1853: Nathaniel Mobbs

Add comment November 21st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1853, Nathaniel Mobbs hanged for killing his wife.

Mobbs’s loutish drunken abuse was of Catherine Mobbs was audible to many neighbors at his Whitechapel tenement. On the night before he finally murdered her, he was so far gone that Catherine slept at a neighbor’s to stay clear of him. Nathaniel found her the next morning, and physically dragged her back home; that afternoon, an unusually violent row and the prisoner’s screams of “murder!” brought at least two guests scrambling up the stairs to their door, which Mobbs blockaded with a chest — until the “murder!” cries eerily stopped.

Then, the scuffing sound of furniture being moved.

And Catherine staggered out the door and down the steps, her dress and hair gorging on the horrid effluence of her slashed throat. She didn’t say a word before she dropped dead.

This nasty affair is covered by PlanetSlade.com’s murder ballads series, including a broadsheet (pdf) with testimony by the Mobbs’ neighbors, and the usual hanging ballad.

A U.S. band called South County YouTubed a haunting version of the ballad, although I believe they’ve taken some liberty with the lyrics.

This wasn’t Mr. Mobbs’s only brush with the literary. Charles Dickens, who could not but delight in the juxtaposition of pickpockets risking their own necks plying their craft on gallows-gawkers, fastened on just such an incident at the Mobbs execution. (Even if pickpocketing was no longer a capital crime by 1853.)

At Guildhall, on the 22nd, Charles Clark was charged before Alderman Humphery with Stealing a Watch the previous morning in the Old Bailey. Robert Pollard, the prosecutor, said: I was present yesterday morning at the Execution of the man Mobbs. I was in front of the scaffold, when I felt something at my pocket, and then missed my watch.

Alderman Humphery — I suppose you were there to see the man hung? Were there many persons there?

Witness: Yes, sir, a great man.

Alderman Humphery: Did you miss your watch before the execution or afterwards?

Witness: The condemned man was just coming on the scaffold, and before he was hung I saw the prisoner moving from my side. I followed him; but perceiving me behind him, he ran up St. Clement’s Inn-yards, in Old Bailey, and threw himself on some matting. The watch produced by the officer is mine. It is engraved with my own name.

Prisoner: I did not throw myself down, I fell down.

Alderman Humphery: There is one thing very clear. The awful sight of a man being hung has no fear for you. William Gardiner saw the prisoner, on reaching the top of Clement’s Inn yard, throw himself on some sacks and drop something down the iron grating. The witness went below and found the watch produced.

Prisoner: I never took the watch.

Alderman Humphery: You came out to witness the execution of a fellow creature, but it does not appear to have done you any good, for your intention in being there was to pick pockets evidently. It is quite clear that you committed a highway robbery, and that too under the gallows, an offence that was punished at one time with dath. It is too serious a case for me to deal with summarily, and I shall therefore commit you for trial.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions

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1752: William Montgomery, small enough to fail

Add comment November 13th, 2017 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar, which misstates the date of Montgomery’s execution because of course it does.

In the absence of a modern bankruptcy framework, underwater debtors could be clapped into prisons like the notorious Fleet. As this had the effect of overcrowding the dungeons with otherwise productive persons who were little likely to meet the theoretical obligation to repay their bondsmen, the British Parliament passed Insolvency Acts intermittently throughout the 18th century as bankruptcy holidays that would permit orderly mass discharges of debt. Given the chaotic state of record keeping there must also have been a wide swath of grey-area debtors who for the benefit of resuming economic life would bend whatever facts needed bending to slide themselves into the Acts’ safe harbors.

Our William Montgomery was one of these, who told a white lie about being abroad on the date necessary to wipe the slate clean — but found that his creditors were not so easy to forgive either invoices or prevarications, to the extent of revenging their balance sheet at Tyburn.

This Newgate Calendar entry gives us a heavy dose of editorializing. For the rentiers’ side of the moral preening, compare to the Ordinary’s Account.*


WILLIAM MONTGOMERY
Executed at Tyburn, December 2, 1752 [sic], for defrauding his creditors

In a country like England, and more especially when we view the overgrown capital, though productive of crimes in fraudulent debtors, we must advocate acts of insolvency.

The good of many must be pre-eminent to the villainy of a few; and, where we find one punished for the abuse of the lenity of the legislative body, we happily find thousands of unfortunate beings rescued from the horrors of a prison, where they had long been immured without the means of support, much less were they able to satisfy the demands of inexorable creditors.

The necessity of good faith in contracts, and the support of commerce, oblige the legislature to secure for the creditors the person of the bankrupts; and in this point of view may the subject of this case, and all others who take the benefit of an act of insolvency, be considered.

The fraudulent bankrupt should be punished in the same manner with him who adulterates the coin of the realm; for to falsify a piece of coin, which is a pledge of mutual obligations between men, is not a greater crime than to violate the obligations themselves.

But the bankrupt who, after a strict examination, has proved before the commissioners that either the fraud or losses of others, or misfortunes unavoidable by human prudence, have stripped him of his substance, on what barbarous pretence is he thrown into prison, and thus deprived of the only remaining good, the melancholy enjoyment of mere liberty? Still more hard is the case of an unfortunate trader, who, disclosing his whole transactions, and offering to assign over to his creditors the remains of his stock, is cast into prison by a single hard-hearted unrelenting claimant. Yet this is constantly done in Britain.

Why is such a man cast into a loathsome prison, ranked with criminals, and, in despair, compelled to repent of his honesty? Conscious of his innocence, he lived easy and happy under the protection of those laws, which, it is true, he violated, but not intentionally. Laws are dictated by the avarice of the rich, and tacitly accepted by the poor, seduced by that flattering and universal hope, which makes men believe that all unlucky accidents are the lot of others, and the most fortunate only their share.

Mankind, when influenced by the first impressions, love cruel laws, although, being subject to them themselves, it is in the interest of every person that they should be as mild as possible; but the fear of being injured is always far more prevalent that the intention of injuring others.

But, to return to the innocent bankrupt. Let his debt, if you will, not be considered as cancelled till payment of the whole; let him be refused the liberty of leaving the country with out leave of his creditors, or of carrying into another nation that industry, which, under a penalty, he should be obliged to employ for their benefit; but what pretence can justify the depriving of an innocent, though unfortunate, man of his liberty, without the least utility to his creditors?

Then it may be in answer be said, that the hardships of confinement will induce him to discover his fraudulent transactions: an event that can hardly be supposed, after a rigorous examination into his conduct and affairs.

It will be necessary to distinguish fraud, attended with aggravating circumstances, from simple fraud, and that from perfect innocence. For the first, let there be ordained the same punishment as for forgery. For the second, a punishment with the loss of liberty; and if perfectly innocent, let the bankrupt himself choose the method of re-establishing himself, and satisfying his creditors.

With what ease might a sagacious legislator prevent the greatest part of fraudulent bankruptcies, and remedy the misfortunes that befall the innocent and industrious! A public register of all contracts, with the liberty of consulting it allowed to each tradesman — a public fund, formed by the contribution of fortunate merchants, for the timely assistance of unfortunate industry — would be the establishments that could produce no real inconveniences, but would be attended with numberless advantages.

Many eminent bankers, in the history of the trade of London, by an unexpected run upon their house, must have become bankrupts, and thereby embarrassed thousands, had not the Bank of England come to their assistance; but alas! The unfortunate tradesman has no one to prevent his fall. Unhappily, the most simple, the easiest regulations, await only the nod of the legislator to diffuse through nations wealth, power and felicity; laws, which would be regarded by future generations with eternal gratitude, are either unknown or rejected. A restless and trifling spirit, the timid prudence of the present moment, and a distrust and aversion to the most useful motives, possess the minds of those who are empowered to regulate the actions of mankind.

It must at the same time, be acknowledged, that the baseness of a few failures often tends to render callous the feelings of creditors.

No act of insolvency has been carried into effect without the detection of fraud. Eager to embrace its benefits, and thus rid themselves of debt, men will wade through perjury, and employ every means to accomplish their purpose.

After the destruction of the prisons in London, during the riots of the year 1780, an act was passed for the purpose of absolving all who had been confined. Of this every rascal in London was ready to take the advantage. A mere form was only necessary, to enter their names; but the signatures, that Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, to his infinite honour, ordered the lists to be printed and published, which put to rout whole hives of impostors. Names were herein found that might as well have expected to appear in the list of Gazette promotions.

A man of this description was the subject who led to this enquiry.

William Montgomery was a native of Elphinstone, in Scotland, and educated in the Presbyterian form of religion.

His father dying when he was about thirteen years old, his mother sent him to sea in a ship belonging to Alloa. Having continued in the naval line of business some years, he at length married, and opened a public house in Bishopsgate-street; and dealing largely as a smuggler, he frequently went to Holland, to bring home prohibited goods.

Quitting Bishopsgate-street, he lived some years at the sign of the Highlander, in Shadwell; but, on the death of his wife, he resolved to decline business as a publican; and having saved some money, he entered again into the matrimonial state, and taking a lodging in Nightingale-lane, he let lodgings to seafaring men.

Meeting with success, he took a shop as a seller of seamen’s clothes; but left the care of it chiefly to his wife, while he employed his own time in frequent trips to Holland, in pursuit of his former illicit practice of smuggling.

An act of insolvency passing in the year 1748, favourable to such persons as had been in foreign parts fugitives for debt, Montgomery took the benefit of it, swearing that he was at Rotterdam on the last day of the preceding year: in consequence of which, he was cleared of his debts, to the injury of his creditors.

No notice was taken of this affair till the expiration of four years, when, Montgomery having arrested a neighbour, the man gave notice of his former transactions to one of his creditors, who laying an information before the lord mayor, Montgomery was lodged in Newgate on suspicion.

Being brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, several persons deposed that they spent the evening with him at his own house at the time he alleged that he was in Holland, in order to take the benefit of the act: so that he was convicted, and received sentence to die.

For some time after conviction he behaved with apparent signs of devotion; but asserted his innocence, and said that the witnesses against him were perjured; and in this tale he continued till the arrival of the warrant for his execution.

Being pressed by the divine who attended him to tell the truth, he persisted in the former story until the Friday before his death; but in the afternoon of that day he acknowledged, that after having been on board a Dutch vessel; in order to take his passage for Holland, he had come on shore, owing to the contrary winds.

On the following day he insisted that, “as he had been sworn according to the methods used in Scotland, without kissing the book, his crime could not come within the meaning of the act”. In reply to this he was told that the mode of administering could make no difference to the nature of an oath.

Hereupon he made a full confession of his crime, and owned that, having come on shore, he concealed himself for some weeks in his own house; then appeared publicly, saying he had been at Rotterdam: after which he surrendered himself to the warden of the Fleet prison, and obtained the benefit of the act of insolvency.

On the Sunday following, when he was pressed to declare the whole truth, he exclaimed, “What would you have me say? I have told you all the truth, and can say no otherwise than what I have done. If I did, I should belie myself, and my own knowledge.”

This malefactor appeared dreadfully shocked on the morning of execution, and wished for time for repentance, which he now considered highly necessary. At the place of execution he warned the spectators to beware of covetousness, which had been the cause of his destruction.


* Sample of the Ordinary’s take on the gravity of disappointing your creditors:

That he suffered justly, as an Example, and for a Terror to such an Undertaking again, I believe no one can gain-say …

for which Atonement can scarce, but if ever, not without the utmost Difficulty, be made: And, through this Filth, and Mire of Wickedness, must he pass, who resolves to make an intentional, a real Fraud.

What can the Man think that shall be guilty of such high Offence? ‘Tis publickly known that human Laws are determined to punish it with Death, and what is to come afterwards, God only knows.

Let this then the Fate of poor Montgomery deter all others for the future from attempting a Breach of such an Indulgence, if ever it should please the Legislature to grant one again. And tho’, in a former Part of these Sheets, he did not scruple to say, he was not the only one who feloniously laid hold of the Benefit of the last Insolvent Act, yet Charity engages to think better Things, and to hope there is not an Instance of the like Kind to be met with in England.

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1735: Elizabeth Armstrong, oyster knifer

Add comment November 10th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1735, Elizabeth Armstrong* was executed at Tyburn for winning a drunken brawl.

The account of the events that brought Armstrong to the gallows underscore 18th century Londoners’ everyday proximity to casual violence — where “tempers flared quickly and … it was not unusual for men to think of using physical force to get their way.”

In this case, the man would get the worst of the flaring.

In a brandy shop on Petticoat Lane, Patrick Darling — he’s our victim — and Mary Price fell into an argument that in the trial record reads almost comically for the sudden resort to fisticuffs.

the Deceased was a mighty joaking Man, and he told her she curried a clean Heel, G – D – ye, says she, what is that like? Why, says he, It is like an Irish Leg, as thick at bottom as it is at top. With that she up with her Leg and kicked him on the Parts, and he hit her a Box on the Ear. She reel’d against the Door

Price cried out for her niece, Elizabeth Armstrong, who was next door swilling gin, and the latter dashed over with an oyster knife to put everything to order: she “swore she’d cut his Nose off. He laughed, and said, sure you won’t serve me so? She swore yes but she would, and called him an Irish thief.”

This is the point where everyone can decide they don’t want any more trouble and stagger off to points unknown to nurse their various injuries. Not Patrick Darling.

When Elizabeth Armstrong left the brandy shop, he followed her out, closely enough that Armstrong tried to push him away. Darling snatched her wrist, but his would-be victim was strong — “stronger than he,” according to one witness — and she wrenched her hand free and stuck the little blade into Darling’s chest, drawing blood but doing no real damage. Now enraged, Darling tackled her into a kennel where they grappled, Armstrong slicing again into Darling’s right calf** while Darling “twice put his Hands up my Coats” — the fight ending when

A Sailor coming by, said to him, D – ye! what Son of a B – are you, to beat a Woman? Upon which, the Deceased quitted the Woman, and two or three Blows past between him and the Sailor, but it was over in a Minute, for I called out and said, For God’s sake do not let him beat a wounded Man.

Covered in muck, Armstrong went right back to drinking, little thinking that she had committed a murder.

Bloodied and trounced, Darling was eventually ushered by a friend to a surgeon who dressed his injuries and would testify — maybe protesting a little too much? — that “they were both trivial, but for want of due care, the Hemorrhage of Blood from the Calf of his Leg contributed to his Death, for he was harassed about for two or three Hours, and no body would take him in. And his Animal Spirits being exhausted, he might be suffocated for want of having his Head laid in a proper position. Besides, I heard that after he was wounded he fought with a Sailor, which might hasten his Death.”

Both of the women involved were tried for murder, but Price’s contribution to the fight having extended only to inciting her kinswoman (“her Aunt Price called out, Kill him Betty, kill him”), she was acquitted. Elizabeth Armstrong was not so lucky.

She hanged alongside a 40-year-old crook William Blackwell who had been in the game long enough to garner a nickname (“Long Will”) and a reward for his capture (£40). Blackwell had been part of a gang that committed a harrowing all-night home invasion robbery in Paddington two years prior — and, although it’s practically a footnote in the trial, raping the home’s young maid. One of Blackwell’s confederates who saved his own life by giving evidence against him described

Coming into the Entry, we saw the Maid lying with her Coats up, and the Prisoner on his Knees putting up his Breeches. D – ye you Rogue, says I, You ought to think of other things at such a time as this. And turning to the Maid, I said, my Dear, has he hurt ye? She made no answer, but cryed.

Unfortunately the Ordinary’s Account for this hanging is partially lost, although the fragment surviving does intimate that both Armstrong and Blackwell did the usual sincere-repentance thing that the clergyman was pushing.

* This little girl has nothing to do with the case at hand but having accidentally found the case in the course of ransacking the invaluable Old Bailey Online database I would be remiss not to relay the fate of a different Elizabeth Armstrong a few years prior … sentenced to convict transportation at the age of 9 or 10 because she climbed in an open window and snatched a couple of silver spoon. Here’s the trial record in its entirety:

Elizabeth Armstrong, alias Little Bess, of St. Michael’s Cornhill , was indicted for feloniously stealing two Silver Spoons, the Property of Rose Merriweather , the 3d of this Instant July .
It appear’d by the Evidence, That the Prisoner (who was a little Girl of about 9 or 10 Years of Age) having gotten in at the Prosecutor’s Kitchen Window, which had been opened, and left so till about Six o’Clock in the Morning, had handed out two Spoons to her Accomplices, and was surprized by the Apprentice coming out at the Window. The Fact being fully proved, the Jury found her Guilty to the Value of 10 d.

Transportation.

** An apt injury, considering the insult that started the fracas.

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1717: Three spared en route to Tyburn, thanks to Jack Ketch’s debts

Add comment November 6th, 2017 Headsman

From the London Weekly Journal or Saturday’s Post, Nov. 9, 1717:

On Wednesday we had a very odd Accident happen’d upon Occasion of the ordinary Execution of Criminals; the Number to be hang’d was five, according to the Dead Warrant, but two of these had obtain’d a respite of Execution, the other three were put into the Cart and carry’d to the Place of Execution.

The Person they call the Finisher of the Law, alias the Hangman, and who, for the common Understanding inherits the Name of Jack Ketch, going before the Cart on Foot, in order to be ready at the Place, was arrested in Holborn by three Bayliffs or Officers, on a Sheriffs Warrant for Debts, and was carry’d away.

However, after some Time he got out of their Hands, but soon fell into worse Company; for the Mob got him into their Clutches, and whether he had given them Occasion or no, we know not, but no Pick-Pocket was ever used worse by them; for if all we hear is true, they left him with little Life in him.

In the mean Time the Prisoners came to the Place of Execution; but no Hangman could be found to do them the usual last Offices of Kindness. The Under-Sheriff, it is said, offered very generously to several Persons to officiate, but none could be found. Mr. Ordinary, we hear, might have had the Compliment, but did not think fit to say he would accept it if it had been offer’d.

One bold Fellow, being half inclin’d, his Comrade prompted him earnestly, Do Jack, says his Brother Tom, thou hast not earn’d a Penny in an honest Way a great While.

No, says Jack; da___e, not I, for I deserve it as much as any of them; but do you do it your self, Tom, you know it will be your Turn quickly, and Jack Ketch shall use you the better for it.

But in short, neither Jack nor Tom would do it, and the poor Wretches, tho’ they waited in the Cold a great While, were not willing to do it for themselves; and so the Sheriff’s Officers were fain to bring them back again to Newgate, where it is said they must lie till Jack Ketch recovers of his Suffocation in the Horse-Pond, and is in Condition for his honest Employment.

The prisoners in question all had their sentences commuted.

The hangman, William Marvell — who had obtained the position because his predecessor was also clapped in debtors’ prison — likewise lost the executioner’s gig thanks to the embarrassing arrest. Too reviled thereafter to find honest work he wound up being sentenced to convict transportation for shoplifting in 1719.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Theft

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1715: Seven at Tyburn

Add comment November 2nd, 2017 Headsman

Paul Lorrain, the Ordinary of Newgate, enlivened his report of a November 2, 1715 mass hanging at Tyburn with a

The malefactors in question on this occasion numbered seven, and were not greatly distinguished from others of their age unless it were by their sheer ordinariness. All committed property crimes, stealing from burgled houses, shops, and gentlemen’s pockets, netting thereby

  • Five pound-weight of Dy’d Silk, and the like quantity of raw Silk, a Silk-Gown
  • a Callico-Quilt
  • 18 China Dishes, 6 China Cups, 2 Silver-Salts, 8 Silver Spoons
  • 2 Damask and 12 Diaper Table-cloths, 12 Damask and 24 Diaper Napkins
  • 180 Poundweight of Inkle
  • 16 Gold-Rings, a Gold Necklace, a Coral, 4 Silver Thimbles, and 15 l. in Money
  • A snuffbox

For this trove, seven lives: just another day at the Triple Tree during the Bloody Code.

Lorrain’s odd addition on this occasion is a resource of some historical value vi-a-vis that Bloody Code, and also one that reveals the minister’s bean-counting soul. (Salaried at just 35 quid per year, Lorrain bequeathed an estate of £5,000 at his death thanks to his diligence in profiteering with execution-day crime-and-repentance potboilers.)

“When I first enter’d upon this arduous and melancholy Office, in the Beginning of the Mayoralty of the Right Honourable Sir THOMAS ABNEY, Knight, I found no less than 65 Persons that had lain for a great while before under Condemnation, viz. 52 Pirates (who were for the most part Foreigners) and 13 other Criminals,” Lorrain writes in a footnote. “Of the Pirates, 24 were Hanged at one time at the Execution-Dook in Wapping, and of the 13 other Malefactors, 8 were Executed at Tyburn.”

What he says next we’ve formatted from a charming little spreadsheet that Lorrain supplied his readers. It’s entirely unclear to me why he did this; perhaps, as with this very blog reproducing his work three centuries later, it was simply to break up the tedium.

In the Mayoralty of … Condemn’d Repriev’d Dy’d after Condemnation, and before their Execution Executed
Sir Thomas Abney, Kt. 118 48 4 66
Sir William Gore, Kt. 49 36 0 13
Sir Samuel Dashwood, Kt. 38 20 0 18
Sir John Parsons, Kt. 35 18 0 17
Sir Owen Buckingham, Kt. 44 28 0 16
Sir Thomas Rawlinson, Kt. 33 28 0 5
Sir Robert Bedingfield, Kt. 23 5 0 18
Sir William Withers, Kt. 34 16 0 18
Sir Charles Duncomb, Kt. 39 29 0 10
Sir Sam Garrard, Kt. & Bart 36 28 0 8
Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Kt. 36 23 0 13
Sir Robert Beachcroft, Kt. 43 28 0 15
Sir Richard Hoare, Kt. 60 35 0 25
Sir Samuel Stanier, Kt. 108 48 1 59
Sir Will. Humphrys, Kt. & Bart 76 38 0 38
Total 772 428 5 339

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Theft

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1704: “French Peter”

Add comment October 25th, 2017 Headsman

A thief named Peter Bennet was hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1704 — alone since “Two Men and Seven Women were try’d for several Felonies and Burglaries; and being found Guilty, they did all of them receive Sentence of Death accordingly. But Four of the Women, who were found with Quick Child, and the other Three, with one of the Men, through the QUEEN’s especial Mercy being Reprieved; One only, viz. Peter Bennet, is now order’d for Execution.”

That’s from the hang-day tract by Newgate Ordinary Paul Lorrain, who having leave to focus both his ministrations and his column-inches on the one soul and exulted at some length in one of his celebrated (albeit not uncontroversial) conversions.

While the patchy Old Bailey documentation of this early date doesn’t appear from a search of oldbaileyonline.org to preserve the record of Bennet’s trial, there’s a man of the same name and nickname (“French Peter”) sentenced to branding in 1698 — and although Lorrain does not comment on any such mark, it would seem to corroborate our fellow’s confession to a life of viciousness.

Peter Bennet, alias French Peter, alias Peter Flower, the only Person now order’d for Execution, said that he was about 25 Years of Age, born of honest Parents at Niort in the Province of Poictou in France, and brought up in England, whereinto he came very young;* and that his first Employment was the Silk-Weavers Trade, of which he work’d about two Years in Spittlefields, and then went into the late King William‘s Service; in which, and in Her present Majesty’s, he had been (both at Sea and Land) for these several Years past, and was actually in the Second Regiment of Foot-Guards, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Bradocke,** when he was apprehended. He own’d himself to have been a very ill Liver, and formerly one of Moll Raby‘s Gang; and he did (with bitter Reflection upon his vicious Conversation, almost through the whole Course of his past Life) freely declare, that he had committed all manner of Sins that cou’d be nam’d or thought on, Murther only excepted; and said that though he earnestly desired to live, that he might lead a new Life, and give sensible Tokens of his Change and Reformation to the World; yet he was willing to submit to the Will of God, and the Stroke of Justice, by which he was appointed to be cut off from the Land of the Living: wherein he had done so little Good, but so much Harm. He confess’d, that he was justly brought to this Condemnation, who had no better improved the Mercy he receiv’d before, when under such another; and that he was guilty not only of the two Facts lately proved, but of all the Seven Indictments then preferr’d against him in the Old-Baily: And 1st, That he, together with Thomas Hunter, (who not long since was executed at Tyburn) and another, whom I shall forbear to name here (because I desire not his Confusion, but his Conversion) broke open, and robb’d the House of Mr. Annis, on the 19th of April last, taking thence 60 Yards of Crape, 90 Yards of Serge, 66 Yards of Holland, and 12 pair of Stockings; which Holland and Stockings they divided among them three; and as to the Crape and Serge, his Companions dispos’d thereof, he does not well know to whom; but he remembers, they had Nine pound for them, and he Three pounds for his Share out of that Nine pound. 2dly, That he, with the other two beforemention’d, and one Sebastian Reis, a German, that was hang’d with Hunter in June last, did likewise in the said month of April, break the House of Thomas Abbot, a Quaker, and took from thence 25 Dozen of Handkerchiefs, and an old Scarf, which they sold for Four Pounds to a Woman that keeps a Brokers Shop at the Golden Ball in High Holbourn: but as for the Guinea mention’d in that Indictment, to have been at the same time with the other Goods, taken out of the forenamed Abbot’s House, he said, he knew nothing of it. 3dly, That they did, in May last, break the House of Mrs. Margaret Christian, and take thence a Cheshire-Cheese, about two or three Quarts of Brandy, and some Sugar Cakes; which Cakes and Brandy, they did eat and drink among them; and for the Cheese, himself, who was carrying it away, when pursu’d, threw it down, and left it to whomsoever would take it. 4thly, That they in April last, broke another House, which he supposes might be Mr. Sapford’s, mention’d in the fourth Indictment, but had not an Opportunity of carrying any thing out of it, being prevented therein by the Watchman that was then going the Rounds, 5thly, That in the same Month of April, they broke the House of Mr. Palmer, and took from thence four Silver-Spoons, a Napkin, an Old-Sword, and a Spice-Box, with a small Silver-Spoon in it, & some other things, of little or no Value. The 4 Silver-Spoons, he said, Mr. Palmer had again; the Napkin he took to himself, and the Box they left in the Fields; but what was in it, and the Sword with the small spoon, he can’t well tell what his two Companions did therewith. 6thly, That towards the end of the said Month of April, he, and the other two first mention’d, broke the House of Mr. Gibbs, and took from thence 8 India-Curtains, 4 Vallance, a Squob, and a pair of Sheets; which Sheets he kept for himself, and one of them took the Curtains, Vallance, and Squob to his own Use, and gave him three half Crowns in Consideration thereof, and their other Companion had also some Money given him upon that account, by him that kept those Curtains, Vallance, and Squob. 7thly, and lastly, That they three went and broke open the House of Mr. Bird, and took thence a Ham of Bacon, (which the Owner had again) and 5 Bottles of Cyder, and two Papers of Tobacco, which they spent among themselves. He added, that he (as he does in general remember, but has forgot the Particulars) had committed several other Robberies and Burglaries, in company with the forenamed Tho. Hunter, and Sebastian Reis, and the other Person whose Name (as I said before) I will now spare; and that this last, in particular, did with him one Night (he can’t well tell how long since) break and enter by the Backside, into a certain House in a pav’d Court in Fetter-Lane, and robb’d it, taking thence 24 or 25 Guinea’s, about 5l- in Money, a Silver-hilted Sword, a Long-Perriwig, a Silver-Salt Seller, with some Silver-Spoons and Forks, and a Hat; which Hat, he said, he wore now, and was not worth restoring. As for the Sword, they flung it into a Cellar, in Fee-Lane, and for the Plate and Perriwig, his Companion sold them to one William Buxton (an Harbourer of ill People, and a Buyer of stoln Goods) living in Church-Lane between White-Chappel and Gravel-lane. This is the ample Confession he made to me, and declared, that (to his Grief) he was not able to make any Restitution or other Reparation to the Persons he had thus wrong’d; but heartily pray’d that God would bless them, and they would forgive him. He freely acknowledg’d himself a grievous Offender, and repeated again, that he had committed all manner of Wickedness, but Murther; that he was the vilest and the worst of Sinners, and had exceeded in Sin, even those that had first brought him into it: some whereof, he said, had deservedly suffer’d a shameful Death, and others are still living; and these he earnestly intreats to be wiser than himself had been, and take due Warning by him, who now finds his Folly in not having done so by others, that is, by the Punishment of those that went this way out of the World before him. He seem’d to be very sensible that his Neglect of God’s Service, prophaning the Lord’s Day and Name, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Whoring, &c. were the great Causes of his Ruine; and therefore out of that Charity which he owes, and now has for all Mankind, he (in the Words of a Dying Man, that has done with the World, and now speaks without Disguise, by his own woful Experience) admonishes all to avoid those, and all other Vices; that they may prevent their own Destruction both of Body and Soul. Thus he appear’d as one who had great Reason to abhor Sin, and who wou’d fain perswade others to abhor it too.

The Day of his Execution being come, he was carry’d in a Cart to Tyburn, where I assisted him to the last; earnestly exhorting him to clear his Conscience by a further Confession, if he had any thing more to say, and stir up his Heart and all the Affections of his Soul to God. Upon which he said, he had nothing more to discover, but heartily pray’d God to forgive him his Sins, and be merciful to him for Christ’s sake. Then I pray’d and sung a penetential Psalm with him; and afterwards he spoke to the People to this Effect, I suppose there are some here that have been engag’d in ill things. I know there are. I beseech them to amend their Lives, and I beg that all that see me here, would take Warning by me. I am a very young Man, but a Lad, not above 24 or 25 Years of Age, but a grievous Sinner, and I am now to die for my wicked Life. Pray Gentlemen, take Warning by me, and pray for me, that God would have Mercy upon my poor Soul. And the Lord bless you all and prosper you. Then he lifted up his Eyes to Heaven, and said, Lord have Mercy upon a miserable Sinner. O call me not to mine account. I am not capable of answering thee. Sweet Jesus have Mercy upon me! Lord, open me thy Gates, and let me enter in! When he had done speaking, I discours’d him again, and made him rehearse the Articles of our Christian Faith, and I pray’d again, and sung another Psalm; and having commended his Soul to God, I left him to his private Devotions, for which he had some time allotted him. Then the Cart drew away, and he was turn’d off, whilst he was calling upon God in these and the like Ejaculations, Lord forgive me all my Sins! O God, I come, I come: Reject me not. O do not abhor my Soul! Lord, save me, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

* French Huguenots escaping a religious crackdown in the late 17th and early 18th centuries bolstered London’s emerging Spitalfields weaving industry.

** Bennet/Lorrain appears to refer here to the Coldstream Guards; if so, his c.o. “Bradocke” was the father of General Edward Braddock, notable for his New World command (and death) during the French and Indian War. That later Gen. Braddock’s aide, 23-year-old colonel and future American Revolution leader George Washington, made some fame for himself during the disastrous engagement that killed Braddock as the “Hero of Monongahela“, for helping to orchestrate the retreat.

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1771: Mary Jones, hanged for shoplifting

Add comment October 16th, 2017 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Mary was thought to be about eighteen or nineteen years old but was already married with two children when her husband, William, was press ganged into the Navy to go to the Falkland Islands, leaving her virtually destitute. She lived with her friend Ann Styles in Angel Alley in the Strand and was at times reduced to begging to feed herself and the infants. It is said that she had her baby with her in the cart as she was taken to Tyburn to be hanged.

There had been a spate of shoplifting incidents in Ludgate Street area of London during 1771 and the shop keepers were on high alert and keeping watch for suspects. On Wednesday the 7th of August Mary, with one of her children in tow and Ann Styles went on a shop lifting expedition in the Ludgate Street. They may have other accomplices with them although no one else was arrested. Mary and Ann were observed going in and out of a large number shops. Thomas Ham, a shopkeeper himself and a witness at the trial, was suspicious of their activities and kept a close eye on them. He estimated that he had seen them go into as many as fifteen shops in the street, between three o’clock and six o’clock that afternoon. Finally the pair went to the drapery shop owned by a Mr. William Foot and expressed interest in buying a child’s frock. Nothing that they were shown appeared to be what they wanted and Mary made to leave the shop but Mr. Foot’s assistant, Christopher Preston, noticed that she had something concealed under her cloak. He went after her and brought her back into the shop where he discovered she had concealed four pieces of worked muslin which she had taken from the counter. Christopher Preston told the other assistant, Andrew Hawkins, to fetch a constable while he kept the women in the shop. The constable arrested them both and they were taken to the Compter (a local lock up jail).

Both women were charged under the Shoplifting Act with the theft of the muslin which was valued at £5. 10s. (£5.50) The actual offence at this time being called “privately stealing in a shop”. The value of the goods stolen, being more than five shillings (25p), made it a capital crime. The pair were tried at the Sessions of the Old Bailey held on Wednesday the 11th of September 1771, Thomas Ham, Christopher Preston and Andrew Hawkins each giving evidence for the prosecution.

Mary and Ann were permitted to speak in their own defence. Mary told the court of her struggle to support two children without her husband and that she had always been an honest woman.

Ann told the court that she had merely gone with Mary to by the child’s clothes and that she had nothing to do with the theft.

The trial lasted no more than two hours and Mary was convicted as she was actually in possession of the stolen items but Ann was acquitted. Mary received the mandatory death sentence and was transferred to Newgate to await her trip to Tyburn. When the Recorder of London prepared his report for the King and Privy Council there was no recommendation to mercy for Mary, despite her age and circumstances. As was normal for non murder cases she was to spend some time in the Condemned Hold until the next “hanging day”. She would have been regularly attended by John Wood, the then Ordinary (Newgate’s prison chaplain) and would have been expected to attend Sunday religious services. She and the other condemned criminals had a special area in the centre of the chapel, surrounded by a high partition so that they could not be seen by or communicate with the other prisoners. On the table in front of them was a coffin!

On the morning of Wednesday the 16th of October she was brought to the Press Yard of Newgate where the halter noose was put round her neck and her arms tied to her body with a cord above the elbows. She was made to get into the cart and sit on her own coffin.

With her for her last journey were four men, James Allen who had been convicted of stealing in a dwelling house, William Penn, Richard Thompson and John Hughes who had all been convicted of highway robbery.

The procession consisting of a court officer responsible for prisoners, Reverend John Wood, the Ordinary, the hangman and his assistants and a troop of javelin men started out for Tyburn, about two and a half miles away. The procession made its slow and bumpy passage along Holborn, St. Giles, and the Tyburn Road (now called Oxford Street), to Tyburn itself near what is now Marble Arch. A stop was often made at St. Sepulchre’s Church where the bell would be tolled, and the minister would chant, “You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your souls.” As the procession passed on, the minister would tell the audience, “All good people, pray heartily unto God for these poor sinners who are now going to their death, for whom the great bell tolls.” Here friends might present the criminals with small nosegays (bunches of flowers).

Stops were made at two public houses along the way, probably the Bowl Inn at St Giles and the Mason’s Arms in Seymour Place, where the condemned would be allowed an alcoholic drink. Once they left the second pub it was a short journey to the gallows.

On arrival at Tyburn around noon, some two to three hours after they had left Newgate, the prisoners were greeted by a large crowd.

Mary’s cart was backed under one of the three beams of the gallows and Edward Dennis, the hangman, uncoiled the free end of the rope from her body and threw it up to one of his assistants balanced precariously on the beam above. They tied the rope to the beam leaving very little slack. The Ordinary prayed with her and when he had finished the hangman would have pulled a night cap over her face if she had been able to afford one. As you can imagine the preparations took quite some time where a batch of five prisoners was being hanged.

When everything was ready, the City Marshall gave the signal and the horses were whipped away, pulling the prisoners off the carts and leaving them suspended. They would only have a few inches of drop, at most and thus many of them would writhe in convulsive agony for some moments, their legs paddling the air — “dancing the Tyburn jig” as it was known, until unconsciousness overtook them. The hangman, his assistants and sometimes the prisoners’ relatives might pull on the prisoners’ legs to hasten their end. It is not recorded whether or not Mary struggled or was one of the fortunate few who quickly became still. The five bodies were left to hang for an hour before being cut down and claimed by relatives or friends and taken for burial.

One can well understand why the law in this period in history is now referred to as the Bloody Code. Of the two hundred and ninety four people executed at Tyburn in the decade from 1765 to 1774 only twenty five were to die for murder and three for rape. The rest mostly suffered for various types of property related crime, such as highway robbery, burglary, housebreaking and forgery.

It seems amazing today that a young mother should be hanged for what would now considered to be a minor crime, yet in 1771 nobody would have thought anything of it — it was a regular and perfectly normal event. If it was Mary’s first offence, as she claimed, she would probably get a community service order now, especially as he had dependant children. However Georgian justice was being applied increasingly severely at this time. Sixty-two men and six women received the death sentence during this year, of whom thirty four of the men and one of the women, Frances Allen, were to share Mary’s fate. Frances Allen was hanged on Wednesday the 7th of August for housebreaking.

A few years later her case was raised in Parliament by Sir William Meredith, the Whig Member for Liverpool, when he was opposing a motion to make yet another offence capital. He told the House that he did not believe “a fouler murder was ever committed against law, than the murder of this woman by law”. His eloquence was to no avail however and the Bill was carried.

It is a circumstance not to be forgotten, that she was very young, (under nineteen) and most remarkably handsome. She went to a linen draper’s shop, took some coarse linen off the counter, and slipped it under her cloak. The shopman saw her, and she laid it down again. For this she was hanged. Her defence was, ‘that she lived in credit, and wanted for nothing, till a press-gang came, and stole her husband from her—but since then she had no bed to lie on, nothing to give her two children to eat, and they were almost naked: and perhaps she might have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did.’ The parish officers testified the truth of this story. But it seems there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate; an example was necessary — and the woman was hanged for the comfort and satisfaction of some shopkeepers in Ludgate-street. When brought to receive sentence, she behaved in such a frantic manner as proved her to be in a distracted and desponding state; and the child was sucking at her breast when she set out for Tyburn gallows! Let us reflect a little on this woman’s fate. The poet says, “An honest man’s the noblest work of God.” He might have said, with equal truth, that a beauteous woman is the noblest work of God. But for what cause was God’s creation robbed of its noblest work? It was for no injury, but for a mere attempt to clothe two naked children by unlawful means. Compare this with what the State did, and what the law did. The State bereaved the woman of her husband, and the children of a father, who was all their support: the law deprived the woman of her life, and children of their remaining parent, exposing them to every danger, insult, and merciless treatment, that destitute and helpless orphans suffer, Take all the circumstances together, I do not believe that a fouler murder was ever committed against law, than the murder of this woman by law.

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1586: John Lowe, John Adams, and Robert Dibdale, English Catholics

Add comment October 8th, 2017 Richard Stanton

(Thanks to Richard Stanton for his guest post, originally published in A menology of England and Wales, or, Brief memorials of the ancient British and English saints arranged according to the calendar, together with the martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries. Writing in the 19th century, Stanton calls these English martyrs “Venerable” but as of this writing they are “Blessed” — having been advanced further along the path to sainthood in 1987. -ed.)

The Venerable John Lowe was born in London, and for some time was a Protestant minister. On his conversion he went to the College at Douay, and from thence to Rome, where he was ordained priest. In due time he returned to England and laboured on the Mission, till he was arrested and condemned and executed for high treason, on account of his priestly character and the exercise of its functions.

The Venerable John Adams was a native of Dorsetshire, and went to Rheims for his theological studies. He returned to England as a priest in 1581, and after some time was seized and banished, with a number of others, in the year 1585. After a few months’ stay at the College, he contrived to return to his labours on the Mission, but was once more apprehended and condemned to death, barely for being a priest. Few particulars are known relative to this Martyr, but it is recorded in one of the catalogues that his constancy was proof against all the artifices and promises, used to divert him from his generous resolution to sacrifice his life for the Faith.

The Venerable Richard, or, as he is called in some catalogues, Robert Dibdale, was born in Worcestershire. He became a student, and in due time a priest, of the English College at Rheims. In the year 1584 he was sent on the Mission, which he diligently served for some time. He was however arrested by the persecutors, tried and condemned for high treason, on account of his priestly character and functions. This Martyr, like a number of other missioners of that time, was remarkable for the gift he possessed of exorcising evil spirits. A fellow-missioner has left an account of several wonderful instances of this kind, of which he was himself witness, and others are recorded by Yepez, Bishop of Tarrasona, in his account of the English persecution. These wonderful occurrences were said to be the cause of numerous conversions to the faith.

The three Martyrs, Lowe, Adams, and Dibdale, all suffered at Tyburn on the same day, the 8th October, and on the mere charge of their priesthood, which by the recent statute was declared to be high treason.

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1884: Thomas Orrock and Thomas Harris

Add comment October 6th, 2017 Headsman

From Illustrated Police News, Oct. 11, 1884:

EXECUTION OF ORROCK AND HARRIS AT NEWGATE.

The two murderers, Thomas Henry Orrock and Thomas Harris, underwent the penalty of the law on Monday morning within the prison of Newgate. The circumstances of the crimes for which they suffered have been given so recently that it will not be necessary to state more than that Orrock was convicted of the murder of a police-constable named Cole, who had endeavoured to take him into custody after he had broken into a Baptist Chapel in Dalston, by shooting him with a revolver; and the other, Harris, was convicted of the murder of his wife, to whom he had been married a great many years, and who had borne him a large number of children, eleven of whom are still alive, by cutting her throat with a razor in the bedroom they occupied at Kilburn.

The first-mentioned murder was committed nearly two years ago — namely, on the 1st of Dec., 1882. The murderer got clear away, and as it was a dark, foggy night, it was generally thought to be impossible to recognise him, and the murder had nearly died away from the public mind, when, through the active exertions and inquiries made by Inspector Glasse, of the N Division of police, [including an early foray into firearm forensics -ed.] the prisoner was apprehended and his guilt of the crime was conclusively established … [he] persisted to the last in declaring that the act was not a premeditated one, and that all he was endeavouring to do was to make his escape.

The prisoner, it will be remembered, was an attendant at the chapel where the burglary was attempted, and he bore a very good reputation with the Rev. Mr. Barton, the minister of the chapel. …

His wife, who is only twenty-one years old, has been with him every day, and took a parting farewell of her unhappy husband last Saturday. At the time they were married the murder had been committed but six weeks; they were each only nineteen years old, and the bride little thought, when she clasped the hand of her husband at the marriage ceremony, that she held the hand of a murderer, almost red with the blood of his victim.

The story of the culprit’s life appears somewhat remarkable when the gravity of the offences with which he was charged are taken into consideration. Born of respectable parents in the year 1863, young Orrock was guided in the paths of virtue. His father, mother, and two sisters were regular attendants at the Baptist Chapel Ashwin-street, Dalston, the elder members of the family holding seats. In connection with the chapel is a Sunday school, which for a considerable time the youth attended. He was spoken of as a well-behaved, unassuming boy, and his general conduct was so marked as to be highly commended by the superintendent and teachers. Services of song were frequently held at the chapel, evening classes were formed, and other attractions provided, in which Orrock appeared to take delight. The pastor, the Rev. Mr. Barton, took great interest in the welfare of the youth, but unfortunately declining health caused the reverend gentleman for a time to relinquish his duties.

Between thirteen and fourteen years of age, Orrock was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker at Hoxton, and to this circumstance is attributed his downfall. The company with which he came in contact was of a dissolute class, and a short time after his apprenticeship his father had cause to reprimand him. His attendance at chapel became less frequent, and his general conduct entirely changed. About three years ago Orrock’s father died in Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. The mother being left a widow without any provision, and receiving little or no assistance from her son, after some time married again a respectable man, highly esteemed as a local preacher.

As stated at the trial Orrock, at the time of the murder, was not a constant attendant at the chapel, although at one time he held a seat. It would appear, indeed, that he was almost compelled to be present, as he was paying his addresses to a respectable young woman, who, in conjunction with her employer, frequented the chapel. She was engaged as an assistant in a draper’s shop in the locality, and, as in the case of the criminal, special interest was taken in her, she being left without father or mother. It will remembered that Orrock was actually planning the robbery whilst attending a service at the chapel, also that he was present at the funeral of his victim. When his marriage took place with the young woman alluded to six weeks had elapsed after the commission of his crime …

Orrock’s marriage did not appear to have brought about any change in his behaviour, as in the month of September, 1883, he was sentenced at the Middlesex Sessions to twelve months’ imprisonment for housebreaking and stealing a quantity of jewellery, value £20, and £45 in gold. It was while undergoing this sentence that Inspector Glasse informed him of the more serious charge he would have to answer, telling him that the information was laid by his accomplices.

When the murderer was placed in the dock of the Old Bailey his astounding self-possession attracted much notice. His appearance was that of a fresh, decent-looking young fellow, rather boyish, with a slight moustache — the last person one would expect to find in a criminal dock.

At the close of the trial, it will be remembered, Mr. Justice Hawkins expressed the greatest commiseration for the prisoner’s sister under the painful circumstances in which she was placed. In her case, as that of Orrock’s young wife, the shock of the occurrence led to premature confinement At the final parting on Saturday the wife of the convict was thoroughly broken down with grief.

With regard to the other prisoner, Harris, who is forty-eight years old, there does not appear to be any doubt that he has for a long time been in the habit of treating his unhappy partner in a most brutal manner. Upon one occasion he (the other prisoner Harris) was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for a brutal assault upon her, and he had repeatedly threatened that he would murder her. The prisoner, however, who was a very rough, ignorant man, persisted in asserting that he was utterly unconscious of what took place on the night of the murder, and the earnest exhortations of the Rev. Mr. Duffield appeared to have very little effect upon him, or to bring him to anything like a proper sense of his condition. The only observation that could be obtained from him in reference to his crime was, “I speak the truth. I cannot say more. I know nothing about how it happened.” …

The prisoners went to bed about ten o’clock on Sunday night, Mr. Duffield having been with them alternately during the previous two hours. Orrock appeared to be quite resigned, but Harris exhibited the same callous demeanour that has characterised him since his conviction. Both prisoners got up at six o’clock on Monday morning, and very shortly afterwards they were visited by the Rev. Mr. Duffield, to whom both men expressed their gratitude for the kindness and attention shown them. Mr. Sheriff Phillips and Messrs. Crawford and Whitehead, the Under-Sheriffs, arrived at the prison about half-past seven o’clock, and were received by Captain Kirkpatrick, the Governor, who shortly afterwards accompanied them to the cells where the prisoners had been brought.

Berry, the execution, was in attendance, and the ceremony of pinioning was rapidly performed. Orrock was the first who was brought out. He walked with a firm step, was placed under the beam, and the rope put round his neck before his unhappy companion, Harris, had been placed by his side. The Rev. Mr. Duffield then read the Burial Service, and at a given signal the drop fell, a distance of seven feet five inches, and death appeared to be instantaneous, the executioner apparently having performed his work in the most skilful manner. The skin on Harris’s neck was slightly abrased, but it was stated that this was generally the case where the criminals are advanced in life, Harris being forty-eight years of age.

A considerable crowd assembled outside the prison, and it was necessary to have the attendance of two police-constables to keep the road clear.


From the Bristol Mercury, Oct. 13, 1884:

EXTRAORDINARY DEATH FROM EXCITEMENT

A death of a remarkable character, connect with the execution of the two murderers Orrock and Harris at Newgate on Monday last, has been the subject of an inquiry before the Southwark Coroner.

Eliza Kate Williamson deposed that … she was the wife of the deceased, Alexander Ben Williamson, aged 45, who was a labourer in a foundry. He came home from work on Monday night apparently quite well, and after tea sent witness for an evening newspaper in order to read the account of the executions.

She returned with a paper, and he read the account aloud, but stopped at intervals, quite overcome with emotion, and he cried several times. Witness begged him to put the paper away, saying she did not want to hear any more about it, but he would not do so, and completed the account to himself. They then went to bed, but about 1.30 a.m. the witness was awoke by a noise and found the deceased struggling by her side and trying to call out something about the execution.

She tried to rouse him, but he fell on the floor, and continued struggling and muttering after she lifted him back on the bed. He then vomited and afterwards fell into a stupor, from which he never rallied. A doctor was obtained, but death ensued about 24 hours after witness first noticed the deceased struggling.

In answer to the coroner, the witness added that the deceased was quite sober on Monday, but the execution of the two men made a great impression on him. He had read all about them in a Sunday edition of a newspaper, and frequently talked about the condemned men.

Mr. Alfred Matcham, parish surgeon, deposed that death was due to apoplexy, which he had no doubt was brought on by the excitement consequent on reading and dwelling upon the details of the executions on Monday. The struggling probably arose from dreaming of the execution, and the excitement of the dream had no doubt caused a blood vessel to burst in the brain. The jury returned a verdict of “Death from natural causes.”

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1737: Five Johns

Add comment October 5th, 2017 Headsman

October 5 was a hanging-date at Tyburn in 1737.

The most self-evident oddity of this routine bulk execution was that five of the six men executed upon the occasion bore the same Christian name to the gallows, which is an even better hit rate than the classic middle name: wife-murderer John Totterdale, thief John Cotton, highway robber John Goswel, highway robber John Richardson (“indicted with John Lovell, not taken”), and highway robber John Purdey.* The sole exception was Goswel’s accomplice Robert Barrow, who “was miserably Poor and naked, and was in so very pitiful a Condition, that he declar’d he was willing rather to die than live.”

The name John dominated English christenings for centuries in a way that your latter-day Olivers, Noahs, and (quelle horreur!) Muhammads could never dare to dream. For the best part of a millennium, the post-Norman tongue thrilled to curl around this solid monosyllable by which Christ himself had flanked his movement via a beheaded forerunner and an apocalyptic evangel.

Overall, the pool of names in common usage on Blighty in centuries past was smaller and more static than today’s faddish kaleidoscope; according to Chris Laning in the 16th century “there were only about 30 to 40 common names in circulation for each gender, with perhaps another 100 or so that you would run across from time to time.” And among boys and men, the name “John” towered above all others.

A study of funerary brasses from 1107 to 1600 suggests that something like a staggering 30% of males might have carried this name; a study from the Agincourt Honor Roll agrees, its list concentrated to about one-third for Johns, a second third for Williams and Thomases, and the remaining third for all other names.** While this data is well before the hanging we feature in this post, John reigned supreme from Plantagenet through to Windsor … until just a few decades ago, in fact, when it began a precipitous and continuing tumble.†


Source: Office for National Statistics

But in the 18th century, the ubiquitous John rode tall in the saddle, often robbing the other travelers as it would seem. A search of Executed Today‘s data based on the British hanging rolls kept at capitalpunishmentuk.org gives the name a better than 20% market share of the 18th century gallows. If anyone remarked all the Johns gone to Tyburn this October 5, it was a statistical certainty that they also had in mind a few kinfolk and buddies with the same moniker who would soon come in for a grim spot of ribbing.

Not so contemporary readers, particularly among the younger generation; unthinkably, the once-invincible John has in the present bleakness plummeted all the way outside the top 100 boys’ names.

* The roads were a dangerous adventure in these Bloody Code days; we have formerly noticed the lament of Horace Walpole that “one is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one was going to battle.”

** Curious that for all the bargemen, beggars, ploughmen, pages, shepherds, shopkeeps, scriveners, tinkers, archers, chandlers, M.P.s, hatters, mariners, grenadiers, bakers, day-traders, coal-heavers, fox hunters, yeoman warders, and, yes, doomed criminals to claim the name … there has been only the one King John.

† The name John has taken a similar plunge in the United States.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

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