Capital Punishments in London Eighty Years Ago

EARL FERRERS.

1837

The sensation created in London by that which has now become no ordinary spectacle,—two public executions in the course of the last few months,—naturally leads the observant mind to contemplate the march of intellect in this great metropolis with respect to the shedding of human blood by judicial authority. It may be interesting to the general reader to lay before him the reflections thus suggested, together with some curious and minute descriptions of scenes witnessed within the last century.

The practice of Sus per Col, as described in legal abbreviations, or hanging, is the only mode of putting to death ("pressing to death" excepted) known to the law of England for all felonies short of high or petty treason. In cases of conspiracy against the state, traitors of rank were indulged with the privilege of being beheaded; but meaner offenders, besides other inflictions, were to suffer on the gallows. This distinction necessarily caused the punishment to be regarded as very ungenteel, if an expression of levity may be allowed; and, in consequence, no respectable person, or, at any rate, only here and there one, would choose to be hanged. Earl Ferrers, who was convicted of the murder of his steward in the reign of George the Second, petitioned that he might die by the axe. This was refused. "He has done," said the old king, "de act of de bad man, and he shall die de death of de bad man." The feeling of the monarch was good, but it was rather odd that a king should seem to think the punishment of treason, called by judges "the highest crime known to the law," an ennobling indulgence which ought not to be extended to a simple murderer.

One luxury, however, Lord Ferrers is reported to have secured for the last hour of his life,—a silken rope; but a more important deviation from the common mode, so far as abridgement of bodily pain is concerned, was made on that occasion, for then it was that what is now familiarly called the "drop" was first used. Till that period, to draw a cart from beneath the culprit, or to throw him from a ladder, by turning it round, after he had ascended to a certain height for the halter to be adjusted, had been the practice; but for the wretched peer a scaffold was prepared, part of the floor of which was raised eighteen inches above the rest, which, on the signal of death being given, became flat. The contrivance, however, did not very well succeed, according to the narrative left us by Lord Orford; which, from the remarkable circumstances it details of that memorable exit, and of the usages which then prevailed, is worth transcribing.

The crime for which the nobleman suffered was a most cruel murder. He had been through life a very depraved character. It was doubted if this were the only homicide he had committed; he had separated from his wife, and ill-used his mistress. He, however, met his fate with great firmness. "On the last morning," says Lord Orford in a letter, "he dressed himself in his wedding clothes, and said he thought this, at least, as good an occasion for putting them on, as that for which they were first made." The account proceeds: "Even an awful procession of above two hours, with that mixture of pageantry, shame, and ignominy, nay, and of delay, could not dismount his resolution. He set out from the Tower at nine, amidst thousands of spectators. First went a string of constables; then one of the sheriffs, in his chariot and six, the horses dressed with ribands; next, Lord Ferrers, in his own landau and six, his coachman crying all the way,—guards at each side; the other sheriff's chariot followed empty, with a mourning coach and six, a hearse, and the Horse-guards. Observe, that the empty chariot was that of the other sheriff, who was in the coach with the prisoner, and who was Vaillant the French bookseller in the Strand. How (exclaims Lord Orford to his correspondent) will you decypher all these strange circumstances? A bookseller, in robes and in mourning, sitting as a magistrate by the side of the earl; and, in the evening, everybody going to Vaillant's shop to hear the particulars. I wrote to him, as he serves me, for the account; but he intends to print it. Lord Ferrers, at first, talked on indifferent matters; and, observing the prodigious confluence of people, (the blind was drawn up on his side,) he remarked, 'they never saw a lord hanged, and perhaps will never see another,' One of the dragoons was thrown, by his horse's leg entangling in the hind wheel: Lord Ferrers expressed much concern, and said, 'I hope there will be no death to-day but mine;' and was pleased when Vaillant told him the man was not hurt. Vaillant made excuses to him for performing the duties of his office in person. 'For that,' said the earl, 'I am much obliged to you: I feared the disagreeableness of the duty might make you depute your under-sheriff. As you are so good as to execute it yourself, I am persuaded the dreadful business will be conducted with more expedition.' The Chaplain of the Tower, who sat backwards, then thought it his turn to speak, and began to talk on religion; but Lord Ferrers received it impatiently. However, the chaplain persevered; and said, he wished to bring his lordship to some confession, or acknowledgment of contrition, for a crime so repugnant to the laws of God and man, and wished him to endeavour to do whatever could be done in so short a time. The earl replied, 'he had done everything he proposed to do, with regard to God and man; and, as to discourses on religion, you and I, sir,' said he to the clergyman, 'shall probably not agree on that subject. The passage is very short; you will not have time to convince me, nor I to refute you; it cannot be ended before we arrive.' The clergyman still insisted, and urged that, at least, the world would expect some satisfaction. Lord Ferrers replied, with some impatience, 'Sir, what have I to do with the world? I am going to pay a forfeit life, which my country has thought proper to take from me; what do I care now what the world thinks of me? But, sir, since you do desire some confession, I will confess one thing to you; I do believe there is a God. As to modes of worship, we had better not talk on them. I always thought Lord Bolingbroke in the wrong to publish his notions on religion: I will not fall into the same error.' The chaplain, seeing that it was in vain to make any more attempts, contented himself with representing to him, that it would be expected from one of his calling, and that even decency required, that some prayer should be used on the scaffold, and asked his leave, at least, to repeat the Lord's Prayer there. Lord Ferrers replied, 'I always thought it a good prayer; you may use it if you please.'

"While these speeches were passing, the procession was stopped by the crowd. The earl said he was dry, and wished for some wine-and-water. The sheriff said, he was sorry to be obliged to refuse him. By late regulations they were enjoined not to let prisoners drink on their way from the place of imprisonment to that of execution, as great indecencies had been formerly committed by the lower species of criminals getting drunk; 'and though,' said he, 'my lord, I might think myself excusable in overlooking this order, out of regard to a person of your lordship's rank, yet there is another reason, which I am sure will weigh with you,—your lordship is sensible of the greatness of the crowd: we must draw up to some tavern; the confluence would be so great, that it would delay the expedition which your lordship seems so much to desire.' He replied he was satisfied, adding, 'Then I must be content with this;' and he took some pigtail tobacco out of his pocket. As they went on, a letter was thrown into his coach; it was from his mistress, to tell him that it was impossible, from the crowd, for her to get round to the spot where he had appointed her to meet and take leave of him, but that she was in a hackney-coach of such a number. He begged Vaillant to order his officers to try to get the hackney-coach up to his. 'My lord,' said Vaillant, 'you have behaved so well hitherto, that I think it is pity to venture unmanning yourself,' He was struck, and was satisfied without seeing her. As they drew nigh, he said, 'I perceive we are almost arrived: it is time to do what little more I have to do; and then, taking out his watch, gave it to Vaillant, desiring him to accept it as a mark of his gratitude for his kind behaviour; adding, 'It is scarce worth your acceptance, but I have nothing else; it is a stopwatch, and a pretty accurate one.' He gave five guineas to the chaplain, and took out as much for the executioner. Then giving Vaillant a pocket-book, he begged him to deliver it to Mrs. Clifford, his mistress, with what it contained, and with his most tender regards; saying, 'The key of it is to the watch, but I am persuaded you are too much a gentleman to open it' He destined the remainder of the money in his purse to the same person, and with the same tender regards.

"When they came to Tyburn, his coach was detained some minutes by the conflux of people; but, as soon as the door was opened, he stepped out readily, and mounted the scaffold. It was hung with black by the undertaker, and at the expense of his family. Under the gallows was a new-invented stage, to be struck from under him. He showed no kind of fear or discomposure, only just looking at the gallows with a slight motion of dissatisfaction. He said little, kneeled for a moment to the prayer, said 'Lord have mercy upon me, and forgive me my errors!' and immediately mounted the upper stage. He had come pinioned with a black sash, and was unwilling to have his hands tied, or his face covered, but was persuaded to both. When the rope was put round his neck, he turned pale, but recovered his countenance instantly; and was but seven minutes from leaving the coach, before the signal was given for striking the stage. As the machine was new, they were not ready at it: his toes touched it, and he suffered a little, having had time, by their bungling, to raise his cap; but the executioner pulled it down again, and they pulled his legs, so that he was soon out of pain, and quite dead in four minutes. He desired not to be stripped and exposed; and Vaillant promised him, though his outer clothes must be taken off, that his shirt should not. This decency ended with him: the sheriffs fell to eating and drinking on the scaffold, and helped up one of their friends to drink with them, while he was still hanging, which he did for above an hour, and then was conveyed back with the same pomp to Surgeons' Hall, to be dissected. The executioners fought for the rope; and the one who lost it, cried. The mob tore off the black cloth as relics; but the universal crowd behaved with great decency and admiration, as they well might, for sure no exit was ever made with more sensible resolution and with less ostentation."

The contrivance above described has caused the cart to fall into general disuse on such occasions. The change, however, was not suddenly effected. For many years after the death of Lord Ferrers, the triangular gallows at Tyburn maintained its ground, and, on execution-days, the cart passed from Newgate up Giltspur-street, and through Smithfield to Cow-lane; Skinner-street had not then been built, and the crooked lane which turned down by St. Sepulchre's church, as well as Ozier-lane, did not offer sufficient width to admit of the cavalcade passing by either of them with convenience to Holborn-hill.

For centuries the prevailing opinion had been, that executions ought to take place at a distance from the crowded part of the city. Anciently malefactors were put to death at The Elms in Smithfield, or rather, between Smithfield and Turnmill-street. But when the houses had increased, so as to encroach on the space which had long been kept open there, it was thought expedient to carry those appointed to die, farther off; and a spot was fixed upon, which received the name of Tyburn, near the beginning of Tottenham-court-road.[41] When Holborn had been built up to St Giles's, a farther removal was deemed necessary, and these tragic scenes were carried from one end of Oxford-street to the other,—from the beginning of Tottenham-court-road to the Tyburn of the present day.

But at length, in the reign of George the Third, it was judged better to abandon the parade so long kept up, and to execute the sentence of death in the immediate vicinity of Newgate. This alteration, though many reasons may be urged in its favour, was not universally approved. There were those who apprehended that, in a constitutional point of view, it was dangerous to abate the publicity which had so long attached to the consummation of the last severity of the law. Mr. Horne Tooke was of the number. To hang a felon at the door of his prison, he considered, "the next thing to putting him to death within the walls," and directly approximating towards secret executions.

By degrees, however, the public mind got perfectly reconciled to the change. Much expense and confusion were spared; and the idle were no longer indulged in a disgusting holiday, to witness a spectacle in but too many instances known to produce anything but the impression which might have been desired. The rabble went to the mournful scene as to a public entertainment. The procession to Tyburn, with the prayers and other ceremonies there, occupied a large portion of the day, which many of the spectators closed in dissipation, outrage, and robbery.

Instead of carrying the condemned three miles, and executing the culprits from a cart, an apparatus was now erected close to Newgate; and the awful ceremony, no longer made the business of many hours, was regularly performed at eight o'clock in the morning, and every vestige of the deplorable scene put away between nine and ten. Some of the first executions witnessed at Newgate were most unlike those which have been seen of late years, even before the late king ascended the throne. Not fewer than eighteen or twenty persons were conducted to the scaffold on the same day; and the gallows originally set up in the Old Bailey was so contrived that three cross-beams could be used, and the sufferers were, by this contrivance, disposed in as many rows.

By degrees these spectacles grew less frequent, and the numbers hurried into eternity on each occasion were fewer. The execution of five or six persons on one day became an uncommon sight, and seldom more than two or three suffered together.

This comparatively small sacrifice of life did not make the Old Bailey less attractive on a hanging-day than Tyburn had formerly been, though the rabble were constantly dismissed shortly after the clock struck nine.

About the beginning of the present century, a notorious highwayman of the name of Clark, with five other malefactors, submitted to the last severity of man together. I went before the day had dawned, and very shortly after the preparations had commenced, to the Old Bailey. The spectacle then presented was most picturesque; and to me, whatever it might be to others, most extraordinary. Wooden posts made in a triangular form with rails, and a rod of iron issuing from the tops to pass through holes prepared in strong bars of timber, which they were to sustain, were lying about in every direction. Lighted torches were carried by the workmen and their assistants, the bars being first laid along the ground, nearly on or over the spot where they were to be set up to keep off the crowd, while the preparations went forward for the work of death. The body of the drop had previously been brought out. This did not take to pieces, but was kept, as at present, standing in the yard attached to the prison; and, being placed on wheels, was—I might say is, as executions have not wholly ceased,—drawn out at a very early hour. It was curious to notice the interest, the levity, the indifference, which prevailed in the different groups drawn together as the awful hour approached, according to the various humours of the individuals who composed them. When the cross-beam of the gallows was raised to its place, it was gazed on with great eagerness. As each rail was fixed, to mark the boundary of the space to be kept clear, a mass of men and boys, with here and there a female, ranged themselves close to it. The constables were occasionally seen struggling through the human wall thus formed, and showing their authority—the staff of office, to prove their right to be there; a form by no means unnecessary, as many of them were only to be known by that sign, as in truth they were almost impostors, having only assumed the character in which they appeared, for the day, being engaged by the respectable tradesmen really serving the office, to save them the time that would be consumed, or to spare feelings that must be wounded, if they appeared in propriâ personâ.

The scaffold was established at the Debtors'-door, in the widest part of the Old Bailey; and the bar which was placed as above described extended from the further side of the scaffold, to a few feet south of the governor's house. The steps leading to the Felons'-door were soon crowded; and several recesses and niches on that side of the prison were peopled from an early hour with living statues.

Well do I remember the awe with which I heard the chimes of St. Sepulchre's church announce the lapse of another and another quarter of an hour, the calculations which were made of the exact number of minutes which the victims had yet to breathe, and the speculations as to the manner in which they were then engaged, and the deportment which they would assume in the closing scene.

The appearance of the city marshals between seven and eight arranging the constables, announced that the time had nearly arrived. A humourist would have jested at the overacted dignity of the functionaries just named of that day. A Wellington disposing his ranks to meet the fiercest shock of the best warriors of France, could not have given a finer idea of the importance of command, than these civic heroes suggested while placing in Newgate order their crowd of clubmen.

It had been usual to hang black cloth on the chains which ran along three sides of the scaffold. On the occasion now recalled this part of the ceremonial was not omitted. The black was duly paraded; but so beggarly a display in connexion with any public proceeding my not "young memory" cannot parallel. It had been so worn and torn, that such a collection of tatters, it might fairly be concluded, could hardly have been found in any part of his Majesty's dominions,—Rosemary-lane, perhaps, excepted. The idlers, who by this time had assembled in great force, and who—the majority of them at all events—evidently considered they had but to enjoy themselves, laughed immoderately, and indulged in all sorts of jokes on this Ragfair set-out; which, to confess the truth, as their streamers, shaped into all imaginable forms, fluttered in the wind,—bearing in mind the solemnity of the occasion, and the supposed object of the exposure of the sable shreds, namely, mourning,—was the perfection of burlesque.

The hand of St. Sepulchre's clock was pointed at the quarter to eight. Fifteen minutes more, and the unhappy ones appointed to die were expected to ascend that platform from which they were to sink into eternity. The immense multitude extended far up Giltspur-street one way, and almost reached to Ludgate-hill in the opposite direction. In all the houses commanding a view of the gallows the windows were crowded; the ledges without the parapets and roofs were in like manner surmounted by numerous spectators.

It would not be easy to describe the sensation created by the appearance of the very important actors who next came on the stage,—the executioners.

"Here are Jade Ketch and his man!" was the exclamation of almost every individual in the crowd to his neighbour.

There was something in the look of the men which really challenged attention. The principal, or "Jack Ketch himself," as he was called, was a tall, elderly personage. His costume presented a long blue frock-coat, a scarlet waistcoat, and his hose bound with red garters below the knee-buttons of his inexpressibles. He wore a flower in his coat, or carried one in his mouth. He surveyed the eagerly-staring populace, and sustained their gaze with an air of calm indifference, which, however, had nothing of startling effrontery about it. His assistant was a very different figure; he was a coarse-featured, pock-marked, short, thick-set man. All his motions indicated great vivacity; and, if a judgment might be formed from his exterior, he was proud and rejoiced to fill an office of such high distinction, and felt more satisfaction in reflecting on the conspicuous situation in which he was placed, than pity for the poor creatures who almost instantly were to be committed to his professional care. He generally wore dark clothes; but sometimes had a bit of his master's distinguishing finery,—a red waistcoat. He nimbly paced the scaffold on this occasion, and looked on the mob, as I fancied, with an air of mirth or exultation, and presently applied himself, with no bad taste, to tear down the miserable black rags which have been mentioned; and, I believe, since that day they have never reappeared, or anything of the kind in their place. This operation completed, he seemed to confer with the other hangman on the business before them. The tall steps necessary to enable them to attach the halters to the gallows they moved towards the end of the platform near the spot on which the first who came forth was to stand; and, everything now being ready, they composedly waited the coming of the sheriffs with their prisoners.

The clock of St. Sepulchre's church struck eight; a murmur burst from the vast assemblage near it: and the solemn bell of St. Paul's cathedral a moment afterwards confirmed, so to speak, the announcement of the fatal hour. All was expectation. The executioners frequently looked towards the door from which those expected, were to advance, as if to ascertain if they were coming. There was something of excitement in their manner, and a silent indescribable movement among those within the enclosure, that told more distinctly than could speech, that the last scene was about to open.

It was nearly ten minutes after eight when the heavy tone of the prison-bell was heard. Such a sound!—a knell of death sounded for the living, who were then in perfect health, but who were next minute to be consigned to the grave, is well calculated to thrill the most unfeeling. This usage always appeared to me to heighten the solemnity of the scene, and the misery of the convicts for whom it tolled. Yet the authorities deemed it a compliment, or honour, to the sufferer, too great to be conceded in every case. The murderer, for instance, was denied the privilege of hearing it. None but those condemned for the less heinous crimes of forgery, or other capital felony unattended with the spilling of human blood, were favoured with the melancholy distinction.

The signal for the bell, I believe, was given at the instant when the brief procession, from the room in which the prisoners were pinioned to the door from which they pass to the final scene of expiation, commenced. The sullen sound was but three or four times repeated when those immediately in front of the prison-entrance saw the white wand of the sheriff approach from within. An officer appeared ascending the ladder, and by his side a man whose solemn aspect indicated with sufficient clearness that he was one of the doomed. The next moment he had passed to the platform, and stood in presence of the gazing populace. When the wand, the insignia of office, was seen, the word was given "Hats off!" and the multitude on every side obeyed the mandate, and stood uncovered.

The unfortunate man who appeared first of the six who were to surrender their lives on this day, was perfectly resigned to his deplorable fate. His eye was bright, his step was firm, and it was impossible for a human being in such circumstances to be more collected, or to deport himself with more propriety. If sorrow at leaving this world oppressed him, hope solaced him with the cheering prospect that it would be his, immediately, to enter on a better. He wore his hat,—such being the usage at that time,—which was removed by the executioners, and placed at one end of the scaffold; and then the clergyman made his appearance. With him the culprit conversed devoutly, but with cheerfulness. His cravat having been taken off, the old executioner elevated himself by the steps, put the fatal noose over the sufferer's head, on which the cap was immediately placed, and the end of the halter being then passed round the beam, was carefully tied. The chain and hook now introduced had not yet been adopted. The companions in woe and death of the unfortunate I have described, quickly followed. Clark was the third or fourth that appeared, and he had the weakness to distinguish himself by the idle bravado of throwing away his hat. To each of them the ordinary addressed a few words. The caps, which had been left up for some moments, were next drawn down over the whole face. A prayer was commenced; but, before it concluded, the minister passed a white handkerchief over his mouth. That was the fatal signal; the drop fell with a dismal noise, and the death-struggle ensued. It was then twenty minutes after eight, and in three or four minutes, all appearance of life had ceased. In the same instant that they were suspended the crowd began to withdraw, while those who had been at a distance pressed forward to gain a more distinct view of the appalling spectacle. A cry of horror burst from a portion of the multitude when the floor gave way; but the impression it made was singularly transient. In less than a quarter of an hour cool indifference was everywhere to be marked, and foolish levity and boisterous mirth succeeded to the awe and commiseration lately manifested.

A year or two after this scene, the public mind was violently excited by the case of Governor Wall. This culprit, twenty years before, being then the king's representative at Goree, had caused a man to be flogged so severely that he died. He was present when the punishment was inflicted, and excited the floggers by calling to them, "Cut his liver out!" among other horrible expressions. The crime of whipping a man to death was well calculated to awaken public indignation; but it was not his guilt alone which caused the ferment then witnessed in the metropolis. The belief that, because he had been a governor, mercy was likely to be shown to him, which would be denied to another, probably sealed his doom, and proved a cruel aggravation of his wretched destiny. He was tried on a Wednesday, and ordered for execution on the Friday next following, but was respited till Monday. This was considered an indication that the sentence would not be carried into effect at all, although on the last-mentioned day a vast crowd assembled in the Old Bailey. A second respite had been granted; but this was not generally known, at least to the multitude congregated on the occasion. Great was the disappointment when the hour of seven struck, and no preparations for the execution were visible. Many clung to the expectation that it would yet take place; and several affirmed, untruly I believe, that the apparatus had often been brought out and erected after that hour. I mingled with some of the numerous groups, and listened to the discussions, which were carried on with great vivacity, on the subject of the crime, and probable fate of the criminal. Not till after eight was the idea totally abandoned that the raging thirst of the infuriated populace for his blood would not then be gratified. It was between eight and nine that I had an opportunity of speaking with Mr. Newman, the governor of Newgate, and learned from him that further time had been granted, and that Wall was to suffer on the coming Thursday.

The mob separated with bitter execrations; and the belief that a murderer, whose guilt was of the blackest dye, would escape punishment because he had powerful friends, gained ground throughout the nation. If horror had previously been inspired by his crime, to that personal and political rancour were now added, and the public mind was in a state of violent exasperation. The Thursday arrived! and another crowd assembled in front of Newgate, but doubting much whether the spectacle so ardently desired would at last be offered to their longing eyes. Though the officers were at their posts, and the scaffold in its place, it was still insisted that the governor would escape the fate he merited. The most ridiculous stories were circulated of the influence exercised in his favour, and of the culpable resolution of those who were in power to prevent the administration of justice. These, however, were all confuted when the appointed hour arrived, and the miserable object of public indignation was brought out to suffer like a common offender.

When Governor Wall heard his sentence pronounced on the Wednesday, with whatever dismay it filled him, he prepared to submit to it with resignation. He threw himself, when he had returned to the prison, on his wretched bed, and said he should not rise from it till the officers of justice came to lead him to his fate. The respites granted awakened in him a hope not before entertained, only to render the rigour of the law more dreadful, from the unsettled state of his mind up to the last moment.

He was a remarkably fine man in appearance, standing more than six feet high. When he came on the scaffold, his figure served but to swell the exultation of the crowd. As he advanced, he was greeted with three loud huzzas. When these subsided, a thousand ferocious voices addressed to the executioners the language which the cruel governor was charged with having used while the victim of his severity was writhing under the lash. The furious exclamations were not lost on the criminal; he requested the executioners to perform their part as expeditiously as possible. The drop almost instantly fell, and the shouts of the mob were in that dreadful moment renewed. He struggled long, and it was supposed that his sufferings were greater than those of any other victim on whom the same sentence had been executed. When about to be turned off, Wall entreated that his legs might not be pulled. The wish was respected till his long-protracted agonies compelled the sheriff, in the humane performance of his duty, to order that it should be done in order to terminate his misery. After hanging an hour, he was cut down; and the remains were conveyed in a cart, attended by a joyful rabble, to a house in Castle-street, Saffron-hill, there to be anatomized.

Subsequent to the period of which I have been speaking, an idea was entertained of recurring to the old mode of execution; at least it was revived on one occasion. A triangular gallows was made, and sockets were inserted in the road, opposite Green-arbour-court, to receive the supporting posts. On this, Anne Hurle, convicted of forgery, and a male culprit, were put to death, about thirty years ago. The criminals were brought out at the Felons'-door in a cart, and carried to the upper end of the Old Bailey. There, after the necessary preparations, the ordinary took his leave. The executioner urged the horse forward, and the vehicle was drawn from under the feet of the criminals. The motion caused them to swing backwards and forwards; but this was speedily stopped by the hangman, who leaped from the cart for the purpose. It appeared to the spectators that the victims suffered more than they would have done if executed from the drop. This was probably represented to the city authorities, for the latter method of carrying the law into effect was promptly restored.

It was formerly the usage, when a crime of remarkable atrocity had been committed, to execute the offender near the scene of his guilt. The minds then exercised on these painful subjects judged that a salutary horror would be inspired by the example so afforded, and that localities once dangerous would thus be rendered comparatively secure. Those who were punished capitally for the riots of 1780 suffered in various parts of the town; and, in the year 1790, two incendiaries were hanged in Aldersgate-street, at the eastern end of Long-lane. Since that period there have been few executions in London except in front of Newgate. The last deviation from the regular course was in the case of a sailor named Cashman, who suffered death about the year 1817, in Skinner-street, opposite the house of a gunsmith whose shop he had been concerned in plundering. The gunsmith was anxious that this should not be; but his voice was overruled, and the criminal was carried in a cart to the scaffold. It was then, it should seem, supposed that an awful warning would be given to the dissolute in Skinner-street, which would be in a great measure lost if the executioner performed his work at a distance of some forty yards from the scene of depredation.

Time, which alters everything, effected a remarkable change in this respect; and, however appalling the guilt of the condemned, it was at length presumed to be adequately visited by death in the Old Bailey. When the fiend-like Burkers were brought to justice, they were sent to their account at the usual place of execution. To mark horror for their crime, or to arrest its progress in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch, it was not thought necessary to erect the gallows in Nova Scotia Gardens.

In the course of the rambling thoughts and recollections here brought together, it has been shown that various alterations have from time to time been made; and one, not the least remarkable, has recently been brought under public notice. Formerly it was usual for the recorder to report the cases of those sentenced at one Old Bailey sessions, to the king in council after the next ensuing sessions. It however not unfrequently happened that, through negligence, or perhaps from a feeling of commiseration for those to whom it must bring death, the report was postponed, till the cases of several sessions remained in arrear. In those days loud were the complaints on the subject of the evil consequences of the delay. The grand argument against it was, that the long interval which separated punishment from crime caused the latter to be forgotten by the public, and the violater of the law was in consequence regarded with sympathy to which he had no just claim: the wrong, the violence which he had perpetrated, were almost wholly lost sight of; and thus the lesson, that an ignominious death would promptly requite a fearful crime, was feebly impressed on the minds of the pitying spectators. Such was the notion when executions followed at some considerable distance from conviction, and the superior efficacy of the course taken with regard to murders was often referred to as being directly in point. Now, this is changed; death for robbery or forgery is hardly known, and he who is sentenced to die for hurrying a fellow-creature out of existence has five or six weeks allowed him to prepare for eternity. In noticing the change, I do not mean to censure it. Time will show whether the course now taken is followed by an increase of homicide: as yet it is too early to pronounce an opinion; but no suspicion of the sort up to the present moment has been entertained.

One strange practice was common to all executions at Newgate: a number of persons were "rubbed for wens," as it was called. Men, women, and children afflicted with them were introduced within the body of the vehicle of death, and elevated so as to be seen by the populace, within a few minutes after the convicts had been turned off. The patients were then indulged with a choice of the individual culprit, from those who had suffered, whose touch was to be applied to the part affected. The hands of the corpse selected were untied by the executioner, and gently moved backwards and forwards for about two minutes, which was supposed sufficient to effect a cure. This custom has now ceased; it was abolished as a piece of contemptible superstition, the continuance of which it would be disgraceful to permit. The executioner was deprived of this lucrative part of his business, without receiving for it any public compensation.