Published on June 1, 2007
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.”
The Sentence: DEATH BY HANGING
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.
So...to 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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