Wednesday 16 January 2013

16th January 1813: The 14 convicted Luddites are executed at York Castle

A contemporary illustration, from York Castle Prison, of an execution at the 'New Drop' after 1802.
On Saturday 16th January 1813, the fourteen Luddites sentenced to death 4 days previously were hanged at York Castle. It had been decided to hang them in two groups of seven: an anecdote has it that the counsel for the prosecution asked Baron Thomson after sentencing if they were to be hung together, and he responded "Well no, sir, I consider they would hang more comfortably on two."

There are two main contemporary accounts of the execution in both the Leeds papers, with the longest being printed in the Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1813. This is below, with notes added in square brackets.
After sentence of death had been passed upon the persons convicted of making the attack on Mr. Cartwright’s Mill, at Rawfolds, and of the Burglaries, fifteen in number, all of them except John Lumb, who was reprieved, were removed to the condemned-ward, and their behaviour in that place was very suitable to their unhappy situation. They confessed that they had offended against the laws of God and their Country, but on the subject of the offence, for which the sentence of death was passed upon them, they were very reserved; yet all of them except one, tacitly confessed that they were guilty of the crimes which they stood convicted, when they were asked if any of them could say they were not guilty, they all remain silent except James Haigh and Nathan Hoyle, the former of whom said, “I am guilty,” and the latter, “I am innocent;” this was the day before the execution; but Hoyle did not make any declaration to that effect when brought to the platform. Their minds for the most part had attained an extraordinary degree of composure; except the mind of John Ogden—he appeared some time to be much disturbed, but on the question being put to him whether his agitation arose from any discovery that he had to make, and with the weight of which his conscience was oppressed? he answered, no; his agitation arose from the terrors of his situation.

And here it seems proper to observe, that if any of these unfortunate men possessed any secret that it might have been important to the public to know, they suffered it to die with them. Their discoveries were meagre in the extreme. Not one of them impeached any of their accomplices, nor did they state, as might reasonably have been expected, where the depot of arms, in the collection of which some of them had been personally engaged, was to be found. When interrogated on this point, some of them disclaimed all knowledge of the place, and others said, Benjamin Walker, the informer against Mellor, Thorpe, and Smith, could give the best information about the arms, as he had been present at most of the depredations. On the question being put to them whether they knew who was concerned in the robbery of a mill (not Rawfolds) near Cleckheaton; James Hey said, “I and Carter the informer were present at the robbery.” It was observed to James Hey, that it was very extraordinary, that he who had the advantage of a religious education, his Father being of the Methodist Society, should have come to such a disgraceful situation; to which replied, in a manner that shewed that his vices, however flagrant, had not extinguished in his bosom the feelings of filial affection, I hope, said he, “the son’s crimes will never be imputed to his father.” The principal part of these ill-fated men were married and have left families. William Hartley, has left seven children, their mother, happily for herself, died about half a year ago. John Ogden, wife and two children; Nathan Hoyle, wife and seven children; Joseph Crowther, wife pregnant, and four children; John Hill, wife and two children; John Walker, wife and five children; Jonathan Dean, wife and seven children; Thomas Brook, wife and three children; John Swallow, wife and six children; John Batley, wife and one child; John Fisher, wife and three children; Job Hey, wife and seven children; James Hey, wife and two children; James Haigh, wife, but no children. On the morning before the execution, the eldest daughter of Hartley obtain permission to visit a wretched parent, when a scene took place which we will not attempt to describe. The heart-broken father wished to have been spared the anguish of this parting interval, but the importunate intreaties of his child a last prevailed, and they met to take a long farewell, never again to be repeated in this world. What must be the feelings of an affectionate father, (for such in this trying moment he appears to have shewn himself,) when, though standing on the brink of eternity, he declines to see a darling child; how great an aggravation of his punishment must those parting pangs of inflicted, and how loud an admonition does this melancholy incident suggest to the Fathers of families against entering into combinations that may place them in the same inexpressibly afflicted situations. It was Hartley’s particular request that the public should be informed of the number and unprovided situation of his orphan family.

At 11 o'clock on Saturday morning, the Under Sheriff went to demand the bodies of John Ogden, Nathan Hoyle, Joseph Crowther, John Hill, John Walker, Jonathan Dean, and Thomas Brook. They were all engaged in singing a hymn:

Behold the Saviour of Mankind,
Nail’d to the shameful tree;
How vast the love that him inclin’d
To bleed and for me, &c.

Which one of them [John Walker, according to the Leeds Intelligencer] dictated in a firm tone of voice; and in this religious service they continued on their way to the platform, and some time after they had arrived at the fatal spot. They then join the ordinary with great fervency in the prayers appointed to be read on such occasions, and after that gentleman had taken his final leave of them, ejaculations to the throne of mercy rose from every part of the crowded platform.

Joseph Crowther addressing himself to the spectators said, “Farewell Lads;” another whose name we could not collect said, “I am prepared for the Lord,” and John Hill, advancing a step or two on the platform, said, “Friends! all take warning by my fate; for three years I followed the Lord, but about half a year since, I began to fall away; and fell by little and little, and at last I am come to this; persevere in the ways of godliness, and O! take warning by my fate!” The executioner then proceeded to the discharge of his duty, and the falling of the platform soon after, forced an involuntary shriek from the vast concourse of spectators assembled to witness this tremendous sacrifice to the injured laws of the country.

The bodies having remained suspended for the usual time [12.00 p.m.], they were removed, and while the place of execution was yet warm with the blood of the former victims, the remaining seven, namely, John Swallow, John Batley, Joseph Fisher, William Hartley, James Haigh, James Hey, and Job Hey, were led at half-past one o'clock from their cell to the fatal stage, their behaviour, like that of their deceased confederates, was contrite and becoming; James Haigh expressed deep contrition for his offences. John Swallow said he had been led away by wicked and unprincipled men, and hoped his fate would be a warning to all, and teach them to live a life of sobriety and uprightness. They all united in prayer with an earnestness that is seldom witnessed in the services of devotion, except in the immediate prospect of death [the Leeds Intelligencer said they sung the same hymn as those executed earlier]. A few moments closed their mortal existence, and placed at the bar differing from all earthly tribunal's in this infinitely important particular—here, owing to the imperfections of all human institutions, repentance though sincere, cannot procure forgiveness—there, we have the authority of God himself for saying, that the cries of the contrite and broken-hearted shall not be despised. Charity hopeth all things.

The criminal records of Yorkshire do not perhaps afford an instance of so many victims having been offered in one day to the injured laws of the country. The scene was inexpressibly awful, and the large body of soldiers, both horse and foot, who guarded the approach to the castle, and were planted in front of the fatal tree, gave to the scene a peculiar degree of terror, and exhibited the appearance of a military execution. The spectators, particularly in the morning, were unusually numerous, and their behaviour on both occasions, were strictly decorous and unbecoming.
The site of the 'New Drop', where the executions took place (Google Street View)

This is from the Leeds Mercury of 23rd January 1813. The quote from Baron Thomson (erroneously attributed to Baron Wood) is in of "Annals of a Yorkshire house from the papers of a macaroni & his kindred" by A. M. W. Stirling, (London, John Lane the Bodley Head, 1911, vol.2, p.131).

Unlike the Mercury, the Leeds Intelligencer of 18th January 1813 quoted Swallow's address to the crowd:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the situation in which I am now placed, demands your serious consideration, being led astray by wicked and unprincipled characters, I was seduced from the paths of virtue, and fell into that dreadful crime for which I am now going to suffer. I beg of you to take warning by my fate, and I hope that God will grant you grace to live a life of sobriety and uprightness, in order to prevent your being brought to that situation in which I am now placed.”

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