1828: William Rice but not John Montgomery, who cheated the hangman with prussic acid

Add comment July 4th, 2018 Meaghan

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

Just before 6:00 a.m. on July 4, 1828, prison officers arrived at the cell of disgraced ensign John Burgh Montgomery in Newgate Prison‘s condemned hold.

They were there to escort Montgomery to his hanging. The 33­-year-­old would have been one of the last in England executed for for the crime of uttering forged notes — except that his wardens instead found him lying stone dead. With the aid of prussic acid, the counterfeiter had cheated the hangman of half his day’s prey, leaving his prospective gallows partner, thief William Rice, to face the hemp alone.

Although his guards had confiscated his razor and penknife as a routine precaution against suicide, no one had expected Montgomery to take his own life. He had pleaded guilty before the court and seemed resigned to his fate. In custody he was a model prisoner, spent his last days writing to his loved ones, and “addressed himself with great anxiety to his religious offices.”

Nobody was able to figure out how the condemned man came by enough poison to kill thirty people and how he kept it hidden, given that he and his cell were regularly searched.

The Irish-­born Montgomery, Nicola Sly records in her book Goodbye, Cruel World… A Compendium of Suicide,

was said to be a very respectable, well­-educated man, who had once held a commission in the Army. However, after inheriting a considerable fortune, he frittered it away and resorted to passing phony banknotes to support his rather dissipated lifestyle. Given his pleasing looks, gentlemanly appearance and good manners, he was very successful, since nobody thought him capable of any wrongdoing. However, he was caught after becoming careless and making the mistake of committing frequent repeated offense in a small geographical area of London.

Montgomery left behind several letters, marked by expansive tragic romanticism but no hint of suicidal intent. One letter was for the prison surgeon, asking that his body be used for dissection. He said that by this he wanted to provide some positive contribution to the public to make up for his crimes. He asked that his heart be preserved in spirits and given to his girlfriend.

To the girlfriend he wrote,

My dear idolized L.,

One more last farewell, one more last adieu to a being so much attached to the unhappy Montgomery. Oh, my dearest girl. If it had been in the power of anyone to avert my dreadful doom, your kind exertions would have been attended with such success. Oh, God, so poor Montgomery is to die on the scaffold. Oh, how dreadful have been my hours of reflection, whilst in this dreary cell.

Oh, how tottering were all my hopes; the bitterness of my reflection is bitter in the extreme. This will be forwarded to you by my kind friend Mrs. D. I should wish you to possess my writing portmanteau. Oh, I wished to have disappointed the horrid multitude who will be assembled to witness my ignominious exit. Farewell forever,

P.S. Here I kiss fervently.

The jury on the inquest into Montgomery’s death recorded a verdict of felo de se, meaning that Montgomery had willfully and knowingly taken his own life whilst of sound mind. As such, his body was buried in the graveyard of St. Sepulchre­-without-Newgate at night, and without any memorial service.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cheated the Hangman,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Not Executed,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions

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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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1797: Martin Clinch and Samuel Mackley

Add comment June 5th, 2017 Headsman

Say’s Weekly Journal, May 13, 1797:

On Sunday evening, between eight and nine o’clock, as Mr. Fryer, of Southampton Buildings, Holborn, was returning home, accompanied by a young Lady, in passing through the fields near White Conduit-house, he heard the screams of a woman in distress. He hastened to her assistance, and perceived her in the hands of three footpads, who, on seeing him approach, shot him through the head.

Some of the Bow-street patrols, who go that road, hearing the report of the pistol, made up to the place, where they found Mr. F. lying, not quite dead, but who expired in a few minutes afterwards; he appeared to have been robbed of his watch and money, and near the spot lay a stick with a sword in it.

The young Lady, who was in company with him, it is supposed, ran away on the villains first attacking him.

Three men were last night taken up on suspicion of the above murder.

General Evening Post, May 11-13, 1797:

Mr. Fryer, who was murdered on Sunday evening last, in Islington fields, was a young man of some property, and had been brought up to the law.

The young Lady, who accompanied him at the time, was his intended bride. They had been to spend the day at the house of a Mrs. P. in Paradise-row, Islington, and were returning home when the murder took place.

Mrs. P. had come a short distance from her own house with them, and after they had bid her good night, and had got about 100 yards from her, she was attacked by three villains, who robbed her of her cloak and money.

Her cries alarming Mr. F. he ran back to her assistance, which being perceived by the robbers, one of them advanced and shot him through the head, and then robbed him.

The young Lady was a distant spectator of this shocking scene.

London Evening Post, May 16-18, 1797:

Yesterday evening three men were examined at Bow-street, for the murder of Mr. Fryer, in Islington Fields, but, after a long investigation, they were discharged.

London Star, May 25, 1797:

Tuesday Martyn Clynch and James Mackley were committed to Newgate by John Floud and William Brodie, Esqs. charged with the oath of Ann Fryer and others, on suspicion of being the persons guilty of the wilful murder of Sydney Fryer on Sunday the 7th inst. in the fields near the Work-house, in the black road, Islington.

London Chronicle, June 1-3, 1797:

OLD BAILEY.

Yesterday, 14 prisoners were tried at the Old Bailey, two of whom were capitally convicted, viz. Samuel Mackley and Martin Clinch, for the wilful murder of Mr. Fryer in the parish of St. Mary, Islington.

It appeared by the evidence, that the deceased and his cousin, Miss Fryer, were walking across the fields in their way from Southampton Buildings, Holborn, towards Islington: that when they arrived at the field called the Cricket field, near White Conduit House, they heard a noise as of some person in distress; this induced the deceased to go to the spot.

At this time, Miss Fryer, the principal witness on this occasion, was at some distance from him. By the time she came to the stile, which he had crossed in his way to the place, she saw Clinch fire, when the deceased fell into a small pond. Clinch then took his watch out of his fob, and a sum of money out of his pocket.

By this time Miss Frye [sic] had got on the other side of the stile, when the prisoner, Mackley, held a pistol to her head, and took her cloak from her. They then went away, and Mr. Fryer was taken to a house at a short distance from the spot, where he died at eleven o’clock the same evening.

The evidence in support of the above statement, as given by Miss Fryer, was clear, artless, and unembarrassed. When asked if she really believed Clinch to be the man who shot Mr. Fryer, she said she believed from her soul he was; with respect to Mackley she seemed not quite so positive; several witnesses, however, proved his being seen in the same field within a few minutes of the time the murder happened, who all had noticed him on account of his having red hair.

The prisoners being called on for their defence, they only said they were innocent, but could give no account where they were at the time the murder was committed.

The jury went out for about half an hour, and returned with a verdict — Guilty. They were both ordered for execution on Monday next.

Five were convicted of felony, and seven acquitted.

Hereford Journal, June 7, 1797:

This morning were executed at the front of Newgate, Clinch and Mackley, for the robbery and murder of Mr. Frye, in Islington Fields.

An extremely disagreeable circumstance happened. The floor of the scaffold, from some previous misarrangement gave way, and precipitated into the area of the apparatus, Messrs. Vilette and Gaffy, the latter a Catholic Priest, who attended Clinch, and the two executioners. Mr. Sheriff Staines had a very narrow escape.

Mr. Gaffy was very severely hurt, as were both the executioners; Mr. Villette escaped with a slight bruise.

The two malefactors swung off with their distorted features exposed to the view of the distressed spectators. Their bodies were removed for the purposes of dissection and exposure.

Lloyd’s Evening Post, September 11-13, 1797:

Burton Wood and William Harlington, the two persons executed a few days ago on Kennington Common, for highway-robbery and sheep-stealing, made voluntary confessions of the various depredations in which they had been concerned.

Burton Wood positively declared, that Clinch and Mackley, who were hanged for the murder of Mr. Fryer, in Islington Fields, were totally innocent of that crime, it having been committed by himself and two others.

Harling made a similar confession respecting the murder of Mrs. Gray at Waltham-Abbey, for which two men, of the names of Harold and Upsham, were taken up; but who, he averred, had no connection in that shocking transaction. The robberies mentioned in their confessions were very numerous.

Whitehall Evening Post, September 12-14, 1797:

The following is a copy of a Letter sent from Burton Wood (who was hanged a short time since on Kennington Common, for a footpad robbery) to Mr. Carpenter Smith, in the Borough, from which it appears that he was the person concerned in the murder of Mr. Fryer, in Islington-fields, and that Clinch and Mackley, who were hanged for that murder, died innocent; also the copy of another letter which was sent from William Harling, a person that was hanged with Wood for sheep-stealing, to a friend of his, in which it appears is a confession of the robberies that he has been guilty of.

Honoured Sir,

I confess to robbing Mr. Francis, near Dulwich; I was mounted a grey horse. To stopping the Chatham coach the other side of Shooter’s-hill: I was dressed in a blue great-coat: I was mounted on a brown crop mare; it was between four and five in the afternoon; and to the robbing and murder of Mr. Fryer, in Islington-fields; the two men, Clinch and Mackley, was innocent of it; and to breaking open the house of Mr. Emery, brass-founder, in Shoe-lane, Fleet-street, and taking away Bank notes, cash, and other articles to the amount of 130 l.: and to robbing the waggon of Mr. Newport and Sons, of Crayford, in Kent, on Blackheath, last Easter Wednesday night, about ten o’clock — the man that was tried at Maidstone for it in the name of George Rhodes, was innocent of it; and I was the person that stopped and robbed the carriage on the night of Thursday the 25th of May last near Ball’s Pond turnpike; and to breaking open the house of Mr. Parkes, the brewer, in Baldwin’s Gardens, Gray’s-inn-lane, Holborn; I was the person that broke open the iron chest in Mr. Parke’s Counting-house; and to breaking open the house of Mr. Sewell, Seward-street, Goswell-street, St. Lukes, and taking away two Bank-notes, one of 5 l. and one of 10 l. and cash to the amount of 15 l. on Sunday night the 14th of last February; I as by myself; and to robbing a Mr. Robert Morris, belonging to the Custom-house, of his watch and fourteen shillings in Locks Field’s; and to the robbery that I now suffer for; and to robbing the Fishman near Sutton, when I robbed George May, of Banstead, in Surrey, of 2 l. 16 s. 6 d. for which I now suffer.

The Lord have mercy upon my sinful soul!

Honoured Sir, I hope the robberies that I have confessed I hope will be the means of many innocent men’s escaping to be brought to justice for the same, for I am the transgressor thereof. It would have been a good thing if I had suffered while Clinch and Mackley were under confinement in Newgate, for the robbery and murder of Mr. Fryer, in Islington-fields; for they died innocent. I confess to being one of the party, but they was not with me; I might have been the saving of their two lives had I have suffered sooner, but now it is too late; but I hope they are happy, I hope my soul will meet them in Heaven.

These are the confessions of your long-lost and unfortunate

Humble servant,
Burton Wood
August 21, 1797


Dear Charles,

The following names are them that I have robbed, and therefore I hope that nobody else may be brought to justice when I am dead and gone concerning them, for nobody but me did them, except Alderson, that suffered last Thursday at Maidstone, rob robbing Mr. Robinson, at Sydenham.

1st. Mr. Polton, of his horse.

2nd. Mr. Spinks, the bricklayer, of his horse.

3rd. And broke open the house of Mr. Mason.

4. Mr. John Hudson, the shopkeeper; Mr. Pinner, butcher, of nine sheep and two beasts; to taking the eleven sheep off Mitcham Common; Mr. Mills, of Mordon, of eleven fat weathers; breaking open the house of Mr. Marriot, of Mitcham; Newton and Leache’s callico-grounds twice; Mr. John Waggoner’s callico-grounds once; Mr. Groves, of his ten hogs; Mr. Blink, last Easter Monday; the Epsom Fisherman, Easter Tuesday; the two Gentlemen that had been to Ewill with their children to a boarding-school, near the turnpike, in a single-horse chaise: and Mr. Robinson, at Sydenham; a Gentleman in a single-horse chaise, on Mordon Common, going to Ewill.

I am sorry that Robert Harrold and Frederick Upham was taken up for the murder of Mrs. Gray, at Waltham Abbey, for they were innocent: I was one that was concerned in it, and these sheep that I now suffer for; therefore I wish to let you know, that they may not give themselves any more trouble to take any body else into custody, for it was only me and Alderson, for that robbery at Mr. Robinson’s at Sydenham, which robbery I was concerned with.

Give my remembrance to Mason, and ask him if he has hanged that great black dog of his, that laid upon the basket of clothes; if not, it is high time he had, for he was a very neglectful servant, for he lay as still as a mouse while I and my Pall drank a bottle of peppermint over his head. But now they have got what they longed for, and it is to be hoped they will sleep in peace when I am dead.

William Harling.

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1807: John Holloway and Owen Haggerty, sworn away

Add comment February 23rd, 2017 Meaghan

On this date in 1807, John Holloway, 39, and Owen Haggerty, 24, were hanged outside Debtors’ Door at Newgate Prison for the murder of John Cole Steele five years earlier. They died alongside murderer Elizabeth Godfrey, who had stabbed a man.

Steele was 35 at the time of death and was noted for his “amiable character.” He had a warehouse in London and a lavender plantation in the country at Feltham, and business was going well.

On Friday, November 5, 1802, he set out from his London townhouse to Feltham. He didn’t say exactly when he was coming home, but it was his wife’s birthday on Sunday and the family assumed he’d be back by then.

He didn’t arrive home by Saturday, and everyone figured he’d stayed overnight at his plantation. But when he missed his wife’s birthday party the next day, they got worried. On Monday they sent a messenger to investigate.

Steele, it turned out, had arrived in Feltham, and by 7:00 Saturday evening he was ready to return to his London house. He wasn’t able to procure a carriage, however, and decided to walk across Hounslow Heath, then a notorious haunt of bandits and highwaymen. It was not the sort of place a man with money — Steele was carrying about 26 shillings on him — should be at night.

He had paid for his want of caution with his life.

Searchers subsequently found Steele’s bloodstained coat on the heath, in a gravel pit ten or fifteen yards off the road. His corpse was under a clump of trees in a ditch 200 yards from the road. It had not been buried, but turf had been laid over it to conceal it. He’d been beaten and strangled to death, and the leather strap used to choke him was still tied tightly around his throat. His boots and hat were missing, his pockets had been cut away from his clothes and all his money was missing.

The coroner’s jury recorded a verdict of willful murder against some person or persons unknown. Forensics in the early 1800s basically didn’t exist, and with no witnesses to the crime, it seemed very unlikely that Steele’s murder would ever be solved. As Linda Stratmann records in Middlesex Murders,

Letters were sent to justices in Rutland and Leicester, urging that the most strenuous efforts should be made to apprehend [suspects], but they were never found. Steele’s family placed an advertisement in the newspaper offering a reward of £50 for information leading to the capture of the murderers. Several known criminals were arrested on suspicion, but after questioning they were released. Four years went by and all hope of finding the guilty persons was gone.

But then…

In 1806, 26-year-old thief Benjamin Hanfield was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. While awaiting transfer to a convict ship to take him to Australia, he mentioned Steele’s murder to some other prisoners and said three men were involved in the slaying.

Word got around to the authorities, and they took him to Portsmouth by coach for questioning. He implicated John Holloway and Owen Haggerty. It had been Holloway’s idea, he said; he’d somehow found out that a gentleman with money would be at Hounslow Heath on Saturday, November 6, and had recruited the other men to help him commit a robbery.

The three of them went to Hounslow Heath that Saturday, as according to plan, and waited for Steele. When Hanfield accosted their mark and demanded money, Steele was cooperative at first, handing over his cash. But when the robbers demanded his pocketbook as well, he claimed he didn’t have it and begged them not to hurt him. Holloway struck him with his stick, and as Steele began to struggle, Holloway said, “I will silence the bugger,” and beat him several times about his head and body.

They left him lying dead on the heath.

Hanfield ran away first, ahead of the others. He waited for nearly an hour at The Bell public house for them to catch up. After his accomplices arrived, they all went to an inn, the Black Horse. It was midnight and inn was closed for business, but its proprietor was still awake and the three men convinced him to serve them. They shared half a pint of gin there before parting ways.

Hanfield’s story had some evidence to support it. While he was being transported to Portsmouth for questioning, the coach passed the place where Steele had been killed and Hanfield pointed it out. After confession, he was taken back the heath and pointed out the clump of trees where Steele’s body had been located. This was enough to get Holloway and Haggerty arrested. Both men, when apprehended, said they were innocent.

By December 8, Haggerty and Holloway were brought together and Hanfield’s statement was read to them. The two men denied knowing each other, denied any knowledge of the murder, and denied having ever been on Hounslow Heath in their lives.

Hanfield’s story had another problem: he said Holloway knew well in advance that Steele would be on the heath that fatal Saturday. But, although Steele visited his Feltham plantation regularly, he didn’t have a fixed day of the week for doing it, and his own family wasn’t sure when he would be returning when he left London on Friday.

But in spite of the discrepancies, the flat denials from the alleged accomplices, and the lack of evidence supporting Hanfield’s statement, the authorities were sure they had the right men — tunnel vision that presents in many wrongful convictions. Hanfield was granted a free pardon for turning King’s Evidence against his co-defendants, and his previous sentence of transportation was commuted. At the trial, he was chief witness for the prosecution.

The defense argued that Hanfield was a liar and a professional criminal who had implicated innocent people for personal gain. But the defendants could not prove where they had been on a random autumn night five years earlier, and both had clearly lied about being strangers to each other.

Multiple witnesses testified that Haggerty and Holloway had known each other for many years. One of those witnesses was Officer Daniel Bishop, who worked at the jail. The two prisoners had been placed in separate cells side by side, and the partition between them was so thin that they could easily converse with each other. This had been a trick, and Bishop had been hiding in a nearby privy, writing down everything they said. From Haggerty and Holloway’s conversation it was obvious the men were good friends.

That much was true. But it was also true that when they thought they were alone together, neither of them implicated themselves in Steele’s slaying, and in fact they said Hanfield was a liar and that he, and not they, should be hanged.

As the Newgate Calendar said, “There was a great body of evidence adduced, none of which tended materially to incriminate the prisoners, except that of Hanfield, the accomplice, who, under the promise of pardon, had turned King’s evidence.”

The verdict, nevertheless, was guilty, after fifteen minutes’ deliberation. The sentence was death.

Holloway and Haggerty went to the scaffold invoking God and insisting they had not been involved in Steele’s murder. The execution was a memorable one; the Reaper got a bountiful harvest that day. Linda Stratmann describes the awful events in detail:

The crowds that assembled were unparalleled and estimated at about 40,000 people. By 8 a.m. there was not an inch of ground around the scaffold unoccupied. Even before the prisoners arrived the crush was so great that people trapped in the crowd were crying out to be allowed to escape …

At the corner of Green Arbour Lane, nearly opposite the Debtors’ Door, two piemen were selling their wares when one man’s basket was knocked over. He was bending down to pick up his wares when surging crowds tripped and fell over him. There was an immediate panic, in which people fought with each other to escape the crush. It was the weakest and the smallest in the crowd who suffered. Seven people died from suffocation alone, and others were trampled upon, their bodies mangled. A broker named John Etherington was there with twelve-year-old son. The boy was killed in the crush, and the man was at first thought to be dead and placed amongst the corpses, but he survived with serious injuries. A woman with an infant at her breast saved her baby by passing it to a man and begging him to save its life. Moments later she was knocked down and killed. The baby was thrown from person to person over the heads of the crowd and was eventually brought to safety …

Gradually the mobs dispersed and the bodies, thirty in all, were taken up in carts, twenty-seven to Bartholomew’s Hospital, two to St. Sepulchre’s Church and one to The Swan public house. Numerous others were injured, including fifteen men and two women who were so badly bruised that they were taken to the hospital, one of whom died the following day.

As it turned out, the landlord of The Bell didn’t remember any strangers coming to the pub on the night of the murder, and the landlord of the Black Horse didn’t remember three men coming at midnight and asking for gin. There were no details of the murder in Hanfield’s confession that he couldn’t have learned from common gossip. Furthermore, he had a history of making false confessions. A lawyer, James Harmer, actually compiled a pamphlet (Google Play | Google Books) of evidence that supported Haggerty and Holloway’s innocence.

But none of this exculpatory evidence surfaced until after the executions.

In yet another twist, in 1820, John Ward, alias Simon Winter, was indicted for John Cole Steele’s murder. Ward had a bad reputation in the area and was suspected of robbery and livestock theft. It was said he participated in the search for Steele, and one witness said he had seemed to be trying to lead the search party in the opposite direction from where the corpse was found.

The paper-thin murder case against Ward was dismissed for lack of evidence, and rightly so. But by indicting him in the first place, the authorities had as much as said Haggerty and Holloway had been wrongfully convicted.

“The fate of Holloway and Haggerty,” Stratmann notes in her book, “was often referred to in subsequent trials as an example of how little weight could be given to accomplices to a crime. The tragedy which had attended their execution also gave rise to considerable anxiety for many years.”

Hanfield disappeared without a trace after the murder trial; it’s unknown whether he continued his criminal ways.

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1803: Michael Ely, personator

2 comments April 27th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1803, Michael Ely hanged at Newgate Prison for feigning a bit of glory in the ongoing Napoleonic Wars.

The crime was no stolen valor stuff, but “personation” — fraudulently presenting oneself as a different person, in this case with a plain pecuniary objective.

After the HMS Audacious returned from campaigning against Napoleon in the Mediterranean, where she had the honor to capture the 74-gun French man-of-war Genereux near Malta, Audacious crew members were entitled to shares of a royal prize bounty for their acquisition. (Genereux thereafter flew the Union Jack until the ship was broken up in 1816.)

Ely presented himself to the crown’s prize agent as the Audacious seaman Murty Ryan to collect Ryan’s jackpot of one pound, 12 shillings.

One problem: Francis Sawyer was actually acquainted with the crook personally and (so he testified later) “I told him I knew his name was not Murty Ryan.” Ely countered by alleging that he had changed his name to avoid punishment after deserting a previous impressment — a phenomenon that Sawyer agreed was “quite common” and a good enough excuse that Sawyer paid him out, albeit suspiciously. But once the real Murty Ryan showed up looking for his share, Audacious crew members were able to verify that whatever his name might be, that first guy had never been aboard their ship.

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1823: William North, prostrated homosexual

Add comment February 24th, 2016 Headsman

From the Morning Chronicle of Feb. 25, 1823, via Rictor Norton. (Spaces added for readability.)

EXECUTION. — Yesterday morning, at an early hour, considerable numbers of spectators assembled before the Debtors’ door at Newgate, to witness the execution of William North, convicted in september Sessions of an unnatural crime.

The wretched culprit was 54 years of age, and had a wife living.

On his trial, he appeared a fine, stout, robust man, and strongly denied his guilt. On his being brought before the Sheriffs yesterday morning, he appeared to have grown at least ten years older, during the five months he has been in a condemned cell, with the horrid prospect before him of dying a violent death. His body had wasted to the mere anatomy of a man, his cheeks had sunk, his eyes had become hollow, and such was his weakness, that he could scarcely stand without support.

Though the consolations of religion were frequently offered to him, yet he could not sufficiently calm his mind to listen, or participate in them, even to the moment of his death. Sunday night he could not sleep, his mouth was parched with a burning fever; he occasionaqlly ejaculated “Oh God!” and “I’m lost;” and at other times he appeared quite childish; his imbecility of mind seemed to correspond with the weakness of his body. He exclaimed on one occasion “I have suffered sufficient punishment in this prison to atone for the crimes I have committed;” and when the Rev. Dr. Cotton and Mr. Baker, who attended him, asked him if he believed in Christ, and felt that he was a sinner? He replied “I pray, but cannot feel.”

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not administered to him, probably on account of his occasional delirium, and the generally disordered state of his mental faculties.

At five minutes before eight yesterday morning he was pinioned by the executioner in the press room, in the presence of the sheriffs and officers of the goal. As St. Sepulchre’s church clock struck eight, the culprit, carrying the rope, attended by the executioner, and clergyman, moved in procession with the sheriffs, &c. on to the scaffold.

On arriving at the third station, the prison bell tolled, and Dr. Cotton commenced at the same moment reading the funeral service “I am the resurrection and the life,” &c. of which the wretched man seemed to be totally regardless. On his being assisted up the steps of the scaffold, reason returned; he became aware of the dreadful death to which he was about to be consigned; his looks of terror were frightful; his expression of horror, when the rope was being placed round his neck, made every spectator shudder.

It was one of the most trying scenes to the clergymen they ever witnessed — never appeared a man so unprepared, so unresigned to his fate. — The signal being given the drop fell, and the criminal expired in less than a minute. He never struggled after he fell.

The body hung an hour, and was then cut down for interment. — The six unhappy men who are doomed to suffer on to-morrow morning, appear to be perfectly resigned to their fate.

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1864: The pirates of the Flowery Land

Add comment February 22nd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1864, four Philippines Spaniards and a Greek Ottoman who once numbered among the crew of the Flowery Land hanged together in London as mutineers and murderers.

The July preceding, that 400-ton merchant barque had set sail from London to Singapore with a cargo of wine. Outfitted for economy,* her crew numbered only 19 souls.**

This floating hamlet manifested in motley miniature Britain’s sun-never-sets empire. Its chief was a Scotsman with the solid name of John Smith; also on board as a passenger was a 20th man, Smith’s brother George.

The skipper’s seconds were two more British mates, names of Carswell (or Karswell) and Taffer (Taffir, Taffar).

Aboard the Flowery Land — aptly named for this metaphor — the Brits had mastery of a mixed-blood crew from many quarters of the globe. It is apparent from the testimony recorded at the Old Bailey that the men had no one lingua franca among them, but got by as can with ad hoc translation and the pidgin cant of the sea. Spanish was frequently heard among the crew: no surprise considering its composition. (The captain was also described as a capable Spanish speaker.)

The accounts identifying the Flowery Land‘s human cargo give perplexing and partial selections, with varying reports of nationalities. The flexible spelling accorded to proper names of the day, a multitude of aliases, and the infelicity most of these men had with English surely contributes to the confusion. But after the captain, the captain’s brother, and the two mates, the ship’s complement appears to have consisted of the following:

  • Six Spanish/Filipino sailors from Manila: John Leone or Lyons, Francisco Blanco, Mauricio Duranno, Basilio de Los Santos, Marcelino Santa Lacroix, and Miguel Lopez aka Joseph Chancis
  • A Levantine Turkish subject of Greek ancestry, Marcus Vartos (called “Watter” in the Old Bailey records)
  • George Carlos, a Greek from Greece
  • Two Spaniards, Jose Williams and Frank Paul or Powell
  • Michael Andersen, a Norwegian
  • Frank Candereau, a Frenchman
  • Frank Early, a 17-year-old English cabin boy
  • A Malay steward, a Chinese cook, and a Chinese lamp-trimmer boy, sometimes described together as “three Chinamen”

According to the evidence, much of it given via translators, during the dark hours before dawn on September 10, several of the Manila crew members surprised first mate Carswell while he was walking a routine nightwatch, beat him wickedly, and pitched him into the sea. The disturbance roused the captain and as he emerged he too was beaten and stabbed to death, as was his brother the passenger.


Are they coming for your daughter next? Cover illustration for the “penny dreadful” Police Crimes.

Having disposed of both the ranking mariners, the mutineers approached Taffer with a classic offer one can’t refuse: as the last capable navigator aboard, he would guide the ship to the Rio de la Plata.

After a three-week journey that was surely very frightening for Taffer, they reached the mouth of that river dividing Argentina from Uruguay and there scuttled the Flowery Land and put ashore in skiffs. Or at least, most of them did so. Ordered off the boat, the Malay steward refused until the Manila conspirators pelted him with champagne bottles from the ship’s store of cargo, finally driving him into the waves where he drowned; John Lyons remarked on some private grievance that must have been shared by his fellows. The Chinese cook and boy apparently suffered a like fate, being left to go down with the sinking ship … or at least that is what the survivors later deposed wish to have understood. Two little boats made landfall from the ill-starred hulk and each boat’s party reports not having the Chinese aboard or seeing what became of them. There is racism, sure — Taffer doesn’t even know the cook’s name — but it seems bizarre and sinister that two people among they this tiny group of seaborne intimates die completely offstage and the rest barely even think to wonder about them. (“I then missed the cook and the lamp-trimmer,” Taffer deposed pre-trial. “Lyons said they had gone down in the ship.” (Glasgow Herald, Jan. 15, 1864)) Be that as it may, the fate of these unfortunates was very far down the list of injuries done by the mutineers to the British Empire and nobody appears to have been inclined to inquire too closely.

So we take them for dead. Strangely, having slain six people, the mutineers did not make Taffer the seventh — a clemency that Taffer did not anticipate, and with which he would soon punish them. Once the remaining crew had made landfall, Taffer well understood how his dangerous position stood in this party and contrived to escape it at the first opportunity.

Once away, he made for Montevideo and presented himself and his shocking story to British authorities. His 13 former mates, many of whom were pretending to have escaped the wreck of an American guano freighter with an eye to hitching on with some other crew and vanishing into the circuits of imperial trade, were soon recognized or rounded up. By December, all 14 survivors were en route to England.

The inexact process of dividing mutineer from bystander had already begun by now, closely tracking racial proximity. The two British subjects, Taffer and Early, shipped home not as pirates but as witnesses, as did the Norwegian and the Frenchmen. The other ten returned in manacles.

Upon inquiry back in London, it was decided that the two Spaniards (the two from Spain, not Manila) could not be shown to have joined or supported the mutiny, only to have gone along with it when it was a fait accompli. They were set at their liberty.

The remaining eight men — the six from Manila plus the Greek from Turkey and the Greek from Greece — faced trial. All but John Carlos were convicted and condemned to death; Carlos, acquitted of the murder of Captain Smith, was vengefully re-indicted that same day for property destruction committed by scuttling the Flowery Land, and caught a 10-year sentence for that.

The why of the mutiny is frustratingly — or conveniently — elided in the testimony that crew members gave the court, and we are perhaps meant to understand broadly, as does this author, that “such a ‘dago’ crew” is ever prone to becoming “saucy” and imperiling all order.

As we query beyond a colonial power’s heart of darkness we quickly enter territory that the original documents did not bother to chart. With any mutiny one’s mind flies to that ancient maritime grievance, “bad usage”. The record gives us only guarded indications, but it touches on poor rations and brutal corporal punishments, albeit isolated ones† (e.g., Michael Andersen: “I have seen the captain strike some of the crew … he struck Watter with his flat hand at the side of the head — I did not see that more than once.”)

Those prosecuted, strangers in a foreign land, do not appear to have made any declaration explaining their own conduct even after sentence was secured though the London Times (Feb. 23, 1864) said that they had communicated to their gaolers that they had been driven to desperation by a mean water ration in the tropical swelter. One British newsman reporting the hanging also marked the omission in a voice that, however tinged with racial condescension, empathizes surprisingly with the hanged.

Nothing can extenuate the ferocity of the group of murders they committed, for the lowest savage is bound to observe the instincts of humanity. But God judges provocations, and weighs the frenzy of ignorant men, goaded to crime, in a finer balance than any earthly one. He knows what secrets are gone down with the Flowery Land, and the dead bodies of her captain and mate; knows whether these five men — now also dead — were treated as it is the custom to treat such poor sweepings of maritime places. The evidence hinted strongly at something of the kind — foul water to drink, and little of it under the tropics, insufficient food, and anger and blows; because, having shipped his crew from Babel, the captain and officers could not understand them or be understood … with decent management this kind of tragedy is next to impossible. Had the crowd at the execution been of the same color and vocation as themselves, sympathy would not have been wanting. It would have been believed — justly or not — from the experience of a hundred miserable voyages, that, knowing no Spanish, their officers had made kicks and cuffs interpret for them, as is the case in many a vessel. If it was so in theirs, how could they explain it? Our language, our courts, our long delays between crime and its penalty, were to them all one mystery. They are of a race that prefers to die and be done with it, rather than to fret and fuss too much against the will of Fate; and though we believe that none of the five were guiltless, we have an uncomfortable suspicion that, had they been English, some different facts would have been brought out at the trial … let us not be suspected of pitying a dusky murderer while we have no compassion for his victims of our own color if we demand that the moral of this offensive sight should be drawn in Manillese as well as English — that captains should learn to treat their lascar like a human being, if they would not have his thick Oriental blood boil into the fury of the brute which they have helped to make him.

The prospect of favoring the London mob with a the group hanging of seven “dusky murderers” — a quantity not seen at Newgate or anywhere else in England in decades — excited quite a lot of fretful commentary both moral and logistical. In the event, Basilio de Los Santos and Marcelino Santa Lacroix both received royal mercy on the strength of a petition, supported by the Spanish consulate and by some of the jurors, claiming diminished responsibility for the maritime coup.

That still left five to swing, which promised a remarkable novelty. There had been hangings of six, seven, and even eight on single occasions at Newgate in the 1800s up until the 1820s. The last such event was a septuple hanging on July 22, 1829. But by the 1840s and 1850s hangings had become solo affairs almost all the time; as of 1864, Londoners had not set eyes on a double execution — to say nothing of larger crops — in full 12 years.

Liberal-minded British elites and especially Fleet Street gasbags were already at this point in high dudgeon at the uncouth behavior of the rabble that flocked to public hangings. They approached this spectacle, whose victims had been hissed by the throngs who hemmed the Old Bailey when they arrived for their trial, pre-outraged, as it were — certain that their countrymen and (what is worse) women would soon set a-gnash all the teeth of the right-thinking.

Under the pious headline “Morality, as taught by Professor Calcraft” — that is, the notorious public executioner — the Newcastle Daily Journal of February 17, 1864 wrote (prior to the reduction of two of the seven sentences):

Next Monday morning, at eight o’clock, the gentle successor of Mr. John Ketch, “assisted” by some twenty thousand blood-thirsty ruffians of every grade and station, — ruffians with “handles to their names” from Belgravia, and ruffians with a score of aliases rom the Seven Dials, — will have the gratification of butchering seven of his immortal fellow-creatures, in the name of Justice and with the sanction of the Gospel — as represented by the Rev. John Davis, Ordinary of Newgate. What a thrill of delight will run through his veins as he draws the bolt and offers up this seven-fold sacrifice! How intensely pleasing must be the effect produced upon the spectators by the sight of seven dying men writhing in the agonies of the last struggle at the self-same moment! And what a grand sensation picture will the whole affair form for the pen of Monsieur Assolant, or any other French critic on English manners who may chance to be present!

[W]e are compelled to inquire whether something cannot be done to put a stop to those public exhibitions, so brutal in themselves, and so demoralising in their results, of which we are on Monday next to have so terrible a specimen. Public opinion may, for many years to come, sanction the punishment of death, but it cannot much longer permit the most awful of all spectacles to be made a show for the gratification of the vilest of either sex.

Only those whose misfortune it is to have been compelled to attend public executions, can form any conception of their unspeakable horrors, or of the injurious influence they exercise upon the mob who witness them. Let our readers thank God that it has never been their awful duty to … stand upon the scaffold whilst one of God’s creatures, made in His own image, is thrust into Eternity amid shrieks and blasphemies so appalling that the infernal world itselff could scarcely equal them. And let them on no account imagine that this is an over-drawn picture. It was such a spectacle as this that a few heart-sickened men were compelled to witness, less than twelve months since, in this very town of Newcastle, as they gathered round George Vass in his cell and on the scaffold; and those who heard the yells of positive exultation, the screams of delight with which the victim of the law was hailed on that occasion when he appeared before the herd of brutes assembled to see him die, and who afterwards heard the conversation which filled every tavern in the neighbourhood, must have had all preconceived notions with respect to the beneficial influence of capital punishments upon the public forevver dispelled … it is only gross ignorance or hardened sin that can venture to maintain that a public execution is other than a public lesson in blasphemy, murder, and infidelity.

Certainly execution day turned out the city in quantity. Following the funereal procession from within prison walls, the Times of London (Feb. 23, 1864) heard “the shouts and cries and uproar of the mob” as “a loud indistinct noise like the roar of the angry sea.” This sea swelled 20,000 strong or 25 or 30, and adjacent apartments with suitable sightlines reportedly renting for 75 guineas. As he zoomed upon the end of his life in the insane eye of such a spectacle, one of the mutineers, Duranno, swooned in vertigo and sagged against the already-attached noose until warders could retrieve a stool to prop him up while his fellows were marched out in turn.

Was it wise, just, and conducive to moral hygiene to expose such scenes to the general public? Even if the tide was turning against that classic tableau, and would before the 1860s were out be resolved to the permanent detriment of public executions, many still rose to defend their propriety. The exceptional character of the Flowery Land case made it a sure candidate for the respective partisans in that argument who wished — to appropriate a latter-day shibboleth — to control narrative. Each found on the Newgate gallows what they wished and expected to see; indeed, found with suspect familiarity.

The Feb. 23 Daily Telegraph, which supplies us the humane remarks on treating lascars like human beings extensively excerpted above, was full aghast.

The five pirates have died that horrible death by which it is still believed evil natures are terrified from crime, and society edified as to the sacredness of human life. We wish that we could think so in view of that surging, blasphemous, excited crowd that treated the occasion as a drama of the liveliest sensational kind — with nothing to pay for a place — and homicide, not fictitious, but natural and authentic, perpetrated before their eyes. In grimy, haggard thousands, the thieves and prostitutes of London and the suburbs gathered about the foot of the big gallows, jamming and crushing each other for a share of the spectacle. … The accounts of the demeanor of the crowd answer the question, whether it is good to gather for such a sight the scum and dregs of a vast city. Coarse, heartless, bestial, and brutalised by the official manslaughter which they had witnessed, the drabs and pickpockets made a “finish” of it in the public-houses, canvassing the skill of Jack Ketch and the “gameness” of each of his swarthy patients. The hideous roar that went up at the various stages of the sight was not the expression of gratified justice: it was the howl of the circus at the smell of blood — the grunt of what is hog-like in our nature at suffering we do not share. … Let us dismiss this devilish carousal of agony on one side, and eager excitement on the other, with its accompaniment of brutality and disorder ten times aggravated, and ask whether such a sight was wisely furnished, since we cannot call in question its jutice, so long as blood is purged with blood and a Mosaic law governs a Christian nation?

Whew!

The Times for its part had no use for the fainting-couch routine, insisting that reverent “deep silence” had reigned among the rude multitude once the moment of execution arrived, broken only as “the gibbet creaked audibly.” Opposite the detailed report of its delegate to Newgate, it presented a pseudoymous letter quite at odds with the Telegraph:

Sir, — I am not ashamed to avow that I went this morning to the hanging of the five pirates at the Old Bailey, and I am concerned to state my impressions at this public spectacle, because they were so utterly different from all which I have heard or read, or which it is the current fashion or folly to express at such exhibitions.

It was to me the most solemn sight I ever witnessed — an instance of the punishment which awaits a bloody crime, where mercy is not prostituted or justice defrauded by the mitigation, without reason, of a salutary doom.

As I watched from a commanding position an enormous crowd of spectators, which I should not hesitate to compute at as many as 20,000 or 25,000, chiefly men, and surveyed the sea of faces at the fatal instant when the drop fell and their expression was generalized by a sudden and common emotion, I should say that the pervading feeling was a cordial acceptance of the act then transacted before them, and a complete recognition that it was just and inevitable.

I am convinced that there were few present who could have escaped this emotion and conviction, from the sudden silence and entranced interest of this multitude of men; and if there had been previously some levity on the part of the lowest who had waited for this catastrophe, I am satisfied that at the last moment the better nature of all responded in concert to the terrible appeal, and that the sum total was a public good.

This is so different from the effect which others ascribe to such scenes that I ask to state my own conviction, and to subscribe myself

Yours faithfully,
VIGIL

Neither the dignified decorum nor the raucous carousing of the crowd under the Newgate gallows prevented the infamous crime from doing a sharp trade in the mass entertainment ventures of the day, from disposable true-crime pulp to Allsop’s Waxwork Exhibition. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a boy still shy of his fifth birthday at the moment the traps opened, surely absorbed some of this cultural ejecta in his growing-up years; he eventually dramatized “The True Story of the Tragedy of Flowery Land” in a short story.

* Since barques could be handled by a small crew, they had carved out a large slice of the world’s shipping lanes in the Golden Age of Sail … right before steam power showed up and relegated them to the sideline.

** Compare to the likes of the HMS Bounty, with a complement of 46 — requiring a numerically wider network of plotters. This vulnerability a minimalistic crew had to a mere handful of malcontents appears again a decade later with the mutiny of the Lennie (crew: 16).

† One possible way to interpret the evidence is that the first mate Carswell was the brutal overseer. In a deposition that Taffer only passingly alludes to during his Old Bailey testimony, he described how Carswell thrashed John Carlos when the latter, citing sickness, refused to take his turn at the watch, and even lashed Carlos to the mast. The captain arrived a few minutes later and had Carlos untied and sent back to berth, with medicine. The mate is also the man to whom Taffer attributes some “corrective” beatings with ropes.

One can at a stretch imagine what occurred on September 10 as an attempt “only” to murder Carswell, perhaps then to attribute his absence come morning to some mysterious nighttime accident overboard — but that the personal settling of scores mushroomed into a full-blown mutiny when the captain presented himself and the logic of the situation required his destruction, too. Taffer said that the mutineers had to confer among themselves where to make him steer the ship they had taken possession of, perhaps corroborating a more improvised series of events. This, however, is an entirely speculative reading; there is plenty of other evidence to suggest intentional coordination.

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1819: John Booth and Thomas Wildish, minor crooks

Add comment December 31st, 2015 Headsman

Two days ago, we noticed imprisoned English radical John Hobhouse, noticing a hanging. (Not his own.)

As jarring and “frightful” as this event was, we are at this moment in England of the Bloody Code — the tail end, to be sure, but still a world answering to Blackstone’s lament that “It is a melancholy truth that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than a hundred and sixty have been declared by act of parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.”

According to the invaluable Capital Punishment UK site, 110 hangings ornamented the damnable* year of 1819.

Our wretched sodomite from two days past, John Markham, was the 108th. The 109th and 110th were reserved for New Year’s Eve: John Booth and Thomas Wildish. And two days on from the last execution, our author Hobhouse has already begun numbing to the horror:

Friday December 31st 1819: Two men, Wildish and Booth, hanged at eight o’clock — they had a psalm sung under the gallows — I looked out a moment after they dropped — could not discern any motion except a little tremor in the hands of one of them — I am quite certain that the contemplation of these scenes frequently would very much diminish in me the fear of dying on a scaffold — I felt much less shocked this day than I did on Wednesday last.

Booth and Wildish were both non-violent offenders. Wildish, a young man, was condemned for passing a number of forged £10 notes. Booth, taking a more direct approach to his fraud, exploited his position in the General Post Office to steal from the mail. (A common abuse, as guest blogger Meaghan Good has noted in these pages.)

Emoting a bit more than Hobhouse, the newspaper report (this version taken from the Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of Jan. 3, 1820) described the exit of these unfortunate crooks thus:

EXECUTION. — The execution of J. Booth, for embezzling money letters from the General Post Office; and T. Wildish, for uttering a quantity of forged 10l. notes upon the Dover Bank, took place in the Old Bailey … Booth had held a situation in the Post Office for some years, and was much respected. His father, it appeared, had been in the domestic service of the King. He was about 10 years of age, and had a wife and child.

Wildish was a fine looking young man, of about 25 years of age. His father is an innkeeper in Kent, and he was also respectably connected. The crime for which he suffered appears to have been his first offence in that way, and he was led to the commission of it by the art of two notorious venders of forged notes, one of whom is at present suffering the judgment of the law for the minor offence.

Great exertions were made to save the life of Wildish, but without success. Mr. Alderman Rothwell, who knew his family, was particularly active in endeavouring to effect this object. Wildish had also a wife and a child, who, together with those of Booth, had a parting interview with the unhappy men in their cells on Thursday afternoon. The scene was truly afflicting, particularly with Wildish, whose wife is extremely young and interesting, and whose infant is but 12 months old.

From the moment of their conviction, each of the unhappy men evinced the most exemplary conduct, invariably acknowledging the justice of their fate, and betaking themselves in the most fervent devotion. The Rev. Mr. Cotton, and some religious friends, spent that night with them alternately in prayer. They were visited by the former at an early hour next morning, and after spending a considerable time in singing and prayer, they partook of the Sacrament. During this ceremony Wildish appeared quite enthusiastic. Booth seemed equally happy, but not so animated as his companion. The latter, upon receiving the cup of wine, (either from thirst or religious fervour) drank off the entire contents, nearly a pint.

On their way to the scaffold, they embraced all they met. Wildish was first le[d] out. He was most ardent in recommending his wife and infant child to the care of the Almighty. Booth, upon being led forth, embraced his companion, and both joined in hymns and prayer together. The fatal preparations being made, and they again joined the Ordinary in a short prayer, and at 20 minutes after eight were launched into eternity.

* Percy Bysshe Shelley:

England in 1819

An old, mad, blind, despis’d, and dying king,
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow
Through public scorn — mud from a muddy spring,
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know,
But leech-like to their fainting country cling,
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow,
A people starv’d and stabb’d in the untill’d field,
An army, which liberticide and prey
Makes as a two-edg’d sword to all who wield,
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay,
Religion Christless, Godless — a book seal’d,
A Senate — Time’s worst statute unrepeal’d,
Are graves, from which a glorious Phantom may
Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.

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1819: John Markham, abominable offence

Add comment December 29th, 2015 Headsman

The diary (pdf) of a man imprisoned at Newgate recorded for this date in 1819 that

A man was hanged this morning for an unnatural crime. Had my windows fastened up but could not sleep. They began putting up the scaffold at 4 o’clock. The tolling of the bell at 8 was frightful. I heard the crash of the drop falling and a woman screech violently at the same moment. Instantly afterwards, the sound of the pye man crying, “all hot, all hot.” ‘Tis dreadful hanging a man for this practice.* There are two, a man and boy now in jail, who were caught in flagrante delictu — and yet only sentenced to two years imprisonment. The poor wretch was half dead, so they told me, before he was hanged.

Of this poor soul fallen away into the indifferent cries of the pye-man we have this from The Morning Post of December 30, 1819 (see also Rictor Norton):

EXECUTION. Yesterday morning the sentence of the law was carried into effect at the usual place in the Old Bailey, on John Markham, convicted at the October Sessions of an abominable offence. Precisely at eight o'clock the wretched culprit was placed on the scaffold, more dead than alive, attended by the Rev. Mr. COTTON, with whom he appeared to join in fervent prayer while the executioner was performing his melancholy office. In a few minutes the drop fell, and the miserable wretch was dead in an instant. Markham was a person of the lowest stamp in society: he had been for some time, and was at the period of the commission of the offence, for which he forfeited his life, a pauper inmate of St. Giles's workhouse. There were fewer spectators than ever attended on any former occasion.

John Markham was obscure, no doubt; his condemnation literally was for unspeakable acts, since it barely rates a line at all in the Old Bailey’s archives.

But the aural observer of his death was not obscure at all.

John Hobhouse, though he would eventually become the first Baron Broughton, was a buddy of the queer-friendly Lord Byron (the fourth canto of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is dedicated to Hobhouse). Hobhouse was also a prominent radical rabble-rouser, which is precisely why he was in Newgate on the day of Markham’s hanging.

All of this occurred in the tense wake of the Peterloo Massacre, which saw British cavalry ride down their countrymen in Manchester for assembling to demand the reform of a parliament long grown egregiously unrepresentative. (Manchester was a case in point: it had no M.P. at all based on a centuries-old allocation of boroughs even though it had now boomed into one of the realm’s leading centers of industry.**)

Following the Peterloo outrage, our correspondent Mr. Hobhouse had suggested in one of his many combative pamphlets that absent such brutal exertions the members of Parliament “would be pulled out by their ears” at the hands of an aggrieved populace. Given the all-too-recent aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars — and their antecedent, the French Revolution — the potential threat in these words seemed to the powers that be a step beyond mere colorful rhetoric.

Accordingly, the House of Commons judged Hobhouse guilty of a breach of privilege and had him arrested earlier that same December. His cause more advanced by the martyrdom than inconvenienced by a gentleman’s loose detention — Hobhouse’s at-liberty associates not only held political meetings in his ample prison apartments but planned and advertised them in advance — the man won election to that selfsame House of Commons from Westminster the following March.


(Via)

* A few days later, Hobhouse will record in his diary that he has been told that Markham “had committed his crime with a pauper in a workhouse on a coffin.”

** The U.K. finally enacted parliamentary reform in 1832. A few years after that, it even stopped hanging people for sodomy.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex

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1815: Eliza Fenning, for the dumplings

3 comments July 26th, 2015 Headsman

Two hundred years ago today, an Irish serving-girl named Eliza Fenning hanged for poisoning her master’s family. The reliability of the judgment against her was widely questioned in 1815 and has not improved with age.

Robert Turner’s family, along with one of his apprentice stationers all sat down to a meal of dumplings that Eliza, a cook, had prepared for dinner on March 21 of that same year. Within minutes, all were in agony. As Charlotte Turner, who was the mistress of the house even though only a few months older than Ms. Fenning, told the Old Bailey:

I was taken ill myself in less than three minutes afterwards; the effect was so violent, that I had hardly time to get into the yard before my dinner came up. I felt considerable heat across my stomach and chest, and pain.

Q. Was the vomitting of a common kind?

I never experienced any thing before like it for violence; I was terribly irritated; it was not more than a quarter of an hour my apprentice Roger Gadsell was taken very ill in a similar way to myself.

It appeared from the symptoms — and from the blackened dough of the dumplings — that the meal had been laced with arsenic, that cunningly ubiquitous terror of the 19th century. The inference of family, Crown, and eventually court was that Eliza had availed the opportunity of preparing the food to revenge herself on the Turners because Charlotte Turner had caught her some days before sneaking into the apprentices’ room for a snog.

It’s a sure thing that homo sapiens has murdered for feebler reasons than this, but the insufficiency of the provocation, the vociferous denials of the condemned, and the puzzling fact that she too ate the noxious dumplings — all these things militated against confidence in the verdict which was hotly disputed in the public at large. Methods of establishing the presence and quantity of arsenic in a sample were extremely primitive in general, and painfully specious as applied by the surgeon who came to that verdict in the Fenning case.

The court inconclusively pursued the various ingredients in the dish: the same flour had been used for a meat pie that had brought up nobody’s dinner, so that was out; Eliza suggested the milk might be to blame, or a new yeast the house obtained on the eve of the dinner party. There is a wide-ranging effort in the transcript to establish the young woman’s access to an arsenic packet that Robert Turner kept in a desk drawer to poison mice, but this seems little relevant; it was an unlocked desk drawer in a busy household, plus arsenic was widely available in town. Everyone had effective access to arsenic, should she or he have a mind to find it.

As friend of the site (and occasional guest blogger) Richard Clark puts it in his overview, “it is difficult to be sure whether Eliza was guilty or not” even all these years later. But it’s a certainty that what was developed against her in 1815 would fall leagues short of any present-day standard for a confident conviction. Was she really unbalanced enough to try to murder the entire household over a tongue-lashing, yet steely enough to eat the poisoned dish herself to dispel suspicion, yet incautious enough not to have readied any other alibi for the moment when attention would turn to the cook? What possible basis could she have had for believing that she could salt in enough of the toxin to kill everyone else but eat a safely sub-lethal dose herself?

And maybe, as with Cameron Willingham, we might best begin with the premise: was there actually a dose of arsenic, laid in by a sinister hand — or might some contaminant carelessly proximate to the food supply of an unruly metropolis have been the true and undetected culprit?*

The case dissolves under even mild scrutiny into a tissue of social and medical quackery: the uppity servant, the sexually precocious Irishwoman, the assassin infiltrating the dumplings. (See Judith Flanders’s The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime for a scathing defense of Fenning.)

Whatever it was that the family puked up, everyone did so speedily enough to remain among the living. Attempted murder, however, was still a capital crime in England, and would remain so until 1861.

Though her case would attract widespread sympathy and public controversy, Eliza Fenning’s defense before the bar was all but nonexistent: four good-character witnesses, plus this statement:

My lord, I am truly innocent of all the charge, as God is my witness; I am innocent, indeed I am; I liked my place, I was very comfortable; as to my master saying I did not assist him, I was too ill. I had no concern with the drawer at all; when I wanted a piece of paper I always asked for it.

That’s the whole of it — complete and unabridged. It is a pathetic thought to consider this helpless plea in light of the idea that the food might have been poisoned accidentally; tunnel vision had already settled on a semi-coherent story of the embittered serving-girl’s revenge,** and without the art to draw out some different interpretation of the few facts available, Eliza found her place fixed by the self-validating suspicions cast upon her.

She held to her innocence all the way to the end; it was put about that a Newgate screw had overheard her father bid her do so no matter what lest he lose all honor after she died. One last character assassination for the road.

Supporters — and she has had many, down to the present day — flocked to Eliza’s Irish wake in the days after her hanging (the body “being placed in the kitchen of the house, and dressed out in ribbons, flowers, &c.”†) and then thronged a funerary procession from Red Lion Square to the tombs of St. George Bloomsbury.

* In 1900, to the consternation of brewers, around 6,000 pub-fanciers in northern England fell ill from beer that turned out to be contaminated with arsenic present in an ingredient (sulphuric acid) that made a different ingredient (glucose) that went into the beer.

** As Fenning was condemned just a few weeks before Waterloo, the paranoia that England’s burghers nurtured over the prospect of incipient Jacobinism must be presumed a relevant part of the scenario … doubly so, considering the young lady’s nationality.

The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, Aug. 4, 1815. Reports that the family had the effrontery to accept 40 quid worth of gifts from well-wishers were also lamely represented by Fenning’s persecutors as black marks on the family name.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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