The Capital Punishment
(Amendment) Act came into law at the beginning of June 1868 and stipulated that
all executions had henceforth to be carried out within prisons. The first to be so was that of 18 year old
Thomas Wells at
Thomas Wells was employed as a porter and carriage cleaner at Dover Priory railway station and had a gun concealed at work, apparently to shoot birds.
On the 1st of may 1868, the station master, Mr. Edward Walsh (also given as Walshe) summoned Wells to his office and reprimanded him in front of the Area Superintendent, Henry Cox, saying that he was dissatisfied with the quality of his work and general attitude.
Wells was offered two alternatives, either that he make a full apology for his actions and promise never to repeat them or be dismissed. He was given ten minutes to consider this offer. Instead of making an apology he went and got his gun and just before 11am returned to the office and shot Mr. Walsh in the head. He was captured minutes later hiding in an empty carriage and was arrested by Inspector Stephens and a constable.
Committal and trial.
He appeared at the magistrates court on Saturday the 2nd of May and was
committed for trial at the Kent Summer Assizes to be held on Thursday the 23rd
of July 1868 before Mr. Justice Willis. Serjeant Sleigh,
assisted by a Mr. Straight prosecuted while Wells was defended by a Mr. Ribton and a Mr. Biron. His defence was one of insanity due to the
effects of a serious accident he had had whilst at work at the station when he
was nearly crushed by a train which had changed his personality. Wells’ parents were called to testify to
this. However the jury did not accept it
and took just five minutes to convict him.
He was therefore sentenced to death and returned to the condemned cell
The gallows was the same “New Drop” pattern one that had been used for the execution of Frances Kidder earlier in the year and was re-used with some modifications, principally the platform was now level with the paving slabs of the courtyard, set over a four foot deep pit that had been excavated beneath it. However the trap doors were still released from below. The courtyard was some 30 feet square and entirely surrounded by high walls on three sides and a cell block on the fourth.
Although the proceedings were
now hidden from the general public, they were hardly private. Major Bannister,
the governor of
As usual for Maidstone, William
Calcraft was to be the hangman and was assisted by George Smith of
“Happy soul, thy days are ended,
All thy mourning days below,
Go, by angel friends attended,
To the sight of Jesus, go”
At the end of the verse Calcraft drew the bolt and the drop fell with a dull thud. Wells, like so many of Calcraft's victims, died a slow and painful death over the ensuing two minutes, visibly struggling against the pinioning straps. A black flag was unfurled above the prison a few moments later. As required by the Capital Punishment (Amendment) Act a certificate of execution signed by the governor, the under sheriff and the chaplain was posted on the prison gates and a formal inquest was held at 2.30 that afternoon by Mr. Dudlow, the coroner and a jury of 12 local men. They returned a verdict that “the deceased, Thomas Wells had been duly executed according to law.”
It would seem that Thomas Wells had what today we would call anger management problems. He had at various times displayed temper tantrums and had inflicted nasty burns on his younger brother after a minor argument.
A strange coincidence.
Kidder was hanged for the murder of her step daughter on April 2nd 1868 and on
the following day Richard Bishop murdered Alfred Cartwright at Sydenham. He was hanged at