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Female hangings 1632 to 1900

It is thought that altogether around 505 women were put to death in the U. S. between 1608 and 1900. At least eight teenage girls were hanged. Hannah Ocuish being, at just 12 years old, probably the youngest person to be executed in America. Rebecca Nurse was the oldest at 71. She was hanged for witchcraft at Salem Mass. on July 19, 1692.

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A SELECTION OF WOMEN OF COLOR HANGED

July 31, 1735 - 23 year old Patience Sampson, a Native American, was hanged at York, in Maine for the murder of 8 year old Benjamin Trot, whom she had hurled down a well where he drowned. (She was the second woman in this state, a Mrs. Cornish having been hanged there for murder in 1644, but there are no other details of  her crime.)

On May 3, 1738 - 27 year old Catherine Garrett, a Native American, was hanged in Connecticut for murder.

July 26, 1781 - 35 year old Molly Glass, an African American, was hanged in Louisiana for murder.

On December 20, 1786 - Hannah Ocuish, a Native American, was hanged in Connecticut for the murder of another child. She was the youngest girl to be executed in America, at just 12 years and 9 months old. She was convicted in New London of beating and choking 6 year old Eunice Bolles to death out of revenge. A few weeks previous to the killing, Eunice had reported Hannah for stealing fruit.

September 30, 1814 - 20 year old Mary Antoine, a Native American, was hanged in New York for murder.

In 1831, Mary Johnson, a 22-year-old servant girl, was convicted of slitting the throats of her elderly master and mistress while they lay in bed.

 

 

as she was being dropped, the actual murderer confessed to killing the old couple. So convincing was he that Mary was cut down. They set about reviving her, perhaps mindful of the tradition that says anyone who survives a hanging must be pardoned, guilty or not, but to the lasting horror of all, she was irretrievably dead.

September 30, 1838 - A 19 year old African American, named Mary, was hanged in Missouri for murder.

April 26, 1844 - 16 year old Rosanne Keen, an African American domestic servant, was hanged in New Jersey for murder.

September 22. - 1848. A slave, known only as Celia, became the first and only woman to be hanged in Florida. She was executed for the killing of her master, Jacob Bryan, whom she battered to death with a hoe. It has been suggested that Celia was Bryan's daughter.

December 11, 1849 – 25 year old Phoebe (Shepherd), an African American, was hanged in Alabama for murder.

September 10, 1852 - Jane Williams and her husband John, both black slaves, died side by side for the slaying of their master's wife and child at Richmond, Virginia. The execution drew a crowd of 6,000. The state offered to pay Jane's owner $500 compensation for taking away his property by executing them!

February 26, 1858 - On this day 30 year old Jenny (Hall), an African American, was hanged in Virginia for murder.

March 5, 1858 - 40 year old Lucy (Dougherty), an African American slave, was hanged in Texas for murder.

On the 26th of April 1861 - Paula Angel, a 19 year old Hispanic girl, was hanged by Sheriff Herrera in San Miguel County, New Mexico for the murder of her married boyfriend, whom she had stabbed to death when he refused to leave his wife for her. She was taken from the jail in a wagon to a suitable tree from which she was to hang.  When they arrived at the place of execution, Paula put up such a fight with the sheriff as she stood on the back of the wagon, that he had to start over and get her properly tied up before he could draw the wagon from under her.

Friday, November 13, 1863 - Chipita Rodriguez was hanged from a tree in Texas for the ax murder of horse trader John Savage. She was taken to her execution on that Friday afternoon sitting side saddle on a horse and wearing a new blue dress made for her by the town's women. She denied her guilt to the last and after she had said her final words "No soy culpable" (I am not guilty) the horse was led away from under her.

On March 10, 1865 -17 year old Amy Spain, an African American, was hanged from a tree in the town of Darlington, South Carolina for treason and conduct unbecoming a slave. When she heard that the Union army was close at hand and would occupy the town she expressed her satisfaction by clasping her hands and exclaiming, "Bless the Lord the Yankees have come!" For her it should have meant the end of slavery, but the townsfolk saw it differently.

February 7, 1868 - Youth was no bar to execution in the 19th century! On this day, a 13 year old African American girl, named Susan, was hanged in Kentucky for murder. She was a babysitter and was accused of killing one of her charges. According to a local newspaper she "writhed and twisted and jerked many times." It was reported that many "solid citizens" asked for a piece of her hanging rope for a souvenir after they cut her down.

February 10, 1871 - 17 year old Mary Wallis, an African American, was hanged in Maryland for murder.

November 26, 1875 - 24 year old Alcee Harris, an African American, was hanged at Ouachita, Louisiana for murder. Afraid that her husband, Henry, was going to kill her after they had been quarrelling, she persuaded a friend, Toney Nellum, to kill him with an ax. Both confessed to their parts in the crime and they were executed side by side on a gallows set up outside the courthouse, in front of a crowd estimated at 5,000. Alcee wore a white dress for the hanging. Both prisoners were given quite a short drop and while Alcee died fairly quickly, Toney struggled for some time after the trap fell at 10:26 a.m. on that Friday morning.

April 22, 1881 - A crowd of about 100 gathered outside the County Jail in Lunenburg County, Virginia for the private hanging of Lucinda Fowlkes (black, age unknown) who had murdered her husband with an ax. It was alleged that her husband abused her.

June 23, 1882 - Lucinda Tisdale (black, age unknown) became one of four people hanged this day at Kingstree, South Carolina. She was executed beside Anderson Singleton for the murder of his wife (who was Lucinda's sister). Two other men were hanged for arson and robbery from the same gallows later in the day.

October 19, 1883 - 18 year old Margaret Harris (black) was hanged at Calhoun, Georgia  for poisoning a young girl called Lela Lewis. Some 3,500 people came to witness this execution, including many women.

January 21, 1888 - 19 year old Pauline McCoy, an African American, was hanged in Alabama for the murder of Annie Jordan, a teenage white girl. The apparent motive was to steal Annie's shoes.

January 22, 1892 - Caroline Shipp (age 18, race unknown) was publicly hanged in Gaston, North Carolina for murder. She was given a handkerchief to hold and then drop when she was ready for the trap to be sprung. The girl kicked long enough that two men came forward to pull on her legs. Caroline was left hanging all day, and it was reported that people brought their picnic lunches to her execution!

Also on this day, Margaret Lashley and her boyfriend James Lyles (both black) were hanged in Danville, Virginia for the murder of Margaret's husband. Margaret had been convicted of being an accessory to the murder.

On October 7, 1892 - 14 year old Milbry Brown, an African American, was hanged in South Carolina for killing a white child. Her age is disputed and she may have been 18 rather than 14 years old.

November 22, 1895 - Amanda Cody (black) and Florence English (black male) went to the gallows in private at Warrenton, Georgia. These two were having an affair and were hanged for the murder of Amanda's husband, Cicero.

 
Added by bgill

Female hangings 1632 to 1900

Details of some of the approximately 505 women hanged in America from 1632 to 1900.
Approximately 76% of the executions prior to 1866 were carried out for murder and a further 7% were for witchcraft (at least 36 women). 189 of these women were slaves, who could be hanged for a wide variety of crimes including "conduct unbecoming to a slave". 
Nearly all American female executions up to 1899 have been by hanging although there are recorded instances of women being burned at the stake. The bulk of these executions were public spectacles. Many of these women were hanged from the branch of a tree in earlier times, being turned off the back of a cart or from a horse on which they rode side saddle. Six girls under the age of 18 have been hanged, Hanah Ocuish becoming, at 12 years old, one of the youngest people to be executed in America. At least three 12 year old boys have been executed.

The earliest recorded female hanging was that of Jane Champion in 1632 in Virginia for an unknown offense.

Margaret Hatch was hanged on 24th June 1633 for murder.

On December the 6th 1638, Dorothy Talby, was hanged in Salem Massachusetts for the murder of her infant daughter Difficulty.

On March 21st, 1643, eighteen year old Mary Latham was hanged in Massachusetts for adultery.

In 1646, twenty-two year old Mary Martin was hanged in Massachusetts for murder.

On 1st June 1660 Quaker, Mary Dyer was hanged in Massachusetts by the Puritans for returning from exile. This despite having been reprieved the previous year. A statue of her is on Boston Common.

In 1692, 13 women were hanged at Salem, Massachusetts after the notorious witchcraft trials, these being:
June 10th - Bridget Bishop

July 19th - Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Good, and Sarah Wildes

August 19th - Martha Carrier

September 22nd - Martha Corey, Margaret Scott, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator and Mary Parker.

June 8th, 1693, twenty-eight year old Elizabeth Emmerson was hanged in Massachusetts for murder.

July 5th, 1701, twenty-one year old Esther Rodgers was hanged in Massachusetts for murder.

September 27th, 1733, twenty-seven year old Rebecca Chamblett was hanged in Massachusetts for concealing the birth/death of an infant.

July 31st, 1735, twenty-three year old Patience Sampson, a Native American, was hanged in Maine for murder. (first in that state)

May 3rd, 1738, twenty-seven year old Catherine Garrett, a Native American, was hanged in Connecticut for murder.

Dec. 27th 1739, Sarah Simpson, a widow, and Penelope Kenney, a servant girl, were found guilty of murdering a child and were hanged side by side from a tree in New Hampshire.

Dec. 30th 1768, School teacher Ruth Blay was convicted of hiding the body of her still-born child in the floor of her classroom. She too was hanged from a tree having been turned off the back of a cart. Miss Blay was the last female executed in New Hampshire. The state Governor granted a last minute "Stay of Execution", but it arrived minutes after Miss Blay died. 

July 2nd, 1778, thirty-two year old Bathsheba Spooner was hanged in Massachusetts for husband murder. She was found to be pregnant after her execution.

 

The first botched execution was in 1778 when Bathsheba Spooner, the daughter of a prominent but unpopular judge, was put to death for murder. Bathsheba and her lover desired the death of her repulsive husband. Two British soldiers happened by with such services to offer.

Unluckily for Bathsheba, the Brits later bragged about their exploits. The trial lasted one day. Given her unfortunate name, Biblical parallels were easily drawn, and they set a quick date on which she’d be publicly hanged in Worcester for her part in the affair.

Bathsheba Spooner pleaded her belly. There was considerable debate about, and examination of, same.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

“In March 1778, Joshua Spooner, a wealthy gentleman farmer in Brookfield, was beaten to death and his body stuffed down a well. Four people were hanged for the crime: two British soldiers, a young Continental soldier, and Spooner’s wife, Bathsheba, who was charged with instigating the murder. She was thirty-two years old and five months pregnant when executed. Newspapers described the case as “the most extraordinary crime ever perpetrated in New England.”Bathsheba was the mother of three young children and in her own words felt “an utter aversion” for her husband, who was known to be an abusive drunk.

A year before the murder, she took in and nursed a sixteen-year-old Continental soldier who was returning from a year’s enlistment under George Washington. The two became lovers and conceived a child.

Divorces were all but impossible for women at that time and adulteresses were stripped to the waist and publicly whipped. Bathsheba’s pregnancy occasioned a series of desperate plots to murder her husband, finally brought to fruition with the aid of two British deserters from General Burgoyne’s defeated army.”

As the daughter of the state’s most prominent and despised Loyalist, Bathsheba bore the brunt of the political, cultural, and gender prejudices of her day. When she sought a stay of execution to deliver her baby, the Massachusetts Council rejected her petition, and she was promptly hanged before a crowd of 5,000 spectators.” -Murdered by His Wife, Deborah Navas, University of Mass. Press, 1999.

THE PREGNANCY:

On one hand, her pregnancy, if true, explained her sudden need to kill old Joshua Spooner. On the other, the physical signs were apparently lacking. They decided she was lying. Bathseba immediately filed a petition to reverse the decision, stating that "I am absolutely certain of being in a pregnant state.... What I bear, and clearly perceive to be animated, is innocent of the faults of her who bears it, and has, I beg leave to say, a right to the existence which God hath begun to give it."

Her plea was denied, and they hanged Bathsheba with her co-conspirators.

Only then did they learn the devastating news that Bathsheba was, in fact, five months pregnant when the murderess and the innocent son she carried were executed. The authorities had violated one of the most ancient maxims of English and Roman law: quot praegnantis mulieris damnatae paena differatur, quoad pariat; or, if a capitally condemned woman is barely with child, she shall be executed, but if she is quick with child, execution shall be staid until she is delivered.


July 26th, 1781, thirty-five year old Molly Glass, an African American, was hanged in Louisiana for murder.

January 3rd, 1786, twenty-seven year old Elizabeth Wilson was hanged in Pennsylvania for killing her two infant children. She was granted a reprieve but it came 23 minutes too late to save her.

October 8, 1789, Rachel Wall was hanged for murdering a sailor. She and her husband, George, a Boston Fisherman, engaged in piracy. After stealing a ship at Essex, they began pirating off of the Isle of Shoals. Pretending to be in distress, Rachel would stand out at the mast and cry for help. When the rescuers arrived, George and his men would kill them, rob them of all valuables, and sink their ship. In 1782, George Wall drowned in a storm. Rachel was rescued. She returned to Boston where she continued to steal from the cabins of ships docked in Boston Harbor. She was accused and convicted of murdering a sailor - a crime that she denied. At her hanging she confessed to being a pirate. She is the only known woman pirate of New England.

December 20th, 1786, Hannah Ocuish, a Native American, was hanged in Connecticut for the murder of another child. The youngest girl to be executed in America at twelve years and nine months.

June 10th, 1809, twenty-four year old Susannah Cox was hanged in Pennsylvania for murder.

September 30th, 1814, twenty-year old Mary Antoine, a Native American, was hanged in New York for murder.

February 18th, 1820, twenty-seven year old Lavinia Fisher was hanged in South Carolina for murder, along with her husband.

July 12th 1833, Frankie Stewart Silver was hanged in Morganton North Carolina for the murder of her husband. She was 18 at the time of the crime and was the first woman to be hanged in North Carolina

September 30th, 1838, a nineteen year old African American named Mary was hanged in Missouri for murder.

April 26th, 1844, sixteen year old Rosanne Keen, an African American, was hanged in New Jersey for murder.

May 23rd, 1845, forty year old Elizabeth Reed was hanged in Illinois for murder.

January 24th, 1846, forty-seven year old Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh was hanged in New York for poisoning two husbands.

December 11th, 1849, twenty-five year old Phoebe (Shepherd), an African American, was hanged in Alabama for murder.

January 30th, 1852 Pamela Lee Worms was hanged in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania for poisoning her husband.

July 30th, 1852, thirty-one year old Ann Hoag was hanged in New York for murder.

February 13th, 1857, a sixty-five year old slave for the Green family was hanged in Virginia for murder, the oldest women hanged in America.

February 26th, 1858, thirty year old Jenny (Hall), an African American, was hanged in Virginia for murder.

February 12th, 1858, thirty-five year old Charlotte Jones was hanged in Pennsylvania for robbery/murder.

March 5th, 1858, forty year old Lucy (Dougherty), an African American, was hanged in Texas for murder.

March 23rd, 1860, thirty-four year old Ann Bilansky was hanged in Minnesota for the murder of her husband - the only female execution in this state.

On the 26th April 1861, Paula Angel, a 19 year old Hispanic girl, was hanged by Sheriff Herrera from a tree in New Mexico for murder. 

Friday, Nov. 13, 1863 Chipita Rodriguez was hanged from a tree in Texas for murder. She was taken to her execution sitting side saddle on a horse and wearing a new blue dress made for her by the town's women.

March 10th, 1865, seventeen year old Amy Spain, an African American, was hanged in South Carolina for an unknown crime.

July 7th, 1865, forty-five year old Mary Surratt was hanged in Washington, DC for the role she may have played in the conspiracy to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. This was the first female execution under Federal jurisdiction and was well photographed.

January 19th, 1866, fifty year old Martha Grinder was hanged in Pennsylvania for poisoning her neighbor.

August 30th, 1867, twenty-two year old servant girl Bridget Durgan was hanged in New Jersey before a crowd of 2000 people for the murder of her mistress. She was jerked into the air instead of being dropped and died very hard.

November 30th, 1867, forty year old Lena Miller was hanged in Pennsylvania for murder.

February 7th, 1868, a thirteen year old African American named Susan was hanged in Kentucky for murder. She was a nurse and babysitter, and was accused of killing one of her charges. According to a local newspaper she "writhed and twisted and jerked many times" . Many solid citizens asked for a piece of her hanging rope for a souvenir after they cut her down.

February 10th, 1871, seventeen year old Mary Wallis, an African American, was hanged in Maryland for murder.

May 2nd, 1873, twenty-one year old Susan Eberhart was hanged in Georgia for murder.

November 26th, 1875, twenty-four year old Alice Harris, an African American, was hanged in Louisiana for murder.

January 6th, 1881, forty year old Margaret Meierhoffer was hanged in New Jersey for murder.

February 3rd, 1881, twenty-nine year old Catherine Miller was hanged in Pennsylvania for murder.

March 30th, 1883, forty-four year old Emeline Meaker was hanged in Vermont for murder.

On February 28th, 1887, forty year old Roxalana Druse was hanged in New York for murder. (The last woman hanged in New York State before the electric chair replaced the gallows in 1890.) On February 28th, 1887, forty year old Roxalana Druse was hanged in New York for murder. Roxalana and her retarded daughter Mary beat her husband John (aged 72) to death and then chopped up his body boiling down the remains. They lived in a frontier cabin in Little Falls New York. They were caught because her 12 year old son informed the police that his father was missing. The alleged motive for the crime was that her husband worked her too hard. She was hanged but her daughter was given a prison sentence. At her execution Roxalana was jerked upwards by a weighted rope (instead of being dropped through a trap door) and this failed to break her neck. She took 15 agonizing minutes to strangle to death on the rope. The scene so upset the officials that it was decided to alter the method of execution and this led to the introduction of the electric chair in 1890. (She was last woman hanged in New York State.

January 21st, 1888, twenty-two year old Pauline McCoy, an African American, was hanged in Alabama for murder.

June 25th, 1889, fifty-one year old Sarah Whiteling was hanged in Pennsylvania for murder.

1890 Mrs. Elizabeth Potts and her husband Josiah were for hanged killing Miles Faucett around the date of January 1, 1888 in Elko Nevada. The gallows was borrowed from California and re-assembled in Elko. Elizabeth had a new dress made especially for her execution! 

July 1890 Kate McShane and Mary O'Cammon were hanged in San Francisco County, California.

January 22nd, 1892, eighteen year old Caroline Shipp (race unknown) was hanged in North Carolina for murder.
She was given a handkerchief to hold and then drop when she was ready for her execution to begin. The girl kicked long enough that two men came forward to pull on her legs. Caroline was left hanging all day, as people brought their picnic lunches to her execution.

October 7th, 1892, fourteen year old Milbry Brown, an African American, was hanged in South Carolina for murder.

July 10th, 1896, twenty-eight year old Mary Snodgrass was hanged in Virginia for murder.

Many more women died as a result of extra judicial lynching in this period and well into the 20th century.

 

Added by bgill

The British female hanged 1868 - 1955.

Between January 1800 and April 1868 in the British Isles (including Ireland and the Isle of Man), 206 women and girls were taken to places of public execution and there hanged by the neck until they were dead, in accordance with the sentence of the court. 
The last woman to be hanged in public was 25 year old Frances Kidder, who was executed in front of Maidstone prison at midday on Thursday, the 2nd of April 1868.  She had murdered Louisa Kidder-Staples, her 11 year old stepdaughter, by drowning her in a ditch.
From the 29th of May 1868, all executions were carried out inside prisons and a further 41 women were hanged in private in the British Isles(including Southern Ireland up to 1925). Twenty three of these hangings were carried out in the 19th century and 18 in the 20th century. 

The British female hanged 1868 - 1955.

Frances Kidder became the last woman to be hanged in public when she was executed by William Calcraft at Maidstone on the 2nd of April 1868 for the drowning of her stepdaughter. After the passing of the Capital Punishment Amendment Act of 1868, all executions had to take place within the walls of county prisons. Priscilla Biggadyke becoming the first to suffer this fate, later in that year.

Forty one women were hanged within the walls of British prisons up till 1955, including three in Ireland, two before independence and one afterwards. Twenty three of these executions were carried out in the 19th century and 18 in the 20th century. There were two double hangings (Flanagan and Higgins and Sach and Walters), five women were hanged alongside male prisoners. The men were either co-defendants or completely unrelated ones who had been condemned at the same Assize. The remainder were all executed individually. Women, like men, were normally executed in the prison of the county in which they were convicted. In London, five hangings were carried out within Holloway women's prison after the closure of Newgate. There were no female executions in Northern Ireland and only one in Scotland (Susan Newell). Those hanged prior to 1875 when William Marwood took over from Calcraft and Anderson, were given a short drop and typically died by strangulation. Those who suffered after Edith Thompson in 1923 were made to wear canvas underpants. 
Where the name of the woman is hyperlinked below, there is a full article on her case, where a prison name is hyperlinked, there is a short article about her under that prison's history.

  1. Allen, Margaret hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison in Manchester on Wednesday, the 12th of January, 1949.
    Margaret "Bill" Allen was a 42 year old "butch" lesbian who battered elderly widow Nancy Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs. Chadwick had been her neighbour and had irritated her in various ways. She readily confessed to the police and was convicted after a short trial. This was the first female execution in England for 12 years.
  2. Ansell, Mary Ann hanged by James Billington at St. Albans on Wednesday, the 19th of July, 1899.
    Mary Ansell came from a family with a history of mental illness and was convicted of poisoning her sister, Caroline (who was a patient inLeavesden Asylum), with a cake laced with phosphorus so that she could claim £11 life insurance. She was 22 at the time of her death and confessed to her crime in the condemned cell.
  3. Barry, Mary Ann hanged at Gloucester by Robert Anderson (Evans) on Monday, the 12th of January, 1874.
    Thirty one year old Mary Ann Barry was executed alongside her partner in crime, 32 year old Edwin Bailey, for the poisoning murder of his illegitimate one year old child, Sarah, whom they considered a nuisance. With them on the gallows, set up in the quadrangle of Gloucester Gaol, was Edward Butt, who had shot his girlfriend. Mary became the last woman in England to suffer short drop hanging and reportedly struggled for some three minutes on the rope and had to be forced down into the pit by Anderson.  The two men became still almost immediately.
  4.  Berry, Elizabeth hanged by James Berry at Walton prison Liverpool on Monday, the 14th of March, 1887. Thirty one year old Elizabeth Berry poisoned her 11 year old daughter for £10 life insurance. It was an unusual coincidence that the executioner and the criminal had the same surname and had also actually met previously when they danced together at a police ball.
  5. Biggadyke, Priscilla, was hanged at 9.00 a.m. on Monday, the 28th of December, 1868, at Lincoln by Thomas Askern for poisoning her husband with arsenic. It was alleged that she killed him because he discovered she was having an affair with one of their lodgers. Thirty five year old Priscilla was the first woman to be executed in private in Britain. She ascended the steps to the platform where she said "Surely all my troubles are over" and "Shame on you, you are not going to hang me." But Askern did, in his usual clumsy way and she reportedly died hard.
  6. Britland, Mary Ann was executed by James Berry at Strangeways on Monday, the 9th of August, 1886, becoming the first woman to be hanged there.
    Thirty eight year old Mary Ann Britland was convicted of poisoning Mary Dixon, with whose husband she had been having an affair. She had also previously poisoned her own husband, Thomas and daughter, Elizabeth.
  7. Bryant, Charlotte, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Exeter on Thursday the 15th of July 1936.
    Charlotte Bryant (33) was convicted of poisoning her husband with arsenic.
    She was having an affair with their lodger and it seemed a simple way to remove her husband from the scene. Whilst awaiting execution, her previously black hair turned completely white.
  8. Calvert, Louie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Strangeways prison Manchester on Thursday, the 24th of June, 1926.
    Louie Calvert, also 33, had criminal tendencies and was known to the police.
    She battered and strangled her landlady, Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, who had confronted her over things that had gone missing from the house and had reported Louie to the police.
    In the condemned cell, she also admitted to the murder of a previous employer - John Frobisher - in 1922. She was the first woman to be hanged at Stangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886.
  9. Chard Williams, Ada, hanged at Newgate prison in London by James Billington on Tuesday, the 6th of March, 1900.
    Twenty four year old Ada Chard-Williams was convicted of drowning a small child whom she had "adopted" for a few pounds. She was suspected of killing other children and was another "baby farmer."  She was the last woman to hang at Newgate, subsequent female executions in London taking place at the newly converted women's prison at Holloway.
  10. Christofi, Styllou, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at London's Holloway women's prison on Monday, the 13th of December, 1954.
    Styllou Christofi, 53, was a Greek woman who brutally murdered her German born daughter-in-law, Hella, by battering her and then strangling her. Afterwards, she tried to burn her body. It is thought that she had also committed another murder in Cyprus.
    She asked for a Maltese Cross to be put on the wall of the execution chamber and this wish was granted - it remained there until the room was dismantled in 1967. Coincidentally, the murder was committed in the same street where a few months later Ruth Ellis was to commit hers - South Hill Park, Camden in London.
  11. Churchill, Catherine. Fifty five year old Catherine Churchill was hanged by William Marwood at Taunton on Monday, the 26th of May, 1879for the murder of her husband, 82 year old Samuel Churchill.
  12. Cotton, Mary Ann, hanged by William Calcraft, assisted by Robert Anderson, at Durham on Monday, the 24th of March, 1873.
    Forty year old Mary Ann Cotton was Britain's first female serial killer and until recently held the record for the greatest number of murders - all by poisoning with arsenic. Although only convicted of the murder of her stepson, she is suspected of 14-15 murders. 21 people who had been close to her had died in the preceding 20 years.
    Cotton was pregnant with her seventh child at the time of arrest and trial and the execution had to be delayed until after she had given birth, as was the usual custom. However, because of her pregnancy, there was a petition for her reprieve. This was denied and she was hanged in the prison yard. Newspaper reporters who witnessed the execution reported that she struggled hard for about three minutes after the trap fell.
  13. Daly, Mary. 40 year old Mary Daly was hanged by William Billington at Tullamore prison in Ireland on Friday, the 9th of January, 1903 for the murder of her husband John. Her co-accused, Joseph Taylor, was executed two days earlier.
  14. Dyer, Amelia Elizabeth, hanged by James Billington at Newgate prison on Wednesday, the 10th of June, 1896.
    Amelia Dyer (57) was hanged for the murder of 4-month old Doris Marmon, a baby who had been entrusted to her care, having received £10 to look after them.
    This particular form of murder was known at the time as "Baby Farming" and it is thought that Dyer had murdered 6 or more other babies for money. Each baby had been strangled with white tape, which as she told the police, "was how you could tell it was one of hers."
  15. Ellis, Ruth, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Holloway prison, North London on Wednesday, the 13th of July, 1955.
    Ruth Ellis became the last woman to be executed in Britain - for the murder of her boyfriend David Blakely, who had refused to see her over the Easter of 1955.
    She lay in wait for him outside the Magdala pub and when he came out, shot him 5 times with a revolver. She was arrested immediately by an off-duty policeman and equally quickly convicted by an Old Bailey jury. Her execution caused a great deal of public controversy at the time.
  16. Flanagan, Catherine. 55 year old Flanagan was hanged at Kirkdale prison, Liverpool by Bartholomew Binns, side by side with her sister, Margaret Higgins (see below) on Wednesday, the 5th of March, 1884. Binns was assisted by Samuel Heath as it was a double execution.
  17. Higgins, Margaret, Wednesday, the 5th of March, 1884. 
    Flanagan and Higgins were both convicted of the poisoning of 44 year old Higgin's husband, Thomas, for his life insurance. He was not their only victim (there were at least three) and they were not the only female poisoners operating in this area of Liverpool in the 1880's. As was usual at the time, the Crown simply prosecuted one capital case at a time and did not go for anymore if the first resulted in a guilty verdict and death sentence.
  18. King, Jessie. King, aged 27, was hanged by James Berry at Calton prison Edinburgh on Monday, the 11th of March, 1889 for the murder, by strangling, of Alexander Gunn, one of two children in her care whom she murdered and buried in her cellar. She was a baby farmer and was thought to have murdered a third child who’s body was not recovered.
  19. Lefley, Mary, hanged by James Berry at Lincoln on Monday, the 26th of May, 1884.
    Mary Lefley, aged 44, poisoned her husband, William, with arsenic and had to be dragged to the gallows screaming "Murder, Murder" and struggling with the warders.
  20. Major, Ethel Lillie, hanged by Tom Pierrepoint at Hull prison on Wednesday, the 19th of December, 1934.
    Forty three year old Ethel Major poisoned her husband, Arthur, with strychnine and her ghost is said to still haunt the prison.
  21. Masset, Louisa (Louise) Josephine, hanged at London's Newgate prison by James Billington on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1900.
    Thirty six year old Louisa Masset killed her four year old son, Manfred, and dumped his naked body in the ladies’ toilet at Dalston Junction railway station in London. The reason for the murder is that Manfred was a hindrance to her relationship with her boyfriend, so she took him to the station and battered him and suffocated him to death. Hers was the first British execution of the 20th century.
  22. Merrifield, Louisa, hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Strangeways on Friday, the 18th of September, 1953.
    Louisa Merrifield, 44, poisoned her employer, Mrs. Sarah Ann Rickets for whom she worked as housekeeper, to get her home which had been left to Louisa under her newly changed will. She used a phosphorus based rat poison called Rodine and was tried with her husband, Alfred, who was acquitted.
  23. Sheil, Margaret was executed with her brother Lawrence at Tullamore in Ireland on Friday the 27th of May 1870 for the murder by shooting of 30 year old Patrick Dunne over a land dispute.  It appears that this was the culmination of a long running feud between the two families. Lawrence had served a prison sentence for an earlier assault on Dunne and upon his release Margaret was reputed to have said “If no one will shoot the scoundrel I’ll do it myself!” The pair ambushed Dunne on his way home from the pub at Philipstown, County Offaly, where she shot him and then cut his throat. These were the first hangings in Ireland carried out within the prison walls.
  24. Newell, Susan, hanged by John Ellis at Duke Street prison, Glasgow on Wednesday, the 10th of October, 1923.
    Susan Newell, aged 30, strangled newspaper boy John Johnston who would not give her an evening paper without the money. Having killed the boy, she wheeled his body through the streets on a handcart accompanied by her eight year old daughter, Janet, whose evidence helped to convict her.
    She was the first woman to hang in Scotland since Jessie King in 1889 and on the gallows, refused the traditional white hood.
  25. Wheeler (Pearcey), Mary Eleanor, hanged by James Berry at Newgate on Monday, the 23rd of December, 1890.
    Twenty four year old Mary Pearcey was hanged for the murders of Mrs. Phoebe Hogg and her daughter (also Phoebe). She had cut Mrs. Hogg's throat and smothered the 18-month old child. She was having an affair with Phoebe's husband, Frank Hogg. 
    Her father, Thomas Wheeler, had also been hanged for murder some 10 years earlier.
  26. Pearson, Elizabeth, 32 year old Pearson was hanged by William Marwood at Durham Castle on Monday, the 2nd of August, 1875.
    Pearson was one of three unrelated murderers who suffered at Durham on that August day. She had poisoned her uncle, James Watson, with rat poison administered in his medicine.
  27. Sach, Amelia, hanged by William Billington and Henry Pierrepoint at Holloway prison together with Annie Walters (see below) on Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903 
    Twenty nine year old Amelia Sach was another "baby farmer" and she and Walters became the first women to hang at Holloway which had become London's women's prison. Previously, female executions were carried out at Newgate.
  28. Stewart, Francis, hanged at Newgate prison by William Marwood on Monday, the 29th of June, 1874. Forty eight year old Stewart was executed for the murder of her infant grandson, the only grandmother to be executed for this crime. She was the first British woman to be hanged using the “long drop” method.
  29. Swann, Emily, hanged by John Billington and John Ellis at Armley jail Leeds on Tuesday, the 29th of December, 1903.
    Emily Swann, 42, went to the gallows with her 30-year old lover John Gallagher for the murder of Swann's husband, William.
    Hooded and noosed on the trap doors, Emily said "Good morning John" to which he replied "Good morning love."  Emily replied "Goodbye, God bless you" before the drop fell ending any more conversation.
  30. Taylor, Louisa Jane, hanged by William Marwood at Maidstone on Tuesday, the 2nd of January, 1883.
    Louisa Jane Taylor, 37, was executed for the poisoning, using a lead salt, of 82-year old Mrs. Tregellis at Plumstead. Her motive may have been money but equally may have been the sadistic pleasure of watching someone die slowly from lead poisoning.
  31. Thompson, Edith Jessie, hanged by John Ellis at Holloway prison on Tuesday, the 9th of January, 1923. Edith Thompson aged 28 and her lover Frederick Bywaters were hanged in separate prisons at 9.00 a.m. on this day for the murder, by stabbing, of Edith's husband, Percy.
    Her execution caused considerable public disquiet as many doubted her guilt and the meaning of the various love letters that passed between her and Bywaters.
    She had to be carried to the gallows and it was reported that her underwear was covered in blood after the hanging. John Ellis committed suicide in 1932 and like everyone else present had been deeply affected by this execution.
    The bodies of Edith Thompson and Stylou Christofi were reburied in an unmarked pauper's grave in Brookwood, Surrey when Holloway was rebuilt in 1970.
  32. Tooke, Annie, hanged by William Marwood at Exeter on Monday, the 11th of August, 1879. Forty year old Annie was executed for the murder of 6-month old Reginald Hyde.  She may have been a baby farmer.
  33. Waddingham, Dorothea, hanged by Tom and Albert Pierrepoint at Birmingham's Winson Green prison on Friday, the 16th of April, 1936.
    Thirty six year old "nurse" Waddingham, as she called herself, used morphine to poison one of her elderly patients, 89 year old Mrs. LouisaBaguley and her disabled daughter, Ada, the motive being gain.
  34. Wadge, Selina, hanged by William Marwood at Bodmin on Thursday, the 15th of August, 1878. Selina Wadge, aged 28, suffered for the murder of her illegitimate son, a sadly not uncommon crime in those days.
  35. Walber, Margaret. 53 year old Margaret Walber was hanged at Liverpool’s Walton prison by James Billington on Monday, the 2nd of April, 1894 for murdering her husband.
  36. Walsh, Annie, hanged at Mountjoy prison, Dublin by Tom Pierrepoint on Wednesday, the 5th of August, 1925 for the murder of her husband, 60 year old Edward. Thirty one year old Annie became the last woman to be executed in Ireland. Her co-defendant, nephew and lover, 24year old Michael Talbot was executed at 8.00 a.m., Annie following him to the gallows 45 minutes later.  She had to be strapped to a collapse board.
  37. Walters, Annie. Fifty four year old Walters was hanged at Holloway Tuesday, the 3rd of February, 1903 with Amelia Sach (see above). Theirs was the last double female execution and the first and only double at Holloway.
  38. Waters, Margaret, hanged by William Calcraft at Horsemonger Lane Goal (County of Surrey) on Wednesday, the 11th of October, 1870. Waters, 34, was another baby farmer convicted of murdering an infant named John Walter Cowen.
  39. Webster, Catherine, hanged by William Marwood at Surrey’s Wandsworth prison on Tuesday, the 29th of July, 1879. She was the only woman ever hanged at Wandsworth.
    Thirty year old Kate Webster murdered her elderly employer, Mrs. Julia Martha Thomas, with an axe. She then dismembered the body leaving parts in various places around London and throwing some into the Thames. The severed head was never found. She sold Mrs. Thomas's furniture and belongings and fled back to Ireland with the takings. She finally confessed her guilt to the chaplain the night before she was hanged.
  40. Williams, Mary. Thirty year old Williams was hanged by William Marwood at Liverpool’s Kirkdale prison, Liverpool on Monday, the 31st of August, 1874 for the murder of Nicholas Manning. With her on the gallows was 22-year old Henry Flannigan, who had been convicted of murdering his aunt.
  41. Willis, Rhoda, also known as Leslie James was hanged by Henry and Tom Pierrepoint at Cardiff prison on Wednesday, the 14th of August, 1907. Willis, 44, was another baby farmer and was executed for the murder of a one day old girl child by the surname of Treasure. She was an attractive woman and her blaze of golden hair had a profound effect on Henry Pierrepoint.  She was the last woman to be hanged for baby farming.

The youngest to be hanged was Mary Ansell, aged 22, and the oldest was Elizabeth Dyer, aged 57.
In the 1900's and early part of the 20th century, divorce was a very difficult business that left both parties damaged and stigmatised (particularly the woman) and for some, murder of their abusive or unwanted partner was the easy way out. It is noticeable how much rarer such a crime is today when divorce is so much easier.
Infanticide (the murder of a newborn baby by its mother) ceased to be a capital crime in 1922. In 1938, the law was further revised to make the murder of a child of under one year old a non-capital offence. The government recognised that women can be emotionally disturbed for a period after giving birth and may suffer from post-natal depression.
In the 20th century, 145 women were sentenced to death in England and Wales, but only 14 of these sentences were carried out, giving a reprieve rate of just over 90%. (Louise Masset was sentenced in 1899 and Susan Newell was executed in Scotland, where far fewer women were sentenced to death. They are therefore excluded from this figure.) Including the two women who were hanged in Ireland, a total of 18 women were executed in 20th century Britain.

 

 

Added by bgill

Continued

The crimes committed by these women break down as under. (chronological listing)

Name

Date executed

Age

Victim

Murder method

Alleged Motive

Priscilla Biggadyke

28/12/1868

35

Husband

Poison

"Love"
Later pardoned

Margaret Sheil

27/05/1870

-

Neighbour

Shooting

Revenge

Margaret Waters

11/10/1870

35

Babies

Poison

Gain

Mary Ann Cotton

24/03/1873

40

Relatives

Poison

Gain

Mary Ann Barry

12/01/1874

31

Child

Poison

Unclear

Francis Stewart

29/06/1874

48

Grand child

Drowning

-

Mary Williams

31/08/1874

30

Adult

Shooting

Revenge

Elizabeth Pearson

02/08/1875

32

Relative

Poison

Gain

Selina Wadge

15/08/1878

28

Son

Drowning

"Love"

Catherine Churchill

26/05/1879

55

Husband

Battered

-

Kate Webster

29/07/1879

30

Employer

Axe

Temper/Gain

Annie Tooke

11/08/1879

40

Child

Smothering

Gain

Louisa Jane Taylor

02/01/1883

37

Adult

Poison

Unclear

Catherine Flanagan &
Margaret Higgins

03/03/1884

55
41

-
Husband

Poison

Gain

Mary Lefley

26/05/1884

44

Husband

Poison

-

Mary Ann Britland

09/08/1886

38

Adult female

Poison

"Love"

Elizabeth Berry

14/03/1887

31

Daughter

Poison

Gain

Jessie King

11/03/1889

27

Children

Strangling

Gain

Mary Pearcey

23/12/1890

24

Adult/child

Cut throat/
suffocation

"Love"

Margaret Walber

02/04/1894

53

Husband

Battered

Unclear

Amelia Dyer

10/06/1896

57

Babies

Strangling

Gain

Mary Ann Ansell

19/07/1899

22

Sister

Poison

Gain

Louise Masset

09/01/1900

33

Son

Battery

"Love"

Ada Chard-Williams

06/03/1900

24

Babies

Drowning

Gain

Mary Daly

09/01/1903

40

Husband

-

-

Annie Walters

03/02/1903

54

Babies

Strangling/poison

Gain

Amelia Sach

03/02/1903

29

Babies

Strangling/poison

Gain

Emily Swann

29/12/1903

42

Husband

Battered

"Love"

Rhoda Willis

14/08/1907

44

Child

Suffocation

Gain

Edith Thompson

09/01/1923

28

Husband

Stabbing

"Love"

Susan Newell

10/10/1923

30

Child

Strangling

Temper/gain

Annie Walsh

05/08/1925

31

Husband

Axe

Love??

Louie Calvert

24/06/1926

33

Adult

Strangling

Gain

Ethel Major

19/12/1934

43

Husband

Poison

Gain

Dorothea Waddingham

16/04/1936

36

Adults

Poison

Gain

Charlotte Bryant

15/07/1936

33

Husband

Poison

"Love"

Margaret Allen

12/01/1949

43

Adult

Battered

Unclear

Louisa Merrifield

18/09/1953

44

Employer

Poison

Gain

Styllou Christofi

13/12/1954

53

Adult relative

Strangling

Jealousy

Ruth Ellis

13/07/1955

28

Boyfriend

Shooting

Jealousy

In 16 of these cases, gain would appear to be the principal motive. Of these, eight were "baby farmers" who were regarded as wholly despicable and got no public sympathy.
Seven were hanged for "love" related crimes.
Seven suffered for murdering their husbands and one for murdering her boyfriend.
Fourteen were poisoners - Poison has often been said to be the woman's method of choice because its administration requires no physical strength. It has always been thought that the Home Office had an un-written rule - that poisoners and gun murderers were never reprieved.
Eight were executed for child murder (other than the baby farming cases).

 

http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/femhang.html

Source: 

Added by bgill

Sarah Lloyd

Sarah Lloyd was a young maid servant in the household of Mrs. Sarah Syer in Benton Street, Hadleigh in Suffolk.  Her precise age is unclear, being given as both 19 and 22 years old. She was described as being small with dark hair and large eyes and somewhat child like demeanor. She had a boyfriend, Joseph Clark, who it was thought by some to have put her up to the crime of robbing her mistress’ home.

On the night of the 3rd of October 1799, she let Joseph into the house and they took various items of jewelry from Mrs. Syers’ home, including a watch.  Before they left the house they started a small fire at the bottom of the stairs leading to Mrs. Syers’ first floor bedroom, fortunately this was quickly spotted and extinguished with the help of neighbors before it could cause injury or do any serious damage to the property.

 

Sarah was the chief and only real suspect, particularly as she had gone missing and she and Joseph were quickly arrested and taken before a magistrate.  Both were committed for trial and sent to Bury St. Edmunds gaol. There were two Assizes a year in Suffolk at this time (Lent and Summer) and therefore prisoners spent a considerable time on remand, over five months in this case.

Sarah eventually came to trial at the Suffolk Lent Assizes which opened at Bury St. Edmunds on Thursday the 20th of March 1800 before Sir Nash Grose.  The details of the crime were presented by the prosecution and Sarah’s previous good character by the defence, which was not enough to save her from a guilty verdict from jury of twelve men on the charge of stealing in a dwelling house goods to a value of more than 40 shillings (£2.00). They acquitted her on the charge of burglary and Joseph Clark was acquitted on both counts. The potential charges of attempted murder and arson were not proceeded with.  It was not unusual then, as now, for the prosecution to proceed on the charge that is easiest to prove. 

 

At the end of the Assize all the convicted prisoners were sentenced together and six men and two women, including Sarah, were condemned to death. The other woman and five of the men were subsequently reprieved.  Sarah was returned to Bury Gaol where she was visited on several occasions by a radical local magistrate called Capel Llofft, who had watched her trial and by a small number of other local people of high standing in the community. He got up a petition for a reprieve which was signed by many locally who sympathised with her plight and sent it to the Home Secretary, the Duke of Portland.  Llofft pleaded on her behalf that the extenuating circumstances of her age and immaturity should have been taken into account at her trial. Her age was given as 22 to the court but was not quite 19 according to Llofft.  He thus contended that her death sentence was excessive.  Whilst over 200 years later it is easy to agree with him, it should be remembered that it was the mandatory sentence for the crime, although there was the possibility of commutation to transportation. It is probable that the judge also took into account the aggravating circumstances of the arson, which could easily have killed Mrs. Syer had it not been quickly spotted, in his decision not to recommend a reprieve.

 

Although we may see the theft alone as relatively minor, Sarah’s crimes were viewed very differently at the time as is shown by this extract fromThe Times of the 11th of April : "The circumstances attending the case of Sarah Lloyd are perhaps unequalled for the atrocious intentions of the perpetrator, who was a servant to a very respectable lady, residing at Hadleigh, named Syer. On the 3rd of October last she set her mistress's house on fire in four different places, and robbed her of some considerable property. Her intention was the destruction of her protectress, for, to prevent the escape of her mistress, the principal combustibles were placed under a staircase which led to her mistress's bedroom, and, but for the timely assistance of the neighbourhood, she would have perished in the fire."

 

Capel Llofft wrote on Sarah’s behalf to various publications rebutting what he saw as obvious hostility towards her in the press, including a letter to The Monthly Magazine in which he set out the details of her crimes and the fact that she was acquitted or not tried on all but the least serious count.  However all this was to no avail and Sarah’s execution date was set for Wednesday the 9th of April, but on the 8th John Orridge, the keeper of Bury Gaol received a reprieve for one "S. Hop". He had no prisoner by this name and thus decided to postpone Sarah's execution until he received clarification from the Duke of Portland.  This duly arrived by messenger, the letter also saying that "the great object of punishment is example". A new execution date was therefore fixed for Wednesday the 23rd of April.

 

Capel Llofft went to Bury St. Edmunds Gaol on the morning of execution and Sarah told him that she had managed to eventually get off to sleep the night before and that then she had woken and got dressed.  John Orridge had allowed her to say her goodbyes to the other prisoners before she was prepared for execution.  The morning of the 23rd was a typical April day, both windy and rainy. Llofft had brought an umbrella which Sarah managed to hold over herself, as the cart conveyed her to the gallows set up on Tay Fen, about a mile’s journey from the Gaol on the other side of town.  Llofft accompanied her on the journey.  The procession was led by the Under Sheriff of Suffolk on horseback and a small number of Javelin men to prevent any rescue attempt. It is probable that the hangman sat in the cart with Sarah. 
According to Llofft the hangman was also affected by Sarah’s brave demeanor and appeared nervous as he went about the preparations for her death.  It is reported that Sarah pulled back her hair for him as he put the noose around her neck, although it is unclear whether she did this at the gallows or at the Gaol before he pinioned her.  
When the procession reached Tay Fen Llofft got up into the cart and stood beside her, launching a tirade to the large number of spectators against her punishment and the intransigence of the Duke of Portland that lasted a full five minutes.  Sarah stood calmly beside him until he had finished and then as was common at the time she was allowed to give the signal to the hangman to proceed.  She was now “turned off” and after she had been hanging for a minute, both hands were twice raised slowly and evenly toward her throat.  These movements were interpreted by Llofft as signifying “content and resignation“. No convulsive struggles accompanied her death and she died quite easily for the time. After she was taken down Llofft paid the hangman for her body so that he could give her a proper burial that evening at St. Mary’s Church.  A thousand people attended her funeral and Llofft told them that Sarah’s mother had tried to hang herself when she had been told that there would be no reprieve. Two months later a tombstone was erected over Sarah’s grave and this can still be seen today. It is engraved as with the following words “She suffered a just but ignominious death for admitting her abandoned seducer into the dwelling house of her mistress and becoming the instrument in his hands of the crime of robbery and house burning.”

Lofft was summarily dismissed as a magistrate for his activism in trying to save Sarah and for his impassioned attack on the Home Secretary at the execution.

Sarah clearly impressed Capel Lloft, John Orridge the jailer and perhaps even the hangman with her femininity and bravery and it was easy to sympathize with her.  However the outcome of her actions could have been very different if the Mrs. Syer had died in the fire, which is why The Times and other newspapers took the view that they did.

Sarah Lloyd was one of seven women hanged in 1800, six in England and one in Ireland and the only one for this offence.  Only three more women were to hang for stealing in a dwelling house, although it continued to be a capital crime until August 1834 when John Young became the last to be executed for it at Winchester.

Added by bgill

Juveniles Hangings

 

Focus on the execution of teenage girls in the 19th century.

This article is specifically about those girls who would be legally considered juveniles today, i.e. under eighteen years old at the time of their offence and who now would be prohibited from execution by international human rights treaties, not to mention public opinion.

 

 

Six girls aged eighteen or under were to be publicly hanged in the first half of the 19th century. 
The law of the 18th and early 19th centuries did not accept the concept that teenagers did not know the difference between right and wrong and punished teenage girls just as severely for the most serious crimes as their adult counterparts.  There was a strong presumption against those who committed murder for gain, murder by poisoning or brutal murders, especially of their superiors. Children, like adults, continued to be sentenced to death for a very large number of felonies up to 1836 although it was normal for the younger ones to have their sentences commuted for the less serious crimes as there was growing public disquiet about hanging children for relatively minor offences.  Executions were decreasing rapidly, both for adults and young offenders after 1836, as the number of capital crimes reduced and public attitudes began to change.

 

Ann Mead – poisoner.

Ann Mead, aged fifteen or sixteen was found guilty of the murder of Charles Proctor, aged sixteen months, by feeding him a spoonful of arsenic at Royston in Hertfordshire. She expiated her crime on the “New Drop” gallows outside Hertford prison on Thursday the 31st of July 1800, watched by a large crowd.  Apparently the motive for the murder was that Ann’s mistress had called Ann a slut and she wanted to get back at her.

 

Mary Voce – poisoner.

Mary Voce was hanged at Gallows Hill, Nottingham on Tuesday, the 16th of March 1802 for poisoning her child. In some reports she is said to have been born in 1788, which would make her only fourteen.  It is interesting that the newspapers of the day found little noteworthy in the execution of a teenage girl and gave her story very little coverage.

Mary Morgan – infanticide. 
Mary was a sixteen year old kitchen maid at the imposing Maesllwch Castle near Glasbury, the home of Walter Wilkins Esq., the Member of Parliament for the county of Radnorshire (now part of Powys in Wales). She had become pregnant but had tried to conceal the pregnancy to be allowed to stay on in the servant’s quarters in the castle.  On Sunday in September 1804 she complained of feeling unwell and went up to bed. She was visited in the evening by the cook who accused Mary of having given birth to a baby.  Mary initially denied this but later admitted that he she had indeed given birth and that she had killed it immediately, severing its head with a penknife!  The baby was found under the pillows in Mary’s bed.  An inquest was held two days later and the jury returned a verdict of murder against Mary, declaring that : "Mary Morgan, late of the Parish of Glazebury, a single woman on the 23rd day of September being big with child, afterward alone and secretly from her body did bring forth alive a female child, which by the laws and customs of this Kingdom was a bastard. Mary Morgan moved and seduced by the instigation of the devil afterwards on the same day, feloniously, willfully and of her malice aforethought did make an assault with a certain penknife made of iron and steel of the value of sixpence, and gave the child one mortal wound of the length of three inches and the depth of one inch. The child instantly died." 

Mary was arrested but was not well enough to be taken to Presteigne for trial until the 6th of October.  She thus remained in prison until the following April when she was arraigned at the Great Sessions for Radnorshire, before Judge Hardinge.  After a brief trial on the 11th of April 1805 she was convicted and received the death sentence.  She was returned to Presteigne Gaol to await her appointment with the hangman two days later.


It was quite normal at this time for executions to take place later in the day than became the custom later, so as to give local people the opportunity to get to the execution site.  Mary was hanged at Gallows Lane in Presteigne on Saturday, the 13th of April at around midday, having been conveyed from the Gaol in a horse drawn cart seated on her coffin. The terrified girl was barely conscious when she arrived at the gallows and had to be supported during the preparations.  It is probable that she was hanged from the back of the cart rather than on the “New Drop” style of gallows which was slowly coming into vogue at this time.  Her body was buried in unconsecrated ground near the church later that afternoon and was for whatever reason not sent for dissection.

 

Mary’s case was one that attracted the conspiracy theorists of the day. It has been claimed that a gentleman who attended Mary’s trial immediately set off to London to seek a reprieve for her, but failed to get back in time to save her.  This is at least highly unlikely, one could not ride to London and back on a single horse in two days in 1805.  It is hardly an easy journey now. 
It has also been claimed that the father of Mary's daughter was Walter Wilkins the Younger, the son of her employer or alternatively one of the men on the jury that convicted her.  However there is little evidence to support either theory and the father was more probably one of her fellow servants.
Two grave stones were erected in Mary’s memory in St. Andrew’s parish churchyard in Presteigne, one by a friend of Judge Hardinge and another by an anonymous donor.
Although to kill her baby in the way she did may strike most of us horrible one has to understand both the social and economic pressures that Mary faced at the time.  Had the pregnancy been discovered she would have almost certainly lost her job and with it her place to live and meagre income.  There was no social security then and she could only hope for handouts to live on until she could find some alternative employment. Not easy with a baby to bring up and with the social stigma of being an unmarried mother which was a very real one two hundred years ago.

Only one other person was to hang at Presteigne, he was Samuel Harley for the murder of Arthur Bedward in 1822.  Presteigne Gaol closed in 1878.

 

Hannah Bocking - murder in the shadow of the gibbet.

On Monday the 22nd of March 1819, sixteen year old Hannah was publicly hanged at Derby for the murder, by poisoning, of Jane Grant.

Hannah came from Litton in Derbyshire and in the summer of 1818 had applied for a job as a servant but had been unsuccessful due to “her un-amiable temper and disposition". The job went to another local girl, Jane Grant, instead.  Hannah knew Jane but hid her jealousy from her and pretended to be friends with her.  She was able to procure some arsenic from a local surgeon by telling him that her grandfather wanted it for killing rats.

During the summer of 1818, Hannah and Jane went together to get some cattle in from a field at Wardlow Mires. Dangling from a gibbet nearby was the rotting corpse of Anthony Lingard who had been hanged and gibbeted in 1815 for the murder of Hannah Oliver.  Here Hannah offered Jane a spice cake which she had previously laced with poison.  Jane died in agony a little while later but before doing so was able to tell her parents about the cake she had been given by Hannah.  It seems a strange location to commit a murder and clearly Hannah was not deterred by the possibility of her own execution.

Hannah was soon arrested and charged with killing Jane. She was committed to Friar Gate Gaol in Derby to await the next Assizes that were held in March of the following year. She duly came to trial at the Derbyshire Lent Assizes nearly six months later. Initially she tried to implicate members of her family in the crime but finally confessed that she had bought the poison some ten weeks before the murder.  She was convicted and at the end of the Assize on Friday the 19th of March, sentenced to be hanged and anatomised the following Monday, in accordance with the requirements of the Murder Act of 1752.  She was sent back to Friar Gate Gaol and placed in the condemned cell which is a small dank room in the basement with little natural light that can still be visited today.  Here the enormity of her crime and sentence finally hit her and she finally burst into tears, making a full confession to a lady visitor, telling her that she and she alone committed the crime.  She was attended over the weekend by the Gaol chaplain and by the Rev. Mr. Leach.
Between 12 noon and 1pm on the Monday, she was led back up the stone steps from the prison basement, through the main gate and out onto the pavement where in front of a large number of eager spectators, she ascended the steps of the New Drop gallows erected in front of the Gaol. After the usual preparations and time for prayer a white night cap was drawn down over her face and the trapdoor released.  It was not reported whether she died easily or not but “at the moment, when she was launched into eternity, an involuntary shuddering pervaded the assembled crowd, and although she excited little sympathy, a general feeling of horror was expressed that one so young should have been so guilty, and so insensible.”  Her body was dissected after death as required by law.  At least one broadside was printed about her case.

 

Catherine Foster – poisoner.
Catherine was one of two teenage girls executed in the period from 1840 - 1868.  She was just seventeen years old when she poisoned her husband, John, to whom she had been married for only three weeks, at Acton near Sudbury in Suffolk. She passed her eighteenth birthday in Bury Gaol awaiting trial.

John and Catherine had known each other since she was at the village school and had been having a relationship for two years or so, after Catherine had left school and gone into service.  John was seven years Catherine’s senior and it is probable that he was rather more keen on her than she was on him.  He also wanted to move out of his mother’s home as his sisters both had small children who got on his nerves.  The relationship with Catherine continued and he persuaded her to marry him, which she did on Wednesday the 28th of October 1846 at Actonchurch.  The newly weds went to live with Catherine’s mother, Maria Morley, at her cottage in the village.  Catherine stayed with John until the Saturday when she left to visit her aunt in the village of Pakenham for the next ten days. 

On Tuesday the 17th of November Catherine decided to cook dumplings for dinner.  That afternoon her mother and John were out at work so only Catherine and her younger brother, eight year old Thomas were in the house.  John was a healthy young farm labourer who had previously enjoyed good health.  He came home from work some time after six o’clock and went into the yard to wash his hands before eating.  Catherine and Thomas were eating when he came back in and she took his dumpling, wrapped in a cloth, from the stove and gave it to him.  He began to eat it but almost immediately became ill and had to go back into the yard where he threw up.  Catherine took the remains of John’s dumpling out into the yard and broke it up for the chickens.  By seven o’clock when Mrs. Morley returned John had gone up to bed, retching and experiencing severe stomach cramps.  This continued through the night and in the morning Catherine went to the nearby village of Melford to fetch the doctor, Mr. Robert Jones.  She told the doctor that John had a stomach complaint but omitted to mention the vomiting, so he suspected a case of English cholera, especially as it had recently been rife.  He prescribed some medicine which she took home with her and said he would call on John later.  Her mother returned home about three in the afternoon and John died an hour later.  Mr. Jones arrived at about five o’clock and was very surprised to find John dead. He reported the death to the coroner who ordered an inquest and a post mortem. 

Mr. Jones and another local surgeon carried out the autopsy and removed John’s stomach for analysis which was sent to Mr. E. W. Image in Bury St. Edmunds. He detected a large amount of arsenic in it and confirmed that this was the cause of death.  John was not the only victim, the chickens, who had eaten bits of the dumpling and John’s vomit which Mrs. Morley had thrown into the adjoining ditch, had also died. Their crops were found to contain arsenic and suet, an ingredient of dumplings.  The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of murder and charged Catherine with the crime.  She was therefore arrested and committed to Bury St. Edmunds gaol, charged with poisoning John.

 

Catherine was examined by the magistrates whilst in prison in the presence of the gaoler’s wife, Mrs. James.  Her mother was also present and took young Thomas with her.  Catherine is alleged to have said to him “You good for nothing little boy, why did you tell such stories” and refused a cake he had brought her.

The police made a search of Mrs. Morley’s house on Monday the 24th of November. The constable of Melford, George Green and Sergeant Rogers took samples of flour and also the muslin cloths that were used for cooking dumplings in and sent them to Mr. Image for analysis.  The flour did not contain any poison but one the muslin clothes tested positive for it.

 

Catherine was tried at the Suffolk Lent Assizes on the 27th of March 1847 before Baron Pollock on the charge of the wilful murder of John Foster.  She appeared calm in court and pleaded not guilty.  The prosecution was led by Mr. Gurney and he called a number of witnesses to give the background to the case, John’s previous robust health, the administration of the arsenic and the forensic evidence from Mr. Image who had carried out Reinsch's test and Marsh's test to be certain that what had been found in John’s stomach was indeed arsenic. Perhaps the most damning evidence against Catherine came from her brother Thomas.  On the day that Catherine made the dumplings Thomas had got home from school at three o’clock in the afternoon.  He told the court saw his sister empty the contents of a small paper packet into the mixture and then throw the paper onto the fire. Elizabeth Foster, John’s mother told the court that she had heard that her son was ill but by the time she got to Mrs. Morley’s house he had died.  When she arrived she found Catherine and Mrs. Morley there and asked Catherine why she had not been sent for earlier.  Catherine told her that John had been too ill to leave and that she had nobody to go and fetch Elizabeth. 

Catherine’s defence was presented by Mr. Power who opened by saying that in view of the handbills that had been circulated around Suffolk proclaiming his client a murderess before she was even tried it made a fair trial very difficult.  He endeavoured to destroy the alleged motive for the murder by showing that Catherine and John had actually been in love using the letters that she had written him before their marriage, which were found in his effects after he had died.  He also told the jury that when Catherine had suggested visiting her aunt John had told her to take a month but she returned after just ten days.  None of this succeeded and the jury found Catherine guilty after fifteen minutes of discussion.  As it was nearly seven o’clock in the evening sentencing was postponed until nine o’clock on the Monday morning.  Catherine displayed no emotion at the verdict and very little when she was sentenced to hang.

 

Little is reported of her time in the condemned cell where she received the ministrations of the chaplain, the Rev. Mr. West, the Rev. Mr. Ottley, her parish priest and the Rev. Mr. Eyre, whom she asked to be with her at the execution.  She made a confession in which she said that she deserved her punishment but did not give any reason for the killing.  She wrote a letter to her mother in which she said that she was not sorry that she would die because she would go to a better place where she would be reunited John.  She appears to not to have been hysterical as some women were in this position and to have remained composed.

The hanging was carried out at 9.00 a.m. on Saturday the 17th of April 1847 by William Calcraft on the New Drop gallows, erected in the meadow outside Bury St. Edmunds Gaol.  A crowd of some ten thousand people had turned up to see it, among them many women. Catherine walked firmly and unaided to her doom and on the platform was asked by the governor, Mr. J M’Intyre, if she had any final words and replied “No, I cannot speak.”

It was recorded by the Era newspaper that when the bolt was drawn she struggled for some two minutes and that a “thrill of horror ran through the crowd”.  The execution was described as a deeply moving spectacle by witnesses.  Catherine’s body was afterwards buried within the prison as was now the legal requirement and quicklime was added to the coffin, as it was thought to speed decomposition.   She was the last female to be hanged in public at Bury St. Edmunds.  A broadside was printed of her crime and execution.  
Future executions at this prison took place on the flat roof between the Infirmary and the entrance to the Porter's lodge as it was felt that the crowd had been able to get too close to the gallows and its teenage prisoner.

What made a seventeen year old girl poison her husband of three weeks?  We cannot know whether she was in love with him or not but there appears no reason for her to hate him or want him dead.  It has been suggested that she was pushed into marriage by her mother but this was not what Maria Morley told the court.  In fact almost the opposite, she seemed concerned that Catherine was too young at seventeen.  Was there someone else in Catherine’s life, again there is no evidence of this.  There has never been any suggestion that she stood to benefit financially from the murder.  Perhaps she felt trapped in a situation that she didn’t want and saw killing John as the easiest way out.  It has been suggested that Catherine’s father also committed a murder in July 1838, if so he was not hanged for it.

 

Sarah Harriet Thomas - Bristol's last public hanging.

Sarah’s was to be Bristol's final public hanging on the flat roof of the gatehouse of New Gaol in Cumberland Road. She was a house maid to sixty one year old Miss Elizabeth Jefferies, who according to Sarah, did not treat her well and had locked in the kitchen all night among other perceived abuses. There was almost certain to be conflict between a cranky, elderly spinster and a rebellious young girl and this culminated in Sarah bludgeoning Miss Jefferies to death with a large stone as she slept, on the night of Sunday the 4th of March 1849.  Sarah had also killed Miss Jefferies’ dog and thrown its body into the lavatory.  She left the house, but not without helping herself to some of her mistresses’ jewellery. Miss Jefferies’ brother was alerted to a possible problem by a neighbour who noticed that the window shutters were still closed and called the local constable to help him investigate.  When they forced entry they made the gruesome discoveries.  Suspicion immediately fell upon Sarah and she was arrested the next day at her mother’s house in Pensford. Initially she told the police that another girl had committed the killings and that she had only been involved with ransacking the house. 

 

She was tried at Gloucester on the 3rd of April 1849, the public gallery being particularly crowded to hear every gruesome detail.  Sarah seemed not to treat the court proceedings seriously until she was convicted and the judge donned the black cap and sentenced her to be hanged by the neck until she was dead.  On hearing these words of doom she collapsed and had to be carried from the dock by two warders.  A petition was got up to save her but this was to no avail.  Sarah made a confession to the prison governor, Mr. J A Gardiner and two female matrons seventeen days before her execution and it was read to her every day in case she wanted to correct it.  In the confession she told of the ill treatment that she had endured from Miss Jefferies and spoke of her regret in having committed the killings.

 

On Thursday the 19th of April the gallows was erected and William Calcraft, the hangman, arrived from London. He was to have George Smith from Dudley to assist him.  The following morning a huge number of people had assembled in front of the prison to watch Sarah die.

She was dragged up two flights of stairs by six warders onto the gatehouse roof and then up a few more steps onto the platform.  She was held on the trap by two warders whilst Calcraft strapped her legs, placed the white hood over her head and tightened the halter style noose around her neck. As the preparations continued Sarah cried out "I wont be hanged; take me home!" Calcraft quickly operated the trap and Sarah’s body dropped about eighteen inches through it, quivering for a few moments before becoming still.  Everybody present on the gatehouse roof was upset by the distressing scene they had witnessed and the governor of the prison fainted. Sarah’s body was buried in private in an unmarked grave within the prison later in the day.

Even the by now veteran hangman, Calcraft, was greatly affected by this job and said later that Sarah Thomas was "in my opinion, one of the prettiest and most intellectual girls I have met with."

A crime reporter, one Mr. E. Austin, who attended the execution reported: "Ribald jests were bandied about and after waiting to see the corpse cut down, the crowd dispersed, and the harvest of the taverns in the neighbourhood commenced." However, some in the crowd felt pity for the poor girl.  Sadly for the majority it was probably seen much more as a free, slightly pornographic show put on by the authorities for their voyeuristic pleasure.

 

Sarah was the last teenage girl to be hanged in Britain. One hundred years earlier she would have suffered a far worse fate as her crime would have been deemed to be Petty Treason and she would have been burnt at the stake for it.

 

Constance Kent who confessed to murdering her three year old brother, Francis, at their home at Road Hill House when she was sixteen had her death sentence commuted to life in prison in 1865 due to her age at the time of her crime and changing attitudes towards the death penalty, particularly for women.  She served twenty years in prison before being released and emigrating to Australia.

 

A further six nineteen year old girls were hanged in the nineteenth century. They were Sarah Lloyd (23rd of April 1800) for stealing in a dwelling house, Martha Chapple (1st of August 1803) for the murder of her bastard, Mary Chandler (9th of April 1808) for stealing in a dwelling house, Sarah Fletcher for the murder of a child (5th of April 1813), Catherine Kinrade (18th of April 1823) for being an accessory to murder and Mary Ann Higgins (11th of August 1831) for the murder of her uncle.

Nineteen year old Catherine was having an affair with her brother in law, John Camaish, who was nine years her senior. She was described as having “uncommonly interesting and rather handsome features”  John had married Catherine’s older sister, but had always harboured feelings for Catherine. They plotted to murder Mrs. Camaish, who was pregnant at the time, so as to get her out of the way and allow their relationship to become permanent.  To this effect Catherine put some of the arsenic powder into her sister’s porridge, which although it caused vomiting and severe stomach cramps did not have the desired result.  John then purchased some more arsenic from a shop in Ramsey, telling the chemist that he intended to use it to kill vermin.  He persuaded his wife to take the arsenic on the basis that it would cure her of some unspecified illness.  She died very quickly after this second dose.  It should be noted that arsenic is a cumulative poison and builds up in the body, so that there would still have been a residue present from the previous attempt.

 

Suspicions were aroused as to the cause of the untimely death of Mrs. Camaish, due to the behaviour of Catherine and John. An inquest was therefore held which found she had died from arsenic poisoning, rather than a severe attack of gastro-enteritis that had similar symptoms and was a common cause of death.  Catherine and John were arrested and charged with the killing, he as principal and she as an accessory to murder.  They came to trial in late March 1823, before the Deemster, as Manx high court judges are known at Castle Rushen, Castletown. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and the pair were sentenced to be hanged and their bodies to be dissected afterwards and not to be permitted a Christian burial, in accordance with Section 53 of the Manx Criminal Code of 1817. They were returned to the island’s then main prison within the Castle to await their fate.  The prison within the castle had been substantially upgraded in 1815 to provide accommodation for both debtors and criminals.

 

In the Isle of Man the Coroner of the Sheading in which the crime occurred was responsible for carrying out death sentences, whereas in Englandit was the sheriff of the county.  As in England it was normal for him to appoint a hangman, but no one volunteered for the job and so the Coroner of Ayre Sheading, John Cowley, ended up having to perform the execution himself.  (Ayre is one of the six Sheadings, which are administrative areas, this one forming the northern tip of the island. Each one has a Coroner whose role nowadays, might be likened to that of the leader of a council.)

 

It was reported that Catherine was so poorly educated that she was unable to pray when she was first committed to prison and had to be taught how to do so by the Chaplain.  Once she had mastered prayer she spent many hours doing so and was judged to be fully penitent by the time of her execution.  This, of course, was considered to be most important for her spiritual salvation.  She also confessed to her part in the murder.

John, in contrast showed no remorse until four or five days before he was to die.  He then began to become increasingly desperate, shaking constantly and refusing food.  He made a confession on the morning of his death and admitted buying both lots of poison.

 

Catherine asked to see John on that morning and this was allowed.  She told him that they should forgive each other which they did and then they shook hands before being returned to their cells. This is quite unusual, often when a couple were to be executed for the same crime their wasanimosity and rapprochement between them at the gallows, each blaming the other for their fate. 

On the morning of Friday the 18th of April they were brought out from their separate cells to be pinioned and have the nooses placed around their necks before being loaded into the cart for the journey from the Castle to the place of execution near the water’s edge. They were accompanied by ministers of religion to the execution ground.

An immense crowd of spectators had gathered around the gallows to await the arrival of the prisoners.  It was reported that every vantage point was covered with people of both sexes and all ages, as hangings were rare events on the island.

 

The cart was backed under the gallows, similarly to Tyburn executions in London, and the ropes tied up to the beam.  The Reverend Mr. Kewleythan recited prayers for the condemned couple for several minutes and when he had finished he embraced Catherine and shook hands with John.  He and the other officials got down from the cart and the order was given for the horse to move forward, leaving the prisoners suspended, at least in John’s case.  Catherine was less fortunate because the rope slipped and her feet were able to touch the ground.  As a consequence of this, while John expired very quickly, Catherine struggled for some time before succumbing. 

They were left hanging for half an hour before being taken down and placed back into the cart to be taken back to the Castle, prior to being sent to Douglas for dissection.  It appears that this part of their sentence was not actually carried out and their bodies were returned to their friends for burial.  A broadside was published by John Muir of Glasgow and sold widely at the execution and afterwards, both on the Isle of Man and on the mainland.

These hangings were two of only seven to be carried out on the Isle of man in the 19th century. Catherine Kinrade was the only female to be hanged there in the 19th or 20th centuries.

The Isle of Man is a self governing British dependency which did not finally abolish the death penalty until 1993.

Added by bgill

"Baby Farming" – a tragedy of Victorian times.

The practice of baby farming grew up in late Victorian era when there was no effective contraception and great social stigma attached to having a child out of wedlock. Proper adoption agencies and social services didn't exist at this time. Instead, a number of untrained women offered legal fostering and adoption services to unmarried mothers who would hand over their baby plus, say 10 to 15 pounds in cash (quite a large sum of money then) to them in the hope that the child would be re-homed. Most of the babies were in one way or another. It is probable that some were sold to childless couples and others fostered/adopted for a few pounds. Unmarried mothers were often desperate so they answered the adverts placed in newspapers by seemingly reputable people. Getting rid of a child in this way had obvious advantages to the mother - it was simple, quick and legal with few questions asked. The mothers had few real alternatives. Abortion was illegal and the back street abortions that were carried out were a very high risk alternative, sometimes resulting in severe haemorrhaging or even the death of the women or prosecution and imprisonment if she was found out. Abandonment was similarly illegal and little sympathy was extended by the courts to women who abandoned their children in those days. Murdering of unwanted children by their mothers typically resulted in the death penalty in Victorian Britain. SelinaWadge was hanged by William Marwood on the 15th of August 1878 at Bodmin for the murder of her illegitimate son, and Louisa Massetbecame the first person to be executed in the 20th century for murdering her young son. (Click her for a full description of her case).

If having been “re-homed,” a baby disappeared, the mother was often too frightened or ashamed to tell the police so it was very easy for the unscrupulous baby farmers to kill off unwanted or hard to foster (or sell?) babies. Sadly, a few of the baby farmers found killing off the babies far easier than re-homing them and these are the cases examined here. Murder yielded a quicker profit without the need for caring for the child for some weeks or months, at their own expense. 
In an age of high infant mortality, deaths of babies and small children attracted little attention and were actually quite common. Where a baby’s body was found, it was often impossible to trace the mother as the authorities did not have the advantage of DNA tests.

Added by bgill

Thomas Hardy and The Hanging of Martha Brown(e)

Seventy years after the execution of Martha Brown, which he witnessed from a place just below the scaffold all Thomas Hardy could remember was 'what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back.'

Elizabeth Martha Brown

William Calcraft - the executioner

Source material supplied by Richard Clark Capital Punishment UK. (A comprehensive site detailing capital punishment within the UK)

Elizabeth Martha Brown - The inspiration for Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles".

Elizabeth Martha Brown(e) was an ordinary woman of humble birth who worked as a servant. Not much is known about her, not even her date and place of birth. She became the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset, and is only remembered as the inspiration for Thomas Hardy's famous novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". Elizabeth was nearly twenty years older than her husband, John Brown(e), and they had met when they were both servants together. It was claimed at the time that he had married her for money. They lived at Birdsmoorgate, near Beaminster in Dorset.


The marriage was problematic and she caught John in bed with another woman. A quarrel naturally ensued and later that day erupted into violence. She struck out at John and he replied by hitting her with his whip. This was the last straw for Elizabeth who retaliated by hitting him over the head with the wood chopping axe, smashing his skull and killing him.She was arrested but claimed that her husband's death had been caused by being kicked in the head by a horse. The police did not believe this and thus she was charged with murder. She came to trial at Dorchester Assizes, as Dorchester is the County town of Dorset. The jury did not believe the horse story either and brought back a guilty verdict. The mandatory death sentence was passed on her and she was taken to Dorchester prison to await her execution some three weeks later.


There were obvious mitigating circumstances which led to substantial agitation for a reprieve. Reprieves even for murder although rare, were by no means unknown at this time. There was however much public sympathy for her in view of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her husband. The Home Secretary however, refused a reprieve even in view of the evidence of obvious provocation, perhaps because Elizabeth had made the fatal mistake of maintaining, virtually to the last, the lie that her husband had died from a horse kick. (c.f. the case of Tracy Andrews in 1997, where she claimed that her boyfriend had been stabbed in a road rage attack, a story which she later retracted). Elizabeth became "locked into" this lie as so many have before and since. Ultimately, in the condemned cell she confessed that she had killed him with the axe and therefore was responsible for his death and accepted her fate with great courage. Diminished responsibility was not a defence open to her in 1856, it would be another 101 years before it was recognised in English law. The Sheriff of Dorset made the necessary preparations for her execution, appointing William Calcraft as the hangman. He was Britain's principal executioner from 1829 - 1874 - the longest serving hangman of all. He was noted for his "short drops" causing most of his victims to die a slow and agonising death.
Elizabeth's execution was set for 9 o'clock on the morning of Saturday 9th August 1856. Calcraft travelled to Dorchester by train and he and his assistant arrived at the prison the day before as required by the Home Office to make the necessary preparations.


Elizabeth would have been treated very well in the condemned cell where she would have been looked after by two matrons (female warders). Even then there was a strange dichotomy between the harsh sentences of the law, her treatment in the condemned cell, and her cruel and humiliating execution.The gallows was erected outside the gates of Dorchester prison the evening before, on what is today the prison car park in North Square and was a very impressive affair.


A crowd of between 3 and 4,000 had gathered for, what was by then quite a rare event, the public hanging of a woman. To add to the public interest Elizabeth was an attractive woman, who looked younger than her years and had lovely hair. She was also incredibly brave in the face of death. So much so that her vicar regarded it as a sign of callousness. She had chosen a long, tight fitting thin black silk dress for her hanging. At the prison gates she shook hands with the officials but declined to be driven to the place of execution in the prison van, even though it was raining. Instead she chose to walk from the prison to it. She walked up the first flight of eleven steps where William Calcraft, a forbidding figure in his black clothes and bushy white beard, pinioned her arms in front of her before leading her up the next flight of 19 steps, across a platform and on up the last flight of steps to the actual trap. Here Calcraft put the white hood over her head and the simple noose around her neck. He then began to go down below the trap to withdraw the bolts (there was no lever in those days) when it was pointed out to him that he had not pinioned Elizabeth's legs. He returned to her and put a strap around her legs, outside of her dress to prevent it billowing up and exposing her as she hanged. (The Victorian preoccupation with decency!) While this was going on Elizabeth stood stoically on the gallows, supported by a male warder on each side, just waiting for her death. The rain made the hood damp and it clung to her features, giving her an almost statuesque appearance. It must also have made it hard for her to breath through the damp cloth.


Once again Calcraft went below and pulled the bolts thus releasing the trap doors. Elizabeth dropped through a distance of about a foot with a resounding thud. Death was certainly not instantaneous and she struggled some and her "body wheeled half round and back", according to Thomas Hardy, taking a few moments to loose consciousness, as the rope constricted the major blood vessels and put pressure on the nerves in her neck. She was left to hang for the regulation hour before being taken down and buried within the prison. Fortunately anatomisation of the body had been ended by law some 25 years previously.


Her execution caused a leading article in the Dorset County Chronicle advocating the abolition of the death penalty.

Thomas Hardy was boy of 16 when he went to watch this spectacle with a friend and was able to secure a good vantage point in a tree very close to the gallows. He noted "what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back", after Calcraft had tied her dress close to her body. It made an impression on him that lasted until old age, he still wrote about the event in his eighties. It was to provide the inspiration and some of the matter for 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'. It seems possible that Hardy found something erotic about the execution and particularly her body and facial features through the tight dress and rain soaked hood. Charles Dickens who had also witness public hangings and campaigned strongly against them referred to the "fascination of the repulsive, something most of us have experienced."

rom Robert Gittings, Young Thomas Hardy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1975.
"Shortly after he started his apprenticeship with Hicks, Hardy attended a public hanging, and, as it appears, was very close to the gallows, which was put up high above the entrance to Dorchester Gaol. It was, moreover, the hanging of a woman, who had killed her husband in a crime of jealousy, which had so many mitigating circumstances that they nearly brought a reprieve. Indeed, if she had not maintained almost to the last her husband had died from a kick from his horse, instead of, as she finally confessed, a blow from her hatchet, public sympathy might have persuaded the Home Secretary to leniency. The woman, Elizabeth Martha Brown, was nearly twenty years older than her husband, John Brown, who had been a fellow-servant with her. He had married her, according to gossip, for money, and the couple had lived at Birdsmoorgate, near Beaminster. She had caught him making love to a local woman, and had a violent quarrel lat at night, during which he struck her with his trantor's whip. She retaliated with the wood-chopper, killed him, and then tried to conceal the crime.

This sensational story was well known, and a large crowd turned out in the early morning drizzle on 9 August 1856. Her handsome appearance, younger than her years, and her lovely hair, added to the morbid curiosity. So did her utterly calm behaviour, though her own vicar, a national authority on oriental languages but with a passion for capital punishment, chose to regard this as callousness. After shaking hands with the prison officials, she walked firmly to the scaffold, and seemed to show no fear. Even Calcraft the executioner showed nervousness. Since it was some time since he had executed a woman in public, he forgot to tie her dress so that she would not be exposed as she swung, and had actually to reascend the scaffold to do this. The execution was even the occasion of a leading article in the Dorset County Chronicle advocating the abolition of the death penalty.

It is clear that the sixteen-year-old Hardy, instead of going straight to Hicks's office that morning, got himself a good place to view this sight. In a crowd of three or four thousand, his favoured position close to the gallows can hardly have been an accident. He was so close that he could actually see her features through the rain-damp cloth over her face. It made an impression on him that lasted until old age. The nature of that impression offers a somewhat disturbing insight into his mind as it then was. The well-remembered occasion had for him distinctly sexual overtones. He wrote in his eighties, in words whose unconscious tone is barely credible, 'what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back', after Calcraft had tied her dress close to her body. For one ardent watcher, at least, the hangman's would-be humanitarian action had created an addition excitement.

Even Hardy seems to have realized that these reminiscent delights were abnormal, for he added the excuse, whenever he wrote of this, that he was very young at the time. The second Mrs. Hardy, (Florence) assiduous to present her famous husband in a good light, wrote of the pity that he had been 'permitted' to see such a sight--though he seems to have gone entirely at his own volitionand added 'It might have given a tinge of bitterness and gloom to his life's work'. This verdict hardly accounts for Hardy's obvious sense of enjoyment and anticipation, followed by a sensation of calm that seems to give the whole experience a sexual character. As for its effect on his life's work, or at least upon his most famous novel, another account, perhaps the most telling and circumstantial, certainly does suggest a deep impression with extraordinary personal overtones. On 2 November 1904, The Sketch printed the following paragraph.

Mr. Neil Munro tells a curious story of the origin of Mr Hardy's 'Tess'. When Hardy was a boy he used to come into Dorchester to school, and he made the acquaintance of a woman there who, with her husband, kept an inn. She was beautiful, good and kind, but married to a dissipated scoundrel who was unfaithful to her. One day she discovered her husband under circumstances which so roused her passion that she stabbed him with a knife and killed
him. She was tried, convicted, and condemned to execution. Young Hardy, with another boy, came into Dorchester and witnessed the execution from a tree that overlooked the yard in which the gallows was placed. He never forgot the rustle of the thin black gown the woman was wearing as she was led forth by the warders. A penetrating rain was falling; the white cap was no sooner over the woman's head than it clung to her features, and the noose was put round the neck of what looked like a marble statue. Hardy looked at the scene with the strange illusion of its being unreal, and was brought to his complete senses when the drop fell with a thud and his companion on a lower branch of the tree fell fainting to the ground. The tragedy haunted Hardy, and, at last, provided the emotional inspiration and some of the matter for 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'.

Hardy cut this out and pasted it into a scrapbook, which was marked 'Personal'. He crossed out and altered the sentence suggesting he knew Martha Browne and also the erroneous account of the Browns' profession; but he then headed the cutting with the word 'Corrected', and made no further alteration. This shows that the story, apart from slight details such as the exact murder-weapon, was accepted by him as generally a true picture. Years later, he himself repeated the story, almost exactly, to a young visitor 'with a sort of gaiety'. He emphasized again the weird effect of the woman's features showing through the execution hood. 'That was extraordinary', he commented in the later conversation. Yet the most significant detail is one found in the newspaper account only. Munro, a serious journalist and novelist, who would hardly invent at this point, records that Hardy 'never forgot the rustle of the thin black gown the woman was wearing'. The rustle of a woman's dress had enormous sexual meaning for Hardy. It will be remembered that when he recalled his feeling for Mrs. Julia Augusta Martin, which, he himself, said, 'was almost like that of a lover' he paid special attention to 'the thrilling "frou-frou" of her four grey silk flounces when she used to bend over him', and even recollected the same sound having an effect on him when she came into Stinsford Church on Sundays. There can be hardly any doubt that hanging, and particularly the hanging of a woman, had some sort of sexual meaning for Hardy, which remained powerfully in his thoughts to the end of his life. This account hints that it supplied at least part of the emotional power of his best-known novel."

 


From Michael Millgate, Thomas Hardy: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1982.
"In the summer of 1856 occurred, after a sensational trial, the first of the public hangings in Dorchester that Hardy witnessed and, understandably enough, remembered to the end of his life. On 9 August 1856, when Martha Browne was executed at Dorchester prison for the murder of her husband, Hardy stood close to the gallows, among the watching crowd of three or four thousand; as his account of the occasion nearly seventy years later reveals, his reaction had a strong sexual component, focused not on the execution itself but on its immediate aftermath: 'I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, & how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back.' As it came on to rain, Hardy recalled on another occasion, 'I saw they had put a cloth over the face how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary.'"

 


From Martin Seymour-Smith, Hardy. London: Bloomsbury, 1994.
"One event the sixteen-year-old Tom witnessed, on 9 August 1856, left a lifelong impression and probably caused him a severe shock. Its effect may have been underrated, even by himself when writing the earlier part of the Life, in which he scarcely mentions it except in passing. That it always remained on his mind is evident from a visit he made one day in late 1925 to Racedown, the house which had once been lent rent-free to Wordsworth and his sister by the Pinney family. He went with his wife 'as a pilgrim', and Lady Pinney recollected that he singed the visitors' book, then: cleaned the pen on the striped lining of his waistcoat, a thing I remember seeing my father's business friends do. 'It's a very nice pen, my dear,' he said to his wife, 'do use it.' We showed him the rooms the Wordsworths probably used...as he was leaving and being hurried home by his careful wife, he turned to me and said, 'Can you find out about Martha Brown? She lived over there' (and he pointed to the west) 'I saw her hanged when I was sixteen'. He was bustled into the car, before there was time for more. Lady Pinney made enquiries about this murder (carried out by a woman on account of her husband's unfaithfulness), and she passed on the information to him. He replied, on 20 January 1926: My sincere thanks for the details...about that unhappy woman Martha Brown, whom I am
ashamed to say I saw hanged, my only excuse being that I was but a youth, and had to be in town at that time for other reasons...I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back.

His reaction has the expected sexual component, although his account is unusual in not troubling to disguise it. There is nothing 'unconscious' about the effect on him of the shape of a woman's body: one of the important things about Hardy is that he did not shirk 'unpleasant facts'. No boy of sixteen could have escaped being affected by the ghastly juxtaposition of sex and death, although it cannot have made its fullest impact on him as an adolescent; rather he registered the impression, and then fascinatedly contemplated it at intervals throughout his life. It was not something easily forgettable, and must have contributed to the fate of Tess.

The erotic implications of this experience and young Tom's behaviour with girls makes this a convenient point to consider the much canvassed question of the nature of Tom's sexuality. This would not be necessary to discuss, were it not for the fact that Hardy's previous biographers, Robert Gittings and Michael Millgate, have suggested that he was impotent. Millgate thinks that this idea is 'intriguing', and, though plainly believing in the hypothesis, is too scrupulous to press it, since there is no evidence for it. Gittings pretends to be specific."

 


From James Gibson, Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
"Dorchester was the county town and there was much for a keen-sighted child to observe the judges coming to the Assizes, the soldiers in the barracks, the hiring fairs, the markets. Public executions still occurred outside the massive red-brick gaol and Hardy witnessed two of these. The first was on 9 August 1856 when Martha Browne was executed for murdering her husband. In The Life Hardy says no more than that he stood close to the gallows, but in 1919 in a talk with a visitor called Elliott Felkin he recalled:

The hanging itself did not move me at all. But I sat on after the others went away, not thinking, but looking at the figure...turning slowly round on the rope. And then it began to rain, and then I saw they had put a cloth over the face how as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary. A boy had climbed up into a tree fnearby, and when she dropped he came down in a faint like an apple dropping from a tree. It was curious the two dropping together. (Encounter, April 1962)

Freudian interpretations by some biographers of this and a reference in one of his letters to the way in which the woman's 'light black silk gown set off her shape' have led to accusations that Hardy secretly enjoyed the spectacle which gave him a morbidly erotic thrill and revealed something sick in his imagination. But these were really no more than the very natural observations of a highly sensitive and perceptive young man. Dickens and many thousands of others watched public executions in those days without the same accusations being made about them. In fact, Dickens referred to the 'fascination of the repulsive', something most of us have experienced."

Elizabeth Martha Brown - The inspiration for Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles".


Elizabeth Martha Brown(e) was an ordinary woman of humble birth who worked as a servant. Not much is known about her, not even her date and place of birth. She became the last woman to be publicly hanged in Dorset, and is only remembered as the inspiration for Thomas Hardy's famous novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles". Elizabeth was nearly twenty years older than her husband, John Brown(e), and they had met when they were both servants together. It was claimed at the time that he had married her for money. They lived at Birdsmoorgate, near Beaminster in Dorset.


The marriage was problematic and she caught John in bed with another woman. A quarrel naturally ensued and later that day erupted into violence. She struck out at John and he replied by hitting her with his whip. This was the last straw for Elizabeth who retaliated by hitting him over the head with the wood chopping axe, smashing his skull and killing him.She was arrested but claimed that her husband's death had been caused by being kicked in the head by a horse. The police did not believe this and thus she was charged with murder. She came to trial at Dorchester Assizes, as Dorchester is the County town of Dorset. The jury did not believe the horse story either and brought back a guilty verdict. The mandatory death sentence was passed on her and she was taken to Dorchester prison to await her execution some three weeks later.


There were obvious mitigating circumstances which led to substantial agitation for a reprieve. Reprieves even for murder although rare, were by no means unknown at this time. There was however much public sympathy for her in view of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of her husband. The Home Secretary however, refused a reprieve even in view of the evidence of obvious provocation, perhaps because Elizabeth had made the fatal mistake of maintaining, virtually to the last, the lie that her husband had died from a horse kick. (c.f. the case of Tracy Andrews in 1997, where she claimed that her boyfriend had been stabbed in a road rage attack, a story which she later retracted). Elizabeth became "locked into" this lie as so many have before and since. Ultimately, in the condemned cell she confessed that she had killed him with the axe and therefore was responsible for his death and accepted her fate with great courage. Diminished responsibility was not a defence open to her in 1856, it would be another 101 years before it was recognised in English law. The Sheriff of Dorset made the necessary preparations for her execution, appointing William Calcraft as the hangman. He was Britain's principal executioner from 1829 - 1874 - the longest serving hangman of all. He was noted for his "short drops" causing most of his victims to die a slow and agonising death.
Elizabeth's execution was set for 9 o'clock on the morning of Saturday 9th August 1856. Calcraft travelled to Dorchester by train and he and his assistant arrived at the prison the day before as required by the Home Office to make the necessary preparations.


Elizabeth would have been treated very well in the condemned cell where she would have been looked after by two matrons (female warders). Even then there was a strange dichotomy between the harsh sentences of the law, her treatment in the condemned cell, and her cruel and humiliating execution.The gallows was erected outside the gates of Dorchester prison the evening before, on what is today the prison car park in North Square and was a very impressive affair.


A crowd of between 3 and 4,000 had gathered for, what was by then quite a rare event, the public hanging of a woman. To add to the public interest Elizabeth was an attractive woman, who looked younger than her years and had lovely hair. She was also incredibly brave in the face of death. So much so that her vicar regarded it as a sign of callousness. She had chosen a long, tight fitting thin black silk dress for her hanging. At the prison gates she shook hands with the officials but declined to be driven to the place of execution in the prison van, even though it was raining. Instead she chose to walk from the prison to it. She walked up the first flight of eleven steps where William Calcraft, a forbidding figure in his black clothes and bushy white beard, pinioned her arms in front of her before leading her up the next flight of 19 steps, across a platform and on up the last flight of steps to the actual trap. Here Calcraft put the white hood over her head and the simple noose around her neck. He then began to go down below the trap to withdraw the bolts (there was no lever in those days) when it was pointed out to him that he had not pinioned Elizabeth's legs. He returned to her and put a strap around her legs, outside of her dress to prevent it billowing up and exposing her as she hanged. (The Victorian preoccupation with decency!) While this was going on Elizabeth stood stoically on the gallows, supported by a male warder on each side, just waiting for her death. The rain made the hood damp and it clung to her features, giving her an almost statuesque appearance. It must also have made it hard for her to breath through the damp cloth.


Once again Calcraft went below and pulled the bolts thus releasing the trap doors. Elizabeth dropped through a distance of about a foot with a resounding thud. Death was certainly not instantaneous and she struggled some and her "body wheeled half round and back", according to Thomas Hardy, taking a few moments to loose consciousness, as the rope constricted the major blood vessels and put pressure on the nerves in her neck. She was left to hang for the regulation hour before being taken down and buried within the prison. Fortunately anatomisation of the body had been ended by law some 25 years previously.


Her execution caused a leading article in the Dorset County Chronicle advocating the abolition of the death penalty.

Thomas Hardy was boy of 16 when he went to watch this spectacle with a friend and was able to secure a good vantage point in a tree very close to the gallows. He noted "what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain, and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half round and back", after Calcraft had tied her dress close to her body. It made an impression on him that lasted until old age, he still wrote about the event in his eighties. It was to provide the inspiration and some of the matter for 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'. It seems possible that Hardy found something erotic about the execution and particularly her body and facial features through the tight dress and rain soaked hood. Charles Dickens who had also witness public hangings and campaigned strongly against them referred to the "fascination of the repulsive, something most of us have experienced."

 

illiam Calcraft - Little Baddow, Chelmsford Essex 1800 - 1879.


Period in office - 1829 - 1874.


Calcraft was the longest serving executioner of all and was noted for his "short drops" causing most of his victims to strangle to death. It is not known precisely how many executions he carried out but it is estimated at between four hundred and four hundred and fifty, including those of at least 35 women, making him the most prolific British executioner. He was appointed hangman for London and Middlesex on the 4th of April 1829. His first experience was as assistant to Foxen at the double hanging of housebreaker Thomas Lister and highwayman George Wingfield at Lincoln Castle. Calcraft's first job as No.1 was the hanging of the murderess, Ester Hibner at Newgate on the 13th of April 1829. 1829 was a busy year for him with no fewer than 31 executions. He was assisted by Thomas Cheshire in many of these.


He officiated at the last public hangings in Britain - those of Francis Kidder (the last woman) at Maidstone on 2nd April 1868 for the drowning of her step daughter and Michael Barrett - a Fenian (what we would now call an I R A terrorist) for the Clerkenwell prison explosion which killed 12 people and injured over 100, outside Newgate prison on 26th May 1868.


The Government then passed The Capital Punishment Within Prisons Act of 1868 which transferred all executions inside prison walls. The press and witnesses were still permitted to attend although executions were no longer the great public spectacles that they used to be.


The first hanging "within the prison" was that of 18 year old Thomas Wells at Maidstone on 13th August 1868. Wells was a railway worker who had murdered his boss, the Station Master at Dover. Although the execution was in "private" there were reporters and invited witnesses present and the short drop was used so that they would have been treated to the sight of Wells taking 3 - 4 minutes to die.


Calcraft was the official hangman at Newgate and also carried out floggings inside that prison. He received 1 guinea (£1.05) a week retainer and a further guinea for each hanging at Newgate and half a crown (12.5p) for a flogging. His earnings were greatly enhanced by executions at other prisons where he could charge higher fees, typically £10 - £15.


He also held the same post at Horsemonger Lane Goal in the County of Surrey and received a similar fee from there. Here he hanged 24 men and 2 women between April 1829 and October 1870. He was the exclusive executioner at Maidstone prison, carrying out all 37 hangings there between 1830 and 1872. In addition to these earnings he was also allowed to keep the clothes and personal effects of the condemned which he could sell afterwards to such as Madame Tussaud's for dressing the latest waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors. The rope which had been used at a hanging of a particularly notable criminal could also be sold for good money (up to 5 shillings (25p an inch)).


Calcraft claims to have invented the leather waist belt with wrist straps for pinioning the prisoners arms and one of the nooses he used is still on display at Lancaster Castle. It is a very short piece of 3/4" rope with a loop worked into one end with the free end of the rope passed through it and terminating in a hook with which it was attached to the chain fixed to the gallows beam. This particular noose was used for the execution of Richard Pedder on the 29th of August 1857.


On the 20th April 1849, Calcraft hanged seventeen year old Sarah Thomas in public at Bristol for the murder of her mistress who had maltreated her. This was one job which greatly affected him on account of her youth and good looks.


Frederick George Manning and his wife Maria were hanged side by side on the 13th November 1849 on the roof of Horsemonger Lane Goal. The Mannings had murdered Patrick O'Connor - Maria's erstwhile lover for money. A husband and wife executed together was very unusual and drew the largest crowd ever recorded at an Surrey hanging - estimated at between 30,000 and 50,000.
Dr Edward William Pritchard drew an even bigger crowd, estimated at around one hundred thousand, when was hanged in Jail Square in Glasgow on the 28th of July 1865 for the murders of his wife and mother-in-law.


1867 bought the triple hanging of three Fenians who had murdered a policeman in Manchester. William O'Meara Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O'Brien (alias Gould) suffered together on the 23rd of November 1867 outside Salford Prison. Afterwards they became known as the Manchester Martyrs and a monument was erected to them in Ireland which can still be seen today. Calcraft received the princely sum of £30.00 for this job.


His last hanging was that of John Godwin at Newgate on 25th May 1874 after which he retired on a pension of 25 shillings - £1.25) per week provided by the City of London in 1874. He died in December 1879.


Most of Calcraft's early work came from London and the South East as the Midlands had George Smith and Thomas Askern operated in Yorkshire and the North. With the advent of the railway system in the mid nineteenth century Calcraft was soon able to operate all over Britain and apparently loved travelling. There was 6,000 miles of railway by 1850 which meant that he could effectively and conveniently work nation-wide.

Added by bgill

“Hannah Piggen”.

 In 1785, Hannah Piggen, unknown age  was executed in Middleton, MA. While little can be found about her, she has the distinction of being the last female to be executed for concealing birth. Not suprisingly, this “crime” was gender specific, i.e., any “concealment” by the biological father was not an issue. Had the unfortunate Hannah lived today she could have dropped the baby off at the nearest fire station and skulked away in the dark of night, to name but one option.

Added by bgill

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