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PUNISHMENT OF DEATH BY BURNING.
Probably some of the readers of “NOTES AND QUERIES” will share in the surprise expressed by E.S.S.W. (Vol. ii., p. 6.), yet many persons now living must remember when spectacles such as he alludes to were by no means uncommon. An examination of the newspapers and other periodicals of the latter half of the eighteenth century would supply numerous instances in which the punishment of strangling and burning was inflicted; as well in cases of petit treason, for the murder of a husband, as more frequently in cases of coining, which, as the law then stood, was one species of high treason. I had collected a pretty long list from the Historical Chronicle in the earlier volumes of the Gentleman’s Magazine, but thought it scarcely of sufficient importance to merit insertion in “NOTES AND QUERIES.” Perhaps, however, the following extracts may possess some interest: one as showing the manner in which executions of this kind were latterly performed in London, and the other as apparently furnishing an instance of later date than that which Mr. Ross considers the last in which this barbarous punishment was inflicted. The first occurs in the 56th vol. of the Magazine, Part 1. P. 524., under the date of the 21st June, 1786—
“This morning, the malefactors already mentioned were all executed according to their sentence. About a quarter of an hour after the platform had dropped, Phoebe Harris, the female convict, was led by two officers to a stake about eleven feet high, fixed in the ground, near the top of which was an inverted curve made of irons, to which one end of a halter was tied. The prisoner stood on a low stool, which, after the ordinary had prayed with her a short time, was taken away, and she hung suspended by the neck, her feet being scarcely more than twelve or fourteen inches from the pavement. Soon after the signs of life had ceased, two cartloads of faggots were placed round her and set on fire; the flames soon burning the halter, she then sunk a few inches, but was supported by an iron chain passed over her chest and affixed to the stake.”
The crime for which this woman suffered was coining. Probably the method of execution here related was adopted in consequence of the horrible occurrence narrated by Mr. Ross.
In vol. lix. of the same Magazine, Part 1. p. 272, under the date of the 18th of March, 1789, is an account of the executions of nine malefactors at Newgate; and amongst them,—
“Christian Murphy, alias
Bowman, for coining, was brought out
after the rest were turned off, and fixed to a stake, and burnt,
being first strangled by the stool being taken from under her.”
From the very slight difference in dates, I am inclined to think that this is the same case with that alluded to by Mr. Ross.