The execution of children and juveniles.

 

With special thanks to Michael Stern for his help with this article.

 

Some books convey the impression that large numbers of children were hanged for minor crimes such as theft during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the surviving records, e.g. the Ordinary’s Reports from Newgate, do not support this. However, the laws of the time did not accept the concept that children and teenagers did not know the difference between right and wrong and the age of criminal responsibility was just seven years. There was also a strong presumption against those who committed murder for gain, murder by poisoning or brutal murders, especially of their children or their superiors. Mandatory death sentences had to be passed on 7 -13 year olds convicted of felonies but equally routinely commuted.  Girls were typically hanged only for the most serious crimes whereas teenage boys were executed for a wide range of felonies.

Probably the youngest child executed in England was John Dean who was convicted of arson at the Abingdon Assizes on the 23rd of February 1629.  His age is given in “The Annals of Windsor” as between eight and nine years and he had set fire to two houses in Windsor.  It would appear that the judge, Mr. Justice Whitelock, found evidence of malice, revenge and cunning and therefore did not recommend a reprieve for the boy.

Alice Glaston, aged 11, who was one of three prisoners hanged on 13 April 1546 is almost certainly the youngest girl to have been executed.  Her burial is recorded by Sir Thomas Botelar, a vicar and former Abbot of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. He says she was interred in the Parish Church there, before the door of the Lady's Chapel.  The crimes committed by these three was not specified.

It has been suggested that the youngest children ever hanged in Britain were Michael Hamond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11 respectively in "The History of Lynn" written by William Richards and published in 1812 (page 888). In other accounts they were referred to as “the boy and the girl” as they were both small. Research into parish baptism records by Michael Stern reveals that these two were almost certainly 17 and 20 years old respectively which is much more likely, as there are no other recorded instances of small children being executed at this time.  They were allegedly hanged outside the South Gate of (Kings) Lynn on Wednesday, the 28th of September 1709 for an unspecified felony. It was reported that there was violent thunder and lightning after the execution and that their hangman, Anthony Smyth, died within a fortnight of it. 

Court records often did not give the age of defendants sentenced to death and in some cases the only guide to their age is how old they told the Ordinary they thought they were.  Registration of births was not required prior to 1837.  Executions of teenagers were not reported in early newspapers, where they existed, so it is not easy to trace all of the executions of juveniles in the 18th century. Here are some reliable examples, rather than a conclusive list.  Please also look at the Tyburn records for other cases. 

Eighteenth century.
On Monday 12th of March 1716 William Jennings (also given as Jenkins and Atkins) was hanged at Tyburn for housebreaking.  His age was reported as just 12 in a newspaper of the time, but there is no Ordinary’s report to corroborate this. 
Sixteen year old Thomas Smith was hanged at Tyburn on Wednesday, the 25th of April 1716 together with William King who was 18, also for housebreaking. Edward Elton was hanged there the following year for the same offence.

Four teenagers were hanged at Tyburn on Monday, the 20th of May 1717. They were 18 year old Martha Pillah (also Pillow) who had been convicted of stealing in a shop, 17 year old Thomas Price and 18 year old Joseph Cornbach for housebreaking and 17 year old Christopher Ward for burglary.

16 year old James Booty suffered at Tyburn on Monday, the 21st of May 1722 for the rape of a five year old girl.

On Saturday 18th March 1738, sixteen year old Mary Grote (also given as Troke and Groke) was tied a hurdle and drawn along in a procession behind a cart containing two men, John Boyd and James Warwick, to Gallows Hill on the outskirts of Winchester in Hampshire. Here she was held until the two men had been hanged before being led to a large wooden stake nearby.  She was chained to this and bundles of faggots placed round her. The executioner would have endeavoured to strangle her with a rope noose before igniting the fire and reducing the hopefully unconscious girl to ashes.  Mary had been convicted of the Petty Treason murder, by poisoning, of her mistress, Justine Turner.

16 year old William Duell was hanged, along with four others, at Tyburn on the 24th of November 1740. He had been convicted of raping and murdering Sarah Griffin and was to be anatomised after execution.  He was taken to Surgeon’s Hall for this but signs of life were discovered and he was revived and later had his sentence commuted to transportation.

Seventeen year old Catharine Connor went to the gallows at Tyburn on Monday the 31st December 1750 for publishing a false, forged and counterfeit Will, purporting to be the Will of Michael Canty, a sailor in the Navy, on October the 29th of that year.  She told the court that she could neither read nor write and that the forgery was made by a Mr. Dunn, although she was present at the time.  Catherine was one of fifteen prisoners to hang that day.

 

Elizabeth Morton, aged fifteen, was hanged at Gallows Hill, Nottingham on the 8th of April 1763 for the murder of the two year old child of her employer, John Oliver.

 

Susannah Underwood was hanged at Gloucester on Friday the 19th of April 1776 for setting fire to a barn and a hay stack at Longhope on 31st January 1776.  The Hereford Journal newspaper criticised the bad manners of the 15 year old girl for refusing to shake hands with her master at her execution, but did not criticise the authorities for hanging her.

 

On Saturday the 16th of September 1786, seventeen year old Susannah Minton suffered for arson at Hereford before a large number of onlookers.  She had been convicted of “voluntarily and maliciously setting fire to and burning a barn, the property of Paul Gwatkin, in the parish of Kilpeck on the 11th of November 1785.”  She had been tried at the Lent Assizes but was respited to the Summer Assizes, possibly because she had claimed that she was pregnant.

 

Sarah Shenston, an eighteen year old, was hanged at Moor Heath on the outskirts of Shrewsbury in Shropshire on Thursday, the 22nd of March 1792.  She suffered for the murder of her illegitimate male child whose throat she had cut immediately after birth, on the 30th of September 1791.

 

At the Dorset Lent Assizes in Dorchester in March 1794, fifteen year old Elizabeth Marsh was convicted of the murder of her grandfather, John Nevil. In accordance with the provisions of the Murder Act of July 1752 she was required to be hanged two days later, which would have been a Sunday, a day on which executions were not permitted.  As was normal the judge in her case delayed sentencing her to the end of the Assize on thus giving her an extra day of life.  Elizabeth would have been kept in chains and only allowed bread and water between sentence and execution. She was hanged on Monday the 17th of March and was the first person to be executed outside the new County Gaol in Dorchester. Her body was afterwards given to local surgeons for dissection.

Nineteenth century - public hangings.
Children, like adults, continued to be sentenced to death for a very large number of felonies up to 1838 although it was normal for younger children to have their sentences commuted for the less serious crimes as there was increasing public disquiet about hanging children. There is little actual evidence of anyone under 14 years old being hanged in the 19th century, despite what you might read in some books to the contrary. As stated earlier, executions were decreasing rapidly, both for adults and young offenders after 1838, as the number of capital crimes reduced and public attitudes changed.

The following are confirmed cases of the execution of young people in the 19th century, but cannot be considered definitive as the ages of prisoners were still not always recorded:

Nineteen year old Sarah Lloyd was executed at Bury St. Edmunds on the 23rd of April 1800 for stealing in the dwelling house of her mistress, Sarah Syer, at Hadleigh on 3rd October 1799. She and her boyfriend had stolen some jewellery and also started a fire in the house.

Ann Mead, aged sixteen was found guilty of the murder of Charles Proctor, aged sixteen months, by feeding him a spoonful of arsenic at Royston in Hertfordshire. She expiated her crime on the “New Drop” gallows outside Hertford prison on Thursday the 31st of July 1800, watched by a large crowd.

David Duffield, aged 17,was hanged at the Bowling Green, Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire on the 6th of April 1801 for the murder of 11 year old Anne Morgan. Duffield was afterwards hanged in chains at Tavernspite. He was the last juvenile to suffer this fate in the 19th century.  His execution and gibbeting cost Pembrokeshire £20 7s & 4d.

Seventeen year old Mary Morgan was hanged at Presteigne in Radnorshire in 1805 for the murder of her illegitimate child. She had become pregnant after being seduced by a member of the local gentry in Presteigne and then abandoned by him. She was found guilty of the killing and sentenced to death on Thursday, the 11th of April, her execution taking place two days later on Saturday the 13th, as was required by law at the time, with her body to be dissected afterwards. There are two memorial stones to her in the churchyard at Presteigne.

On the 6th of May 1806, 15 year old Peter Atkinson suffered at York Castle for cutting and maiming Elizabeth Stockton.

Nineteen year old Mary Chandler was hanged at Lancaster Castle on the 9th of April 1808 for stealing in a dwelling house.

Sarah Fletcher, aged 19, was hanged on the roof of Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Surrey on the 5th of April 1813 for child murder.

On the 22nd of March 1819, 16 year old Hannah Bocking became probably the youngest girl to be executed in the 19th century when she was publicly hanged outside Derby’s Friar Gate Gaol for the murder, by poisoning, of Jane Grant.

15 year old Henry Lovell was hanged at Newgate on the 26th of November of the same year for highway robbery. 

Three teenage boys were executed together for highway robbery outside Newgate in March 1821, James Reeves who was 17, Joseph Johnson 18 John Davis who was also 18.

17 year old William Thompson was hanged at Newgate for highway robbery on the 25th of September 1821 and 16 year old Benjamin Glover was hanged in Somerset on the 1st of May 1822 for stealing in a dwelling house.

16 year old Giles East was executed at Surrey’s Horsemonger Lane prison on the 20th of January 1823 for raping a little girl.

Catherine Kinrade, aged 19, was hanged alongside her lover at Castle Rushen on the Isle of Man on the 18th of April 1823 for the murder of his wife.

15 year old John Smith was hanged at Newgate on the 20th of June 1825 for a house burglary.  His partner in crime, William Mills (age 22) was condemned but reprieved.

Charles Melford, aged 17, suffered together with his 21 year old brother, William, for housebreaking on the 12th of March 1828 at Newgate.  Three days later 18 year old Moses Angel was hanged at Fisherton Anger near Salisbury for the murder of Daniel Blake.

On the 13th of May 1828, 18 year old Russell Brown was hanged at Newgate for highway robbery.

James Cook, aged 16, was hanged at Chelmsford's Springfield Prison on the 27th of March 1829 for arson, having set fire to the premises of William Green, the farmer for whom he worked as a cow hand.

16 year old William Jennings became the last person to be hanged at Gallows Hill, Appleby in Westmoreland when he was executed on the 23rd of March 1829 for the rape of Agnes Corothwaite.

On the 30th of March Martin Slack went to the gallows at York for the murder of his bastard daughter.

A boy of just nine was reputed to have been hanged at Chelmsford for arson on the 5th of August 1831, but it is probable that William Jennings was actually 19.

Thomas Crowther, aged 18, was hanged outside Newgate for highway robbery on the 22nd of July 1829.

17 year old Thomas Turner suffered for the rape of nine year old Louise Blisset at Worcester on the 13th of August 1830.

17 year old Thomas Slaughter was hanged at Worcester on the 25th of March 1831, for setting fire to a hayrick.

14 year old John Any Bird Bell was executed on the 1st of August 1831 at Maidstone in Kent for the murder of 13 year old Richard Taylor. John and his 11 year old brother, James, killed Richard Taylor for the sum of nine shillings (45p) which he was collecting from the Parish on behalf of his disabled father. They were tried on Friday, the 29th of July and because the second day after sentence would have been a Sunday, John was hanged on the Monday using the "New Drop" scaffold, erected outside Maidstone prison. Bell was probably the youngest person to be hanged in the 19th century. In 1833, a boy of nine was sentenced to death at Maidstone Assizes for housebreaking but was reprieved after public agitation.

Mary Ann Higgins, aged 19, was hanged at Coventry for the murder of her uncle on the 11th of August 1831.

March 1832 saw two eighteen year olds hang in four days.  Daniel Middleton was one of three men to die for the rape of Sarah Kempster at Salisbury on the 20th, while James Addington suffered for arson at Bedford on the 24th.

16 year old Sylvester Wilkes was executed at Dorchester on the 30th of March 1833 for arson.

Thomas Knapton, aged 17, was hanged at Lincoln Castle on the 26th of July for the rape of 19 year old Frances Elstone.

17 year old William Marchant suffered at Newgate on the 8th of July 1839 for the murder of Elisabeth Paynton.

Bartholomew Murray, aged 18 was hanged at Chester on the 24th of April 1841 for the murders of Joseph & Mary Cooke.

17 year old Joseph Wilkes was hanged at Stafford, also for murder on the 2nd of April 1842.

Paul Downing and Charles Powys, aged 19 & 17 respectively went to the gallows at Stafford for murder on the 25th January 1845.

Catherine Foster was one of two teenage girls publicly hanged in the period from 1840 - 1868.  She was just seventeen years old when she poisoned her husband, John, to whom she had been married for only three weeks at Acton near Sudbury in Suffolk
The hanging was carried out on Saturday the 17th of April 1847 by William Calcraft on the New Drop gallows, erected in the meadow outside Bury St. Edmunds Gaol.  A crowd of some ten thousand people had turned up to see it and Catherine made a speech from the platform imploring other girls not to follow her example and to stick to her marriage vows.

1849 saw four teenage executions out of a total of seventeen in England and Wales that year. The first was 17 year old Thomas Malkin who was hanged at York Castle for the murder of Ester Hannan on the 6th of January 1849.  George Millen, also 17, was executed at Maidstone on the 28th of March for the murder of 82 year old Mr. Law.  James Griffiths (18) suffered at Brecon on the 11th of April for killing Thomas Edwards. 
The fourth of this series of executions was to be the last of a teenage girl in England.  On the 20th of April 1849 18 year old Sarah Harriet Thomas suffered at Bristol for the murder of her mistress. She was hysterical at the end and even Calcraft was noticeably upset by her execution. Sarah was the last of nine teenage girls hanged between 1800 and 1849.

18 year old William Flack was hanged at Ipswich on the 17th of August 1853 for murdering Maria Steggles.

Thomas Munroe, also 18, was executed at Carlisle on the 13th of March 1855 for the murder of Isaac Turner.

George Edwards (18) was executed at Maidstone on the 20th of August 1857 for killing his brother, Thomas.

Seventeen year old Charles Normington was hanged at York on the 31st f December 1859, for killing Richard Broughton. 

On the 11th of April 1863, Robert Burton, aged 18, was hanged at Maidstone for killing 8 year old Thomas Houghton. 

Charles Robinson, also 18, suffered at Stafford on the 9th of January 1866. He had murdered Harriet Seager.

Private hangings 1868 - 1899.
Eighteen 17-19 year old boys were hanged between 1868 and 1899, although no one of a younger age.
The first private hanging in Britain was that of 18 year old Thomas Wells, who was hanged by William Calcraft at Maidstone Prison on the 13th of August 1868 for shooting his boss, the station master, at Dover Priory railway station. Wells was hanged in the former prison timber yard, out of site of the cell blocks and nearby houses. Like so many of Calcraft's victims he died a slow and painful death.  Just under a month later the second private execution in England was carried out when nineteen year old Alexander Mackay was hanged at Newgate on the 8th of September for the murder of his employer.

William Mobbs, also nineteen, was hanged at Aylesbury on the 28th of March 1870 for the murder of a nine year old boy.

On the 13th of August 1872, nineteen year old Francis Bradford was one of three murderers to hang at Maidstone.

The 4th of January 1875 saw the execution of seventeen year old Michael Mullen at Liverpool for murder.  Nineteen year old John Stanton was hanged at Stafford on 30th of March 1875 for killing his uncle.

Nineteen year old John Swift was one of three young men to be hanged at Leicester Gaol on the 27th of November 1877 for the murder of Joseph Tugby.

George Abigail, aged nineteen, was hanged at Norwich Castle on the 22nd of May 1882 for the murder of Mary Plunkett.  Bernard Mullarky, also nineteen, suffered at Liverpool on the 4th of December that year for killing Thomas Cruise.

On the 10th of March 1884, seventeen year old Michael M'Lean was hanged at Liverpool (Walton) for the murder of Jose Jimenez.

17 year-old Joseph Morley was executed at Chelmsford on the 21st of November 1887, for the murder of a young married woman.

On the 2nd of January 1889 18 year old William Gower and 17 year old Charles Dobel suffered at Maidstone for the murder of B. C. Lawrence who was the time-keeper at Gower’s workplace.  Dobel was the last person under 18 at the time of the crime to suffer the death penalty.

19 year old Richard Davis was hanged for the murder of his father at Crewe on the 2nd of April 1890. His 16 year old brother George was also convicted of the murder but reprieved due to his age.

1893 saw three nineteen year olds executed. They were William Williams who was hanged at Exeter on the 28th of March for the murder of Emma Doidge. John Hewitt who was hanged at Stafford on the 15th of August for killing William Masfen and George Mason who was executed at Winchester on the 6th of December for the murder of Army Sgt. James Robinson.

There was a triple execution at Winchester on the 21st of July 1896, one of the prisoners being eighteen year old Private Samuel Smith who had murdered Corporal Robert Payne.

The final teenager to hang in the nineteenth century was eighteen year old George Nunn at Ipswich on the 21st of November 1899 for the murder of Eliza Dixon, a married woman whom Nunn had attempted to rape.

Twentieth century.
The Children's Act of 1908 stipulated for the first time a minimum age for execution of 16 years, however there is no record of anyone under the age of 18 being hanged in the 20th century, although quite a few 18/19 year old males were executed. The last juvenile to receive the death sentence was 16 year old Harold Wilkins.  He was condemned at Stafford Assizes on November the 18th, 1932 for the sexually motivated murder of Ethel Corey, but reprieved on the grounds of his age. The law was changed the following year by the Children and Young Persons Act in 1933 which raised the minimum age to 18 years.

Four eighteen year olds were hanged in the 20th century. They were Henry Julius Jacoby on the 7th June 1922 at Pentonville, for the murder of Alice White.
Arthur Bishop on the 14th August 1925 also at Pentonville for the murder of Francis Rix.

In 1941 it was decided that persons of 18 but under 19 would normally be reprieved, however Armin Kuehne aged 18 according to his birth certificate (of which I have a copy) was hanged together with Emil Schmittendorf (31) at Pentonville on Friday, the 16th of November for battering to death Gerhardt Rettig in a P.o.W. camp near Sheffield because they believed he had betrayed them over an escape plan.
Francis Forsyth ,aged 18, became the last teenager to be executed in England & Wales, when he was hanged, together with 23 year old Norman Harris for the murder of Allan Jee at Wandsworth on the 10th of November 1960.

The last teenage execution in Scotland took place at Barlinnie Prison on the 29th of December 1960 when Anthony Miller, aged 19, was hanged for the murder of John Crimin.

In addition 17 nineteen year old males were hanged for murder in England during the 20th century. They were:

John Charles Parr on the 2nd October 1900 at Newgate.

Charles Ashton on the 22nd of December 1903 at Hull.

James Clarkson on the 29th March at Leeds.

Ferat Ben Ali on the 1st of August 1905 at Maidstone.

Jack Griffiths on the 27th February 1906 at Manchester.

George Newton on the 31st January 1911 at Chelmsford.

Edgar Bindon on the 25th March 1914 at Cardiff.

Jack Field on the 4th February 1921 at Wandsworth.

Charles Cowle on the 18th May 1932 at Manchester.

John Stockwell on the 14th November 1934 at Pentonville.

John Daymond on the 8th February 1939 at Durham.

Edward Anderson on the 31st July 1941 at Durham.

William Turner on the 24th March 1943 at Pentonville.

John Davidson on the 12th July 1944 at Liverpool.

James Farrell on the 29th March 1949 at Birmingham

Herbert Mills on the 11th December 1951 at Lincoln

Derek Bentley on the 28th January 1953 at Wandsworth.

 

Seven teenage girls were condemned to death during the 20th century, although all were reprieved. 17 year old Eva Eastwood was convicted of murder and robbery in December 1902.  Susan Chalice, also 17 was convicted of the murder on an infant child in July 1904.  18 year old Catherine Smith was sentenced in Scotland in 1911, also for the murder of an infant child and 18 year old Rosalind Downer for the same offence in London in 1918.  Elizabeth Humphries, also 18, was convicted of child murder in 1933.  18 year old Elizabeth Marina Jones was convicted with her American soldier boyfriend of a robbery murder in London in 1945, for which he was hanged.  In 1952 Edith Horsley, another 18 year old, spent time in the condemned cell at Birmingham’s Winson Green prison for murdering an infant.

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