Tuesday 8 January 2013

8th January 1813: The execution of George Mellor, William Thorpe & Thomas Smith

At 9.00 a.m. on Friday 8th January 1813,  the three Luddites convicted of the murder of William Horsfall - George Mellor, William Thorpe & Thomas Smith - were executed at York Castle.

When compared with accounts of other executions, the report of the execution printed in the Extraordinary Edition of the Leeds Mercury of 9th January 1813 is noticeably anomalous. Particularly unusual is the reported defiance of William Thorpe being asked about Justice & also Mellor's clear broadside at the informer Benjamin Walker. Mellor, like Smith, had taken his Luddite oath entirely seriously - despite being imprisoned for almost 3 months he had clearly refused to utter a word to the authorities, as there is not even a simple statement taken by the magistrates in existence.

This report is free of the usual pseudo-religious accounts of redemption that are standard in the press of this time. This led to controversy over the following weeks in the two Leeds papers, as the Whig Mercury and the Tory Intelligencer traded blows over exactly what the substance of Mellor's last words were, as we shall see.
In the interval between the trial and execution, the prisoners behaved very penitently, though they refused to make any confession either in the prison or at the place of execution. Thorpe, on being asked if he did not acknowledge the justice of this sentence? said, “Do not ask me any question.” Mellor declared, “that he would rather be in the situation he was then placed, dreadful as it was, than have to answer for the crime of their accuser, and that he would not change situations with him, even for his liberty and two thousand pounds;” but with all his resolution, he could not conceal the agonies of his mind, for on the night before the execution, he fell to the ground in a state of insensibility, and it was thought he would have died in his cell; but he soon recovered, and in the morning his health was perfectly restored.

The Execution of these unhappy men took place yesterday, at nine o'clock, at the usual place behind the Castle, at York. Every precaution had been taken to render any idea of a rescue impracticable. Two troops of cavalry were drawn up at the front of the drop, and the avenues to the castle were guarded by infantry. Five minutes before nine o'clock, the prisoners came upon the fatal platform. After the ordinary had read the accustomed forms of prayer on these occasions, George Mellor prayed for about ten minutes; he spoke with great apparent fervency and devotion, confessing in general, the greatness of his sins, but without any allusion to the crime for which he suffered. He prayed earnestly for mercy, and with a pathos that was affecting. The surrounding multitude were evidently affected. William Thorpe also prayed, but his voice was not so well heard. Smith said little, but seemed to join in the devotion with great seriousness. The prisoners were then moved to the front of the platform, and Mellor said: "Some of my enemies may be here, if there be, I freely forgive them, and all the world, and I hope the world will forgive me." William Thorpe said, "I hope none of those who are now before me, will ever come to this place." The executioner then proceeded to perform his fatal office, and the drop fell. Some alteration had been made in the drop, so that all the whole body was visible when they were suspended; in former executions only the feet and head could be seen by the spectators. They were executed in their irons. They appeared slightly convulsed for a few moments.

The number of people assembled, was much greater than is usual in this city, on these melancholy occasions, but not the slightest indication of tumult prevailed, and the greatest silence reigned during the whole of this solemn and painful scene. Such has been the issue of that fatal system, which, after having produced in its progress great terror and alarm, and much mischief to the community, has at length terminated in the death of those who were its most active partizans. And thus have perished, in the very bloom of their life, three young men; who, had they directed their talents to lawful pursuits, might have lived happy and respected.—They were young men on whose countenances nature had not imprinted the features of assassins.

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