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Executions were often advertised or reported in broadsides such as this one, which describes the crimes and confession of a twelve year old boy. Found guilty of petty theft and murder, the boy was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in 1829. After a lengthy account of the boy's crime, the broadside states 'we hope the dreadful example of this wretched youth may produce a lasting warning to the world at large.'
Most punishments during this period were held in public. Executions were shocking occasions, designed to frighten onlookers into a crime-free life. Prisoners were executed in front of noisy, riotous audiences, and many hangings were more like fairs than solemn legal ceremonies. Other hangings, by contrast, were sombre, accompanied by deep mourning and widespread sympathy for the condemned. White doves were sometimes released by the spectators as a symbol of their sorrow, and executions were accompanied by a hushed silence as the frightening moment of death arrived.
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Execution of a 12 year old boy
The Dreadful Life and CONFESSION of a BOY Aged Twelve Years,
Who was Condemn'd to Die at last Old Bailey Sessions
With horror we attempt to relate the progress of evil, generally prevailing among children, through the corrupt example of wicked parents: though we are constrained to confess that many a child through bad company, wickedly follow the dictates of their own will, and often bring the hoary heads of honest parents with sorrow to the grave. The errors of a guilty conscience crieth to heaven for vengeance against such wretched parents as belonged to T. King, who after eloping from their native place took obscure lodgings in East Smithfields, where they harboured the vilest characters & wickedly encouraged the only son in lying, stealing &c. At the age of 7 years the parish humanely bound him an apprentice but his wickedness soon caused his master to discharge him - He was afterwards bound to a chimney-sweeper in the Borough, who soon repented having taken him, for he plundered every place that he was sent to work at, for which not only correction but imprisonment ensued. His master being an honest man brought him twice back with some property he had stolen which obtained him pardon, and prevented him from being transported.
Lastly, his parents made him desert from his master, and bound him to a gang of thieves who sent him down the chimney of a jeweller in Swallow-st., where he artfully unbolted the shop window, out of which his companions cut a pane of glass, and he handed a considerable quantity of articles to them; but the noise he made alarmed the family, and he was taken into custody, but the others escaped.
He was tried at last Old Bailey Sessions, found Guilty, and sentenced to die in the 12th year of his age. After his sentence the confession he made struck those around him with horror, stating the particulars of several murders and robberies. We hope the dreadful example of this wretched youth may produce a lasting warning to the world at large.
A COPY OF VERSES.
Give ear ye tender mothers dear,
And when this tale you read.
Of a little boy of twelve years old,
'twill make your hearts to bleed
Condemn'd of late for shocking crimes,
Through his parent's deeds you see,
You'll weep and cry, to see him die,
Upon the gallows tree.
When he was sentenced at the bar,
The Court was drown'd in tears,
To see a child so soon cut off
All in his infant years.
His mother mad with piercing cries
And tearing her hair she went,
In Bedlam's chains she now remains,
And his father's to prison sent.
The hardest heart would melt with grief,
To hear this boy's sad moan.
At the bar he begg'd and pray'd for life
When his sentence was made known.
To pick pockets at fair he then declar'd
His parents made him comply
And to join a cruel mob, to murder and rob,
For which he is forced to die.
What must such wretched parents think
Who train their children so.
To lead their offspring to the brink
Of everlasting woe
Their hearts must be more hard than steel
And deaf to nature's ties.
To plunge their children in such guilt,
And hear their piercing cries.
Each heart humane will feel with pain,
This poor boy's piteous case.
His shameless parents did him bring
Into this horrid place.
Crept like a flower before its time,
Which trodden down does lie,
He's doom'd all in his blooming prime,
A shameful death to die.
Be warn'd my little children dear,
By this poor boy's downfall,
Keep from dishonest courses clear
And GOD will bless you all.
O think of this poor little boy,
Lament his woeful state.
Condemn'd to die on a gallows high,
How dreadful is his fate.