Women on the Gallows.
Within recent recollection the gallows have been busy in England with female criminals; and more than a dozen have suffered death under Her Majesty Queen Victoria, many of them being phenomenal criminals. In April, 1845, we believe, Sarah Freeman was hanged at Taunton for the poisoning with arsenic of her mother, brother, husband, and illegitimate son. In April, 1849, Sarah Thomas was hanged at Gloucester for beating out the brains of her mistress, an old women of fil, with a stone. She went to the gallows in an ungovernable fit of rage, wrestling and biting so desperately that it was with difficulty two warders could force her up the ladder, and her screams of anger and terror continued until the bolt was drawn. On the 21st of August of the same year Alary Ann Geering was hanged in front of Lewes jail for having poisoned her husband and two sons, so as to get the burial allowance from the Friendly Society to which they belonged. Two days later, Rebecca Smith suffered at Devizes for the murder of her baby, aged four weeks. Her show of fervent piety had provoked much sympathy for her, but after her conviction she broke down and confessed that she had poisoned her seven other children. Finally, on the 13th of November the Mannings were hanged before Horsemonger Lane Jail. On the 9th of August Patrick O’Connor, a custom-house officer, was missed from his lodgings. On the 17th his body was found buried in the back kitchen of his friends, the Mannings, in Minister-place, Bermondsey, lying on its face, with its legs doubled and tied up in a mass of quicklime. The house was deserted, Mrs Manning having gone to O’Connor’s lodgings after killing him and taken his money and securities, and then fled to Edinburgh under an assumed name. The police during the three days that elapsed before her flight had searched her house, but not closely. On the 20th she was taken, having offered some of the stolen scrip for sale; on the 29th her husband was captured in Jersey. During the inquiry lie declared that his wife had invited O’Connor to dinner, and asking him to go downstairs to wash his hands, had put her arms around his neck when they reached the passage and shot him. The trial took pLce on October 25th and 26th. Mrs •Manning, who spoke in excellent English, but with a slight French accent, complained that she had not been treated like a Christian, but like a wild beast of the forest; that there was no law in England to execute her; and if Mr Ballan tine had called witnesses he could have shown that she bought the scrip with her own money. Her husband made a confession of a kind, imputing the guilt chiefly to her, though she severely asseverated her innocence and besought him to tell the truth and save her life. His most
circumstantial statement \v f ya ns follows ; “My wife asked O'Connor to go downstairs, and in about a minute afterwards I hoard the report of a pistol. She then came up to me and said, ‘Thank God, I have made him all right at last; it will never be found out, as we are on such extraordinary good terms no one will ever have the least suspicion of my murdering him.’ To which I replied, ‘ I am quite certain that you will be hanged for this act,’ and she said, ‘ It won’t be you that is to suffer ;it will be me.’ After shooting him she said, ‘ I think no more of what I have done than if I had shot the cat on the wall.’ Upon her coming to me upstairs she insisted on my going down immediately, and upon my reaching the kitchen I found him lying there. He moaned —I never liked him well—and I battered his head with a ripping chisel.” Mrs Manning was hanged in black satin and a long lace veil. She and her husband shook hands upon the drop. Dickens wrote of the execution, memorable to this day, that “a sight so inconceivably awfulasthe wickedness and levity of theiminense crowd could be imagined by no man and presented by no heathen land under the sun. * * * There was no emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this -world and there were no belief among men but that they perish like the beasts. ” On the Bth of August, 1853, Helen Blackwood and Hans Smith Macfarlane were hanged at Glasgow for throwing a ship-carpcnter, named Boyd, out the window of a brothel, while he was helplessly drunk. The next execution of a woman which we find recorded took place at Dumfries, April 29, 1862, when Mary Timney was hanged for killing Ann Hannah. “ The execution,” we road, “ was rendered unusually touching and remarkable from the hysterical appeals of the poor woman on her passage to the gallows that mercy might even then be extended to her for the sake of her poor children.” Sept. 19, 1804, Jane Myers and Joseph Sargisson were executed at Leeds, and on the 11th of January, 1869, Ann Lawrence suflered death at Maidstone for the murder of her child. On the 27th of May, 1870, Maagaret Lynch and her brother Lawrence were hanged at Tullamore, Ireland, for the murder of one Dunne, and on the 11th of October, within the precincts of Horsemonger Lane Jail, was put to death the notorious Margaret Waters, the baby farmer. She had had many aliases and was known to receive infants at railroad stations and in the streets. Wherever she made her residence, at Brixton, Batterson, and Peckham, the emaciated bodies of babies were found with suspicious frequency in out-of-the-way places. On the eve of her execution she wrote a statement attributing her resorting to baby farming to financial difficulties ; she bad borrowed money at exorbitant interest, and people were willing to pay freely to get rid of their illegitimate children —she thought they were more to blame than herself. She owned to having laid down the bodies of five babies, but insisted that they bad died of convulsions or dysentry—not of deliberate starvation. The original Little Buttercup walked to the scaffold with a firm step, and after the rope had been adjusted, “ uttered in a calm and composed tone, what was described by those who heard it, as a beautiful extempore prayer. She appeared to die instantaneously.”. March 25, 1873, was banged at Durham, Mary Ann Cotton, the Bishop Auckland prisoner, who had done to death eighteen persons, husbands, children, and lodgers. With
all tin's load of guilt upon her conscience slept well, walked to the gallows with a firm step, and spent several minutes there in earnest prayer. The person who “funked” was the Under Sheriff, who had to be supported by two men, and fainted dead awav when the drop fell. On the 29th Juno, 1874, Frances Stewart was hanged for killing her gradson. On the 15th of .August last Selina Wadge, a woman of 28, was hanged at Bodmin- for dropping one of her two illegitimate children into a well. A man had promised to marry her if she could d'spose of one of them. She was a “ very kind mother,” and the jury recommended her to mercy, but in vain. On the 2Gth of May, 1879, Catherine Churchill, aged 54, was executed at Tiunton. She hail killed her husband with a bill-hook to prevent him altering the will he had made in favor of their illegitimate son, and then burned the body so that scarcely a trace of violence could be found about it. She firmly protested her innocence and insisted that her life had been sworn away. Finally, on the 29th July, Kate Webster was executed at Wadsworth for being unable to hold her tongue. Had she kept her own counsel it would have been impossible to establish legally that it was she who killed her mistress, Mrs Thomas, at Richmond, cut the body into pieces and threw them into the Thames. Her case was further notable in that when she pleaded pregnancy in bar of execution a jury of matrons was impanelled to pass upon the plea. The President of the London Obstertrical Society published a letter on the original impropriety of retaining in a modern judicial system a custom "based upon a mediajval medical error long since exposed.
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 16, 1 November 1879
Women on the Gallows. Ashburton Guardian, Volume I, Issue 16, 1 November 1879
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