usually at least, an ambivalent attitude amongst the public towards criminals
on their way to execution at Tyburn.
Yes, they had committed crimes but everyone wanted to watch the “Hanging
Match,” especially if the condemned participated in it and behaved bravely. The
crowds along the way and around the gallows would tend to be sympathetic to
them. However, there was absolutely no public sympathy for the lone woman in
the cart on the morning of
The object of this hatred was
47 year old Elizabeth Brownrigg. Click here for
woodcut picture. She had been born in 1720 to a working class family and
as a teenager, had married James Brownrigg, an
apprentice plumber. The couple had 16 children, of whom just three survived to adulthood, such
was the rate of child mortality in those days. The marriage was a success and
over the years James’ business did well, and
Mary Mitchell from Whitefriars was to be the first unfortunate girl to join the family in 1765. She was quickly followed by Mary Jones. Both girls endured frequent physical and verbal abuse, with regular beatings for the smallest mistakes. At this time, a young person could join a tradesman or woman for a month “on liking” and if at the end of the month both parties still “liked” each other, the youngster would agree to become bound as an apprentice for a period of years. Initially Mary Jones was treated very well but after her trial period ended, she became increasingly abused. She made plans to escape, having noted that the key was left in the front door over night, and managed to find her way to the
In the meantime, another poor girl was to be apprenticed to the Brownrigg’s by the overseers of the precinct of Whitefriars. Fourteen year old Mary Clifford joined the household in early 1766. Initially she too was treated well but as soon as she was legally bound to the Brownriggs, the serious abuse began.
stepmother, also Mary Clifford, went to visit her on
She was taken straight to hospital while Mr. Brownrigg was arrested but
Arrest and trial.
Elizabeth and John moved around
On the 15th of August, Mr. Dunbar read one of the advertisements in his newspaper, from which he identified his lodgers as the Brownriggs. He summoned a constable and mother and son were arrested and remanded to Newgate.
They came to trial at the September Sessions of the Old Bailey on the 7th of that month before Sir Robert Kite. Their case took 11 hours to hear with Mary Mitchell appearing as the star witness for the prosecution.
Sixteen year old Mary Mitchell had been with the Brownriggs for just under 2-1/2 years and told the court that she had been mistreated as soon as her probationary period as an apprentice had ended, and that Mary Clifford had began to be abused after the completion of her month trial period when she became legally bound. Mary Mitchell described how Mary Clifford had been beaten over the head and shoulders with a walking cane and an earth brush by their mistress and also hit by John Brownrigg. She also stated that Mary Clifford was made to sleep “on boards in the parlour, sometimes in the passage, and very often down in the cellar.” Apparently the girls were often locked in the cellar at night. Somewhere around a year before her death, the then 15 year old Mary Clifford was starving and desperate for food so she broke open a cupboard and was caught. For this she was made to strip naked and was severely beaten. She was now kept locked up in the unlit cellar at nights with no bedding.
Mary Clifford, it seems, was also occasionally beaten by other members of the family. Mary Mitchell described how John had whipped her with a leather belt about the head and shoulders for not making up a bed to his satisfaction. This whipping re-opened wounds from previous beatings. Mary Mitchell also recounted that James had beaten Mary Clifford with an old hearth brush, but this was the only time she had seen him abuse her.
evidence against Elizabeth was more damning.
Mary Mitchell said that
Testimony was also heard from James Brownrigg’s apprentice, George Benham, who confirmed much of what Mary Mitchell had said. He also told the court that he visited James Brownrigg in the Compter (small lock-up prison), after his arrest, who had told him to go and take down the hook from the beam in the kitchen and to burn all the sticks in the house. He testified that
Evidence was heard from the Overseers and from the doctor at the workhouse hospital where Mary Clifford was taken after her removal from the Brownrigg’s house. William Denbeigh described Mary’s injuries thus : “The top of her head and shoulders and back, appeared very bloody; I turned down the sheet, and found from the bottom of her feet to the top of her head almost one continued sore, scars that seemed as if cut with an instrument upon the body, legs, and thighs; upon one hip was a very large wound; it spread about half the palm of my hand.” On the 5th of August, Mary was transferred to St. Bartholomew's hospital where she was seen by Mr. Young, the surgeon, the following day who confirmed the medical evidence.
defence Elizabeth stated that, “I did give her several lashes, but with no
design of killing her; the fall of the saucepan with the handle against her
neck, occasioned her face and neck to swell; I poulticed
her neck three times, and bathed the place, and put three plaisters
to her shoulders.” Mr. Young, the surgeon disputed that Mary’s neck injury
could have been caused by a saucepan handle.
The Brownrigg’s produced several character witnesses but they were not believed by the jury.
At the end of the trial, James and John were acquitted of Mary’s murder but were ordered to be detained on an indictment of assaulting and abusing Mary Mitchell, for which they were subsequently sentenced to 6 month's imprisonment and fined one shilling each.
Elizabeth was found guilty, and on Friday, the 11th of September the judge told her, “It is my duty to pronounce sentence in accordance with the law, that you are to be taken from hence to the prison from whence you came; that you be removed on Monday next, the 14th of this instant September, to the usual place of execution, and there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead; your body afterwards, to be dissected and anatomised, according to the statute - and God have mercy on your soul." In accordance with the Murder Act of 1752, it was mandatory that the body of a murderer should be dissected after execution. It was normal for those being condemned for murder to be sentenced on a Friday to allow them an extra day of life, i.e. the Sunday.
The complete transcript of their trial can be read here.
Her irons were removed by the blacksmith and her hands and arms tied with cord. The rope was placed around her neck and she was put into the cart accompanied by Thomas Turlis, the hangman, to make the journey to Tyburn. When she finally got there, she prayed with the Ordinary and asked him to tell the crowd that she confessed her guilt and acknowledged the justice of her sentence. She was turned off and after hanging for half an hour her body was put into a hackney-coach and taken to Surgeons' Hall for dissection. Her skeleton was later hung up in the Hall as a permanent exhibit. Her execution drew a huge and hostile crowd, such was the feeling against her. Reverend Moore later wrote, “This unchristian behaviour greatly shocked me and I could not help exclaiming : Are these people called Christians?”
As far as I can tell, it was neither illegal nor unusual for employers to beat their servants and apprentices in the mid-18th century. However, the Brownriggs as a family and in particular,
I quote here from the Newgate Calendar which neatly sums up Elizabeth’s criminality : “That Mrs Brownrigg, a midwife by profession, and herself the mother of many children, should wantonly murder the children of other women, is truly astonishing, and can only be accounted for by that depravity of human nature, which philosophers have always disputed, but which true Christians will be ready to allow.”
One wonders whether Elizabeth was some sort of control freak who wanted and achieved total control over the girls through a constant reign of terror. She seemed indifferent to their suffering and their injuries and yet went about her daily business of bringing the babies of the poor into the world. Midwifery is surely a caring profession and she was seen as good midwife, and yet the other side of her character was that of an uncaring sadistic monster. I somehow doubt that any tears were shed for her at Tyburn on that Monday morning!
crime was by no means unique. Elizabeth Wigenton had been hanged on
Other murderers of their servant girls were Elizabeth and Mary Branch who beat their 13 year old maidservant, Jane Butterworth, to death in 1740 and were hanged on Saturday, the 3rd of May of that year at Illchester in Somerset and Sarah Metyard with her daughter, Sarah Morgan Metyard, who were hanged at Tyburn on Monday, the 19th of July 1762 for the murder, by starving to death, of 13 year old Ann Nailer.
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