Sarah Ann French, the murderess, has ceased to exist – her career of crime has ended; the law has had its course, and “justice,” to use a set phrase, “is satisfied.” But of what avail are these public executions as a matter of example; the unhappy criminal herself was a spectatress of the execution of Mary Ann Gearing, and it became with her, afterwards, a frequent subject of conversation. What restraining influence did the fearful scene exercise over her? The result is seen. Scarcely three short years have elapsed since then, ere she herself is brought to the same end and for the same crime. May it not even be asked whether she did not on that occasion receive the intiatory idea by which she had been led on, from step to step, to commit the crime for which she has now suffered?
On former occasions (happily the regulations of Government prevent it now) we have seen the trembling criminal pinioned in his cell, and stood on the scaffold while sentence of the law has been carried into effect; we have also mingled with the crowd of spectators on these painful occasions, and the depravity we have witnessed and heard, fully convinces us that as an example, public executions have not the slightest beneficial influence on society. We are more inclined, indeed, to believe that they are absolutely injurious. This opinion does not affect the question of death punishments, neither do we intend to discuss it; but we are certainly of opinion that these executions, if witnessed only by their customary officers, a jury empanelled for the purpose, would have a greater deterring influence, and could not be open to some of the objections at present urged against the punishment of death.
The preparations for the awful scene were completed at an early hour this morning. The scaffold, with its covering of black, was seen standing above the wall of the county gaol.
As early as nine o’clock people began to assemble in the immediate locality of the drop. Soon afterwards trains arrived from various parts of the country bringing an increase of spectators, and also Calcroft, the executioner, who at once proceeded to the gaol.
From that time, the crowd continued to increase, and though not market –day, when the appointed hour arrived, there was a greater concourse than at the former execution.
About six or seven minutes to 12 the bell of the gaol gave solemn notice that the preparations for ushering the unfortunate woman into eternity were completed.
Shortly afterwards the Governor of the gaol, the under Sheriff, the Chaplain, and other officials made their appearance on the platform; the prisoner, apparently in a state of insensibility, supported on each side by two male attendants.
She was attired in a neat dress of drab stuff, and with the cap already drawn over her head. On arriving on the scaffold, she was immediately, after a short prayer from the reverend chaplain, placed under the fatal beam. The rope was placed around her neck by Calcroft (who was dressed in a suit of black), and having been fastened in the usual way, he descended below, and withdrew the bolt which sustained the stage.
A severe convulsive struggle ensued, which lasted for several minutes, and the unhappy victim of unguided and unrestrained passion was gone to her last account.
We cannot close our report of the execution without a few observations.
The Chiddingly murder presents a variety of features which, painful as they are to contemplate, might usefully occupy the attention of the statesman, the moralist and, divine. Here is a woman bought up in the very heart of a rural district, where temptations to crime are supposed to be much less than in our crowded towns and cities; of poor, but, but as far as we have been able to ascertain, creditable parentage. Respecting her early career in life, but little is known, excepting some indistinct recollections of her school companions, that she was inclined to manifest, at times, a vindictive disposition, -- a reminiscence of but little importance, so far as regards the dreadful crime for which she has now gone, to render an account before a tribunal, where all the secrets of the heart are made manifest. There is nothing in the whole evidence produced against her to show that she and her husband lived unhappily together; therefore it can scarcely be supposed, (judging simply from appearance) that the crime originated in vindictive motives. She appears to have exhibited to the last an outward show of regard for her victim; the only evidence of alienated affection being an expression, which, at the time it was used, was interpreted as a joke, "that she had gone that way once too often."-- meaning to Hellingly Church, where her marriage to French was consummated.
The motive for the commission of the dreadful crime appears to have arisen entirely from the unrestrained indulgence of an impure imagination, which led her first to contemplate the violation of her marriage vows by an act of adultery. By a series of little attentions, she endeavours to secure the regard of the object of her illicit desires; and then proceeds to a more unequivocal and dangerous display of her guilty passion until at last with unblushing and unwomanly effrontery, she invites him to a realisation of her wishes – a proposal at which he even revolts, ignorant as he appears to have been of the moral relations of life. He tells her that while her husband is living such an act would be wrong; and with a suddenness which indicates a pre-conceived design, she asks if he would consent to her wishes in the event of her husband’s death. The remainder is known.
The dark deed is accomplished by her own hands. She informs her victim she will give him a treat; she makes up a dish to wish she knows he is partial, (perhaps with words of affection on her perjured lips) induces him to eat of the hidden poison which is to take away his life. Then comes the consummation of the murderess’s horrible depravity. On the very night of the day (and that day the Sabbath) on which her husband was consigned to the grave – she hoped and believed, no doubt, that her crime was buried with him – does the depraved woman give license to her desires, under circumstances so revolting that we will not recall them to recollection.
Revelling in fancied security, how little did she think that unerring justice was even then tracing out the chain of circumstantial evidence which was to bring her to an untimely end.
So we hope will murder be ever brought to light.
We have one other duty to perform; and that is to pay a deserved tribute to the active services of Mr. Flanagan, superintendent of the Sussex Constabulary. He has been complimented by the coroner, the learned judge, and several of our local magistracy, and we cannot, in closing our report, withhold from him that meed of praise to which we consider him so justly entitled.
At ten minutes to twelve o’clock, the under Sheriff (Mr Kennett), accompanied by Mr Charles Palmer, the Governor of the gaol, the Sheriff’s Bailiffs, and the executioner Calcraft, made their official visit to the condemned call, where they found the Rev. Mr. Burnet, the Chaplain of the Gaol, and the culprit in prayers.
Soon after, in a great state of lethargy – still remaining sitting – she was pinioned by the executioner; during which, in low intonations, she continued in apparent prayer! She appeared in a complete state of bodily prostration – and was, in this state, led away from the cell – supported, and, in fact, nearly carried from thence by two male attendants across the female prison yard to the scaffold which was there erected.
The order of the procession was, first the under Sheriff, then the Governor of the gaol, then the culprit, followed immediately after by Calcraft, and in this order they ascended to the drop, the Chaplain reading the burial service during the whole time. She never uttered a word to anyone, but previously had made a full confession to her guilt.
Having been brought under the beam, without the slightest apparent bodily strength, she continued to be supported until the fatal bolt was drawn, and in a state of fearful convulsion, terminated her wretched existence. The only magistrates in attendance were Geo. Molineux, Esq., and C Carpenter, Esq.
After being suspended for the usual time she was taken down and buried in a leaden coffin within the precincts of the gaol.
A barricade was erected across the upper portion of North-Street just in a line with the Stag Inn with the view of preventing the passing of carriages down the street, a very necessary precaution.
Transcribed by Carol Harrison