On this date in 1735, Elizabeth Armstrong* was executed at Tyburn for winning a drunken brawl.
The account of the events that brought Armstrong to the gallows underscore 18th century Londoners’ everyday proximity to casual violence — where “tempers flared quickly and … it was not unusual for men to think of using physical force to get their way.”
In this case, the man would get the worst of the flaring.
In a brandy shop on Petticoat Lane, Patrick Darling — he’s our victim — and Mary Price fell into an argument that in the trial record reads almost comically for the sudden resort to fisticuffs.
the Deceased was a mighty joaking Man, and he told her she curried a clean Heel, G – D – ye, says she, what is that like? Why, says he, It is like an Irish Leg, as thick at bottom as it is at top. With that she up with her Leg and kicked him on the Parts, and he hit her a Box on the Ear. She reel’d against the Door
Price cried out for her niece, Elizabeth Armstrong, who was next door swilling gin, and the latter dashed over with an oyster knife to put everything to order: she “swore she’d cut his Nose off. He laughed, and said, sure you won’t serve me so? She swore yes but she would, and called him an Irish thief.”
This is the point where everyone can decide they don’t want any more trouble and stagger off to points unknown to nurse their various injuries. Not Patrick Darling.
When Elizabeth Armstrong left the brandy shop, he followed her out, closely enough that Armstrong tried to push him away. Darling snatched her wrist, but his would-be victim was strong — “stronger than he,” according to one witness — and she wrenched her hand free and stuck the little blade into Darling’s chest, drawing blood but doing no real damage. Now enraged, Darling tackled her into a kennel where they grappled, Armstrong slicing again into Darling’s right calf** while Darling “twice put his Hands up my Coats” — the fight ending when
A Sailor coming by, said to him, D – ye! what Son of a B – are you, to beat a Woman? Upon which, the Deceased quitted the Woman, and two or three Blows past between him and the Sailor, but it was over in a Minute, for I called out and said, For God’s sake do not let him beat a wounded Man.
Covered in muck, Armstrong went right back to drinking, little thinking that she had committed a murder.
Bloodied and trounced, Darling was eventually ushered by a friend to a surgeon who dressed his injuries and would testify — maybe protesting a little too much? — that “they were both trivial, but for want of due care, the Hemorrhage of Blood from the Calf of his Leg contributed to his Death, for he was harassed about for two or three Hours, and no body would take him in. And his Animal Spirits being exhausted, he might be suffocated for want of having his Head laid in a proper position. Besides, I heard that after he was wounded he fought with a Sailor, which might hasten his Death.”
Both of the women involved were tried for murder, but Price’s contribution to the fight having extended only to inciting her kinswoman (“her Aunt Price called out, Kill him Betty, kill him”), she was acquitted. Elizabeth Armstrong was not so lucky.
She hanged alongside a 40-year-old crook William Blackwell who had been in the game long enough to garner a nickname (“Long Will”) and a reward for his capture (£40). Blackwell had been part of a gang that committed a harrowing all-night home invasion robbery in Paddington two years prior — and, although it’s practically a footnote in the trial, raping the home’s young maid. One of Blackwell’s confederates who saved his own life by giving evidence against him described
Coming into the Entry, we saw the Maid lying with her Coats up, and the Prisoner on his Knees putting up his Breeches. D – ye you Rogue, says I, You ought to think of other things at such a time as this. And turning to the Maid, I said, my Dear, has he hurt ye? She made no answer, but cryed.
Unfortunately the Ordinary’s Account for this hanging is partially lost, although the fragment surviving does intimate that both Armstrong and Blackwell did the usual sincere-repentance thing that the clergyman was pushing.
* This little girl has nothing to do with the case at hand but having accidentally found the case in the course of ransacking the invaluable Old Bailey Online database I would be remiss not to relay the fate of a different Elizabeth Armstrong a few years prior … sentenced to convict transportation at the age of 9 or 10 because she climbed in an open window and snatched a couple of silver spoon. Here’s the trial record in its entirety:
Elizabeth Armstrong, alias Little Bess, of St. Michael’s Cornhill , was indicted for feloniously stealing two Silver Spoons, the Property of Rose Merriweather , the 3d of this Instant July .
It appear’d by the Evidence, That the Prisoner (who was a little Girl of about 9 or 10 Years of Age) having gotten in at the Prosecutor’s Kitchen Window, which had been opened, and left so till about Six o’Clock in the Morning, had handed out two Spoons to her Accomplices, and was surprized by the Apprentice coming out at the Window. The Fact being fully proved, the Jury found her Guilty to the Value of 10 d.
** An apt injury, considering the insult that started the fracas.