Thomas Hardy witnessed woman's execution

Colyton Grammar School student Liam Proctor review a new book about Dorset Murders.

Dorset Murders - True Crime History by Nicola Sly, currently teaching criminology, with a Masters degree in legal psychology and forensics, tells the tale of "dreadful deeds, macabre deaths and crimes of passion from the darker side of the county's colourful past". It examines 22 cases, from the early 1800s to the mid 1900s.The story of John Anthony Brown's murder is told. John, of Birdsmoorgate, near Marshwood, was far younger than his wife, Martha. They were first lovers, but soon married. The union was not a happy one and "Martha was certainly a jealous woman", having found John in bed with the local washerwoman Mary Davies, wife of a butcher. His death occurred on the July 5, 1856 on his way home from a day's delivery after visiting an inn for "refreshments"."What happened next is uncertain, since the only account of the following few hours is that given by Martha Brown," explains Nicola Sly's book."She claimed that she found her husband lying unconcious on the doorstep at 2am on the following morning and had, with difficulty, dragged him into the cottage, where he had clutched tightly at her skirts for several hours and refused to let her go to summon a doctor."She later told neighbour Richard Damon a horse had kicked her husband and injured him.Damon found Brown lying on the floor of his cottage, a handkerchief bound round his head. There was a pool of blood on the floor behind him and his hair was matted with blood and brain tissue. Damon picked up his cousin's limp hand and found it cold - John Brown was dead."Martha continued to repeat her account of her husband's misfortune - until a jury found her guilty of murder.She was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead at the gallows in Dorchester.Nicola Sly gives an in-depth, detailed and level description of the cases, with a variety of relevant pictures. Although the outcome of John Anthony Brown's case seems fairly apparent, as the passage is read, it remains enthralling as the detail of her trial and convinction is revealed.From the cells of a condemned woman, Martha Brown made her confession. A crowd of between 3,000 and 4,000 people watched the execution from a vantage point in North Square. Among the spectators was a youthful Thomas Hardy, on whom the execution had a profound effect. Could this have been the idea for one of his many tales?Dorset Murders - True Crime History is published by The History Press and is priced �14.99.


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