Archive for the ‘Historic Interest’ Category

Strange but True

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Historic Interest

I spared Hitler’s Life

The First World War was in its last hours, millions of soldiers on both sides were dead and those who fought on knew the end was near, as did English Private Henry Tandey who served with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

In September of 1918, on the French battlefield of Marcoing, he won the Victoria Cross for bravery, one of many medals the 27 year old would win during the ‘war to end all wars.’ As the battle of Marcoing raged, Allied and German forces engaged in bitter hand to hand combat. The defining moment for Private Tandey and world history came when a wounded German limped directly into his line of fire.

“I took aim but couldn’t shoot a wounded man,” said Tandey, “so I let him go.” Years later he discovered he had spared an Austrian Corporal named Adolf Hitler.

Hitler himself never forgot that pivotal moment or the man who had spared him. On becoming German Chancellor in 1933, he ordered his staff to track down Tandey’s service records. They also managed to obtain a print of an Italian painting showing Tandey carrying a wounded Allied soldier on his back, which Hitler hung with pride on the wall at his mountain top retreat at Berchtesgaden. He showed the print to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain during his historic visit in 1938 and explained its special significance.

The Führer seized that occasion to have his personal gratitude relayed to Tandey, which Chamberlain conveyed via telephone on his return to London from that most fateful trip.

Henry Tandey left military service before the start of World War II and worked as a security guard in Coventry. His “good deed” haunted him for the rest of his life, especially as Nazi bombers destroyed Coventry in 1940 and London burned day and night during the Blitz.

“If only I had known what he would turn out to be. When I saw all the people, woman and children, he had killed and wounded I was sorry to God I let him go,” he said before his death in 1977 at age 86.

The Red Barron’s Heart of Gold

Baron Manfred Von Richthofen is confirmed as having shot down 80 Allied aircraft during the First World War, a record unsurpassed during the Great War. In a war which unleashed unspeakable horror, the Red Baron and his distinctive red Fokker triplane provided chivalry to a world desperately seeking honor amid the bloody conflict.

On March 30, 1917, near Fouquieres, France, Lt. Pat Garnett of the Royal Flying Corps engaged attacking German aircraft without waiting for reinforcements, not knowing his adversaries were none other than the Red Baron’s Squadron. The ensuing dogfight was brief and bloody, the 22 year old British aviator and his Nieuport Scout biplane went down fighting, shot out of the sky by German Lt. Kurt Wolff, as the Red Baron watched from a higher altitude. Young Garnett’s bravery against such odds greatly impressed the Teutonic Baron.

Lt. Garnett survived the crash and was captured by the Germans. He lived just long enough to tell them he had only recently been married. His last thoughts and words were for his beloved young wife, greatly moving his German captors.

Baron Von Richthofen was informed of Garnett’s capture and the events surrounding his death. The Red Baron came into possession of Garnett’s personal effects which included his favorite gold cufflinks and a piece of his wife’s wedding dress which he had kept pinned inside his coat for luck.

The Red Baron was greatly moved by Garnett’s death and wrote to his widow, Mary, a letter of sympathy expressing his sincere regrets, accepting overall responsibility for his death.

However, Mary Garnett was horrified, erroneously interpreting the letter as boasting of her husband’s death and promptly burned it.

Every dog has their day and the Allies had theirs. Lt. Wolff was himself killed in action in September of 1917 after having notched 33 kills. The Red Baron was killed in action while engaging six Allied aircraft in April of 1918. It has since been proven the bullet ending his life came from enemy ground fire, probably from the same Australian ground forces that eventually recovered his body and gave the Red Baron a funeral with full military honors.

Apollo 13’s Nuclear Threat

The drama surrounding the ill fated Apollo 13 mission was an ideal subject for a series of books and movies. But the most disturbing aspect of the near disaster has mostly been neglected. Apollo 13 was a nuclear catastrophe waiting to happen, as aboard the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) was a plutonium power cell.

Called ‘Systems for Nuclear Auxiliary Power’ (SNAP-27) it contained 3.8 kilograms of plutonium, which is so toxic that less than a millionth of a gram can cause cancer. Designed to be left behind on the moon, the crippled Apollo 13 was forced to carry it back to Earth. Not only were the three astronauts in danger but millions on the ground unwittingly lived under threat from the toxic space junk.

When the paralyzed Apollo 13 re-entered Earth’s orbit, the astronauts transferred back to the command module, and the LEM with its nuclear payload was jettisoned. It re-entered the atmosphere somewhere over New Zealand and although the LEM burned up, SNAP-27 survived re-entry and plunged intact into the Pacific Ocean off Tonga, where according to NASA it is “isolated from man’s environment.” SNAP-27’s radioactivity will last 2000+ years and its watery grave comprises some of the world’s prime fishing grounds.

NASA successfully concealed the crisis from the world at the time, and continues to power some spacecraft with plutonium, recently launching the Cassini probe with a 33 kilo plutonium cell.

Britain’s Ugliest Politician

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British Conservative Member of Parliament, Sir George Gardiner, had the dubious honor of being Britain’s ugliest politician. Described as resembling a bloodhound with a bad hangover, he took the unprecedented step of writing to his constituency in Surrey to plead with them not to vote against him because he was ugly. It worked and he won handsomely.

Teetotalers

The word which symbolizes abstinence of alcohol came about through the stammer of English artist Dick Turner of Lancashire. During an anti-alcohol speech, he tried to say “total abstinence” but had a problem saying the word total, stammering instead “tee-e-e-total.” Consequent crowds found his mispronunciation amusing and it eventually came to symbolize his group.

Right or Left?

Most travelers are daunted by the prospect of driving in countries which drive on opposite sides of the road from their own. The Romans set the original standard by driving and riding on the left, which was adopted throughout their vast Empire until the 1800s when Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte decreed it should be done on the right. French colonial influence in North America resulted in its introduction there and that’s why Americans and Canadians now drive on the right.

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A Kamikaze’s Story

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Historic Interest

Introduction – The personal account that follows is a matchless document. It is by a former kamikaze flier, Kanji Suzuki. He belongs to that small number of young men who, through no fault of their own, survived their suicide attacks on U.S. ships. When Suzuki’s account appeared in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History in 1995, it was the first description published in the West of what one of these young men experienced during moments that he expected to be his last.

Significantly, the notion of crash-dive attacks on American ships was first proposed after the fall of Saipan. As the call, “One Hundred Million Die Together,” was broadcast, the first kamikaze (“divine wind”) units were being organized. (“Divine Wind” referred to those famous moments in Japanese history when Mongol fleets approached the Home Islands and were twice wrecked by storms, in 1274 and 1281.) During the battles for the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, the Japanese dispatched 2,257 aircraft, which sunk twenty-six combat ships and damaged 300 others, killing some 3,000 men. Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the U.S. Third Fleet, called the kamikazes “the only weapon I feared in the war.”

At the time of the Okinawa campaign, which began on April 1, 1945, Flight Petty Officer 2nd Class Suzuki was attached to Japan’s 406th Attack Bomber Squadron and stationed at Izumi Naval Air Station in Kagoshima Prefecture, near the southern tip of the Home Island of Kyushu. Suzuki, eighteen years old and fresh out of flight training, volunteered for tokko, the “special attack missions” whose operatives were not supposed to return. Suzuki-who did return, but only after the war-wrote his own story in an account that was the source of a portion of Tokko, a 1992 book by Tadao Morimoto, from which this article was translated and adapted (the original was written in the third person). Tadao Morimoto, who was a naval aviator during World War II, is a former professor at Ryukoko University in Kyoto and senior adviser for Toroy Corporate Business Research, Inc., in Tokyo. Kan Sugahara, the translator, is an airlines-operations specialist who attended the Japanese naval academy during World War II.

In mid-March 1945, shortly after the abortive Tokko operation to Ulithi Atoll in the western Caroline Islands [a U.S. naval base-seized in September 1944-being readied for the assault on Okinawa], I was transferred, along with a number of other pilots and crewmen, to Izumi Naval Air Station. The early spring air was filled with the scent of plum blossoms. We were billeted in private homes in the village near the station and told to be on standby. I was a reconnaissance man-navigator, assistant bombardier, and sometimes forward gunner-in Ginga No. 8 Special Attack Squad, named for our plane, the three-man Yokosuka P1Y1 Ginga (code-named Frances by the Allies). By the time I arrived at Izumi, many of my classmates were already dead.

When I had first volunteered for the tokko, I did not seriously contemplate my own mortality. I was young, sensitive, full of hope, and curious even about death; I considered myself to be on a battlefield. However, as the standby period dragged on, I became increasingly anxious and depressed. Only death awaited. I was proceeding to an awesome destination, and there was no turning back.

Tokko operations during the Okinawa campaign were quite different from those conducted during the Philippines campaign. Launching sorties from bases in the occupied Philippines presented special problems, chiefly because the Filipinos were hostile to us. This had its rewards, however: It helped instill and sustain a stronger fighting spirit and the sense of antagonism essential for those on kamikaze missions. Most tokko operations to Okinawa, on the other hand, were launched from bases on Kyushu, in Japan itself. (Some of the Okinawa sorties originated on Formosa.) And in the Philippines there had still been a possibility that we would prevail. Better aircraft were used, more seasoned pilots were generally at the controls, and more often than not they were protected by fighter escorts. These differences had a considerable impact on our emotional state and, ultimately, on our view of life and death.

When their time came, crewmen on tokko missions were relieved of their standby duties; in the certainty that their mission would soon be over, they sometimes became cheerful, almost completely different people. But these feelings of well-being, sometimes bordering on euphoria, could be fleeting and transitory.

On March 19, Fumio Hirosawa, a classmate of mine from air training school who was also attached to the 406th as a member of the Ginga squad of the Kikusui Unit, was ordered to attack an enemy task force off the southeast coast of Kyushu. Those of us who were left went to see Hirosawa and his crew depart. We were soon hoarse from shouting encouragement. I noticed that Hirosawa had lost considerable weight; he climbed into his Frances with seeming casualness, although his face looked gloomy and sad. In an attempt to inject a cheerful and colorful note, someone had placed a branch of cherry blossom in full bloom inside the cockpit. I assumed that, as he confronted his forthcoming self-destruction, my classmate was ensuring that his behavior for the momentous occasion was perfect.

It was a cloudy day, but as the Frances taxied out, a ray of sunshine seemed to spotlight the aircraft. Hirosawa and his crew looked as if they had been placed in an airplane-shaped coffin.

The tokko squad, four Frances attack bombers, took off without a fighter escort-since the decimation of our forces in the Philippines, the empire was being pushed into an increasingly desperate corner as far as resources and matériel were concerned. As the aircraft began its takeoff roll, the onlookers stiffened for a moment; the next second, as if in an afterthought, we waved our caps vigorously. But our mouths were tightly closed.

After the formation disappeared in the clouds, we returned to our billets. We went to sleep with the laughter of the maintenance personnel in our ears. It was unbearable to listen to the thoughtless banter of outsiders. The contrast between them, who could enjoy being alive, and us, who were burdened with our standby for death, was particularly painful. The tokko squads had long since lost any momentum for living; we seldom laughed anymore.

The creek near the naval station began to warm up; catfish were waking from their hibernation. More of my friends died in action. One afternoon, yet another tokko unit vanished toward Okinawa. On this occasion, as previously, I was left behind. I was always anxious about the ground officers’ intense observation of tokko crews. When the night came I was afraid. I disliked the brief period of sunset more than any other part of the day. After the sun set, the sky and my attitude grew darker and darker.

At night, some slept with their eyes open. During the dark hours, delirious utterances and groans could be heard at intervals through the billet, as if we were living in an asylum. Almost every day crews left the asylum for sorties. They boarded their aircraft with forced smiles on their faces. There was an air of lunatic melancholy in their expressions, in their eye. Each night, after they had departed on their one-way missions, I was again depressed, as though I had been deprived of both heart and soul.

Then, finally, for me-and others-the long standby period came to an end. Our sortie was scheduled for April 17.

The day before, Ginga No. 7 Squad left Izumi. I watched as Isao Yoshikawa, the pilot and bombardier on my crew, ran to one of the four Franceses, which was crewed by two classmates of his, Kensuke Eto and Shigeaki Enokida. They were in the cockpit, smiling. Yoshikawa knelt on the wing and poked his head inside to say good-bye. Just before the planes took off, he got down slowly from the wing. I stared at his face and was horrified. I would remember that desperate, terribly aged look forever.

On that day, Ginga No. 7 Squad, like many before it, disappeared into the sky south of us without a fighter escort, on its certain-death mission. The crewmen sacrificed their lives for their country at a point some fifty nautical miles from Kikaiga-shima, northeast of Okinawa.

“Tomorrow it is going to be my turn,” I reflected. I pictured the faces of my fallen classmates. The end was near. It was surprising that I had lasted this long since volunteering, I thought. Then I found myself recalling the fun I had enjoyed in the past and felt depressed.

At last April 17, our death day, arrived. I went with Yoshikawa and Shigeyuki Tanaka, my plane’s radioman and rear gunner, to the airfield command post to receive our orders. On the way, Tanaka stopped suddenly. He turned to me, his face as expressionless as a Noh mask, and began to talk in a rambling way. He was sorry; he praised me for coping with all the hardships that had brought us to this day. “I’m a coward, aren’t I?” he said. I told him that wasn’t true and, as the last moment of our lives was approaching, thanked him for the pleasures and sorrows we had shared as comrades.

Other crews were already assembled in front of the command post. Their faces were unfamiliar; by now most of my classmates had been killed in action. We officially received our orders. The mechanism for our destruction had been set when we volunteered and were put on standby, but the orders sealed our fate. I considered the orders sublime; I felt awed. Now I knew precisely what I had to do. It took no more than a few moments for my warrior’s heart to overcome the ordinary human instinct to deny the possibility of mortality. And yet, underneath this newly acquired sense of dedication and excitement, I was still aware of a strong attachment to life. This worried and confused me. My bond to life was my karma, my fate, but still I felt like a hypocrite behind the brave facade.

As commander of our unit, I delivered the orders to Tanaka and Yoshikawa. “Location: east of Kikaiga-shima. Target: a carrier. Let’s get going.”

Tanaka, Yoshikawa, and I began the walk to our munitions-laden Frances, parked at the end of the airfield near the runway. The plane seemed to quiver in the spring heat. I was grateful the aircraft had been left so far from the command post-the farther I was obliged to walk, the longer I stayed on the ground. Behind me, Tanaka and Yoshikawa were running to catch up. “Why hurry?” I thought. “Walk. Take your time.” That morning my crew had looked pale and vacant, as if lost in thought. Now their faces beamed joyfully; it seemed they had completely forgotten what was about to happen.

I, too, now had a sense of liberation from all the mortal ties that bound me and the rest of the world. We were utterly free. No one could give us orders anymore, much less criticize or discipline us. Even if death was just around the corner, there was joy in being released from the overwhelming pressure and restrictions of the vise that we called the navy. And it was glorious to be freed from the mental torture of our protracted standby. I found myself nonetheless bothered by trifling and incongruous thoughts: “What will happen to my laundry? Whom did I leave instructions with about my money and personal things?”

There was always a large crowd around a Frances that was being prepared for a sortie. I approached the aircraft with a conqueror’s stride, outwardly arrogant and proud. I could hear the cheers and exclamations of admiration even above the din of the powerful radial engines. I would feel guilty if I did not smile. I forced one, but it was difficult.

Four Frances aircraft were scheduled for tokko sorties that day. I was getting impatient and began to feel agitated when I realized that the engines of some of the other aircraft had not been started.

“What time is it?” Tanaka kept saying nervously.
“Almost zero nine-thirty,” Yoshikawa replied.
“What the hell’s going on there?” Tanaka said.
“Maybe–” Yoshikawa began.
“Called off?” Tanaka interrupted.

Yoshikawa and I remained silent while Tanaka continued his irritated tirade. “Son of a bitch! I don’t give a goddamn what happens.”

At 10:10 A.M., the command post signaled the sortie. At that moment, I involuntarily turned and looked back. Only our Frances had taken off, and without a fighter escort. (The others might have experienced mechanical difficulties; their Nakajima engines were notoriously unreliable on the low-octane aviation fuel available toward the end of the war.) One solitary aircraft. I was struck with horror. One lone Frances could not possibly reach the target area-where, even if we did, powerful enemy fighters would undoubtedly be patrolling. Our superiors couldn’t possibly expect successful results by sending out a single Frances armed with a 1,700-pound bomb; yet they dared to send the three of us on our mission anyway. It didn’t matter to them. By this time, the deaths of the tokko fliers had become an end in itself, the primary aim of the cold-blooded operations planners. Is this why innocent young men were sacrificing their lives? Even now, a half century later, one is struck by the callous decisions that led to this slaughter. The tactics defied logic.

Isolated and prey to our uneasiness as we were, we all fell completely silent during the flight toward the target area. Our senses seemed paralyzed; even while we were still over land, the beautiful scenery below gradually blended into mere layers of colors. This was, in fact, the onset of the so-called fainting phenomenon.

To break the uncomfortable silence, I began singing, but Tanaka and Yoshikawa refused to join in the chorus, increasing the awkwardness and tension. My heart was now so constricted with the reality of approaching death and the resultant fear that I started to display visible physiological changes: faster, shallower respiration; cardiac palpitations; abnormal perspiration; micturition. My temples ached. When my voice began to sound hollow, I would stop singing for a time.

I glanced at the altimeter. When we took off, the aircraft had been headed south-southwest, cruising first at about 13,000 feet and later at about 16,000. Now the altimeter indicated we were at almost 30,000 feet. Had this happened because Yoshikawa, the pilot, was trying to evade the enemy fighters? In fact, he had unconsciously been applying gradual backward pressure to the control column. I had never flown so high before. A higher altitude might postpone the engagement-and by getting closer to the stars, perhaps we would find ourselves elevated to perennial youth and immortality! Somewhere far away in the depths of my consciousness, I realized that our unscheduled climb was both a result and a contributing cause of the fainting phenomenon, which would never have occurred during flight in formation with other aircraft.

Our symptoms were not unique. I am told that crew members of tokko aircraft often became so aware of their forthcoming extinction that they experienced this kind of reaction.

Predictably, just before we reached our target area we were spotted by fifteen Grumman F6F Hellcats on routine patrol. One against fifteen was hopeless odds. Some enemy aircraft began to climb and turn to get into firing position at our rear; others were already there on the starboard side.

In the midst of this chaos, as our plane dodged enemy fire, a small but significant mishap occurred. “The machine gun! I can’t fire it! There’s a cartridge jammed in the magazine!” Tanaka screamed through the speaking tube.

At this point enemy fighters occupied my entire field of vision, and I was frozen with terror. As an F6F approached head-on, I unconsciously closed my eyes an instant before the impact that seemed certain to come. When there was no crash, I felt tremendously confused and disoriented and found myself thinking, “Isn’t there any emergency procedure to avoid this?”

My desperation alternated between feeling as though I was failing, because my knees were so weak from fright, and somehow trying to find a way to run from the attacking aircraft. But there was nowhere to run. I groped for some divine ray of hope that might extricate me from our catastrophe.

The Frances gradually lost altitude, yawing violently. We were still locked in a mortal struggle with the enemy fighters. “Haven’t you sighted the target yet, Suzuki?” Tanaka kept asking. The fact that the F6Fs were attempting to block us probably meant that the carrier wasn’t far away. Suddenly the Frances shook violently. The starboard engine had been hit and was trailing smoke. With the increased drag of the dying engine, our airspeed dropped sharply. I began to wonder if we would reach the target at all.

We were descending rapidly. An enemy round struck me in the face. I felt a sharp pain as though I had been whipped. Warm blood spurted out of the wound, streaming down my neck and soaking into my silk muffler. I lost consciousness for a moment, but the freezing air blowing into the fuselage through the cracks in the damaged nose canopy revived me. I felt very cold. A piece of the lenses of my goggles had stuck in the fur trim of my glove. I was vomiting reflexively and starting to lose consciousness again. I felt I was at the end of my rope. By now I was so disoriented I had become completely detached and decided that the enemy assault must be someone else’s problem.

Despite this, somehow the realization clicked that the F6Fs had disappeared. Simultaneously I saw streams of red, green, and yellow tracer fire, apparently aimed straight at me. It was as though I was taking an inverted shower in Technicolor. The surreal image had come from a fusillade of antiaircraft fire out of the task force below. “There they are!” I shouted in my mind. The badly damaged Frances was still trailing ominous black smoke.

At last I caught sight of the target carrier. “Here we go!” I shouted through the speaking tube to Yoshikawa and Tanaka. No one answered. The altimeter was pointing to zero.

I kept track of the target despite my restricted vision. “Turn starboard three degrees,” I told Yoshikawa. I was bleeding profusely but felt no pain. Then I got very drowsy and almost lost consciousness again. “Am I going to pass out or am I going to die?” I thought. As I concentrated on our attack onto the target, I felt a strangling fear grip my entire body. From the other crew positions-I couldn’t tell whether it was Yoshikawa or Tanaka-I heard meaningless sounds, more like groans mixed with shouts than words.

The large target loomed vaguely in my dimming vision. I think that I shouted, “Target, starboard, enemy carrier,” but I couldn’t be sure my words were clear or even audible. However, Yoshikawa was apparently alive and responsive to my instructions, because the Frances began a slow right turn. I could see a large shadow of the target, but it was almost obscured by the heavy barrage of AA fire. “Is this an illusion?” I wondered.

I watched as the bull’s-eye of the target got bigger by the second, and, after the one-against-fifteen air battle of a few minutes ago, I was rather relieved and pleased. I felt proud that my hard training was about to be rewarded. As our distance from the carrier became shorter and shorter, I could no longer distinguish among the furious fireworks of the AA barrage, my fear of death, and my duties and responsibilities. As I was about to lose consciousness, I saw that a portion of the carrier’s hull had been burned, and it appeared red. It was very striking.

Steady. At last the target was within reach. We had come an extremely long way, and a hard one. At that moment, just seconds before impact, I felt neither excitement nor animosity. The outline of the enemy target seemed merely a floating object on the water. I did not feel nearly as much fear as I had expected. I was finally relieved of my burden, and I did not want it any longer. “This will do it,” I thought. “A perfect angle of approach on the target.” It was the beginning of a solemn ceremony.

I felt cold again, as if shrouded in a pale veil. “I’ve done my duty. My war is over. I’m exhausted.” With a sense of relief, I saw an out-of-focus, inexpressible death awaiting me in a space I had previously occupied. At that last moment, I felt relieved of duty. “Steady as you go-body impact. I’ve won!”

Postnote: Suziki’s Frances was shot down at that moment. A U.S. Navy destroyer picked him up; the other two crewmen died. He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner. In his book, Suzuki chose not to describe the end of his military career. He certainly had not been afraid to die. Was he ashamed to have survived? Perhaps.

Little is known about Suzuki’s later life. After his repatriation, he married, went to work for a local government fishery, and then became a fireman. He is now retired.

“Steady as you go-body impact. I’ve won!” When Suzuki wrote those final words, years after the war, he was describing his feelings in what he believed were his last moments. After the long standby period as a tokko volunteer, in which he suffered the agony of alternating between dedication to supreme sacrifice and attachment to life, he thought he had accomplished his ambition of a glorious death in battle. He probably felt more of a victory over himself than over the enemy. At the final moment he was, at least to himself, both a great warrior and a great human being. Did he feel cheated by his miraculous reprieve?

What power inside these men enabled them to proceed? There was certainly nothing in the teachings of the various Japanese religions, all of which deplore human destruction and celebrate life. And what was tokko, really?

In his book on the Battle of Leyte, where kamikazes first became a force to be reckoned with, the writer Shohei Ohoka writes that “there were some people in our generation who overcame inconceivable mental agony and vacillation between life and death, and who reached their goals. This has nothing whatever to do with the stupidity and corruption of the Japanese war leaders of those times.” The number of young men who sacrificed their lives in the tokko operation is said to be between 3,000 and 4,000.

A Flogging at Sea, 1839

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Historic Interest

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, flogging was the most common form of punishment used to maintain discipline aboard ship whether the vessel was military or merchant. Flogging was a whipping using a cat-o’nine-tails – a diabolical device designed especially for its task. The cat-o’nine-tails consisted of nine lengths of cord with each length containing up to three knots. The cords were attached to a handle often made of a short piece of thick rope. The knotted cords would rip into a victim’s skin with each lash causing excruciating pain. Repeated blows often left the victim unconscious. The number of lashes meted out to a victim depended on the offense committed and the Captain’s discretion. Typically, they would range between 5 and 100.

Flogging at sea was brought to the attention of the general public in 1840 through the publication of a number of books that highlighted the practice. The most notable of these was Two Years Before the Mast written by Richard Henry Dana. Dana had dropped out of Harvard for medical reasons and spent two years as a crewman aboard a freighter plying the Pacific. His popular book recounted his experience including the use of flogging. Although Dana abhorred the practice, he did not condemn it.
 
In 1850 Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick) published a novel entitled White-Jacket that described life aboard a US Navy Man-of-War. Melville devoted a portion of his book to a description of flogging and condemned it as inhuman. Melville’s description and condemnation outraged the general public. In reaction, Congress outlawed flogging aboard US Navy ships in September 1850.
 
“Swinging the rope over his head, and bending his body so as to give it full force, the captain brought it down upon the poor fellow’s back. Once, twice – six times.”
 
Richard Henry Dana describes a flogging at sea:
 
“John, the Swede, was sitting in the boat alongside, and Russell and myself were standing by the main hatchway, waiting for the captain, who was down in the hold, where the crew were at work, when we heard his voice raised in violent dispute with somebody, whether it was with the mate or one of the crew I could not tell; and then came blows and scuffling. I ran to the side and beckoned to John, who came up, and we leaned down the hatchway; and though we could see no one, yet we knew that the captain had the advantage, for his voice was loud and clear.
No answer, and then came wrestling and heaving, as though the man was trying to turn him. ‘You may as well keep still, for I have got you,” said the captain. Then came the question, “Will you ever give me any more of your jaw?’
 
‘I never gave you any, sir,’ said Sam; for it was his voice that we heard, though low and half choked.’
 
‘That’s not what I ask you. Will you ever be impudent to me again?’
 
‘I never have been,’ said Sam.
 
‘Answer my question, or I’ll make a spread eagle of you! I’ll flog you, by G-d.’
 
‘I’m no Negro slave,’ said Sam.
 
‘Then I’ll make you one,” said the captain; and he came to the hatchway, and sprang on deck, threw off his coat, and rolling up his sleeves, called out to the mate: “Seize that man up, Mr. A-! Seize him up! Make a spread eagle of him! I’ll teach you all who is master aboard!’
 
The crew and officers followed the captain up the hatchway, and after repeated orders the mate laid hold of Sam, who made no resistance, and carried him to the gangway.
 
‘What are you going to flog that man for, sir?’ said John, the Swede, to the captain.
 
Upon hearing this, the captain turned upon him, but knowing him to be quick and resolute, he ordered the steward to bring the irons, and calling upon Russell to help him, went up to John.
 
‘Let me alone,’ said John. ‘I’m willing to be put in irons. You need not use any force’; and putting out his hands, the captain slipped the irons on, and sent him aft to the quarter-deck. Sam by this time was seized up, as it is called, that is, placed against the shrouds, with his wrists made fast to the shrouds, his jacket off, and his back exposed. The captain stood on the break of the deck, a few feet from him, and a little raised, so as to have a good swing at him, and held in his hand the bight of a thick, strong rope. The officers stood round, and the crew grouped together in the waist.
 
Swinging the rope over his head, and bending his body so as to give it full force, the captain brought it down upon the poor fellow’s back. Once, twice – six times. “Will you ever give me any more of your jaw?” The man writhed with pain, but said not a word. Three times more. This was too much, and he muttered something which I could not hear; this brought as many more as the man could stand; when the captain ordered him to be cut down, and go forward.
 
‘Now for you,’ said the captain, making up to John and taking his irons off. As soon as he was loose, he ran forward to the forecastle. ‘Bring that man aft,’ shouted the captain. The second mate, who had been a shipmate of John’s stood still in the waist, and the mate walked slowly forward; but our third officer, anxious to show his zeal, sprang forward over the windlass, and laid hold of John; but he soon threw him from him.
 
A flogging at sea
At this moment I would have given worlds for the power to help the poor fellow, but it was all in vain. The captain stood on the quarter-deck, bare-headed, his eyes flashing with rage, and his face as red as blood, swinging the rope, and calling out to his officers, ‘Drag him aft! – Lay hold of him! I’ll sweeten him!’ etc., etc.
 
The mate now went forward and told John quietly to go aft, and he, seeing resistance in vain, threw the blackguard third mate from him; said he would go aft of himself, that they should not drag him; and went up to the gangway and held out his hands; but as soon as the captain began to make him fast, the indignity was too much, and he began to resist; but the mate and Russell holding him, he was soon seized up.
 
When he was made fast, he turned to the captain, who stood turning up his sleeves and getting ready for the blow, and asked him what he was to be flogged for. ‘Have I ever refused my duty, sir? Have you ever known me to hang back, or to be insolent, or not to know my work?’
 
‘No,” said the captain, ‘it is not that I flog you for; I flog you for your interference – for asking questions.’
 
‘Can’t a man ask a question here without being flogged?’
 
‘No,’ shouted the captain; ‘nobody shall open his mouth aboard this vessel, but ,myself’; and began laying the blows upon his back, Swinging half round before each blow, to give it full effect. As he went on his passion increased and he danced about the deck calling out as he swung the rope: ‘If you want to know what I flog you for, I’ll tell you. It’s because I like to do it! – because I like to do it! It suits me! That’s what I do it for!’
 
The man writhed under the pain, until he could endure it no longer, when he called out, with an exclamation more common among foreigners than with us – ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, oh, Jesus Christ!’
 
‘Don’t call on Jesus Christ,’ shouted the captain. ‘He can’t help you. Call on Captain T -. He’s the man! He can help you! Jesus Christ can’t help you now!’
 
At these words, which I never shall forget, my blood ran cold. I could look on no longer. Disgusted, sick, and horror-struck, I turned away and leaned over the rail, and looked down into the water. A few rapid thoughts of my own situation, and of the prospect of future revenge, crossed my mind; but the falling of the blows and the cries of the man called me back at once.
 
At length they ceased, and turning round, I found that the mate, at a signal from the captain, had cut him down. Almost doubled up with pain, the man walked forward and went down into the forecastle. Everyone else stood still at his post, while the captain, swelling with rage and with the importance of his achievement, walked the quarter-deck. . .


Any readers from out of town who are preparing a visit to the capital this summer might like to read these excerpts from The Stranger’s Guide, exposing all the frauds of London, that I found in the archive at the Bishopsgate Institute.

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BAWDS – Beware, young women, of those who, without any knowledge, pretend to be acquainted with you, your families and friends. This is an old bait to entice young women to their den to be devoured by the ravenous wolves to whom the bawd is a provider. Beware, ye unthinking young men, of receiving letters of assignation to meet at her house, for such letters are calculated to ensnare you and bring you to misery and destroy your health, fame and fortune. Avoid, ye countrymen and women, the pretended friendships of strangers that welcome you to town upon the arrival of the coach and that accost you at the inns, as they generally attend there for that purpose. If you once permit them to converse with you, they will by their artful speeches, so far ingratiate themselves into your good graces as the engage your belief, get the better of your resolutions and at length bring you, by listening to their stories, to ruin and destruction.

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BULLIES – Are dependent upon bawds & whores, sometimes the bully pretends to be the husband of the whore, whose bread he eats, whose quarrel he fights, and at whose call he is ready to do as commanded. It is very common for these women to bring home a gentleman and on entering the house ask the maid in a whisper if her master is at home. The maid according to former instructions replies, “No, he is gone out of town and will not return until tomorrow.” Upon which the gentleman is invited in and entertained with a story of the bully’s jealousy and the whore’s constancy. When the gentleman expresses a desire to leave and the bill being called for, he finds fault with the change, then the maid enters and says her master is below and immediately the bully appears and demands to know the gentleman’s business there – if means to debauch his wife? He then blusters and talks about bringing an action but at length is pacified by the bill being discharged.

DUFFERS – These are a set of men that play upon the credulity of both sexes, by plying at the corner of streets, courts and alleys, their contraband wares, which generally consist of silk handkerchiefs made in Spitalfields, remnants of silk purchased at the piece brokers, which they tell you are true India, and stockings from Rag Fair or Field Lane, sometimes stolen, sometimes bought at very low prices, which they declare are just smuggled in from France, and therefore can afford to give you a bargain, if you will become the purchaser. On the other hand, should you not purchase, you will get abused and your pocket picked, at which they are very dexterous. Or, should you give them money to change, they tell you they will step to the public house to get it changed and come again in an instant. Then you see them enter the house and discover later, upon enquiry, they have escaped by the back door, to your great loss and mortification.

FORTUNE TELLERS & CONJURERS – Almost all countries abound with these vermin. In London, we have several very famous in the Astrological Science, who pretend to a knowledge of future events by observations of the celestial signs of the zodiac. The better to carry on their delusions, they can tell you whether your life will be happy or miserable, rich or poor, fruitful or barren, and thousand incidents to please your fancy and raise your curiosity, insinuating at the same time (if they think you have money about you) that much good awaits you, therefore they must have a greater price for their intelligence. Who would not give or guinea, nay two – say they for the completion of their wishes, be it wisdom or wealth, rather than a half a crown to learn that they might live in folly and poverty the rest of their lives?

FOOTPADS – Are so numerous and so often described in the public papers that little new light can be thrown upon them and their practices. Daring insolence and known-down arguments are generally their first salute, after which they rifle your pockets and, if you have but little of value about you, they often maim or violently bruise you for want of that you are not in possession of. These shocking acts of these rapacious sons of plunder call for the interference of the magistracy to put a stop to their daring and consummate impudence as they exhibit, in and about the metropolis, skulking in bye-lanes, desolate places, hedges and commons, in order to waylay the unsuspecting stranger or countryman.

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GAMBLERS – There are so many methods of gambling as there are trades and they move in so many spheres, from the most noble dukes and duchesses to the most abandoned chimney-sweeper, pretenders to honour and honesty, versed in various tricks and arts, by which many among the nobility and the gentry have squandered away their fortunes for the occupation of a Complete Gambler or in the true sense of the word, an Expert Gambler. The better to put you on guard against this villainy, I will mention several of the most fashionable and alluring passtimes at which various methods of deluding and cheating are practiced with some success, viz. gaming houses and horse races, cock-fighting, bowling, billiards, tennis, pharo, rouge et noir, hazard &c. together with routs, assemblies, masquerades and concerts, of a particular or private nature. In the latter of these, you will find notorious gamblers of the female sex, who deal in art and deception, as well as some more notorious male cheats who barter one commodity for another without a reference of credit or making it a debt of honour.

HANGERS-ON – These are a set of men of an indolent life, who rather than labour to gain a livelihood, will submit to any meanness that they may eat the bread of idleness. There are many kinds, some pretending to understand the sciences, others the arts, some set up for authors, others wits and the like. Hangers-on will eat or drink with you wherever you stay but will never offer to pay a farthing, however in lieu thereof, they will tell you an indecent story or sing you the latest lewd song. These you will easily find out and may easily get rid of by not treating or encouraging them upon your arrival.

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HIGHWAYMEN – Are desperate and resolute persons who having spent their patrimony or lavished their substance upon whores and gamesters, take to the road, in order to retrieve their broken fortunes and either recoup them by meeting with good booty or end their lives in Newgate. The best means to avoid highwaymen is not to travel by night and in be cautious in displaying money, banknotes or other valuables at the inns you put up at, and be careful what company you join for fear they learn of whither you are going and for what purpose – if to pay or receive money, they will almost certainly waylay and rob, if not murder you.

JILTS – Are ladies of easy virtue, who, through an hypocritical sanctity of manners, and pretensions to virtue and religion, draw the countryman and inexperienced cit into their clutches. Of all whores, the jilt is the most to be avoided – for knowing more than others, she is capable of doing more mischief.

KIDNAPPERS or CRIMPS – A set of men of abandoned principles, who having lavished away their fortunes enter into the pay of the East India Company, in order to recruit their army – and, in time of war, when a guinea or two is advertised to be given to any person that brings a proper man, of five feet eight or nine inches high, these kidnappers lie in wait in different places of rendezvous, in order to entrap men for money.

RING-DROPPERS – These are a set of cheats, who frequently cheat simple people, both from the country and in London, out of their money, but most commonly practice their villainous arts upon young women. Their method is to drop a ring just before such persons come up, when they accost them thus, “Young woman, I have found a ring and I believe it is gold for it has a stamp upon it.” Immediately, an accomplice joins in, who being asked the question replies, “It is gold.” “Well” says the formers, “As this young woman saw me pick it up, she has the right to half of it.” As it often happens that the young person has but a few shillings in her pocket, the dropper says, “If you have a mind for the ring, you shall have it for what you have got in your pocket and whatever else you can give me,” which sometimes turns out to be a good handkerchief, cloak or other article. The deluded creature then shows the ring to another person in the street who informs her she is cheated by sharpers and the ring is not worth tuppence, being only brass gilt with a false stamp put on the deceive the unwary.

PICK-POCKETS – There are more pick-pockets in and about London than in all Europe besides, that make a trade and what they call a good living by their employment. The opera, playhouses, capital auctions, public gardens &c swarm with them. And, of late years, they have introduced themselves into our very churches and more particularly Methodist meetings. Therefore it would be prudent, when in a crowd, to keep one hand on your money and the other on your watch, when you find anyone push against you. Pocket books are only secure in the inside pocket with the coat buttoned and watch chains should be run through a small loop contrived for the purpose of securing the watch in the fob.

QUACKS – These are a set of vile wretches who pretend to be versed in physic and surgery, without education, or even knowledge of a common recipe. If they think the patient is able to pay handsomely, they make them believe their case is desperate and generally turn them out worse than they find them.

SETTERS – These are a dangerous set of wretches who are capable of committing any villainy, as well by trapping a rich heir into matrimony with a cast-off mistress as by coupling a young heiress to a notorious sharper, down to the lowest scene of setting debtors for the bailiff and his followers. Smitten at the first glance of a lady, you resign your heart and hand at discretion, which she immediately accepts, on a presumption that delays are dangerous. The conjugal knot being tied, you find the promised and wished-for land, houses and furniture, the property of another and not of yourself.

SMUGGLERS – These are a numerous race of people that have no other way of living than following the illegal practice of smuggling. Two different gangs are concerted in carrying on this wicked business, the first to import the goods from abroad and the other to dispose of them when landed, but if the first were taken and punished as they deserve, the latter would fall of course.

WAGON HUNTERS – These are errant thieves, that ply in the dusk of the evening to rob the wagons upon their arrival. They are equally skillful in cutting away portmanteaus, trunks and boxes from behind chaises &c, if not thoroughly watched, which is the duty of every driver to take care of, by attending to the vehicle under his charge and giving a good look-out.

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute


St Pancras Church

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St Pancras Church on the Euston Road was made in Classic Greek Temple style with a row of beautiful hand maidens supporting the projecting alcoves. The statues were made of Coade’s artificial stone which took three years to make. They were brought to the church looking dainty until they were ready to be put into place. Mr. Charles Rossi, their builder, found that the measurements were a little out and try as he may, could not get them to fit. With a large crowd bemused at his misfortune, Rossi needed to act rather quickly to regain his self respect. He preformed a miracle operation with 12 inches being extracted from their midriff. As the traffic on the boarders of the congestion zone slowly pass by, I wonder how many notice the out of proportion ladies that just don’t look quite right.

The Phoney houses

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With the beginning of the first tube line running from Paddington to Farringdon, demand grew for more tube lines within the area. Property was purchased and then demolished to make way for these new lines. To help keep house prices high in the rather posh area of Leinster Terrace Bayswater, a reconstruction looking like terraced houses from the front and more like a film set at the rear was built. How many passers by ever notice this false property?

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This rear view photo shows the hidden side of the previous shot. Although unlike the front there is no desire to hide the ugly gap between the houses. Just like a film set complete with iron scaffolding. 

Queen Caroline’s Sunken Bath

Queen Caroline's Sunken Bath

 

Queen Caroline was the Princess Di of her day – married to her unfaithful husband King George IV When he decided to leave her the decision made him very unpopular throughout the kingdom. Caroline was already a Brunswick Princess before marrying George; it is said the marriage was arranged to pay large gambling debts. Caroline first arrived in England in 1795 and George was shocked to see that she was no oil painting. She gave birth to a daughter in 1796 by which time George was back to his old ways of having mistresses. Caroline moved from the Royal palace to Montague House on Blackheath in 1797, doing the same as her husband by having orgies and suchlike. In the August of 1804 she decided to leave England for good and live in exile abroad – which is what George had been waiting for. So as to have no reminder of his wife’s pleasurable parties he ordered the demolition of Montague House saying he wanted it razed to the ground. Obeying his wish the house was demolished, though the bits beneath the ground were overlooked. It was not until 1909 that the sunken bath was discovered. It can still be seen inside Greenwich Park along the Eastern Wall near the Charlton way entrance.

Tower Subway

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Unnoticed by many of the visitors to the Tower of London is what looks like an oversized brick post box. It is in fact the entrance to the second tunnel that was to be built under the Thames. The first tunnel now runs the tube line from Wapping to Rotherhithe and took fifteen years to dig and at an enormous sum in those days of £600,000. A South African by the name of James Greathead said he could dig a tunnel under the river in under a year at the cost of £16,000 using his own invention of the Greathead Shield tunnelling digger. Digging commenced at four and a half feet a day and took ten months to complete – a staggering success for those times, even allowing for some delay when the digger unearthed 300 silver coins from Henry III times. The tunnel was used for foot passengers and when Tower Bridge was erected around fifty years later the tunnel became redundant. Today it is only used for carrying cables and pipes under the river.

Tothill House of Correction

Tothill House of Correction

 

Just across the road from Westminster Abbey, unnoticed to all the thousands of tourists that visit every day, is a quite street named Little George Street. This gateway was the prison gate for Tothill Fields House of Correction, and was recited here in 1959. On the site of the present Westminster Cathedral stood a correctional facility named Tothill Fields Prison. This was said to be a more desirable place to be incarcerated than most others due to the more humane (in comparison) treatment handed out to its inmates. Maybe this is the reason it only lasted for a period of fifty years. Or was it because the land was wanted for the building of the Cathedral? The main punishment seemed to be the rule of silence; prisoners were not allowed to converse with each other. The other main form of punishment was to withhold their food and the main reason for this to be imposed upon you was being caught talking to another prisoner. According to records of the time, a whipping had only been authorised twice between 1851 and 1855. Henry Mayhew visited the prison in 1861 and in his book ‘Criminal Prisons of London’, praises the staff for ensuring discipline without the need for physical punishment. Most of the inmates were in their early teens but children from the age of five years and upwards were sentenced to be detained there.

 The Panyer Boy

The Panyer Boy

 

When the Panyer boy first sat on his basket, the Great Fire of London was only 22 years old. He has now been sitting on his basket for more than 320 years. Panyer Alley in the Middle Ages was London’s bread market and on a wall of a house in the alley was this stone with a boy seated on a panyer, or bread basket. The little ditty inscribed on the stone is the motto for this website: “When ye have sought the city round yet this is the highest ground. August the 27 1688.” During several rebuilding’s over the years the boy has been moved a few times. During the Second World War he was placed in the safe custody of the Vintners Company. Now day’s he is hidden above the steps of St Paul’s Underground Station, unnoticed by most travellers, he is one of the best hidden gems of London.

The Watch House

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Overlooking the graveyard of St. Sepulchre’s in Guiltspur Street, Holborn, is this old watch house. This was built with the increase of body snatching that was an epidemic in the 17th century. The price for bodies that were bought by students of medical science for dissection was high. The only legal bodies that could be obtained were that of murderers, so with more students than bodies, supply and demand put the price at about £50 – a fortune in those times. Inside the watch house, a watchman could keep an eye on the graveyard to stop newly interred bodies being dug up and sold.

The Cornhill Devils

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High above the rooftop by St Peter’s Church, Cornhill, are the three angry devils who pour scorn on anyone entering the said church. The story behind them is thus, during the building of the office block next door to the church, the builders stole a foot of the church ground. This act was noted by the rector, the building plans were put back and the architect was made to re-plan his works. So bitter was the architect that he engrossed the rectors face upon one of the devils and set three devils upon the roof to add curses to anyone whom entered the church.

Necropolis Private Station.

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Towards the end of the eighteen hundreds cemetery spaces in the metropolis became scarce, so a private company set up a station at 121 Westminster Bridge Road (opposite Waterloo Station) to transport the London dead to Brookwood, Surrey. The waiting rooms had been allotted for the exclusive use of any mourners attending a private funeral. Added to this was also a beautifully equipped mortuary chapel. A single platform awaited the train of the dead. At its peak fifty bodies a day would be transported along this line and would normally total three or four thousand a year. Today, hidden behind an iron gate, is this historic station of the dead. 

A bride buried alive

Posted: August 28, 2013 in Historic Interest
Tags: , , ,

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In cemeteries that have been disturbed, and the remains of the dead exhumed, there have been found in coffins, nailed solidly and screwed tightly together, bodies of skeletons that were turned over on their sides or faces, occasionally with the knees drawn up, the joints distended, the hands clenched firm, the arms thrust up against the coffin’s narrow sides, the fingers wrapped and twisted in the hairs of the head, the eyes glaring, the teeth ground together, the head doubled under, and many indubitable proofs that the final death struggle did not take place before burial, but that after the coffin lid had been laid away in the shades of the tomb, or dropped into the deep, solid earth, then and there a fierce, agonising, desperately lonely, and hopeless battle for life was waged into exhaustion!

A witness to such a tale was Harold Gulliver, chief gravedigger at an old Victorian cemetery in Bath, England in the early twentieth century.The work was at times very dangerous. You never know when you are going to be buried yourself, he said. There is often a collapse, and everything comes down on you, timber and all. Sometimes, continued the grave digger, there are re-openings, and on these occasions gas would come at you like a fog, so that you may often lose your breath. On the day in question he had three graves to dig.

It had been unusually wet of late and I noticed that in one corner of the cemetery much of the earth had been undermined by the water. The stones in this corner had recently been disturbed to enable the ground to be diverted to streets and building lots, something we weren’t too happy about. I scraped away at the earth with my boots and noticed that I had exposed the corner of a coffin lid. The coffin needed to be reinterred, of course, so I got several of the men to help me. The men gathered and pressed closer to the open grave.

I gave some loud directions to them. In a very few minutes the coffin was fully up but as we pulled it out of the earth the lid came away. Then I heard a low cry from one of the men.

Mr Gulliver went on to say that when the lid of the coffin was removed the face and figure of a young bride was revealed, dressed in wedding garments of fine white satin, with a bridal veil, and ring of a costly style and distinction, and all the evidence of affluence, refinement and station of life. The remains were supposedly to have been buried about twenty-five years previously. The coffin plate was no longer present, and, in the really indecent haste of the heartless contractors and brutish labourers, who had worked previously in the area and ruthlessly tore and tossed the relics up, there was not the faintest clue to the identity.

But upon examination it was discovered that the body of the skeleton was twisted and displaced (as no shock of the exhumation could have effected and the garments grasped tightly as in a vice in the clenched finger bones, showing undoubtedly that a terrific struggle had taken place in the last narrow house and home of the once-beautiful, early-loved and lost bride. Even the long raven tresses, which were as fine and perfect as ever, were bit fast in the fleshless teeth as though with the last despairing, smothered cry and grasp of death.

“It was a terrible shock,” said Mr Gulliver. “To think of the poor girl suffering like that; and undoubtedly on her wedding day, too.”

It was soon after the reburial of the coffin, in another corner of the cemetery, when passers-by began reporting seeing a figure hovering by the graveside.

One night while I was having my tea, said Mr Gulliver, I heard a clatter of horses’ hoofs on the hard road. A few minutes later a man came knocking on my door in a terrible fright. He said that he had seen the ghost and it frightened his horse. He galloped away but it was following in his direction. I wanted him to come back and show it to me, but he would not venture so I did not bother going. I thought he had seen a cow in the cemetery as they often broke in to eat the long grass.”

Next day there was much talk going on among a few of the men of ghosts and suchlike. Others laughed at them and told them that it was only imagination. They bet some money that no one was game enough to go to the cemetery after dark and visit the grave.

One chap took the bet. Mr Gulliver was not witness to the exploits that evening but, the next day, he was given the following details:

Take me with you, take me with you, this cry in a high-pitched unearthly voice startled the chap who went visiting the grave in the evening.

Who is there?” he asked nervously.

There was no reply, nor was anybody to be seen.

Then the voice came again. Take me with you.  Again there was nobody to be seen.

Then, from out the corner of his eye, he saw something sitting up. He turned to see a woman upright in her grave the one freshly dug her face decayed, her fingers twisting the hairs of her head, and she beckoned to him and spoke in a weak voice, I did not deserve to die. Take me with you.

The man began to hurry away, pursued by the voice, and finally broke into a terror-stricken run, arriving almost exhausted at the cemetery gates. He had been so overcome that since the incident he had not returned to work, and was reported as being “attacked by fits”.


Tyburn’s gallows was the main place of execution for London and Middlesex until 1783. It was also the place where women were burnt for Petty Treason and High Treason and soldiers shot for military offences.
In 1571, the famous “Triple Tree” was set up at Tyburn to replace the previous smaller gallows and was, at least once, used for the hanging of 24 prisoners simultaneously. This was on the 23rd of June 1649, when 23 men and one woman were executed for burglary and robbery, having been conveyed there in 8 carts. Another mass execution took place on March 18th, 1740 when the famous pickpocket and thief, Jenny Diver, was hanged before a huge crowd, together with 20 other criminals. Tyburn’s gallows consisted of 3 tall (approx. 12-18 feet high) uprights joined at the top with beams in a triangular form to provide a triple gallows under which 3 carts could be backed at a time. It remained in use until Monday, the 18th of June 1759 when Catherine Knowland, convicted of highway robbery, became its last customer. The structure was removed during the summer, as it had become a cause of traffic congestion and was disliked by the residents of what was becoming a fashionable area of west London. It was replaced by a portable gallows which was first used on Wednesday, the 3rd of October 1759 for the hanging of 4 men, as reported in the Whitehall Evening Post of that day. It stood near the union of Bryanston Street and Edgware Road and was dragged into position by horses for each execution. Surprisingly, there is little detail of what the new gallows looked like. The condemned were still transported to Tyburn in carts and turned off from them as previously according to contemporary accounts. The last execution at Tyburn took place on Friday, the 7th of November 1783, when John Austin was hanged for highway robbery.
Criminals were tried at the Old Bailey and then sentenced to death in groups at the end of each Sessions before being returned to Newgate prison to await their fate. Prior to 1752, murderers were treated in the same way, although it was not unusual for them to be executed more quickly than other felons. Occasionally, as in the case of Jack Sheppard (16th of November 1724) who had escaped several times, a person was hanged alone, but this was unusual, probably due to the expense of it. After 1752, murderers had to be hanged within two days of their sentence unless this fell on a Sunday, in which case they were executed on the Monday. It was normal for judges to sentence them on a Friday to allow them this extra day. Additionally, they had to be kept in irons and fed only on bread and water.
For ordinary criminals, there could be from 2 weeks to 4 months before execution. After the Sessions finished, the Recorder prepared his report for submission to the King and Privy Council indicating which prisoners the Court felt should hang and which should have their sentences commuted, usually to transportation. The King and Privy Council met in what was called the “Hanging Cabinet” which ratified or commuted the death sentences. Those not reprieved would be kept in the condemned areas of Newgate in abysmal conditions, and it was not unusual for one or two to die of Goal Fever or other illness before their execution date. Prisoners were grouped together, often from several Sessions, to be taken to Tyburn on the next “hanging day.” Women prisoners frequently “pleaded their belly,” i.e. that they were pregnant. If they were found to be “quick with child,” and they often were, they were respited and usually in fact reprieved, although theoretically they could be re-called to their former judgement.
If the prisoner was wealthy, they might be permitted to be driven to Tyburn in a morning coach, as happened with Jenny Diver, thus sparing them from the insults of the crowds along the way. It was normal for better off criminals to wear their best clothes for their “Hanging Match” as executions were known.
The execution process began at around 7 o’clock in the morning when the condemned men and women would be led in fetters (handcuffs and leg-irons) into the Press Yard in Newgate. Here the blacksmith would remove the fetters and the Yeoman of the Halter would tie the criminals’ hands in front of them with a cord around the body and elbows (so that they were able to pray when they reached Tyburn) and place the rope (or halter, as it was known) round their necks, coiling the free end round their bodies. The noose was just a slip knot like the halter used on cattle and not the coiled type typically shown in films. A typical condemned group might comprise of 7 men, not one convicted of murder or rape, but of crimes such as highway robbery and various forms of theft and burglary, and perhaps one woman convicted of privately stealing, highway robbery or stealing in a dwelling house. When the pinioning was completed, they were placed in open horse drawn carts sitting on their coffins surrounded by armed cavalry. The procession consisting of the City Marshall (a court officer responsible for prisoners), the Ordinary (Newgate’s prison chaplain), the hangman and his assistants, and a troop of javelin men started out for Tyburn about two and a half miles away. The procession made its slow and bumpy passage along Holborn, St. Giles, and the Tyburn Road (now called Oxford Street) to Tyburn itself near what is now Marble Arch. The narrow streets could be lined with crowds, especially if the criminals were notorious, and there would often be insults and more solid objects hurled at the prisoners and their escorts on the way. A stop was often made at St. Sepulchre’s Church where the bell would be tolled and the minister would chant, “You that are condemned to die, repent with lamentable tears; ask mercy of the Lord for the salvation of your souls.” As the procession passed on, the minister would tell the audience, “All good people, pray heartily unto God for these poor sinners who are now going to their death, for whom the great bell tolls.” Here friends might present the criminals small nosegays (bunches of flowers).
Stops were made at two public houses along the way, probably the Bowl Inn at St Giles and the Mason’s Arms in Seymour Place, where the condemned would be allowed an alcoholic drink. Once they left the second pub, it was a short journey to the gallows.
On arrival at Tyburn around noon, some two to three hours after they had left Newgate, the prisoners were greeted by a large crowd, of anything up to 100,000 people, who had come to watch the spectacle. Amongst the crowd were hawkers selling food and souvenirs and people selling copies of broadsides purporting to contain the prisoners’ last dying speeches and confessions of the condemned (bear in mind this was before they had been executed!) It has often been said that pickpockets were operating among the crowd, despite the fact that it was frequently some of their number who were being hanged.
Wealthier spectators hired seats in Mother Procter’s Pews – open galleries like modern grandstands at a football stadium. A seat with a good view was much sought after and very expensive – 2 shillings (10p) was a lot of money then. The poor just milled round the gallows held back by the Javelin men.
There was a house overlooking Tyburn, with iron balconies, from which the Sheriffs of the City of London and Under Sheriff of Middlesex plus their invited guests watched the executions.
The carts were each backed under one of the three beams of the gallows. The hangman uncoiled the free end of the rope from each prisoner and threw it up to one of his assistants positioned precariously on the beam above. They tied the rope to the beam leaving very little slack. The Ordinary would pray with the prisoners and when he had finished, the hangman pulled nightcaps over the faces of those who had brought them. As you can imagine, the preparations took quite some time where a large batch of prisoners were being hanged.
When everything was ready, the horses were whipped away, pulling the prisoners off the carts and leaving them suspended. They would only have a few inches of drop at most and thus many of them would writhe in convulsive agony for some moments, their legs paddling the air – “dancing the Tyburn jig” as it was known, until unconsciousness overtook them. The hangman, his assistants and sometimes the prisoners’ relatives might pull on the prisoners’ legs to hasten their end.
It was not unknown for the occasional person to survive their hanging. One of the most famous cases is that of John Smith, hanged on Christmas Eve 1705. Having been turned off the back of the cart, he dangled for 15 minutes until the crowd began to shout “reprieve,” whereupon he was cut down and taken to a nearby house where he soon recovered.
He was asked what it had felt like to be hanged and this is what he told his rescuers:
“When I was turned off I was, for some time, sensible of very great pain occasioned by the weight of my body and felt my spirits in strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. Having forced their way to my head I saw a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain. After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who had cut me down.”
Another case is that of 16 year old William Duell, who was hanged along with 4 others, on the 24th of November 1740. He had been convicted of raping and murdering Sarah Griffin and was therefore to be anatomised after execution. He was taken to Surgeon’s Hall where it was noticed that he was showing signs of life. He was revived and returned to Newgate later that day. The authorities decided to reprieve him and his sentence was commuted to transportation.
After half an hour or so, the now lifeless bodies were cut down and claimed by friends and relatives or sent for dissection at Surgeons’ Hall. Fights often broke out between the rival parties over possession of the bodies. (Prior to the Murder Act of 1752, surgeons were allowed 10 bodies per year, after that they got the bodies of all murderers as well). Wealthier criminals provided coffins for themselves, the poorer ones often could not afford these. It was not unusual for their friends and relatives to sell the bodies to dissectionists.
The clothes of the executed belonged to the hangman and, therefore, some prisoners only wore their cheapest, oldest clothes whilst others dressed to look their best for their final performance.
In the case of notorious criminals, the hangman would sell their rope by the inch – hence the expression “money for old rope.”
Where a woman was to be burned at the stake for High Treason (mainly offences of clipping filing or forging coins) or Petty Treason, her execution was normally carried out after the hangings. Both men and women convicted of treason were drawn on a sledge to their execution instead of riding in the carts with the others.
The whole execution was a leisurely, and in many ways, theatrical process. Time seemed to matter very little (unlike 20th century hangings) and everyone went to enjoy the morbid entertainment. In some cases, the prisoners seemed to enter into the spirit of the occasion. They were, after all, the stars of the show wearing their best clothes and behaving with as much courage as they could summon, even joking and making speeches from the carts. Others seemed more affected by their situation and prayed fervently at the end with the Ordinary, no doubt afraid of what lay ahead in the afterlife which they would have believed in.
In a lot of cases, the public sympathised with the criminal, except where they had committed a really horrible crime. Elizabeth Brownrigg who had beaten and starved her apprentice girls to death was the sort of criminal the public really hated (c.f. the attitude to child murderers now). She was hanged on the 14th of September 1767.
From 1702, hangings were reported in the fledgling press, the Daily Courant being the first London daily newspaper, as well as the execution broadsides. The Ordinary’s reports of condemned criminals were also available.
 
 
Hangmen at Tyburn.
 
William Marvell took over from his predecessor, John Price, who was hanged for murder on Saturday, the 31st of May 1718. Marvell was a temporary replacement for Price from 1714, while the latter was in prison for debt. He held the job until November 1717, when he was dismissed after also getting into debt, but then presumably re-appointed to replace Price. He was succeeded by one Mr. Banks about whom very little is known. He was at some point between 1717 and 1725 succeeded by Richard Arnet who died in 1728.
John Hooper was appointed to take over from Arnet, working till 1735 when he was replaced by John Thrift who reigned for nearly 18 years, dying on the 5th of May 1752.
Thomas Turlis replaced him working for nearly 20 years before dying in 1771. His first job was to hang 12 people on Monday, the 4th of February 175
I do not think this is a realistic picture of the London Hangman in action, rather it is a propaganda piece, the executioner depicted as establishment figure, as “The Finisher of the Law”. Thomas Turlis’ clothes, appropriate to a tradesman or a member of the minor gentry, emphasise his respectability. Not for him the hood and half mask of the hangman of nightmares, nor the rough, workmanlike clothes of the butcher. He holds the main tool of his trade – the noose or halter – displayed in his hands. The simple running knot of the business end is quite clear and nothing like the later hangman’s knot. In practice, this haltar would have been tied about the neck of the condemned in the Press Yard Room at Newgate by the Yeoman of the Halter and the slack wound about their waist. No doubt the executioners and their assistants had learned by experience that it provoked less resistance – and in a location where resistance could be more easily suppressed – to noose the condemned while still within the confines of the prison rather than wait until they were all actually under the beam of the gallows. Once they were arrived and the cart carefully positioned, the slack would have been unwound and the free end tossed over and secured to one of the beams of the Tyburn gallows.
 
If the picture is a propaganda piece, yet the other attendant details it shows are fascinatingly accurate. It must date from between May 1752 when Turlis succeeded John Thrift and the summer of 1759 when the permanent triangular gallows of Tyburn was demolished to be replaced by a portable, single beamed, structure, since behind Turlis’ left shoulder is quite clearly one angle of the notorious and iconic Triple Tree – the Deadly Nevergreen – the Three-legged Horse – the Horse Foaled by an Acorn.
The cart on which Turlis is standing is the kind of cart used to transport the condemned to the gallows (you can see part of the wheel in the right foreground) and which has high sides to stop them easily jumping out but no tailgate so that they can be dragged off it once they are strung up. However, there is no sign of the cart’s horse whose hind quarters should be just visible beyond the dangling noose. Perhaps this would have complicted the picture too much. The horse in not out of sight at the other end of the cart because the condemned always rode with their backs to the horse and the direction of travel, although whether this was a deliberate humiliation or to spare them the sight of the gallows until the very last moment, is debatable.
Beside the cart is a mounted pike man, one of the military escort except that in many depictions of the escort, the pike men are on foot and the mounted escort are cavalry men with sabres. This man may be a conflation of both types of escort. Behind the two seated felons is a dark shadow which may represent the coffin in which one of them will be buried and against which they leaned or sat on the journey to Tyburn. It is interesting that the faces of the pikeman and the felons boarder on caricature while the face of Turlis is almost noble. There is no knowing whether it is an accutate likeness.
The felons themselves are two symbolic types. The one on the left is decently dressed in coat and cravat and has on his head the traditional white nightcap which the hangman will pull down to cover his face just before he is turned off. He bows his head in a posture of remorse. He depicts the appropriately pentitent criminal who meets with the chaplain’s approval. His companion gazes up in defiance or anguish. He has not bothered – or cannot afford – decent clothes: his shirt is ragged and his neckcloth a limp rag. He has no nightcap to conceal the final distorted expression of his face. The chaplain has not succeeded in bringing him to a suitable state of mind to confront Eternity. But both are shown to be weeping, the tears are clear on both faces. They are also shown as tied in the traditional way with a rope round the upper arms holding their elbows in at the waist but leaving their hands free to wring in anguish or to clasp in prayer. Again, long experience must have shown that this kind of bond was sufficient to immobilise the man: he would be have limited use of his hands to hold his tankard at St Giles or to give his friends and family a final handshake, but he cannot get them up to his throat to loosen the noose. Only the most notorious offenders – like the escapee Jack Shepherd – were handcuffed on the way to Tyburn.
Edward Dennis succeeded Turlis in 1771, carrying on at Newgate and assisted by William Brunskill until November 21st, 1786, when Dennis died and Brunskill took over.
It was widely believed at the time that the body of a newly hanged person had healing properties. People would pay the hangman to be allowed to stroke the hands of the executed person across their warts and injuries. Some people would also try and obtain trophies such as locks of hair.
For more detailed accounts of executions at Tyburn, read the cases of Catherine Hayes who burnt at the stake for Petty Treason in 1726, Jenny Diver who was hanged there with 19 others on the 18th of March 1741, Earl Ferrers, the last peer of the realm to hang in May 1760 and Elizabeth Brownrigg hanged in 1767 for murdering her apprentice.