Lists (None yet)

Login to create lists

Tagged (None yet)

Add Tags

Comments (None yet)

Add New Comment

1 correction by anonymous - Show corrections

THE HANGMAN'S OFFICE.

(The Standard.)

IT is to Shakspeare, rather than to " Coke upon Lyttelton," that the public owes its knowledge oí the fact that the office of hang- man was at one time hereditary, at least in some places in England. Antiquaries, act- ing upon Shakspeare's hint in " Coriolanus," have ransacked the Warwickshire records, and discovered that in the manor of Stoneley, in that county, there were in olden times four men, each one of whom held one mes- suage of land under the service of making a gallows and hanging thieves. The hold- jig, of course, descended to thoir children under the like conditions. And Sir Edward Coke remarks that this kind of tenure was the worst he had ever read of. He thinks its existence proves that the office was more shunned than soughtafter, and that for lack of willing volunteers it was necessary to bind men by tenure to carry out the last odious re- quirements of the law. It is difficult, how- ever, to believe that our ancestors were more squeamish, or had finer feelings in this respect than the 1200 candidates for the office rendered vacant by the death of Marwood. In tlie days also when the tenure to some extent prevailed, the pecuniary inducement to nccept tho oflico was strong, as there was plenty of work of the kind to be done everywhere, and the remuneration was always higher than the wages of an artisan. In fact, if anyone has reason to wish for a return of the good old times it is the public hangman. Tho num- ber of executions which Marwood conducted is stated at about 300 during the great num- ber of years he held the oflico, a sorry result compared with the 2000 executions annually which fell to the share of his official prede- cessors iii the reign, of Henry VIII. Such a "roaring trade could hardly fail to make the ollice coveted by many rather than

avoided.

In times when State executions were matters.of com mon occurrence the ollice of public executioner was necessarily one of much importance. There may have been a greater sense of dignity in beheading a peer guilty of treason than in turning off a com- mon malefactor ; and it is rather a singular circumstance that it is to such high luiic tionaries as' sheriffs that 'the duty is entrusted of carrying out the bust dread offices ' of the law. ' While in this country ' every sheriff, has- shirked this part of his office by. appointing a substitute to discharge it in the United States tho sentence is executed by the sheriff in person. Across Hie Atlantic it'is the sheriffs hand that pulls the lever, as it may even have done in this country, in former times, when a substitute was not lo be had.. Nowadays, however, no sheriff -Yould accept the ollice if he be required to discharge the hateful duty in person, and a professional Jack Ketch has thus become one of Hie established institutions of the country. The ollice has even undergone such a complete evolution that we have probably seen the last of provincial hangmen, and tíie London functional-}' has now developed into supreme and sole hangman for the whole country. During the régime of Old Tom Cheshire, and the early professional years of Calcraft, there still flourished in York an aged indi- vidual named Howard, who discharged tlie hist oflices of the law in that county, but his name does not seem to have been known to some of the pamphleteers even of the Seven Dials when writing their stirring accounts of the earlier opera- tions of Calcraft. A generation or two earlier local hangmen were common enough. The short shrift given to the condemned of one clear day between the sentence and the execution rendered a local functionary indis- pensable. The last Edinburgh executioner was killed in 1847, since which time the services of the London functionary have been hired by the Edinburgh magistrates when wanted. So, also, the last Glasgow executioner died during Calcraft's tenure of office, and since his death the duties of the position have been discharged by the London

official.

Whoever has cast his eye over the pamphlet literature and broadsides upon this subject during the last two centuries cannot fail to have observed the growing aversion of the popular mind towards the executioner. Even before the days of Jack Ketch it was customary to affix a contemptuous nickname to the holders of the office throughout the country. In the days of Janies I., and long afterwards, hangmen went by the name of " Gregory," after Gregory Brandon, the London executioner in the reign of that monarch. Brandon succeeded Derrick, with whose name all readers of the " fortunes of Nigel" will be familiar.

I had better to have lived in beggary

Than to have fallen in tho hands of Gregory,

says a ballad of 16-17. But no name has stuck so well as that of Jack Ketch, who was appointed to the office about 1682 or 1683. The number of distinguished victims who passed through his hands during the time of the terrible Jeffreys, and his mang- ling of the body of Monmouth upon the scaffold, made him an object of execration with the London mob ; and readers of Macaulay will remember that at Mon- mouth's execution he was in danger of being torn to pieces by the mob, and had to be conveyed away from the scaffold under a strong guard. This wretched being has achieved an immortality which is some- times denied to great masters of thought and influence. His name has become synonymous with hangman not only in the well-spiced literature of the Seven Dials but even in staider pages. In Notes und Queries, for example, we read of "Jack Ketch striking for wages," when it is not the veritable Jack Ketch of history that is meant, but the hangman of Sir Eichard Phillip's time, who refused to whip a culprit unless his wages were raised from a guinea to a guinea and a half a week. A pamph- leteer of 1079, who must have been of a poetical turn, varies the style, and calls him the " Man of Destiny," " the famous, the well-known, the redoubtable, the dreadful Squire Ketch, death's harbin- ger, Pluto's van-courier, viceroy of fate, and sole monarch of the triple throne," the latter part of the designation referring, we pre- sume, to what is elsewhere described as "Tyburn's triple tree." Tlie epithet "Squire" here prefixed to the name is due to Gregory Brandon, who cleverly procured a coat-armorial from the College of Heralds, and became an esquire by virtue of his

office. The title descended to his successors, ' and then seems to have gradually dropped out of use. .Butler, in 1(JS2, speaks of " Squire Dun," the hangman of the time, but we do not remember that either Selwyn or Boswell, who had tin infatuation for witnessing executions, has over applied tho title. Nor have we observed in the broad

:sides;of<tliâ last forty or fifty years that it has'been given lo either Calcraft or War wood ; and it is not probable that it will be resuscitated in tho caso of the newly appointed executioner, Binns. Even the nickname, Jack Ketch, was dropping out of use ijl the time of Calcraft, who generally went by his own name among the rhyme- sters of the Seven Dials. One skit, for instance, is entitled " Calcraft's Lament ; or, the Hangman in a Hobble ; " but it still retains the old sobriquet, without, however, the odium that had been attached to it :

For Billy Calcraft is my name ; I'm the Jack Ketch of the City.

There are instances on record of the public executioner himself undergoing the extreme penalty of tho law. Price, the London executioner, was executed in 1718 for mur- der, and the Edinburgh hangman also had boen executed about forty years before that chite. There are even cases of executions having been stayed in consequence of the arrest of the executioner while conveying a

criminal to the scaffold. Sentences havo sometimes been respited on condition that the crimiual should undertake the office of

hangman. The' most remarkable, and one of the least known cases of this kind, was that of a woman who had been sentenced to death for murder early iu the present cen- tury in Connaught. She was known all over Connaught as " Lady Betty," and dis- charged the duties of executioner for many years. She officiated on the scaffold without any masque or disguise, and flogged crimi- nals through the' streets as part of her ordi- nary duties with great zest, " being always extremely severe, says the Dulilin Univer- sity Magazine of 1850, " particularly on her own sex." Mothers used to frighten their children into quietness by telling them that " Lady Betty was coming," just as Scottish children were quieted some centuries ago with the name of the Black Douglas. We have not met with any other case of a female executioner, but the records of crime show that there are plenty of women who possess

the nerve.'

Zoom

plus
thumb
minus
left
thumb
right
up
thumb
down