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Murderer, three thieves and selfless father met the hangman

The feebleminded common labourer lived with her and his brother in a hamlet outside Salisbury where he paid little towards his upkeep. Irrationally convinced the two men could live more comfortably without her, he continually damned industrious Mary Broom as a worthless wife and without the slightest provocation on her part, he resolved to kill her – and kill her he did. Broom, 25, suddenly went to their woodshed and grabbing hold of a hatchet, returned to their humble home where without the semblance of a warning, he cleaved her head with one mighty blow as she warmed herself in front of a fire. He made no attempt to prevaricate and the death sentence at the Lenten Assizes of 1801 was obvious.

Daily Echo: The site of the first Fisherton Gaol.

Broom awaited the hangman at the city’s Fisherton Jail where the governor William Dowding recorded his unemotional demeanour. “He appears to have been an extremely ignorant man and of very obtuse feeling. He went to his execution as he would have done to any place of business – without a sigh, without a tremor, or any other token of contrition or emotion. To attempt to create any religious feeling or render him sensible of the enormity of his sins was altogether useless, his intellectual calibre being too narrowed to allow him to comprehend any remarks on the subject.”

Unlike Broom, Joshua Shemp was innocent, courageously forfeiting his life for the sake of his family. The 40-year-old gypsy was convicted of stealing a horse and due to have been hanged beside Broom but his fraternity so protested his innocence, his execution was delayed for several weeks but their efforts were in vain.

Daily Echo: A stagecoach.

Seeing his wife, daughters and son-in-law, after mounting the scaffold, he pleaded with them to look after his body. When they tearfully shouted “Yes,” he commended their care and warned others: “You see what you have brought me to. Live soberly and look after your wife and family.”

Shemp asserted his innocence to the last and behaved with the utmost courage, even stretching the rope tight and trying it with his own hand. Once satisfied of its firmness, he gave a signal to the executioner and died within a split second.

Daily Echo: Sutton Scotney

It transpired he had been telling the truth and the man at whom he had directed his ire, was the true culprit. It was his son-in-law who weeks later was executed at Winchester’s Magdalen Hill fair for a similar theft, confessing before he breathed his last his father-in-law had sacrificed his life for his daughter in the hope he would redeem himself. It was not to be.

Dowding was assiduous in recording his observations in the prison register, as exemplified in the case of Thomas Jones and Richard Francis who were condemned to death in 1813 after plundering the shop of a major Salisbury jeweller and silversmith for a large quantity of gold and silver watches, chains, seals and sundry articles. The burglars made their way by night to the hamlet of Sutton Scotney, north of Winchester, and hid under a hedge to await the Taunton – Egham stagecoach. Hailing the coachman, they bought themselves “tickets” for a ride as outside passengers.

Daily Echo: Bow Street, London.

However, the guard, who had heard of the raid, suspected the pair and confided in another passenger who alerted a constable when the stagecoach reached its destination. They were arrested but instead of being immediately brought back to Salisbury, were strangely taken to Bow Street, London, where the jeweller identified the loot.

The pair were then escorted under heavy guard to the cathedral city where it was discovered Jones was in reality an escaped prisoner called Hughes. Their conviction at the summer assizes was inevitable as the sentence.

Daily Echo: Winchester Gaol

Dowding noted Francis was “exemplary and devout” in the condemned cell, as opposed to Jones who was “indifferent, even to the last moment. At the foot of the gallows, he was implored to obtain the forgiveness of his Maker to which he casually replied ‘Thank you’ in the same way he would have done to a common greeting. When the rope was around his neck, he coolly looked round and threw his hat among the people.”

The executioner had however botched his preparations. With the rope being partly displaced and his light weight, he died with protracted suffering.

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