A Regency guide to your behaviour when being hanged; 1818

Criminals sentenced to death by the bloody code of Regency Britain still had a soul; indeed as the rope was put around their neck, their heads covered and their hands pinioned, the hope of immortality was all they had left, and it was absolutely vital that they died well.
Charlotte Newman, aged about 30, died well. She was at Newgate, a place that excelled in the full ritual of execution. She was found guilty of a crime against property- forging banknotes. If she had starved her child to death, she would have had suffered two years in prison. Creating and passing fake notes was easy, too tempting for the poor and led to a capital punishment.

Q Page8. Top. Hone Protest banknote.

Execution was a public ceremony outside the Debtor’s Door and the criminal that was about to be launched into “eternity” was supposed to play their part to produce a meaningful lesson for the audience. In Charlotte’s case, this involved a solemn procession from her cell which started an agonising 40 minutes before her execution. As Charlotte was being held in Newgate, she would have been privileged to have the Reverend Horace Cotton lead the line, along with the other condemned Mary Ann James (forgery), John Attel (forgery) and William Hatchman (robbery and burglary).The newspapers reported that the “ two women were respectability dressed in black, with white caps and frills”. They also scored highly as the newspapers reported that their sleep had been unsettled; the two men had sleep well and had, according to the newspapers, a tolerably hearty breakfast. That was acceptable, but not as convincing.
This was an excellent start for the two women, and it would not have been the first ceremony they would have enjoyed. The Reverend Horace Salusbury Cotton was four years into his job as the Ordinary of Newgate, but he was already famous for his “ fire and brimstone” Condemned Sermon in which those about to die were confronted an open coffin. It was a public, ticketed event and part of the ritual of state justice. All four of the condemned would have gone through this, and their reaction would have been part of the judgement made about them
Charlotte was a forger, not a murderer, so the level of contrition needed was moderate. As she saw the public hangman holding the rope, she fainted away a little and had to be held while the rope was put around her neck. This was still a reasonable performance- reluctance to be hanged in this case was regarded as contrition; fainting away was an acknowledgement of the punishment; struggling with the hangman would have been unacceptable as it would indicate either cowardice or a refusal to accept the justice of her execution. Weeping bitterly would have been acceptable, as long as it was not caused by self pity. Charlotte did weep bitterly; but it was the right type of weeping. She needed two men to get here to the scaffold but she was being guided and supported, not dragged.
All four were prepared for death and were to be dropped at the same time. There were prayers and handshakes and no recriminations or cowardice. However she did not receive full marks for her efforts. She did ask the mercy of the almighty and confessed to her sins, but made the mistake of claiming that she had been induced into the crime by others- she knew the other two forgers on the scaffold- in order to be transported to Botany Bay and be reunited with her criminal husband.
By the Regency period, an efficient hanging was one of the public expectations. It seems that the rope slipped from the ear of all four victims and ended up under their chin, vastly increasing the agony. Hatchman particularly and one of the other three suffered great agonies as the rope did not break their necks when the platform dropped away. The crowd booed and hissed on two occasions, and some members of the audience fainted away. They would have been an intimidating audience- two women hanged at the same time was a novelty, and the crowd was huge.
At least the audience was reasonably respectable up to that point. Two week later, Horace Cotton presided over the execution of wife murderer David Evans. On the whole he died as well as Charlotte. Most of the respectable checklist was achieved; reconciliation with his 15 year old son, three hours unsettled sleep; acknowledgment of his guilt; melancholia but with fervent prayers; some help needed to reach the scaffold and his appeal to save his soul. He did, however, claim that his wife Elizabeth had been unfaithful to him. You were meant to accept your guilt unconditionally, not search for mitigation. He also had to suffer an audience of London lighterman (bargemen) who had popped over after a nights work to jeer at the victim.
It was Horace Cotton himself he gave the single for the drop, with an appropriate Biblical reference. Evans died immediately; largely because of the outrage at the bungled execution of Newman and the rest by the same hangman earlier that month. Jack Ketch- the nickname for the public hangmen- had got his act together. Evans dangled for the legally stipulated hour and then his body was sent to St Bartholomew’s for dissection.
It did not always go so well. In 1818, the murderer Francis Losch ‘went hard’ into eternity. He stabbed his wife to death, disembowelling her when she refused to continue to work as a prostitute for him. He was truculent and unapologetic at the scaffold. His only regret was that he was being hanged and he refused to admit to his real motives, claiming his wife’s actions had made him jealous. He did not go meekly to the scaffold, requiring wine to quieten him and two people to forcibly point him in the right direction. He was insufficient penitent and resigned and did not accept the justice of his punishment.

After writing this, I found this excellent article by Naomi Clifford
http://www.naomiclifford.com/charlotte-newman-mary-ann-james/
My approach is slightly different, but Naomi provides excellent background research and a different perspective.

More about the legal system in Georgian Britain in my book, out on November 30th 2017For the best price see

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Was it born dead? Concealment of Birth and Infanticide in the Regency.

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In the case of Mary Fordham of Hertford, the answer to the bleak question was yes; it was born dead. This mattered in Regency England, and not for reasons of concern for the mother, who had just gone through a traumatic experience. Murder carried the death penalty in Regency England; but then so did stealing lambs or spoons or passing a forged banknote. The difference is that the sentence for Infanticide was usually carried out and the body dispatched to the anatomists for dissection
Mary Fordham was a servant in Stevenage, living in the house of a man called Mr Whittingham. Mary Chapman, a sixteen year old fellow servant had no inkling that Mary Fordham was pregnant, despite living at close quarters. They had shared the same bed on 2nd September 1810 and Chapman had been kept up all night by Fordham complaining about pains in her bowels. Chapman spent the next night in her own room; she went to visit Fordham the next morning and found her room in disarray. Chapman believed that Mary Fordham had given birth, and suggested that she clean up her room and go to work as normal. Later on the same day, Mary Chapman told the mistress of the house what had happened and together they searched the house for evidence of a baby. They found a five foot hole where rubbish was deposited; in the hole was Mary Chapman’s bloody stocking with a new-born boy in it.
Then the story becomes odd as well as grotesque. Mrs Whittingham appeared as a witness and recounted as story about how, about a month earlier, a labourer had entered their house in a scary mask. Although it had been a “frolic”, it had scared both Mrs Whittingham and Mary Fordham and was, according to the Mistress of the house, very likely to make pregnant women miscarry. Why would Mrs Whittingham come up with this story? Was she trying to move the date of conception by claiming that the baby had not gone full term, therefore obscuring the father’s identity- protecting the family honour-or was she trying to provide a plausible reason for the child dying at birth to protect her servant?
An apothecary (not a more expensive doctor) was called. He declared the child full-grown, but could not rule out a miscarriage. There was a wound on the child’s head, and brick the same size with blood on it next to the body. Mary was lactating; the male apothecary examined her breasts to check, truly adding insult and humiliation to unimaginable trauma
It didn’t look good for Mary Fordham, despite the possibility of some support for whatever reason from the family. However, the draconian nature of the Georgian penal system came to her rescue. A surgeon deposed that the blow to the child’s head could have been caused either by a blow from the brick OR as a result of being thrown into the hole after dying at birth. It partly came down to who was believed, whether the defendant cut a good figure in court, and whether conspiracy could be proved. Mary’s applying experience, whatever it was, was one that she would have to do alone; to avoid the accusation of conspiracy ; perhaps her friend Mary Chapman realised this when she suggested that Mary Fordham “clean her room” and then went on to give her enough time to hide the body before she informed Mrs Whittingham
Desperate as her life was, Mary Fordham, as a servant away from home, had some advantages. She had no family to monitor the shape of her body or check out on her sexual relationships. She did not give birth in a room in a slum where the cries of a new-born baby would be heard through thin walls. There was just not enough evidence.
The Newgate report suggested that “the learned judge summed up the evidence with great humanity” The jury followed his hint and found her guilty of concealment of birth only, with a sentence of two years in gaol. That this was the best possible outcome shows the horror of being pregnant, single and powerless in Regency Britain
Lots of children were adjudged to be born dead and their birth concealed. On the same day as Mary was sent to prison, another women, Martha Woods in Winchester received the same punishment

There was very little change in attitudes over the next century .One hundred years later, 1918, also in Hertfordshire, Amy Cook (21), a domestic servant, pleaded guilty to endeavouring to conceal the birth of her male child.

Mr J.H. Murphy, on behalf of the prosecution, said that it was one of those sad cases of a respectable young woman getting into trouble and then trying to conceal the consequences. She had no assistance at the birth of her child, and afterwards hid the body away in a box in her bedroom, and was thus able to resume her work the next day.
Suspicions, however, were aroused, the police were called in, and she eventually produced the body. There was nothing against the prisoner, and probably it was more the fault of the man who got her into trouble than her own for she said that she did not know what to do.
The girl’s mother said her daughter had been well-behaved and had been in good service for several years. Asked by the Judge if she was aware of her daughter’s condition before the concealment, she replied that at about Christmas time she had had suspicions and had challenged her, but her daughter denied that there was anything wrong. She did not see her daughter again until after this affair happened.
His Lordship said the prisoner was young and hitherto had a good character; otherwise he should have passed a more severe sentence upon her than he was going to pass. This kind of offence had been too prevalent in recent years, much too prevalent. Having regard to the circumstances, he should pass the very lenient sentence of 3 months’ imprisonment in the second division.
On hearing the sentence, the prisoner screamed, threw up her hands, and was carried out of Court in a fainting condition.

( From http://www.hertspastpolicing.org.uk/)

The stories are remarkably similar; the main differences are that Amy had a mother she had to lie to, and the father was also blamed-a bit.

 Perhaps more significantly, Amy received a more severe sentence than even the Georgian “bloody code” had suggested one hundred years earlier.

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A “man of colour” becomes political and not everyone is pleased; Robert Wedderburn, 1817

“Persons of colour”  were mentioned regularly in the Regency newspapers. If abroad, they were slaves in revolt or in need of liberation; in Britain they were the menservants of plantation owners, dockers, or under-employed sailors in the Royal Navy or the merchant marine. They were not people whose voice was usually listened to in political debate; if they were heard, then they were saying things that the British establishment were ready to hear. Robert Wedderburn was probably the first man of colour to say what he wanted without caring  what the British establishment thought of him.

Wedderburn was present at a packed meeting of the reforming establishment on August 21, 1817 at the City of London Tavern. Many of the” big names” were there; Robert Owen, currently on a tour to promote his own radical view of rural cooperative communities; Terence ( “TJ”) Wooler –journalist, publisher, republican and proto-feminist; William Hone, radical bookseller; “ Major” John Cartwright, who had been making speeches about Parliamentary reform since 1780. Others such a Colonel Robert Torrens was a Malthusian and early proponent of free trade and no friend of Owen or the others; but it did not matter. There was going to be a pleasant debate. The audience was mixed; what they had in common was a belief that the present status quo in Regency Britain was unacceptable.

Owen spoke first, and for a long time. The star speaker arrived to great applause; he was about to talk about the “remoralising of the poor”. Today,” remoralising” is not even a word, but in 1817 austerity and hunger wee so bad that it was felt that the poor were being demoralised and now the alternative process needed to begin. A chair was suggested and then elected. It was bureaucratic meeting Owen made his opening remarks; he was sorry that the last meeting had ended in confusion. He bemoaned the fact that not enough people there had any knowledge of political economy- what today we would call economics.

He went on the give the crowd and economics lesson that they already knew about and agreed with. Government expenditure had fallen since the end of the war; production had followed employment into a downward spiral and the “working classes” were miserable- this may have been one of the first time the expression had been used instead of the “lower orders”. Owen had a radical plan of small communities of villages that worked in co-operation. It bore no relation to any form of society that existed; it did not even include Christianity; Owen could see no connection between the practice and theory of Christianity and a society that helped each other. Owen’s utter scorn of organised religion began to alienate elements of the audience. In any case nothing was actually going to happen today; Owen merely called for a committee to consider the merits of his plan.

There then followed a procedural wrangle about previous resolutions at other meetings, whether they could be discussed if they had not been seconded, and other items of no interest to normal people either now, or then. Colonel Torrens then spoke.  Robert Torrens was a Malthusian who believed that the population was rising much faster than the ability to provide food and that disaster in the form of famine or fights over resources was much more likely than Owen’s utopian communities. He proposed that Mr Owen had not adequately proved his point and suggested an adjournment of the meeting until the third Friday in January of next year.

At this point Robert Wedderburn made his contribution, after first “ begging” the meeting for a mere 10 minutes to speak and at the end apologising many times for talking up their times. We know that Wedderburn made two points. That Mr Owen’s plan was another form of slavery, and he (Wedderburn) knew about slavery and that the Irish Catholic peasant was treated appallingly.

So said the establishment Morning Post, anyway.

Other papers reported it differently. The Suffolk Chronicle reported that the man the Robert Wedderburn who had made his comment about slavery was a “man of colour”. In a Regency newspaper, this word was a warning- some bad news was coming- a murder, a robbery, a revolt or a riot.

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Wedderburn had clearly been trying to make his point for a long time, and seemed to have forced his way onto the podium. This was breaking all the rules .A black man who asked – more demanded- to speak was somebody who scared the ladies. His inability to take a desiccated view of poverty and slavery meant that he was judged insane. He was a man of great anger and emotion, because unlike Owen, Torrens and the rest, he had felt poverty and injustice, not just though deeply about it.

So, in order to get rid of him- in effect to humour him- he was allowed to speak. He was Robert Wedderburn, some of James Wedderburn and slave women called Rosanna. That would have made him, in the ugly language of the day, a “mullato” (“little mule” in Spanish).

That’s all that we know he said. His later writings express the horror of slavery and the unique tragedy of his own situation. His father had, after his birth, sold his mother back into slavery. He may not have said that he was a Unitarian minister who denied the Trinity; a republican and a revolutionary supporter of the Spencean Philanthropists who wanted to overthrow the government. In any case, being a “man of colour ” was enough. Who did he think he was, coming into a meeting, voicing his opinions on injustice, based on real knowledge of injustice?

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A cartoon of Wedderburn in action at the meeting, suggesting a degree of importance not hinted at in the newspapers. Is his stance a little like this one below, without the physical chains?

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My thanks to
eblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/today-in-londons-radical-history-black-revolutionary-robert-wedderburn-disputes-with-utopian-socialist-robert-owen-maybe-1817/

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Black People in Regency Britain – the murder of Dilly Jerome, 1815

There were “persons of colour” in Regency Britain. They congregated around ports and were the lowest deckhands in the Royal Navy; they were manservants to young gentlemen or plantation owners living in Britain. But most of all, they were sailors. Many had a very hard time; none more so than Dilly Jerome.

Dilly Jerome was a deck hand on a Royal Navy ship and was found naked with his throat cut on Southsea beach, near the Castle, on Wednesday 16th August 1815. He had a reputation of being generous to his comrades to the point of being a little vulnerable to exploitation. When the ship arrived at Portsmouth, Dilly, a man of Caribbean descent was robbed and murdered by three ship mates- Joseph , Antonio and Philip Pique- all Africans. All four men were “people of colour” The three Piques were described by the newspapers as African and Jerome as “not African”- he may well have been from the Caribbean. The Georgian Navy was very multi-racial and so this would not have been a surprise; and the papers, while horrified at the murders, did not seem to suggest that their ethnic origin was significant. It was a violent world everywhere, and everybody knew it.

The Piques were not brothers; indeed not related in any way. They were given their shared surname by the captain of their ship, the HMS Pique. This was rather indicative of the degree of respect the men received. The Ship itself had been captured from the French in 1800 and was originally called the Pallas, and like the seaman, had been given a name that suited the new owner- only one step above a slave name, arguably.

In August 1815 they were discharged from their ship and three days later they had spent all their money and with no prospect of employment, decided to rob Dilly Jerome and murder him if he resisted.

They confronted him on Southsea Common at 4o’clock in the afternoon and proceeded to attack him in broad daylight. Philip Pique held his legs so he could be robbed, but when he resisted, Antonio cut his throat, and severed his head with a small clasp knife. Philip desposed in court that Dilly’s clothing hid the wound; but would not have hidden the blood that gushed out so badly that the three men had to bathe in the sea to wash it off. Philip was believed, and later turned evidence against the other two and was the only one that was not hanged; so it seemed that the head had not come off completely, as Philip might have noticed that.

In any case, Jerome was soon naked and pushed into a sluice near the Castle. There was a desultory attempt to cover the dead man with shingle from the beach. Finding nothing of value in his pockets, they sold his clothes to a slopman- a second-hand clothes dealer – at the Hard in Portsea for 14 shillings, which they shared between them. As the purchaser was Jewish, the papers did not hesitate to say so and make it part of the story. The fence/ clothes dealer was suspicious that the clothes were wet; and the fact that they might have tried to wash the blood off them was one of the first suspicions he had, which tells you a lot about life in Portsmouth at the time. The three managed to convince the intermediary that the clothes had become wet through falling into the sea when being transported.

Philip was found first because he did not seem to be hiding; this fact was to help him later. Antonio was picked up after a raid on Portsmouth public houses and was asleep at the Market House in a rich man’s coat that he had clearly stole. Joseph was also apprehended and they were all sent to Winchester gaol.

There were two other incidents in Portsmouth in the same week over demobilized sailors who were persons of colour and a panic set in; the magistrates in Gosport combed the streets and public houses to find former sailors who had no livelihood and oblige them to leave the country, chartering ships to do so.

In March 1816, Antonio and Joseph Pique were two of 19 prisoners sentenced to death at Winchester. Only three actually hanged; the two Piques and John Goddard, a child rapist. It was a ludicrous system where far more people were condemned than actually hanged. One third of those committed to hang were pardoned, giving significant power to the Crown to use or withhold a royal pardon. In 1817, for example, the total number of executions was 115, although 1,300 received the death sentence. It was a random and capricious system although it has to be said that the investigation into Jerome’s murder was taken as seriously and the murder of other, native, people.
The Piques died well and in the approved state of mind. This really mattered to public opinion. The two Piques were contrite at the end, despite being (rightly) portrayed as monsters earlier;image002

 

The Piques were ideal candidates for the anatomists. In theory, all murderer’s corpses could be used but their families moved heaven and earth to prevent it. The Piques, whatever their real names were, had no-one to speak for them.

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