The Bloody Code

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Information about The Bloody Code

Published on June 1, 2007

Author: weblover


The Bloody Code

John Amy Bird Bell • On 1st August, 1831, an illiterate pauper was hanged by the neck until dead • Four thousand people came to see him hang in Maidstone, Kent • Afterwards his body was dissected by surgeons •He was 14 years old

“At the trial the prisoner exhibited the utmost indifference to his fate, and appeared to entertain no fear for the consequences of his guilt.”


At half­past eleven o'clock on  Monday morning the  wretched  malefactor ceased to exist, and  his body was given  to the  surgeons of Rochester for  dissection.

“He exhibited some emotion when he was informed that a part of the sentence was that his body should be given over to the surgeons to be dissected.”

Bird had attacked and murdered a 12 year old boy who was collecting money for his disabled father. The victim had been stabbed in the throat with a knife and robbed of nine shillings. Bird admitted he had planned the crime with his brother.

Despite what you  may think, it was rare  for people as young  as this to be hanged  in 1831.  One hundred years  earlier, it was a different  matter altogether….

William Jennings, aged  15 year old Elizabeth  15 year old James  12, was hanged at  Booty (age also given as  Morton was hanged at  Tyburn on Monday, the  12) suffered at Tyburn  Nottingham on the 8th of  12th of March 1716,  April 1763 for the  on Monday, the 21st of  having been convicted  murder of two of her  May 1722 for the rape  of housebreaking at  of a 5 year old girl.  employer’s children.  the February Sessions. Four juveniles were hanged at Tyburn on Monday,  15 year old Elizabeth  Marsh was convicted of  the 20th of May 1717. They were 18 year old  the murder of her  Martha Pillow who had been convicted of stealing  grandfather. She was  in a shop, 17 year old Thomas Price and 18 year  hanged in public on  old Joseph Cornbach for housebreaking and 17  Monday, the 17th of  year old Christopher Ward for burglary.  March, 1794. 

Possibly the youngest children ever executed in Britain  were Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages  were given as 7 and 11 respectively in a book published in  1907. Previously, no claims as to their precise ages had  been made, although they were referred to as being “under  age,” without specifying what this term actually meant, and  as “the Boy and the Girl” as they were both small.  They were reportedly hanged at (Kings) Lynn on  Wednesday, the 28th of September 1708 for theft. The local  press did not, however, consider the executions of two  children newsworthy! A painting of the two being taken in  the cart to the gallows appears in Paul Richard’s book  ”King’s Lynn”.  It was reported that there was violent thunder and lightning  after the execution and that their hangman, Anthony Smyth,  died within a fortnight of it.

The Bloody Eighteenth Century? Why was hanging the answer to everything in the 1700s?

The Bloody Code  No. of crimes carrying the  No of crimes carrying the death  death penalty penalty16885017651601815225  1688  50  1765  160  1815  225 

Some of the crimes carrying the death  penalty in the 1700s  •stealing horses or sheep  •destroying turnpike roads  •cutting down trees  •pick pocketing goods worth more than one shilling  •being out at night with a blackened face  •unmarried mother concealing a stillborn child  •arson  •forgery  •stealing from a rabbit warren  •rape  •murder

Plus… quot;strong  evidence of  malice in a  quot;being in the  child aged 7–14  company of  years of agequot;  Gypsies for  one monthquot;  quot;blacking the  face or using a  disguise whilst  committing a  crimequot; 

WHY?  •  the attitudes of the  wealthy men who made  the law were  unsympathetic. They  felt that people who  committed crimes were  sinful, lazy or greedy  and deserved little  Lord Chief Justice  1802­18  mercy.  Edward Law

WHY?  •  since the rich made  the laws they made  laws that protected  their interests. Any act  which threatened their  wealth, property or  sense of law and order  was criminalised and  made punishable by  death.  Lord Chief Justice  1756­88  William Murray

WHY?  •  the law was harsh  to act as a  deterrent. It was  thought that people  might not commit  crimes if they knew  that they could be  sentenced to death.

Was it effective?  Death sentences  3500  and executions,  3000  London  2500  1701­1825  2000  Death Sentences  1500  Executions  1000  500  0  1701­  1726­  1751­  1776­  1801­  25  50  75  1800  1825  It is no coincidence that during the period 1776­1800 the English ruling class were fearing a revolution like in France….

The End of the Bloody Code  •  Sir Samuel Romilly speaking to the  House of Commons on capital  punishment in 1810, declared that quot;..[there is] no country on the face of the earth in which there [have] been so many different offences according to law to be punished with death as in England.quot;

Whilst executions for  murder, burglary and  robbery were common,  the death sentences of  minor offenders were  often not carried out.  In 1808 Romilly had  the death penalty  removed from pick­  pocketing and other  trivial offences and  started reform that  continued over the  next 50 years.

Gibbeting  (the public  display of  executed  corpses) was  abolished in  1832 and  hanging in  chains was  abolished in  1834.

In 1861, the Criminal Law  Consolidation Act further reduced  the number of capital crimes to  four:  •murder  •treason  •arson in royal dockyards  •piracy with violence

Public executions  were abolished in  1868  From 1868 onwards, all  hangings in Britain took  place inside prison, on  gallows like this one at  HMP Wandsworth. cap it all off.......  What actually happened?  Why did it come about?  •  The number of  capital  •  Fear of crime by the rich  sentences rose  •  The rich set the laws  •  But the number of  •  The laws protected their  executions in proportion  growing property  actually fell  •  There were more poor  •  Apart from times of real  people  fear – French Revolution,  •  The rich thought that  industrial unrest  harsh punishments would  •  Juries were unwilling to  reduce crime  deliver guilty verdicts  •  Transportation was a new  alternative to hanging  •  Romilly ended the Bloody  Code in the 1820s.

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