1823: John Newton, wife-beater

Add comment March 24th, 2017 Headsman

From the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, March 31, 1823.

SHOCKING MURDER — At Shrewsbury Assizes, on Saturday, John Newton, a Farmer, living at Severn-Hall, near Bridgenorth, was tried for the Wilful Murder of his wife, Sarah Newton, by violently beating and striking her, by throwing her down on a sledge, and by kicking her, (she being five months gone with child), in consequence of which she languished three hours and then expired.

The provocation on her part was — having misapplied the trifling sum of three shillings.

Her children stood by at the time (the eldest not more than eight years of age) and exclaimed — “O dear! do not dad!”

The evidence clearly proved the initial act of the prisoner.

Mr. Justice Best, in passing sentence, spoke to the following effect: —

John Newton, you have been convicted, upon the clearest and most satisfactory evidence, of the dreadful crime of murder — a crime upon which Heaven has imposed a sentence. It was recorded in Holy Writ, that, “Whosoever shed a man’s blood, by man his blood should be shed.” You have deprived of life one whom it was your duty to protect and cherish: and for what cause? Why, because your wife had misapplied the trifling sum of three shillings.

Your humane and kind-hearted creditor had endeavoured to prevent you exercising your brutal chastisement upon your wife, and he told you he would rather lose this trifling sum than you should punish your wife. You promised him that you would not beat her. Notwithstanding this promise, notwithstanding she was in a state that not even a monster would have laid violent hands upon her, the dreadful threat you had uttered four hours before was put into execution.

You beat her to the ground; you kicked her on a part of her body which might almost in all cases have caused death, but especially in the state she was in. You acted as a most inhuman father, destroying that life which owed its origin to you; and you killed your wife at a time when it might be thought that the most savage, the most ferocious of mankind would be disarmed.

When she was lying in an alarming state from the bruises she had received at your hands, you refused to send for medical advice, and when she was lying on the floor you abused her in addition to your cruel conduct.

After thirty years’ experience in Courts of Justice, I confess I have never witnessed such savage conduct as yours. I hope to God you will obtain that mercy you were not disposed to show here. May you apply to him with a contrite and repentant heart, who is the distributor of all mercy, during the very short time you have to live; for no mercy can you obtain on this side the grave. You will have the assistance of a clergyman, who is better qualified than I am to teach you true repentance: and may God of his infinite mercy, so dispose your heart that it may be better fitted for another world.

There now remains for me only the painful duty of passing the sentence of the law — which is, that you be taken hence to the place whence you came, and thence to the place of execution, on Monday next, where you shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead, and your body shall then be given to the surgeons for dissection, and may God have mercy on your soul!

The prisoner, who is a robust-looking man of forty, showed little emotion during the trial, or when the verdict was given: but while the Judge was addressing him he seemed bewildered — looking wildly about him — moved, as if involuntarily, up and down as sick and once or twice attempted to turn away. He once put his handkerchief to his face, but did not want to shed tears.

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1823: John Newton, violent spouse

Add comment March 24th, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1823, 40-year-old farmer John Newton was hanged for the murder of Sarah, his wife, who was heavily pregnant with their fifth child.

What happened is this: George Edwards, a local man, stopped by the Newton house and asked John for repayment of three shillings owed him for a lamp he’d sold the couple. In response, John flew into a rage, saying he had already given Sarah the money to settle the debt. This wasn’t the first time she’d done this, he told Edwards, and she had to be taught a lesson. He called Sarah into the room and threatened to thrash her.

Edwards was aghast and begged John not to hurt his wife, saying he’d rather forget about the three shillings altogether than have John do something so stupid. The three of them sat down and shared several jugs of weak beer — Edwards refusing to depart until John promised he would not hurt Sarah. As he left, he warned John that if he abused his wife, he, Edwards, would never speak to him again.

In the early hours of the next morning, John showed up at Edwards’s house and asked him for directions to the doctor’s, saying Sarah was suffering from pregnancy-related complications and “a bad job has happened.” When the doctor came, however, he found this wasn’t the case at all. Sarah had, in fact, been brutally beaten. Although she was given medical attention, she died at around midnight.

In Nicola Sly’s book Shropshire Murders, she notes,

The medical witnesses all agreed that Sarah Newton had died as a result of blood loss and, since the newspapers of the time seemed strangely reluctant to detail her injuries, it can probably be assumed that she had a miscarriage, caused by the beating and kicking she had been given by her husband.

Newton’s defense was three-pronged: first, he pointed out that Sarah had previously hemorrhaged after giving birth. Second, he claimed she had attacked him and he had hit her only in self-defense and only a few times with an open hand. Third, he presented various witnesses to suggest he had been insane at the time.

None of these arguments impressed: the jury deliberated all of two or three minutes before finding him guilty of willful murder. John said, incredulously, “I have lost my life for three shillings.”

John Newton wasn’t the only person to face trial in connection with his wife Sarah’s death, however. After John’s execution, the coroner who handled Sarah’s death inquest was brought up on charges of malpractice.

The coroner, a man named Whitcombe, had dismissed half the jury before the case was over because he considered the investigation to be “trifling.” He tried to persuade the rest of the jury members that Sarah had died “by visitation of God” before settling for an open verdict. He had Sarah’s body dissected before the inquest jury could examine it, and his own inspection of the body was judged to be perfunctory. Whitcombe had also failed to call George Edwards to the stand during the inquest, even though he was an important witness; Whitcombe also had an improper private interview with the defendant.

Whitcombe’s jury judged him culpable of “gross violation of his duty,” but in view of the fact that he had retired from his post in the meantime, he was not punished.


From the Caledonian Mercury, April 7, 1823

EXECUTION OF JOHN NEWTON, FOR THE MURDER OF HIS WIFE.

After this unfortunate man had been conveyed from the place of trial to the jail, on Saturday evening, he continued for many hours in a state of great agitation and mental distress.

On Sunday he attended divine service in the chapel of the prison, where he conducted himself with propriety. On the more near approach of the hour of dissolution his feelings again became more agitated.

At about a quarter after 12, on Monday, he was brought towards the scaffold, exclaiming, as he passed along, “I have lost my life for three shillings.” Having ascended the lodge of the jail, where he passed a few minutes in prayer with the chaplain, and some fellow prisoners, he was conducted to the scaffold; when, looking towards the immense multitude assembled, he exclaimed in a very loud tone, several times, “John Bolton!” “John Bolton, of The Hem!”

A voice appeared to answer from the crowd; and the prisoner then exclaimed, “John Edwards, are you come from Severn Hall?”

While on the scaffold, he said to the crowd, “This is a sad death to die, my lads, for a young man lie me; God bless you all.”

“I would give all the world it had not happened.”

He exclaimed two or three times, “Don’t hang me.” “I hope, gentlemen, you’ll not hang me yet.”

Occasionally he ejaculated, “Lord have mercy on me!”

Previous to being turned off, he put off his shoes (which he wore slipperways) from his feet; and when the drop fell he died instantly, and apparently without a struggle.

The unhappy man occupied a farm of about 170 acres, had been married about ten years, and has left four children. He told a gentleman who visited him, he had been a very bad husband at all times; that when he committed the fatal act, he struck and kicked his wife several times; and that, but for the interposition of Providence, he should, under the influence of his ungoverned feelings, at the same time have sacrificed the life of the child who interposed its cries in behalf of its mother: this addition to his crimes was happily prevented by the poor child outrunning and escaping from him. The unhappy criminal was a large and very muscular man. -Salopean Journal

Part of the Themed Set: Shropshire.

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

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