Wednesday, 17 September 2014

John Henry Johnson (1840-1877) - A Very English Murder

Way back in August 2001 a Mr Steve Allatt placed the following message on a Family History Board

" My great, great uncle,John Henry Johnson was hung for murder at  Armley Gaol,  Leeds, Yorkshire on April 3rd 1877. He murdered Amos Waite in  Bradford, Yorkshire on December 26th 1876.

 Between about 1865 and 1875 he lived in the States, probably  Pennsylvania,  but this is not certain. He was joined there by his wife, Mary Jane  Johnson,  formerly Toothill, and their son Fred Johnson, born in Bradford on  4th May 1861. John Henry and Mary Jane lived apart prior to his return to England and
although contacted before his execution, she declined to return to England."

Steve wanted to know about the family in the US but I thought it would be interesting to see the about the circumstances that led to John's execution.

During the evening of 26 December 1876, John Henry Johnson and his paramour, Amelia Sewell, visited several Bradford pubs. When they entered the Bedford Arms they met Amos White, an old acquaintance. Later, as Sewell walked across a yard to the toilets she was accosted by White and screamed for Johnson to help. The two men squared up and traded a few blows before being separated. Johnson then staggered home, returning later with a gun with which he shot White dead. A friend of the victim helped detain Johnson who was immediately arrested. He was convicted before Mr Justice Lopes and sentenced to death by hanging at Armley Prison in Leeds

The following is a contemporary newspaper report of the execution that was carried out by Thomas Askern on Wednesday 3rd April 1877. The following report is in The Times dated 4th April 1877


 I think Mr Lawrence's letter to the editor of the Times sums up what I feel - this was nothing short of torture and "English law forbids torture." It is apparent from that the report that these disgraceful scenes were not a rare occurrence in the prisons of the time but why were they allowed to persist and why was no action taken against the perpetrators of such "outrages."

According to the excellent capital punishment website

His death was formally recorded as being from asphyxia but no official mention was made of the failure of first attempt to hang him. It was to be Askern's last execution at Armley."

A rather typical "establishment" response that unfortunately tends to echo down the years 

It appears that all the blame was heaped on Askern.  

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