HC Deb 16 February 1841 vol 56 cc646-70
Mr. Rich

I should be unwilling to trespass upon the time of the House in asking leave to bring in a bill for the better ordering of the execution of criminals; but since it is a subject which has, I believe, never been discussed within these walls beyond a short conversation in committee, in May, 1837, on the Punishment of Death Bill, I am desirous, by some short explanation of the principles and plans of my bill, to prevent any misapprehensions or misrepresentations as to the nature of the change I am about to propose: and I am at least as anxious to hear the objections and opinions of hon. Gentlemen, in order that I may as far as possible obviate or profit by them in the filling up of the clauses, should the House grant me permission to introduce my bill. For myself, Sir, I can safely declare that I am actuated in undertaking this measure by no motive in the world but an earnest desire to do away with what appears to me to be a barbarous and pernicious practice; and happily this is a subject which can by no possible ingenuity be converted into a party question; and for once therefore we may meet, in the common cause of humanity, upon neutral ground, and be the better for it. I confide the question therefore entirely to the general good feeling of the House, and propose it unprompted and unsupported by any one special interest, section, or party: I do not even connect it with the nearly related questions now so frequently discussed respecting the mitigation of our code, or the abolition of the punishment of death. I leave it to stand upon its own plain practical grounds of seeking to provide a formal, reverent, and sufficiently public and authentic method of conducting the execution of ciminals, instead of our present practice of making an exhibition of such executions; for hitherto all our executions have partaken more or less of the character of exhibitions—spectacles! and it is against this exhibitionary character, this notion of making a spectacle of an execution, that I endeavour to raise my voice, and enlist the concurrence of the House. But, before proceeding one step further, I beg leave to declare most explicitly, that I have no intention whatever of proposing private, and much less secret executions, or of withdrawing the strict eye of public observation from their proceedings. I know full well the benefit of publicity on almost all occasions, and most especially on those which regard the administration of justice and its penal execution, not to have studied most carefully, by various provisions, to guard against and satisfy that jealousy which the public so wisely entertain of all that has a tendency to mystery or secrecy in these matters. I trust, therefore, I shall not be misunderstood or misrepresented on this point; and I am the more anxious to be clear on this head since I have read the few remarks which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth made on this part of my subject, when it was incidentally raised by the hon, Member for London: for, bearing as he did the strongest testimony against our present mode of conducting executions declaring:— That it does appear that more evils actually result from public executions than could occur from any other other mode of proceeding in these cases. He rests his objections to the plan imputed rather than assented to by the hon. Member for London upon its being "private," saying:— I think there would be great difficulty in, and very serious obstacles to, inflicting punishments of this extreme kind in private. I think such a practice would be very apt to revolt the public mind, and excite in private quarters the most rankling suspicions and the most distressing feelings. Now, Sir, my endeavour has been to contend with these difficulties and obstacles, and to render executions decorous, while I continue them public—that is, sufficiently public to prevent those "rankling suspicions and distressing feelings" which the right hon. Gentleman so properly respects. And if he finds that I have, in any degree, succeeded, I hope to have the benefit of his great talents and great experience in perfecting that which I shall have feebly commenced. But, Sir, while the right hon. Baronet bears this manly testimony against the mischiefs of our present system, I find others taking the old one, and upholding our present executions as a support to the good, and a terror to the bad—as "having the effect of instilling into the minds of those who witness them a salutary horror of crime and a respect for the laws." Now, Sir, I protest against this assertion. I verily believe, that the public exhibition of punishment by human suffering and death neither does, nor ever has produced this salutary effect. That, on the contrary, it hardens where it means to reform, and is both the cause and effect of crime. All experience is against it. In all the countries of Europe, Turkey included, where executions are most savage, and death brought most closely home to the eyes of the people, there they are the most savage, and human life and human laws the least respected. It would be tedious and invidious to particularize. The converse is also true. Or, to come nearer home, what has been the course of civilization and executions in England? Why, as the light of the one has advanced, the savageness of the other has receded. I need only appeal to the historical recollections of every one present whether such has not been the fact? Compare our present laws and executions with those of the latter Tudors, when exhibitions, I may say forests of gibbets, and the most savage tortures were the approved means of making men honest, as Smith-field fires were of keeping them religious. Shall we be told, these are all enormities of by-gone days, and that every one repudiates them now, when we have at length reduced executions to that perfect state in which they impress those who witness them with a salutary horror of crime, and respect for the law; in which, in fact, all the benefits of publicity are retained without any of its barbarities? This is, indeed, a flattering unction, and I would it were genuine; but it is nothing more than the common threadbare objection to all improvement. True, indeed, we have got rid of the practice, although not of the law for hanging in chains, and of cart and coffin processions to Tyburn; we have got rid of the practice, though not of the law, for drawing on hurdles, which was itself a mitigation of the older custom of drawing over the bare ground and of embowelling dead or alive. Mutilating, torturing, burning, are now abolished; though this last, as respected women, lived on to the reign of George 3rd. All these have passed away, and are remembered now only to be repudiated. So far so good; but much yet remains to be done. Nothing so easy as to repudiate the abuses of former days; nothing more difficult than to acknowledge and root out those of our own. Why, Sir, every one of the successive courses of barbarity which I have just enumerated, found defenders in their several days. Conscientious men who (torture no longer being the vogue) could denounce the rack, and in the same breath declare Charles 2nd's head would not be safe on his shoulders, should the living entrails of regicides, like Harrison's, not be torn out and burnt before his dying face—dying, and not dead, mark you—for Ludlow tells us he actually rose up under the torture. This generation passes away, and another arises. Liberal supporters of the House of Hanover, who could heartily denounce those enormities inflicted on the regicides, and yet in 1745 could find no security for the Hanoverian dynasty without planting the heads of the wretched jacobite rebels on Temple Bar, to give loyalty to the citizens; or preserving others in spirits to pack up and despatch for like edifying exhibitions at Manchester and elsewhere. Men who could find no safety for husbands without burning their wives alive (as in the case of Catherine Hayes, in 1726) for murdering them, or of Anne Bedingfield, dragged on a hurdle and burnt, but not alive, so late as 1763. Men who committed crime were checked and chastised by processions to Tyburn, whose abominations Mandeville and Hogarth have immortalised. And now all hon. Gentleman can fully perceive these barbarous errors of their predecessors. Even later still, hon. Gentlemen have seen their contemporaries defend—if they themselves have not defended—the whipping of women in prisons, or of men at cart-tails—the pillory—the practice of hanging in chains—the revolting procession and ceremony of huddling a felo de se into a hole on the highway, and driving a stake through his body. Hon. Gentlemen who have heard these things defended can, now that they are passed away, see and deplore their barbarous inutility, and worse than inutility. And what, pray, is the inference from all this? That we have at length arrived at perfection? That our present exhibition of an execution, or Frost's sentence, for instance, that they should be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, that they should there be hanged by the neck until they were dead, and that afterwards the head of each should be severed from his body, and the body of each divided into four quarters, to be disposed of as her Majesty should deem fit. Are these, forsooth, symptoms of perfection? No, forsooth; the only way of viewing this gradual abandonment of terror which I have been endeavouring to trace (and in the word terror I include the suffering of the criminal and its exhibition to the public) is, that if it has been foiled and been abandoned in its extreme rigour—if it has failed, likewise, and been abandoned in each of its successive gradations of diminishing terror, each succeeding generation confirming, by experience and by further mitigation, the mitigations of its predecessor—then surely the only fair, rational, and common sense deduction is, that this terror, this exhibition of terror, is erroneous not in degree, but in principle and application. But hon. Gentlemen may say this is all very well, but after all it is but a deduction, and that practically our executions work well; that they support the good and affright the bad. Now, what say facts and experience to this? I state my facts against any they can bring, and pray, are the good thus supported, the bad thus affrighted? Who, pray, are the good that ever attend these executions? Who are the considerate parents that send their children to them as to a school of moral instruction? Who are the wise masters that send thither their apprentices to learn wisdom and gentleness from the gallows and its followers? Who, indeed, are the persons of any pretensions whatever to respectability, who, being convicted of having witnessed one of these exhibitions, do not forthwith feel it necessary to make some excuse for having done so? The good, then, do not attend, or attend not for their profit. But although they do not actually attend, perhaps it is meant that they are there in thought, and that the idea of a public execution gives a reality and publication to the law which is most useful. Sir, surely this is a mere refinement; the sentiment of the efficaciousness and sovereignty of the law resides not in the harsh exhibition of an execution, but in the substantial fact of the execution itself. Will any man say that the wayfaring man, the lone widow, or any, the most timid person in the wide world, will rest or travel one iota the less free from fears of felons because they may have seen one hanged in the morning, or read in the evening of some great hanging exhibition; with all the newspaper reports, making a fustian hero of some Thurtell scoundrel, blazoning forth his atrocious crimes, and dwelling with mawkish sentimentality upon his exemplary piety, or heroic fortitude on the scaffold? Will these tend more to deter or captivate the bad—to support or alarm the good and conciliate public respect for the law, than a formal announcement in the Gazette, that such and such a criminal was duly executed in such and such a gaol before a certain number of witnesses in pursuance of his sentence, for having committed such and such a felony? But then perhaps the exhibitions support the good by affrighting the bad. I doubt this: when do they affright them, how do they affright them, and where? Did they affright when, as of old, they were infinitely more savage? If they did, why are they abandoned? And if they did not, what presumption is there that they will now? And where do they affright them? At the executions themselves? If so, why do they attend? And yet it is notorious that the worst thieves and felons and their associates are the most constant attendants of these executions. Surely if they were awed by them, they would not attend: nothing is easier, or perhaps safer, for many of them than to keep away. But no; they are drawn thither by a certain fascination or attraction for scenes of blood, or strong excitement. It is a holiday to them: they come to see their late associate die, as they call it, manfully, and to learn how to die in like manner themselves. There is not a spark of contrition or awe about them. Fielding, than whom few persons (as his admirable writings testify) better understood human nature, and (more especially from his situation as a magistrate) that class we are now contemplating, thought so too. In his treatise on the Increase of Robbers, he attributes it, amongst other causes, to our public executions. After disposing of the shame which the criminal is supposed to entertain, and which he asserts is more frequently in his distorted notions of pride, and in those of the crowd, pity, he says, His procession to Tyburn, and his last moments there, are all triumphant; attended with the compassion of the meek and tenderhearted, and with the applause, admiration, and envy of all the bold and hardened. His behaviour in his present condition, not the crimes, how atrocious soever which brought him to it, is the subject of contemplation; and if he hath sense enough to temper his boldness with any degree of decency, his death is spoken of by many with honour, and by all with approbation. How far, (he adds) such an example is from being an object of terror, especially to those for whose use it is principally intended, I leave to the consideration of every rational man; whether such examples as I have described are proper to be exhibited, must be submitted to our superiors. And he then proposes executions within the prisons, before high judicial authorities and a restricted number of other persons, as a means of preventing crime. Hogarth, too, in his "Thief's Progress," leads his idle apprentice, whom he is conducting step by step to the gallows, to the contemplation of—what? an associate hanging in chains. The Rev. Mr. Cotton, late ordinary of Newgate, in his examination before the Committee of Criminal Laws, says respecting the younger thieves, I think it a shock and a horror at the moment upon the inexperienced and young: but immediately the scene is closed, there is a forgetfulness altogether of it; but upon the old and inexperienced thief it makes no real or serious impression. I have had occasion to go into the press-yard within an hour and a half after an execution, and I have found them amusing themselves, playing at ball or marbles, and appearing precisely as if nothing had happened. And for the bystanders, That it makes very little impression on the public. They appear to me to come to it as to a spectacle, and go away thinking no more about it, without some very extraordinary case or very particular crime occur; and generally, I am completely of opinion that it has not any effect by way of example. It seems to take away and blunt abhorrence against the crime, in pity and compassion for the sufferer. Mr. Mainwaring, a magistrate for Middlesex, gives, as an instance of the effect of executions Three persons were brought before me for uttering forged notes. During the investigation I discovered that these notes were obtained from a room in which the body of a person named Wheller (executed on the preceding day for uttering) then laid, and the notes in question were delivered for circulation by a woman with whom he had been living. Mr. W. A. Brown entertains the same opinion:— I can hardly think it can have any moral effect, or make any advantageous impression upon the minds of persons attending these executions, when they will, even under the gallows, be often engaged in picking pockets. I apprehend that many of those who attend executions are of the most depraved and abandoned character. At some executions (he says), the people show approbation, at others there has been a cry of' Shame, shame!' and in one instance a cry of' Murder.' As instances of how they keep their spirits up, Mr. Harmer states that:— The punishment of death has no terror for a common thief. Their common expressions used to be, such a one is to be 'twisted,' now it is such a one is to be 'top't.' One man whom I attempted to console told me, 'Players at bowls must expect rubbers.' Another, 'That it was only a few minutes, a kick and a struggle, and it was all over.' Others I have heard state, that they should kick Jack Ketch in their last moments. I mention these circumstances to show what little fear common thieves entertain of capital punishment, and that so far from being arrested in their wicked courses by a distant possibility of its infliction, they are not even intimidated by its certainty. But the most startling testimony is a letter written only last week by a most respectable clergyman, who has devoted his time greatly to the attendance on prisoners. I entreat hon. Gentlemen's attention to this. It is most short, and most essentially to the point. I hope its contents will be clearly stated. This gentleman says:— All the criminals executed whom I have either witnessed, or accompanied to the scaffold, have amounted nearly to fifty, and there was not a single malefactor but had seen the punishment of death inflicted, and some had seen it repeatedly. The only exceptions were three persons who were respited, and therefore not executed. I give this testimony from having asked each, and that singly, whether he had seen an execution. Some of these had been constant attendants at executions at the Old Bailey. Every criminal executed in Bristol, Gloucester, and Ilchester, that I have witnessed for nearly thirty years, has afforded no exception. Every one that I have attended had witnessed one punishment. Are these your deterring, your salutary effects? No, Sir, the force of example. Here, Sir, is a practical commentary on the deterring qualities, "the salutary horrors," of a public execution. The force of example is, indeed, most powerful, but so, also, are its workings most mysterious. Good, easy gentlemen, sitting in their arm chairs, with look severe, and beard of formal cut, read the account of an execution, and dream of the alarm into which it has thrown all the thieves of the country, whereas the example has been working on their blinded and hardened spirits in a diametrically opposite direction. The sight of death inflicted has created an appetite for scenes of death. Blood calls for blood. The example of their comrade's execution has fired their passions of pride, resistance, and retaliation. I take it, this is the usual working of these examples. It is a fact well known to all who have attended to the workings of the human mind, that tales and scenes of horror have a strong tendency to re-produce themselves in the minds of those who frequently witness, or become familiarly acquainted with them. I myself remember a strong instance, now some years since, of a farmer's daughter, who, leading an irregular life, ended by drowning herself. A neighbouring girl, who was her friend, and seemed likely to pursue a similar course, was taken to the corpse, and admonished by her parents. After a few weeks, that same girl was found drowned in the same pit as her friend, clothed in a similar dress, with the same quantity of money in her pocket, and a like bunch of flowers in her dress. In the Journal des Tribunaux, of the 29th of August, 1829, there is an account of the execution of a girl (Rose Perrin) at Mantua, for the murder of her father. It naturally produced a great sensation in the country: we are told the mountaineers from around flocked to see the execution as if it was a fair, in their holyday clothes. That very night following the execution of this paricide, the daughter of a respectable family in the town, fired by the excitement, conceived, but was mercifully prevented, from executing the project also of murdering her own father. The same thing occurred after Greenacre's execution, in the case of a person, till then highly respectable, who, having secured a seat to witness it, returned home, and having attempted to hang his wife, cut his own throat. Mr. Motthey, of Geneva, in his "Nouvelles recherches sur les Maladies des Esprits," gives an account of a similar effect produced on a man, who, having seen his friend broken on the wheel, returned home and attempted the lives of his sisters. To take a more familiar instance, what is it that sends forth the adventurous traveller to the sands of Africa, or the ice of the North Pole? Is it the comforts and enjoyments that have engaged his propensities as he pores over book after book of voyages and travels? No, it is the dangers and shipwrecks, and difficulties, that captivate his ardent mind. And so, Sir, in an evil course, the hair-breadth escapes, and the agitating, bewildering prospect of a great public execution, shaking off the load of a hated life, haunt and lead on the steps of the felon. I do not for a j moment mean to argue that the reform of our executions would put an end to this distortion of mind; all that I contend for is, that it would destroy one of its predisposing causes. And if these are the effects upon the more ferocious, it may be said, that they are so hardened, nothing can reclaim them, but that the sight of an execution must check and deter the minor offenders. Why, then, did it not check those old offenders who have always witnessed them, and were once, too, juvenile offenders? Precisely because it checks neither the young nor the old, Sir, experience, both old, recent, and present, tells us that the pickpockets are seldom so busy as when an execution is going on. We have already heard Mr. Browne's evidence in 1819; let us hear what Barrington says of an earlier time. He declared, That no occasion was considered by pickpockets so favourable for the pursuit of their trade as executions;" adding with the experience of a practitioner, "that everybody's eyes were then on one person, and all were looking up to him. And we must remember that, at the time this evidence was given, picking pockets, i. e. stealing from the person, was a capital offence, which might have brought any one of those persons, thus following their trade, next in succession, to the rope of that very gallows, which, forsooth, we are to consider as erected for their edification and reformation. Ask the police now, and they will tell you the same story. Indeed, in all newspaper accounts of executions, we invariably find some remarks upon the carelessness or activity with which the police have encountered the swell mob and swarms of pickpockets, without whom, indeed, an execution would scarcely be complete. And who are the other attending pupils of this great national school of moral and legal instruction? We have already named all the greater and lesser classes of felons and thieves; their companions are abandoned women, vagabonds, idlers, curiosity or excitement-hunters, chance passengers, renegade apprentices, boys, children, Jews, pedlars, and hawkers selling oranges, and bawling out the last dying speech and confession of the wretched criminal before he has well nigh breathed his last. And what is the conduct and what the conversation of this motley crew? Is it a sober, serious demeanour, such even as men wear—such as even most of those, if met on other occasions, would wear when death crosses their path, or whenever they meet a funeral in the streets? Are these expressions of charitable sorrow for crime, of the benefit of example, of respect for the law? No, no, Sir, these are all fictions, the theories of mere imagination. Those whose duty compels them to attend them know full well that it is otherwise. Mr. Browne's evidence exemplifies their respect for the law, when they execrate or applaud according to their fancies, and sometimes cry out "shame, shame," or "murder!" Mr. Cotton, the ordinary, tells us "They come as to a spectacle." Then their amusement is a hurling of cats and dead dogs at each other's heads—a crowding, shuffling, and swearing—obscene jests, and practical jokes. Some come to verify what Mr. Harmer, in his evidence, states they have declared before execution, "that after all, it is only for a few minutes; a kick and a struggle, and it is all over;" or some, more irreverent still, who come to see whether their comrade "will realise his boast;" as Mr. Harmer also deposes," that he will give Jack Ketch a kick as he swings off." But hon. Gentlemen may, perhaps, say, these are the hardened atrocities of London executions. Will they attend to a country one? Let them hear what took place at Stafford, at Anne Wycherley's execution. The Rev. Mr. Buckeridge, the chaplain to the gaol, says:— Nothing could exceed the moral debasement exhibited on that occasion. The country, for the space of twenty miles around, was the night previous to the execution, overrun with persons of both sexes, of the most abandoned, dishonest, debauched, and dissolute characters. Petty robberies, of all descriptions, were committed, and the beer-shops and public-houses rang with blasphemy and obscenity. Within sight of the gallows, and while the unhappy victim was actually suspended, obscene jokes, horrible imprecations, drunkenness, and fightings were forced upon the eye and ear. On a late occasion, when two boatmen, named Owen and Thomas, were executed, the same moral pestilence was spread through the country. I trust in God, sir, your efforts may be crowned with success, for certain I am that for one person rescued from a life of crime by the sight of a public execution, twenty, by the same means, become rogues and prostitutes. Should you wish for any further information, I shall, at all times, be most happy to reply to any communication with which you may favour me. I have now held the situation of chaplain for seventeen years, and, of course, have witnessed many executions, and I can only say, that I shall hail with the greatest joy the law which ends for ever such brutal and heart-hardening exhibitions. But this was in the neighbourhood of manufactures. Will they come, therefore, into a quiet, thinly-inhabited part of the country? I will read them a letter I received only yesterday. It is dated from the gaol of Devizes, and is from the governor:— The execution of James Moslin took place at this prison on the 6th of September, 1838, at twelve o'clock. As early as eight o'clock in the morning, crowds of persons began to assemble in front of the prison-lodge, and, by the time appointed for the execution, 15,000 persons must have congregated together. During this time, the most disgraceful and indecent behaviour pervaded the whole multitude. This exhibition must have operated very ineffectually upon the minds of a very large number of those who witnessed it. For the after part of the day such scenes of drunkenness and debauchery have scarcely been witnessed. I may speak within compass, when I say, that not less than 2,000 persons who came into the town to witness the scene left in a state of beastly drunkenness. This number includes a very large portion of women, whose whole families accompanied them. At ten o'clock at night, and probably many hours later, every public and bye-road leading from Devizes, for many miles out, was crowded with persons in every state of intoxication. I made a minute in my private journal, on the evidence of one of the most respectable commercial gentlemen who travels the west of England, who arrived in Devizes at half-past nine at night, who stated that in the space of nine miles, he passed, according to his computation, not less than 700 persons, of both sexes; in very few of these could he detect an instance of sobriety, while on several occasions he had reason to fear for his personal safety, and at the sides of the road, and the banks, and public footpaths, scenes the most disgusting and indecent met his eye at every turn, I could enlarge upon this spectacle to a much greater extent, but this will be sufficient for your purpose, and I sincerely trust I may never be obliged to witness a similar one. Is this a convincing specimen of the salutary horror of crime and respect for the law instilled by the exhibition of an execution in the country? One instance more and I have done, and I select a favourable one—one which the papers called "orderly and becoming,"—in order that hon. Gentlemen may see the best side of the picture. I take Courvoisier's; in the midst of London—in the midst of the season—in the midst of the nineteenth century. First we are told by the Observer, of the condemned sermon, Although the service was not to commence till half-past ten, the avenues to the prison were blocked up before nine by those who had been fortunate enough to obtain the privilege of admission, and among the congregation were"—here several noble Lords are named, whom I omit—"several Members of the House of Commons and a few ladies. In plain words, persons who came to stare at the prisoner: and at such a moment! The same paper says, During the whole of Sunday large masses of people visited the Old Bailey;" "which," continues the Globe, "in the evening, resembled a fair, and the numbers of persons continued to increase until midnight:" and the Herald adds, "the people then assembled were of the lowest class; they talked of the execution with as much levity as they would of a cock-fight or boat race. Taverns and coffee-houses were kept open for them during the night. Some, who could get near enough, amused themselves by throwing gravel at the workmen erecting the gallows; others were singing, or horse-playing, in the hired rooms opposite; while shouting, whistling, jeering, and jostling, were going on outside with increasing vehemence as the fatal hour approached." "They thus," takes up the Observer, "remained in the open air during the whole night, in order that their curiosity might be fully gratified in the morning. The windows were all occupied by three o'clock in the morning by spectators who paid high prices for them. And the Globe adds, That those windows commanding the drop presented a considerable number of well-dressed women; while, in the crowd below, there was a smaller proportion, and that of the lowest and most abandoned rank. While this was going on without, we learn from the Observer, that Before seven o'clock, several noblemen and gentlemen were admitted to the prison"—I here again omit their names—"with several Members of the House of Commons, and a list"—whose names I omit—"of foreign princes and counts who wished to see the English mode of disposing of great offenders; and lastly, a great actor, for the advantage of his professional studies. Now, Sir, amongst this throng of amateurs the prisoner receives the Holy Sacrament; and which coucluded, just as he is going to be pinioned, "Mr. Sheriff Evans drew a letter from his pocket and asked for his autograph;" while, we are told, Mr. Sheriff Wheelton "wept bitterly." The bell tolls—the procession moves on—the prisoner mounts the scaffold, and the people, we are told, "receive him with an unanimous shout of execration"—" a yell," the Globe calls it—"which went to the hearts of all around him;"and for the two minutes (the Herald says "five") that the rope was adjusting, the yelling and shouting were incessant. The other paper calls it "murmurs, shouts, shrieks." The Observer remarks "on the disgracefully indecent way in which those who had been admitted by special orders into the gaol rushed after the culprit when he left his cell to go to execution, notwithstanding the efforts of Mr. Cope and others to keep them at a proper distance, and which brought forth cries of shame. And thus with amateur lords, counts, senators, and others hurrying to a condemned sermon, to stare at a criminal.—then hustling and crowding round him while he was receiving the last offices of religion, and passing amidst the reading of his own burial service to his grave; with one sheriff weeping, and the other (with a smirk) begging for his autograph; with 14,000 people yelling at him in his agony; and ladies with opera-glasses looking on from the opposite balconies, was one of the latest, and, as these papers stated, "becoming and orderly," executions conducted. Now, Sir, thus it is; here are two undoubted pictures, originals, drawn on the spot (the one in town, the other in the country), of what hon. Gentlemen wish to continue to call conducive to the interests of morality, humanity, and justice. Will they have the goodness to specify any one possible benefit or support that can accrue to any one institution, law, or individual from assembling together of such irreverent masses of idleness, profligacy, and vice? and that, too, for the express purpose of witnessing scenes of death, whereby, and by the contagion of numbers, the force of example, and their own excited passions, it is morally certain—every one must know it is morally certain their hearts must be hardened. Who would wish that executions should be so conducted in future? But while these evils are admitted—indeed they cannot be denied—it may be replied that the plan which I propose threatens still greater mischief, namely, the bringing the last administration of justice into suspicion, by rendering it private, and therefore suspected. Now, sir, I beg to repeat, as I have already declared, that I have no intention whatever of promoting secresy; on the contrary, I seek publicity—not the publicity that panders to coarse curiosity or morbid sensibility—but real useful publicity and general attention. I seek to constitute a formal, independent, appropriate, and sufficiently-numerous assemblage of witnesses to this last sad scene of the law, whereby the public shall be secure, and be certified of its full and exact execution—those present impressed with its solemnity, and the criminal as little as possible disturbed in his last moments. Now, for this purpose, I propose that all the public officers who now superintend and are responsible for the due execution of criminals without the walls, shall be equally bound to superintend and be responsible for their execution within the walls of their respective prisons. And I require also the presence of the inspector of prisons for the district, in order that he may make a special report of the whole proceedings to the Home-office, and which report, together with others of a similar nature, shall annually be laid before Parliament. I adopt the same provisions that are now in force for securing the free access and attendance of the ministers of the faith of the criminal. I make provision for the admission of a certain number of the relations and friends of the criminal who may consent to be present at his execution in compliance with his request, made in writing and certified by the minister of his religion in attendance on him. I also provide for the admission of a like number of such of his relations within specified degrees, who may on any day preceding that of the execution signify in writing to the governor their desire to be present. I thus secure a certain class of witnesses most interested in the humane treatment of the prisoner, and whose presence and whose testimony would go far to remove that rankling suspicion and those distressing feelings of doubt which might otherwise arise. Even though few should attend, yet the bare fact of their having the right and power of attendance would produce the same effect. I provide, also, for the admission of a certain number of the public press, whose accounts, though divested of all the exciting and mischievous topics which executions now furnish, would still spread the report of the execution far and wide. I require the presence of all the convicted prisoners within the gaol at the time of the execution, and that they should pass the remainder of the day in their own separate cells, trusting that if the sight of the final catastrophe of crime can at any time soften and reform them, it will be most likely to do so when, instead of returning to the loose conversation of their ward, they shall be left to their own solitary reflections. I admit a limited number of magistrates, and, according to the greater or less space for executions within the area of the gaols, and which shall always be in the open air, and allotted by the magistrates assembled at quarter sessions. I provide for the admission, upon written application to the governor of the gaol, of a certain number of general witnesses, the inspector of prisons to countersign these orders for admission, which in this and in all other cases when the number of applications for admission shall exceed the number to be admitted, those to whom they shall be granted shall be decided. Thus much for the witnesses, which will vary from forty to fifty. And, with a view to further publicity and example, I require that a formal certificate of the due execution of the criminal, together with a specification of his offence, trial, and conviction, as well as the number of witnesses present, shall be forthwith drawn up and signed by the authorities responsible for the execution, to be by them transmitted to the Secretary of Slate for Home Affairs, for insertion in the three following gazettes. Also that a copy of the certificate shall be printed off as a handbill, and affixed within and without the walls of all the gaols within the circuit, and upon other conspicuous places in the county within which the execution shall have taken place. Also, to prepare the public mind in the neighbourhood, I require that notices, as handbills, announcing the day and hour of the execution, shall be affixed in like manner to the gaols and other conspicuous places within the circuit and county. And finally, still further to arrest attention and address the serious thoughts of all those in the immediate vicinity of the execution, I provide that all those public officers who have to superintend it, shall assemble at the town-hall, or usual place of meeting for public business, and proceed thence with their constables and police in formal procession to the jail, the bells of the several parish churches through which, or near which they shall pass, tolling meanwhile. I should add, that I prohibit all access whatever to the gaol during the time of execution, except to those persons for whose admission this bill shall specially provide. These are the principal outlines of the method of conducting executions which, under the advantage of the corrections and improvements of hon. Gentlemen, I propose as a substitute for our present mischievous exhibitions. The execution as proposed would be formal and solemn, for it would be attended by the public authorities and the ministers of religion, unexposed to the interruptions and crowdings of curiosity. It would be satisfactory and public for all the classes or interests in any way connected with it, either by affection, duty, association, or responsibility to the public, and each one independent of the other would be there to witness it, with the press and official certificate to authenticate and publish it. And finally, it would be decorous, for it would be conducted without parade and without excitement, in the presence of an assemblage of persons all under the check and within the observation of each other. This, Sir, is the substance of my bill. Hitherto I have said nothing of the wretched criminal himself, not that 1 in the least allow that his crimes, be they what they may, car in any degree preclude a most careful abstinence from everything calculated to inflict on him unnecessary anguish. But I have already tresspassed too long on the patience of the House to permit me to enter now on this branch of the subject. I will, therefore, only entreat hon. Gentlemen to ask themselves whether it be just, whether it be charitable, whether it be Christian, that a fellow-creature in those last moments, when he ought to commune with his own heart and be still, should be dragged forth pinioned and blindfold, on the very precipice of the grave, to be made a spectacle to an uproarious multitude? He may appear calm, but his calmness may be that of one steeped in agony. He may even look bold, but it may be the fictitious boldness of one quivering at every nerve. The vision of that ocean of faces that is to glare on them, of those execrations which are to attend them at their last moments, have often haunted criminals and disturbed their thoughts for nights before their execution. And all this terror is mere gratuitous torture; for it is generally unperceived, and the wretched sufferers cannot, like the transported man, return and recount all the miseries he has endured. You denounce torture, but surely here is torture lurking yet amongst your judicial proceedings, and unequal in its application, according to the caprices of a multitude. Is it fining that the last feeling, the last pang of the dying man, should be that his agonies are made a raree show for his fellow creatures to stare at? And when all is over, those fellow-creatures—the writhing ended—turn again to their gin-shops, and say, "Well, at all events, the poor fellow died game." Died game! How many half-instructed criminals, gone to their last account, have not been deterred from giving vent to a full and bitter repentance by a desire to keep up their worldly spirits for this crowning exhibition of their craft; and to do what, in their wretched slang, is called "dying game"? And how many imaginations have not been blinded to the atrocity of a crime by a natural sympathy with courage, false or real, with which its punishment has been publicly borne? These are the consequences of your system of making exhibitions of your executions. But I have trespassed too long. I have now endeavoured to point out the mischiefs of our present practice of conducting executions, and to show that a substitute for it might be found which, while retaining all the necessary qualities of publicity and example, should get rid of the demoralizing effects of making the death of a fellow-creature a spectacle for a civilized people. I move, Sir, for leave to bring in a bill for the better ordering of the execution of criminals.

Sir G. Strickland

seconded the motion.

General Johnson

said, that there was no hope of the bill which the hon. Member asked leave to introduce ever passing into a law, because he thought that there was too much good sense, both in that and in the other House of Parliament, to permit parties to be privately put to death; a proposal pregnant with greater evils he could not conceive. The argument of the hon. Member, in fact, went to the great point of abolishing the punishment of death, and in that object he (General Johnson) agreed, but when the hon. Member talked of carrying out his argument by making the execution a private exhibition—a sort of raree-show, to see which, if too many applications were made, the precedence was to be decided by chance—he must say that he never heard a proposition to which he could more object. He would therefore oppose the present motion upon principle. He would divide against the introduction of the bill; and if that motion should be carried, he should feel it his duty to oppose its progress at every stage.

Mr. Ewart

was certain that every hon. Member in the House would do justice to the excellent motives of his hon. Friend the Member for Knaresborough. He, with many others, had fully arrived at the same conclusion as the hon. Member, that the public execution of criminals was a great and serious evil; but they differed from his hon. Friend as to the best mode of getting rid of them. He was one of those who were opposed to the execution of criminals, and to capital punishments altogether. Hitherto he, and those who had acted with him, had proceeded entirely in one direction; and now his hon. Friend asked them to travel in an entirely opposite direction. The hon. Member would get rid of executions, as he thought, by making them private: but his hon. Friend, who was so right in motives, was so wrong in point of principle, that he felt bound to oppose him, for by his method he would fix and make more lasting capital punishments; he was, in fact, taking away one of the greatest arguments in favour of the abolition. He would only draw the attention of the House to the simple principle, that privacy in the execution of criminals was bad his hon. Friend might be warranted by the present state of the public feeling, and in the condition in which England was found in the nineteenth century in proposing a remedy, but he was not justified upon general principles in recommending his present plan. Let him ask, too, whether the hon. Member's system might not be abused, and whether the most cruel of all executions were not those which had been private? They were bound, as legislators, to look to no palliation for the evils of the passing moment, if they adopted what was in the abstract and permanently wrong? Whence came the rack, whence the torture, whence the inquisition itself? From private punishments. All the cruelties and horrors of the most barbarous systems had been perpetrated in private. Thus, not only was principle against his hon. Friend, but all history was also against him. It was by much more extensive measures, by doing away with executions altogether, and by extending the blessings of education, that benefit would be gained; but he denied that there would be any improvement by getting together some fifty men as a kind of jury to witness the execution. Let it not be understood, however, that he would wish to do anything but the greatest justice to the motives of his hon. Friend, but he doubted the value of his conclusions. His hon. Friend however, did not prevent publicity—he had not withdrawn the presence of the press—and, in modern times, the great instrument of publicity was the press; and though the public would not view all the dying agonies of the criminals, they would read the fullest details; they might not take place coram oculos of the people, but they would be exaggerated exactly in proportion to the want of the power of correction through publicity. Then his hon. Friend wanted the relatives of the criminal to attend. He hoped they would not, at all events he would not desire to give them any encouragement, and if their presence were withdrawn, how would there be publicity? In short, the good proposed by the hon. Member was doubtful, the evils that would result from his remedy would be certain. His hon. Friend would withdraw the horrors he had so vividly described, but he must say that he had lately seen a great change in the conduct of the people in respect to these executions; there was a time when the criminal was looked upon as a hero; he was now viewed with execration, and, dreadful as it might be to think of the yells that fell upon his ears in his last moments, yet, even this was somewhat better lo having him looked up to with admiration, and received with acclamation. He trusted that if his hon. Friend did not find himself strongly supported by the House he would withdraw his present motion, and join in the endeavour to abolish capital punishments altogether.

Mr. Fox Maule

could not let this question, which had been so ably introduced by his hon. Friend, go to a vote without giving his opinion upon the subject in as few words as possible. He must say, that he entirely concurred in the view taken by the hon. and gallant officer, who spoke immediately after his hon. Friend, that the attempt to have executions in private would be followed by great evils. The arguments which his hon. Friend had used appeared rather to make out a case for the abolition of capital punishments altogether, than to the execution of criminals in private; and his hon. Friend was somewhat unfortunate, because he found arrayed against him not only those who were in favour of continuing capital punishments, but also those who were against their further existence; he thought, therefore, that his hon. Friend would see the necessity of withdrawing his motion without pressing the House to come to a vote upon the principle on which he had displayed great ability and the arguments for which he had so admirably put before them. With respect to the details, he did not at that time mean to enter upon them, or to debate the question, further than to state simply this; that if they were to adhere to the present system of capital executions, they had only to decide whether that was to be an execution in public, or an execution in private? He might lament the depravity and the bad feelings which rendered it necessary that society should in any case turn its hand against a fellow creature; and he might lament also that when there was the solemn spectacle of the execution of the last sentence of the law, there should be such scenes of vice amongst those who came to witness the scene, and who sought to imitate the example of the criminal; but he could not alter human nature; and, he believed, that if they either did away with the punishment of death altogether, or most of all, if they superseded its publicity, more evil would flow from the alternative than was now experienced. Entertaining, therefore, that opinion, much as he might regret it, he must differ from the hon. Gentleman, and if the motion were pressed to a division, vote against it.

Mr. Hume

also suggested to the hon. Gentleman, that observing the sense of the House to be against him, he should withdraw his motion; at the same time he must say, that the House was greatly obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the strong and powerful case he had made out against public executions. He had proved that public executions were a nuisance—that they did more harm than good, and he recommended the noble Lord to weigh well those arguments, and to be prepared to answer them, or to acquiesce in the motion for the abolition of capital punishments when it should be brought forward. He was sure that the speech of the hon. Member would produce a great effect in the country.

Mr. Rick

was most unwilling to press any motion to a division against the general opinion of the House. He hoped, however, that the present discussion, if it were of any value, would make a step in the progress, and ultimately bring public opinion to maturity. As to the imputation that he sought to revive secret executions, or anything like the Inquisition, he was not liable to it; for no man would regret such a revival more than himself. And as to history being against him, he believed that in the best period of ancient history, before the approach of corruption, executions were comparatively private; it was only in the time of the abominations of Rome that the scenes in the public arena began. In the better times of Athens, also, the same system of privacy prevailed. In recent days, in the civilized state of New York, there were no executions; and in Prussia they could only take place by the order of the King. Reserving, then, to himself the full right, upon any future occasion, to move for a committee upon the subject, he begged leave to withdraw his motion.

Motion withdrawn.