The hanging of James Pratt and John Smith- A Darker Dickens story

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On the 27th of November 1835, a crowd of people gathered outside Newgate prison in the City of London to watch the first hanging there in two years.

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James Pratt (1805–1835) also known as John Pratt, and John Smith (1795–1835) were two London men who, in November 1835, became the last two to be executed for sodomy in England. Pratt and Smith were arrested in August of that year after being convicted of having sex in the room of another man, William Bonill.

“The grave will soon close over me,” Smith allegedly wrote to a friend before his hanging, “and my name [be] entirely forgotten.”

But that was not altogether true.

Unbeknownst to the sufferers, they were destined for literary preservation by a young writer on the make, one Charles Dickens:

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Smith and Pratt make an appearance in Dickens’ Sketches by Boz, an 1836 compilation of London scenes of which “A Visit to Newgate” is perhaps the best-known.

The last Saturday of August 1835 was a beautiful hot day. James Pratt (30) left his wife and two young daughters in Deptford, searching for work – promising to return by 6pm. He was a labourer and needed a better job.

Pratt first visited his aunt in Holborn, before heading to Blackfriars. His aunt thought he’d had too much to drink and needed a rest, but he pressed on. In an ale house he met John Smith, a labourer aged 40, and William Bonill (sometimes spelled Bonell), aged 68. Neither could offer him a job to improve his financial situation but their company was hospitable. Bonill invited Pratt and Smith back to his rented flat and they accepted.

Little did they know as they made their way to his premises in nearby George Street, that this encounter would result in their execution – and that Bonill would be banished to the penal colony of Australia – all within a mere three months.

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William Bonill, aged 68, had lived for 13 months in a rented room at a house near the Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London. His landlord later stated that Bonill had frequent male visitors, who generally came in pairs, and that his suspicions became aroused on the afternoon of 29 August 1835, when Pratt and Smith came to visit Bonill. The landlord climbed to an outside vantage point in the loft of a nearby stable building, where he could see through the window of Bonill’s room, before coming down to look into the room through the keyhole. Both the landlord and his wife later claimed they both looked through the keyhole and saw sexual intimacy between Pratt and Smith, so the landlord broke open the door to confront them. Bonill was absent, but returned a few minutes later with a jug of ale. The landlord went to fetch a policeman and all three men were arrested.

Pratt and Smith were charged with ‘buggery’  and Bonill as an accessory. They went on trial for their lives before Judge Baron Gurney at the Old Bailey on 21 September 1835.

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William Bonill was convicted as an accessory and sentenced to 14 years of penal transportation. James Pratt was a groom,who lived with his wife and children at Deptford, London. A number of witnesses came forward to testify to his good character.

 John Smith was from Southwark Christchurch and was described in court proceedings and newspaper reports as an unmarried labourer although other sources state he was married and worked as a servant. At the trial, no character witnesses came forward to testify on his behalf.

The conviction of the three men rested entirely on what the landlord and his wife claimed to have witnessed through the keyhole; there was no other evidence against them. One modern commentator has cast doubt on their testimony, based on the narrow field of vision afforded by a keyhole and the range of acts the couple claimed to have witnessed during the brief length of time they were looking.

The arresting police officer had no material evidence to support the charge. The account that Jane Berkshire told the jury is improbable. She said she watched for less minute but claimed to have witnessed the alleged sex acts, from the men undressing to laying on the floor and the “appearance” of anal penetration. She said she saw the men’s private parts but did not answer when asked whether either man had an erection. It seems doubtful that the keyhole could have provided the range of vision needed to see what she claimed.

The magistrate Hensleigh Wedgwood, who had committed the three men to trial,

Hensleigh_Wedgwood_spiritualist.pngsubsequently wrote to the Home Secretary, Lord John Russel, arguing for the commutation of the death sentences, stating:

“It is the only crime where there is no injury done to any individual and in consequence it requires a very small expense to commit it in so private a manner and to take such precautions as shall render conviction impossible. It is also the only capital crime that is committed by rich men but owing to the circumstances I have mentioned they are never convicted.”

Wedgwood described the men as “degraded creatures” in another letter. Nevertheless, he argued that the law was unfair in their case as wealthy men who wished to have sex could easily afford a private space in which to do it with virtually no chance of discovery. Pratt and Smith were condemned only because they could only afford to use a room in a lodging house, in which they were easily spied upon.

On 5 November 1835, Charles Dickens and the newspaper editor John Black visited Newgate Prison; Dickens wrote an account of this in Sketches by Boz and described seeing Pratt and Smith while they were being held there.

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“The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them, who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall.”

— A Visit to Newgate

The jailer who was escorting Dickens confidently predicted to him that the two would be executed and was proven correct. Seventeen individuals were sentenced to death at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court for offences that included burglary, robbery and attempted murder.

On 21 November, all were granted remission of their death sentences under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy with the exceptions of Pratt and Smith.This was despite an appeal for mercy submitted by the men’s wives that was heard by the Privy Council.

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Pratt and Smith were hanged in front of Newgate Prison on the morning of 27 November. The crowd of spectators was described in a newspaper report as larger than usual;this was possibly because the hanging was the first to have taken place at Newgate in nearly two years. The event was sufficiently notable for a printed broadside to be published and sold.

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This described the men’s trial and included the purported text of a final letter that was claimed to have been written by John Smith to a friend.

William Bonill was one of 290 prisoners transported to Australia on the ship Asia, which departed England on 5 November 1835 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) on 21 February 1836.Bonill died at the New Norfolk Hospital in Van Diemen’s Land on 29 April 1841

 

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The executioner who escaped execution.

Johann-Reichhart

The name Johann Reichhart might not be one synonymous with Nazi Germany but his ruthless killing streak made him one of the most feared members of the regime.

Reichhart was born into a line of German executioners dating back eight generations. He got his start as a judicial executioner in 1928.

Johann Reichhart took 3,165 lives during his time as Germany’s chief executioner. Ironically, after the collapse of the Third Reich , he would hang some of those he once served, Nazi war criminals, on behalf of the victorious Allies.

The beheadings of Sophie Scholl, her brother Hans and a third member of The White Rose, their student resistance group, were among 2,873 executions he carried out in the Second World War.

 

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His career in killing began in earnest with the execution by guillotine of Rupert Fischer and Andreas Hutterer for murder.

The administration promised him 150 Goldmarks for each execution, and announced: ‘From April 1, 1924, Reichhart takes over the execution of all death sentences coming in the Free State of Bavaria to the execution by beheading with the guillotine.

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A lull in executions forced Reichhart to become a green grocer in neighbouring Holland but he was back in action after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and soon became a vital clog in the Nazi killing machine.

Despite the enormous workload he was asked to complete, Reichhart was very strict in his execution protocol, wearing the traditional German executioners’ attire of black coat, white shirt and gloves, black bow-tie and top-hat. His work took him to many parts of occupied Europe including Poland and Austria. His record for the most executions in one day was 32. He was so determined to be punctual at all his “appointments” he asked the transport ministry if he could be spared speeding tickets. His request was denied.

Reichhart immersed himself in his role and even invented a device called the ‘double detective tongs’ that kept prisoners pinned down without the need to tie them with rope.

The metal clamp held the prisoner beneath the guillotine instead of rope meaning execution time was reduced to four seconds flat.

Cruelly, the Nazis even charged the families of those they had imprisoned and beheaded. For every day that a prisoner was held, a fee of 1.50 Reichsmarks was charged. The executions cost 300 Reichsmarks.

300Even the 12 pfennig cost of posting the invoice was demanded back by the Nazi state.

Married dad-of-three Reichhart had gained such notoriety that his children were taunted at school with chants such as ‘headcutter, headcutter, your dad’s a headcutter!’

The reputation of their father even drove one of his sons to suicide.

Following VE Day, Reichhart, who was a member of the Nazi Party, was arrested and imprisoned in Landsberg Prison for the purposes of de-nazification but not tried for carrying out his duty of judicial executioner.

Reichhart had to justify himself at a de-Nazification court, where he said: “I have carried out death sentences in the firm conviction that I should serve the state with my work, and to comply with lawfully enacted laws. I never doubted the legality of what I was doing.”

He was subsequently employed by the Occupation Authorities until the end of May 1946 to help execute 156 Nazi war criminals at Landsberg am Lech by hanging.John_C._Woods_holding_a_noose

He cooperated with Allied chief executioner Master Sergeant John C. Woods

 

in the preparations for further executions of those found guilty and sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials,but refused to carry out any further executions himself following two cases of mistaken identity.

 

One of the reasons he ended up working for the Allies was that there were not a lot of people prepared to do that kind of thing.’

Reichhart ended his days alone and lonely, first breeding dogs and making perfume, and later being looked after in a care home near Munich, where he died in 1972

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I sentence you to death by Elephant

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Execution by elephant was a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in India, where Asian elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, able to kill victims immediately or to torture them slowly over a prolonged period. Most commonly employed by royalty, the elephants were used to signify both the ruler’s absolute power and his ability to control wild animals.

 

The sight of elephants executing captives both horrified and attracted the interest of European travelers, and was recorded in numerous contemporary journals and accounts of life in Asia. The practice was eventually suppressed by the European empires that colonised the region in the 18th and 19th centuries. While primarily confined to Asia, the practice was occasionally adopted by Western powers, such as Ancient Rome and Carthage, particularly to deal with mutinous soldiers.

Elephants have played a number of important roles in human history. In some cultures, the elephant is a revered creature. In Buddhism, for example, the vivid dream of Buddha’s mother which foretold her pregnancy had a white elephant in it.  Other cultures used the elephant’s great strength and power in battle, or for huge construction projects. There are many examples of these activities – ranging from Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with his 34 African elephants in 218 BC, to the use of these creatures in the construction of Angkor Wat in the 12th century AD. However, it is perhaps less well-known that elephants were also used as deadly executioners.

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Execution by elephant was a form of capital punishment and a weapon of war for certain societies of the past. This method of punishment was occasionally used in the Western world, as several examples can be found in the ancient sources. For example, in the Historiae Alexandri Magni , the Roman historian Quintus Rufus Curtius wrote:

“Then Perdiccas, seeing them paralyzed and in his power, separated from the rest about thirty who had followed Meleager when he rushed forth from the first assembly which was held after the death of Alexander, and in the sight of the whole army cast them before the elephants. All were trampled to death by the feet of the beasts…”

Nevertheless, this was not a common method of execution in the West. On the other hand, execution by elephant was more frequently used in South and Southeast Asia, especially in India. This form of capital punishment is known also as gunga rao , and has been used since the Middle Ages.

The popularity of this mode of execution continued into the 19th century, and it was only with the increasing presence of the British in India that the popularity of this brutal penalty went into decline

The most common way that the execution by elephant was carried out was for the beasts to crush its victim to death with brute force. Apart from enemy soldiers, civilians who commit certain crimes could also be punished in this way. These crimes included theft, tax evasion and rebellion. There are many wild beasts that could be used to kill a criminal – tigers, lions, crocodiles, snakes, etc. Yet, the choice of the elephant shows that there was something unique about this creature.

Compared to many other wild animals, the elephant is considered to be a smart and easily trainable. In addition, elephants could also be taught to torture criminals, or to execute them slowly. As an example, an elephant could be commanded to break a criminal’s limbs before ending his suffering by crushing his skull.

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Another example can be found in the account of François Bernier, a French traveler who witnessed an execution by elephant in Delhi during the reign of the Mughals. According to the Frenchman, the elephants were trained to slice criminals to pieces with “pointed blades fitted to their tusks”. Furthermore, the training of elephants could be used as a means of demonstrating a ruler’s control over the forces of nature.

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Apart from India, execution by elephant was also practiced in some other Asian countries. Like India, it was the elephant’s intelligence and brute force that were exploited to execute criminals. Yet, there were some variations in the method of execution. In neighboring Sri Lanka, for instance, elephants used during these events were said to have been fitted with sharp tips on their tusks. Instead of slicing their victims, the elephant would stab its victim, and then ‘rearrange’ its victim’s internal organs.

In the former Kingdom of Siam (now Thailand), elephants were trained to toss their victims into the air before crushing them to death. In the Kingdom of Cochinchina (southern Vietnam), on the other hand, criminals were tied to a stake, whilst an elephant would charge into them, and crush them to death.

 

Ans van Dijk-Jewish Nazi collaborator

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One thing I find hard to comprehend is the collaboration of Jews with the Nazis. On one hand I can understand that they did this because of self preservation, it is a human instinct to survive at any cost, but on the other hand they must have seen the fate of their friends and families. They must have figured out at some stage that Hitler was only interested in the complete annihilation of every Jew on the planet.

The victims that became traitors.

Anna (Ans) van Dijk (Amsterdam, December 24, 1905 – Weesperkarspel, January 14, 1948) was a Dutch-Jewish collaborator who betrayed Jews to Nazi Germany during World War II. She was the only Dutch woman to be executed over her wartime activities.

She was the daughter of Jewish parents, Aron van Dijk and Kaatje Bin. She married Bram Querido in 1927, and opened a millinery shop called Maison Evany in Amsterdam.Her Father died in 1939 in the Psychiatric hospital ,Het Apeldoornse Bos.

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He had suffered from paranoia.Shortly afterwards Ans divorced her husband.After the marriage ended, she began a lesbian relationship with a Jewish woman named Miep Stodel, who had worked for her in the shop.

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The shop was closed by the Nazis in 1941 as part of their seizure of Jewish property (Jews were forbidden to own businesses or work in retail shops).After that she died her hair blonde and acquired false identity papers and changed her name to Alphonsia Maria (Annie) de Jong  Stodel fled to Switzerland in 1942.

Ans started selling goods from Jewish real estate and helped Jews to find hiding places.In January 1943 she had to go in hiding herself.

Van Dijk was arrested on Easter Sunday 1943 by the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and detective Peter Schaap of the Office of Jewish Affairs of the Amsterdam police.

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After promising to work for the SD, van Dijk was released. Pretending to be a member of the resistance, she offered to help Jews find hiding places and obtain false papers. In this way, she trapped at least 145 people (including her own brother and his family). Some 85 of her victims later died in concentration camps.She may have been responsible for the deaths of as many as 700 people.

After the war, she moved to The Hague, where she was arrested at a friend’s home on June 20, 1945, and charged with 23 counts of treason. On February 24, 1947, she was brought to the Special Court in Amsterdam.

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She confessed on all counts, explaining that she only acted out of self-preservation, and was sentenced to death.

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She appealed the conviction, but in September 1947 the Special Court of Appeals confirmed her punishment. Her request for a royal pardon was also rejected by Queen Wilhelmina.

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On 14 January 1948 she was executed by firing squad at Fort Bijlmer in the then municipality Weesperkarspel (now the Bijlmermeer municipality of Amsterdam). The night before her execution she was baptized and joined the Roman Catholic Church.

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She had written several goodbye letters the one below was sent to the Nun who had visited her in jail, after she had asked for roman catholic rehabilitation work. In the letter she tells the nun that she had been baptized and she would be receiving her 1st holy communion.

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