Friday, 15 June 2012

15th June 1812: The execution of Joseph Thompson & John Temples at Chester Castle

On Monday, 15th June 1812, the prisoners Joseph Thompson and John Temples, convicted and sentenced to death at the Chester Special Commission were executed at Chester Castle. Three other prisoners who were also sentenced to death - Richard Lowndes, William Greenhough, and John Heywood - were reprieved temporarily.

Below are 2 accounts of the executions from contemporary newspapers. When one reads the accounts of executions, one has to bear in mind context and the intended message: the accounts 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. It is very hard to take these accounts seriously.

The first is from the Leeds Mercury of 20th June 1812 (also, Chester Courant of 16th June 1812):

On Monday, Joseph Thompson, and John Temples, found guilty at the Special Commission, held for the county of Chester, on the 25th ult. for the trial of the rioters, were executed pursuant their sentences at the New Drop, behind the City Gaol, the crime for which the former of these unhappy men suffered, was, according to the indictment, for “having on the 14th day of April last, feloniously entered the dwelling-house of John Goodair, of Edgeley in that county, and stolen thereout one silver soup laddle, a quantity of silver spoons and other articles; and also with having set fire to the said dwelling-house ,” the latter for “having in the night of Saturday the 9th day of May, in company with a number of others, burgalariously broke and entered the dwelling-house of Samuel Wagstaffe, at Adlington in this county, and feloniously stolen therein five silver tea spoons, and a great variety of wearing apparel.”

About half-past twelve o'clock they left the Castle; when the solemn procession, escorted by a party of the Oxford Blues, and accompanied by the proper offices, proceeded through the city to the New Gaol, followed by an immense crowd of people. On their arrival at the latter place they were conducted to the chapel, where they very devoutly joined the clergyman in prayer, to that Being into whose presence they were about to appear. At one o'clock they ascended the drop, and soon after launched into eternity, in the presence of a great concourse of people assembled to witness their awful exit.

Thompson was 34 years of age, and comes from Preston, in Lancashire; Temples, 27, and was a native of Ireland. They were both weavers.—In their devotional exercises, since their condemnation, they been assisted by the Rev. Mr Penswick, a Catholic clergyman; and the Rev. William Fish, the Ordinary. After hanging the usual time, their bodies were cut down, and placed in shells for interment.—May the example, which it has been deemed necessary to make of these misguided men, prove a salutary warning to all who have been engaged in those scenes of riot and tumult, which has but too long and unhappily disgraced this and the adjoining counties; “for whatever they may think,” as Baron Thompson justly observed, in passing sentence of death at Lancaster, “though they may suppose themselves to be beyond the reach of the law, justice may overtake them; and though they may not have intended to go the lengths they in general do, yet who can say, thus far will I go, and no further?”—Richard Lowndes, William Greenhough, and John Heywood, found guilty, and who were left execution had been reprieved.
2 weeks later, the Leeds Mercury printed this account, which is apparently originally from the Chester Chronicle:
The history of public executions can scarcely produce an instance where men have met death with more apparent firmness, not to say insensibility, than Thompson and Temple, at Chester, on Monday the 15th ultimo. They walked from the Castle to the cart at Glover-stone with a firm and fearless step: In their way thro’ the city, they survey’d the immense crowd with a smiling countenance, and an eye of seeming curiosity. On their arrival in the city gaol, before mounting the platform, they conversed freely together, and Thompson sucked two oranges. It was agreed between them that Thompson should let fall a handkerchief as a signal for the fatal drop to go; but he observed to Temple, “when you feel ready, put your foot upon mine.” This the latter did the moment they were tied up;—Thompson then threw the handkerchief from him in a manner that would indicate that he meant it as a challenge! They instantly dropt—Temple scarcely stirr’d a limb; but Thompson was convulsed for about three minutes, owing to the noose slipping to the back of his neck. Temple, who was a Roman Catholic, died with a key upon one of his fingers. Neither of the above unfortunate men uttered a word at the fatal drop—they both seemed impatient to quit this sublunary scene of care and sorrow. Thompson, it is said, had left some important discoveries in the hands of Mr. Hudson. A crowd of ideas force themselves upon us from the above awful circumstance. When men meet a violent death with such indifference, does it not strongly prove, what we have frequently advanced, and which has been long our confirmed opinion, the inefficacy of taking human life. Surely some other punishment, more dreadful than death to the idle and the vicious, may be resorted to; and a thousand times more salutary in point of example to society. In this we are supported by no less a character than the great and good Sir Samuel Romilly, and others of the wisest Lawyers that ever adorned the Bar of the Bench.

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