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Victorian Hangings

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From 1837 to 1901 Queen Victoria presided over the world’s biggest empire – and during her 64-year reign approximately 1,100 judicial hangings were carried out in Great Britain and Ireland. Here we present a month-by-month calendar of the fascinating stories behind some of them, set frequently against a background of dire poverty, short trials and public executions...

Victorian Hangings: January

January 20th
William Sheehan – Cork

There was a nasty smell in the water supply at Castletownroche in County Cork and officials went to check it out. Peering down the well at a local farm they found the source of the problem – the remains of three bodies, all from the same family, rotting in the water.
Incredibly, the trio had been killed eight years previously, on October 22nd, 1877. At that time the Sheehan family, owners of the farm, were about to emigrate to New Zealand when William Sheehan got into a blazing row with his brother Thomas over the division of the land, and beat him to death with a plough in an outbuilding.
When his mother Catherine and sister Hannah arrived to find out what the commotion was all about, Sheehan strangled them both and threw all three bodies down the well.
Sheehan then went off to New Zealand alone, but eight years later, when the bodies were discovered, he was brought back to Ireland. The Crown alleged that his brother-in-law David Browne, who was also charged with the murders, had aided him.
Browne, tried separately, was acquitted, while Sheehan was found guilty after a two-day trial. On Wednesday, January 20th, 1886, just before he was hanged, he admitted his guilt and reiterated that Browne was completely innocent.

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