Old and New London: Volume 2. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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The Fifth City Gate—Howard's Description of Newgate—The Gordon Riots—The Attack on Newgate—The Mad Quaker—Crabbe, the Poet— His Account of the Burning of Newgate—Dr. Johnson's Visit to the Ruins.
Newgate, which Stow classifies as the fifth principal gate in the City wall, was first built about the reign of Henry I. or Stephen, and was a prison for felons and trespassers at least as early as the reign of King John. It was erected when, St. Paul's being rebuilt, the old wards, from Aldgate to Ludgate, were stopped up by enclosures and building materials, and people had to work round deviously by Paternoster Row and the old Exchange to get to Ludgate.
In the year 1218 the king wrote to the Sheriffs of London, "commanding them to repair the gaol at Newgate, for the safe keeping of his prisoners, promising that the charges laid out should be allowed them upon their accompt in the Exchequer" (Stow). In 1241 some rich Jews (accused of imaginary crimes) were ordered to pay 20,000 marks, or be kept perpetual prisoners at Newgate and other prisons. In this same reign Henry sent the sheriffs to the Tower, and fined the City 3,000 marks, for allowing a convicted priest, who had killed a prior, a cousin of the queen, to escape from Newgate. Sir William Walworth in 1385 left money to relieve the prisoners in Newgate, and Whittington left money to rebuild the prison. In 1457 there was again a break-out from Newgate prison. Lord Egremond, Sir Thomas and Sir Richard Percy, committed to Newgate for a fray in the north country with the Earl of Salisbury's sons, in which fray many were maimed or slain, broke out of prison by night, and went to petition the king, the other prisoners, in the meantime, garrisoning the leads of Newgate, and defending it against all the sheriffs; till at last the citizens were called up to subdue and lay in irons the reckless rebels.
The gate was repaired in 1630–3, destroyed in the Great Fire, and rebuilt in a stronger and more convenient way, with a postern for foot passengers. On the east or City side of the old prison were three stone statues—Justice, Mercy, and Truth; and four on the west, or Holborn side—Liberty (with Whittington's cat at her feet), Peace, Plenty, and Concord. Four of these figures, which survived the Gordon riots, ornament part of the front of the present prison.
Howard, the philanthropist, writing in 1784, gives a favourable account of the Newgate of 1779.
"The cells," says Howard, "built in old Newgate, a few years since, for condemned malefactors, are still used for the same purpose. There are upon each of the three floors five, all vaulted, near 9 feet high to the crown. Those on the groundfloor measure full 9 feet by near 6 feet; the five on the first storey are a little larger (9½ feet by 6 feet), on account of the set-off in the wall; and the five uppermost still a little larger, for the same reason. In the upper part of each cell is a window, double grated, near 3 feet by 1½. The doors are 4 inches thick. The strong stone wall is lined all round each cell with planks, studded with broad-headed nails. In each cell is a barrack bedstead. I was told by those who attended them that criminals who had affected an air of boldness during their trial, and appeared quite unconcerned at the pronouncing sentence upon them, were struck with horror, and shed tears, when brought to these darksome, solitary abodes.
"The chapel is plain and neat. Below is the chaplain's seat, and three or four pews for the felons; that in the centre is for the condemned. On each side is a gallery: that for the women is towards their ward; in it is a pew for the keeper, whose presence may set a good example, and be otherwise useful. The other gallery, towards the debtors' ward, is for them. The stairs to each gallery are on the outside of the chapel. I attended there several times, and Mr. Villette read the prayers distinctly, and with propriety. The prisoners who were present seemed attentive; but we were disturbed by the noise in the court. Surely they who will not go to chapel, who are by far the greater number, should be locked up in their rooms during the time of divine service, and not suffered to hinder the edification of such as are better disposed.
"The chaplain, or ordinary, besides his salary, has a house in Newgate Street, clear of land-tax; Lady Barnadiston's legacy, £6 a year; an old legacy paid by the Governors of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, £10 a year; and lately had two freedoms yearly, which commonly sold for £25 each; and the City generally presented him, once in six months, with another freedom. Now he has not the freedoms, but his salary is augmented to £180, and the sheriffs pay him £3 12s. He engages, when chosen, to hold no other living.
"Debtors have, every Saturday, from the Chamber of London, eight stone of beef; fines, four stone; and, some years, felons, eight stone. Debtors have several legacies. I inquired for a list of them, and Mr. Akerman told me the table in Maitland's 'Survey' was authentic. The amount of it is £52 5s. 8d. a year. There are other donations mentioned by Maitland, amounting to sixty-four stone of beef, and five dozen of bread. . . . . .
"Here I cannot forbear mentioning a practice, which probably had its origin from the ancient mode of torture, though now it seems only a matter of form. When prisoners capitally convicted at the Old Bailey are brought up to receive sentence, and the judge asks, 'What have you to say why judgment of death and execution should not be awarded against you?' the executioner slips a whipcord noose about their thumbs. This custom ought to be abolished.
"At my visit, in 1779, the gaol was clean, and free from offensive scents. On the felons' side there were only three sick, in one of the upper wards. An infirmary was building, near the condemned cells. Of the 141 felons, &c., there were ninety-one convicts and fines who had only the prison allowance of a penny loaf a day. Mr. Akerman generously contributed towards their relief. In the felons' court the table of fees, painted on a board, was hung up.
"The gaol was burnt by the rioters in 1780. but is rebuilt on the same plan. The men's quadrangle is now divided into three courts. In the first court are those who pay 3s. 6d. a week for a bed; in the next, the poorer felons; and in the other, now, the women. Under the chapel are cells for the refractory. Two rooms, adjoining to the condemned cells, are built for an infirmary, in one of which, at my last visit, there were sixteen sick. Of the 291 prisoners in 1782, 225 were men and 66 women. Upwards of 100 of them were transports, 89 fines, 21 under sentence of death, and the remainder lay for trial. Some of the condemned had been long sick and languishing in their cells."
From the Old Bailey Session Papers for June, 1780, we gather a very vivid and picturesque notion of the destruction of Newgate during the Gordon riots. The mob came pouring down Holborn, between six and seven o'clock, on the evening of the 6th of June. There were three flags carried by the ringleaders—the first of green silk, with a Protestant motto; the second, dirty blue, with a red cross; the third, a flag of the Protestant Union. A sailor named Jackson had hoisted the second flag in Palace Yard, when Justice Hyde had launched a party of horse upon the people; and when the rabble had sacked the justice's house in St. Martin's Street, Jackson shouted, "Newgate, a-hoy!" and led the people on to the Old Bailey. Mr. Akerman, a friend of Boswell, and one of the keepers of Newgate, had had intimation of the danger two hours before, when a friend of one of the prisoners called upon him just as he was packing up his plate for removal, told him "he should be the one hung presently," and cursed him. Exactly at seven, one of the rioters knocked at Mr. Akerman's door, which had been already barred, bolted, and chained. A maid-servant had just put up the shutters, when the glass over the hall-door was dashed into her face. The ringleader who knocked was better dressed than the rest, and wore a dark brown coat and round hat. The man knocked three times, and rang three times; then, finding no one came, ran down the steps, "made his obeisance to the mob," pointed to the door, then retired. The mob was perfectly organised, and led by about thirty men walking three abreast. Thirty men carried iron crowbars, mattocks, and chisels, and after them followed "an innumerable company," armed with bludgeons and the spokes of cart-wheels. The band instantly divided into three parts—one set went to work at Mr. Akerman's door with the mattocks, a second went to the debtors' door, and a third to the felons'. A shower of bludgeons instantly demolished the windows of the keeper's house; and while these sticks were still falling in showers, two men, one of them a mad Quaker, the son of a rich corn-factor, who wore a mariner's jacket, came forward with a scaffold-pole, and drove it like a battering-ram against the parlour shutters. A lad in a sailor's jacket then got on a man's shoulders, and rammed in the half-broken shutters with furious blows of his bullet-head. A chimney-sweeper's boy then scrambled in, cheered by the mob, and after him the mad Quaker. A moment more, and the Quaker appeared at the first-floor window, flinging out pictures into the street. Presently, the second parlour window gave way, the house-door was forced, and the furniture and broken chattels in the street were set in a blaze. All this time a circle of men, better dressed than the rest, stood in the Old Bailey, exciting and encouraging the rioters. The leader of these sympathisers was a negro servant, named Benjamin Bowsey, afterwards hung for his share in the riot. One of the leaders in this attack was a mad waiter from the St. Alban's Tavern, named Thomas Haycock. He was very prominent, and he swore that there should not be a prison standing in London on the morrow, and that the Bishop of London's house and the Duke of Norfolk's should come down that night. "They were well supported, he shouted to the mob," for there were six or seven noblemen and members of Parliament on their side. This man helped to break up a bureau, and collected sticks to burn down the doors of Akerman's house. While Akerman's house was still burning, the servants escaping over the roofs, and Akerman's neighbours were down among the mob, entreating them to spare the houses of innocent persons, a waiter, named Francis Mockford, who wore a hat with a blue cockade in it, went up to the prison-gate and held up the main key, and shouted to the turnkeys, "D—you, here is the key of Newgate; open the door!" Mockford, who was eventually sentenced to death for this riot, afterwards took the prison keys, and flung them over Westminster Bridge. George Sims, a tripeman in St. James's Market, always forward in street quarrels, then went up to the great gate in the Old Bailey with some others, and swore desperately that "he would have the gates down—curse him, he would have the gates down!" Then the storm broke; the mob rushed on the gate with the sledge-hammers and pickaxes they had stolen from coachmakers, blacksmiths, and braziers in Drury Lane and Long Acre, and plied them with untiring fury. The tripeman, who carried a bludgeon, urged them on; and the servant of Akerman, having known the man for several years, called to him through the hatch, "Very well, George the tripeman; I shall mark you in particular!" Then John Glover, a black, a servant of a Mr. Phillips, a barrister in Lincoln's Inn, who was standing on the steps leading to the felons' gate (the main gate), dressed in a rough short jacket, and a round hat trimmed with dirty silver lace, thumped at the door with a gun-barrel, which he afterwards tried to thrust through the grating into the faces of the turnkeys, while another split the door with a hatchet. The mob, finding they could not force the stones out round the hatch, then piled Akerman's shattered furniture, and placing it against the gates set the heap on fire.
Several times the gate caught fire, and as often the turnkeys inside pushed down the burning furniture with broomsticks, which they pushed through the hatch, and kept swilling the gates with water, in order to cool them, and to keep the lead that soldered the hinges from melting and giving way. But all their efforts were in vain; for the flames, now spreading fast from Akerman's house, gradually burnt in to the fore-lodge and chapel, and set the different wards one after the other on fire. Crabbe the poet, who was there as a spectator, describes seeing the prisoners come up out of the dark cells with their heavy irons, and looking pale and scared. Some of them were carried off on horseback, their irons still on, in triumph by the mob, who then went and burnt down the Fleet. At the trial of Richard Hyde, the poor mad Quaker, who had been one of the first to scramble through Mr. Akerman's windows, the most conclusive proofs were brought forward of the prisoner's insanity. A grocer in Bishopsgate Street, with whom he had lodged, deposed to his burning a Bible, and to his thrashing him. One day at the "Doctor Butler's Head," in Coleman Street, the crazed fellow had come in, and pretended to cast the nativities of persons drinking there. He also prophesied how long each of them would live. On hearing this evidence, the prisoner broke out: "Well, and they might live three hundred years, if they knew how to live; but they gorge themselves like aldermen. Callipash and callipee kills half the people." It was also shown that, the night after the burning of Newgate, the prisoner came to a poor woman's house in Bedford Court, Covent Garden, and he then wore an old grey great-coat and a flapped hat, painted blue. As the paint was wet, the woman asked him to let her dry it. He replied, "No, you are a fool; my hat is blue" (the Protestant colour); "it is the colour of the heavens. I would not have it dried for the world." When the woman brought him a pint of beer, he drank once, and then pushed it angrily on one side. He then said, "I have tasted it once, I must taste it three times; it is against the heavens to drink only once out of a pot." Doctor Munro, the physician who attended George III. in his madness, deposed to the insanity both of the prisoner's father and the prisoner. He was sent to a mad-house.
Crabbe, who, having failed as a surgeon and apothecary down at Aldborough, his native place, had just come up to London to earn his bread as a poet, and being on the brink of starvation, was about to apply to Burke for patronage and bread. Rambling in a purposeless way about London to while away the miserable time, the young poet happened to reach the Old Bailey just as the ragged rioters set it on fire to warm their Protestantism. Suddenly, at a turning out of Ludgate Hill, on his way back to his lodgings at a hairdresser's shop near the Exchange, a scene of terror and horror broke red upon the view of the mild young Suffolk apothecary. The new prison, Crabbe says, in his "Journal" kept for the perusal of his Myra (June 8th), was a very large, strong, and beautiful building, having two wings besides Mr. Akerman's house, and strong intermediate works and other adjuncts. Akerman had four rioters in custody, and these rascals the mob demanded. He begged he might send to the sheriff, but this was not permitted. "How he escaped, or where he is gone, I know not; but just at the time I speak of, they set fire to his house, broke in, and threw every piece of furniture they could find into the street, firing them also in an instant. The engines came" (they were mere squirts in those days), "but were only suffered to preserve the private houses near the prison." This was about half-past seven. "As I was standing near the spot, there approached another body of men—I suppose five hundred— and Lord George Gordon in a coach drawn by the mob, towards Alderman Bull's, bowing as he passed along. He is a lively-looking young man in appearance, and nothing more, though just now the reigning hero. By eight o'clock Akerman's house was in flames. I went close to it, and never saw anything so dreadful. The prison was, as I said, a remarkably strong building; but, determined to force it, they broke the gates with crows and other instruments, and climbed up the outside of the cell part, which joins the two great wings of the building, where the felons were confined; and I stood where I plainly saw their operations. They broke the roof, tore away the rafters, and having got ladders they descended. Not Orpheus himself had more courage or better luck. Flames all around them, and a body of soldiers expected, they defied and laughed at all opposition. The prisoners escaped. I stood and saw about twelve women and eight men ascend from their confinement to the open air, and they were conducted through the street in their chains. Three of these were to be hanged on Friday" (Newgate was burnt on the Tuesday). "You have no conception of the frenzy of the multitude. This being done, and Akerman's house now a mere shell of brickwork, they kept a store of flame there for other purposes. It became red-hot, and the doors and windows appeared like the entrance to so many volcanoes. With some difficulty they then fired the debtors' prison, broke the doors, and they, too, all made their escape. Tired of the scene, I went home, and returned again at eleven o'clock at night. I met large bodies of horse and foot soldiers, coming to guard the Bank, and some houses of Roman Catholics near it. Newgate was at this time open to all; any one might get in, and, what was never the case before, any one might get out. I did both, for the people were now chiefly lookers-on. The mischief was done, and the doers of it gone to another part of the town" (to Bloomsbury Square, to burn Lord Mansfield's house). "But I must not omit what struck me most: about ten or twelve of the mob getting to the top of the debtors' prison, whilst it was burning, to halloo, they appeared rolled in black smoke mixed with sudden bursts of fire—like Milton's infernals, who were as familiar with flame as with each other."
On the Wednesday, the day after the fire, a big carelessly-dressed man worked his way to the ruins from Bolt Court, Fleet Street. The burly man's name was Doctor Samuel Johnson, and he wrote to Mrs. Thrale and her husband a brief account of what had happened since the Friday before. On that day Lord George Gordon and the mob went to Westminster, and that night the rioters burnt the Catholic chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. On Monday they gutted Sir George Saville's house in Leicester Square; on Tuesday pulled down the house of Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate and the novelist's half-brother, in Bow Street; and the same night burnt Newgate, Lord Mansfield's house in Bloomsbury, and a Catholic chapel in Moorfields. On Wednesday they burnt the Fleet and the King's Bench, and attacked the Bank of England, but were driven off by a party of constables headed by John Wilkes.
"On Wednesday," says the doctor, to come to what he actually saw himself, "I walked with Doctor Scott, to look at Newgate, and found it in ruins, with the fire yet glowing. As I went by, the Protestants were plundering the Sessions House at the Old Bailey. There were not, I believe, a hundred; but they did their work at leisure, in full security, without sentinels, without trepidation, as men lawfully employed in full day. Such is the cowardice of a commercial place. On Wednesday they broke open the Fleet, and the King's Bench, and the Marshalsea, and Wood Street Compter, and Clerkenwell Bridewell, and released all the prisoners. At night they set fire to the Fleet, and to the King's Bench, and I don't know how many other places; and one might see the glare of conflagration fill the sky from many parts. The sight was dreadful. Some people were threatened. Mr. Strahan advised me to take care of myself. . . . . . Several chapels have been destroyed, and several inoffensive Papists have been plundered; but the high sport was to burn the gaols. This was a good rabble trick. The debtors and the criminals were all set at liberty; but of the criminals, as has always happened, many are already re-taken, and two pirates have surrendered themselves, and it is expected that they will be pardoned." Then follows a fine touch of irony: "Jack" (Wilkes), "who was always zealous for order and decency, declares that if he be trusted with power, he will not leave a rioter alive. There is, however, now no longer any need of heroism or bloodshed; no blue ribbon" (the badge of the rioters) "is any longer worn." As for Thrale, his brewery escaped pretty well. The men gave away a cask or two of beer to the mob, and when the rioters came on a second and more importunate visit, the soldiers received them.
Methodist Preachers in Newgate—Silas Told—The Surgeons' Crew—Dr. Dodd, the Popular Preacher—His Forgery—Governor Wall at Goree flogs a Soldier to Death—His Last Moments—Murder of Mr. Steele—Execution of the Cato Street Conspirators—Fauntleroy, the Banker —The Murder of the Italian Boy—Greenacre—Müller—Courvoisier—His Execution—Mrs. Brownrigg—Mr. Akerman and the Fire in Newgate—Mrs. Fry's Good Work in Newgate—Escapes from Newgate—Jack Sheppard—A Good Sermon on a Bad Text—Sanitary Condition of Newgate—Effect upon the Prisoners.
In the year 1744 Silas Told, a worthy Wesleyan, deeply touched by a sermon preached by Wesley on the text, "I was sick and in prison, and ye visited me not" (Matt. xxv. 43), began to exert himself among the prisoners at Newgate, and has left a graphic and simple-hearted account of his labours among them; and from this book we obtain many curious glimpses of prison life at that period. The first persons Told visited were ten malefactors, then under sentence of death. "The report having been made," says Told, "and the dead-warrant coming down, eight of the ten were ordered for execution. The other two were respited; nor did either of those two appear to have any the least regard or concern for their deathless souls; therefore I trust they were spared for a good purpose, that they might have time for repentance and amendment of life.
"The day arrived whereon the other eight malefactors were to die. Sarah Peters and myself were early at the cell, in order to render them all the spiritual service that was within our power. The keeper having received directions on the over-night to lock them all up in one cell, that they might pour out their souls together in fervent solemn prayer to Almighty God, they paid very circumspect attention thereto, and a happy night it proved to each of them; so that when they were led down from their cell, they appeared like giants refreshed with wine, nor was the fear of death apparent in any of their countenances. We then went up to the chapel, when my companion and myself conversed with them in the press-yard room. Upon being called out to have their irons taken off, Lancaster was the first. While they were disburthening his legs thereof, the sheriff being present, Lancaster looked up to heaven with a pleasant smile, and said, 'Glory be to God for the first moment of my entrance into this place! For before I came hither my heart was as hard as my cell wall, and my soul was as black as hell. But, oh, I am now washed, clearly washed, from all my sins, and by one o'clock shall be with Jesus in Paradise!' And with many strong and forcible expressions he exhorted the innumerable spectators to flee from the wrath to come. This caused the sheriff to shed tears, and ask Mr. Lancaster if he was really in earnest, being so greatly affected with his lively and animated spirit. As their irons were taken off they were remanded back to the press-yard room; but, by some accident, they were a long time getting off the last man's fetters. When they were gotten off, Lancaster, beholding him at a short distance, clapped his hands together, and joyfully proclaimed, 'Here comes another of our little flock!' A gentleman present said, with an apparent sympathising spirit, 'I think it is too great a flock upon such an occasion.' Lancaster, with the greatest fluency of speech, and with an aspiring voice, said, 'Oh, no; it is not too great a flock for the shepherd Jesus; there is room enough in heaven for us all.' When he exhorted the populace to forsake their sins, he particularly endeavoured to press on them to come to the Throne of Grace immediately, and without fear, assuring them that they would find Him a gracious and merciful God, to forgive them, as He had forgiven him. At length they were ordered into the cart, and I was prevailed upon to go with them. When we were in the cart, I addressed myself to each of these separately."
Told's account of the execution of these men shows clearly how lawless and savage were the mobs which gathered at Tyburn. "When we came to the fatal tree Lancaster lifted up his eyes thereto, and said, 'Blessed be God,' then prayed extemporary in a very excellent manner, and the others behaved with great discretion. John Lancaster had no friend who could procure for his body a proper interment; so that, when they had hung the usual space of time, and were cut down, the surgeon's mob secured the body of Lancaster, and carried it over to Paddington. There was a very crowded concourse, among whom were numberless gin and gingerbread vendors, accompanied by pickpockets and even less respectable characters, of almost every denomination in London; in short, the whole scene resembled a principal fair, rather than an awful execution. Now, when the mob was nearly dispersed, and there remained only a few bystanders, with an old woman who sold gin, a remarkable occurrence took place, and operated to the following effect:—
"A company of eight sailors, with truncheons in their hands, having come to see the execution, looked up to the gallows with an angry countenance, the bodies having been cut down some minutes previous to their arrival. The old woman before named, who sold gin, observing these tars to grow violent, by reason of their disappointment, mildly accosted them and said, 'Gentlemen, I suppose you want the man that the surgeons have got?' 'Aye,' replied the sailors; 'where is he?' The poor affrighted woman gave them to understand that the surgeons' crew had carried him over to Paddington, and she pointed out to them the direct road thereto. They hastened away, and as they entered the town, inquiry was made by them where the surgeons' mob was to be discovered, and receiving the information they wanted, they went and demanded the body of John Lancaster. When the sailors had obtained the body, two of them cast it on their shoulders, and carried him round by Islington. They being tired out with its pressure, two others laid themselves under the weight of the body, and carried it from thence to Shoreditch. Then two more carried it from Shoreditch to Coverley's Fields. At length, after they were all rendered completely weary, and unable to carry it any farther, the sequel of their project, and their ultimate contrivance to rid themselves of the body was an unanimous consent to lay it on the step of the first door they came to. They did so, and then went their way. This gave birth to a great riot in the neighbourhood, which brought an old woman, who lived in the house, down-stairs. When she saw the corpse lie at the step of the door, she proclaimed, with an agitated spirit, 'Lord, here is my son, John Lancaster!' This being spread abroad, came to the knowledge of the Methodists, who made a collection, and got him a shroud and a good strong coffin. I was soon informed of this event, which was peculiarly singular, as the seamen had no knowledge of the body, nor to whom he belonged when living. My second wife went with me to see him, previous to the burial; but neither of us could perceive the least alteration in his visage or features, or any appearance of violence on any part of his body. A pleasant smile appeared in his countenance, and he lay as in a sweet sleep."
Told gives a terrible picture of the state of Newgate about 1744—the felons swearing and cursing at the preacher, and the ordinary himself guarding the prison doors on Sunday morning, to obstruct Told's entrance. Told, however, zealous in the cause, persevered, and soon formed a society of about forty of the debtors, who formed his Sunday congregation. The ordinary, however, soon contrived to shut out Told from this part of the prison also. He therefore betook himself almost entirely to the graver malefactors. His account of some of these unhappy men is extremely interesting. During his visits to Newgate six men of good family were lying there, sentenced to death for highway robbery. Of these, one was the son of an Irish divine, two others were men of fortune, and a fourth was a naval officer, to whom a daughter of the Duke of Hamilton was engaged to be married. After an election dinner, at Chelmsford, these men, for fun, had sallied out and robbed a farmer in the highway. The king was unwilling to pardon any of the party; but at the incessant importunities of Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, at last consented to reprieve her lover, but only at the gallows' foot. He fainted when the halter was removed, and was instantly lifted into the carriage, where Lady Betty awaited him. Six weeks after, to Told's vexation, he found the reprieved man gambling with a fraudulent bankrupt, who shortly afterwards was himself executed at Tyburn. Told's next visit was to Mary Edmonson, a poor girl hung at Kennington Common for murdering her aunt at Rotherhithe. The girl was entirely innocent, and the real murderer, a relation, who was a foot-soldier, came up into the cart to salute her before she was turned off. Some time after, this man riding in a post-chaise past the gallows at Kennington said to a friend, "There is the place where my kinswoman was hung wrongfully. I should have gone in her room." The rascal was soon after found guilty of highway robbery, and cast for death, but reprieved by the judge, who did not wish to draw attention to the scandal of an innocent person having been sent to the gallows. Silas Told says that at the execution of Mary Edmonson he walked by the cart, urging her to prayer, holding the bridle of the sheriff's horse, in spite of a most cruel and violent mob. Told also mentions attending Harris, the "Flying Highwayman," to the gallows, a man who, the very morning of his execution, was so violent in the chapel that the ordinary ran for his life. Just beyond Hatton Garden, after some exhortations of honest Told, the indomitable ruffian, at his request, shut his eyes, hung back his head on the side-rail of the cart, and after ten minutes' meditation burst into tears, and, clapping his hands together, cried, "Now I know that the Lord Jesus has forgiven me all my sins, and I have nothing to do but to die." He then burst into a loud extemporary prayer, and continued happy to the last, but still denying that he ever "flew" a turnpikegate in his life. Another case mentioned by Told does not give us a very enlarged view of the tender mercies of the time. A poor man, Anderson, entirely destitute, was sentenced to death for taking sixpence from two washerwomen in Hoxton Fields. The man had served with credit on board a manof-war, and his own parish had petitioned on his behalf. The Privy Council, however, insisted on confounding him with one of the same name, a celebrated highwayman of the day, and to Tyburn he went.
In 1770, when Mr. Akerman, one of the keepers, appeared before a Committee of the House of Commons, Newgate appears to have been a sink of filth and a den of iniquity. It was over-crowded, ill-disciplined, badly ventilated, and ill-supplied with water. The prisoners died in great numbers; and as Mr. Akerman, a good and trusty official, stated, two whole sets of gaol-officers had been cut off by gaol distemper since he had been in office; and in the spring of 1750 the gaol was so terribly infectious, that the contagion was carried into the Old Bailey court, and two of the judges, the Lord Mayor, and several of the jury, more than sixty in all, died in consequence. A huge ventilator was then erected, but this alarmed the whole neighbourhood, and the residents complained, with bitter outcries, that the poisonous air was drawn from the prison cells, to destroy all who lived near.
One of the earliest anecdotes of Newgate is to be found in a letter to the Duke of Shrewsbury, dated August 10, 1699. "All the talk of the town," says the writer, "is about a tragical piece of gallantry at Newgate. I don't doubt but what your grace has heard of a bastard son of Sir George Norton, who was under sentence of death for killing a dancing-master in the streets. The Lords Justices reprieved him, till they heard from the judge that no exception was to be taken at the verdict. It being signified to the young man, on Tuesday last in the afternoon, that he was to die the next day, his aunt, who was sister to his mother, brought two doses of opium, and they took it between them. The ordinary came soon after to perform his functions; but before he had done, he found so great alterations in both persons that it was no hard matter to find out the cause of it. The aunt frankly declared she could not survive her nephew, her life being wrapped up in his; and he declared that the law having put a period to his life, he thought it no offence to choose the way he would go out of the world. The keeper sent for his apothecary to apply remedies, who brought two vomits. The young man refused to take it, till they threatened to force it down by instruments. He told them, since he hoped the business was done, he would make himself and them easy, and swallowed the potion, and his aunt did the like. The remedy worked upon her, and set her a-vomiting, but had no effect on Mr. Norton, so that he dozed away gradually, and by eight that evening was grown senseless, though he did not expire till nine next morning. He was fully resolved upon the business, for he had likewise a charged pistol hid in the room. The aunt was carried to a neighbouring house, and has a guard upon her. They say she is like to recover; if she does, it will be hard if she suffer for such a transport of affection."
Among the many guilty and unhappy criminals who have sat in Newgate and counted the moments that lay between them and death, one of the most unhappy must have been that once popular preacher, Dr. Dodd, who was hung for forgery in 1777. Dodd was the son of a clergyman who was vicar of Bourne, in Lincolnshire. On leaving Cambridge he married imprudently, and became a small poet, and compiler of the "Beauties of Shakespeare," a work still reprinted. He then renounced literature, entered the Church, and in 1758 was appointed preacher to the Magdalen Hospital, where Horace Walpole describes his flowery sermons, which set all the ladies of fashion sobbing. Gross flattery of Dr. Squire, Bishop of St. David's, procured him, in 1763, the prebendaryship of Brecon. Soon after this the grateful bishop introduced Dodd to the Earl of Chesterfield, as a tutor to his son, and about the same time Dodd was appointed one of the king's chaplains, and in 1766 took his degree of LL.D. at Cambridge. He now dabbled in lotteries, and, having won a £1,000 prize, erected a chapel near Buckingham Palace, and also bought a share in Charlotte Chapel, Bloomsbury. Overwhelmed with debt, Dodd brought out several religious works, with the hope of winning patrons by his fulsome dedications. In 1773 he was appointed chaplain to the young Lord Chesterfield, the hopeless cub to whom the celebrated "Letters" were addressed. The rich living of St. George's, Hanover Square, just then falling vacant, Dodd was unwise enough to write an anonymous letter to Lady Apsley, wife of the Lord Chancellor, offering £3,000 for the appointment. The letter was traced to its source, and handed to the king, and the writer's name was ordered immediately to be struck out of the list of chaplains. Foote, always cruel in his fun, introduced Dodd into one of his Haymarket pieces as Dr. Simony. Dodd promised an explanation, but it never came. He retired for a time to Geneva, and the society of Lord Chesterfield, till the storm blew over.
Though enjoying an income of £800 a year, Dodd, entangled by press of debts, one fatal day, signed the name of Lord Chesterfield, his old pupil, to a bond for £4,200. The signature disowned, Dodd, who then lived in Argyle Street, was apprehended. He at once repaid part of the money, and gave a judgment on his goods for the remainder. The prosecutors were reluctant to proceed; and Lord Chesterfield, it is said, placed the forgery in Dodd's hands, as he stood near a fire, in hopes that he would destroy it; but Dodd wanted promptitude and presence of mind, and soon after the Lord Mayor compelled the prosecution. He was tried and found guilty. Dr. Johnson, on being applied to, wrote the speech delivered by Dodd before his sentence. He also composed several petitions for him, and a sermon which Dr. Dodd delivered to his fellow-prisoners shortly before his execution.
In Newgate this vain and shallow man acted the martyr, and wrote a book called "Thoughts in Prison," and believed in the possibility of a reprieve, though the king was inflexible, because in a recent case of forgery (that of Daniel and Robert Perreau, wine merchants), the sentence had been carried out. "If Dr. Dodd is pardoned," the king said, "then the Perreaus were murdered."
The friends of Dodd were zealous to the last. Dr. Johnson told Boswell that £1,000 were ready for any gaoler who would let him escape. A wax image of him had also been made, to be left in his bed, but the scheme, somehow or other, miscarried. Anthony Morris Storer, writing to George Selwyn, who had a passion for executions, thus describes Dodd's behaviour at Tyburn:—
"The doctor, to all appearance, was rendered perfectly stupid from despair. His hat was flapped all round, and pulled over his eyes, which were never directed to any object around, nor even raised, except now and then lifted up in the course of his prayers. He came in a coach, and a very heavy shower of rain fell just upon his entering the cart, and another just at his putting on his night-cap.
"He was a considerable time in praying, which some people standing about seemed rather tired with; they rather wished for some more interesting part of the tragedy. The wind, which was high, blew off his hat, which rather embarrassed him, and discovered to us his countenance, which we could scarcely see before. His hat, however, was soon restored to him, and he went on with his prayers. There were two clergymen attending him, one of whom seemed very much affected; the other, I suppose, was the ordinary of Newgate, as he was perfectly indifferent and unfeeling in everything that he said and did.
"The executioner took both the hat and wig off at the same time. Why he put on his wig again I do not know, but he did, and the doctor took off his wig a second time, and then tied on a nightcap which did not fit him; but whether he stretched that, or took another, I could not perceive. He then put on his nightcap himself, and upon his taking it, he certainly had a smile on his countenance. Very soon afterwards there was an end of all his hopes and fears on this side the grave. He never moved from the place he first took in the cart; seemed absorbed in despair, and utterly dejected without any other signs of animation but in praying."
There is a tradition that the hangman had been bribed to place the knot of the rope in a particular manner under Dodd's ear, and also that when cut down, the body was driven off to a house in Goodge Street, where Pott, the celebrated surgeon, endeavoured to restore animation. But the crowd had been great, and the delay too long; nevertheless, it was believed by many at the time that Dodd was really resuscitated and sent abroad. His wife, who regarded him with great affection, died some years after, in poverty.
In 1802 Governor Wall was hung at Newgate, for the murder of Benjamin Armstrong, a soldier, who had been under his command at Goree, in Africa. The high rank of Wall, and the long period that had elapsed since the crime had been committed, excited great interest in his fate. He had been Governor of Goree in 1782, and was disliked by both officers and men, for his severe and unforgiving disposition. The day before he returned to England, worn out with the climate, twenty or thirty men of the African corps came to petition the governor with regard to certain money stopped from their pay. The spokesman at the head of these soldiers was the unfortunate Benjamin Armstrong, who was extremely respectful in his manner, and paid the governor every deference. Wall, whose temper was no doubt aggravated by illness, instantly ordered Armstrong and his companions back to the barracks, and threatened them with punishment. The men obeyed, and quietly retired. Soon after his dinner-hour, Wall ran out of his rooms, and beat a man who appeared to be drunk, and snatching a bayonet from the sentry, struck him with it, and ordered both men under arrest. Eager for revenge on the "mutinous rascals," as he called them, Wall then ordered the long-roll to be beat, and parade called. Three hundred men, without firearms, were formed into a circle, two deep, in the midst of which stood the drummers, and the governor and his staff. A gun-carriage was then dragged up, and Benjamin Armstrong was called from the ranks. Five or six black slaves then lashed the unfortunate soldier to the rings of the gun-carriage, and Armstrong was ordered 800 lashes. With unusual cruelty, the governor ordered the slaves to use, not the cat-o'-nine-tails, but long lashings of rope, nearly an inch in circumference. Every twenty-five lashes a fresh slave was called up to continue the punishment, and the governor encouraged the slaves by shouting "Lay on, you black beasts, or I'll lay on you. Cut him to the heart; cut his liver out. At the end of this ferocity, Armstrong, with his back beaten black, was led to the hospital, saying he should certainly die. The rope had bruised, not cut the flesh, yet the injuries were only the more dangerous. Five days after the governor left Goree Armstrong died.
In 1784 Wall was arrested at Bath, but managed to escape from the king's messengers, at the "Brown Bear," Reading, and escaped to France, where he changed his name. Many years later Wall rashly returned to England, and in 1801 wrote to Lord Pelham, Secretary of State, announcing his readiness to submit to a trial. He was tried in 1802. He pleaded that Armstrong was the ringleader of an open mutiny. A prisoner had been released, he himself had been threatened with a bayonet, and the soldiers had threatened to break open the stores. He denied that he had ever blown men from cannon. It was clear from the evidence that the grossest cruelty had been used, and Wall was at once found guilty, and sentence of death passed.
In that curious and amusing work, "A Book for a Rainy Day," Mr. J. T. Smith, formerly keeper of the Print Room in the British Museum, says:—"Solomon, a pencil dealer, assured me that he could procure me a sight of the governor, if I would only accompany him in the evening to Hatton Garden, and smoke a pipe with Dr. Ford, the ordinary of Newgate, with whom he said he was particularly intimate. Away we trudged, and upon entering the club-room of a public-house, we found the said doctor most pompously seated in a superb masonic chair, under a stately crimson canopy, placed between the windows. The room was clouded with smoke whiffed to the ceiling, which gave me a better idea of what I had heard of the Black Hole of Calcutta than any place I had seen. There were present at least a hundred associates of every denomination. Of this number, my Jew, being a favoured man, was admitted to a whispering audience with the doctor, which soon produced my introduction to him."
Sunrise, the next morning, found Mr. Smith waiting by appointment for his new friend, Dr. Ford, at Newgate; and this is how he describes the end of Governor Wall:—
"As we crossed the press-yard a cock crew, and the solitary clanking of a restless chain was dreadfully horrible. The prisoners had not risen. Upon our entering a cold stone room, a most sickly stench of green twigs, with which an old round-shouldered, goggle-eyed man was endeavouring to kindle a fire, annoyed me almost as much as the canaster fumigation of the doctor's Hatton Garden friends.
"The prisoner entered. He was death's counterfeit, tall, shrivelled, and pale; and his soul shot so piercingly through the port-holes of his head, that the first glance of him nearly terrified me. I said in my heart, putting my pencil in my pocket, 'God forbid that I should disturb thy last moments!' His hands were clasped, and he was truly penitent. After the yeoman had requested him to stand up, he 'pinioned him,' as the Newgate phrase is, and tied the cord with so little feeling, that the governor, who had not given the wretch the accustomed fee, observed, 'You have tied me very tight,' upon which Dr. Ford ordered him to slacken the cord, which he did, but not without muttering. 'Thank you, sir,' said the governor to the doctor, 'it is of little moment.' He then observed to the attendant, who had brought in an immense iron shovelful of coals to throw on the fire, 'Ay, in one hour that will be a blazing fire;' then, turning to the doctor, questioned him, 'Do tell me, sir: I am informed I shall go down with great force; is that so?' After the construction and action of the machine had been explained, the doctor questioned the governor as to what kind of men he had at Goree. 'Sir,' he answered, 'they sent me the very riff-raff.' The poor soul then joined the doctor in prayer; and never did I witness more contrition at any condemned sermon than he then evinced."
Directly the execution was over, Mr. Smith left Newgate, where the hangman was selling the rope that had hung Governor Wall for a shilling an inch, and in Newgate Street a starved old man was selling another identical rope, at the ridiculously low price of only sixpence an inch; while at the north-east corner of Warwick Lane a woman known as "Rosy Emma," reputed wife of the yeoman of the halter, was selling a third identical noose to the Epping buttermen, who had come that morning to Newgate Market.
The execution, in the year 1807, of two men, named Haggerty and Holloway, for the murder in November, 1802, of Mr. Steel, a lavender-merchant in the Strand, led to a frightful catastrophe. The body of the murdered man was found in a gravel-pit between Hounslow and Staines, the head crushed in by the blow of a bludgeon. Nothing could be discovered of the offenders till the beginning of 1807, when Hanfield, a convict at Portsmouth, confessed that he had helped in the murder, and disclosed the names of his two accomplices. One of these men, Haggerty, was a marine on board the Shannon frigate, then lying in at Deal; the other, Holloway, a thief, was then lying in Clerkenwell Prison. The informer's story was this:—The robbery had been planned at the "Black Horse and Turk's Head," Dyot Street, Bloomsbury, whence the three men had started together to Hounslow Heath. The doomed man came at the time expected, and they knocked him down. While they were searching him a night-coach appeared, and Mr. Steele struggled to get across the road. Holloway then called out, "I'll silence the beggar," and killed him with two furious blows of a bludgeon. The evidence of this man was much doubted at the time. He had been a hackney-coachman, and a thief, and had deserted from several regiments; and it was proved that he had been heard to say, that rather than bear seven years at the hulks, he would hang as many men as were killed at the battle of Copenhagen. In the court, the two men, who were found guilty, pleaded their innocence, and the last act of Holloway, in the press-yard, was to fall on his knees, and declare before God that he was innocent. Haggerty also protested his innocence, but without going on his knees. On the day of execution some 80,000 people assembled. Even before the prisoners appeared, several women were trampled to death. At the end of Green Arbour Court, a pieman and his basket being upset, many persons fell and perished. One poor woman, feeling herself lost, threw an infant at her breast to a bystander, who passed it on and on, till it was placed safely under a cart. In one part of the crowd seven persons died from suffocation alone. A cart, overladen with spectators, broke down, and many of those who were in it were trampled to death. Nothing could be so horrible as this fighting crowd, mad with rage and fear. Till the gallows was removed, and the marshals and constables cleared the street, nothing could be done for the sufferers. Twenty-eight persons were killed and nearly seventy injured in this brutal struggle.
The execution of the Cato Street conspirators before Newgate, on Monday, May 1, 1820, was one of the most ghastly scenes ever witnessed by a London mob. Thistlewood, the leader of this conspiracy, had been in the Marines. His companions were James Ings, a butcher; Richard Tidd, a bootmaker; William Davidson, a cabinetmaker; John T. Brunt, and others. They had agreed to take advantage of a dinner at the Earl of Harrowby's, in Grosvenor Square, to which all the cabinet ministers had been invited, to break in and murder them all. Ings had resolved that the heads of Lords Castlereagh and Sidmouth should be cut off and put in two bags provided for the purpose; and he particularly wished to preserve the right hand of Lord Castlereagh as a valuable curiosity. The cannon in Gray's Inn Lane and the Artillery Ground were to be captured, the Mansion House taken, the Bank sacked, the barracks fired, and a Provisional Government established. Pikes and guns had been collected, and hand-grenades made. The conspirators were discovered in a loft in Cato Street, Edgware Road. Smithers, about the first police-officer who entered, was run through with a sword by Thistlewood, and a desperate struggle then ensued. At this moment Captain Fitzclarence (son of the Duke of Clarence) arrived, with a party of the Coldstream Guards, and captured nine of the conspirators. Thistlewood was taken the next day, at a house in Little Moorfields.
At the trial eleven of the conspirators were sentenced to death, but six of these were afterwards respited. Thistlewood, Ings, Brunt, Tidd, and Davidson were executed. The Government had shown the utmost anxiety to prevent a riot or a rescue. Life Guards were stationed in the Old Bailey, Newgate Street, and Ludgate Hill, and one hundred artillerymen and six pieces of artillery were placed in the centre of Blackfriars Bridge. The scaffold was lined with black cloth, and near the drop were five plain coffins, and a block for the decapitation of the criminals. Thistlewood was the first to ascend the scaffold. He was collected and calm, and bowed twice to the crowd. When Mr. Cotton exhorted him to pray, and asked him if he repented of his crime, he exclaimed, several times, "No, not at all!" and was also heard to say, "I shall soon know the last grand secret." Tidd ran up the steps, and bowed on all sides. There was a slight cheering when he appeared, in which he made a faint attempt to join. Ings seemed mad with excitement. He moved his head to and fro, cried "Huzza!" three times, and commenced singing, "Oh, give me death or liberty!" There was partial cheering. He exclaimed, from time to time, "Here we go, my lads! You see the last remains of James Ings. Remember, I die the enemy of tyranny, and would sooner die in chains than live in slavery." When the chaplain exhorted him, the reckless ruffian said, with a coarse laugh, "I am not afraid to go before God or man." Then he shouted to the silent executioner, "Now, old man, finish me tidy. Pull the halter a little tighter: it might slip." He then waved a handkerchief three times, and said he hoped the chaplain would give him a good character. Davidson, a man of colour, who had just received the sacrament, prayed with great fervency, and expressed penitence for his crimes. All he said was, "God bless you all! Good-bye!" and after the Lord's Prayer, he exclaimed, "God save the king!"
Brunt, the last who came out, requested some bystander to get him some snuff out of his pocket, as his hands were tied. He took it with great coolness, and said he wondered where the gaoler would put him, but he supposed it would be somewhere where he should sleep well. He would make a present of his body to King George the Fourth.
Thistlewood, just before he was turned off, said in a low tone to a person under the scaffold, "I have now but a few moments to live, and I hope the world will think that I have at least been sincere in my endeavours." At the last moment, Tidd cried out to Ings, "How are you, my hearty?"
At a signal given by the Rev. Mr. Cotton the platform fell. At the very instant Ings was observed to join Davidson in prayer. Half an hour after, a "resurrection-man," who received a fee of twenty guineas, disguised in a rough jacket and trousers, and a mask on his face, appeared with an amputating-knife, and severed Thistlewood's head from his body. The hangman's man then held up the head by the hair, and exclaimed three times, "This is the head of Arthur Thistlewood, a traitor." The same ceremony was then performed with skill on Tidd, Ings, Davidson, and Brunt. The mob loudly hissed, and there was a deep groan from the crowd, and shrieks from the women, when Thistlewood's head was removed. When the conspirators appeared on the scaffold, the troops were ordered as close as possible to the scene of execution; but no disorder took place. Five of the remaining conspirators were transported for life.
The execution of Fauntleroy, the great banker, of 6, Berners Street, took place at Newgate, in 1824. It was supposed that this man, by forged powers of attorney, had disposed of about £400,000 worth of Bank of England stock; the Bank, however, prosecuted for only £170,000 worth. Such was Fauntleroy's audacity, that it is said he would sometimes forge the name of a man with whom he was conversing, and then send it, still wet, into the clerks' room, to show that it had just been written by his visitor. Singularly enough, a tin box was found in his possession, with a list of the greater part of his frauds, and this formal statement at the bottom of all:—"In order to keep up the credit of our house, I have forged powers of attorney for the above sums and parties, and sold out to the amount here stated, and without the knowledge of my partners. I kept up the payments of the dividends, but made no entries of such payments in our books. The Bank began first to refuse to discount our acceptances, and destroy the credit of our house. The Bank shall smart for it." It was known that Fauntleroy was an epicure and a voluptuary, but his hospitality had won many friends, and no one doubted his honour. He attributed his losses to building speculations. He denied embezzling one shilling. Sixteen respectable witnesses vouched for his honour and integrity. The crowd at his execution, on the 30th of November, was unprecedented. Every window and house-roof near Newgate was crowded with well-dressed men. Nothing had been seen like the mob since Thistlewood and his gang were decapitated. When the sheriffs entered the banker's cell, at a quarter before eight, he lifted his eyes sadly, bowed, but said nothing. The felon was still a gentleman. He was dressed in a black coat and trousers, with silk stockings, and dress shoes. He was perfectly calm and composed. The terrible procession formed quickly. Two friends gave him their arms, and he followed the sheriffs and the Rev. Mr. Cotton, the ordinary of Newgate. The moment he appeared every hat was taken off. Two minutes more, and his body swayed in the thick November air.
Only two other executions for forgery ever took place in England; and in 1837 the capital punishment for that crime was abolished. The late Mr. Charles Dickens used to relate an anecdote of the last moments of Fauntleroy. His elegant dinners had always been enriched by some remarkable and matchless curaçoa. Three of his boon companions had a parting interview with him in the condemned cell. They were about to retire, when the most impressive of the three stepped back, and said, "Fauntleroy, you stand on the verge of the grave. Remember the text, my dear man, that 'we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can take nothing out.' Have you any objection, therefore, to tell me now, as a friend, where you got that curaçoa?"
It was long rumoured in London, of course absurdly, that Fauntleroy, by means of his vast wealth and acquaintance, had bribed the hangman to slip a silver tube down his throat, which saved his life. More resolute people declared he had escaped to America, and had actually been seen in Paris. So legends, even in our own days, spring up and take root.
The murder of a poor Italian boy, by a bodysnatcher named Bishop, and another scoundrel called Williams, excited the utmost horror and alarm in London, in the year 1831. Upwards of 30,000 persons assembled to witness their execution, on the 5th of December, at Newgate. These men had decoyed the poor boy to a hovel in Nova Scotia Gardens, Bethnal Green, and had then drugged him with rum and laudanum, and drowned him in a well. At King's College they had asked twelve guineas for the body, and Bishop owned to having sold from 500 to 1,000 bodies, and to two other murders. The "Fortune of War" public-house, in Giltspur Street, seems to have been the rendezvous of these monsters. A great many persons were maimed and bruised at these executions, and the moment the murderers were turned off, the barriers between the gallows and Ludgate Hill were simultaneously broken asunder and torn up by the crowd.
In 1837 the execution of James Greenacre lent an additional horror to Newgate. This man had murdered Hannah Brown, a woman to whom he had been engaged to be married, and had then cut the body in pieces, and hidden portions of it in various parts of London, the trunk being placed in a sack, and concealed behind some flagstones, near the "Pine Apple" toll-bar, Edgware Road. He confessed at last that Hannah Brown had deceived him, by pretending to have property, and that one night, when she called at his lodgings, in Carpenters' Buildings, Lambeth, she laughed at her trick. In a rage at this, he struck her with a silkroller a blow which proved mortal, and he then formed the resolution of cutting up and concealing the body.
The night of the execution of this wretch, hundreds of persons slept on the steps of the prison and of St. Sepulchre's Church, and boys remained all night clinging to the lamp-posts. The crowds in the streets spent the night in ribald jokes and drunken scuffles. Greenacre, when he passed to the gallows, was totally unmanned. He could not articulate the responses to the ordinary, and was obliged to be supported, or he would have fallen. His last words, with a look of contempt at the yelling and hissing crowd, were, "Don't leave me long in the concourse."
Another of the celebrated executions at Newgate was that of Franz Müller, a young German tailor, in 1864. This man, in order, it is supposed, to obtain money to get to America, murdered a Mr. Briggs, in a carriage on the North London Railway, between Bow station and Hackney Wick. The murdered man's hat, watch, and chain had been seen in the possession of the murderer, who had fled to New York. Müller denied his guilt to the last. The night before the execution there was a most disgraceful scene round Newgate. The houses commanding a sight of the drop were filled with spectators, who paid for places, at prices ranging from five or seven shillings to a couple of guineas a head. In some instances a first-floor was let for £12. The visitors (not always of the lower description) spent the night playing at cards and singing choruses. To one of the exhortations to confession from those who visited him, Müller turned away, with the remark, "Man has no power to forgive sins, and there is no use in confessing them to him." As he approached the gallows he looked up at the chain with perfect self-possession. The final conversation with the German minister of the Lutheran Church in Alie Street, Goodman's Fields, was to the following effect:—
Dr. Cappel: Müller, in a few moments you will stand
before God. I ask you again, and for the last time, are you
guilty, or not guilty?
Müller: Not guilty.
Dr. Cappel: You are not guilty?
Müller: God knows what I have done.
Dr. Cappel: God knows what you have done. Does He also know that you have committed this crime?
Müller: Yes, I have done it.
Dr. Cappel was actually leaning forward and listening when the drop fell. The Germans of London had exerted themselves warmly to obtain a reprieve for Müller, and even the King of Prussia telegraphed to the Queen to request her intervention to save Müller's life.
The execution of François Benjamin Courvoisier, a Swiss valet, found guilty of the murder of his master, Lord William Russell, took place at Newgate in 1840. Lord William, who was in his seventy-third year, lived alone in his house, in Norfolk Street, Park Lane, his establishment consisting of two women-servants and Courvoisier, a Swiss valet. On the morning of the murder the housemaid, rising as usual, found the papers in her master's writing-room scattered about, and in the hall an opera-glass, a cloak, and some other articles of dress wrapped up, as if ready to be carried off. She instantly went up-stairs and called Courvoisier, who was almost dressed, and he at once ran down, saying, "Some person has been robbing; for God's sake go and see where his lordship is!" They went into the room, and found Lord William on his bed murdered, and his head nearly severed from his body. When the policeman came, and asked Courvoisier to assist him, he fell back in a chair, and said, "This is a shocking job. I shall lose my place, and lose my character." The premises having been searched, two bank-notes for £10 and £5, supposed to have been taken from Lord Russell's box, and several rings, were found concealed behind the skirting-board of the butler's pantry. Suspicion at once fell on Courvoisier; and on being tried and found guilty, he confessed the murder. He said that, disliking his place, he stole some plate, and had subsequently resolved to rob the house. Then before midnight his master found him in the dining-room, and suspected him of theft. On Lord William's return to his room, the thought of murder first entered Courvoisier's mind. His character was gone, and he said he thought the only way to cover his fault was the murder of his master. He went into the dining-room, and took a carving-knife from the side-board. He then went up-stairs and opened his master's bed-room door. There was a rushlight burning, and Lord William was asleep. Courvoisier accomplished the murder, the old man never speaking a word, and only moving his arm a little. Courvoisier then opened a Russia leather case, took several things, and also a £10 note, which he hid behind the skirtingboard. After he had committed this foul murder, Courvoisier went to bed, as usual, having first made marks on the outer door, as if there had been thieves there. The execution of Courvoisier took place on the 6th of July, 1840. His constant exclamation in prison had been, "O God! how could. I have committed so dreadful a crime? It was madness. When I think of it I can't believe it." He also confessed that he had contemplated self-destruction. Upwards of 20,000 persons had gathered to witness the murderer's end. Several hundreds had waited all night at the debtors' door of the Old Bailey, and high fees had been paid for windows, and even the roofs of the houses opposite Newgate were crowded. There was a sprinkling of women and boys in the crowd, and a distinguishable number of men-servants. As the bell began to toll, at five minutes to eight o'clock, the vast multitude uncovered, and at two minutes after the hour Courvoisier ascended the steps leading to the drop, followed by the executioner and the ordinary of the prison. A few yells were uttered, but the mass of the spectators were silent. Courvoisier's step was steady and collected, his face pale, but calm and unmoved. When on the drop he waved his bound hands up and down two or three times, and this was the only visible symptom of emotion. When the noose was adjusted, he lifted up his hands to his breast, as if in fervent prayer. He died without any violent struggle, his raised hands gradually sinking. His counsel, Mr. C. Phillips, was afterwards much blamed for trying to prove the police guilty of conspiracy, to obtain the large reward, when, as it was said, Courvoisier had already confessed to him his guilt; but the confession of Courvoisier was really of a much later date.
There is still an old print extant (of which we give a copy on page 457), representing that cruel old hag, Mrs. Elizabeth Brownrigg, in the condemned cell at Newgate. This celebrated murderess, who was nearly torn to pieces by the mob, on her way to Tyburn, was a parish midwife, living in Flower-de-Luce Court, Fetter Lane. Her cruelties to her apprentices we have before related.
Of the cruelties of the old press-yard we have a terrible instance, in the case of Edward Burnworth, in 1726. This man, a most daring highwayman and murderer, having refused to plead, was loaded with boards and weights. He continued an hour and three minutes, with a mass of metal upon him weighing three hundred, three quarters, and two pounds. He then prayed he might be put to the bar again, which the court granted, and he was arraigned, and pleaded "not guilty." He was, however, found guilty, and received sentence of death.
There is an interesting story of Mr. Akerman, one of the old governors of Newgate, with whom Boswell contracted a friendship. On one occasion, says Boswell, a fire broke out in Newgate. The prisoners were turbulent and in much alarm. Mr. Akerman, addressing them, told them there was no fear, for the fire was not in the stone prison; and that if they would be quiet, he then promised to come in among them, and lead them to a further end of the building; offering, in addition, not to leave them till they were reassured, and gave him leave. To this generous proposal they agreed. Mr. Akerman then, having first made them fall back from the gate, lest they should be tempted to break out, went in, closed the gate, and, with the determined resolution of an ancient Roman, ordered the outer turnkey upon no account to unbar the gate, even though the prisoners should break their word (which he trusted they would not), and by force bring him to order it. "Never mind me," said he, "should that happen." The prisoners then peaceably followed him though passages of which he had the keys, to a part of the gaol the farthest from the fire. Having, by this judicious conduct, says Boswell, fully satisfied them that there was no immediate risk, if any at all, he then addressed them: "Gentlemen, you are now convinced that I told you true. I have no doubt that the engines will soon extinguish this fire. If they should not, a sufficient guard will come, and you shall be all taken out and lodged in the compters. I assure you, upon my word and honour, that I have not a farthing insured. I have left my house that I might take care of you. I will keep my promise, and stay with you, if you insist upon it; but if you will allow me to go out and look after my family and property, I shall be obliged to you." Struck with his courage, truthfulness, and honourable sense of duty, the felons shouted: "Master Akerman, you have done bravely. It was very kind of you. By all means go and take care of your own concerns." He did so accordingly; and they remained, and were all preserved. Dr. Johnson said of this man, whom Wellington would have esteemed: "Sir, he who has long had constantly in view the worst of mankind, and is yet eminent for the humanity of his disposition, must have had it originally in a high degree, and continued to cultivate it very carefully."
Great good was effected in Newgate by the Ladies' Prison Visiting Association, which commenced its labours among the female prisoners of Newgate in 1817. The Quakers had originated the movement, and it soon produced its effects. Mrs. Fry was the indefatigable leader of these philanthropists. The female prisoners in Newgate, before the good work began, were idle, abandoned, riotous, and drunken. There was no attempt at general inspection; the only distinction was between the tried and the untried. They slept promiscuously in large companies. Frequent communication was allowed them, through an iron grating, with visitors of both sexes, many of them more degraded and desperate than themselves. The good effected was rapid and palpable. The worst women became quiet, orderly, and industrious; the whole of them grew neater and cleaner; many learned to read; others sat for hours knitting with the ladies who visited Newgate. Two of the committee, if possible, visited the prison daily, and observed the cases of the individual prisoners. The prisoners' patchwork, spinning, and knitting were sold for them, and, if possible, part of their earnings was put by, to accumulate for their benefit when they returned to the outer world. Schools were started for the children and the grown-up women. The governesses were chosen from the most intelligent, steady, and persevering of the prisoners. A careful system of supervision was also established. Over every twelve or thirteen women a matron was placed, who was answerable for their work, and kept an account of their conduct. A ward woman attended to the cleanliness of the wards. A yard woman maintained good order in the yard, and the sick room was ruled by a nurse and an assistant. These managers were all prisoners, selected from their orderly and respectable habits, and these situations became the best badge for good conduct. The female prisoners assembled every day in the committee-room, to hear the Bible read, or a prayer delivered, by the matron or one of the visitors. The women, on being dismissed, says Mr. J. J. Gurney, returned to their several employments, with perfect order and obedience. The women grew very honest among themselves. In no less than 100,000 manufactured articles of work not one article was stolen. The best proof of amelioration was the fact of the great decrease of re-commitments between 1817 and 1819. Many of the women kept under supervision by the committee preserved good characters as servants, or earned an honest livelihood at home. Several of the women, on discharge, received small loans, to help them on, and these loans they repaid by most punctual weekly instalments. At the end of 1817, Sir T. F. Buxton obtained a return of the re-commitments on the male side of Newgate, and it appeared that out of 203 men 47 of those convicted had been confined there before within the two previous years. The returns on the female side, since the Ladies' Association had reformed the prison, were not more, as compared with the male side, than as 4 to 47. It had at one time been as 3 to 5. Can anything more be said to prove what a great good women may effect, who look upon female prisoners not as brute beasts, to be punished and despised, but as souls, to be won back and reclaimed? They softened these women's hearts, and tenderly restored them to humanity. The object of justice, in their eyes, was to reform, not merely to punish. Hence the kind look did more than the lash—the soft word than the hard fetter. The good work has, since those days, been carried further, and there is still much to do.
The first memorable escape from Newgate was that of Jack Sheppard, a thievish young London carpenter, in 1724. This hero of modern thieves (mischievously immortalised by Mr. Harrison Ainsworth) had been condemned to death with a rogue named Blueskin, for stealing cloth from a Mr. Kneebone, a draper in the Strand, to whom Sheppard had formerly been apprenticed. The whole story of his adventures shows the loose discipline of Newgate at the time. Considering the lad was a practical carpenter and locksmith, and probably bribed the gaolers heavily, we see no great miracles in his escapes, which only needed cleverness, knowledge of wood and iron work, and steady perseverance. On the first occasion Jack, during an interview with two female friends in the lodge at Newgate, broke a spike off the hatch, and, by the assistance of the two women, being slim and flexible, was pulled through the opening, and so escaped. Retaken at Finchley, the angry turnkeys gripped the young thief with handcuffs, loaded him with heavy irons (such as are still fastened above the side doors of the prison), and chained him to a stout staple in the floor of a strong room called "The Castle." There people of all ranks came to see him, and all gave money to the young lion of the hour, but extreme care was taken that no sympathisers should pass him a chisel or a file. Jack was, however, eager for notoriety, and resolute to baffle the turnkeys. He chose a quiet afternoon, when most of the keepers were away with their amiable charges at the Old Bailey Sessions. With a small nail he had found he loosened his chain from the floor-staple, then slipped his small thievish hands through his handcuffs, and tied up his fetters as high as he could with his garters. With a piece of his broken chain he worked out of the chimney a transverse iron bar that stopped his upward progress. The keepers smoked and drank, and left Jack alone with mischief. Once on the airy roof, Jack, quick at breaking out of prisons, now tried his hand at breaking in, for, to force a way to the chapel, Jack broke into the Red Room, over the Castle, having found a large nail, with which he could work wonders. The Red Room door had not been unbolted for seven long years. Jack forced off the lock in seven short minutes, and got into a passage leading to the chapel. To force a strong bolt here, he broke a hole through the wall, and, with an iron spike from the chapel door, opened a way between the chapel and the lower leads. Three more doors flew open before him; over a wall, and he was on the upper leads. At this crisis, requiring a blanket, to tear up and make a rope for his descent, he had the courage to go back for it, all the way to his cell, and then, making a tough rope, he fastened it with the chapel spike, and let himself down on the leads of a turner, who lived adjoining the prison. Slipping in at a garret window, he stole softly down-stairs, and let himself out (a woman who heard his irons clink thought it was the cat). Passing the watchhouse of St. Sepulchre, he went up Gray's Inn Lane, and hid himself in a cow-house, near Tottenham Court. The next day he bribed a shoemaker to procure him a smith's hammer and a punch, and rid himself of his irons, the last souvenirs of Newgate. A few nights after, this incorrigible scamp broke into a pawnbroker's shop in Drury Lane, stole a sword and some coats, snuff-boxes, rings, and watches, and rigged himself out in black, with ruffled shirt, diamond ring, silver-hilted sword, gold watch, and other suitable garnishings. Two nights afterwards, getting drunk with his mother near his old haunts, the young thief was seized and thrown again into Newgate, no more to escape. Sir James Thornhill painted his portrait in prison, and, after an unsuccessful plot to rescue him at Turnstile, he was hung at Tyburn. An opera and a farce were founded upon his adventures, and a preacher in the City is said to have thus spiritualised his career:—
"Now, my beloved, what a melancholy consideration it is, that men should show so much regard for the preservation of a poor, perishing body, that can remain at most but a few years, and at the same time be so unaccountably negligent of a precious soul, which must continue to the ages of eternity! Oh, what care, what pains, what diligence, and what contrivances are made use of for, and laid out upon, these frail and tottering tabernacles of clay, when, alas! the nobler part of us is allowed so very small a share of our concern, that we scarce will give ourselves the trouble of bestowing a thought upon it.
"We have a remarkable instance of this in a notorious malefactor, well known by the name of Jack Sheppard. What amazing difficulties has he overcome! what astonishing things has he performed, for the sake of a stinking, miserable carcase, hardly worth hanging! How dexterously did he pick the padlock of his chain with a crooked nail! How manfully burst his fetters asunder, climb up the chimney, wrench out an iron bar, break his way through a stone wall, and make the strong door of a dark entry fly before him, till he got upon the leads of the prison! And then, fixing a blanket to the wall with a spike, how intrepidly did he descend to the top of the turner's house, and how cautiously pass down the stairs, and make his escape at the street-door!
"Oh, that ye were all like Jack Sheppard! Mistake me not, my brethren; I don't mean in a carnal, but a spiritual sense; for I purpose to spiritualise these things. What a shame it would be, if we should not think it worth our while to take as much pains, and employ as many deep thoughts, to save our souls, as he has done to preserve his body! Let me exhort you, then, to open the locks of your hearts with the nail of repentance; burst asunder the fetters of your beloved lusts; mount the chimney of hope, take from thence the bar of good resolution; break through the stone wall of despair, and all the strongholds in the dark entry of the valley of the shadow of death; raise yourselves to the leads of divine meditation; fix the blanket of faith with the spike of the Church; let yourselves down to the turner's house of resignation, and descend the stairs of humility. So shall you come to the door of deliverance from the prison of iniquity, and escape the clutches of that old executioner, the devil, who 'goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.'"
The condition of things in ancient Newgate was deplorable. When the contagious fever broke out, there were no less than 800 prisoners crowded within the walls. It was not till 1810 that, through the exertions of Sir Richard Phillips, a Committee of the Common Council passed a resolution for building a new prison for debtors, and in 1815 the debtors were transferred from Newgate to the Giltspur Street Compter. In a Parliamentary Report of 1814, the following statement appeared of the way in which the chaplain's duties were performed:— "Beyond his attendance at chapel, and on those who are sentenced to death Dr. Ford feels but few duties to be attached to his office. He knows nothing of the state of morals in the prison; he never sees any of the prisoners in private. Though fourteen boys and girls from nine to thirteen years old were in Newgate in April last, he does not consider attention to them a point of his duty. He never knows that any have been sick till he gets a warning to attend their funeral; and does not go to the infirmary, for it is not in his instructions." The prisoners were allowed to drink and gamble, and their amusement was the repeating stories of past villany and debauchery. "I scruple not to affirm," says Howard, "that half the robberies committed in and around London are planned in the prisons by that dreadful assemblage of criminals, and the number of idle people who visit them." Those who refused to associate with the criminals were submitted to mock trial, in which the oldest thief acted as judge, with a towel, tied in knots on each side of his head, for a wig; and he had officers to put his sentences into execution. "Garnish," "footing," or "chummage," was demanded of all new prisoners. "Pay, or strip," was the order; and the prisoner without money had to part with some of his clothes, to contribute towards the expense of a revel, the older prisoners adding something to the "garnish" paid by the new comer. The practice of the prisoners cooking their own food had not been long discontinued in 1818.
Even in 1836 the Inspector of Prisons found fault with the system within the prison. The prisoners were allowed to amuse themselves with gambling, card-playing, and draughts; sometimes they obtained, by stealth, says a writer in Knight's "London," the luxury of tobacco, and a newspaper. Sometimes they could get drunk. Instruments to facilitate prison-breaking were found in the prison. Combs and towels were not provided, and the supply of soap was insufficient. In their Report of 1843, the inspectors say, "It has been our painful duty, again and again, to point attention to the serious evils resulting from gaol association, and consequent necessary contamination in this prison. The importance of this prison, in this point of view, is very great. As the great metropolitan prison for the untried, it is here that those most skilled in crime of every form, those whom the temptations, the excesses, and the experience of this great city have led through a course of crime to the highest skill in the arts of depredation, and the lowest degradation of infamy, meet together with those who are new to such courses, and who are only too ready to learn how they may pursue the career they have just entered upon with most security from detection and punishment, and with greater success and indulgence. The numbers committed (nearly 4,000 per annum), which are still increasing, render this a subject of still greater moment."