The crowd of 9,000 who came to watch the last public execution in Belfast, on Wednesday, April 8th, 1863, remained deadly silent until the trap-door opened. Then, as one, they emitted a terrible scream, after which silence returned.
The victim was Daniel Ward, 30, a carpenter, hanged for the murder the previous year of his friend Charles Wilgar. The two men were walking along the banks of the Lagan near Shaws Bridge, Ballylesson, in south Belfast, when Ward surreptiously took a stone wrapped in a handkerchief from his pocket and, using it as a sling, rained blows on his friends head. As Wilgar lay dying Ward removed his wallet from his victims pocket.
When Wilgars body was found, the murder weapon, still wrapped in the handkerchief, was lying beside it.
The evidence against Ward was circumstantial, and he vehemently denied any involvement. But when the jury found him guilty he confessed to the murder.
No one is sure who hanged Daniel Ward. Some say he was a local man named Smyth who was believed to be a prisoner in Belfast Gaol; other reports say he was someone else and was masked to hide his real identity.