Henry Ducker (not Tucker as mistakenly reported in this murder broadside), was a soldier of the Coldstream Guards. On the afternoon of 4 February 1848 Ducker left St James’s Park barracks and walked a short distance along Birdcage Walk towards the Royal Palace. Here he was suddenly confronted by Annette Meyers, a French woman in her early twenties with whom Ducker had been conducting an affair. Meyers produced a hidden pistol and aimed it squarely at Ducker’s head. A shot rang out and Ducker dropped dead to the floor.
Meyers’s murder of Ducker in 1848 is noteworthy for the groundswell of public sympathy that it evoked. After several eye-witnesses testified to her guilt, the presiding judge at her Old Bailey trial had no option but to pass a sentence of death on her. Meyers, though, had been ill-used by Ducker, who repeatedly borrowed money from her in return for a promise of marriage, only to be later cast-aside. For weeks after the sentence a formal campaign was orchestrated in the pages of The Times to petition for her release. An appeal was also sent to the Home Secretary by organisations campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment. Meyers sentence was eventually commuted to imprisonment on 12 March 1848.
During the 19th century, gruesome murders and public executions were often reported in printed sheets such as the one displayed here. Known as ‘broadsides’ or ‘street literature’, they were sold by street peddlers, and purchased to paste on to walls or to read (or sing) aloud to others. Execution broadsides were produced on cheap paper and illustrated with crude woodcuts. They typically included an account of the crime committed, the conviction and punishment of the criminal, an illustration of the hanged offender and, often, a ballad or moralising hymn. Images of the gallows were frequently re-used, the printers filling in the appropriate number of dangling bodies depending on the number of criminals hanged. These macabre sources are a reminder of the sensationalism surrounding crime in this period. Public executions were still seen as a form of entertainment, often attracting crowds of thousands.