British Executions

Serjeant Smith

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: treason

Date Of Execution: 11 Dec 1747

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: shot

Executioner: unknown


An English Deserter to the French, shot in the Park on the 11th day of December, 1747.

   WE should not have accorded to the case of this ungrateful traitor a separate memoir, were it not to hand down his crime to posterity, as an example to the army, and a caution against desertion.

   Courts-martial are composed of a certain number of officers, according to the magnitude of the charge against the prisoner, of which one is the president, and another judge-advocate. A regimental court-martial is appointed by the commander of each troop or regiment for the trial of offences which are not deemed sufficiently heinous to be carried to a general court-martial. Regimental courts-martial are often assembled, sometimes in a few minutes, at the drum-head, and consist of a captain, the president, and four subaltern officers, members. They are not sworn, but give sentence and judgment like the Lords, sitting on the trial of a peer, on a charge affecting his life -- "Upon their honours." This may be termed the internal or domestic management of a regiment, trying offences by a court of its own officers; but where a charge is of a serious nature, as mutiny, desertion, or treason, then application is made to the commander-in-chief for a general court-martial. It is composed of veteran officers, the oldest being the president, and the advocate-general, or his deputy, attending. This office partakes of both civil and military functions. He regulates the evidence, propounds questions, as well for the prosecutor as the accused, takes minutes of the trial, and sums up the evidence in the manner of a civil judge, on the trial of a criminal, for the determination of the court. This done, the court is cleared of all strangers, and the members alone debate on the nature of the crime, and offer their respective opinions, beginning with the youngest, who being called upon by the president, pronounces "Guilty," or "Not Guilty," as he feels the case. The next is then called upon, and a, majority of voices forms the sentence; the president, on an equal number for and against the prisoner, has the casting vote., When found guilty, in like manner they determine upon the punishment, whether death or corporeal punishment. The sentence is then sent to the King for approbation, and when confirmed, the punishment is inflicted.

   On the 26th of November, 1747, a court-martial assembled at Whitehall, of which Marshal Wade was president, for the purpose of trying Serjeant Smith who had been lately brought from Scotland, charged with deserting into the service of the French, and afterwards to that of the rebels, and having heard the evidence for and against the prisoner, he was found guilty.

   On the l1th of December he was conducted from the Savoy prison to the parade in St. James's Park, where he was met by a detachment of the foot-guards, commanded by Colonel Drury, to Hyde Park. The unhappy man was attended by the minister of the Savoy, and having arrived at a gibbet, under which was a new-made grave, to receive his body; to which dreadful preparation he seemed little moved: indeed, there was an apparent unconcern in the whole of his behaviour.

   This was a man of extraordinary abilities, and as vicious in his principles. He had served several of the Princes in the then late wars in Germany, and abused them all by desertion. He was master of several languages, and from this acquirement he acted as interpreter to our officers, who were so partial to him, that they appointed him a paymaster-serjeant, and in fact treated him as their companion. His income could not have been less than 200l. a year. A man thus caressed must be truly a villain who could be base enough to desert his duty; but Smith was of a roving turn, and could not keep long in a place,. the excuse he gave for his crimes. He died undaunted, and declared himself a protestant. Reports had been circulated, owing probably to the fluency with which he spoke French, that he was a papist. He was immediately buried under the gibbet, which was erected on the bank of the Serpentine river.