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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: April

April 21st
James Rush – Norwich

Jealousy and lust were inextricably mixed in the mind of James Rush whenever his mind turned to Stanfield Hall, owned by the local squire, Isaac Jermy.
Rush leased a couple of farms from Jermy and, heavily in debt, rent day was an event he dreaded. He decided to wipe out all the family living at the Hall and lay the blame on two Jermy dissidents, Thomas Jermy and John Larner, who both disputed Isaac’s claim to the Hall.
On the evening of November 28th, 1848, he donned a wig and cloak disguise, went to the Hall, and shot dead Isaac, his son and a servant, and wounded several other people.
Satisfied he wasn’t recognised and that he’d got away with murder, he rode back home to Potash Farm and his mistress’s bed. But as he snuggled under the blankets he was unaware that two of the servants at the Hall had seen through his disguise and had called the police. They arrived at dawn to arrest him.
“Don’t try to shoot,” they warned. “We are all armed.”
Rush was brought to trial at Norfolk Assizes in March, 1849, where one of the servants, Eliza Chastney, who had been maimed by one of his shots, was brought into court on a covered stretcher and pointed an accusing finger at him. “That’s the man who shot me,” she declared. “I know of no one else like him.”
Rush, who conducted his own defence, resorted to desperate methods, haranguing witnesses, including his own mistress, Emily Sandford, whom he cross-examined venomously for 12 hours. He failed to shake her damning evidence that he was away from Potash Farm for the crucial two hours from 7.30 to 9.30 when he was wreaking vengeance against the Jermys.
He then made an extraordinary 14-hour speech without stopping, repeatedly proclaiming his innocence and appealing dramatically to the Almighty for justice. At the end of it, the prosecuting counsel said wearily: “The present trial has exceeded in the annals of judicial long-suffering anything that has ever been experienced.”
The jury took only 10 minutes to find Rush guilty. He was hanged outside Norwich Castle on Saturday, April 21st, 1849, before a crowd of 30,000. As executioner William Calcraft tied the noose Rush grumbled: “Put the thing a little higher. Take your time. Don’t be in a hurr–” The drop cut short his last words.

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