1812: George Hart, Gotham batterer

Add comment January 3rd, 2018 Headsman

From the Essex Register, Jan. 1, 1812.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

From the New York Morning Post.

Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart — MURDER.

When the Jury were sworn in, the prisoner challenged three; the reasons were not given. Mr. Macomb, the Clerk of the Court, informed the Jury, that the prisoner stood indicted for the murder of MARY VAN HOUSEN, that upon his arraignment he plead not guilty — that he had now put himself upon his country, which country they were, and that they had to determine from the evidence which would be produced to them, whether the prisoner was innocent or guilty of the felony, with which he stood charged.

Mr. Riker then addressed the Jury, and after defining in a clear and satisfactory manner, the nature of the crime, for the commission of which, the prisoner stood before them, briefly related the prominent features of the testimony that would be brought forward on the part of the prosecution against the prisoner. He stated, that if they found him guilty, the prisoner would have to suffer death, that he was convinced that they would maturely, and with carefulness, weigh well the testimony and if there was a doubt in their minds, they ought to acquit; but if none should appear, he felt assured they would not shrink from their duty, but with firmness would pronounce him guilty.

The first witness produced, was Charles Campbell, in the cellar of whose house the prisoner lived. He stated, that on the 25th June, 1811, about 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning, he heard a cry of murder issue from the cellar, that he went down into it, and found the deceased laying upon her side upon the floor, with her face bruised and bloody — her arm appeared as if it had been severely stamped upon, and very much hurt by his blows — that he asked the prisoner, “what are you doing this for.” The prisoner said “she has stole four shillings from my pocket, and I will serve any d—d w—e so, who robs me of money.” That he then tore all her clothes off, except her stockings, and appeared more like a madman that any thing else; insomuch, that the witness was alarmed for his own personal safety — that he went and procured the competent authority with all possible despatch, and had the prisoner committed to Bridewell. In his cross examination, he repeated that he was afraid to interfere, lest Hart would injure him — that the prisoner was by no means a weak man, and after he was in custody, he declared “he would sit on a chest and fight any man.”

Nancy Campbell — After her husband had gone for the officer, witness heard the sound of from twenty to thirty blows, and the deceased exclaim, “My dear George, do not murder me!” The noise ceasing, witness apprehended that the prisoner had killed his wife, asked Mrs. Clark to go down with her and see if it was the case: Mrs. Clark was afraid to go; but witness went down, and saw Hart strike the deceased, who was naked, with the large end of an oak broom stick; Witness asked him what he was doing? He said “I will kill one half of the d—d w—s in town.” What has she done to you? He replied “she has taken four shillings from my pocket.” He then kicked her twice on the side — witness pushed him back, and he told her not to be alarmed, for he would not hurt her — that the deceased was speechless when witness entered the cellar, and she did not speak while witness remained there. In her cross examination, witness in answer to the questions put up by the counsel for the prisoner, said, that he must have been out of his senses to have acted so — that she saw the blood run from the ear and cheek of the deceased, that she thought her dead, that the prisoner struck her with the largest end of the broom stick, that he had no mark of violence upon him, and that he did not appear to be in the least sorry for what he had done, but was perfectly indifferent at the situation of the deceased. That Mr. Campbell was about half an hour in going for the officers.

Katharine Keech, went with Mrs. Campbell into the cellar, and told the prisoner it was a shame to behave to any one in so cruel a manner — He replied “damn you, you bitch, I’ll serve you the same sauce,” and then kicked the deceased, wounded as she was, twice on the head with great violence — that witness then said “it is a pity some constable would not come and take you away.” That he again replied “he would serve her in the same way if she said any thing, and any d—d w—e that would rob him of his money,” that she saw the blood issue from the eye and ear of the deceased.

During the cross examination, witness said, that the deceased was bloody both at the time when she entered the cellar, and after the kicks. Here Mr. Justice Van Ness asked witness to explain in what manner the prisoner kicked the deceased? She answered that “he kicked her thus, (stamping her foot down) and with all his might — that she lay on her right side — and that she at one time asked for a drink of water.”

William Willis, Coroner, stated that a woman had been murdered, and the corpse lay at the Hospital — that he held an inquest over the body — that the prisoner at his request was bro’t to the Hospital who there acknowledged he was the person who had beaten her, and that he had done it because she had stolen 2s 6d out of his pocket, and shewed whilst looking at the body no visible concern. — Witness further stated that her right arm was broken, and one of her hands horribly disfigured, and that her head and body presented a shocking spectacle.

Cross examination. The counsel for the prisoner asked Mr. Willis if the prisoner did not evince symptoms of insanity — witness answered that he appeared to be very indifferent, but did not discover any thing like insanity or derangement.

Thomas Hazard testified that he had known the prisoner two or three years, but had never supposed him to be deranged.

Dr. Post stated that the deceased was brought to the Hospital about 12 o’clock — that there was a severe cut on the left side of her head — that a considerable quantity of blood had come from her ear — that her arm was broken, and her hand very much bruised which appeared to have been occasioned by a glancing blow — that she made some unintelligible reply to one of the attendants — that she appeared in great distress by the convulsive writhings of her body — and that after he had given directions to have her washed, and ordered the proper remedies to be used, he departed — that in about half an hour after his absence, as he understood, she expired — that he had no doubt her death was occasioned by the wounds she received. The counsel for the prisoner then asked witness, “Have you ever known instances of mental derangement occasioned by a paralysis?” Witness answered that such instances he believed had occurred, but they were very rare.

Henry C. Southwick, was produced on the part of the prisoner, and stated that he had never discovered in him any signs of insanity — that his intellects were none of the brightest, as he was not sharp in making a bargain.

After the district Attorney had read several authorities, and pointed out to the jury, the legal meaning of murder, J.A. Graham, of counsel for the prisoner, arose and addressed the Court and Jury, as follows: —

May it please the Court and you Gentlemen of the Jury,

The crime of wilful and deliberate Murder is a crime at which human nature shudders — a crime which harrows up every fibre of the soul — and is punished almost universally throughout the world with Death. This crime is defined to be ‘The wilful and felonious killing of any person with malice aforethought, either express or implied, so as the party wounded or hurt, die within a year and a day after the fact.’ Malice, therefore, (either express or implied) makes the gist of this indictment. To prove express malice, it ought to appear evident that there was some ill will, and the killing was with a sedate mind, & also a formed design of doing it. Implied malice is, when one kills another suddenly, having nothing to defend himself, as going over a stile or the like, Hale’s P.C. 47. If a person on any provocation beat another so that it might pla[i]nly appear he meant not to kill, but only to chastise him, or if he restrains himself, till the other hath put himself on his guard, and then, in fighting with him, killeth him, he will not be guilty of Murder, but Manslaughter. I. Hawkins P.C. 82. Judge Blackstone in his commentaries on the laws of England, vol. 4. p. 190, says, that the degrees of Guilt which divide the offence into Manslaughter and Murder, consist in this — Manslaughter arises from the sudden heat of the passions; Murder from the wickedness of the Heart. I contend that the prisoner was not guilty of wilful and deliberate Murder. It is true, his conduct was in the extreme, most diabolical, still I do contend that his crime is not Murder, but Manslaughter. The deceased had been guilty of felony; she had stolen four shillings in money from him, she lived with him as a concubine, and he undertook to chastise her for the felony; therefore, he had no premeditated design in killing her. This had been apparent from all the testimony, particularly as respects his after conduct, that he shewed little or no concern at what had taken place. Now, I would ask, is it among the number of possibilities that any person, wilfully guilty of committing so horrible a crime, being in their right mind, without having manifested on the occasion some compunction of conscience, or perturbation of mind? The prisoner went with the Coroner to see the corpse, and Mr. Willis informs us, he shewed no concern whatever. Gentlemen, I shall not go minutely into the testimony, it is apparent that the deceased came to her death by the chastisement given by the prisoner, as is stated by the examination of Surgeon Post, whom we all agree, is one of the first surgeons in America. But I do contend, that the Prisoner is guilty of Manslaughter, not Murder. — There had been no previous quarrel, he had taken this woman to his bosom, she fed at his table, and he had passed her as his wife. I cannot for myself, believe, that there is scarcely any man, in his right mind, capable of being so great a monster, as, in cold blood to commit murder on a person living, as was the deceased, with the prisoner. Gentleen — I know you possess all the reason light & understanding which the importance of your situation demands, in deciding between the prisoner and the public. But I charge you, that while in your inquiries, which you are about to make in discharge of the duty you owe the public, remember that you owe a debt of the greatest magnitude to the prisoner, which I hope and trust you will conscientiously discharge. When I look at the prisoner, I feel a crust of icy coldness gathering round me. The wild and awful scene of Gallows-hill presents itself, with all its horrors to my view. Then, I cast my eye towards the Hon. Attorney General, when the vision in part dissolves: looking farther up to the learned Judge, the dawn of day, in favor of the prisoner, begins to brighte, and the Judgment Seat appears to have the effect of enchantment.

(To be continued.)


From the Essex Register, Jan. 4, 1812.

TRIAL FOR MURDER.

From the New York Morning Post.

LAW INTELLIGENCE
Court of Oyer and Terminer, Thursday, 28th November, 1811 — Present, the Hon. Judge Van Ness, Alderman Fell, and Alderman Buckmaster.

The People vs. George Hart. — MURDER
(concluded)

Mr. Riker summed up on the part of the prosecution, and acknowledged with great sensibility, the disagreeable task which his official station had imposed upon him. But as it was a duty he owed the community, he would not shrink from the performance of it. After disclaiming all prejudice against the prisoner, he thought it the plainest case of murder, according to the established principles of law, which had ever been presented to the consideration of Court or Jury; and in a solemn and impressive manner, dwelt upon the trivial offence committed by the deceased, and the dreadful punishment inflicted upon her by the accused. Mr. Riker then endeavoured, by minutely dissecting the testimony, to find some excuse for the prisoner’s conduct; but after viewing it in every possible shape, he told the Jury they must pronounce him a murderer, for not a doubt of his guilt could remain upon the mind of any who had heard the witnesses. Mr. Riker then argumented upon the evidence, and concluded neartly in these words: “If I lay too much stress upon the testimony against the prisoner, I beg, I beseech you, to cast away from my statement, as much as you conceive to be overcoloured; but, upon reviewing all the circumstances, I am convinced there cannot be the smallest doubt, and the prisoner ought not to look for mercy from this court, but to that God, from whom finally he must hope only to receive it.”

Mr. Justice Van Ness, in charging the Jury, informed the counsel for the prisoner, that no lenity could be expected from the court, as it was compelled, from the strong testimony adduced, to say that he was a Murderer: and added — “if you have any doubt, gentlemen, you ought to acquit. If I could say any thing in favour of the prisoner, I would cordially do it; but as I cannot, I deem it unnecessary to recapitulate those circumstances which must have sufficiently shocked you already. Indeed, you are to decide upon the law and the facts, and ought not to take a verdict from the court. — With these observations, I shall now leave you to decide upon the fate of the prisoner, with an assurance that you will decide correctly.[“]

The Jury then retired [about half past three o’clock] and at 4 returned with a verdict of “GUILTY.”

The prisoner being put to the bar, the Clerk of the court informed him that he had been indicted for a felony, and on his arraignment had plead “not guilty” and had put himself upon his country for trial, which country had found him “Guilty” — “The court is now,” said the clerk, “about to pronounce sentence against you; have you any thing to say why the terrible punishment which the law inflicts upon the perpetrators of the crime, whereof you are convicted shall not be announced to you?” The prisoner offering nothing in bar of Judgment, His Hon. Mr. Justice Van Ness, addressed himself to the prisoner as follows:

[The words were taken down by Mr. Sampson, who has obligingly furnished us with a copy of them.]

GEORGE HART — It is now the painful duty of the Court, to pronounce on you, that sentence, which our religion and our law concur in awarding against those, who are guilty of the crime of deliberate Murder — This crime has been punished with death, by the laws of every civilized country, ancient or modern. They have all considered it unpardonable, and the offender has been justly deemed unfit to live. The punishment of it, is the highest known to our law, and publick policy requires, that the community should be rid of one, who has shewn so diabolical a disposition, as deliberately to take away the life of his fellow creature.

The sentence of the law then is, that you be taken from hence, to the place where you have been lately confined thence to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, ’till you are dead; on the 3d day of January next between the hours of twelve and two o’clock.

I have now discharged my duty as a publick magistrate. I have a few words to add, which I address to you as a friend. I have stated to the unfortunate man, who stands beside you, that he might entertain hopes of pardon;* but I should be false to you, and faithless to my duty, if I gave you the slightest hopes. For it would be in vain to search the annals of the most barbarous people, or the traditions of the most untutored savages, for a crime of equal enormity to yours. Through the course of your trial, I have sought, but in vain, for a single circumstance of mitigation; the woman whom you murdered lived with you as your wife. Standing in that relation the offence imputed to her, was light, and trivial. You usurped over her, a power, which the law itself could give to no man; and of your own authority, you put her inhumanly to death. — Thus was in your act, the extreme of cruelty and cowardice. You took advantage of a feeble unresisting woman; one who could look to you only as her protector. You took unmanly advantage of your superior strength; and by brutal force you took away her life — This marks you out as a man of disposition both mean and dastardly. Though this woman had been an hour and a half exposed to your cruelty, and all the time intreating for mercy, yet unfortunately, the people in the house were afraid to descend into that place, which was her habitation, till by your cruelty, it was converted, I may almost say, to her sepulchre, fearing that their lives might be also jeopardized. As long as she could speak, she was heard to address you in tones of tenderness & supplica[t]ion, that would have vibrated on the heart of any one possessed of human feeling. Yet you continued for half an hour, unmoved by her intreaties, to inflict those barbarous wounds and mutilations, that finished her existance; and when your neighbors went to remonstrate, you threatened them with death, and before their face, inflicted new wounds on her naked and prostrate body, so that from the testimony of the physician and of other persons, no one part of her was free from wounds or bruises.

A Murder so unprovoked, so deliberately inhuman, has seldom been known; for almost all the murders, that come to light, have some foundation in provocation or temptation. The highwayman that stops the traveller, does it for his money. The bully or the assassin does it for revenge. In every case, there is some motive or incentive. Here there was none but savage cruelty. Had she robbed you (as you pretended) of three or of four shillings, as your wife, you should have forgiven her, and as her friend, you should have rebuked her in the language of tenderness; instead of which, you exercised that superior strength, which nature gave to your sex, for the protection of the other, and in a way, that I am at a loss to describe, you mercilessly took away her life.

For this offence, the law requires your life as an atonement, and that religion, which most of us believe, and which is publickly taught amonst us, and on which our morals as our laws are founded — has said that “whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” It has been doubted from this whether man had power to pardon the deliberate murderer.

You have a short course now to run, and a dark and gloomy prospect around you. If you look back, you have little satisfaction; as to your present condition in this world, you have no hope of pardon. As to the future, you have too small claims to mercy. But conversant with books, you must know something of religion; were it not for the mercy, which that religion teaches, your views of futurity would be most painful, for in that world of spirits, where a more awful judgment is to follow, the accusing spirit of this murdered woman must appear against you; your only hope lies in the [sic] rightly employing the little time you have in this life, in imploring that Being who alone has power to pardon you, and I pray that he may pardon you, and hope that you will approach his throne, with an humble and a contrite heart. You should, therefore, all your time, both day and night, deprecate His Wrath. I trust, that the Ministers of the Holy Gospel in this city, will administer their aid, and instruct you to pray devoutly and sincerely. Your situation is painful, so is that of the Court. In the world to come, you will find, that punishment follows guilt in this life, but we are taught that there is mercy shewn, even for those “whose sins are as scarlet” and that you may turn your whole attention to that only hope; I once more implore you to indulge no thought of mercy on this side of the grave. One gleam of hope of future mercy is more precious than any thing you have to look for here below. I feel myself the importance of what I have said, and wish that I could make it more strongly felt by you. You have but a few days — let them be spent in profit to your soul. And that the Lord may have mercy upon you, is the sincere and ardent wish of the Court.

* Benjamin Farmer, who was tried and found guilty of Manslaughter, and sentenced at the same time. [this footnote appears in the original -ed.]


From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 3, 1812.

Pursuant to sentence, was executed this day, at the upper end of Broadway near Dydes [Hotel], on a gallows created for the purpose, George Hart, for the murder of Mary Van Housen.


From the New York Evening Post, Jan. 4, 1812.

Published by Desire.

George Hart, who was executed on the 3d inst. in his dying confession, mentions a Mr. Thomas, Printer, who was formerly a partner of his, in destroying the Dogs of this city. The public are respectfully informed, that the Thomas mentioned by Hart, is not Mr. Isaiah W. Thomas, Printer, from Massachusetts.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Pelf,Public Executions,USA

Tags: , , , , ,

1812: John Griffiths, crummy friend

Add comment March 23rd, 2016 Headsman

Chester Chronicle, Feb. 14, 1812:

On the morning of Saturday the 1st inst. William Bailey, collier, of Old Park Iron Works, near Shifnal, Shropshire, was found robbed and murdered in an iron-stone work, at Red-lake, in the parish of Wellington, having his throat cut and skull fractured in several places.

Suspicion immediately attached the crime to John Griffiths, a cooper, who resided about two hundred yards off, (and that from his bad character, he having been twice convicted of felony, as well as its being known that he had recently much importuned the deceased for the loan of cash,) and he was accordingly taken into custody in the [fear?] of absconding.

Notwithstanding there had been much rain during the preceding day, and the roads dirty in consequence, yet the shoes of Bailey were perfectly clean when his body was found; and it was conjectured that he had been murdered in some building and his remains carried to where they then lay.

The search was in consequence directed to a house lately erected by Griffiths about one hundred yards off, and the attention of those who entered it was attracted by stains of blood on the wall, and a quantity of sand which appeared to have been recently laid on a part of the floor. The latter was immediately ripped up, and underneath it was found a vault about eight feet long, four feet wide, and five deep, to which there was no communication but by removing the boards of the floor.

The boards were much stained with blood, and a considerable quantity in a coagulated state, which had evidently run down between them, was found in the bottom of the vault. A shirt, marked with the initials of Bailey’s name, was found hid under some coals in the cellar, and which has been sworn to as his property. A cooper’s bloody adze, exactly corresponding with the fractures in Bailey’s skull, was found on the floor; and a large horse pistol secreted in the brick work.

No part of Griffith’s working apparel, or dirty linen, could be found; but it appeared his wife had been washing the major part of the preceding night. A woman that lives nearly opposite the end of Griffith’s new house, and about twenty yards off, swore that on the night of the murder, at about half past nine o’clock, she saw (from her window) Griffiths come out of his house, and reconnoitre the road both ways, and seeing no one in sight, drag out a bag containing some weighty matter, and haul it round the end of his house in the direction to where the body of Bailey was found.

A bag was found in Griffith’s house containing a quantity of coagulated blood at the bottom of it.

Bailey’s house at Old Park, was robbed of every thing valuable on the night of the murder, and, no doubt, by the murderer or his associates; from his person was stolen an old silver watch, maker’s name, “C. Harrison, Limerick, No. 76.” Bailey was in the 64th year of his age, and of the Methodist persuasion; Griffith is about 28, and pretended to be of the same profession; he was at the meeting the same evening immediately after the murder. They were in the habit of praying together in private.

Coroner’s verdict, wilful murder against John Griffith. He is now in Shrewsbury gaol to take his trial at the next assizes. He denies all knowledge of the murder, and says if he should be found guilty, he is determined not to be publicly hanged. Griffith is a native of Wellington.


Original caption: “The above is a plan of the premises: — a. — The road to Potter’s Bank. — b. — Griffith’s dwelling house. — c. — Red Lake. — d. — The house, from whence the woman saw Griffith in the act of hauling the bag out of his new house. — e. — Road to Old Park Iron Works. — f. — Griffith’s New House. — g. — Iron Stone Work. — h. — Here Bailey’s body was found. — i. To Ketley Iron Works.”

Salisbury and Winchester Journal, April 6, 1812

At Shrewsbury Assizes, on Friday se’nnight, John Griffiths was tried for the wilful murder of Mr. W. Bailey, of Ketley, near Wellington, on the evening of the 31st of January last.

The deceased and the prisoner lived near each other, and were in habits of intimacy, the latter having experienced many acts of friendship from the former, whom he at length resolved to murder, in order to get possession of some cash bills which he understood he had about him.

The prisoner was a cooper by trade, and was carrying on his business in a house he had newly built, but to which he had not wholly removed. He was seen on the evening stated dragging something from his new house round the old one, to the spot where the body of the deceased was found, the skull beat in with a hammer part of a cooper’s adze, and Griffiths’s adze was found bloody on the hammer part, which exactly fitted the wounds.

Blood was found on the floor of a room in his new house, and had run through to the cellar; the walls were sprinkled with it, and attempts had evidently been made to scrape it off, and to clean it from the floor. A train of circumstances, related by different witnesses, brought the fact so close home to the prisoner, that the Jury had no hesitation in pronouncing him Guilty.

He was hanged on Monday last, and his body given to the surgeons for dissection. He had previously made a full confession of his guilt.

Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , ,

1812: John Rickey but not Benjamin Jackson

Add comment December 11th, 2015 Headsman

The New York Evening Post published this item excerpted from the Philadelphia Democratic Press on Thursday, December 17, 1812.

On Friday, a large concourse of people assembled at Fort Mifflin, to witness the execution of John Rickey and Benjamin Jackson, soldiers of the 16th Regt. U.S. Infantry, sentenced to be shot for desertion, the former having deserted three times, the latter once.

They were conducted to the fatal spot at 1 o’clock, attended by about 600 soldiers of the 2d Artillery and 16th infantry. Rickey’s sentence having been carried into effect, Jackson was pardoned by the commanding officer.

We trust the execution of Rickey, and the exercise of mercy to Jackson, will operate as a warning to the deserters in and about this city. It is stated upon good authority, that every reasonable indulgence will be extended to such deserters as may deliver themselves up voluntarily, but those who are taken cannot expect to be shielded from the penalty of the law.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,Last Minute Reprieve,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1812: Jose Antonio Aponte, Cuban revolutionary

Add comment April 9th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1812, the great Cuban revolutionary leader “Black” Jose Aponte was executed with eight comrades.

Like South Carolina’s Denmark Vesey, Aponte led a slave revolt but was not actually a slave himself. Instead, he was a free black woodworker, and a respected captain in Cuba’s black militia.

Aponte led a bold island-wide conspiracy of slaves and free blacks who aimed at liberating themselves by revolution.

A few hours’ sail off Cuba’s eastern coast lay Haiti, whose slaves had done just that only a few years before to the greater hope or terror — depending on which end of the lash one had — of slave societies all around the region.*

So it was with Aponte.

There is some debate over the degree to which Aponte personally can be said to have led or coordinated the various planned (and in some cases, actual) rebellions around Cuba. He was certainly a leader of such a plot in the capital city and viewed by Spanish authorities as a figure of significance across the island, and so the whole movement has become known as the Aponte Conspiracy or Aponte Rebellions.

By any name they were an impressive undertaking, and the widespread collaboration of free black militiamen must have chilled the blood of plantation owners who banked on these forces to maintain order in Cuba. Five of those hanged with Aponte were, like him, freemen.

Sadly lost to history is a book of of Aponte’s drawings which are known only by the descriptions of interrogators who were alarmed by its depictions of, among other things, black armies defeating white ones** … and maps of the military fortifications around Havana.

This book and the movement it supported were betrayed to the Spanish with the familiar consequences. Aponte and his comrades hanged outside Havana’s Catillo San Salvador de la Punta on the morning of April 9, 1812. Then their heads were posthumously hewed off for public display around the city.

* Hilario Herrera, a principal organizer of the conspiracy in Oriente, was himself a veteran of the revolution on Saint-Domingue.

** Some of the subversive drawings depicted Aponte’s grandfather, Captain Joaquin Aponte, fighting the 1762 English invasion of Havana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain

Tags: , , , , ,

1812: William Booth, forger

Add comment August 15th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1812, William Booth was hanged at Stafford for counterfeiting.

Booth might have murdered his brother John, who was found beaten to death in a Warwickshire stable in 1808. He defeated that charge for want of evidence.

But he would not be two times lucky before the bar.

As a “farmer” living on 200 acres, he enjoyed the privacy to build his own mint, complete with forged royal stamps for churning out banknotes — more than enough cause to hang a man should he be caught, which Booth was. He was a difficult fellow to arrest, the Bury and Norwich Post reported (Aug. 19, 1812), because his farmhouse turned out to be “a little fort, full of trap-doors, and barred and bolted like a bastile.”

Booth’s engineering acumen might have come in handy for his executioners. As a broadside notes, the gallows Booth

ascended with a firm and steady step, but turned his back upon the populace almost immediately; after some time spent in prayer, the rope was adjusted, and a signal being given by the malefactor, (throwing his handkerchief from him that he was ready to submit to his fate,) the drop sunk, when, shocking to relate, by the cord slipping from the fatal tree, the unfortunate man fell from the top of the gallows upon the platform, a distance of eight or ten feet, where he remained motionless and insensible for some minutes.

The stunned prisoner was gradually revived, and redoubled his pieties. The fall must have rendered the noose unusable, because for some reason a delay ensued sufficient to stretch out the proceedings to two full hours, all of which Booth spent in the shadow of the gallows. Even when they finally had him trussed up and ready to hang again, they needed a do-over: Booth once more dropped his handkerchief, but the drop embarrassingly failed to dislodge. Booth, who had twice prepared himself to walk to the brink of death only to twice survive, asked for his handkerchief back once the apparatus had been fixed so that he could re-drop it.

Having faced two capital trials, and two executions, Booth couldn’t even get buried right on the first time. Apparently a re-drawing of the county line required his remains to be exhumed and re-interred, giving rise to a ballad, “Twice Tried, Twice Hung, Twice Buried”.

(Although this version proposes twice hanged and once drowned: suffice to say, Booth lived an interesting death.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Pelf,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1812: Hölzerlips, Blood Court prey

1 comment July 31st, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1812, the German bandit Hölzerlips — that’s just “Philip of the Woods”, despite what your dirty mind was thinking — was beheaded with three compatriots at Heidelberg.

They were part of a gang of six vagrant souls (the other two were spared on account of youth) who, finding everything displaced in the time of the Napoleonic wars, made their daily bread robbing around the Spessart in southern Germany.

In this capacity they racked up at least 15 known incidents of highway robbery, going so far as to kill a Swiss merchant on the road in 1811.

Captured shortly thereafter, Heidelberg grandees considered them (in)famous enough to merit a staged Blutgericht (“Blood Court”) followed by beheading this date, a spectacle that drew 30,000 gawking spectators in its day.


Friedrich Rottmann: Blutgericht über Hölzerlips Bande, 1812

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , ,

1812: Claude-Francois de Malet and his conspirators

Add comment October 29th, 2012 Headsman

Two centuries ago today,* the author of one of the weirdest attempted coups in history was shot with his co-conspirators.

Picture Valkyrie in Napoleonic Europe.

Claude-Francois de Malet (English Wikipedia entry | French) had spent the years of his confinement for republican sensibilities painstakingly readying bogus orders and decrees for the eventual rollout of the most audacious putsch you’d ever want to putsch.

While Bonaparte was off on campaign trashing Russia, Malet broke out of his sanitarium and went to work.

Donning a general’s uniform, Malet on Oct. 23, 1812 presented a forged announcement of the Emperor’s recent demise … and started issuing orders. He bluffed the release of imprisoned allies, and got a legitimate general to order the arrest of Napoleon’s most prominent deputies in Paris. (It’s a good job that general obeyed Malet, because when one officer asked to kindly see the arrest warrant Malet was using on him, Malet responded by shooting him in the face.)

For a few hours that morning the Malet conspirators almost put themselves in control, almost normalized their sudden rearrangement of authority with its reassuringly familiar official paperwork. Later, when interrogated for the identities of his accomplices, Malet would retort, “You, yourself, Sir, and all of France — if I had succeeded!”

But the attempted coup which aimed so high ultimately made for little but tantalizing counterfactual history. Officers with clearer heads soon realized that they had received communiques from the Emperor dated after his purported October 7 death; one of those officers arrested Malet.

A tribunal was constituted later that same date. It had little difficulty condemning 14 (French link) during the small hours of the morning on Oct. 29. They were shot later that same day (at least, most of them were; there are oddly conflicting accounts on this point). This public-domain French text preserves a first-person narration of the scene, in which Malet himself — usurping authority to the very last — commands the firing platoon that’s lined up to shoot his comrades.

120 bullets riddled these unfortunates, who fell all except Malet. He stood on his hands and knees and raised his hands to his chest as he was only wounded, and retreated to the wall on which he leaned:

“And me, my friends!” cried he, “You forgot me!”

(One of the executed fellow-officers was Gen. Victor Lahorie. Lahorie’s lover was Sophie Trebuchet, and his lover’s son, Victor Hugo, was about to catapult himself to literary fame.)

While the Malet plot failed on its own terms, it got quite a lot farther than it had any right to expect — and this fact rightly alarmed the Corsican.

“Bad News From France”, by Vasily Vereshchagin, depicts a retreating Napoleon — bunking in an Orthodox church — finding out about Malet.

Was his position that precarious? And why, if some officers genuinely believed him dead, did nobody hail as emperor his infant son and designated heir?

Napoleon had already begun his catastrophic retreat from Russia when he got word of Malet’s attempted coup d’etat; the struggling Grande Armee was dwindling daily under the battering of cold, desertion, and Russian snipers. Now this?

Upon discovering his late narrow escape from a homefront conspiracy, Napoleon left his miserable troops under the command of Murat* and raced ahead of them back to Paris to secure his own position.

This new confluence of domestic vulnerability and foreign defeat marks the beginning of the end for Napoleon. Europe ganged up on the weakened French, and less than 18 months after Malet faced his executioners, France’s own generals forced Napoleon to abdicate.

* Murat soon ditched the army himself to try to preserve himself as King of Naples. (That didn’t end well.) The once-gigantic army’s remnants finally straggled home under the third-string leadership of Eugene de Beauharnais — the capable son of Josephine’s guillotined first husband.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1812: Not Pierre Bezukhov, in War and Peace

3 comments September 8th, 2012 Headsman

On this date* in French-occupied Moscow of the War of 1812, many alleged arsonists — unnamed and unnumbered — were shot by Napoleon’s army in the ashes of Moscow.

Although real, flesh-and-blood Muscovites died, they are best known via their bespectacled fictional companion, Pierre Bezukhov, whose miraculous escape is one of the pivotal episodes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Merely the greatest novel in history by some reckonings — we’ll just let Tolstoy fight it out with Dostoyevsky for top of table in the competitive 19th Century Russia literary scene — the epic War and Peace tracks that country’s transformation under the revolutionary pressures of the Napoleonic age.

In Russian director Sergey Bondarchuk’s sprawling cinematic adaptation of War and Peace, the part of Pierre Bezukhov is played by Bondarchuk himself.

Pierre Bezukhov (“without ears”) is one of the book’s central figures, the illegitimate son of a count who unexpectedly inherits, forever consumed with his next impulsive, passionate quest for meaning (boozing around, freemasonry, religion …).

Pierre finds himself present in Moscow when the Grande Armee rolls in following its Pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Borodino. His fancy of the moment is to assassinate Napoleon: “he suddenly felt that what before had seemed to him merely a possibility had now become absolutely necessary and inevitable. He must remain in Moscow, concealing his name, and must meet Napoleon and kill him, and either perish or put an end to the misery of all Europe.” And to think, a younger Pierre actually used to admire Napoleon.


Historically, the city of Moscow started burning as soon as the French occupied it. The reasons for this conflagration have been widely disputed; Tolstoy detours in War and Peace to characterize it as nothing more than the natural consequence of the occupation, when the city’s civil infrastructure has broken down and the everyday fires that spark in wooden buildings are more liable to grow out of control.

The French blamed terrorists.

A bulletin of the Grande Armee dated September 20 (Gregorian date; this corresponds to the Julian date September 8) reports on the successful efforts to bring arsonists to heel through the expedient of mass executions.

Three hundred incendiaries have been arrested and shot; they were provided with fuse six inches long, which they had between two pieces of wood: they had also squibs, which they threw upon the roofs of the houses. The wretch Rastapchin had these prepared, on the pretence that he wished to send a balloon, full of combustible matter, amidst the French army …

The fires subsided on the 19th and 20th; three quarters of the city are burned; among other palaces that beautiful one of Catherine, which had been newly furnished: not above a quarter of the houses remain. …

Manufactures were beginning to flourish at Moscow: they are destroyed. The conflagration of this capital will throw Russia one hundred years back. The weather is becoming rainy: the greatest part of the army is in barracks in Moscow.


In this paranoid occupation, the fictional Pierre, wandering Moscow armed without a good excuse, gets himself picked up by French troops.

The travail of his resulting drumhead trial offers the anti-authoritarian (and anti-death penalty) Tolstoy the opportunity to reflect on the “legal” arrangements, a passage Tolstoy dates September 8 on the Julian calendar — the same day that army bulletin above was penned.

[Pierre] learned that all these prisoners (he, probably, among them) were to be tried for incendiarism. On the third day he was taken with the others to a house where a French general with a white mustache sat with two colonels and other Frenchmen with scarves on their arms. With the precision and definiteness customary in addressing prisoners, and which is supposed to preclude human frailty, Pierre like the others was questioned as to who he was, where he had been, with what object, and so on.

These questions, like questions put at trials generally, left the essence of the matter aside, shut out the possibility of that essence’s being revealed, and were designed only to form a channel through which the judges wished the answers of the accused to flow so as to lead to the desired result, namely a conviction. As soon as Pierre began to say anything that did not fit in with that aim, the channel was removed and the water could flow to waste. Pierre felt, moreover, what the accused always feel at their trial, perplexity as to why these questions were put to him. He had a feeling that it was only out of condescension or a kind of civility that this device of placing a channel was employed. He knew he was in these men’s power, that only by force had they brought him there, that force alone gave them the right to demand answers to their questions, and that the sole object of that assembly was to inculpate him. And so, as they had the power and wish to inculpate him, this expedient of an inquiry and trial seemed unnecessary. It was evident that any answer would lead to conviction.

It’s only by Pierre’s chance ability to forge a human connection with the officer detailed to condemn him that he’s mysteriously, and arbitrarily, not sentenced to death — a fact that Pierre doesn’t even realize until he’s led out with the rest of the prisoners only to see that it’s “only” the others who are being shot. This is the narration at length from Book XII, Chapters 10-11.

On the eighth of September an officer- a very important one judging by the respect the guards showed him- entered the coach house where the prisoners were. This officer, probably someone on the staff, was holding a paper in his hand, and called over all the Russians there, naming Pierre as “the man who does not give his name.” Glancing indolently and indifferently at all the prisoners, he ordered the officer in charge to have them decently dressed and tidied up before taking them to the marshal. An hour later a squad of soldiers arrived and Pierre with thirteen others was led to the Virgin’s Field. It was a fine day, sunny after rain, and the air was unusually pure. The smoke did not hang low as on the day when Pierre had been taken from the guardhouse on the Zubovski rampart, but rose through the pure air in columns. No flames were seen, but columns of smoke rose on all sides, and all Moscow as far as Pierre could see was one vast charred ruin. On all sides there were waste spaces with only stoves and chimney stacks still standing, and here and there the blackened walls of some brick houses. Pierre gazed at the ruins and did not recognize districts he had known well. Here and there he could see churches that had not been burned. The Kremlin, which was not destroyed, gleamed white in the distance with its towers and the belfry of Ivan the Great. The domes of the New Convent of the Virgin glittered brightly and its bells were ringing particularly clearly. These bells reminded Pierre that it was Sunday and the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin. But there seemed to be no one to celebrate this holiday: everywhere were blackened ruins, and the few Russians to be seen were tattered and frightened people who tried to hide when they saw the French.

Pierre had been taken by one set of soldiers and led first to one and then to another place with dozens of other men, and it seemed that they might have forgotten him, or confused him with the others. But no: the answers he had given when questioned had come back to him in his designation as “the man who does not give his name,” and under that appellation, which to Pierre seemed terrible, they were now leading him somewhere with unhesitating assurance on their faces that he and all the other prisoners were exactly the ones they wanted and that they were being taken to the proper place. Pierre felt himself to be an insignificant chip fallen among the wheels of a machine whose action he did not understand but which was working well.

He and the other prisoners were taken to the right side of the Virgin’s Field, to a large white house with an immense garden not far from the convent. This was Prince Shcherbatov‘s house, where Pierre had often been in other days, and which, as he learned from the talk of the soldiers, was now occupied by the marshal, the Duke of Eckmuhl (Davout).

They were taken to the entrance and led into the house one by one. Pierre was the sixth to enter. He was conducted through a glass gallery, an anteroom, and a hall, which were familiar to him, into a long low study at the door of which stood an adjutant.

Davout, spectacles on nose, sat bent over a table at the further end of the room. Pierre went close up to him, but Davout, evidently consulting a paper that lay before him, did not look up. Without raising his eyes, he said in a low voice:

“Who are you?”

Pierre was silent because he was incapable of uttering a word. To him Davout was not merely a French general, but a man notorious for his cruelty. Looking at his cold face, as he sat like a stern schoolmaster who was prepared to wait awhile for an answer, Pierre felt that every instant of delay might cost him his life; but he did not know what to say. He did not venture to repeat what he had said at his first examination, yet to disclose his rank and position was dangerous and embarrassing. So he was silent. But before he had decided what to do, Davout raised his head, pushed his spectacles back on his forehead, screwed up his eyes, and looked intently at him.

“I know that man,” he said in a cold, measured tone, evidently calculated to frighten Pierre.

The chill that had been running down Pierre’s back now seized his head as in a vise.

“You cannot know me, General, I have never seen you…”

“He is a Russian spy,” Davout interrupted, addressing another general who was present, but whom Pierre had not noticed.

Davout turned away. With an unexpected reverberation in his voice Pierre rapidly began:

“No, monseigneur,” he said, suddenly remembering that Davout was a duke. “No, monseigneur, you cannot have known me. I am a militia officer and have not quitted Moscow.”

“Your name?” asked Davout.

“Bezukhov.”

“What proof have I that you are not lying?”

“Monseigneur!” exclaimed Pierre, not in an offended but in a pleading voice.

Davout looked up and gazed intently at him. For some seconds they looked at one another, and that look saved Pierre. Apart from conditions of war and law, that look established human relations between the two men. At that moment an immense number of things passed dimly through both their minds, and they realized that they were both children of humanity and were brothers.

At the first glance, when Davout had only raised his head from the papers where human affairs and lives were indicated by numbers, Pierre was merely a circumstance, and Davout could have shot him without burdening his conscience with an evil deed, but now he saw in him a human being. He reflected for a moment.

“How can you show me that you are telling the truth?” said Davout coldly.

Pierre remembered Ramballe, and named him and his regiment and the street where the house was.

“You are not what you say,” returned Davout.

In a trembling, faltering voice Pierre began adducing proofs of the truth of his statements.

But at that moment an adjutant entered and reported something to Davout.

Davout brightened up at the news the adjutant brought, and began buttoning up his uniform. It seemed that he had quite forgotten Pierre.

When the adjutant reminded him of the prisoner, he jerked his head in Pierre’s direction with a frown and ordered him to be led away. But where they were to take him Pierre did not know: back to the coach house or to the place of execution his companions had pointed out to him as they crossed the Virgin’s Field.

He turned his head and saw that the adjutant was putting another question to Davout.

“Yes, of course!” replied Davout, but what this “yes” meant, Pierre did not know.

Pierre could not afterwards remember how he went, whether it was far, or in which direction. His faculties were quite numbed, he was stupefied, and noticing nothing around him went on moving his legs as the others did till they all stopped and he stopped too. The only thought in his mind at that time was: who was it that had really sentenced him to death? Not the men on the commission that had first examined him — not one of them wished to or, evidently, could have done it. It was not Davout, who had looked at him in so human a way. In another moment Davout would have realized that he was doing wrong, but just then the adjutant had come in and interrupted him. The adjutant, also, had evidently had no evil intent though he might have refrained from coming in. Then who was executing him, killing him, depriving him of life — him, Pierre, with all his memories, aspirations, hopes, and thoughts? Who was doing this? And Pierre felt that it was no one.

It was a system — a concurrence of circumstances.

A system of some sort was killing him — Pierre — depriving him of life, of everything, annihilating him.

From Prince Shcherbatov’s house the prisoners were led straight down the Virgin’s Field, to the left of the nunnery, as far as a kitchen garden in which a post had been set up. Beyond that post a fresh pit had been dug in the ground, and near the post and the pit a large crowd stood in a semicircle. The crowd consisted of a few Russians and many of Napoleon’s soldiers who were not on duty- Germans, Italians, and Frenchmen, in a variety of uniforms. To the right and left of the post stood rows of French troops in blue uniforms with red epaulets and high boots and shakos.

The prisoners were placed in a certain order, according to the list (Pierre was sixth), and were led to the post. Several drums suddenly began to beat on both sides of them, and at that sound Pierre felt as if part of his soul had been torn away. He lost the power of thinking or understanding. He could only hear and see. And he had only one wish- that the frightful thing that had to happen should happen quickly. Pierre looked round at his fellow prisoners and scrutinized them.

The two first were convicts with shaven heads. One was tall and thin, the other dark, shaggy, and sinewy, with a flat nose. The third was a domestic serf, about forty-five years old, with grizzled hair and a plump, well-nourished body. The fourth was a peasant, a very handsome man with a broad, light-brown beard and black eyes. The fifth was a factory hand, a thin, sallow-faced lad of eighteen in a loose coat.

Pierre heard the French consulting whether to shoot them separately or two at a time. “In couples,” replied the officer in command in a calm voice. There was a stir in the ranks of the soldiers and it was evident that they were all hurrying — not as men hurry to do something they understand, but as people hurry to finish a necessary but unpleasant and incomprehensible task.

A French official wearing a scarf came up to the right of the row of prisoners and read out the sentence in Russian and in French.

Then two pairs of Frenchmen approached the criminals and at the officer’s command took the two convicts who stood first in the row. The convicts stopped when they reached the post and, while sacks were being brought, looked dumbly around as a wounded beast looks at an approaching huntsman. One crossed himself continually, the other scratched his back and made a movement of the lips resembling a smile. With hurried hands the soldiers blindfolded them, drawing the sacks over their heads, and bound them to the post.

Twelve sharpshooters with muskets stepped out of the ranks with a firm regular tread and halted eight paces from the post. Pierre turned away to avoid seeing what was going to happen. Suddenly a crackling, rolling noise was heard which seemed to him louder than the most terrific thunder, and he looked round. There was some smoke, and the Frenchmen were doing something near the pit, with pale faces and trembling hands. Two more prisoners were led up. In the same way and with similar looks, these two glanced vainly at the onlookers with only a silent appeal for protection in their eyes, evidently unable to understand or believe what was going to happen to them. They could not believe it because they alone knew what their life meant to them, and so they neither understood nor believed that it could be taken from them.

Again Pierre did not wish to look and again turned away; but again the sound as of a frightful explosion struck his ear, and at the same moment he saw smoke, blood, and the pale, scared faces of the Frenchmen who were again doing something by the post, their trembling hands impeding one another. Pierre, breathing heavily, looked around as if asking what it meant. The same question was expressed in all the looks that met his.

On the faces of all the Russians and of the French soldiers and officers without exception, he read the same dismay, horror, and conflict that were in his own heart. “But who, after all, is doing this? They are all suffering as I am. Who then is it? Who?” flashed for an instant through his mind.

“Sharpshooters of the 86th, forward!” shouted someone. The fifth prisoner, the one next to Pierre, was led away- alone. Pierre did not understand that he was saved, that he and the rest had been brought there only to witness the execution. With ever-growing horror, and no sense of joy or relief, he gazed at what was taking place. The fifth man was the factory lad in the loose cloak. The moment they laid hands on him he sprang aside in terror and clutched at Pierre. (Pierre shuddered and shook himself free.) The lad was unable to walk. They dragged him along, holding him up under the arms, and he screamed. When they got him to the post he grew quiet, as if he suddenly understood something. Whether he understood that screaming was useless or whether he thought it incredible that men should kill him, at any rate he took his stand at the post, waiting to be blindfolded like the others, and like a wounded animal looked around him with glittering eyes.

Pierre was no longer able to turn away and close his eyes. His curiosity and agitation, like that of the whole crowd, reached the highest pitch at this fifth murder. Like the others this fifth man seemed calm; he wrapped his loose cloak closer and rubbed one bare foot with the other.

When they began to blindfold him he himself adjusted the knot which hurt the back of his head; then when they propped him against the bloodstained post, he leaned back and, not being comfortable in that position, straightened himself, adjusted his feet, and leaned back again more comfortably. Pierre did not take his eyes from him and did not miss his slightest movement.

Probably a word of command was given and was followed by the reports of eight muskets; but try as he would Pierre could not afterwards remember having heard the slightest sound of the shots. He only saw how the workman suddenly sank down on the cords that held him, how blood showed itself in two places, how the ropes slackened under the weight of the hanging body, and how the workman sat down, his head hanging unnaturally and one leg bent under him. Pierre ran up to the post. No one hindered him. Pale, frightened people were doing something around the workman. The lower jaw of an old Frenchman with a thick mustache trembled as he untied the ropes. The body collapsed. The soldiers dragged it awkwardly from the post and began pushing it into the pit.

They all plainly and certainly knew that they were criminals who must hide the traces of their guilt as quickly as possible.

Pierre glanced into the pit and saw that the factory lad was lying with his knees close up to his head and one shoulder higher than the other. That shoulder rose and fell rhythmically and convulsively, but spadefuls of earth were already being thrown over the whole body. One of the soldiers, evidently suffering, shouted gruffly and angrily at Pierre to go back. But Pierre did not understand him and remained near the post, and no one drove him away.

When the pit had been filled up a command was given. Pierre was taken back to his place, and the rows of troops on both sides of the post made a half turn and went past it at a measured pace. The twenty-four sharpshooters with discharged muskets, standing in the center of the circle, ran back to their places as the companies passed by.

Pierre gazed now with dazed eyes at these sharpshooters who ran in couples out of the circle. All but one rejoined their companies. This one, a young soldier, his face deadly pale, his shako pushed back, and his musket resting on the ground, still stood near the pit at the spot from which he had fired. He swayed like a drunken man, taking some steps forward and back to save himself from falling. An old, noncommissioned officer ran out of the ranks and taking him by the elbow dragged him to his company. The crowd of Russians and Frenchmen began to disperse. They all went away silently and with drooping heads.

“That will teach them to start fires,” said one of the Frenchmen.

Pierre glanced round at the speaker and saw that it was a soldier who was trying to find some relief after what had been done, but was not able to do so. Without finishing what he had begun to say he made a hopeless movement with his arm and went away.

* It’s our practice (although we’re sure it’s been violated here and there) to utilize Gregorian dates universally after the mid-18th century, even for executions in Orthodox Christendom where the Julian calendar prevailed into the 20th century. For this post, seeing as it’s straight from the text of Tolstoy himself, in his magnum opus, channeling the soul of the Russian rodina, we’re making an exception: the 12-day-slower, local-to-Russia Julian calendar prevails … just like the Russians themselves did.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Fictional,France,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Russia,Shot,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1812: John Bellingham, Prime Minister assassin

1 comment May 18th, 2012 Headsman

Two centuries ago today, the only man to assassinate a British Prime Minister was hanged for his trouble.

The man at the end of the rope, John Bellingham, was a Liverpool businessman who had gone to Archangel, Russia to do some export/import trade and there been spuriously accused a debtor and slapped in prison for five years.

His target, Spencer Perceval, was the pious Tory heir to the late William Pitt, and famous (or infamous) for his evangelical personal rectitude and an accompanying status-quo smallness. (He was physically short, too.) “He has looked at human nature from the top of Hampstead Hill,” snorted his contemporary Sydney Smith, “and has not a thought beyond the little sphere of his own vision.”*

Though others judge more generously of him, Perceval’s overall reputation is that of the prim caretaker, violently anti-Bonaparte, anti-Catholic, anti-adultery, anti-worker, anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic, anti-slavery. Anti- a lot of things.

Anti-cluttering up his schedule was the thing that did him in.

John Bellingham returned from his sojourn in the Romanovs’ dungeons in 1809, understandably embittered over his ordeal and the bankruptcy it had driven him into. He then besieged the government with demands for compensation, but met a cold reception all over and got no reply at all for his request to meet with Spencer Perceval.

So Bellingham did what anyone would do: he walked up to Perceval at Westminster on May 11, 1812, and shot him dead.

Then the strange perpetrator with the private grievance re-seated himself comfortably by the fireplace (rather than exploiting the hubbub to fly), where he was promptly arrested. They didn’t mess around back then: John Bellingham was on trial for his life four days after pulling the trigger.

Nevertheless, as the rumor first spread there were fears — or in some cases, hopes — of Jacobin intrigues afoot. And it’s safe to say that the nation’s magnates had better cause than its underclasses to mourn Perceval. “Among the multitude,” one parliamentarian remembered of those days, “the most savage expressions of joy and exultation were heard: accompanied with regret that others, and particularly the attorney-general, had not shared the same fate.”

Clearly something less than fully rational, Bellingham was also more than lucid enough for the hemp. A minister who visited him in the hours before his execution found him unsettlingly unrepentant, and attributed to “the perverse inflexibility of his character” Bellingham’s delusional “self-vindication. He had accordingly taken his ground, and there he obstinately stood; and the weakness of his allegations only increased the firmness by which he was determined to maintain them.”

He had, indeed, maintained them openly at trial, bizarrely casting his homicide as a blow for better government to remind ministers of state to keep longer office hours.

Finding myself thus bereft of all hopes of redress, my affairs ruined by my long imprisonment in Russia through the fault of the British minister, my property all dispersed for want of my own attention, my family driven into tribulation and want, my wife and child claiming support, which I was unable to give them, myself involved in difficulties, and pressed on all sides by claims I could not answer; and that justice refused to me which is the duty of government to give, not as a matter of favour, but of right; and Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claims in Parliament; and I trust this fatal catastrophe will be warning to other ministers. If they had listened to my case this court would not have been engaged in this case, but Mr. Perceval obstinately refusing to sanction my claim in Parliament I was driven to despair, and under these agonizing feelings I was impelled to that desperate alternative which I unfortunately adopted. My arm was the instrument that shot Mr. Perceval, but, gentlemen, ought I not to be redressed; instead of that Mr. Ryder referred me to the Treasury, and after several weeks the Treasury sent me to the Secretary of State’s office; Mr. Hill informed me that it would be useless to apply to government any more; Mr. Beckitt added, Mr. Perceval has been consulted, he would not let my petition come forward.

Gentlemen, A refusal of justice was the sole cause of this fatal catastrophe; his Majesty’s ministers have now to reflect upon their conduct for what has happened. Lord Gower is now in court, I call on him to contradict, if he can, the statement I have made, and, gentlemen, if he does not, I hope you will then take my statement to be correct. Mr. Perceval has unfortunately fallen the victim of my desperate resolution. No man, I am sure, laments the calamitous event more than I do. If I had met Lord Gower he would have received the ball, and not Mr. Perceval. As to death, if it were to be suffered five hundred times, I should prefer it to the injuries and indignities which I have experienced in Russia, I should consider it as the wearied traveller does the inn which affords him an asylum for repose, but government, in the injustice they have done me, were infinitely more criminal than the wretch, who, for depriving the traveller of a few shillings on the highway, forfeits his life to the law. What is the comparison of this man’s offence to government? or, gentlemen, what is my crime to the crime of government itself? It is no more than a mite to a mountain, unless it was proved that I had malice propense towards the unfortunate gentleman for whose death I am now upon my trial. I disclaim all personal or intentional malice against Mr. Perceval.

According to a Frenchman in England at the time, the still-sympathetic public raised for Bellingham’s widow and orphan a subscription “ten times greater than they could ever have expected in any other circumstances.”

A few topical books

* In Peter Plymley’s Letters, which is full of vituperation for Perceval’s harsh Irish policy … words that could go just as readily for many a reputed statesman in many a time and circumstance over the two centuries elapsed since.

I cannot describe the horror and disgust which I felt at hearing Mr. Perceval call upon the then Ministry for measures of vigour in Ireland. If I lived at Hampstead upon stewed meats and claret; if I walked to church every Sunday before eleven young gentlemen of my own begetting, with their faces washed, and their hair pleasingly combed; if the Almighty had blessed me with every earthly comfort — how awfully would I pause before I sent forth the flame and the sword over the cabins of the poor, brave, generous, open-hearted peasants of Ireland! How easy it is to shed human blood; how easy it is to persuade ourselves that it is our duty to do so, and that the decision has cost us a severe struggle; how much in all ages have wounds and shrieks and tears been the cheap and vulgar resources of the rulers of mankind; how difficult and how noble it is to govern in kindness and to found an empire upon the everlasting basis of justice and affection! But what do men call vigour? To let loose hussars and to bring up artillery, to govern with lighted matches, and to cut, and push, and prime; I call this not vigour, but the SLOTH OF CRUELTY AND IGNORANCE. The vigour I love consists in finding out wherein subjects are aggrieved, in relieving them, in studying the temper and genius of a people, in consulting their prejudices, in selecting proper persons to lead and manage them, in the laborious, watchful, and difficult task of increasing public happiness by allaying each particular discontent. In this way Hoche pacified La Vendee — and in this way only will Ireland ever be subdued. But this, in the eyes of Mr. Perceval, is imbecility and meanness. Houses are not broken open, women are not insulted, the people seem all to be happy; they are not rode over by horses, and cut by whips. Do you call this vigour? Is this government?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims

Tags: , , , ,

1812: Daniel Dawson, for the integrity of sport

Add comment August 8th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1812, Daniel Dawson “suffered the awful sentence of the law, at the top of Cambridge Castle, amidst a surrounding assemblage of at least twelve thousand spectators, it being market-day.”

The crowd was an appropriate ornament to the condign punishment of the most famous horse-poisoner in English history — and perhaps the most severely-punished sports cheat in all of modernity.

A tout scrabbling his living about the storied Newmarket tracks of Cambridge, Dawson killed the favorite for a high-profile race (and three other horses besides) by poisoning their trough, intending only to hamper the beasts enough to make good a variety of bookies’ bets against the fair Pirouette.

Although acquitted for that crime, Dawson was promptly returned to the dock for a previous, and previously unsolved, horse-poisoning, and convicted under a “black act” statute to punish livestock-killing.

According to the inevitable trial pamphlet, freely available from Google Books,

DAWSON behaved with a sullen and impudent levity during the trial, and he frequently abused the witnesses whilst giving their testimony, loud enough to be heard throughout the court … with horrid imprecations, ill becoming his unhappy situation, and at other times he was nodding at and saluting with his hand different persons in court. The verdict of GUILTY had not the slightest effect on him, and his general conduct was altogether depraved. On his return to the castle, his conduct, at times, bordered on insanity, and he appears too illiterate to feel a consciousness of wrong, although he has confessed his guilt to the full extent.

(Katherine Watson adds that although Pirouette’s owner sought a reprieve for the poisoner, Dawson “spoke bitterly of the hypocrisy of the Jockey Club, few of the members of which were above cheating.”)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Notable for their Victims,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Calendar

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • Julia: Aby was a brave lad, and badly mistreated, he came out to fight, for his adopted country, not only lying about...
  • matchmaking Nightfall Strike: Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your blog. You have...
  • Johan Louis de Jong: With all due respect humously is not a real word. Please use another term. PS. Luckily Louis XVI...
  • Tony: Just watched a NIgerian movie about these events “Invasion 1897″ on Netflix. Worth checking out
  • Ione: Has anyone ever considered that he was a calculating man and changed his MO because the victims in his later...