1814: John Ashton, Lord Wellington, at Horace Cotton’s first hanging

Add comment August 22nd, 2013 Headsman

This isn’t exactly the most historically important execution, but as the Newgate Calendar says, “The circumstance which attended the execution of this unfortunate man alone entitles him to a place in our pages, for otherwise his case is void of interest.”

What follows is the Calendar’s entry, which comes verbatim from the Aug. 23 London Times.

He was apprehended for a highway robbery, and convicted at the Old Bailey, when he received sentence of death. From the time of his conviction, he either affected, or suffered, complete insanity; but this did not release him from the consequence of his sentence; and, on Monday, August 22d, 1814, he was executed in front of Newgate, along with William Henry Lye, for burglary; John Mitchell, for forgery; Francis Sturgess, and Michael Mahoney, for highway robbery; and John Field, alias Jonathan Wild [not that one -ed.], for burglary. By half past six o’clock the Old Bailey, and houses adjacent, were crowded to great excess. At half past seven Mahoney was brought forward, for the purpose of being disencumbered of his irons. While his irons were knocking off, it was found necessary to search for a knife to cut some part of the cordage, which confined the irons. Mahoney, seeing this, stooped, and, with an Herculean effort, tore it asunder. This being the only Catholic, the Rev. Mr. Devereux attended him in constant prayer, in which he joined most fervently. Sturgess, Field, and Mitchell, conducted themselves with great propriety. The unfortunate Ashton had been in a state of insanity since the receipt of the awful warrant for his execution. In the Press Yard he distorted his countenance horribly. He was the fifth who mounted the scaffold, and ran up the steps with great rapidity; and, having gained the summit of the platform, began to kick and dance, and often exclaimed, ‘I’m Lord Wellington!’ The Rev. Mr. Cotton, who officiated for the first time as Ordinary, enjoined him to prayer, to which he paid little attention, and continued to clap his hands as far as he was permitted by the extent of the cord. Mitchell often invited him to prayer. All that could be done was ineffectual, and it was necessary to have two men to hold him during the awful ceremony. When they released him for the purpose of the Lord’s Prayer being said, he turned round, and began to dance, and vociferated, Look at me; ‘I am Lord Wellington!’ At twenty minutes past eight o’clock the signal was given, and the platform fell. Scarcely, however, had the sufferers dropped, before, to the awe and astonishment of every beholder, Ashton rebounded from the rope, and was instantaneously seen dancing near the Ordinary, and crying out very loudly, and apparently unhurt, ‘What do ye think of me? Am I not Lord Wellington now?’ then danced, clapped his hands, and huzzaed. At length the executioner was compelled to get up the scaffold, and to push him forcibly from the place which he stood.

Quite a baptism for the Rev. Horace Salusbury Cotton’s very first gig as the Ordinary. Cotton noted Ashton’s remarkable behavior in his execution diary; the relevant pages can be seen here.

Nothing daunted, Cotton enjoyed a 25-year run in the position (he was the cleric Charles Dickens saw at work when the writer visited Newgate in 1835), and “enjoyed” really does seem like the right word. “He was a robust, rosy, well-fed, unctuous individual, whose picture may be seen in Cruikshank‘s plate of the Press yard in Pierce Egan‘s ‘Life in London,'” wrote Horace Bleackley. “His condemned sermons were more terrific than those of any of his predecessors, and he was censured by the authorities for ‘harrowing the prisoner’s feelings unnecessarily’ in the case of Henry Fauntleroy, the banker.”


Dr Cotton, Ordinary of Newgate, Announcing the Death Warrant, by a prisoner named W. Thomson. This 1826 watercolor is at the Tate gallery.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1691: Eleven at Tyburn

2 comments December 18th, 2012 Headsman

“Having Intangled themselves in the snares of Death, by their Dissolute Practices, against all the warnings of Publick Justice on other Criminals,” as the Ordinary’s Account puts it, 11 men and women “provokt the Lord to set them out, as monuments of his present severe, yet Righteous Judgement” and therefore hanged together on this date at London’s Tyburn gallows.*

Murderers (and -esses)

William Harsey was taken literally red-handed, found by the St. Katherine’s watch passed out drunk, still gripping a bloody knife. He’d wetted the blade in three different bodies that night, one of them his good friend (also drunk). Two died; one survived to testify against Harsey.

Mary Mott‘s infant son was found lying dead in a gutter on her rooftop, by a laborer working on the chimney. She claimed it was stillborn, but was unable to prove it: the presumption in such instances went against the mother, on the grounds that every infanticide would simply claim stillbirth otherwise.

Thieves

William Smith “said that he was guilty of all sins except Murther, he named Sabbath breaking, Drunkenness, and Uncleanness.” John Barret, a burglar, copped to the same trio of gateway sins.

Less repentant were two other robbers who had no use for the Ordinary’s god-bothering, to the detriment of their bloggable biography: Richard Johnson, who “was not concerned for his bad Life, and withdrew himself from Chappel,” and Anne Miller, who “refused to come to the Chappel, saying she was a Papist.”

Posterity has much more on Mary Jones, a scarf-maker whose lover squandered all her revenues and drove “Moll” to make an illicit living by the dexterity of her fingers. Having been branded on the hand for picking the royal chocolatier’s pocket, Jones turned to the boom trade in shoplifting London’s growing traffic of valuable little textiles like stockings and lace.

She must have had no small gift for the five-fingered discount as she practiced it for 3-4 years. “She was apprehended for privately stealing a piece of satin out of a mercer’s shop on Ludgate Hill, whither she went in a very splendid equipage and personated the late Duchess of Norfolk, to avoid suspicion of her dishonesty; but her graceless Grace being sent to Newgate, and condemned for her life at the Old Bailey.”

Hanging day would hardly be complete in the late 17th century without a highwayman like William Good, who with a buddy (uncaptured) carriage-jacked a gentleman on the London-Hackney road and made off with the 12-Days-of-Christmas-like trove of “a Dyaper Napkin Value 12 d. Twelve Larks, Two Ducks, and an Embroidered Wastcoat.”

Where Good hangs, there will you also find Malice — Humphrey Malice, to be exact, “Condemned for Robbing a Gentleman in Chelsy Field” in which crime he nevertheless enjoyed “no share in the spoil.” His better remunerated (and less interestingly named) confederate Edward Booth hanged with him. The gentleman in question was Malice and Booth’s second victim of the night, the first having been a more working-class sort who was stripped stark naked and could still only produce eight coppers. Malice and Booth gave him a vengeful thrashing for their trouble and told him “that the next time he went abroad, he should put more Money in his Pocket.”

Thomas Taylor, a parson’s son “addicted to idleness,” was in fact quite industrious when it came to robbery. There’s a story from his career of engineering a buffoonish caught-in-the-town-pillory routine to distract a crowd of yokels while his pickpocket buddies plucked them clean. His fatal crime was an even more audacious twist on the same, in which Tom, acting alone this time, fired a barn, then joined the resulting rescue scramble and made off with a trunk full of plate and £140 cash. He would later admit this was not the first time he had used this gambit.

The arson was the source of his condemnation, but we could not pass over the Newgate Calendar’s remembrance of a different and dreadfully amusing larcenous exploit … which also goes to show the very private, and very punitive, nature of crime prevention in those days.

Taylor being pretty expert at picking of pockets, he set up for himself; and one day going to the playhouse in Drury Lane, very well dressed, he seated himself by a gentleman in the pit, whose pocket he picked of about forty guineas, and went clean off. This good success tempted Tom to go thither the next day in a different suit of clothes, when, perceiving the same gentleman in the pit whose pocket he had picked but the day before, he takes his seat by him again. The gentleman was so sharp as to know his face again, for all his change of apparel, though he seemed to take no notice of him; whereupon putting a great quantity of guineas into the pocket next Tom, it was not long before he fell to diving for them. The gentleman had sewed fishing- hooks all round the mouth of that pocket, and our gudgeon venturing too deep, by unconscionably plunging down to the very bottom, his hand was caught and held so fast that he could in no manner of way disentangle it.

Tom angled up and down in the pocket for nearly a quarter of an hour; the gentleman, all the while feeling his struggling to get his hand out, took no notice, till at last Tom, very courteously pulling off his hat, quoth: “Sir, by a mistake, I have somehow put my hand into your pocket instead of my own.” The gentleman, without making any noise, arose and went to the Rose Tavern at the corner of Bridget Street, and Tom along with him, with his hand in his pocket, where it remained till he had sent for some of his cronies, who paid down eighty guineas to get the gudgeon out of this dry pond. However, the gentleman, being not altogether contented with this double satisfaction for his loss, most unmercifully caned him, and then turning him over to the mob, they as unmercifully pumped him and ducked him in a horse-pond, and after that so cruelly used him that they broke one of his legs and an arm.

Taylor, the Ordinary reported, “behaved himself very undecently and unhandsomely, all the way from Newgate to Tyburn.”

* A good round number: it was Tyburn’s second 11-spot of the year.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Theft,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1708: Deborah Churchill, “common strumpet”

1 comment December 17th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1708, Deborah Churchill, alias Miller, was hanged at Tyburn.

Her crime was in the company she kept: although born into modest circumstances in Norwich, Deborah washed up in the underclass of that swelling metropolis on the Thames — leaving behind an abusive drunk of a first husband and a couple of children she’d had with him.

In London our principal kept what the Ordinary of Newgate would call “lascivious and adulterous” company with a young ruffian named Hunt who murdered another bloke while in Ms. Churchill’s company.

“Though this woman’s sins were great,” remarks the Newgate Calendar on her condemnation for the equivalent of felony murder for having been on the scene and failed to stop Hunt, “yet we must admit some hardship in her suffering the utmost rigour of the law for the crime of which she was found guilty.”

Those “great sins” consisted in a career in pickpocketing and sex work, at least one disposable “Fleet Marriage” on the side, not to mention an insufficient grasp of theology common to folk of all epochs and classes: “Whilst she was [in prison] she seemed to be really a pious woman; but her religion was of five or six colours, for this day she would pray that God would turn the heart of her adversary, and to morrow curse the time that ever she saw him.

“She at last got out of this mansion of sorrow also, but soon forgetting her afflictions she pursued her wickedness continually, till she had been sent no less than twenty times to Clerkenwell Bridewell, where, receiving the correction of the house every time, by being whipped, and kept to beating hemp from morning till night for the small allowance of so much bread and water, which just kept life and soul together, she commonly came out like a skeleton, and walked as if her limbs had been tied together with packthread.”

One might think that doing brutal labor under the lash on starvation rations was part of Deborah Churchill’s problem, not part of the solution, but the writer proceeds with sincere bewilderment, “Yet let what punishment would light on this common strumpet, she was no changeling, for as soon as she was out of jail she ran into still greater evils, by deluding, if possible, all mankind.”

Though the continued beatings curiously failed to improve morale, once Churchill was under sentence of death (whose execution she put off for the best part of a year by pleading her belly) she pleasingly played the penitent part assigned to the Tyburn gallows patient and enjoys a lengthy remembrance in the Newgate Ordinary’s documents as a result. She’s remarkably sanguine, one might think, about that whole “being hanged just for being in the vicinity of someone else’s murder” thing: of course, in Bloody Code London, many hanged for less than that. Churchill’s eyes seem to have been fixed by this moment upon salvation.

when she again reflected on her past Sinful Life and approaching shameful Death, she freely acknowledg’d, that tho’ she did not look upon herself to be guilty of Blood-shedding, yet she could not plead Innocence, but was a great Criminal before God, whose Pity and Compassion she implored.

Here she wept most bitterly, and shew’d great Signs of Repentance; saying, that she hoped God would be merciful to her, because she had ever since her Condemnation, endeavour’d to wean herself from the World in the abhorrence of her Sins, and preparing for a better Life. She wish’d all dissolute Persons would take Warning by her, and give up themselves no more to the foul Sin of Uncleanness.

When this Day of her Death was come, she was deliver’d out of Newgate, and carry’d in the Coach with me to the Place of Execution, where I attended her for the last time, and (according to my usual manner) pray’d and sung some Penitential Psalms with her, and made her rehearse the Apostles Creed. And after I had been a pretty while with her, exhorting her more and more to stir up her heart and mind to God, I took my leave of her; earnestly recommending her to the Divine Mercy, and wishing her a happy Passage out of this miserable World, and an endless Felicity in the next. Then she spoke to the Spectators to this effect: I desire all Persons, especially Young Women, to take Warning by me, and take care how they live; for my wicked Life has brought me to this shameful Death. I had a good Education, and was well brought up by my Parents; but I would not follow their good Advice and Instructions. I kept company with a Young-man, who committed the Murther for which I am here to suffer. I did not prompt him to it, nor was near him when he did it. But it was my misfortune to be concern’d with him: And God is just in bringing me to this Condemnation; for I have been a great Sinner, and very wicked. I desire those of my Acquaintance, that lead such a Life as I have formerly led, (and I see some of them here) I desire them, I beg of them, that they would take Warning by my Downfall, and amend their wicked Lives, lest they bring themselves to such an untimely End, and be undone for ever. These were her very Words, as far as I can remember; and she gave me a Paper containing the same; the substance of which I have (according to her desire) here deliver’d, whereby the Publick may avoid their being impos’d upon by any Sham-Papers relating to her Last Speech.

She desired the Standers-by to pray for her, That God would be pleas’d to be merciful to her Soul. And turning to one she call’d Nurse, she earnestly begged of her to take care of her poor Children, for whom she seemed to be very much concern’d.

Then she return’d to pray to God in these following Words, which she often repeated.

O God the Father, who hast created me, preserve and keep me. O God the Son, who hast redeemed me, assist and strengthen me. O God the Holy Ghost, who infusest Grace into me, aid and defend me. O Holy, Blessed, and Glorious Trinity, Three Persons, and One God, assist me in this my last Trial, and bring me into the way of Everlasting Life.

O Blessed Jesus, wash away my Sins in thy Blood, and receive my Soul, Thou art my Helper and Redeemer, make no long tarrying, O my God. Say now unto my Soul, I am thy Salvation. Into thy Hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit; for thou hast redeem’d me, O Lord, thou God of Truth. Lord Jesus receive my Spirit. Amen. Amen.

When she had done speaking, she was allow’d some further time for her private Devotions. Then the Cart (into which she was put as soon as she came to that Place) drew away; and so she was turn’d off; she all the while calling upon God for Mercy, in these and the like Ejaculations: Lord, have mercy upon me! Lord, receive me! Make haste unto me, O Lord! Lord, save me! &c.

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

1700: The Rev. Thomas Hunter, M.A.

Add comment August 22nd, 2012 Headsman

We doubt that any interposition of ours can improve the story of this execution as provided in the Newgate Calendar:


Executed on 22nd of August, 1700, near Edinburgh, for the diabolical Murder out of Revenge of the Two Children of Mr Gordon

It is with deep regret that we are compelled to bring before the reader a murderer, in a character which ever should be held most sacred. A crime more premeditated, and more fraught with cruelty, never stained the annals of history. Ambition has often impelled tyrants to shed innocent blood; revenge has stimulated men to kill each other; jealousy with ‘jaundiced eye’ destroys the object of its love; but God forbid that we should ever again have to record the fact of a tutor, a minister of the Gospel, premeditatedly murdering his pupils! — the sons of his benefactor. When we add, that this most miserable sinner expiated his offence in avowing himself an atheist, we arrive, at once, at the very depth of human depravity.

This detestable culprit was born in the county of Fife, in Scotland, and was the son of a rich farmer, who sent him to the University of St Andrews for education. When he had acquired a sufficient share of classical learning he was admitted to the degree of Master of Arts, and began to prosecute his studies in divinity with no small degree of success. Several of the younger clergymen act as tutors to wealthy and distinguished families till a proper period arrives for their entering into orders, which they never do till they obtain a benefice. While in this rank of life they bear the name of chaplains; and in this station Hunter lived about two years in the house of Mr Gordon, a very eminent merchant, and one of the bailies of Edinburgh, which is a rank equal to that of alderman of London.

Mr Gordon’s family consisted of himself, his lady, two sons and a daughter, a young woman who attended Mrs Gordon and her daughter, the malefactor in question, some clerks and menial servants. To the care of Hunter was committed the education of the two sons; and for a considerable time he discharged his duty in a manner highly satisfactory to the parents, who considered him as a youth of superior genius and great goodness of heart. Unfortunately a connection took place between Hunter and the young woman, which soon increased to a criminal degree, and was maintained for a considerable time without the knowledge of the family.

One day, however, when Mr and Mrs Gordon were on a visit, Hunter and his girl met in their chamber as usual; but, having been so incautious as not to make their door fast, the children went into the room and found them in such a situation as could not admit of any doubt of the nature of their intercourse. No suspicion was entertained that these children would mention to their parents what had happened, the eldest boy being not quite ten years of age; but when the children were at supper with their parents they disclosed so much as left no room to doubt of what had passed. Hereupon the female servant was directed to quit the house on the following day; but Hunter was continued in the family, after making a proper apology for the crime of which he had been guilty, attributing it to the thoughtlessness of youth, and promising never to offend in the same way again.

From this period he entertained the most inveterate hatred to all the children, on whom he determined in his own mind to wreak the most diabolical vengeance. Nothing less than murder was his intention; but it was a considerable time after he had formed this horrid plan before he had an opportunity of carrying it into execution.

Whenever it was a fine day he was accustomed to walk in the fields with his pupils for an hour before dinner, and in these excursions the young lady generally attended her brothers. At the period immediately preceding the commission of the fatal act Mr Gordon and his family were at their country retreat, very near Edinburgh; and having received an invitation to dine in that city, he and his lady proposed to go thither about the time that Hunter usually took his noontide walk with the children. Mrs Gordon was very anxious for all the children to accompany them on this visit, but this was strenuously opposed by her husband, who would consent that only the little girl should attend them.

By this circumstance Hunter’s intention of murdering all the three children was frustrated; but he held the resolution of destroying the boys while they were yet in his power. With this view he took them into the fields and sat down as if to repose himself on the grass.

This event took place soon after the middle of the month of August, 1700 and Hunter was preparing his knife to put a period to the lives of the children at the very moment they were busied in catching butterflies and gathering wild flowers. Having sharpened his knife, he called the lads to him, and when he had reprimanded them for acquainting their father and mother to the scene to which they had been witnesses, said that he would immediately put them to death.

Terrified by this threat, the children ran from him; but he immediately followed and brought them back. He then placed his knee on the body of the one while he cut the throat of the other with his penknife, and then treated the second in the same inhuman manner that he had done the first. These horrid murders were committed within half-a-mile of the Castle of Edinburgh; and as the deed was perpetrated in the middle of the day, and in the open fields, it would have been very wonderful indeed if the murderer had not been immediately taken into custody.

At the very time a gentleman was walking on the Castle hill of Edinburgh, who had a tolerably perfect view of what passed. Alarmed by the incident, he called some people, who ran with him to the place where the children were lying dead. Hunter now had advanced towards a river, with a view to drown himself. Those who pursued came up with him just as he reached the brink of the river; and his person being immediately known to them, a messenger was instantly dispatched to Mr and Mrs Gordon, who were at that moment going to dinner with their friend, to inform them of the horrid murder of their sons.

Language is too weak to describe the effects resulting from the communication of this dreadful news; the astonishment of the afflicted father, the agony of the frantic mother, may possibly be conceived, though it cannot be painted.

According to an old Scottish law it was decreed that “if a murderer should be taken with the blood of the murdered person on his clothes, he should be prosecuted in the Sheriff’s Court, and executed within three days after the commission of the fact.” It was not common to execute this sentence with rigour; but this offender’s crime was of so aggravated a nature, that it was not thought proper to remit anything of the utmost severity of the law.

The prisoner was therefore committed to jail and chained down to the floor all night, and on the following day the sheriff issued his precept for the jury to meet; and in consequence of their verdict Hunter was brought to his trial, when he pleaded guilty, and added to the offence he had already committed the horrid crime of declaring that he only lamented not having murdered Mr Gordon’s daughter as well as his sons. The sheriff now passed sentence on the convict, which was to the following purpose: that “on the succeeding day he should be executed on a gibbet, erected for that purpose on the spot where he had committed the murders; but that, previous to his execution, his right hand should be cut off with a hatchet, near the wrist; that then he should be drawn up to the gibbet by a rope, and when he was dead, hung in chains between Edinburgh and Leith, the knife with which he committed the murders being stuck through his hand, which should be advanced over his head and fixed therewith to the top of the gibbet.”

Mr Hunter was executed in strict conformity to the above sentence on the 22nd of August, 1700. But Mr Gordon soon afterwards petitioned the sheriff that the body might be removed to a more distant spot, as its hanging on the side of the highway, through which he frequently passed, tended to re-excite his grief for the occasion that had first given rise to it. This requisition was immediately complied with, and in a few days the body was removed to the skirts of a small village near Edinburgh, named Broughton. It is equally true and horrid to relate, that, at the place of execution, Hunter closed his life with the following shocking declaration: “There is no God — I do not believe there is any or if there is, I hold him in defiance.” Yet this infidel had professed himself to be a minister of the Gospel!

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Sex

Tags: , , , , ,

1759: Eugene Aram, philologist

Add comment August 6th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1759, Eugene Aram was hanged at York for murder.

Aram was the son of a gardener, but taught himself Latin and Greek and made himself a respected schoolteacher.

Aram had a special gift for languages, and began research on a never-completed comparative lexicology of the Celtic tongue — correctly intuiting, if not the identity of the distant common mother tongue, the concept of what is now understood as the common progenitor of the related Indo-European languages.

the ancient Celtae, by the numberless vestigaes left behind them, in Gaul, Britain, Greece, and all the western parts of Europe, appear to have been, if not the aborigines, at least their successors, and masters, in Gaul, Britain, and the west; — that their language, however obsolete, however mutilated, is at this day discernible in all those places which that victorious people conquered and retained: — that it has extended itself far and wide, visibly appearing in the ancient Greek, Latin, and English, of all which it included a very considerable part; and, indeed, it still unquestionably, forms a most important ingredient in all the languages of Europe. (Source at archive.org | Google books)

His might have been an illustrious name in linguistic history. Instead …

In 1745, when Aram was already 40 and teaching in Knaresborough, a strange event occurred: a friend of Aram’s named Daniel Clark made the rounds of local merchants “buying” (on credit) a variety of portable valuables … and then promptly disappeared. Aram was suspected of some part in this sketchy affair and detained using the expedient of an outstanding debt pending investigation that would yield a more satisfactory charge.

Aram, however, paid off his arrears in cash. Since no real grounds existed to hold him, he walked away, and immediately left Knaresborough.

There the matter rested for 13 years, time that Aram spent immersed in his language work.

Justice delayed was not to be denied, however. Finally, in 1758, the accidental discovery of a body in Knaresborough rekindled interest in the case (even though the body turned out not to be Clark’s). Thirteen years on, the matter unlocked with amazing ease; Aram’s wife (left behind in Knaresborough when our man blew town) had her suspicions, which led to a mutual friend of Aram’s and the victim, who gave authorities the correct location of Clark’s theretofore undiscovered body. (Namely, St. Robert’s cave.) Upon that considerable credibility the mutual friend (Houseman by name) accused Aram of the murder. Since the wife was also prepared to swear she had heard all these men, and Clark among them, conspiring shadily together, Aram was in the stew.

As a proper Enlightenment man, learner of languages, inquirer of science, writer of poetry, and author of dark and vengeful deeds, Aram didn’t bother with a barrister but defended himself, and very ably in the judgment of his observers.

“His defense was an ingenious plea of the general fallibility of circumstantial evidence,” records this encyclopedia. But he had to stick to generalities because (as he admitted after conviction) he was actually quite guilty, and Aram “seemed really more carried away by the abstract philosophy of his argument, than impressed by the terrible relation it bore to his fate.” The lengthy Newgate calendar entry on his case preserves some of these sorties.

He would eventually ascribe his own motive not to greed of gold but suspicion of cuckoldry. Houseman, who was probably just as involved (and probably in his part for greed) appears to have escaped the noose.

Aram became a potent literary reference for his countrymen as a partially sympathetic, Janus-faced creature: the thoughtful scholar encumbered by his guilty conscience, or one whose potential gift to all mankind is undone by his injury to one man.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote a novel about Aram. In Thomas Hood‘s poem “The Dream of Eugene Aram”, the titular killer is tormented by the recollection of what he has done.

“Oh God! that horrid, horrid dream
Besets me now awake!
Again — again, with dizzy brain,
The human life I take:
And my red right hand grows raging hot,
Like Cranmer‘s at the stake.

“And still no peace for the restless clay,
Will wave or mould allow;
The horrid thing pursues my soul —
It stands before me now!”
The fearful Boy looked up, and saw
Huge drops upon his brow.

That very night while gentle sleep
The urchin’s eyelids kissed,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,*
Through the cold and heavy mist;
And Eugene Aram walked between,
With gyves upon his wrist.

Wodehouse, Orwell, W.G. Wills all also dropped Eugene Aram literary references in their day.

* The town in Norfolk where Aram was hanging his hat when he was finally arrested.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1708: Anne Harris, twice a hempen widow

1 comment July 13th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1708, a twenty-year-old shoplifter Anne Harris was hanged at Tyburn for serial larceny.

This young woman (“bidding adieu to everything that looked like virtue,” in the words of her Newgate Calendar entry) had picked up the tricks of her trade at least in part from two paramours who had already preceded her to the gallows. Signature trick: freebasing ale in a spoon, our subject would burn it down to a sticky syrup, which she could apply to her hands for a useful spidey-grip.

At age 14, she ditched her impoverished St. Giles family to cohabit with a thief 10 years her senior by the scabrous handle of “Jemmy the Mouth”, who was hanged for burglary in 1702. Nothing daunted, Anne moved on to one “Norwich Will”, who also had a good decade on her; this one swung in 1705 for a lucrative highway robbery.

Perhaps from their examples of excess greed, Anne seems to have picked up another useful trick: thieving modestly. Hangings required stealing goods in excess of a certain value, and while the threshold was heartbreaking low, it did exist. (Juries loath to hang a certain defendant for a mere property crime would often intentionally construe the value of stolen objects to only a sub-capital level.)

Anne Harris had been caught before for purloinings of a sub-felonious nature, and frequently: she was “so often burned in the face that there was no more room left for the hangman to stigmatise her.” In just her few years in the trade, almost every inch of her face had been burnt and scarred.

Accordingly, although her fatal crime likewise appears to have been only a minor theft, “the Court thought fit to condemn her for privately stealing a piece of printed calico” on the grounds of incorrigibility.

Update: via Althea Preston and Two Nerdy History Girls, clarification on the apparent context for Anne’s former sentences of facial burning.

From 1699 until 1707/8, England used a facial-burning sentence for minor thefts when the offender could claim benefit of clergy. After 1691, this benefit was fully available to women, and from 1706 it was even available for both men and women without the classical literacy test.

Since the point of the benefit by this time — long past the sell-by date of its ecclesiastical foundation — was to go easy on first-time offenders, it’s a bit surprising that Anne Harris might have had it several times. More than likely that again underscores the trifling value of her previous thefts. After the change in law early in 1708, it would be the hand that got branded instead … but as a repeat recidivist, Anne apparently was past the help of this little loophole regardless of the body part mutilated.

Incidentally, the reason England so quickly gave up on its experiment in branding small-time criminals with a prominent, visible-to-everyone stigmata was that “it hath been found by experience, that the said punishment hath not had its desired effect, by deterring such offenders from the further committing such crimes and offences, but on the contrary, such offenders being rendered thereby unfit to be intrusted in any service or employment to get their livelihood in any honest and lawful way, become the most desperate.”

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , ,

1689: William Bew, flatterer

1 comment April 17th, 2012 Headsman

This was the hanging-date in 1689 of William Bew, the less-noted younger brother of a more impressive (but by this time deceased) highwayman “Captain Bew”.

Will, too, took to the road. His thieving career might not have been outstanding, but it did give the Newgate Ordinary occasion to wax smug over the nigh-literary comeuppance young Bew once delivered to feminine vanity.

The following story, which Bew himself used to tell, is of an adventure of Bew with a young lady, whom he overtook on the road, with her footman behind her. He made bold to keep them company a pretty way, talking all along of the lady’s extraordinary beauty, and carrying his compliments to her to an unreasonable height. Madam was not at all displeased with what he said, for she looked upon herself to be every bit as handsome as he made her. However, she seemed to contradict all he told her, and professed with a mighty formal air that she had none of the perfections he mentioned, and was therefore highly obliged to him for his good opinion of a woman who deserved it so little. They went on in this manner, Bew still protesting that she was the most agreeable lady he ever saw, and she declaring that he was the most complaisant gentleman she ever met with. This was the discourse till they came to a convenient place, when Bew took an opportunity to knock the footman off his horse; and then addressing himself to the lady, “Madam,” says he, “I have been a great while disputing with you about the beauty of your person; but you insist so strongly on my being mistaken, that I cannot in good manners contradict you any longer. However, I am not satisfied yet that you have nothing handsome about you, and therefore I must beg leave to examine your pocket, and see what charms are contained there.” Having delivered his speech he made no more ceremony, but thrust his hand into her pocket and pulled out a purse with fifty guineas in it. “These are the charms I mean,” says he; and away he rode, leaving her to meditate a little upon the nature of flattery, which commonly picks the pocket of the person it is most busy about.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Outlaws,Theft

Tags: , , , , , ,

1689: Patrick O’Bryan, like a dog to his vomit

Add comment April 30th, 2011 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:


PATRICK O’BRYAN

Hanged once for Highway Robbery, but lived to rob and murder the Man for whom he had been executed. Finally hanged 30th of April, 1689

The parents of Patrick O’Bryan were very poor; they lived at Loughrea, a market-town in the county of Galway and province of Connaught in Ireland. Patrick came over into England in the reign of King Charles II, and listed himself into his Majesty’s Coldstream Regiment of Guards, so called from their being first raised at a place in Scotland which bears that name. But the small allowance of a private sentinel was far too little for him. The first thing he did was to run into debt at all the public-houses and shops that would trust him; and when his credit would maintain him no longer, he had recourse to borrowing of all he knew, being pretty well furnished with the common defence of his countrymen — a front that would brazen out anything, and even laugh at the persons whom he had imposed on to their very faces. By such means as these he subsisted for some time.

At last, when he found fraud would no longer support him, he went out upon the footpad. Dr Clewer, the parson of Croydon, was one of those whom he stopped. This man had in his youth been tried at the Old Bailey, and burnt in the hand, for stealing a silver cup. Patrick knew him very well, and greeted him upon their lucky meeting; telling him that he could not refuse lending a little assistance to one of his old profession. The doctor assured him that he had not made a word if he had had any money about him, but he had not so much as a single farthing. “Then,” says Patrick, “I must have your gown, sir.” “If you can win it,” quoth the doctor, “so you shall; but let me have the chance of a game at cards.” To this O’Bryan consented, and the reverend gentleman pulled out a pack of the devil’s books; with which they fairly played at all-fours, to decide who should have the black robe. Patrick had the fortune to win, and the other went home very contentedly, as he had lost his divinity in such an equitable manner.

There was in Patrick’s time a famous posture master in Pall Mall; his name was Clark. Our adventurer met him one day on Primrose Hill, and saluted him with “Stand and deliver.” But he was mightily disappointed, for the nimble harlequin jumped over his head, and instead of reviving his heart with a few guineas, made it sink into his breeches for fear, he imagining the devil was come to be merry with him before his time, for no human creature, he thought, could do the like. This belief was a little mortification to him at first; but he soon saw the truth of the story in the public prints, where Mr Clark’s friends took care to put it, and then our Teague’s qualm of conscience was changed into a vow of revenge if ever he met with his tumblership again; which, however, he never did.

O’Bryan at last entirely deserted from his regiment, and got a horse, on which he robbed on the highway a long time. One day in particular he met Nell Gwyn in her coach on the road to Winchester, and addressed himself to her in the following manner: “Madam, I am a gentleman, and, as you may see, a very able one. I have done a great many signal services to the fair sex, and have in return been all my life long maintained by them. Now, as I know you are a charitable w— —e, and have a great value for men of my abilities, I make bold to ask you for a little money, though I never have had the honour of serving you in particular. However, if an opportunity should ever fall in my way, you may depend upon it I will exert myself to the uttermost, for I scorn to be ungrateful.” Nell seemed very well pleased with what he had said, and made him a present of ten guineas. However, whether she wished for the opportunity he spoke of, or no, cannot be determined, because she did not explain herself; but if a person may guess from her general character, she never was afraid of a man in her life.

When Patrick robbed on the highway he perverted several young men to the same bad course of life. One Claudius Wilt in particular was hanged at Worcester for a robbery committed in his company, though it was the first he was ever concerned in. Several others came to the same end through his seducements; and he himself was at last executed at Gloucester for a fact committed within two miles of that city. When he had hung the usual time, his body was cut down and delivered to his acquaintance, that they might bury him as they pleased. But being carried home to one of their houses, somebody imagined they perceived life in him; whereupon an able surgeon was privately procured to bleed him, who by that and other means which he used brought him again to his senses.

The thing was kept an entire secret from the world, and it was hoped by his friends that he would spend the remainder of his forfeited life, which he had so surprisingly retrieved, to a much better purpose than he had employed the former part of it. These friends offered to contribute in any manner he should desire towards his living privately and honestly. He promised them very fairly, and for some time kept within due bounds, while the sense of what he had escaped remained fresh in his mind; but the time was not long before, in spite of all the admonitions and assistance he received, he returned again to his villainies like a dog to his vomit, leaving his kind benefactors, stealing a fresh horse, and taking once more to the highway, where he grew as audacious as ever.

It was not above a year after his former execution before he met with the gentleman again who had convicted him before, and attacked him in the same manner. The poor gentleman was not so much surprised at being stopped on the road as he was at seeing the person who did it, being certain it was the very man whom he had seen executed. This consternation was so great that he could not help discovering it, by saying: “How comes this to pass? I thought you had been hanged a twelvemonth ago.” “So I was,” says Patrick,” and therefore you ought to imagine that what you see now is only my ghost. However, lest you should be so uncivil as to hang my ghost too, I think it my best way to secure you.” Upon this he discharged a pistol through the gentleman’s head; and, not content with that, dismounting from his horse, he drew out a sharp hanger from his side and cut the dead carcass into several pieces.

This piece of barbarity was followed by another, which was rather more horrible yet. Patrick, with four more as bad as himself, having intelligence that Lancelot Wilmot, Esq., of Wiltshire, had a great deal of money and plate in his house which stood in a lonely place about a mile and a half from Trowbridge, they beset it one night and got in. When they were entered they tied and gagged the three servants, and then proceeded to the old gentleman’s room, where he was in bed with his lady. They served both these in the same manner, and then went into the daughter’s chamber. This young lady they severally forced one after another to their brutal pleasure, and when they had done, most inhumanly stabbed her, because she endeavoured to get from their arms. They next acted the same tragedy on the father and mother, which, they told them, was because they did not breed up their daughter to better manners. Then they rifled the house of everything valuable which they could find in it that was fit to be carried off, to the value in all of two thousand five hundred pounds, After which they set the building on fire, and left it to consume, with the unhappy servants who were in it.

Patrick continued above two years after this before he was apprehended, and possibly might never have been suspected of this fact if one of his bloody accomplices had not been hanged for another crime at Bedford. This wretch at the gallows confessed all the particulars, and discovered the persons concerned with him; a little while after which, O’Bryan was seized at his lodging in Little Suffolk Street, near the Haymarket, and committed to Newgate; from whence before the next assizes he was conveyed to Salisbury, where he owned the fact himself, and all the other particulars of his wicked actions that have been here related.

He was now a second time executed, and great care was taken to do it effectually. There was not, indeed, much danger of his recovering any more, because his body was immediately hung in chains near the place where the barbarous deed was perpetrated. He was in the thirty-first year of his age at the time of his execution, which was on Tuesday, the 30th of April, in the year 1689.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Executions Survived,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Rape,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1818: Robert Johnston, under horrific circumstances

2 comments December 30th, 2010 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1818 in Edinburgh, Scotland, 22-year-old Robert Johnston faced capital punishment for the robbery of a candlemaker. The authorities were nothing if not zealous: that day, Johnston would be hanged no less than four times.

Alex Young, in his book The Encyclopaedia of Scottish Executions 1750 to 1963, provides an account of the gruesome debacle that was Robert Johnston’s execution:

After praying and shaking hands with the clergymen, he mounted the scaffold and looked boldly around him, before helping the executioner adjust the rope, and giving the signal.

The drop fell – but the excessively short length of rope enabled him to stand on the platform. As the Magistrates ordered carpenters to cut a wider opening, cries of “Murder” came from the crowd.

The cries were followed by a shower of stones, which sent the Magistrates and the carpenters to the shelter of the Tolbooth Church doorway, through which they passed into the police office.

Almost every window glass in the church suffered from the stones, as did Johnston who had been abandoned on the platform.

“Cut him down—he’s alive!” rang out, as the crowd took possession of the scaffold. Johnston, despite hanging many minutes, was alive, and after taking the rope from his neck and arms and the cap from his head, he was carried off towards High Street. The scaffold structure proved too robust, but Johnston’s waiting coffin was broken up and thrown through the church windows.

The police and military combined forces to wrest the hapless Johnston from his would-be saviors and took him, unconscious, to the police office, where a surgeon bled him until he was determined fit to be re-hanged.

This time Johnston was carried by six men and the scaffold, surrounded by soldiers.

Again the executioner made a bungle of it. The rope was now too long and Johnston had to be lifted while the rope was shortened by winding it around the hook.

Again, shouts of “Murder!” and “Shame! Shame!” rang out, and only the military presence prevented another riot. Johnston struggled for many minutes before passing into eternity.

The next day, the Magistrates fired both the master of works and the executioner, who was named John Simpson. They also issued a fifty-guinea reward for information leading to the identification of Johnston’s rescuers. It went unclaimed.

(Here’s the Newgate Calendar entry)

On this day..

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

Tags: , , , , ,

1673: Mary Carleton, “German princess”

4 comments January 22nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1673 ended the adventures of “German princess” and early modern celebrity Mary Carleton.

Mary vaulted into the ranks of famous-for-being-famous in 1663, when the pamphleteering forerunners of Perez Hilton caught wind of a bigamy scandal wherein Mary, presenting herself as a mysterious German noble, had hitched with 18-year-old law student John Carleton and run through his money.

Once the public made her acquaintance … well, there was just something about Mary.

Over two dozen pamphlets are known sensationalizing her subsequent trial and acquittal for hubby-hopping, including post-acquittal volleys by both John and Mary.

(These pamphlets don’t currently appear to be available in their original forms online, but substantial excerpts from the most famous of them can be found in the public domain 1914 book The Mary Carleton narratives, 1663-1673: a missing chapter in the history of literature. This volume argues the Carleton publications are a stylistic progenitor of the English novel as it emerged in the hands of, for instance, Defoe. We certainly would be remiss not to notice here our real-life anti-heroine’s parallels (pdf) with Moll Flanders.)

Actually the daughter of a Canterbury fiddler, Moll Carleton was accused of having ditched her first spouse (a shoemaker) for a surgeon, then ditched the surgeon for John Carleton.

Having adroitly beat that rap in a court of law (if not exactly in the court of public opinion) “the German Princess” went into show business; that ubiquitous diarist Samuel Pepys caught her on stage, playing herself, remarking

I’ve passed one trial, but it is my fear
I shall receive a rigid sentence here:
You think me a bold cheat, put case ’twere so,
Which of you are not? Now you’d swear I know.
But do not, lest that you deserve to be
Censur’d worse than you can censure me:,
The world’s a cheat, and we that move in it,
In our degrees, do exercise our wit;
And better ’tis to get a glorious name,
However got, than live by common fame.

Well, why not?

In a time with scant social mobility for women, Carleton — which is the name by which she’s been remembered although she was born “Mary Moders” — carved it out with the tools at her disposal, which makes her an irresistible academic subject.*

Carleton/Moders is nearly the anti-Martin Guerre: whereas the male Arnaud du Tilh subsumed his own identity to insinuate himself into the existing social part of “Martin Guerre”, Mary Carleton’s shifty identity excised her from the social circumstances that would otherwise define her. (She was even reported to have taking to masculine cross-dressing.) Paradoxically, her fictitious biography enabled her to be taken for her own self, which explains why she stuck with her blank-slate “German origins” backstory after it had been publicly discredited.

And after the stage gig had run its course and her identity become disposable once again, she easily resumed her marital perambulations.

Mary Jo Kietzman called Carleton’s life “self-serialization.” The Newgate Calendar sanctimoniously records some of her adventures.

After a few years below the Restoration radar, Carleton was caught up for petty larceny and given a death sentence commuted to penal transportation to Jamaica. (England had just seized it from Spain during Cromwell‘s Protectorate.)

Two years later, she returned to England — not the only one to prefer the danger of Tyburn to the rigors (and obscurity) of the colonies.

She could only live as herself at the peril of her life. And on this day, she clinched her lasting fame at the end of a rope.

* e.g., Mihoko Suzuki, “The Case of Mary Carleton: Representing the Female Subject, 1663-73,” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1993).

Part of the Themed Set: Resistance and Rebellion in the Restoration.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Pelf,Public Executions,Sex,Theft,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Posts Previous Posts


Calendar

January 2020
M T W T F S S
« Dec    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!