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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Stop 4: Temporary Gallows1883 - 1893

Capital Punishment within Prisons Act 1868

Executions were brought out of public view in 1868 under the Capital Punishment within Prisons Act, and in Kilmainham Gaol to a temporary gallows which was re-assembled as required in one of the exercise yards, but which seemed to have a permenant brick chamber built for this purpose. Here was the first time in the jail's history when the new 'long-drop system' was used.


Samuel Haughton:
‘Divide the weight of the patient in pounds into 2240, and the quotient will give the length of the long drop in feet’. For example, a criminal weighing 160 lbs should be allowed a 14 feet drop.’ (Animal Mechanics, 1867)

Haughton also delivered a lecture in December 1876 entitled ‘suspension’ in which he speaks of the hangings he observed (including Kilkenny’s). I was unable to get this address, but it seems he was advocating drops of between 6 and 8 feet at this time (like Marwood).

Dr. Charles Croker King (of Queen's College Galway):
Described the physiological effects of the execution of Patrick Lydon in 1858 and describes how he was given a drop of 11 feet for his 133 pounds. This would give him 16 feet under Haughton's system and about 6 feet 3 inches under Berry's system.

Marwood's method of calculation is unknown though it is assumed Berry based his table on it, and Marwood carried out his first execution on April 1st, 1872 on the convicted murderer, William Fredrick Horry in Lincoln Prison. This execution went without a hitch.

Marwood must be regarded as the true inventor of the long drop as it was officially practiced from the late 18th century because of the subaural noose intended to impact the jugular being such a critical component of the process. The length of rope per se is not the critical issue.


The first private execution, after the passing of the 1868 Act, in Dublin was of Andrew Carr in July 1870 in Richmond prison.
He was an army pensioner who voluntarily confessed to cutting the throat of his paramour during a drunken quarrel.
The hangman's identity is unkown and it was reported he hid his face with a black mask - this may suggest he was a local man.
He decided on a drop of 14 feet for the prisoner despite advice from the surgeon that 8 feet would suffice.
At the drop, Andrew Carr's head was ripped from his body.


Built by prisoners from Mountjoy Jail.

Gallows was built to execute the Invincibles in 1883, and the executioner was William Marwood, who is the man of whom it is often claimed, invented the long-drop system of hanging and first demonstrated it in 1872.

'The Invincibles:'
• Joseph Brady , May 14th, 1883
• Daniel Curley, May 18th,1883 (the alleged mastermind of the murders)
• Michael Fagan , May 28th,1883
• Thomas Caffery, June 2nd, 1883 (Claimed that Brady and Kelly were responsible and he entered the park under threat of death).
• Timothy Kelly, June 9th, 1883.


Marwood was born into a poor family at Horncastle in Lincolnshire in 1820.
He was a cobbler before becoming an executioner at 52 years of age.

Marwood famously said "Calcraft 'hanged' people, I 'execute' them," and so never called himself a “hangman,” preferring the term, “Executioner.”

A child’s rhyme associated with Marwood was, "If Pa killed Ma, who'd kill Pa? Marwood!"

Marwood's last execution before his premature death was just after the his executions at this site and was in Durham on August 6th, 1883: the execution of a James Burton.
Burton was a 33 year-old man found guilty of the uxoricide of his 18 year old wife and Marwood gave him a drop of 7 feet 10 inches.
At the execution Marwood hastened the process as he thought that Burton was in danger of collapsing.

When the trap opened the slack rope got caught on his arm and Marwood had to reach down through the trap and physically pull the prisoner back up onto the platform. He quickly released the tangle rope and repositioned the cap which had worked free. amid the commotion Burton was heard to say "Oh, Lord help me". And marwood threw him back down into the hanging pit with such force that the rope swung violently across the yawning hole, obligiing Marwood to grab it and steady it with his hand.

Marwood died on 4th September 1883 after having hanged 168 men and 8 women in his career.


Binns assumed the position of no.1 executioner in England as John Berry (who was to subsequently become a very prominent executioner, particularly because of his writings on the subject) was passed over as a member of his family wrote to the home office requesting that this be done as the appointment was likely to bring shame and odium upon the family.

A post which Marwood had held for almost 9 years, Binns held it for just 3 months.

First Execution:
Henry Dutton on December 3rd 1883 in Liverpool.

Binns arrived in Liverpool 3 days early and for tips and alcohol held impromptu lectures on his craft as a hangman in a cheap hotel.

He arrived at the gaol drunk and just one hour before he was required. A man who he had with him who Binns claimed was his 'assisstant' was not admitted to the gaol due to his intoxication.

Binns botched the hanging and it took the prisoner a number of minutes to die, the drop having failed to break his neck.

One week later, Binns was approached in his small shop by a man who was selling songs lamenting the demise of Patrick O'Donnell, the Irishman who had been convicted of the murder of James Carey, the informer who sent 5 of the invincibles to their deaths by his testimony.

Carey was aboard the ship 'Melrose Castle' on which Carey was travelling incognito, with his family to South Africa to start a new life.

Binns was due to execute O'Donnell one week later and naturally refused to purchased the songbook. Later on that day the man returned intoxicated having learned of who Binns was, said he was O'Donnell's son and threatened to shoot the hangman Binns. The man was ordered to pay a fine as a result of the incident, and when he refused, was imprisoned.

Binns went on to execute Patrick O'Donnell in London, and was himself arrested along with his assistant Alfred Archer as the men had not paid their fare on the train from London.

Last Execution by Binns
His last job was the hanging of 18 year old Michael McLean at Liverpool on the 10th of March 1884. He was seen to be in a drunken state and the execution was botched – it took 13 minutes for McLean‘s heart to stop

Interim execution by Binns at Kilmainham:

Peter Wade (25), January 15th, 1884. For the murder of Patrick Quinn
Was alleged to have beaten an old gardener by the name of Patrick Quinn to death after the gardener had accused Wade of trying to prevent Quinn getting a job for a friend. Quinn had been found dead near his home with horrific head wounds and Wade was arrested when bloodstains were found on his clothing.

Binns’ Epiloge
Divorced by wife after he began hanging cats and dogs. He continued this practice afterward and had a very public disagreement in the courts about this with his mother-in-law whom he counter accused of stealing his watch.

Born in Heckmondwike, Yorkshire 1852 (died 1913)
Period in office - 1884 - 1891.

Was originally a police constable
Berry carried out 131 hangings in his eight years in office, including those of 5 women. He was the first British executioner to write his memoirs "My experiences as an executioner."

Man they couldn’t hang
John Lee ("The man they could not hang") on the 23rd February 1885 at Exeter prison. 19 year old John Lee was convicted of the murder of his elderly, wealthy employer Ellen Keyse for whom he worked as footman.
All the normal preparations were made on the gallows, set up in the coach house at Exeter prison, but when Berry pulled the lever nothing happened. Berry stamped on the trap but to no avail and Lee was then taken back to his cell whilst the trap release mechanism was tested. It worked perfectly.
The process was now repeated but with the same result and yet again the trap worked perfectly after Lee was removed. After the third unsuccessful attempt the governor stayed the hanging whilst he obtained directions from the Home Office. Lee was later reprieved.

Robert Goodale at Norwich Castle on the 30th of November 1885. Goodale who weighed 15 stone (95 Kg.) but was in poor physical condition, was decapitated by the force of the drop. (The only recorded instance of this in Britain)
Hanged by John Berry:

At Kilmainham:
Peter Stafford (40), April 8th, 1889
For the murder of Peter Crawley who he was convicted of shooting dead in an altercation in a public house in which they were drinking on the 28th of January 1889. When found guilty, he declared to the court that he was as innocent as a priest and resisted violently when John Berry tried to pinion him for his execution.

John Purcell (46), March 13th, 1891
For the murder of a woman named Bridget Smith, a 60 year-old woman found batterred to death in her home in Naul, Co. Dublin on 21st November 1890.


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