Alexander Mackay, Britain’s second private hanging.


Alexander Arthur Mackay became the second person to be executed in private and the first at Newgate.

18 year old Mackay was employed by George Grossmith as a waiter and general servant at his eating house at No. 11 Artillery Passage, London.  Mackay had an argument with George’s wife, 45 year old Emma, on the morning of Friday, the 8th of Ma y 1868, after George had left the shop, as a result of which he attacked her with a rolling pin, an iron bar and items of crockery in the kitchen.  She died nine days later from her head injuries but on the first day recovered consciousness sufficiently to make a statement to the police. 

Mackay was able to escape from London and was arrested in Maidstone some five weeks later on an unrelated charge, going under the name of George Jackson.  He was identified by Henry Ratcliff, a sharp eyed warder at Maidstone prison who having seen a picture of Mackay realised that the prisoner Jackson bore a strong resemblance to him.  He was brought before the governor on the 28th of June for questioning and as a result returned to the capital and housed in Newgate to await trial. 



He appeared at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Lush on the 17th of August and had the benefit of two defence counsel, Messrs Ribton and Cunningham.  Some of the Grossmith’s neighbours gave evidence of hearing a commotion around 9.30am and of hearing Emma cry out “Oh don't” and another gave evidence of a bloodied Mackay escaping.  Surgeon John Jackson who had attended Emma gave evidence of the crime scene and her horrific injuries.

Mackay was convicted but the jury recommended him to mercy on account of his age, eighteen at the time of the crime.  His 19th birthday occurred between the times of the crime and his execution.  The Home Secretary, Earl Cranbrook, saw no reason for a reprieve and Tuesday the 8th of September was the date set for execution.



Newgate’s gallows was erected in a corner of an enclosed yard near the Chapel, and was described as consisting of two vertical beams some 12 - 14 feet high with a cross beam from which an iron chain was suspended.  Beneath the this was a scaffold concealed by sheeting and reached by a few steps.  The hanging was attended by the Governor, Mr. Jonas, the Ordinary, the Rev. Mr. Jones, Mr. Gibson the prison surgeon, the sheriff and two under sheriff and representatives of the press. A little before 9.00 a.m., Mackay was led from the condemned cell through a passage that opened into the yard supported by the Ordinary and ascended the steps up onto the platform where he joined in with Mr. Jones' prayers. Only he, Mr. Jones and William Calcraft were present on the drop, there being no warders to support Mackay.  Calcraft pulled the lever and Mackay dropped the customary 12 - 18 inches and after several convulsive struggles lasting some two minutes, became still, according to contemporary newspaper reports.  The black flag was raised over the prison after the trap had opened and the bell of St. Sepulchres Church tolled. His body was left hanging for an hour before being taken down and prepared for the formal inquest, which took place that afternoon. It was noted that his face bore a calm expression which as a warder noted was not usual.

The inquest was held by Deputy Coroner, Mr. W. H. Payne sitting with 21 jurors from the City of London to enquire into whether Mackay had died from lawful hanging.

Mackay was then buried in an unmarked grave within the prison.


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