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Maria MANNING

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


"Bermondsey Horror"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 9, 1849
Date of arrest: August 21, 1849
Date of birth: 1825
Victim profile: Patrick O'Connor, 50 (her lover)
Method of murder: Shooting / Beating with a crow bar
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging outside Horsemonger Lane Jail on November 13, 1849
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Bermondsey murder (9,4 Mb)
 
 
 
 
 
 

Marie Manning (1821–1849) was a Swiss domestic servant who was hanged outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol, England, on 13 November 1849, after she and her husband were convicted of the murder of her lover, Patrick O'Connor, in the case that received a name of "Bermondsey Horror". It was the first time a husband and wife had been executed together in England since 1700.

The novelist Charles Dickens attended the execution, and in a letter written to The Times on the same day wrote "I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun." He later based one of his characters—Mademoiselle Hortense, Lady Dedlock's maid in Bleak House—on Manning's life.

Background

Manning was born Marie de Roux in Lausanne, Switzerland, and entered domestic service in England. At first maid to Lady Palk of Haldon House, Devon, she entered the service of Lady Blantyre at Stafford House in 1846, and on 27 May 1847 married, at St James's Church, Piccadilly, Frederick George Manning, a publican. His background was a chequered one. He had worked on the railways, but was discharged on suspicion of being involved in several robberies. Marie had previously made the acquaintance of Patrick O'Connor, a gauger in the London Docks, and this friendship was continued after her marriage. O'Connor, besides being a figure on the docks, was also a money lender, and one who charged extraordinary interest. As a result he was extremely wealthy, and was smart enough to invest his money wisely.

Murder

On 9 August 1849, O'Connor dined with the Mannings at their house, 3 Miniver Place, Bermondsey. Husband and wife, according to a preconcerted plan, thereupon murdered their guest and buried his body under the flagstones in the kitchen. On the same day Mrs. Manning visited O'Connor's lodgings, Greenwood Street, Mile End Road, and repeated the visit next day, stealing the dead man's railway scrip and money. However, it is apparent that the guilty couple were mutually planning a double cross on each other. Marie, being the smarter of the two, actually fled with most of the loot from the murder. Frederick took the smaller portion and fled as well.

Trial and execution

The police discovered O'Connor's remains on 17 August, and soon after apprehended his murderers. Marie was tracked down to Edinburgh, where she was caught when trying to exchange some of O'Connor's property (a listing had been published). Frederick was caught on Jersey. They were tried at the Old Bailey on 25 and 26 October 1849. The trial was not one of the most fascinating in terms of legal problems, except that it was argued that the jury had to include people of French or Swiss ancestry in fairness to Marie. During the trial, Frederick said that he "never liked him [O'Connor] very much".

They were found guilty, Marie yelling imprecations at the British as a perfidious race. They were reconciled shortly before they were executed by William Calcraft at Horsemonger Lane Gaol on 13 November 1849. Mrs. Manning wore a black satin dress on the scaffold, resulting in the myth that the material went out of fashion for many years (though, following the execution, fashion catalogues continued to show black satin garments, suggesting no evidence to support the myth).

Reaction

Charles Dickens wrote a letter to The Times on the wickedness and levity of the mob during the execution.

Wilkie Collins in his novel The Woman In White (1860) has one of his heroines comment (referring to the fat villain, Count Fosco) that "Mr. Murderer and Mrs. Murderess Manning were not both unusually stout people?" In fact, Marie would have been considered overweight today, but in the 1840s she was considered quite attractive with her chubby features, which at the time were considered to imply that the person had the means to be somewhat "plump". The novel is set in 1850, a year after the "Bermondsey Horror".

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Frederick George Manning
Maria Manning

Maria de Roux was born of Swiss-French parents in Switzerland in 1825. She moved to London and worked as a maid to Lady Blantyre, who was the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland. Maria developed a taste for the trappings of luxury and came to dread the thought of poverty. In 1846, on the boat to Boulogne, she met Patrick O'Connor, a fifty-year-old Irishman from Tipperary, who worked as a customhouse officer in London's docks. She was charmed by the man and suggested that he contact her next time she was in London.

A couple of months later O'Connor came to Stafford House, where she was living, and he took her out to dinner. She told him that she had recently met Frederick George Manning, a guard on the Great Western Railway. Both men were smitten and both proposed to her over the course of the next few weeks. Maria just had to work out which had the most money. O'Connor seemed to be the richer, he spent freely, but he drank a great deal and she had no desire to saddle herself with an alcoholic. Manning currently only had his wages as a guard but told her that he expected to inherit a fortune from his mother. This was enough to convince Maria and the pair were married in St James' Church, Piccadilly, in May 1847.

Manning gave up his job on the railway and took a public house, the White Hart Inn, at Taunton. He was singularly inept as a publican and the pair soon had to sell up and move back to London. They moved into Miniver House, Bermondsey. Maria had discovered Manning's true situation by this time; there was no fortune to inherit.

Maria met up with O'Connor again and he was able to avail himself fully of her sexual favours. In fact he became a friend of both of the Mannings, occasionally visiting them for dinner. Maria realised that she had made a mistake in marrying Frederick. By now she had determined that O'Connor was a man of considerable wealth. Not only did he own a large amount of foreign railway stocks he was also a part-time moneylender. Maria made up her mind; she must get her hands on the Irishman's fortune.

On July 23rd 1849 a bushel of lime was delivered to the house, which Maria paid for. On 8th August a large shovel was delivered. It was on that day that Maria sent a note to O'Connor asking him to come to dinner that evening. Her plans were, however, temporarily thwarted as he turned up with a friend named Walshe. Not to be frustrated in her purpose for long, she asked O'Connor to return the next evening and suggested that, if he came alone, there might be more on the menu than dinner.

The following evening O'Connor was seen, by friends, crossing London Bridge and the Manning's neighbours noticed the Irishman smoking a cigar by the back door. Maria told the man to wash his hands in preparation for dinner and led him into the kitchen, a lower-level room. O'Connor turned towards the basin and Maria placed a pistol behind his ear and shot him. Manning went into the kitchen only to find out that the man was not yet dead and was trying to speak. In Manning's own words, "I never liked him, so I battered his head with a ripping chisel." O'Connor's body was quickly covered in lime and assigned to a grave under the flagstones in the kitchen, where the pair then sat and ate their dinner.

The next morning Maria turned up at O'Connor's lodgings in Greenwood Street. His landlady let her into O'Connor's room and she rifled his belongings taking several hundred pounds in cash, gold watches and chains and a wad of foreign bonds. The next day, on another pretext, she returned to O'Connor's room and had another search for some more bonds that she felt ought to be there, but found nothing new.

On the 12th August two men came to the Manning's house. They said that they were customhouse officers and were concerned about the disappearance of their colleague. The Mannings admitted that O'Connor had dined with them on the 8th but said that they had not seen him since. The two men found this strange as they had already spoken to the friends who had seen O'Connor on London Bridge on the 9th when he had said that he was "dining with Maria." Maria insisted that they must be mistaken and asked the two men to let her know if they learned of O'Connor's whereabouts.

Once they had gone Manning got into a panic telling his wife that the men were not customhouse officers but policemen. This threw Maria into a panic as well and they decided that they had to flee. Maria told her husband to go to a relative named Bainbridge and to sell the furniture for what it would fetch. As soon as he left Maria collected together everything of value that she could carry and left. Neighbours saw her leaving in a cab with three or four trunks tied to its roof. When Manning returned and found the house a shambles and his wife gone he realised that he was on his own. He grabbed a few items and went to Waterloo station where he caught the boat train for Jersey.

Police investigating the disappearance of the Irishman discovered that a woman matching Maria's description had ransacked O'Connor's room. They went to the Manning's house and, in the back kitchen, spotted that the mortar between two of the flagstones was still damp. They prised up the stones and soon found the O'Connor's body. The word went out to apprehend the Mannings.

In answer to an appeal from Scotland Yard a cabman came forward and told of taking Maria to the South-Eastern Railway. There, using the name Mrs Smith, she had left two trunks. She had then been driven to King's Cross. At King's Cross Superintendent Haynes found two officials who remembered a woman who spoke English and French and seemed in a highly nervous state. She had taken the 6.15am train to Edinburgh. Haynes telegraphed Edinburgh police asking them to look out for the woman.

Maria was already in custody. She had tried to sell some of O'Connor's railway stock to a firm of brokers and had told them that her father was a Mr Robertson, a native Scot. This did not fit with her thick French accent and aroused their suspicions. They had also already been warned that some railway stock had been stolen in London and that they should be cautious. Maria was returned to London where she was charged with murder and lodged in Horsemonger Lane Jail.

Frederick had another week's freedom before he was caught. Staying in St Helier he drew attention to himself by drinking prodigious amounts of brandy each day and, when he met a man who had known him in London, Frederick fled to St Lawrence. The man who had spotted Manning read of the case in the papers when he returned to London and lost no time in telling the police. On August 21st Frederick was apprehended in his room and was returned to London.

Their trial opened at the Old Bailey on 25th October with each trying to blame the other for the killing. After a two-day trial the jury took less than an hour to find both of the defendants guilty and they were sentenced to death. On 13th November 1849 they were hanged together on a gallows outside Horsemonger Lane Jail. Their end was watched by a crowd estimated to be between thirty thousand and fifty thousand people, the largest crowd ever assembled in Britain to watch a public execution.

Murder-UK.com

 
 

Frederick and Maria MANNING

Background

Maria Manning was born in Switzerland in 1821, her maiden name being de Roux. She emigrated to Britain and worked in London as a lady's maid to the wealthy Lady Blantyre, who was the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland. Here she developed a taste for a luxurious life style, amid the elegance of her employer's homes and general finery. She dreaded the idea of poverty, a very real state for many at this time in history and resolved that she would never live like that.

Lady's maids, if they worked for a good employer could enjoy a life style way beyond that of ordinary girls of the time. My own grandmother was one in the early twentieth century and travelled much of Europe at a time when most ordinary people had seldom been further than the next town. So it was that in 1846, Maria went across the Channel on the boat to Boulogne with her employer and met Patrick O'Connor, a 50-year-old Irishman, who worked as a customhouse (customs) officer in London's docks. Mr. O'Connor was a man of independent means and his wealth immediately attracted Maria.

Maria was much taken with Mr. O'Connor but she was also involved with Frederick George Manning who worked as a guard on the Great Western Railway (not a very well paid job). Both men proposed to Maria - her problem was deciding which one would make the better husband and which had the more money.

Frederick was the same age as her and was the weaker character. O'Connor was much older and also a heavy drinker. Frederick promised Maria that he was soon to come into money via an inheritance whereas O'Connor seemed already to be well off and had told Maria that he had a large amount of money invested in foreign railway stocks. In the event Frederick "won the day" and the couple married in St James' Church, Piccadilly, in May 1847.

They were able to afford a fairly stylish home in Miniver Place, in London's Bermondsey area. However Maria had realised by now that Frederick was not going to get the promised inheritance. She still kept in contact with O'Connor and was probably having an affair with him, with the apparent acquiescence of Frederick. O'Connor even joined them for dinner at Miniver House from time to time.

The crime

Maria felt she had married the wrong man but determined that she would have O'Connor's money if not his person and hatched a plan to kill him.

She purchased some quicklime and a shovel and on the 8th of August 1849 invited Mr. O'Connor to dinner. He duly arrived but had brought a friend with him which scuppered Maria's plan. So she invited him again for the following evening, telling him to come alone so that they could be more intimate with one another.

When he arrived on the next evening Maria suggested that he may wish to wash his hands before dinner and as he stood at the sink to do so she shot him in the head with a pistol. The bullet wound did not however kill him and Frederick finished poor Mr. O'Connor off, battering his head in with a ripping chisel (crow bar). The two of them then buried the body in a pre-dug grave below the kitchen flagstones, covering it with plenty of quicklime (which was thought to speed decay of the flesh and ironically was what they too were to be buried in).

The following day Maria went to O'Connor's lodgings and managed to con her way into his rooms where she systematically went through his belongings, taking everything of value including his share certificates. She paid a further visit the following day to see if there was anything she had missed.

Two days later the Mannings got a nasty fright when two of O'Connor's colleagues came to their house looking for him as he had told them he was eating there on evening of the 9th. Maria admitted that he had eaten with them on the 8th but denied having seen him since. They went away leaving Maria and Frederick thoroughly unnerved, the couple suspected that the men were in fact detectives so they decided to leave London immediately. Maria sent Frederick to try and sell their furniture and as soon as he had gone packed everything of value that she could carry and ordered a cab to take her to King's Cross railway station where she caught a train to Edinburgh. Frederick decided to leave the country and went by train and ship to Jersey.

O'Connor's colleagues had by this time reported him missing to the police and expressed their suspicions about the Manning's. The police decided to visit Miniver Place and carrying out a thorough search of the premises noticed that the mortar between two of the flagstones in the kitchen was still damp. The flagstones were lifted, revealing the battered and bloody body of Mr. O'Connor.

A man hunt was now commenced to find the Mannings. The cabman who had taken Maria to the station came forward and described how he had taken her to one station where she deposited two trunks, before taking her on to King's Cross. Superintendent Haynes, of Scotland Yard, who was in charge of the investigation was able to find out that Maria had bought a ticket for Edinburgh and telegraphed the information to his Scottish counterparts. They had in fact already arrested her for trying to sell some of O'Connor's railway stock to a firm of Edinburgh stock brokers who knew that some railway stock had been stolen in London and were suspicious of Maria's French accent and that they were about to be the victims of fraud. She was duly brought back to London and charged with O'Connor's murder, being remanded in custody to Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

Frederick was arrested a week later in Jersey where he had been spotted by a man who had known him in London and who had read about the murder in the papers.

On his return to London the man went to the police and a Scotland Yard detective, Sergeant Langley was sent out to make the arrest as he happened to know Manning. Manning was traced to a rented room in St Laurence and was found asleep in his bed on August the 21st.

Once in custody he told police that it was Maria who had shot O'Connor. He also told the police "I never liked him (O'Connor) so I battered his head with a ripping chisel" He was brought back to London, charged with the murder and also remanded to Horsemonger Lane Gaol.

Motive

It seems clear that Maria's motive was purely greed, although she was willing to grant O'Connor sexual favours, she was really only interested in his money and on making a "quick buck". Whether Frederick conspired with her in this to boost his parlous financial situation is unclear or whether he just finished off O'Connor out of dislike for the man whom he saw as his rival for Maria's attentions and out of fear that if O'Connor survived he would betray them to the police. Remember at this time attempted murder was still a capital crime and it was probable that Maria, at least, and quite possibly both of them would have been hanged just for trying to kill Mr. O'Connor. So it was clearly better to kill him and dispose of the body as quickly as possible in the hope of escaping detection.

Trial

They were moved from Horsemonger Lane to Newgate prison for the trial which opened at the Old Bailey (next door to Newgate) on Thursday, the 25th of October before Chief Justice Cresswell and lasted two days. Both were represented by counsel and the respective lawyers tried to shift responsibility for the killing from their client to the other's client. It seemed that both Frederick and Maria each expected the other to shoulder responsibility but neither would. At the end of the trial, it took the jury 45 minutes to find them both guilty.

Maria lost the composure she had shown during the trial and screamed at the jury "You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest." She continued to rave at the judge as he tried to pass sentence of death upon her. They were taken back to Newgate and then across London to Horsemonger Lane Gaol to await their executions. She apparently asked the warders escorting her how they had liked her performance in court.

Horsemonger Lane Gaol and the condemned cell

Horsemonger Lane Gaol was built between 1791 and 1799 in Southwark (south London) as the county prison for Surrey, being renamed the Surrey County Gaol in 1859. It was closed in 1878 and finally demolished in 1880. 131 men and 4 women were executed there between 1800 and 1877. Wandsworth prison took over its functions from then on, with Kate Webster being the first and only woman to be hanged there in 1879.

By this time executions normally took place three clear Sundays after sentence had been passed and the Mannings were to spend just over two weeks in the condemned cells. Maria was guarded round the clock as had become the custom after Mary Ann Milner had hanged herself at Lincoln Castle two years earlier. However it is reported that Maria too, attempted suicide. She was considered a suicide risk by the authorities and was guarded by three warderesses who slept in the cell with her, much to her disgust. She was able to lull them into a false sense of security and had let her finger nails grow long. While they were asleep she tried to strangle herself and puncture her windpipe with her own hands and it took the combined efforts of all three of the women to stop her. Maria had written a letter, from her cell, to Queen Victoria, whom she had met as a servant to Lady Blantyre, asking for a reprieve which was, of course, denied her. It is said the Queen did study Maria's letter and took an interest in the case but concluded that her guilt was proven. It is also said that Maria wrote to Frederick while awaiting execution, exhorting him to take the sole blame for O'Connor's death. This he refused to do. He did however make a confession saying that Maria had shot O'Connor and that he had finished him off with the ripping chisel. This was probably about the truth of the matter.

Execution

Their executions were set for the morning of Tuesday the 13th of November 1849 and were to take place at "the prison where they were last confined", namely Horsemonger Lane Gaol. They were to attract the largest crowd ever to attend a public hanging. It is estimated that between 30 and 50,000 people came to see it and it was equally popular with the upper classes as with the poor. Every available space was filled with spectators and between 500 and 1000 police were on hand to marshal the crowd. Many fashionable ladies had come to watch and were fascinated and later infuriated by what Maria had chosen to wear for the occasion.

The gallows was erected on the flat roof above the main gate as normal. It was described as "a huge, gaunt and ominous looking structure." See picture from an old Broadside.

William Calcraft officiated and Maria became the twentieth woman that he would put to death.

Their execution was fully reported in the Times newspaper as follows:

"At a quarter past eight Manning and his wife entered the (prison) chapel. The Sacrament was administered to them when the governor appeared and said that time pressed. Calcraft also came forward and the wretched pair were conducted to different parts of the chapel to be pinioned. The operation was performed on the male prisoner first and he submitted to it with perfect resignation. In the pinioning of Mrs. Manning a longer time was occupied. When the cords were applied to bind her arms her great natural strength forsook her for a moment, and she was nearly fainting, but a little brandy brought her round again, and she was pinioned without any resistance. She drew from her pocket a black silk handkerchief and requested that she might be blindfolded with it, a request that was acceded to. Having had a black lace veil fastened over her head, so as to completely conceal her features from the public gaze, she was conducted to the extremity of the chapel, where the fatal procession was at once formed and in a slow and solemn manner moved forwards towards the drop, the prison bell tolling."

"The procession passed along a succession of narrow passages, fenced in with ponderous gates, side rails and chevaux de frise of iron. In its course a singular coincidence happened. The Mannings walked over their own graves, as they had made their victim do over his. Mrs. Manning walked to her doom with a firm, unfaltering step. Being blindfolded she was led along by Mr. Harris, the surgeon. She wore a handsome black satin gown."

"At last nine o'clock struck and shortly after the dreadful procession emerged from a small door in the inner side of a square piece of brickwork which rests on the east end of the prison roof. To reach this height a long and steep flight of stairs had to be climbed, and it only wonderful that Manning, in his weak and tottering state, was able to ascend so far. As he ascended to the steps leading to the drop his limbs tottered under him and he was scarcely able to move. When his wife approached the scaffold he turned round with his face towards the people, while Calcraft proceeded to draw over his head the white nightcap and adjust the fatal rope. The executioner then drew the nightcap over the female prisoner's head and all the necessary preparations now being completed the scaffold was cleared of all it occupants except the two wretched beings doomed to die. In an instant Calcraft withdrew the bolt, the drop fell, and the sentence of the law was fulfilled. Frederick died almost without a struggle while Maria writhed for some seconds. Their bodies were left to hang for the customary hour before they were taken down and in the evening buried in the precincts of gaol."

"Scarcely a hat or cap was raised when the drop fell and the bodies of the murderers had hardly ceased to oscillate with the momentum of their fall before the spectators were hurrying from the spot." So a good time was had by (nearly) all then!!

Calcraft would have pinioned Maria's legs on the drop to prevent her dress billowing up although this was not mentioned. It was not unusual for prisoners to pass quickly into unconsciousness with short drop hanging although this could never be guaranteed. It is doubtful whether any attempt was made to determine the actual time of death - probably some 5 - 15 minutes after the drop fell.

It is claimed that Maria and Frederick made up on the gallows and that she kissed him before they were executed as a sign of forgiveness for not taking all the blame. Whether this is true or not is unclear.

Charles Dickens, the famous author, attended the execution and wrote a letter to the Times expressing his revulsion at the proceedings.

"I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning" "I believe that the a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the crowd collected at that execution this morning." "When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgement, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world."

Dickens was one of a number of influential people who campaigned against public hangings and they finally abolished in 1868.

Comment

The case attracted enormous public interest especially because of the sexual intrigue and scandal element, which was much rarer then. Maria was perceived as the dominant partner in the marriage and the prime mover in the murder, two other unusual features of the case. Most murders, then as now, were simple and sordid affairs with little of real interest in them. There were the attempts at escape and the brutal nature of the crime too, to add to the interest. By 1849 there was also media, in the form of newspapers, and their case made the headlines. Sexual intrigue was considered much more shocking in Victorian England. It was convenient too that Maria was Swiss born and therefore a foreigner. As one spectator at her execution remarked in a letter to the Times, "Thank God she wasn't an English woman" - in other words the reputation of England was unsullied by the crime. People really did believe that sort of thing at the time.

One feels that Charles Dicken's indignation was far more due to the attitude of the crowd towards the hanging than by any concern for the Mannings and their sufferings. People at that time thoroughly enjoyed a "good hanging" and when the prisoners were a husband and wife from reasonable circumstances it was an added bonus. Some of the wealthier spectators had paid a lot of money to get good vantage points over looking the scaffold, and fashionable ladies were using opera glasses to get a better view. It is probable that many in the crowd were disappointed by the fact that both of them died easily.

This was certainly the case at the execution of the famous Dr. William Palmer, hanged at Stafford in 1856, who died without a struggle, to the disgust of the crowd. Victorian England was full of hypocrisy and publicly expressed disgust at this sort of prurience while privately enjoying it immensely. Public hangings had several obvious advantages in this sense - they were a perfectly legal form of sadistic and voyeuristic entertainment and after all the victims were murderers so one could justify going to watch their punishment as it was a good moral lesson! It is unlikely that many in the crowd felt any sympathy for the Mannings, in their final moments but rather just a morbid fascination with the "show". Even the "stars of the show" often entered into the spirit of the event somewhat, by wearing their best clothes. What Frederick wore was not recorded but it was probably his best suit. Maria chose, and was allowed to wear, the fashionable black satin dress and veil, to ensure she presented a good appearance at the end. Black satin, as a dress material, apparently went out of fashion and stayed so for nearly 30 years as a result.

Maria also made it into Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors and it is probable that Calcraft sold them the dress she had worn for her hanging. Tussaud's would most likely have sent an artist to court to draw her face to be sure of getting a good likeness.

Capitalpunishment.org

 
 

MANNING, Maria (England)

Despite being married, Maria, an alluring 28-year-old Swiss woman, fell in love with Patrick O’Connor, a middle-aged money lender, a relationship that was accepted seemingly wholeheartedly by her husband Frederick.

O’Connor, using his business acumen, recommended that the Mannings should rent a public house in Shoreditch, but when the concern failed to make any profit, Maria accused O’Connor of cheating them and demanded compensation.

On 8 August 1849 she invited him to visit them at their home at No. 3 Minerva Place, Bermondsey, in order to discuss the situation; instead she cold-bloodedly shot him through the head. It would seem that the couple had formulated their plan in advance, for when O’Connor appeared to be still alive, Frederick picked up the crowbar he had bought with the intention of using it to bury their victim, and proceeded to batter O’Connor to death. He then used the makeshift weapon to lever up some of the paving stones in the kitchen, and with Maria’s help, concealed the body beneath them.

Whether Maria then deliberately decided to double-cross her husband, or whether she panicked at the murder they had committed and made up her mind to go abroad, is not known, but, saying nothing to Frederick, she went to O’Connor’s house and after stealing cash and valuables, including some railway stock, she caught the train to Edinburgh. Meanwhile their victim’s absence had been reported to the police and on tracing O’Connor’s last movements they visited the Mannings’ residence.

During a detailed search of the premises one of the officers noticed the fresh cement around some of the flagstones in the kitchen and, on lifting them, they discovered a man’s body, his wrists bound behind him, his legs doubled up and tied to his haunches. Quicklime had been poured over the corpse in an attempt to prevent any identification, but dental checks on the set of false teeth found in the remains confirmed that the victim was indeed O’Connor. That the death was not accidental was evidenced by the single bullet discovered within the mutilated skull.

On reaching Scotland, Maria later attempted to sell the railway stock she had stolen, and, the alarm having been raised among the brokers, she was arrested. Frederick, realising that his wife had deserted him, also took to his heels, only to be similarly taken into custody in Jersey.

At their trial each blamed the other for the crime, although the facts that the shares were found in Maria’s possession, and that she could not possibly have buried O’Connor’s body single-handed, left the jury in little doubt that both were equally culpable. After just 45 minutes a verdict of guilty was announced.

Defending herself to the last, Maria furiously declared that she was innocent, and the only man she would have killed would have been that man – pointing to her husband – who had made her life a hell on earth. On both being sentenced to death, Maria gave vent to a furious tirade against Judge Cresswell and British juries, claiming that such an injustice would never have happened in Switzerland! Her outburst was ignored by His Worship; ‘Take them down,’ he ordered, and the couple were escorted below, and from thence to Horsemonger Lane Gaol, the county gaol for Surrey, situated near the Elephant and Castle in Southwark, there to await execution.

Even in the condemned cell Maria refused to give up her fight for freedom. She had once been a servant in the household of Lady Blantyre, whose mother, the Duchess of Sutherland, had been a close friend of Queen Victoria, so she sent a letter to Her Majesty, appealing for mercy. Not receiving a reply, desperately she attempted to take her own life. Taking advantage of a moment in the middle of the night when her three

wardresses were dozing, she tried to pierce her windpipe with her sharp pointed fingernails. One of the wardresses, waking up, realised what was happening, and it took the efforts of all three to tear her hands away from her throat and subdue her.

On Tuesday morning, 13 November 1849, the doomed couple met in the prison chapel and it was reported that as they stood before the altar, Frederick expressed his wish that they should not part in animosity; she replied that she had none, and then kissed him. The Ordinary administered the last sacrament, after which Frederick said, ‘I think we shall meet in heaven.’

The veteran executioner William Calcraft then appeared and pinioned the arms of his prisoners. It was a bitterly cold morning and the hangman tried to show some solicitude for his female victim, urging her to allow the wardress to wrap her cloak around her, but Maria refused; instead she asked that her black silk handkerchief be tied about her eyes beneath the black veil she already wore, so that she would not have to see the waiting gallows, or the vast crowds, whose hubbub she could hear in the distance. Thus blindfolded she was led by Mr Harris, the surgeon, in the sombre procession, the sonorous bell tolling the while along the seemingly endless passageways and up the steep steps to where the scaffold had been erected.

Horsemonger Lane Gaol had a flat roof and so provided a perfect stage for the drama due to take place. Below was a veritable sea of upturned faces, more than 30,000 spectators filling every available space on the cobbles, in balconies and clinging to chimney stacks on rooftops, with no fewer than 500 police constables attempting to maintain some semblance of order.

Journalistic hyperbole, not necessarily factual, was extensively used in the newspapers of the day when describing an execution, but this time a more authoritative description was penned by none other than Charles Dickens and printed in the next edition of The Times. He wrote:

I was a witness to the execution at Horsemonger Lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it and I had excellent opportunities of doing so at intervals throughout the night, and continuously from

daybreak, until after the spectacle was over. I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold.

When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistling, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police, with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly – as it did – it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil.

His account was endorsed by a Times reporter, who described ‘the disorderly rabble smoking clay pipes and muzzy with beer, pickpockets plying their light-fingered art, little ragged boys climbing up posts, a ceaseless din of sounds and war of tongues’.

He went on to paint a picture of the couple’s last moments:

And when Frederick Manning ascended the steps leading to the drop his limbs tottered under him and he appeared scarcely able to move. Upon his wife approaching the scaffold, he turned round, his face towards the people, while Calcraft proceeded to draw over his head the white nightcap and adjust the fatal rope.

The executioner then drew another nightcap over the female prisoner’s head and, all the necessary preparations being now completed, the scaffold was cleared of all its occupants except the two wretched beings doomed to die.

The mob fell hushed and silent as Calcraft swiftly drew the bolt, all eyes fixed on the two hooded and noosed figures silhouetted against the morning sky; the trap opened and the bodies dropped, swaying and twisting slowly with the momentum of their fall, and dying almost immediately. Dickens, with his literary flair for words, wrote how ‘the woman’s fine shape, elaborately corseted and artfully dressed, was quite unchanged in its trim appearance as it slowly swung from side to side’.

After an hour the Mannings’ corpses were cut down and buried, ironically enough, beneath the same type of paving stones within the prison as those under which they had buried Patrick O’Connor. And the multitudes of scaffold aficionados slowly drifted away, savouring the morbid memories of what they had just witnessed, and looking forward with sadistic anticipation to the next occasion on which human beings would be so primitively dispatched into the next world.

Surely though, nothing could be more appropriate for the victim than to wear black for her execution, yet when Maria Manning appeared on the scaffold clad in an ankle-length black satin dress edged with black lace, with black silk stockings completing her ensemble, and hangman William Calcraft allowed her to have her eyes covered with her black handkerchief beneath the black veil she wore, it is hardly surprising that material of that colour rapidly went out of fashion for many years to come.

One satirical magazine quoted a model in Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors saying to another, ‘I’ve got a nice black dress I’ve only worn once!’ And Punch printed an acerbic item entitled ‘Fashions for Old Bailey Ladies’ reporting, tongue-in-cheek, how: ‘At the elegant reunion on the occasion of the late Matinée Criminelle at the Old Bailey, the lovely and accomplished Lady X […] carried off les honneurs with her lovely Manteau á la Mannings, trimmed with ruche en gibbets and têtes de port bouffonées. The neck is surmounted with a running cord, la Calcraft, which finishes in a noeud couland in satin, under the left ear.

With the chapeau is worn a bonnet de pendue; this sweet cap can be arranged to cover the whole face and is likely to be thus worn during the approaching season.’

Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott

 
 


Maria Manning

 

Frederick Manning

 

Signature of Maria Manning on letter from Horsemonger Lane Gaol

 

 

 
 
 
 
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