1853: Hans McFarlane and Helen Blackwood, married on the scaffold

Add comment August 11th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1853, Hans M(a)cFarlane and Helen Blackwood were hanged before a crowd of some 40,000 souls in Glasgow, Scotland.

It wasn’t the only civic ceremony the couple would participate in that day.

McFarlane and Blackwood had been convicted of murdering Alexander Boyd, a ship’s carpenter with the merchant navy. On June 11 of that year, they drugged his whiskey, hit him over the head with the chamber pot, stripped him down to his pants and socks and threw his body out the third-floor window.

McFarlane, Blackwood, and two alleged accomplices, Ann Young and Mary Hamilton, were arrested immediately. Although they tried to make Boyd’s death out to be an accident, two children in the room, whom the killers had thought were asleep, had witnessed the whole thing and told on them.

In the end, the case against Hamilton was ruled not proven. Young was convicted, but her death sentence was commuted to transportation. Blackwood and McFarlane had to swing.

Douglas Shelton, in his book Deadlier Than The Male: Scotland’s Most Wicked Women, records,

While in Duke Street Prison, McFarlane asked for permission to marry his lover, Blackwood. Permission was refused but they were determined to be man and wife. As they stood on the scaffold near to Glasgow’s South Prison on the site of the present-day High Court, McFarlane announced to the woman — and the 40,000-strong crowd there to see them hang — “Helen Blackwood, before God in the presence of these witnesses I take you do be my wife. Do you consent?”

The woman replied, “I do.”

McFarlane then said, “Then before these witnesses I declare you to be what you have always been to me, a true and faithful wife, and you die an honest woman.”

The minister officiating the hanging then said, “Amen,” the bolt was drawn and the newly married pair fell to their deaths.

Helen Blackwood was the second-to-last woman to be publicly hanged in Scotland. This broadside was sold to commemorate her and her husband’s deaths.

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1857: John Dorsey

Add comment July 17th, 2018 Headsman

The public domain volume 1886 Professional Criminals of America might divert the devotee of classic true crime with its numerous vignettes from the latter 19th century, quite a few of them unsolved. Executed Today of course cottons to the section on executions at Manhattan’s The Tombs Prison, such as the following:

JOHN DORSEY (negro), a sailor, was executed in the Tombs prison for the murder of Ann McGirr, alias Ann Hopkins. The crime was committed at No. 3 Worth Street on March 10, 1857. The scene of the crime was a five-story tenement inhabited by colored prostitutes. Dorsey and the woman lived together, and on the night of March 10, 1857, he returned home under the influence of liquor. He met his mistress. Ann McGirr, in the alleyway. They had some words, and Dorsey becoming angry drew a razor from his pocket and cut the woman’s throat from ear to ear. Dorsey was convicted of murder in the first degree, in the Court of General Sessions, May 21, 1857, before Judge Abraham D. Russell. He was hanged on July 17, 1857.

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1857: Danforth Hartson, again

Add comment July 15th, 2018 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

“For God’s sake, don’t do that again.”

Danforth Hartson, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed July 15, 1857

Hartson (aka Sailor Jim) claimed self-defense in a fight that followed his argument with “estimable citizen” John Burke, whom he knocked to the ground and then shot in the chest. Burke was able to make a full statement, naming Hartson as the murderer, before he died.

Hartson’s last words came after he slipped through the noose and fell through the trap door.

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1851: Ruben Dunbar, Destructiveness and Combativeness

Add comment January 31st, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1851, Ruben Dunbar hanged in New York for murdering two little boys: the 8- and 10-year-old nephews to his widowed mother’s second husband. Thanks to the mother’s remarriage, these boys had supplanted Dunbar as the heirs to his mother’s property.

We’re indebted for attention to this case to our crime-blogging friends at Murder by Gaslight, who also call attention to a short pamphlet entitled “Phrenological Character of Reuben Dunbar, With a Short Treatise on The Casuses and Prevention of Crime”. This item is available free from Google Books and contains the findings of a phrenologist — Margaret Thompson — who examined Dunbar. (Phrenology was already into an advanced stage of disrepute by the 1850s.)

We begin with the core metrics:

His physiology is sound and good. He has a fair proportion of all the temperaments, with a predominance of the vital. The size of his head is 22 3/4 inches in curcumference, over the organs of Individuality and Philoprogenitiveness; and 13½ inches over the top, from Destructiveness to Destructiveness, over Firmness. The size of his phrenological developments, on a scale of from one to seven, are as follows:

Amativeness, 5; Philoprogenitiveness, 4; Adhesiveness, 6; Inhabitiveness, 5; Concentrativeness, 4; Vitativeness, 6; Combativeness, 6; Destructiveness, 6; Alimentiveness, 6; Acquisitiveness, 6; Secretiveness, 7; Cautiousness, 6 to 7; Approbativeness, 7; Self-Esteem, 4; Firmness, 7; Consceintiousness, 4; Hope[,[ 5; Marvellousness, 4; Veneration, 4; Benevolence, 5; Constructiveness, 5; Ideality, 4; Sublimity, 5; Imitation, 5; Mirthfulness, 5; Individuality, 6; Form, 6; Size, 6; Weight, 6; Color, 6; Order, 6; Calculation, 5; Locality, 6; Eventuality, 6; Time, 5; Language, 5; Causality, 5; Comparison, 6

Several pages then elucidate the weight and combination of these figures in the estimation of the examiner, also neatly retrofitting the crime that she knows Dunbar stands accused of.

Philoprogenitiveness is only average. He might love his own children, but would not care for the children of others; and his large Destructiveness and Combativeness would incline him naturally to be impatient, severe, and even cruel with children over whom he has control.

His selfish propensities are large, while his moral faculties are between full and average. In such an organization the selfish feelings have a very powerful influence, and without great care and constant exercise of the moral organs, will be sure to gain the ascendancy. Acquisitiveness is large and very active. This gives him a strong desire to obtain money, property, &c.; and with his inferior moral brain, would lead him to be penurious and covetous. Secretiveness is very large. He is exceedingly cunning, and capable of acting artfully and deceitfully; has uncommon power to conceal his real feelings. Seldom discloses his plans to others; is secretive and says little. Destructiveness and Combativeness are large also; so is firmness. These, with his other combination of organs, make him quarrelsome, harsh, severe, self-willed, tenacious of his rights, wilful, and desperately determined.

All told, she reckons, Dunbar labored under “an unfortunate organization; one in which the animal propensities govern, because the moral faculties are not sufficiently large to balance and control them.”

Thompson’s pamphlet then pivots curiously from her diagnosis of Dunbar to that of his entire society, and reaches her own science’s strange circuits a familiar conclusion:

Crime is caused by an abuse or perverted action of the animal propensities, owing principally to education, and partly to the hereditary transmission of those faculties from parents to their children … It is a fact which comes within the range of our observation daily, that the faculties of Destructiveness and Combativeness are almost universally strengthened and encouraged in children by severe and coercive measures … Punishment with the rod invariably tends to give a highly stimulated and perverted action to Destructiveness and Combativeness … by repeated whippings an increased quantity of blood is sent to the base of the brain, and it is thereby inflamed and excited, and increased in size and activity. If children are punished in anger, and from a spirit of retaliation, we may reasonably expect to see in them, when full grown and matured, an abnormal exercise of Destructiveness and Combativeness.

Thompson recommends a more rehabilitative approach to criminal justice, a combination of instruction and what she calls “the law of love” — “of the efficacy and power of kindness over man, even when in ruins, and sunk to the lowest depths of sin and degradation. However far he may have wandered from the paths of truth and virtue, still he is a man and a brother — an immortal being, having claims on our sympathy, and our best efforts to reform him and make him happy.”

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1857: Dedea Redanies, immigrant soldier

Add comment January 1st, 2018 Headsman

On New Year’s Day of 1857, Serbian Dedea Redanies was hanged in front of the Maidstone gaol for the shocking, out-of-nowhere murder of two English sisters he was close with.

Hailing from Belgrade, capital to the autonomous Serbian proto-state at the fraying fringes of Ottoman Europe, Redanies numbered among the thousands of subjects of central and southern European polities recruited by England as Crimean War cannon fodder. Relocated to England for training, a great many of these Germans, Italians, and Swiss were never deployed before the war ended in March 1856.

Though empires seek young men for their trigger-fingers they obtain also their passions and dreams so it is no surprise that a number of these import soldiers made time with the women near their posts. Our man Dedea Redanies was one of these; he became intimate with a Dover family near his garrison at Shorncliffe Camp and began to pay court to its eldest daughter, Caroline Back. Caroline liked Dedea too. Some of the young soldier’s letters to his inamorata, in touchingly fractured English, were published. (This is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Aug. 23, 1856)

My dear Caroline, —

I receive your portress and letter. I am glad and happy unto death. I am glad that you me not forgotten, and I beg you rit me every week one letters.

I have since that time than I from you to depart must, no happy hour to live to see can, and I thanks you for yours truth love.

I hoppe next month to see you. I do wish God spead you well. Me complaments on all familie 6000 tousend kisses.

Good bie mi dear Caroline, you truth,

Mi not forgotten.

Dedea Redanies

That letter was dated the 28th of June.

Barely a month later a passerby would find Caroline and her sister Maria (ages 18 and 16, respectively) stabbed to death on the road to Folkstone. They’d been last seen by their family gaily conversing with Dedea as he escorted them on the nine-mile walk; some others would describe noticing them on their way that morning, all of them in apparent high spirits.

Dedea Redanies said little after his arrest other than to embrace his (already obvious) responsibility for the murders but as could be best understood from a German letter* that he posted to the victims’ mother shortly before his capture, he had perceived a slip in Caroline’s affections and decided to do the whole tragic murder-suicide thing rather than live another day without her. Attaining a secluded glen facing the sea, he effected his plan in the most mawkish fashion imaginable. (This is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Aug. 23, 1857)

To Mother Back, —

On the first lines I pray to forgive the awful accident to the unlucky Dedea Redanies, which I committed on my very dear Caroline and Maria Back yesterday morning at five o’clock. Scarcely I am able to write; my heart break for my ever memorable Caroline and Maria. The cause of my deed is — 1, As I heard that Caroline is not in the family way, as I first believed; 2, because Caroline intends to go to Woolwich; 3, as I cannot stay with my very dear Caroline it made my heart so scattered that I put into my mind at last that Caroline rather may die from my hands than to allow Caroline’s love being bestowed upon others. However, I did not intend to murder also Maria, her sister, but, not having other opportunity, and as she was in my way, I could not do otherwise. I must stab her, too.

Dear Mother, — Saturday evening, when I came, I had not at least any intention to commit this awful act; but as I learned that my dear Caroline gave me back my likeness, and as she told me she would leave, I did not know any other way than that leading to the cutler, where I bought a poignard which divided the hearty lovers.

Sketch of Dedea Redanies committing murder by … Dedea Redanies. (Some stories indicate this was a repeated hobby of his as he awaited hanging.)

Arm by arm I brought my dearest souls in the world over to the unlucky place, neear the road before Folkestone, and requested them to sit down. But the grass being wet, they refused to do so, and I directed then Caroline to go forward, and I went behind Maria, into whose breast I ran the dagger. With a dull cry she sank down. With a most broken heart I rushed then after Caroline, lifting the poignard in my hand towards her. ‘Dear Dedea,’ cried she, with a half-dead voice, and fell down with weeping eyes. Then I rushed over her, and gave her the last kisses as an everlasting remembrance.

I could not live a more dreadful hour in my life than that was, and my broken heart could not feel when my senses were gone. And I took both the black capes of Maria and dear Caroline, as a mourning suit for me, leaving the awful spot with weeping eyes and a broken heart. Never I shall forget my dear Caroline and Maria, and the poignard will be covered with blood until it will be put in my own breast, and I shall see again my dear Maria and Caroline in the eternal life.

Farewell, and be not unhappy about the blissful deceased; they are angels of God, and forget the unhappy ever-weeping

Dedea Redanies

Wandering onward toward Canterbury, Redanies self-inflicted three stab wounds (one of them tearing into his left lung) that would have been fatal but for the timely arrival of a party of laborers and a surgeon they were able to summon. That enabled the crown to do the inflicting for him. Impassive in the face of his approaching death, he kept on roleplaying the romance in his head to the very end — “In a few moments I shall be in the arms of my dear Caroline; I care not for death” — “Now I write no more — I prepare myself to go meet my dear Caroline” — etc.

There’s more detail about this case as well as a hanging ballad to be found at PlanetSlade.com; the crime also inspired a folk tune, “The Folkestone Murder”

One final senseless death remained to the tragedy: according to the London Morning Chronicle (Jan. 2, 1857), one of the workmen disassembling the scaffold after it had served its turn “fell from a considerable height upon his head, and was killed upon the spot.”

* The quoted text is the English as it was originally published; I’m not positive whether to attribute its clunky prose more to the writer or the translator.

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1856: Three Italian seamen in Hampshire

Add comment December 23rd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1856, Neapolitan sailors Giuseppe Lagava, Giovanni Barbaolo and Matteo Pettrici* were hanged at Hampshire for a murderous mutiny aboard the British barque Globe.

In an incident to thrill the Euroskeptic, the Alloa-based barley hauler had become a Bosphorus donnybrook one Monday in July when five Italian soldiers (our Neapolitans, along with a Venetian and a Triestine) turned against the English half of the crew (comprising the master, the mate, two sailors, and a ship’s boy). Alerted by the sound of the Italians murdering the two sailors, the boy and the two senior officers were able to barricade themselves in the master’s cabin.

After a tense negotiation, the sailors contented themselves with the two lives they had already taken as well as all the valuables they could load into a skiff, and lowered into the sea intending to disappear into the Turkish coast. But the Globe was able to limp into harbor with her surviving crew, and a quick scrambling of British and Turkish pursuit forces captured three of the five rebels.**

Hauled to England and condemned on foreign soil, the Italians kept mum about the event until hours before the execution when Lagava broke down and confessed, claiming to have dragooned his confederates into the task “trascinarsi per i capelli” (by the hair of their heads).

We tap the hanging report from the London Reynolds’s Newspaper of Dec. 28, 1856.

The drop had been erected over the entrance gateway of the gaol on the previous day, and all the preparations having been completed at five minutes to eight o’clock, Mr. Hasfield, under sheriff, acting for Mr. E. R. Bradshaw, of Fairoak-park, high sheriff of the county of Hants, formally demanded the bodies of the culprits for execution. They were then brought out of the cells in which they had been separately confined, and marshalled in the procession appointed to convey them to the gallows. The governor led the way, followed by the Rev. Mr. Rogers, and then came Peetrisi [sic], resting one arm upon Signor Ferretti and another upon the officer of the gaol. Lagava came next — supported by two officers and accompanied by Dr. Faa and Mr. Stone; and was in turn followed by Barbaolo, who was led by two turnkeys and attended by Bishop Grant and Dr. Baldassoni. A more painful sight than was presented by this procession as it crossed the court-yard lying between the prison and the entrance gateway cannot possibly be imagined. There was nothing of bravado in the manner of any of the culprits — though all of them walked without assistance.

Arrived at the entrance-gateway, the culprits were conducted by a narrow stone staircase to an apartment about forty feet above the basement floor, where the process of pinioning was gone through. Previously to this the unhappy men were permitted to embrace each other, which they did with great apparent affection, and also bade farewell to the chaplain and governor, and the priests, Lagava and Barbaalo, requesting the latter to accompany them to the scaffold. Resigning themselves into the hands of Calcraft they were now severally pinioned. During the whole time this was going on, Lagava and Barbaalo repeated aloud the “Kyrie Eleison,” and other prayers.

At one period Lagava directed the attention of Pietrici to the priest, but the latter replied, “The priest did not die for me; Christ died for me.” Pietrici was the first to be led on to the scaffold. As soon as Calcraft had placed him under the fatal beam, the most painful excitement was occasioned among the crowd assembled in front of the gaol by the culprits exclaiming in a loud shrill voice, which resounded across the valley overlooked by the prison, “Gesu Cristo, piglia l’anima mia!” (Christ have mercy upon my soul!) and other phrases of a similar character, which, not being understood by the multitude, were believed to be cries of distress and protestations of innocence. Lagava was brought up next, and no sooner had he been placed near his fellow-culprit than his voice was raised in protestations to the Virgin Mary, and all the saints of the calendar. Terrible as was the scene up to this point, it was infinitely more painful where Barbaalo appeared on the drop. This wretched youth was greatly excited, and could not be induced to submit himself quietly to the executioner. He appealed to the priests, and these reverend men, in their anxiety to give the dying man consolation, placed themselves in positions which obliged Calcraft to call upon them to remove, or it would be impossible for him to perform his office. This as done in a tone loud enough to be heard by the crowd below, from whom a murmur of “Shame” arose, probably as much from the length of time already occupied in affixing the nooses and splicing the ropes round the cross-beam — a clumsy operation, which, with the improved example of the metropolitan prison in Newgate open to them, is a disgrace to all the country justices who tolerate it — as from any other cause. At length, after thirteen minutes had elapsed from the period of Pietrici appearing on the scaffold, during the whole of which time the culprits were exclaiming in Italian at the top of their voices, and in tones which created the most painful excitement among all who heard them, the drop fell, and in a few moments the bodies of the wretched men were hanging lifeless.

There were very few spectators present; probably at no period more than a thousand, and as soon as the drop fell most of them dispersed.

The bodies were cut down after hanging an hour, and before noon they were buried in one of the court-yards of the gaol.

The visiting justices, with Lord Henry Cholmondely in the chair, had a meeting at ten o’clock on Tuesday morning. It is understood that one of the subjects under discussion was the great inhumanity of requesting a culprit about to be executed to descend between seventy and eighty steps, which is the number from the basement of the entrance gateway to the drop at Winchester.

It may be interesting to add that Pietrici was a Dalmatian, and has been in England before, having sailed in a vessel which traded between the Levant and Liverpool. Lagava and Barbaalo were both Sicilians. The former sailed in both French and English transports during the late war, and was flogged while in the English service. Lagava it should be stated, is an assumed name; his real name is Francisco Libresti, but having deserted from the Sicilian service, he changed his name to avoid detection. Barbaalo was of better birth than his comrades, being the son of a law agent; he was brought up in the Marine School of Naples, and carried certificates of good seamanship.

* Also given in various reports as Pietrici or Pettrich. Barbaolo is also alternately given as Barbalalo or Barbalano.

** Summary via Lloyd’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 27, 1856.

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1859: Four of John Brown’s Raiders

Add comment December 16th, 2017 Headsman

Thank God, the principles of the cause in which we were engaged will not die with me and my brave comrades. They will spread wider and wider and gather strength with each hour that passes. The voice of truth will echo through our land, bringing conviction to the erring and adding members to that glorious army who will follow its banner. The cause of everlasting truth and justice will go on conquering and to conquer until our broad and beautiful land shall rest beneath the banner of freedom. I had fondly hoped to live to see the principles of the Declaration of Independence fully realized. I had hoped to see the dark stain of slavery blotted from our land, and the libel of our boasted freedom erased, when we can say in truth that our beloved country is the land of the free and the home of the brave; but that can not be.

I have heard my sentence passed; my doom is sealed. But two more short days remain for me to fulfill my earthly destiny. But two brief days between me and eternity. At the expiration of these two days I shall stand upon the scaffold to take my last look of earthly scenes. But that scaffold has but little dread for me, for I honestly believe that I am innocent of any crime justifying such punishment. But by the taking of my life and the lives of my comrades. Virginia is but hastening on that glorious day, when the slave shall rejoice in his freedom. When he, too, can say. “I, too, am a man, and am groaning no more under the yoke of oppression.”

-Last letter of Edwin Coppock, to his uncle Joshua Coppock

Both Green and Copeland were resident in Oberlin, Ohio — which erected this marker to honor both they and a third comrade who had not survived the Harper’s Ferry raid. Its inscription read:

These colored citizens of Oberlin, the heroic associates of the immortal John Brown, gave their lives for the slave. Et nunc servitudo etiam mortua est, laus deo [And thus slavery is finally dead, thanks be to God].

S. Green died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 23 years.
J. A. Copeland died at Charleston, Va., Dec. 16, 1859, age 25 years.
L. S. Leary died at Harper’s Ferry, Va., Oct 20, 1859, age 24 years.

Anti-slavery martyr John Brown hanged on December 2, 1859 for his daring raid on Harper’s Ferry, but it was not until two weeks later that four companions in the enterprise faced the gallows.

This sequel was a far more muted affair in comparison to “Old Brown” whose execution was immediately understood in all sections as an event of historic consequence. Yet Brown did not strike his blow by himself, and Charlestown was crowded for this subsidiary occasion, too.

The four who would quaff his same cup, all men in their twenties, cut a cross-section of the nation’s stirring abolitionist movement, mingling in their biographies the many reasons that the Slave Power had become intolerable.

  • Shields Green, an escaped slave and a friend of Frederick Douglass who described him as “not one to shrink from hardships or dangers. He was a man of few words, and his speech was singularly broken; but his courage and self-respect made him quite a dignified character.”
  • John Copeland, an Oberlin-educated free black man originally from North Carolina who had moved to Ohio, and there participated in a famous incident liberating an escaped slave from the clutches of a slave-catcher.
  • Edwin Coppoc(k) or Coppie, a white Iowa Quaker.
  • John Cook, a Connecticut blue blood “talkative, impulsive and restless, eager for adventure” who had joined Brown in the Bleeding Kansas frontier wars. He also happened to be a brother-in-law of Indiana Gov. Ashbel Willard, who incurred Virginians’ wrath (and even intemperate accusations of orchestrating the Harper’s Ferry raid) by wrangling unsuccessfully for his kinsman’s pardon.

Here’s the original coverage of the New York Herald, consuming almost an entire page of its Dec. 17, 1859 edition.

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1853: Nathaniel Mobbs

Add comment November 21st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1853, Nathaniel Mobbs hanged for killing his wife.

Mobbs’s loutish drunken abuse was of Catherine Mobbs was audible to many neighbors at his Whitechapel tenement. On the night before he finally murdered her, he was so far gone that Catherine slept at a neighbor’s to stay clear of him. Nathaniel found her the next morning, and physically dragged her back home; that afternoon, an unusually violent row and the prisoner’s screams of “murder!” brought at least two guests scrambling up the stairs to their door, which Mobbs blockaded with a chest — until the “murder!” cries eerily stopped.

Then, the scuffing sound of furniture being moved.

And Catherine staggered out the door and down the steps, her dress and hair gorging on the horrid effluence of her slashed throat. She didn’t say a word before she dropped dead.

This nasty affair is covered by PlanetSlade.com’s murder ballads series, including a broadsheet (pdf) with testimony by the Mobbs’ neighbors, and the usual hanging ballad.

A U.S. band called South County YouTubed a haunting version of the ballad, although I believe they’ve taken some liberty with the lyrics.

This wasn’t Mr. Mobbs’s only brush with the literary. Charles Dickens, who could not but delight in the juxtaposition of pickpockets risking their own necks plying their craft on gallows-gawkers, fastened on just such an incident at the Mobbs execution. (Even if pickpocketing was no longer a capital crime by 1853.)

At Guildhall, on the 22nd, Charles Clark was charged before Alderman Humphery with Stealing a Watch the previous morning in the Old Bailey. Robert Pollard, the prosecutor, said: I was present yesterday morning at the Execution of the man Mobbs. I was in front of the scaffold, when I felt something at my pocket, and then missed my watch.

Alderman Humphery — I suppose you were there to see the man hung? Were there many persons there?

Witness: Yes, sir, a great man.

Alderman Humphery: Did you miss your watch before the execution or afterwards?

Witness: The condemned man was just coming on the scaffold, and before he was hung I saw the prisoner moving from my side. I followed him; but perceiving me behind him, he ran up St. Clement’s Inn-yards, in Old Bailey, and threw himself on some matting. The watch produced by the officer is mine. It is engraved with my own name.

Prisoner: I did not throw myself down, I fell down.

Alderman Humphery: There is one thing very clear. The awful sight of a man being hung has no fear for you. William Gardiner saw the prisoner, on reaching the top of Clement’s Inn yard, throw himself on some sacks and drop something down the iron grating. The witness went below and found the watch produced.

Prisoner: I never took the watch.

Alderman Humphery: You came out to witness the execution of a fellow creature, but it does not appear to have done you any good, for your intention in being there was to pick pockets evidently. It is quite clear that you committed a highway robbery, and that too under the gallows, an offence that was punished at one time with dath. It is too serious a case for me to deal with summarily, and I shall therefore commit you for trial.

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1859: Ratu Mara Kapaiwai, Fiji warrior

Add comment August 6th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1859,* the Ratu (chief or prince) Seru Epenisa Cakobau hanged a major obstacle to his control the Fiji archipelago.

Fiji comprises over 300 distinct islands in the South Pacific of which the principal and namesake is Viti Levu. Our man Cakobau ascended as the Ratu of a two-mile islet, Bau, which hugs the east coast of Viti Levu and to a 19th century European visitor “may with propriety be called the capital of Feejee.”

Not all of “Feejee” was quite so eager as Mary Davis Wallis to champion the suzerainty of the Ratu of Bau, and so Cakobau spent much of the mid-19th century maneuvering to consolidate and extend his authority. He would in the end succeed well enough to establish the first unified Kingdom of Fiji in 1871, and it was his signature on the 1874 Deed of Cession that gave said kingdom to the British.**

But before he could be the father of the nation he had to put his foot on the neck of rivals like his cousin Ratu Mara Kapaiwai.

“The ubiquitous stormy petrel of mid nineteenth century Fiji” (source), Mara’s bold adventures blew a turbulent wind through the Fijian political scene in the 1840s and 1850s. A renowned seaman and aggressive warrior, he called no one place home but shuttled incessantly among Fijian and Tongan islands, and among shifting alliances thereof. If there was one constant in the life of Mara Kapaiwai it was rejecting the overlordship of Cakobau.

He suffered what would prove to be a decisive defeat in 1855 at the Battle of Kaba, although the convert Cakobau in a paroxysm of Christian charity forgave the defeated right there on the battlefield instead of insisting the traditional right to kill and cannibalize them.

His pique for his kinsman only stoked by the defeat, the stormy petrel returned soon enough to his schemes and by 1858 had raised another rebellion.

Cakobau put an end to this resistance by putting an end to Mara himself: luring Mara to Bau with promise of forgiveness, Cakobau instead had him seized and sent to the gallows the very next day.

“He said his punishment was quite just — that he had been a very bad man and had caused the death of very many people, but that he sincerely repented of his sins and looked for mercy believing that in God his sins were being pardoned,” according to a Wesleyan missionary who attended to Mara.

* There are a few cites to be found for June 8, rather than August 6, which I cannot credit to any better cause than an inverted reading of the date 6/8 or 8/6 because people are rubbish about dates. The scholarly consensus around 6 August, and the allusion in sources like this book chapter to western missionaries’ diaries and letters, carries the argument for me — even though I have not been able to lay my own eyes on those primary documents. (As best I can determine, many of these firsthand accounts are held, un-digitized, by the Methodist Church of Australasia Department of Overseas Missions.)

** Fiji attained independence within the Commonwealth in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II’s picturesque honorific as Tui Viti (paramount chief) of Fiji — the title that Cokabau ceded to Queen Victoria along with the archipelago — has slipped into official disuse in recent years but many Fijians still embrace Elizabeth as queen. Here’s a newsreel of her 1953 visit to Fiji:

Topical here: Ratu Mara’s grandson Lala Sakuna became one of the leading statesmen of Fijian independence in the 20th century, although he predeceased its realization … fulfilling Mara’s plea to his executioner “for the safety of his 10-day-old son Joni, promising Cakobau that one day the child’s descendants would ‘bear Fiji up’.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Fiji,Hanged,History,Nobility,Power,Soldiers,Summary Executions

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1852: Louis Lullier, wife in a cask

2 comments July 14th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1852, Louis Lullier lost his head for an Edgar Allan Poe-esque murder that was very nearly the perfect crime. He would be the the last person guillotined in Pontoise.*

The stonemason Lullier was caught out by an eagle-eyed bank manager passing a forged bill of exchange. A search of his effects revealed several other such bills under different signatures being readied for circulation … but it turned out that Lullier was laboring under much heavier sins.

“When questioned by the examining magistrate, he appeared labouring under great anxiety, and incoherent words escaped from him,” ran a report published across the channel. (here quoted in The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser, June 12, 1852)

At length he said he had a horrible revelation to make; and he proceeded to state that nearly a year before he had strangled his wife, had thrust the dead body into a cask, and had deposited it in a cellar, which he indicated. The magistrate was for a moment thunderstruck at this statement, but the prisoner seemed greatly relieved at having made it, and he gave full details of his crime with the greatest sang-froid.

The couple had grown quarrelsome, and when his wife/victim threatened to leave him, Lullier

seized her by the throat and strangled her. He kept the body in his room for two days, and then, having stripped it, he forced it into a cask, and conveyed the cask in a wheelbarrow to a cellar in which he was accustomed to place his tools. The cellar was at some distance from his lodgings, but he wheeled the cask along the streets with the greatest confidence in open day.

No sooner, however, was the murder perpetrated than he became seized with remorse; he neglected his work, and at times stood gloomily before it with his arms folded; he broke off from his friends, abandoned his aged mother, to whom he had been very good, and treated his little child with great brutality, though he had always before shown him great attention. He also took to drinking, and spent a good deal of his time in public-houses with girls of bad character. It was observed that he was almost constantly hanging about the cellar, though no one could tell why, and he was dreadfully agitated when any one approached it.

Jump ahead a year as his last appeals are refused and the Versailles prison chaplain shakes him awake to deliver the news that his imminent beheading will decorate the country’s Bastille Day festivities and a pensive Lullier muses, “I did not think the news could have affected me so much.” (The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, July 23, 1852)

* Birthplace — just his luck — of Francois Villon.

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

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