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 Gloucester on the morning of Monday the 12th of January 1874 to witness the execution of two men and one woman.  They were Charles Edward Butt, Mary Anne Barry and Edwin Bailey.  Curiously both their victims had died on the same day, Sunday the 17th of August 1873.

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 Clifton area of Bristol and was a married man with a disabled wife who lived in London.  He was known as a bit of a menace to young girls and some of the local servant girls would not go into his shop to take repairs. 

Seventeen year old Mary Susan Jenkins (known as Susan) worked as a servant in Clifton and had accused Edwin of sexually assaulting her in his shop, although she did not report the matter to the police. Strangely she continued to visit the shop after this incident and had some sort of relationship with Edwin, as a result of which she became pregnant.  She gave birth to a baby daughter named Sarah on the 23rd of October 1872.  Edwin denied paternity and Susan was forced to obtain a court order for maintenance, which he resented.  The court fixed a sum of five shillings a week (25p) and it was paid over to the local constable, Constable Critchley in Stapleton.  Susan took the baby to live with her parents in Stapleton just on the outskirts of Bristol.  She returned to work in Clifton in December 1872, leaving her mother in charge of Sarah.

 

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 the 13th of August 1873 Susan Jenkins received a letter apparently from the Cotham Dorcas Society, signed by Jane Isabella Smith, and containing three packets labelled “Steedman’s Soothing Powders”. On the 17th of August, Susan unsuspectingly gave one of the powders to little Sarah who quickly went into convulsions and died, her body rigid and arched. A doctor who arrived after the baby’s death was shown the two remaining packets of powder and examining the contents immediately became suspicious.  The police were called and Constable Critchley took charge of the powders, the letter and envelope that they had come in.  He had had dealings with Edwin Bailey over the maintenance payments for Sarah and noticed that the handwriting on the letter and envelope were just like Edwin’s. 

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 Bristol on the 14th of September.  Mary Anne was really Anne Salmond but had taken her common law husband’s name of Bailey.  She made a statement to the police in which she said that Edwin sent her on errands including visiting the Jenkins to try and find out who Sarah’s father really was, as he absolutely denied he was.  Nothing she said incriminated Edwin or helped her own position however.

 

Edwin had gone to London to visit his wife, having made preparations to leave the country immediately afterwards, but she persuaded him to stay and they returned to Bristol where he was arrested at his shop.

 

Edwin and Mary Anne were tried together before Mr. Justice Archibald at Gloucester assizes on Tuesday the 23rd of December 1873, the day before Edward Butt.  Mr. Justice Archibald told the jury that “Edwin Bailey and Mary Anne Barry are accused of causing the death of Sarah Jenkins by poison, or rather I ought to tell you that the prisoner Bailey has been committed as principal in the offence and Mary Anne Barry as an accessory before the fact.”

 

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 (Evans) from Carmarthen in Wales, by the Under Sheriff of Gloucestershire.  Anderson suggested that the platform of the gallows be mounted over a pit to make it level with prison yard and this modification was done. (see photo) The platform was enclosed by a four foot high black calico screen. 

The hangings took place at eight o’clock 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 Anderson withdrew the bolt releasing the trap doors and causing the prisoners to drop below the level of the calico screen. The two men died almost without a struggle but Mary Ann Barry suffered longer and Anderson had to press down upon her shoulders to quicken her death.

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 Anderson said that Mary Anne had whispered to him on the gallows that she had dreamt she would die like this.

Mary Anne Barry became the last woman to suffer death by the short drop method of hanging in Britain and the last woman to be executed at Gloucester Gaol.

 

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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