Executions at Tyburn in 18th Century Britain Essay
Executions in 18th century Britain are a subject of merit for study as an insight into the lives of people of during that time. In the spirit of that aim, one could focus upon the final accounts of the condemned just before or on the day of their executions. Executions were a main attraction to the local townspeople during this period. There were several reasons for the popularity of executions – one being that many people viewed criminals as heroic and their exploits were publicized. There were also several methods of execution at that time, the most popular being public hanging.
Regardless of the type of execution, we found from several personal accounts that as individuals were faced with execution, all asked for forgiveness for their sins. These accounts are noteworthy for the fact that they are first-hand from individuals who were at the center of public spectacle and were looking death in the face. In order to preface the accounts, special attention must be paid to the above-mentioned spectacle in process of the executions. These were not speedy trials, so those who were accused of a crime often languished in prison awaiting their trial and ultimately, their fate.
This gave them time to reflect on their upcoming punishment or execution. If they were sentenced to death, not only were these individuals going to be executed, but they were also forced to contribute to the spectacle of their death. For example, criminals “were driven from the prison to their deaths sitting with their coffins” (Executions 1). Such a thing would be considered by most as a further insult to injury. In particular the last words of nine different individuals will be examined in the paragraphs below.
In order to properly convey these accounts in a historical context we will discuss the individuals in chronological order beginning with the year 1708 and ending with the year 1793, illustrating how the church-influenced government coerced these alleged criminals into confessions of guilt and sin. As noted above, we begin in the year 1708 with the background of the first of three individuals who were executed in this year, at the same date and time. John Barnes was a 50-year-old man who was born in Ipswich, part of the county town of Suffolk.
Beginning at the ripe age of 12, Barnes took to the sea for employment, which he continued to do until he was accused of murder and was arrested. John Barnes was given a short leave from his employment and upon departing the vessel he immediately met with a friend and began drinking heavily at a pub. Upon leaving the pub, Barnes stays the night at the inn of the Widow Edgebrooke. The next day Barnes, the Widow Edgebrooke, and a mutual friend, Mrs. Vineyard, returned to the cafe and began drinking again. The following morning Widow Edgebrooke was found dead – her throat had been cut.
Barnes also had a wound upon his throat, however, his wound was not life threatening. A few days later Barnes was committed to Newgate Prison in London where he remained until his trial on October 15, 1708, all the while proclaiming his innocence. Barnes was indicted for the murder of Ann Edgebrooke “by giving her one mortal Wound on the Throat with a Knife, on the 9th of September last” (Barnes 5). Barnes was guilty and sentenced to death. Now we move on to the second of the three individuals who were executed in this year, at the same date and time.
Aggitha Ashbrook was a 28-year-old widow who worked as a button-maker for employment and lived in Water-Lane in Black-Fryars. Her husband was employed at sea when she became pregnant, thus making it impossible for him to be the father. According to the report we know that the husband passed away, however it is unclear as to how. Ashbrook eventually gave birth to a little girl whom she strangled and then hid the body in a trunk. Ashbrook was immediately taken to Newgate where “She was Indicted for the Murder of her Female Bastard Infant” (Barnes 6). Ashbrook was found guilty and sentenced to death.
The last of the three individuals who were executed in this year, at the same date and time was Mary Ellener. Ellener was a 25-year old servant working on Silver Street when she became pregnant with a bastard child. Once Ellener delivered the baby, she placed him in the garbage where he died and was later found by her master. Ellener was taken to Newgate and indicted for the “Murder of her Male Infant Bastard Child” (Barnes 7) where she was found guilty and sentenced to death. The three above-mentioned individuals were all sent to Newgate Prison where they each received a death sentence for murder.
On October 27, 1708, sheriff’s officers came to Newgate to transport the three individuals to Tyburn. Each individual had learned to face their executions in different ways. For the first time, Ashbrook claimed that her child had been stillborn, but still claimed responsibility for its death and also claimed responsibility for various other sins and therefore had made peace with God and was prepared for her execution. Ellener “made a free Confession of her Crime, desiring all Speculators, especially all Young Women, to take warning by her” (Barnes, 8).
Ellener believed that she deserved her punishment of death and only hoped that “God wou’d pardon her, and receive her Soul” (Barnes 8). Barnes continued to proclaim his innocence. He cried out to the sheriff’s officers on the trip to Tyburn regarding his innocence and upon arrival “declar’d, That he had no Knowledge of the Murder he was to suffer for” (Barnes 8). Barnes also felt like he had committed numerous other sins throughout his life for which he felt that he had in some way provoked God to bring this judgment upon him, however, he also hoped that God would have mercy on his soul, as he died an innocent man.
All three individuals were given private time to pray and make peace with God and then were executed. Next we view an individual who had knowingly broken the law. John Addison was born at Lambeth in the county of Surrey to a good family that worked hard to provide him with the best education and learning available. Unfortunately Addison was not “catching on” as well as he or his parents would have liked so at the age of 15, his parents sent him to be an Apprentice to a Butcher in the Burrough of Southwark.
Addison got involved with the wrong crowd and ended up leaving his apprenticeship early. Once leaving, Addison made a living by exploiting and using others. At the young age of 24 he was accused of robbing many individuals along Queen’s Highway, which eventually landed him in Newgate where he was indicted for multiple robbery crimes and sentenced to death. Upon being sent to the Condemned Hold Addison began reflecting upon his life and deeply regretted the choices he had made.
On March 17, 1710 Addison was picked up from Newgate and placed in a cart for transport to Tyburn where he repented before the crowd of people: Gentlemen and others, I am this Day come to die not only for one, two, or three Facts, but more, and of all which Crimes, I am really guilty. I am but a young Man, come of very good and religious Parents, who are now living, which makes my Grief and Sorrow so much the greater, by reason of the opprobrious Reflections which may be cast upon them, by my coming to this untimely End (Addison 7).
Addison not only admitted his guilt for multiple sins, but in his last dying words he acknowledged that his parents were not to blame for his choices, they had raised him in a religious and good home. Addison also prayed that mercy would be shown to the woman that was at Newgate, (this was a woman he had lived with and who was also sent to Newgate for robbing a church), that his price of death would be enough to pay for both of their sins and that she may be set free. Unfortunately, according to the report, it is unclear if the woman was shown mercy and freed upon Addison’s execution or if she too was executed.
Sarah Metyard and her daughter Sarah Morgan Metyard were indicted for the murders of two sisters, Mary and Ann Nailor whom were their apprentices. They were accused of tying them to a door for up to three days at a time without food or water, which ultimately caused the sisters to starve to death. Sarah Morgan Metyard placed all blame upon her mother claiming to have warned her mother that what she was doing was wrong. Sarah Metyard ignored her daughter, and never gave an explanation in her defense. The two women were indicted for murder and were both sentenced to death.
Sarah Morgan Metyard was only 19 years old the day that she and her mother were taken by cart to Tyburn for their execution. The mother was not able to attend the sermon that was offered to her nor was she able to have her moment of prayer and devotion due to her continued fits. The daughter was not able to attend the sermon or have her moment of prayer and devotion due to being extremely weak. Both the mother and daughter were executed and then taken to the Surgeons Hall for dissection. It appears that the daughter could have possibly been a victim in this execution.
It is evident that she warned her mother, and it seems that she was involved because of the actions of her mother, whom she felt she could not disobey. Therefore the young daughter was charged and sentenced with the same crime as her mother. We will now move in to the year of 1793 with the background information on another group of three individuals that were executed on the same day at the same time. The first of three individuals was William Atkinson. He was born at Whitby and served as an apprentice to a carpenter. He continued to work as a carpenter for the remainder of his life.
Atkinson was indicted for aiding, abetting and counseling a number of individuals for the purpose of destroying the home of John Cooper of Whitby, a shoemaker. It was believed that while Atkinson did not have a personal hand in destroying the home of John Cooper, but that his tongue was “the publisher of our inmost sentiments” according to legislatures (Atkinson 1). Atkinson denied any involvement in the crime and claimed that he had only gone there to see if his sons were involved with the riot and if so to bring them home. Unfortunately for Atkinson, his claims were dismissed and he was indicted and sentenced to death.
The second of the three individuals who were all executed on the same day at the same time is Richard Watson. Watson was 30 years old and worked as a bookbinder. He was convicted for burglary of the home of John Ambier of Halifax where he stole various things that amounted to a considerable amount. Watson was taken to trial where he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Thomas Jewett is the last of the three individuals we will discuss who were all executed on the same day at the same time. Jewett was convicted of stealing 13 heifers from several different owners.
He then took these heifers to the first market where he could sell them for fair market value where he caught the eye of an observer who began to question him about the cattle. Jewett ran away but was pursued and caught the next day where he was sentenced to death. The three above-mentioned individuals were all taken to Tyburn on April 13, 1793 to be executed. William Atkinson continued to proclaim his innocence by stating the following: I am totally innocent, as I hope to meet God in mercy; but I cannot help fretting to think I should live to this time of day, and be hanged at last.
I have no malice in the constables who seized me but I must let the world know that they dragged me from my poor habitation, and, as the real offenders could not be secured, it has now so happened that I must suffer for others, having done nothing myself to merit so shameful a death (Atkinson, 1). Once Atkinson completed his confession, Reverend Mr. Richardson read a letter to him that stated “no mercy could be extended to him on this side of the grave, especially as the ferment of the times more particularly pointed to the melancholy and awful necessity” (Atkinson, 1).
It seems as though Atkinson’s last dying words were not heard at all, especially since this is all the reverend had to say to him afterward. Richard Watson also gave a confession stating that he was guilty of the crime for which he had been sentenced to death. However, Watson also stated: I most solemnly declare that it was out of necessity alone that prompted me to commit so atrocious a deed, which has caused me to leave a virtuous, loving, and affectionate wife, with her helpless infants, to lament the loss of a husband and a father.
I now resign my soul to God, in whom I hope to meet forgiveness, as I trust, at the same time, that the liberal hand of Charity will be extended towards my poor little orphans (Atkinson, 1). Watson prayed for forgiveness for himself and also for mercy for his wife and children that he was leaving behind. Thomas Jewett was the only individual of the three that confessed but in a way that was much different from the other gentleman.
It was as if Jewett was admitting his wrongs but also discussed him receiving forgiveness “without exposing his character” (Atkinson, 1). Jewett left behind a wife and four small children. At the close of each of these gentlemen being given an opportunity to say their final words they were all executed. Each one of these individuals who were executed had time to reflect upon their deaths and lives. Only a couple of them denied any wrongdoing even, up to the moment of their death, but the majority had time to reflect on their lives and repented their crimes.
Religious afterlife was very important during this time and each of the condemned was in some way or another coerced into giving a confession and making things right with God in their very last moments. Most of these individuals gave their confessions and repented much sooner than that. However, for those that proclaimed their innocence, all stood before the local townspeople and claimed to be guilty of other sins in which they had asked God for mercy and forgiveness but not the one for which they would die.
The afterlife of these individuals was very important during these times. The church and the government were so closely intertwined, to a point that the Ordinals who prayed sermons for the convicted made it their personal responsibility to see that the convicted repented and if he refused, the Ordinal continued to plea with him to make things right with God, for his time was running out. As stated above some gave confessions and some did not, however they all eventually asked for God to show mercy to their soul. This is seen by their dying words.