Category Archives: Criminology

We love you Stalin, we do, we love you Stalin, we do, we love you Stalin……

I found this picture when I was looking for illustrations of Napoleon for the blog posts about the great man I did a little while back. In actual fact I never used it:

That pose of the hand inside the coat was considered quite normal and ordinary at the time of Napoleon, but it was used 140 years later by people who were far from normal and ordinary:

The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”

All things considered, I think that this is the best Stalin poster I found, though. Here it is:

The Russian means “Thank you, Beloved Stalin for a Happy Childhood!”

Runner-up was the uncaptioned:

That would look just wonderful on the back wall of one of Nottingham’s fast food shops.

“Thank you, Beloved Stalin for some Happy Fish and Chips! “

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The Day from Hell (2)

Last time, I told you about Jack Ketch’s abilities as the King’s Executioner. He was useless. Absolutely useless. All that happened to him, though, was that he was promoted.

If you are in management, always give  the important  jobs to the most useless people. It will make your own performance look so much better. Ketch was the man tasked with executing the Duke of Monmouth:

The Duke of Monmouth knew all about Jack Ketch’s reputation for incompetence. They were all assembled, up on the scaffold and ready to go, when the Duke walked over to Ketch and said:

“Here are six golden guineas for you, Ketch. Do not hack me to bits as you did with Lord Russell. I have heard that you struck him three or four times. My servant will give you even more gold if you do the work well.”

“No problem, your Dukeness” replied Ketch, picking up his axe to begin the ghastly deed.

Monmouth ran his almost royal finger over the edge of Ketch’s axe. He was not a happy man. The axe wasn’t really that sharp. It was certainly not as sharp as the knife he’d had at breakfast. And it didn’t cut his finger at all.

Ketch began his work.

One slash of the axe. It missed. Just a little nick on the neck. Monmouth actually got up from the block and gave Ketch a dirty look.

Second go. Whoops, missed again. Sorreeeeeeeee !

Third attempt.

“Don’t worry, Duke. I’ll get you next time.”

Next time.

“Sorry, I don’t know where I’m going wrong. It was all right yesterday at rehearsal.”


That made four goes. How many more were needed?

Well, at least four more large swings of the axe. Ketch made a grand total of eight attempts at killing the Duke. And there were even some witnesses who talked of double figures.

And was the Duke dead? Well, no, not quite. Not yet. The neck was still not severed and the Duke was still moving about on the planks of the scaffold.

Ketch flung his axe down. The crowd was not happy. But they knew the rules.

Either the job was finished and the crowd went home happy or they themselves would ensure that at least one person went home dead. And that one person would be either the Duke or it would be Ketch. They really were not that bothered.

Lucky then that Ketch was carrying a penknife in his pocket. “Bear with me”, he shouted to the crowd, “I’ll get him this time.”

And he began sawing the Duke’s head off with his penknife. Eventually, he did it.

Here’s the close up. Look at the knife. Eight inches? Ten? :

The Duke of Monmouth was now, as requested by the King, in two completely separate pieces.

Ketch showed the two pieces to the crowd:

And then some slack jawed local of an assistant piped up with something he should have said to Ketch about an hour before:

“Jack!! Jack !!!  Don’t forget the drawing.”

“What drawing?”

“Well, Jack, they haven’t got an oil painting of the Duke anywhere in England so there’s a man here who needs to draw the Duke before you cut his head off.”

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

Was Ketch beaten? Hell, no. They sewed the Duke’s head back on to his body (which was not considered a serious breach of the Two Pieces Rule) and the artist then drew a quick sketch. When he had finished, Ketch took out his trusty penknife and cut the Duke’s head off (for a second time, presumably) and the Two Pieces were sent off for burial and/or display.

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Now THAT was a bad day.

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Incidentally, the oil painting is still in the National Portrait Gallery. They insist on calling it the “Portrait of a Man Sleeping” but they’re wrong, very, very wrong:

Just look at that piece of cloth tucked neatly around his neck. Surely it covers second rate stitching done at speed.

This is not a Man Sleeping.

This is the Duke of Monmouth.

But unfortunately, he has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace!

No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’!

NO  ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-DUKE OF MONMOUTH!!

Jack Ketch died in November 1686. He went on to be mentioned in three different novels by Charles Dickens. He also gave rise to the Rock/Punk/Metal/ super group entitled “Jack Ketch & The Bilge Rat Bastards”.

I could not have written this blog post without the description of events supplied by Lord Macaulay in his “History of England”.

 

 

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The Day from Hell (1)

Have you ever had the day from hell? When more or less everything that could go wrong, did go wrong?

Do you ever think that you struggle to hold down your job? Do you ever think that you are absolutely useless and it’s only a matter of time before your ineptitude is discovered?


Well, trust me, you will never approach the levels achieved in the 1680s by Jack Ketch, the King’s Executioner:


On July 21st 1683, Jack attempted to execute Lord Russell. The story comes from  the incomparably named “Great B#stards of History: Famous Illegitimate Children Who Went on to Achieve Greatness”. That title was the winning entry in the “Book Title of the Week” competition last week. Here’s Jack:

“Ketch wielded the axe with such lack of simple dexterity that the victim suffered horrifically under blow after blow, each excruciating but not in itself lethal. The gory display created such outrage that Ketch felt moved to write and publish a pamphlet in which he excused his performance with the claim that Lord Russell had failed to “place himself as was most suitable” and that he was therefore distracted while taking aim on his neck.”

Blame anything. Blame anybody. The victim. The bad weather, A loudly barking dog. My little brother. Never admit you are a total incompetent.

Two years later, on July 15th 1685, Ketch was given the job of lopping off the head of James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” as they say. The execution of Lord Russell was a smooth job, slickly done, compared to what would happen with the Duke of Monmouth. But Jack Ketch could not turn down this opportunity for a comeback.

This was the big one. The climax of his career. Tower Hill in London. Thousands and thousands of people watching. And big money if he did it right.

I’ll tell you very soon exactly what happened.

 

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The Hen Harrier in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey which is called in North America the ‘Northern Harrier’ or the ‘Marsh Hawk’. These days it is becoming an increasingly rare and endangered bird in England because of the activities of the large shooting estates. Hen Harriers are harmful to Red Grouse, the quarry species for the man with a £3000 shotgun, so, completely illegally, many gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers on sight. Prosecutions are extremely few and far between because effective evidence needs to be gathered in very remote places where trespassers are far from welcome:

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In Great Britain we have the wild spaces for more than a thousand pairs of breeding Hen Harriers, but this illegal killing for commercial reasons has limited the number to fewer than ten pairs. There are those, myself included, who think that the law should be changed. Instead of trying to prosecute individuals (who are quite often disowned by the estate owners), the estates themselves should be brought to account. Any estate found guilty should have their enormous subsidies of taxpayers’ money withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote this article, a fine example of what happens to Hen Harriers in northern England came to light. It is totally typical of the contempt which the moneyed classes have for the ordinary person who lives his or her life not to accrue wealth by any means whatsoever, but instead to delight in the wonders of the natural world. And look too at what the police managed to do after other people had done more or less 99% of their job for them.

In Nottinghamshire, therefore, the Hen Harrier is not a particularly common bird. The male is very distinctive, but the female or the young bird, the so-called “ringtail” stands out a lot less:

hen harrier

In 1857 William Sterland recounted how, on an unrecorded date this year:

“I was walking past Lord Manver’s poultry yard at Perlethorpe, which adjoins Thoresby Park, when a ringtail came sailing over, evidently intent on plunder. Three times she soared around the large enclosure , which contains several hundred head of poultry, and although it is bounded by a high wall, and is surrounded by the dwellings of the gamekeepers and others, she was only deterred from carrying off a chicken by the presence of some of the men.”

ringtil

In 1866 William Felkin spoke of birds of prey in general:

“On the whole, this noble tribe of birds is fast decreasing, and some species, if not yet extinct, soon will be, under the deadly warfare waged against them by trap and gun; and thus the finest ornament of English forest scenery will be for ever lost, for the paltry gain of the few head of game they might possibly destroy.”

How true that has turned out to be. The Hen Harrier is well on its way to extinction as a breeding bird in this country, and before their recovery in modern times, both Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Osprey had been exterminated by gamekeepers from most of the country.

male

William Sterland wrote in his “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“…the blue hawk as the male is called, is not by any means uncommon ; and both male and female being considered, and I fear not unjustly, as very destructive to game, are visited, whenever opportunity offers, with condign punishment, and their once buoyant forms are seen nailed up in terrorem amongst others of their order, in grim companionship with stoats, weasels, polecats, and other vermin.”

Flying-Male-hen

Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, polecats themselves were extinct in England. And only the departure of all the gamekeepers to the trenches of the First World War prevented the extinction of the ordinary fox from many areas, especially in East Anglia.

Before 1907 Joseph Whitaker had seen only five or six Hen Harriers in thirty years of birdwatching.
He relates how:

“…one of the Hen Harriers I saw close to my home in Rainworth, was a male in full plumage, coloured pale lavender slate.”

hen peak

Whitaker took great pleasure in this, and other birds of the same species. Rather like William Felkin, he thought that:

“An odd harrier or two do very little harm, and the graceful flight, which I may describe as a cross between that of a Hawk and an Owl is always pleasant to see and adds immensely to the delight of the country walk.”

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In his own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, he has written of his own sighting:

“About  Xmas 1914 a Hen Harrier female flew over the road at the head of my pond within 20 yards. It had been seen earlier by Blackburn (keeper) today, March 19 it again passed over the same road, but at the top of mill by our gate it looked grand in a clear sun light. I am so glad it has escaped the keepers snare + hope it may like to lay a clutch of Cambridge blue eggs amongst the heather of the windswept Orkney Islands.”

henharrier_sr_tcm9-91147

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A Barbarous Kingdom, Populated by Savages

This tale of barbarity is almost beyond belief for the date when it took place, June 21st 1786, and the location, the so-called civilised country of England. The details come from a source that I have used quite frequently before, namely “The Date Book of Remarkable Memorable Events Connected With Nottingham and Its Neighbourhood” and one other website:

The savagery of the punishment meted out on this poor young woman would be difficult to believe were it not so well authenticated. I have translated some of ye more difficult fentencef into ye moderne Englifhe:

“The victim of it was a young woman of Nottingham extraction, her mother having been a native of the town. Her name was Phoebe Harris. She was small in stature, rather stout and of good figure, with a pale complexion, and pleasing features. Her age was 30, and she lived with her husband in London. She was caught while in the act of counterfeiting coins, to which she had been introduced by her husband, who, it appeared, was an old practitioner. For this offence she was tried at the Old Bailey, and sentenced to death.
She was conducted on a subsequent day by two constables to the open space in front of Newgate, in the presence of about 20,000 spectators, where a stake had been securely fixed in the ground, about eleven feet high, and with a curved projection of iron at the top, to which was fixed a rope. The prisoner was placed on a stool, with her back to the stake, and the rope was positioned around her neck. After the priest of the gaol had prayed with her for a short time, the stool was pulled from underneath, leaving her suspended by the neck, with her feet about a foot from the ground.”

According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book “The Hanging Tree”, Phoebe then choked noisily to death over several minutes:

“After hanging there for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails.”

The Date Book takes up the tale with tasteful enthusiasm:

“Two cart loads of wooden faggots were then placed round her and set on fire:

The rope speedily snapped, and the body slipped, but was sustained by an iron chain passed round her waist and the stake. In the course of three hours the corpse was entirely consumed.

The unfortunate sufferer, Phoebe, was struck with so much horror at the idea of her body being burnt, that in the night previous to her execution she was quite frantic. When she was led to the stake, she appeared languid and terrified, and trembled excessively. The awful apparatus of death evidently struck her mind with consternation, and totally incapacitated her for her last prayer.
Until midday, while the victim was still burning, the spectators were loud in their angry denouncements of the officers of the law, but as soon as the latter had left, the people in the crowd amused themselves by kicking about her ashes.

An application had been made to the Sheriffs by the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood, praying that the execution might take place at Tyburn, or at some small distance from them, but without avail.

The consequences were serious : several ladies were taken very unwell, and many were severely affected by the offensive smell of the burning corpse.”

The consequences were a damn sight more serious for Phoebe. The locals, NIMBYs one and all, had actually organised and sent in a petition to prevent Phoebe being executed so near to their homes. They considered such savage practices should not be carried out in areas frequented by respectable folk. Genuine world class savagery should take place in a working class area where it would be better appreciated.

Even so, 20,000 spectators isn’t a bad turn out for a respectable area. I bet somebody wished that they could have charged entrance money.

The offence of counterfeiting:

“for which Phoebe Harris suffered, was classed as High Treason. Blackstone accounts for the punishment of women for this crime being different from that of men, by stating that the natural modesty of the sex forbids the exposure and public cutting up of their bodies, and therefore they are burnt. The punishment of men for high treason was beheading, cutting the body into four parts, and burning the heart.”

Here is the ‘quartering’ bit of that terrible trio of punishments:

And executions are always an excuse for a barbecue:

Only two more women would be killed in public in this grotesque way, and the dates may well be significant. One was Margaret Sullivan on June 25th 1788 and the other was Christian Murphy on March 18th 1789.

On July 14th 1789, the French people finally grew tired of a legal system presided over by a spoilt brat of a king and driven by an arrogant and self-serving nobility. It is not without significance that they attacked the Bastille prison as their first target. Neither is it without significance that the revolutionaries were keen to use a more humane method of execution, namely the Guillotine. Here is a charming painting of the Terror in full swing, with some lovely details if you look carefully, especially the little doggie. I couldn’t find Wally but I think I might have found his head :

I believe the judges back in London may well have noticed the developments in France, because when Sophia Girton was convicted of counterfeiting in April 1790, her execution by being strangled and burnt in public was postponed, as Parliament decided that hanging would be a better way to execute women.

Sophia was not hanged though. She was exiled to Australia where she made a new life for herself, admittedly in the most appalling of conditions:

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The kings of slavery, and the queens (2)

Last time I promised you a quiz. Well, it’s not the kind of quiz they would broadcast on television, but let’s give it a go.
In 1710, if you ever saw an African slave who belonged to the Royal African Company, how could you tell?

Easy…he would have the letters ‘RAC’ burned into his chest with a branding iron like the ones they use in cowboy films with cattle. I couldn’t find a photograph of that, but I did manage to find one with some branding irons on. These are actual branding irons for slaves, not cattle:

Here is the second question which is a little bit more difficult.
If you ever saw an African slave with the letters ‘DY’ branded on his chest, what did it mean?

If you’ve been paying attention, though, it’s not that difficult. It meant ‘Duke of York’. It meant he was owned by the Duke of York, who later succeeded to the throne and became King James II.

An extra special bonus question. When the Duke of York became King James II, what did he have the slaves’ chests branded with?  Was it ‘J2’?

No, it wasn’t, he continued with ‘DY’. And I couldn’t trace it, but I would presume that his eventual successor, Queen Anne didn’t have ‘QA’ on her slaves but stuck to ‘RAC’.  And the money rolled in:

And more to come. Lots more:

It’s just that branding people on the chest with a red hot piece of metal reminds me rather uncomfortably of one other way of marking your racial inferiors:

Forty years later, the British were awarded the monopoly on selling slaves to the Spanish for the next three decades. This monopoly was sold on to the famous “South Sea Company”. They dealt in turn almost exclusively with the Royal African Company. Here is their coat of arms. Look at the happy slaves, all set for a spot of weekend hunting, don’t you know?

Only a year after the Spanish deal was set up, Queen Anne owned 22½% of the shares in the Royal African Company. That means she owned more than a fifth of the British slave trade, the largest slave trade in the world at the time. She was quite possibly the biggest slave dealer on the planet.
When she died, King George I became king. He wasn’t happy owning a fifth of the British slave trade.

It wasn’t enough, so he increased his shareholding and made himself Governor of the whole sorry business. A business which transported around 64,000 slaves to the Americas in 15 or so years. George III carried on with the family business, accused by a slightly hypocritical Thomas Jefferson of waging “cruel war against human nature itself”.
There was some opposition to the Royal African Company though. Across the country, small businesses spoke out against the Company’s activities in the slave trade and especially, against their monopoly. In their campaign, they used the motto, “We want the freedom to traffic slaves too”. Smaller businesses, smaller boats, but there’s still money to be made:

But let’s not kick our lovely royal family too much. Instead. let’s look at the case of Christopher Codrington.  Christopher Codrington was the owner of a slave plantation in Barbados in the early 1700s. He died, presumably without children, in 1710. Being a pious man, who did he bequeath it to?

Correctamundo! The Church of England. I bet they shrieked in disgust. Threw their hands in the air and shouted “Free the Slaves! Free the Slaves!” Well, not exactly. They kept the slave plantation. They kept the slaves, and indeed, they kept the money. And there was lots of it:

It was used to finance the Society for the Propagation of the Christian Religion in Foreign Parts.

Now for the scary quiz question. If you worked for the said organisation, and you owned lots of slaves who might run away, clearly you needed to brand them on the chest, so they could be reclaimed after they had been recaptured. What did you use? Surely not the whole name? Of course not. What about “SPCRFP”? No, not at all. The Christian slave owners just branded “Society” across their slaves’ chests. Actually, SPCRFP would have been one letter shorter.

Actually, they probably used these as well:

The Christian slaves were, actually, slaves who didn’t last too long. Despite their obvious value to the company SPCRFP, by 1740, the death rate among the slaves newly purchased by the Church was up to 40%. Four out of every ten were dead within three years of purchase.
And it wasn’t just the SPCRFP who were trying to cash in. Other members of the church fancied a bit of the cash. All you had to do was get your Bible, cross out the bit about “Ye cannot serve God and mammon”, buy a few shares in your local slavery business and away you go.

This is Woodville K Marshall who is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of the West Indies:

He stated clearly and unequivocally:

“”It was not so much the SPG that the Church should be apologising for, as the activities of the individual parsons who kept plantations and slaves for sheer profit.”

Except that nobody apologises nowadays for slavery, because they risk being sued. Despite all their wealth, wealth dripping from them as they walk along, the descendants of the slavers will never say sorry. And let me make the point again, the same point I made in a previous post:

“The tragedy, of course, is that those individuals today have little, if anything, in common with their slave owning ancestors from so many years ago. On the other hand, they have inherited their wealth. What have they done to make amends for their slave owning ancestors? Built a school in the Windward Islands? Built a hospital in Barbados? Sponsored cataract operations in Jamaica?”


This Accident and Emergency Unit in Jamaica was built by the Scotia Bank Foundation, Canada’s third largest bank.  But why not by the individual rich men and women who are the present day descendants of those slave traders?

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The kings of slavery, and the queens (1)

I have written quite a bit about slavery and its evils, but after that shock of finding out that my cherished heroes of stage and screen were the wealthy descendants of wealthy people who owned slaves, I had one more shock in store:


I found out that the Kings and Queens of England were involved in the slave trade. I knew that even now the modern royals have their dubious dark corners. What kind of man, for example, deludes a little girl into giving Hitler salutes?

How did the witnesses of the illegal killing of a rare Hen Harrier feel when no charges were brought?

I knew how unbelievably rich Cornwall could make you, even if it is one of the poorest counties in the country. I knew that if anybody in the county died without a will and no heir could be found, everything went to Prince Charles:

I knew from the Daily Mirror how one royal “required his chef to cook his eggs for three minutes; the chef usually boiled several batches to ensure they fit his precise preferences.” :

But slavery? Apparently, it began with Queen Elizabeth the First. She gave her royal support to Sir John Hawkins, the sea captain, who was one of the first to men to make a profit from transporting Africans to the Americas.
Then there were the Royal Adventurers into Africa, a company set up in 1662 to trade slaves. It involved the brother of King Charles II, namely the Duke of York, and the sister of King Charles II, Princess Henrietta, and the Queen Mother, Henrietta Maria, and Queen Catherine of Braganza and the Duke of Albermarle, Lord Arlington, Lord Ashley, Lord Berkeley, the Duke of Buckingham, Lord Craven, Lord Crofts, and Lord Sandwich and Baron Tom Cobley and all. In total, there were four royals, four barons, two dukes, five earls, seven knights and a marquess. And Samuel Pepys. And the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism”, John Locke. By 1665 they were making £200,000 per year from slaves between them. (£6.5 billion today). The slaves didn’t make anything at all:

The Royal Adventurers into Africa were given a monopoly on the slave trade for a thousand years but ceased trading in 1672. That same year, King Charles II gave a monopoly on dealing in slaves to the Royal African Company. The Royal African Company (the name might have some significance here) was owned by his brother, His Royal Highness, James, Duke of York. Also involved were Sir George Carteret, Sir John Colleton, Lord Craven,  Lord Shaftesbury, 15 Lord Mayors of London, 25 Sheriffs of London and the so-called “philosopher of liberty” and “Father of Liberalism” and “lover of hard cash”, John Locke, whose ancestor had been a slave trader.
By 1680, they were transporting around 6,000 slaves a year to new homes in the West Indies and the same annual number to North America….

And next time, an exciting quiz…

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