Criminal Historian

Working with dead people

Crime and policing museums in the UK and Ireland

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle

I’ve started putting together a map of crime and policing museums from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. This is a work in progress, and so will be added to, although do feel free to make your suggestions as to other places I should be listing!

I’ve already been to quite a few of these, and when I’ve got time, hope to put together short reviews or links to my published reviews of these sites.

My first visit to one of these sites was to Inverarary Jail back in 1995, when I was on a family holiday here. My aunt persuaded me to go with her for something to do, and so I have her to thank for getting me interested in criminal history at that point! The photos you can see on the map have all been taken by me; when I can find the ones I’ve taken of other sites, I’ll add those too.

Top Five: Resources for the history of autopsies and coroners’ inquests

An view of a coroner's inquest, 1826. (Wellcome Library, London, used under creative commons)

An view of a coroner’s inquest, 1826. (Wellcome Library, London, used under creative commons)

Thanks to a reader of this blog, Sherry, who asked me if I could recommend any books or publications that look at 19th century autopsy procedures, I thought I’d do a short list this week of resources for those wanting to know more about historical autopsies and also the role of the coroner.

The autopsy – also known as the postmortem – is the dissection and examination of a dead body, to establish a cause of death. The role of the coroner is aligned to this in that his or her role is to inquire (with the help of a jury) into any death that appears to be unnatural, through the means of an inquest. In Victorian times, the autopsy might be carried out either in operating theatres or in private homes – and coroner’s inquests might be held in a local pub.

Many stories I have covered on this site originate with a report of a coroner’s inquest, and, in fact, one of my own family history mysteries relates to my great-great-grandfather, who died in the 1890s.

An inquest was held to see whether he had died through neglect or as a result of manslaughter – irritatingly, the inquest records for West Sussex, where he died, have not survived, and the newspapers don’t seem to mention him, so it looks like I’ll never find out what the coroner said about this case (although the death certificate duly recorded a verdict of ‘neglect not amounting to manslaughter’, so I know what the coroner’s jury decided!). But anyway – onto my list.

1 . The Victorian Medico-Legal Autopsy, by Karyo Magellan

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This fascinating article first appeared in Ripperologist magazine, but is now available on the Casebook website. It looks at autopsies and forensic examinations as they existed in 1888, the year that Jack the Ripper was wreaking havoc in east London.

 

2. Short History of the Autopsy, by Jack Gulczyński, Ewa Izycka-Świeszewska and Marek Grzybiak

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For an academic discussion of the history of the autopsy, try this (English language) article in the Polish Journal of Pathology. This is actually the second of two articles, and focuses on the period between the 16th and 21st centuries. It’s free to download as a pdf, which is a novelty with academic journal articles. 🙂

3. A Bite Into the History of the Autopsy, by Julian L Burton

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This is another academic article, this time from the journal Forensic Science, Medicine and Pathology (1(4), December 2005, pp.277-284). Part of it looks at the development of the autopsy during the 17th to 19th centuries, although its focus is limited to Europe.

 

 

4. The Coroners’ Society

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The website for The Coroners’ Society of England and Wales has a page on its history, and that of the duty of coroners throughout history. It links to the inaugural minutes of the society from 1846, and refers to legislation such as the Coroners Act of 1887 (and if your interest is well and truly piqued, elsewhere on the site, you can learn how to become a C21st coroner…).

5. The National Archives

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Although The National Archives (TNA) does not have any coroners’ records available to view on its own site, it has a useful research guide as to where you can find information about coroners’ inquests. These include records held at TNA (such as CHES 18 and ASSI 66), and those found in local archives as part of Quarter Session records (coroners being required to file their inquests there until 1860).

And also, remember that historic newspapers can also shed a surprising amount of detail on the process of Victorian postmortems, particularly in prominent murder cases. In the UK, you can try the British Newspaper Archive and Welsh Newspapers Online; or in the States, Newspapers.com.

Mad murder: A crime for which there was no reason

A depiction of the murder in the Illustrated Police News

A depiction of the murder in the Illustrated Police News

It was regarded as one of the most cold-blooded murders that had ever been committed in Somerset. It was a Friday in the third week of March, 1868, when, around six o’clock in the evening, the body of a 13-year-old boy named John Wilkins was found just inside a gate, about ten yards from the main road in Winscombe.

The corpse was said to have presented a ‘most sickening spectacle’; the head was ‘beaten almost to the jelly’, and the throat cut so deep that the head was also almost severed from the body.

John was employed by local farmer Henry Hancock to keep his birds; he was only young, and minding his own business – who would want to see him dead?

Locals didn’t have long to wait to find out. Soon after the body was discovered, a young man by the name of Alexander Holmes called at the house where the Banwell policeman, Acting-Sergeant Hancock, lived. The constable was out on duty, so Holmes, who was himself only 18 years old, told the elderly landlady what he wanted to get off his chest instead:

“I have just killed a lad.”

The rather brave landlady stayed with the stranger, until the parish constable arrived, and promptly took him into custody. He was then taken to the Axbridge police station by PC Barrington.

Holmes told the policeman that he was the son of a retired army officer, Colonel Holmes, who had been with the 12th Lancers but now lived at Cloughjordan, near Roscrea, in County Tipperary, Ireland. Holmes had been living with turf dealer Edwin Godfrey at Edington, near Bridgwater, for the previous three years – an arrangement between Godfrey and Colonel Holmes – and appeared to have had a quiet life.

Yet behind his calm façade, he apparently  hid a desire to kill. He said:

“I felt I must kill someone, and it is a great wonder to me how it is I have not killed more.”

This comment was because he had passed several more people on the road to where he came across young John, who was at work in a field. He had seen the boy, entered through the gate to that field, bludgeoned him to the ground, and then tried to cut his head off.

This was a horrific, unplanned murder in a small community; but as was common with Victorians, they were both fascinated and repelled by the case. Soon, they were flocking to the scene of the crime – it was said that at one point there were ‘hundreds’, not just from Winscombe but from the surrounding villages.

The police searched the area, and found a heavy, bloodied stick just ten yards from where the body had been found; six yards further, they found a knife by the side of a small brook that ran through the meadow – Holmes stated that it was here that he calmly washed his hands after killing John Wilkins.

At the trial, at the Somerset Assizes, the pointlessness of the murder was reiterated.

“The prisoner had never seen the boy before – they were perfect strangers to each other – would any man in his senses have gone and belaboured a poor boy about the head and then cut his head from his body?”

There was no premeditation. No accomplice. Holmes had lived 20 miles from Wilkins, and had never seen him before; and he had confessed almost as soon as he had committed the murder.

There were two hypotheses as to why Holmes had killed. The first was simply that he had voices in his head demanding that he kill – it didn’t matter who, he was just told to attack someone.

But the second was that he was of ‘extremely weak intellect’, and to further this argument, Holmes’ old teacher, the Reverend F Howse, was called before the coroner, and noted that:

“He had a master to instruct him in Latin, French, and drawing, but he was incapable of learning these things.”

He also added that boys on the street used to ‘call’ after Holmes; a key part of testimony in Victorian court cases was to show that an individual was ‘simple’ by demonstrating that he or she had been publicly teased by other children.

Colonel Holmes’s friend, an army surgeon, was asked to visit his friend’s son; he asked him why he killed the boy and ‘he said he could not help it. I asked him if he knew the consequences of such an act, and he laughed like an idiot’.

Unsurprisingly, the proprietor of a lunatic asylum near Taunton was asked to examined Holmes; he noted that although he was clearly of weak intellect, he was able to answer every question put to him ‘quite rationally’. He now stated that he had been motivated by reading an account of another, very recent, murder, at Todmorden*, and this had given him the idea.

This has clear echoes of the fears many Victorians had that reading murder accounts, particularly those in penny dreadfuls, might motivate readers to commit similar crimes (Kate Summerscale’s discussion of penny dreadfuls, and perceptions of them, in The Wicked Boy is well worth a read).

It was found that Holmes was clearly a disturbed young man, and after only two minutes of consultation, the jury decided that Holmes was not guilty of murder, by reason of insanity. He was ordered to be kept in custody ‘until her Majesty’s pleasure be known.’

Alexander Holmes' entry in the prison registers for Somerset, 1868 (from Ancestry)

Alexander Holmes’ entry in the prison registers for Somerset, 1868 (from Ancestry)

It later emerged that Colonel Holmes knew his son was insane; being in straitened circumstances following his retirement on half-pay, he had arranged for Edwin Godfrey to look after his son as though Godfrey was running a lunatic asylum.

Edwin Godfrey's entry in the 1871 Edington census - he was no longer running an unlicensed asylum... (image via Ancestry)

Edwin Godfrey’s entry in the 1871 Edington census – he was no longer running an unlicensed asylum… (image via Ancestry)

Unfortunately, though, Godfrey did not have the order or medical certificates required under the Lunacy Acts to run an asylum – but he was cheap, only asking for 7s a week to look after the troubled boy. Colonel Holmes’ defence was to the point:

“In placing him out, I thought it was for my own son’s good.”

Both Colonel Holmes and Edwin Godfrey were bound over in the sum of £40 each, and Godfrey was bailed until the next Assize.

This had a negative impact on the Wilkins family, for Colonel Holmes had previously promised to give them an annuity of £20 a year, a very small reparation for his son’s act.

However, once Alexander was moved to the Lunatic Asylum for Criminals, the Secretary of State sent his father notice that he would have to pay 14s a week maintenance for him. He then had to pay for his defence and that of Godfrey, in the forthcoming trial on the charge of unlawfully keeping a lunatic without license to do so.

Already feeling the pinch of his reduced income, Colonel Holmes immediately dropped his plans to help John Wilkins’ relatives.

Sources:

Belfast Morning News, 18 March 1868, Bristol Times, 28 March 1868, Taunton Courier, 25 March 1868, Bristol Times & Mirror, 11 April 1868, Taunton Courier, 29 April 1868, Potter’s Electric News, 18 March 1868 (via the British Newspaper Archive)

*The Todmorden murder was the murder of Jane Smith, at Todmorden Parsonage, by Miles Weatherill. Jane had given information that Weatherill was illicitly ‘walking out with’ Sarah Bell, a 16-year-old servant of the Todmorden vicar, the Reverend Plow, that resulted in Sarah losing her job. Weatherill took his revenge, and also shot Mrs Plow, the vicar’s wife, although she survived. Weatherill was convicted of murder, and given the death sentence.

 

The lamplighter’s wife: a dark tale from Edwardian London

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

A hysterical woman yawning, c.1890, by Albert Londe (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

It was just after 8pm on 8 July 1907 – a Monday night in north London. Lamplighter Harry Mitchell, aged 33, had just left his home in Stoke Newington to light his lamps for the night. He lived in a top floor flat in what were somewhat euphemistically called artisan’s dwellings at 34 Garnham Street, with his wife, Clarissa Maria, and three children – a six-month-old girl, 18-month-old boy, and a seven year old girl.

Left behind, Clarissa was seen to open the front window at the top of the building – and to onlookers’ horror, push through her seven-year-old daughter, Clarissa Alice, who fell and became impaled on the spikes of railings that separated the building from the pavement. Mrs Mitchell then looked through the window to check that her daughter had fallen, before rushing back into the front room.

George Tilley, a mill foreman, was walking down the street when he saw the first child impaled on the railings. He ran over and gently lifted her off, before a movement above made him raise his eyes. To his horror, he saw the middle child, known as Frederick, only 18 months old, clinging onto the sill of the second floor window. As he watched, this child too fell ‘with a thud’ into the space between the railings and the flats, lying there clearly severely injured.

Jessie Abrahams, a local woman who was also passing by at the time, said there was a gap of around two or three minutes between the two children falling out of the window. She had also seen Clarissa Mitchell ‘very deliberately’ open the window wider, before throwing herself out – as though tumbling through space, it was later said. Her body was impaled on the railing spikes with such force that several men were needed to lift her off the railing.

The three Mitchells were carried by shocked onlookers to the nearest dispensary, on the High Road, where much to everyone’s amazement, Frederick was found to be still alive, although critically injured, and was immediately rushed to the Metropolitan Hospital. It was initially believed that both the mother and elder daughter were dead – but a more thorough investigation found signs of life in both, and they were taken to the German Hospital in Dalston. Although both were conscious, they were said to be in a ‘very critical’ condition.

The Mitchell family’s neighbours, hearing the shouts and thuds, and learning what had happened, were obviously concerned about the fate of the younger daughter. They broke into the flat, and there found the baby sleeping peacefully in bed.

What had caused this woman to take such an awful course of action? Mr and Mrs Mitchell were said to be highly respected residents of their local community, members of the Salvation Army, and hard working.

However, the 30-year-old Mrs Mitchell, who worked as a servant, but who when not at work was confined to a small flat with three small children to look after, had been said to have been ‘low spirited for some time’. This was another way of saying that she suffered from depression.

On her husband leaving for work one summer’s evening, she had decided she could take life no more, and had tried to take her children with her on a journey to a better world. Her only comment on being lifted from the railings was that her head hurt; her oldest child, however, told onlookers:

“Mother threw me out. I clutched the curtains, but they broke.”

The following day, it was reported that Mrs Mitchell had spent a restless night in the German Hospital, and had been screaming ‘almost continuously’. The little girl impaled on the railing had been far quieter, despite having been impaled through her groin; but her brother was in a far worse state.

It took a month for the woman to be charged with wounding her children – she was also charged with attempting suicide. The time lapse was due, simply, to her injuries; she was in hospital for weeks following the event. At the North London Police Court, she was committed to the Central Criminal Court for trial; she had only spoken once, asking, “Can I see my children?”

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor. (Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons) Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Asylum for Criminal Lunatics, Broadmoor.
(Wellcome Images, used under Creative Commons)

But her children were, a month later, still in hospital, and she was not permitted to see them. A doctor called to give his opinion remarked that he thought she was insane, and so the gaol doctor was asked to keep her under observation. Clarissa Mitchell duly appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 10 September 1907.

Here, new light was shed on Clarissa’s past. Harry Fullarton, the assistant medical officer at Holloway Prison, where she was held pending her trial, gave evidence that she was mentally ill, and had been for some time – ‘she is quite unfit to understand the present proceedings or instruct solicitor or counsel’.

He said that he had found out that she had previously been detained as a lunatic between August 1901 and March 1903, before being released in the belief that she was ‘cured’. At the time of her incarceration, she was already married and was caring for baby Clarissa; on being released, she returned to her husband and quickly had two more children.

To modern eyes, it seems highly possible that Clarissa was suffering from post-natal depression that may have turned into psychosis; the timing of her two severe bouts of mental illness both came when she had very young children in her care.

It was found that Clarissa Mitchell was insane and unfit to either plead or to take her trial on a charge of wounding. She was ordered to be detained at His Majesty’s pleasure.

And what of the family she tried to destroy? The baby, sadly – the one child Clarissa had not tried to kill – may have died; but the two she had thrown from the window both survived. The 1911 census shows Clarissa Alice, now 11, and Harry Frederick William Mitchell, now aged five, living with their father at 100 Rendlesham Road in Clapton.

Harry Mitchell, aged 37, was still working as a lamplighter for the Gas Light and Coke Company; in the census return, he had recorded the fact that he had been married for 12 years, and had had four children, of whom, one had died (I have not been able to ascertain whether this was the sleeping baby of 1907, or a child who had died prior to this).

Another hand had scrawled a red line through the details of his marriage, denying Clarissa her existence as the lamplighter’s wife, and thus, albeit unknowingly, denying her existence, too, as her children’s mother.

*

Sources: Belfast Weekly News, 11 July 1907; Portsmouth Evening News, 9 July 1907, Wells Journal, 11 July 1907, London Daily News, 9 August 1907, Diss Express, 16 August 1907, Old Bailey Online (ref t19070910-21). Birth of Clarissa Alice Mitchell, Edmonton, Mar 1900 (vol 3a 374); 1911 census on Ancestry.

Clarissa Maria Mitchell died in 1941, aged 65 (FreeBMDs, Windsor district, Dec 1941, vol 2c, page 869 – the location suggests that she may have died in Broadmoor, which was in Crowthorne and thus came under the Windsor district for registration purposes); Clarissa Alice, unlike her mother, never married; she died, a spinster, in her 80s (source: Civil Registration Death Index, on Ancestry).

 

 

 

Though she be but little, she is fierce

800px-lesmode_parisiennes1851In 1851, an assault case was heard at the Keele petty sessions in Staffordshire, before two male bastions of the local community – the magistrates. The assault was alleged by a female servant, Elizabeth Hughes, against her employer’s daughter – and it highlights how women were perceived both by male magistrates and by the local press which, at this time, was largely staffed by men.

Elizabeth Hughes was employed by a farmer, Mr Goodall, who lived and worked at Foxley, near Audley in Staffordshire. Her disagreement was with his daughter Margaret, who had asked Elizabeth to feed the farm’s pigs one day. There may have been various ‘ranks’ of servant, and Elizabeth clearly felt that feeding pigs was not a task that she should carry out.

She had made her feelings clear to Margaret Goodall, who apparently then pushed her, squeezed her chin, and banged her three times on the head with a milking can. Elizabeth had resented this treatment, and duly taken Miss Goodall to the magistrates.

But Elizabeth was roundly mocked by the magistrates and in the press. Not only had she the gall, as a lowly servant, to bring a complaint against a respectable farmer’s daughter, but she was ‘a person of little stature’ with ‘a most rattling tongue’, who ‘described her grievance with considerable volubility’.

Although this census entry is hard to read, it records Elizabeth Hughes as a servant in the Goodall household at Audley in 1851. Margaret Goodall is not present. (source: Ancestry)

Although this census entry is hard to read, it records Elizabeth Hughes as a servant in the Goodall household at Audley in 1851. Margaret Goodall is not present. (source: Ancestry)

Perhaps predicting that she would face some prejudice, Elizabeth had used a considerable amount of intelligence and gained a reference to her good character from her former mistress, in order to show the magistrates that she was a good, truthful person.

However, there were a selection of ‘bystanders’ at the petty sessions – probably, given the mundanity of the cases being heard that day, being complainants, defendants and witnesses in these other cases, waiting their turn, rather than nosey locals who had come specifically to listen to this case.

One of the magistrates, Captain Mainwaring (no, nothing like the Dad’s Army character, but Captain Rowland Mainwaring of the Royal Navy, whose ancestral home was the grand Whitmore Hall), decided to play to this audience, reading the reference out for laughs. Although Elizabeth’s former employer stated that she was a very good servant, and very honest, she had added that she had ‘a little too much tongue’ – which the magistrate and the onlookers found rather amusing.

Local magistrate and landowner Captain Rowland Mainwaring was recorded in the 1851 Staffordshire census (source: Ancestry)

Local magistrate and landowner Captain Rowland Mainwaring was recorded in the 1851 Staffordshire census (source: Ancestry)

Margaret Goodall then argued that Elizabeth was an impertinent woman, and that no assault had taken place – she then brought a farm lad, George Taylor, forward to give evidence to this effect. The magistrates disagreed and duly fined Margaret the small amount of 2s 6d; however, despite this, they then stated that they believed there were ‘faults on both sides’.

The ‘impertinent’ servant, Elizabeth, then asked if she could have the wages owed to her. Margaret’s father, farmer Goodall, was in court, and he was told to pay them, and to let Elizabeth leave his service.

The small but feisty woman then left the court – ostensibly a victor in her case, but only after having been laughed at, mocked for her physical stature, and her ability to stand up for herself, and now unemployed to boot. There were clearly risks in lowly rural female servants bringing cases against their employers and their families.

 

Source: Staffordshire Advertiser, 3 May 1851

An aside: Martin Baggoley, in Derbyshire Murders (The History Press, 2012), writes of one man who was sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering a police constable in 1879 (although released in 1894); this was Gerald Mainwaring, the son of ‘the late Rev’d Mainwaring of Whitmore Hall, Staffordshire, who had served as a magistrate on the Newcastle bench’ .  Gerald’s father was Charles Henry Mainwaring (1820-1878); the Oxford University Alumni directory on Ancestry states that Charles was the third son of one Rowland Mainwaring; therefore, the laughing magistrate was the grandfather of a murderer, which seems quite ironic.

The condemned miner with a Jesus complex

From press coverage of Dunn's speech at the Durham Assizes

From press coverage of Dunn’s speech at the Durham Assizes

John Thomas Dunn, a 52 year old miner, was not looking forward to the new year. He knew that once 1927 turned into 1928, his days were literally numbered, for on Friday 7 January, he would die.

It was the peak of the Roaring Twenties; flappers were frenetically dancing the Charleston, and the bright young things were enjoying life. Many were enjoying the glamour of the movies, watching the silent film stars pout and preen on cinema screens – perhaps with a bit of awareness that, for some, their careers would not last much longer, for The Jazz Singer, a ‘talkie‘ had been released in October 1927, and once sound arrived for good, those whose voices were deemed unattractive would have to find other careers.

But this was all a world away for Dunn. He was an unemployed  miner in the north-east, living at Sacriston in Co Durham. Sacriston had been home to a colliery since 1838; by the end of the 19th century, it had employed 600 local men. In 1903, it had seen a mining disaster, when water flooded the mine, killing two men.

Dunn, who had previously worked at this colliery, had married Ada Elizabeth Stokes in her hometown of Gateshead back in 1903, and the couple had had several children over the next two decades. Ada was eight years her husband’s junior, having only been around 20 years old when she married.

On 25 September 1927, though, Dunn had raised the alarm, shouting that his 44-year-old wife had committed suicide. However, during a subsequent trial, it was argued that he had actually strangled Mrs Dunn and then hanged up her body up with a rope to make it look like she had killed herself.

It was widely known that the Dunns had not been happily married, and, in fact, a week before her death, Ada Dunn had left her husband and returned home to her mother in Gateshead. But at his trial, which took place at the Durham Assizes, damning evidence came from two of the Dunns’ children.

Richard Dunn, aged 11, stated that when he had gone to bed on the night of the death, he heard his parents quarrelling, a stool overturning, and then a choking noise. The couple’s married daughter, Ada Walsh, then stated that John had tried to strangle her mother some years earlier.

When he was found guilty, on 15 November, Dunn had lost his usual self-control (it was noted that he had spent the trial watching what was going on with ‘keen attentiveness’, and often making notes that he would then pass to his counsel). He shouted out, passionately, making an emotional and sometimes manic speech, that started with his former chequered career in the army:

“I did not intend to go only to protect my country, but to protect my family. I was discharged under a false colour; I went back again, and said I had never been in. That was the courage of a man. I left the army twice with a character. It is easy for a man to get a bad name; it is easy for a dog never to carry a name of goodness once its name is bad.

“I have carried the burden of my children. I had a little girl blind. No one could have done more for her, and I thank God today through hard work and toil she can see. If she was standing beside me now she would give me a kiss of joy. I do not say I had a deceitful wife all through my life. She carried, like me, a weakness. It is a pity we ever met. She was led by other women, and she found that her friends were her enemies. Many times I suffered weakness, and when I went to the doctor with my suffering, I never told him the thing I was suffering from. I said to him, ‘For God’s sake, do not put down heart complaint, or else I will be done for work.'”

He then started talking of God, in an increasingly disjointed way, before ending:

“My children, I appeal for you today. When Christ was crucified He looked up and said, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ I forgive my children because they know not. God help them; God help me.”

The death sentence was then passed against him. A woman in the gallery immediately fainted and had to be carried out; one of Dunn’s sons, a little boy, ran out of the court into the street outside, shouting, “My father is to be hanged!” A policeman had to run after him and bring him back to the court.

gordon_hewart_1st_viscount_hewart

Lord Hewart, the Lord Chief Justice

Dunn had appealed his conviction, before the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Hewart, asking to call further evidence, but this appeal was dismissed at the Court of Appeal on 12 December. He had been trying to claim a defence of insanity; however, Lord Hewart, in giving judgement, pointed out that the original defence had been that no murder had been committed, and that Mrs Dunn had killed herself – so how could Dunn now be claiming insanity as a defence?

One newspaper stated that the execution was originally set for 29 December; however, another stated that it would ‘probably take place in the first week of January’, and this, in the event, is what happened.

On the evening of Thursday 5 January, members of the Dunn family arrived at Durham Gaol to visit their condemned relative. Somewhat surprisingly, they found him upbeat – in fact, one later said, he was ‘the most cheerful member of the party’.

He was still declaring his innocence, using the common excuse that his memory of the night his wife died was ‘blank’ – he had no memory, apparently, of anything that had happened prior to cutting his wife’s body down from behind his kitchen door.

“I would prefer death to a living tomb,” he commented, hating the idea of a long sentence in jail; his family commented that he “betrayed not the slightest concern as to his fate”.

Instead, he told them about a ‘curious experience’ he had had during his time in the condemned cell.

“A thrush fell through the window, and I found it had a broken wing. I tended it and healed the wing. The bird stayed in the cell for about a week, then one morning it flew away, leaving me feeling very lonely.”

Dunn was soon to feel lonely again, as his relatives were told to leave. They were not allowed to shake his hand as they left, and so left feeling somewhat aggrieved. Dunn, though, simply sat in his cell after their departure, writing letters.

A press headline regarding Dunn's 'wounded bird' story

A press headline regarding Dunn’s ‘wounded bird’ story

On the morning of Friday 6 January, he woke early, and had a light breakfast. He then ‘walked firmly to the scaffold’, which had been built only a few paces from his cell. A small crowd had gathered outside the prison, and keenly read the official notice of his execution when it was put up; executioner Pierpoint had done an efficient job.

There one particularly interesting point about this particular case. Dunn was a working-class man, unemployed, and poor; when he first appeared on remand in court charged with wilful murder, he had to ask for legal assistance, and was granted it under the terms of the Poor Persons Act. A local firm of solicitors, Ferens, Burrell, Carpenter and Swinburne, offered to take on the case. He was certainly keenly interested in how the trial progressed, and wanted to contribute to his solicitors’ work; yet how aware was he really as to the danger he was in, and did Mr Ferens, who represented him, employ the right defence at the original trial?

For Dunn’s passionate speech after conviction  – and his tale about the wounded bird – could also be read as the rambling speeches of an insane man. The press clearly saw his trial speech as an unusual occurrence, but focused in on his forgiveness of his children for giving evidence against him. Yet by comparing himself to Jesus in such a rambling way, by talking about parts of his former life that did not present himself in a good light, or that were not relevant, his speech departed from being simply about forgiving others, and went into stranger territory.

It seems not only that insanity should have been used as his initial defence, but that it might have succeeded. Instead, whether on his solicitor’s advice, or because he insisted on it, John Dunn continued to maintain that his wife had killed herself – and once the jury had decided otherwise, Dunn had, in effect, tied that noose around his neck himself.

Sources:

Western Daily Press, 16 November 1927

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 13 December 1927

Durham Chronicle, 16 December 1927

Fife Free Press, 7 January 1928

 

 

 

Remaking The Victorian Slum

Earlier this month, I gave a talk on life in a Victorian slum at the British Crime Historians Symposium, where I looked at how the press depicted those who lived in a particular Welsh slum at the end of the 19th century.

Reportage relating to the London slums, from the Aberdeen Journal, 2 January 1894 (via British Newspaper Archive)

Reportage relating to the London slums, from the Aberdeen Journal, 2 January 1894 (via British Newspaper Archive)

The Victorian press increasingly, as the century progressed, looked at slum life in very black and white terms, and this was particularly noticeable when newspapers discussed the female residents.

They were either domestic angels – fighting their grim surroundings by trying to present as clean a face to the world as possible (both in terms of their own looks, and those of their house, whitewashing walls, keeping their rooms tidy, and so on) – or slatterns, unfeminine women with their sleeves rolled up, exposing – the horror – bare arms and fighting in the street with other women, whilst their children roamed around with local animals, both kids and animals being hungry and neglected.

This black and white depiction of slum dwellers, its reliance on generalisations rather than the individual experience, has also been evident in two contemporary media items this week.

Firstly, we had the opening episode of The Victorian Slum on BBC2. This ‘reality’ series, fronted, rather oddly, not by a historian but by a scientist, recreates a Victorian slum (apparently a set) and fills it with 21st century residents, in order to show them coping with the trials of life as a member of the 19th century underclass.

The series is arranged in a chronological fashion, so the opening episode was, apparently, the 1860s. We had the familiar tropes of Victorian working-class depictions, so a shared tenement, doss house, outdoor privy, and so on. A range of occupations were shown, including the doss house keeper and matchbox makers.

So far, so good; but the episode was full of sweeping generalisations that failed to show the wide range of experiences of Victorian life.  It’s a drawback of limited time that such programmes assume that our ancestors lived a far more hegemonous life than we do today – yet they had an individual experience, just as we do now.

Not everyone in a doss house slept standing up over ropes, because doss houses were different. Not everyone failed to make a living sufficient to keep their families going, even if they never managed to move out of their working-class area. But this episode of The Victorian Slum made it look like everyone went through the same experience, thus making Victorian history (or this version of it) both simplistic and misleading.

We also had incredibly clean faces and clothes on these individuals; the watercress sellers were sent to Covent Garden, where, unsurprisingly, the tourists were keen to give the strangely dressed people with a TV crew accompanying them lots of money. The money was also modern rather than the 19th century equivalent, which made modern life intrude rather strangely into the programme.

A view of the courtyard at the National Trust's Birmingham back-to-backs (image by NotFromUtrecht, on Wikimedia Commons)

A view of the courtyard at the National Trust’s Birmingham back-to-backs (image by NotFromUtrecht, on Wikimedia Commons)

It’s also very much a London-based programme. Life in the Manchester slums, as Engels described in the 1840s, could be particularly grim; my research into the slums of Birmingham and Newport has revealed differences to the London experience. Therefore, the series provides a generalised, simplistic view of one particular region, rather than a more nuanced account of how life in the slums could vary from place to place – not just form the 1860s to 1870s, for example.

Meanwhile, on the BBC’s online Magazine site today, we had The Victorian Slum‘s presenter, Michael Mosley, give us his guide to ‘how to eat like a Victorian‘. Unsurprisingly, this was a similarly generalised perspective – ‘slum dwellers…lived mainly on bread, gruel and broth’, and ‘the children of the slums were undernourished, anaemic, rickety and very short’ (what, ALL of them?).

Then we are told that ‘most people’ had physically demanding jobs that meant ‘they were active for 50 to 60 hours a week’, and later, that ‘many Victorians’ worked a 12 hour, six day week (so 72 hours a week). Does he mean ‘most people’ or most working class people, or most working class men, or simply, SOME people?

food poisoning in the Victorian era

A Victorian family eating – from Paul Townsend’s Flickr stream


The meals are described as though everyone from a certain class would have eaten the same way, regardless of their job, their location (what about differences between rural agricultural workers and urban workers?), their age, or health.

So although it’s great that there is this continued interest in the press and on television about life for our Victorian ancestors, the generalisations and simplistic recreations of Victorian life actually risk distorting what life was really like, creating a false history that becomes, like Chinese whispers, gradually accepted.

And the biggest disappointment, for me, is the failure to recognise the individuality of life and existence, and to assume, instead, that what life was like for one man or woman was fundamentally identical to others, because of their shared class.

 

 

The second episode of The Victorian Slum is on Monday 17 October at 9pm on BBC2.

BCHS5 review: A Coven of Crime Historians

I’m not sure what you call a group of crime historians meeting together. My first suggestion on Twitter was this:

Edinburgh University's Old College, location for this year's BCHS

Edinburgh University’s Old College, location for this year’s BCHS

Although Helen Rogers then suggested ‘a trouble’ (also good); but despite us not being remotely witch-like, I’ve finally gone with ‘coven’ – a word meaning a meeting that was first recorded in writing in 16th century Scotland. And this Scots link is particularly relevant.

For last weekend saw the fifth British Crime Historians Symposium (BCHS) take place in the rather grand surroundings of the Old College of the University of Edinburgh.

BCHS is an event that takes place every two years, where crime historians can gather to discuss their latest research, to debate history and crime, and to just generally socialise with others with similar interests!

We’re all a grim lot, I suppose, being interested in crime and deviance over a wide timespan and geographical scope. Yet BCHS has always shown how friendly crime historians are – from my experience, it’s one of the most enjoyable conferences to attend, with a really good atmosphere.

Generally, crime historians are very supportive to others, and therefore the questions after individual papers and panels tend to be more interesting and less combative (or insecure, depending on how you read it) than at some other conferences.

The Digital Panopticon homepage - BCHS attendees got to play with its data

The Digital Panopticon homepage – BCHS attendees got to play with its data

It must be good, for this is the third BCHS event I’ve attended; at my first, in Milton Keynes in 2012, I was on a panel with the ace Lucy Williams. Both of us were doing our PhDs at the time; of course, we’ve both finished now, and she is now working on the Digital Panopticon project – a truly collaborative project between several universities – which was represented by several members of the team this year, presenting various aspects of the research they’ve conducted, as well as detailing what the project is up to.

We were also able to take part in a workshop with access to the Digital Panopticon beta website, and it was good to be able to see what the project will eventually be able to offer not just crime historians, but anyone trying to research their family history, too.

What was particularly enjoyable this year was the increasing number of historians and papers looking at visual evidence – from newspaper illustrations to crime scene photographs, the visual can give us evidence about people’s lives just as well as text can. One of the most interesting panels for me was on photography, science and medicine.

Alexa Neale presenting her paper on crime scene photography

Alexa Neale presenting her paper on crime scene photography

Alexa Neale‘s paper on the evidence left by mid-20th century crime scene photographs was fascinating; not only because such photographs document lifestyles in west London slums – areas that are now far beyond gentrification to being locations where only the riches members of society can live. But they also show the minutiae of people’s lives, as well as marking the location where they died.

Alexa’s paper was followed by Amy Bell‘s on the crime scene photography of illegal abortion sites. Again looking at London in the mid-20th century, prior to the legalisation of abortion, and again utilising photographs really well in her presentation, these looked at the juxtaposition of domestic scenes with the medical paraphernalia of abortion tables, rubber sheets and buckets.

Perhaps the most striking image, though, was of the grim flat where one woman was given an illegal abortion by her friends – a dirty, grimy, cluttered space where, in the tiny kitchen, a cereal packet advertising a competition to win a new home was left on a surface. Again, the juxtaposition of this woman’s life with the promise of a new one – set against her own, awful, death – was moving.

Finally, we moved back to the 19th century, and Kelly Ann Couzens‘ paper on a rape case that came before the Scottish courts. This again focused on people from the lowest rung of society – those living in tiny, multiple-occupancy flats where there was precious little privacy, and where victims of crime faced difficulties in getting those in positions of authority to believe them.

Entrance to the Old College's Playfair Library

Entrance to the Old College’s Playfair Library

But this was just one great panel of many; from murder narratives (Clare Sandford-Couch and Helen Rutherford) to juvenile sex offenders (Yorick Smaal), transportation to policing (Clive Emsley, Chris Williams, Haia Shpayer-Makov), baby farming (Jim Hinks) to corruption in horse racing (Vivien Miller), it was all here, with participants attending from all over the world, from Scotland to Australia.

Julia Laite deserves special mention for her excellent plenary paper, which looked at the difficulties (or frustrations) in trying to construct a micro-history that has transatlantic elements – from dealing with archives in different countries (and the attendant language issues), to working out why a picture of an Australian town features a camel strutting down the high street! There were several heads nodding, as other historians clearly related to Julia’s experiences.

And that’s why we all come together for BCHS. It’s an opportunity to talk to others, to hear about their experiences, and to relate to them – we’re part of a community of historians who are all undertaking our own research yet are fascinated by, and supportive, of others’.

It was great to hear from some new and fairly new research students undertaking some really interesting work – and by the time of BCHS6 in 2018 (due to be held at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk), who knows what else they will have to tell us?

These tweets really sum up the weekend for me…

The evidence of Annie McCann

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

A Glasgow slum, from the special collections of Glasgow University, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The Farrells had only lived upstairs for the past few months – only a wee while, since the beginning of 1905, I’d say, so I did nae really know them well; but they made their presence clear by their noise and their arguments. She? She liked a wee dram – well, more than that, for she was a drinker all right. But if I were married to him, I’d need a drink too. And he was no saint, neither, for he had a drink or too on occasion, and when he’d had a drink, he liked to use his fists. At least she wasn’t like that.

I talked to Mary Ann Winters after what happened. She’s just 13, one of the lasses from the courts off Cowgate. On the night it happened, she said she was playing with Mary Gorman in Hall’s Court, and heard quarrelling coming from the window of the Farrells’ tenement. To be honest, we all heard it; it was a regular thing at the weekend for the Farrells to fight. But then Mary Ann said she heard Annie shout, “Police!” and “Murder!” – and then she moaned, as if someone was in pain.

Did she try and find out what was going on? No, of course she didn’t. That’s life round here – there are fights, shouts for the police… When the men get paid on a Friday eve, they go and buy whisky, get drunk, pick fights. It doesn’t matter who they’re with – workmates, relatives, wives, strangers – they’ll pick a fight with them.

He, Tom, was a labourer for the Edinburgh Corporation Electric Lighting Department. Grand name he had – Thomas Anderson Farrell, the Anderson after his ma. He wasn’t old; the papers said he was 28, but I think he could have been a few years older. His wife, Annie, was a MacAdam before she wed.

Blackfriars Street today

Blackfriars Street today

We all lived at 36 Blackfriars Street, in the Old Town – living above each other, so we could hear our neighbours going about their daily business, and saw a lot of them, passing each other on the stairs. The Farrells were at the bottom – just one room, they had; that, and the coal cellar. It was just them, though, for even thought they had been married several years, they had no children.

The morning after the murder, Tom came knocking on the door. I answered it, and all he said was, “Annie’s gone”. He asked me to come into his house and see her; I did so, but never knew he meant she was dead. Well, not until I saw her, lying there on the bed, cold. She was covered in bruises; different sizes, but they were everywhere.

I told Tom to call the police, but he refused to. I must have raised my voice, for others from our building were roused. One of my other neighbours, a man, looked in, and immediately departed for the police office – I believe he told them what we’d seen. But as soon as he had left the house, Tom ushered me out, left with me, and locked the door behind him. Then, without a word, he left up Blackfriars Street.

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

The High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh

Luckily, it turned out that Annie had given a spare key to one of my other neighbours. When the police turned up, they were able to open the door with that key, and so when Tom returned, and tried to use his key, he found the door unlocked, and the police within. That gave him a fright! They took him straight into custody, and I later saw Annie’s body taken away – the poor woman was taken, rigid and blue, to the city mortuary to be cut open.

Aye, I followed the story in the papers. I knew that he would be tried at the High Court of Justiciary, but not that he would look so smart. They never used to have any money, the Farrells, once they’d spent on the drams of whisky they seemed to live on (her more than him, though, to be fair). Yet the papers said he looked smart.

But they also said that a couple of years before she died, someone – either Tom or his brother – had put a notice in the paper saying that Annie had died. She hadn’t; she was merely in hospital, poorly, but was soon released. It was a bit odd, that, putting a death notice in the papers when she was very much alive.

It was strange, too, seeing me mentioned in the trial reports. There were several of us, though, called to give evidence in court, which was terrifying, to be honest, as I had never set foot in there before – I am a law abiding woman.

The court had already heard from family. Annie’s sister, Susan Murray, said Annie – whhad been a servant before she married – was addicted to drink. I think she was trying to say that Tom married Annie for her money; when she was in service, she managed to save a fair amount, and after their marriage, Tom lived off her money for a good six months. Basically, he spent it all.

They had to move to Manchester to try and get a living, but then moved back to Edinburgh, and into Blackfriars Street at the start of this year. Susan said they lived ‘in great poverty’ here; well, it’s true, none of us have much money, but we all look out for each other here, we know each other and there are few secrets. Like Susan said, we had all seen Annie with a black eye here and there. But the Farrells didn’t have much money left for food; two days before she died, Annie had eaten nothing, and on the Saturday, all she’d had was a cup of tea and a boiled egg.

I’m not surprised that Tom’s brother Alex made his sibling out to be a saint. It’s what families tend to do, although Susan and her husband weren’t too nice about Annie. But Alex said Annie was a drunk, and Tom wasn’t. He may not have drunk as much as her, but he still drank, that’s for sure.

When I was called, I told them what I knew. The night before the murder, before the two girls had heard Annie shout for the police, I had heard her too. It was between six and seven o’clock in the evening of the seventeenth, I’d say, and I was in the house. I heard Annie cry, “Oh, Tam, don’t, and I’ll make your dinner.” I was worried about her – for, as I say, we look out for each other here – and I went down and knocked at the door. Tom answered, and was rather rude to me; he told me to go and mind my own business.

I next saw her a few hours later,  about 10 o’clock, on the stairs with a jug of beer. That was the last time I saw her – alive, at any rate.

Weir's Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Weir’s Close, Edinburgh (from the Library of Congress)

Several of our neighbours in the building – Elizabeth Tait, Catherine Casey, William Stafford – gave evidence about the fighting and the drinking, too, as well as Pat Tansy from Weir’s Close, and Catherine Shanley from Hall’s Court.

We said how when the Farrells fought, often on a Friday night, Annie would sometimes have to sleep away from home, to avoid him. She might knock on our doors and ask if she could share our bed for the night, but on occasion she had slept in privies, just to have a roof of some kind over her head.

It was 30 August when the trial started. He pleaded not guilty, saying Annie had died after a fall – even though the coroner had clearly said she had been beaten and kicked to death. Her spleen had been ruptured; the poor woman had died of shock.

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

Lord Ardwall. (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation; accessed via Wikimedia Commons

I was still in court when the verdict was announced. There was a whole crowd of us; neighbours, family, friends, and those who didn’t know the Farrells but were just simply being nosey. The trial had lasted all day, until nine in the evening.

The judge, Lord Ardwall, said that there could be no ‘reasonable doubt’ that Annie’s injuries were inflicted by someone other than herself, and that they had caused her death. He wasn’t sure that a murderous intention could be proved, though, and so didn’t think a verdict of murder against Tom would be ‘safe’. It’s not surprising, then, that the jury reached a verdict so quickly. They found Tom guilty of culpable homicide, and Lord Ardwall sentenced him to ten years’ penal servitude.

Do I think it was the right verdict? I don’t know. But what I do know is that in ten years, Tom will still be in his 30s, he’ll have the rest of his life ahead of him, while poor Annie turns into dust. She may have liked a drink, but that was no reason to beat the poor woman to death, was it?

Annie McCann was one of the neighbours who gave evidence at the trial of Thomas Anderson Farrell at Edinburgh’s High Court. This account uses both her testimony and that of unnamed witnesses, taken from trial reports and press coverage in the Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Hull Daily Mail, 19 June 1905; Aberdeen Journal, 19 June 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 30 August 1905; Edinburgh Evening News, 31 August 1905; Gloucestershire Echo, 31 August 1905. However, accounts have been paraphrased.

A Tale of Two Sisters: The poisoners of Victorian Liverpool

Road to Versailles, by Camille Pissarro

Road to Versailles, by Camille Pissarro

It was a snowy morning in Lancashire, as the two women were brought out to the scaffold in the prison yard. They showed no sign of the cold, though, as they climbed up onto it, and were pinioned. Displaying a little nervousness, they stood there, eyes closed, their mouths moving silently as they repeated prayers over and over, over and over. Then their white caps were pulled over their pale faces, and, as the snow fell, their executioner pulled back a lever, and they fell to their deaths.

There they hanged, motionless, as the snow continued falling around Kirkdale Gaol, a gentle, floating snow that was at odds with the violent scene that had taken place in its midst.(1)

**

The women were not strangers, or even friends. They were sisters. Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins both lived in Liverpool, but there was considerable debate about where they were originally from. In the xenophobic, anti-Irish late 19th century, it was speculated that they were both Irish born; but other sources said that they were Scottish, from Dumfries, where their relatives still lived.

Some reports, though, had Higgins admit to being from a village near Belfast, and having migrated to Liverpool with her parents and sister when she was ten. What was known was that Catherine was the elder sister, being around 55 years old; Margaret was some 14 years her junior.

Mrs Flanagan had one trait that in other circumstances would have been commended – she was rather frugal. She spent little, to the extent of being regarded as miserly, and it was said that her favourite occupation was that of acquiring money.

Late 19th century Liverpool

Late 19th century Liverpool

With savings she had accumulated when young, she opened a beer house near Liverpool’s docks – a poor area but one that would guarantee good custom from the local workers. However, she did not like rules and regulations, and soon came to the attention of the police for opening on Sundays, and for the illicit activities that took place in her tavern. After several convictions, she was forced to close her beer house down.

She then put her financial skills to better use by setting up as a money lender. She borrowed money from local loan offices, and then lent it to her hard-up neighbours, in small sums, but charging interest of fourpence in every shilling. She then started dealing with burial societies – with rather a grim result.

The most noteworthy thing about her sister Margaret was that she had had two husbands – her first was a labourer, an Orangeman from Northern Ireland. He died under suspicious circumstances, and it was rumoured that she may have murdered him. She then married again – one Thomas Higgins. He soon died, after insurance policies had been taken out on him.

Suspicions were aroused, and in a dramatic fashion, his funeral was halted by police in order for his body to be examined. At this point, Flanagan disappeared – it took a week for her to be apprehended. An inquest was duly held on Thomas Higgins’ body, starting just after Christmas in 1883. On 4 January 1884, the coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against both sisters.

It then emerged that Flanagan had previously taken in a young lodger at her home on Skirvin Street – 18-year-old Margaret Jennings, who had also died under suspicious circumstances (2). Once the sisters had been charged with Thomas’s death, an order was submitted for Margaret’s body to be exhumed. It was believed that the women had killed both in order to get their life insurance.

Two more charges came; one that they had also poisoned Catherine’s son John, and the other, that they had also killed Margaret’s step-daughter, Mary Higgins. John, aged 22, had been buried four years earlier (3); his body was exhumed from its grave at Ford Cemetery, near Liverpool, and was found to be ‘wonderfully’ preserved. His corpse was found to be full of arsenic. John had been insured with a number of burial societies and insurance agents for a total of £71.

Madame Lafarge - another woman accused of using arsenic to kill

Madame Lafarge – another woman accused of using arsenic to kill

Mary Higgins (called Sarah in some reports) had died in November 1882, aged 12 (4),  shortly after Margaret had taken out various death insurance policies on her. Her body was exhumed towards the end of January 1884, and again found to contain arsenic. Both Sarah’s and John’s bodies were reinterred after their post-mortems; no inquests were allowed to be held as more than a year had passed since their deaths.

Faced with the evidence of the insurance policies, Catherine now turned against her sister, offering to give evidence against her, and admitting that she had used arsenic from fly-papers to poison the insured. The Crown, however, refused to let her become a witness.

The two women went on trial at the Liverpool Assizes in February 1884. Both women were charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Higgins, Margaret Jennings, and John Flanagan; Margaret was additionally charged with murdering Mary Higgins (sic). Crowds attended the trial, eager to hear the details of the two middle aged sisters’ alleged offences.

One of the witnesses was Margaret Jennings’ father Patrick, who confirmed that he and his daughter had lodged with Catherine, and had known her son John. In court, he had to describe not only John’s agonising death, over two days – which both the accused women had watched –  but his own daughter’s.

The two women murdered him by poisoning; and were sentenced to death on Saturday 16 February 1884 for doing so. Realising there was no chance of their sentences being commuted, they freely admitted their guilt. They were sent to the nearly 70-year-old Kirkdale Gaol to await their execution, and were said to have been ‘dejected’; because they were both completely illiterate, ‘the time has hung more heavily on their hands than it would have done had they been possessed of any education’.

Kept in separate cells, they had little to keep them occupied, apart from thinking about their impending deaths. They ended up asking the female warders who watched them 24 hours a day to read to them, and were said to have ‘much appreciated’ the stories.

Their own stories, however, were about to end.

**

It is 3 March, a bitterly cold Monday morning. It’s early, and barely light, but even so, a crowd has gathered in the snow in front of the gaol. They cannot see the execution itself, for hangings have been held away from the public gaze for nearly two decades now. (5) Yet there they stand, blowing on their hands, stamping their feet, to keep warm; the women are huddled into their shawls. They have their eyes gazing upwards; not to the sky, but to the spot where, shortly after 8am, a black flag will be hoisted to tell them that the murderers are dead.

Behind the gaol walls, they know that Binns, the executioner, is finalising arrangements, assisted by Samuel Heath, a man from the other side of the Pennines. They have sorted the drop – nine feet six for Flannagan, and two inches more for Higgins. Now they are waiting for the two women to walk the steps to the scaffold… they are adjusting the ropes, placing the nooses under the women’s chins…

And on the outside, as the snow continues to fall, a black flag climbs into the air, watched silently by the crowd. (6)

Report of the execution in the Illustrated Police News

Report of the execution in the Illustrated Police News

 

NOTES

  1. Press reports of the day stress the cold and snowy conditions of the morning the execution took place – see, for example, the Illustrated Police News of 8 March 1884.
  2. Death of Margaret Jennings: BMDs, Liverpool, March quarter of 1883, vol 8b, page 17.
  3. Death of John Flannigan: BMDs, Liverpool, December quarter of 1880, vol 8b page 40.
  4. Some reports said that she was 10, but BMD records state that she was 12 (BMDs for Liverpool, December quarter of 1882, vol 8b, page 30).
  5. Public executions in Britain ended in 1868 (see Capital Punishment UK).
  6. Press coverage taken from: Yorkshire Gazette, 10 November 1883, Dundee Evening Telegraph, 18 February 1884, Stamford Mercury, 8 February 1884, Dundee Courier, 22 February 1884, Cornubian and Redruth Times, 25 January 1884, Dundee Courier, 19 February 1884, Dublin Daily Express, 5 January 1884, Portsmouth Evening News, 29 December 1883, Fife Herald, 5 March 1884.
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