1942: Duncan Scott-Ford, because loose lips sink ships

2 comments November 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, British merchant sailor Duncan Scott-Ford was hanged at London’s Wandsworth Prison for giving German agents sensitive information about ship movements.

This, of course, was just the sort of thing everyone was trying to discourage.

… and a version to keep young soldiers on the pull Mata Hari-conscious:

For a case that so handily underscored the posters, the Scott-Ford affair made great copy … but not until a day after the hanging itself. Having kept everything secret, the papers were finally allowed on Nov. 4 to announce

that a British subject was executed for treachery at Wandsworth Prison yesterday morning.

Scott-Ford was paid 1,800 escudos by the enemy. This sum, which in English currency is equivalent only to about £18, was all that Scott-Ford in fact received from the enemy, though promises were held out to him which lured him deeper and deeper into the blackmailing clutches of the enemy. Thus when Scott-Ford returned on his second visit to Lisbon with the information which he had collected the Germans, instead of honouring their promises, threatened that they would expose him to the British authorities unless he continued to perform further services, to collect more valuable information and to undergo greater risks in their interest.

Some of the information which Scott-Ford gave to the enemy related to his own ship, and thus imperilled the lives of his own shipmates.

The moral to be drawn from this case is that British and allied seamen when visiting neutral ports should be constantly on their guard against strangers who may frequently approach them for apparently innocent purposes. Such strangers are apt to be enemy agents … (London Times, Nov. 4, 1942)

Shhhhh!

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1793: Olympe de Gouges, a head of her time

9 comments November 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Olympe de Gouges’ forward thoughts were removed from her shoulders in the Place de la Revolution.

Most recognizable today for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen* — a proto-feminist call for equality of the sexes issued in response to the day’s revolutionary but guy-centric Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizende Gouges was much more than a one-issue woman.

Fully engaged with the liberal intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, de Gouges spent the 1770’s and 1780’s in Parisian salon circles cranking out plays (over 40) and petitions, pamphlets and manifestos on animal welfare, poverty, the treatment of orphans, and ending slavery.

The latter issue, and not women’s rights, was the cause her contemporaries would have most associated with her.

But the natural-born gadfly didn’t pick her battles with injustice, and the Terror was a bad period to be indiscriminate. Like some of her Girondist associates, she risked the Paris mob’s wrath by openly opposing Louis XVI‘s execution — right in character, Olympe was down on the whole idea of the death penalty — and she carried principle into foolhardiness by printing broadsides savaging Robespierre.

Show trial time.

There can be no mistaking the perfidious intentions of this criminal woman, and her hidden motives … calumniating and spewing out bile in large doses against the warmest friends of the people, their most intrepid defender.

Misogynist condescension veined the prevailing interpretation of this misbehavior.

Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.

And strange to say, that condescension outlived Robespierre by centuries.

Only recently, as mainstream thought has (sort of) caught up with de Gouges, has the scope of her work (French link) attracted renewed appreciation, and Olympe been acknowledged an Olympian herself.

* Article 10: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” The work was dedicated to Marie Antoinette.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Freethinkers,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1783: John Austin

12 comments November 3rd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1783, highwayman John Austin was hanged at Tyburn for robbing and murdering John Spicer on the road to London.

The village Tyburn on the outskirts of London had been used for public hangings dating to the 12th century. Though not the only site of executions in London, it was the iconic one. Situated at the modern intersection of Edgware and Bayswater Roads on the northeast corner of Hyde Park, the distinctive “Tyburn tree” — a triangular gallows capable of hanging over twenty prisoners simultaneously — made a foreboding landmark round which teemed thousands of spectators on execution days. Some 1,200 people were executed on this singular device.

Public executions typically began four kilometers away at Newgate Prison, where the condemned were loaded into ox carts for a two-to-three-hour procession through public streets now at the very core of London, perhaps including stops at public ale houses.


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While Tyburn carved its niche during England’s age of religious bloodletting, its social role had changed significantly by the 18th century. Most of the doomed were offenders against property, often executed for stealing negligible sums or else reprieved for transport to the New World or, later, Australia. Peter Linebaugh’s The London Hanged intriguingly suggests that hangings of this era were an assertion of nascent capitalism, violently throwing off the remains of feudal labor relations. (Summarized more thoroughly in this friendly review.)

Even that formative age was receding. Once a neighboring village, Tyburn had been swallowed up by the city; a generation before Austin’s death, residents of the now-upscale neighborhood had successfully pushed for the removal of the macabre “Tyburn tree”.

Austin was hanged, instead, on a portable gallows, a typical penitent imploring heavenly mercy and taking 10 minutes to strangle to death — the very last execution at that somber and storied crossroads.

Here’s the story of the Tyburn hangings from London writer Peter Ackroyd:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Common Criminals,England,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft,Tyburn

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