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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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Mutiny,Pelf,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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1856: Casey and Cora, by the San Francisco Vigilance Committee

1 comment May 22nd, 2012 John Putnam

Gold attracts all kinds of people but has a particular allure to crooks and corrupt politicians. When gold was found in California they flowed in from all over the world. Soon the gamblers and thugs had the run of San Francisco. Politicians and judges were bought and paid for. Crime went unpunished. (Usually.)

At the same time San Francisco was growing fast, and was filled with the flimsiest, most flammable wooden buildings imaginable. By 1850 huge fires began to rake the city and while they leveled block after block criminals would loot the homes and businesses of the good citizens who were out trying to fight the flames.

The first vigilance committee formed in 1851 after the fifth fire simply because the city government would do nothing to protect the people. The committee, made up of most of the leading citizens and with the backing of almost every honest person, hung a few men and chased a lot more out of town. Within months things improved dramatically and the committee disbanded.

But it’s hard to keep crooks that are in cahoots with corrupt politicians under control for long and by 1855 things were in terrible shape once more. Gold production was down, voting fraud was rampant, banks and business failed, a city supervisor slipped out of town just before his imminent arrest for a major real estate scam involving city money and a pier we now know as Fisherman’s Wharf.

James King of William, a once well-known banker who had lost everything in the collapse of 1855 was now running a small newspaper, The Evening Bulletin, devoted to exposing the corruption in the city. King was fearless in his reporting and ruthless but impartial in his editorials.

Yet things were still a mess in 1856 when the gambler, Charles Cora, took his doxy, a high powered and wealthy Madame called Belle, to the theater. By her presence she offended the young and ambitious US Marshal Richardson and a heated dispute arose between the two men. Then, days later, after that dispute was resumed in a local saloon, Cora shot Richardson in the chest in cold blood at point blank range.

King denounced the city officials who were holding Cora for trial, saying that the man could not be found guilty of even such a blatant crime in a city as corrupt as San Francisco. And as King predicted, amid charges of bribery, the jury in the trial of Charles Cora could not reach a verdict and Cora had escaped his punishment for murder. King then went after James P. Casey, a city supervisor, and exposed him as having once been a prisoner in New York’s infamous Sing Sing prison.

Casey was incensed and on May 14th stormed into the offices of the Bulletin and protested loudly. King ordered him out. Casey went but waited just up the street. An hour later, when King left for the day, Casey walked up to him in the middle of Montgomery Street and shot him down with a Navy Colt.

The news spread fast. Tens of thousands of people soon gathered.

Casey, joined by his powerful friends, went straight to the jail where Cora was still held for his own protection. Soon the crowd arrived. The local militia was called in to guard the place and there was no trouble that night. The next morning members of the old Committee of Vigilance met and by the time King died on May 20th a new committee had been formed and already had 3,500 members.

By now most of the militia sided with the vigilantes, so when the committee marched in mass to the jail and surrounded it, the jailers soon were soon persuaded to turn Casey over. A short time later the committee returned for Cora. The prisoners were taken to the committee’s headquarters, known as Fort Gunnybags, on Sacramento Street and held there under guard.

Both men were appointed lawyers and put on trial by the vigilantes. Each was convicted with a unanimous verdict.

On May 22nd they were hanged from short platforms extending from second floor windows of Fort Gunnybags before an enormous crowd of San Franciscans who filled the streets, buildings and roof tops all around. The Committee of Vigilance continued to operate until they were convinced that all corrupt politicians and crooks had been purged from city. This resulted in a wholesale change of the political power in San Francisco.

John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, an exciting tale of the early California gold rush. His rich history of that incredible era at can be found at mygoldrushtales.com.

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1856: Auguste Chapdelaine, saintly casus belli

1 comment February 29th, 2012 Headsman

On February 29, 1856, local Chinese officials in Guangxi beheaded French missionary priest Auguste Chapdelaine — and handed his countrymen a pretext for war.

Chapdelaine (English Wikipedia page | French) had gone illegally to the Chinese interior to proselytize Christianity.

The local mandarin Zhang Mingfeng was no doubt disposed to take such an harsh line against this provocation by virtue of the ongoing, Christian-inspired Taiping Rebellion, which had originated right there in Guangxi and was in the process of engulfing all of southern China in one of history’s bloodiest conflicts.

So Chapdelaine and his associates were snapped up, put to a few days’ dreadful torture, and on this date a Chinese convert and Chapdelaine were both summarily beheaded. (A female convert, Agnes Tsaou-Kong, expired under torture around the same time.)

Pietistic accounts of believers’ last extremes are here and here.


(Images from this French page.)

It took months for word of this martyrdom to reach French consular officials, and many months more for the gears of international diplomacy to turn — but when they did so, France pressed a demand for reparations.

Since pere Chapdelaine had been acting illegally in the first place, the Qing’s obdurate Viceroy Ye(h) adamantly refused to offer Paris satisfaction.

By 1858, this intransigence sufficed to license French entry (alongside Britain) into the Second Opium War, from which the Europeans won by force of arms a noxious treaty guaranteeing their right to push Christianity in China, extracting a couple million silver taels in damages, and (of course) assuring their right to traffic opium into China.

It would be rather ungenerous to hold all the ugly imperial consequences personally against our day’s martyr. August Chapdelaine was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000 as one of 120 Martyrs of China.

China was not impressed by this celebration of a onetime colonial catspaw, and met the Vatican’s “anti-China” celestial promotion announcement with one of its own — charging that Chapdelaine “collaborated with corrupt local officials, raped women and was notorious in those areas [where he preached].”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,China,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Torture

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1856: Elizabeth Martha Brown, Tess of the D’Urbervilles inspiration

3 comments August 9th, 2010 Headsman

On a drizzly morning this date in 1856, Elizabeth Martha Brown (or Browne) was hanged for murder as a young and fascinated Thomas Hardy looked on.

Brown was born Clark(e), but she took the name of a husband 20 years younger than she, which is how she got into this mess.

Said John Brown was rumored to have made the match for money, though his older wife sure seems to have held her own in the looks department. (More on that in a bit.)

In due time, John afflicted their already-tempestuous wedded life with an affair — courtesy of one Mary Davis, a young woman stuck in her own unhappy May-December marriage.

According to the confession Elizabeth provided two days before her own death, she had a fantastic row with her drunken husband when he came home at 2 a.m. one night and Elizabeth accused him of being

“to Mary Davis’s?”

He then kicked out the bottom of the chair on which I had been sitting, and we continued quarrelling until 3 o’clock, when he struck me a severe blow on the side of the head, which confused me so much I was obliged to sit down.

He then said (supper being on the table at the time) “Eat it yourself and be damned,” and reached down from the mantelpiece a heavy hand whip, with a plaited head and struck me across the shoulders with it 3 times, and every time I screamed out I said “if you strike me again, I will cry murder” He replied “if you do I will knock your brains through the window,” and said hoped he should find me dead in the morning, and then kicked me on the left side, which caused me much pain.

He immediately stooped down to unbuckle his boots, and being much enraged, and in an ungovernable passion at being so abused and struck, I seized a hatchet that was lying close to where I sat, and which I had been making use of to break coal for keeping up the fire to keep his supper warm, and struck him several violent blows on the head – I could not say how many – and he fell at the first blow on his side, with his face to the fireplace and he never spoke or moved afterwards.

Unfortunately, this confession broke a protracted* attempt to stick to an implausible “the horse kicked him dead” story whose maintenance seriously complicated any bid to secure clemency for the woman.

She received, instead, a different kind of life: literary immortality that hardly any in Dorchester that gray morning could have aspired to.

Thomas Hardy, not yet the canonical novelist famous enough for his own Monty Python sketch but a 16-year-old architectural apprentice, was among the three or four thousand who braved the inclement weather to witness Brown’s hanging** — the mandatory sentence then for a circumstance the courts would handle differently today.

Even seven decades later, Hardy could recall the vividly sensual effect of this macabre scene.

I saw — they had put a cloth over the face — how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary.

and

I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back.

Recent film adaptations of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The book is available free from Gutenberg.org.

In both her tragic life and her hempen death, Brown is thought to have informed Hardy’s title character in the 1891 novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles, slyly subtitled “A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented.”

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess.

-Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

* Everything is relative, of course. In Brown’s instance, less than five weeks separated murder from execution, so she had scarcely had time to be obstinate about withholding the confession.

** Brown was said to have died with great firmness, and the report from the scaffold brings us the classically Victorian detail that executioner William Calcraft, having departed the platform to spring the trap after pinioning his prisoner, was obliged to make a return trip when he realized he’d forgotten to tie down her dress against any immodest billowing.

An ironic precaution, given that we remember this hanging precisely because of Hardy’s captivation with the more refined eroticism of the “wet hanging gown contest” tableau.

Part of the Themed Set: Thomas Hardy.

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1856: William Bousfield, Calcraft’d

4 comments March 31st, 2010 Headsman

Until the very end of public hanging in 1868 and thereafter in prisons, hangmen were unreliable executioners…

In nearly every year the grim chronicle of bungled executions and lackadaisical hangmen was extended … [William] Calcraft the hangman simply miscalculated the drops required to effect a speedy death. In office since 1829, Calcraft was ‘a mild-mannered man of simple tastes, much given to angling in the New River, and a devoted rabbit fancier’. Nice to rabbits, he had a casual way with people. He hanged them like dogs, it was said. Another dismal apotheosis was reached in the Newgate execution of William Bousfield in 1856. The night before his execution Bousfield* tried to kill himself in his condemned cell by throwing himself into the fire; next morning [March 31, 1856] he had to be carried to the scaffold swathed in bandages. Calcraft was nervous; he had received a letter threatening his assassination. He pulled the bolt to let the drop fall and disappeared hastily into the prison. Astonishingly, Bousfield drew himself up and lodged his feet on the side of the drop. Pushed off by a turnkey, he again found the side of the drop; and yet again. He was defeated only when Calcraft was summoned back to drag on his legs and ‘the strangulation was completed’. In front of an angry crowd, Bousfield gurgled his way to death as church bells rang to celebrate the end of the Crimean War.

After this debacle, they started pinioning the prisoners’ legs to prevent them getting a foothold on the scaffold, removing any hope of preservation to the inscrutable hand of Providence.

* Charles Dickens scribbled a few rambling thoughts on the subject of Bousfield’s trial.

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1856: Dr. William Palmer, the Rugeley Poisoner

4 comments June 14th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the Victorian poisoner William Palmer stepped on the scaffold at Stafford prison, eyed the trap suspiciously, and asked, “are you sure it’s safe?”

It wasn’t.

One of the more notorious characters of 19th century crime, Palmer hanged for poisoning a gambling buddy with strychnine, but he was widely thought to have left many more bodies in the ground. The philandering physician certainly had a knack for having people turn up suddenly dead around him:

  • The last four of his five legitimate children;

  • His illegitimate child;
  • Two people to whom he owed money;
  • His mother-in-law;
  • His wife (after Palmer took out insurance on her);
  • His brother (ditto);
  • And John Parsons Cook, whom Palmer was finally convicted of killing.

Evidence against Palmer was completely circumstantial, the public mood was completely prejudicial, and the case was completely sensational. It didn’t help Palmer’s cause that future Lord Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn was on the case, inflicting a withering cross on the defendant. Neither did it help his cause as much as one might think having the victim’s body come up negative for any lethal dose of poison. Robert Graves wrote a book about the case, and reckoned it a likely frame-up. Most other popular recollections — like Madame Tussaud’s, where Palmer stood until 1979 — have figured him for the same cold-blooded poisoner his public thought him. Gambling debts on the verge of burying him afforded him very plausible motivation (Cook was supposedly killed because Palmer had fraudulently borrowed a few hundred pounds against his name and was about to be found out).

How quickly “crimes of the decade” fade away. Palmer was the O.J. Simpson of the 1850’s, although his spell in the public eye was only a few months. Parliament had to intervene to move his case from Staffordshire to London for want of an unprejudiced jury; 35,000 people crammed the streets overnight in the rain to watch him swing; and time was you could get yourself the Unabridged Edition of The Times‘ minute-by-minute report on the Palmer trial or bone up on the case in the 19th century’s legal tomes, to say nothing of the requisite (and in this case, poetic) broadsheet and enough cultural ejecta to stock a museum exhibit.

Palmer earned a passing name check in Sherlock Holmes — “When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge.” His case is supposed to be the source of the pub idiom “what’s your poison?”

Legend — scurrilous, of course — has it that his hometown of Rugeley even petitioned the government to change its name for fear of never escaping its association, but that the change would only be permitted if the town named itself after the Prime Minister: Lord Palmerston. Rugeley it remains.

* Notably, Palmer was convicted of poisoning in the face of exculpatory toxicology evidence. He denied the poisoning to the end.

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