1761: Richard Parrott

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1761, Richard Parrott, a middle-aged man from Harmondsworth, was hanged for the murder of his wife.

According to witness accounts, it all started over “a trifling dispute first arose between the prisoner and the deceased, whether their son or daughter, should go to the field for a cow.”

Parrott later claimed his wife, Anne, had “told a great many lies of him.” The end result was that he beat her and then cut off a large chunk of her tongue. The policeman who responded to the scene later described what he saw in graphic terms:

She lay on the bed, leaning over one side, spitting blood, but could not speak. Her mouth was swelled, and battered in such a manner, there was no such thing as seeing her tongue, She was so swelled and black, she looked like a blackamoor; I should not have known her, though I had known her from a little girl, being born in the same parish.

The assault had knocked out several of Anne’s teeth and badly bruised her. The swelling in her mouth was such that she could eat only broth, and that with great difficulty.

She died a few weeks later.

Before the tragic incident Richard had claimed his wife put “brimstone” in his clothes in an attempt to kill him. To save himself from the supposed brimstone he’d torn off the garments, cut them into pieces and buried them. Witnesses reported he had been “barbarous cruel” to his wife. Anne had told their son he was paranoid and “out of his mind,” and said she was afraid of him.

Nothing was done about it, however, until it was too late.

As the Newgate Ordinary’s account opined,

Nothing but the defence made for the prisoner, viz. Insanity, (supposing it to have a real foundation) can extenuate this horrid and most inhuman fact: nothing but the supposed madness of the perpetrator, can rescue it from being ranked among the most cruel deeds, that ever was perpetrated …

But these circumstances put together don’t remove the probability of the prisoner’s being insane when the fact was done. Subtilty and craft are known to attend this unaccountable distemper, in carrying on any mischief or outrage. The affections are generally inverted; love is turned into hatred, suspicion, jealousy, and rage; and the dearest object of love, is doomed to be the first victim of the perverted passions. The excuse he made when apprehended for this outrage, shews something like this, viz. That she had told lies of him, and he would prevent her doing the like again. Probably he resented her representing and declaring him to be out of his mind, as it appears on the trial she did, when she sent one of her sons for another of them twelve miles, to come and take care of his father, as being in that case. Nothing can provoke a madman more than to be thought or called mad; they are the last, generally speaking, who are sensible of it; and it is the last thing they will acknowledge. Happy had it been for his family, his friends, his neighbours, and parishioners, had they secured and put him under care for this fatal malady; they might have prevented this sad event to the deceased, this reproach to the survivors, who are in any degree blameable for this gross and dangerous neglect.

Found competent to hang by his jury, Parrott “seemed calm, sensible, and resigned” at the Tyburn gallows, where he hanged with three other people: thief Edward Garnet; infanticide Esther Rowden; and a grossly incompetent forger named Donald Campbell who was detected in his craft “by misspelling the names, and the inconsistency of placing 200l. at the top, and writing one hundred pounds in the body of the bill.”

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1761: Isaac Darkin, dying game

On March 23, 1761, British highwayman Isaac Darkin — “Dumas” by a dashing alias — hanged at Oxford for robbery.

It might be Darkin’s misfortune to have been born just too late for the mythmaking golden age of highwaymen; a generation or two earlier he might have forged a reputation alongside a Dick Turpin. He was one of the last road agents whose career and genteel pretensions might have suited him for the firmament.

The suave outlaw, noted for his natty attire and correct address, first passed under the shadow of the noose in 1758 around age 18, when a death sentence earned for his first legal brush was respited in favor of conscription into the Seven Years’ War.

Darkin took the deal, but not the troop transport to Antigua: instead he devised a route to early retirement from the infantry by bribing the captain of a merchantman anchored nearby in the Thames to stow him away.

And then, quoth this history of highwaymen, our man “rioted all through the West of England, robbing wealthy travellers and gaily spending his takings on what he loved best: fine clothes and fine ladies. He was so attentive to business that he speedily made a name for himself, the name of a daring votary of the high toby.”

Arrested in Salisbury in 1760 for the famous robbery of a Lord Percival, Darkin beat that charge — but not before becoming a favorite of the city’s ladies who were reported to crowd his cell with callers and coo over him at fashionable tea-times. When “Dumas” escaped the noose on a technicality, some Salisbury women dedicated their enchanting Duval a come-hither ode.

Joy to thee, lovely Thief! that thou
Hast ‘scaped the fatal string,
Let Gallows groan with ugly Rogues,
Dumas mut never swing.

Does thou seek Money? — To thy Wants
Our Purses we’ll resign;
Could we our Hearts to guineas coin
Those guineas all were thine.

To Bath in safety let my lord
His loaded Pockets carry;
Thou ne’er again shall tempt the Road,
Sweet youth! if you wilt marry.

No more shall niggard travellers
Avoid thee — We’ll ensure them:
To us thou shalt consign thy Balls
And Pistol; we’ll secure ’em.

Yet think not, when the Chains are off,
Which now thy Legs bedeck,
To fly: in Fetters softer far
We’ll chain thee by the Neck.

Alas for its swooning authors, the handsome bandit had no interest in the bonds of matrimony, and just as well — for he would have left his mate a hempen widow.

A mere six weeks after this merry escape, he was snapped up again in Oxford, having returned inevitably to his career and calling.

This time there was no hope of escape and no technicality to hang his hat on.

There was nothing for it but to die “game” — that is, fearless of death — an underworld virtue Darkin carried almost to a fault. He spent his last days “with reading the Beggars’s Opera” and “said it was always his Determination, whenever he should have the ill Fortune to be taken, ‘to suffer without discovering the least Dread of Death; never to betray his Connections, but to die like a Hero.'”*

So indeed he did, as attested by a letter from Oxford published in the London Evening Post (March 21-24 1761) — hurling himself off the gallows without the hand of the executioner.

His Behaviour was extremely undaunted; for when he came out of the Gaol to the Ladder, he ascended it with the greatest Resolution; and the Cord being tied up by his own Desire over the Gallows before he came, he instantly went up four Steps higher than that on which he stepped off to hang himself, put the Cord round his own Neck and placed it, then descending the four Steps down, pulled out a white Handkerchief, tied it round his Eyes and Face, and went off without saying one Word.

His Body was ordered to be brought back into the Castle, to be conveyed to the Museum for Desection [sic]; but he declaring that he valued not Death, but only the Thoughts of being anatomized, a large Gang of Bargemen arose, took him a Way in Triumph, carried him to the next Parish Church; and while some rung the Bells for Joy, others opened his Belly, filled it full of unslick’d Lime, and then buried the Body.

* From Andrea McKenzie’s “Martyrs in Low Life? Dying Game in Augustan England” in the Journal of British Studies, April 2003. For more on the subject, also see the same author’s book-length treatment, Tyburn’s Martyrs: Execution in England, 1675-1775.

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1761: Jacinto Canek, Mayan revolutionary

On this date in 1761, King Canek Chan Montezuma was torn apart in the main square of Merida.

This august regnal name was asserted by a shaman previously known as Jacinto Uc de los Santos (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish). “Canek” echoed the history of the Mayan Itza kings, but it was Jacinto in using it for a single month’s insurrection that fixed its immortality.

“Memory is not just a tool of the spirit for calling up the past. Rather it is a skill which allows us in a moment to see what is in its essence outside of time. Memory allows us to rise to a state, not available to the mind alone, where everything is present.”

Jacinto Canek’s life followed by just a few decades Spain’s final conquest of the last independent Mayan peoples, the Itza, in the 1690s, complete with the usual religious assimilation, political control, and enslavement.

Canek, a commoner (perhaps an orphan) with some education, mounted in November 1761 a surprise revolt at the village of Cisteil (or Quisteil). There he deposed the parish priest and preached from the Catholic pulpit in the Mayan tongue:

My beloved children, I know you yearn to throw off the heavy yoke you have labored under since the Spanish subjugation … Spanish rule [brings] nothing but suffering servility.

About this same time, a Spanish merchant on his routine business rolled into town, blithely unaware of the gathering rebellion. Canek found the interloper insolent, and had him killed.

Crowned the new Mayan king and asserting semi-divine powers, Canek rapidly gained the support of neighboring towns. Within a week, he fielded 1,500 Mayan soldiers to defend Cisteil against a Spanish force sent to suppress them. Hundreds died in a bitter hand-to-hand battle on November 26, 1761, and Cisteil burned … but the Spanish won, and Canek, following a short flight, was captured with his remaining followers.

The Spanish governor of Yucatan, Jose Crespo (Spanish link), ordered Canek to a tortuous execution: tortured, broken, burned, and his ashes scattered. Many of his other followers were also put to death in various ways around the same time.

Mural of Jacinto Canek’s torture by Fernando Castro Pacheco at the Palacio de Gobierno in Yucatan, Mexico. (cc) image from Yodigo.

The Spanish hadn’t heard the end of this.

In the next century, Canek’s name was on the lips of Mayan descendants and mixed-blood Mestizos when they revolted again in the long-running (1847-1901, or even later: Quintana Roo maintained itself semi-autonomous until the 1910s) Caste War against domination by the European-identifying peoples of what was now the independent state of Mexico.

For decades, large areas of the Mayan Yucatan remained deadly to enter for any white-skinned outsider.

Today, it’s safe to check out the monumental tribute to Jacinto Canek on the Merida boulevard that bears his name.

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1761: John Perrott, bankrupt debtor

On this date in 1761, John Perrott was hanged at Smithfield for fraudulent bankruptcy.

Perrott was one of the bare handful of British subjects executed during the last century that bankruptcy legislation officially came with hemp teeth; he’s sometimes noted as the last bankrupt put to death, although in reality, he was simply the most famous of the last few.

John Perrott hanged at Smithfield (detail view; click for full image). From here.

He got famous in the usual way.

A once-reputable merchant who blew his fortune in the late 1750s? That backstory does not get you into the Newgate Calendar.

Fortune blown by siphoning creditors’ money to shady mistress, then refusing to divulge the particulars? Now you’re talking. It’s a wonderful vignette in the annals of moralism to find Perrott on the eve of his execution keeping mum on the subject because he had already received his last Sacrament — the inference being that in speaking, he would only sully his soul with a lie.

It was an aggravating position for his creditors, who had reason to believe that there remained recoverable cash, in the hands of his “Mrs. Ferne” or elsewhere.

Creditors always get stuck in a bind when debt goes bad.

The death penalty for bankruptcy has a long and illustrious history, back to the Roman Twelve Tables with its Shylock-like right for the aggrieved lenders to cut the debtor apart into parts proportional to their lost investments, de debitore in partes secando.*

Still, that stern corporal stricture has tended to run up against the simple fact that creditors are financially interested parties whose benefit is almost always better served by keeping their debtor among the living where he might be capable of repairing some part of his bond. Slavery, therefore, was often preferred by the ancients and retains a symbiotic relationship to debt to this day: to force the service of a debt, make a man your slave; likewise, to force someone into slavery, make him your debtor. Human traffickers love this tactic.

At any rate, English bankruptcy law as it evolved was a strange hybrid of public (criminal prosecutions) and private (creditors initiated and paid for the prosecutions). Bluffing a charge at the Old Bailey was just one potential strategem in the contentious relationship between borrower and lender, and not the most effective one, as this Duke law journal article (pdf) by Emily Kadens notes:

“[I]f this Bill Pass,” [critics of a 1706 bankruptcy measure] warned, “it will never be executed.” The latter prognostication turned out to be virtually correct. Creditors prosecuted infrequently because of the severity of the punishment and the cost and difficulty involved. Even when creditors did bring lawsuits, juries may have been reluctant to convict not only because of the penalty but also because they understood the potential for fraud in the bankruptcy system itself … A man was made a bankrupt by the ex parte declaration of a person claiming to be a creditor … The alleged bankrupt had no right to object … In the meantime, his alleged creditors had taken possession of his assets, leaving him nothing with which he could fight his case, unless he committed a felony by concealing his assets or had friends or family support him.

That fraud aspect was essential to making it, as Perrott did, so far as the gallows; plain-vanilla bankruptcy was not in itself a capital offense, but a debtor hiding his assets in the process changed matters. The law distinguished the accidental bankruptcy (e.g., the ship with your imports sunk) from the larcenous: “To the misfortunes … of debtors, the law has given a compassionate remedy,” Blackstone notes. “But denied it to their faults.” Which is not to say that many, many debtors did not indulge these “faults.”

It was nearly two full years from the time Perrott sat his lenders down in a tavern in — naturally — Cheapside to give them the bad news that he was a little bit short, until the time he met the hangman. In that span, auditors picking through the wreck of his estate gradually became aware that the numbers didn’t add up, and his bum business practices (selling 20% below cost to obtain ready cash) still left up to 17,000 missing pounds unexplained.

By the by, the emergence into the investigation of a paramour, who then turned out to be hiding Perrott-issued banknotes, transformed an ordinary bankruptcy into one of those felonious asset-concealment situations. (And, into fine tabloid fodder for the broadsheets.) When Perrott wouldn’t come clean with the whereabouts of his purloined boodle, his creditors had him up on hanging charges. And when Perrott still wouldn’t come clean — Sacrament and all — he stiffed his lenders at the last by leaving them no way to recover their swag.

Hopefully, Mrs. Ferne was worth the trouble.

* More discussion of the Roman jurisprudence here.

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1761: Gabriel Malagrida, Jesuit nutter

On this date in 1761,* the Jesuit Gabriel Malagrida became a late casualty of the Tavora Affair and the Lisbon earthquake when he was garroted for heresy.

Malagrida (English Wikipedia entry | Portuguese) was a 72-year-old Italian with decades of missionary service to the Portuguese New World colonies under his belt.

He had, in his time, been a prominent exponent of the Jesuits missions’ policy in the Amazon, which amounted to asserting their own jurisdiction against the secular government’s attempt to order its overseas territories. (There’s more on that conflict here.)

And this only exacerbated his principal sin of being a Jesuit — an order whose diminution was eagerly sought by the rising statesman of Enlightenment Portugal, the Marquis of Pombal.

The shock of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake would deal Pombal the trump hand he needed to start reshaping both city and society to his liking.

Malagrida, meanwhile, carped that the earthquake’s causes

“are not comets, are not stars, are not vapors or exhalations,** are not phenomena, they are not natural contingencies or causes; but they are solely our intolerable sins … I do not know how a Catholic subject dares to attribute the present calamity of this tragic earthquake to causes and natural contingencies. Do not these Catholics understand this world is not a house without an owner?”

This published pamphlet merely echoed what many of the order were saying in the pulpits, and Pombal was not about to let the backwards, superstitious crowd** own the catastrophe.

Malagrida was banished from Lisbon: and, when the Tavora family was implicated in an attempt to assassinate the Portuguese king, Malagrida, their confessor, found himself clapped in prison.

Though the now-septuagenarian priest did not share the Tavoras’ grisly public butchery, he was left to molder. A couple years in a dungeon saw him go a bit strange, and supposedly he published treatises with such eccentric features as God’s personal instructions to Malagrida, and Malagrida’s fascination with St. Anne’s uterus. Catholic sources, which consider Malagrida a martyr, doubt that he ever published any such thing; if he did, it seems apparent that it was dementia rather than heresy that afflicted the old man.

But Pombal had installed his own brother as judge of the tribunal, so the matter was prearranged. The execution itself was

staged in a dramatic way, even to the point of Malagrida’s appearing on the scaffold in Jesuit habit, to impress upon the Portuguese and the world at large that an old order had come to an end and a new one was to be established … one might say that … symbolism at the cost of one human life was a relatively humane procedure in comparison with the symbolic elimination of whole classes of society in the twentieth century.

Detail view (click for the full image) of Malagrida executed at a Lisbon auto de fe. CC image from Ricardo Mealha, original provenance unknown.

Pitying the superstitious Jesuit at the stake, Enlightenment secularist Voltaire inveighed against Enlightenment secularist Pombal for conducting the execution … just part of Voltaire’s queer ideas about not killing people over their religious beliefs.

“It is all pity and horror,” Voltaire wrote in a private correspondence. “The Inquisition has found the secret to inspire compassion for the Jesuits.”

Voltaire’s appraisal in Candide (already published by this time) of a country in the grip of religious superstition unjustly stands as one of the lasting literary monuments to an event that actually rolled back clerical influence: “the sages of [Portugal] could think of no means more effectual to prevent utter ruin than to give the people a beautiful auto-da-fé; for … the burning of a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremony, is an infallible secret to hinder the earth from quaking.” That the philosophe who penned those words waxed so immoderately outraged at the demonstrative chastisement of a man who preached precisely all that hocus-pocus — that Voltaire ascribed his execution to “the Inquisition” — plants the cherry on the irony sundae.‡

But Pombal’s expedient use of the Inquisition’s medieval machinery to make an example of Father Malagrida would not be the start of a pattern; the Pombaline reforms of the years to come brought the Inquisition sharply to heel, and it was Malagrida himself who was its last victim (pdf) in Portugal in its classical ecclesiastic form.

The house where Malagrida was born in Menaggio, Italy is marked with a plaque. Image (c) kallipyg and used with permission.

* Some sources give September 20 as the date.

** The “God is pissed” hypothesis was posited against theories of earth’s vapors promulgated by the Pombal-sponsored scientist Ribeiro Sanches.

† Anti-Jesuit sentiment was widely abroad in Europe at this time; increasingly resented as political manipulators, the Society would be suppressed by papal order in 1773, only to revive during the post-Napoleonic reaction.

‡ Malagrida was well-known to contemporaries in Europe, but that does not mean sympathy for him was universal. The British pol Lord Shelburne was satirized as “Malagrida” for his putative duplicity.

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1761: Theodore Gardelle, artist

On this date in 1761, Swiss-born portrait miniaturist Theodore Gardelle was hanged for murdering his landlady.

“We have to lament,” begins our guide, “that the woman might not have met her death at his hands, had she allotted some discretion to the limits of her tongue — a weapon, we may call it, often goading a man to a frenzy of the mind, ending in horror.”

In later years, she might have wielded a midriff.

[Gardelle] was born at Geneva, a city which is famed for giving birth to great men, in both the arts and sciences. He chose the miniature style of painting, and having acquired its first rudiments, went to Paris, where he made great proficiency in the art. He then returned to his native place, and practised his profession for some years, with credit and emolument; but, being unhappy in his domestic concerns, he repaired to London, and took lodgings at Mrs. King’s, in Leicester-fields, in the year 1760.

Gardelle’s version of the crime — long story short — is that he got into a tiff with said landlady, who stumbled when he shoved her and thereby fatally struck her head on the bedstead.

Panicked, Gardelle hid the body and began disposing of it in pieces over the succeeding week, until the ongoing dismemberment was quite accidentally discovered by the almost terminally incurious servants.

One reflection, upon reading this dreadful narrative, will probably rise in the mind of the attentive reader; the advantages of virtue with respect to our social connections, and the interest that others take in what befalls us. It does not appear that, during all the time Mrs. King was missing, she was enquired after by one relation or friend; the murder was discovered by strangers, almost without solicitude or enquiry; the murderer was secured by strangers, and by strangers the prosecution against him was carried on.

But who is there of honest reputation, however poor, that could be missing a day, without becoming the subject of many interesting enquiries, without exciting solicitude and fears, that would have no rest till the truth was discovered, and the crime punished?

Theodore Gardelle didn’t have the luxury of being so philosophical about it — but “was executed amidst the shouts and hisses of an indignant populace, in the Haymarket, near Panton Street, to which he was led by Mrs. King’s house, where the cart made a stop, and at which he just gave a look. His body was hanged in chains upon Hounslow-heath.”

Part of the Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar.

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