; which frightened me almost out of my Senses, and she called her Husband. I denied the taking of it, and desired the Servant to call my Wife, thinking to get her to bring the Purse, and drop it in the Bar, or thereabouts; for, when I heard of the Sum, my Heart melted within me. Mr. Duncombe said, There’s no Occasion to call any Body, it is a Joke, and I will give a Bottle of Wine, and a free Pardon, and Thanks to him that will give an Account of it. I was very glad to hear that, and called him Backwards into the Yard, and said, Mr. Duncombe, I am sorry I should jest with such edged Tools, I little thought the Contents, but as I am a Neighbour, and live in Credit, pray let it go no farther; he said it should not; I told him where it was, and sent him for it. The Purse he had intire, and brought in a Bottle of Wine; and shook Hands; and, to all Appearance, were good Friends, as formerly, I having used his House ever since he kept it. And when he went to take Ship to go to Scotland, and carried a great Charge of Money, he chose me to conduct him, at Midnight, from Hyde-Park Corner to Hermitage Stairs. I really loved him, and would have done him any Service, as soon as I would have done it for myself; but a Person in Company, Corbet by Name, said we could not make the Matter up without going before a Justice. We agreed to go, Mr. Duncombe, myself, and another, privately. We did so, and Mr. Duncombe told the Justice, who lives near Golden Square, St. James’s, that it was a Jest, but that he wanted to be safe, and we were recommended to give general Releases. While my Wife was gone to get Releases drawn, an inveterate Enemy of mine came into the publick House where we were waiting, who called Mr. Duncombe out, and persuaded him to go to another Justice, and take out a Warrant for me, and before my Wife came back with the Releases, they had served a Warrant on me; and although we were within five or six Doors of the aforesaid Justice, they were ashamed to take me there, but took me about a Mile to another, by whom I was committed, although before recommended for Releases by the other. It plainly appears I had no Intent to keep the Purse or Contents for several Reasons: As first, No Person could lay it on me more than another, for there were four Persons in the House besides myself, and, as I am a dying Man, I never had a Thought of defrauding him of a Shilling. Secondly, I, as a Friend and Neighbour, have been Night and Day entrusted in his House, all the same as his Brother, and he never lost any thing as I ever heard of. Lastly, My Circumstances were not so bad as to cause me to do an ill Action, for I kept two Shops, one at Hammersmith, where my aged Father and Mother lives, and the other at Hyde-Park Corner; and when I came into Trouble I had two Apprentices, one of whom I have turned over since I have been in Newgate. I have a Wife and three Children, a Father and Mother, the one 80, the other 85 Years of Age, whose grey Heirs, without God’s great Mercy, will be brought with Sorrow to the Grave. When this great Misfortune happened to me, I worked for a great many noble Families, and I praise God, wherever I worked there was nothing lost. That unhappy Day, the 13th of March, I had been part of it at work at a worthy Gentleman’s, and was weary, and wanting a Pint of Beer before I went to Bed, could not be content to have it at Home with my Family, but must unfortunately go to the House, whereby I put myself in the Way of this great Misfortune, and if it be the Will of Divine Providence that I must suffer, I am content and resigned.

William Gibbs.
May, 1751.

Letter of one of the five other men hanged with Quinn, Dowdell, and Talbot

Talbot, the third of this dangerous gang, after having robbed on the highway; and being afraid of apprehension; applied to be restored to honest servitude, and was refused; but his master, in pity to his distresses, recommended, him to a nobleman.

Talbot, on the first opportunity, robbing his noble employer, we would ask whether the late master, knowing the servant to have been a thief, was not, in recommending him to an honest employ, virtually, the greater villain of the two? In fine, they were all from early youth, delinquents; and each had been imposed on honest people by those who knew them to be such. No wonder, then, that they will be found thereof the greatest rascals in this calendar of crimes.

Quin was a native of Dublin, the son of honest, but poor parents; and his father dying while he was a child, his uncle put him to school, and afterwards placed him apprentice to a buckle-maker, with whom be served three years faithfully; but his friends supplying him with clothes too genteel for his rank in life, he began to associate with gay company, and was guilty of many irregularities.

These thoughtless youths were frequently concerned in riots, and Quin was considered as the head of the party. In one of these nocturnal insurrections, Quin murdered a man, whose friends, watching him to his master’s house, desired that he might be delivered up to justice; but some of the journeymen sallying forth with offensive weapons, drove off the people; on which a warrant was issued for apprehending the murderer, when his master advised him to depart for England.

A subscription for his use being raised by his friends, he came to London, having recommendations to some gentlemen in that city; but of these he made no use, for, frequenting the purlieus of St. Giles’s, he spent his money among the lowest of his countrymen, and then entered on board a man of war.

After a service of six months, he quitted the ship at Leghorn, and sailed in another vessel to Jamaica, where he received his wages, which he soon spent. He now agreed to work his passage to England, and the ship arriving in the port of London, he took lodgings in St. Giles’s, and soon afterwards became acquainted with Dowdell and Talbot, of whom we are now to give an account.

Dowdell was the son of a bookbinder in Dublin, who being in low circumstances was unable to educate his children as he could have wished. His son Joseph, who was remarkable for the badness of his disposition, he ‘prenticed to a breeches-maker, but the graceless youth grew weary of his place before he had served two years of his time.

Dowdell being ordered by his master to take proper care of some green leather, particularly to defend it from the snow; instead thereof, he heaped such quantities of snow and ice on it, that it was greatly reduced in value. This circumstance so exasperated his master, that he was glad to get rid of him by delivering up his indentures of apprenticeship.

Thus at large, and the father ill able to support him, he was recommended to the service of a gentleman in the country, with whom he might have lived happily: but he behaved badly in his place, and running away to Dublin, commenced pickpocket.

After some practice in this way, he became connected with a gang of housebreakers, in company with whom he committed several depredations in Dublin. Having broke open a gentleman’s house, he was opposed by the servants, and effected his escape only by the use he made of a hanger; soon after which he was taken by the watchmen, and being carried before a magistrate, he was committed to prison till the next morning, His person was advertised, and he was brought to trial, but none of the servants being able to swear to him, he was acquitted for want of evidence.

He now renewed his dangerous practices, and committed a variety of robberies. The following is one of the most singular of his exploits. Going to the house of a farmer, near Dublin, he pretended to be a citizen who wanted a lodging, for the benefit of his health, and he would pay a liberal price.

The unsuspecting farmer put his lodger into the best chamber, and supplied his table in the most ample manner. After a residence of ten days, he asked the farmer’s company to the town of Finglass, where he wanted to purchase some necessaries. The farmer attending him; Dowdell purchased some articles at different shops, till seeing a quantity of gold in a till, he formed a resolution of appropriating it to his own use.

Having returned home with the farmer, Dowdell pretended to recollect that he had omitted to purchase some medicines, which he must take that night, and which had occasioned his going to Finglass. Hereupon the farmer ordered a horse to be saddled, and Dowdell set forwards, on a promise to return before night. On his arrival at Finglass he put up his horse, and stealing stealing unperceived into the shop above-mentioned, he stole the till with the money, and immediately set out for Dublin.

In the interim, the farmer missing his lodger, went to Finglass, and not finding him there, proceeded to Dublin, where he chanced to put up his horse at the same inn where Dowdell had taken up his quarters.

In a short time he saw our adventurer with some dealers, to whom he would have sold the horse; on which the farmer procured a constable, seized the offender, and lodged him in prison.

For this presumed robbery (a real one, doubtless, in the intention) he was brought to trial; but it appearing that the farmer had intrusted him with the horse, he could be convicted of nothing more than a fraud, for which he received sentence of transportation.

The vessel in which he sailed being overtaken by a storm, was dashed on the rocks of Cumberland, and many lives were lost, but several, among whom was Dowdell, swam on shore, and went to Whitehaven, where the inhabitants contributed liberally to their relief. Dowdell travelling to Liverpool, entered on board a privateer, which soon took several prizes, for which he received 60l. to his share, which he soon squandered in the most thoughtless extravagance. Being reduced to poverty, he robbed a Portuguese gentleman; for which he was apprehended, but afterwards released on the intercession of the gentlemen of the English factory; on which he sailed for England, and arrived at London.

He had not been long in the metropolis, before he associated with a gang of pickpockets and street-robbers (among whom was one Carter), whose practice it was to commit depredations at the doors of the theatres. Dowdell had not long entered into this association, before he and Carter went under the piazzas in Covent-garden, where the latter demanded a gentleman’s money, while Dowdell watched at a little distance, to give notice in case of a surprise. While Carter was examining the gentleman’s pockets, he drew his sword and killed the robber on the spot, and a mob gathering at the instant, it was with great difficulty that Dowdell effected his escape.

He now went to the lodgings of a woman of ill fame, who having been heretofore kept by a man of rank, he had given her a gold watch and some trifling jewels, which Dowdell advised her to pawn, to raise him ready money.

The girl hesitating to comply, he beat her in a most violent manner, on which she swore the peace against him; whereupon he was lodged in Newgate, but discharged at the next sessions, no prosecution being commenced against him.

He was no sooner at large, than he made a connexion with a woman of the town, whom an officer had taken to Gibraltar, and during her residence with him she had saved a hundred moidores. Dowdell having possessed himself of this sum, soon spent it extravagantly, and then prevailed on her to pawn her clothes for his support.

Talbot was the son of poor parents, who lived in Wapping, and having received a common education, he engaged himself as the driver of a post-chaise, in the service of a stable-keeper in Piccadilly. While he was driving two gentlemen on the Bath road, a highwayman stopped the carriage, and robbed them of their watches and money.

This circumstance gave Talbot an idea of acquiring money by illicit means; wherefore, on his return to London, he made himself acquainted with some highwaymen, assuring them that he was properly qualified to give them the intelligence necessary for the successful management of their business.

His proposal met with a ready acceptance; and a company having soon afterwards hired a coach and six of his master to go to Bath, Talbot gave one of the highwaymen notice of the affair; and it was resolved that the robbery should be committed on Hounslow-heath.

The highwaymen meeting the carriage on the appointed spot, robbed the parties of all they had, so that they were obliged to return to London for money before they could pursue their journey. Talbot’s share of this ill-gotten booty amounted to fifty pounds, which gave him such spirits that he resolved to pursue the same iniquitous mode of living.

In consequence of this resolution, Talbot informed the highwayman of some company going to Bath, and he attempted to rob them, but a gentleman in the carriage shot him dead on the spot.

Mortified at this accident which had befel his friend, Talbot no sooner arrived in London than he determined to resign his employment, and commence robber on his own account; but previous to engaging in this business, he spent his ready money in the worst company.

After several attempts to commit robberies, and having narrowly escaped the hands of justice, he grew sick of his employment, and requested his former master to take him into his service. This he declined, but in pity to his distress, recommended him to a nobleman, in whose family he was engaged.

Talbot had been but a short time in his new place, before he robbed the house of several articles of value, which he sold to the Jews, to supply the extravagance of one of the maid servants, with whom he had an amour.

This theft was not discovered at the time; but Talbot was soon discharged from his place, in consequence of the badness of his temper, which rendered him insupportable to his fellow servants.

On his dismission he spent his ready money with the most abandoned company, and then commencing housebreaker, committed a variety of depredations in the neighbourhood of London; for one of which he was apprehended and brought to trial at the Old Bailey, but acquitted for want of evidence.

On the very evening he was acquitted, he stopped a carriage in Drury-lane, and robbed a gentleman of his money, which he soon spent among the most dissolute of both sexes; and within a week afterwards, he broke into a house in Westminster, where he obtained plate and cash to a large amount, but was not apprehended for this offence.

In a few days he was taken into custody for picking a gentleman’s pocket, brought to trial, at the Old Bailey, sentenced to be transported for seven years, shipped to America, and sold to slavery.

He had not been long in this situation, when he embarked at Boston, in New England, on board a privateer; but when at sea he entered into a conspiracy with some of the sailors, to murder the officers, and seize the vessel; but the confederacy being discovered in time, a severe punishment was inflicted on Talbot and the other villains.

Talbot, quitting the privateer, sailed to England in a man of war, and engaging with some street-robbers in London, was apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to die: but he found interest to obtain a pardon on condition of transportation.

However, he had not been long abroad before he returned, in company with an abandoned woman, who had been transported at the same time; and this woman introduced him to the acquaintance of Quin and Dowdell, in company with whom he committed a considerable number of robberies.

These accomplices robbed six coaches one evening, and obtained considerable plunder; but this being soon spent in extravagance, they at length embarked in a robbery which cost them their lives.

Having made a connexion with one Cullen, they all joined in a street-robbery, and stopping a coach near Long Acre, robbed a gentleman of his watch and money. Some people being informed of the affair, immediately pursued them; and Cullen, being taken into custody, was admitted an evidence against his accomplices, who were apprehended on the following day.

Being brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, they received sentence of death; but, after conviction, seemed as little sensible of the enormity of their crimes, as almost any offenders whose cases we have had occasion to record.

Dowdell and Quin were Roman Catholics; and Talbot refusing to join in devotion with the ordinary of Newgate, at the place of execution, we can say nothing of the disposition of mind in which they left this world.

We would have wished the following exclamation the mouths of these miserable sinners, at the time they made their dying atonements

O omnipotent Creator! Such hellish deeds
My soul abhors. O Lord! behold my frame,
My inmost frame, and cleanse my sinful thoughts
Then ever guide me in thy perfect way,
The way established to eternal bliss?

These men died, we fear, unrepenting sinners.

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1751: James Welch and Thomas Jones, the right guys this time

Add comment September 6th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1751, two hangings atoned the rape-murder of Sarah Green, and the wrongful execution of a previously accused assailant.

We have detailed previously in these pages the 1749 hanging of Richard Coleman for being a party to that awful crime. Although the dying victim charged him by name, Coleman — scarcely alone in this respect among the numerous victims of England’s noose-rich Bloody Code era — avowed his innocence to the very last.

I do also most solemnly protest, that I am not in any Manner of Degree guilty of that most inhuman Murder of Sarah Green, neither was I at Newington, or in Kennington-Lane that Night that the cruel Fact was committed on Sarah Green.

Events would bear out his words, even if the poor man wasn’t around to say “I told you so.”

It turns out that three men perpetrated the crime, James Welch, Thomas Jones and John Nichols, none of whom was Richard Coleman.

Centuries before cold case units, these guys had got clean away with murder provided they could just manage not to blab about it. As the Newgate Calendar informs us, however, James Welch found the life-and-death imperative of discretion defeated by the urge to make small talk with a stranger.

Welch, one of the murderers, and a young fellow named James Bush, while walking on the road to Newington Butts, their conversation happened to turn on the subject of those who had been executed without being guilty; and Welch said: “Among whom was Coleman. Nichols, Jones and I were the persons who committed the murder for which he was hanged.” In the course of conversation Welch owned that, having been at a public-house called Sot’s Hole, they had drunk plentifully, and on their return through Kennington Lane they met with a woman, with whom they went as far as the Parsonage Walk, near the churchyard of Newington where she was so horridly abused by Nichols and Jones that Welch declined offering her any further insult.

Bush did not at that time appear to pay any particular attention to what he had heard, but soon afterwards, as he was crossing London Bridge with his father, he addressed him as follows: “Father, I have been extremely ill; and as I am afraid I shall not live long, I should be glad to reveal something that lies heavy on my mind.”

Thereupon they went to a public-house in the Borough, where Bush related his story to his father, which was scarcely ended when, seeing Jones at the window, they called him in and desired him to drink with them.

He had not been long in their company when they told him they had heard he was one of the murderers of Sarah Green, on whose account Coleman had suffered death. Jones trembled and turned pale on hearing what they said; but soon assuming a degree of courage said: “What does it signify? The man is hanged and the woman dead, and nobody can hurt us.” To which he added: “We were connected with a woman, but who can tell that was the woman Coleman died for?”

In consequence of this acknowledgment Nichols, Jones and Welch were soon afterwards apprehended, when all of them steadily denied their guilt; and, the hearsay testimony of Bush being all that could be adduced against them, Nichols was admitted evidence for the Crown. In consequence of which all the particulars of the horrid murder were developed.

The prisoners being brought to trial at the next assizes for the county of Surrey, Nichols deposed that he, with Welch and Jones, having been drinking at the house called Sot’s Hole on the night that the woman was used in such an inhuman manner, they quitted that house in order to return home, when, meeting a woman, they asked her if she would drink; which she declined unless they would go to the King’s Head, where she would treat them with a pot of beer.

Thereupon they went and drank both beer and geneva with her, and then, all the parties going forward to the Parsonage Walk, the poor woman was treated in a manner too shocking to be described. It appeared that at the time of the perpetration of the fact the murderers wore white aprons, and that Jones and Welch called Nichols by the name of Coleman — circumstances that evidently led to the conviction of the unfortunate man of that name.

On the whole state of the evidence there seemed to be no doubt of the guilt of the prisoners, so that the jury did not hesitate to convict them, and sentence of death was passed of course.

After conviction these malefactors behaved with the utmost contrition, being attended by the Rev. Dr Howard, Rector of St George’s, Southwark, to whom they readily confessed their offences. They likewise signed a declaration, which they begged might be published, containing the fullest assertion of Coleman’s innocence, and, exclusive of his acknowledgement, Welch wrote to the brother of Coleman, confessing his guilt, and begging his prayers and forgiveness. The sister of Jones living in a genteel family at Richmond, he wrote to her to make interest in his favour; but the answer he received was, that his crime was of such a nature, that she could not ask a favour for him with any degree of propriety. She earnestly begged of him to prepare for death, and implore pardon at that tribunal, where alone it could be expected.

They were executed on Kennington Common, on 6th of September, 1751.

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1751: William Parsons, Grub Street fodder

Add comment February 11th, 2018 Headsman

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1751: Anna Schnidenwind, the last witch in Baden-Württemberg

Add comment April 24th, 2015 Headsman

Anna Schnidenwind, nee Trutt, was burned at the stake in Endingen am Kaiserstuhl on this date in 1751 — the last “witch” executed in Baden-Württemberg.

There is next to no archival information surviving that would give us insight into this remarkably late Hexenprozess. However, it seems that Schnidenwind got Willinghamed: when a fire destroyed the village of Wyhl, local grandees immediately assumed that the cause of such a devastating event ware eine Zauberin (“would have been a sorceress,” as an abbot wrote in his diary).

Having begun from the conclusion it was simply a matter of finding the witchiest character in the vicinity to fit as the Zauberin. Schnidenwind, a 63-year-old peasant, probably had some pre-existing reputation as a possible witch — a reputation that a visit to the rack obligingly confirmed.

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1751: John Morrison, Francis McCoy, and Elizabeth Robinson, robbers

Add comment February 13th, 2015 Headsman

Anthony Vaver’s captivating Early American Crime blog neatly summarizes this story. But for readers with a taste for an original colonial hanging-pamphlet, read on …

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1751: Lobsang Trashi and the Lhasa Rebellion leaders

Add comment January 23rd, 2015 Headsman

On January 23, 1751 Lhasa … witnessed another horrible example of Chinese justice. Lobsang Trashi and six other leaders of the rebellion were executed by cutting them into pieces. Other people were beheaded or strangled. The heads of the executed were mounted on spikes. The other leaders were exiled and stripped of their property.

Luciano Petech, China and Tibet in the Early XVIIIth Century

China’s domination of Tibet, dating to 1720, has generated resistance, intermittently violent, down to the present day.

The incident at hand here was a November 1750 Lhasa riot sparked by the assassination of Tibet’s prince by China’s plenipotentiary, who had caught wind of the local ruler’s intention to detach his kingdom from Qing domination.

The royal chamberlain, Lobsang Trashi (German Wikipedia entry | Dutch) managed to escape the scene and found himself at the head of a furious rabble that sacked the Qing embassy, looted a treasury, and killed dozens of Chinese soldiers — and dozens more Chinese civilians.

But the popular furor burned itself out within days, most Tibetan elites sagely declining to get involved in the pogrom pending the likely — and soon, actual — overwhelming Qing response. These guys got the fire-eaters arrested (they’d be handed over to the arriving Chinese army) and installed the Dalai Lama as the new secular as well as religious authority.

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1751: James Field, pugilist

1 comment February 11th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1751, Irish boxer James Field was hanged at Tyburn.

He had ditched his criminal record in Dublin for the burgeoning London metropolis and hung out a shingle at a pub on Drury Lane. (Perhaps he knew the Muffin Man.)


“dustmen, scavengers, flue-fakers, gardeners, fish-fags, and brick-layer’s labourers … the Hibernian was relating the ill usage he had been subjected to, and the necessity he had of making a hasty retreat from the quarters he had taken up” (Description of Drury Lane … from 1821. Close enough.)

Field soon developed a blackhearted reputation in London, and because he was a big bad boxer on the brute squad, constables were known to “fail to recognize” him the better to get home safe to dinner.

Even in a city without a professional police force, though, that’s a thin reed to rest one’s liberty upon. Eventually the mighty British Empire marshaled the marshals necessary to run Field to ground for a violent heist. This time, his hulking build clinched his sure identification, and he earned the hemp for his felonies.

Field lives on in William Hogarth‘s anti-animal cruelty engravings Four Stages of Cruelty, published later in 1751. He’s the model for the hanged corpse being carved apart in the dissection theater in the last plate.

Second Plate:

In Hogarth’s Second Stage of Cruelty, a small poster in the background advertises a James Field bout against George Taylor.
Fourth Plate:

In Hogarth’s Reward of Cruelty, the hanged corpse laid out for dissection (and dog food) is modeled on James Field.

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1751: Thomas Colley, witch-killer

8 comments August 24th, 2009 Headsman

Supposed witches are a staple of history’s scaffold-rolls, and we may well take relief at the passing of this superstition.

England’s last witchcraft executions were in 1682; the law that hanged them was repealed in 1736. But the human story is not confined to parliamentary parchment, and popular belief in witches was not instantly dispelled at the stroke of a pen. Indeed, the belief never has been dispelled altogether.

In our mid-18th-century scene, figures who might have once been thought “witch”-like can now achieve mass-market fame. But old traditions died hard — and on this date* in 1751, Thomas Colley died for believing them to the extent of killing a “witch” himself.

Aging beggar Ruth Osborne got herself on the bad side not of Colley but a Tring farmer prosperously named John Butterfield when she pooh-poohed his refusal to spare her some scraps, and Butterfield’s livestock thereafter got sick.

Obviously, witchcraft!

Whether Butterfield was animated by genuine supernatural paranoia or merely by dick-swinging, he organized a witch-ducking of Ruth and her husband John: organized to the extent of having criers announce it days in advance.

Now, granted, witch-ducking was now illegal. But Mr. Butterfield draws a lot of water in this community, and he turned out a mob to wreck a couple of suspected hiding-places before the two were captured, trussed-up, and paraded to Marlston Meer.**

Butterfield got local yokel Thomas Colley drunk and agitated enough to do for him the dirty work of casting two impoverished souls into a pond so shallow they could scarcely sink, and therefore were obviously guilty for floating. This public torture continued until Ruth died† — Colley prodding the victims with a pole and passing the hat for community underwriting.


“The Ducking of John Osborn”, as reprinted (pdf) by the Hertfordshire Countryside.

Colley was prevailed upon after his conviction to sign a recantation of the belief that had brought him to his inglorious end, a neat inversion of the forced confessions of previous generations’ “witches”, and no less indicative of the operations of power upon the mind as well as the body of the condemned.

GOOD PEOPLE!

I beseech you all to take warning by an unhappy man’s suffering; that you be not deluded into so absurd and wicked a conceit, as to believe that there are any such beings upon earth as witches.

It was that foolish and vain imagination, heightened and inflamed by the strength of liquor, which prompted me to be instrumental (with others as mad-brained as myself) in the horrid and barbarous murder of Ruth Osborne, the supposed witch, for which I am now so deservedly to suffer death.

I am fully convinced of my former error, and with the sincerity of a dying man, declare that I do not believe there is such a thing in being as a witch; and pray God that none of you, through a contrary persuasion, may hereafter be induced to think that you have a right in any shape to persecute, much less endanger the life of a fellow creature.

I beg of you all to pray to God to forgive me, and to wash clean my polluted soul in the blood of Jesus Christ, my saviour and redeemer.

So exhorteth you all, the dying

Thomas Colley

Whatever the state of Thomas Colley’s mind by the time it was strangled by the halter at Gubblecote Cross, Colley’s come-to-the-Enlightenment moment didn’t exactly impress his former audience.

[T]he infatuation of the greatest part of the country people was so great that they would not be spectators of his death (perhaps from a consciousness of being present at the murder as well as he); yet many thousands stood at a distance to see him go, grumbling and muttering that it was a hard case to hang a man for destroying an old wicked woman that had done so much damage by her witchcraft.‡

As if to prove the point, it is said that Colley’s spirit has haunted the area ever since — in the form of a big black dog. (Colley – collie, is that it?)

* Some sources (incorrectly) give August 22nd as the date of the hanging, which might be a confusion with April 22nd, the date of the crime. Similarly, the Newgate calendar dates Thomas Colley’s hanging to April 24th, which is certainly wrong.

** “It only became possible to restrain collective violence towards witches in England … when from 1856 onwards a paid and uniformed police force came into existence. Up to that point the elected, non-professional constable or his deputy had kept well out of incidents of this sort or had even supported his fellow villagers in their infamous activities.” (Source)

† John Osborne is often reported to have died hours after he was pulled alive from the pond, but at least some (pdf) contemporaneous sources seem to indicate that he lived on and even stayed in the area — where nobody would hire him because of his wizardry stigma.

‡ Cited in W.B. Carnochan, “Witch-Hunting and Belief in 1751: The Case of Thomas Colley and Ruth Osborne” Journal of Social History, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Summer, 1971).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,The Supernatural

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