British Executions

John Terry

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 21 Mar 1803

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



Executed under Extraordinary Circumstances at York, 21st of March, 1803, for Murder

   JOHN TERRY and his fellow-apprentice, Joseph Heald, were found guilty of the wilful murder of Elizabeth Smith, aged sixty-seven years, at Flaminshaw, near Wakefield, in Yorkshire.

   The deceased bore an excellent character, and had maintained herself by keeping cows and selling their produce.

   Having had the misfortune to lose two of her cows she was left nearly destitute, but by the humane assistance of her neighbours she was enabled to purchase one cow; and a son, who lived at Leeds, sent her eighteen guineas afterwards to buy another, but desired her not to purchase it before??fog-time. On her receiving the eighteen guineas it was immediately made known amongst her neighbours.

   T. Shaw and S. Linley, constables, proved the confession of Terry, which was that he and Heald met together on the night on which the murder was committed, and parted at ten o'clock to meet again at the deceased's about one o'clock. They met. Then he (Terry) assisted Heald in getting into a window, up one pair of stairs; he afterwards set up something against the house and climbed up after Heald. After several blows had been struck at the deceased, Heald took a razor and Terry held her head. In a short time he had his hand cut, and advised Heald to desist, as he had got enough; then he went to the door, to see if all was safe. Upon his return he found that Heald had got the deceased into the adjoining room, and was beating her over the head with the tongs; upon which he told him to desist and come away, and there would be no more about it. Afterwards, when Heald was brought into the room after Terry had made the confession, Heald said to him: "Terry, I thought thou wouldst not have deceived me so; thou knowest I was not with thee." To which he answered: "Thou knowest there is a God above Who knows all." A second time Heald asked him why he should deceive him, and said: "Thou hadst better lay it upon somebody else." To which he replied: "I will not hang an innocent man; thou knowest there were but us two, and God for our witness."

   The jury declared both the prisoners guilty. Accordingly the judge, in the most solemn manner, pronounced sentence of death upon them.

   Their execution was fixed for Monday, 21st of March. When, early in the morning, the Rev. Mr Brown, the ordinary, attended the prisoners in their cell, in order to administer the Sacrament, Terry informed him that Heald was innocent; on which Mr Brown stated to them the leading facts that were proved against them upon their trial, and referred to Terry's own confession of the manner in which they had perpetrated the murder.

   Terry said that he had been induced to make that confession, as he had been told that he should thereby save his own life; but he now declared Heald to be innocent, and that he would not be hanged with an innocent man.

   In consequence of this declaration the ordinary thought it his duty to inform the judge of this extraordinary circumstance, but his Lordship was so perfectly satisfied of Heald's guilt that he ordered the sentence to be put into execution. His Lordship, however, humanely sent his marshal, Mr Wells, to attend the prisoners, with a discretionary power to respite the execution should any circumstances appear to him respecting Heald, that would justify the measure. Mr Wells was convinced, from the conversation that passed, that Terry had not spoken the truth, and in consequence they were left to their fate.

   Again Terry, when proceeding from the cell to the drop, exclaimed aloud that Heald was innocent, and that they were going to hang an innocent man, and appeared to have worked himself up to a state of frenzy and distraction.

   On their being brought on the platform, a scene of more brutal stubbornness was never witnessed than that which was exhibited by this young offender; for as soon as he got on, he went forward to the front and exclaimed in a loud voice: "They are going to hang an innocent man" (meaning Heald); "he is as innocent as any of you!" As he uttered this he immediately made a sudden spring, in order to get down the ladder, which he certainly would have effected had he not been laid hold of by the clergyman. While they were pulling him back he again exclaimed: "It was me that murdered the woman. I said it was Heald, but I did so to save my own life; and would not any of you hang an innocent man to save your own life?" These words he afterwards repeated, adding: "Don't hang Heald; if you do, I shall be guilty of two murders."

   The clergyman then proceeded to do his duty; to which Terry paid no attention, but continued very clamorous, notwithstanding the entreaties of Heald not to deprive him of the benefit of the prayers. But Terry was not to be restrained; and it was with the utmost exertions of five or six men that he could be dragged to the drop and the rope forced over his head, during which he tore off his cap. At the moment the platform sank, which put an end to the life of Heald, Terry made a spring, and threw himself against a rail of the scaffold, got his foot upon the edge of a beam, and caught the corner-post with his arm, by which he supported himself; and in this dreadful situation he continued for about a minute, till he was forced off by the executioner, and launched into eternity, with his face uncovered.