British Executions

John Thomas Kay

Age: 52

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 16 Aug 1904

Crime Location: 224 Sheffield Road, Ickles, Rotherham

Execution Place: Leeds

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Billington


John Thomas Kay was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Jane Hirst 43 and sentenced to death.

He battered her to death at 224 Sheffield Road, Ickles, Rotherham on 10 May 1904. Afterwards he gave himself up and confessed to killing her.

They had been living together. They were both addicted to drink and had a quarrel during which he attacked her with a hatchet.

She was found with her skull smashed and cleft open but was still breathing, however, she died soon after.

John Kay claimed that he was suffering from delirium tremens and that the attack was the result of impulsive insanity.

John Kay was a labourer and Jane Hirst had recently left her husband.

Jane Hirst had been a married woman but had left her husband in September 1903 and had been living with John Kay for some time.

However, they were given to quarrelling and serious trouble began on 5 April 1904 when John Kay found Jane Hirst in bed with a lodger. He sent the lodger away and then violently threw Jane Hirst out into the street after which she spent the night at a neighbour’s house.

However, she returned to him the next day and during the five weeks that followed they appeared to have been constantly drinking together to excess and frequently quarrelling.

On the Saturday before the murder they had gone to Sheffield, however, Jane Hirst didn't come home with him that night as she had promised and John Kay said that that night he had tried to hang himself.

On the night before the murder, 9 May 1904, they came home together at about 10pm and went to bed at about 11pm and it was thought that he killed her at about 5am in the morning of 10 May 1904 by striking her several blows on the head with the hatchet.

After killing her he then at once went to the police station and gave himself up, telling them what he had done.

The police report stated that there were no doubts over the facts of the case and that the only question was that state of John Kay's mind at the time. It was noted that his own account of what happened went as follows:

'We went to bed about 11 o'clock. I went to sleep. I don't know how long I had been asleep, but I got up as if I was in my sleep, as if a voice was telling me to get up and kill her. I went downstairs to get a hatchet, and struck her 3 or 4 blows. When I had done it, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. I went out, went to the police office and gave myself up. Before I heard that voice I had formed no intention to kill Mrs Hurst. I was very much attached to her'.

It was noted that the medical officer at Wakefield Prison appeared to have accepted John Kay's statement and gave evidence to the effect that John Kay had been suffering from impulsive insanity. However, it was noted that he admitted to the judge that he could find no indication whatever of insanity in John Kay except his own statements as to the circumstances of the murder and as to his having attempted suicide.

However, it was said that the judge and the jury appeared to have very properly looked upon it as an unsafe thing to find a verdict of 'insane' resting on no other basis than John Kay's statement that he had heard a voice telling him to commit murder and when the jury returned their guilty verdict, they expressly added that they had failed to find sufficient evidence of insanity.

John Kay was executed at Leeds by John Billington on 16 August 1904.

see National Archives - HO 144/766/120810

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 30 July 1904

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Saturday 14 May 1904

see Western Gazette - Friday 13 May 1904

see Shields Daily Gazette - Saturday 30 July 1904

see Dundee Evening Post - Friday 13 May 1904

see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Tuesday 10 May 1904