Article MT156

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 14: Tawell the Quaker1

The subject of nineteenth century gallows literature is big enough for it to be impossible to do it justice in a few brief pieces.  Nonetheless, perusal of several score ballads which are particularly concerned with murder (after 1837 other capital crimes were taken off the statutes) allows some appraisal of how broadside printers approached the matter, revealing text which in construction employed varied stanzaic pattern and an idiom that consistently ignored the poetasting ambition of much nineteenth century scribbledom and favoured established broadside language; in content an absence of the hard edge of fact and a reliance instead on suggestion, image and archetype; and, in apparent intention, a strong moral injunction which, at times, sits oddly with the prurient nature of a particular piece.2

In order to test these indications more fully, this current piece and those which follow concentrate on a handful of ballads, setting them in the context made up of reference to other gallows literature and information gathered from elsewhere.  It will then be seen that the actuality behind each of the principal ballads examined has unusual circumstances associated with it and, in each case, that a printed ballad which may be fresh in the public eye is offered for consideration; but that, nonetheless, the overall character of the ballads themselves will be seen to be at one with broadside convention.

Our first case-study is that of one John Tawell, executed in 1845.  Records are not always clear as to his background.  It has been suggested (in various web sources) that he was born a Quaker but one contemporary newspaper article offered a different story:

The prisoner was not born of Quaker parents, but after reaching the years of manhood, he applied for admission into membership with that body.  The Society of Friends, always looking with suspicion on those who apply for admission from other denominations, postponed his admission for a considerable time, but ultimately he succeeded in obtaining recognition by them.3
Another newspaper report makes a clear claim for ordinary origins…
The convict John Tawell was born in 1784, and was the second son of Thomas Tawell, who for a considerable number of years kept a general shop in the parish of Aldely, a village in Norfolk, about six miles from Beccles…
Then, apparently, Tawell '…entered the service of a widow (one of the Society of Friends) who kept a general shop in the village of Pakefield, near Lowestoft, in Suffolk…' and gradually adapted the 'general characteristics' of the Society of Friends.
In the latter part of 1803, or beginning of 1804, Tawell entered the great metropolis, bringing with him letters of introduction to some of the Society of Friends from their Suffolk connections.4
Evidently he was accepted into the ranks of the Society of Friends and the association, at least, despite what happened subsequently, stayed with him for the rest of his life and, it would seem, as an uncomfortable adjunct to Quaker activity.  Tawell did not live up to the high moral standards that one supposes Quakers to adhere to.  At the age of 22 he seduced a servant-girl, whilst living in Whitechapel under the auspices of a Quaker.  Much to the disapproval of the Quaker community the couple married.  Further, after working in a druggists' shop, an experience that stood him in good stead during the coming years, Tawell attempted to forge a £10 note but the victim, Smith's Bank, was a Quaker company and Tawell's sentence was set at fourteen years' transportation.  Some newspaper accounts indicate that the forgery was the cause of his dismissal from the Society of Friends.5

In Australia, after working on coal boats, Tawell got a job in a convict hospital and then as a clerk to a Mr Isaac Wood of the Sydney Academy, who was impressed enough to petition the governor (presumably of New South Wales) for Tawell's pardon, granted in 1820.  Tawell, drawing on his earlier experience, opened a small shop selling drugs and chemicals and was given leave to dispense by the local medical board.  In three years he became an undoubted success in trade.

Tawell, insistent on wearing the uniform of the Quakers, became financially very stable indeed, before returning to London.  Here, however, misfortune hit him.  Both his sons died and his wife became ill.  It was then that he employed a nurse, Sarah Lawrence, and began an affair with her out of which emerged two children.

After his first wife's death in 1838 Tawell met and married (1841) a Quaker widow, Mrs Cutforth, who had run a school in Clerkenwell.  She, in turn, was 'excommunicated from the society for marrying one who had been himself previously expelled'.6  Apparently, Sarah Lawrence had lived in expectation that she and not Mrs Cutforth would have been made Tawell's second wife.  Tawell moved his lover who had by now changed her name to Hart, to Salt Hill, near Slough and visited her in order to pay a weekly allowance of £1.

At this time Tawell's business interests went into decline and what followed may have been an attempt to help remedy this.  He purchased two bottles of Scheele's Prussic Acid - used for the treatment of varicose veins - and caught a train from Paddington to Slough.  At Tawell's trial, William Martin (as The Times had it on this occasion; elsewhere and in other newspapers the name is given as 'Marlow'), a gardener in Salt Hill, appearing as a witness, stated that on that same night he had seen the deceased, Sarah Hart:

at a quarter past 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening between her house and the Windmill Hotel.  Witness asked her what was she running so fast for, when she said, “I have got a friend come in, and I have been for a little stout for him.” She appeared well and in good spirits and ran off again towards the house.  Witness had not seen the prisoner before he was in custody.7
It appears that the stout and the prussic acid were combined and that the concoction occasioned the death of Sarah Hart.

A brief report of Sarah Hart's death appeared in the Bucks Herald.9

It is then that an extra dimension to the case emerged.  Tawell was seen leaving the premises agitatedly.  A witness at his trial, Mary Ann Ashley, a neighbour, deposed that she was disturbed by noise at the house of Sarah Hart and, on investigating, 'saw a man dressed like a Quaker come along the path from the house'.8  Tawell was not, then, positively identified by this witness at the time of Sarah Hart's death, but at the trial she went on to say that the deceased had always assured her that she was married, that her husband was the son of a Quaker gentleman named Tawell and that he was away from home.  Another witness, Keziah Harding, identified the man in custody as one who had frequently visited Sarah Hart and whom she had seen outside Sarah Hart's house on the night of the woman's death.10

In any event, Tawell (for it was he) caught a train from Slough to Paddington.  Mrs Ashley, called for help from the local surgeon in Slough, Henry Montague Champneys, and he consulted the station-master at Slough who telegraphed Paddington.  The telegraph in its guise at Slough was a model patented in 1837 by Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone (known to many of us as the progenitor of the English concertina but also a noted physicist).  The telegram has since become famous in police detection procedure…

A murder had just been committed at Salt Hill and the suspected murderer was seen to take a first class ticket to London by the train that left Slough at 7.42pm.  He is in the garb of a Kwaker with a brown great coat on which reaches his feet.  He is in the last compartment of the second first-class carriage.
The telegraph did not have the letter 'Q' which caused initial difficulty in understanding.

Tawell arrived at Paddington to be tailed by a Sergeant Williams, a member of the railway police, and eventually was apprehended.  The use of the telegraph in this affair more or less cemented its acceptance as a regular means of communication; but, whilst it is fascinating in itself, the history of detection is not, of course, our prime consideration here.

At his trial, Tawell, dressed as a Quaker, was positively identified by witnesses, as noted above.  There was much discussion as to the constituency of the poison administered to Sarah Hart…Tawell's representative, Fitzroy Kelly, offered a striking defence of the prisoner, claiming that prussic acid poisoning could have been produced through the ingestion of apple pips - which idea the learned judge, Baron Parke, dismissed as not being consistent with the findings of the surgeon after post-mortem examination; and Tawell was convicted and sentenced.

During the passing of the sentence the prisoner appeared calm and unmoved, but when the last words of the learned judge were uttered the muscles of his face became slightly convulsed…11
There are various accounts of the actual day of execution and The Times noted that there were but two or three thousands present, 'chiefly agricultural labourers and a few mechanics…' and that 'Scarcely a respectably dressed person was mingled in the multitude…'.  However, in terms which themselves were something of a convention in reportage, the correspondent went on -
I regret to say that amongst the persons assembled were several women and young children, - the former, of course, of a questionable character…'12
In general, according to The Times, there were no displays of rowdiness but the whole affair proceeded quietly.

Following on from these observations: the general tenor of The Times reports can be found in other newspaper reports, including local ones; but, although in the end it does not materially affect the production of ballads, there was at least one dissenting note concerning the day of execution.  Jackson's Oxford Journal proclaimed that:

A great deal has been said about the “moral effects” of public executions; nothing of the kind, however, was manifested at Aylesbury, for during the whole of the morning the low public-houses and beer-shops in the town and neighbourhood were filled to overflowing by men and women, drinking and carousing, and long before dark, numerous fights had “come off” between drunken men.  Even as early as one in the day a regular fight took place between a couple of drunken countrymen, nearly opposite the George Inn, in the very heart of the town.

A large booth was erected close to the Chandos Arms, near the station, for dancing in the evening.13

Whatever the extent of conflicting reportage (and we can see here an example of a regular feature of discussion, concern over the efficacy of hanging), it is possible to view the progress of the case against Tawell and to compare certain features of content and expression with those in the ballads that were printed.  One therefore pauses, in this respect, just to remark the use, in The Times reports, of the phrases, 'miserable culprit', 'wretched malefactor', and 'wretched man'…very similar to those found in much gallows balladry, part of a common stock indicative of both a useful cache of phraseology and of an inherent social viewpoint.  But it is also of note that the alleged disturbances amongst crowds and the actual struggles of any prisoner whilst strung up do not feature in nineteenth-century gallows balladry.  It does not seem that ballad-makers relied absolutely on pre-existent material in newspapers for suitable language and observation.  Similarly, there was some debate over an alleged confession and the propriety of its publication.  Social habit had it that prisoners should make a confession and that the public should be acquainted with it.

Tawell literature itself will be considered in detail below but, first, there are several other ballads, principally concerned with sweethearts and lovers, which offer a context.14  An early piece concerns one Samuel Fallows who murdered Betty Shawcross in 1823.  The ballad opens with conventional lines -

Come all young men both far and near, and a warning take by me,
Beware of passions fatal, and shun my destiny;
A maiden lovely fair to view, I did wrongly did beguile,
Our criminal connections prov'd, that she was big with child.
Through first-person observation, Fallows admitted that 'A wicked thought came in my head' and 'Her throat I cut, and likewise did her body mangle sore'.  The ballad declares that the woman 'Aloud for mercy she did call' but that the murderer's heart was 'callows' and that, since she was pregnant, he took two lives.

The ballad admits 'God above' as judge and warns 'Good people' -

Repent ye youth who are astray, before it is too late;
And let religion be your guide, on God your hopes let rest'…
The murderer asks for God's pardon and that repentance be accepted; and hopes to meet his Saviour.

Many features of murder balladry are thus employed as will be seen below.

For instance, there is one, Copy of Verses On T. Drory And Jael Denny, from Hodges, involving Thomas Drory, who apparently seduced Jael Denny, promising to make her his wife, but who, after a pregnancy:

A rope I purchased to kill the maiden,
     And in a field I did throw her down,
I strangled her and I killed her infant,
     And left her laying upon the ground…
The murder took place in 1851.  The quotation given above is, as will be seen through comparison, typical of gallows ballads insofar as everyday detail and expression is concerned - the somewhat odd inclusion of the term, 'maiden', for instance, as also in the Fallows ballad.  In the ballad also, Drory is portrayed as understanding that
…I am tried and I am convicted,
     And doomed to die upon the fatal tree,
The awful moments are fast approaching,
     Numbers are flocking my end to see…
The 'fatal tree' image was much used (in the Fallows ballad it appears as 'gallows tree'; and see further, for instance, Execution of the Mannings (1849); Copy of Verses Written on The Condemnation of Elias Lucas and Mary Reader…(1850); Lamentation of Henry Groom (1851); Execution of Sarah Chesham (also in 1851) and the Smethurst case, 1859, both the latter discussed below, but it also frequently appeared in slightly altered form.  Francis Courvoisier, for example, was to hang 'On the fatal gallows high' (1840); Palmer the poisoner 'on the dismal tree' (1856); Kohl lamented that 'No one can save me from the dreadful tree…' (1865); Hubbard Lingley was to die 'On Norwich fatal sad gallows high' (1867)…always the gallows is 'high', a reflection of actuality and purposely depicted so in some header illustrations.  The gallows at Horsemonger Lane was deliberately sited on the roof of the prison so that the fate of each victim was the more clearly visible.15

One notes, by the way, how the word 'tree' lingered beyond any literal concept.

A second Drory ballad, Confession of Thomas Drory, from Disley, begins:

As I walked down by Chelmsford Jail,
     I heard a youth in sorrow sigh,
In anguish he did sore bewail,
     Saying, I am condemned to die…
Again, the opening line could in form have come from any area of broadside balladry and the two inverted phrases, 'in sorrow sigh' and 'sore bewail', create a tone associated more with verse than with actual speech, mirrored elsewhere as in 'from justice strove' in the next example of Drory ballads given below and 'malice run' in another; and below in the phrase 'her snow white breast'; and, again, in the Fallows ballad - 'mangled sore' and 'senseless fell'.

Interestingly, whilst Drory used a rope, nonetheless, the ballad insisted that as

I knelt upon her snow white breast
     She smiled while I her blood did spill;
I left her on the fatal ground
     And from her bleeding corpse did run…
It becomes clearer that we need not look for strict accuracy in these ballads.

At length, the jury convicted and the judge told Drory that

…for the wicked deed you've done,
     Your days must end upon a tree…
'Wicked' as an adjective would seem to be an obvious choice but, perhaps surprisingly, does not seem to figure all that extensively in gallows ballads.  Nonetheless it and other adjectives express in overwhelming terms a strong moral imperative - 'foul' in the Mannings' murder of O'Connor and Sarah Chesham's murder of her husband, Richard (1849 and 1851); 'fiendish' in the Mary Ann Cotton murders (1873); 'inhuman' in the Bull, Fish and Cadwaller Jones murders (1871, 1876 and 1877 respectively).

It is intriguing that there is an overall congruity in the Hodges and Disley ballads discussed above, and certain lines contain direct echoes, each with the other.  One, for instance, in Disley, asks 'How could I slay that lovely maid?': in Hodges, 'Oh, but could I basely slay that maiden…?'; and

I slew her and her infant too,
     And then from justice strove to run…
- in Hodges, 'And I from justice did strive to run…' (one notes, also, the appearance of 'maid' and 'maiden' as in the first Drory ballad and the Fallows ballad discussed above).

In the second ballad here (from Disley) there is a further going over the events with Jael Denny smiling and asking that Drory marry her whilst he, in turn, is set upon murder.  Finally,

The darkness of the night I thought
     Would shield me from the deed I'd done,
But justice would not let escape
     Young Thomas Drory, the farmer's son.
The line which ends each Disley stanza here is, again, paralleled at the ends of each stanza in Hodges - '…Thomas Drory the farmer's son'.  One can imagine a lively rivalry ensuing upon the issue of these two pieces.

However, the particular closeness of expression, as opposed to the inclusion of images and imperatives of a parallel nature, is not a regular aspect of gallows ballads.

A third Drory ballad, The Lamentation of Thos. Drory, from Disley, a first-person piece, declares that Drory 'loved her long, I loved her true' but that when she 'proved with child',

It was then my love it turned to hate,
Which ended in here dreadful fate.
Unlike the other two ballads, this one also indicated that Drory was in love with another woman.  This revelation of detail is in keeping with Henry Mayhew's assertion that, in the course of the production of gallows literature, such detail was printed as it became known - or, perhaps, invented (see further reference to Mayhew below) - which may just suggest that this particular ballad appeared after the two already discussed.  The ballad went on to tell how Jael Denny had gone home to her mother to say that Drory had promised to marry her.  She met with him and 'no mercy to her did I show at all' (in the Fallows ballad, he is 'callows').  A warning is given to all who should then 'Strive to walk in virtue's ways'.

Drory was executed along with Sarah Chesham who had poisoned her husband.  The fate of both Sarah Chesham and Thomas Drory is recounted in another ballad (from Ryle, a printer, like Hodges, hardly noted for extensive issue of gallows ballads, whilst Disley, in contrast, is - the Bodleian Allegro archive lists forty-four Disley gallows ballads).  Drory details are set in lines such as those that follow:

I heard young Thomas Drory say,
     “Jael Denny loved me dear;
She met me in the lonesome Lane,
     Devoide (sic) of grief and fear,
The cord around her snow white
     I did in malice run” ---        (neck,
And she was basely murdered by
     The Essex farmer's son.”
Drory bids farewell to his parents in 'sorrow and repentance' - neither word necessarily a regular in gallows balladry although the state of mind of prisoners as depicted carries unmistakeable echoes - and the more familiar image, if lacking the word, 'fatal', recurs…
Oh! What a sad and dreadful sight,
     At Chelmsford for to see,
A woman and a farmer's Son,
     Suspended on a tree…
A warning is proclaimed to all 'Good people' (along with 'young men' the most consistently proclaimed target in 'murder' ballads); and
The moment it is approaching, when
     Together we must die…
- the piece, like the first Drory ballad cited and like much other balladry, anticipates the drop.

For comparison, in the case of Susan Owen, a single sheet issue indicates that

Of a dreadful Murder you shall soon hear,
Was done in Banbury, in Oxfordshire; -
One William Willson, how sad to tell;
Murdered Susan Owen, who was known full well.
           Chorus- The murderer Willson, so cruel he,
                        Slew Sarah Owen, aged thirty-three.
Apparently they had lived together many years, she making some sort of living as a prostitute and he squandering the money in drunken-ness and debauchery, treating her badly with beatings and kickings which resulted in her death in 1858.
In a dreary dungeon he now bewails,
Awaiting his trial in Oxford Jail,
And if he should there convicted be,
His days must end on the fatal tree…
A warning is given to young men and women to keep from prostitution and drunkenness.  A protest against drunken-ness is found in several such ballads during the nineteenth century.  Alexander Thomson, for instance, blamed 'cursed drink' for causing him to murder his wife at Coldstream in 1864.  Christopher Edwards, hanged in 1872, murdered his wife 'In his drunken rage'.  Henry Evans, who murdered his wife at Oving, near Aylesbury in 1873, was much possessed of drunken habits.  Charles Revell, at Epping in 1878,
To a public house…went drinking,
     The worse for liquor he returned…
and killed his wife.

In Susan Owen's case she was recorded in the ballad discussed above as a victim: 'poor Susan went astray'.

Here, too, there is a codicil.  Willson was discharged when tried for murder because forensic evidence concluded that Susan Owen had a thin skull.  This, like the 'if' in the quotation given above, may well confirm the notion that ballads were sometimes put out as commentary on continuing events and that any implication that an execution was actually carried out would need to be reviewed.  We are reminded of the Cossins anecdote given in the very first piece in this series where a ballad was cried by a blind ballad seller only for his boy minder to warn that 'they be'ant off 't' - the murderers had not, at that particular moment, actually been hanged.16

In this respect, it is worth recalling Mayhew's description of the progression in issue of execution literature even if it is not followed exactly in the cases discussed here.

First appears a quarter-sheet…containing the earliest report of the matter.  Next come half-sheets… of later particulars…  Then are produced the whole or broad-sheets…and, lastly…the double broad-sheets
The narrative, embracing trial, biography, &c., is usually prepared by the printer being a condensation from the accounts in the newspapers.17
It seems always to be understood in Mayhew's description that verse is under discussion as his citation of sorrowful lamentations and last dying speeches and confessions confirm.  We should be aware of different forms, though.

Thus, as further comparison with the ballads cited above and in line with the Mayhew progression, we take the example of the Execution of Francis Warne (1864) for the murder of Amelia Blunt which extends our apprehension of the term 'literature'.  The printing itself is not in the form of single sheet ballad issue, which is most frequently under review here, but includes a header block, a brief prose account and a copy of the verses, paralleled in that style of presentation by several others (The Trial and Execution of Henry Scholfield, Lancaster, 1817; Execution of F. E. Kohl, Chelmsford, 1865; and Horrible Murder near Eltham, Maria Clousen, 1871).  The Warne ballad itself begins:

Behold a sad and wretched man,
     On Springfield's gallows high,
I a murder did on Chadwell Heath,
     And for the same I die…
There are, in this case, two choruses, the second right at the end of the ballad, which would have posed a certain difficulty of judgement for a singer; a chorus being a regular feature of gallows ballads suggesting a reliance on singing for communication.

Apparently, like Susan Owen and William Willson, Amelia Blunt and Francis Warne had lived together until he 'resolved to murder her' so that she would not be 'With any other man' - she was about to be married.  The deed is described, done behind the husband-to-be's back.  Warne was taken - 'For him there is no pity' (a frequent judgement in gallows balladry)…and

Oh! Fatal, cursed jealousy,
'Tis then that was the cause,
Of this most dreadful tragedy.
Motive is here given as jealousy, one of four most frequent causes of crime as presented in balladry, the others being drunken-ness (as described above), a desire for money and the appearance or influence of Satan (see, for instance, the Edward Roberts ballad, 1872, for jealousy; the Mary Ann Cotton case for money in 1873; and John Holden's murder of Sergeant McClelland in 1860 and the Fallows ballad already discussed for the influence of Satan).  Warne is described as 'a cruel murderer', 'cruel' being a frequently found adjective - again, as in the Roberts ballad below and in the case of the murder of Elizabeth Coppins in 1859, the Lingley murder, 1867; the murder of a policeman at Snodland, 1873; the Wainwright murder, 1875; the murder of Emily Holland by William Fish in Blackburn, 1876; the murder of Harriet Staunton at Penge in 1877; and the murder of Eliza Bloor at Burslem, 1878.  Here, Warne is:
…doomed to lay till that Judgement day,
Within a murderer's grave.
And thousands flocked to see the drop, the same sentiment found in the first Drory ballad above.

For another comparison, there is a single issue ballad on the fate of Edward Roberts in Witney (Roberts was executed in 1872) which takes up the sweetheart theme.

You feeling Christians pray attend,
     And you shall quickly hear,
Of a most cruel murder,
     That occurred in Oxfordshire.
And when the facts of the foul deed,
     To you I do unfold,
It will make you start with horror,
     And your heart's blood run cold.
The opening phrases can be found in numbers of ballads, not necessarily concerned with sweethearts; for example, in Murder of Mr O'Connor (the Mannings case, 1849):
Good people all attend to me
     While I relate a tale…
and in The Lamentation Of Alexander Thomson…(1864):
You feeling hearted people I pray you will draw near,
And my sad lamentation you quickly shall hear…
and in Shocking Murder of a Policeman at Snodland, near Rochester (1873):
Good people all pray give attention,
     While a dreadful tale I do unfold…
and in Shocking Murder of a Wife At Oving, near Aylesbury (also dating from 1873):
Good people all I bray (sic) draw near,
     And listen to this dreadful tale…
and, again, in pieces 'set' in Ireland, such as The Lamentation of John Holden (1860): 'You tender hearted Christians, I hope you will draw near' and A Lamentation on the Execution of Dennis Dillane (1863): 'You feeling hearted Christians, I mean both young& (sic) old…'; and, finally, in the Fallows ballad discussed at the beginning of this piece - 'Come all young men…'.  It is not, of course, inevitably the case but it does indicate how printers drew on an existing convention.

Similarly, in the Roberts ballad, the conviction that such piece would make the blood run cold is another old faithful, appearing, for instance, in Murder of Mr O'Connor (the Mannings case referred to above, in 1849), in Gleeson Wilson's Lamentation (also 1849); in a ballad on the murder of Ciara Bruton (1872) -

Of such a cold blooded murder
     we have seldom heard before.
- and in the Wainwright ballad (1875) referred to below.

Returning to Roberts - he was enamoured of a widow's daughter, waited until her mother was in Sunday church and then beat the girl over the head.  He was apprehended and, in view of the supposed end, the ballad asks that

…all young men be warned in time,
     And take advice from me,
Think of Edward Roberts' fearful crime,
     And beware of jealousy.
In this ballad, there is, in one way, no pretence.  The murder is briefly recounted strictly as third person narrative; there are no appeals, no confessional lines and no imagined insight into the mind of Roberts.  It is minimal in terms of presentation as are the next two to which reference is made.

Thus, in much the same guise as the Roberts ballad there is one concerning the murder of Maria Clousen by Edmund Pook (1871):

Good people all pray give attention,
     And listen to a dreadful tale,
For this shocking cruel murder,
     Far and wide we must bewail.
Maria Clousen lived as servant,
     With Mr Pook, in Greenwich town,
And there her beauty captivated,
     And did beguile her master's son.
She wanted to marry him but, evidently jealous (familiar motivation), he took a hammer to her.  Pook was committed 'to Maidstone jail'.  The piece hopes that God will help her father and relations and that the
Good people all, with tender feelings
     Will mourn the Eltham tragedy.
Once again, there is little elaboration.  It should be added that Edmund Pook was actually found not guilty of his supposed crime: another example, perhaps, of how ballads sometimes anticipated an outcome.

The Roberts and Clousen ballads are paralleled by a third where

You feeling Christians pray attend
     And you shall quickly hear
Of an heartrending tragedy,
     That took place in Gloucestershire.
Here, Amelia Phipps was murdered by Edward Butt, (sometimes given as 'Bett') in 1874.  The motive, already encountered, is clear…
What led to this most dreadful deed
     As plainly as we can see
Was, that the mind of Edward Bett (sic)
     Was filled with jealousy.
Butt ran and was apprehended in Abergavenny,
And to God he must account
     For this most cruel deed.
Now all young men and maidens
     A warning take I pray
And with each others feeling's (sic)
     Be carefull (sic) not to play…
The warning to young men given here appears, as noted, in several ballads, but maidens are rarely mentioned.

In general, the minimalism encountered in the three ballads just discussed is not a prominent feature, most ballads encompassing a more drawn-out narrative.

The production of ballads, then, can be seen to have operated in slightly varied form but with over-riding intent (as discussed at the end of this piece).  For example, Dr. Smethurst (executed 1859) deserted his lawful wife for Isabella Banks, who had money, and hurried to church 'and married her with speed'.  Smethurst, in the ballad, declared that he only wanted Isabella's property and so administered poison over a period of time.  He was apprehended and, at length, abjured - in the ballad - by the judge to seek for mercy.  Smethurst bid adieu to his wife and, finally, asked

Will no one pity Doctor Smethurst,
     Suspended on the fatal tree.
And there is the murder of Emma Coppins, aged 16 ('You pretty maidens lend an ear…', also in 1859), in this case there being no connection between murderer and victim.  She met with Edward Prince accidentally, it seems; but he 'was on murder bent' (unusually, no specific motive is suggested) and cut her throat.  The ballad most obviously anticipates both trial and sentence:
He is now confined in Maidstone jail,
     In horror and affright,
Where the spirit of the murdered girl,
     Torments him day and night.
Her innocent blood for vengeance cries,
     Hanged he'll surely be,
When by a jury, guilty found,
     Of this sad tragedy.
The continuing torment as included here can be found in other ballads, chiefly as expressed in first-person narrative and often when the victim is a child - as the next piece in this series will show.

Similar in circumstance to the Prince ballad we find the case of John Pointon who was apprehended for the murder of Eliza Bloor (1878)…

A dreadful murder near to Burslem,
     In the County of Staffordshire,
Has filled each feeling heart with sorrow,
     For the victim so we hear…
The phrase, 'so we hear' is echoed elsewhere in third person ballads, sometimes found in different guise.  Thus, we find 'as we may see' in Murder of Mr O'Connor (the Mannings case again, 1849); 'as we hear' in Lamentation of John Jones - who killed seven people (1870); 'as we may hear' in Horrid Murder Of A Gentleman, In A Railway Carriage (Thomas Briggs murdered by Muller, 1864); the same phrase in Shocking Murder Of A Policeman, At Snodsland, near Rochester (1873); and again in the Wainwright case below.  It represents a hedging of bets, which would not do too much damage to the credibility of the particular ballad…a dramatic device, even if not expressed in the exact terms, found in much other broadside balladry.  We discover a much fuller manifestation in Murder in Park Lane (1872) which also includes favourite adjectives:
What horrid crimes to us are mentioned,
     In the papers from time to time,
So list awhile and pay attention,
     While I relate a dreadful crime;
A fearful one there was committed,
     At No.13, in Park Lane,
The murderess now has her guilt admitted,
     Margaret Dixblanc is her sad name…
(actually, 'Marguerite')

To return to the Pointon ballad …there is a chorus:

Pray for the soul of ELIZA BLOOR,
     Murdered when just in her prime;
JOHN POINTON he is now arrested,
     For this cruel unmanly crime.
The ballad admits that Pointon had not yet been found guilty - a feature which more than suggests the seizure of even a half-chance to exploit possibilities for sale of the ballad and somewhat akin to how the process of ballad-making fared in the case of William Willson and Susan Owen above.  An informant of Mayhew's recounted how in, gallows literature 'The last dying speeches and executions are all printed the day before' and
The flying stationers goes with the papers in their pockets, and stand under the drop, and as soon as ever it falls, and long before the breath is out of the body, they begins bawling out.18
We come then to the case of Henry Wainwright who murdered a Harriet Lane in Whitechapel in 1875.  In one ballad, a prose introduction noted that 'The victim had borne two children by the prisoner' (like Sarah Hart, then) - but it is also noted that the body did not turn up until twelve months after the event, such a time lapse being an unusual if not unknown feature.  Discovery of the crime was through the auspices of a third party, an Alfred Stokes, a stranger, who, becoming suspicious, contacted a policeman who searched some parcels in possession of Wainwright - in which the head of Harriett Lane was found.  Wainwright's crime was not unique in its fashion.  Amongst others, John Holloway had effected the same dismembering in 1831, James Greenacre in 1837 and Daniel Good in 1842.

The ballad is offered in a third person narrative.  There are no imagined contributions from Wainwright.  But, at the beginning, there is phraseology that recurs in other ballads as noted above…:

A dreadful tale we have to tell
     That almost makes the blood run cold…
In the Wainwright ballad, somewhat strangely, there is only the briefest reference, at the end of the ballad, to the consequences of the deed:
He has had to suffer for this deed,
     And Justice she has held the sway,
By murdering poor Harriett Lane,
     His life, the forfeit had to pay.
The concentration in the ballad was on the detail of the case.

A second ballad on the same case, Awful Murder and Mutilation of a Female At the East-end of London begins much as the previous one:

A dreadful tale to you I'll mention,
Enough to make your blood run cold…
and, like the previous one, spends time on detail
Her head was severed from her body,
Her arms as well - how sad to tell…
but without reference to Wainwright's state of mind.  We learn that Harriett Lane's limbs were 'sewn up into parcels', that the smell when the pieces of body were found was dreadful and that Wainwright left the parcels with another woman in a cab (which Stokes followed).  There is much expressed horror -
This inhuman fiend he had no pity,
     Oh, what a sad and dreadful crime…
Her murderer's heart must have been iron…
The fate of this poor girl was awful…
He must have had the heart of Satan…
the latter introducing one of the types of 'motivation' already referred to.

A Such ballad, The Murder of Harriet Lane, exhibits, perhaps, a very basic compositional mode:

A most fearful murder has been brought to light,
     I'll describe it to you in the verses I write,
A poor woman's body cut up has been found,
     Causing dismay Whitechapel around…
Three pistol bullets were found 'in her head'; 'The horrid remains were a sight to behold' - the bones smashed; an umbrella was discovered: 'It used to belong to the woman that's dead'…
The Whitechapel murder will ne'er be forgot;
     By hundreds of people many miles from the spot…
This is a piece concentrating on what happened with very little examination of the perpetrator's mind, no warnings, no appeals to God's mercy.

Two other cases provide more small variation.  The first is that of Cadwallader Jones, executed at Dolgelly in 1877 (yet another post-public-hanging occasion).  In this case, the ballad is set after execution and both murderer and victim are seen as 'sinful'.  A chorus reads:

He has gone to the gallows, he has gone to his
The Dolgelly murderer has drawn his last breath;
The young farmer, Jones, has died for his crime,
For poor Sarah Hughes that sad victim of crime.
Jones, like Wainwright, mutilated his victim's body but his conscience persuaded him to go to the police.  Then,
What horrible torture his thoughts must have been,
He must pass from this world and be never more seen…
The ballad lays a heavy injunction on the reader…
Let us remember we all must die,
God knows our fate as the time passes by.
No one can tell what may be his end,
Or to what sinful crimes we may yet descend…
It is noticeable that the overall view is of a sinful world.

In this case, too, sympathy was enjoined for the parents of Jones, one more feature found in other ballads as seen immediately below; and, of Jones himself, it was said that:

His life has been wasted, his days thrown away,
'Tis the penalty of crime we must all of us say.
Finally, in this selection, there is a ballad about John Aspinall Simpson ('Good people attention and list what I say…') who, in 1881, murdered Annie Ratcliffe…
…after arranging to make her his wife,
On the morn of the marriage he took her dear life…
Apparently, he cut her throat from ear to ear with a razor whilst they were sitting in an inn - one notes the astonishingly random circumstances!  And, in this case, in a manner similar to that found in the Cadwallader Jones ballad, sympathy lay lingeringly with Simpson's mother - 'Her heart must be rending from hour to hour'.

What to make of it all?

To begin with it is necessary to observe that after the configuration of murder and retribution we are concentrating on ballads about the murder of sweethearts and paramours.  Yet, as certain comparisons have shown, such ballads do have much in common with others that dwell on murder amongst married couples or within families and, again, where strangers are involved.  We begin to see a type emerging in terms of the match between form and content.  It is true that stanzaic patterning varies considerably.  Four-line stanzas and eight-line stanzas abound but they do vary - presumably designed to attract.  Still, to emphasise relative conformity, the presence of a chorus in so many texts suggests a reliance on a kind of mnemonic and, apparently, on song as a possible, even likely, method of communication.  Similarly, in terms of language, well-worn epithets crop up continually - some already noted and paralleled by others…words such as 'dreadful' which would appear to have been the most often used together with 'wretched', 'awful', 'doomed' and 'fatal'…the last liberally sprinkled and, as noted above, giving rise to a catch-phrase or at least a benchmark inserted so that people understood the import of any particular ballad.  And the beginnings of many ballads work and re-work convention (again, as demonstrated).  The perspective is in both first-person or third, the latter outweighing the former in usage, and sometimes switches between the two, without, it seems, any particular advantage in impact one against the other.  Since strict authenticity was not a factor switching can only be seen as an inducement to a paying public.

It is in many ways a limited palette and perhaps intended, like old jokes, to draw on familiarity and automatic response.

Content, naturally, varies.  Some ballads dwell more, some less on the detail of the crime.  Where detail is concerned the journalistic touch often prevails…the day (but very rarely the date of the year) or the nature of the weapon and the method of disposal of the body, in order, one supposes, to titillate, and to give an air of authenticity to what are, principally, imaginings.  In this latter respect, there is a frequent incursion into the mind of the perpetrator and in this incursion individuality is circumscribed…there is often a reference to bad dreams and hauntings; an appeal to God's mercy; a degree of apparent remorse; thoughts of those left behind; and a warning to others.  One murderer, in this view, is very much like another.  Most frequently, too, ballads proclaim their story before any execution has been carried out (the Cadwallader Jones ballad is rather an exception), thus suggesting a function as news during the processes of trial and sentencing - in the same way that newspapers gained attention from their readership and, as noted above according to Mayhew, how the issue of ballads proceeded.  One may, at this stage, hazard a captive audience used to relative un-sophistication, heavy morality and a certain amount of salacious detail but one must take care not to dismiss such a readership (strictly - buying public).  Broadside printers had a shrewd idea as to where their success might lie and in everyday terms it is a fair bet that items of news were swapped in, as it were, a similar half-digested, shorthand manner - as is frequently our own common experience.  And pictorial depiction, although it is not a constant feature of balladry, through woodcuts first and then through representative illustration, would have been a distinct attraction as are photographs nowadays.

We must not forget, either, that the majority of ballads being considered here emerged after the mid-century mark…the later ones signifying an upsurge of interest in ballad production, it seems.  This is important insofar as the tone of the ballads is considerably more sanctimonious than ballads of an earlier era, reaching out from the eighteenth century and on into the nineteenth.  V.A.C. Gattrell comments on a cessation of ribaldry, previously associated with gallows literature, at around the 1830 mark; and one might, as a result, be forgiven in thinking, initially, that general interest declined.  To be fair, Mr Gattrell also wrote that 'ambitious broadsides continued to be produced for major executions' (we may add 'many' and 'various' and, perhaps, question any idea of 'major'); and we have found that a severe moral tone is found as early as the 1820s.19  But the fact that gallows ballads continued to appear after public hanging ceased is prime indication of continued fascination, whatever the tone of such pieces.

Ultimately, then, in the production of gallows ballads, the working process is one centred on formulae of one sort or another; and, judging by the continuing outpourings, it seems, in order to satisfy an apparently insatiable appetite for the unsavoury.  Moral judgement is easily offered although there is, at times, a touch of understanding and sympathy such as might be encountered in everyday concourse; but that strong moral overtone as indicated in the discussions above was intended, perhaps, to help sanitise the hideous spectacle of people choking, defecating and shrieking as they were 'launched into eternity' (oddly enough, a phrase found in newspaper reports but very rarely in ballads themselves).  The ballads so far considered all contribute to an insistence in nineteenth century gallows balladry on the imagined consequences of crime within the context of strong moral condemnation.  It is assumed that the readership shared these concerns and would, therefore, take warning.  We might now be more cynically inclined to see elements of hypocrisy in the context of commercial opportunism and to admit the ineffectual outcome of repeated appeal.

Where Tawell ballads are concerned, in amongst possibilities of presentation, in most respects they follow convention if not in every detail.  Two ballads have, in fact, emerged on the subject of Tawell neither of which is to be found in our best sources, the Madden collection and the Bodleian Allegro archive.  The first, Life, Trial and Execution of John Tawell the Quaker, was printed by Johnson in Buckingham (about whom nothing is known…although enquiries are continuing) and can be found in Hugh Anderson's book Farewell to Judges and Juries.20

Within a dark and dismal cell
In anguish I do lie,
Methinks I hear the solemn knell,
Say Tawell you must die…
There is a chorus which is introduced by well-worn phrases:
I alas! Am doomed to die
On Aylesbury's fatal scaffold high.
The piece goes on to say that 'I was brought up in Norfolk town'.

Sarah Hart is described as a 'fair maiden' (one recalls a similar phrase in the first Drory ballad and in that on Samuel Fallows) whom Tawell loved although it is admitted that:

By flattering tails (sic) I her seduced
And brought her down to shame.
There is a stanza covering Tawell's life in Van Diemonds (sic) Land - there is no actual evidence that he ever visited: his Australian sojourn was on the mainland - and his return to 'my native land' and another relating how he moved Sarah Hart to Salt Hill until one day, with a suggestion of simplistic motivation, 'cursed Satan tempted me' and 'being tired of her company' he took her life away.
I think I see the fatal time
When she for mercy cried,
No pity to her did I show,
At length she drooped and died…
That is all there is about the crime itself - no details of the poison or the 'apple-pips' which might have provided a telling image for any particular ballad…the evidence suggests that more often than not such images were dismissed.  The clearest example of this in Tawell ballads lies in the absence of any mention of the most out of the ordinary aspect of this case, the employment of the telegraph.

In Tawell's case, the well-worn epithets rule (one can see how a full stanza is set out)…

O God above look down on, me,
Since I'm denied to live
Have mercy on my guilty soul
And all my sins forgive
Oh grant me fortitude to die
This sinful world to leave
My tender wife and children
For me pray do not grieve.
This is the first mention of family and in a context which suggests that life is pretty miserable in any case (which, like the same implication in the Cadwallader Jones ballad above, opens up all sorts of perspectives on religious adherence and a general view of life on earth which surround these ballads - not a subject capable of being pursued at this stage).  And one notes the word 'tender' to describe the wife, a constantly used adjective in all ballad literature although mostly in connection with mothers (together with a surprising number of 'aged' fathers).  The piece concludes with a warning to all and a further plea for God's mercy.

The outlines of the case are covered, then, in a manner somewhat removed from strict accuracy but including elements of self-examination, pleas for mercy and a warning, all features of gallows balladry made familiar in the discussion above.  Sarah Hart, be it noted, is hardly more than a name.

The second Tawell ballad to emerge comes by way of the official website of The Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.  Material relating to executions was posted during September 2003 and it became evident that in one piece, entitled Execution of John Tawell, And Full Confession, To His Wife, In A Letter Of the Murder of Sarah Hart, a ballad was included which, on further investigation, does not emerge from our regular sources, Steve Roud's invaluable database or the Bodleian Allegro archive.  The piece was put out by 'J. Paul & Co;, Printers, (Successors to the late J. Catnach)' like Hodges and Ryle not noted for express concentration on gallows balladry - in fact, only three pieces have been found…itself not surprising if it is recollected that Paul only printed between 1838 and 1845.  Paul actually managed the Ryle business until Annie Ryle, the widow, took over but she too only printed a couple of gallows ballads.

The particular piece begins with a familiar injunction as described above -

Good people all of each degree
     Attend to what I shall unfold,
It is a dreadful tragedy
     Will make your very blood run cold…
Quite starkly, the ballad proclaims that
John Tawell is my name it is true.
     In wealth and splendour once I've
A hypocrite I've always been,
     Nor meek-ey'd mercy never felt.
My first crime was Forgery,
     A convict was to Sidney (sic) sent,
I riches gain'd oh! Misery,
     My stubborn heart did not relent…
The piece is particularly harsh on Tawell's relationship with Sarah Hart, since he gave way to 'lustful passions', betrayed her until she 'proved with child' and passed his time in adulterous love with her 'In unholy deeds of guilt and shame'.  The two children are mentioned and Sarah Hart's removal to Salt Hill until (the first phrase is matched by one in the other Tawell ballad - my italics)
Grown tired at last, yet full of grief,
     Oh God! Poor thing, I did her slay,
With prussic acid poison vile,
     I took her harmless life away…
The Tawell in the ballad was aware that there was 'one above' who witnessed all and it is suggested that, in the terms of this ballad, perhaps characteristically, he tried to bribe his way out of his dilemma - not, as far as has been ascertained, an actual feature of his case.  Then he issues a warning:
O shun that crime, adultery,
     Take warning by a murderer's fate…
Next Friday I am doomed to die,
     While gaping thousands round appear…
(the spectacle as found in the first Drory ballad above) and he asks that God pardon him.  There is no mention of the pioneer circumstances of his arrest.

The unusual amount of somewhat hostile external observation in this piece is worth mentioning; but so are the more general features…Tawell's state of mind, his apparent remorse, the warning, the plea for mercy, and, of course, the fact that the ballad appeared before his execution.  It is well in line with other gallows ballads in these details and cannot be said to exhibit much of the individual character of the case.

The piece is dated 'Aylesbury, This morning, 8 o'clock' and suggests that it was issued on the day of the execution - like a newspaper.  In this respect it is known that Bonner, in Bristol, did publish single sheets daily during the trial proceedings against Mary Burdock in 1835 followed by issues containing the dying speech and confession and then one on the execution itself (but these sheets were not, it appears, ballad sheets).21  In any event, in the particular case under discussion, Tawell, 'the wretched culprit' - a common phrase found also, as noted above in The Times reports, in newspapers - was engaged in prayer with the 'reverend ordinary'.  The literal progress of the execution was recounted until Tawell 'was launched into eternity'.  There is then, as it were, a flashback, the nature of which is a summation of the trial procedure and the deliberations of judge and jury before sentence was passed.  A letter to Tawell's wife which was also included may have been authentic but it is known that in some cases these letters were a fabrication: Mayhew's informant told him that such letters were written 'from the depths of the condemned cell, with the condemned pen, ink, and paper' in stereotypical style.22

As a printed artefact, this is, like the Francis Warne piece discussed above, an example of the one sort which has a header block, a prose account and a copy of verses.  Sometimes we find only a header illustration and the ballad such as can be found in the examples of ballads on Samuel Fallows (1823), on the executions of Francis Courvoisier (1840), of Thomas H Hocker (1845), and of Hubbard Lingley (1867); sometimes just a prose account and a ballad - again, as shown by a ballad on the execution of Catherine Foster, 1847; another on the Oving murder of 1873; and another on Fish (1876) - the Fish case being discussed further in the next piece in the series.

The header block here in the Tawell ballad is composed of a central figure of the hanged man above a crowd (the gallows high) which, in this case and a little unusually, is facing towards the 'reader' and offers detail of dress rather than a vague impression, usually distinguished only by different sorts of headgear.  In the background the jail and some other buildings can be seen.  Gattrell has an extended and fascinating suggestion to the effect that such header illustrations acted as icons rather than any recognisable representation, perhaps more powerful than the text itself.  23

Where illustration is concerned, as it happens, Mayhew referred to a likeness of Tawell, a wood-cut which 'was one that was given for the Quaker that had been hanged for forgery twenty years before'.24

Further, in respect of 'cocks' (fabrications), Mayhew gave the information that a confession from Tawell had, in fact, been got up by three patterers who concocted a story that had Tawell committing two murders whilst he was in Van Diemen's Land and, heading a gang that worked its passage back to England, then robbing the captain of the ship.25  More than once in newspapers, as noted above, the value and even the authenticity of such documents was questioned.  In Tawell's case, a confession was cited several times - one report noted that a confession had been given to a representative of the London press but the same report expressed doubts about its veracity.26  The Times records an earnest debate on the propriety of revealing what Tawell had said to his chaplain.27  There is, though, only a general indication in the ballad of a confessional nature.  Confessions, like dying words, were judged by the public to have particular importance - as expressed in the titles of some ballads, dying words being a legacy of the final customary flourish of the victims of gallows as found during the eighteenth century, those who died with defiance (Mr Gattrell's book covers this aspect in detail).

Finally, in respect of Tawell: as noted in a previous piece in this series, men were 'turning a penny' by means of the sale of a description of Tawell's execution, distributed during the proceedings.28  In some dozen newspaper reports from around the country and including the extensive coverage in The Times this is the only sight of such a transaction but there seems to be no reason to doubt its import especially as taken with sightings in other cases which all help in the slow accumulation of evidence which concerns the distribution of ballads.  Indeed, the same sort of evidence will be found in connection with cases to be examined in the next two pieces.

Roly Brown - 11.6.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France

Appendix - list of ballads referred to in the text above; and their sources


Article MT156

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