The Last Men Executed for Sodomy in England, 1835
NOTE: See the full transcript of the Trial of James Pratt and John Smith.
Trial at the Old Bailey
Third Jury, before Mr. Baron Gurney.
Case No. 1934. JOHN SMITH and JAMES PRATT were indicted for buggery at the parish of Christ Church, Surrey; and WILLIAM BONILL was indicted as an accessory before the fact.
SMITH GUILTY. DEATH. Aged 40.
PRATT GUILTY. DEATH. Aged 30.
BONILL GUILTY. Aged 68. Transported for Fourteen Years.
(Proceedings of the Central Criminal Court, 21 September 1835, Eleventh Session, pp. 7289.)
Monday 23 November 1835
On Saturday the Recorder made his report to his Majesty, at Brighton, of the undermentioned capital convicts under sentence of death in Newgate, convicted at the September and October sessions of the Central Criminal Court: . . . Robert Swan, 28; for robbery. John Smith, 49, and James Pratt, 30, for an unnatural crime. . . . to all of whom his Majesty has extended his royal mercy, except John Smith and James Pratt, who are left for execution on Friday next. (London Standard)
Saturday 28 November 1835
THE RECORDER'S REPORT On Friday the Recorder made his Report to his Majesty in Council at Brighton, of the prisoners who were capitally convicted at the September and October Sessions of the Central Criminal Court: viz James Pratt and John Smith, for a nameless offence, committed in the borough of Southwark; Robert Swan, for extorting money from Thomas Reynolds, a Quaker, under a threat of accusing him of a nameless offence; R. Lavender, D. Ward, B. Vines, M. Collins, J. Coleman, and M. Harris, for burglary; . . . [and others] all of whom his Majesty was graciously pleased to respite, except James Pratt and John Smith, upon whom the law is left to take its course, and who were ordered for execution yesterday. The Council were in deliberation a considerable time on the case of Robert Swan, and did not break up until half-past eight o'clock in the evening. The Recorder came immediately to town by post, and made known the result of the Council to the Governor of Newgate, who lost no time in communicating it to the convicts whose cases had been reported. (Huntingdon, Bedford & Peterborough Gazette; virtually the same report appeared in the Derby Mercury for 25 Nov. 1835, the Manchester Courier for 29 Nov. 1835, and many others)
Charles Dickens, in his essay "A Visit to Newgate" published in Sketches by Boz in 1836, describes his visit to the press-room of the condemned ward of Newgate where he saw Pratt and Smith awaiting their execution, together with Joseph Swan who would eventually be transported rather than executed (for extortion involving the threat to swear sodomy against someone see Newspaper Reports for 1835). All three men were kept separate from the other condemned men becasue of the sodomitical nature of their offences, and Swann also distanced himself from Pratt and Smith because he was a blackmailer of sodomites rather than a sodomite himself.
In the press-room below, were three men, the nature of whose offence rendered it necessary to separate them, even from their companions in guilt. It is a long, sombre room, with two windows sunk into the stone wall, and here the wretched men are pinioned on the morning of their execution, before moving towards the scaffold. The fate of one of these prisoners [Swan] was uncertain; some mitigatory circumstances having come to light since his trial, which had been humanely represented in the proper quarter. The other two [Pratt and Smith] had nothing to expect from the mercy of the crown; their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world. 'The two short ones,' the turnkey whispered, 'were dead men.'
The man to whom we have alluded as entertaining some hopes of escape [i.e. Swan], was lounging, at the greatest distance he could place between himself and his companions, in the window nearest to the door. He was probably aware of our approach, and had assumed an air of courageous indifference; his face was purposely averted towards the window, and he stirred not an inch while we were present. The other two men were at the upper end of the room. One of them [probably Smith], who was imperfectly seen in the dim light, had his back towards us, and was stooping over the fire, with his right arm on the mantel-piece, and his head sunk upon it. The other [probably Pratt] was leaning on the sill of the farthest window. The light fell full upon him, and communicated to his pale, haggard face, and disordered hair, an appearance which, at that distance, was ghastly. His cheek rested upon his hand; and, with his face a little raised, and his eyes wildly staring before him, he seemed to be unconsciously intent on counting the chinks in the opposite wall. We passed this room again afterwards. The first man [i.e. Swan] was pacing up and down the court with a firm military step he had been a soldier in the foot-guards and a cloth cap jauntily thrown on one side of his head. He bowed respectfully to our conductor, and the salute was returned. The other two still remained in the positions we have described, and were as motionless as statues.
Saturday 28 November 1835
Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September Sessions of the Central Criminal Court of a capital offence. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o'clock, and immediately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer with the Rev. Mr. Cotton, the chaplain of the gaol, and Mr. Baker. Both the culprits appeared in a very weak state, and when eight o'clock arrived, the hour of execution, it was found necessary almost to carry them from their cell to the press room. Pratt, especially, appeared dreadfull weak and dejected. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer dreadfully. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was pinioning he repeatedly exclaimed, "Oh God, this is horrible, this is indeed horrible." He at this time was so weak that the executioner's assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed the melancholy procession proceeded to the scaffold, and in the room leading from the debtors' door, as it is called, the ceremony of delivering up the prisoners to the Sheriffs of Middlesex was performed by Mr. Cope, the Governor of Newgate. Smith was the first who ascended the scaffold, and immediately afterwards Pratt was also assisted up the seps and placed under a beam. The moment the culprits were perceived they were received with groans and hisses, which lasted during the whole of the time the hangman was making the necessary preparations. These having been performed the bolt was drawn, and after a very short struggle the culprits ceased to exist. Pratt was a married man, the other culprit was single. (Morning Post)
Sunday 29 November 1835
EXECUTION. On Friday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged thirty-two, and John Smith, aged thirty-four, who were convicted at the September session of the Central Criminal Cour, of an unnatural offence. There were very few persons present at the execution. Both the wretched men to the last moment denied their guilt; they were convicted on the testimony of their landlady. The soldier, Swan, has been respited. (The Examiner)
Monday 30 November 1835
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 23.
Brighton, Sunday. On Friday, his Majesty held a Privy Council, at which the Recorder attended, when two miserable convicts, John Smith and James Pratt, was ordered for execution on Friday next. In the evening, the Ministers and a large party dined with their Majesties. This morning, their Majesties attended Divine Service in the Palace chapel. In the afternoon, the Queen attended at St. George's chapel. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)
Monday 30 November 1835
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.
The two wretched culprits, James Pratt and John Smith, suffered the last penalty of the law yesterday morning in front of Newgate. (Salisbury and Winchester Journal)
Wednesday 2 December 1835
LONDON, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 28.
EXECUTION. Yesterday morning, at the usual hour, the sentence of the law was carried into effect upon James Pratt, aged 32, and John Smith, aged 34, who were convicted at the September sessions of the Central Criminal Court, of an unnatural offence. Thursday night Pratt was visited by a respectable Dissenting Minister. The Rev. gentleman exhorted him to repentance, and he confessed his guilt. The Sheriffs arrived at Newgate about half-past seven o'clock yesterday morning, and immiedately proceeded to visit the prisoners, whom they found engaged in prayer. While Smith was being pinioned, Pratt appeared to suffer horribly. His groans resounded through the prison, and while he was being pinioned he repeatedly exclaimed "Oh, God, this is horrible; this is indeed horrible!" He at this time was so weak that the executioner's assistants found it necessary to hold him in their arms, to prevent him from falling to the ground. All the preparations having been completed, the melancholy procession proceeded towards the scaffold, which was first ascended by Smith with a firm step, but his companion needed support to the last moment. The executioner with amazing celerity adjusted the ropes, and cause the plank to fall which closed the world upon them. The crowd was excessive, but exceedingly decorous. (Hereford Journal)
SOURCE: Various newspapers, dates as given.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Last Men Executed for Sodomy in England, 1835",
Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 12 September 2014