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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 due to her 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]
They were found guilty, Marie yelling
imprecations at the British as a perfidious race. They were reconciled
shortly before they were executed at Horsemonger Lane Gaol on 13 November
1849. Mrs. Manning wore a black satin dress on the scaffold, resulting
in the unpopularity of that material for many years.
Charles Dickens wrote a letter to
The Times on the wickedness and levity of the mob during the
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. and Mrs. Murderess Manning" were
both pretty fat too. 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".