Article MT158

Glimpses into the 19th Century Broadside Ballad Trade

No. 16: Barrett and other Fenians1

In the following piece something of a tangent is followed in respect of gallows literature.  Murder is involved but not, strictly, in the sense that it has been observed in the two previous pieces in the series.  The case-studies below take centre stage in the dramas attendant on national and political events rather than in domestic strife.  It is necessary, therefore, to include very brief introductory remarks in order to set the scene.

We note, then, that, whilst during the nineteenth century there were various internal attempts to subvert British statehood, none of them appear to have occasioned the production of ballads.  Colonel Despard's ignominious end by hanging (1803), after being associated with Irish malcontent, with radical grievances, with a plot to assassinate the monarch and with plotting within the army, is indicative of the government's alarm.  The assassination of Spencer Perceval (1812), although it was shown that the act itself was born of private grievance, came at a time when Luddism provoked general unrest and harsh retaliatory measures, and seemed to echo the activities of Despard.  The Pentrich rising (1817) and its overt acts of rebellion amongst workers evoked the whiff of high treason.  The Cato Street Conspiracy (1820) echoed the fear attendant on the Despard affair in its possibilities for encouraging a general rising; and the plot to assassinate the cabinet was of astonishing proportion.  Yet all these events and others like them all passed without obvious recourse to broadside balladry.2  It was left for matters Irish as they emerged on the 'mainland' before ballad printers took up events - there were individual cases where perceived threats were, it was thought, demolished, such as those of William Smith O'Brien (1803-1864), and of John Mitchel (1815-1875), both Young Irelanders, and of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the Fenian (1831-1915).  None of these cases involved murder - although there were several ballads issued both in Ireland and in England about O'Brien and Mitchel.3  It was the Fenian activity of the 1860s (in which Rossa figured, it should be said) that caused the most concern in England and, in this regard, the execution of Michael Barrett in 1868, the principal subject discussed below, proved to be the culmination of Fenian activities as well as being notable as the last public hanging carried out in England - this the unique claim for attention as far as ballads are concerned and as it provoked the making of ballads.

Fenian activity in the 1860s was part of an ongoing agitation in the history of Irish determination to secure independence from England.  It was not wholly supported in Ireland, eliciting the opposition of the Catholic church and many of the middle-classes - we should not forget either that the 1916 insurrection itself was laughed at by the majority of Dubliners amongst whom it exploded - and did not succeed in its immediate objectives; but it certainly created a climate of fear and alarm in those parts of Britain where activity was at its most prominent.

In two cases, murder was committed.  Just prior to the Clerkenwell explosion of December of 1867 there had been a raid on a prison van in Manchester (September 18th 1867) in order to secure the release of Fenian prisoners.  It seems that a large number of active sympathisers were involved and a policeman, Sergeant Brett, was shot dead.  It was after and in connection with this event that the Clerkenwell explosion was carried out

This explosion, on December 13th 1867 was, perhaps, the single most terrifying act arising out of Fenian acitivites.  It was also a bungled attempt at rescue.  One Richard O'Sullivan Burke, a senior planner behind the prison van rescue in Manchester in September 1867 (see below for ballads), had been incarcerated in Clerkenwell and a scheme to blow a hole in the prison wall was hatched for purposes of rescue - of both himself and a fellow prisoner, one Casey - in which a number of persons were involved but after which only one man, Michael Barrett, a Fermanagh man, paid with his life (and in which neither Burke nor Casey escaped)

The terrible, salient facts for our purposes are that the 1867 explosion not only blew a hole in the prison wall but demolished a row of tenements opposite in which several people died.  In the end trial proceedings named Martha Thompson and Humphrey Evans as victims.4  Michael Barrett, though, could not have deliberately targeted them.  The discussion below, therefore, takes this into account in seeking similarities (and differences) between Barrett ballads and other ballads concerned with murder.

There was, as one might have expected, widespread public interest. The Times printed a score of reports covering all aspects of the trial, conviction and execution and included lengthy transcriptions of trial proceedings as was the custom in reportage.  Newspapers in other parts of the country took up the theme to a greater or lesser degree as is shown in part below.  In The Times, there was even a page devoted to the physiognomy of the defendants which could not have been read as other than detrimental.5

The trial of the Clerkenwell Fenians had begun with eight defendants and a verdict of 'Wilful Murder' reached, although one of the accused, Jeremiah Allen, was discharged, he having acted on behalf of the police up until the 13th December when the explosion took place.  The jury did not feel that there was sufficient evidence to connect Allen with the actual explosion and he had certainly obtained evidence against other conspirators … there were still doubts as to his reliability but he was not charged.  Patrick Mullany, another of the defendants, became an approver - turning Queen's evidence - and was not charged with complicity in the outrage though still detained on a charge of treason-felony.6  He and his wife and his apprentice told how Barrett had visited them constantly - but no-one of the three made an actual link between Barrett and the explosion.  It was subsequently thought that Mullany gained free passage to Australia in return for his evidence. 

Barrett himself, according to witnesses, had assumed the name of Jackson for the duration.

Much of the trial seems to have been taken up with establishing the fact that Barrett was in Clerkenwell at the time of the explosion and that it was he who had fired the gunpowder. Barrett was actually respited twice whilst his alibi, to the effect that he had been in Glasgow at the time of the explosion, was investigated.  Barrett claimed to have been at a torchlight procession in Glasgow on 21st November; and Lindsay, a Glasgow printer, testified that the day before Barrett had ordered bills to be printed and posted for the occasion (the same Lindsay we normally associate with the production of ballads - though not, it seems, in this case).7  Lindsay said that a police-sergeant named Deakin had stopped the pair of them on the day of the procession and had taken down Barrett's name and address (later denied by the police).  The theory that Barrett had been in London for six weeks before the explosion as advanced by the prosecution could not, then, be sustained.  Sightings of Barrett in Glasgow throughout the period of November and December were claimed by witnesses.

Barrett actually wrote from his cell to a Glasgow newspaper, in effect thanking those who had spoken out on his behalf 'knowing me to be innocent of the crime for which I am called upon to suffer'.  And he went on:

What a strange and striking contrast to the paid witnesses of the Crown, with the gold of Government jingling in their pockets, and their gilded bribe dangling before their eyes, ready to be grasped the moment they had secured my conviction.
He continued:
I am wholly at a loss to know by what means the jury came to the decision they did, the only evidence upon which the Attorney-General dared ask them for a verdict being that of the terrible man Mullany and the two people who were in the habit, they said, of seeing me at his place; yet in every other particular they not only contradicted Mullany, but they contradicted each other also.8
Given that letters from those awaiting their fate may have been in the nature of 'cocks', as Mayhew described them, there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of Barrett's appeal here.

Further, Barrett's counsel, Baker Greene, pointed out that:

…the story of the approver Mullany had not been corroborated in any particular affecting the prisoner's guilt by any witness called by the Crown, save those who stated that Barrett took a part in exploding the barrel of gunpowder, and that the evidence of these witnesses was so conflicting and inconclusive as to be unreliable, and was admitted by the Lord Chief Justice on the trial to be insufficient to justify a conviction.9
This, as the letter quoted above shows, was a point argued by Barrett himself during his trial although, using the same arguments in exactly an opposite manner, The Times had noted that
Barrett had watched and noted everything that could help him with the quickness of a man catching at straws … he held every discrepancy, however slight, and every improbability, however specious, fatal to the case against him …10
And after 21st November Barrett's movements did not appear to be clear.  It may have been that, as witnesses affirmed, he was in Glasgow the day before the explosion and again immediately afterwards.

Newspaper reports nevertheless emphasised that he was sent to London from Glasgow 'to do the job'.11  After further investigation of witnesses in Glasgow, another report in The Times concluded that:

…the evidence which the Government Commission elicited shows beyond a doubt that he was in London and at all the places where he was identified.
This report did add that:
It seems rather a failure of justice that only one man should suffer from a crime in which so many were concerned, and which brought about such a terrible destruction of life and property.12
But it was Barrett who was hanged.  The Times had already reported on the extra precautions being taken by the police - armed with cutlasses and revolvers - since, apart from Barrett, both Burke and Casey had been lodged at Newgate.  Burke and Casey, in fact, were soon removed but, in a way that emphasises the degree of concern over both the nature and the continuance of agitation (as noted at the head of this piece),13 The Times opined:
Newgate, indeed, may be said to be a fortress of itself, and but for the subtle characteristics of the Fenian organization and the affair at Clerkenwell, preceded, as it was, by the rescue at Manchester and the escape of Fenian prisoners from custody in Ireland, it would never, probably, have entered into the minds of the authorities to guard a place so impregnable of itself.14
On the day of Barrett's execution, The Times report opened as follows:
Yesterday morning, in the presence of a vast concourse of spectators, Michael Barrett, the author of the Clerkenwell Explosion, was hanged in front of Newgate.  In its circumstances there was very little to distinguish this from ordinary executions.  The crowd was greater, perhaps, and better behaved; still, from the peculiar atrocity of the crime for which Barrett suffered, and from the fact of its being probably the last public execution in England, it deserves more than usual notice…15
And here we take a short diversionary trip…The behaviour of the crowd, always subject to scrutiny, is confirmed in other reports but there is sometimes, as here, a discrepancy in detail, as, for instance, in the estimation of numbers present.  For example, the Hampshire Chronicle declared the crowd to be 'unusually small'.16  Was this a measure of absence from the scene by the reporter and a reliance on news from elsewhere? The Hampshire report can be found in substance in other newspapers even though some passages had been altered, strong suggestion as seen in previous pieces in this series, that syndication or at the least copying from source - probably London newspapers - took place.17  In fact, a report in the Gloucester Journal has many passages word for word like the report of the execution in The Times it also referred to remarks made in both The Express and The Globe, other London newspapers.  The crowd, according to both The Times and the Gloucester newspaper, was 'immense'.18

The Gloucester Chronicle estimated the crowd to have been between 1500 and 1800 persons assembling, as it put it, 'according to one authority' (not an independent judgement, then) amid 'the most complete apathy on the part of the London populace'.  This report was in any case hostile towards Barrett, pleased that the government was not in any way fooled by Barrett's alibi and concerned that:

The disastrous impression which the failure of the prosecution in every case except Barrett's was calculated to encourage would, we cannot help feeling, have been further strengthened if the executive had been found unable, or unwilling, to exact a single life in satisfaction for the wanton destruction of so many.
The Gloucester Chronicle, whilst the remarks quoted above were forthright and independent enough and despite its conservative estimate of numbers present, nonetheless went on to record the execution in much the same words as The Times and, like the Gloucester Journal, quoted both The Express and The Globe.19

The Warminster Herald followed the same pattern as the Gloucester newspapers with some phraseology in common. The Salisbury Times indicated that there was a 'throng'.  The Salisbury and Winchester Journal referred to a 'vast concourse'.20

The Times recounted how, on the Monday night prior to execution day, 'There were the usual cat-calls, comic choruses, dances, and even mock hymns…' and that 'what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on'.

None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England.
There were, apparently, scuffles and fights and hooting and, as the day of execution came and went on and Barrett at last appeared, to the sound of the prison bell and that of St Sepulchre's church nearby, 'came a great hungry roar from the crowd outside, and a loud, continued shout of “Hats off,”…'.  Barrett died 'without a struggle' and then:
a great cry rose from the crowd as the culprit fell - a cry which was neither an exclamation nor a scream, but it partook in its sound of both.
The crowd did then shout at the authorities and, in particular, the hangman as was customary, before dispersing amid 'the usual concomitants of assault and robbery'.  Within the general opinion in reportage that the affair passed off relatively smoothly, these details might suggest a disturbing degree of restlessness amongst the crowd.

It is interesting to note that the Newbury Weekly News report referred to at the end of this piece, merely recorded that Barrett died with but 'a few struggles' and The Times report insisting that Barrett that he died 'without a struggle' has already been quoted here - was this to spare the reading public's blushes? For in other reports, the description of his final moments is very different.  V A C Gattrell observed that:

The Fenian Michael Barrett … died in convulsions; newspapers reported his 'protruding tongue and swollen distorted features discernible under the thin white cotton covering, as if they were part of some hideous masquerading'.  He had gone to the scaffold with red hair and beard; when he was lifted off it, his hair, oddly, was said to have turned black.21
These conflicting reports offer no less a liberty, perhaps, than those evidently taken by ballad-writers

As a sort of postcript, The Times continued by referring to Barrett's appearance, demeanour and his arguments (or lack of them):

Barrett was an Irishman by birth, about 27 years of age, of a thickset, muscular figure, rather below the average height, and with a prepossessing countenance.  He was unmarried, and by trade a stevedore … His behaviour in prison was uniformly becoming, and he bore himself to the last with great fortitude, submitting himself at the same time with affectionate docility to the exhortations of his priest, and gratefully receiving the consolations of religion.  He was never unduly buoyed up by the efforts made out of doors to reverse his sentence, but rather welcomed the repeated respites as affording him further tile to prepare himself for the worst, should it come to that.  He died without making any confession of the crime of which he was convicted, so far as any of the authorities are informed.  What he may have said to his priest, if anything, in reference, to the murders may never be divulged…Yet there was a peculiarity about him, as observed lore than once by one of the authorities in his visits to him after sentence - that he never absolutely denied his guilt.  On those occasions, whenever he referred to the crime; he always said he had been convicted on insufficient evidence, and that he was not guilty of murder.22
Some of these observations appeared in other newspapers in exactly the same words.

Whilst Barrett suffered for his involvement, the object of the failed rescue bid, Burke, avoided the ultimate sanction.  He eventually feigned insanity in an atmosphere and in the context of actuality where Fenian prisoners were treated abysmally and where some did, indeed, lose their reason.  He was transferred to Broadmoor and then released in 1872, travelling to America where he pursued a number of engineering projects - hardly believeable for a supposed lunatic - and continued his efforts on behalf of the Fenians.23  This makes more poignant the newspaper comment adduced above and, again, as found in the Newbury Weekly News and the Salisbury Times (see below), in connection with the dupes of such persons …

It remains to set Barrett ballads in the context of others concerned with Fenian activity and to relate them all to those concerned with 'straightforward' murder.

It should first be re-emphasised that the circumstances, unlike those surrounding murder between sweethearts, between husbands and wives or as bewildering acts of violence which, unhappily, were frequent occurrences, those surrounding Michael Barrett's case were particularly rare: in effect, an attack against the state itself.  We have no long-term actual context nor long-term ballad production with which to surround Barrett ballads - nothing exactly pertinent save the Manchester affair.

Where the Manchester Fenians are concerned, we should be clear as to who was executed.  Three of the attacking Fenians were hanged - Allen, who, by all accounts, fired the shot that killed Sergeant Brett, Gould - an Irish-American whose name was really O'Brien … which led to both names being adopted in newspaper accounts and in ballads - and Larkin, apparently something of a victim, the only married man of the trio, a respectable workman currently down on his luck although active as a Fenian.  The executions were the first amongst Fenians for murder.

A Disley piece, with header block and prose introduction, is sympathetic in tone.24  The introduction notes that Allen, Gould and Larkin 'suffered the extreme penalty of the law'; how the men 'behaved in an exemplary fashion'; and how they maintained innocence 'and appeared to think themselves martyrs to a grand cause' - before they were 'launched into eternity'.  The ballad itself begins as follows:

You true friends of liberty, and sons of the Emerald Isle,
     Attend with an ear of sympathy to what I now relate…
- one might almost have suspected an Irish origin for the piece … The men:
To the scaffold were condemned we see through struggling for
     Of that poor unhappy country, the poor old shamrock shore.
The part that Irishmen had played in England's battle histories is underlined and the warm-hearted nature of Irish people pointed out:
Its but for their rights they crave, old Ireland's honour for to save,
     That has led to this calamity, for which we all deplore…
And, as in so many ballads of the '98, 'by treachery they were betrayed'.

Where is the man, the ballad asks, who would not have tried to liberate his countrymen?

These poor men they were taken, for whom many hearts are aching,
     For there is no one in reason, their conduct can well blame…
There is brief reference to the death of Sergeant Brett.  Spectators gathered to see the hangings.  God's mercy, as in the vast majority of murder ballads already considered, is enjoined.

It is an extraordinary ballad in its evident leaning towards the hanged men and their fate; and, whilst there are glimpses of convention in balladry here, it hardly fits the patterns of murder ballads as so far discussed in this series.  The circumstances have very obviously altered the parameters of construction and intent.

The same may be said of another Disley ballad, a Lamentation…25:

You all may remember the eighteenth of September
     When Manchester city was in an uproar,
When Kelly and Deasy was there liberated,
     Laid by Gould and Maguire, Allen, Larkin, and Shore;
For which they all five have been tried and convicted
     For the murder of Brett and condemned for to die
Witnesses swore against them and they were found
     Though each man his guilt did so strongly deny.
The piece is clearly pre-execution, discussing the sentence and the continuing pleas of innocence of the crime of murder.  The witnesses, the men declared, had spoken falsely but each prisoner was ready to die 'and be laid, in the cold clay deep and low'.  In what are now familiar terms as discovered in the previous pieces in this series the ballad notes the setting up of a scaffold 'so high' and is sure that 'There's one up above, it's the Saviour we love' who will determine true guilt or innocence and will 'pour down a blessing'.

A favourable look is cast on 'Erin, dear Erin' and on the deeds 'in battle, where cannons did rattle' of Irishmen who 'Fought like lions, and laid the enemy low'.  The ballad concludes:

Shed one tear of pity, in country and city,
     For Allen, Maguire, Gould, Larkin, and Shore.
This is the only ballad to mention Maguire and Shore, implicated but not hanged.

So far in Fenian balladry as exemplified above there is nowhere the degree of condemnation of murder as found in the two previous pieces in this series nor any reference to absence of pity in the mind of the perpetrator of crime, the way a murder might cause the blood to run cold, the inner torments of the murderers…

Instead, ballads take up the sympathetic strain noted above.  One, issued in Ireland and without a clear title, has a clumsily etched cross as header and then an outline as follows:

In your Charity, pray for the Souls of
W. P. Allen, M. O'Brien, M.
Who were Executed on Novem-
ber, the 23rd, 1867. May
They rest in Peace - Amen., (sic)26
The quasi-religious tone is maintained.  Nowhere is the deed described and nowhere is Brett mentioned.  The ballad concentrates on the imagery of martyrdom:
Each feeiing (sic) hearted Christian, of high and low degree
Inclind (sic) your heart to pity and listen unto me
Concerning those three young men was martyred in their gore
And from this sinful world, they're gone for ever more.
The reader is enjoined to pray for 'those three suffering victims', 'Martyrs', Irishmen who 'winged their way to heaven'.  'Dear Larkin' was snatched from his wife and children, leaving 'weeping orphans' (he addresses them directly) and says that 'We leave this sinful world all with our conscience clear'.  There is more on the certainty that the men will rest in heaven.  Then:
God save poor suffering Ireland, that's weeping in her chains
And send down heavenly blessings upon her fertile plains.
The men 'forgive our prosecutors'.  Once more it is stressed that the men will rest with 'our great Redeemer'.

The facts of the case are quite lost and we still know very little about the men except as convenient image.

Another Lamentation…from Ireland beginning in familiar conventional style, 'Good people all, both great and small…', admits 'the foul deed of murder', for which the men were condemned:

And pay the penalty of that crime upon the
               gallows high.27
The ballad emphasises the farewell between Larkin and his wife and children and goes on to recount how the 'Three young men all in their bloom' were 'sent into eternity'.  Of Allen it was written that his aged mother came to his cell and that he went on bended knee to crave her blessing.  A Father Gould also appeared in the cells (not to be confused) and to 'us' (a change of viewpoint) said -
Come take this blessed crucifix and with cou
               rage follow me
Ye are going to meet your merciful Lord who
               died on Calvary.
Unusually, the Marchioness of Queensbury is mentioned as having sent money for the relief of the families, a point lost in newspaper reportage but yet set out here after the fashion of journalistic detail.

Finally, another farewell is made and there is hope for the Lord's mercy.

Apart from a single mention of the shooting of Brett and the storming of the prison van there are no particulars of the case.  Nor are the lamentations issued directly from the men themselves.  As can be seen, the ballad relies on conventional phraseology - with a somewhat enhanced religiose tone - and in content is taken up with the fate of the men whilst in their cells

Lines on the Funeral Procession in Cork (1st December, 1867) turns the event into a martyr's panegyric.28  Allen, Gould (here named O'Brien) and Larkin are accorded the status of 'Irish heroes' who died 'upon a gallows tree'.  A chorus continues -

Now pray for the souls of those Martyrs,
     Who sleeps in a cold silent grave,
William Allen, O'Brian (sic), and Larkin,
     Whose hearts were most noble and brave.
The ballad, as might be expected judged by the title, concentrates on the procession and its importance in Cork where 'the brave men of Cork' and 'the ladies' all united…there were schoolboys, too; a temperance band playing the dead march; and representatives of tradesmen and young mens' associations.  The route is partly described, the names of the dead men involved once more, prayers are said and a health to the daughters of Erin called for; and, finally, a hope expressed that all may see Liberty come to those still in prison.

This is not properly a ballad concerned with the Manchester affair but does illustrate how news may be disseminated and assume a different character in differing circumstance.  The Irish viewpoint is marked.

Overall, this is as much of a framework for Barrett ballads as can be found.  Four such ballads, at least, can be identified.

Sentence of Death on Michael Barrett for the Clerkenwell Explosion is from Fortey29 and is particularly crudely fashioned, even in broadside terms.  It begins:

Throughout the kingdom, among high and low,
A great excitement has long been caused,
Of a dreadful crime - horrible to tell,
The fatal explosion at Clerkenwell.
There follows what might seem to have been a chorus (save that, at the end of the piece, a different two-line tag appears):
Out of the seven for the crime they die try,
One Michael Barrett is condemned to die.
The piece swipes at Patrick Mullany who:
To save himself, he evidence gave,
Which he his neck has saved.
Barrett's 'flight' to Glasgow (we recall that witnesses put him in Glasgow the day after the explosion), his apprehension there, his failed alibi and his continued denial of the crime, all feature, thus mirroring the course of newspaper reportage.  Nonetheless:
The jury said, when they did retire,
That Michael Barrett did the powder fire;
Convinced they were that he did the work,
To rescue two prisoners, Casey and Burke.
There is a moral conclusion in keeping with other gallows ballads even if there is but a vague connection to the particular case:
We hope all men will a warning take,
And long remember poor Barrett's fate:
We find if difficult throughout the land,
For man to even trust his fellow-men.
Finally, the two-line tag can be found:
A dreadful tale we'll have long to tell,
The fatal explosion at Clerkenwell.
Exactly: a 'tale'…At one point the ballad indicates that substance is a matter 'as we may read'.  This may be to admit that details were taken from existing accounts and it is a term that we have already found in other ballads surveyed. 30

The second piece, The Lamentation of Michael Barrett, has an ambience which might mark it down as an Irish product where Barrett, placed in company with Allen, Larkin and O'Brien, is found declaring that:

…I'd freely die a thousand deaths to free the Sham-
               rock shore.31
The second stanza gives a fuller flavour:
My name is Michael Barrett, and the same I'll never
It's true I struggled night and day to free the Sham-
               rock shore,
I love the land that gave me birth, and the sa[me I'll]
               never deny,
So it is for being an Irishmen I am condemned to die.
The piece goes on to record how Barrett”s parents 'rear'd me tenderly' (a common enough observation in all balladry), gave him 'education for the holy church of Rome' (a rare excursion), how he never expected ever to be hanged even though thousands fled oppression for America…the logic is somewhat tenuous.  Once more Mullany is vilified:
My curse attend you, Mullany, of men you are the
Against that perjur'd traitor, may the Lord look down
               on me…
One pauses to note again that, as in the case of ballads concerning the 1798 insurrection, betrayal is a strong feature … so much so that there is a faint suspicion of excuse hovering in the background.  This may sound presumptuous; and it is certainly not offered as justification for English oppression but in the particular case of Barrett the idea of betrayal may just have invited a disinclination to believe wholly in Barrett's guilt; and a potential for sympathy is emphasised in a case where a degree of sympathy for the man was already a background factor.

The final stanza sums up Barrett's feelings:

My lamentation to conclude and end my mournful song,
May every true bred Irishman unite before it's long,
And free old Ireland from her chains, ands away with
The Lord have mercy on my soul, I have no mor[e] to
These are not sentiments that we could expect from an English point of view.  The piece appeared alongside another entitled Answer to the Protestant Drum, a rapid and, maybe, partial history of religious divide…and although there is no imprint, it is almost without doubt that the piece was issued from Ireland.

A third ballad, The Lamentation and Last Farewell to the World of Michael Barrett, brings us back to England and Disley32 and is, like the first, a review seen through Barrett's eyes, and, like the first, anticipates the drop.  As far as can be ascertained (and as regularly reiterated in this series), no ballad featured the execution itself.  The piece is in first-person voice:

I'm now on the scaffold, dear Erin I leave you,
     For now on this earth I no longer must dwell,
For the explosion at Clerkenwell I'm doomed to leave you,
     To all my companions I now bid farewell…
The next line emphasises that Barrett is to be hanged because of a traitor, who is, of course, 'that villain Mullany'.

There is a chorus:

This world will not know what admission I stated,
     On the gallows at Newgate my life took away,
And after I'm gone when this tale is related,
     He died for his country the twenty-sixth of May.
It is noticeable how an element of patriotism is admitted; and there is an appeal to sentiment if not, indeed, sentimentality:
… With thoughts of my young days my bosom is swelling,
     You never will know what beats in this heart,
Alone in solitude, here I pass the swift hours,
     Oh, Erin's dear shamrock, the sweetest of flowers,
No more shall I see thy own dear native bowers,
     I am going for ever, farewell, for we part.
All Irishmen, in this vision, are represented by easily found images of youth and pleasure.  There must have been an awareness that such lines would evoke a touch of sympathy.

Barrett asks his God for forgiveness, indicates that his alibi has failed, bids adieu to his friends and notes that:

To death I'm condemned, for the great crime of murder,
     Whether guilty or innocent, time will reveal,
I die a felon's death, Erin I'd rather
     I could die like a man, there, my fate could not feel.
Finally, the clock strikes eight, Calcraft, the hangman, approaches, and Barrett is set 'for that great vale, Eternity':
Farewell, God forgive me, the past is here rolling,
     'Tis done, Michael Barrett from this world has gone.
In this ballad more of the conventions of gallows balladry as discussed previously are evident: the appearance of the hangman, the reference to God and his mercy, for instance….  In none of the three ballads considered so far, though, are details of the explosion and its consequences amongst the populace given.  Each concentrates on the mind of Michael Barrett.  Always one of the salient features is that of betrayal as noted above.  These are tricks of the ballad-writer's armoury.

A fourth ballad, inclusive of a prose account,33 is unusual in the group in that its subtitle proclaims Barrett as one:

Who was executed this morning at the Old Bailey, for the wilful murder of Sarah Ann Hodgkinson, one of the sufferers at the Clerkenwell explosion.
So a direct link between deed and consequence is established - although the name of the victim - also given in Sentence of Death … above, is not that associated with the explosion as reported in The Times, as we have seen.  On the other hand, despite the connection between deed and consequence, Barrett, in a prose preliminary, is described as being 'unfortunate'

There is one other point.  Despite efforts to reprieve him, 'it was a noticeable fact that he never attempted to declare his innocence', an observation also made in The Times and noted above.  The doubt offers intrigue even though one might be inclined, like The Times, to suspect procrastination.

In printed form, the prose account - doing duty, in a few brief details, as description of the execution and as introduction and inclusive of a copy of the verses - follows in the particular line discussed in previous pieces in this series, a kind of broadside visually different to single sheet issues and probably put out, like newspaper reports, as running commentary.34

The ballad itself turns, once more, on Barrett's self-examination.  It begins:

Adieu, vain world, I now must leave you,
     Here I cannot longer dwell,
I have been tried, and I am sentenced
     To die for the deed in Clerkenwell;
Oh! That dreadful sad explosion,
     Which did so much destruction cause,
Brought me to the tree at Newgate,
     My sufferings sure no one knows.

I must leave this world of sorrow,
     On earth I lust no longer dwell,
Sentenced to be hanged for murder,
     For the sad affair in Clerkenwell.
At once we see that the world, as in the case of Tawell, is not seen as a happy place even before murder is committed (we recall the 'sinful world' as expressed in the Irish ballad on the Manchester Fenians above).  There is also here an acknowledgement of sorts of the infliction of suffering, the first time in this group of ballads, and following the link between deed and consequence:
Oh! that dreadful sad explosion,
Which did so much destruction cause…
Then the piece goes on to recall Barrett's love of his native land until:
Oh, yes, my own dear native Erin,
     Behold me on the fatal tree,
A miserable malefactor,
     In a murderer's grave I soon shall be…
and then:
A traitor did swear hard against me,
     A wretch, Mullany known by name…
Barrett laments that he was the only one of the prisoners to have been convicted, that he had been twice respited (whilst his alibi was checked out) and that some 'thousands' believed him innocent.  These details are more explicit than any on the other three ballads cited above and they mirror the tenor and detail of newspaper accounts.

At length, Barrett bids farewell and then, as in the previous ballad where Calcraft is named:

I see the hangman now before me,
     Standing on the fatal drop,
In the prime of life and vigour,
     Hard is Michael Barrett's lot…
The vision of the hangman is one encountered in ballads already discussed in this series.35  There is a last adieu to the world and especially to Erin - but, unlike in the other three ballads cited here, no appeal for mercy.

This piece, then, is quite different in make-up to the other three although in its essentials, it is still a piece which depends on the supposed state of Barrett's mind - which, strictly, is an imaginative assumption.  Clearly, then, such a ballad was not meant to recount exactly but to select features which would remain in the memory.  This reinforces the notion, expressed in previous pieces, that printers were, it seems, relying not just on form and content in ballad construction but on accepted convention in terms of past-time and social communication amongst a public…the possibility that text would be taken up as song

Interestingly, just as in the case of Constance Kent, a ballad can be found which does not appear to have equivalence in our usual printers' stock of balladry - as exemplified in the Bodleian Allegro archive and Steve Roud's database.  In the Newbury Weekly News there is an extensive report which, as in other newspapers, includes extracts from The Times and The Express but which also includes the following paragraph and a 'Copy of Verses'.36  At the execution itself:

There were the usual street preachers present, whose words, however, fell unheeded; and all the usual accompaniments of the mob generally congregating about the scaffold; and the moment the crowd began to disperse, the “Catch-phrases,” with the utmost zeal, commenced bawling out in all directions, “The last dying speech,” which, although printed previous to the execution, described the last moments of the unhappy culprit with the seeming minuteness of an eye-witness…
It is noticeable that the report is confident that the ballad (or account) was written beforehand and, certainly, the absence of specific detail of the occasion in the ballad itself might serve to reinforce such a suspicion.  The piece, as did the others cited above, with a degree of licence, examines Barrett's state of mind.  It is described as 'doggerel' and 'could not be fairly ascribed to the pen of the Poet Laureate':
My time has come, my hour's approaching,
     The awful moment I must die,
To leave a world of grief and sorrow,
     Death for its victim now doth cry…
There is a chorus, with a change of viewpoint:
Poor Barrett's gone to his final home,
     Let us hope he will be at peace on high,
At the eleventh hour God give us pardon,
     For murder he was doomed to die.
We cannot help but notice a certain tinge of sympathy - not least, perhaps, in the words 'poor Barrett' and the suggestion that he might go to Heaven.

The ballad continues with mention of 'informers', the failure of an alibi, and a question as to how Barrett's friends must have been feeling; but then, without mentioning the name, in a clear reference to Mullany the approver (and his like), which echoes Barrett's complaint as expressed in his own letter quoted above, there are the following lines:

Keep us all from such temptation,
     From all approvers let us flee,
Gold is the root of all our troubles,
     Gold sets for us our destiny.
It is also granted of Barrett that 'For your country's wrong you strove the best' (is this also an implicit admittance of English oppression?) and the piece concludes with Barrett praying for 'mercy from on high' and a blessing on all he leaves behind:
So ends the fatal day of sorrow,
     So ends the deed of Clerkenwell.
One other aspect of the Newbury Weekly News report - that is: excepting the ballad itself - can be considered:
It may … be stated that the result of further information that has been obtained by the authorities since the trial leaves no doubt that the man, Burke was the prime mover in the Clerkenwell affair, and that it was he who projected in the first instance, the diabolical project of blowing up the wall of the prison, regardless of the consequences; but, as too frequently happens, the principals escape with comparatively light punishment, while their unhappy dupes are consigned to the scaffold.
The Times report on Barrett, disturbed that only one person involved paid for his crime, is recalled. This whole sequence of report and ballad can also be found also in the pages of the Salisbury Times where specific extracts were quoted from The Times and The Globe. 37

There is no need to recapitulate the general tenor of Barrett ballads nor yet those on the other Fenians cited.  We can say that some features of gallows balladry as already discussed in previous pieces make their appearance, providing testimony of the conservative and conventional methods adopted to construct ballads and how they could be adapted to various subjects.  But the whole Barrett episode appears to lie at a tangent to 'true' murder ballads.  Perhaps it was because the facts of any one incident are but a peg upon which to hang imaginings and this must underline a tendency amongst ballad printers to assume - apparently - that their audience would not be content with unvarnished account; and even if the ballads offer 'news' the word 'sensationalism' springs to mind.  It is most noticeable in Barrett ballads that there is scant reference to body count or wounding and both the press and ballad-makers needed to express feelings in other ways - in this case with suggested sympathy and, certainly, emphasising quasi-religious aspects.  Perhaps the shock of the crimes themselves, unusual in a world where murder was an everyday occurrence, was sufficient for impact.  In England, it may be added, no trace of such ballads remained to discover in song form

Finally, it is worth noting that, according to the Newbury Weekly News and the Salisbury Times, a ballad was on sale at the time of Barrett's execution: another ant-like fragment in the process of putting together detail of dissemination.

Roly Brown - 8.7.05
Oradour sur Vayres, France


Article MT158

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