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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Piracy

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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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Pelf,Theft

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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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA,Wisconsin

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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.

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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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Murder,New York,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Murder,Norway,Public Executions,Sex

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