1849: Georg Böhning

Add comment August 17th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1849, Georg Böhning was shot at Rastatt for his involvement in the failed 1848 revolutions.

This lesser hero of those dramatic times was 61 at his death, years that carried him across the entire age of revolution dating back to the senescence of Europe’s ancien regimes.

By trade a watchmaker (and later in life, a printer of radical tracts) he got his first taste of soldiering volunteering for an international division fighting in the Greek War of Independence.

When revolutions broke out in 1848, Böhning took the lead of a Wiesbaden citizens’ militia and for his trouble had to flee to Switzerland when the insurrection was defeated. He ventured one more bite at the apple, however, by gathering a legion of German exiles in support of the May 1849 Dresden rising — unfortunately arriving right in time to endure the victorious Prussian counterattack and surrender the Rastatt fortress. A court martial declared his death thereafter, a fate shared by 18 other revolutionists.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Power,Prussia,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason

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1843: Sarah Dazley

Add comment August 5th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today, and footnotes which are also my own commentary. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Sarah was born in 1819 as Sarah Reynolds in the village of Potton in Bedfordshire, the daughter of the village barber, Phillip Reynolds. Phillip died when Sarah was seven years old and her mother then embarked on a series of relationships with other men. Hardly an ideal childhood.

Sarah grew up to be a tall, attractive girl with long auburn hair and large brown eyes. However she too was promiscuous and by the age of nineteen had met and married a local man called Simeon Mead. They lived in Potton for two years before moving to the village of Tadlow just over the county border in Cambridgeshire in 1840. It is thought that the move was made to end one of Sarah’s dalliances. Here she gave birth to a son in February 1840, who was christened Jonah. The little boy was the apple of his father’s eye, but died at the age of seven months, completely devastating Simeon. In October Simeon too died suddenly, to the shock of the local community. Sarah did the grieving mother and widow bit for a few weeks, before replacing Simeon with another man, twenty-three-year-old William Dazley. This caused a lot of negative gossip and considerable suspicion in the village. In February 1841, Sarah and William married and moved to the village of Wrestlingworth three miles away and six miles north east of Biggleswade in Bedfordshire. Sarah invited Ann Mead, Simeon’s teenage daughter, to live with them. It seems that all was not well in the marriage from early on and William took to drinking heavily in the village pub. This inevitably led to friction with Sarah which boiled over into a major row culminating in William hitting her. Sarah always had other men in her life through both her marriages and confided to one of her male friends, William Waldock, about the incident, telling him she would kill any man who hit her. Sarah also told neighbours a heavily embroidered tale of William’s drinking and violence towards her.

William became ill with vomiting and stomach pains a few days later and was attended by the local doctor, Dr. Sandell, who prescribed pills which initially seemed to work, with William being looked after by Ann Mead and showing signs of a steady recovery. Whilst William was still bedridden, Ann — not entirely realising what she was seeing at the time — observed Sarah making up pills in the kitchen.

Sarah told a friend of hers in the village, Mrs. Carver, that she was concerned about William’s health and that she was going to get a further prescription from Dr. Sandell. Mrs. Carver was surprised to see Sarah throw out some pills from the pillbox and replace them with others. When she remarked on it, Sarah told her that she wasn’t satisfied with the medication that Dr. Sandell had provided and instead was using a remedy from the village healer. In fact the replacement pills were those that Sarah had made herself. She gave these to William who immediately noticed that they were different and refused to take them. Ann who had been nursing him and had still not made any connection with the pills she had seen Sarah making, persuaded William to swallow a pill by taking one too. Inevitably they both quickly became ill with the familiar symptoms of vomiting and stomach pains. William vomited in the yard and one of the family pigs later lapped up the mess and died in the night. Apparently Sarah was able to persuade William to continue taking the pills, assuring him that they were what the doctor had prescribed. He began to decline rapidly and died on the 30th of October, his death being certified as natural by the doctor. He was buried in Wrestlingworth churchyard. Post mortems were not normal at this time, even when a previously healthy young man died quite suddenly.

As usual Sarah did not grieve for long before taking up a new relationship. She soon started seeing William Waldock openly and they became engaged at her insistence in February 1843. William was talked out of marriage by his friends who pointed to Sarah’s promiscuous behaviour and the mysterious deaths of her previous two husbands and her son. William wisely broke off the engagement and decided not to continue to see Sarah.

Suspicion and gossip was now running high in the village and it was decided to inform the Bedfordshire coroner, Mr. Eagles, of the deaths. He ordered the exhumation of William’s body and an inquest was held on Monday the 20th of March 1843 at the Chequers Inn in Wrestlingworth High Street. It was found that William’s viscera contained traces of arsenic and an arrest warrant was issued against Sarah. Sarah it seems had anticipated this result and had left the village and gone to London. She had taken a room in Upper Wharf Street where she was discovered by Superintendent Blunden of Biggleswade police. Sarah told Blunden that she was completely innocent and that she neither knew anything about poisons nor had she ever obtained any. Blunden arrested her and decided to take her back to Bedford. What would be a short journey now required an overnight stop in those days and they stayed in the Swan Inn, Biggleswade. Sarah was made to sleep in a room with three female members of the staff. She did not sleep well and asked the women about capital trials and execution by hanging. This was later reported to Blunden and struck him as odd.*

The bodies of Simeon Mead and Jonah had also now been exhumed and Jonah’s was found to contain arsenic, although Simeon’s was too decomposed to yield positive results.

On the 24th of March 1843, Sarah was committed to Bedford Gaol to await her trial and used her time to concoct defences to the charges. She decided to accuse William Dazley of poisoning Simeon and Jonah on the grounds that he wanted them out of her life so he could have her to himself. When she realised what he had done she decided to take revenge by poisoning William. Unsurprisingly these inventions were not believed and were rather ridiculous when it was William’s murder she was to be tried for. In another version William had poisoned himself by accident.

She came to trial at the Bedfordshire Summer Assizes on Saturday the 22nd of July before Baron Alderson, charged with William’s murder, as this was the stronger of the two cases against her. The charge of murdering Jonah was not proceeded with but held in reserve should the first case fail.

Evidence was given against her by two local chemists who identified her as having purchased arsenic from them shortly before William’s death. Mrs. Carver and Ann Mead told the court about the incidents with the pills that they had witnessed.

William Waldock testified that Sarah had said she would kill any man that ever hit her after the violent row that she and William had. Forensic evidence was presented to show that William had indeed died from arsenic poisoning, it being noted that his internal organs were well preserved. The Marsh test, a definitive test for arsenic trioxide, had been only available for a few years at the time of Sarah’s trial. Arsenic trioxide is a white odourless powder that can easily pass undetected by the victim when mixed into food and drink.

Since 1836 all defendants had been legally entitled to counsel and Sarah’s defence was put forward by a Mr. O’Malley, based upon Sarah’s inventions. He claimed that Sarah had poisoned William by accident. Against all the other evidence this looked decidedly weak and contradicted the stories Sarah had told the police. It took the jury just thirty minutes to convict her. Before passing sentence Baron Alderson commented that it was bad enough to kill her husband but it showed total heartlessness to kill her infant child as well. He recommended her to ask for the mercy of her Redeemer. He then donned the black cap and sentenced her to hang. It is interesting to note that Baron Alderson had, at least in his own mind, found her guilty of the murder of Jonah, even though she had not been tried for it.

During her time in prison, Sarah learnt to read and write and began reading the Bible. She avoided contact with other prisoners whilst on remand, preferring her own company and accepting the ministrations of the chaplain. In the condemned cell she continued to maintain her innocence and as far as one can tell never made a confession to either the matrons looking after her or to the chaplain.

There was no recommendation to mercy and the Home Secretary, Sir James Graham, saw no reason to offer a reprieve. The provision of the Murder Act of 1752, requiring execution to take place within two working days, had been abolished in 1836 and a period of not less than fourteen days substituted. Sarah’s execution was therefore set for Saturday the 5th of August 1843. A crowd variously estimated at 7,000 – 12,000 assembled in St. Loyes Street outside Bedford Gaol to watch the hanging. It was reported that among this throng was William Waldock.

The New Drop gallows was erected on the flat roof over the main gate of the prison in the early hours of the Saturday morning and the area around the gatehouse was protected by a troop of javelin men. William Calcraft had arrived from London the previous day to perform the execution.

Sarah was taken from the condemned cell to the prison chapel at around ten o’clock for the sacrament. The under sheriff of the county demanded her body from the governor and she was taken to the press room for her arms to be pinioned. She was now led up to the gatehouse roof and mounted the gallows platform, accompanied by the prison governor and the chaplain. She was asked if she wished to make any last statement which she declined, merely asking that Calcraft be quick in his work and repeating “Lord have mercy on my soul”. He pinioned her legs, before drawing down the white hood over her head and adjusting the simple halter style noose around her neck. He then descended the scaffold and withdrew the bolt supporting the trap doors. Sarah dropped some eighteen inches and her body became still after writhing for just a few seconds, as the rope applied pressure to the arteries and veins of her neck, causing a carotid reflex. Sarah was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and the body taken back into the prison for burial in an unmarked grave, as was now required by law.

It was reported by the local newspapers that the crowd had behaved well and remained silent until Sarah was actually hanged. Once she was suspended they carried on eating, drinking, smoking, laughing and making ribald and lewd remarks. Copies of broadsides claiming to contain Sarah’s confession and her last dying speech were being sold among the crowd, which amazingly people bought even though she had made neither. You can see a broadside about her hanging below. Note the stylised woodcut picture that was modified to show a man or a woman as appropriate.

The 1840s were a time of great hardship nationally and yet Sarah, whilst hardly wealthy, did not seem to suffer from this and it was never alleged that she was unable to feed her child or that she was destitute. Extreme poverty in rural areas did appear to be the motive in some murders at this time, especially of infants. Sarah’s motive seems to be a much more evil one, the elimination of anyone who got in the way of her next relationship.

Sarah’s was the first execution at Bedford since 1833 and she was the only woman to be publicly hanged there. In fact Bedfordshire executions were rare events and there were to be only two more in public, Joseph Castle on the 31st of March 1860 for the murder of his wife and William Worsley on the 31st of March 1868 for the murder of William Bradbury.

Notes on the period.

Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837, at the age of eighteen and her reign saw a great deal of change in the penal system. For the first thirty one years of it executions were a very public event enjoyed by the masses. People would come from far and wide to witness the spectacle, in some cases special trains were even laid on! Broadsides were sold at many executions giving the purported confessions of the prisoner and there was considerable press interest, particularly where the criminal was female.

Thirty women and two teenage girls were to be executed in England and Scotland in the thirty one year period from May 1838 to the abolition of public hanging in May 1868. Of these twenty-one had been convicted of poisoning (two thirds of the total). Sarah Chesham was actually executed for the attempted murder of her husband but was thought to be guilty of several fatal poisonings as well. Attempted murder ceased to be a capital crime in 1861 under the provisions of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act of that year. Mary Ann Milner would have made the total thirty three had she not hanged herself in Lincoln Castle the day before her scheduled execution on the 30th of July 1847. There were no female executions in Wales during this time but a further ten women were hanged in Ireland during the period, all for murder.

Sarah Chesham‘s case prompted a House of Commons committee to be set up to investigate poisoning. This found that between 1840 and 1850, ninety seven women and eighty two men had been tried for it. A total of twenty-two women were hanged in the decade 1843-1852 of whom seventeen had been convicted of murder by poisoning, representing 77% of the total. There were no female executions in the years 1840-1842 in England. This rash of poisonings led to a Bill being introduced whereby only adult males could purchase arsenic. Poisoning was considered a particularly evil crime as it is totally premeditated and thus it was extremely rare for a poisoner to be reprieved whereas it was not unusual for females to be reprieved for other types of murder, such as infanticide. One of the few poisoners to be reprieved was Charlotte Harris in 1849 who had murdered her husband but who was pregnant at the time of her trial.

* I’m baffled as to why anyone would find it odd — much less incriminating — for a person freshly in custody on a potential capital charge to lose sleep fretting about the horrors of execution. -ed.

** Alderson took part in his share of capital trials, as did any judge of consequence in his day, but was notable as a jurist on the more progressive and less bloody-minded end of the spectrum. An oft-quoted comment of his cautioning against stretching facts to fit your theory would have prevented many a wrongful punishment imposed by tunnel-visioned investigators: “The mind is apt to take pleasure in adapting circumstances to one another, and even in straining them a little if need be, to force them to form parts of one consecutive whole … and in considering such matters to overreach and mislead itself, to suppose some little link that is wanting, to take for granted some fact consistent with previous theories, and necessary to render them complete.”

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1849: Sarah Harriet Thomas, the last female juvenile hanged in Great Britain

Add comment April 20th, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprinted section from a longer article about under-18 girls executed in the 19th century that was originally published on that site. (Executed Today has taken the liberty of adding some explanatory links.) CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere, including a wider history of the juvenile death penalty in England. -ed.)

Sarah’s was to be Bristol‘s final public hanging on the flat roof of the gatehouse of New Gaol in Cumberland Road. She was a house maid to sixty one year old Miss Elizabeth Jefferies, who according to Sarah, did not treat her well and had locked her in the kitchen all night among other perceived abuses. There was almost certain to be conflict between a cranky, elderly spinster and a rebellious young girl and this culminated in Sarah bludgeoning Miss Jefferies to death with a large stone as she slept, on the night of Sunday the 4th of March 1849. Sarah had also killed Miss Jefferies’ dog and thrown its body into the lavatory. She left the house, but not without helping herself to some of her mistresses’ jewellery. Miss Jefferies’ brother was alerted to a possible problem by a neighbour who noticed that the window shutters were still closed and called the local constable to help him investigate. When they forced entry they made the gruesome discoveries. Suspicion immediately fell upon Sarah and she was arrested the next day at her mother’s house in Pensford. Initially she told the police that another girl had committed the killings and that she had only been involved with ransacking the house.

She was tried at Gloucester on the 3rd of April 1849, the public gallery being particularly crowded to hear every gruesome detail. Sarah seemed not to treat the court proceedings seriously until she was convicted and the judge donned the black cap and sentenced her to be hanged by the neck until she was dead. On hearing these words of doom she collapsed and had to be carried from the dock by two warders. A petition was got up to save her but this was to no avail. Sarah made a confession to the prison governor, Mr. J A Gardiner and two female matrons seventeen days before her execution and it was read to her every day in case she wanted to correct it. In the confession she told of the ill treatment that she had endured from Miss Jefferies and spoke of her regret in having committed the killings.

On Thursday the 19th of April the gallows was erected and William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived from London. He was to have George Smith from Dudley to assist him. The following morning a huge number of people had assembled in front of the prison to watch Sarah die.

She was dragged up two flights of stairs by six warders onto the gatehouse roof and then up a few more steps onto the platform. She was held on the trap by two warders whilst Calcraft strapped her legs, placed the white hood over her head and tightened the halter style noose around her neck. As the preparations continued Sarah cried out “I won’t be hanged; take me home!” Calcraft quickly operated the trap and Sarah’s body dropped about eighteen inches through it, quivering for a few moments before becoming still. Everybody present on the gatehouse roof was upset by the distressing scene they had witnessed and the governor of the prison fainted. Sarah’s body was buried in private in an unmarked grave within the prison later in the day.

Even the by now veteran hangman, Calcraft, was greatly affected by this job and said later that Sarah Thomas was “in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most intellectual girls I have met with.”

A crime reporter, one Mr. E. Austin, who attended the execution reported: “Ribald jests were bandied about and after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighbourhood commenced.” However, some in the crowd felt pity for the poor girl. Sadly for the majority it was probably seen much more as a free, slightly pornographic show put on by the authorities for their voyeuristic pleasure.

Sarah was the last teenage girl to be hanged in Britain. One hundred years earlier she would have suffered a far worse fate as her crime would have been deemed to be Petty Treason and she would have been burnt at the stake for it.

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1844: John Gavin, the first European hanged in Western Australia

Add comment April 6th, 2020 Headsman

John Gavin/Gaven, a 15-year-old who had been transported from England just months before, hanged at Fremantle on this date in 1844. This was the day between Good Friday and Eastern Sunday, and Gavin was the first European executed in the new settlements of Western Australia.

Working as a farmhand, Gavin yielded to an impulse to murder the farming family that held his indenture — an impulse to whose explication Gavin was not equal during the three days between his trial and his hanging.

He slew the family’s strapping 18-year-old son, George Pollard, thinking this would leave the mother defenseless thereafter; instead, the woman was defended by Gavin’s wracked conscience which drove him to a half-hearted suicide attempt and a meek surrender.

The Perth Gazette and Western Australia Journal, April 6, 1844:

CONFESSION OF THE MURDER OF GEORGE POLLARD.

To all parties it must be most consolatory to know that, on Friday night and Saturday morning the unfortunate criminal confessed his guilt, and this in so ample and sincere a manner as to leave not a doubt on the mind of Mr. Schoales, who received that confession, that anything remained behind. The substance of the confession was that, the first thoughts of committing the crime arose in his mind within five minutes of the execution of the deed, that it was a sudden instigation, one which had been paralleled, but not frequently.

The boy sat down to dinner with his victim without a thought harboured in his mind of harm towards him. He had made up his mind to murder the mother of the family that afternoon, and as he commenced his work about the farm while the lad Pollard was sleeping, the thought flashed across the mind of the prisoner, that, if he murdered the woman first, then a lad stronger than himself remained on the premises able to take him prisoner, and that, to secure the fate of the woman, and his own safety, he must first kill the lad.

In explanation of the circumstance of his clothes being wet, the unfortunate lad stated that he went to the river, not to drink, nor to wash the blood from his clothes, but to drown himself, but that his courage failed him, such was his feeling and remorse at the act he had committed. He could state no possible reason why he compassed the death of Mrs. Pollard.

EXECUTION.

The convict was transferred to Fremantle Jail on Thursday afternoon, where he was attended with the utmost attention by the Rev. George King. On Good Friday the Rev. gentleman was in prayer with the lad before the hours of service, and again in the afternoon, and to an advanced hour of the evening. On the same evening, Mr. Schoales placed himself in communication with the boy, remaining with him during the time that the clergyman was affording the consolations of the Church. Extreme penitence, the utmost contrition, and the fullest confession, marked his behaviour. At daylight Mr. Schoales was again in attendance, and Mr. King attended at an early hour.

At eight o’clock, A.M, the preparations were complete, which were made with every attention to the proper execution of the sentence, at the same time ensuring the least possible suffering to the unfortunate lad. The prison bell then began to toll, and the melancholy procession set out from the condemned cell to the scaffold: the Sheriff and his deputies and constables, the Rev. G. King, reading appropriate passages of Scripture, the prisoner, supported by Mr. Schoales, and lastly, more constables closed the train. The boy was deeply affected, and was assisted up the steps to the platform. From this time the proceedings were rapid, and at ten minutes after eight the cart moved forward, and the criminal was launched into eternity. So light was the body, that with a humane attention, heavy weights were attached to the legs of the sufferer, a precaution the propriety of which was evinced in the fact, that apparently the pangs of the unhappy boy were very few. Having hung for an hour, the Sheriff resigned the custody of the body to Mr. Schoales, who had it cut down, placed in a decent shell, and removed for the purpose of interment.

The place of execution was about ten yards on the left of the jail, looking towards the Church. The assemblage of people was not very great, and proper precautions for decent behaviour on such a solemn occasion were taken and provided for, by the presence of the Constables and a detachment of Her Majesty’s 51st L. I., who kept the ground.

After death, an excellent mask of his face and cast of the skull were taken, for the purpose of furthering the ends of science. The head we understand is of extraordinary formation; the anterior organs being very deficiently developed, while the posterior organs are of an enormous size.

At 4 o’clock P.M. the body was committed to the earth, in the sand hills a little to the southwest of the Court-house, accompanied by Mr. Schoales alone, and carried by a fatigue party of the prisoners of the jail. There, without rite or ceremony, the remains of this miserable lad were inhumed, but though the place of his sepulchure be unknown to all yet may God grant that the awful example made on so young a lad, may ever be before the minds of all of us young or old.

Many idle reports are in circulation with the usual rapidity and volubility of public rumour. It has not been hesitated to be said, that he had confessed previous murders in England. We do, on good authority, contradict this most positively.

The whole of his previous life was fully detailed, and although it shewed a sad catalogue of guilt, yet we unhesitatingly say that this was the first and only time of shedding blood; the crime for which he has suffered is bad indeed, why then indulge in the vain, silly, and false insinuation of imaginary guilt? Why belie the memory of one who has departed from among us by the gossiping retailment of every inventtion that rises in the minds of foolish people, who seek to raise themselves to some temporary importance by asserting a more peculiar knowledge of the “facts” than is possessed by the public at large. We may say in a few words, the boy’s faults were many — let them sleep in his grave.

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1842: The prisoner-mutineers of the Governor Phillip

Add comment November 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1842, four men hanged in Australia for the mutiny on the Governor Phillip.*

In this abortive rebellion, a dozen prisoners being carried on the aforenamed brig off the coast of Norfolk Island capitalized on the inattention of their guards and attempted to commandeer the vessel. By every account it was an unpremeditated affair, simply an attack of opportunity when the prisoners realized they’d been carelessly left free on the deck with only two guards, who were speedily thrown into the drink. (One drowned.)

Their aspirations at this moment ran along the lines of Fletcher Christian: merely to escape.

“Captain Boyle, I want to make a proposal with you,” one of the mutineers shouted at the momentarily deposed skipper while the latter was barricaded in his cabin. “Give us provisions and sails, and we’ll take the boat and leave you.” No deal was struck; instead, within a matter of minutes, the crew and guards rallied and took back the ship. It was the least they could do since, as one news article put it, “it certainly says little for their vigilance or prowess that such an attempt could have been made with any chance of success by a handfull of unarmed men.”

Five prisoners and the one drowning guard died in the scrap.

The seven surviving mutineers were left to stand trial for piracy, four — John Jones, John Sayers, Nicholas Lewis and George Beaver — of them ultimately consigned to the gallows at Sydney. (Two reprieves and a non-prosecution spared the remainder.) They arrived thence “so firm, yet in so resigned and devotional a state of mind” for they had “gradually become aware of their awful situation and received … those aids and consolations of religion” whilst “fully acknowledging the justice of the law.”

* The ship was named for Arthur Phillip, who commanded the First Fleet that founded the first British penal colony in Australia in 1788 — the germ of the eventual city of Sydney. (Named for Phillip’s patron, the Viscount Sydney.)

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1849: Pierre Dudragne, avarice

Add comment November 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1849, Pierre Dudragne was guillotined at Chalon-sur-Saone.

He’d done a doubly dirty deed, choking out the 85-year-old widow Marechal in the course of burgling her Montmort home … and then also murdering the old lady’s servant, Claudine Bray. No honor among thieves: Bray was Dudragne’s own lover and accomplice in the heist, and his motive was the firm preference not to split the boodle with her.

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1842: William Caffee, Mineral Point spook

Add comment November 1st, 2019 Headsman

Mineral Point, Wisconsin’s historic Walker House inn and tavern hosted a public execution on this date in 1842 … and rumor has it that the hanged man hasn’t stopped hanging around ever since.

The Mystery Of The Pointing Dog is tween historical fiction set in Mineral Point on the day of the hanging.

William Caffee’s journey to the gallows began earlier that year at a different publick-house, which also still stands today: Berry Tavern of Shullsburg, where Caffee picked a fight at a dance and ended up shooting another man dead, straight through the heart.

Evidence at his trial indicated that he’d boasted earlier that evening that he would kill a man that night, which led to his conviction for first-degree murder. Unchastened by his situation, the hardened ruffian passed the weeks until his death muttering threats to his guards and to the judge who noosed him.

Five thousand people assembled in the peaceful and quiet village of Mineral Point to witness what! The agony and dying throes of a fellow man. Good God! What a curiosity.

The crowd was not made up of any particular class, but was composed indiscriminately of both high and low, rich and poor, men white with the frosts of age, and tottering upon the verge of eternity were here, young men in throngs were here. The pious and the good were here. The aged and discreet matron was here. The virgin, “chaste as the icicle that hangs on Dian’s temple,” were here. Infants, muling and puking in their nurse’s arms, were here by the acre. In a word, every age, sex, color and condition was fully represented here to-day.

The Execution took place upon the low ground below the town, surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills, which were literally covered by the eager multitude. The scaffold was constructed upon the old plan, and consisted of a square frame work, placed upon the ground, into which was inserted two upright posts about twelve feet high and four feet apart; across the top of these posts went a beam, with a large iron hook inserted, to which was attached the rope. Between the upright posts, and about six feet from the ground was fixed a platform or trap door, about four feet square, hung with hinges upon one side and kept in a horizontal position by a pin passing through one of the upright posts and under the edge of the platform. To this pin was attached a lever for the purpose of drawing it out and letting fall the trap. The ascent to the scaffold was by means of a flight of stairs.

Agreeable to the requisition of George Messersmith, Esq. Sheriff, Capt. Shaw attended from the South part of the county, with a company of thirty men, in uniform, armed with muskets, a company of Dragoons armed with pistols and sabres, was organized at Mineral Point, under Major Gray, a strong guard of citizens was also organized and stationed round the Jail during the fore part of the day, and were afterwards incorporated into Capt. Shaw’s company.

At 2 o’clock, P.M. the procession formed in front of the Jail in the following order:

Dragoons under Maj. Gray;
Infantry;
Waggon containing coffin;
Infantry;
Dragoons under Col. Sublett;

Prisoner was then led forth from the jail in a long white robe, with a white cap upon his head, and a rope round his neck, leaning upon the arm of the Sheriff; he walked to the wagon and stepped into it with little or no assistance, and seated himself upon the coffin; the Sheriff and his deputies took seats in the wagon; a dead march was struck up, and the procession moved forward to the place of execution. Here the military were stationed round the gallows at the distance of some thirty feet, to keep off the crowd. Prisoner was then assisted from the wagon, and with a firm step ascended with the Sheriff to the scaffold. The Rev. Mr. Wilcox, who was in frequent attendance upon the prisoner during his last hours, now ascended the scaffold and prayed with him for the last time; thePrisoner, in the meantime, leaning upon one of the posts of the gallows, and manifesting no emotion. Upon being asked by the Sheriff if he had any thing to say, he answered no, and requested that the rope might be adjusted “with a good long slack,” and his doom forthwith sealed. The Sheriff then adjusted the rope, drew the cap down over the prisoner’s face, and descended from the scaffold, putting his hand to lever, the fatal pin was drawn out, and prisoner launched into eternity.

From the time of prisoner’s arrest, down to the last moment of his existence, he maintained the utmost coolness; and manifested such a contempt of death, as to invest him with a sort of terrible grandeur; making good upon the scaffold his previous boast, that he could stare the grim messenger out of countenance.

North Western Gazette & Galena Advertiser, November 4, 1842

Present-day Mineral Point has not been above exploiting the famous hanging as a tourist attraction, but this is only fair considering that Caffee’s ghost has been reported to haunt the Walker House ever since. (Perhaps only one of several supernatural terrors menacing Mineral Point.)

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1848: Puran Appu, Kandy rebel

Add comment August 8th, 2019 Headsman

Weera Sanadhdhana Weera Balasooriya Kuru Uthumpala Arthadewa Gunaratne Nanayakkara Lakshapathi Maha Widanelage Fransisco Fernando — who is thankfully better known simply as Veera Puran Appu — was executed on this date in 1848 as one of the principals in a Ceylon rebellion against the British.

For several years he had been a famed and colorful bandit in the central highlands around Kandy, and his name bore the romance of the road and the weight of a £10 price. He was “light, well looking, well made, stout, marks of punishment on the back and 4 vaccination marks” in the words of the Brits’ wanted-man bulletin. They forgot to add: political.

In July of 1848, Puran Appu emerged at the head of a popular uprising sparked by land seizures and taxes upon an irate peasantry that every day became more inextricably entangled in the empire’s economic circuitry. It’s known as the Matale rebellion after the central city which Puran Appu briefly held, ransacking government buildings before the disciplined British army was able to rally and put down the rising and stood the rebel in front of a firing squad.

“He died exclaiming, if the king [meaning the self-proclaimed rebel king, in whose name Puran Appu acted] had three men about him as bold and determined as myself he would have been master of Kandy,” the British Governor Torrington* recorded.

He’s honored in Sri Lanka (and Kandy in particular) every year on this anniversary of his death, but fine for any occasion is a 1978 Sri Lankan biopic about, and titled, Veera Puran Appu.

* George Byng was his name, the 7th Viscount Torrington. He’s in the same family tree as the 18th century British admiral infamously executed pour encourager les autres, John Byng: Admiral John was a younger son of the 1st Viscount Torrington.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Sri Lanka

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1849: Maximilian Dortu, republican martyr

Add comment July 31st, 2019 Headsman

Maximilian Dortu was shot on this date in 1849 for his part in that era’s failed revolutions, but posterity will always remember his dunk on the future German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm.

A plaque commemorating Herr Dortu in Potsdam. (cc) image from Doris Antony.

A kid fresh out of university when the intoxicating fires of revolution broke out in Europe in 1848, Dortu (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the detailed German upon hearing that Wilhelm — Prince of Prussia at the time — had deployed artillery in the suppressions roasted him publicly as Kartätschenprinz — the Prince of Grapeshot. It’s a name the Prussian autocrat has never fully lived down.

That got him detained for several months but nothing daunted he emerged after release late in 1848 as a rabble-rousing orator in Potsdam, then took part in the May-July 1849 Palatine uprising — a secondary revolt that occurred after Prince Grapeshot annulled the constitution that the preceding months had nominally secured.

“An idealistic soul, fierce in battle, stormy and ardent on the rostrum, bursting with patriotic fervor at every moment,” a compatriot judged him.

All Dortu’s passion was no match for the grapeshot; the militia that he led dissolved as 19,000 crack Prussian soldiers under General Moritz von Hirschfeld poured in to smash the rebellion.

Dortu was captured in Freiburg and condemned as a rebel, pridefully refusing to petition for mercy. “Who has the courage to confess a conviction and fight for it, must also have the courage to die for it,” he wrote to his parents.

This romantic hero, “the first martyr of the Prussian court martial,” (there were two more shot in August) became for many years a democratic icon, of sufficient weight that Wilhelm, as King of Prussia in the 1860s, forbade Potsdam from accepting a memorial donative from Dortu’s widow. But the disdain of the Hohenzollern never sufficed to snuff out his memory; since 2004, he’s been honored annually by a commemorative ceremony at his tomb on the anniversary of his death.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot

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1845: Sarah Freeman, Shapwick Murderess

1 comment April 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Hanged April 23, 1845 for poisoning her brother Charles Dimond — and commonly suspected to have offed several other family members by means of arsenic — the “Shapwick Murderess” Sarah Freeman insisted her innocence to her very last breath. “I am as innocent as a lamb,” she said to the hangman William Calcraft as he noosed her.

Serial poisoner or wrongfully executed? Find out more at the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page

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

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