Today in London judicial history, 1864: five mutineers from the ship Flowery Land publicly hanged, outside Newgate Prison.

On this date in 1864, four Philippines Spaniards and a Greek Ottoman who once numbered among the crew of the Flowery Land hanged together in London as mutineers and murderers.

“The July preceding, that 400-ton merchant barque had set sail from London to Singapore with a cargo of wine. Outfitted for economy,* her crew numbered only 19 souls.**

This floating hamlet manifested in motley miniature Britain’s sun-never-sets empire. Its chief was a Scotsman with the solid name of John Smith; also on board as a passenger was a 20th man, Smith’s brother George.

The skipper’s seconds were two more British mates, names of Carswell (or Karswell) and Taffer (Taffir, Taffar).

Aboard the Flowery Land — aptly named for this metaphor — the Brits had mastery of a mixed-blood crew from many quarters of the globe. It is apparent from the testimony recorded at the Old Bailey that the men had no one lingua franca among them, but got by as can with ad hoc translation and the pidgin cant of the sea. Spanish was frequently heard among the crew: no surprise considering its composition. (The captain was also described as a capable Spanish speaker.)

The accounts identifying the Flowery Land‘s human cargo give perplexing and partial selections, with varying reports of nationalities. The flexible spelling accorded to proper names of the day, a multitude of aliases, and the infelicity most of these men had with English surely contributes to the confusion. But after the captain, the captain’s brother, and the two mates, the ship’s complement appears to have consisted of the following:

  • Six Spanish/Filipino sailors from Manila: John Leone or Lyons, Francisco Blanco, Mauricio Duranno, Basilio de Los Santos, Marcelino Santa Lacroix, and Miguel Lopez aka Joseph Chancis
  • A Levantine Turkish subject of Greek ancestry, Marcus Vartos (called “Watter” in the Old Bailey records)
  • George Carlos, a Greek from Greece
  • Two Spaniards, Jose Williams and Frank Paul or Powell
  • Michael Andersen, a Norwegian
  • Frank Candereau, a Frenchman
  • Frank Early, a 17-year-old English cabin boy
  • A Malay steward, a Chinese cook, and a Chinese lamp-trimmer boy, sometimes described together as “three Chinamen”

According to the evidence, much of it given via translators, during the dark hours before dawn on September 10, several of the Manila crew members surprised first mate Carswell while he was walking a routine nightwatch, beat him wickedly, and pitched him into the sea. The disturbance roused the captain and as he emerged he too was beaten and stabbed to death, as was his brother the passenger.

Having disposed of both the ranking mariners, the mutineers approached Taffer with a classic offer one can’t refuse: as the last capable navigator aboard, he would guide the ship to the Rio de la Plata.

After a three-week journey that was surely very frightening for Taffer, they reached the mouth of that river dividing Argentina from Uruguay and there scuttled the Flowery Land and put ashore in skiffs. Or at least, most of them did so. Ordered off the boat, the Malay steward refused until the Manila conspirators pelted him with champagne bottles from the ship’s store of cargo, finally driving him into the waves where he drowned; John Lyons remarked on some private grievance that must have been shared by his fellows. The Chinese cook and boy apparently suffered a like fate, being left to go down with the sinking ship … or at least that is what the survivors later deposed wish to have understood. Two little boats made landfall from the ill-starred hulk and each boat’s party reports not having the Chinese aboard or seeing what became of them. There is racism, sure — Taffer doesn’t even know the cook’s name — but it seems bizarre and sinister that two people among they this tiny group of seaborne intimates die completely offstage and the rest barely even think to wonder about them. (“I then missed the cook and the lamp-trimmer,” Taffer deposed pre-trial. “Lyons said they had gone down in the ship.” (Glasgow Herald, Jan. 15, 1864)) Be that as it may, the fate of these unfortunates was very far down the list of injuries done by the mutineers to the British Empire and nobody appears to have been inclined to inquire too closely.

So we take them for dead. Strangely, having slain six people, the mutineers did not make Taffer the seventh — a clemency that Taffer did not anticipate, and with which he would soon punish them. Once the remaining crew had made landfall, Taffer well understood how his dangerous position stood in this party and contrived to escape it at the first opportunity.

Once away, he made for Montevideo and presented himself and his shocking story to British authorities. His 13 former mates, many of whom were pretending to have escaped the wreck of an American guano freighter with an eye to hitching on with some other crew and vanishing into the circuits of imperial trade, were soon recognised or rounded up. By December, all 14 survivors were en route to England.

The inexact process of dividing mutineer from bystander had already begun by now, closely tracking racial proximity. The two British subjects, Taffer and Early, shipped home not as pirates but as witnesses, as did the Norwegian and the Frenchmen. The other ten returned in manacles.

Upon inquiry back in London, it was decided that the two Spaniards (the two from Spain, not Manila) could not be shown to have joined or supported the mutiny, only to have gone along with it when it was a fait accompli. They were set at their liberty.

The remaining eight men — the six from Manila plus the Greek from Turkey and the Greek from Greece — faced trial. All but John Carlos were convicted and condemned to death; Carlos, acquitted of the murder of Captain Smith, was vengefully re-indicted that same day for property destruction committed by scuttling the Flowery Land, and caught a 10-year sentence for that.

The why of the mutiny is frustratingly — or conveniently — elided in the testimony that crew members gave the court, and we are perhaps meant to understand broadly, as does this author, that “such a ‘dago’ crew” is ever prone to becoming “saucy” and imperiling all order.

As we query beyond a colonial power’s heart of darkness we quickly enter territory that the original documents did not bother to chart. With any mutiny one’s mind flies to that ancient maritime grievance, “bad usage”. The record gives us only guarded indications, but it touches on poor rations and brutal corporal punishments, albeit isolated ones† (e.g., Michael Andersen: “I have seen the captain strike some of the crew … he struck Watter with his flat hand at the side of the head — I did not see that more than once.”)

Those prosecuted, strangers in a foreign land, do not appear to have made any declaration explaining their own conduct even after sentence was secured though the London Times (Feb. 23, 1864) said that they had communicated to their gaolers that they had been driven to desperation by a mean water ration in the tropical swelter. One British newsman reporting the hanging also marked the omission in a voice that, however tinged with racial condescension, empathises surprisingly with the hanged:

“Nothing can extenuate the ferocity of the group of murders they committed, for the lowest savage is bound to observe the instincts of humanity. But God judges provocations, and weighs the frenzy of ignorant men, goaded to crime, in a finer balance than any earthly one. He knows what secrets are gone down with the Flowery Land, and the dead bodies of her captain and mate; knows whether these five men — now also dead — were treated as it is the custom to treat such poor sweepings of maritime places. The evidence hinted strongly at something of the kind — foul water to drink, and little of it under the tropics, insufficient food, and anger and blows; because, having shipped his crew from Babel, the captain and officers could not understand them or be understood … with decent management this kind of tragedy is next to impossible. Had the crowd at the execution been of the same color and vocation as themselves, sympathy would not have been wanting. It would have been believed — justly or not — from the experience of a hundred miserable voyages, that, knowing no Spanish, their officers had made kicks and cuffs interpret for them, as is the case in many a vessel. If it was so in theirs, how could they explain it? Our language, our courts, our long delays between crime and its penalty, were to them all one mystery. They are of a race that prefers to die and be done with it, rather than to fret and fuss too much against the will of Fate; and though we believe that none of the five were guiltless, we have an uncomfortable suspicion that, had they been English, some different facts would have been brought out at the trial … let us not be suspected of pitying a dusky murderer while we have no compassion for his victims of our own color if we demand that the moral of this offensive sight should be drawn in Manillese as well as English — that captains should learn to treat their lascar like a human being, if they would not have his thick Oriental blood boil into the fury of the brute which they have helped to make him.”

The prospect of favoring the London mob with a the group hanging of seven “dusky murderers” — a quantity not seen at Newgate or anywhere else in England in decades — excited quite a lot of fretful commentary both moral and logistical. In the event, Basilio de Los Santos and Marcelino Santa Lacroix both received royal mercy on the strength of a petition, supported by the Spanish consulate and by some of the jurors, claiming diminished responsibility for the maritime coup.

That still left five to swing, which promised a remarkable novelty. There had been hangings of six, seven, and even eight on single occasions at Newgate in the 1800s up until the 1820s. The last such event was a septuple hanging on July 22, 1829. But by the 1840s and 1850s hangings had become solo affairs almost all the time; as of 1864, Londoners had not set eyes on a double execution — to say nothing of larger crops — in full 12 years.

Liberal-minded British elites and especially Fleet Street gasbags were already at this point in high dudgeon at the uncouth behavior of the rabble that flocked to public hangings. They approached this spectacle, whose victims had been hissed by the throngs who hemmed the Old Bailey when they arrived for their trial, pre-outraged, as it were — certain that their countrymen and (what is worse) women would soon set a-gnash all the teeth of the right-thinking.

Under the pious headline “Morality, as taught by Professor Calcraft” — that is, the notorious public executioner — the Newcastle Daily Journal of February 17, 1864 wrote (prior to the reduction of two of the seven sentences):

Next Monday morning, at eight o’clock, the gentle successor of Mr. John Ketch, “assisted” by some twenty thousand blood-thirsty ruffians of every grade and station, — ruffians with “handles to their names” from Belgravia, and ruffians with a score of aliases rom the Seven Dials, — will have the gratification of butchering seven of his immortal fellow-creatures, in the name of Justice and with the sanction of the Gospel — as represented by the Rev. John Davis, Ordinary of Newgate. What a thrill of delight will run through his veins as he draws the bolt and offers up this seven-fold sacrifice! How intensely pleasing must be the effect produced upon the spectators by the sight of seven dying men writhing in the agonies of the last struggle at the self-same moment! And what a grand sensation picture will the whole affair form for the pen of Monsieur Assolant, or any other French critic on English manners who may chance to be present!

[W]e are compelled to inquire whether something cannot be done to put a stop to those public exhibitions, so brutal in themselves, and so demoralising in their results, of which we are on Monday next to have so terrible a specimen. Public opinion may, for many years to come, sanction the punishment of death, but it cannot much longer permit the most awful of all spectacles to be made a show for the gratification of the vilest of either sex.

Only those whose misfortune it is to have been compelled to attend public executions, can form any conception of their unspeakable horrors, or of the injurious influence they exercise upon the mob who witness them. Let our readers thank God that it has never been their awful duty to … stand upon the scaffold whilst one of God’s creatures, made in His own image, is thrust into Eternity amid shrieks and blasphemies so appalling that the infernal world itselff could scarcely equal them. And let them on no account imagine that this is an over-drawn picture. It was such a spectacle as this that a few heart-sickened men were compelled to witness, less than twelve months since, in this very town of Newcastle, as they gathered round George Vass in his cell and on the scaffold; and those who heard the yells of positive exultation, the screams of delight with which the victim of the law was hailed on that occasion when he appeared before the herd of brutes assembled to see him die, and who afterwards heard the conversation which filled every tavern in the neighbourhood, must have had all preconceived notions with respect to the beneficial influence of capital punishments upon the public forevver dispelled … it is only gross ignorance or hardened sin that can venture to maintain that a public execution is other than a public lesson in blasphemy, murder, and infidelity.

Certainly execution day turned out the city in quantity. Following the funereal procession from within prison walls, the Times of London (Feb. 23, 1864) heard “the shouts and cries and uproar of the mob” as “a loud indistinct noise like the roar of the angry sea.” This sea swelled 20,000 strong or 25 or 30, and adjacent apartments with suitable sightlines reportedly renting for 75 guineas. As he zoomed upon the end of his life in the insane eye of such a spectacle, one of the mutineers, Duranno, swooned in vertigo and sagged against the already-attached noose until warders could retrieve a stool to prop him up while his fellows were marched out in turn.

Was it wise, just, and conducive to moral hygiene to expose such scenes to the general public? Even if the tide was turning against that classic tableau, and would before the 1860s were out be resolved to the permanent detriment of public executions, many still rose to defend their propriety. The exceptional character of the Flowery Land case made it a sure candidate for the respective partisans in that argument who wished — to appropriate a latter-day shibboleth — to control narrative. Each found on the Newgate gallows what they wished and expected to see; indeed, found with suspect familiarity.

The Feb. 23 Daily Telegraph, which supplies us the humane remarks on treating lascars like human beings extensively excerpted above, was full aghast.

The five pirates have died that horrible death by which it is still believed evil natures are terrified from crime, and society edified as to the sacredness of human life. We wish that we could think so in view of that surging, blasphemous, excited crowd that treated the occasion as a drama of the liveliest sensational kind — with nothing to pay for a place — and homicide, not fictitious, but natural and authentic, perpetrated before their eyes. In grimy, haggard thousands, the thieves and prostitutes of London and the suburbs gathered about the foot of the big gallows, jamming and crushing each other for a share of the spectacle. … The accounts of the demeanor of the crowd answer the question, whether it is good to gather for such a sight the scum and dregs of a vast city. Coarse, heartless, bestial, and brutalised by the official manslaughter which they had witnessed, the drabs and pickpockets made a “finish” of it in the public-houses, canvassing the skill of Jack Ketch and the “gameness” of each of his swarthy patients. The hideous roar that went up at the various stages of the sight was not the expression of gratified justice: it was the howl of the circus at the smell of blood — the grunt of what is hog-like in our nature at suffering we do not share. … Let us dismiss this devilish carousal of agony on one side, and eager excitement on the other, with its accompaniment of brutality and disorder ten times aggravated, and ask whether such a sight was wisely furnished, since we cannot call in question its justice, so long as blood is purged with blood and a Mosaic law governs a Christian nation?


The Times for its part had no use for the fainting-couch routine, insisting that reverent “deep silence” had reigned among the rude multitude once the moment of execution arrived, broken only as “the gibbet creaked audibly.” Opposite the detailed report of its delegate to Newgate, it presented a pseudonymous letter quite at odds with the Telegraph:

Sir, — I am not ashamed to avow that I went this morning to the hanging of the five pirates at the Old Bailey, and I am concerned to state my impressions at this public spectacle, because they were so utterly different from all which I have heard or read, or which it is the current fashion or folly to express at such exhibitions.

It was to me the most solemn sight I ever witnessed — an instance of the punishment which awaits a bloody crime, where mercy is not prostituted or justice defrauded by the mitigation, without reason, of a salutary doom.

As I watched from a commanding position an enormous crowd of spectators, which I should not hesitate to compute at as many as 20,000 or 25,000, chiefly men, and surveyed the sea of faces at the fatal instant when the drop fell and their expression was generalized by a sudden and common emotion, I should say that the pervading feeling was a cordial acceptance of the act then transacted before them, and a complete recognition that it was just and inevitable.

I am convinced that there were few present who could have escaped this emotion and conviction, from the sudden silence and entranced interest of this multitude of men; and if there had been previously some levity on the part of the lowest who had waited for this catastrophe, I am satisfied that at the last moment the better nature of all responded in concert to the terrible appeal, and that the sum total was a public good.

This is so different from the effect which others ascribe to such scenes that I ask to state my own conviction, and to subscribe myself

Yours faithfully,


Neither the dignified decorum nor the raucous carousing of the crowd under the Newgate gallows prevented the infamous crime from doing a sharp trade in the mass entertainment ventures of the day, from disposable true-crime pulp to Allsop’s Waxwork Exhibition. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a boy still shy of his fifth birthday at the moment the traps opened, surely absorbed some of this cultural ejecta in his growing-up years; he eventually dramatized “The True Story of the Tragedy of Flowery Land” in a short story.


* Since barques could be handled by a small crew, they had carved out a large slice of the world’s shipping lanes in the Golden Age of Sail… right before steam power showed up and relegated them to the sideline.

** Compare to the likes of the HMS Bounty, with a complement of 46 — requiring a numerically wider network of plotters. This vulnerability a minimalistic crew had to a mere handful of malcontents appears again a decade later with the mutiny of the Lennie (crew: 16).

† One possible way to interpret the evidence is that the first mate Carswell was the brutal overseer. In a deposition that Taffer only passingly alludes to during his Old Bailey testimony, he described how Carswell thrashed John Carlos, citing sickness, refused to take his turn at the watch, and even lashed Carlos to the mast. The captain arrived a few minutes later and had Carlos untied and sent back to berth, with medicine. The mate is also the man to whom Taffer attributes some “corrective” beatings with ropes.

One can at a stretch imagine what occurred on September 10 as an attempt “only” to murder Carswell, perhaps then to attribute his absence come morning to some mysterious nighttime accident overboard — but that the personal settling of scores mushroomed into a full-blown mutiny when the captain presented himself and the logic of the situation required his destruction, too. Taffer said that the mutineers had to confer among themselves where to make him steer the ship they had taken possession of, perhaps corroborating a more improvised series of events. This, however, is an entirely speculative reading; there is plenty of other evidence to suggest intentional coordination.”

Nicked from the excellent Executed Today blog


This account, while thoughtful, does not really approach several questions we would ask – how much routine racism and imperial race hierarchies, and the mundanity of violence meted out at sea by ship’s captains, determined both the brutal lives and then the horrific public deaths of the condemned mutineers, and how much the perpetuation of these racist myths by the press and the commentariat of the day helped create and maintain the ‘mob hysteria’ against them. Elitist sneering at rowdy plebeian chauvinism while merrily expressing the same basic ideas through both high moral language and overt support for the rope, the gunboat and genocide – almost universal then, and not exactly extinct now. And the identification of working class people with an empire that was not ‘theirs’ and was run for others benefit… still a hanging issue in these Brexity times…

The role of public hangings is discussed, but the complex attitudes of the lower orders to them, sometimes supportive of, sometimes hostile to, the hanged, and sometimes resisting themselves or encouraging resistance, is a much more nuanced history, and exhibits an often contradictory but in many cases evolved moral code. The ‘mob’ were not one mob, but many and overlapping, and racism and hostility to ‘furriners’ who resisted empire could exist side by side with support for the executed.

It’s worth noting that the debate about public hangings and their impact was well under way and execution would be moved ‘indoors’ and out of sight in 1868.


An entry in the
2018 London Rebel History Calendar

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Today in London’s rebel past: Jack Sheppard escapes from Newgate Prison, 1724 (the first time).

“Whereas John Shepheard broke out of the Condemn’d Hold of Newgate (with his Irons on) by cutting off one of the large Iron Spikes over the Main Door on Monday the 31st of August last, about six a clock in the Evening, he is about 23 years of Age and about five Foot four Inches high, very slender and of a pale Complection, has lately been very sick, did wear a light Bob Wig, a light colour’d Cloth Coat, and white Waistcoat, has an impediment in his speech and is a Carpenter by Trade. Whoever will discover of apprehend him so that he be brought to Justice shall receive 20 guineas Reward to be paid by the Keeper of Newgate.”
(Proclamation from the Keeper of Newgate, 4th September, 1724.)

“A file’s worth all the bibles in the world…” (Jack Sheppard)

In his day he became the most famous name in England and he remained a folk-hero to the poor for over a century after his death. In the 1840s plays based on his life were still regularly being performed for working class audiences, and his name was better known amongst many of the poor than that of Queen Victoria. Jack Sheppard was the prison escaper supreme of eighteenth century England.

Born in Spitalfields in 1702, his carpenter father died during Jack’s childhood. His mother was forced by poverty to place him in Bishopsgate workhouse. Beginning a carpenter’s apprenticeship, he picked up some locksmithing skills that would stand him in good stead in later years…

“The apprenticeship system was still controlled by an Act passed under Queen Elizabeth, the Statute of Artificers. The system provided young people with a vocational education, in another household…. they were ‘bound apprentice’ between twelve and sixteen. Parish children might begin their apprenticeship as early as eleven, and continue in it until they were twenty-four. (Remember that the expectation of life at birth was then about 36 years.) The contract would continue for seven years or more, until the master was satisfied that the apprentice knew his trade. Apart from some public holidays, no home leave was given. The boy’s parents might not see him again until his time was up. Imagine the child of twelve leaving his home to live in strange surroundings with no parental love, withstanding the storms of adolescence and reaching physical maturity with only the recollection of his childhood and what support his master gave him to sustain him, and perhaps occasional letters from home if his parents could write.” (Restoration London, Liza Picard, 1997.)

But Jack rejected these narrow and constricted channels of apprentice life; with just ten months of his apprenticeship left to serve, he deserted the master to who he had been apprentied, Mr Kneebone, and joined the swelling ranks of the ‘idle apprentices’, a group that invoked fear and suspicion among respectable folk for many centuries – a leading moral bogey of the era.

Jack took to a life of robbery. It might be said that Jack wasn’t an especially successful robber, he was imprisoned five times – luckily he turned out to be a breakout artist par excellence, so that he escaped prison four times. These technically brilliant and daring escapades, as well as his taunting attitude to authority, secured his lasting fame among the working class.

In the spring of 1723 he aided the escape of his girlfriend Edgeworth Bess from St Giles’s Roundhouse. In April he ended up there himself; betrayed by his brother Tom (who was hoping to bargain his own release from a burglary charge) and his friend James Sykes, he was lured into a trap and delivered to a Justice Parry.

It took him less than three hours to escape.

That was in April 1724. From then until the end of November the saga of his escapes grew, astounding ever-increasing numbers of people for their daring and dexterity.”

Arrested again for pickpocketing a gentleman’s watch, Jack was now taken to Clerkenwell’s New Prison. As his common law wife, Edgworth Bess was allowed to join him from her confinement in the Roundhouse. They were locked in the most secure area, ‘Newgate Ward’, and Jack was weighed down with 28lb of shackles and chains. He soon set to work sawing through these and

then through an iron bar. Boring through a nine-inch-thick oak bar, then fastening sheets, gowns and petticoats together, they descended 25ft to ground level; only to find they had landed themselves in the neighbouring prison of Clerkenwell Bridewell! Undaunted, driving his gimblets and piercers into the 22ft wall, Jack and Bess used them as steps and hand-holds and made their way over the wall to freedom in the early morning of Whit Monday 1724.

While Sheppard’s later escape from the condemned hold of Newgate made ‘a far greater Noise in the World’, the London gaolkeepers regarded the New Prison escape as the most ‘miraculous’ ever performed in England, so they preserved the broken chains and bars ‘to Testifie, and Preserve the memory of this extraordinary Event and Villian.’

Jack spent the next three months of freedom engaging in highway robbery and burglary. He was recaptured after he robbed his old master, Mr Kneebone, who called in contacted Jonathan Wild, ‘the thief-taker General’. Wild was both a trainer of thieves and a deliverer of them to the courts, a fence of stolen goods and returner of them to rightful owners; “a complex and parasitic system” that “had in these years become a system of municipal policing.” Sheppard always refused to compromise himself by having any dealings with the repulsive and hated Wild.

Wild pressured Edgeworth Bess to reveal Jack’s hideaway, and, after an exchange of pistol fire, he was captured and taken to Newgate prison. In August he was tried and sentenced to hang.

On his return to Newgate he was locked in the Condemned Hold, a dismal cell next to the Keepers’ Lodge, and close to the prison gate. It had a stone floor, and a wide wooden shelf with a row of iron bolts above served as a communal bed for all inmates. Its narrow window faced onto the dark lane beneath Newgate’s famous arch.

Deputy Keeper Bodenham Rouse ordered Jack to be chained and fettered, but the chains were long enough to allow him to stand by the door and converse with visitors.

The Lodge acted both as a reception room for the prison, and a common room for the turnkeys and keepers, including a bar (run by Mrs Spurling, widow of head turnkey Spurling who had been shot in open court by a highwayman on trial 10 years before). From the table where they sat drinking the screws could keep an eye on those who passed in and out of the prison yard, as well as on the ‘Stout partition” that separated them from the prisons in the Condemned Hold.

In the last week of August, Jack’s ‘death warrant’ arrived, setting a date on September 4th for his execution at Tyburn. He had only a few days to escape if he was to avoid being ‘turned off’.

Jack had previously, according to his own later account, agreed a plan to break out with his three cellmates, but they had pulled out when it looked like they might be reprieved; Jack had also fallen ill with a fever. But on the day before their scheduled execution, news arrived that the reprieve was not forthcoming. One of the men, Davis, gave Jack all the tolls he had had smuggled in by friends, with a view to freeing himself. He and the other two cons then departed for their appointment with the gallows. Jack, determined not to share their fate, set to work with filing away at the spikes set in the top of the partition separating the lodge from the Hold. After two days filing (halting only when visitors or turnkeys passed by) he had filed halfway through the spike. Another day’s work would see it weakened enough to be readily snapped off, he thought, leaving him able to pull himself free through the gap.

However, the next day was Sunday, when crowds of visitors flocked to Newgate, passing in and out of the Lodge all day. Jack was unable to get much filing done. He dared not do it at night as the quiet made the noise stand out and he feared the screws would hear. On Monday morning he resumed his task…

By noon, when Edgeworth Bess and her friend Poll Maggot came to visit him, he was close to achieving his goal. As they talked and laughed he continued filing away. Cruikshank’s illustration (above) hints at how precarious this was, with the screws sitting only a few yards away around a corner. Around six in the evening he managed to snap the spike off, leaving a gap; though only around nine inches square, this was enough for the wiry Jack to wriggle through, dressed in a disguise of a booney and gown Bess had pushed through to him. Pulling himself up on the neighbouring spikes, he edged his way out, lowering himself down into the Lodge. Poll Maggot hid behind a pillar, and Bess and Jack sauntered out past the turnkeys seated at the bar, who he later commented were ironically discussing Jack’s own previous escape from the New Prison, and how they would have not allowed it to happen in THEIR jail. Two women had arrived and two were seemingly leaving, chattering and laughing…

Reaching the street without being challenged, Jack and Bess ran to a waiting coach driven by Jack’s mate William Page, to be joined by Poll Maggot, who had also walked out of the jail without incident. Driven to Blackfriars Stairs, they hired a boat which took them to Westminster… In a Holborn inn, Jack sawed his chains off, fortified by a bottle of brandy. He was free once more… He walked through the City to Spitalfields where he spent the night with Edgworth Bess.

Sheppard’s latest escape threw the shopkeepers of Drury Lane and the Strand into a panic. Jack took up robbing again, this time from a watchmaker’s shop in Fleet St.

In the meantime, the Newgate authorities were seriously embarrassed by Jack’s escape, and the mockery and bad publicity it gathered them: the Daily Journal called the breakout ‘the most surprising Accident at Newgate’, and penny ballads appeared rapidly, taking the piss out of the jailers, or accusing them of letting Jack go for bribes.

However, Jack was re-arrested on September 9th, after he had been recognised around London by various people that knew him, and rumours had spread. He legged it to Finchley Common, but a posse of Newgate turnkeys trailed him there and arrested him and his mate Page. Jack was returned to Newgate once again, and locked once more in the Condemned Hold – this time chained to the floor and heavily guarded.

By this time Sheppard had become a celebrity and folk hero of the labouring classes; visited by the famous and interviewed by journalists and ballad makers. He offered some lucid comments; when urged by a prison official to concentrate on preparing himself for the afterlife rather than attempting to escape, he replied “One file’s worth all the Bibles in the world.” He also condemned the corruption and hypocrisy of the criminal justice system.

As his trial approached Jack implemented his escape plan on the 14th October. This amazing flight from Newgate was to make him an enduring legend amongst the working class for over a century afterwards. Freeing himself from his shackles he then worked his way up the chimney, through several locked rooms and eventually on to the roof and over the wall to freedom.

On 29th October Sheppard robbed a pawnshop for some spending money and began a triumphant tour, a defiant spree through his old haunts and hunting grounds. He hired a coach and, with some female companions, toured his own native Spitalfields – he also drove through the arch of Newgate itself! Defiantly parading himself around the ale-houses and gin-shops, he was recaptured after fifteen days of glorious liberty.

Jack Sheppard was hanged on 16th November 1724 at Tyburn; a cheering crowd, said to number 200,000, lined the route to salute him. A last minute escape plan was foiled, and attempts to rescue his body to preserve it from dissection by surgeons prevented plans to bring him back to life…

Jack’s short and eventful life may have been cut violently short – but his defiance of authority and his resourceful ability ensured his fame has outlasted him for nearly three centuries.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s penal past: guns smuggled into Newgate, inside ‘Smoaking hot pyes’, 1735.

Newgate Prison, for 100s of years the most potent symbol of state repression in London, hated and feared by the London poor whose lives it loomed over… Inevitably its story is also one of resistance… As it was routinely used to hold those who had been condemned to death, those awaiting transportation, or court appearances which would very likely end in one or the other, many prisoners had little to lose by trying to escape.

Sometimes these were individual feats, Houdini-style, like Jack Sheppard or Daniel Malden. On occasion outsiders launched raids to rescue inmates, as a crowd of Irishmen did to free their mates in 1749, or the Gordon Rioters successfully achieved en masse in June 1780. Others were collective attempts to fight their way free. The first such mass jailbreak attempt we can find evidence of was in 1275; another riot ten years later was aimed at a breakout, which failed.

In 1735 four highwaymen staged yet another attempted jailbreak. Thomas Gray, alias Macray, Joseph Emmerson, John James alias Black Jack, and Henry Sellon, were all imprisoned in Newgate in August of 1735. They had all been sentenced to death at Kingston Assizes on August 9th, “Sellon, for robbing Mr Collins on the Highway… Macray, for robbing Mr Hammerson of his Watch and Money on Barns Common… Emmerson and James… for entering the House of Jasper Hale Esq of Peckham, and wounding him and his Servant maid…”

Macray had already escaped from the Old Bailey once… he also had a few mates rooting for him, having arranged for “14 well-dress’d persons to appear for him here, most of who, swore he was sick in bed the whole Week in which the Fact was committed, but finding they were suspected, all slipp’d out of Court. [Several of them are since apprehended by the Direction of Baron Thomson, in order to be prosecuted for perjury.]”

So it shouldn’t have been very surprising that outside help was clearly involved when Macray and the other three, attempted to escape the prison on August 18th:

“They were all wounded in an Attempt to break out of Gaol, two Nights before, which Mr Taylor, the Keeper, being inform’d of, and that they were filing off their Irons, got his Assistants arm’d with Blunderbusses, Pistols, and Cutlasses, went to the Door, and desir’d Macray to make no desperate Attempt, for there was so Possibility of his Escape. Macray replied, In their present desperate Circumstances they no body, and desir’d him to retire, for the first that entered was a dead Man. Upon this Mr Taylor order’d the Door to be unbolted and open’d a little Way; which they no sooner heard but they discharg’d 8 Pistols and one of the Keepers as Blunderbuss, but without Execution, the Door between them being very strong. Then Mr Taylor and his Guard rush’d in, attack’d them with their Cutlasses, and overpower’d them immediately. Macray was wounded in his Head, and his Arm disabled; Sellon desperately cut in several Places; Emmerson had one Side of his Face cut away; James was but slightly hurt. On Mr Taylor’s Part very little Damage was done. The Pistols were brought to the Prisoners in Smoaking hot Pyes, by the Assistance of a Man at a house in St George’s Fields, whom Emmerson, upon the Keepers threatening to dispatch him, dicover’d. One of the Keepers jingling his Keys at the Door of the said House, the Fellow took him for Macray broke out of prison, and open’d the Door to let him in, but was himself apprehended.”
(Gentleman’s Magazine, 1735)

Concealing a gun inside a ‘Smoaking hot pye’  – eat your heart, out shoe bomber… Smuggling in weapons to help friends locked in Newgate stage escapes was also a long London tradition.

Macray, Emmerton, James and Sellon were all hanged at Kennington Gallows two days later, on 20th August.

But collective breakouts continued; there were further attempts in 1758, 1763, 1771 and 1777…


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s penal history: Daniel Malden escapes Newgate for the second time, 1736.

DANIEL MALDEN was a prison-breaker, who emulating the exploits of jack Sheppard, twice escaped the condemned cell in Newgate Prison in 1736. Malden’s escapes were considered the more remarkable because Newgate had supposedly been ‘strengthened’ after the notorious exploits of Jack Sheppard 12 years before.

From Canterbury, Malden had served in the navy, but after his discharge took up burglary and street robbery, for which he was eventually arrested and sentenced to hang.

“On the morning of his execution he carried out his first escape. A previous occupant of the same condemned cell had told him that a certain plank was loose in the floor, which he found to be true. Accordingly, between 10 and 11 o’clock on the night [of May 24th 1736], he began to work, and raised up the plank with the foot of a stool that was in the cell. He soon made a hole through the arch under the floor big enough for his body to pass through, and so dropped in a cell below from which another convict had previously escaped. The window bar of this cell remained cut just as it had been after this last escape, and Malden easily climbed through with all his irons still on him into the press-yard. When there he waited a bit, till seeing “all things quiet”, he pulled off his shoes and went softly up into the chapel, where he observed a small breach in the wall. He enlarged it and so got into the penthouse. Making his way through the penthouse he passed on to the roof. At last, using his own words, “I got upon the top of the cells by the ordinary’s house, having made my way from the top of the chapel upon the roofs of the houses and all round the chimneys of the cells over the ordinary’s house”; from this he climbed along the roofs to that of an empty house, and finding one of the garret windows open, entered it and passed down three pairs of stairs into the kitchen, where he put on his shoes again, “which I had made shift to carry in my hand all the way I came, and with rags and pieces of my jacket wrapped my irons close to my legs as if I had been gouty or lame; then I got out at the kitchen, up one pair of stairs into Phoenix Court, and from thence the streets to my home in Nightingale Lane.”

Here he lay till six a.m., then sent for a smith who knocked off his irons, “and took them away wit him for his pains.” Then he sent for his wife; but whole they were at breakfast, hearing a noise in the yard he made off, and took refuge at Mrs Newman’s, “the sign of the Blackboy, Millbank; there I was kept private and locked up four days alone and no soul by myself.” Venturing out on the fifth day he heard they were in pursuit of him, and again took refuge, this time in the house of a Mrs Franklin. From thence he despatched a shoemaker with a messenger to his wife, and letters to gentlemen in the City. But the messenger betrayed him to the Newgate officers, and in about an hour “the house was beset. I hid myself,” says Malden, “behind the shutters in the yard, and my wife was drinking tea in the house. The keepers seeing her, cried, “Your humble servant, madam; where is your spouse?’ I heard them, and knowing I was not safe, endeavoured to get over a wall, when some of them espied me, crying, ‘Here he is!” upon which they immediately laid hold of me, carried me back to Newgate, put me into the old condemned hold as the strongest place, and stapled me down to the floor.”

Not put off by this failure he resolved to attempt a second escape. Obtaining a knife from a fellow-prisoner, on the night of June 14th 1736 he sawed through the staple to which he was fastened…

“I worked through it with much difficulty, and with one of my irons wrenched it open and got it loose. Then I took down, with the assistance of my knife, a stone in front of the seat in the corner of the condemned hold: when had got the stone down, I found there was a row of strong iron bars under the seat through which I could not get, so I was obliged to work under these bars and open a passage below them. To do this I had no tool but my old knife, and in doing the work my nails were torn of the ends of my fingers, and my hands were in a dreadful, miserable condition. At last I opened a hole just big enough for me to squeeze through, and in I went head foremost, but one of my legs, my irons being stuck on, stuck very fast in the hole, and by this leg I hung in the inside of the vault with my head downward for half an hour or more. I thought I should be stifled in this sad position, and was just going to call out for help when, turning myself up, I happened to reach the bars. I took fast hold of them by one hand, and with the other disengaged my leg to get it out of the hole.”

When clear he had still a drop of some thirty feet, and to break his fall he fastened a piece of blanket he had about him to one of the bars, hoping to lower himself down; but it broke, and he fell with much violence into a hole under the vault, “my fetters causing me to fall very heavy, and here I stuck for a considerable time.” This hole proved to be a funnel, “very narrow and straight; I had torn my flesh in a terrible manner by the fall, but was forced to tear myself much worse in squeezing through.” He stuck fast and could not stir either backward or forward for more than half an hour. “But at last, what with squeezing my body, tearing my flesh off my bones, and the weight of my irons, which helped me a little here, I worked myself through.”

The funnel communicated with the main sewer, in which, as well as he could he cleaned himself. “my short and breeches were torn in pieces, but I washed them in the muddy water, and walked through the sewer as far as I could, my irons being very heavy on me and incommoding me much.” Now a new danger overtook him: his escape had been discovered and its direction. Several of the Newgate runners had therefore been let into the sewer to look for him. “And here,” he says, “I had been taken again had I not found hollow place in the side of the brick-work into which I crowded myself, and they passed by me twice while I stood in that nook.” He remained forty-eight hours in the sewer, but eventually got out in a yard “against the pump in Town Ditch, behind Christ’s Hospital.” Once more he narrowly escaped detection, for a woman in the yard saw and suspected him to be after no good. However, he was suffered to go free, and got as far as Little Britain, where he came across a friend who gave him a pot of beer and procured a smith to knock off his fetters.

Malden’s adventures after this were very varied. He got first to Enfield, when some friends subscribed forty-five shillings to buy him a suit of clothes at Rag Fair. Thence he passed over to Flushing where he was nearly persuaded to take foreign service, but he refused and returned to England in search of his wife. Finding, the two wandered about the country taking what work they could find. While at Canterbury, employed in the hop-fields, he as nearly discovered by a fellow who beat the drum in a show, and who spoke of him openly as “a man who had broken twice of Newgate.” Next he turned jockey, and while thus employed was betrayed as a man to whom he had been kind. Malden was carried before the Canterbury justices on suspicion of being the man who had escaped from Newgate, and a communication sent to the authorities of that prison. Mr Akerman [then a prison runner, but later the head keeper of Newgate] and two of his officers came in person to identify the prisoner, and, if the true Malden, to convey him back to London. But Malden once more nearly gave his gaolers the slip. He obtained somehow and old saw, “a spike such as is used for splicing ropes, a piece of an old sword jagged and notched, and an old knife.” These he concealed rather imprudently upon his person, where they were seen and taken from him, otherwise Mr Akerman, as Malden told him, “would have been like to have come upon a Canterbury story” instead of the missing prisoner. However, the Newgate officers secured Malden effectually and brought him to London on the 26th September 1736, which he reached “guarded by about thirty of forty horsemen, the roads all the way being lined with spectators… Thus was I got to London”, he says in his last dying confession, “handcuffed, and my legs chained under the horse’s belly; I got to Newgate that Sunday evening about five o’clock, and rid quite up into the lodge, where I was taken off my horse, then was conveyed up to the old condemned hole, handcuffed, and chained to the floor.”

On Friday the 15th October, the last day of the sessions, Malden was called into Court and informed that his former judgment of death must be executed upon him…”
From the Chronicles of Newgate)

Malden had “begged hard that he might be transported, having ‘worked honestly at Canterbury, and done no robbery since last June.’ Instead he was hanged upon the 2nd of November following. his body ‘was carried to Surgeons’ Hall for dissection.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in gay history: Thomas White & John Hepburn hanged in Newgate for ‘buggery’, 1811.

“Yesterday morning, about five minutes before 8 o’clock, Ensign Hepburn, and —— White, the drummer, a lad, only 16 years of age, for the perpetration of an unnatural crime, were brought on the scaffold, in front of the Debtors’ door, Newgate, and executed pursuant to their sentence. Their conduct since condemnation has been such as to evince a sincere contrition, and a just sense of the heinousness of their offence. They behaved in a manner becoming their unhappy situation; and after spending a few minutes in fervent prayer and devotion, with the Rev. Dr. Ford the Ordinary of Newgate, were launched into eternity, amidst a vast concourse of spectators.” (Morning Chronicle, Issue 13051)

Two centuries ago today, two men were hanged at Newgate Prison for ‘buggery’ as a result of one of 19th century England’s most notorious anti-gay police raids.

Homosexuality had been a criminal offence for centuries; sex between two men had been a capital crime since 1533. Gay men wanting to meet and have sex with other men risked imprisonment, violent beatings and death. One option was to hang out at open spaces like Moorfields, then on London’s northern fringe, where ‘sodomites’ could recognise each other… But the uncertainty and discomfort of outdoor cruising wasn’t for all.

To cater for the underground community of gay men in London, a network of secret clubs evolved, known as ‘molly houses’, where gay parties could be held, often featuring dancing, cross-dressing, sometimes marriages (some officiated at by mock clergymen); there would also be rooms for sex…

Though highly illegal, sometimes a blind eye might be turned, thanks to bribery, or depending on the moral obsessions of the times. But the mollyhouses were always vulnerable to being informed on by paid informers, and raids by the authorities.

In July 1810, Bow Street Runners raided a molly house, at the White Swan in London’s Vere Street (off Clare Market, just north of today’s Aldwych). Twenty-seven men were arrested. The club had been operating for less than six months, having been set up in early 1810 by two men, James Cook and one Yardley, who realised the lack of gay brothels in the city offered a business opportunity for them (Yardley claimed to be straight with a wife and purely in it for the money). And fuck you, David Cameron – The Reverend John Church (a genuinely ordained minister, the first gay clergyman ) was said to have performed same sex marriages at the White Swan (though he denied it).

“POLICE. Bow-Street, July 9. – In consequence of its having been represented to the Magistrates of the above office, that a number of persons of a most detestable description, met at the house of James Cooke, the White Swan, in Vere-street, Clare-market, particularly on a Sunday night, a privy search-warant was issued, and was put in execution on Sunday night last, when 23 persons, including the landlord of the house, were taken into custody, and lodged in St. Clement’s watch-house, till yesterday, at eleven o-clock,w hen they were brought before Mr. Read for examination; but the circumstance having transpired, a great concourse of people had collected in Bow-street, and which was much increased by the mob that followed the prisoners when they were brought from the watch-house. It was with the greatest difficulty the officers could bring them to and from the Brown Bear to the Office; the mob, particularly the women, expressing their detestation of the offence of which the prisoners were charged.
         The following persons were first put to the bar, and gave their names and description:-
         Esau Haycock keeps a shop near the Yorkshire Stingo, New Road.
         James Amos, alias Fox, lodger, at the White Swan, (the house in question) a servant out of place, disabled in the arm. N.B. He was convicted and pilloried some time since for unnatural practices.
         William Thopson, waiter at a hotel in Covent-garden.
         Henry Toogood, servant to a gentleman in Portland-place.
         Robert Aspinall, lodger, at No. 1, Brewer’s Court, Great Wild-street, taylor.
         Richard Francis, a corporal in the 3d Regiment of Foot Guards.
         James Cook, landlord of the house, and Philip Hot, the waiter.
         Samuel Taunton, the officer, who had the execution of the warrant stated, that he and other officers went last night to the house about eleven o’clock, and apprehended the before-named persons, except the landlord and waiter, in a back parlour.
         Two of the Patrole gave an account of their being in the house last night previous to the execution of the warrant [i.e. as infiltrators in disguise], and stated the particulars of the conversation and actions that passed while they were in the parlour, but it is of too horrible a nature to meet the public eye.
         These witnesses also stated their having seen similar proceedings in the same parlour on the night of Sunday week, and identified several of the Prisoners as having been present at that time.
         They were ordered to find bail for the misdemeanour, and in default were committed to prison.
         James Spittle, a servant, in Chancery-lane; Matthew Saunders, of Duke-street, Aldgate; James Done, of Curran-road, shoreditch, bricklayer; William Barrow, of Furnival’s-inn; John Reeves, of Castle-street, Leicester-fields, traveller with goods, James Griffiths, Union-court, Holborn, servant out of place (well known at Bow-street); Edward Quaiffe, a soldier in the 3d Guards; George Boat, a waiter, out of place, lodging at the White Swan; John Clarke, Union-court, Holborn, a servant out of place; Timothy Norris, of Temple-street, Whitefriars, a servant out of place; Bernard Hovel, a soldier in the 1st Guards; Thos. Dixon, a soldier in the 3d Guards; Michael Hays, a servant out of place.
         All these prisoners, except Dixon and Hays, who were in a dark kitchen, were found in a room on the first floor, but there being no evidence of what took place, they were all discharged except Done, who was proved to have been in the back parlour with the others, on the night of Sunday se’nnight. He was committed.
         The crowd had, by this time, become so great in Bow-street, particularly facing the Office, that it was almost impossible to pass, and most of those who were discharged, were very roughly handled; several of them were hunted about the neighbourhood, and with great difficulty excaped with their lives, although every exertion was used by the constables and patrole to prevent such dangerous proceedings; and, in doing which, many of them were very roughly treated.
                                    (Morning Chronicle)

The press labelled the apprehended ‘sodomites’ the Vere Street Coterie. Eight men were eventually convicted. Two of them were hanged and six were pilloried for this offence.

Robert Holloway wrote a notoriously unreliable and sensationalist account of the Vere Street coterie, Phoenix of Sodom, “a lasciviously queer-loathing account of the Coterie’s misadventures and of “he vast geography of this moral blasting evil infesting London”:

“The fatal house in question was furnished in a style most appropriate for the purposes it was intended. Four beds were provided in one room – another was fitted up for the ladies’ dressing-room, with a toilette, and every appendage of rouge, &c. &c. A third room was called the Chapel, where marriages took place, sometimes between a “female grenadier”, six feet high and a “petit maitre” not more than half the altitude of his beloved wife! There marriages were solemnized with all the mockery of “bridesmaids” and “bridesmen”; the nuptials were frequently consummated by two, three or four couples, in the same room, and in the sight of each other. The upper part of the house was appropriated to youths who were constantly in waiting for casual customers; who practised all the allurements that are found in a brothel, by the more natural description of prostitutes. Men of rank, and respectable situations in life, might be seen wallowing either in or on beds with wretches of the lowest description.

It seems the greater part of these quickly assumed feigned names, though not very appropriate to their calling in life: for instance, Kitty Cambric is a Coal Merchant; Miss Selina a Runner at a Police Office; Blackeyed Leonora, a Drummer; Pretty Harriet, a Butcher; Lady Godiva, a Waiter; the Duchess of Gloucester, a gentleman’s servant; Duchess of Devonshire, a Blacksmith; and Miss Sweet Lips, a Country Grocer. It is a generally received opinion, and a very natural one, that the prevalency of this passion has for its object effeminate delicate beings only: but this seems to be, by Cook’s account, a mistaken notion; and the reverse is so palpable in many instances, that Fanny Murry, Lucy Cooper, and Kitty Fisher, are now personified by an athletic bargeman, an Herculean Coal-heaver, and a deaf Tyre-Smith: the latter of these monsters has two sons, both very handsome young men, whom he boasts are full as depraved as himself. These are merely part of the common stock belonging to the house; but the visitors were more numerous and, if possible, more infamous, because more exalted in life…”

16-year-old regimental drummer named Thomas White was not arrested on the initial raid or included on the pillory… he was dobbed in by a fellow-drummer, James Mann, for having been a White Swan regular … and in fact, “an universal favourite … very deep in the secrets of the fashionable part of the coterie.”

Mann himself was apparently also a well-known Vere Street attendee, trying to avoid ending up being pilloried or hanged by turning ‘king’s evidence’. His testimony to the magistrates got White and his alleged ‘partner in vice’, Ensign John Newbolt Hepburn hanged for sodomy…

Some contemporary accounts of the trials and the carrying out of the sentences:

“MIDDLESEX SESSIONS, SEPTEMBER 22: Seven of the detestable club of Vere-street, viz. Wm. Amos, alias Fox, James Cooke, Philip Islett, Wm. Thompson, Richard Francis, James Done, and Robert Aspinal, were tried for conspiring together at the Swan, in Vere-street, Clare-market, for the purpose or exciting each others to commit a detestible offence. Mr. Pooley stated the case for the prosecution, and the witnesses against the prisoner were Nichols, and another of the Bow-street patrole, who were sent to the house by the Magistrates, to watch the proceedings of persons assembled there. They gained admittance into the back parlour, which was the principal rendezvous of these miscreants, and were considered as persons of the same propensity, and treated without reserve. For three nights they witnessed such disgusting conduct and language, as to place beyond all doubt the intentions of the company. They gave information of all they had seen, and the prisoners, with a number of others, were brought before the Magistrates. The evidence being closed, Mr. Gurney, who had cross-examined the witnesses while giving their testimony, said that he was placed in the aukward [sic] situation of Counsel for the defendants, and had undertaken that task because he felt himself bound to do so by his oath, and duty as an advocate. In the course of the evidence he had done that duty to the best of his judgment, by giving the defendants every benefit of cross-examination. But he found the testimony so clear and uncontradicted, as to leave no ground of palliation upon which to make any appeal to the Jury, upon circumstances, which, if true, would go to excite an idea that the horrors of Sodom and Gomorrah were revived in London. He must therefore decline trespassing on the time of the Jury, and leave them to form their own conclusions. If the prisoners had any thing to offer in their defence, he had no doubt they would meet with every indulgence. The prisoners being then called on, each told his story, but it could have made no impression on the minds of any discerning Jury, and all the prisoners were found Guilty. Amost, having been trice before convicted of similar offences, was sentenced to three years imprisonment, and to stand once in the pillory in the Hay-market. Cooke, the keeper of the house, Islett, Thompson, Francis, and Done, were sentenced to two years imprisonment, and the pillory in the same place; and Aspinal, to one year’s imprisonment only.
On sentence being pronounced they were all handcuffed, and tied to one chain in Court, and ordered to Cold Bath-fields prison. On leaving the Court, a numerous crowd of people, which had collected at the door, assailed them with fists, sticks, and stones, which the constables could not completely prevent, although they were about 40 in number. The prisoners perceiving their perilous situation, immediately ran in a body to the prison, which they reached in a few minutes, and the constables, by blockading the streets, prevented the most fleet of their assailants from molesting them during their inglorious retreat. (Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Issue 2996)

26 September 1810: An exhibition on the pillory of one of the wretches recently convicted at Clerkenwell took place yesterday, at 12 o’clock, opposite the Mansion-house when this human monster suffered all that could be inflicted by mud, rotten eggs, and potatoes.
          The concourse of people collected upon this occasion was immense. Amongst other places particularly crowded was the ballustrade surrounding the Mansion-house, which, notwithstanding the exertions of constables placed there to keep off the crowd, was filled with spectators, some of whom had melancholy reason to regret their too eager curiosity as several of the rails and a great part of the coping stone gave way from the great weight of those clinging to it, and falling on some of the persons beneath, severely injured three, one of whom is not expected to recover; they were all taken to the Hospital. (The Times, Issue 8098)

On 27 September 1810, William Amos, alias Fox, James Cook (the landlord), Philip Bell (the waiter), William Thomson, Richard Francis, and James Done, six of the Vere-street gang, stood in the Pillory, in the centre of the Hay-market, opposite Norris-street. They were conveyed from Newgate in the open caravan used for the purpose of taking the transports [i.e. those sentenced to transportation] to Portsmouth, in which they were no sooner placed, than the mob began to salute them with mud, rotten eggs, and filth, with which they continued to pelt them along Ludgate-hill, Fleet-street, the Strand, and Charing-cross. When they arrived at the Hay-market, it was found that the pillory would only accommodate four at once. At one o’clock, therefore, four of them were placed on the platform, and the two others were in the meantime taken to St. Martin’s Watch-house. The concours of people assembled were immense, even the tops of the houses in the Hay-market were covered with spectators. As soon as a convenient ring was formed [i.e. a space around the pillory], a number of women were admitted within side, who vigorously expressed their abhorrence of the miscreants, by a perpetual shower of mud, eggs, offal, and every kind of filth with which they had plentifully supplied themselves in baskets and buckets. When the criminals had stood their allotted time, they were conveyed to Coldbath-fields Prison. At two o’clock the remaining two were placed in the Pillory, and were pelted till it was scarcely possible to distinguish the human shape. The caravan conveyed the two last through the Strand, then to Newgate, the mob continuing to pelt them all the way. Notwithstanding the immense concourse of people, we are happy to learn that no accident occurred.
         The horrible exhibition of yesterday must prove to every considerate spectator the necessity for an immediate alteration in the law as to the punishment of this crime. It is obvious that mere exposure in the pillory is insufficient; – to beings so degraded the pillory of itself would be trifling; it is the popular indignation alone which they dread: and yet it is horrible to accustomed the people to take the vengeance of justice into their own hands. We avoid entering into the discussion of a crime so horrible to the nature of Englishmen, the prevalence of which we fear we must ascribe, among other calamities, to the unnecessary war in which we have been so long involved [i.e. the Napoleonic Wars]. It is not merely the favour which has been shown to foreigners, to foreign servants, to foreign troops, but the sending our own troops to associate with foreigners, that may truly be regarded as the source of the evil. For years we have observed with sorrow the progressive revolution in our manners; and we have uniformly and steadily opposed all the innovations that have been admired in our theatres and our select places of amusement, as destructive of their character of the country.
         Many of the most illustrious persons who at first charged us with illiberality, are now convinced of the right view which we took of the subject, and are zealously disposed to exert themselves in stemming a torrent of corruption that threatens to involve us in the gulph of infamy as well as ruin. We trust that the very first object of Parliament, on its meeting, will be the revision of this law.
(Morning Chronicle)

Thursday, 6 December 1810, OLD BAILEY: These Sessions commenced yesterday before Mr. Justice Grose, Mr. Baron Graham, the Lord Mayor, Recorder, and Common Serjeant.
Thomas White and John Newball Hepburn stood capitally indicted for having committed an unnatural offence on the 17th of May last.
         It was formerly mentioned, that the two delinquents were apprehended, shortly after the discovery of the detestable society in Vere-street, upon the accusation of a drummer, named James Mann, belonging to the 3d Regiment of Guards.
         It appeared, from the testimony of Mann, that the Prisoner Hepburn accosted him on the Parade in St. James’s Park, a few days before the day on which the offence charged was committed: he told him that he was very anxious to speak to the boy who was then beating the big drum, meaning White, and said he would reward him if he would bring the lad to his lodgings, at No. 5, St. Martin’s Church-yard. Mann said he would tell White what he had said, and they then parted, Hepburn presenting him with half-a-crown. In the evening Mann and White went to Hepburn’s lodgings, who received them with great cordiality, and informed them that he belonged to a veteran regiment and was shortly going to the Isle of Wight. – Mann then went on to state that Hepburn invited them to dine with him on the ensuing Sunday at his lodgings, but to this White objected, observing it was not a good place, and proposed at the same time that they should meet at the Swan, in Vere-street. To this Hepburn agreed, and an appointment was accordingly made, which was punctually observed by all parties. On their arrival at the Swan, on Sunday, they were shewn into a private room where they had dinner; before and after which, conduct the most vile and disgusting passed between the two prisoners, the particulars of which it is impossible to detail without a gross violation of decency. It was on the detection of the monsters in Vere-street that Mann communicated the facts already stated to his Drum Major [presumably Mann had been linked to those arrested at the White Swan, and had agreed to testify against White and Hepburn to save his own skin], in consequence of which information White was instantly confined, and an officer was sent to the Isle of Man for Ensign Hepburn, the particulars of whose apprehension have already been stated.
         The charge was most clearly and indisputably proved, and the Prisoners were both found Guilty – DEATH.
                   (Morning Chronicle)

Hepburn and White were both hanged on Thursday March 7th, 1811. “White came out first; he seemed perfectly indifferent at his awful fate, and continued adjusting the frill of his shirt while he was viewing the surrounding popoulace. About two minutes after Hepburn made his appearance, but was immediately surrounded by the Clergyman, Jack Ketch [i.e. the hangman], his man, and others in attendance. The Executioner at the same time put the cap over Hepburn’s face, which of course prevented the people from having a view of him. White seemed to fix his eyes repeatedly on Hepburn. After a few minutes prayer, the miserable wretches were launched into eternity. Hepburn spoke to the Shieriff in a very firm and impressive manner, stating that the person who had sworn against him had perjured himself, and that every inta [? piece of evidence?] that he (Hepburn) had said, to prove the perjury, was perfectly correct…” (Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, Portsmouth, Issue 596)

EXCESSIVE GRIEF. — The mother of White, the Drummer, who was executed on Thursday, with Hepburn, the Ensign, died of a broken heart on the day subsequent to her son’s untimely end. She never left her bed after having taken farewell of the culprit on the evening previous to his execution. (Morning Chronicle, Issue 13055)

The Buggery Act 1533 was repealed and replaced by the Offences against the Person Act 1828: buggery remained punishable by death. The last two men to be executed in Britain for this ‘crime’, James Pratt and John Smith, were arrested in August 1835 in London after being spied upon while having sex in a private room; they were hanged on 27 November the same year. In 1861 the death penalty for buggery was abolished. A total of 8921 men had been prosecuted since 1806 for sodomy with 404 sentenced to death and 56 executed.

Sources above were taken from Rictor Norton’s excellent compilation: Rictor Norton (Ed.), “The Vere Street Club, 1810”, Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 7 May 2008, updated 7 September 2008


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

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Today in London’s radical history: radical prisoners hold party in Newgate prison, 1826

A tax was first imposed on British newspapers in 1712. The tax was gradually increased until in 1815 it had reached 4d. a copy. As few people could afford to pay 6d. or 7d. for a newspaper, the tax restricted the circulation of most of these journals to people with fairly high incomes.

Increasing the stamp was a deliberate tactic, aimed at restricting the amount and level of knowledge and ideas reaching the working classes.

However, since the stamp was payable on publications defining themselves as ‘newspapers’, so there were ways around it. In 1816 radical journalist  William Cobbett began publishing his weekly Political Register as a pamphlet. And for only 2d – it soon had a circulation of 40,000. John and Leigh Hunt, the publishers of the Examiner, paid the stamp duty but on the front page always called it the “tax on knowledge”.

Other radicals decided to ignore the law. Jonathan Wooler’s Black Dwarf was published unstamped and sold for 4d. Jonathan Wooler used the newspaper to support Major John Cartwright and his Hampden Club movement, campaigning for political reform. Wooler was soon in prison for seditious libel

After the Peterloo Massacre, Lord Castlereagh, the leader of the House of Commons, and Lord Sidmouth, the Home Secretary, introduced new laws in an effort to reduce the circulation of radical newspapers and pamphlets. They persuaded Parliament to pass the Six Acts, two of which were aimed at destroying the radical press. Under the provision of one of the Acts, all publishers were ordered to deposit a bond with the government as surety against future conviction of seditious or blasphemous libel. The bond was £300 if the publisher was based in London or £200 for those who published in the provinces.

Another of the Six Acts applied the 4d. stamp duty to all journals that sold for less than 6d. Since most working people took home less than 10 shillings a week in wages, this was intended to severely reduce the number of people who could afford to buy radical newspapers.

The stamp duty was also applied on journals that contained any “public news, intelligence or occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereon, or upon any matter in Church or State.” The government announced that it hoped that this stamp duty would stop the publication of newspapers and pamphlets that tended to “excite hatred and contempt of the Government and holy religion.” Good luck with that.

The tax was also applied to all journals that appeared more frequently than every twenty-six days. Radical weekly newspapers were rapidly converted to monthly journals. Examples of this strategy include United Trades’ Co-operative Journal and William Carpenter’s Monthly Political Magazine.

Other radicals such as Richard Carlile ignored the law and continued to publish his newspaper, the Republican, without paying stamp duty. Carlile was found guilty of blasphemy and seditious libel and sentenced to three years in Dorchester Gaol and fined £1,500. But Carlile was made of stern stuff. In prison he continued to write material for the Republican, now being published by his wife, Jane. The publicity created by Carlile’s trial increased circulation of the newspaper dramatically, to the point where it was now outselling pro-government newspapers such as The Times.

In 1821 Jane Carlile was sentenced to two years imprisonment for seditious libel. Jane was replaced by Richard Carlile’s sister, Mary, but within six months she was also in prison for the same offence. From his prison cell Richard Carlile called for financial support in his campaign to continue publishing the Republican. During the next few months over £500 a week was sent to Carlile’s shop in Fleet Street.

Carlile put out a public call for volunteers to sell the Republican. The Morning Chronicle thought that this was bound to fail as “we can hardly conceive that mere attachment to any set of principles without any hope of gain or advantage will induce men (in any number) to expose themselves to imprisonment for three years.” The Morning Chronicle was wrong: people came from all over the country to take on the responsibility, and over the next few couple of years over 150 men and women were sent to prison for selling the Republican. All told, these ‘shopmen’ served over 200 years of imprisonment in the battle for press freedom.

However, imprisonment in Newgate neither ended their struggles nor cut them of from the social movements on the outside. Since the 1790s at least, a “vibrant and eclectic radical milieu” that thrived in the prison. Radical and others prisoners often able to gather to smoke, drink, talk, and even produce publications…

Inspired by the French revolution and homegrown reformist political philosophies. Newgate became “a site of British-Jacobin civility… a salon of radical philosophies.” The more respectable end of radicalism at this time was very much centred on dining, dinner parties where ideas were discussed; as well as discussion clubs in taverns, pubs and coffee houses. Aspects of these scenes were continued and honed inside Newgate.

That this space for radicalism was able to develop was partly due to conditions in Newgate, effectively a state-franchised private prison, with any service and comfort available if you were able to bribe the warder and turnkeys. Many of 1790s radicals were men of independent means, which meant they were able to pay for better rooms, conditions allowances, like visits etc. They also had support from influential Whigs and reformers in Parliament and the City, which brought lenient treatment.

Most were imprisoned for publishing subversive literature, Paine’s works, pro-French addresses, philosophical texts on society and religion, attacks on government and Burke etc… In effect the prisoners formed a ‘prison publishing collective’, which managed to republish Paine, Rousseau, Helvetius and dozens more polemicals, satirical and philosophical works. This period created bonds and links that continued for decades among the former prisoners.

Also, these prisoners were able to receive regular flow of visitors, who not only carried out prison writings and publications, but brought in material from outside ones, helping to integrate the Newgate milieu into outside one. Familiar spaces from outside culture, eg tavern and coffee house, could be re-created inside.

Mind you let’s not forget – all of this operated for those with money or friends with money. Without it, the vast majority of prisoners did languish in crap conditions, crammed in cells, at risk of disease and eating bad food.

Later generations of radicals in 1810 were also to pay for their privilege, if they had the readies. However, by the time Carlile’s shop workers and the unstamped rebels were sent down, conditions had altered somewhat. Influenced by prison reformers John Howard and George Onesiphorus Paul, and the writings of Jeremy Bentham, prison reform had begun, attempting to tackle the notorious corruption, disease rife in jails, and their tendency to reinforce criminality and immorality.

Reformers like Howard, Bentham and Paul were focused on separation, segregation, silence, hard work, and surveillance, as a way to impose order and moral reform… New prisons were built in the 19th century on a different model, with smaller cells, with inmates increasingly isolated and under watch, unable to socialise, access drink and resist. This was seen not only as way of reducing prison’s influence as a university of crime and sink of depravity in itself, but healthier and more uplifting, less likely for disease to spread, allowing for more education and reflection…

This process had started to change conditions in Newgate, and when Carlile’s shopmen arrived, they found life much harder than their predecessors. This was also compounded by the more plebeian origins of many of the shopmen, compared to the 1790s vintage. So instead of getting their own cells and being able to move about freely, receive visitors, carry on with their radical activities, they found themselves mixed in with the general prison population, confined 10 to a cell, fed only “the new prison food allocation, described as the ‘the most wretched stuff’: ‘one pound of bread and one pint of gruel each day’ with six ounces of beef each alternate day. This, they claimed, was no better than ‘dog’s meat’.” They were denied visitors in their rooms, and all visitors were stripsearched.

Ironically, the increasing influence of prison reformers had something to do with this:  “Although reforms were designed to improve the conditions of the most disadvantaged of the prison population, they appear to have had an inverse effect on the treatment of state prisoners. At the heart of reform was an egalitarian approach, which, theoretically, treated all inmates without favour. Tighter controls on prison management now existed, with visiting prison committees and visiting magistrates overseeing the work of the Governor and attempting to stamp out the old prison economies and profit making from prisoners. While the system of classifying prisoners according to the nature of their crime still meant prisoners who were convicted of sedition, blasphemy or libel could be housed in the state side, separation from other classifications of prisoners within the state side was never assured as Newgate became at times breathlessly overcrowded. Furthermore, visiting rights were now regulated and restricted as reformers considered that personal reform and redemption could not be achieved if the prisoner continued to be surrounded by their unsavoury milieu.”

However, accounts of the relative freedom that earlier political prisoners had enjoyed had to some extent passed down as legend to this generation; they saw it as a right , or matter of respect, and they agitated vociferously. Their complaints forced change – prompting an investigation by the magistrates and officials who formed the City Gaol Committee. “Despite finding that the men’s allocated room was ‘not crowded to inconvenience’, the committee determined that the group of radical prisoners ‘should be allowed the use of another room’. The committee also addressed the men’s complaints regarding their lack of proper bedding, acknowledging that ‘horse bedsteads should be allowed to the complainants’ despite the committee’s concern that such a concession ‘might be regarded as a violation of the discipline’.” But the authorities were also worried that the radical ideas about religion and politics the shopmen expounded might spread to other, initially non-political inmates, a reflection of the similar concern about the effect movements for reform and critics of on the outside were having on the emerging working class. Segregating the politicals from the general prison population seemed pragmatic.

Ironically, the attitude of the radicals to the ‘ordinary criminals’ they were forced to bunk with chimed nicely with the authorities’ fear of their ideological contagion sweeping the gaols. The Carlile shopmen saw themselves as a cut above the crims, on another level morally, and bitterly disputed being dumped among them. This would actually change as contact with increased mingling of ‘state’ prisoners and the wider population…

One incident illustrates the continuing solidarity of the radical prisoners in the face of Newgate. On the afternoon of 29 January 1826, the four Carlile shopmen then banged up in Newgate, Thomas Ryley Perry, Richard Hassell, John Clarke and William Campion, all gathered in their ‘state-side’ gaol apartment to commemorate the birth of radical ideologue and icon Thomas Paine (it was also Perry’s birthday). Singing tunes with titles such as The Bravest of the Brave and Lovely Woman Governs All, the four men reported that “the gathering provided opportunity for much ‘hilarity’ and revelry. Assembling their own makeshift tavern, they sat down to an ‘excellent leg of mutton’ with all the ‘expected trimmings’, filled their tankards with wine at the end of each rendition and raised their cups in earnest to toast ‘the immortal memory of Thomas Paine’, ‘Richard Carlile’ and ‘The Female Republicans’. In defiance of their incarceration, they reserved a toast for their adversaries: ‘May our example teach the Government that Imprisonment for opinions is useless.’ In a rare public avowal of the much maligned prison authorities, the men acknowledged that the prison Governor had been kind enough in this instance ‘to allow us to remain together until eight o’clock, instead of being locked up as usual, at this season of the year, at five’. The anniversary of Paine’s birth had become an auspicious day for the radical community in Britain. As the four men celebrated in Newgate, 75 ‘respectable, well dressed’ radicals also met in honour of Paine’s birth at the City of London tavern, where a ‘half-a-guinea ticket’ provided dinner, dessert and wine. Mirroring events in Newgate prison that afternoon, the London tavern assembly raised their glasses to honour the four men—‘freedom of mind’s undaunted champions’. Clearly, the incarceration of Perry, Hassell, Clark and Campion was to prove no impediment to their own participation in this important radical community event. The men were as happy, they reported, as ‘our friends could possibly be at the London Tavern, or elsewhere’. The observance of ceremonies such as the birth of Thomas Paine in 1826 fostered radical camaraderie and a sense of fraternity within the prison, and a shared collective identity both with earlier generations of radical prisoners and with the radical community beyond the prison walls. Like the early generation of radical prisoners, they defied their containment within the prison space by recreating familiar radical spaces such as the tavern. Certainly, their festivities were more solitary affairs than previous radical gatherings in the prison; however, the ability of radicals to subvert the prison regime and routine and maintain contact across time and space with the wider radical community attests to the vitality and adaptability of the new generation of plebeian radicals.”

A great part of this post was extracted from Radical Spaces, Venues of popular politics in London, 1790–c. 1845, by Christina Parolin. Which is a crackin read.


An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.

Today in London’s rebel history: Riot in Newgate Prison, 1648.

As we have previously related, for 100s of years Newgate Prison was the most potent symbol and reality of state repression in London, the ultimate representation of terror for the poor.

… and of resistance. Escape attempts were common, some failing, but many succeeding… As many of the prisoners awaiting death at Tyburn were held there, some cons had nothing to lose by trying to break out; desperate measures were sometimes called for…

According to a tract published 26th December 1648: – “Terrible News From Newgate.- On Wednesday, December 20th the Honourable Bench at the Sessions House in the Old Bayley, having given sentences against the convicted prisoners, being 17 in number; on Thursday night last they had their funeral Sermon at Newgate as accustomary, where divers had admittance in to heare the same; and amongst the rest many of the prisoners’ wives who were condemned to die, brought swords and rapiers under their coats (being a designed plot for an escape) and so soon as the Sermon was ended, delivered the said Weapons to the 15 condemned prisoners, who taking their opportunity, about 7 of the clock at night, ran violently at the Turnkey and the rest of the Keepers, wounding them, and forced their passage down the stairs, all of them making a clear escape away.”


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s rebel history: Mass escape attempt foiled, Newgate Prison, 1771.

For 100s of years Newgate Prison was the most potent symbol and reality of state repression in London, the ultimate representation of terror for the poor. From those driven to crime by the economics of serfdom or capitalism, rebels, political activists, smugglers, poachers, heretics and reformers, transgressors of the moral codes… (and obviously a lot of very nasty folk too…)

Opened in the 12th century, originally as part of one of the gates in London’s wall, but gradually expanded to a massive complex of cells and courts. It became a place of hate and fear… generating a thousand nicknames (the Whit, the Burrowdamp Museum, the College, the rumbo-ken, the Start, the Jug, the Sherriff’s Hotel, the Stone Tavern, the Stone doublet…)

From here thousands left in the morning to be drawn in the cart to the hanging tree; thousands more to be transported to bonded labour overseas; tens of thousands to be whipped, pilloried, locked in the stocks…

A shadow of doom… and inevitably of resistance. Throughout its history the Newgate terror complex faced constant resistance, in the form of riots, escapes, and attacks from outside by rebellious crowds.

Escape attempts, solo and collective, were common, even endemic. Jack Sheppard’s famous breakouts became the most legendary, but the centuries were filled with plans, plots and the occasional success.

An example, from 1771:

“October 10: About ten o’clock at night, a conspiracy was detected at Newgate: a number of transports, to the amount of thirty, had, for some time, formed a design to break out; they attempted to put their scheme in execution about nine, and luckily, were discovered, at the time above mentioned, by the keeper; who having some suspicion of their intent, went in among them, and found them at work with two iron crows (weighing about thirty of forty pounds each) to effect their purpose. The ring leaders were closely confined, immediately after, and everything ended peaceably. Great numbers of files, saws, pins &c. were found on several of the transports.”
(from the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1771.)

By transports, is meant those under sentence of transportation to the penal colonies.

Only three weeks after this foiled escape, another plot was uncovered: “Oct. 31: About eleven o’clock at night, a conspiracy was discovered in Newgate among the felons, four of whom had found means to saw off their irons, and had formed a desperate resolution to fight their way out; they were immediately secured by the keepers, who took from them a number of files, saws, etc.”


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

Today in London’s radical history: imprisoned debtors attempt mass escape, Newgate, 1778.

“On Monday night, about two o’clock, the debtors in one part of the old jail of Newgate which remains on the north side of Newgate-street, attempted to make their escape, and would probably have effected it, if some persons in the neighbourhood, who were alarmed at the noise, had not sent notice to Mr Akerman, [the prison warden] who soon arrived with proper assistance, when it was found the prisoners had broke from their upper apartments, and got the lower outward door. They were secured, and a guard left to prevent any future attempt.”

(from the Annual Register, 1778)


An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.