1842: The prisoner-mutineers of the Governor Phillip

Add comment November 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1842, four men hanged in Australia for the mutiny on the Governor Phillip.*

In this abortive rebellion, a dozen prisoners being carried on the aforenamed brig off the coast of Norfolk Island capitalized on the inattention of their guards and attempted to commandeer the vessel. By every account it was an unpremeditated affair, simply an attack of opportunity when the prisoners realized they’d been carelessly left free on the deck with only two guards, who were speedily thrown into the drink. (One drowned.)

Their aspirations at this moment ran along the lines of Fletcher Christian: merely to escape.

“Captain Boyle, I want to make a proposal with you,” one of the mutineers shouted at the momentarily deposed skipper while the latter was barricaded in his cabin. “Give us provisions and sails, and we’ll take the boat and leave you.” No deal was struck; instead, within a matter of minutes, the crew and guards rallied and took back the ship. It was the least they could do since, as one news article put it, “it certainly says little for their vigilance or prowess that such an attempt could have been made with any chance of success by a handfull of unarmed men.”

Five prisoners and the one drowning guard died in the scrap.

The seven surviving mutineers were left to stand trial for piracy, four — John Jones, John Sayers, Nicholas Lewis and George Beaver — of them ultimately consigned to the gallows at Sydney. (Two reprieves and a non-prosecution spared the remainder.) They arrived thence “so firm, yet in so resigned and devotional a state of mind” for they had “gradually become aware of their awful situation and received … those aids and consolations of religion” whilst “fully acknowledging the justice of the law.”

* The ship was named for Arthur Phillip, who commanded the First Fleet that founded the first British penal colony in Australia in 1788 — the germ of the eventual city of Sydney. (Named for Phillip’s patron, the Viscount Sydney.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Piracy

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1752: Nicholas Mooney, penitent thief

Add comment April 24th, 2018 Headsman

From the Boston Gazette, Aug. 4, 1752:


BRISTOL, April 18.

Last Saturday about 4 o’Clock in the Afternoon ended the Assizes for this City and County, when Nicholas Mooney, and John Jones, for robbing Mr. Rich, William Cudmore, for returning from Transportation, and Mary Hoar for stealing six Gold Rings and a Sum of Money out of the Dwelling-house of William Wats, at the Henroost on the Back, received Sentence of Death. — When the Prisoners stood at the Bar to receive their Sentence, Mooney address’d the Judge to the following Effect:

My Lord,

Permit me again to entreat for John Jones, whom I have enveigled and brought into this Trouble, (as I have done several others before) that your Lordship would be pleased to spare his Life. — As for my own Part, I have committed many Robberies, and have been a Rebel against my King, and have wronged my Country by Coining Money, for which I can never make the Publick Restitution, and therefore I am content to die as I deserve. — And I pray GOD to bless every one to whom I have done any Wrong. And if there be any Gentlemen of Bristol here whom I have injur’d, I ask them Forgiveness, and especially Mr. Wasborough, (who then stood near him) whom I attempted to Murder, but God sav’d him, for which I can never praise him enough. — My Lord, I only desire three Sundays, and then I am willing to launch into Eternity. And I hope when I come to the Place of Execution, that GOD will open my Mouth to warn all to flee their wicked Course of Life. — I pray GOD bless your Lordship, and the honourable Court, and may the Lord Jesus receive my Sou.

Bristol, April 25. Yesterday about one o’clock in the Afternoon, Nicholas Mooney, John Jones and William Cudmore, were executed on St. Michael’s Hill, pursuant to their sentences. — During the Time they were under Sentence of Death, they were visited by several Clergymen of the Church of England, and by many other religious People. Mooney behaved in a very becoming Manner all the Time, shewing the most evident Tokens of a sincere Repentance, to all who either came to see or converse with him; informing all, what a wicked Man he had been; but that, thro’ the Merits of his Saviour, he had found the Forgiveness of his Sins, and was not afraid to die. — In this State he continued to the End, declaring at the Tree, That he knew that as soon as his Breath was out of his Body, his Soul would go immediately to Heaven. — After Prayer and Singing were over, he deliver’d to the Sheriff the printed Copy of his Life, signed with his own Hand; declaring as the Words of a dying Man, That it contained nothing but what was true, and which he would have published for the Benefit of Mankind.

When he had done speaking, and the Cart drew under the Gallows, he assisted in pulling the Halter over the Tree to himself, as also to Jones; and after a few Moments Ejaculations, they all launch’d into Eternity. — Jones made no Confession publickly; but we hear he privately confessed to a Gentleman that attended him, That he had such a natural Propensity to Thieving, that he had followed that Practice even from his Youth — Cudmore persisted to the last, that his Father was hang’d, & he transported wrongfully: But notwithstanding this, there are Ltters of Credit in Town, which certify, that both him and his Father were notorious for Horse-stealing. It is remarkable, that while Mooney’s [obscured] was knocking off in Newgate, he pray’d & [obscured] said, Death has no Sting for me: When they were off, he said, Blessed be GOD, I am got rid of the Chains of My Sins; and appeared with such Chearfulness, as though he was going to a Wedding. — When the Hangman put the Halter round his Neck in the Parlour of the Prison, he said, Welcome, Halter, I am saved as the Thief upon the Cross. — And when he came to the Gallows, he also said, Welcome Gallows, for I have deserved thee these many Years. — When the Hangman was going to tie up Jones, Mooney said, Tie me up first, for I am the greatest Offender.

After the Cart drew away, the Hangman very deservedly had his Head broke, for endeavouring to pull off Mooney’s Shoes; and a Fellow had like to have been kill’d in mounting the Gallows to take away the Ropes that were left after the Malefactors were cut down. — A young Woman came 15 Miles for the Sake of the Rope from Mooneys Neck, which was given to her; it being by many apprehended, that the Halter of an executed Person will charm away the Ague, and perform many other Cures.

A little Time before the Criminals went to the Execution, a Person came to Mooney from a Gentleman in the West, from whom he had received great Favours, to tell him he had received a handsome Letter from him, and that he had sent him to condole him in his unhappy Circumstances: He replied, I am happy, — My Time is short. — GOD bless Mr. M–w. — The Letter was this.

Bristol, April 14, 1752.

SIR,

Before I die, I take this Opportunity to acknowledge your Kindness to me in Time past. — Oh! that I had deserved it, for then I had not brought myself into these Circumstances: But GOD is wise, and seeing I would not hear his Voice and turn from any wicked Life, he gave me up to my own Heart’s Lust, and permitted me to fill up the Measure of mine Iniquity, that in me at last might be shewn the Severity of his Justice, and the Riches of his Mercy. — You took me, the most abandon’d Wretch to be an honest Man and as such you kindly and generously recommended me where I might have done well. It is my own Fault I did not. — On Friday 7-night I am to meet the Fate my Crimes have too justly deserved. — I deserve not only Death, but Hell: To the former Man hath doomed me; from the latter Christ will save me. — Of this I have such a firm Hope in myself, being assured that GOD is reconciled to me, (oh! the Riches of his Mercy in Christ Jesus) that my Prison is a Palace, my Chains are Ornaments, and I am quite happy. — I hope every one will pray for me, that my Faith fail not. — I am longing for Death, and in firm Expectation of a glorious Resurrection to eternal Life.

Your much obliged and dying Servant,
Nic. Mooney.

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1772: John Jones, John Sunderland, John Chapman, and John Creamer

Add comment October 14th, 2012 Headsman

The Old Bailey Online site — “A fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court” — is one of the scaffold-chaser’s most outstanding resources and well worth perusing by anyone whose interests even remotely touch English crime and law from the Bloody Code to the eve of World War I.

Today’s post touches four such men, very distinctly non-elite fellows all sharing the same common Christian name, all hanged together at Tyburn for burglary. (Technically, John Creamer was hanged for returning from transportation, but he was transported in the first place for burglary.)

We begin as is our wont at the unhappy end. Here the Ordinary of Newgate — that “great Bishop of the Cells”, whose business was salvaging the souls of men whose flesh was forfeit — details the last hours of the doomed. Theirs is typical, even forgettable among scores of such accounts.

The condemned array themselves in various cuts of pathos, contrition, resignation. (Only Creamer somewhat objects to his sentence; this is almost beside the point.)

The clock ticks inexorably.

They’re turned off in the passive voice — who turned them? — crying out to God.

The prisoners were brought down from their cells about a quarter before seven. Their behaviour was every way becoming their unhappy situation.

The appearance of Sunderland and Jones was really moving and affecting by reason of their late illness of a bad fever, of which Sunderland was never expected to have recovered: He was so weak and low that he could scarcely support himself.

Chapman, while his irons were unloosing, said, ‘Ah! these will soon fall to the lot of some poor unhappy fellow!’ Sunderland and Jones were not fettered, the low and sickly condition they were in not requiring it.

Being now ready they went up to chapel, except Creamer, who was of the Catholic persuasion: Sunderland went up first: it was a few minutes before Jones and Chapman followed. In this short interval of time Sunderland said, ‘O how cold am I! I am now as cold as I have been lately hot and distracted with a fever, when I was so light-headed, that nothing run in my mind but a respite was come down, and wondered at their keeping me in my cells. Once upon a time little did I think of coming to this untimely end!’

When Jones came up (who had occasion to wait a little behind) he, with a very decent and christian-like behaviour, fell on his knees to ask God’s blessing.

After being severalty spoken to and prayed with, they were admitted to the Lord’s table, of which they partook, ’tis hoped, to their everlasting comfort.

They were then again recommended in prayer to the mercy of Christ; desiring them stedfastly to look to him as crucified for them, and to be sensible that their sentence was just, but that he, the innocent and immaculate Lamb of God, suffered, the Just for the unjust, and was treated with the greatest shame and ignominy, to take away their curse. They were once more reminded to look unto him, and to let nothing, that might pass on their way, divert their attention from him.

The clock striking eight, Sunderland listed up his hands and said, “We have not three hours more to live in this world.”

Service being ended, they went down from chapel to be made ready. Creamer, while the halter was fixing about him, wrung his hands and wept bitterly, and said, at going out, “God forgive them that have taken away my life for returning back to my own country!”

They arrived at the place of execution at half past ten; and when tied up, I went to perform the last office to them. They behaved with decency. And having again acknowledged that their sentence was just, except Creamer, who thought it rather hard, as he had committed no robbery since his return; but he was told to remember, that he had deserved to die before, and had received mercy: “True, says he, it is so; well, God forgive every one.”

They were once more recommended in prayer to the mercy of God, and then soon were turned off, crying out, Lord, receive our spirits.

Four burglars gone to the Tyburn tree.

In the period after the Seven Years’ War, housebreaking was a boom industry — there was a jaw-dropping eightfold increase in documented burglaries in London from 1766 to 1770. “The material civilization of the urban bourgeoisie became more refined, its belongings — ever increasing in variety and number — became arranged with a view to display and security.” (Linebaugh) Said period also corresponded to the demobilization of some 100,000 soldiers, blithely dumped from the late global war into an economy destitute of social welfare buttressing.

Each veteran “must return to some vocation which he has forgot, or which is engrossed by others in his absence,” lamented The Gentleman’s Magazine. “He must sue for hard labour, or he may starve. If human nature cannot submit to that, cannot he lie down in a ditch and die. If this disbanded brave man should vainly think he has some right to share in the wealth of his country which he defended, secured, or increased, he may seize a small portion of it by force — and to be hanged.”

For the enterprising criminal, the growing quantities of plunder available from a domestic raid exceeded by orders of magnitude the coppers one might riskily expropriate in the streets by main force or dextrous digits.

Entrepreneurial thieves accordingly developed an astonishing felicity for breaking and entering, often (as was the case with all this day’s hanged Johns) penetrating occupied domiciles where the soon-to-be-dispossessed owners dozed.

The blind magistrate and police reformer Sir John Fielding was at this time leading the uphill struggle to control the breaking-and-entering epidemic. (His testimony to Parliament is the source of those “octupling burglary rate” figures.)

Fielding’s anti-burglary agenda included strengthening the city’s embryonic policing, as well as killjoy social measures like shuttering taverns and suppressing the Beggar’s Opera; that very year of 1772, he debuted a (still-extant) magazine to circulate the descriptions of wanted fugitives. And trying to force pawnbrokers and other potential fences into monitoring their inventory sources, Fielding successfully prevailed on Parliament to expose the receivers of stolen goods to the same criminal sanctions as the thieves themselves. (See The First English Detectives: The Bow Street Runners and the Policing of London, 1750-1840)

All these would have limited effect against London’s ingenious burglars. But our four Johns were the kind of men Fielding meant to put out of business.

John Jones and John Sunderland were a team. Six weeks before their hanging, they broke into a home and bent their backs under an entire wardrobe’s worth of booty: “one silver saucepan, value 10 s. one pair of silver knee buckles, value 4 s. and one pair of silver-garter buckles, value 2 s. the property of the said Aaron Franks, Esq; one gold watch-chain, value 20 s. two seals set in gold, value 10 s. six linen stocks, value 3 s. eight pair of silk stockings, value 30 s. two silk pocket handkerchiefs, value 4 s. five other pocket handkerchiefs, value 5 s. five linen-shirts, value 40 s. one pair of pocket pistols, value 40 s. one flannel waistcoat, value 5 s. and one pair of laced ruffles, value 40 s. the property of Jacob Franks, Esq; one cloth coat, value 20 s. one cloth waistcoat, value 5 s. two other linen shirts, value 4 s. one cornelian seal set in silver, value 2 s. one pair of silk stockings, value 1 s. and one pair of thread stockings, value 6 d. the property of Joseph Grover; four other shirts, value 16 s. two pair of worsted stockings, value 3 s. the property of Phineas Ghent, and one thickset frock, value 15 s. the property of Richard Varley , in the dwelling house of the said Aaron Franks, Esq.” (Grover and Ghent were servants. Everyone got cleaned out … and nobody woke up.)

The tricky and essential part of the burglary business, as Sir John Fielding recognized, was getting rid of the loot. Jones and Sunderland were shopped by a suspicious man to whom they attempted to sell some of the clothes.

John Chapman jimmied open the shuttered and barred window of a St. George in the East residence while its owner slept upstairs and emptying the place of “a silk handkerchief, and two linen handkerchiefs, value 2 s. four China bowls, value 20 s. one earthen bowl, value 6 d. one pair of gold weights and scales, value 1 s. one leather box, value 1 s. and thirty-six half-pence.” The theft was only discovered in the morning when a neighbor noticed the broken window and raised the alarm; Chapman was traced when one of the China bowls later turned up, but by that time he’d already notched another successful midnight home invasion. He drew death sentences in both cases.

His 17-year-old accomplice turned crown’s evidence, and described the method in that latter instance:

John Chapman had a chissel in his pocket, a long chissel, a rusly one; he bid me look out that no-body came by; I stood within a yard or two of him; he put his shoulder to the bolt, and pulled very hard, and broke it open; after we had broke it open, the watchman came by to call the hour, past one; we put the shutters to and went a little further down a turning, till he went to his box again. When the watchman went to his box we got in; John Chapman struck a light; we both went in, and shoved the window up; we pulled the window shutter to again, and he had a key that he pulled out of his pocket, or was in the bureau; he pulled the door open; he had a candle in his pocket, wrapped up in a bit of paper, and a tinder box and matches, and pulled the drawers open, one at a time, and took out what was in them; there was a blackish gown, and some cotton to make shirts of, some striped cotton, and a great large table cloth flowered; there were a great many more things I cannot justly mention.

Bonanza.

we went on three or four steps the same side of the room, where there was a good deal of china; we saw the pepper castor with some pepper in it, and a silver spoon; one spoon bigger than a tea spoon; there were two bottles with liquor, one wine I believe; Chapman drank, and then said to me drink; I did; we laid the things upon the ground. I went backwards and searched where the coppers were, there I found half a dozen of tea spoons, in a cupboard where was victuals; the handles of the spoons did not turn up, they went downwards.

We looked down upon the ground, there was a great deal of copper saucepans and some shoes; I took some of the buckles of …

We tied them up in bundles, and brought them over the fields; he carried me down Old Gravel-lane, to (I believe the place is) Broad-street where Mrs. Nimmy lives; he carried them up stairs, and I lay with him all night … Chapman carried the things away in the morning; I got the cotton to make some shirts of; I brought it to Mrs. Nimmy; I knew her very well; she asked me whose they were; I said my brother bought them for me; I said I was going apprentice, and my mother would pay her, when they were made; I cannot tell where any of the other things were carried; Chapman gave me 12 s. for my share; he sold the things.

John Creamer‘s hanging crime was returning from transportation, but that transportation had been imposed in 1769 for yet another burglary.

Creamer’s was the least impressive heist of the bunch, perhaps little more than a crime of opportunity. Short on cash to pay for a pot of beer late one night at his lodging-house, he went upstairs, broke into a fellow-lodger’s room while the fellow-lodger slept, and absconded with 8 3/4 guineas. He not only paid for the beer, he went right out that night carousing and spending freely in the sight of many witnesses. He was traced because one of the coins he parted with had a distinctive “white spot like silver”; the victim, who suspected Creamer to begin with, was able the next day to track down that coin where it had been spent and tie it back to the miscreant.

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1660: Major-General Thomas Harrison, the first of the regicides

12 comments October 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1660, the restored House of Stuart began a week of bloody justice against Charles I‘s regicides by hanging, drawing and quartering Thomas Harrison at Charing Cross.

Stuart Little

Charles’ son and heir Charles II had been stuck on the continent during the 1650’s, until the Commonwealth came apart from its own internal contradictions after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

With anarchy looming, suddenly monarchy didn’t look so bad — and Charles II had a way back into the saddle.

Beheads I Win …

The first thing on everyone’s mind was what to do about the little matter of having lopped off his dad’s head.

Political reality drove the settlement: nearly everyone in the English gentry had in some manner acquiesced to the Commonwealth during its decade-plus turn steering the ship of state; an expansive line on treason would be a nonstarter. At the same time, His Soon-To-Be-Royal-Again Majesty expected a few examples made to do right by the old man and keep king-killing well off his future subjects’ agenda.

Result: the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, granting a free pardon to all supporters of the Commonwealth save a handful of those most directly implicated in Charles I’s execution.

Weeks of frantic negotiating between the parties and private settlements of borderline cases with the royalist camp preceded the action. But Thomas Harrison wasn’t part of any of it.

… Entrails you Lose.

The rigid Puritan, one of 59 who signed the last king’s death warrant and at one time the commander of England’s armies, had been on the outs with everyone since Cromwell set up the Protectorate in 1653. Godly Tom was a “Fifth Monarchist,” anticipating the imminent return of Christ perhaps in conjunction with the imminent year 1666 … and no government felt safe about these millenarians. He’d been imprisoned several times by the Protectorate, too.

Though many attainted regicides fled for Europe or America, Harrison (possibly motivated by age and infirmity) hung out, waited for arrest, and took his punishment stolidly.

God hath covered my head many times in the day of Battle. By God I have leaped over a wall, by God I have runned through a Troop, and by my God I will go through this death.

Specifically meaning, drawn on a hurdle from Newgate to Charing Cross (with a fine vantage for the doomed on Whitehall, where Charles I had met his end), hanged but revived, his genitalia cut off and bowels carved out and burned while still conscious, and finally beheaded and his body divided into quarters for gruesome public display around town.

You have selected regicide.

Harrison died on a Saturday, and his was the opening act of a busy week in the bowel-burning business; nine other fellow regicides condemned with him would share that fate during the week ahead:

  • John Carew, on Monday the 15th;
  • John Cook and Hugh Peters, on Tuesday the 16th;
  • Thomas Scot, Gregory Clemen, Adrian Scroop and John Jones, on Wednesday the 17th;
  • Francis Hacker and Daniel Axtel, on Friday the 19th.

Harrison was chosen as the first partly, perhaps, because the Fifth Monarchists were (justifiably) considered a still-extant menace, and partly because, as one account had it,

[h]e was a fierce and bloody enthusiast. And it was believed, that, while the army was in doubt, whether it was fitter to kill the king privately, or to bring him to an open trial, that he offered, if a private way was settled on, to be the man that should do it. So he was begun with. But, however reasonable this might be in itself, it had a very ill effect: for he was a man of great heat and resolution, fixed in his principles, and so persuaded of them, that he never looked after any interests of his own, but had opposed Cromwell when he set up for himself. He went through all the indignities and severities of his execution, in which the letter of the law in cases of treason was punctually observed, with a calmness or rather a cheerfulness that astonished the spectators.

“As cheerful as any man could do in that condition”

And this coda is attested by the age’s famous diarist, Samuel Pepys, whose neat and oft-quoted summation of Harrison’s fate runs thus:

I went out to Charing Cross, to see Major-General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition … Thus it was my chance to see the King beheaded at White Hall, and to see the first blood shed in revenge for the blood of the King at Charing Cross.

Who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe

As might be expected, vindicated royalists sought more blood than the handful of exemplars could furnish. What compromise could expiate the sin of regicide?

Poet and polemicist John Milton, having been propagandist-in-chief for the now-abortive revolution, endured the jeers of his enemies for the conspicuously apolitical stuff (a grammar book!) by which he would set his table in the years ahead.

Upon John Milton’s not suffering for his traiterous Book when the Tryers were executed, 1660.

That thou escaped’st that vengeance, which o’ertook,
Milton, thy regicides, and thy own book,
Was clemency in Charles beyond compare:
And yet thy doom doth prove more grievous far.
Old, sickly, poor, stark blind, thou writest for bread:
So for to live thoud’st call Salmasius from the dead.

(Claudius Salmasius was a French intellectual whose defense of the Stuart royal rights had been savaged by Milton during the Protectorate.)

It’s thanks to the Indemnity and Oblivion Act’s not sending Milton the way of General Harrison that we have Paradise Lost.

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