1926: Six members of the Babbar Akali movement

Add comment February 27th, 2020 Bhagat Singh

(Thanks to India revolutionary Bhagat Singh — himself soon to become an Executed Today client — for the guest post. It was originally published under the title “Blood Sprinkled on the Day of Holi Babbar Akalis on the Crucifix”. -ed.)

ON THE DAY OF HOLI, FEBRUARY 27, 1926, WHEN WE were getting high on our enjoyment, a terrible thing was happening in a corner of this great province. When you will hear it, you will shudder! You will tremble! On that day, six brave Babbar Akalis were hanged in the Lahore Central Jail. Shri kishan Singhji Gadagajja, Shri Santa Singhji, Shri Dilip Sinhghji, Shri Nand Singhji, Shri Karam Singhji and Shri Dharam Singhji, had been showing a great indifference to the trial for the last two years, which speaks of their fond waiting for this day. After months, the judge gave his verdict. Five to be hanged, many for life imprisonment or exile, and sentences of very long imprisonments. The accused heroes thundered. Even the skies echoed with their triumphant slogans. Then an appeal was prefered [sic]. Instead of five, now six were sent to the noose. The same day the news came that a mercy petition was sent. The Punjab Secretary declared that the hanging would be put off. We were waiting but, all of a sudden, on the very day of Holi, we saw a small contingent of mourners carrying the dead bodies of the heroes towards the cremation site. Then last rites were completed quietly.

The city was still celebrating. Colour was still being thrown on the passers-by. What a terrible indifference. If they were misguided, if they were frenzied, let them be so. They were fearless patriots, in any case. Whatever they did, they did it for this wretched country. They could not bear injustice. They could not countenance the fallen nation. The oppression on the poor people became insufferable for them. They could not tolerate exploitation of the masses, they challenged and jumped into action. They were full of life. Oh! the terrible toll of their dedicated deeds! You are blessed! After the death, friends and foes are all alike-this is the ideal of men. Even if they might have done something hateful, their lives at the altar of our nation, is something to the opposite side, could highly and uninhibitedly appreciate the courage, patriotism and commitment of the brave revolutionary of Bengal, Jatin Mukherjee, while mourning his death. But we the cowards and human wretches lack the courage of even sighing and putting off our celebrations even for a moment. What a disheartening deed! The poor! they were given the “adequate” punishment even by the standard of the brutal bureaucrats. An act of a terrible tragedy thus ended, but the curtain is not down as yet. The drama will have some more terrible scenes. The story is quite lengthy, we have to turn back a little to know about it.

The Non-Cooperation Movement was at its peak. The Punjab did not lag behind. The Sikhs also rose from their deep slumber and it was quite an awakening. The Akali Movement was started. Sacrifices were made in abundance. Master Mota Singh, ex-teacher of Khalsa Middle School, Mahalpur (district Hoshiarpur), delivered a speech. A warrant was issued against him, but the idea of availing of the hospitality of the crown did not find his favour. He was against offering arrest to fill the jails. His speeches still continued. In Kot-Phatuhi village, a big ‘Deevan’ was called. Police cordoned the area off from all sides; even then Master Mota Singh delivered his speech. The whole audience stood up and dispersed on the orders of the persident of the meeting. The Master escaped mysteriously. This hide-and-seek continued for long. The government was in a frenzy. At last, a friend turned traitor, and Master Saheb was arrested after a year and a half. This was the first scene of that horrible drama.

The “Guru ka bagh” movement was started. The hired hoodlums were there to attack the unarmed heroes and to beat them half-dead. Could anyone who looked at or listened to this, help being move[d]? It was a case of arrests and arrests everywhere. A warrant was also issued against Sardar Kishan Singhji Gadagajja, but he also belonged to the same category and did not offer arrest. The police strained all its nerves but he always escaped. He had an organisation of his own. He could not bear the violence against unarmed agitators. He felt the need of using arms along with this peaceful movement.

On the one hand, the dogs, the hunting dogs of the government, were searching for the clues, to get his scent; on the other, it was decided to “reform” the sycophants (Jholi Chukkas). Sardar Kishan Singhji used to say that we must keep ourselves armed for our own security, but we should not take any precipitate action for the time being. The majority was against this. At last, it was decided that three of them should give their names, take all the blame on themselves and start reforming these sycophants. Sardar Karam Singhji, Sardar Dhanna Singhji and Sardar Uday Singhji stepped forward. Just keep aside the question of its propriety for a moment and imagine the scene when they took the oath:

We will sacrifice our all in the service of the country. We swear to die fighting but not to go to the prison.

What a beautiful, sanctified scene it must have been, when these people who had given up all of their family affections, were taking such an oath! Where is the end of sacrifice? Where is the limit to courage and fearlessness? Where does the extremity of idealism reside?

Near a station on Shyam Churasi-Hoshiarpur railway branch line, a Subedar became the first victim. After that, all these three declared their names. The government tried its best to arrest them, but failed. Sardar Kishan Singh Gadagajja was once almost trapped by the police near Roorki Kalan. A young man who accompanied him, fell down after getting injured, and was captured. But even there, Kishan Singhji escaped with the help of his arms. He met a Sadhu on the way who told him about a herb in his possession which could materialise all his plans and work miracles. Sardarji believed him and visited this Sadhu unarmed. The Sadhu gave him some herbs to prepare and brought the police in the meanwhile. Sardar Saheb was arrested. That Sadhu was an inspector of the CID department. The Babbar Akalis stepped up their activities. Many pro-government men were killed. The doab land lying in between Beas and Sutlej, that is, the districts of Jullundur and Hoshiarpur, had been there on the political map of the country, even before this. The majority of martyrs of 1915 belonged to these districts. Now again, there was the upheaval. The police department used all its power at its command, which proved quite useless. There is a small river near Jullundur; “Chaunta Sahib” Gurudwara is located there in a village on the banks of the river. There Shri Karam Singhji, Shri Dhanna Singhji, Shri Uday Singhji and Shri Anoop Singhji were sitting with a few others, preparing tea. All of a sudden, Shri Dhanna Singhji said: “Baba Karam Singhji! We should at once leave this place. I sense something very inauspicious happening.” The 75-year-old Sardar Karam Singh showed total indifference, but Shri Dhanna Singhji left the place, along with his 18-year-old follower Dilip Singh. Quite suddenly Baba Karam Singh stared at Anoop Singh and said: “Anoop Singh, you are not a good person”, but after this, he himself became unmindful of his own premonition. They were still talking when police made a declaration: Send out the rebels, otherwise the village will be burnt down. But the villagers did not yield.

Seeing all this, they themselves came out. Anoop Singh ran with all the bombs and surrendered. The remaining four people were standing, surrounded from all sides. The British police captain said: “Karam Singh! drop the weapons and you will be pardoned.” The hero responded challengingly: “We will die a martyr’s death while fighting, as a real revolutionary, for the sake of our motherland, but we shall not surrender our weapons.” He inspiringly called his comrades. They also roared like lions. A fight ensued. Bullets flew in all directions. After their ammunition exhausted, these brave people jumped into the river and bravely died after hours of ceaseless fighting.

Sardar Karam Singh was 75 years old. He had been in Canada. His character was pure and behaviour ideal. The government concluded that the Babbar Akalis were finished, but actually they grew in strength. The 18-year old Dilip Singh was a very handsome and strong, well-built, though illiterate, young man. He had joined some dacoit gang. His association with Shri Dhanna Singhji turned him from a dacoit into a real revolutionary. Many notorious dacoits like Banta Singh and Variyam Singh, too, gave up dacoity and joined them.

There were not afraid of death. They were eager to wash their old sins. They were increasing in number day-by-day. One day when Dhanna Singh was sitting in a village named. Mauhana, the police was called. Dhanna Singh was down with drinks and caught without resistance. His revolver was snatched, he was handcuffed and brought out. Twelve policemen and two British officers had surrounded him. Exactly at that moment there was a thunderous noise of explosion. It was the bomb exploded by Dhanna Singhji. He died on the spot along with one British officer and ten policemen. All the rest were badly wounded.

In the same fashion, Banta Singh, Jwala Singh and some others were surrounded in a village named Munder. They all were gathered on the roof of a house. Short were fired, a cross-fire ensued for some time, but then the police sprinkled kerosene oil by a pump and put the house on fire. Banta Singh was killed there, but Variyam Singh escaped even from there.

It will not be improper here to describe a few more similar incidents. Banta Singh was a very courageous man. Once he snatched a horse and a rifle from the guard of the armoury in the Jullundur Cantonment. Those days several police squads were desperately looking for him; one such squad confronted him somewhere in the forest. Sardar Saheb challenged them immediately: “If you have courage, come and confront me.” On that side, there were slaves of money; on this side, the willing sacrifice of life. There was no comparison of motives. The police squad beat a retreat.

This was the condition of the special police squads deputed to arrest them. Anyway, arrests had become a routine. Police checkposts were erected in almost every village. Gradually, the Babbar Akalis were weakened. Till now it had seemed as if they were the virtual rulers. Wherever they happened to be visiting, they were warmly hosted, by some with fear and terror. The supporters of the regime were defeatist. They lacked the courage to move out of their residences between the sunset and the sunrise. They were the ‘heroes’ of the time. They were brave and their worship was believed to be a kind of hero-worship, but gradually they lost their strength. Hundreds among them were imprisoned, and cases were instituted against them.

Variyam Singh was the lone survivor. He was moving towards Layallpur, as the pressure of police had increased in Jullundur and Hoshiarpur. One day he was hopelessly surrounded there, but he came out fighting valiantly. He was very much exhausted. He was alone. It was a strange situation. One day he visited his maternal uncle in the village named Dhesian. Arms were kept outside. After taking his meals, he was moving towards his weaponry when the police arrived. He was surrounded. The British officer caught him from the backside. He wounded him badly with his kirpan (sword), and he fell down. All the efforts to handcuff him failed. After two years of suppression, the Akali Jatha came to an end. Then the cases started, one of which has been discussed above. Quite recently too, they had wished to be hanged soon. Their wish has been fulfilled; they are now quiet.

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Feast Day of Saint Honorina

1 comment February 27th, 2018 Headsman

February 27 is honored to be the feast date of Saint Honorina, patron of boatmen (a field of metaphorical import to this site) as well as liberated prisoners (which is more literal import).

She’s a standard issue we-don’t-know-much-about-her Diocletian martyr, locally revered in Normandy where she was executed by the pagans and pitched into the Seine. Her significance in this area led her devotee monks to carry her relics further inland in 876 to protect them from Viking raiders; this established them at a town at the confluence of the Seine and Oise rivers, aptly named Conflans. There the valuable remains remain even though the piratical Norsemen do not; it’s now Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a Paris suburb. (And only one of several French communes named for her.)

However, her spiritual import also remained in her original Norman haunts, even if her physical presence did not — as we discover in Architectural Antiquities of Normandy.

The church of Grâville [Graville-Sainte-Honrine, now a quarter of Le Havre -ed] was dedicated to St. Honorina, a virgin martyr, whose relics were preserved there in the times anterior to the Norman invasion; but were then transported to Conflans upon the Marne. Peter de Natalibus, copious as he is in his Hagiology, has no notice of Honorina, whose influence was nevertheless most extraordinary in releasing prisoners from fetters; and whose altars were accordingly hung round with an abundance of chains and instruments of torture. The author of the Neustria Pia, who attests many of her miracles of this description, relates, that her sanctity extended even to the horse which she rode, insomuch, that, when the body of the beast was thrown, after its death, as carrion to the dogs, they all refused to touch it; and the monks, in commemoration of the miracle, employed the skin for a covering to the church door, where it remained till the middle of the seventeenth century.

Although it was the Normans that cost this place its native holy bones, they made their amends to Graville and Honorina alike through doughty William the Conqueror crony William Malet de Graville, whose family’s largesse greatly aggrandized the still-extant abbey.

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1788: Thomas Barrett, the first hanged in Australia

Add comment February 27th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1788, Thomas Barrett became the first person legally executed in Great Britain’s Australian colonies when he hanged at Sydney Cove for stealing from government stores. It was barely a month after the First Fleet had arrived from England to found the penal colony.

More than just a milestone, Barrett packed an amazing criminal career into the few years he surfaces for us in the documentary record.

Our man was condemned to death in 1782 for stealing a silver watch, the first of three death sentences he would hear. That sentence was reprieved in favor of convict transportation, a system which had ground to a halt with the American Revolution and still awaited the creation of the Australian pipeline.

In 1783, a convict hulk that had been rejected by the now-independent North American colonies, the Swift, mutinied. Barrett would meet survivors of that mutiny who were stashed away with him on the Censor, one of the earliest of the Thames’ frightful stationary convict hulks where reprieved felons awaited their deportation.

In 1784, Barrett and one of the Swift mutineers, Charles Kellan, rebelled once again on their next convict transport ship, the Mercury — earning Barrett his second death sentence, and his second reprieve. Three more years on the fetid hulks ensued while legislators* and cartographers stroked their beards over Britain’s next move in the convict transportation game.

And this is when Australia the prison was invented. That First Fleet Barrett arrived on was a flotilla of eleven ships carrying 700 or so prisoners was it, the literal first European colony Down Under.

Besides being a man of spirit and enterprise, as his mutiny showed, Barrett was a skilled craftsman who enlivened the tiresome trip around the world by fashioning little metallic mementos. The journal of the ship’s surgeon John White narrates with more admiration than censure an escapade off the coast of Brazil that revealed Barret’s talent for counterfeiting.

This morning a boat came alongside, in which were three Portugueze and six slaves; from whom we purchased some oranges, plantains, and bread. In trafficking with these people, we discovered, that one Thomas Barret, a convict, had, with great ingenuity and address, passed some quarter dollars which he, assisted by two others, had coined out of old buckles, buttons belonging to the marines, and pewter spoons, during their passage from Teneriffe. The impression, milling, character, in a word, the whole was so inimitably executed, that had their metal been a little better, the fraud, I am convinced, would have passed undetected. A strict and careful search was made for the apparatus wherewith this was done, but in vain; not the smallest trace or vestige of any thing of the kind was to be found among them. How they managed this business without discovery, or how they could effect it at all, is a matter of inexpressible surprise to me; as they never were suffered to come near a fire; and a centinel was constantly placed over their hatchway, which, one would imagine, rendered it impossible for either fire or fused metal to be conveyed into their apartments. Besides, hardly ten minutes ever elapsed, without an officer of some degree or other going down among them. The adroitness, therefore, with which they must have managed, in order to complete a business that required so complicated a process, gave me a high opinion of their ingenuity, cunning, caution, and address; and I could not help wishing that these qualities had been employed to more laudable purposes.

Duly impressed, White found that more laudable purpose by commissioning Barrett to create a medallion celebrating the arrival of their vessel to Australian soil. This Charlotte Medal from Barrett’s hand is one of the most celebrated artifacts of Australian colonization; it depicts the Charlotte at anchor in Botany Bay with a narration on the reverse of its long journey from home:

Sailed the Charlotte of London from Spit head the 13 of May 1787. Bound for Botany Bay in th Island of new holland arriv,d at Teneriff th4 of June in Lat 28 13 N Long 16 23 W depart,d it 10 D’, arriv,d at rio janeiro 6 of Aug in Lat 22,54 S Long 42,38 W, depart,d it the 5 of Sep’ arriv,d at the Cape of good hope the 14 Oct’ in Lat 34 29 S Long 18 29 E depart,d it th13 of Nov’ and made the South Cape of New Holland the 8 of Jan 4 1788 in Lat 43,32 S Long 146,56 E arrivd at Botany Bay the 20 of Jun’ the Charlotte in Co in Lat 34.00 South Long 151.00 East distance from great Britan Miles 13106

But Barrett’s legitimate artistic career was as brief as it was scintillating.

The colony had a tight supply situation and its isolation and heavy convict population seemed to Governor Arthur Phillip to demand the strictest discipline, like that of a ship upon the sea: any significant failure of order could imperil the entire project. He assembled the little colony in early February to impress upon all that stealing rations would be harshly punished.

White, again, in his entry of February 27, 1788:

Thomas Barrett, Henry Lovel, and Joseph Hall, were brought before the criminal court, and tried for feloniously and fraudulently taking away from the public store beef and pease, the property of the crown. They were convicted on the clearest evidence; and sentence of death being passed on them, they were, about six o’clock the same evening, taken to the fatal tree; where Barrett was launched into eternity, after having confessed to the Rev. Mr. Johnson who attended him, that he was guilty of the crime, and had long merited the ignominious death which he was about to suffer, and to which he said he had been brought by bad company and evil company. Lovel and Hall were respited until six o’clock the next evening. When that awful hour arrived, they were led to the place of execution, and just as they were on the point of ascending the ladder, the judge advocate arrived with the governor’s pardon, on condition of their being banished to some uninhabited place.

As the infant colony had scarcely prioritized establishing an executioner right off the boat, one of Barrett’s fellows was pressed into the disreputable role. Another narrative underscores the tension this incident must have created among the convicts, half-starved and under the lash on the empire’s most distant moon. “The unhappy wretches were conducted wt. a party of Marines walking before them … with a large party of Marines drawn up opposite the Gallows … in case an insurrection should take place … & all the Convicts were summoned to see the deserved end of their Companions.” Hall and Lovel’s pardons should probably be read in this light; Phillip had a job to enforce obedience without triggering rebellion and once he had established the firmest precedent wisely reflected that the quality of mercy blesseth him that gives and him that takes. Two other thieves (of wine, in their case) named Daniel Gordon and John Williams were likewise condemned on the 29th of February only to be spared for banishment instead.


A small marker at Sydney’s Circular Quay commemorates Barrett’s execution. (cc) image by mazzle278.

Barrett is an important character in the BBC drama Banished.

* The Home Secretary who orchestrated the pivot to Australia was the Viscount Sydney: hence, the Australian city of Sydney.

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1874: Christopher Rafferty, the first executed for killing a Chicago cop

2 comments February 27th, 2016 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1874, Christopher Rafferty was hanged for the murder of Chicago Patrolman Patrick O’Meara, who was shot to death on August 4, 1872.

A fourteen­-year veteran of the force, O’Meara was not the first officer of the Chicago Police Department to die in the line of duty — but he appears to be the first whose death brought about a legal execution.

The murder went down like this: Rafferty, a bricklayer by trade and a bit of a hard case despite his youth (he was 25), had participated in a riot the week before the shooting. Rafferty and two other men, one of them his brother, were arrested and then released on bail. Rafferty swore he was innocent and claimed a man named Donovan would support his story, but Donovan refused to provide him with an alibi. To pay him back, Rafferty tracked Donovan down and beat him with a brick. Donovan staggered to the police station, reported the crime and swore out a warrant against his assailant.

At a little after midnight, when O’Meara and his partner, James Scanlan, tracked Rafferty down at Daniel O’Brien’s Saloon at Halsted Street and 35th Place, the thug seemed to be in a good mood and even offered O’Meara a cigar. He seemed to cooperate when the two officers told him they had to arrest him, but then bolted for the door while simultaneously pulling a gun from his pocket and firing at the two policemen, hitting O’Meara in the chest.

O’Meara collapsed and bled out on the saloon floor. His last words were, “Stay, Chris, don’t shoot.” But Rafferty shot again, barely missing Scanlan’s head. After a struggle with Scanlan, he escaped into the night.

Edward Burke and Thomas O’Gorman’s book End of Watch — Chicago Police Killed in the Line of Duty, 1853­-2006 noted,

[O’Meara’s] cold­blooded murder outraged Chicagoans. It was an atrocity further deepened by the fact that the killer had escaped. Local neighborhood folks took to the streets frantic with excitement following his murder, forming small posses that headed out to the prairie grass to hunt for the killer. Local police officials soon persuaded people to permit Chicago detectives to track Officer O’Meara’s murderer down themselves.

O’Meara

They caught him just a few hours later, walking in the fields on his way to Joliet. Rafferty was tried and convicted of the murder a month later, but his conviction was overturned twice on procedural grounds. His three separate trials and convictions are responsible for the long (for those days) wait between his arrest and his execution.

He met his death calmly and without a struggle, sleeping “as peacefully as a child” in the hours before his predawn hanging. His father was permitted to visit him shortly before the execution, and two priests accompanied him to the scaffold. His was the last public hanging in Lake County.

Just before he was hanged, Rafferty (or someone using his byline) penned the following ballad, which looks a shameless rip-off of one already floating about for the years-ago execution of James Rodgers*:

Come all you tender Christians, I hope you will draw near,
And likewise pay attention to a few lines I have here.
For the murder of O’Meara, I am condemned to die,
On the 28th** of February, all on the gallows high.

My name is Chris Rafferty, that name I never denied,
I left my aged parents in sorrow for to cry.
Oh little did they think in my youth and bloom
That I would come to Chicago to meet with my sad doom

My parents reared me tenderly as plainly you may see
Constantly good advice they always gave to me.
They told me: quit night­walking and shun bad company
Or State’s Prison or the gallows my doom would surely be.

Scanlan and O’Meara, they came in a saloon.
They said to me, “Chris Rafferty, we want you right soon.”
It was then I pulled that fatal pop and shot him through the heart
Which leaves a loving wife and husband for to part.

On the day of my trial it would pierce your heart to see
My companions and associates they were all standing by.
I bid them take a warning by my sad fate,
And to leave out their night­walking before it was too late.

O’Meara left behind a wife and five children. As for Rafferty’s family, the Chicago Tribune claimed they were left “in destitute circumstances: that the father is aged, the mother blind, the sister insane, the brother has fled, that the family were supported by the labor of the two sons, and, deprived of this, are now in distress.”

Killer and victim both rest in Calvary Cemetery.

* It must have been a hit, since the same ballad also got re-used for President James Garfield’s assassin.

** Despite what the verse says the execution was on the 27th, not the 28th.

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1786: Joseph Rickards, aspiring milkman

Add comment February 27th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1786, Joseph Richards or Rickards was executed in Kentish Town, London for the murder of his former employer, Walter Horseman, whom he attacked on February 11.

Graham Jackson and Cate Ludlow described the crime in the most graphic terms in their book A Grim Almanac of Georgian London:

At around 2:00 a.m., Mary Horseman of Kentish Town was woken by the sound of her ten-year-son calling out that his father, London milkman Walter Horseman, needed her… Mary found her husband sitting on his bed. By the light of the moon, which was flooding through the large bay windows, she could see that he was quite black with blood, which covered him from his face to his waist. “Lord bless me,” he said. “Something has run over my face!”

“Run over your face?” she responded. “Why, you are nothing but blood!” She ran for a candle, and when she returned, the light revealed a truly hideous sight: her husband was cut to pieces, his forehead, eyes and nose smashed. His skull, which was broken, was described in court as “cut and mangled in a desperate manner.” The two sections of the skull had broken apart, and his eye sockets had been smashed into shards.

There was nothing to be done for Walter, but amazingly, he lingered until the 19th, over a week after the assault. Due to his head injuries and the fact that he’d been attacked while he was sleeping, he wasn’t able to provide any useful information as to what happened.

The murder weapons were left behind at the crime scene: they proved to be a wooden hedge stake and an iron bar, which was “jellied” with gore.

Only a few farthings were missing from the house. The Horsemans’ four-year-old daughter, who was sleeping in the same room as her father, was not harmed. Suspicion quickly fell on Rickards, the Horsemans’ former apprentice, whom they’d recently sacked for laziness. He had no alibi for the night of the murder, a night watchman saw him near the Horsemans’ home about an hour after the attack, and Mary identified the hedge stake as one he had cut several days before the attack.

Nevertheless, he seemed confident and didn’t bother to leave the area. In fact, in an incredible display of chutzpah, he actually visited his ailing former master and shook his hand before Walter died. Perhaps his cockiness — or obliviousness — was a product of his immaturity; in an age of doubtful record-keeping, we can’t be sure of Joseph Rickards’s age but he was certainly quite young. Mary Horseman speculatively pegged the ex-apprentice as an 18-year-old; the London Times (Feb. 24, 1786) thought that he did “not appear to be more than sixteen years of age.” Although even 16 would be quite old enough to hang in Bloody Code London, the magistrate felt constrained on account of the boy’s age to caution his jurors against excess confidence in the confession he ultimately produced:

I should not for one, though he is very near the state of manhood, chuse to rest singly and merely on his confession, as he is not at full age, though he is above that age of discretion, which the law assigns to be at the age of fourteen years, and certainly it is near the time that human reason is supposed to be mature.

On the 20th, the day after Walter’s death, Rickards was arrested. Within a day he had admitted to concealing himself in a large cupboard in one of the bedrooms in order to beat his former boss to death in his bed. (The trial records are here.) He tried to shift some of the blame to Mary Horseman, claiming they had frequently kissed and he had “laid hold of” her breasts, and that she had told him she wished her husband was dead.

He was hanged in a field across the way from the Horseman family’s dairy — a pathetic spectacle, to judge by the account of the Public Advertiser (Feb. 28, 1786), during which he recanted his allegations against the milkman’s widow.

In his way to the place of execution, the convict appeared to be in a state of mind bordering upon stupefaction: He had no book, nor did he employ the short remnant of time in those preparations for eternity which his miserable situation rendered so indispensably necessary.

Before being turned off, the prisoner desired to see the widow of the deceased; she was sent for to her house, but was gone to London: he declared he had no accomplice in the fact, and that he was induced to the perpetration thereof by the supposition, that after the decease of his master he should succeed to his business as a milkman. Just before coming to the village, he burst into tears, and when he came to the place of execution wept bitterly; his expressions of sorrow and contrition being only interrupted by fervent appeals to Heaven for mercy till the last moment of his existence. He desired his hat might be given to one, and his buckles to another man; and he also made some other trifling dispositions.

One of the Sheriffs, and a great number of their officers on horseback and on foot, attended on the above occasion. Considering the nature of the criminal’s offence, and the disposition of the English to behold spectacles of horror, the crowd was not near so great as might have been expected, owing, no doubt, to the fall of snow, and going so early. The body of the malefactor was conveyed from Kentish Town to Surgeons Hall for dissection, without a shell, and covered only with a coarse cloth, which by the motion of the cart was frequently so removed, that the head and different parts of the body were frequently seen by the passengers on the road and in the streets.

The anatomization, and accompanying public lecture on the late Rickards’s thorax, was performed by a “Dr. Cooper” (General Evening Post, Feb. 28-Mar. 2, 1786); this would appear to be the budding anatomist Astley Cooper who was only 17 years old himself at this time — just at the outset of a scintillating medical career.



Click here for the full page image from the 1871 Curiosities of Street Literature: Comprising “cocks”, or “catchpennies”, a large and curious assortment of street-drolleries, squibs, histories, comic tales in prose and verse, broadsides on the royal family, political litanies, dialogues, catechisms, acts of Parliament, street political papers, a variety of “ballads on a subject”, dying speeches and confessions. The same story is also to be found here and here.

THE TRIAL.

Old Bailey, February 24th, 1786.

Joseph Richards was arraigned for the wilful murder of Walter Horseman, milkman, in Kentish Town. The deceased’s widow deposed, that the prisoner was formerly a servant to her husband; that he was discharged for negligence; that he had frequently threatened vengeance on the deceased; that on the morning the murder was committed, she was awakened by a noise, and on entering the room her husband slept in, she found him sitting up in the bed, and as far as his waist in blood; that a stick which the prisoner had cut some time before, lay in the room, and an iron bar, covered with blood; that her husband was mangled in a shocking manner: — he lingered a few days, and died a shocking spectacle.

Four other witnesses were examined, whose testimony proved certain corroborating circumstances; such as, being from his lodging the night the murder was committed, being seen to melt lead, and to pour it into the stick that was found in the deceased’s room, &c.

The prisoner confessed the murder to one of the magistrates who committed him for trial; but pleaded Not Guilty at the bar.

The jury, after a few minutes’ consideration, brought in their verdict Guilty.

Mr. Recorder pronounced judgment. He said the voice of innocent blood cried to heaven for vengeance. He dwelt upon the atrociousness of the crime of murder, observing, that the Divine Law had ordained, that whoever sheddeth man’s blood, &c., and then expatiated on the peculiar circumstances of the murder, the murder of an innocent master, to whom he owed duty and reverence.

The sentence was then passed as usual, that he be hanged till dead, and anatomized; and an order of Court was made out, to execute him on Monday, at Kentish Town, as near as possible to the house of the deceased.

THE EXECUTION.

Joseph Richards, a youth about eighteen, who was convicted on Friday last, for the wilful murder of Walter Horseman, with whom he lived servant, was executed at Kentish Town, opposite the house where the horrid fact was perpetrated. The malefactor came out of Newgate about twenty minutes before eight o’clock, and with some alertness stepped into the cart, which conveyed him through Smithfield, Cow Cross, and by the two small-pox hospitals to the spot, where he was removed from that society of which he had proved himself a most unworthy member, at a time of life when such atrocity of guilt as he possessed has been seldom known to degrade humanity. In his way to the place of execution, the convict appeared to be in a state of mind bordering upon stupefaction; he had no book, nor did he employ that short remnant of time in those preparations for eternity which his miserable situation rendered so indispensably necessary.

Before being turned off, the prisoner desired to see the widow of the decreased; she was sent for to her house, but was gone to London; he declared he had no accomplice in the fact, and that he was induced to the perpetration thereof by the supposition, that after the decease of his master he should succeed to his business as a milkman. Just before coming to the village, he burst into tears and when he came to the place of execution, wept bitterly; his expressions of sorrow and contrition being only interrupted by fervent appeals to Heaven for mercy till the last moment of his existence.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions

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1925: Jovan Stanisavljevic Caruga, Slavonian hajduk

Add comment February 27th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1925, the Serbian outlaw Jovan “Jovo” Stanisavljevic, better known by his nickname Caruga (Charuga), was hanged before a crowd of 3,000 in Osijek.

Caruga was born to peasant stock within the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia within the Hungarian Kingdom within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and at just the right age for service at arms when World War I came along to wreck that agglomeration.

Caruga soon deserted the front lines on a false pass — but his unauthorized leave became permanent when he came across a Hungarian soldier paying court to the innkeeper’s daughter whom Caruga, too, desired. Caruga shot him dead.

He did a short turn in prison but escaped in 1919 and shortly thereafter established himself the captain of a posse of brigands styled the “Mountain Birds”. From roosts in the Papul and Krndija mountains they preyed on the nearby Slavonian plains — ducking away freely when needed to Dalmatia or Bosnia in what was now the independent (and quite unsettled) Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. (This polity would become Yugoslavia four years after Caruga’s execution.)

Caruga et al obtained a reputation as a Robin Hood-esque character who revenged himself on the rich. He was a late throwback to the classical hajduk character, a complex thief-with-the-heart-of-gold archetype who straddled the line between freebooting highwayman and rebel partisan during the era of Ottoman ascendancy in the Balkans. (The term’s roots trace to a caste of independent Hungarian footsoldiers in the 1600s.)

While the Turks were out of the picture at this point, the romance of the road and the social resentments rife in the fractious young kingdom were still sufficient to support a legendary bandit. Sentiment and fair fortune only turned against him after a botched raid on the estate of one Count Eltz of Vukovar, which resulted in an armed standoff with the local gendarmerie and the death of an innocent forester caught in the crossfire. Caruga was taken with some of his gang not long after.

Caruga is the subject of the so-called “last Yugoslavian film” before that country split apart. The movie Caruga stars the Croatian actor Ivo Gregurevic in what could arguably read as an allegory for the banditry of the outgoing communist years.

Most information about this date’s subject is in Serbo-Croatian; see for instance this .doc file.

* A number of present-day sports clubs in the former Yugoslavia use the name “Hajduk”, not unlike the way “Spartak” (Spartacus) brands Bulgarian and former-USSR teams. For instance, HNK Hajduk Split in Croatia, and FK Hajduk Kula in Serbia.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Croatia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft,Yugoslavia

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1845: Maria Trinidad Sanchez, Dominican Republic heroine

Add comment February 27th, 2012 Headsman

We’ve previously noted in these pages Francisco del Rosario Sanchez, one of the Dominican Republic’s founding heroes, who in 1861 was shot for propounding independence.

Martyrdom was the family business.

On February 27, 1845, his sister Maria Trinidad Sanchez (Spanish link) had been, well, shot for propounding independence. (More Spanish)

That date, February 27, also happens to be the Dominican Republic’s Independence Day celebration — because a year to the date before her death, Maria Sanchez, her brother, and others of the anti-colonial La Trinitaria proclaimed independence from a bloody 22-year Haitian occupation.

Maria Sanchez, together with another woman named Concepcion Bona, made the first Dominican Republic flag.


Sanchez and Bona’s original flag for the Dominican Republic.

This was all well and good, until the resulting head of state steered the Dominican Republic towards recolonization by Spain, as a hedge against reconquest by Haiti. La Trinitaria types took an understandably dim view of this gambit, so busting them up was part of the deal.

Many of the country’s founding heroes, including brother Francisco, were chased into exile; Maria was rounded up by the new government and tortured for information about the Trinitarian “plots” against the new regime. She refused to name any names, and was shot on the country’s first independence anniversary.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dominican Republic,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Torture,Women

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1601: St. Anne Line

Add comment February 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in history, Anne Line was hanged for harboring Catholic priests in Elizabethan England.

There’s not too much question of her “guilt.”

I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest, and so far I am from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul, that where I have entertained one, I could have entertained a thousand.

-Anne Line at the scaffold

She’d been disinherited from her Calvinist family for converting to Catholicism, and scratched out a living teaching and embroidering and keeping safe houses for forbidden Catholic clergy.

That house was raided in early February of 1601, and while the priest escaped, Anne Line did not.

Just one day after conviction, she hanged at Tyburn along with two priests, Roger Filcock and Mark Barkworth.

Anne Line was canonized in 1970; she’s one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

One of the possible interpretations (.doc) of Shakespeare’s recondite allegorical poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle” is that it’s about Anne (the phoenix) and her husband Roger Line (the turtledove; he predeceased her).

Death is now the phoenix’ nest;
And the turtle’s loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:–
‘Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be:
Beauty brag, but ’tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;
For these dead birds sigh a prayer.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Women

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1623: Amboyna Massacre

5 comments February 27th, 2010 Headsman

On February 27,* 1623, the Dutch East India Company beheaded twenty who had been waterboarded into confessing to a terrorist plot.

English prisoner suffering “waterboarding” faux-drowning torture, published under the name “A true relation of the unjust, cruell, and barbarous proceedings against the English at Amboyna in the East-Indies 1624”.

The torturers “poured the water softly upon his head until the cloth [wrapping his head] was full, up to the mouth and nostrils, and somewhat higher, so that he could not draw breath but he must suck in all the water.” More nasty description.

(cc) Image from Flickr | BiblioOdyssey

Posh Spice

As in modern times, this scenario originated with resource competition in the Muslim world … in this case, competition for spice, in Indonesia.

European colonialism had pitted the Dutch East India Company against its British counterpart on the archipelago, both scrabbling after the lucrative trade in cloves and pepper, with garnishes of nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, and ginger.

The two rival powers had, as we lay our story, recently come to a tense truce, dividing the commerce between them — and swapping mutual accusations of violating that pact. The arrangement basically gave the Dutch a bigger slice of the pie, so we’ll find them when the cloves hit the fan having the balance of power on their side.

Terrorists

We’re going to oversimplify to set the scene.

On Ambon Island, one of the very “Spice Islands” (i.e., the Moluccas) — at the Dutch-controlled fortification of a trading post also shared by the English — the Dutch merchant-governor Herman van Speult heard that a Japanese mercenary had asked about the Dutch fortifications.

The security-conscious van Speult ordered that unfortunate soldier interrogated under torture.

As tends to happen when the interrogators in such a case are convinced of a ticking time bomb situation, the torture uncovered a ticking time bomb situation.

The mercenary got the Dutch to stop burning and drowning him by “revealing” a highly implausible** English plot to seize the Dutch fort, with 20 guys or so and no prospect of imminent outside aid. Wouldn’t you know it: when the supposed confederates named by the mercenary were similarly tortured, they too admitted the plot. Van Speult’s English opposite number, Gabriel Towerson, was one of them.

The Amboyna Massacre followed anon, with Towerson and nine other British East India Company employees beheaded, along with nine Japanese mercenaries and one Portuguese. (The latter ten worked for the Dutch East India Company, not the British. A fifth column!)

They went to their deaths protesting their innocence, and many smuggled out written recantations to that same effect: “tortured … with that extream Torment of Fire and water, that Flesh and Blood could not endure it, and we take it upon our Salvation, that they have put us to Death Guiltless.”

Anger in the English Street

That last quote comes from Karen Chance, “The Amboyna Massacre in English Politics, 1624-1632,” in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies (Winter 1998).

As the title of that piece suggests, the Amboyna Massacre outraged Towerson’s countrymen and -women once word finally made it back to the mothership. (In addition to the torture/wrongful execution dimension, the legal authority of the Dutch trading concern to impose judicial punishment on their English counterparts was questionable at best.)

English demands for satisfaction against the perpetrators continued to complicate Dutch-English relations into the reign of Charles I and beyond. Even Oliver Cromwell required, as the price of peace for the First Anglo-Dutch War in the 1650s, punishment of any surviving offenders. (Which was apparently nobody at all.)

And still later, the burgeoning British Empire’s propaganda arm reached for the Amboyna narrative to justify seizing New Amsterdam on the grounds that the Dutch had attempted to spring a massacre on English settlers — “their Amboyna treacherous Cruelty extended itself from the East to the West Indies, and pursued thus the straight channel of Dutch blood”.

As for the trade-jockeying: the Netherlands’ commanding position in Indonesia ultimately squeezed the English out.** But don’t fret for Old Blighty: she turned attention to gobbling up India, and made a lot more bank than did the Dutch spice racket.

* February 27 was the date according to the Julian calendar in use at this time by the British. By the Gregorian calendar the Dutch were using, the massacre took place on March 9.

** For more on both the fanciful nature of the supposed plot, and the economics of the East Indies trade as it unfolded in the 17th century, see D.K. Bassett, “The ‘Amboyna Massacre’ of 1623”, Journal of Southeast Asian History, September 1960.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Indonesia,Innocent Bystanders,Mass Executions,Mercenaries,Netherlands,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Scandal,Soldiers,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1916: James Crozier, an Irishman in His Majesty’s service

11 comments February 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1916, a young soldier drugged with rum to the point of stupefaction was dragged to the stake and shot near the western front.

There are hooks on the post; we always do things thoroughly in the Rifles. He is hooked on like dead meat in a butcher’s shop. His eyes are bandaged – not that it really matters, for he is already blind. … A volley rings out — a nervous volley it is true, yet a volley. Before the fatal shots are fired I had called the battalion to attention. There is a pause, I wait. I see the medical officer examining the victim. He makes a sign, the subaltern strides forward, a single shot rings out. Life is now extinct. (quoted in Forgotten Soldiers: The Irishmen Shot at Dawn)

The Belfast youth — who may or may not have been underage; reports appear to vary on this point — enlisted in the 9th Royal Irish Rifles during the initial blush of wartime enthusiasm.

The service of these loyal units from both north and south while Ireland teetered on the brink of of civil war and some of its partisans treated with the Germans was naturally valorized by the crown.

[flv:http://www.executedtoday.com/video/Irish_World_War_I.flv 440 330]

They would experience the full measure of that war’s ample stock of horrors — including numerous executions to enforce military discipline.

Just a few months after 9th was shipped to France, Crozier was found wandering miles behind lines, unarmed and out of uniform, apparently shellshocked.

Events moved quickly from there; Crozier’s lackadaisical service record weighed against him, and it was decided to make an example of him.

Charged with carrying out the sentence* was Frank Crozier (no relation), who would attain some controversial postwar renown. In his memoirs, he recalled the pathos of James Crozier’s fate.

He was no rotter deserving* to die like that. He was merely fragile. He had volunteered to fight for his country … at the dictates of his own young heart. He failed. And for that failure he was condemned to die — and he did at the hands of his friends, his brothers, with the approval of his church.

Eventually, the British government came to agree.


Crozier’s posthumous pardon, from his family genealogy. His Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry is here.

* According to Timothy Bowman, an officer of the 9th Royal Irish Rifles convicted on the same offense received a free pardon days after James Crozier’s conviction, to the consternation of the rank and file.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,England,Execution,France,History,Ireland,Military Crimes,Posthumous Exonerations,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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