Monday 17 April 2017

17th April 1817: The final Luddite executions at Leicester - John Amos, John Crowther, Joshua Mitchell, Thomas Savage, William Towle & William Withers are hanged

On Thursday 17th April 1817, the final executions of Luddites took place at Leicester. There was coverage in various local newspapers but, unusually, the coverage in the Nottingham Review was short & muted. Although we have displayed their article below, we have placed the article in the Leicester Chronicle first, as it is much more comprehensive:

The Leicester Chronicle Friday 18th April 1817:
Thomas Savage, Joshua Mitchell, John Amos, Wm. Towle, John Crowder and Wm. Withers, for entering Messrs. Heathcote and Co’s factory, at Loughborough, and aiding and abetting the shooting at John Asher; Thomas Babington, for setting fire to a stack of oats belonging to Mr. John Moore, of Newbold Verdon. 
About half past five o'clock on Thursday morning, the above unfortunate men were removed from the County Gaol in a covered cart, escorted by a squadron of Hussars, to the New Bridewell, adjoining the Infirmary, where they immediately proceeded to prayer and continued very devoutly engaged the greater part of the morning. About twelve o'clock, they made their appearance on the platform, chained together by the wrist. Savage was placed first; Mitchell, second; Amos, third; Towle, fourth; Crowder, fifth; Withers, sixth; and Babington, seventh. 
After bowing to the vast numbers of persons assembled, Savage shortly addressed them as follows:— 
"My dear Brethren, I am now addressing you as a criminal. I shall not say a great deal. I hope you will take warning by all by our untimely fate, and not regard Man, but God. I feel confident of meeting my saviour hereafter and hope to be forgiven. I did intend to say more, but I have since declined the idea. In behalf of myself and fellow sufferers, I beg to return thanks to Mr. Vaughan & Mr. Hayton, for the attention they have shewn to us.—Farewell!" 
Amos addressed the spectators—"Friends and Fellow-Countrymen—You now see six young men going to suffer for a crime they are not guilty of, (alluding, we presume, to the firing at Asher) for the man who committed the crime will soon be at large. I would have you take warning by our fate, and be careful what company you keep. Farewell!" 
Babington said, "Gentlemen—I am as innocent as God is true, and [looking up,] God will witness it.—Farewell!" 
Mitchell wished to read a paper, but was not permitted. Amos then invited the crowd to join them in singing the following Hymn, which he gave out, two lines at a time, in a most audible and distinct manner, and was joined therein by Savage, Mitchel, Towle, &c. with equally firm voices. 
How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And SATAN binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains. 
But there’s a voice of Sovereign Grace
Sounds from the sacred word;
Ho! ye despairing sinners come,
And trust upon the Lord. 
O may we hear th’ Almighty call,
And run to this relief!
We would believe thy promise Lord;
O help our unbelief! 
To the blest fountain of thy blood,
Teach us, O Lord, to fly!
There may we wash our spotted souls
From sins of deepest dye! 
Stretch out thine arm, victorious King,
Our reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from this seat,
And form our souls anew. 
Poor, guilty, weak, and helpless worms,
On thy kind arm we fall;
Be thou our strength our righteousness,
Our JESUS and our all! 
The last short offices of devotion being concluded, Mr. Musson and the Executioner proceeded to adjust the ropes about the culprits’ necks, during which the prisoners shook hands with each other, and bade a last farewell to several of their friends whom they recognized before them, throwing to each some oranges, with a request that they might be given to their children, &c. 
Having shook hands with the High Sheriff, Clergyman, the Jaoler, &c. one of the unfortunate men (Amos) at about half past twelve, gave a signal by stamping his foot, when the fatal board fell and they were launched into eternity without much struggling, with the exception of Mitchell, who appeared strongly convulsed for several minutes. 
Almost throughout the whole of the awful ceremony they conducted themselves with a degree of firmness seldom witnessed on such a melancholy occasion. Though not insensible to religious impression, they appeared to await their approaching end with a composure we scarcely know how to express. Savage, who was a fine, tall, well-dressed, sensible looking man, appeared to be offering up his prayers with great earnestness when he was tied up. Mitchell, a well-made, bold-looking, well-dressed man, did not appear quite so devout. He assisted in adjusting Savage’s rope, as well as his own, with an unexampled coolness, worthy of a better fate. Amos, a tall, strong, decently dressed man, witnessed his fate with a smile upon his countenance, and seemed to be a man possessing great strength of mind. Towle, a fresh looking youth, betrayed no symptoms of agitation, until towards the close of the tragic scene, when, on the cap being pulled over his face, he evidently seemed much affected. Crowder also seemed much agitated towards the last, as did Withers a little, which he evinced by a restlessness in standing. 
It is to be hoped that the dreadful example now made, here and at Nottingham, will operate in putting an end to a system which has caused so much terror and alarm in this and a neighbouring county, and that Justice will now be satisfied. For ourselves, we are of opinion, with a celebrated writer, that "It is not the intenseness of the pain that has the greatest effect on the mind, but its continuance; for our sensibility is more easily and more powerfully affected by weak but repeated impressions, than by a violent, but momentary, impulse;" and consider we that "the death of a criminal is a terrible but momentary spectacle, and therefore a less efficacious method of deterring others, than the continued example of a man deprived of his liberty, condemned, as a beast of burthen, to repair, by his labour, the injury done to society. If I commit such a crime, says the spectator to himself, I shall be reduced to that miserable condition for the rest of my life. A much more powerful preventative than the fear of death, which men always behold in distant obscurity." 
A troop of Huzzars were in attendance on the above occasion, and we understand the Yeomanry Cavalry were also in readiness in case any attempt to rescue or disorder should have been made.—happily, however, the whole passed over without any interruption, the unfortunate malefactors having experienced every accommodation which the humanity of the High Sheriff and the Gaoler, was capable of affording under such circumstances. 
The execution being generally understood to take place on Monday, thousands of persons from all parts of this and adjoining counties thronged the town on that day. The postponement of the execution, it seems, was in consequence of the County Sessions commencing the early part of the week. It is computed not less than 15,000 persons were present on Thursday.
The Nottingham Review of Friday 18th April 1817:
LEICESTER, April 17, 1817.—"This morning about six o'clock, the six Luddites under sentence of condemnation, viz. Thomas Savage, William Withers, Joshua Mitchell, William Towle, John Crowder, and John Amos, together with Thomas Beavington, (for Arson) were removed, under an escort of dragoons, from the County Gaol, to the County Bridewell, preparatory to their being executed on the new drop. The Luddites appeared very cheerful, singing hymns most of the way as they passed along. Beavington seemed very dejected. In the course of the morning a greater concourse of people assembled than was ever known in this town, supposed at least, twenty thousand, to witness the melancholy spectacle. At about half past eleven o’clock, they all came on the platform, accompanied by Rev. Mr. Highton, Chaplain to the Gaol, Rev. Mr. Mitchell, Rev. Mr. Vaughan, &c. After attending the exhortations and prayers on the occasion, which they did with becoming behaviour, Savidge thanked the Ministers, &c. for their kindness and attention, on behalf of himself and fellow sufferers, and particularly for pointing out to them the way to heaven; he said he had intended to have addressed the multitude, but the time being too far gone, he should say very little; he declared their innocence as to the shooting at Asher. Amos said a few words and declared the same—Mitchell also said a few words.—Beavington declared his innocence, calling God to witness, and with his eyes lifted to heaven, said he did not set fire to the stacks. After these declarations, Amos with a firm voice, said he would now give out a hymn, desiring the people to join in singing the same, which was very readily complied with by many. The hymn was Dr. Watts, 90th hymn, 2d book, which begins, 
"How sad our state by nature is,
Our sin how deep it stains;
And Satan binds our captive minds,
Fast in his slavish chains." 
"They all joined and sang the hymn, apparently without faltering; after which at about a quarter past twelve o'clock, the signal being given, the platform fell, and they were launched into eternity;—during the time they were on the platform, they recognised several of their friends, and threw oranges to them, desiring to be remembered to their friends in Nottingham. 
“Every thing was very peaceable—the dragoons attended the platform."
Finally, the Leicester Journal of Friday 18th April 1817:
Expectation was on tiptoe, and curiosity afloat throughout the County and its vicinity, on Monday last, from his supposition that seven of the Malefactors (convicted at the last Assizes) would be executed on that day, an immense influx of people poured in from all quarters, in consequence, during the morning, (many of them from a considerable distance.)—but came to be disappointed. The Sessions for the County taking place in the early part of the week, their execution was postponed until yesterday. At six o'clock in the morning, Thomas Savage, William Withers, William Towle, John Amos, John Crowther, and Joshua Mitchell, LUDDITES, together with Thomas Beavington, for wilfully setting fire to a stack of oats, were removed from the County Gaol, under a military escort, to the New Bridewell, near the Infirmary.—The High Sheriff attended at seven o'clock, to see that the Prisoners had every accommodation consistent with their situation.—The LUDDITES were deeply impressed with the approach of the awful moment, and were very attentive to their devotion, in which they were assisted by the Chaplain, Mr. Hayton, together with the Rev. Mr. Vaughan and Mitchell. Savage acknowledged the justice of his sentence; and expressed himself grateful for the religious instruction he had received from the Rev. Messrs. Hayton, Vaughan, and Mitchell. At half past eleven they appeared upon the scaffold—after bowing to the populace—Savage addressed the multitude, cautioning them against inattention to religion, and neglect of the Sabbath, to which he attributed his own [illegible]. Mitchell was desirous of reading a paper, which was not permitted. Amos told the people, that he and his companions suffered for a crime which they never committed, (alluding to the firing at Asher,) but they all acknowledged to have been at Loughborough, and engaged in the business as proved on the trial. They all then sung an hymn, and were shortly after launched into eternity.—Their deportment to the last, although apparently repentant, savored strongly of hardy indifference.—The immense number present (at least ten thousand) behaved with great decorum, and dispersed perfectly quiet; too much praise cannot be given to the Civil Power, for the judicious arrangements adopted.

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