19th Century Executions. Part 2

The most Cruel and Diabolical Murder, Committed upon the body of Robert Pavior, a Boy aged 13. The most Revolting Deed ever laid before the public.
Guildford workhouse from the north-west, c.1838
The cells
On admission, clothes were taken off the workers for disinfection and they were given temporary workhouse clothes in exchange and a medical inspection was required. All new admissions were required to take a bath in one of the two bathtubs whose water was changed fairly infrequently
Trial and execution of John Keene for murder of child by throwing it down a well, 1832
© Look and Learn / Peter Jackson Collection
Taken from the broadside: Depicting Henry Hughes coercing Emma to delve into the woods to pick flowers.
Image of an artist's impression of Henry Hughes awaiting his trial or execution in Prison
1833: Captain Henry Nicholas Nicholls, sodomite
Mr. Justice Grove


On the 12th August 1833, Henry Nicholl was sentenced to be hung for an offence of sodomy committed on a boy named Lawrence in late 1832.

Fifty year old Nicholl enlisted in the army as a young man serving with distinction and seeing action in the Peninsula war. He was from a very respectable family. A brother, having served as the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire in the past. However, his downfall began in mid November 1832 when the mother of a 14-year old boy reported that her son was missing. She had not seen him for several days after he had told her that he had been offered a live-in post as a servant to a man he had recently met. He unfortunately couldn’t give her any names or addresses of where he was working. Having taken the barest of details from the distraught woman, constable Pope was given the task of finding the missing boy.

After a while the officer managed to find the boy and questioned him at some length. It soon became evident that the boy had fallen into the clutches of a group of homosexuals who enticed young boys with the offer of work but who had to submit to their sexual demands… The boy was very lucky to have survived and then identified Nicholl and others as those responsible for his ordeal. Some arrests were made and one of those who had been quickly arrested was a man named as Captain Thomas Beauclerk, who was accused of assisting Nicholl to escape.

Beauclerk was found to be an imposter whose real name was Clarke. After having been arrested he committed suicide in his cell while in gaol. That was after he had appeared at court on the 20th November. After hearing all the evidence against him he decided that all was lost. He had managed to conceal a knife and then cut his own throat, bleeding to death through the night.

The gang to which Nicholl was suspected of belonging to was believed to have been responsible for the abduction, rape and the brutal murder of 13 yea old Robert Paviour in February 1833. The boy was found dead with both his arms broken, a fractured skull and horrific internal injuries. These horrific injuries suggested that he had been raped by a number of men. It was never proved that Nichol was involved. Three men appeared in court over these offences but were cleared. No one has ever been convicted for the boy’s rape or murder.

Nicholl was eventually arrested and was the only member of the gang to be founds guilty of any of the crimes. He was sentenced to be hanged on the 12th August. He had no intentions of dying on the gallows and secreted a long sharp nail in his clothing. He was searched and the nail was found.

On the day of his execution it was said ‘he walked firmly to the roof of the gaol, his head held high and in full view of the crowds below.’ There was a huge crowd who had gathered to watch his hanging. He was met by a crowd who loudly voiced their feelings and opinions against him. He thanked the staff for their kindness and died bravely, like the soldier he was in his younger days.


A rape occurred on the 3rd March 1834 when Henry Hughes met 8 year old Emma Cook, a pretty little girl. She had gone to a wood to pick some flowers for her mother. Hughes was a former neighbour of her parents. He told little Emma that he knew where there were some nicer flowers and her mother would be very pleased with them.

Innocently, Emma went with Hughes to the spot he had mentioned holding his hand all the way. Once in this secluded spot he pushed her to the ground saying ‘lay still or I will eat you.’ He placed his hand over her mouth to stop her from screaming for help. He then raped her. He ran away when he heard someone coming. Then two children appeared and they found her crying pitifully and took her home.

She was examined by a doctor and this proved without any doubt that Emma had been raped. She was too young to fully appreciate quite what had happened. She didn’t know the full horror that had recently taken place with her. Hughes was brought to her bedside. As soon as she saw him she recoiled with abject horror shouting to her mother ‘Oh mother, kill him for he has made me very ill.’ That was a positive identification and as a result he was found guilty at the court hearing and was duly hanged for this offence on 7th April 1834.


John Keene was hanged on the 13th April 1852 for the murder of Charles Broomer on or about the 9th February.

In May 1848 Jane Broomer gave birth to an illegitimate child, she named him Charles and with the support of her family she was determined to keep the child and bring him up. For the first three months after the birth she lived with her mother, Ann at home but then decided that she should move on and then entered the Guildford Workhouse with her baby.

This proved to be a temporary arrangement and after a few months, she found a job as a domestic servant. She paid someone t look after her son while she was at work this was a good arrangement and lasted until she met and married john Keene. Baby Charles returned to his mother and her husband John.

In December 1850 she gave birth to another son, of whom John Keene was the father. Keene depended on casual employment as a labourer to earn enough money to support his growing family. Times were really hard towards the end of 1850 and Keene was unable to secure very much work.

On the 10th January 1851 they all entered the workhouse and stayed there until the 6th February when they left the Institute and for the next three nights they lodged with a  friend of Jane’s, Jane Barfoot in Guildford.

On the night of the 9th February Jane, Keene’s wife stayed with a friend, Hannah Ranger, but only took her youngest son with her. Hannah knew little Charles and asked after him, in answer to any questions about him Jane always said that he had died in London a little while ago. Little Charles would never be seen alive ever again.

However, in January 1852, Jane went to visit her mother and shocked her by telling her that Charles had been murdered by her husband the previous February. Her husband had told Jane that if ever she informed on him, he would kill her. She had become very frightened by him and was scared of leaving him. She continued with her story saying that the child’s body was at the bottom of Warren Well on Albury Heath. She said that her husband had beaten the little boy with a heavy stick and she had watched helplessly as he picked the child up and hurled him into the well; she heard the ‘splash’ as the child hit the water.

Jane’s mother was so shocked, she sat down and started to cry and then she became very angry both with Jane and her husband. She went to see The Reverend Hooper, the local priest and there related the story to him. He, in turn went to report the facts to the police. Superintendent Radley visited the Keene’s at their lodgings. Jane was alone at home at this time. and told the policeman she knew why he had come to see her. She related the story and made a statement as to the facts. Soon after her interview, her husband, John Keene was arrested and taken into custody. In his statement he said that his wife had killed the baby.

The police called upon a local well digger to assist them in the recovery of Charles‘s remains. The well digger, William Edsor made a number of descents into the well, each time going further down. It was very difficult work but eventually he recovered the remains of the little boy. What remained of the little boy was badly decomposed and although several limbs had become detached from the trunk. Mr. Edsor stated that in his opinion the child had died while sat up against the wall of the well. This suggested that he had been alive when he reached the bottom, the water breaking his fall. Several items of child’s clothing were also recovered.

At the post mortem it was concluded that the remains were that of a male child, 3 or 4 years old. The various items of clothing that had been recovered were identified by Jane’s friends as being very similar to clothes they had seen Charles wearing.

On the 25th March 1852 John Keene and his wife, Jane both appeared at court charged with the murder of little Charles Broomer. They also both pleaded ‘not guilty.’ John Keene was now 20 years old while his wife, Jane was 5 years older. Jane told the court that her husband killed her son and she saw him do it. John insisted that it was the other way around; it was his wife who killed the little boy and threw him down the well.

It wasn’t long before the Jury returned with their verdict. They found Jane not guilty while they found John Keene to be guilty of the murder. The Judge sentenced John Keene to death.

On the 13th April 1852 Keene was duly hanged for the murder and watched by a huge crowd of thousands of people. Walking up to the gallows John Keene still insisted that he was innocent saying that they were killing an innocent man. 


On the 30th October 1874 John Walter Coppen was executed for the murder of his wife, Emma Coppen on the 27gh August.

John Coppen was born in 1843, his wife in 1844. They had been married for 8 years. For 7 of those years they had run a public house and had a successful business. However, in January 1874 they bought a coffee shop, as coffee drinking had become a very popular pastime. There is no doubt that they were both very hard working people. They had not produced any children and were quite comfortably off. They appeared very happy on the surface but there was a big problem within the marriage. John was a very heavy drinker, possibly due to his days working in the public house.

In the two days prior to the murder John had been drinking excessively, more than usual. His drinking led to many arguments and it was known that he had struck his wife during these heavy bouts of drinking.

On the night of the 26th August and after a particularly bad argument Emma refused to share the bed with him. The following morning John Coppen was in the kitchen when Emma got up, he was cutting meat for a lunchtime dish. Also in the kitchen at this time was his assistant, Charlotte Berry and his sister Emily Coppen. The knife he was using broke and he went to the shop of a butcher, Edward Gold, which was opposite his own premised, to borrow a knife from him which the butcher sharpened for him.

It was almost 10am when Emma came back into the kitchen and offered to help but her husband said it wasn’t needed. She told him she would go out instead. She then went upstairs and came back down again wearing a shawl and bonnet. He insisted that she should not leave the shop and walked towards her, the knife still in his hand. She stumbled and called out ’I am stabbed, I am dying.’ Charlotte and Emily rushed to help her and could see the knife protruding out from under her left breast. Doctor Pinder was called to the shop but there was little he could do for her. Emma dies about thirty minutes after the stabbing.

Sergeant Pearman arrived and allowed Coppen to remain with his wife until it was confirmed she was dead. He then arrested him for the murder of his wife, Emma. The officer heard her say ‘I am sorry for him, but I aggravated him.’ The officer also heard her say to her husband, ‘I’m sorry it’s you, I hope you are not punished.’

At his trial, the Jury recommended mercy, but despite this and he deathbed statements of his victim, there would be no reprieve and he was consequently hanged on the 13th October 1874.


On the 14th August 1877, Caleb Smith was executed for the murder of Eliza Osbourne on 14th April 1877.

Smith was a bricklayer and co-habited with his victim and on the night of the 14th April they were heard arguing, the voices getting louder and then after a while died down.

After a short while, two of the neighbours who had heard the noise ventured into the small cottage they shared together and found Eliza lying dead on the floor with blood pouring from a throat wound. Smith was lying next to her on the floor having suffered a similar wound. He was taken to hospital where he recovered after some treatment.

Later Smith said that he believed Eliza was about to leave him having started a relationship with another man. As they argued he claimed that she struck him and in response he had picked up a razor, seized hold of her and cut her throat, after which he attempted to kill himself.

When he appeared before Mr. Justice Grove to stand trial, his barrister argued that his client had been provoked by Eliza when she hit him and he therefore be convicted of manslaughter and not murder.

In his summing up the Judge reminded the Jury that in considering the issue of provocation, they should be satisfied that the response was proportionate to the very nature of the behaviour of the victim.. If the Jury concluded that he had killed her due to his feeling of jealousy, having learned of the new relationship and of her threat of leaving him he should be convicted of murder. The Jury, following a very brief retirement, decided that he was guilty of the more serious crime of murder and should be hanged.

This sentence was carried out on the 14th August 1877.

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David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

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