Tag Archives: 1853

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

(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.

1853: Nathaniel Mobbs

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.