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1903: Emily Swann and John Gallagher, the Wombwell murderers

December 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1903, a 42-year-old mother of 11 was hanged side by side with her 30-year-old lover for murdering an abusive husband in the small South Yorkshire town of Wombwell.

That June, Emily Swann had shown her outgoing boarder and lover John Gallagher (together with some neighbors) the results of William Swann’s latest beating. John returned to the house and repaid the injuries in kind — and with interest.

After some minutes of fighting audible to the neighbors, Bill had been beaten to death.

Emily’s battered-wife situation might cut a lot more ice today, but by the jurisprudence of the day it was a fairly straightforward case, especially since all kinds of incriminating remarks were attributed by the neighbors to both Emily and John — “Give it to him, Johnnie, punch him to death,” for instance, and Gallagher’s own mid-bout respite at a neighbor’s house where he reported having broken four ribs with plans to break more. Both illustrated a level of intent among both parties beyond the heat of passion.

And you wouldn’t say the authorities were disposed to sympathize with Emily’s situation in general. They rather viewed her immorality — with John and otherwise — as the cause of the thrashings William gave her.

the wonder is that he has not killed her. He has frequently gone home after leaving work and found his wife drunk in the house and nothing prepared for him in the way of food. (case file comment, quoted here)

Fortified by a stiff drink of brandy, Emily Swann glided onto the platform at Leeds’ Armley Prison beside her already-trussed defender and delivered the somewhat famous greeting, “Good morning John.” Gallagher managed to return the salutation, and a few seconds before both were launched into eternity, she replied, “Good-bye. God bless you.”

It was an unusual exchange because the English execution protocol did not solicit remarks from the doomed prisoner, and in the occasional double hangings,* most participants were too frightened, awed or preoccupied to make small talk with their fellow-sufferers in the few seconds available.

* England would soon do away with double hangings altogether. Subsequent convicts to be hanged “together,” like Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters, were in fact executed simultaneously but at different prisons.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Sex,Women

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One thought on “1903: Emily Swann and John Gallagher, the Wombwell murderers”

  1. David Shaw says:

    Her husband had beaten her for years whenever he was drunk or felt like it. Which drove her to drink and to the comfort of another man it is not clear anything sexual ever occurred between her and John Gallagher.but the suspicion was put into the minds of the jury by the prosecution.With Victorian morality still pervading the country it was obvious they would die as sexuality was not something the lower classes should be doing and as most of the Jury were drawn from the middle class with their own ideas of right and wrong. A decent Barrister like Edward Marshall Hall would have probably got her off with a charge of manslaughter but without the funds they had to make do with what the local Barrister provided. The law at the time was the same as in Texas at the moment where two or more no matter who was the killer all are guilty of the murder. “Punch him to death” is a very funny phrase to be said in the heat of the moment and that should have been rigorously challenged by the defence together with the other statements made by the neighbours who if questioned properly were probably sick and tired of the whole Swann family living near.

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