1916: Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, Willie Pearse, and Joseph Plunkett

Add comment May 4th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916, four Easter Rising rebels were shot in Kilmainham Gaol’s Stonebreakers Yard — an almost novelistic selection of thematic successors to the three men who had been executed there the day before.

Journalist/novelist Michael O’Hanrahan was the close friend and aide-de-camp of one of those May 3 executees, Tom MacDonagh — the two of them directing the rebel occupation of the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory during the week of April 24.

Edward Daly was the brother-in-law of Fenian ultra Tom Clarke, another man who had been shot on May 3.

Daly, at least, was a battalion commander during the Easter Rising and a part of the rising’s leadership; sculptor Willie Pearse was a mere run-of-the-mill rebel of the type that the British were not executing … save for that surname which he shared with his brother Patrick, the third Republican ringleader shot on May 3. Having seemingly absorbed an extra ration of fury intended for his brother, Willie Pearse’s execution was keenly felt as an injustice from the first.

But perhaps none of the Easter Rising executions tugged the heartstrings quite like that of Joseph Plunkett, a poet and Esperantist who was also one of the signatories of the seditious Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Plunkett had been one of the conspiracy’s secret emissaries to Germany, arranging shipments of arms that the British ultimately intercepted.

At midnight, due to be shot in a few hours with the day’s first light, Plunkett was married by a prison chaplain to his sweetheart, artist and Sinn Fein activist Grace Gifford. This tragic union made Grace Gifford and her sister Muriel double widows, for Muriel’s husband was Tom MacDonagh — the aforementioned already-executed associate of Michael O’Hanrahan.

There are roads, railway stations, football clubs, and the like named for all four of these men at various places in Ireland.

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1943: Rev. Leonard Kentish, kidnapped Australian civilian

8 comments May 4th, 2016 Headsman

On lonely scrubland at the Aru Islands port of Dobo on this date in 1943, the Japanese military beheaded kidnapped Australian Rev. Leonard Kentish.

Nobody knew his fate at the time — his wife spent years tring to discover it — but the so-called “Kentish Affair” was one of the true oddities of the Pacific War: a civilian of no particular import to the war effort who was snatched from Australian territorial waters.

On January 22, 1943, the civilian Kentish, chief of Northern Territory Methodist missions to the aboriginal peoples, had hitched a ride on the HMAS Patricia Cam, a wooden tuna trawler that had been requisitioned as a wartime naval transport. The Patricia Cam wasn’t running any blockades — she was strictly for local cargo runs, in this instance shuttling among Elcho Island and the Wessel Islands just off Arnhem Land.

She had no radar capacity, and no inkling at all of her fate that afternoon when the Aichi E13A floatplane dove out of the sky and skimmed above the Patricia Cam, within 100 feet of the mast — dropping a bomb amidships that ripped open the trawler’s belly and sent her to the bottom.

While survivors scrabbled in the Arafura Sea for “overboard drums, planks, boxes — anything that would float” the raider circled for another pass, splintering with a second bomb an emergency canoe that men were crowding into, then strafing the waves with machine gun fire. Finally, the victorious seaplane set down in the waves.

And then mysteriously, the pilot gestured Rev. Kentish into the vacant seat of his plane, and took off. Kentish was the only prisoner taken, and his countrymen never again laid eyes on him.

Sixteen other people survived the attack and were rescued a few days later. But poor Mrs. Violet Kentish remained entirely in the dark as to the fate of her husband. “I know that Len is not beyond God’s love and care wherever he may be,” she vainly pleaded to the Minister of the Navy. “But you will understand because we are only weak humans, the heartache and longing for one we loved so much.” (Quoted in Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War Two)

After World War II, she desperately resorted to firing letters to newspaper editors, until an intelligence officer chanced to read one published in the Argus and made the necessary inquiries via U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in Tokyo to unravel the mystery. In the clipped official findings:

1. The Rev KENTISH was taken on board a Jap float plane on Jan 22 43 after it had sunk the patrol vessel HMAS “PATRICIA CAM” off WESSEL IS.

2. Unfortunately no info can be obtained of the whereabouts of the Rev KENTISH until 13 Apr 43, when he arrived at DOBO.

3. The Rev KENTISH was held at DOBO as a prisoner till the 4 May 43. Throughout this period he was subjected to ill treatment by severe bashings, the most common being punches in the nose and eyes to such an extent that his nose was broken, and he had great difficulty in seeing. His diet, as such, was just sufficient to keep him alive.

4. On the morning of 4 May he was taken in to the scrub, (a distance of under 200 yds from the township of DOBO) where a grave had been prepared, and executed.

5. The execution was carried out by the order of 1st Lieut SAKIDJIMA.

6. The remains of the Rev KENTISH have been recovered, and handed over to Capt STOCKWELL, of the War Graves Unit. They will be transported to AMBON, and buried in the Internees cemetery there.

7. This case is now considered closed. All dates must be treated as approx.

The consequence of this inquiry was a 1948 war crimes case against Lt. Sagejima Maugan, who was hanged in Hong Kong on August 23, 1948 for conducting Rev. Kentish’s execution.

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1685: John Nevison, speed demon

Add comment May 4th, 2015 Headsman

It might have been this date in 1685* that the famously speedy highwayman John Nevison (or William Nevison) was hauled to York’s gallows on the Knavesmire and launched into eternity.

The 1660s and 1670s were his time, when the ex-soldier Nevison made the coachmen of the Great North Road stand and their their passengers deliver from York to Huntingdon. “In all his pranks he was very favourable to the female sex, who generally gave him the character of a civil obliging robber,” the Newgate Calendar would later memorialize. “He was charitable also to the poor, relieving them out of the spoils which he took from them that could better spare it; and being a true Royalist, he never attempted anything against that party.”

Not all that much is really known of Nevison, but he earned his place in outlaw lore with a reputed 1676 escapade. After the pre-dawn robbery of a traveler in Kent, in the southeast of Britain, Nevison hopped on a rocket horse and spurred it north all the way to York. Google Maps makes that 350+ km trip a nearly four-hour drive today, by the A1. Nevison miraculously made it on horseback by sundown, then cleaned himself up and strolled out to the bowling green to lay a friendly, and alibi-establishing, wager with the Lord Mayor.

Unfortunately for Nevison, Harrison Ainsworth appropriated the legend of the bandit’s impossibly fast ride for a later outlaw, Dick Turpin — who in Ainsworth’s Rookwood rides his famous mare Black Bess to death in a wholly fictitious sprint from London to York.

To be completely fair to that fickle muse Clio, it has been postulated that Nevison’s own legend was appropriated from yet another highwayman, Samuel Nicks, which would account for the nickname “Swift Nick” or “Swiftnicks” won by this feat of horsemanship. Nicks and Nevison might be one and the same man, but they might very well be two different humans whose legends were already conflated before Ainsworth was even a twinkle in his father’s eye.** If there was a distinct “Swiftnicks”, Nevison has the considerable advantage over him for our purposes of having some identifiable biography and an identifiable hanging-date. But it is to this other fellow, Nicks, that Defoe attributed the gallop in his A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, available online here:

it was about four a clock in the morning when a gentleman was robb’d by one Nicks on a bay mare, just on the declining part of the hill [Gad’s Hill, Kent -ed.], on the west-side, for he swore to the spot and to the man; Mr. Nicks who robb’d him, came away to Gravesend, immediately ferry’d over, and, as he said, was stopp’d by the difficulty of the boat, and of the passage, near an hour; which was a great discouragement to him, but was a kind of bait to his horse: From thence he rode cross the county of Essex, thro’ Tilbury, Homden, and Bilerecay to Chelmsford: Here he stopp’d about half an hour to refresh his horse, and gave him some balls; from thence to Braintre, Bocking, Wethersfield; then over the downs to Cambridge, and from thence keeping still the cross roads, he went by Fenny Stanton to Godmanchester, and Huntington, where he baited himself and his mare about an hour; and, as he said himself, slept about half an hour, then holding on the North Road, and keeping a full larger gallop most of the way, he came to York the same afternoon, put off his boots and riding doaths, and went dress’d as if he had been an inhabitant of the place, not a traveller, to the bowling-green, where, among other gentlemen, was the lord mayor of the city; he singling out his lordship, study’d to do something particular that the mayor might remember him by, and accordingly lays some odd bett with him concerning the bowls then running, which should cause the mayor to remember it the more particularly; and then takes occasion to ask his lordship what a clock it was; who, pulling out his watch, told him the hour, which was a quarter before, or a quarter after eight at night.

The public gallows, nicknamed “York Tyburn”, was torn down in the early 19th century. A worn stone labeled simply “Tyburn” today marks the former site of the fatal tree.


(cc) image by Carl Spencer.

* May 4, 1685 is one of several execution dates suggested for Nevison; all appear to lack recourse to any definitive primary document. The Ballads and Songs of Yorkshire, Transcribed from Private Manuscripts, Rare Broadsides, and Scarce Publications is our source here; it attributes its dating to Macaulay, although I have not found it in the latter’s History of England. Other possibilities include May 8, or March 15, in either 1684 or 1685.

** This site suggests that Nicks might also be the same as, or conflated with, yet another highwayman, Captain Richard Dudley.

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1471: Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, after the Battle of Tewkesbury

Add comment May 4th, 2014 Headsman

May 4, 1471 was the date of one of England’s most pivotal battles, Tewkesbury.

Tewkesbury was the last great victory in the War of the Roses for the House of York, and it must have seemed to contemporaries like the last victory Yorkists would ever need. The “kingmaker” Warwick was dead from a previous battle that April; the Lancastrian claimant Henry VI was imprisoned by the Yorkists, who would murder him before the month was out; and Henry’s heir apparent, the 17-year-old Prince of Wales, was put to death immediately after Tewkesbury.

Young Edward of Westminster had been stewing these past several years — until the aforementioned Kingmaker swung to his side — in exile in France, trying to finagle a way to rally the Lancastrian cause. Like many a teenager he was prone to nursing bilious fantasies of revenging himself on people, as the Milanese ambassador wrote in 1467.

This boy, though only thirteen years of age, already talks of nothing but of cutting off heads* or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne.

“Peace” would not be the watchword of the abortive Lancastrian restoration attempt.

Shortly after returning to England, Edward had word of Warwick’s defeat. But having taken the trouble to come all this way from France, he still plowed ahead into the desperate stand at Tewkesbury. Edward had no experience at all in battlefield command.

When the Lancastrian lines broke at Tewkesbury, a disordered rout fled towards nearby Tewkesbury Abbey. The nobles who reached it would hole up there claiming the privilege of sanctuary … for just two days, at which point the victorious Yorkist King Edward IV had them arrested and put to swift execution, sanctuary be damned. (The abbey had to close to re-purify.)

Prince Edward didn’t even make it that long. There are varying accounts of his death at Tewkesbury suggesting a summary execution scenario of some kind.

In one version, the Duke of Clarence overtook him in flight. Clarence having himself briefly supported the rebellion before he returned to the Yorkist side, he’s supposed to have immediately beheaded the youth in a paroxysm of demonstrative loyalty.

Alternatively,

Prince Edward was taken as he fled towards the towne, by Sir Richard Crofts, and kept close … After the field was ended, proclamation was made, that whosoever could bring forth prince Edward alive or dead, should have an annuity of a hundred pounds during his life, and the princes life to be saved, if he were brought forth alive. Sir Richard Crofts, nothing mistrusting the kings promise, brought forth his prisoner prince Edward, being a faire and well proportioned young gentleman; whom when king Edward had well advised, he demanded of him, how he durst so presumptuously enter into his realm with banner displayed.

Whereunto the prince boldly answered, saying; “To recover my fathers kingdom and heritage, from his father and grandfather to him and from him after him to me lineally descended.” At which words king Edward said nothing, but with his hand thrust him from him, or (as some say) stroke him with his gauntlet; whom incontinently, George duke of Clarence, Richard duke of Gloucester, Thomas Grey marquess Dorset,** and William lord Hastings that stood by, suddenly murdered: for the which cruel act, the more part of the doers in their latter days drank of the like cup, by the righteous justice and due punishment of God.

Shakespeare dramatized this (considerably more dramatic — if admittedly less execution-like) version in Henry VI, Part 3.

Lancaster’s very dim (circa 1471) fortunes would ultimately be rescued in the 1480s by the grandson of a beheaded Welsh courtier — who won the throne as Henry VII and founded the Tudor dynasty.

* Edward as a seven-year-old was alleged to have been given the authority by his mother to decide what fate should befall the knights who had not successfully protected Henry VI from capture. Edward decreed their beheading.

** Ancestor of Lady Jane Grey.

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1996: Ravji Rao aka Ramchandra, on questionable jurisprudence

May 4th, 2013 Headsman

India’s recent re-entry into the death penalty club makes this an apt occasion to recall a past generation when that country was a somewhat more willing hangman than it has been in recent years.

Ravji was among India’s last hangings prior to the near-moratorium in India in the first years of the 21st century.

And considering India’s recent reputation for extreme deliberation, with death sentences routinely stuck in decades-long holding patterns, Ravji’s case was not at all typical. He hanged just two days shy of the third anniversary of his murder — the horrifying slaughter of his three children, his pregnant wife, and his neighbor, all for no discernible reason.

Death sentences in India have to be handed down only for the “rarest of the rare” crimes, but when a two-judge Supreme Court panel (India has a large high court which decides most cases without sitting en banc) heard the appeal in 1995, it had no trouble ruling this filicide easily qualified as rarest-rare. I mean, you’d think, right?

Funny thing.

The judgment in Ravji simply said that “it is the nature and gravity of the crime, but not the criminal, which are germane for consideration of appropriate punishment in a criminal trial.” If the crime is among the most awful murders known and creates “society’s cry for justice against against the criminal,” then it’s among the rarest of the rare: it doesn’t matter if the intent or mental state of the person who carried it out might have been in any way mitigated from full responsibility.

In 2009, the Supreme Court walked that interpretation back, acknowledging that Ravji aka Ramchandra v. State of Rajasthan flatly contravened pre-existing death penalty jurisprudence dating back to 1980* specifying that the characteristics of the criminal counted, too. “We are not oblivious that the Ravji case has been followed in at least six decisions of this Court in which death punishment has been awarded in [the] last nine years,” the judgment noted with some embarrassment. “But, in our opinion, it was rendered per incuriam (ignored the statute of law).”

Subsequent judgments have confirmed that re-reading, and a letter of retired justices even flatly called Ravji’s hanging (along with that of Surja Ram in 1997, under the same since-abandoned jurisprudence) “possibly the gravest known miscarriage of justice in the history of crime and punishment in independent India.”

* A case called Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab was the precedent Ravji erroneously ignored. Bachan Singh delineated several factors that should all be considered in weighing prospective “rarest of the rare” situations:

  1. the manner of the commission of the murder;
  2. the motive;
  3. the antisocial or socially abhorrent nature of the crime;
  4. the magnitude of the crime;
  5. the personality of the victim of murder

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1897: Five Barcelona anarchists

2 comments May 4th, 2012 Headsman

THE BARCELONA ANARCHISTS.

(Through Reuter’s Agency.)

BARCELONA, May 4.

The five Anarchists sentenced to death for complicity in the dynamite outrages here during the Corpus Christi procession last year were shot at 5 o’clock this morning in the moat of Monjuich Castle. The troops intrusted with the carrying out of the sentence fired repeated volleys at the criminals, who all met their doom calmly, their eyes fixed on the public, who were kept at a distance by a large force of soldiers. The condemned men, who all had their hands tied behind them, bowed to the public as they arrived at the scene of execution. Mas asked the firing party to come nearer. Nogues, Molas, and Alsina exclaimed: — “We are innocent! This is murder!” Just before the first volley was fired all cried together: — “Long live Anarchy! Long live Revolution!” Molas then gave the word for the soldiers to fire. Four of the prisoners fell dead immediately, but Alsina remained on his knees not even wounded. At the second volley he fell, but was not killed outright, and it was not till a third volley had been fired that he was pronounced to be dead. (London Times, May 5, 1897)

The “outrage” that occasioned the executions this date in 1897 was the previous June’s bombing of a Catholic processional, attributed by police to an unidentified anarchist and by anarchists to a police agent provocateur.*

Whoever chucked that egalitarian explosive triggered an outrage of the law, els procesos de Montjuic — wherein the wholesale arrest of hundreds of accused “terrorists” under a general suspension of civil liberties resulted not only in this day’s five executions but in countless tortures courtesy of the Inquisitorial equipment still on hand in the venerable Montjuic dungeons.

It was not only anarchists but liberals and republicans who felt the effects of this right-wing crackdown; 87 people were tried in camera by drumhead military tribunals under emergency antiterrorist legislation. Notary Salvador Dali Cusi, father of the famous painter, appeared as a defense witness in one trial, successfully persuading the court that one of his lefty friends nevertheless sported impeccable patriotic credentials and required “merely” exile.

The upshot of it all was to smash up the militant Catalan working class.

Said smashing notably failed to settle the small matter of who actually threw the bomb. As per their dying proclamations, it almost certainly had nothing to do with Lluís Mas, Josep Molas, Antoni Nogués and Joan Alsina — men who were alleged by the state to have been party to an ambitious bombing campaign all over the city. This campaign never went off and the only evidence supplied for its existence came from men tortured to describe it.

Tomas Ascheri, a militant anarchist whose confession helped get the others shot, has long been suspected a police plant, a hypothesis at odds with Ascheri’s shared presence at the wrong end of the firing squad this date. Occam’s Razor — and somebody probably used an Occam’s Razor on Ascheri in between the thumbscrews and the strappado — suggests that the guy’s betrayal was likewise nothing but an inability to withstand “enhanced interrogation.” (Nogues and Mas also signed “confessions” under torture. This public-domain Spanish text by another post-Corpus Christi torture victim denounces that nation’s methods both in Montjuic and in the Philippines.)

Torture in Spain, torture in Russia … the danse macabre proceeds in the dungeons of Mont-juich and St. Petersburg.

-Kropotkin, April 1897

Ongoing state violence in turn invited reciprocation.

Over in England, the Italian anarchist Michele Angiolillo was incensed by the executions, and the tortures suffered by Spanish refugees who had fled to England. “Angiolillo saw, and the effect surpassed a thousand theories,” wrote Emma Goldman. “The impetus was beyond words, beyond arguments, beyond himself even.”

Angiolillo made his way to Spain. On August 8, he joined the great tradition of anarchist avengers by assassinating the torture-happy Prime Minister, Antonio Canovas del Castillo.

* The argument for a false flag operation is a circumstantial one: the parade included a number of high muckity-mucks, like a right-wing general and the Bishop of Barcelona, detested by anarchists … and yet the bomber managed to let all the VIPs pass and attack only a knot of common people at the tail end of the train.

According to this book, a French journalist later reported that one of his countrymen by the name of Jean Girault, a genuine albeit “misguided” anarchist, did the deed. Girault fled to France and eventually to Argentina.

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1677: Seven at Tyburn

3 comments May 4th, 2010 Headsman

Many an hour can be spent enjoying the Old Bailey Online site for the forgotten criminals of a bygone age.

May 4, 1677 takes us to Restoration England for a routine hanging of seven at Tyburn, who all but come to life with just the few words of the Ordinary’s account.

One of the other Four [Margaret Spicer] was Condemned for murthering her Bastard-Childe, which she most unnaturally kill’d and hid in her bed for some days, till the same was discovered by one that came to visit her. As she denied her murthering of it at the Bar, so she persisted in that negative to Master Ordinary and other Ministers since she received Sentence, alleadging that it was Stillborn; or at least, contracted its death as soon as ever it saluted the light, by an accidental fall; However, the Law, to prevent such presences which in all Cases of that kind might be made, obliging the woman immediately after to Cry out, and she failing therein, and as ’tis shrewdly apparent by Circumstance, was the principal Author of its destruction, she was condemned to die, and this day executed at Tyburn according to Sentence.

If you didn’t report your pregnancy, the infanticide presumption went against you. We’ve seen this elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Dine siblings of Enfield got it in the neck for mutilating a girl who had spurned one of them, quite the spiteful little affair down in the servant-quarters.

Three others, as the Crime they suffered for was the first they were known to have committed; so was it so strange and heinous, as searce ever to have been done by any body but themselves: So that we may say, They died Presidents of Punishment, for a Crime unpresidented. These were the two Brothers and Sister of Enfield, who so barbarously mangled Jane King, to whom Robert, one of the Brothers, pretended Love; but after a long acquaintance, being Fellow-Servants together, she refused to have him: whereupon his treacherous Love turned to Hatred and Malice, instigated (as ’tis supposed) chiefly thereunto by this unhappy Sister, with whom and his Brother he lays a Plot to disfigure her; maliciously and enviously designing, that because she would not accept of him, they would render her so deformed, that she her self should not be acceptable to any other person. In pursuance whereof, on the 20 February last about 8 of the clock in the evening, Robert and Jane being only up, and their aged Master in bed, somealls Robert by his name at the back-door, whimmediatley opens; and then comes in the Sister and Brother, the later of whom seizes upon Jane and holds her, while the former barbarous Furcy cuts her Eye so lamentably that she has utterly lost the use of it; mangles her Nose in a dismal manner, insomuch that two bones were taken out of it; her Tongue she flit, and almost cut off both her Lips; and also gave her a wound and two slabs in the Neck, and several slashes on the Arm, Etc. And having dispatch’d this unheard of Cruelty, left her for dead, and went home; who being gone, Robert cries cut Murther and Thieves; and Neighbours coming in, presends to be knock’s down, Etc. but in pleas’d God Jane, after three or four days, recovered herand then declared who had abused her, andully proved the same at the Sessions; whereupon they were all Condemned according to the Statute in that Case made and provided.

Yet did they all persist in the denial of the Fact, after their Condemnation, even to the day of their Death: nor would all Perswasions or Admonitions of several Ministers that came to visit them, get any acknowledgement that they had any hand in it. Though on the Sunday they carried themselves very attentively in the Chappel, and a great part of the Sermon was to perswade the necessity of Confession in order to their Souls health, yet they could not be prevailed upon; only on the Munday Margaret seemed a little unusually troubled, and delared, That she had something lay upon her Conscience, and desired she might speak with a Minister in private; whereupon a Minister was sent for, who took her aside, and hoping then she would have made an ingenuous Discovery, press’d her with all imaginable Arguments, but to no purpose: For she told him, she knew nothing of it; whereupon he as’d her, What it was she said troubled her, and lay upon her Conscience, for which she defired to speak with a Minister by her self: To which,all the answer that he could get was, That she had, when she said so, something in her head, but now she had forgot it.

[Note: lacking access to an original, I’ve erred on the side of caution in tidying up this text from the obviously squirrelly copy at the Old Bailey Online. Hopefully it’s still readable despite dicey scanning and 17th century language.]

This is an interesting case, seemingly prosecuted under the Coventry Act* against deliberate maiming — contra the claim elsewhere in these pages that this legislation did not claim a juridical victim until 1722.

* “It was the first President of Punishment on that most necessary Statute against cutting off Noses, disfiguring and maiming his Majesties Subjects … it was a premeditated act of Malice to render her deform’d and unfit for any bodies.”

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1826: Matthew Brady, gentleman bushranger

4 comments May 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1826, “gentleman bushranger” Matthew Brady was hanged in the Hobart jail for one Australia’s most colorful outlaw careers.

Shipped from England on penal transportation, Matthew Brady was repeatedly flogged for escape attempts before he successfully busted out of Macquarie Harbour prison in 1824.

He made for the bush and began an 18-month spell as an outlaw, self-consciously constructing the persona of the gentleman outlaw — polite to his victims, never violent towards women, that sort of thing.

Among Brady’s best-known exploits: after the colonial governor George Arthur posted a reward for his capture, Brady posted a public counter-offer:

It has caused Matthew Brady much concern that such a person known as Sir George Arthur is at large.
Twenty gallons of rum will be given to any person that can deliver his person to me.

The authorities hunted him doggedly, and he was at last captured by settler John Batman, later famous for his founding role in the history of Melbourne.

The love letters and gifts that filled his cell attested his place in the folklore, but his fate was never in question. Ever the gentleman, Brady’s main protest was sharing his scaffold with (among several other bushrangers) the murderous cannibal Mark Jefferies.

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1763: Hannah Dagoe, violently

4 comments May 4th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1763, Hannah Dagoe did it her way in “an extraordinary and unprecedented scene” at Tyburn.

A “strong, lusty”* Irish woman, her crime of theft does not much enthrall us, but her behavior on the way to the gallows would have done many a condemned wretch proud:

On the road to Tyburn she showed little concern at her miserable state, and paid no attention to the exhortations of the Romish priest who attended her. When the cart, in which she was bound, was drawn under the gallows, she got her hands and arms loose, seized the executioner, struggled with him, and gave him so violent a blow on the breast that she nearly knocked him down. She dared him to hang her; and in order to revenge herself upon him, and cheat him of his dues,** she took off her hat, cloak and other parts of her dress, and disposed of them among the crowd. After much resistance he got the rope about her neck, which she had no sooner found accomplished than, pulling out a hand kerchief, she bound it round her head and over her face, and threw herself out of the cart, before the signal was given, with such violence that she broke her neck and died instantly.

(Updated with a fortuitous connection not noted in first passing.)

Somewhere amid that ample throng cheering on the unexpected fisticuffs under the scaffold was notable scribbler James Boswell, he of The Life of Johnson.

Boswell had come along to the spectacle to see another, less pugilistic victim of the hanging party, Paul Lewis, a respectable clergyman’s son and former Navy officer taken to highway robbery. (The third member of the doomed party was stockbroker and forger John Rice.) Boswell’s diary records the happenstance encounter with Lewis and Hannah “Deigo” that led him to Tyburn’s shadow.

TUESDAY 3 MAY.

I walked up to the Tower in order to see Mr. Wilkes† come out. But he was gone. I then thought I should see prisoners of one kind or other, so went to Newgate. I stepped into a sort of court before the cells. They are surely most dismal places. There are three rows of ‘em, four in a row, all above each other. They have double iron windows, and within these, strong iron rails; and in these dark mansions are the unhappy criminals confined. I did not go in, but stood in the court, where were a number of strange blackguard beings with sad countenances, most of them being friends and acquaintances of those under sentence of death. Mr. Rice the broker was confined in another part of the house. In the cells were Paul Lewis for robbery and Hannah Diego for theft. I saw them pass by to chapel. The woman was a big unconcerned being. Paul, who had been in the sea-service and was called Captain, was a genteel, spirited young fellow. He was just a Macheath. He was dressed in a white coat and blue silk vest and silver, with his hair neatly queued and a silver-laced hat, smartly cocked. An acquaintance asked him how he was. He said, “Very well”; quite resigned. Poor fellow! I really took a great concern for him, and wished to relieve him. He walked firmly and with a good air, with his chains rattling upon him, to the chapel.

Erskine and I dined at the renowned Donaldson’s, where we were heartily entertained. All this afternoon I felt myself still more melancholy, Newgate being upon my mind like a black cloud. Poor Lewis was always coming across me. I felt myself dreary at night, and made my barber try to read me asleep with Hume’s History, of which he made very sad work. I lay in sad concern.

WEDNESDAY 4 MAY.

My curiosity to see the melancholy spectacle of the executions was so strong that I could not resist it, although I was sensible that I would suffer much from it. In my younger years I had read in the Lives of the Convicts so much about Tyburn that I had a sort of horrid eagerness to be there. I also wished to see the last behaviour of Paul Lewis, the handsome fellow whom I had seen the day before. Accordingly I took Captain Temple with me, and he and I got upon a scaffold very near the fatal tree, so that we could clearly see all the dismal scene. There was a most prodigious crowd of spectators. I was most terribly shocked, and thrown into a very deep melancholy.

The Macheath imagery, if not the melancholy, evidently stuck with the dutiful scribe, who found himself still minded of the Beggar’s Opera hero two weeks later while out on the pull.

I then sallied forth to the Piazzas in rich flow of animal spirits and burning with fierce desire. I met two very pretty little girls who asked me to take them with me. “My dear girls,” said I, “I am a poor fellow. I can give you no money. But if you choose to have a glass of wine and my company and let us be gay and obliging to each other without money, I am your man.” They agreed with great good humour. … We were shown into a good room and had a bottle of sherry before us in a minute. I surveyed my seraglio and found them both good subjects for amorous play. I toyed with them and drank about and sung “Youth’s the Season” and thought myself Captain Macheath; and then I solaced my existence with them, one after the other, according to their seniority. I was quite raised, as the phrase is: thought I was in a London tavern, the Shakespeare’s Head, enjoying high debauchery after my sober winter. I parted with my ladies politely and came home in a glow of spirits.

* London Evening Post, May 3-5 1763.

** The executioner was entitled to claim his clients’ clothing.

† Distantly related to namesake and Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,Tyburn,Women

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