Convicted of Larceny in April, 1800, and executed in spite of Extraordinary Efforts to get her reprieved
THIS unfortunate woman was accused of having introduced into the house of her mistress a man, who robbed and afterwards set it on fire. Her case occupied much attention. She was generally considered as the instrument made use of by a designing villain, and having a most excellent character the affair excited a very strong interest. Being convicted of larceny only, to the value of forty shillings, at Bury Assizes, April, 1800, and condemned, she was left for execution. A petition was immediately signed, most respectably and numerously, for her respite and pardon; but the Duke of Portland, deeming the application to arise from ill-judged humanity, sent down a King's Messenger to order her execution. Among the persons who interested themselves on this occasion was Mr Capel Lofft, who addressed the following letter to the editor of The Monthly Magazine, setting forth her case, and proving her an object of mercy:--
SIR,--Give me leave to caution you against an implicit credit in the accounts published in most of the public papers respecting the case of the unhappy Sarah Lloyd. Thus much only I will say at present -- a most extraordinary and most affecting case it is. I have never heard of one more so; I have never known one in any degree so much so. I was on the Grand Jury which found the two bills of indictment. I was in court at the trial. I am happy, yet perhaps I ought not to say so, that I was not in court when sentence of death was pronounced upon her. I have visited her several times since she has been in prison, with several respectable persons, and particularly with a lady of very superior understanding, who, struck with her mild and ingenious countenance, the modesty, unhesitating clearness, simplicity and ingenuous character of all she says, her meek and constant fortitude and her modest resignation, has interested herself greatly in behalf of this young and most singularly unhappy woman. She was indicted for a burglarious robbery in the dwelling-house of her mistress. She was convicted of larceny alone, to the value of forty shillings, and under what circumstances, it will be proper to state more fully hereafter. The jury acquitted her of the burglarious part of the charge, and thereby negatived any previous knowledge on her part of a felonious intent of any person. The other indictment, for malicious house-firing, was not even tried. Unhappily, perhaps, for her that it was not. It seems but too certain that she will suffer death on Wednesday next; and from anything that I can yet learn, I should fear a numerously and respectably signed petition will not find its way to the King while she yet lives. I write only thus much at present; that if you state the supposed facts which have been so widely diffused against her, and have made so dreadful an impression, you may also state these remarks, which have for their object merely that the public would suspend their judgment till a full and correct statement be laid before them, as it necessarily must; and that, in the meantime, at least, the public will not conclude her guilty of more than that of which she solely stands convicted and attainted on the record -- the larceny only. And as to the nature and degree of her guilt, even upon that they will estimate it according to the circumstances, when fully before them. Then perhaps they will have no cause to wonder that efforts have been made, as they have certainly been, with most persevering anxiety, to obtain a mitigation of her sentence, so far as it affects her life; nor that the prosecutrix, the committing magistrate, the foreman and several others of the grand jury, and many persons of true respectability, have concurred in these efforts, and, particularly, persons in whose service she had lived, and who speak of her temper, disposition, character and conduct in terms every way honourable. I remain, etc.,
TROSTON, April 21.
In another letter this gentleman gives an account of her person, execution, etc., as follows:-
"Respecting the case of Sarah Lloyd, what ought now further to be said, I wish that I felt myself capable of saying as it deserves. I have reason to think that she was not quite nineteen. She was rather low of stature, of a pale complexion, to which anxiety and near seven months' imprisonment had given a yellowish tint. Naturally she appears to have been fair, as when she coloured, the colour naturally diffused itself. Her countenance was very pleasing, of a meek and modest expression, perfectly characteristic of a mild and affectionate temper. She had large eyes and eyelids, a short and well-formed nose, an open forehead, of a grand and ingenuous character, and very regular and pleasing features; her hair darkish brown, and her eyebrows rather darker than her hair: she had an uncommon and unaffected sweetness in her voice and manner. She seemed to be above impatience or discontent, fear or ostentation, exempt from selfish emotion, but attentive with pure sympathy to those whom her state, and the affecting singularity of her case, and her uniformly admirable behaviour, interested in her behalf.
"When asked (23rd of April, 1800), the morning on which she suffered) how she had slept the preceding night, she said: 'Not well the beginning, but quite well the latter part of the night.' She took an affectionate, but composed and even cheerful, leave of her fellow-prisoners, and rather gave them comfort than needed to receive it. It was a rainy and windy morning. She accepted of, and held over her head, an umbrella, which I brought with me, and without assistance, though her arms were confined, and steadily supported it all the way from the prison, not much less than a mile. What I said at the place of execution, if it had been far better said than I was then able to express myself under the distress I felt, would have been little in comparison of the effect of her appearance and behaviour on the whole assembly. That effect, none, who were not present, can imagine. Before this, I never attended an execution; but indeed it was a duty to attend this, and to give the last testimony of esteem to a young person whose behaviour after her sentence (I had not seen her before, for in court she was concealed from me by the surrounding crowd) had rendered her so deserving of every possible attention. Those who have been accustomed to such distressing observations remarked that the executioner, though used to his dreadful office, appeared exceedingly embarrassed, and was uncommonly slow in those preparations which immediately precede the fatal moment, and which, in such a kind of death, are a severe trial to the fortitude of the strongest and most exalted mind, and much the more so as they tend to destroy the sympathy resulting from the associated ideas of dignity in suffering; yet she dignified, by her deportment, every humiliating circumstance of this otherwise most degrading of deaths, and maintained an unaltered equanimity and recollectedness, herself assisting in putting back her hair and adjusting the instrument of death to her neck.
" There was no platform, nor anything in a common degree suitable to supply the want of one; yet this very young and wholly uneducated woman, naturally of a very tender disposition, and, from her mild and amiable temper, accustomed to be treated as their child in the families in which she had lived, and who consequently had not learned fortitude from experience either of danger or hardship, and in prison the humanity of Mr Orridge had been parental towards her, appeared with a serenity that seemed more than human; and when she gave the signal, there was a recollected gracefulness and sublimity in her manner that struck every heart, and is above words or idea. I was so very near to her the whole time that, near-sighted as I am, I can fully depend on the certainty of my information. After she had been suspended more than a minute, her hands were twice evenly and gently raised, and gradually let to fall without the least appearance of convulsive or involuntary motion, in a manner which could hardly be mistaken, when interpreted, as designed to signify content and resignation. At all events, independently of this circumstance, which was noticed by many, her whole conduct evidently showed, from this temper of mind, a composed, and even cheerful submission to the views and will of heaven; a most unaffected submission entirely becoming her age, sex and situation."
Such, however, were the exaggerations of the London journals, which ascribed to this woman all the crime, that it need not be wondered that no attention was paid to the petition. The following is an extract of one (Times, 11th of April), by which the reader will see quite a different representation from the above -- -
"The circumstances attending the case of Sarah Lloyd are perhaps unequalled for the atrocious intentions of the perpetrator, who was a servant to a very respectable lady, residing at Hadleigh, named Syer. On the 3rd of October last she set her mistress's house on fire in four different places, and robbed her of some considerable property. Her intention was the destruction of her protectress, for, to prevent the escape of her mistress, the principal combustibles were placed under a staircase which led to her mistress's bedroom, and, but for the timely assistance of the neighbourhood, she would have perished in the fire."
The incendiarism and intended murder, here asserted as facts of her deep ingratitude and base depravity, were neither tried nor proved; and of the burglary she was acquitted: which acquittal must also acquit her of the other charges.