Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 22, 1864 --- The Flowery Land Mutineers

The streets near Newgate Prison - from Ludgate to Smithfield - are packed with 20,000 people; the London mob drawn to the first mass hanging in half a century. In the apocalyptic prose of The Daily News, the grim "entertainment" of the day produces "an open expression of abandoned depravity and rampant sin [which] has probably not been exceeded since the world began."

Five men, 4 Filipinos and a Turk, will swing for a brutal mutiny aboard the Flowery Land. Capt. John Smith had sailed for Singapore out of London in July. His crew of 19 was almost entirely foreign. Although Smith was supposedly a reasonable master, there was trouble from the outset, Six weeks out, in the waters off Brazil, and fortified with wine looted from the hold, several of the men mutinied. They murdered and savaged the bodies of the only three Englishmen aboard: the Captain, his brother and the first mate. The second mate, the only experienced sailor left, was ordered to head for Buenos Aires. Off Montevideo, the Flowery Land was scuttled. The Chinese cook and cabin boy were left to go down with the ship, the steward was thrown into the sea.

Once ashore, Taffir, the surviving mate escaped from the mutineers and told his horrible story, repeating it at the Old Bailey. 7 men were condemned, two of those respited. The five men march to the gallows, passing their freshly dug waiting graves. Marwood, the legendary Victorian hangman (left), has prepared the ropes.  The raucous crowd falls briefly silent, quiet enough for The Times to report "the gibbet creaked audibly, for the five murderers hung dying side by side."

While no one wept for the condemned, the bloodthirsty crowd disquieted many. The Standard commented, "Vice and crime were holding their Saturnalia, while Folly looked on from dear-bought seats in adjacent windows." The latter a comment on those gentry who paid £75 for a private viewing. The Home Secretary rejected a call for an end to public executions. Sir George Grey conceded that the behavior of some in the crowd may have been, in his word, "revolting," but overall such events do serve a public good.  He told the House of Commons that many of the onlookers "left with impressions that may be salutary." The Times agreed, "It is but natural that a more ... horrible crime than usual should be followed by a more horrible punishment than usual."

Nonetheless, by 1868, Parliament banned public hangings.

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