Sunday, 29 July 2012

29th July 1812: The execution of Benjamin Renshaw

On Wednesday 29th July, Benjamin Renshaw was executed in Nottingham. An account of his execution, confession, and final moments with his family from the Leeds Mercury of 8th August 1812 is below. This can be contrasted with a smaller article from the Leicester Journal of 31st July 1812. There is a complete contrast.

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 at all seriously.
Leeds Mercury:

THE EXECUTION OF BENJAMIN RENSHAW.

On Wednesday week pursuant his sentence, was executed on the gallows near Nottingham, Benjamin Renshaw, for setting fire to a hay stack belonging to Mr. Charles Stanton, and slaughtering a ram belonging to Mr. Isaac Dodsley, both of Mansfield. About eleven o'clock he left the prison, and was placed in a cart, accompanied by the executioner and a respectable gentleman who had daily visited him during his condemnation. The concourse of spectators was unusually great to witness the awful catastrophe. When arrived at the fatal tree, and some time been spent in singing and prayer, Renshaw himself prayed with an audible voice and afterwards addressed the multitude for the space of 15 or 20 minutes, exhorting them, and especially youth, to avoid evil company, and this he did in a manner which excited the astonishment of every beholder: such fortitude, unshaken confidence, and composure, were scarcely ever witnessed, expressing at the same time, as he had done before, his assurance of the mercy of God. After he was turned off, the noose of the rope moved under his chin, and it was deemed proper to pin him into the cart that the rope might be adjusted afresh, after which he was turned off again. This circumstance occasioned a considerable sensation among the spectators, who generally expressed their abhorrence at the executioner, to whose carelessness they attributed the accident. After hanging the usual time, his body was given to his friends for interment at Mansfield. The following is the confession made by Renshaw, and signed with his own hand:—

“I was born at Mansfield Nottinghamshire, in 1778, of honest and industrious parents. At the age 15, I was visited with serious impressions, and joined a religious community, with whom I walked in the fear of God for the space of five years or upwards, but unfortunately for myself, I left that community in 1797, from which period I have ever since dated the beginning of my ruin and misery. The restraints of religion being thrown off, I commenced a life of wickedness, and a sin is like the letting out of water, I yielded to such temptations as presented themselves, till at length I was led to commit those horrid and diabolical crimes, to which I am justly sentenced to forfeit my life. Notwithstanding this, the Lord was pleased to visit me with a powerful convictions of the evil of my ways, insomuch, that my guilty conscience has in some instances deprived me of rest, and hindered me in my lawful employment. Under these visitations of God’s most Holy Spirit, I have been led to hate myself, and abhor my situation; and God is my witness, that I have often prayed to him to deliver me of my sins, or by some means or other, stop me in my wickedness. I have also reflected how awful must be my state in setting such a vile example before the eyes of my poor children, who should soon be capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong. I was apprehended, and constrained to make a full confession of my crimes, this I did to ease my burdened mind, and in the hope that my life would be spared, as I was informed, that if I confessed, mercy would be shewn to me; but my case has turned out otherwise, and I am content to suffer the penalty of the law, as God has had compassion on my soul.”

After committing his wife and children to the protection of the humane and charitable, he states that on the night when the hay-stack was fired, Revell, one of his associates, and himself were engaged in stealing poultry and robbing gardens, and that from the impulse of the moment, they came to the resolution of setting fire to the stack which they jointly effected. His narrative then proceeds loss:—

“After my commitment, the dreadful apprehensions of a future state, induced me frequently to weep. I sought for a retired corner that I might there offer my supplications to the Searcher of Hearts, but my devotions were so frequently interrupted by my fellow prisoners, but I could not keep my mind fixed as I wished to; at length I asked leave to be locked up in my cell alone, which was readily granted; and on the turnkey opening the door to admit me, such were the overwhelmings of my grief on account of my sins, that I cast myself prostrate on the floor, beseeching the Lord Jesus Christ to permit a poor miserable wretch to be at his feet; and after groaning some time under the weight of my iniquity, I obtained mercy, and have since been enabled to declare, that Jesus Christ has power on earth to forgive sin. This circumstance took place on the 30th of last April, and ever since that time I have been clear as to my acceptance with God; and having had the privilege of being in my cell alone five or six hours a day, I have often enjoyed the presence of God in such a manner, that strange as it may seem to some, my prison has been to me a paradise, I have frequently prayed for a thankful heart, reflecting, that had I been suddenly cut off in my sins, I should have been lost; or had I been tried at the Lent Assizes, before I obtained the mercy of God, my state must have been deplorable. I have again considered, that had I been permitted to go on in my sins for some time longer, my heart might have become so far hardened, as to render me incapable of repentance; but, blessed be God, it is otherwise with me, the nearer my end approaches, the more precious is Christ to my soul, and I am fully persuaded he will never leave me nor forsake me.

To the Rev. Dr. Wood, the Chaplain, I beg to express my gratitude for his very great attention and kindness to me.

BENJAMIN RENSHAW.”

On the Sunday morning before his execution, his wife and children came to the Castle to take a long farewell of the husband and father. The meeting was extremely affecting. He asked forgiveness of his wife, and told her he had received forgiveness of God: “That is enough,” she said, “it is what I and my children have been praying for day and night.” After a short time he called his children around him, and putting his hand in his pocket, took out three-pence, which was all the money he had, and gave each child a half-penny, desiring them they would keep them as a token of his love as long as they lived. Having placed his children before him, with weeping eyes and throbbing breast, his wife at his right hand, with an infant at the breast only 18 days old, he addressed them in nearly the following language:

“My dear Children—You now see your poor father hath brought himself to an untimely end; but the cause of this has been the giving way to sin, and the three of you are now old enough to know the difference between good and evil, I entreat you never to do any thing which you believe to be wrong. I beg also, my dear children, that you will shun bad company; this in a great measure is that which has proved your father's ruin. Always remember to speak the truth, and never take any thing which is not your own; and, as it is probable you will soon be put to some employment, take care that you keep close to work, and never give way to idleness; and above all, I beg, (now, mind what I say,) that you will, at least, twice every day, bow your knees before you Maker, and pray that he may preserve and keep you in all your ways. You may live in the world 40 or 50 years or longer—but life will soon be over, and you must die, and I charge you to meet me in heaven, for I shall again know you, if you meet me there.” He then beginning at the eldest, and called her and the others severally by name, asked “if they could attend to the advice of their dying father,” to which, each, with a gushing tear, replied “Yes.”

He then addressed himself to his disconsolate wife.—“My dear,” said he, “although I have brought thee to this disgrace, yet never suffer any degree of poverty or distress to lead thee to do any thing that is wrong, but, remember, that God hath promised to be a farther to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow, and I should sin if I did not believe in his word of promise; only do thou trust in him, and he will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”

After a short exhortation to his afflicted brother, the parting kiss took place; and on embracing a fine boy only six years of age, the father said, “Farewell, my dear, I shall never see thee any more,”—“Yes, Father,” replied the child, “we shall meet again in heaven!”

This was a cutting stroke to the father, which he named to his visitants afterwards. From that time his mind seemed to be at ease respecting his family, and ever after he would talk about them with pleasure, observing, “I have committed them into the hands of my heavenly Father, who I know will provide for them.”
Leicester Journal:

Benjamin Renshaw convicted at the Nottingham Assizes of having entered the dwelling house of James Finch, of Mansfield, framework-knitter, and feloniously stolen and carried away a box containing upwards of £30 and also implicated in firing of a hay stack, the property of Mr. Fielding, of Mansfield, and some corn stacks in the neighbourhood, was executed on Wednesday last pursuant to his sentence: he was 34 years of age, and after condemnation conducted himself in a manner suitable to his unhappy situation. He transmitted the following letter to the Judge previous to receiving sentence of death.

MY LORD,

“I am sorry to say that I am guilty of the crime laid to my charge, and I hope your Lordship will consider the distressed state of my family, my wife lies in of the eighth child, the oldest a cripple, should I find mercy at your hands, I hope by the help of God to amend my life, the great uneasiness I had since I have been in prison will make it a warning to me as long as I live.

Your humble servant,
BENJAMIN RENSHAW.

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