A press report described it as “one of those dreadful spectacles” when William Boulsfield, 34, was executed outside Newgate Prison on Monday, MARCH 31st, 1856. The report was not referring to the execution, but to the manner of it.

Boulsfield was placed in a chair with a white cap over his head, but the drop was too short and four times the hangman, William Calcraft, his assistants and prison officers had to force him down the drop to hang him.

Boulsfield was sentenced to death for the apparently motiveless murder of his wife Sarah, 28, and their three children, Eliza, 4, Annie, 6, and eight-month-old John. He cut the throats of all of them with a razor. In the death cell he threw himself on to a coal fire and was so badly burned that he was unable to walk to the scaffold.