A Hundred Spectators were killed or injured in a Crush at the Execution of these Men before Newgate on the 22nd of February, 1807.
The fatal accident which happened on the spot and at the moment of the execution of these men, by which more than forty people lost their lives, and many more were terribly bruised, will cause their memory, more than their crimes, to remain a dreadful warning to many generations. Their whole case, indeed, was attended with singular and awful circumstances. Even of their guilt many entertained doubts, which were not entirely removed. Their conviction rested upon the evidence of a wretch as base as themselves, who stated himself to have been their accomplice; but the public indignation against them was excited to such a pitch that it is not to be wondered at that a jury pronounced them guilty.
On the 6th of November, 1802, Mr John Cole Steele, who kept the Lavender Warehouse, in Catherine Street, Strand, was murdered, with much barbarity, on Hounslow Heath, and his pockets rifled of their contents. The murderers escaped. Though rewards were offered for their apprehension, no discovery was made. Every search had been made by the officers of the police after them. Several loose characters were apprehended on suspicion, but discharged on examination, and all hopes had been given up of tracing the murderers, when a circumstance occurred, about four years afterwards, which led to the apprehension of John Holloway and Owen Haggerty.
A man of the name of Benjamin Hanfield, who had been convicted at the Old Bailey of grand larceny, was sentenced to seven years' transportation. He was conveyed on board a hulk at Portsmouth, to await his departure for New South Wales, but being seized with a severe illness, and tortured in his mind by the recollection of the murder, about which he constantly raved, he said he wished to make a discovery before he died. A message was immediately dispatched to the police magistrates at Bow Street to communicate the circumstance, and an officer was sent to bring him before them.
When he was brought on shore they were obliged to wait several days, his illness not permitting his immediate removal. On his arrival in town the magistrates sent him, in the custody of an officer, to Hounslow Heath. He there pointed out the fatal spot where the murder was perpetrated, and related all the circumstances which he alleged had attended it; and as his evidence implicated Haggerty and Holloway, measures were taken to apprehend them.
Several private examinations of all the parties took place. Hanfield was admitted King's evidence, and the public once more cherished a hope that the murderers would meet with the punishment they deserved. Monday, 9th of February, 1807, being the day appointed for the final and public examination of the reputed perpetrators of this atrocious murder, Holloway and Haggerty were brought up before Joseph Moser, Esq., the sitting magistrate at the police office, Worship Street, charged with wilfully murdering Mr J. C. Steele, on Saturday night, the 6th of November, 1802, on Hounslow Heath. There was a great body of evidence adduced, none of which tended materially to incriminate the prisoners, except that of Hanfield. The prisoners denied having any knowledge whatever of the crime laid to their charge, but heartily hoped that punishment would come to the guilty. The magistrates, however, after maturely considering the whole of the evidence adduced, thought proper to commit the prisoners fully for trial at the next Quarter Sessions at the Old Bailey, and bound over no less than twenty-four persons to appear and give evidence on the trial.
Such was the eager curiosity of the public to know the issue of this trial, which began on the 20th of February, 1807, before Sir Simon Le Blanc, Kt., that the whole court and area of the Old Bailey was greatly crowded. When put to the bar, Holloway appeared to be about forty years of age, of great muscular strength, tall, and of savage, brutal and ferocious countenance, with large thick lips, depressed nose and high check-bones. Haggerty was a small man, twenty-four years of age.
The King's pardon, under the Great Seal, to Hanfield, alias Enfield, remitting his sentence of transportation for seven years for a larceny, which he had been convicted of, and restoring him to his competency as a witness, was read. Benjamin Hanfield then deposed as nearly as follows:
I have known Haggerty eight or nine years, and Holloway six or seven. We were accustomed to meet at the Black Horse and Turk's Head public-houses, in Dyot Street. I was in their company in the month of November, 1802. Holloway, just before the murder, called me out from the Turk's Head, and asked me if I had any objection to be in a good thing. I replied I had not. He said it was a 'Low Toby,' meaning it was a footpad robbery. I asked when and where. He said he would let me know. We parted, and two days after we met again, and Saturday, the 6th of November, was appointed. I asked who was to go with us. He replied that Haggerty had agreed to make one.
We all three met on the Saturday at the Black Horse, when Holloway said: 'Our business is to "sarve" a gentleman on Hounslow Heath, who, I understand, travels that road with property.' We then drank for about three or four hours, and about the middle of the day we set off for Hounslow. We stopped at the Bell public-house and took some porter. We proceeded from thence upon the road towards Belfont, and expressed our hope that we should get a good booty. We stopped near the eleventh milestone and secreted ourselves in a clump of trees.
While there the moon got up, and Holloway said we had come too soon. After loitering about a considerable time, Holloway said he heard a footstep, and we proceeded towards Belfont. We presently saw a man coming towards us, and, on approaching him, we ordered him to stop, which he immediately did. Holloway went round him and told him to deliver. He said we should have his money, and hoped we would not ill-use him. The deceased put his hand in his pocket and gave Haggerty his money. I demanded his pocket-book. He replied that he had none. Holloway insisted that he had a book, and if he did not deliver it he would knock him down.
I then laid hold of his legs. Holloway stood at his head, and said if he cried out he would knock out his brains. The deceased again said he hoped we would not ill-use him. Haggerty proceeded to search him, when the deceased made some resistance, and struggled so much that we got across the road. He cried out severely ; and, as a carriage was coming up, Holloway said: ' Take care; I will silence the bugger,' and immediately struck him several violent blows on the head and body. The deceased heaved a heavy groan and stretched himself out lifeless.
I felt alarmed, and said: 'John, you have killed the man.' Holloway replied that it was a lie, for he was only stunned. I said I would stay no longer, and immediately set off towards London, leaving Holloway and Haggerty with the body. I came to Hounslow, and stopped at the end of the town for nearly an hour. Holloway and Haggerty then came up, and said they had done the trick, and, as a token, put the deceased's hat into my hand. The hat Holloway went down in was like a soldier's hat. I told Holloway it was a cruel piece of business, and that I was sorry I had had any hand in it. We all turned down a lane and returned to London, As we went along I asked Holloway if he had got the pocket-book. He replied that it was no matter, for as I had refused to share the danger, I should not share the booty.
We came to the Black Home, in Dyot Street, had half-a-pint of gin, and parted. Haggerty went down in shoes, but I don't know if he came back in them. The next day I observed Holloway had a hat upon his head which was too small for him. I asked him if it was the same he had got the preceding night. He said it was. We met again on the Monday, when I told Holloway that he acted imprudently in wearing the hat, as it might lead to a discovery. He put the hat into my hand, and I observed the name of Steele in it. I repeated my fears. At night Holloway brought the hat in a handkerchief, and we went to Westminster Bridge, filled the hat with stones, and, having tied the lining over it, threw it into the Thames.''
The witness, being cross-examined by counsel for the prisoners, said he had made no other minutes of the transactions he had been detailing than what his conscience took cognisance of. It was accident that led to this disclosure. He was talking with other prisoners in Newgate of particular robberies that had taken place, and the Hounslow robbery and murder being stated amongst others, he inadvertently said that there were only three persons who knew of that transaction. The remark was circulated and observed upon, and a rumour ran through the prison that he was about to turn " nose," and he was obliged to hold his tongue, lest he should be ill-used.
James Bishop, a police officer, stated that in the rear of the public office in Worship Street were some strongrooms for the safe keeping of prisoners pending their successive examinations. In two of these rooms, adjacent to each other, and separated by a strong partition, the prisoners were separately confined, and immediately behind these rooms was a privy. In this privy he took post regularly after each successive day's examination ; and as the privy went behind both rooms, he could distinctly overhear the conversation of the prisoners, as they spoke pretty audibly to each other from either side of the partition. Of this conversation he took notes, which were afterwards copied out fairly, and proved before the magistrates, and which he, on this occasion, read as his evidence in court.
Mr Andrews, counsel for the prisoners, objected to this sort of evidence, it being impossible, he said, that the officers could overhear all that was said, and that the conversation thus mutilated might be misconstrued; besides, the minds of officers, for the sake of reward, were always prejudiced against the prisoners. His objections, however, were overruled by the Court.
These conversations ran to a very considerable length but the material points were few. They showed, however, from the words of the prisoners' own conversation, that all they had said before the magistrates, in the denial of any acquaintance with each other, or with Hanfield, was totally false, and a mere stratagem to baffle the testimony of the latter, who they hoped had secured his own execution, by confessing his guilt, without being able to prove theirs. The prosecution being closed, the prisoners were called to make their defence.
Haggerty protested he was completely innocent of the charge, was totally ignorant of the prosecutor Hanfield, denied ever being at Hounslow, and endeavoured to point out some inconsistencies in the evidence which had been adduced by Hanfield. Holloway declared he was equally innocent of the charge; but admitted he had been at Hounslow more than once, might have been in the company of the prisoners Haggerty and Hanfield, but was not acquainted with either of them.
Mr Justice Le Blanc summed up the evidence in a very clear and perspicuous manner, making some very humane observations upon the nature of the testimony given by Hanfield. He admitted that such testimony should be received with caution; yet such strong collateral evidence must have its due weight and influence on their verdict. The jury retired for about a quarter of an hour, and returned with a verdict of guilty against both the prisoners. The recorder immediately passed sentence in the most solemn and impressive manner, and the unhappy men were ordered for execution on the following Monday morning. They went from the bar protesting their innocence, and apparently careless of the miserable and ignominious fate that awaited them.
Following conviction, Haggerty and Holloway conducted themselves with the most decided indifference. On Saturday, 21st of February, the cell door, No. 1, in which they were both confined, was opened about half-past two. They were each reading a Prayer Book by candle-light, as the cell was very dark. On Sunday neither of them attended the condemned sermon, as in cases of murder the offenders were deprived of benefit of clergy; neither did the bell of St Sepulchre toll during the solemnity of their execution.
During the whole of Sunday night the convicts were engaged in prayer, never slept, but broke the awful stillness of midnight by frequent protestations of reciprocal innocence. At five they were called, dressed and shaved, and about seven were brought into the press-yard. There was some difficulty in knocking off the irons of Haggerty; he voluntarily assisted, though he seemed much dejected, but by no means pusillanimous. A message was then delivered to the sheriffs, purporting that Holloway wanted to speak with them in private. This excited very sanguine expectations of confession ; but the sheriffs, on their return, intimated to the gentlemen in the press-yard that Holloway wanted to address them publicly, and therefore requested they would form themselves into a circle, from the centre of which Holloway delivered, in the most solemn manner, the following energetic address:
"Gentlemen, I am quite innocent of this affair. I never was with Hanfield, nor do I know the spot. I will kneel and swear it." He then knelt down, and imprecated curses on his head if he were not innocent, and exclaimed, " By God, I am innocent !"
Owen Haggerty then ascended the scaffold. His arms were pinioned, and the halter was round his neck. He wore a white cap and a light olive shag greatcoat. He looked downwards, and was silent. After the executioner had tied the fatal noose, he brought up John Holloway, who wore a smock-frock and jacket, as it had been stated by the approver that he did at the time of the murder; he had also a white cap on, was pinioned, and had a halter round his neck. He had his hat in his hand. Mounting the scaffold, he jumped, made an awkward bow, and said:
"I am innocent, innocent, by God!" He then turned round and, bowing, made use of the same expressions: "Innocent, innocent, innocent! Gentlemen, no verdict! No verdict! No verdict! Gentlemen, innocent! Innocent!"
At this moment, and while in the act: of saying something more, the executioner proceeded to do his office, by placing the cap over the face of Holloway; to which he, with apparent reluctance, complied, at the same time uttering some words. As soon as the rope was fixed round his neck he remained quiet. He was attended in his devotions by an assistant at the Rev. Rowland Hill's chapel.
The last that mounted the scaffold was Elizabeth Godfrey. She had been capitally convicted of the wilful murder of Richard Prince, in Marylebone parish, on the 25th of December, 1806, by giving him a mortal wound with a pocket-knife in the left eye, of which wound he languished and died. They were all launched off together, at about a quarter after eight.
The crowd which assembled to witness this execution was unparalleled, being, according to the best calculation, nearly forty thousand ; and the fatal catastrophe which happened in consequence will for long cause the day to be remembered. By eight o'clock not an inch of ground was unoccupied in view of the platform. The pressure of the crowd was such that, before the malefactors appeared, numbers of persons were crying out in vain to escape from it ; the attempt only tended to increase the confusion.
Several females of low stature who had been so imprudent as to venture among the mob were in a dismal situation; their cries were dreadful. Some who could be no longer supported by the men were suffered to fall, and were trampled to death. This also was the case with several men and boys. In all parts there were continued cries of "Murder! Murder!" -particularly from the females and children among the spectators, some of whom were seen expiring without the possibility of obtaining the least assistance, everyone being employed in endeavours to preserve his own life.
The most affecting scene of distress was seen at Green Arbour Lane, nearly opposite the debtors' door. The terrible occurrence which took place near this spot was attributed to the circumstance of two piemen attending there to dispose of their pies. One of them having had his basket overthrown, which stood upon a sort of stool with four legs, some of the mob, not being aware of what had happened, and at the same time being severely pressed, fell over the basket and the man at the moment he was picking it up, together with its contents. Those who once fell were never more suffered to rise, such was the violence of the mob.
At this fatal place a man of the name of Herrington was thrown down, who had by the hand his youngest son, a fine boy about twelve years of age. The youth was soon trampled to death ; the father recovered, though much bruised, and was amongst the wounded in St Bartholomew's Hospital.
A woman who was so imprudent as to bring with her a child at the breast was one of the number killed. Whilst in the act of falling she forced the child into the arms of the man nearest to her, requesting him, for God's sake, to save its life. The man, finding it required all his exertion to preserve himself, threw the infant from him, but it was fortunately caught at a distance by another man, who, finding it difficult to ensure its safety or his own, got rid of it in a similar way. The child was again caught by a man, who contrived to struggle with it to a cart, under which he deposited it until the danger was over, and the mob had dispersed.
In other parts the pressure was so great that a horrible scene of confusion ensued, and seven persons lost their lives by suffocation alone. It was shocking to behold a large body of the crowd, as one convulsive struggle for life, fight with the most savage fury with each other; the consequence was that the weakest, particularly the women, fell a sacrifice. A cart which was overloaded with spectators broke down, and some of the persons who fell from the vehicle were trampled underfoot, and never recovered.
During the hour that the malefactors hung, little assistance could be afforded to the unhappy sufferers ; but after the bodies were cut down, and the gallows removed to the Old Bailey Yard, the marshals and constables cleared the street where the catastrophe occurred, and, shocking to relate, there lay nearly one hundred persons dead, or in a state of insensibility, strewed round the street ! Twenty-seven dead bodies were taken to St Bartholomew's Hospital, four to St Sepulchre's Church, one to the Swan, on Snow Hill, one to a public-house opposite St Andrew's Church, Holborn; one, an apprentice, to his master's; Mr Broadwood, pianoforte maker, to Golden Square.
A mother was seen carrying away the body of her dead boy; Mr Harrison, a respectable gentleman, was taken to his house at Holloway. There was a sailor-boy killed opposite Newgate, by suffocation ; he carried a small bag, in which he had some bread and cheese, and was supposed to have come some distance to behold the execution. After the dead, dying and wounded were carried away, there was a cartload of shoes, hats, petticoats and other articles of wearing apparel picked up. Until four o'clock in the afternoon most of the surrounding houses had some person in a wounded state ; they were afterwards taken away by their friends on shutters, or in hackney-coaches.
The doors of St Bartholomew's Hospital were closed against the populace. After the bodies of the dead were stripped and washed they were ranged round a ward on the first floor, on the women's side; they were placed on the floor with sheets over them, and their clothes put as pillows under their heads; their faces were uncovered. There was a rail along the centre of the room: the persons who were admitted to see the shocking spectacle went up on one side of the rail, and returned on the other. Until two o'clock the entrances to the hospital were beset with mothers weeping for sons, wives for their husbands and sisters for their brothers, and various individuals for their relatives and friends.
The next day (Tuesday) a coroner's inquest sat in St Bartholomew's Hospital, and other places where the bodies were, on the remains of the sufferers. Several witnesses were examined with respect to the circumstances of the accident, which examination continued till Friday, when the verdict was, " That the several persons came by their death from compression and suffocation."
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