COTTON, Horace Salusbury.
Convicts executed since the Year 1812 (inclusive) at Newgate.
Manuscript record kept by the Rev. H. S. Cotton, Ordinary of Newgate.
Remarkable personal, and therefore illicit, record of the executions overseen by Cotton, the Ordinary, or Chaplain, of Newgate during his incumbency, 1814 to 1839. He notes the dates of execution, the names of the executed, and their crimes, occasionally noting some off the more interesting particulars. Cotton developed quite a reputation during his lengthy period at the gaol; Bleackley in his Hangmen of England describes him as; ” a robust, rosy, well-fed, unctuous individual, whose …condemned sermons were more terrific than any of his predecessors, and he was censured by the authorities for ‘harrowing the prisoner’s feelings unnecessarily’ in the case of Henry Fauntleroy, the banker.” (p.262) Fauntleroy, who was executed for forgery, was one of the many notable criminals recorded here who were on the receiving end of Cotton’s characteristic ministrations. On the very first page is John Bellingham, who Cotton notes “shot Mr. Percival the Prime Minister, in the Lobby of the House of Commons,” Spencer Percival is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated; in 1815 Cotton officiated at the execution of Eliza Fenning, a servant found guilty of attempting to poison her master’s family with arsenic, and remarks that “[her] case excited almost as much interest as Elizabeth Canning’s & Squires many years ago,” she was hanged alongside Abraham Adams, convicted of the “unnatural crime” of sodomy, and William Henry Oldfield, who had raped a 9-year-old girl; in 1820 Cotton attended the Cato Street conspirators, the last case of hanging and beheading in the England, “They were decapitated after being hung – and buried in the prison in their cloathes [sic.] – Davidson was a black man.” Aside from these high-profile cases, Cotton offers some interesting insights into the more macabre or bizarre side of nineteenth-century penal history. For example, John Ashton, convicted of Highway robbery who “sprung up on the scaffold after he was turned off and distinctly cried out ‘Am I not Lord Wellington!’ he was pushed off again by the Executioner,” and Joseph Martin, executed for the same crime in 1821 who “was a Jew & had but one leg.” At the rear Cotton has added a note that explains how in 1836 he had been asked by the new Sheriffs whether he “kept any other Journal relating to Newgate other than the one in the Keeper’s Office” and had been forced to surrender “two books” to the Inspectors, who expressed their “regret that any Books [should exist] the entries in which have been kept secret from the Court of Aldermen.” They feared that this would allow for reports to circulate that “it would render it impossible to correct if wrong, or contradict if untrue.” Evidently Cotton did not surrender the present volume, and in a blatant gesture of defiance, adds several signed records directly after his transcription of this injunction. This extraordinary volume is much enhanced by the addition of 3 small etchings made by W. Thompson – “A Prisoner” – inside Newgate itself. They show “The Death Warrant,” “The Morning of Execution,” and “Condemned Criminals receiving the Sacrament,” all printed on India paper and mounted, two marked as being proofs. In 1996, as part of the Oppé Collection, the Tate received a water-colour titled “Dr. Cotton, Ordinary of Newgate, announcing the Death Warrant,” additionally inscribed on the mount, “Sketched on the spot by a prisoner W. Thomson Sepr 1826,” on which the present etching is clearly based. “The Morning of Execution” is taken from Thomson’s rather grand oil “‘The Upper Condemned Cell at Newgate Prison on the Morning of the Execution of Henry Fauntleroy” now in the Museum of London. We have traced no source for the third print, but the central figure of Cotton – “robust, rosy, well-fed” – is easily identifiable in the all three. These etchings appear to be entirely unrecorded, and we have been able to trace only one other example of Thomson’s work. A unique and powerful evocation of one of London’s most notorious prisons.
Don't understand our descriptions? Try reading our Glossary
Octavo ( 190 × 117 mm). Dark blue grained skiver notebook, neatly rebacked, blind rules to the spine, containing a 120-page manuscript in a clearly legible hand, together with numerous relevant news-clippings, earlier and later, elucidating the role of the ordinary and commenting on specific crimes, neatly tipped in. 3 small etchings by W. Thompson, all dated in 1828 – “The Morning of Execution,” “Condemned Criminals receiving the Sacrament,” and “The Death Warrant,” two bound in, one loosely inserted. A little rubbed, light browning, and some off-set from the ink, but overall very good.