1938: Arkadi Berdichevsky, Jon Utley’s father 1965: John Harris, white anti-apartheid martyr

1856: William Bousfield, Calcraft’d

March 31st, 2010 Headsman

Until the very end of public hanging in 1868 and thereafter in prisons, hangmen were unreliable executioners…

In nearly every year the grim chronicle of bungled executions and lackadaisical hangmen was extended … [William] Calcraft the hangman simply miscalculated the drops required to effect a speedy death. In office since 1829, Calcraft was ‘a mild-mannered man of simple tastes, much given to angling in the New River, and a devoted rabbit fancier’. Nice to rabbits, he had a casual way with people. He hanged them like dogs, it was said. Another dismal apotheosis was reached in the Newgate execution of William Bousfield in 1856. The night before his execution Bousfield* tried to kill himself in his condemned cell by throwing himself into the fire; next morning [March 31, 1856] he had to be carried to the scaffold swathed in bandages. Calcraft was nervous; he had received a letter threatening his assassination. He pulled the bolt to let the drop fall and disappeared hastily into the prison. Astonishingly, Bousfield drew himself up and lodged his feet on the side of the drop. Pushed off by a turnkey, he again found the side of the drop; and yet again. He was defeated only when Calcraft was summoned back to drag on his legs and ‘the strangulation was completed’. In front of an angry crowd, Bousfield gurgled his way to death as church bells rang to celebrate the end of the Crimean War.

After this debacle, they started pinioning the prisoners’ legs to prevent them getting a foothold on the scaffold, removing any hope of preservation to the inscrutable hand of Providence.

* Charles Dickens scribbled a few rambling thoughts on the subject of Bousfield’s trial.

On this day..

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

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4 thoughts on “1856: William Bousfield, Calcraft’d”

  1. Jim Bannister says:

    Response to 1856 William Bousfield, Calcraft’d
    I too am interested in the address of no 4 D’Arblay Street.

    Briefly my interest is in family history and in the years of 1850. 4 D’Arblay Street was named no. 4 Portland Street.

    In 1851 the census shows my great, great grandad Thomas II was living at this dwelling in 1852 my great grandad thomas james bannister was born there.
    I do have a little more information on Thomas II occupation should you be interested.
    Jim Bannister

    1. m. bousfield says:

      Dear Jim, Sorry it has taken me so long to get in touch with you (4 years ?), but I suppose better late than never. News to date, book on William Bousfield – executed 1856 for murder – has now been offered for publication; however, I am always on look-out for new information.
      Please contact me at:- Well Cottage, 3 Goose Green, Broadbridge Heath Road, Warnham, Nr Horsham, RH12 3RS.

  2. m. bousfield says:

    The subject of William Bousfield’s execution is one which I am researching at present – and I am currently in contact with the present owners of the premises where Bousfield and his family were living, prior to his execution.
    As it happened, when I first made contact with the present owners of 4 D’Arblay Street – they were unaware that anything unpleasent had happened back in 1856.

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