Mary Anne Barry – the last short drop female hanging
Although after 1868 the law required that
executions be carried out within prisons, early non-public executions were by no
means private and some forty to fifty people were present in the prison yard at
Edward Butt, aged twenty two, had shot and killed twenty year old Amelia Selina Phipps out of jealousy because she would not have a long term relationship with him. They were near neighbours on adjoining farms at Arlingham. Amelia was friendly towards Edward but simply did not want him, a fact that he seemed unable to accept. They had at least two violent quarrels and in the end he blasted her with a shotgun. He was duly arrested and charged with the crime, coming to trial at Gloucester Assizes on Christmas Eve 1873. The jury rejected his contention that the shooting had been an accident.
Mary Anne Barry, aged thirty one, was
employed by Edwin Bailey who was a year older than her, to clean his shop but
there may well have been more to the relationship than this. Edwin owned a shoe shop in the
Seventeen year old Mary Susan Jenkins
(known as Susan) worked as a servant in
In late December of 1872, Mary Anne, just going by the name of Ann, started to visit Susan’s mother and seemed to take to the baby.
Susan met Ann for the first time in the early New Year of 1873. Mary Anne brought Sarah little gifts and claimed that the ladies of the Dorcas Society, a Christian charity, had taken an interest in the child. The visits continued and in May Susan asked Ann if the Dorcas Society had forgotten about her as she had heard nothing from them.
Sarah began teething and Ann recommended
the use of Steedman’s Soothing Powders. These were not something the Jenkins family
could afford, however. On
A post mortem was carried out on the baby, which concluded that she had been poisoned by the contents of the packets. The packets were genuine but their original contents had been removed and replaced by a rat poison containing strychnine, a fact that was confirmed by the county analyst.
An inquest was opened at the Volunteer Inn in Stapleton on the 18th of August and adjourned until the 5th of September. Edwin was present at the second hearing and heard Constable Critchley’s evidence regarding the similarities of the handwriting. He was bound over to be present at the next hearing scheduled for a week later but did not show up for it.
Meanwhile the police had been making
enquiries about the woman “Ann” who had been visiting the baby which led to the
arrest of Mary Anne Barry at her lodgings in
Edwin had gone to
Edwin and Mary Anne were tried together
before Mr. Justice Archibald at
The paper of the letter purporting to come from the Dorcas Society was traced to Edwin and the handwriting matched his according to handwriting expert, Mr. Charles Chabot, who appeared for the prosecution. No evidence was offered by the defence counsel. It took the jury an hour to reach a verdict of guilty against both defendants and they were accordingly condemned to death. The jury made a recommendation to mercy for both of them. Presumably the trial judge did not support this and did not make a similar recommendation to Robert Lowe, the Home Secretary. Petitions for a reprieve were got up locally but no reprieve was to be forthcoming and an execution date of January the 12th was fixed.
William Calcraft was not available for this
hanging due to ill health, so instead the job was offered to Robert Anderson
The hangings took place at in the morning and when the prisoners had been pinioned in their cells they were led out in a procession, headed by the chaplain. Edward Butt and Edwin were wearing suits and Mary Anne a long print dress. She was accompanied to the gallows by the matron of Gloucester Gaol, whilst Edwin was accompanied by the Governor, Captain H. K. Wilson. The rest of the party comprised the deputy governor, the chaplain, the prison doctor and several warders.
The three condemned prisoners knelt on the
platform and recited the Lords Prayer with the chaplain before submitting to
the final preparations. Mary Anne was
placed between the men on the trap, their legs were tied and the white hoods
placed over their heads, followed by the nooses. The chaplain and the hangman shook hands with
each prisoner and then
A black flag was hoisted over the prison to show that the executions had been carried out and after the formal inquest their bodies were buried wearing the clothes they were hanged in, in unmarked graves in the execution yard, with quick lime thrown into the coffins.
The chaplain revealed that both Edwin and
Mary Anne had confessed their guilt to him and
Mary Anne Barry became the last woman to
suffer death by the short drop method of hanging in
We are left wondering what her motive was in helping with the baby’s murder and whether she was trying to save Edwin, if indeed he was her lover, although we have no clear evidence of that.
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