Extract from a Letter from Ivelchester, [ie Ilchester, Somerset] March 9 1765.
This is a horrific account, of one of the last cases of a person being burnt to death. She was convicted of Petty Treason rather than murder, which would have been punished with hanging, as her husband was deemed to be her superior.
I think it is worth reading as a counter to the image that people loved watching executions. This instance clearly caused a lot of distress to onlookers, which was clearly the intent. But did it stop others committing crimes? Who knows.
Yesterday Mary Norwood, for poisoning her Husband, Joseph Norwood of Axbridge in this County, was burnt here, pursuant to her Sentence, in the Presence of above 8,000 Spectators. she was brought out of the Prison about 3 of the clock, in the Evening, bare-foot; she was cover’d with a tarr’d cloth, made like a Shift, a tarr’d Bonnet on her Head; and her Legs, Feet and Arms, had likewise Tar on them : the Heat of the Weather melting the Tar on the Bonnet, it ran over her Face, so that she made a shocking Appearance: She was put on a Hurdle, and drawn on a Sledge to the Place of Execution, which was very near the Gallows. After spending some time in Prayer, and singing a Hymn, the Executioner placed her on a Tar-Barrel, about 3 feet high,; a Rope (which ran in a Pulley thro’ the Stake) was fixed about her Neck, she herself placing it properly with her Hands; this Rope being drawn extremely tight with the Pulley, the Tar Barrel was then push’d away, and three Irons were fasten’d round her Body, (to confine it to the Stake, that it might not drop when the Rope sho’d be burnt); as soon as this was done, the Fire was immediately kindled but in all Probability, she was quite dead before the Fire reach’d her, as the Executioner pull’d her body several Times whilst the Irons were fixing, which was about five minutes. There being a great Quantity of Tar, and the Wood in the Pile being quite dry, the Fire burn’d with amazing Fury’ not withstanding which great Part of her could be plainly discern’d for near half an Hour. Nothing cou’d be more affecting than to behold after her Bowels fell out. the Fire flaming between her Ribs, and issuing out of her Ears, Mouth, Eye holes &c. In short it was so terrible a Sight that great Numbers turned their Backs and screamed out, not being able to look at it.