Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

press; to which he said, “No, let us go on; the sooner it is over the better." The ordinary now began to read the burial service, but it was impossible for the malefactor to walk the distance through the dark pas. sages to the outside of the prison; I therefore took him up in my arms and carried him to the top of the steps which lead to the scaffold; here he said, “ Put me down." I then took hold of his arm and supported him for two or three steps, until he reached the proper place under the beam, while the executioner put the rope about his neck, who desiring me to hold him up, went down below and drew away the bolt, leaving me to stand by until the last moment.

It had always been my practice, along with others in our line, to attend every execution, and to get as near the scaffold as possible ; this affair, therefore, had not much effect upon my nerves, although I could not help thinking it was writ down in the book of fate it should so happen that I must assist in hanging the man who first took me among thieves.

There is nothing the family men and boys are so proud of as being skilled in flash language; he who knows the most of it holds his head up, and assumes as much consequence, and shows as much pride, as any bishop of his Latin and Greek. In my time I learnt it all ; but since I have been in place I have left it off, which accounts for my not using it in this book more than I could help; I may, however, give a glossary of the terms at the end of this work for the use of any who may be curious in these matters. The man I carried to the drop is a good specimen of a large class, who think there is no language like it, and that poverty of style must be attached to every conversation in which it is not used.

At eleven o'clock, about three hours after I had exhibited myself upon the new drop, on the Monday morning, I was sent for into the governor's office at Newgate, where I saw the two sheriffs and several aldermen. One of them, addressing me, said, “We have been thinking of your case, and what can be done for you: it seems, from your story, that you have no friends, and have never been a willing thief; now there is a situation open, if you would like to take it : our executioner is getting in years, and he complains that the helper we hire for him is not very attentive to his duty; if you are willing to take the deputyship for the present, we will give you two guineas per week, and it's very probable that, in a short time, you will have the first situation, which we shall make worth your acceptance." I at once saw my coolness upon the scaffold had been noticed, and that I was destined for the profession; or else take another run in the world and shortly get hanged myself, as the value of one shil. ling would do it in those days. Considering myself in the hands of fate, I thought it was no use kicking against it; so I said, “Well, gentlemen, I wish it had been something else; but if it must be so, it must.” I did not, however, then know that flogging the prisoners every sessions, and the placing men in the pillory, was part of my duty, or I should not, I believe, have undertaken it.

The sheriffs made me a present of ten pounds for my sufferings while in prison out of their fund, which they told me was to clothe and serve me for present need, and that I might come every Saturday for my two guineas.

I had often read in the newspapers the many arguments against taking away the life of man, all of which I fully agreed with; but I now reflected that I was an interested person, and began to view the ques. tion in another point of light. I considered the safety of the public, and the necessity of examples; and finally, like all persons when they come into place, soon found good reasons to change my opinions, like these men, too, I bounded from one extreme to the other, and very early after being in office, persuaded myself that there was not half hanging enough. In the course of one week, I thought with the revolutionists in France, that the salvation of the country depended upon a vast number of its inhabitants being put to death ; and went so far as to tell one of the sheriffs, that from what I knew of the thieves, nothing would put them down but hanging all who were found guilty. “ This measure,” said I, “ if it don't frighten, will in a short time destroy, them." Upon which he shook his head, telling me to do my duty, and not give opinions.

My greatest trouble was how I should spend my leisure hours—where I should find society. I dared not go among my former companions, and I thought, wherever I went, people would know and avoid me, if they did not do me some mischief. I was afraid even to go among the women I had formerly been acquainted with, and felt quite incapable of facing the one who had, at times, lived with me as my wife. Finding it, however, inipossible to be without some human being to whom I might relate my troubles, and whose society I might enjoy, I went every day to the female who fainted in Newgate, and at length took courage to tell her my situation and state of mind : her conduct towards me was so kind, and she urged so many reasons why I should not despond, that I in the course of a few weeks married her, to make sure of always having a companion, and to the present hour I have had no reason to be sorry for the step I took. I smoked my pipe at home, and took to reading such books as I could lay my hands upon, until I became quite a domestic man, and submitted to the entire will of my wife, which was anything but tyrannical.

The session in which I was so unjustly condemned, and miraculously saved from death, was held on the 4th of the month in December. I was tried on the 6th, sentenced on the 9th, and reprieved on the 16th, just in time to eat my Christmas dinner outside the walls of a prison. It has always been the custom to avoid executions during the Christmas festivals, so that I had a tolerable interval after my appointment to office to prepare myself before I was called upon to perform the duties of it; and it is well I had, for no man, I think, can all at once make up his mind to the business ; especially being without employment between the intervals, and prevented going into any company where one is known during the day, either to beguile time or amuse the thoughts. It is bad enough at first to reflect that you must take away the life of others, but when the office excludes a man from society, it brings reflection doubly home to the mind; and had I not considered myself a devoted person in the hands of fate, I should not have got over the trouble of my conscience. I considered, too, that the laws were supposed to be made by wiser heads than mine, and that if I did not do the duty, somebody else would, so that the same number of lives must, in the end, be lost : besides, I quieted my feelings a good deal, by looking upon myself merely as a helper. Then so anxious was I to find excuses for my justification, that I reflected all men would in reality be better off out of life than in it, especially those who are poor, and were compelled to steal for a living, as I had doue. After a short time, however, I felt a secret pleasure in the office, which I am now glad to say did not last long ; but it served in a measure to explain to me how other men, who made cruel laws, and those that administer them, without doubt, at times, gratified their own passions, and the love they had imbibed for excitement, in inflicting the severities of punishment on culprits.

In the middle of the following session, which happened on the 17th of January, an order came for the execution of four malefactors, giving me, my master, and the poor fellows, five days' notice to prepare. The headexecutioner was a very old man, and forth with commenced giving me divers lessons and instructions in the art of depriving men speedily of life. Up to this time the whole of my thoughts had been so much occupied with the affair of poor Tom, whom I had carried to the place of execution, together with his faithful woman whom I had since married, with

while

the suddenness of my deliverance from the gallows, that I had totally forgotten the two men who were condemned at the time, and for the same offence as I was: when, therefore, I saw them brought out to be tied

up I was so unmanned that, as the signal was given me to draw back the bolt, I felt as if my arm was not under my own control. At the same moment, however, I heard, or thought I heard, a voice cry out from beneath the ground-Fate commands it; when the invisible power, which had before held back my arm, drew it violently the right way, and accomplished the death of the four men. It was fortunate for me that I had once been a resurrectionist, for I am convinced no man, who had not been previously accustomed to dead bodies, could go through the cutting down part of the business: I was compelled to take them in my arms,

my

master cut the rope, and then on my shoulders convey them, one by one, into the interior of the prison.

However familiarized we may be with death, there will always be something peculiarly indescribably awful in it: whenever it is seen under new circumstances, it every time becomes as impressive as when it was beheld for the first time; particularly when, as in my case, one must fold it in the arms to remove the corpses from the beam. It would be more decent, by the way, if they were let down out of sight after their execution by a pulley. I had not, after this, any occasion to perform this part of the duty, for the old man died in a few weeks, and I was promoted to the first situation, in accordance with the sheriff's promise. Although my predecessor had been head man for many years, he felt to the last that it was awkward sort of work, and always carried a dram bottle in his pocket, to which he applied when his own spirits failed him. Upon the last occasion, when the men were turned off and pulled, he sate down under them, and brought out his bottle to reanimate himself, giving me a share, or I should never have gone through it; but notwithstanding all, I went home that morning very sick and ill. I ate nothing the whole day, and had, moreover, a dreaming, restless night, three or four times in my sleep seizing, hold of my wife, and calling out, “ He's going! he's going !" under the impression I was about to save the men from falling. I snatched and tore my wife's clothes so violently, that she got up and watched me for the remainder of the night.

Three days afterwards, when the session terminated, I was called upon to perform another duty, namely, to assist in privately and publicly flogging all the prisoners who were sentenced, during the session, to that punishment. At the time I am now referring to, when a celebrated recorder presided at the Old Bailey, catting-day was no joke: the old man latterly used to say, (for I frequently went into the court to hear the trials of those who were likely afterwards to come into my hands,) when he ordered a prisoner to be flogged, “ Mind, when I say the prisoner is to be whipped, I don't mean a mere showing of the cat; I intend that he shall have a real substantial punishment, that is, a good sound flogging, one which he may not easily forget-remember that!” and then the old man would roll his tongue round his mouth with as much self-satisfaction as if he had done a deed of mercy or charity. At the time I am writing this, I have been thirty years an executioner, and have in town and country officiated at the execution of upwards of a thousand malefactors, and must necessarily, whether it be true or otherwise, have credit with the world for having my feelings rendered pretty callous; the public, how. ever, are not always free from error, even in adopting the inost general and received opinions; but be this as it may, I shall never forget the first day I went to Newgate to flog the culprits. I attended at eight o'clock in the morning at my master's lodgings, where I found him with ten new cats, four of which he handed to me, putting the other six into his own pocket; after some instructions we proceeded to the prison, where we learnt that there were thirteen for public, and twenty-seven for private punishment. Among the former were five men above fifty years of age ; one James Carrun, aged fifty-seven; George Clayton, aged sixty-four; and Moses Clarke, aged sixty-seven: this, it will be allowed by all, was bad enough in these civilized times. For my part, when I saw men with one foot in the grave stripped to be publicly whipped, it made me more sick than the executions; but this was nothing to that which was in reserve. After the thirteen had been punished, we went inside the prison to operate upon the twenty-seven: the first man brought out to be placed in the stocks had traced upon his back, in Indian ink, a representation of our Saviour upon the cross. There,” said a dandified alderman, “ you see what the villain has been about, he thinks that will save him :" in vain did the man protest that the figure had been pricked upon his back fifteen years previously when he was at sea. “ I'll teach you,” said the turtle-eater, " to play us these tricks-give him a double number of stripes." While the man was undergoing his punishment, this humane citizen called out repeatedly, “ Cut it out of his back! Cut it all out of his back.”

Thus bad begins, but worse remains behind." I am, although old and supposed to be hardened in feeling, ashamed to state what followed; but, however, at the present period of my life I am a very altered man, and must pray for forgiveness. They brought me out a woman, Mary Rock, upwards of fifty years of age, to be stripped and flogged for stealing an umbrella, value three shillings; besides two young ones, Mary Loftus and Sarah Edwards, for stealing five pounds of soap and a shirt, both valued at five shillings, the one twenty-five, and the other twenty-six years of age; these, with several others, were all put into the stocks and whipped that day as severely as were the men. When this scene had passed away, thinking and pondering upon that fate which had so strangely dealt with me through life, it came across my mind that I might have flogged my own mother or sister for aught I knew; whereupon I swore never more to flog a female again, and I kept my word. Although the resolution endangered my stay in the situation, I was induced to make it, partly at the instance of my wife, who seeing how unhappy it had made me, told me it was the most wicked thing a man could be guilty of, and I believe she uttered the truth, when all things are taken into consideration. Very shortly afterwards I was head man; I then made the other take this disgraceful duty. On the subject of flogging, if I were now, after all I have seen and gone through, to give my opinion, I should say before any assembly, that it is a beastly, abominable kind of practice. I have seen many of the city authorities in my time who have taken such a pleasure in witnessing these scenes that they never missed an opportunity of being present, while many were so disgusted with it, that they did not attend a solitary case of punishment. It is my belief, that all who advocate the practice are possessed of some secret bad feelings which are gratified by this kind of excitement, and I regret that certain considerations, together with my own inability, prevents my further exposure of this practice. Independently of its wickedness and cruelty, it operates badly: it drives all manhood, pride, and spirit out of some men, leaving them, as it were, a carcass without a soul ; they are never again fit for work or care how they subsist, crawling about upon the earth a nuisance and an encumbrance to their country. In other men it takes a more desperate turn, and sends them loose upon society like wild beasts, reckless of all consequences, caring not what becomes of them, and, consequently, are prepared to injure any of the other members of society. Such, in fact, are the men who do commit the desperate crimes stated in the Old Bailey Session Papers.

The law that makes more knaves than e'er it bung,
Little considers right, or mends the wrong,"

[ocr errors]

I had not many hours been appointed to my situation of chief hangman before I had a visit from an undertaker, who came to inform me, that he and my predecessor had been upon very good terms, and used to transact business together to each other's advantage, adding, that he was in hopes I would enter into a similar contract, saying he knew several surgeons whom he could name that would continue to be our customers. This undertaker was a person who was a great deal employed by the poor and at workhouses to bury the dead : it was his practice to take as many corpses home as he could to his own house to prepare for interment, then substitute a weight equivalent to the body, and secure it down in the coffin, afterwards disposing of the body for dissection. The better to accomplish this, he found it necessary, in order to avoid suspicion, to employ an agent to whose house they might be removed and sold, without his being seen in the transaction. Considering these things as so many perquisites of office, I did not suffer the opportunity to pass me. This man also informed me, that I might, upon certain occasions, make a profit of the nooses, part of the rope with which any notorious criminal had been suspended. At first I could scarcely bring myself to believe that any person could be found so weak as to set a value upon such articles; I have, however, since learnt, that there is no hobby-horse so spare, but some fool will be found to mount, and willing to ride him to death. It is a fact upon which the world may rely, that I have had five guineas offered and paid me for the remnant of a rope after the execution of certain individuals: upon occasions of a great demand, of course, I could accommodate my sapient customers with any number, taking care to keep them all ready labelled with the malefactors' names upon them. One gentleman made a collection of nearly three hundred ropes used for malefactors during his own time; he might, however, as well have gone to a rope-maker's and purchased them all at once, as far as regards their genuineness.

A few days subsequently to my conversation with the undertaker, I had an interview with three surgeons, whom I agreed to supply with subjects for dissection at the schools. This was at a period when a dead body was worth twenty pounds; and I am now of opinion, that had I not exerted myself in procuring subjects for the demand as I did, the premium would have induced many, long ere the days of Burke, to commit murder, and deal in human life for the sole purpose of dissection.

There has always been a vulgar prejudice in this country against dis. section of the body after death; this repugnance in the mind of the living either to consent that their own bodies or those of their friends should be so disposed of, has arisen without doubt from the law which condemned the murderer's body, after death, to the knife. To the punishment of hanging we add the ignominy of being dissected; saying in substance, to be anatomised after death is the ne plus ultra of penal punishment. Taking this view, as most others had done of the question, I at first, although I had been used to the trade, when the undertaker came to me, had some doubts whether I should be justified in my own conscience in disposing of any dead bodies to surgeons : these scruples were, however, removed by a conversation I had with a lecturer, who explained to me that it was but a weak and foolish prejudice which the rich men and the legislators of the country had caused. “ Remove," said he, “ this apprehension and concern whilst living for the body when dead, and dead bodies would not long be of a murderous value." Those classes which affect superior knowledge, and freedom from prejudice, are the least liberal, and possess less sense upon this point than the vulgar populace.

There appears to me to be but one way of putting this question equitably to rest for ever: the dissection of the human body benefits the

« ForrigeFortsæt »