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The Bloody Code

John Amy Bird Bell
• On 1st August, 1831, an illiterate pauper was hanged by the neck until dead • Four thousand people came to see him hang in Maidstone, Kent • Afterwards his body was dissected by surgeons •He was 14 years old

“At the trial the prisoner exhibited the utmost indifference to his fate, and appeared to entertain no fear for the

The Sentence:


At half-past eleven o'clock on Monday morning the wretched malefactor ceased to exist, and his body was given to the surgeons of Rochester for dissection.

“He exhibited some emotion when he was informed that a part of the sentence was that his body

Bird had attacked and murdered a 12 year old boy who was collecting money for his disabled father. The victim had been stabbed in the throat with a knife and robbed of nine shillings. Bird admitted he had planned the crime with his brother.

Despite what you may think, it was rare for people as young as this to be hanged in 1831. One hundred years earlier, it was a different matter altogether….

William Jennings, aged 12, was hanged at Tyburn on Monday, the 12th of March 1716, having been convicted of housebreaking at the February Sessions.

15 year old Elizabeth 15 year old James Booty (age also given as Morton was hanged at 12) suffered at Tyburn Nottingham on the 8th of April 1763 for the on Monday, the 21st of murder of two of her May 1722 for the rape of a 5 year old girl. employer’s children.

Four juveniles were hanged at Tyburn on Monday, the 20th of May 1717. They were 18 year old Martha 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.

15 year old Elizabeth Marsh was convicted of the murder of her grandfather. She was hanged in public on Monday, the 17th of March, 1794.

Possibly the youngest children ever executed in Britain were Michael Hammond and his sister, Ann, whose ages were given as 7 and 11 respectively in a book published in 1907. Previously, no claims as to their precise ages had been made, although they were referred to as being “under age,” without specifying what this term actually meant, and as “the Boy and the Girl” as they were both small. They were reportedly hanged at (Kings) Lynn on Wednesday, the 28th of September 1708 for theft. The local press did not, however, consider the executions of two children newsworthy! A painting of the two being taken in the cart to the gallows appears in Paul Richard’s book ”King’s Lynn”. 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.

The Bloody Eighteenth Century? Why was hanging the answer to everything in the 1700s?

The Bloody Code
No. of crimes carrying the No of crimes carrying the death death penalty penalty16885017651601815225 1688 1765 1815 50 160 225

Some of the crimes carrying the death penalty in the 1700s
•stealing horses or sheep •destroying turnpike roads •cutting down trees •pick pocketing goods worth more than one shilling •being out at night with a blackened face •unmarried mother concealing a stillborn child •arson •forgery •stealing from a rabbit warren •rape •murder

Plus… "strong evidence of malice in a child aged 7–14 years of age" "blacking the face or using a disguise whilst committing a crime"

"being in the company of Gypsies for one month"

• the attitudes of the wealthy men who made the law were unsympathetic. They felt that people who committed crimes were sinful, lazy or greedy and deserved little mercy.

Lord Chief Justice 1802-18 Edward Law

• since the rich made the laws they made laws that protected their interests. Any act which threatened their wealth, property or sense of law and order was criminalised and made punishable by death.

Lord Chief Justice 1756-88 William Murray

• the law was harsh to act as a deterrent. It was thought that people might not commit crimes if they knew that they could be sentenced to death.

Was it effective?
3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 0 1701- 1726- 1751- 1776- 180125 50 75 1800 1825 It is no coincidence that during the period 1776-1800 the English ruling class were fearing a revolution like in France…. Death Sentences Executions Death sentences and executions, London 1701-1825

The End of the Bloody Code
• Sir Samuel Romilly speaking to the House of Commons on capital punishment in 1810, declared that "..[there is] no country on the face of the earth in which there [have] been so many different offences according to law to be punished with death as in England."

Whilst executions for murder, burglary and robbery were common, the death sentences of minor offenders were often not carried out. In 1808 Romilly had the death penalty removed from pickpocketing and other trivial offences and started reform that continued over the next 50 years.

Gibbeting (the public display of executed corpses) was abolished in 1832 and hanging in chains was abolished in 1834.

In 1861, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act further reduced the number of capital crimes to four: •murder •treason •arson in royal dockyards •piracy with violence

Public executions were abolished in 1868

From 1868 onwards, all hangings in Britain took place inside prison, on gallows like this one at HMP Wandsworth. cap it all off.......
Why did it come about? • Fear of crime by the rich • The rich set the laws • The laws protected their growing property • There were more poor people • The rich thought that harsh punishments would reduce crime
What actually happened?

• The number of capital sentences rose • But the number of executions in proportion actually fell • Apart from times of real fear – French Revolution, industrial unrest • Juries were unwilling to deliver guilty verdicts
• • Transportation was a new alternative to hanging Romilly ended the Bloody Code in the 1820s.