Tuesday, 10 April 2012

10th April 1812: The execution of the Derbyshire 'Luddite burglars' James Tomlinson & Perceval Cook at Derby Gaol

Context is all important when one reads the account below of the execution of the 'Luddite burglars' James Tomlinson and Perceval Cook from the Derby Mercury of 16th April 1812. At this time, most accounts of executions go beyond a grisly description of the facts and generally paint a portrait of individuals expressing remorse, often admonishing others not do as they have done. For the authorities and the media, this was an important part of the legal and judicial process - punishment as an awful spectacle and as a warning. Indeed, the Derby Mercury gave the execution several times the column inches they had given to the men's trials (literally, a sentence). How much truth there is in this account is impossible to establish, but it seems unlikely that much of it was authentic.
Execution of Perceval Cook and James Tomlinson.

Perceval Cook, and James Tomlinson, alias Fruz, who were convicted of burglaries at our last assizes, were executed about half past 12 o'clock on Friday last, pursuant to their sentence, on a new drop erected in front of the county gaol, in the presence of a numerous concourse of spectators.

From the time of their condemnation they conducted themselves with the utmost propriety, and were unremitting in their supplications to obtain divine mercy.—A short time previous to their execution they receive the sacrament from the hands of the Rev. N. Bayley, chaplain to the prison, (who has been most assiduous in his application to these unfortunate men,) in the presence of Thomas Draper (who has admitted evidence for the Crown,) and William Tomlinson, (the brother of James Tomlinson,) now under sentence of transportation for uttering forged Bank of England notes.—This scene, and the separation of the two brothers, was truly affecting, and may be better conceived than described.—James Tomlinson preserved his firmness of mind to the last, and continued to exhort Draper and his fellow prisoners for a considerable time in the most anxious and persuasive manner to refrain from their former course of life; and after spending a short time in prayer on the platform, they met their fate with becoming fortitude.—Their bodies after hanging the usual time were given to their friends, and taken away the same evening for interment.

Cooke was a native of Dale Abbey, and we understand of religious and industrious parents, who gave him a suitable education, and bound him apprentice to a frame-work knitter at Spondon, but his master dying before the expiration of his time, he went from Spondon to Nottingham, where he has left a wife and two children, the eldest about 7 years of age. He was a deserter from the 43d regiment of foot, and declared he had not committed any material crime previous to October last.

James Tomlinson was born in the neighbourhood of Hinckley, was by trade a framework knitter, and is a deserter from several regiments. His parents are travelling hawkers in the hardware line.

It having been represented that James Tomlinson was completely uninformed and insensible to the situation in a religious view, we lay before our readers the following copy of a letter received this morning upon that subject from a respectable correspondent.

The confession of Perceval Cooke and James Tomlinson, (as it appears in a neighbouring print,) seeming not very favourable to the latter, I beg you will, through the medium of your Paper, inform the public, that poor Tomlinson did not die “enveloped in gross darkness.” His resignation evinced his christian faith, which supported him to meet his sad end with christian fortitude. He said, “that the injuries which he had done to society, were many, but he hoped, that the forfeiture of his life would induce man to forgive him.” He then paused a little,—and from the consciousness of his multiplied transgressions against God, he exclaimed, “I can make no atonement for my disobedience to Him; but I will not despair, I will trust in his mercies and the merits of Jesus Christ.”—On the morning of his execution he attended to the duties of the chapel with solemn devotion and great composure of mind, and returning into the cell with Cooke, his poor fellow-sufferer, he, Tomlinson, addressed some of the criminals, of whom he wished to take his farewell, and these awfully memorable words: “Take warning by my sad end; blessing and cursing, life and death were set before me: I unhappily made choice of the curse, and death is the consequence.” He particularly directed his discourse to Draper, whom he had most cordially forgiven, and entreated him “to be religious, honest and industrious for the remainder of his life.” His solemn admonitions to his fellow creatures,—his patient submission to the awful termination of his animal life,—and his firm reliance on the mercies of God, which he depended upon for the merits of Christ Jesus his Saviour, were evidences of the saving faith.

I remain, Dear Sir,
Yours, &c.

We are authorised to state, that Perceval Cooke, one of the unfortunate men who suffered at this place on Friday last, confessed a short time after his conviction, that William Wells, alias Black Tom, who was convicted at the last Nottingham assizes for a highway robbery near Mansfield, and John Thompson, who was convicted at our assizes for the burglary at Wilstrope, with another associate, were the three men who stopped Mr. Tempest, of Little Eaton, on his return home from our market in the evening of Friday the 5th April, 1811; and we congratulate the public that the three soldiers in the 3d or King’s Own Dragoons, then stationed at Derby, and who went in pursuit of a deserter in the neighbourhood of Little Eaton on the evening of the robbery, and were afterwards apprehended on suspicion thereof, are thus exculpated from the imputation of the offence.

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