A 26-year-old Irishman was hanged on Tuesday, August 27th, 1861, in Chester City Prison for a crime that wasn’t a capital offence.

On August 6th that year a new Act became law in England, Wales and Ireland, abolishing capital punishment for all crimes except murder. The reason why Martin Doyle was hanged three weeks later was that although his crime was attempted murder, both the crime and the indictment took place before the law was changed. So although attempted murder was no longer a capital offence, Doyle was legally hanged.

The attempted murder came about when on May 30th, 1861, Doyle went for a walk in Cheshire with his girl friend, Mrs. Brogine, a married woman. She told him she would have to leave him if he didn’t soon find work, and he became truculent. They sheltered under a tree when it began to rain and Mrs. Brogine went to sleep. She woke up when Doyle began attacking her with a large stone. He jumped up and down on her chest, tried to strangle her and attempted to pull out her tongue.

“You shan’t leave me!” he shouted. “I’ll have your life!” At that point a man with a pony and trap came by and rescued Mrs. Brogine.

Doyle defended himself at his trial at Chester Assizes. He told the jury that Mrs. Brogine had syphilis. While this was true, it was established only after the assault, and Doyle himself had no sexually transmitted diseases.

There was astonishment in court when Mr. Justice Crompton passed the death sentence. No one imagined that the sentence would be carried out, but all subsequent petitions to the Home Office were ignored, and the Home Secretary insisted there would be no reprieve. When he went to the scaffold Martin Doyle became the last person to be hanged for attempted murder.