Ex-Classics Home Page



Ann Whale, strangled and then burned, for the Murder of her Husband; and Sarah Pledge, hanged for being her Accomplice.

ANN WHALE was born of respectable parents, at Horsham, in Sussex; but her father dying in her infancy, she was left to the care of her mother. Early in life she gave evidence of an uncontrollable disposition, and, having a dispute with her mother, she wandered into the country and associated with people of bad character; but her mother, in order to save her from ruin, at length prevailed on her to return home.

Soon after this she was addressed by a sober young man, named James Whale; and as a relation had left her a legacy of eighty pounds, payable when she was of age, and the mother readily consenting to their alliance, the marriage took place. They had not been long wedded when they went to reside at a place called Steepwood; but soon returning to Horsham they took up their residence in the house of Sarah Pledge, who was distantly related to Mrs Whale.

A short time after their abode there, a misunderstanding happening between the women, Mr Whale forbade Mrs Pledge to come into his apartment -- a circumstance that only tended to foment the quarrel. Soon afterwards, however, the women were privately reconciled; and as the man was remarkably sober, and they were of the opposite character, it is the less to be wondered at that they sought the means of his destruction.

Mrs Whale having lain in, and being tolerably recovered, Mrs Pledge took the advantage of her husband's absence to come into her room, when she said: "Nan, let us get rid of this devil!" (meaning Mr Whale). The wife said: "How can we do it?" To which the other replied: "Let us give him a dose of poison."

The abandoned woman too readily consented to this horrid proposal; and the only difficulty which appeared to arise was how the poison should be procured.

They first attempted their purpose by roasting spiders and putting them into his beer, but finding this did not produce the effect, Mrs Pledge undertook to purchase something more efficacious, and for that purpose went to several market-towns; but as she went into each apothecary's shop she saw or fancied she saw, some person who knew her, or that her conscience interposed. At length she went to an apothecary at Horsham to whom she was a stranger, but was still afraid, though she made the purchase.

Hastening to her more wicked friend, she gave her the bane, who with equal dispatch administered it; for at the moment her husband was fondling their child, on whom he doted, she mixed it in some hasty pudding prepared for his supper. Unsuspicious, the affectionate but unfortunate man ate, was soon seized with the racking torments occasioned by that corrosive mineral, and the next day expired; but, the neighbours suspecting that his death was occasioned by some sinister arts, a surgeon examined the body, and the coroner's jury being summoned brought in a verdict of "Wilful Murder."

Thereupon Mrs Whale and Mrs Pledge were taken into custody, and carried before a magistrate. The latter wished to become evidence; but being separately examined, and both confessing the fact, they were committed to Horsham Jail. On their trials the confessions which they had signed were read and, some corroborative evidence arising, they were convicted, and received sentence of death.

For some time after conviction Mrs Pledge behaved in the most hardened manner, making use of profane expressions, and declaring that she would fight with the hangman at the place of execution. On the contrary, Mrs Whale acknowledged the justice of the sentence which had condemned her, and gave evident signs of being a real penitent.

On the evening preceding the execution the clergyman who attended them brought Mrs Pledge into a better state of mind, and then administered the Sacrament to both the convicts.

They suffered on the 14th of August, 1752, at Horsham, in Sussex. An immense crowd attended at the place of execution where Pledge was hanged; and Whale, being tied to a stake, was first strangled and then burned to ashes, in the twenty-first year of her age.


Previous Next

Back to Introduction