Last Mile Tours

Sponsored by:
The Newgate Prison Death Row Education Society

Welcome, Welcome, Welcome! We here at the Newgate Prison Death Row Education Society (NPDRES) are very pleased that you've come. This tour will introduce you to some of our inmates who've been sentenced to death, usually by hanging, in England during the 18th century. You may be interested to know that the words you read before entering the prison were the same words that the criminals heard when the judges handed down their death sentences [1]. As we visit each inmate, you will learn about the types of crimes they have committed that have earned them their places on Death Row. After visiting this sample of criminals, you will understand more about the English system of capital punishment in the eighteenth century, referred to as the Bloody Code.

Enjoy the tour, and please do not stick your hands through the bars.

We'll stop here for a moment, just outside the doors to Death Row. I'd like to prepare you before we go in, give you some background as to how we do things around here. You'll be meeting a few of our inmates and hearing a lot about the laws that put those inmates into our custody here at Newgate, but you should probably know some of the basics first.

Capital punishment is "the infliction of the penalty of death for a crime under the sentence properly constituted authority" [2]. In eighteenth-century English law, the idea of a felony is so generally connected with that of capital punishment,

"that we find it hard to separate them; and to this usage the interpretations of the law do now conform. And therefore if a statute makes any new offense felony, the law implies that it shall be punished with death, viz., by hanging as well as forfeiture: unless the offender prays the benefit of clergy; which all felons are entitled once to have, provided the same is not expressly taken away by statue" [3].

The Bloody Code, by 1795, will include over two hundred felonies that are punishable by execution. They are not only such crimes as treason, arson, murder, and rape, but also burglary, robbery, animal theft, the concealment of effects by bankrupts, and the malicious maiming of cattle.[4]

At the end of the 18th century, the criminal law of England will be ferocious and inconsistent in its administration of capital punishment for many crimes; and because of poverty, social conditions, and the inefficiency of the police, such forms of crime will be incredibly numerous. Indeed, English law is brutal and intense; however, the policy and righteousness of the English law are questioned as early as 1766 by Oliver Goldsmith through the mouth of the Vicar of Wakefield:

"Nor can I avoid even questioning the validity of that right which social combinations have assumed of capitally punishing offenses of a slight nature. In cases of murder their right is obvious, as it is the duty of us all from the law of self-defense to cut off that man who has shown a disregard the life of another. Against such nature rises in arms; but it is not so against him who steals my property." He adds later: "When by indiscriminate penal laws the nation beholds the same punishment affixed to dissimilar degrees of guilt, the people are led to lose all sense of distinction in the crime and this distinction is the bulwark of all morality"[5].

By 1911, though, the Bloody Code will be abolished and only murder, high treason, piracy with violence, and destruction of pulic arsenals and dockyards will be considered capital crimes [6] [7].

The legislators have decided that because only a minute proportion of criminals can be arrested, they must wreak a punishment so terrible on those that are convicted so as to deter others from taking up a life of crime. Also, it is taken into account that less than sixty per cent of those sentenced to death will be actually executed and, in many areas of England, one third is a more appropriate figure.[8]

It is, of course, possible to appeal to the King, through the Secretary of State for a reprieve. Here in Newgate, there are often ten to fifteen inmates waiting to hear if their death sentences will be carried out or not. The answer to that question is usually brought to them by our Ordinary (the chaplain).[9] We'll get to talk more about pardons and reprieves later on in the tour, though.


Edmund Tooll   Eugene Aram   Jack Sheppard  

James Sheppard   Sir Thomas Sandy   Alice Gray

  James Goodman  Captain Clark   Pardons And Other Ways Out

Annotated Bibliography   Contributors

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