1726: James Stephens and Patrick Barnel, broadsided

Add comment May 25th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1726, two men hanged on Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green.

We meet these men, as we often do in this period, through the cheap hang-day publications that were hurried to press to sell for the occasion, and since in this instance we have two such brochures for the same event, it is a handy occasion to turn our gaze upon these ubiquitous ephemera.

Then as now, publishing was a perilous hustle forever beckoning its practitioners to shady expedients further to enhancing narrow margins.

Public executions — especially those of particularly notorious offenders — were pretty much the clickbait of broadside printers, and this one weird trick they could resort to was hawking rival pages each purporting to be the “last words and confession” of the poor sap on the gallows. Competition for access to a condemned fellow was intense, and where there could be the least question as to authenticity (for formulaic plausibilities could easily be hung around the handful of publicly discoverable facts) printers made free to use these solemn partings to take astonishingly vituperative shots at their commercial rivals* — a sure irreverence entirely in keeping with the carnivalesque orgies for which public hangings became infamous. Here a huckster whose main purpose is to use a dying man’s last passion to retaliate a rival scribbler’s previous libel, there a future gallows-bird relieving a gawker’s pocket of the penny he meant to waste on the tabloid.

Well might we latter-day ghouls thank these unprincipled pushers: their scandalous documents, be they ever so compromised and artless, constitute a rare and precious glimpse into the criminal class of the early modern world.

We are indebted in this instance to James Kelly’s fascinating Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland, a book we have previously cited, for the two rival, contradictory, and mutually recriminatory broadsides recounting this execution. As Kelly’s own introduction notes, the mere existence of multiple competing reports — which we here humbly present for the reader’s discretion — does underscore “that public demand could sustain this volume of publication in individual instances.” And that fact alone would surely make the list of 26 secrets to make it as a printer in the the 18th century.


The True Last Speech, Confession, and Dying Words of
Mr. James Stevens and Account of Patrick Barnwell

who are to be executed at St. Stephen’s Green, on Wednesday the 25th Inst. May, 1726, being condemn’d for feloniously taking from Mr. Philip Kennersly of Dame-street, a Glas-case, Value 50l.

GOOD PEOPLE

If it were not usual for Men of every Degree, in my unfortunate Circumstances to make a Kind of Declaration at their Death of their past Behaviour, I shou’d not, as at this Day, nor even should the above mention’d Considerations move me to make this, my Only and Last, were I not sensible of the many Villanous [sic] Falsities, which might be publish’d concerning my unhappy Fate, by Persons of the vilest Characters themselves; such as one Hoy in Pembroke-Court, who publish’d a scandalous and wicked Paper on the last poor Wretches that suffer’d, under the name of G.F. or George Faulkner, a Person known to have no Being in this Kingdom, this long Time past, altho’ make his Tool and Screen for scandalizing the Chiefest of our Just and Good Governours, as vilely as the poor undone Wretches: Beside him, there is another as notorious for the like Villainy, living at the Rein Deer in Montrath-Street, unworthy, and noted for the above named wicked Practice. On these Considerations only, then I say, I the unhappy and unfortunate James Stephens, have thought fit to tender to Richard Dickson of Dame Street, Printer, THIS, for Publication, as he thinks proper.

FIRST, Then, since I see it is the Will of the most High God, whose Name be for ever Blessed, That in this World I should be brought from my Former happy, to this Wretched state, I submit, beseching [sic] humbly for his most Gracious mercy and Forgiveness for my manifold Transgressions in the Follies of my youth, and misspent Time, which began in the City of London, where I first Drew my Breath, being an entire Stranger here, of Creditable and Honest Parents, who Bred me Tenderly and well, till I was able to go Apprentice, which Time I serv’d to an Image-maker, after I had done with him, I Work’d for my self, and growing worth money, after I had spent some of my untainted Youth, in the Service abroad, belonging to the Ordnance, I set up to keep Hire-Horses, for the Court, in Nature of the great Mr. Blount, in the Parish of St. James, having Licenc’d coaches, and dealing for upwards of 500l, a year, till many Misfortunes comming [sic] on me, I was oblidg’d to leave my Native Country, and on a Woful [sic] Day, I came for Ireland with some small matter of Money, about a year since, where I follow’d making Images, till I came acquainted with the vile Woman Eleanour Fenly, who to save her Life at Tryal falsly [sic] said she was my Wife, Poverty forceing me to keep first with her, she pretending to have Friends who would make my Fortune, which alas! they have, it being her Brother, Fernando Fenly, and his Accomplice who swore my Life away, in declaring That about the 25th of March, last I have a Box of Goods, which were Mr. Kennersly’s, afterwards found in his Custody, and that I paid him 2 Shillings for carryage from the Sun Inn, in Francis Street, to Ross, which I vow all False, nor was I e’er Guilty of what was sworn, tho’ for it I must dye, having no Friend to appear for me, yet with the Constancy of a Christian who can accuse himself, of no great Crimes I go to meet my Fate, Dying in Charity with the World.

But this I further for my Innocency declare, I ne’er had Intention to rob Mr. Kennersly, nor e’er sold any of his Goods, but going into the Country with the Aforemention’d Eleanor Fenly to her Brother’s in Loghreagh, where he lives well; she came in Company with one Byrn, a Fellow [I] did not like and who resolv’d I suppose to do us an Injury, upon which I quarrel’d, and happening to be damag’d by some People in Caterlogh. I resolv’d to get Justice of which, being by ’em suspected, they got me apprehended on Suspicion of an idle Person, and Nell Fenly getting some Toys to sell there, she was discover’d at that time, on which her Brother made the Examination aforesaid, against me, which caused me to be transmitted and tryed upon it, to save his own Life; she as I before said, escaping by alledging she was my Wife &c. I may likewise add, that had not my Fellow Sufferer hop’d to have sav’d his Life, he cou’d have clear’d me, for which I pray God forgive him, And now Dear Christians, I have nought to say, but heartily beg that some of you, who shall see me dye, out of mere Pity to my unhappy State, (an entire and poor Stranger) will cover me with Earth, an Hindrance to those Men whose Business it is, to keep forlorn Wretches from their Graves, for private Practice o’er their mangled Bodies. I now conclude begging your Prayers to God for my Forgiveness, being about 37 Years of Age, A Protestant Member of the Church of England.

James Stephens.

PATRICK BARNEL Who is to dye with Mr. Stephens, on the Persuasion of some Friends has declin’d making further Confession, than to his Ghostly Father, which he desires so might be forth, lest any imprudent Person should pretend he had made any Speech, giving no further Account of himself, than that he was pritty [sic] well educated, and when young, that he serv’d Major Arthur, to whom he owns great obligation, that after he left him, he went to serve a Weaver, whose Business he after, follow’d, dating his Misfortunes to begin in being concern’d in Mr. Kenerslys Robbery; to whom he afterwards gave up several Things in hopes to save his Life. He Dies a Roman Catholick, begging the Prayers of All good Christians.

Mr. Gray having by Gracious Mercy, obtained a Reprieve, ’tis hop’d no notice will be taken of the absurd Pieces, design’d and publish’d, by the said Hoy in Pembroke Court, or under any feign’d Name whatever, which is notoriously known to be intended by Hoy, who surely will cheat the Publick with some scandalous and lying Paper, intitled a Speech to the abovenamed unfortunate Men, in prejudice and defamation to the Printer hereof, who unwittingly gall’d hiim, in saying th’other Day, He look’d like Death, when a Person affirm’d to his Face, in the open street, he said he was a MOLLY, (term well known for Sodomite) a charge so bold, that it might be wished, before he strives to taint another’s, he’d clear his own Character, from that Aspersion, if so it may be term’d.

Printed by Richard Dickson, and Gwyn Needham in Dames-Street.


The Last Speech, Confession and Dying Words, of
Patrick Barnel, and James Stephens

who are to be executed at St. Stephens Green, this present Wednesday, the 25th of this Inst. May, 1726. For the Robbery of Mr. Kinnersly in Dames-Street.

The Speech of James Stephens.

Good People,

I James Stephens, was born at Cheswick, about five Miles from London: my Parents put me to a free School to learn to write, where I had the Character of an unlucky Boy. At 14 Years of Age, I was entertained by the celebrated Jonathan Wilde, under whom I arrived to such Dexterity in Picking Pockets and Impudence in bare-fac’d Robberies, that I robb’d on a Play Night in Drury Lane Edward Martin, Esq, of 75 Guineas and a Gold Watch. My honest Master for the sake of a Reward of ten Pounds for the Discovery of the Persons who committed the Robbery, made Oath that I was the Person.

But I having Timely notice of it, fled to France, where I with some others Rob’d and Murder’d Mr. Lock, and the English Gentlemen in his Company, then I took Shipping at Calais, and landed at Cork, where Information in a little Time was given against Me, for several Robberies; this obliged me to come to Dublin, where I most impudently perform’d that unparalleled Roguery of Stealing a Glass Case with Rings, Silver Spoons, Snuff-Boxes, &c. to the Value of Seventy Pounds from Mr. Kinnersly Goldsmith in Dame Street. I heartily and sincerely repent of my horrid Crimes, and desire the Prayers of all my Fellow Christians. I dye an unworthy Member of the Church of England.

James Stephens.

The Speech of PATRICK BARNWELL

Good Cristians, [sic]

I Patrick Barnel was born in the County of Dublin of Poor, but Honest Parents; their mean Circumstances was in a great Measure, the Cause of my Present Misfortune, for they could not give me any Education, and I was often obliged to take away from the little Children of the same Town their Victuals to satisfie my Hunger, when I was a Boy, I stole several little Things, and escaped without Punishment.

I was induced to commit great Rogueries; I became acquainted with a Gang of Tories who kept their Rendevouz [sic] in the County of Kerry with whom I committed such Cruel and Barbarous Actions, that we were all Obliged to disperse and shift every one for himself, it was my Fate to come to this City where I had not been above Six Months, before I introduced into the Company of my ellow-Sufferer, who was the Head of a Gang of about a Dozen, having no Manner of Subsisting myself.

I committed several petty Thefts with him and others, and at last that most notorious one for which I now die, I cannot deny that I am guilty, but having a true sence of my Crimes, I repent of them, and I desire your Prayers for my soul, I die a Member of the Church of Rome in which I was bred, and the Lord have mercy on my poor Soul.

N.B. On Sunday last, one Dickson a Printer who publishes Papers under the Name of G Needham, came to us in Newgate, and we not thinking him a proper Person to make any thing publick from us. We desire the publick be aware buying any Speech of ours from him, for whatever is printed by him is an Imposition of the Town, and can only be excused by his saying, He is a poor Boy, and must endeavour to better his miserable Circumstances, and maintain himself and his little Family. He had already advertised, that he has the Speech of one who is not to die.

Dublin: Printed by G.F. in Castle Street.

* The emoluments available for intermediating the sentiments of the hanged become quite obvious through the lucrative quasi-monopoly the Ordinary of Newgate was able to establish around his privileged access to London’s condemned.

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1719: Collmore, Hang’d, Quarter’d and his Intrals burn’d

Add comment February 18th, 2016 Headsman

The Last Speech and Dying Words of
Charles Calahar alias Collmore
who was Try’d on Tuesday the 17th Inst. Feb. 1718/19 at the Sessions of Dundalk, for being a Proclaim’d Tory, and was the next Day Hang’d, Quarter’d and his Intrals burn’d.

Deliver’d at the Gallows to Will Moore Esq.
High Sheriff of the Country of Lowth

Good People,

Almighty God has by a just Providence brought me to this untimely End, He has been Mercifully pleas’d not to Cut me off in the midst of my Sins, but to allow me some Time to reflect on my unhappy mis spent Life, and to Implore Forgiveness for my many Iniquities, which I trust he will graciously Pardon.

And as my Crimes have been of publick crying Nature, so I think myself Bound to make a publick Confession of them both to God and my Country.

And first with Shame and Confusion of Face I confess I have been Guilty of many Robberries and Thefts, and have also Seduced and Encouraged others to do the like.

I Barbarously and Unjustly Embru’d my Hands in the Blood of my Fellow Creatures, and in particular I Murder’d Martin Grey and Christopher Betty, and suffer’d that worthy honest Gent. Mr. Edmond Reily to be wrongfully Executed at Cavan Assizes for the said Murders; He being no ways Privy or Accessary to them, but entirely Innocent of that bloody Fact which was the ruin of his Wife and several small Children. [emphasis mine, not in the original -ed.]

I likewise Confess I was at the Inhumane Murders and Butchery of Bryan O’Hanlan, and M’Gibbin, for all which I most humbly beg the Almighty’s Pardon, and the Pardon of all whom I have in any way Injur’d, and declare I have a thorow sence of my former Impietys and an utter Abhorence and Detestation of them, and hope God will please to look on me, and accept of my Blood, tho’ a most unworthy Offering, since my Punishment is not half what I deserve.

I die a Member of the Church of Rome, tho’ an unworthy one, and do freely forgive every one that have Injur’d me, especially John M’Keoine who betray’d me, and I declare I wou’d have Fought my way thro’ the Soldiers who surrounded the Cabbin where I was, and had new Charged and Prim’d my Pistols in order to it, but was prevented by the Entreaties of my Nephew, and am now thankful to God for it since I have by that had opportunity to think of my Soul. I humbly Recommend into the Hands of my most Merciful Redeemer, and beg the Prayers of all good People.


After he was Executed there was 3 Kishes of Turff lighted, wherein his Harts Livers Lights and Members were Burned, and his Head set on the Goal, Two Yards higher than any of the rest, with His Hat and Wigg on; his Nephew James McCaraghar and 3 more are to be executed on Saturday 21st.

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1784: Cassumo Garcelli, a Tuscan sailor on Boston Common

Add comment January 15th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1784, for a murder in a bar brawl he had committed with his hard-drinking cronies, Tuscan mariner Cassumo Garcelli was hanged on Boston Common.

To judge by the bog-standard broadsheet purporting to report the condemned man’s gallows’ shade contrition for his youthful vice and wicked examples, piratical Catholic seamen appear to have understood the spectacle of their public execution in a friendless foreign land in a manner quite suspiciously similar to the understanding likely to be held by a New England printer.

In the transcription that follows, I have made a few interpolations, and one outright elision, owing to sections of text obscured by printing faults on the preserved version of this document.


Click on the image to see the full original document.

Who was this Day (Thursday, January 15, 1784) executed, for the willful, cruel and inhuman murder of Mr. John Johnson on the evening of the sixth November, 1783.

I, Cassumo Garcelli, was born at Leghorn, in Italy, on the Fifth Day of March, 1760. My Parents, who are, as I have since been informed, both dead, were not classed among the lower Order of People, endeavoured to check the natural Viciousness of my Disposition, by repeated Corrections and Admonitions, but to no Effect, for the Proneness of my Temper to Vice, I cherished by keeping company with gambling, lewd, ill-moral’d Fellows, and committing Foibles, which the Consideration of being Young screen’d from publick Punishment. I have three Sisters, who I believe are still living, and will, in all Probability, here of the untimely [death of their] Brother.

In early Life […] to try my fortune … notwithstanding the Intreaties of my best Friends, I entered on board a Vessel, in the Capacity of Cabin-Boy. After making a Number of Voyages, a particular Account of which would give but trifling Satisfaction to any Person, I quitted the Profession for several Years, but again enter’d on a Voyage to Porto-Rico, where I committed the horrid Crime of Murder, by stabbing a Man, in an affray, with my poinard: I escaped the vigilance of my persuers, and got on board the vessel. After a short tarry there, we set sail for Philadelphia. During the Time I was on board this Vessel, I contracted an Intimacy with one Prami, whose wicked advice and Example was in a great Measure the Cause of my perpetrating a Number [sic], for [one of?] which I am this Day to make the attonement of my Life, to satisfy the demands of Justice.

Upon our arrival near Philadelphia, Prami with myself concerted a Platt to murder the Captain and crew, and make off with the vessel: We so far succeeded as that Prami murder’d the Captain, and I one of the sailors, but the crew mustering obliged us to decamp: We entered on board a schooner, and in a few days sailed for this place.

The Crime for which I am now to Suffer, was committed in the following manner: On the Evening of the 6th of November, being in Company with two of my Comrads [sic], we came from the North End, and on passing by Mr. Vose’s House, we heard some People Dancing, upon which (knowing it to be a Public House) we entered, and called for some Liquor, which was brought to us, after paying for it.

Vami, the stout man, with a white Jacket, who has made his Escape, enter’d the Room; my other Companion and I follow’d on, but was told to go out, which we did; on going into the Street, Prami laid hold on a young Woman, which occasion’d her to cry “Murder,” upon which Johnson, with others ran to her Assistance, an Affray ensued, when Johnson approaching us received three Stabs from me, and two from Prami: We endeavoured to make our escape, which Prami effected: I was taken, confined, brought to trial, and after a very fair trial was convicted of the crime, sentenced, and am this day to suffer. Humbly craving the Benediction of ALL, I must confess [and am] willing to die.

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1821: Elizabeth Warriner, Lincoln poisoner

Add comment October 27th, 2015 Headsman

For this just-in-time-for-Halloween wicked stepmother, we are indebted to the highly browsable The Word On The Street, a collection of highlight broadsides held by the National Library of Scotland.

The Last Dying Words, Speech, & Confession of Elizabeth Warriner. Who was Convicted at the last Lincoln Assizes, for the Horrid Murder of her Step-Son, J. Warriner, by poison, and who was Executed at the City of Linclon [sic], on Saturday the 27th of Oct. 1821.

ELIZABETH WARRINER was indicted for the Murder of J. Warriner, her Step-Son, at Surfleet, by administering poison to him. The prisoner was the second wife of a Farmer. The deceased was his Son by a former marriage, about 12 years of age. From the period of her marriage, the prisoner treated the child with great cruelty. On various occasions she was heard to say she would be the death of him. At length on the morning stated in the indictment, the boy, immediately after breakfast, which consisted of bread and milk, was taken ill. Medical aid was called in, but he breathed his last in the course of the day. After she had poisoned the unfortunate boy, she dragged him out of the house, and put him in the stable, and hanged him up, with a rope round his neck, to make people believe he had hung himself, as there was no marks of violence round the neck. The body was opened by a surgeon, when the stomach and intestines were found to exhibit all the appearance of arsenic having been administered. It was afterwards ascertained that a quantity of arsenic was in the possession of the father, who used it for some husbandry purpose, [and to] which the prisoner had access. It further turned out, that a small quantity was found [in t]he basin from which he had eaten his breakfast: and that the prisoner had given him his breakfast in that basin. This circumstance, added to a variety of others, which in the [cou]rse of the examination of the witnesses, seven in numher, came out, led to to the conclu[sion], that the prisoner administered the poison.

Mr. Justice Holroyd summed up tne evidence, and the Jury found her gulity, The [judge] in passing sentence, obserted to the prisoner, that the crime of murder in all cases [was] an heinous one, and in all countries was punished with death; but there were gradations e[ven] in this crime, and her’s [sic] was of the worst nature. She had destroyed her Step-Son; and no other motive could be assigned than that arising from a cruel, hardened, and vicious disposition — her crime was that of muder, the most heinous and cruel. — He hoped she would sincerely repent of her crime, and take all possible care of her soul during the few hours she had to live, so to be reconciled to her offended Maker; he feared she was not so convinced of the necessity of this as she ought to be, but trusted she would seek for that advice which would satisfy her of that necessity, and enable her to meet her future Judge, with a well-rounded hope in his mercy from the sincerity of her contrition; all that remained for him to do was to pass sentence upon her which the law required, which was, that she should be taken from whence she came, and on Saturday the 27th October, 1821, to be taken from thence, to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead, and that her body should be delivered to the surgeons for dissection — concluding with — “and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

The moment she heard that her life was to be forfeited for the barbarous murder, and her cruel treatment to her Step-Son, she jumped up from the floor in the greatest agony, wringing her hands, and other symptoms of distraction.

About ten o’clock on Saturday morning, she ascended the fatal scaffold with a greater degree of fortitude and resignation than could have been expected; and addressed the numerous spectators around her in nearly the following words: “Good people, you see now before you an unfortunate woman, cut off just in the prime of life, and for the most dreadful of al [sic] crimes, Murder! let my dreadful fate be a warning to you not to suffer your passion to work forcibly on your minds, which has been the cause of the melancholy situation in which I am now placed; let me beg your prayers — good people pray for me; O pray for me.”

On the morning of her awful execution, she was dressed all in white, with a child suckling at her breast, which was taken from her by the executioner and her melancholy cries was heard at a great distance. It was shocking to the surrounding multitude.

She then dropped a handkerchief she held in her hand, as a signal, crying, O my Child! my Child! and was immediately launched into a dreadful eternity.

Printed by John Muir, Glasgow.

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1835: John Smith and James Pratt, the last hanged for sodomy in Great Britain

11 comments November 27th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1835, John Smith and James Pratt (sometimes reported as John Pratt) were hanged outside Newgate Prison for (in the exhausting fulminations of the Old Bailey trial records) “feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, carnally … commit[ted] and perpetrate[d] the detestable, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery.”


Generic gallows image from this Smith and Pratt hanging-day broadside.

These men were the last put to death anywhere in the realm under the ghastly Tudor-era Buggery Act,* and indeed among the last to die at Newgate for any crime other than murder or attempted murder.

“The grave will soon close over me,” Smith allegedly wrote to a friend before his hanging, “and my name [be] entirely forgotten.”

But that’s not altogether true.

Unbeknownst to the sufferers, they were destined for literary preservation by a young writer on the make, one Charles Dickens: Smith and Pratt make an appearance in Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, an 1836 compilation of London scenes of which “A Visit to Newgate” is perhaps the best-known.

This piece narrates a visit Dickens paid, according to William Carlton’s “The Third Man at Newgate” (The Review of English Studies, Nov., 1957), on November 5, 1835. Dickens would write in subsequent correspondence that the experience left him “intensely interested in everything I saw.”

Prisons and the threat or reality of execution would loom large in that redoubtable author’s canon. “You cannot throw the interest over a year’s imprisonment, however severe, that you can cast around the punishment of death,” the perspicacious 23-year-old told his publisher.

So too did the still-living apparitions of the condemned Smith and Pratt occupy Dickens’s reflections in “A Visit to Newgate”; they comprise a good third of the essay.

In the press-room below, were three men, the nature of whose offence rendered it necessary to separate them, even from their companions in guilt. It is a long, sombre room, with two windows sunk into the stone wall, and here the wretched men are pinioned on the morning of their execution, before moving towards the scaffold. The fate of one of these prisoners was uncertain; some mitigatory circumstances having come to light since his trial, which had been humanely represented in the proper quarter. The other two had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown; their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. ‘The two short ones,’ the turnkey whispered, ‘were dead men.’

Smith and Pratt, of course, were the “dead men.”

Their third companion, otherwise unconnected with them, was a soldier named Robert Swan, convicted of robbery. Swan was indeed reprieved, a few days before the execution. “Boz” sketched the aspect of these men as he observed them:

The man to whom we have alluded as entertaining some hopes of escape, was lounging, at the greatest distance he could place between himself and his companions, in the window nearest to the door. He was probably aware of our approach, and had assumed an air of courageous indifference; his face was purposely averted towards the window, and he stirred not an inch while we were present. The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them, who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall. We passed this room again afterwards. The first man was pacing up and down the court with a firm military step – he had been a soldier in the foot-guards – and a cloth cap jauntily thrown on one side of his head. He bowed respectfully to our conductor, and the salute was returned. The other two still remained in the positions we have described, and were as motionless as statues.

If we have Dickens to thank in part for this unexpected glimpse of these poor fellows in the shadow of death, we also can hardly help but notice that — and this is in keeping with Smith’s forecast of posthumous anonymity — he does not name them, nor breathe a word about their scandalous crime. Only the man destined for the reprieve has animation; Smith and Pratt, immobile and affectless, are … but are little else besides. “Dead men,” like that turnkey said. This is not necessarily implausible, but it is also very pat for the literary construction of “A Visit to Newgate,” and we might be entitled to wonder how close to journalistic accuracy the writer has really come here, or regret the details Dickens has discarded that might have salvaged their humanity for a later readership.

Dickens’ party proceeded from these characters to a tour of the physical cells in which these doomed “statues” passed their last sleepless nights.

A few paces up the yard, and forming a continuation of the building, in which are the two rooms we have just quitted, lie the condemned cells. The entrance is by a narrow and obscure stair-case leading to a dark passage, in which a charcoal stove casts a lurid tint over the objects in its immediate vicinity, and diffuses something like warmth around. From the left-hand side of this passage, the massive door of every cell on the story opens; and from it alone can they be approached. There are three of these passages, and three of these ranges of cells, one above the other; but in size, furniture and appearance, they are all precisely alike. Prior to the recorder’s report being made, all the prisoners under sentence of death are removed from the day-room at five o’clock in the afternoon, and locked up in these cells, where they are allowed a candle until ten o’clock; and here they remain until seven next morning. When the warrant for a prisoner’s execution arrives, he is removed to the cells and confined in one of them until he leaves it for the scaffold. He is at liberty to walk in the yard; but, both in his walks and in his cell, he is constantly attended by a turnkey who never leaves him on any pretence.

We entered the first cell. It was a stone dungeon, eight feet long by six wide, with a bench at the upper end, under which were a common rug, a bible, and prayer-book. An iron candlestick was fixed into the wall at the side; and a small high window in the back admitted as much air and light as could struggle in between a double row of heavy, crossed iron bars. It contained no other furniture of any description.

(Later in the 19th century, this dank vault was improved by conjoining two adjacent chambers to comprise the condemned cell.)

A year after Sketches‘ February 1836 publication, Dickens’ serialized novel of the London underclass Oliver Twist began its run. That story’s heart-wrenching denouement of the thief Fagin awaiting execution in Newgate seems to owe a debt to Dickens’ meditation in Sketches on the dolorous condition of Smith, Pratt, or any doomed prisoner facing death in these awful cells.

“A Visit to Newgate” concludes:

Conceive the situation of a man, spending his last night on earth in this cell. Buoyed up with some vague and undefined hope of reprieve, he knew not why – indulging in some wild and visionary idea of escaping, he knew not how – hour after hour of the three preceding days allowed him for preparation, has fled with a speed which no man living would deem possible, for none but this dying man can know. He has wearied his friends with entreaties, exhausted the attendants with importunities, neglected in his feverish restlessness the timely warnings of his spiritual Fagin in Newgate – Cruikshank consoler; and, now that the illusion is at last dispelled, now that eternity is before him and guilt behind, now that his fears of death amount almost to madness, and an overwhelming sense of his helpless, hopeless state rushes upon him, he is lost and stupefied, and has neither thoughts to turn to, nor power to call upon, the Almighty Being, from whom alone he can seek mercy and forgiveness, and before whom his repentance can alone avail.

Hours have glided by, and still he sits upon the same stone bench with folded arms, heedless alike of the fast decreasing time before him, and the urgent entreaties of the good man at his side. The feeble light is wasting gradually, and the deathlike stillness of the street without, broken only by the rumbling of some passing vehicle which echoes mournfully through the empty yards, warns him that the night is waning fast away. The deep bell of St. Paul’s strikes – one! He heard it; it has roused him. Seven hours left! He paces the narrow limits of his cell with rapid strides, cold drops of terror starting on his forehead, and every muscle of his frame quivering with agony. Seven hours! He suffers himself to be led to his seat, mechanically takes the bible which is placed in his hand, and tries to read and listen. No: his thoughts will wander. The book is torn and soiled by use – and like the book he read his lessons in, at school, just forty years ago! He has never bestowed a thought upon it, perhaps, since he left it as a child: and yet the place, the time, the room – nay, the very boys he played with, crowd as vividly before him as if they were scenes of yesterday; and some forgotten phrase, some childish word, rings in his ears like the echo of one uttered but a minute since. The voice of the clergyman recalls him to himself. He is reading from the sacred book its solemn promises of pardon for repentance, and its awful denunciation of obdurate men. He falls upon his knees and clasps his hands to pray. Hush! what sound was that? He starts upon his feet. It cannot be two yet. Hark! Two quarters have struck; – the third – the fourth. It is! Six hours left. Tell him not of repentance! Six hours’ repentance for eight times six years of guilt and sin! He buries his face in his hands, and throws himself on the bench.

Worn with watching and excitement, he sleeps, and the same unsettled state of mind pursues him in his dreams. An insupportable load is taken from his breast; he is walking with his wife in a pleasant field, with the bright sky above them, and a fresh and boundless prospect on every side – how different from the stone walls of Newgate! She is looking – not as she did when he saw her for the last time in that dreadful place, but as she used when he loved her – long, long ago, before misery and ill-treatment had altered her looks, and vice had changed his nature, and she is leaning upon his arm, and looking up into his face with tenderness and affection – and he does NOT strike her now, nor rudely shake her from him. And oh! how glad he is to tell her all he had forgotten in that last hurried interview, and to fall on his knees before her and fervently beseech her pardon for all the unkindness and cruelty that wasted her form and broke her heart! The scene suddenly changes. He is on his trial again: there are the judge and jury, and prosecutors, and witnesses, just as they were before. How full the court is – what a sea of heads – with a gallows, too, and a scaffold – and how all those people stare at HIM! Verdict, ‘Guilty.’ No matter; he will escape.

The night is dark and cold, the gates have been left open, and in an instant he is in the street, flying from the scene of his imprisonment like the wind. The streets are cleared, the open fields are gained and the broad, wide country lies before him. Onward he dashes in the midst of darkness, over hedge and ditch, through mud and pool, bounding from spot to spot with a speed and lightness, astonishing even to himself. At length he pauses; he must be safe from pursuit now; he will stretch himself on that bank and sleep till sunrise.

A period of unconsciousness succeeds. He wakes, cold and wretched. The dull, gray light of morning is stealing into the cell, and falls upon the form of the attendant turnkey. Confused by his dreams, he starts from his uneasy bed in momentary uncertainty. It is but momentary. Every object in the narrow cell is too frightfully real to admit of doubt or mistake. He is the condemned felon again, guilty and despairing; and in two hours more will be dead.

Lotta books about Dickens

A magistrate with the Dickensian name of Hesney Wedg(e)wood appealed vigorously for clemency for Smith and Pratt — pointing out that the only reason these two had been doomed among the rather many enthusiasts** for this victimless offense was that they were penurious enough to have to pursue their desires in a lodging-house rented by a friend where they were easily spied-upon.

(The testimony lodged against them in court came from the nosy landlord who got suspicious, and with his wife peeped through the keyhole on “Pratt laying on his back with his trowsers below his knees, and with his body curled up—his knees were up—Smith was upon him—Pratt’s knees were nearly up to Smith’s shoulders—Smith’s clothes were below his knees … and a great deal of fondness and kissing.” The landlord burst in on the sodomites and put a stop to the fondness right away.)

“There is a shocking inequality in this law in its operation upon the rich and the poor,” wrote Wedgwood.

It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted. The detection of these degraded creatures was owing entirely to their poverty, they were unable to pay for privacy, and the room was so poor that what was going on inside was easily visible from without. (Quoted here)

* The first executed under the Buggery Act shared his scaffold with Thomas Cromwell almost 300 years before. Although there were no further executions for sodomy after Smith and Pratt in 1835, that penalty remained theoretically available for the “crime” until 1861.

** See this book-length pdf.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Milestones,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Sex

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1843: Allen Mair, irate

2 comments October 4th, 2011 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1843, 84-year-old Allan Mair was hung in Stirling, Scotland.

He was condemned for the murder of his wife. Mair is notable not only for being the oldest person ever executed in Scotland, but also for his unusually long, bitter scaffold speech, as recorded in Alex Young’s book The Encyclopaedia of Scottish Executions 1750 to 1963.

The meenister o’ the paarish invented lees against me. Folks, yin an’ a, mind I’m nae murderer, and I say as a dyin’ man who is about to pass into the presence o’ his Goad. I was condemned by the lees o’ the meenister, by the injustice of the Sheriff and Fiscal, and perjury of the witnesses. I trust for their conduct that a’ thae parties shall be overta’en by the vengeance of Goad, and sent into everlasting damnation. I curse them with the curses in the Hunner an’ Ninth Psalm: “Set thou a wicked man o’er them” — an haud on thee, hangman, till I’m dune — “An’ let Satan stand at their richt haun. Let their days be few, let their children be faitherless, let their weans be continually vagabonds”; and I curse them a —

At this point, the executioner drew the bolt, but Allen wasn’t done raging against the dying of the light. The old fella got his hands free and grabbed the rope, delaying his strangulation; the slipshod executioner had to fight off his prey’s clutches to hang him.

There’s an original broadside from this execution here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Scotland

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1828: William Corder, for the Red Barn Murder

2 comments August 11th, 2011 Headsman


This nostalgic emblem of bygone pastoral idylls doubles as a great place to dump a body. (cc) image from boodie131.

This date in 1828, throngs of thousands at Bury St. Edmunds saw the climax of the Red Barn Murder case in the form of the public hanging of William Corder.

This broadside blockbuster got its start in a Suffolk village, where a local ladies’ man and his paramour plotted a rendezvous at the titular shed for the purpose of elopement — she having become pregnant by the young man’s offices.

When the meeting was over, Corder had vanished from town … and Maria Marten had just plain vanished.

Almost a year later, Maria Marten’s stepmother began reporting dreams that the poor girl had been murdered and stashed in the barn. And sure enough, when they searched it, there lay Maria — with William Corder’s handkerchief around her neck. Corder was found in London living with his new wife.

(About the stepmom: she was just a year older than her “daughter”, and considering her essential role in divining the body’s location, has to be considered suspect herself. It’s not too hard to picture her as Maria’s rival for the tomcatting Corder. She never faced any charges, though.)

In a standing-room-only trial that commenced a mere four days before the hanging — papers reported shortages of post-horses owing to the influx of rubberneckers — Corder failed to persuade anyone that he merited the least bit of mercy with his cockamamie story that Marten done shot herself through the eye.* He was doomed by the jury with 35 minutes’ deliberation.

The Red Barn murder is one of dozens in Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder (Review)

The London Times (Aug. 11, 1828) waxed unctuously pleased with this circumstance.

We congratulate the country on a manifest improvement in the condition of its moral feeling, since the sickly sensibility of the press, and of the multitude to whose foul taste it ministered, was wont to declare itself on the side of ruthless and treacherous murder, and to stifle at once every movement of honest compassion for the victim, and all reverence for the principles by which justice is vindicated and human society held together.

Another base ruffian has now equalled or exceeded Thurtell in guilt, and is about to follow him in the experience of lawful retribution. To the honour of the people, we have not yet heard one ejaculation of unnatural pity for the miscreant who deliberately butchered the mother of his infant on pretence of accompanying her to the altar. Corder has united in this one deed of horror — if it be his only one — whatever the heart revolts at most in the conduct of man to woman. He seduced — then betrayed — then massacred the wretched creature, in cold blood; and providential were the means of his detection, as his crime was hateful to God and man.

Why will not unhappy females bethink themselves before it be too late, that he who is depraved enough to corrupt their innocence, has already made no small advance in that course which ends too often in his exacting from them the only remaining sacrifice?

Corder left the scaffold just as he had reached it, corrupting females all the way down.

Seated on a wall, which gave a commanding view of the whole scene, were several ladies, dressed in the first style of fashion. I mention this fact because it shows the intense curiosity prevalent in this county respecting every action of Corder: for nothing else could have brought respectables females to behold a catastrophe so uncongenial with the usual kindness and benevolence of the female character.

London Times, Aug. 12, 1828

An account of the trial is long since in the public domain and available free from Google books; especially recommended is the collection of dozens of Victorian-Craigslist notes Corder received when he advertised for a wife upon reaching London.

Also of interest: this journal article comparing popular ballads around the case, and even linking to a recorded performance.

As befits such a magnetic public spectacle, Corder’s body was slated for a long afterlife as a macabre totem of the principles by which justice is vindicated.

His corpse was publicly displayed — some 5,000 people are reported to have filed past it — and the hanging rope sold off in increments. Gruesome relics from the case — Corder’s scalp, his death mask, a book bound in his skin — were harvested for exhibition. (Tourists also poured into Corder’s village of Polstead, stripping souvenirs from the red barn and chipping Maria Marten’s gravestone down to the nub.)

The murderer’s skull was one of these trophies, but its owner became convinced it was cursed and had it buried. The rest of Corder was anatomized, as was the style at the time, and its skeleton remained on public display until just a few years ago with that of 18th century crime lord Jonathan Wild.

While the traditional ballads are to be expected …

this venial crime among commoners has sustained popular memory of sufficient longevity to put the Red Barn Murder onto such unanticipated media as the silver screen

… and Tom Waits’ somber blues/rock.

* Corder confessed before his execution.

Part of the Themed Set: Branded.

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1721: John Stewart, pirate

Add comment January 4th, 2011 Headsman

THE LAST SPEECH AND DYING WORDS,

Of John Stewart, who was executed within the Flood-
Mark at Leith, upon the 4th January 1721, for
the Crime of Piracy and Robbery.

UPON the 28 Day of March, one Thousand seven Hundred and Ninteen Years ; I Sailed from Dartmouth in England, in the Ship, called, the Mark de Campo, belonging to Ostend, Captain Mathias Garribrae Commander, in Order to make a Voyage to Guinea, and Mosambequie in the East-Indies; and having in some short Time thereafter arrived upon the Cost of Guinea; We hapned to our sad Misfortune upon the 2d Day of June next, thereafter, to be taken by a Pirate Ship, commanded by Captain Davies;* after we had made what Resistance we could, they compelled me and several others out of our Ship to go along with them; and upon our Refusal threatned to puts us immediatly to Death, or leave us upon some Desolate Island, which was nothing better than Death; and I refer it to every ode to Judge, whither or not any Man would have preferred immediat Death to go along with them, while there remained some Hopes of making an Escape, which I and those that were taken with me still endeavoured, and made several Attemps to Effectuat.

And I do solemnly Declare as a dying Man, that whatever I did while I was Aboard of the Pirate Ship, was by Force, and upon the Peril of my Life; and that I and these taken With me, are not only Innocent of What is laid to our Charge, but during the Time We Was Aboard of them, I never seed them wrong Man, Woman or Child; and I with several others having at last made our Escape, We Sailed for Britain, with no other Design but to free and clear our selves from the Tyranny of those Pirates, that had detained so fair contrary to our Inclinations; and having landed in the West of Scotland, every Body knew how we have been treated since that Time, and I might have purchast my Life, had my Conscience allowed me to Comply with the Sollicitation of them, who would have had me appear as an Evidence against those that were as Innocent as my self, but I never could think of Saving my Life at so dear a Rate.

And for the Judge and Jury I shall not Reflect on them, but do declare that I am Innocently put to Death, as to the Crimes for which I am condemned; And beg GOD Almighty that he may not lay this Innocent Blood to their Charge, but forgive them as I do. And begs GOD may forgive my other Sins, (through the Merits of JESUS CHRIST my only Redeemer) which has been the Cause of this Dismal Death.

Into thy Hands, O GOD, I recommend my Spirit.

EDINBURGH, Printed by Robert Brown in Forrester’s-Wynd, 1721.

(From the National Library of Scotland’s Digital Library here.)

Okay, couldn’t pass on that name.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
The Buccaneer Stops Here
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

* Stewart apparently refers to the Welsh buccaneer Hywel Davies, aka Howell Davis, and this story of hijacking would put Stewart in some pretty august company: it was approximately this time and area that the Davies crew captured the slave ship Princess carrying third mate Bartholomew Roberts, who was pressed into navigational service for the freebooters.

Davies was killed in another pirate adventure later that same month of June 1719, and Roberts was elected to succeed him despite being only a few weeks aboard the ship. The latter went on to one of the most illustrious raiding careers in the Golden Age of Piracy … the original Dread Pirate Roberts.

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1795: Pomp, a Negro

Add comment August 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1795, an African-American near-slave (slavery’s official 1783 abolition in the state seems not to have constituted a completely bright line) was hanged in Ipswich, Mass. for murdering his master-slash-employer.

Thanks to Laura James at CLEWS, we are drawn to this story reproduced here at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Documenting the American South site. Pomp was perhaps mentally “touched”; he was certainly physically “touched” for any perceived inadequacy at his labors, and eventually chopped off his master’s head while the latter slept beside his wife. (The wife summoned the police, without molestation from Pomp.)

The victim, Captain Charles Furbush, was a minuteman who fought at Lexington, one of the opening skirmishes of the Revolutionary War.

Reprinted in full below (complete with breaks in the text where the original document is damaged) is the “Dying Confession of Pomp,” a broadsheet produced by a local merchant — who does not scruple to append some classified ads to the end of the text.*


I POMP now under sentence of death in Ipswich Jail, was born in [illegible], and brought from that place, so soon after I began my existence, that together with my Parents, I arrived at Boston when I was about three months old. My Father died soon after and my Mother has since had two husbands, and is now a widow. I have three sisters and three brothers now living in Boston, for whom a well as for my Mother I have a great regard.

My Mother soon after our arrival in this Country gave me away to Mr. Abbot of Andover. With this Gentleman I lived till I was sixteen years of age, but he being then on the point of moving back into the country some distance, told me if I chose it that I might then live with one of his sons, who was still to reside in Andover. I took up with his offer: choosing rather to continue in Andover, than to accompany my old master, to his new abode.

With young Mr. Abbot I lived not long, before I grew uneasy with the place. I told him that I meant to leave him soon, but he informed me that I was not free. About this time I was seized with convulsion fits which continued to oppress me at times ever after, to the fatal night that I murdered Capt. Furbush. Continuing still unreconciled to the new place, I went to the Select men of Andover to know whether I had not a right to leave it, and by their advice continued there a considerable time longer. But after a while it came to pass that Capt. Furbush took a notion to have a black man; and applying to the Select men, obtained their consent that I should be his servant. In compliance with the wishes [illegible] him; but soon found that I did not like him any better than the man with whom I had last lived. Furbush had a considerable farm and when I first began to live with him did some work himself, but I did not like the way he carried on his business, and after a while he left off work entirely, and by my desire left the whole management of the farm to me. I performed nearly all the work that was done on the place, cut all the hay, and with a trifle of help from the boy, whom my master desired to asist me a few days in a season, raised an hundred and seventy bushels of corn in a year. But my master still continued unkind to me, never letting me go to meeting on Sundays, and forcing me to clear out the cattle on those sacred days. When I asked him for money, he commonly gave me no more than four pence half peny, at a time: and even on Election day he gave me no more, nor would he suffer me on those days to go to frolicing till after one o’clock in the afternoon.

Though I did the best that I was able to do on the farm, my master was so far from seconding my endeavors, that he often brought whole droves of horses home with him in the night, and turned them in among the standing corn, that I had taken so much pains to plant, and hoe, and on the succeeding mornings he would charge me with the guilt of turning these horses into the corn field. In this way he often caused corn enough to be broken down in one night to fat a hog, and keep him fat a whole winter. I thought I found that he was a bad man, and a cheating horse jockey, and finally being unable to like him, I ran away from him, but was pursued, found, brought back, and severely flogged, by him for my pains. I afterwards ran off again but again met with the same fate. In this manner I went on ten or a dozen years, not liking my place, and not able to get away from it. I was frequently troubled with convulsion fits and sometimes crazy in such a degree, that I was generally bolted in to a chamber every night, in order to hinder me from getting into the chamber where my masters daughters slept. I worked very hard all the time. My master had one weakle son who was unable to work, and who often shed tears while he saw me labor and told me that he wished he was able to help me. I told him that perhaps I should contrive something after a while but did not explain myself. Continuing still uneasy I thought I would try once more the benefit of my legs. I accordingly ran off, but after a weeks absence, I was again brought back by my master, stripped naked, tied up by both hands, and unmercifully flogged. This was in the evening, and though it was late in the fall, and cold, frosty, icy weather, my master left me thus naked, and tied up, till the morning. My sufferings during the tedious hours of this lengthy night, by reason of cold and nakedness, a sore back and wounded spirits, were extremely great, and while under this torture, I thought it likely that my master would sometime or other feell the effect of his cruelty. My conjectures were so far right that it was the last time, that Furbush ever struck me.

My master used to tell me I might stay as long as I pleased at his house, adding that he should not stay in the world forever. From this I entertained an idea that Mrs. Furbush and the farm would be mine, after the death of my master. The hopes of being master, husband and owner, on one hand, and the cruel treatment I had received from Furbush on the other, prompted me to wish for his death and produced an idea of hastening [illegible] by [illegible] him myself.

In this state of mind the morning of the fatal day arrived. I arose considerably disordered having a great singing noise in the ears, and something whispering strange things to me I however went about my work as usual, cut up bushes all the day, near where there was another man to work but revealed nothing concerning my designs to him, at night went home, eat a beef steak for supper, and went to bed. Soon after I was seized with a fit, bit my tongue almost through, and after coming out of the fit, was delirious. I continued not long after this in bed, being impressed with an idea that I must get up and kill Capt. Furbush. The Lord a massy! said I to myself what is a going to take place now! The door of my chamber not being bolted as usual, I left my apartment and went down to the fire place. I was struck with horror by my reflections; but something still kept whispering in my ear, that now is your time! kill him now! now or never! now! now! I took an axe and went softly into the bed room of my master, and the moon shining bright, distinguished him from my mistress, I raised the ax before he awaked and at two blows, I so effectually did the job for him, that he never after even stretched himself.

My mistress being roused from sleep by the sound of the blows, said are you dead you? But receiving no answer she immediately left the bed, and called in a near neighbor. I did not try to escape not knowing that there was any necessity of it. I was told that I had but to go up to my chamber, I went there and perceived that somebody had bolted the door after me. Company soon began to croud into the house, and I was soon told that I should certainly be hanged. I was now very much frighted, nnd expected to be hung immediately, but my grief wore off considerably w [illegible] found that I was not to be hung there. I [illegible] soon brought to this Jail, and here enjoy mys [illegible] considerable well, though at Court time I [illegible] ry unhappy, and now some times, the idea [illegible] I have no friends, makes me dull.

The Ministers have been kind to me here, and I believe they are clever people: Mr. Stanniford too the Ja [illegible] keeper is kind and humane, and his wife and daughters clever people and pretty women. ([illegible] ndantly amiable ladies he ought to have said [illegible] whole family are clever folks.) The Ministers have told me to pray to God, and to the blood of Christ, for a new heart. I approve of [illegible] advice, and spend great part of my time in prayer, even ten or twenty times in a day I pray though I find it hard work, I do not however find fault with the hardness of the task, for [illegible] ieve it has been attended with great success. I have good hopes that I have got a new hear [illegible] the one that I used to have, used to ache [illegible] d, but the one I now have feels easy. I never [illegible] so well and hearty in my life as I now am, [illegible] fits and lunacy have left me entirely [illegible] hope to behave cleverly and graciously in this world.

I have prayed so much, that I have got all the minister’s [illegible] of praying and am not afraid to pray with [illegible] black coated man on the Continent. I [illegible] d make a very extraordinary priest, and inde [illegible] am turning very fast into one. When I [illegible] here, I was as black as any negro in the country, but now I have scarcely a drop of negro blood left in me, my blood having so far [illegible] ed into the blood of a Minister, that I am a [illegible] y nearly as white as a Mulatto. Minist [illegible] people and they can turn [illegible]

Some acc [illegible] the hapless POMP with some reflections [illegible] fate by J. PLUMMER, Jun.

Illustration of Pomp's hanging from the broadsheet

POOR POMP was a well made, considerable large, likely looking Negro. [illegible] e was very capable of contriving business on a farm, and such was his strength and industry, that besides the [illegible] which he received for his labour, Capt. Furbush could very well have afforded him 50 dollars per year–With such wages, or even with half that salary he might soon have acquired money enough to purchase 50 acres of excellent [illegible] land, and to have enabled him to clear and improve the same–In that situation some unfortunate white woman might possibly have sought [illegible] assylum in his arms, or at least the likelie [illegible] to girl that fell within the line of his ac [illegible] nce would have sprung like nimble doe [illegible] his marriage bed–The animating sweets of freedom, and of domestic life, had then been all his own–He would neither have sullied his hands with innocent blood, nor have been forced with unutterable woe, to breathe his last in a h [illegible] . But alas! instead of running this happy course, for want of understanding, and skill [illegible] him, to wife and laudable pursuits, we have seen him experience the sad reverse.

I ha [illegible] endeavored to preserve the ideas of poor Pomp, in the above speech, though I have taken the liberty to arrange the matter in my own way, [illegible] to word his thoughts more elegantly and [illegible] than he was able to express them. As to [illegible] said of something telling him to kill his [illegible] er, I believe it to be a falsehood of his ow [illegible] hing contrived by him to excuse his conduct, but as to the rest of his speech, I fancy that he believed it himself; though in several particulars he was pretty much mistaken. His [illegible] capacity was below the common pitch, and his understanding was undoubtedly considerably injured by convulsion fits, though his parts were vastly superior to those of an ideot. But for a rational being his mental improvements were extremely small; though when we consider the situation that he has lived in, this is not so very strange as we at first should think it. He lived either alone in the field, in bed, or in the kitchen of some people, who were too much above him to be his associates: and probably was never learned to read–There were few Negroes in Andover or any where near him, and all there was were unlearned people. From whom then or in what manner was it in his power to gain knowledge? ‘Tis true that he had some intercourse with his white neighbours, but very little that was profitable for instruction;– the discourse generally turning on domestic business, the raising country produce, the age, and strength, of oxen, and horses, the bulling of cows, or the lambing of sheep.– Of knowledge like this Pomp had a large stock. He knew all his master’s cattle, sheep, and hogs, and pretty exactly the age of each creature: and likewise the horses and oxen of many of his neighbours: could tell when such a particular cow of a certain neighbour had been bulled, and when his sow had pigged; but no man thought it worth his while to talk much upon other matters with him, nor would he have been much pleased with the discourse had it been otherwise. He knew not the names of the Seven Sciences, nor even that there were such things or names–knew nothing of ancient or modern history, nor even the late revolution in France, or the consequences of it so often rung through the universe–So little [illegible] ears–Of philosophy [illegible] , geography, good breeding, honor, politics, [illegible] he never heard, or heard with little attention, and less improvement– To crown his ignorance he lost his life by not knowing that murder was a sin: he expecting that he should immediately rise to a good estate and great felicity whenever he should be fortunate enough to kill his master. He knew nothing of the Laws of the United States or of this Commonwealth; and after the murder when he was told that he would be hung, he dreamed nothing of any previous imprisonment or trial: when he heard the sentence of death in Court, he expected to be hung the same hour but finding he was not to be executed that day, he conceived hopes that he never should be. He had seen others and been himself corrected in anger. He had observed that whenever his master was angry with him he either flogged immediately, or he for that time escaped correction, and that after the wrath of his master had subsided there was no danger. He thought the People of Andover and the Court at Ipswich would hang him in the same angry frame of mind, that his master used to flog him in, or that they would not hang him at all: he having no idea of the calm, but irrefutable ire, the deliberate, but vindictive, vengeance of the offended Justice, and of Heaven.

N. B. The reader will take notice that I do not attest to the truth of Pomp’s dying speech, but I affirm that he related to me as matters of fact the particulars [illegible] ted in this speech– Unfortunately for me [illegible] Jail keeper was absent when I visited the prisoner, [illegible] on his name does not appear a [illegible] tness: his lady was present, but perceiving that she was rather timorous, I did not trouble her with a request to be a witness; though I believe she will readly, orally attest to the truth of it.

Printed for and sold by JONATHAN PLUMMER, JUN. price 6d, who still continues to [illegible] various branches of trifling business–Underbeds filled with straw and wheeled to the ladies doors — Any person wanting a few dollars at any time may be supplied by leaving a proper adequate in pawn–Wanted 1000 junk bottles.

A certain secret disorder cured privately and expeditiously– Love-letters in prose and verse furnished on the shortest notice–The art of gaining the object beloved reasonably taught–

Nymphs and swains bow’d down with care
By cupid wounded to the heart,
Quick, O quick to me repair
For soon I ease the dreadful smart.


To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865 characterizes the dueling interpretations of Pomp and his white interlocutor as “[pitting] two explanations of black criminal behavior against each other for the first time in Afro-American autobiography. Plummer’s argument is based on the notion of the Negro as absence. His lack of remorse for murder shows that he has no moral sense, and in justifying his crime with the “whispering” voices, he proves that he lacks truthfulness. Pomp’s narrative, on the other hand, insists that there was something at work in the black man’s psyche, a dynamic whose manifestations in the actions and language of Pomp resisted Furbush’s methods of control and Plummer’s system of reference.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA

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1824: Henry Fauntleroy, choked on debt

7 comments November 30th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1824, the last Englishman to hang for forgery, met his fate at Newgate prison.

Henry Fauntleroy making his defense. From this Harvard gallery (part of the university’s Crimes Virtual Collection) of the period’s hanging press, including a Fauntleroy broadsheet (huge image, with a generic-looking merchant type as the criminal).

In a celebrated affair of the time, Fauntleroy was found to have inherited from his father a partnership in the foundering London bank Marsh, Sibbald & Co.

Desperate to keep the concern alive by maintaining a front of normalcy, Fauntleroy serviced its obligations by forging powers of attorney authorizing him to sell stock that he was supposed to merely be holding for investors.

Ever the diligent clerk, Fauntleroy made a ledger of the fraudulent transactions, plainly footnoted:

In order to keep up the credit of our house, I have forged powers of attorney for the above sums and parties, and sold out to the amount here stated, and without the knowledge of my partners. I kept up the payments of the dividends, but made no entries of such payments in our books.

The more things change

Fauntleroy, of course, didn’t have the reach of the Smartest Guys in the Room; what he did by foul means the collapse of his firm might have (more or less) accomplished by what economists regard as fair.

The firm, said the defendant, was in quite a fix.

I was only twenty-two years of age, and the whole weight of an extensive but needy Banking establishment at once devolved upon me, and I found the concern deeply involved in advances to builders and others … and the necessity of making further advances to those persons to secure the sums in which they stood indebted.

Translation: If you owe the bank £100, you’ve got a problem; if you owe the bank £100,000,000, the bank has a problem.

It took a lot less than that to run Marsh, Sibbald & Co. into the ground.

In this perplexed state the house continued until 1810, when its embarrassments were greatly increased, owing to the bankruptcies of Brickwood and others, which brought upon it a sudden demand for no less a sum than 170,000 £ … About 1814, 1815, and 1816, from the speculations with builders and brickmakers, & others, in which the house was engaged, it was called upon to provide funds to near 100,000 £, to avert the losses which would otherwise have visited it from these speculations. In 1819, the most responsible of our partners died, and we were called upon to pay over the amount of his capital, although the resources of the house were wholly inadequate to meet so large a payment. During these numerous and trying difficulties the house was nearly without resources, and the whole burthen of management falling upon me, I was driven to a state of distraction, in which I could meet with no relief from my partners, and, almost broken-hearted, I sought resources where I could, and so long as they were provided, and the credit of the house supported, no inquiries were made, either as to the manner in which they were procured, or as to the sources from whence they were derived.

In almost Dickensian fashion, our malefactor reacted more violently to allegations that the embezzlement had been effected in pursuit of a debaucherous lifestyle than he did to the criminal charge itself; if his version of bourgeois rectitude and endemic financial criminality further to the crumbling facade of his enterprise rings true, the ascetic clerk’s mortal penalty on behalf of his crummy bank will be a timely reminder of the pleasures one ought to seek before life withdraws them (or at least — just ask Robert Rubin! — of the invaluable utility of the limited liability company).

Having thus exposed all the necessities of the house, I declare that all the monies temporarily raised by me, were applied, not in one instance for my own separate purposes or expenses, but in every case they were immediately placed to the credit of the house in Berners-street, and applied to the payment of the pressing demands upon it. This fact does not rest on my assertion, as the transactions referred to are entered in the books now in the possession of the assignees, and to which I have had no access since my apprehension. These books, I understand, are now in Court, and will confirm the truth of my statement; and to whatever account all the sums may be entered, whether to that of Stock, of Exchequer Bills, or to my private account, the whole went to the general funds of the Banking-house.

Parliament abolished the death penalty for forgery in 1832. According to Hanging in the Balance: A History of the Abolition of Capital Punishment in Britain, a factor in the legislation was jurors’ increasing unwillingness to convict those accused of the crime knowing that it could lead to hanging. (See much testimony to that effect from the period’s lawyers and bankers here.)

A rumor circulated after Fauntleroy’s death — having something to do with the fame of the criminal, and something to do with what was reportedly his corpse’s unnaturally undamaged condition after the execution — that he had contrived to survive the hanging by slipping a silver tube down his throat, then absconded to live abroad.

Though evidently baseless as a factual matter, the legend is paid tribute by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, with a mysterious banker named “Fauntleroy” whose backstory would have elicited a knowing wink from many a reader in his time … and ours.

After Fauntleroy had thus spent a few empty years, coruscating continually an unnatural light, the source of it — which was merely his gold — began to grow more shallow, and finally became exhausted. He saw himself in imminent peril of losing all that had heretofore distinguished him; and, conscious of no innate worth to fall back upon, he recoiled from this calamity with the instinct of a soul shrinking from annihilation. To avoid it, — wretched man! — or rather to defer it, if but for a month, a day, or only to procure himself the life of a few breaths more amid the false glitter which was now less his own than ever, — he made himself guilty of a crime. It was just the sort of crime, growing out of its artificial state, which society (unless it should change its entire constitution for this man’s unworthy sake) neither could nor ought to pardon. More safely might it pardon murder. Fauntleroy’s guilt was discovered. He fled …

The wreck of his estate was divided among his creditors: His name, in a very brief space, was forgotten by the multitude who had passed it so diligently from mouth to mouth. Seldom, indeed, was it recalled, even by his closest former intimates. Nor could it have been otherwise. The man had laid no real touch on any mortal’s heart. Being a mere image, an optical delusion, created by the sunshine of prosperity, it was his law to vanish into the shadow of the first intervening cloud. He seemed to leave no vacancy; a phenomenon which, like many others that attended his brief career, went far to prove the illusiveness of his existence.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Executions Survived,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines

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