Tag Archives: 1856

1856: Three Italian seamen in Hampshire

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.

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

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.