Date Of Execution: 26 Nov 1913
Crime Location: Copythorne, New Forest
Execution Place: Winchester
Executioner: John Ellis
Augustus John Penny was convicted of the murder of his mother Matilda Penny 57 and sentenced to death.
He shot her at Copythorne, near Totton in the New Forest, on 23 June 1913.
Augustus Penny was an ex-naval stoker and labourer and lived with his mother, Matilda Penny, and his older brother in Copythorne in the New Forest.
Matilda Penny was described as a drunken and quarrelsome woman and had several convictions, including one for assaulting Augustus Penny.
She owned the cottage and about 7 acres of land there.
In January 1913, Matilda Penny let the land to the older brother, or arranged with him that he should manage it and pay her so much a week. However, it was heard that Augustus Penny objected to that and there were quarrels about it and about Augustus Penny's keep.
On Saturday 14 June 1913, Augustus Penny said that he had had enough of work and during the following week he was idle and started drinking heavily.
Then, on the night of Saturday, 21 June 1913, Augustus Penny borrowed a gun from a friend to shoot pigeons with and it was thought that he had gone out early on the Sunday morning for that purpose.
He returned on the Sunday morning to breakfast with his brother and later took a cup of tea upstairs to his mother and it was said that all three of them seemed to be on good terms that day and happier than they had been for months, according to the older brother.
Later that evening Matilda Penny asked the older brother for 6d to get some stout, but Augustus Penny produced a bottle from a cupboard and gave it to Matilda Penny.
The older brother said that he left the house that afternoon at about 6.30pm and later returned at 11pm.
He said that when he came in, he passed through Matilda Penny's room and saw her lying on the bed and thought that she was asleep. He said that Augustus Penny's room was open and he saw him lying on his bed and heard him crying, 'Oh dear', several times, however, he said that he thought he was drunk and so he didn't disturb him.
The following morning, the older brother said that he heard Augustus Penny go out and said that shortly after he passed through Matilda Penny's room and saw blood and brains spattered on the wall.
He said that she was lying on her right side with her head on her arms as though she had been asleep. It was found that her head and been blown to pieces by a gun shot at close quarters, probably at a distance of two feet. Her bed clothes were undisturbed.
Augustus Penny was later found standing under a hedge, soaking wet, trembling and shaking. It was thought that he had either got into a well, and then got out again, or to have laid down in a stream where the gun was later found.
When Augustus Penny was first questioned, he said that the gun had gone off accidently.
However, he later said, 'Last Sunday I got up about 4 o'clock, took the gun I had borrowed from a man on Saturday night and went into our meadows to try to shoot pigeons but could not get any. I shot and wounded one but did not find it. I returned home about 7 o'clock and got the breakfast. My brother returned about 8 o'clock, I poured out the tea and took some upstairs to my mother, then me and my brother sat down and had breakfast together. My brother and myself got the cabbage and potatoes ready, I put it in the pot. My brother left home about 11 o'clock. I then again went into the fields as my mother was then downstairs to look for the wounded pigeon but could not find it. I again returned home. A man came for my brother to shave him, but my brother was out, and I shaved him. My mother asked me if I had finished and asked me to shave her, but I said you had better do that yourself. Me and mother had dinner together and about 2 o’clock I went to the Coach at Cadman and had two pints of beer. Left the Coach at 2.30, returned home. About 5 o'clock me and mother had tea, about 6 o'clock my brother came in and had his tea. Mother asked him for money to get some stout. He gave her 6d. I said, 'I have a bottle of stout in the cupboard'. I got it and gave it to her. My brother left about 6.30 and I went to the Compass, had two pints of beer and took my mother back a quart of 'Fives' in a bottle. I got home about 8.30. Mother was in bed upstairs. I went upstairs and asked her if she would have a drink, she said 'Yes', and we drank the quart of beer between us. I then asked my mother if she was warm enough. She said 'Yes, but you can put that old coat on my feet', which I did. She then began abusing me and said if it was not for the older brother, she would not have a bit or a drop and would like to see me come to the road. She also said she would sell the hay when it was up and her and my older brother would go away, and I could go to the devil. I said, 'For the Lord's sake lay down and go to sleep', but she would not shut up and I lost my temper with her as she taunted me about my older brother. When I lost all control of myself, I went to my bedroom, got the gun and before I could cool my temper, I shot her in the head. She exasperated me so much I lost all control of myself, but I did not mean to kill her and I am very sorry for it now and I must suffer for it'.
The police report noted that Augustus Penny's account of the crime was probably true. It stated that when Augustus Penny left Matilda Penny's room, she had probably turned over to sleep and that when Augustus Penny had returned with the gun, she had probably had her back to him when he shot her. The police report noted that Matilda Penny had had a good deal to drink and that Augustus Penny, who had been slightly drunk at 6.30pm when the older brother had left, had been drinking in a public house and had later shared a quart of Fives with Matilda Penny just before she had begun to abuse him.
The police report also noted that Augustus Penny appeared to have realised what he had done, noting that when his older brother had come back to the house he had been lying in bed and groaning. The police report also notes that Augustus Penny gave a remarkably clear account of the incidents of the day.
Augustus Penny was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, however, the jury recommended him to mercy on the grounds of his character, which was good, noting that Matilda Penny had a bad character, as well as the probable provocation that he had received.
However, the police report noted that the pleas of provocation should not be entitled to much weight, noting that taunting from a drunken old mother could not afford any excuse for her son shooting her in the head. However, the police report also added that the real cause of the crime was no doubt rooted in the arrangement by which the older brother had become master of the land. The police report suggested that but for that grievance and the drink he had taken, Augustus Penny would probably never have fetched the gun and killed her.
However, the police report noted additionally that there was no reason to suppose that he had borrowed the gun with the intention of using it on his mother. The report stated that Augustus Penny seemed to have gone out for pigeons on the Sunday morning and it was noted that he had borrowed the gun before in the same way, and as his older brother had objected to the gun being in the house, it was not unlikely that Augustus Penny would have taken the gun upstairs with him to his room.
It was also noted that Augustus Penny had previously, from time to time, whilst in drink, threatened to swing for his mother, but the report noted that not much importance should be attached to such threats.
However, it was thought that the evidence of provocation was not sufficiently strong enough to justify a recommendation to mercy and there was no interference with Augustus Penny's sentence.
see National Archives - HO 144/1294/244829