William Lees was executed outside Newgate Prison on Monday 16 December 1839 for the murder of his wife Elizabeth. On the morning of the murder both Lees and his wife were described as ‘tipsy’, and had quarrelled about a gown belonging to Elizabeth that William had recently pawned. During the argument William snatched a bottle and threw it at Elizabeth’s head, hurting her badly and raising her temper further. After receiving further verbal attacks from his wife William Lees became (in his own words) ‘irritated to madness by her language’, grabbed a razor and cut her throat, later hitting her face with a poker as a final measure.
Broadsides such as this were pre-printed in their thousands before an execution took place and on a hanging day were sold around the foot of the gallows for only a penny or so. Details of the execution itself were therefore often fabricated as they were written before the event took place. According to the Times, broadside sellers crying the ‘Last Dying Speech’ of Lees were on sale well before he even mounted the gallows, a fact which caused ‘a hearty laugh at the oddity of such an announcement’ among the spectators.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- The novel 1832 - 1880, Crime and crime fiction
Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.