1751: Thomas Quin, Joseph Dowdell, Thomas Talbot, and five others at Tyburn

Add comment June 17th, 2020 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

THOMAS QUIN, JOSEPH DOWDELL, AND THOMAS TALBOT

A Gang of Notorious Thieves, executed at Tyburn, June 17, 1751, for robbery.

At length these miserable robbers see,
Unhappy fruit, suspended on the tree;
They teach, sad lesson! in their wretched state,
That shame and ruin are the villain’s fate;
And that too late each guilty man will find,
Justice, though sometimes slow, is never blind.

The villains disclosed in this narrative, will shew the necessity of the act of parliament for inflicting punishment on masters and mistresses giving a false character. of a servant.

A corrupt servant is the most dangerous inmate of a house; and therefore too much caution cannot be used in admitting such domestics.

Quin, a murderer in his own country, Ireland, was recommended to London as a youth of good morals; while his disposition was base to a great degree.

Dowdell, who in his apprenticeship had injured his first master, procured a recommendation to another, to whom he also proved a villain.

The Case of the unhappy WILLIAM GIBBS, now under Sentence of Death.

On the 13th of March I went to the House of John Duncombe, at Nine at Night, to get a Pint of Beer. I lived five Doors from him. I sat down to drink my Beer, and in came Litchfield, Corbet, Smith, Jackson, and one Gordon; Litchfield went away, and left the rest; Smith and Corbet went to Cards, and Wine came in plentifully. I being a Neighbour, was desired to take Part, which I did. About Two o’Clock Mrs. Duncombs took her Purse, and dropt it over the Bar, I believe, in the Sight of all, except Jackson, who was drunk, and asleep on the Ground, notwithstanding he took upon him to swear hard against me, and was scarce able to stand or sit upon a Chair. I seeing Mrs. Duncombe so careless, and for no other Reason than to make her careful another Time, took the Purse, thinking it was Silver, (and not imagining a Sum of that Consequence would be so heedlessly handled) took it, and went and laid it on a Bulk, (which, by the bye, was his own Wife’s Green-Stall) a few Yards from Duncombe’s Door. Mrs. Duncombe missing the Purse, cried out, I have lost twenty-three Guineas; which frightened me almost out of my Senses, and she called her Husband. I denied the taking of it, and desired the Servant to call my Wife, thinking to get her to bring the Purse, and drop it in the Bar, or thereabouts; for, when I heard of the Sum, my Heart melted within me. Mr. Duncombe said, There’s no Occasion to call any Body, it is a Joke, and I will give a Bottle of Wine, and a free Pardon, and Thanks to him that will give an Account of it. I was very glad to hear that, and called him Backwards into the Yard, and said, Mr. Duncombe, I am sorry I should jest with such edged Tools, I little thought the Contents, but as I am a Neighbour, and live in Credit, pray let it go no farther; he said it should not; I told him where it was, and sent him for it. The Purse he had intire, and brought in a Bottle of Wine; and shook Hands; and, to all Appearance, were good Friends, as formerly, I having used his House ever since he kept it. And when he went to take Ship to go to Scotland, and carried a great Charge of Money, he chose me to conduct him, at Midnight, from Hyde-Park Corner to Hermitage Stairs. I really loved him, and would have done him any Service, as soon as I would have done it for myself; but a Person in Company, Corbet by Name, said we could not make the Matter up without going before a Justice. We agreed to go, Mr. Duncombe, myself, and another, privately. We did so, and Mr. Duncombe told the Justice, who lives near Golden Square, St. James’s, that it was a Jest, but that he wanted to be safe, and we were recommended to give general Releases. While my Wife was gone to get Releases drawn, an inveterate Enemy of mine came into the publick House where we were waiting, who called Mr. Duncombe out, and persuaded him to go to another Justice, and take out a Warrant for me, and before my Wife came back with the Releases, they had served a Warrant on me; and although we were within five or six Doors of the aforesaid Justice, they were ashamed to take me there, but took me about a Mile to another, by whom I was committed, although before recommended for Releases by the other. It plainly appears I had no Intent to keep the Purse or Contents for several Reasons: As first, No Person could lay it on me more than another, for there were four Persons in the House besides myself, and, as I am a dying Man, I never had a Thought of defrauding him of a Shilling. Secondly, I, as a Friend and Neighbour, have been Night and Day entrusted in his House, all the same as his Brother, and he never lost any thing as I ever heard of. Lastly, My Circumstances were not so bad as to cause me to do an ill Action, for I kept two Shops, one at Hammersmith, where my aged Father and Mother lives, and the other at Hyde-Park Corner; and when I came into Trouble I had two Apprentices, one of whom I have turned over since I have been in Newgate. I have a Wife and three Children, a Father and Mother, the one 80, the other 85 Years of Age, whose grey Heirs, without God’s great Mercy, will be brought with Sorrow to the Grave. When this great Misfortune happened to me, I worked for a great many noble Families, and I praise God, wherever I worked there was nothing lost. That unhappy Day, the 13th of March, I had been part of it at work at a worthy Gentleman’s, and was weary, and wanting a Pint of Beer before I went to Bed, could not be content to have it at Home with my Family, but must unfortunately go to the House, whereby I put myself in the Way of this great Misfortune, and if it be the Will of Divine Providence that I must suffer, I am content and resigned.

William Gibbs.
May, 1751.

Letter of one of the five other men hanged with Quinn, Dowdell, and Talbot

Talbot, the third of this dangerous gang, after having robbed on the highway; and being afraid of apprehension; applied to be restored to honest servitude, and was refused; but his master, in pity to his distresses, recommended, him to a nobleman.

Talbot, on the first opportunity, robbing his noble employer, we would ask whether the late master, knowing the servant to have been a thief, was not, in recommending him to an honest employ, virtually, the greater villain of the two? In fine, they were all from early youth, delinquents; and each had been imposed on honest people by those who knew them to be such. No wonder, then, that they will be found thereof the greatest rascals in this calendar of crimes.

Quin was a native of Dublin, the son of honest, but poor parents; and his father dying while he was a child, his uncle put him to school, and afterwards placed him apprentice to a buckle-maker, with whom be served three years faithfully; but his friends supplying him with clothes too genteel for his rank in life, he began to associate with gay company, and was guilty of many irregularities.

These thoughtless youths were frequently concerned in riots, and Quin was considered as the head of the party. In one of these nocturnal insurrections, Quin murdered a man, whose friends, watching him to his master’s house, desired that he might be delivered up to justice; but some of the journeymen sallying forth with offensive weapons, drove off the people; on which a warrant was issued for apprehending the murderer, when his master advised him to depart for England.

A subscription for his use being raised by his friends, he came to London, having recommendations to some gentlemen in that city; but of these he made no use, for, frequenting the purlieus of St. Giles’s, he spent his money among the lowest of his countrymen, and then entered on board a man of war.

After a service of six months, he quitted the ship at Leghorn, and sailed in another vessel to Jamaica, where he received his wages, which he soon spent. He now agreed to work his passage to England, and the ship arriving in the port of London, he took lodgings in St. Giles’s, and soon afterwards became acquainted with Dowdell and Talbot, of whom we are now to give an account.

Dowdell was the son of a bookbinder in Dublin, who being in low circumstances was unable to educate his children as he could have wished. His son Joseph, who was remarkable for the badness of his disposition, he ‘prenticed to a breeches-maker, but the graceless youth grew weary of his place before he had served two years of his time.

Dowdell being ordered by his master to take proper care of some green leather, particularly to defend it from the snow; instead thereof, he heaped such quantities of snow and ice on it, that it was greatly reduced in value. This circumstance so exasperated his master, that he was glad to get rid of him by delivering up his indentures of apprenticeship.

Thus at large, and the father ill able to support him, he was recommended to the service of a gentleman in the country, with whom he might have lived happily: but he behaved badly in his place, and running away to Dublin, commenced pickpocket.

After some practice in this way, he became connected with a gang of housebreakers, in company with whom he committed several depredations in Dublin. Having broke open a gentleman’s house, he was opposed by the servants, and effected his escape only by the use he made of a hanger; soon after which he was taken by the watchmen, and being carried before a magistrate, he was committed to prison till the next morning, His person was advertised, and he was brought to trial, but none of the servants being able to swear to him, he was acquitted for want of evidence.

He now renewed his dangerous practices, and committed a variety of robberies. The following is one of the most singular of his exploits. Going to the house of a farmer, near Dublin, he pretended to be a citizen who wanted a lodging, for the benefit of his health, and he would pay a liberal price.

The unsuspecting farmer put his lodger into the best chamber, and supplied his table in the most ample manner. After a residence of ten days, he asked the farmer’s company to the town of Finglass, where he wanted to purchase some necessaries. The farmer attending him; Dowdell purchased some articles at different shops, till seeing a quantity of gold in a till, he formed a resolution of appropriating it to his own use.

Having returned home with the farmer, Dowdell pretended to recollect that he had omitted to purchase some medicines, which he must take that night, and which had occasioned his going to Finglass. Hereupon the farmer ordered a horse to be saddled, and Dowdell set forwards, on a promise to return before night. On his arrival at Finglass he put up his horse, and stealing stealing unperceived into the shop above-mentioned, he stole the till with the money, and immediately set out for Dublin.

In the interim, the farmer missing his lodger, went to Finglass, and not finding him there, proceeded to Dublin, where he chanced to put up his horse at the same inn where Dowdell had taken up his quarters.

In a short time he saw our adventurer with some dealers, to whom he would have sold the horse; on which the farmer procured a constable, seized the offender, and lodged him in prison.

For this presumed robbery (a real one, doubtless, in the intention) he was brought to trial; but it appearing that the farmer had intrusted him with the horse, he could be convicted of nothing more than a fraud, for which he received sentence of transportation.

The vessel in which he sailed being overtaken by a storm, was dashed on the rocks of Cumberland, and many lives were lost, but several, among whom was Dowdell, swam on shore, and went to Whitehaven, where the inhabitants contributed liberally to their relief. Dowdell travelling to Liverpool, entered on board a privateer, which soon took several prizes, for which he received 60l. to his share, which he soon squandered in the most thoughtless extravagance. Being reduced to poverty, he robbed a Portuguese gentleman; for which he was apprehended, but afterwards released on the intercession of the gentlemen of the English factory; on which he sailed for England, and arrived at London.

He had not been long in the metropolis, before he associated with a gang of pickpockets and street-robbers (among whom was one Carter), whose practice it was to commit depredations at the doors of the theatres. Dowdell had not long entered into this association, before he and Carter went under the piazzas in Covent-garden, where the latter demanded a gentleman’s money, while Dowdell watched at a little distance, to give notice in case of a surprise. While Carter was examining the gentleman’s pockets, he drew his sword and killed the robber on the spot, and a mob gathering at the instant, it was with great difficulty that Dowdell effected his escape.

He now went to the lodgings of a woman of ill fame, who having been heretofore kept by a man of rank, he had given her a gold watch and some trifling jewels, which Dowdell advised her to pawn, to raise him ready money.

The girl hesitating to comply, he beat her in a most violent manner, on which she swore the peace against him; whereupon he was lodged in Newgate, but discharged at the next sessions, no prosecution being commenced against him.

He was no sooner at large, than he made a connexion with a woman of the town, whom an officer had taken to Gibraltar, and during her residence with him she had saved a hundred moidores. Dowdell having possessed himself of this sum, soon spent it extravagantly, and then prevailed on her to pawn her clothes for his support.

Talbot was the son of poor parents, who lived in Wapping, and having received a common education, he engaged himself as the driver of a post-chaise, in the service of a stable-keeper in Piccadilly. While he was driving two gentlemen on the Bath road, a highwayman stopped the carriage, and robbed them of their watches and money.

This circumstance gave Talbot an idea of acquiring money by illicit means; wherefore, on his return to London, he made himself acquainted with some highwaymen, assuring them that he was properly qualified to give them the intelligence necessary for the successful management of their business.

His proposal met with a ready acceptance; and a company having soon afterwards hired a coach and six of his master to go to Bath, Talbot gave one of the highwaymen notice of the affair; and it was resolved that the robbery should be committed on Hounslow-heath.

The highwaymen meeting the carriage on the appointed spot, robbed the parties of all they had, so that they were obliged to return to London for money before they could pursue their journey. Talbot’s share of this ill-gotten booty amounted to fifty pounds, which gave him such spirits that he resolved to pursue the same iniquitous mode of living.

In consequence of this resolution, Talbot informed the highwayman of some company going to Bath, and he attempted to rob them, but a gentleman in the carriage shot him dead on the spot.

Mortified at this accident which had befel his friend, Talbot no sooner arrived in London than he determined to resign his employment, and commence robber on his own account; but previous to engaging in this business, he spent his ready money in the worst company.

After several attempts to commit robberies, and having narrowly escaped the hands of justice, he grew sick of his employment, and requested his former master to take him into his service. This he declined, but in pity to his distress, recommended him to a nobleman, in whose family he was engaged.

Talbot had been but a short time in his new place, before he robbed the house of several articles of value, which he sold to the Jews, to supply the extravagance of one of the maid servants, with whom he had an amour.

This theft was not discovered at the time; but Talbot was soon discharged from his place, in consequence of the badness of his temper, which rendered him insupportable to his fellow servants.

On his dismission he spent his ready money with the most abandoned company, and then commencing housebreaker, committed a variety of depredations in the neighbourhood of London; for one of which he was apprehended and brought to trial at the Old Bailey, but acquitted for want of evidence.

On the very evening he was acquitted, he stopped a carriage in Drury-lane, and robbed a gentleman of his money, which he soon spent among the most dissolute of both sexes; and within a week afterwards, he broke into a house in Westminster, where he obtained plate and cash to a large amount, but was not apprehended for this offence.

In a few days he was taken into custody for picking a gentleman’s pocket, brought to trial, at the Old Bailey, sentenced to be transported for seven years, shipped to America, and sold to slavery.

He had not been long in this situation, when he embarked at Boston, in New England, on board a privateer; but when at sea he entered into a conspiracy with some of the sailors, to murder the officers, and seize the vessel; but the confederacy being discovered in time, a severe punishment was inflicted on Talbot and the other villains.

Talbot, quitting the privateer, sailed to England in a man of war, and engaging with some street-robbers in London, was apprehended, convicted, and sentenced to die: but he found interest to obtain a pardon on condition of transportation.

However, he had not been long abroad before he returned, in company with an abandoned woman, who had been transported at the same time; and this woman introduced him to the acquaintance of Quin and Dowdell, in company with whom he committed a considerable number of robberies.

These accomplices robbed six coaches one evening, and obtained considerable plunder; but this being soon spent in extravagance, they at length embarked in a robbery which cost them their lives.

Having made a connexion with one Cullen, they all joined in a street-robbery, and stopping a coach near Long Acre, robbed a gentleman of his watch and money. Some people being informed of the affair, immediately pursued them; and Cullen, being taken into custody, was admitted an evidence against his accomplices, who were apprehended on the following day.

Being brought to trial at the next sessions at the Old Bailey, they received sentence of death; but, after conviction, seemed as little sensible of the enormity of their crimes, as almost any offenders whose cases we have had occasion to record.

Dowdell and Quin were Roman Catholics; and Talbot refusing to join in devotion with the ordinary of Newgate, at the place of execution, we can say nothing of the disposition of mind in which they left this world.

We would have wished the following exclamation the mouths of these miserable sinners, at the time they made their dying atonements

O omnipotent Creator! Such hellish deeds
My soul abhors. O Lord! behold my frame,
My inmost frame, and cleanse my sinful thoughts
Then ever guide me in thy perfect way,
The way established to eternal bliss?

These men died, we fear, unrepenting sinners.

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1754: Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the first Washington atrocity

Add comment May 28th, 2020 Headsman

A volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.

Horace Walpole (Source)

On the 28th of May in 1754, a wilderness skirmish in colonial Pennsylvania set spark to the Seven Years’ War — thanks to a battlefield execution under the auspices of the future United States founding father George Washington.

The backdrop to what pro-French partisans would call the “Jumonville Affair” was the rivalrous jockeying of French and British flags in contested North American territory. Looking to check French raiding in Ohio that was feared prelude to an attempt to effect control of that valuable and disputed tract, Washington — here a 22-year-old British lieutenant colonel, many years away yet from his future glory as the American Revolution’s great general — had engaged the French 11 miles from present-day Uniontown, Pa..

It was a short fight: Washington got the drop on the French encampment and efficiently flanked them with his Iroquois allies. Fifteen minutes, and about 10 to 14 French killed, told the tale.

It’s remembered now as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, but its namesake wasn’t around to enjoy the distinction. Instead, that defeated French commander, one Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was allegedly taken prisoner by his opposite number but then killed out of hand by the Iroquois leader Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (known as “Half-King” to Europeans).

There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and only speculative surmises as to why; in the most cinematically catchy version, Jumonville is attempting to communicate his mission to the victorious Washington — the two men do not share a language — when Tanaghrisson steps up to the captive and “cries out ‘Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père’ (‘Thou art not yet dead, my father’), raises his hatchet over Jumonville’s head, and crashes it into his skull. Reaching into the skull, he extracts a handful of Jumonville’s brains and washes his hands in the pulpy gore.”* According to historian Fred Anderson, this was the native chief making a declaration of war against the French, rejecting their asserted “paternity” over Indians.

Now caught out with a small force of militiamen against a rival state that was sure to be incensed when it caught word Jumonville’s killing, Washington hastily dug in behind improvised palisades, a bunker unassumingly christened “Fort Necessity”. The Iroquois did not stick around, correctly urging Washington that he’d do best to abandon the field as he’d have no prospect of withstanding the large force of French regulars that was sure to answer Jumonville Glen. Just so: on July 3, the French reached the fort and forced its surrender after a few hours’ fighting.

The French-language capitulation that Washington signed on this signal occasion — the only surrender of his military career — characterized the slaying of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville as an “assassination”. This word would be grist for years of competing propaganda between the contending empires, especially since the flying musket-balls from these two engagements would spiral into the French and Indian War (within the North American theater) and the Seven Years’ War (the larger European and global great powers war). Proving himself even at this moment to be every bit the American, Washington would spend the rest of his career attributing his assent to this incendiary word to his infelicity with French.

Despite slinking out of Pennsylvania with an L and a grudge against his translator, this frontier Gavrilo Princip did great service for his future country. Great Britain won the big war he’d started; her attempt in the 1760s and 1770s to settle the terms of her resulting domination of North America — like restricting colonization past the Appalachian Mountains, in deference to native allies like the Iroquois, or ratcheting up taxes to service gigantic war debts — only inflamed the colonists into the rebellion that put George Washington’s name onto his own imperial capital, and George Washington’s face on the world’s reserve currency. Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père, indeed.

* Other accounts have the murder effected by musket shot, or even have Jumonville killed during the battle.

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1756: John Symmonds, “Spanish Jack”

Add comment April 8th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1756,* robber John Symmonds (Symonds, Simmons) aka “Spanish Jack” hanged at Maidstone.

One “Gonzalez” by birth in Alicante, Spain, our man obtained his Anglo-Saxon name by dint of service aboard English privateers during the multifaceted 1740s world war.

Maritime service and a piratical nickname might suggest that he earned his hemp as a buccaneer. Not so: Spanish Jack segued into the lucrative and dangerous smuggling trade, and thence to ordinary landlubber thefts in his adoptive realm.

So well had he adapted to this underworld that in 1751 he turned Crown’s evidence and hung three fellow footpads to save his own life, pocketing a £10 reward into the bargain. His Old Bailey evidence in this case gives some idea of his practices:

we consented to stop the first man we met that had any thing about him; there was one Jonathan Stevens with us, he is not apprehended yet. We had been in Stepney-fields; about nine we stopped the prosecutor at the end of Church-lane; I asked him what it was o’clock; he said he could not tell. I stopped him and said, you must give me what you have about you. He made a little sort of a resistance; I took him and shov’d him against a wall; the other four came up. I held him whilst they took what he had about him; I never saw the stock buckle; Holmes said nothing to us of that. Mandeville took from him a guinea and 4 s. 6 d. and some halfpence; we made the best of our way when we had done to the Blue Anchor in the Back lane; there we had some slip and changed a guinea, and divided every man a share.

But sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander within a very few years, as the Newgate Calendar notes.

The many robberies he had committed in London and its adjacencies having rendered him so notorious that he thought himself in great danger of being apprehended, he determined to go into the country. Having travelled to Rochester, he formed an acquaintance with a fellow named Smith, who was publicly known to live by felonious practices.

Symmonds and Smith went to a public-house in Rochester, and while they were drinking some punch found an opportunity of concealing a silver tankard, which they carried off unperceived. On the following day they were apprehended, and committed to Maidstone Jail — Symmonds to be tried for stealing the tankard, and Smith to appear as evidence for the Crown.

* The Newgate Calendar’s “18th of April” is mistaken; it was the 8th. See CapitalPunishmentUK.org.

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1759: Mary Edmondson

Add comment April 2nd, 2020 Headsman

A sad selection from the Newgate Calendar:

MARY EDMONDSON

Strongly protesting her Innocence, she was executed on Kennington Common, 2nd of April, 1759, for the Murder of her Aunt

This unhappy girl was the daughter of a farmer near Leeds, in Yorkshire, and was sent to reside with her aunt, Mrs Walker, of Rotherhithe, who was a widow lady. With this aunt she lived two years, comporting herself in the most decent manner, and regularly attending the duties of religion.

A lady, named Toucher, having spent the evening with Mrs Walker, Mary Edmondson lighted her across the street on her way home, and soon after her return a woman who cried oysters through the street observed that the door was open and heard the girl cry out “Help! Murder! They have killed my aunt!” Edmondson now ran to the house of Mrs Odell, wringing her hands and bewailing the misfortune, and, the neighbours being by this time alarmed, some gentlemen went from a public-house, where they had spent the evening, determined to inquire into the affair. They found Mrs Walker, with her throat cut, lying on her right side, and her head near a table, which was covered with linen. One of the gentlemen, named Holloway, said: “This is very strange; I know not what to make of it: let us examine the girl.”

Her account of the matter was that four men had entered at the back door, one of whom put his arms round her aunt’s neck, and another, who was a tall man, dressed in black, swore that he would kill her if she spoke a single word.

Mr Holloway, observing that the girl’s arm was cut, asked her how it had happened; to which she replied that one of the men, in attempting to get out, had jammed it with the door. But Holloway, judging from all appearances that no men had been in the house, said he did not believe her, but supposed she was the murderer of her aunt.

On this charge she fell into a fit and, being removed to a neighbour’s house, was bled by a surgeon, and continued there till the following day, when the coroner’s inquest sat on the body, and brought in a verdict of wilful murder; whereupon she was committed to prison, on the coroner’s warrant.

Mrs Walker’s executors, anxious to discover the truth, caused the house to be diligently searched, and found that a variety of things, which Mary Edmondson had said were stolen, were not missing; nor could they discover that anything was lost. Mrs Walker’s watch and some other articles which she said had been carried off by the murderers were found under the floor of the necessary-house.

Being committed to the New Jail, Southwark, she remained there till the next assizes for Surrey, when she was tried at Kingston, and convicted on evidence which, though acknowledged to be circumstantial, was such as, in the general opinion, admitted little doubt of her guilt.

She made a defence indeed; but there was not enough of probability in it to have any weight.

Being condemned on Saturday, to be executed on the Monday following, she was lodged in the prison at Kingston, whence she wrote to her parents, most solemnly avowing her innocence. She likewise begged that the minister of the parish would preach a sermon on the occasion of her death. She asserted her innocence on the Sunday, when she was visited by a clergyman and several other people; yet was her behaviour devout, and apparently sincere.

Being taken out of prison on the Monday morning, she got into a post-chaise with the keeper, and, arriving at the Peacock, in Kennington Lane, about nine o’clock, there drank a glass of wine; and then, being put into a cart, was conveyed to the place of execution, where she behaved devoutly, and made the following address to the surrounding multitude: —

It is now too late to trifle either with God or man. I solemnly declare that I am innocent of the crime laid to my charge. I am very easy in my mind, as I suffer with as much pleasure as if I was going to sleep. I freely forgive my prosecutors, and earnestly beg your prayers for my departing soul.

After execution her body was conveyed to St Thomas’s Hospital, Southwark, and there dissected, agreeably to the laws respecting murderers.

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1751: James Welch and Thomas Jones, the right guys this time

Add comment September 6th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1751, two hangings atoned the rape-murder of Sarah Green, and the wrongful execution of a previously accused assailant.

We have detailed previously in these pages the 1749 hanging of Richard Coleman for being a party to that awful crime. Although the dying victim charged him by name, Coleman — scarcely alone in this respect among the numerous victims of England’s noose-rich Bloody Code era — avowed his innocence to the very last.

I do also most solemnly protest, that I am not in any Manner of Degree guilty of that most inhuman Murder of Sarah Green, neither was I at Newington, or in Kennington-Lane that Night that the cruel Fact was committed on Sarah Green.

Events would bear out his words, even if the poor man wasn’t around to say “I told you so.”

It turns out that three men perpetrated the crime, James Welch, Thomas Jones and John Nichols, none of whom was Richard Coleman.

Centuries before cold case units, these guys had got clean away with murder provided they could just manage not to blab about it. As the Newgate Calendar informs us, however, James Welch found the life-and-death imperative of discretion defeated by the urge to make small talk with a stranger.

Welch, one of the murderers, and a young fellow named James Bush, while walking on the road to Newington Butts, their conversation happened to turn on the subject of those who had been executed without being guilty; and Welch said: “Among whom was Coleman. Nichols, Jones and I were the persons who committed the murder for which he was hanged.” In the course of conversation Welch owned that, having been at a public-house called Sot’s Hole, they had drunk plentifully, and on their return through Kennington Lane they met with a woman, with whom they went as far as the Parsonage Walk, near the churchyard of Newington where she was so horridly abused by Nichols and Jones that Welch declined offering her any further insult.

Bush did not at that time appear to pay any particular attention to what he had heard, but soon afterwards, as he was crossing London Bridge with his father, he addressed him as follows: “Father, I have been extremely ill; and as I am afraid I shall not live long, I should be glad to reveal something that lies heavy on my mind.”

Thereupon they went to a public-house in the Borough, where Bush related his story to his father, which was scarcely ended when, seeing Jones at the window, they called him in and desired him to drink with them.

He had not been long in their company when they told him they had heard he was one of the murderers of Sarah Green, on whose account Coleman had suffered death. Jones trembled and turned pale on hearing what they said; but soon assuming a degree of courage said: “What does it signify? The man is hanged and the woman dead, and nobody can hurt us.” To which he added: “We were connected with a woman, but who can tell that was the woman Coleman died for?”

In consequence of this acknowledgment Nichols, Jones and Welch were soon afterwards apprehended, when all of them steadily denied their guilt; and, the hearsay testimony of Bush being all that could be adduced against them, Nichols was admitted evidence for the Crown. In consequence of which all the particulars of the horrid murder were developed.

The prisoners being brought to trial at the next assizes for the county of Surrey, Nichols deposed that he, with Welch and Jones, having been drinking at the house called Sot’s Hole on the night that the woman was used in such an inhuman manner, they quitted that house in order to return home, when, meeting a woman, they asked her if she would drink; which she declined unless they would go to the King’s Head, where she would treat them with a pot of beer.

Thereupon they went and drank both beer and geneva with her, and then, all the parties going forward to the Parsonage Walk, the poor woman was treated in a manner too shocking to be described. It appeared that at the time of the perpetration of the fact the murderers wore white aprons, and that Jones and Welch called Nichols by the name of Coleman — circumstances that evidently led to the conviction of the unfortunate man of that name.

On the whole state of the evidence there seemed to be no doubt of the guilt of the prisoners, so that the jury did not hesitate to convict them, and sentence of death was passed of course.

After conviction these malefactors behaved with the utmost contrition, being attended by the Rev. Dr Howard, Rector of St George’s, Southwark, to whom they readily confessed their offences. They likewise signed a declaration, which they begged might be published, containing the fullest assertion of Coleman’s innocence, and, exclusive of his acknowledgement, Welch wrote to the brother of Coleman, confessing his guilt, and begging his prayers and forgiveness. The sister of Jones living in a genteel family at Richmond, he wrote to her to make interest in his favour; but the answer he received was, that his crime was of such a nature, that she could not ask a favour for him with any degree of propriety. She earnestly begged of him to prepare for death, and implore pardon at that tribunal, where alone it could be expected.

They were executed on Kennington Common, on 6th of September, 1751.

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1754: Captain John Lancey, Devonshire arsonist

2 comments June 7th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1754, Captain John Lancey hanged at Execution Dock on the Thames — the victim of his brother-in-law’s clumsy insurance scheme.

We here defer to the dolorous annals known as the Newgate Calendar, so familiar around these parts, which subtitles its entry as …


Executed at Execution Dock, 7th of June, 1754, for burning a Ship at the Instigation of a Member of Parliament

This unfortunate man fell a dupe to an artful and wicked villain, his employer, who at the time was a disgraceful Member of the House of Commons, and who, to avoid the punishment due to his crimes, fled, and left the unfortunate subject whose case is before us a victim to his baseness.

Not this John (de) Lancie.

Captain John Lancey was a native of Bideford, in Devonshire, respectably born and well educated. As he gave early proofs of an inclination for a seafaring life he was taught navigation, was attentive to his studies, and gave proofs of a goodness of disposition that promised a better fate than afterwards attended him.

Lancey was sent to sea as mate of a ship, of which Mr. Benson, a rich merchant at Biddeford, was the proprietor. Lancey, having married a relation of Benson’s, was soon advanced to the command of the vessel. This Benson was Member of Parliament for Barnstaple, in Devonshire, and what kind of character he deserved will appear in the sequel.

After Lancey had returned from a long voyage he was for a considerable time confined to his bed by a violent illness, the expense of which tended considerably to impoverish him. When he had partly recovered, Benson told him that he proposed to refit the ship in which he had formerly sailed; that Lancey should have the command of her; that he (Benson) would insure her for more than double her value, and then Lancey should destroy the vessel.

This proposal appeared shocking to Lancey, who thought it but a trial of his honesty, and declared his sentiments, saying that he would never take any part in a transaction so totally opposite to the whole tenor of his conduct.

For the present nothing more was said; but soon afterwards Benson invited Lancey and several other gentlemen to dine with him. The entertainment was liberal; and, Captain Lancey being asked to stay after the rest of the company were gone, Mr Benson took him to a summer-house in the garden, where he again proposed destroying the ship, and urged it in a manner that proved he was in earnest.

Captain Lancey hesitated a short time on this proposal and then declined to have any concern in so iniquitous a scheme, declaring that he would seek other employment rather than take any part in such a transaction. But Benson, resolving if possible not to lose his agent, prevailed on him to drink freely, and then urged every argument he could think of to prevail on him to undertake the business, promising to shelter him from punishment in case of detection.

Lancey still hesitated. But when Benson mentioned the poverty to which his family was reduced by his late illness, and offered such flattering prospects of protection, the unhappy man at length yielded, to his own destruction. A ship was now fitted out, bound for Maryland: and goods to a large amount were shipped on board, but relanded before the vessel sailed, and a lading of brickbats taken in by way of ballast. They had not been long at sea when a hole was bored in the side of the ship and a cask of combustible ingredients was set on fire, with a view to destroying her. The fire no sooner appeared than the Captain called to some convicted transports, then in the hold, to inquire if they had fired the vessel; which appears to have been only a feint to conceal the real design.

The boat being hoisted out, all the crew got safe on shore; and then Lancey repaired immediately to Benson to inform him of what had passed. Benson instantly dispatched him to a proctor, before whom he swore that the ship had accidentally taken fire, and that it was impossible to prevent the consequences which followed.

Lancey now repaired to his own house, and continued with as much apparent unconcern as if such a piece of villainy had not been perpetrated; but he was soon afterwards taken into custody by a constable, who informed him that oath had been made of the transaction before the Mayor of Exeter by one of the seamen. Lancey, however, did not express much concern, secure in his idea of protection from the supposed influence of Benson.

On the following day Lancey and one of the ship’s crew were committed to the jail of Exeter, where they remained three months; and being then removed to London were examined by Sir Thomas Salisbury, the judge of the Admiralty Court, and committed to the prison of the Marshalsea. Application was afterwards made to the Court of Admiralty to admit them to bail; and there appeared to be no objection to granting the favour, but Benson, on whom they had depended for bail, had absconded, to escape the justice due to his atrocious crime.

Being committed to Newgate, they were brought to trial at the next Sessions of Admiralty held at the Old Bailey,when Lancey was capitally convicted, and received sentence of death, but the other was acquitted.

Lancey lay in prison about four months after conviction, during which his behaviour was altogether consistent with his unhappy situation. His Christian charity was remarkable towards Benson; for, though that wicked man had been the cause and instigator of his ruin, yet he never once reflected on him, but imputed all the crime to himself, and appeared to behold it in its genuine light of deformity.

It was presumed, when he was first apprehended, that he might have been admitted an evidence against Benson, if he would have impeached him; but this he steadily refused to do.

His devotional exercises were exemplary: he attended prayers in the most regular manner, and gave every proof of his contrition. He was accompanied to the place of execution by two clergymen; and, having confessed his guilt in a speech to the surrounding multitude, he underwent the sentence of the law on the 7th of June, 1754, at Execution Dock, in the 27th year of his age.

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1752: James Lowry, despotical nautical

Add comment March 25th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1752 the tyrannous Scottish sea captain James Lowrey or Lowry was hanged at London’s execution dock for beating a crew member to death.

Lowr(e)y came to public notice in 1751 after the return to English shores of his merchantman, the Molly, from a run to Jamaica: ten of his ex-crew subscribed a public advertisement accusing him of murdering their mate on board, to which Lowry replied with advertisements accusing those accusers of mutiny.

Right away the British public knew it had a page-turner on its hands.

The captain had become unreasonably enraged with Kennith Hossack for lagging in his duties as he recovered from an illness, and upon a purported accusation of theft he had the mariner tied up and personally battered him about the head using a doubled-over rope as his cudgel, on Christmas Eve no less. Hossack at last dropped dead, at which point the heartless captain slapped his man and denounced him for “shamming Abraham” (i.e., feigning injury to skip work). Lowry evidently really had it in for Hossack, for the first mate explained that “I don’t know that he ever came upon deck twice in a week without beating him: my heart has bled for him many and many a time.” In the mate’s opinion, these beatings were always for no adequate reason.*

That’s a remark from the Admiralty Trial of Captain Lowry, where his former seamen developed the picture of an intolerably Queeg-like commander liable to take bitter umbrage if his men managed an illicit extra ration of sugar or rum, a guy who carried around a beating-cane with its own name (“the Royal Oak Foremast”) just in case he felt like doling out a disciplinary bludgeon. Three days after Hossack’s death, he came to blows with the second mate; two days after that, a fed-up crew “took the command from him” and ran the ship themselves, although they did not forcibly confine him.

Once the ship put in at Lisbon for repairs on the return journey, Lowry lodged a piracy complaint against his crew, but despite the incredibly serious charges and countercharges, everybody sailed on together for home thereafter, each party perhaps silently calculating the odds that the other would dare to press the case further as against getting on about their lives. Lowry does not appear to have made himself scarce until his former comrades went public with their claims, although once they did so he incriminatingly avoided the thief-takers and the small private reward set upon his capture for a few weeks.

On March 25, 1752, the brute was carried from Newgate Prison to the Execution Dock on the Thames, in a cart surmounted by a silver oar emblematic of the Admiralty. There he was hanged, and his body afterwards put in irons and displayed in infamy down the river at Blackwall.


Lowry pictured as part of a “Scotch Triumvirate” of Caledonian evildoers, along with the Scottish officer William Cranstoun, blamed for seducing Mary Blandy to the gallows, and the more mysterious “Major James MacDonald” whose papers suggest involvement in the South Sea Bubble 32 years prior (?). I’m in good company with my confusion on this MacDonald fellow, as the British Museum can’t identify him either. Check out britishtars.com for a fascinating exposition on the iconographic detail of the Lowry images in this post; we have also featured in this narrative several additional links to that same site’s various posts about the events on the Molly.

We have revisited a few times in these pages the intense commercial bustle among publishers of crime ephemera — in England as well as Ireland. Naturally this headline-grabbing execution excited plenty of competitive hawking.

Two examples appear below; the first of them is by a pair of publishers named Harris and Scott; the second, by Parker and Corbett, who at this time had the deal to publish the Ordinary of Newgate’s accounts. Harris and Scott were first to the market here, in an environment where rapidity counted for a lot; the Ordinary wanted to be sure the public knew that his “official” (according to him) version would be soon forthcoming, so he burdened the pages of London newspapers and even his own Ordinary’s Account of ‘regular’ Tyburn criminals with adverts to that effect.


This image from the London General Advertiser of March 26, 1752, one of several papers to carry the notice. For more on the relationship between publishers and crime in this era, see Print Culture, Crime and Justice in 18th-Century London by Richard Ward

Read on below to enjoy both.

* In fact, one nugget from this case is that an adequate reason for corporal punishment at sea might sit at a much higher threshold than we commonly assume today. Although the Royal Navy was (in)famous for the discipline of the lash, multiple experienced sailors testified at this trial that they never knew floggings or beatings to occur on merchant vessels.

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1752: William Jillet, Daniel Johnson, and David Smith

Add comment October 16th, 2018 Headsman

From the New-York Mercury, Nov. 27, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, August 28.

About a Fortnight ago, was committed to Goal in this Town, four Men, viz. Patrick Moore, a Taylor by Trade, Daniel Johnson, alias Dixon, a Chymist or Doctor, William Jillet, a Blacksmith, and Peter Matthews, for making bad Money: They were taken by the Sheriff of this County at Peter Matthews’s House, about 30 Miles from this Town, near to which, in a great Swamp, they had erected a Forge, and prepared Moulds and other Materials for making Doubloons, Pistoles, Pieces of Eight and half Pistereens: There were some of the Doubloons a Pistole, Pieces of Eight, and half Pistereens found upon them, but so badly done as not to be easily imposed upon any Body; which may be owing to the timely Discovery of the Plot, which prevented their finishing them in the Manner they intended; for the Similitude as to Size, is very exact, only they are much wanting in Colour, which perhaps was to have been the finishing Stroke.

Patrick Moore, who upon his Examination, seems to give the clearest Evidence, says, That he lived in Virginia, and work’d at this Trade, at the House of one Richard Booker, in Glocester [sic] County, where the said Daniel Johnson, alias Dillon, and William Jillet, resorted; that the said Booker gave him the said Moore, a small Boat, with Provisions sufficient, to bring the said Johnson, alias Dixon, and William Jillet, with their Bellows, Hammer, Moulds, and other Materials for making Money, into this Province; which he accordingly did about two Months since, and landed them up Neuse River, from whence they travelled to the House of the said Peter Matthews, as above, set up their Forge, and were proceeding to the good Work; and would, in all Probability, have plyed us plentifully with Doubloons, Pistoles, and Pieces of Eight, had not the Plot been timely discovered.

From the Pennsylvania Gazette, Nov. 23, 1752:

Newbern, in North-Carolina, October 6.

On Tuesday last ended the General Court here, when three Persons were capitally convicted, and received Sentence of Death, viz. William Jillet, and Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, for Coining; and David Smith, alias Griffith, for Felony, in Robbing a Store in Johnson County, about four Years ago.

Patrick Moore, who was concerned with the Coiners, turn’d Evidence against them; and Peter Matthews, at whose House they were taken, and who was thought to have been concern’d with them, was acquitted.

October 20. On Monday last was executed at the Gallows near this Town, pursuant to their Sentence, Daniel Johnston, alias Dixon, William Jillet, and David Smith, alias Griffith. They were attended to the Gallows by the Rev. Mr. Lopierre, who also attended them while in Goal. They all appeared very penitent, and expressed much Sorrow and Contrition for their Crimes, which they confessed; and Jillet and Johnston declared Patrick Moore to have been the sole Contriver and Promoter of the wretched Scheme, for which they suffered, and which would have been so destructive to the Community had it succeeded. Johnston died a stanch Roman Catholick, and was very earnest and pathetick in his Prayers for the Friends and Followers of Lord Lovat, Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and all the Rebels that suffer’d in the late Rebellion, and heartily pray’d for a Continuance of that noble Spirit which he hop’d was yet alive in Scotland among the Well-wishers of the Pretender.

They made several Attempts, while in Goal, to escape, but were prevented by the Sheriff, who kept a Watch round the Prison every Night; and indeed it has been intirely owing to his great Vigilance and Industry, that these Pests of Society were first apprehended, and preserv’d safe in a Goal (which has hitherto been remarkable for letting Prisoners escape) till they received the Reward due to their Crimes.

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1758: Not Florence Hensey, Seven Years’ War spy

1 comment July 12th, 2018 Headsman

The French spy Florence Hensey was due to die at Tyburn on this date in 1758. As it happened, the only violence done there was to the spectators.

A well-traveled Irish Catholic, Hensey had a prosperous London medical practice when he made an offer to a former colleague in France to share intelligence on war preparations at the outset of the England-vs.-France Seven Years’ War (1756-1763).

Upon being accepted into the ranks of salaried moles, Hensey set his industry to forming acquaintances at establishments where parliamentarians and their clerks met and gossiped, transmitting the resulting nuggets to France by way of Germany in lemon juice ink concealed within letters bearing nothing but everyday pleasantries. Eventually clerks suspicious at the volume of such superficially trivial exchanges being imposed upon the international post got nosy and found out the real story.

Hensey’s treachery was obvious, ongoing, and in the midst of wartime. He should have died for it, but on that very morning he was spared that miserable fate. The Newgate calendar professes “much surprise at the extension of royal mercy” considering numerous other precedents to the contrary.

De la Motte, the particulars of whose case we shall hereafter give, was “hanged, drawn, and quartered,” for the same kind of offence which Hensey committed; and in still more recent times, numbers have suffered death for similar treason; and yet we have to observe, without finding any especial reason for it, that Doctor Hensey was pardoned. If granted from political motives, it must have been in fear of Spain; an unworthy impulse of the ministers of a far greater and more powerful nation.

Indeed, the Spanish connection appears to be the best explanation for Hensey’s unexpected reprieve: he had a brother in the retinue of a Spanish ambassador who was able to exercise his empire’s diplomatic channels in the doctor’s service. (Spain was on the sidelines at this moment, and Britain keen to keep her there; the Spanish finally joined the war on France’s side very late in the game, in 1762.)

This gambit, however, came as quite a nasty surprise to the ample and bloodthirsty crowd that had turned up at Tyburn.

The awful procession to Tyburn, intended to impress the multitude with sentiments of reverence for the laws of their country, produced a very contrary effect; and the eager and detestable curiosity of the populace, to witness executions, became a source of considerable emolument to certain miscreants, who were in the habit of erecting scaffolds for spectators; many of these scaffolds were substantial wooden buildings, and erected at every point from whence a glimpse of the execution could be obtained; the prices for seats varied according to the turpitude or quality of the criminal: — Dr. Hensey was to have been executed for High Treason in 1758, the prices of seats for that exhibition amounted to 2s. and 2s. 6d.; but, in the midst of general expectation, the Doctor was most provokingly reprieved.

As the mob descended from their stations with unwilling steps, it occurred to them, that, as they had been deprived of the intended entertainment, the proprietors of the seats ought to return the admission-money; which they demanded in terms vociferous, and with blows offensive, and in short, exercised their happy talent for rioting with unbounded success. On this occasion a vast number of these erections were destroyed.

Hensey spent a couple more years in Newgate, then was released into obscurity; presumably he left the realm to his brother’s custody.

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1753: George Robertson, prick

Add comment May 28th, 2018 Headsman

We are indebted to the redoubtable medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris for the substance of this post, which she brought to our attention on her blog, The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. Fans of the macabre, and particularly of the recurring medicinal theme here at Executed Today, are sure to enjoy her book The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine — or her “Under the Knife” video series.

We (and Dr. Fitzharris) enter these sensitive parts via a bit of junk preserved at the Royal College of Surgeons: the severed penis which long ago inhabited, along with the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the trousers of a highway robber named George Robertson.

Neither bacterium nor reader will be surprised to discover that when Robertson and a couple of other hard men knocked down James Holland in Mansfield Street to dispossess him of his hat and his wig, the pestilential thief resided at “a bawdy-house” (per the evidence of his perfunctory trial).

We don’t know the ins and outs of what this specimen got up to when Robertson had his liberty — only that its condition was so obvious that it interested the doctors. With nary a care for patient privacy, the Ordinary of Newgate emitted to the public that Robertson felt “so ill with the foul Disease, as not to be able to walk, and wished himself dead, because he had no Money or Friend to put him in the Hospital.”*

Agony though it might have been to our dissolute footpad, such cocks excited the physicians.

Dr. Fitzharris directs our attention to A Treatise on the Venereal Disease, by Robertson’s contemporary, the surgeon John Hunter. Hunter might well have fondled this very todger in his own day; as we learn from this turgid treatise, he and his colleagues found in the engorged members of the hung a penetrating scientific tool. The eightfold execution in the spring of 1753 that Hunter references below might be a previous Tyburn hanging date, of February 12, 1753. (That hanging included Robertson’s accomplice John Briant or Bryant: no word on the condition of John Briant’s John Thomas.)

Till about the year 1753 it was generally supposed, that the matter from the urethra in a gonorrhoea arose from an ulcer or ulcers in that passage; but from observation it was then proved that this was not the cafe. It may not be improper to give here a short history of the discovery of matter being formed by inflammation without ulceration.

In the winter 1749, a child was brought into the room used for dissection, in Covent Garden, on opening of whose thorax a large quantity of pus was found loose in the cavity, with the surface of the lungs and the pleura furred over with a more solid substance similar to coagulable lymph. On removing this from those surfaces they were found intire. This appearance being new to Dr. Hunter, he sent to Mr. Samuel Sharp, desiring his attendance, and to him it also appeared new. Mr. Sharp afterwards in the year 1750, published his Critical Enquiry, in which he introduced this fact, “That matter may be formed without a breach of substance;” not mentioning whence he had derived this notion. It was ever after taught by Dr. Hunter in his lectures ; we however find writers adopting it without quoting either Mr. Sharp or Dr. Hunter. So much being known, I was anxious to examine whether the matter in a gonorrhoea was formed in the same way. In the spring of 1753 there was an execution of eight men, two of whom I knew had at that time very severe gonorrhoeas. Their bodies being procured for this particular purpose, we were very accurate in our examination, but found no ulceration, the two urethras appeared merely a little blood-shot, especially near the glans. This being another new fact ascertained, it could not escape Mr. Gataker, ever attentive to his emolument, who was then attending Dr. Hunter’s lectures, and also practising dissection under me. He published, soon after in 1754, a treatise on this disease, and explained fully, that the matter in a gonorrhoea did not arise from an ulcer, without mentioning how he acquired this knowledge; and it has ever since been adopted in publications on this subject. Since the period mentioned above, I have constantly paid particular attention to this circumstance, and have opened the urethra of many who at the time of their death had a gonorrhoea, yet have never found a fore in any ; but always observed that the urethra near the glans was more blood-shot than usual, and that the lacunae were often filled with matter.

* As usual, the Ordinary plied the condemned while they languished in Newgate. However, he broke with his usual practice and did not make the trip to Tyburn for this triple execution, “because as they all three died Roman Catholicks, I did not choose to attend, to give them the Opportunity of turning their Backs upon me, as a Protestant Minister, which I knew they must do if I did.”

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