Tuesday, 22 November 2016

22nd November 1816: The Nottingham Review publishes a biographical report of James Towle, his execution & funeral

Execution of James Towle.

This unfortunate man, who, on Wednesday last, in the vigour of manhood, and prime of his days, paid the forfeit of his life to the offended laws of this country, was born at Old Basford, in this county, of honest and creditable parents; one of whom, the father, was, about two years ago, seized by the icy hand of death, and has therefore, happily been prevented from feeling the painful emotions which must agitate the parental breast, and tear every feeling of a father's heart, in the contemplation of the disgraceful end of a darling son; but the widowed bereaved mother, is left to struggle with all the anguish which such a catastrophe is capable of inspiring. HER feelings we will not attempt to describe; the death of a son, is painful under any circumstances; but in the present instance, after all the hopes that might have been excited by the long delay which has taken place since the awful sentence of the law was passed, the thorns, which tear her heart, must be beyond desscription terrible: the barbed arrow of sorrow has entered, which probably will never be extracted while wife remains.

Towle was apprenticed to his father, as a framework-knitter; and no particular circumstance marked his character until he arrived at manhood; but since that period, HIS LIFE has several times been in jeopardy, in consequence of his bad conduct, and immoral life. In the year 1814, he was accused of being one of the band of framebreakers that destroyed some frames in Mr Garton's house, in New Basford, the village in which Towle then lived, and at the Lent Assizes following, he was put the bar, in the County-hall, in this town, and tried for the offence; but after a long consultation, the Jury brought in a verdict of NOT GUILTY. In July, 1816, he was, however, again committed to prison on the charge for which he has now paid the penalty of the law. The offence having been perpetrated at Loughborough, he was of course confined in Leicester gaol, and on Saturday morning, August 10, about seven o'clock, he, along with John Slater Benjamin Badder, was put to the bar. The trial lasted upwards of twelve hours, and after Baron Graham, who presided, had given his charge, the Jury found Towle GUILTY OF AIDING AND ABETTING, BUT NOT OF FIRING THE PISTOL AT ASHER; and in consequence of the verdict, Baron Graham passed sentence of death upon him.

In the course of the trial, Mr. Denman, one of the counsel for the prisoners, made some objections to the wording of the indictment; and the prisoner was resspited, in order that the opinion of the twelve Judges might be taken on the subject. On the 13th of November, the case was argued in the Court of Exchequer, and the following reports of it is given in the London papers:—

"The twelve Judges sat in the Exchequer Chamber to hear arguments on the reserved case of James Towle, one of the men convicted before Mr. Baron Graham, at Leicester. The Prisoner was one of those persons connected with the frame-breakers, and was charged with several others, with shooting at certain of his Majesty's subjects with intent to kill them. The two points reserved were, first, that the Jury having found the Prisoner guilty of being present, but not of firing the pistol he could not be found guilty as a principle; and further, that on account of the word ‘feloniously’ being omitted in the accounts, charging him with being an aider and abettor, neither could be found guilty upon those counts.

"Mr Denman was heard at considerable length in support of the objections taken at the trial, and submitted, that the Prosecutors Counsel, by having put the question to the Jury, whether the prisoner was the person who fired the gun or not, and having drawn from them an opinion, must not now complain, if that opinion should prove fatal to the prosecution.

"Mr Reynolds, on the other side, argued in support the verdict Guilty; and contended, that the word ‘feloniously’ being mentioned in the first count, must be taken to be so connected with the words ‘then and there present aiding and assisting’ in the other counts, so as to over-rule them all. The Learned Counsel also contended, that this case came precisely under the provisions of the Black Act, and therefore, that all those aiding and abetting must be considered as principals. With respect to the question put to the Jury, and their finding upon it, the question itself was unnecessary, and the answer to it ought, in no way, to affect the verdict in any legal point of view."

The Judges being unanimous in their opinion, that the objections could not be sustained, the law was ordered to take its course. The unhappy man heard the result of the application with the utmost fortitude and composure; and constantly, whenever opportunity served, declared his innocence.—He several times expressed his thankfulness to Mr. Musson, the keeper, for the kind treatment he had received from him, which was all along distinguished by Mr. M’s characteristic humanity.

On Tuesday, the Rev. Mr. Highton, the chaplain to the County Gaol, preached what is termed the condemned sermon; and on the same morning, Towle took a very affecting farewell of his wife and four young children.

On Wednesday morning, he was taken, under an escort, in a chaise, to the building, an appendage to the New Bridewell now erecting, within a few yards of the west-end of the infirmary. At an early hour, great numbers assembled to see the new drop (which had been placed there only the day before) and kept increasing until twelve o'clock, when Towle, with a firm and undaunted step, came upon the platform, attended by the Sheriff and his deputy, the chaplain, the two gaolers, &c. after paying the utmost possible attention to the prayers of the chaplain, with a firm and audible voice, he gave out one of Dr. Watt's admirable hymns, beginning with—

"Oh! for an overcoming faith,
To cheer my dying hours;
To triumph o’er the monster death,
With all his frightful powers."

He gave out the whole of the hymn, two lines at a time, and joined in singing it with the utmost fervency. About half past twelve, every thing being ready the platform fell, and launched him into eternity, in the presence of an immense number of spectators, who conducted themselves in the most orderly manner, and without the least attempt a disturbance.

After hanging the usual time, his body was demanded by his cousin Josiah Towle, who before he could obtain it, was required to put his hand to the following document:—

"The corpse of James Towle having been delivered to me on behalf of his mother, who is desirous of interring it at Basford, I hereby undertake that the same shall be buried there before sunset to-morrow, with all possible privacy, and I hereby make myself responsible that there shall be no public exhibition, either previously to, or at the funeral, and particularly that the corpse shall not be detained in the town of Nottingham, but that the same shall be conveyed, as privately as possible, throughout that town, and in case of any disturbance taking place, in consequence of the conveyance or burial of the said corpse, I consent this paper may be produced in evidence against me.

Dated this 20th of Nov. 1816.


"I further engage that the corpse shall not be halted or detained at any other place between Leicester and Basford, than the following:—

To bail for one hour at Rothley House.
To put up for the night or bail at Costock.
To bail for one hour at Bradmore and from thence to Basford without stopping."

The body was conveyed through Nottingham during the course of Wednesday night, and on Thursday afternoon, was committed to the earth in Basford church yard, by the side of his father, in the presence of thousands of spectators; every thing being conducted in the most peaceable and orderly manner.

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