Wednesday, 2 October 2013

2nd October 1813: The execution of James Renshaw, Simeon Beston & William Beston

The execution of the 3 men convicted of burglary at the Chester Lammas Assizes, including the convicted Luddite, James Renshaw, took place in Chester on Saturday 2nd October 1813. The Chester Chronicle of 8th October carried an article on the executions, and what led up to it: 
Simeon Beston, James Renshaw, and William Beston, for burglaries

The execution of these men, the two former convicted of a burglary in the house of Joseph Harding, as Henbury, on the 28th April last, and the latter of a burglary in the house of Samuel Harding, of Swettenham, on the 6th June last, took place on Saturday, in this city. From the moment of their condemnation,* their conduct has been marked by a total indifference to the near approach of death, and we are truly sorry to say, that although they have attended with some degree of attention to the visits of the Ordinary, yet they persisted in denying their guilt to a late period of their existence; William Beston, indeed, maintained his innocence to the last moment; and Simeon Beston and Renshaw denied all knowledge of the burglary, till the moment of their execution. The former repeatedly declared that he did not sign the examination produced in Court, and going upon his knees, wished God might never receive his soul if he was guilty!—W. Beston said, "he did not know that he ever had a pistol in his possession, (see trial in CHRONICLE of September 24) but, if he had, he was taking it to be repaired!" —Such was the state of mind of these unfortunate wretches on the morning of Saturday, when, about 10 o'clock they received the sacrament with apparent devotion; after taking leave of their fellow prisoners, they were ironed and handcuffed, and conducted to the parlour of Mr. Hudson's house. When the irons were putting on Renshaw, his agitation was extreme—his whole frame was for several minutes convulsed, and his forehead bedewed within excessive perspiration.—Not so the Bestons; they seem totally indifferent to the awful preparations of approaching death, and held out their legs to the ring, with extraordinary fortitude. It was when they were seated in the worthy Governor’s room, as he again exhorted them to make that confession of their offences which the outraged laws of man required. Renshaw remained silent; but Simeon Beston, in a firm voice, replied, "We feel perfectly easy." A friend of ours, who was present, then adverted to the contradiction so apparent in the evidence given on the trial of Simeon Beston, in which his brother declared that he slept at his house on the night of the burglary, and did not lead to four o'clock the following morning; whilst the examination of Beston, which he had signed, overthrew the whole, by stating that he went into a field, and fell asleep under a hay-rick till morning? To this the unfortunate man said, "The examination is not true; I did not sleep in a field; and I am quite innocent of what I am to die for."—They were told that it was a duty they owed to God and their country to confess, as it would clear up all doubts; and the idea of the offence of dying with a lie in the mouth was dreadful. "Aye! very true," said William Beston, "if we were to die with a lie in the mouth! But we have told all the truth to God, he knows all our secrets" Mr. Hudson then gave each of them a glass of wine, when W. Beston said, "Master, here's your health; I am as innocent of the robbery as this is," holding up the glass.—Before Renshaw drank, he turned round to Mr. Hudson, and with the big tear of contrition in his eye, he faltered out "Well, Master, farewell!" The way in which he spoke was inconceivably affecting.
The two Bestons repeated frequently the most unequivocal declarations of innocence. William Beston said he had no participation whatever in the robbery he was about to suffer for, and addressing Renshaw, said, "Jem, if thou know’st any thing, thou’d best tell now."—Renshaw, however, remained silent; and Simeon Beston exclaimed, "I hope we shall soon be happy!" That there was an [ambition] in the two brothers, to impress on the world a belief of their innocence, there can be no doubt, notwithstanding the very clear evidence on which they were convicted and we cannot forbear noticing a question put by Simeon Beston, "are we to wear these (pointing to his irons) through the streets?"—Notice of the arrival of the City Sheriffs being given, the wretched men walked with a firm step to the outer door of the gaol, where an escort of the Royal Denbigh Militia took charge of them, and from Glover’s street† the melancholy procession moved through the principal streets to the New Gaol.—Simeon Beston, throughout the journey, held in his hands a prayer-book, and occasionally made protestations of innocence to the surrounding crowd.
While on the platform, and after they were tied up, Simeon Beston, who had exhibited a wonderful degree of firmness throughout the morning, trembled very much. After some time spent in prayer, the Ordinary particularly exhorted them not to die altering the falsehood. Renshaw, then, acknowldged his guilt, and owned that S. Beston participated in the crime.—Even now the latter said he was guiltless; but on Renshaw repeating his confession, he replied, "Well, it is so; I am indeed guilty." Renshaw, then in a loud voice, addressed the multitude in the following words; "Gentlemen, I am brought here to die for a crime that I am guilty of.—I beg you all to take warning by my fate. It was not my bringing up, but poverty that’s brought me to this.—May God have mercy on you all; and as I forgive every one, I hope every body will forgive me."—William Beston, with that hardihood which he had all along manifested, said, "I am quite innocent. I'm here to be murdered. But I forgive every one, and hope God will forgive me."—Simeon Beston afterwards spoke, but in so low a tone of voice, that his words could not be collected.—The signal was then given by Renshaw—the platform fell, and the wretched men were released from their worldly sufferings.—Renshaw was dead in a few seconds; but the two Bestons were dreadfully convulsed for long time. W. Beston in particular, was observed to move nearly ten minutes, which, we are told, is to be attributed to the rope having swept round the back of his neck.
Simeon Beston was in his 26th year, by trade a weaver, from Ringway; William Beston was in his 42d year, a weaver from North Etchells; and Renshaw about 30, also a weaver, from Wilmslow. They form part of a numerous and desperate gang of depredators, who have long infested the Eastern extremities of this county, and are the residue of the most determined of those dangerous men who were associated by the name of Luddites.—We trust, for the sake of society, humanity, that the dreadful examples which it has been found necessary to make, will operate as a caution on those who, in the confidence of impunity, are still following on that course, which must eventually end in a terrible and ignominious death.—We are no advocates for an extension of that part of our penal code, which has given to itself conspicuousness by the sacrifice at the shrine of justice of an ocean of blood; but there are, nevertheless, crimes of that "black and horrid hue," which can only be expiated by the death of the offender. Of such a stamp were the offences which we have this day occasion to notice; for although the act of murder itself was not completed—attempts, and those, too, of the most determined ferocious description, were made. On the whole, therefore, whilst we lament the necessity, we conceive that the lives of these offenders, were justly forfeited to public safety and public justice.
The body of Renshaw was interred on Sunday evening, in St. Mary’s Church-yard in this city, under the tower.
*Immediately after sentence was passed upon them, William Beston, holding up his fist in a threatening position, said, "[Damn] thee, [Lloyd] I may thank thee for this?" pointing to a respectable attorney in court, who had been the principal means of apprehending the desperadoes!

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