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.

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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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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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1844: John Knatchbull, moral madman

Add comment February 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1844, John Knatchbull hanged before an orderly crowd of 10,000 at Taylor Square in Sydney, Australia.

Knatchbull was among 20 children of a prolific baronet. The youngster fought at sea in the Napoleonic Wars but found himself in financial straits after demobilization and spiraled into a criminality.

Transported to Australia for an armed robbery, he there cultivated an extensive rap sheet — mutiny, forgery, poisoning his guards. It was a comprehensive Jekyll-to-Hyde heel turn: “all traces of a gentleman had long disappeared, he exhibited no evidence that he had been in a higher social position,” wrote a clergyman who visited him. “[H]e appeared to be in his natural place.”

So you couldn’t say that nobody saw it coming in early 1844 when Knatchbull, out on a ticket of leave, went

into the shop of a poor widow, named Ellen Jamieson, and asked for some trifling article. While Mrs. Jamieson was serving him, the ruffian raised a tomahawk, which he held in his hand, and clove the unfortunate woman’s head in a savage manner. She lingered for a few days, and died, leaving two orphan children … though an attempt was made to set up a plea of insanity, a barrister being employed by the agent for the suppression of capital punishment, so foul a villain could not be saved from the gallows. (Source)

This insanity defense was a then-novel “moral insanity” claim contending “a form of mental derangement in which the intellectual faculties were unaffected, but the affects or emotions were damaged, causing patients to be carried away by some kind of furious instinct.” That is, Knatchbull knew that he did wrong when he struck the luckless shopkeep, but he had no power to restrain himself. The court took a pass.


Sketch of the scene at Knatchbull’s hanging.

More fortunate of birth and temperament, John’s brother Edward Knatchbull, who was not only the sitting baronet but the UK’s Paymaster General, made good his vocation by arranging a donative to Ellen Jamieson’s orphaned children.

This family — the donors, not the orphans — remains among the peers of the realm, its vintage baronetcy of Mersham Hatch having been upgraded to a baronage in 1880. It’s currently held by Norton Knatchbull, who is also Earl Mountbatten (he’s the maternal grandson of the Mountbatten who led British forces in Southeast Asia, took down the Union Jack in India, and was assassinated by the IRA).

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1845: John Burnett, failson

Add comment December 26th, 2018 Headsman

At the Fayetteville (Arks.) Court on the 8th inst., John Burnett was sentenced to be hung on the 26th inst., for the murder of Jonathan Selby.

-Newark (N.J.) Daily Advertiser, Dec. 29, 1845

John Burnett, the son and collaborator of murderers Lavinia and Crawford Burnett — a case we addressed in a previous post — belatedly shared his parents’ fate on this date in 1845.

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1840: Zachariah Freeman

Add comment November 19th, 2018 John O'Sullivan

(Thanks for the guest post to American newsman and reformer John L. O’Sullivan. Best-known as the fellow who coined that potent brand for American empire, “manifest destiny,” O’Sullivan was also a vigorous advocate for abolishing capital punishment as a New York legislator in the 1840s, and made several proposals to that effect. The summary here is one of many reported in O’Sullivan’s appendix to his Report in favor of the abolition of punishment of death, by law, made to the legislature of the state of New York, April 14, 1841. The report did not achieve its objective. -ed.)

Tried in September, 1840, for the murder of Sarah Boyd, his quasiwife, in the town of Lysander, Onondaga county, on the 18th of May, 1840.

Both were negroes. They lived in the same house with his father, 80 years of age, his brother Elihu, and a woman who lived with his brother as his wife. Zachariah was much attached to Sarah, and had taken some steps toward making arrangements for a legal marriage with her.

Jealousy was the motive to the murder — or a combination of jealousy and insanity. They had some trifling dispute, in which she refused to comply with some domestic order of her husband, when he raised a chair, and struck her across the arm, knocking her down. On recovering herself, she declared she would never live with him again. He thereupon went to some woods at a short distance, and made an attempt to hang himself — whether in earnest, or to frighten them, does not appear clear. He was stopped with the rope round his neck, and brought back to the house.

While he was away she expressed great dread of his returning, saying, that if he did, she should be a corpse before morning — that though he had not threatened her, she saw it in his eye. While he was out, before returning to the house, he was praying and singing hymns. He entreated a reconciliation with her, which she refused; — he was willing to go down on his knees to her. She consented to leave it to the rest to decide the next morning, if he would now behave himself.

On this arrangement the rest went to bed — he remained up, smoking a pipe. He had insisted on smoking her pipe, refusing any other. According to his confession of what followed, he after a time leaned his head on the bed, and she kicked him. He then got the knife with which he committed the act, and went to some distance from the house for the purpose of killing himself; but while whetting it, determined to go back to see her once more. She was sitting up in bed. He placed his left hand on her shoulder, and attempted to kiss her. He had no thought of injuring her — “she was young, handsome, and everything that was nice, and it had not occurred to his mind to damage her at all.”

She refused to receive him, and slapped him on the face. He then gave her a stab, which was in a few moments fatal, immediately cutting his own throat also. Though a severe wound, this did not prove fatal.

The family were immediately roused, and eventually he was cured of his wound. He expressed much grief and repentance. He was jealous of his brother Elihu, whom he believed to have criminal intercourse with her. Zachariah had wished her to remove with him to another house, but she had refused. He said, after the affair, that “if she would not lie any more with him, he would not let her with any other man” — “he thought she should never sleep with another man, and he never with another woman.”

He said, he expected to be hanged, but added: “I shall go to the gallows in as good a cause as ever a man went.” His previous general character was good. He was hung November 19th, 1840.

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1847: Peder Ringeneie

Add comment October 22nd, 2018 Headsman

Peder Ringeneie was beheaded on this date in 1847 in Baerum, Norway. He murdered his wife with an ax, so that he could run away with a lover.

Most of what’s out there on Ringeneie is in Norwegian, including this amazing blog post chronicling (with photos) a trip in the footsteps of this bygone crime. This post quotes the account of the priest who ministered to the doomed murderer; Google Translate and I have done our best with the passage.

We helped him kneel down, and admirable composure! He folded his hands and lifted his pale eyes with clear vision toward heaven and prayed loudly. I heard him commend his soul to Jesus.

The executioner tied a scarf over his eyes. I hardly think he noticed it. He lay down with these earnest words:

“In the name of Jesus!”

Dreadful moment! The executioner positioned his [Ringeneie’s] head, tore his neck collar, and fixed his hands behind his back. He he lay down like a lamb.

I sank to my knees and began to recite “Our Father” very loudly. I did not see clearly, I saw no human arm, but there shone a wide, glimmering steel that slowly rose. Just as I pronounced the words:

“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors …”

the steel fell with an exceedingly powerful force … The Lord, however, gave power to complete the prayer. The pale head lay there. I watched it for a few moments. Gislesen and I pressed each other’s hands silently and put into a mood that I can not describe; but I know that I was never more in need of God’s strength.

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1849: Celigny Ardouin, Haitian Minister of the Interior

3 comments August 7th, 2018 Headsman

Haitian politician Celigny Ardouin was executed on this date in 1849.

The brother of historian Beaubrun Ardouin (and the already-deceased poet Coriolan Ardouin), Celigny Ardouin was the country’s former Interior Minister but was purged when the slave-turned-general-turned-president Faustin Soulouque, appointed as a figurehead president for the country’s elites, mounted a self-coup to establish himself as the emperor.

Ardouin had opposed Soulouque’s initial selection, and the emerging dictator had opportunistically accused his old foe of orchestrating disturbances in support of a senator who was frustratingly safe from Soulouque’s executioners thanks to French diplomatic pressure.

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1844: Samuel Mohawk

Add comment March 22nd, 2018 Headsman


Philadelphia Sun, March 26, 1884.

On this date in 1844, Samuel Mohawk, an indigenous Seneca Indian, was hanged for slaughtering Mary McQuiston Wigton and her five children in Slippery Rock, Penn.

Many witnesses noticed Mohawk in a violent rage as he traveled by stage from New York, and his mood grew fouler with drink and with the repeated refusal of hospitality by white establishments. It’s unclear what specific trigger turned his evil temper to murder at the Wigton residence — if there was any real trigger at all — but in his fury, he pounded the brains of his victims out of their skulls with rocks. The case remains locally notorious to this day, in part for being the first execution in Butler County.

I’d tell you all about it but the (inert but very interesting) blog YesterYear Once More has already got it covered.

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1841: The Jewboy’s Gang

Add comment March 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1841, Australian bushranger Edward “Teddy the Jewboy” Davis was hanged in Sydney along with five others of his gang. The reader may guess the chief’s distinguishing demographic characteristic, and some lists mark him the only Jewish bushranger.

He’d been transported from England in 1833 at the age of about 16, for a trifling theft. “Obsessed by the idea that he had been wronged when he was transported and governed by an indomitable desire for freedom,” Davis began repeatedly escaping from his penal assignments only to be repeatedly captured.

Indefatigable as Monty Python’s Swamp Castle King, he just kept trying until he got it right.

By 1839 the young Hebrew had formed a seven-strong outlaw gang plundering New South Wales’s future wine country, the Hunter Valley. Their captain seems to have brought along from the old country the romantic conception of a cavalier-thief, as this charming account of one of their raids suggests, wherein the victim “says he was treated in the most gentlemanly manner by them, and that he never spent a happier night in his life.” The stylish marauders, we find, dressed themselves “rather gaudy, as they wore broad-rimmed Manilla hats, turned up in front with abundance of broad pink ribbons, satin neck-cloths, splendid brooches, [and] all of them had rings and watches.”

They kept by a sage policy of Davis’s to eschew deadly violence for fear of bringing down the authorities’ wrath, but they didn’t quite keep to it well enough. One of their number, John Shea, slew a man in December 1840, and a posse hunted them down the very next day, and interviewed in jail, “Davies said that he would always oppose the shedding of blood, for he knew if they once committed a murder they would not reign a week; whilst saying so he looked at the other four men,* and said, you now see we have not reigned a day.”

Edward Davis, 26, Robert Chitty, 37, James Everett, 25, John Marshall, 27, Richard Glanville, 31, and the 27-year-old Shea were hanged behind Sydney Gaol on the 16th of the following March.

The notoriety which the crimes of these men has attained drew together a large concourse of spectators to witness their execution. The entrance to the Gaol, in George-street, was besieged for admission long before the arrival, at nine o’clock, of a strong military guard from the barracks, and so great was the pressure of the crowd, that it required the unremitting exertions of Captain Innes to preserve order. At ten minutes past nine, the culprits were strongly pinioned, and conducted from the cells to the area in front of the drop, where they knelt down. Chitty, Everett, Marshall, and Glanville, were attended by the Rev. William Cowper and the Rev. John Elder. The Rev. Mr. Murphy, Catholic Priest, accompanied Shea; and Davis (being of the Jewish persuasion), was attended by Mr. Isaacs, Minister of the Jewish congregation in New South Wales. All the culprits (if we except Everett), deeply lamented their having committed the crimes for which they were about to die, and acknowledged the justice of their sentences. Everett ascended the scaffold hurriedly, and in an evident state of excitement. He was followed by Chitty, Marshall, and Glanville, all three of whom, on reaching the scaffold sung the first verse of the Morning Hymn, to be found in many editions of the book of Common Prayer, commencing “Awake my soul, and with the sun.”

This act of devotion, we have since heard was entirely spontaneous, not having been suggested, or even expected by either of the reverend gentlemen, who attended to administer the consolations of religion according to the rites of the Protestant Church. The ropes were speedily adjusted, and the white caps drawn over the faces of the wretched criminals; in the short interval which elapsed before the withdrawal of the fatal bolt, Marshall and Glanville were engaged in loud and apparently fervent prayer, and we observed the culprit Davis (who was attired in a suit of mourning), thank the Jewish Minister for the attention paid him in his last moments. The struggles of all the men were of short duration; the immense crowd dispersed peaceably. It will be remembered that these men were apprehended, chiefly through the active exertions of Mr. Day, Police Magistrate, Maitland.

* A fifth accomplice was captured a short time afterwards and joined his mates on the gallows.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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