Tag Archives: 1760s

1762: James Collins, James Whem, and John Kello

Three men hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1762.

Although in these pages we most typically notice the details of the crime, our surviving account from Newgate Prison’s Ordinary draws our attention instead to the spiritual struggle of the condemned … or perhaps better to say, of the condemned’s minister.

James Collins and James Whem were two of the hanged men: they were off-duty soldiers caught red-handed after committing a violent mugging in a field near King’s Road.

Sarah West was knocked down by COLLINS with his fist while he held a drawn sword in the other hand, with which he threatened her life if she made a noise; mean time another of them robbed Mr Sykes, and a third [Collins and Whem had a third accomplice who was not captured -ed.] robbed Mr. Halm, of their money and watches; the former being knocked down, was dangerously wounded with a sword, in the forehead, and the latter was also knocked down.

When the Ordinary went to minister to them he found them amenable to his approaches: “Collins lamented that he could not read; Whem said he was a presbyterian; we had some conversation on the principles common to christians, to which he agreed; after which he never refused to join with us, but came constantly to chapel, which was made ready in some sort by next day, where by the help of some directions and daily instructions, each of them behaved tollerably well.”

John Kello,* by contrast, was condemned for forging a thousand-quid note. He scrupulously fought the charge, to no avail; in his turn, he would also fight the Ordinary’s scruples.

Unlike his ruffian brethren in the condemned hold, the mannered and educated Kello felt himself too good for the Ordinary’s devices.

After conviction, when he was applied to, as he lay in bed in his cell, with some words of condolence and exhortation, he answered coldly: “Your advice is very good, and becoming your office to give, but I have some particular opinions of my own” to which it was replied, you will I hope attend the chapel, and give me an opportunity of conferring with you on those opinions, perhaps we may be able to remove and change them for the better: he answered, with an air of superior knowledge and resolution, that “his opinions were not to be changed.” But if they have misled you into your present sad situation, is not this a proof of the unsoundness of them; and that it is high time to quit and renounce them, and take up such as may relieve and support you in this hour of distress and anguish?

he answered, “he never should quit his present sentiments either in this life or after it.” But how if they prove contrary to the received and well-tried opinions of wise and good men? This he denied they were. Being asked if he would permit me to pray with him and the other convicts in his cell, he desired to be excused. He was again asked whether he would come to chapel when called upon at any time hereafter? this he also refused and kept to his resolution next morning and so forward, till a message from Mr. A—n (without any application of mine) by some of the runners made him think proper to attend. Before this visit ended, it was added, I came to offer you the best assistance in my power, if you refuse it, the blame and consequence will fall on your own head. He answered in some slighting manner, as if he set light by this and all such threats, as a mere bugbear, and engine of my office.

The Ordinary found this attitude in a 26-year-old condemned felon quite unsuitable and did not shy from complaining about the haughty youth to his audience.

his behaviour and language was that of a stranger to the oracles of God, and a despiser of them — of a diligent dabler in those dear-bought books which scatter the seeds of scepticism and immorality, of doubt and misbelief, in those weed-bearing soils that are prepared for, and most susceptible of them; which God in his anger suffers to take root and grow in the soul of the sluggard, who is indisposed either to seek, to find, or to follow the ways of found wisdom and instruction. This reminded me of an observation and precept of a celebrated poet.

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the pierian spring.
For shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
But drinking deeply sobers us again.

Take that, you brat.

The Headsman is not clergy but might have conceived from the pews that as the reverend was the character proffering wisdom, experience, and perspective, and moreover was the one who was not slated for hanging, it did not well become him to confide to typeface every distinct shade of his scorn for the other man’s resistance.

John Kello consented to come up to chapel, and by way of apology for his past behaviour, said he was bred a dissenter. A Dissenter in deed! But don’t you believe the Bible to be of divine authority? to this he would give no answer, but pretended to be acquainted with all Religions, as well if he had studied the dictionary on that subject; and yet when asked a few questions, seemed quite ignorant of the first principles both of natural and revealed religion. His notions of the obligations to truth and justice, were so imperfect and loose, that he still boldly declared himself innocent of the crime he stood convicted of, and that if he were to die this day he was prepared to answer before his great judge, to whom he referred himself for the truth of his plea.

AND WOULD YOU BELIEVE THIS, GENTLE READER?

For the present, concerning the duty of confession of sins; to whom? and in what cases to be made, the introductory sentences of holy writ prefixed to the daily service of the church, with the confession and absolution founded thereon, were explained to him; together with a general scheme of the tenour, meaning and rationality of the other parts of the service of the church England. These he was warned not to come to hear, as a spy or a scoffer, but rather, as best befitted his circumstances, as an humble penitent. Notwithstanding this, he rather heard the service, than joined in it, for he refused to make responses, or kneel, being in his opinion a matter of indifference, and no reason or authority could convince him to the contrary. This was the less excuseable in him, as he boasted himself free from the errors of education. When after prayers I offered him the use of some good tracts, among which was that excellent, clear and rational view of the sum and substance of Christian faith and practice, the late Bishop of Sodor and Man’s Instruction for the Indians, he first objected to it, as being merely practical; he then said he had met with it abroad in Virginia, and had seen that subject treated in a more masterly manner. He was answered, that the clearness, ease, and condescension of the stile to every capacity, as well as the practical manner in which it is handled, are proofs of the masterly performance. He then said he was a sufficient guide to himself, from what he had within him, and would accept of none of my books.

And on top of everything, he continued to insist upon his innocence, to the fury (and verbose rebuttal) of the tilted vicar.

Our man kept at it, picking out choice Biblical passages for obstinacy, and diligently logging for posterity their (usually ineffectual) impressions. Kello even blew off the help of an outside minister who hewed more to his “dissenting” milieu.

Kello never did submit so far as to favor the Ordinary with a confession, nor did he ever fully participate in a Church of England service. But on the fatal morning, they came to some sort of accord, or at least a sense of mutual exhaustion. Having got Kello to affirm that he was indeed a Christian, and not one of those horrid deists, the Ordinary “contented myself with advising him at least to join in the Litany and other prayers, and to be present at the administration; to this he complied, and behaved himself with attention (and perhaps mental devotion also) while the other prisoners prayed and communicated with some other serious persons who joined with us.” And they found a way to comport themselves to each other’s satisfaction at the gallows.

They were all three carried out in one cart about nine, and brought to the place of execution about ten; where a numerous mixt multitude were met to see them suffer. Being tied up they were again applied to, to declare if they had any thing to confess. Mr. Kello now at last declared his sorrow for all his offences against God: he was reminded to add, for every injury done to his neighbour, which he assented to. The two others continued to say they had nothing more to confess; nor did any of them think proper to speak a word of warning to others, against the fatal steps which brought them to this sad lot; but they desired the people to join in prayers for them, which they did. At a proper pause, Kello was asked whether he would join in confessing and repeating the creed? to this he agreed; but as he did not speak out, either in this or in the prayers, his joining could only be internal. He was further asked whether he was not grieved for not being admitted to the holy communion? he answered, that he had joined with us in his heart, and spirit, as far as he could. This gave me good hope of some better dispositions within him, now at last, than we could hitherto discover by his outward behaviour. He was again desired to declare he forgave his brother; he answered, that his brother knew his sentiments in that respect, by his behaviour and conduct towards him, refering to some secrets between themselves. He added, “As far as humanity can, I forgive him;” to which I subjoined, “may the grace of God help all your human infirmities;” he thanked me for this, and other offices of the like kind. About this time, finding his hands loose, he called to the executioner to tie them; but first he took out of his pocket four small letters folded but not sealed, which he humbly desired I would forward, giving me a direction to one gentleman to whom three of them were to be inclosed and sent by the pennypost. As these letters were a deposit, and have no connection with the crime for which he suffered, nor can give any satisfaction as to his guilt or repentance, the publick, it is hoped, will not desire nor expect to see them.

But in deference to the publick, this much may be said, That they speak the language and thoughts of a man anxious in his last hours to do particular acts of justice and good offices, where due, to the utmost of his power; and that expressed in a stile and turn of sentiments, such as would make one heartily wish the writer had deserved a better fate.

The two soldiers, we hope, enjoyed a compensation in the hereafter for their pious submission that they did not receive in the form of column-inches. Nevertheless, the Ordinary leaves the last word to their case, a noble principle that in truth is but rarely observed in the breach.

Collins having a small book of devotions in his hand desired it to be given to one of his brother Soldiers, whom he call’d by name out of the croud, and who came and received it: a considerable number of the foot-guards being present, behaved decently, were much affected, and some wept. May these examples of justice be a warning to them all to avoid every act and degree of violence to his Majesty’s subjects, whom it is their duty to protect and defend against injuries of every kind. May they ever remember that they are paid and maintained for that purpose; and therefore, that injuries offer’d by their hands are highly aggravated, and can rarely, if ever, hope for, or admit of mercy from the sovereign protector of his people.

* Our white collar whippersnapper is not to be confused with a more renowned denizen of the executioners annals, John Kello, the Parson of Spott

1765: Andrew Oliver lynched in effigy to the Liberty Tree

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.