1908: John Boyd, by John Radclive

Add comment January 8th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1908, John Boyd managed six fitful hours of sleep, had a breakfast of toast, poached eggs and tea, and then went to the Don Jail gallows for murdering his paramour’s rival suitor.

Canada had long before ceased public executions. Prior to Boyd’s execution, Don Jail hangings had occurred in a jail yard — technically behind prison walls, but easily peeped upon by curiosity-seekers willing to obtain higher ground. Boyd’s execution introduced a new privacy measure: it was the first of 26 hangings to occur in an interior chamber completely away from public eyes, the same place where Canada eventually held its last hangings in 1962.

But apart from this minor milestone, we notice on this date the hurried and disturbed departure of prolific hangman John Radclive. “Another poor soul gone,” he was overheard to say as he left.

Radclive is the subject of an empathetic Toronto Star profile that’s well worth the read.

He was Canada’s first professional hangman, with 69 recorded executions and perhaps just as many which the uneven documentation of the day failed to note. Predecessor of the better-known Arthur Ellis, Radclive learned his trade direct from William Marwood, and was put on the federal payroll as a full-time executioner in 1892.

He had a swagger in his ill-starred step back then: he once started a brawl boasting in a pub that he had “come to hang a Frenchman, and hoped it would not be the last.” By the time he got to Boyd and beyond, he was ready for the last. Alcoholism had wasted his nerves (and his liver: he died of cirrhosis in 1911). In 1910 Radclive told a psychiatrist,

“Now at night when I lie down, I start up with a roar as victim after victim comes up before me. I can see them on the trap, waiting a second before they meet their Maker. They haunt me and taunt me until I am nearly crazy with an unearthly fear.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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