Maria and Frederick Manning.


Maria Manning was born in Switzerland in 1821, her maiden name being de Roux. She emigrated to Britain and worked in London as a lady's maid to the wealthy Lady Blantyre, who was the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland. Here she developed a taste for a luxurious life style, amid the elegance of her employer's homes and general finery. She dreaded the idea of poverty, a very real state for many at this time in history and resolved that she would never live like that. Lady's maids, if they worked for a good employer, could enjoy a lifestyle way beyond that of ordinary girls of the time. My own grandmother was one in the early 20th century and travelled much of Europe at a time when most ordinary people had seldom been further than the next town. So it was that in 1846, Maria went across the Channel on the boat to Boulogne with her employer and met Patrick O'Connor, a 50 year old Irishman, who worked as a customhouse (customs) officer in London's docks. Mr. O'Connor was a man of independent means and his wealth immediately attracted Maria.
Maria was much taken with Mr. O'Connor but she was also involved with Frederick George Manning, who worked as a guard on the Great Western Railway (not a very well paid job). Both men proposed to Maria - her problem was deciding which one would make the better husband and which had the more money.
Frederick was the same age as her and was the weaker character. O'Connor was much older and also a heavy drinker. Frederick promised Maria that he was soon to come into money via an inheritance whereas O'Connor seemed already to be well off and had told Maria that he had a large amount of money invested in foreign railway stocks. In the event, Frederick "won the day" and the couple married in St James' Church, Piccadilly, in May 1847.
They were able to afford a fairly stylish home in
Miniver Place, in London's Bermondsey area. However, Maria had realised by now that Frederick was not going to get the promised inheritance. She still kept in contact with O'Connor and was probably having an affair with him, with the apparent acquiescence of Frederick.  O'Connor even joined them for dinner at Miniver House from time to time.

The crime.
Maria felt she had married the wrong man but was determined that she would have O'Connor's money, if not his person, and hatched a plan to kill him.
She purchased some quicklime and a shovel and on
the 8th of August 1849 invited Mr. O'Connor to dinner. He duly arrived but had brought a friend with him which scuppered Maria's plan. So she invited him again for the following evening, telling him to come alone so that they could be more intimate with one another. When he arrived the next evening, Maria suggested that he may wish to wash his hands before dinner and as he stood at the sink to do so, she shot him in the head with a pistol. The bullet wound did not kill him, however, and Frederick finished poor Mr. O'Connor off by battering his head in with a ripping chisel (crowbar). The two of them then buried the body in a pre-dug grave below the kitchen flagstones, covering it with plenty of quicklime (which was thought to speed decay of the flesh and ironically was what they too were to be buried in).
The following day Maria went to O'Connor's lodgings and managed to con her way into his rooms where she systematically went through his belongings, taking everything of value including his share certificates. She paid a further visit the following day to see if there was anything she had missed. Two days later the Mannings got a nasty fright when two of O'Connor's colleagues came to their house looking for him as he had told them he was eating there on the evening of the 9th. Maria admitted that he had eaten with them on the 8th but denied having seen him since. They went away leaving Maria and
Frederick thoroughly unnerved, the couple suspected that the men were in fact detectives, so they decided to leave London immediately. Maria sent Frederick to try and sell their furniture and as soon as he had gone, packed everything of value that she could carry and ordered a cab to take her to King's Cross railway station where she caught a train to Edinburgh. Frederick decided to leave the country and went by train and ship to Jersey.
O'Connor's colleagues had by this time reported him missing to the police and expressed their suspicions about the Manning's. The police decided to visit
Miniver Place and after carrying out a thorough search of the premises, noticed that the mortar between two of the flagstones in the kitchen was still damp. The flagstones were lifted, revealing the battered and bloody body of Mr. O'Connor. A manhunt was now commenced to find the Mannings. The cabman who had taken Maria to the station came forward and described how he had taken her to one station, where she deposited two trunks, before taking her on to King's Cross. Superintendent Haynes, of Scotland Yard, who was in charge of the investigation, was able to find out that Maria had bought a ticket for Edinburgh and telegraphed the information to his Scottish counterparts. They had in fact already arrested her for trying to sell some of O'Connor's railway stock to a firm of Edinburgh stockbrokers who knew that some railway stock had been stolen in London and were suspicious of Maria's French accent and that they were about to be the victims of fraud. She was duly brought back to London and charged with O'Connor's murder, being remanded in custody to Horsemonger Lane Gaol.
Frederick was arrested a week later in Jersey where he had been spotted by a man who had known him in London and who had read about the murder in the papers. On his return to London, the man went to the police and a Scotland Yard detective, Sergeant Langley, was sent out to make the arrest as he happened to know Manning. Manning was traced to a rented room in St Laurence and was found asleep in his bed on August the 21st. Once in custody, he told police that it was Maria who had shot O'Connor. He also told the police, "I never liked him (O'Connor) so I battered his head with a ripping chisel" He was brought back to London, charged with the murder and also remanded to Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

It seems clear that Maria's motive was purely greed, although she was willing to grant O'Connor sexual favours, she was really only interested in his money and on making a "quick buck". Whether Frederick conspired with her in this to boost his parlous financial situation is unclear or whether he just finished off O'Connor out of dislike for the man whom he saw as his rival for Maria's attentions and out of fear that if O'Connor survived, he would betray them to the police. Remember at this time, attempted murder was still a capital crime and it was probable that Maria, at least, and quite possibly both of them would have been hanged just for trying to kill Mr. O'Connor. So it was clearly better to kill him and dispose of the body as quickly as possible in the hope of escaping detection.

They were moved from Horsemonger Lane to Newgate prison for the trial which opened at the Old Bailey (next door to Newgate) on Thursday, the 25th of October before Chief Justice Cresswell and it lasted two days. Both were represented by counsel and the respective lawyers tried to shift responsibility for the killing from their client to the other's client. It seemed that both Frederick and Maria each expected the other to shoulder responsibility but neither would. At the end of the trial, it took the jury 45 minutes to find them both guilty. Maria lost the composure she had shown during the trial and screamed at the jury, "You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest." She continued to rave at the judge as he tried to pass sentence of death upon her. They were taken back to Newgate and then across London to Horsemonger Lane Gaol to await their executions. She apparently asked the warders escorting her how they had liked her performance in court.

Horsemonger Lane Gaol and the condemned cell.
Horsemonger Lane Gaol was built between 1791 and 1799 in Southwark (south London) as the county prison for Surrey, being renamed the Surrey County Gaol in 1859. It was closed in 1878 and finally demolished in 1880. 131 men and 4 women were executed there between 1800 and 1877. Wandsworth prison took over its functions from then on, with Kate Webster being the first and only woman to be hanged there in 1879.
By this time, executions normally took place 3 clear Sundays after sentence had been passed and the Mannings were to spend just over two weeks in the condemned cells. Maria was guarded round the clock, as had become the custom, after Mary Ann Milner had hanged herself at
Lincoln Castle two years earlier. However, it is reported that Maria too attempted suicide. She was considered a suicide risk by the authorities and was guarded by 3 warderesses who slept in the cell with her, much to her disgust. She was able to lull them into a false sense of security and had let her fingernails grow long. While they were asleep, she tried to strangle herself and puncture her windpipe with her own hands and it took the combined efforts of all 3 of the women to stop her. Maria had written a letter, from her cell to Queen Victoria, whom she had met as a servant to Lady Blantyre, asking for a reprieve which was, of course, denied her. It is said the Queen did study Maria's letter and took an interest in the case but concluded that her guilt was proven. It is also said that Maria wrote to Frederick while awaiting execution, exhorting him to take the sole blame for O'Connor's death. This he refused to do. He did, however, make a confession saying that Maria had shot O'Connor and that he had finished him off with the ripping chisel. This was probably about the truth of the matter.

Their executions were set for the morning of Tuesday, the 13th of November 1849 and were to take place at "the prison where they were last confined," namely Horsemonger Lane Gaol. They were to attract the largest crowd ever to attend a public hanging. It is estimated that between 30 and 50,000 people came to see it and it was equally popular with the upper classes as with the poor. Every available space was filled with spectators and between 500 and 1,000 police were on hand to marshal the crowd. Many fashionable ladies had come to watch and were fascinated and later infuriated by what Maria had chosen to wear for the occasion.
The gallows was erected on the flat roof above the main gate as normal. It was described as "a huge, gaunt and ominous looking structure." See picture from an old Broadside.
William Calcraft officiated and Maria became the 20th woman that he would put to death.
Their execution was fully reported in the Times newspaper as follows:
"At a
quarter past eight Manning and his wife entered the (prison) chapel. The Sacrament was administered to them when the governor appeared and said that time pressed. Calcraft also came forward and the wretched pair were conducted to different parts of the chapel to be pinioned. The operation was performed on the male prisoner first and he submitted to it with perfect resignation. In the pinioning of Mrs. Manning a longer time was occupied. When the cords were applied to bind her arms her great natural strength forsook her for a moment, and she was nearly fainting, but a little brandy brought her round again, and she was pinioned without any resistance. She drew from her pocket a black silk handkerchief and requested that she might be blindfolded with it, a request that was acceded to. Having had a black lace veil fastened over her head, so as to completely conceal her features from the public gaze, she was conducted to the extremity of the chapel, where the fatal procession was at once formed and in a slow and solemn manner moved forwards towards the drop, the prison bell tolling."
"The procession passed along a succession of narrow passages, fenced in with ponderous gates, side rails and chevaux de frise of iron. In its course a singular coincidence happened. The Mannings walked over their own graves, as they had made their victim do over his. Mrs. Manning walked to her doom with a firm, unfaltering step. Being blindfolded she was led along by Mr. Harris, the surgeon. She wore a handsome black satin gown."
"At last
nine o'clock struck and shortly after the dreadful procession emerged from a small door in the inner side of a square piece of brickwork which rests on the east end of the prison roof. To reach this height a long and steep flight of stairs had to be climbed, and it only wonderful that Manning, in his weak and tottering state, was able to ascend so far. As he ascended to the steps leading to the drop his limbs tottered under him and he was scarcely able to move. When his wife approached the scaffold he turned round with his face towards the people, while Calcraft proceeded to draw over his head the white nightcap and adjust the fatal rope. The executioner then drew the nightcap over the female prisoner's head and all the necessary preparations now being completed the scaffold was cleared of all it occupants except the two wretched beings doomed to die. In an instant Calcraft withdrew the bolt, the drop fell, and the sentence of the law was fulfilled. Frederick died almost without a struggle while Maria writhed for some seconds. Their bodies were left to hang for the customary hour before they were taken down and in the evening buried in the precincts of gaol."
"Scarcely a hat or cap was raised when the drop fell and the bodies of the murderers had hardly ceased to oscillate with the momentum of their fall before the spectators were hurrying from the spot." So a good time was had by (nearly) all then!!

Calcraft would have pinioned Maria's legs on the drop to prevent her dress billowing up although this was not mentioned. It was not unusual for prisoners to pass quickly into unconsciousness with a short drop hanging, although this could never be guaranteed. It is doubtful whether any attempt was made to determine the actual time of death - probably some 5-15 minutes after the drop fell.
It is claimed that Maria and Frederick made up on the gallows and that she kissed him before they were executed as a sign of forgiveness for not taking all the blame. Whether this is true or not is unclear.

Charles Dickens, the famous author, attended the execution and wrote a letter to the Times expressing his revulsion at the proceedings.
"I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning" "I believe that the a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the crowd collected at that execution this morning." "When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world."
Dickens was one of a number of influential people who campaigned against public hangings and they finally abolished in 1868.

The case attracted enormous public interest, especially because of the sexual intrigue and scandal element, which was much rarer then. Maria was perceived as the dominant partner in the marriage and the prime mover in the murder, two other unusual features of the case. Most murders, then as now, were simple and sordid affairs with little of real interest in them. There were the attempts at escape and the brutal nature of the crime too, to add to the interest. By 1849 there was also media, in the form of newspapers, and their case made the headlines. Sexual intrigue was considered much more shocking in Victorian England. It was convenient too that Maria was Swiss born and therefore a foreigner. As one spectator at her execution remarked in a letter to the Times, "Thank God she wasn't an English woman" - in other words the reputation of England was unsullied by the crime. People really did believe that sort of thing at the time.

One feels that Charles Dicken's indignation was far more due to the attitude of the crowd towards the hanging than by any concern for the Mannings and their sufferings. People at that time thoroughly enjoyed a "good hanging" and when the prisoners were a husband and wife from reasonable circumstances, it was an added bonus. Some of the wealthier spectators had paid a lot of money to get good vantage points overlooking the scaffold, and fashionable ladies were using opera glasses to get a better view. It is probable that many in the crowd were disappointed by the fact that both of them died easily. This was certainly the case at the execution of the famous Dr. William Palmer, hanged at Stafford in 1856, who died without a struggle to the disgust of the crowd. Victorian England was full of hypocrisy and publicly expressed disgust at this sort of prurience while privately enjoying it immensely. Public hangings had several obvious advantages in this sense - they were a perfectly legal form of sadistic and voyeuristic entertainment and after all, the victims were murderers so one could justify going to watch their punishment as it was a good moral lesson! It is unlikely that many in the crowd felt any sympathy for the Mannings, in their final moments, but rather just a morbid fascination with the "show". Even the "stars of the show" often entered into the spirit of the event somewhat, by wearing their best clothes. What Frederick wore was not recorded but it was probably his best suit. Maria chose, and was allowed to wear, the fashionable black satin dress and veil, to ensure she presented a good appearance at the end. Black satin, as a dress material, apparently went out of fashion and stayed so for nearly 30 years as a result.
Maria also made it into Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, and it is probable that Calcraft sold them the dress she had worn for her hanging. Tussaud's would most likely have sent an artist to court to draw her face to be sure of getting a good likeness.

In the crowd at the Manning's execution, were people selling snacks and drinks together with execution Broadsides. These were an early form of often inaccurate tabloid style journalism purporting to give details of the crime, "last true confessions" of the condemned and details of their execution, even though it hadn't yet happened. There was a stylised woodcut picture of the hanging. (as per the one reproduced here) Photography had only just come into existence and it was not possible to print photographs in newspapers of the day. Some 2,500,000 broadsides were printed for this execution!

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