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Law and Order in LondonCrime and Punishment: Matthew Henderson
Posted on Jun 08, 2002 - 11:41 PM by Bill McCann

Matthew Hendereson was born at North Berwick, in Scotland, where he was educated in the liberal manner customary in that country. He was executed in Oxford Street on the 25th of February, 1746, for murdering his Mistress, Lady Dalrymple, who was angry because he trod on her Toe.


Sir Hugh Dalrymple, being a Member of the British Parliament, took Matthew Henderson into his service when fourteen years of age, and brought him to London. Before he was nineteen years old he married one of his master's maids; but Sir Hugh, who had a great regard for him, did not dismiss him, though he was greatly chagrined at this circumstance.

Some few days before the commission of the murder, Sir Hugh, having occasion to go out of town for a month, summoned Henderson to assist in dressing him; and, while he was thus employed, Sir Hugh's lady going into the room, the servant casually trod on her toe. She said not a word on the occasion, but looked at him with a degree of rage that made him extremely uneasy.

When Sir Hugh had taken his leave she demanded of Henderson why he had trod on her toe; in answer to which he made many apologies, and ascribed the circumstance to mere accident; but she gave him a blow on the ear, and declared that she would dismiss him from her service. Henderson said it would be unnecessary to turn him away, for he would go without compulsion; but, reflecting that her passion would soon subside, he continued in his place, and was used with as much kindness as if the accident had not taken place. Offended by the insult that had been offered him, Henderson began to consider how he should be revenged and at length came to the fatal resolution of murdering his mistress.

For the particulars of this barbarous deed we refer to his confession in Newgate, taken in writing by the ordinary, the day before his execution. He said his mother had been dead several years, which he mentioned with satisfaction because, as she loved him tenderly, he believed this affair would certainly have broken her heart.

He had lived with his master five years -- about three years in Scotland and two years in London - and declared no servant could be better used than he was, and that he never had the least dislike to the deceased, for that she was a lady of great humanity, and greatly respected by all her servants; and his master a most worthy gentleman. One night Mary Platt, the maid-servant, told him she would go and see her husband, and he said she might do as she pleased. She went, and took the key to let herself in again. He shut the door after her, and went and cleaned some plate in the kitchen.

From thence he went up into the back-parlour, where he used to lie, and let down his bed, in order to go to sleep. He pulled off his shoes, and tied up his hair with his garter, and that moment the thought came into his head to kill his lady. He went downstairs into the kitchen, took a small iron cleaver, and went up to the first landing-place on the stairs, and after tarrying a minute or two came down, shocked at the crime he was about to perpetrate. He went up again as far as the first window, and the watchman was going -"past twelve o'clock."

After the watchman had passed the door, he entered the room a second time, went to the bedside, undrew the curtains, and found she was fast asleep. He went twice from the bed to the door in great perplexity of mind, the deceased being still asleep. He continued in great agonies, but soon felt where she lay, and made twelve or fourteen motions with the cleaver before he struck her. He repeated his blows, and in struggling she fell out of bed next the window, and then he thought it was time to put her out of her misery, and struck her with all his might as she lay on the floor.

He then went into his bedchamber again, and sat down on his bed for about ten minutes, when it came into his head to rob the house. He again went into the deceased's bed- chamber, and took her pockets as they were hanging on the chair, and took a gold watch and two diamond rings out of the drawers, with several other things.

It was a common practice to execute convicted felons at the site of their crime and Matthew henderson was executed in Oxford Street, on 25th February, 1746.

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