BRUTALITY AND CRUELTY OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE—A HIGH SHERIFF IN DIFFICULTY, OR A HANGMAN WANTED—THE CHELMSFORD EXECUTIONS.
London, October 15th, 1853.
DEAR MAJOR:—Another feature in the social character of the British people, most remarkable to me, is their fierce brutality and cruelty. It may be said, speaking generally, that this characteristic manifests itself in the perpetration of awful murders and deeds of violence by men, women, and children. But it may be said more specially that it exhibits itself most shockingly in the number of murders of women by men, of wives by husbands (and the large proportion of both these), of husbands by wives, of children by parents, of parents by children; in cruelty to, and ill-treatment of, helpless women, children, paupers, insane persons, and prisoners, by those who should be their protectors; and in like cruelty on the part of mothers to their offspring, and on the part of both men and women to their inferiors and dependents.
These are strong allegations; but I make them after careful observation and reflection, and I will furnish the proofs of all that I charge.
By consulting the "British Almanac," published in
London by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge, and "Darton's Statistical Tables," you will find
that, for several years previous to the year 1851 (the year
at which my observations commence), the number of
capital sentences passed for the crime of murder was about
twenty annually, in England and Wales; and for attempts
to murder, not quite half that many; The number of
executions was something more than ten annually.
In the year 1849, there were fifteen executions for murder;
in 1848 there were twelve, in 1847 there were eight, and
in another year there were thirteen; of which three were
of females for the murder of their husbands, two of males for the murder of their wives, one of a man for the murder of his child, and one of a son for the murder of his father; seven, or a majority of the thirteen, being for offences in violation of what are elsewhere, certainly, considered natural instincts and affections.
If you pause here to ask me, "What became of the other convicts receiving sentence of death during these years, it appearing that, not one-half of those sentenced were executed?" I answer, "Be patient, and you will learn something about this before I have left the subject."
In the same publication,—the "British Almanac,"—I find that forty persons were sentenced to death in the year 1851 for offences against the person, and twenty-eight for offences against property, with violence to the person. Of these, ten were executed according to this report; though it would appear, from an account which I derive from another source, and send you, that the demand for executioners that year considerably exceeded the supply.
"A HIGH-SHERIFF IN DIFFICULTY; OR, A HANGMAN WANTED.
It will no doubt be in the recollection of many persons that
the High Sheriff of Suffolk, in March last, was placed in no
very pleasant position in consequence of the services of a
hangman not being obtainable to carry into execution the last
sentence of the law upon Maria Clarke, for the murder of her
illegitimate child, by burying it alive in the parish of Wingfield.
The high-sheriff, however, on that occasion, was spared an
unpleasant duty by a reprieve coming down for the condemned
woman two days before that on which her execution was to
have taken place. At the assizes held at Ipswich, on the 2d
inst., Maria Emily Cage was found guilty of the murder of her
husband, James Cage, at Stonham Aspel, by administering to
him a certain quantity of arsenic. Her execution was ordered
to take place on Saturday (Aug. 16), in front of the Ipswich
county jail, but the same difficulty was again presented as in
March. Calcraft, the hangman, on being applied to, could
not attend, as he had promised to perform a similar office the
same morning at Norwich. An application was next made to
the hangman at Warwick jail, but that functionary could not attend, as he would be similarly engaged at Shrewsbury on that day. A messenger was then despatched to the Secretary of State's office, who explained the unpleasant position in which the high-sheriff of Suffolk was placed, and requested that the execution of Mary Emily Cage might be postponed. The answer from the Secretary of State was to the effect that no alteration as to the day named could be made; thus leaving the high-sheriff to get out of the difficulty in the best way he could. To have had the law carried into effect on Saturday would, in all probability, have been repugnant to the feelings of the high-sheriff, for, as no person could be found to supply the place of Calcraft, the high-sheriff must have performed the horrid duty himself. To avoid doing that, the high-sheriff has, on his own responsibility, ordered the execution to be delayed until an early day in the ensuing week. The condemned woman's demeanor is becoming her awful position. She appears to be resigned to her fate, but protests that she is innocent. The unpleasant position of the high-sheriff, not only on this but on a former occasion, may be attributed to the usual course not being adopted—the making sure that Calcraft can attend before any day be appointed for the execution."— The Times, August 17th, 1851.
You must be furnished with examples of some of the shocking murders to which I have referred; otherwise, the whole truth of the case cannot be realized; for such horrible occurrences are seldom or never heard of in our Southern States.
I send you, first, an account of the execution of two notorious murderers, whose offences were committed early in the year 1850.
"THE CHELMSFORD EXECUTIONS.
On Tuesday morning Thomas Drory and Sarah Chesham
expiated their crimes, by an ignominious death, in front of the
county jail, at Springfield, near Ohelmsford. The revolting
details of their crimes are too fresh in the recollection of the
public, to need more than a brief allusion to them. Drory
was convicted, on the clearest evidence, of having strangled a
poor girl, whom he had seduced, and who was far advanced in
pregnancy by him. His motives, it is difficult to conjecture,
for he had no immediate object to attain, reconcileable with
the strength of those influences which forbid men to 'break
into the house of life.' Her disgrace, and his share in it, were known, and he had no secrecy to secure. His position in life would soon have exempted him from her importunities; and his ordinarily mild deportment, effeminate looks, and small person appear in strange contrast with the horrible details of his crime. The physiognomist might in vain search his features for indications of the cruel and relentless disposition displayed in the murder of Jael Denny, and those who speculate on the motives actuating great criminals, may in vain endeavor to explore the impulses which led to this dreadful tragedy. Happily no doubt can be entertained of his guilt. He himself has set that point at rest. The visiting magistrates, complying with his father's wish, promised that if a detailed statement were made by him, it should not be published. It is believed, too, that Drory himself desired to spare his family this last humiliation, and nothing beyond a general confession of his guilt has been committed to paper. He wrote it on Monday night. It is clearly the composition of a very illiterate person, but it betrays some traces of penitence. Official etiquette forbids the publishing of a verbatim copy, which would throw full light on the amount of Drory's education. It is dated 'Springfield Jail, March 24, 1851,' and is in the form of a petition addressed to the High Sheriff of the county of Essex, Drory began it by alluding to 'that grievous offence' for which he acknowledged that he was 'justly convicted,' and dreadful as it was that he was about to forfeit his life according to law, as an example, he hoped and trusted, to deter others from committing so wicked and horrid a crime. He prayed God that it might, and that his poor unfortunate victim, that he 'so barbarously and maliciously' deprived of life, was now in heaven at rest—for with God all things are possible, and might the Lord in his goodness have mercy on his soul. His humble petition and request was, that the sheriff might order, if possible, that the money (£8 11s. 4d.) that was found on his person and taken from him by Mr. Coulson, superintendent of the Brentwood police station, might be given over to the poor unfortunate deceased's mother, Louisa Last, of Doddinghurst, 'part restitution for the grievous injury' he might have done her. As he desired to die at peace with all mankind, this would greatly oblige him (the unfortunate criminal). Such is the purport, and, as nearly as the indirect form of speech can convey it, the language of Drory's only written confession. But though no complete statement of his crime was committed to paper, the natural desire to un-
burden his heart was constantly at work, and at different times to the turnkeys and governors he verbally communicated the manner in which the murder was accomplished. The substance of these statements is, that he met Jael Denny by accident, as far as he was concerned, at half-past five on the evening of the murder, but he thought that she purposely put herself in his way. He said he could not talk to her then, but he would in an hour's time have some chat with her. They met accordingly, but meanwhile he had gone to a cellar in his father's house, and taken part of a rope, left a fortnight before by a person who had brought it to tie up baskets of damsons which he had bought, and who had left that portion of the rope behind. He said, on one occasion, that he had carried the rope for several days in his bosom; on another, that he carried it in his coat pocket; and lastly, that he took it from the cellar immediately before the act. These statements, though apparently inconsistent, may be all true. On meeting her for the second time, he said that he and Jael Denny talked and walked about, after which, at her suggestion, they sat down on the bank. She had come to urge him to marry her. He passed the rope gently round her as they were sitting, and had got the end into the loop before she perceived it. She jumped up at once and put up her hands to salve her throat (which is proved by the marks on her fingers), but he pulled hard and she fell without a struggle. He then left her lying in the field, and went to Brentwood. In his last moments Drory admitted that he was the father of the child that Jael Denny was pregnant with. His aspersions upon her character were not credited by those most competent to judge. He had repeated interviews with his friends, who were allowed free access to his cell, but on his side and theirs a dead silence—more expressive perhaps than words—was observed as to the crime of which he had been convicted. He showed little emotion in the presence of his friends, and they generally occupied the time in reading the Bible, or sermons, or in casual conversation. Mr. Neale, the governor, used a remarkable expression in describing his first interview with his old father. Being asked how they behaved, he replied, 'They looked astounded at each other'—well they might!
Turning to Sarah Chesham, we find her crime of even a
deeper dye than Drory's. She was forty-two years of age,
and repute had raised her poisoning art to the dignity of a
professional murderess. Twice had she stood a trial for her
life, and, as often, escaped from justice. On one occasion she
owed her safety to the scruples of a Quaker, opposed to capital punishment. Amongst the crimes charged were the poisonings of her own children, and to crown her enormities, and to show that no perils could turn her from her guilty purposes, she destroyed her husband's life by small doses of arsenic. From the medical evidence adduced against her on her first trial, she learnt and put in practice the art of poisoning, and now she has met the extreme penalty of the law without a sign of repentance, an acceptance of religious consolations, or an acknowledgment of her crimes. From time to time she has made statements asserting her innocence, and charging other people in incoherent terms with the offence for which she had been condemned. It has gone the round of the papers that she had admitted poisoning her children, but that turns out to be untrue; and at the last moment, on leaving her cell, her protestations were as firm and decided as they have been throughout. 'I am innocent,' she said, 'though my neck is put into the halter for it.' Since her conviction she has steadily refused to move out of her cell, either for the purposes of exercise or religious devotion at the chapel. Drory also declined attendance there at first, but on Sunday last, the 23d, he intimated his desire to be present. Speaking of the spiritual condition of both the condemned, the Rev. George Hamilton, chaplain to the jail, with great sorrow expresses his conviction that they displayed no satisfactory proofs of genuine penitence and faith. He states that Sarah Chesham appeared constantly occupied in thought, and seemed perfectly to comprehend every argument and scriptural passage put before her calculated to awaken the mind. Drory, the Rev. chaplain stated, seemed little able to comprehend the enormity of his crime, and its accompanying circumstances of cruelty and treachery.
And now it is requisite to give some account of the manner
in which these guilty wretches bore the last trying and awful
moments of their fate. Drory slept till half-past four o'clock,
after which he rose and prepared himself by devotional
exercises for the execution of his sentence. Chesham passed such
a night as the guilty who are about to die impenitent might
be expected to endure. Her mental sufferings were extreme.
She never closed her eyes in sleep, and could taste no food.
When nine o'clock, the hour appointed for execution, arrived,
Drory was first taken across an open court-yard, to the foot
of the gateway tower, on the top of which the black scaffold,
dismal and bare, was reared. He quivered in every limb and
joint of his body, and was obliged to be supported as he pro-
ceeded, while the chaplain, avoiding the usual practice, on such occasions, of repeating the burial service, read, instead, prayers suitable to the solemn occasion. Arrived at the foot of the staircase ascending the gateway tower, Drory was pinioned in a cell set apart for that purpose, and thence he was conducted in a state of extreme agitation and debility up stairs to the drop. In the meantime Sarah Chesham was with some little difficulty removed from her place of confinement. At first she seemed disposed not to move, but on being told that she would be carried to the place of execution if she persisted, she consented to walk there. Nature, however, and the terrors of a violent and disgraceful death were too strong for her, and she required the assistance of two persons as she moved forward. Drory appeared first on the fatal platform, and as soon as he presented himself, with drooping head and pinioned arms, and faint and trembling limbs, the vast crowd of spectators assembled below were hushed into solemn and affecting silence. To the number of 6000 or 7000 they had been slowly gathering there from six o'clock in the morning; their behavior throughout was very orderly and sedate, though the shrill voices of boys at play, and the calls of orange venders might be heard at intervals. From all parts of the surrounding country the assemblage had come: it consisted principally of smock-frocked laborers, their highlows and gaiters spattered with mud, and their steps heavy with the number of miles they had travelled to 'the hanging.' A few farmers were present, eyeing askance the dismal implement above the jail gateway, and thinking of the minutes, hours, until the condemned made their appearance. There were hardly any respectable people observable in the crowd, but a most disgusting number of women. Some of these had gay flowers in their bonnets, and evidently set up for rustic belles; others were mothers, giving suck to infants whom they carried in their arms; others were elderly matrons, presiding at the head of their families, and from the elevation of the domestic spring cart pointing out to their young daughters how they could best see the execution. With these exceptions, the great assemblage in front of the jail behaved itself with much propriety. Not more than half a dozen police were visible, though Captain M'Hardy prudently had a large-body in reserve. The jail and the chief police station stand opposite each other, with a wide roadway and a piece of open ground intervening, and it was here that the spectators were chiefly assembled. Drory, when placed on the drop, was delivered over to the hands of Calcraft, the executioner, who
quickly drew on the white cap and adjusted the rope, while the miserable wretch ejaculated in broken accents, 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the chief—of whom I am the chief'—and he still kept repeating that last significant acknowledgment until the drop fell. After a delay of several minutes, during which many began to fear that there was something wrong, Sarah Chesham was with difficulty placed under the fatal beam, supported, like the other prisoner, by two attendants. Without an instant's delay Calcraft completed his simple but dreadful preparations; and then, while with bated breath the thousands of spectators below looked on, the bolt was drawn; a faint murmur of horror spread among the crowd as they saw the sentence of the law carried into effect, which was prolonged as the convulsive struggles of the dying man and woman were painfully visible. In Drory all sign of animation was extinct in four or five minutes, but Chesham struggled for six or seven. They were both light figures, and they 'died hard.' The crowd almost immediately after dispersed, and few remained to witness 'the cutting down.' As they began to separate, hawkers of ballads and 'true and correct account,' of the execution, and all kinds of edibles, appeared among them, and the assemblage was a sort of moving fair on its way back to town. The long pent up excitement relaxed itself, it is to be supposed, in the same manner as the spectators of a tragedy love to close the evening with some lighter entertainment.
The last woman hanged at Chelmsford was Anne May—her crime also that of poisoning. Mrs. Chesham was said to have been intimate with her; but she denied this stoutly, and they appear to have lived in totally different parts of the county. In little more than an hour after the bodies were cut down, that of Drory was buried within the precincts of the jail. All applications for a cast of his head were rigidly refused, and the same with the other sacrifice to justice also. The strictness of the authorities in this respect is much to be commended, for such facilities, instead of being turned to any useful purposes, are warped to feed the morbid curiosity of coarse and ignorant minds. The body of Sarah Chesham was not buried within the precincts of the jail, having been claimed by a relative. It appears that having been indicted for poisoning, and not expressly for murder, the statute was not considered binding in her case."—Observer, March 31st, 1851.
All this is very horrible, Major, It is awful, indeed, to think of that scoundrel of an English Thugg, caressingly gliding his arm around the poor girl, as she sat confidingly by his side, slipping the fatal noose over her head, and then, with fierce energy springing to his feet, and strangling the struggling creature, together with his child in her bosom.
The writer of the above article, you will perceive, expresses himself at a loss "to explore the impulses which led to this dreadful tragedy." If he would place himself on the stand-point which we are about to occupy, and survey the dread array of crimes continually occurring around him, he would be compelled to see that the impulses which lead to such dreadful tragedies must have their origin in a passion for blood-shedding—in a blood-lust intuitive with and native to his countrymen.
Observe how strongly this is exemplified in the other case. That culprit, more exquisite in her tastes than the worshipper of Thuggee, was not content to put her victim to death by any vulgar and commonplace process—she had no idea of bolting the rich repast; but, with a luxurious gratification of her appetite, she, as it were, leisurely sipped the life-stream as it flowed slowly forth. She administered small doses of arsenic to her husband, and, with an epicurean satisfaction which Petronius Arbiter might have envied, enjoyed the pleasure of his death by slow degrees. Previously, it seems, she had had the comfort of disposing of her children in a similar manner. Can we wonder that she shrank from death, as it is said she did, at the foot of the gallows, when she reflected that she was presently going where there were no more husbands and children to be slowly poisoned?
But I must bring this letter to an end; and so subscribe myself
Yr. friend and cousin,
TO MAJ. JONES,
Pineville, Ga., U. S. of America.