1808: Thomas Simmons

Add comment March 14th, 2016 Headsman

(From contemporary newspaper accounts, principally The Bury and Norwich Post, Wednesday, March 09, 1808)

Thomas Simmons was indicted, for that he, at Broxbourn, on the 20th of October last, did make an assault on Sarah Hummerstonne, and wilfully gave her a mortal wound in the neck with a knife, of which she instantly died. [This is the case of the inhuman wretch who murdered the two unfortunate women at Hoddesdon, and the Court was crowded at an early hour in the morning to hear the trial. It did not last long, as the facts lay in a very narrow compass.]

Mr. Pooley, as Counsel for the prosecution, intreated the jury to dismiss from their minds all that they had heard elsewhere, and attend only to the evidence which would be laid before them. He then stated the facts as below detailed, and called the following witnesses:

Samuel James, a surgeon at Hoddesdon, deposed, that on the 20th of October, he went to the house of Mr. Boreham, at Hoddesdon. On going to the house, he saw Mrs. Hummerstone leaning against the paling near the door; she was then alive, but died in three minutes after, of a wound in the neck, near the spine.

Sarah Harris, servant of Mr. Boreham, said she had lived four years with him: Simmons, the prisoner, had lived there three years, and quitted at last Michaelmas: the prisoner wished to marry her, but her mistress disapproved of it; they had quarreled before he quitted the service, on which occasion he beat her; and when he had done he said he did not care if he had killed her. He had often said he would make away with her, because she would not marry him. About half past eight in the evening of the 20th of October, he came to the house; she was in the kitchen, and heard him coming along the yard; he was swearing violently. He came up to the window, and struck at her through the lattice, and swore he would do for them all. She desired him not to make a noise, as they had company: he said he did not care for the company, he would do for them all. Mrs. Hummerstone, hearing the noise, opened the room-door, and came to the yard. She told him to go away. He gave her a blow on the head, which knocked off her bonnet; she ran into the house, and he immediately followed her. The witness immediately heard the shrieks of murder, but did not know from whom. All the family were in the room, viz. the three young ladies; Mr. Boreham’s daughter, Mrs. Warner, the married daughter; Mr. Boreham and his wife, and Mrs. Hummerstone. In a very short time, the prisoner came to the wash-house to her: she shut the door, and cried out murder. The witness ran into the sitting-room. She there saw some one lying under the window — she ran from thence down a passage — the prisoner followed her. She there met her master with the poker in his hand; in running hastily, her master, who is a very old and feeble man, was knocked down. The prisoner caught her, and threw her down, and drew a knife on her. He threw her across Mrs. Warner, who was lying dead, as she believed. He drew a knife across her throat, but she guarded it with her hand, which was cut. He made a second blow, when she wrested the knife out of his hand. He immediately ran away, and she saw no more of him.

Sarah Cakebury said, she lived near Mr. Boreham, and heard the cry of murder. She passed Mrs. Hummerstone, and went into the house; she saw Mrs. Warner lying dead under the window.

Thomas Copperwheat went in search of the murderer. He discovered Simmons concealed under some straw in a crib in the farm-yard; he had on him a smock frock, very bloody; the place where he was found was about 100 yards from the house.

Benjamin Rook, Coroner, said, when the evidence of Harris was read to the prisoner, he said it ws very true, he had murdered them, and no one else. He added, that he did not intend to have murdered Mrs. Hummerstone, but he went with the intention of murdering Mrs. Boreham, Mrs. Warner, and Harris, the maid-servant.

The Constable who carried him to prison, deposed to the same effect. The prisoner also told him, that when he had got Betsy down, he heard something fluttering over his shoulders, which made him get up and run away.

The prisoner being called upon to know if he had any thing to say, answered in a careless tone — No!

Mr. Justice Heath told the Jury, the case was so very clear, that it must be unnecessary for him to address any observations to them; the prisoner, as they had heard, had more than once voluntarily confessed his guilt.

The Jury found him Guilty; and the learned Judge immediately pronounced the sentence of the law — that he should be hanged on Monday next, and his body anatomized.

This unhappy wretch has a very young look, and a good countenance, being rather a well-looking young man than otherwise. He heard the sentence of death with great indifference, and walked very coolly from the bar. The young girl, whom he attempted to murder, was in great agitation, and was obliged to be supported while she ws in Court.

Simmons ws convicted through the exertions of Mr. W. White, Mr. B. Fairfax, of the Bull Inn, Hoddesdon, and Mr. J. Brown, the church warden of that place, the Quakers refusing to come forward as prosecutors.


Execution — Simmons was executed on Monday, pursuant to his sentence, at half past eleven o’clock in the forenoon, between Hertford and Ware. He behaved with that air of indifference which marked his conduct during his trial. He shook hands with three persons who accompanied him to the scaffold, and whispered a few words to the gaoler beffore he was turned off.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder

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1808: Sultan Mustafa IV, by his brother

Add comment November 15th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1808, the former, and now deposed, Ottoman Sultan Mustafa IV was strangled at the command of his successor and brother.

The Ottoman Empire, once the very terror of western Christendom, entered the 19th century in a stagnation that had it well on its way to its way to “sick man of Europe” status.

Its fate would be defined by the political — and sometimes literal — battle between its entrenched interests and forward-looking reformers who struggled to restructure the empire for the challenges that lay ahead.

And at this point, it wasn’t only the Ottoman polity that had to fret for its survival. Its very namesake dynasty was in danger of extinguishing itself. There hadn’t been a male born to the House of Osman in twenty years, and in the events herein narrated, internecine conflict would winnow the Osmans down to their very last man.

Aggressive Progressive

Reform was the project of our principal’s predecessor, Selim. In the years around the turn of the century, Selim endeavored to get Turkey out of its wasteful foreign conflicts to gain maneuvering room for more urgent domestic projects.*

Chief among the many oxes Selim proposed to gore were the Janissaries, the Ottomans’ powerful and increasingly archaic military elite, much given to destructive use of their martial prowess in various factional conflicts within the Empire.

Possessive Regressive

The Janissaries deposed Selim in 1807, elevating his cousin — our man, Mustafa, a mere handmaiden of the hidebound. (His contemporaries in Europe more commonly transliterated the name “Mustapha”)

They didn’t kill Selim … just left him alive within the palace where armed men could find him in a pinch.

That pinch arrived in June in the form of Mustafa Bayrakdar, a reformist official who marched on Istanbul to overthrow the reactionary elements. As Bayrakdar took the city in hand, Mustafa desperately ordered the executions of Selim and of Mustafa’s own brother, Mahmud.

Selim was disposed of. Mahmud got tipped off, and the servants — most famously, a Georgian harem girl named Cevri Kalfa — helped him escape to the roof. Mustafa Bayrakdar ousted the ousters before anyone who meant Mahmud ill could find him.

Impressive Successive

That left Mahmud the only choice for Sultan, and he followed his brother’s own questionable policy of consanguinary clemency. Mustafa’s demotion back to crown prince after having once ordered the now-sultan’s death must have made for some awkward chit-chat around the family table.

It didn’t last long. The London Times of January 16, 1809 reported** that

[o]n the 14th of November, at day-break, the Janissaries were seen assembling from all quarters, and being reinforced by those who were in the vicinity of Constantinople, they … massacred all the partisans of the Grand Vizier that came in their way. The contest spread to eveyr street in Constantinople … On the 15th, the Janissaries assaulted the high walls of the Seraglio; and it was at this moment that the Grand Vizier, after causing the unfortunate Mustapha IV, who was a prisoner there, to be strangled, blew himself up in his own Palace with gunpowder, of which he purposely provided a large quantity before-hand, to prevent his falling alive into the hands of his enemies.

Sauce for the goose was sauce for Mustafa, and on this same desperate day when he lost Bayrakdar to a vault of gunpowder, Mahmud had his brother put to death. This maneuver left Mahmud the last surviving male Osman.

Passive Aggressive?

The legacies of this date were varied and ambiguous.

Mahmud II remained on the Ottoman throne for the next three decades, ample time to secure the Osman line.

The Janissaries returned to their barracks, chastened; Mahmud would destroy them after an attempted revolt in 1826.

But Mahmud too was chastened by the experience — or else, too encumbered by the apparatus of the state, or too cautious of his legacy before that heir appeared (it took years), or simply too unskillful — and his reformist vision proceeded haltingly until the very end of his life, even as breakaway nations continued to erode the Porte’s influence.

In his The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire, Alan Palmer says of Mahmud,

Over a century and a half after his death, Mahmud II remains the most puzzling of the thirty-six Ottoman Sultans … Was he a despot or a reformer, a capricious betrayer of trust or a dedicated ruler of a vision, a muddler who plunged into disastrous wars or a shrewd statesman who preserved his Empire from rapacious neighbors? Should we think of him as the ‘Infidel Sultan’ who imposed European ways on the Islamic faithful, or as Mahmud Adli (‘Mahmud the Just’), like Turks today? The contrasts seem endless. Mahmud is one of history’s most enigmatic figures …

* Selim was sucked back into armed conflict by the Napoleonic wars.

** Though two months after the fact, the report is in media res, since it was transcribing German papers from mail dispatched out of the Ottoman capital on Nov. 16 when “the utmost confusion still prevailed there.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,No Formal Charge,Ottoman Empire,Political Expedience,Power,Royalty,Strangled,Summary Executions,Turkey

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