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The Newgate Calendar - JOHN WILLIAMSON


A deliberate and cruel Murderer, who tortured and starved his Wife to Death. Executed in Moorfields, 19th of January, 1767

WILLIAMSON was the son of people in but indifferent circumstances, who put him apprentice to a shoemaker. When he came to be a journeyman he pursued his business with industry, and in a short time he married an honest and sober woman, by whom he had three children. His wife dying, he continued some time a widower, maintaining himself and his children in a decent manner.

At length he contracted an acquaintance with a young woman so deficient in point of intellect that it may be said she bordered upon idiocy. Her relations had bequeathed her money sufficient for her maintenance, and this circumstance induced Williamson to make proposals of marriage, which she accepted. Being asked in church, the banns were forbidden by the gentleman appointed guardian to the unhappy woman.

Williamson having procured a licence, the marriage was solemnised; and in consequence thereof he received the money that was in the hands of the guardian. About three weeks after the marriage he cruelly beat his wife, threw water over her, and otherwise treated her with great severity; and this kind of brutality he frequently repeated. At length he fastened the miserable creature's hands behind her with handcuffs, and, by means of a rope passed through a staple, drew them so tight above her head that only the tips of her toes touched the ground.

On one side of the closet wherein she was confined was now and then put a small piece of bread-and-butter, so that she could just touch it with her mouth; and she was allowed daily a small portion of water.

She once remained a whole month without being released from this miserable condition; but during that time she occasionally received assistance from a female lodger in the house and a little girl, Williamson's daughter by his former wife.

The girl having once released the poor sufferer, the inhuman villain beat her with great severity. When the father was abroad the child frequently gave the unhappy woman a stool to stand upon, by which means her pain was in some degree abated. This circumstance being discovered by Williamson, he beat the girl in a most barbarous manner, and threatened that if she again offended in the same way he would punish her with still greater severity.

Williamson released his wife on the Sunday preceding the day on which she died, and at dinner-time cut her some meat, of which, however, she ate only a very small quantity. This partial indulgence he supposed would prove a favourable circumstance for him, in case of being accused of murder.

Her hands being greatly swelled, through the coldness of the weather and the pain occasioned by the handcuffs, she begged to be permitted to go near the fire, and, the daughter joining in her request, Williamson complied. When she had sat a few minutes, Williamson, observing her throwing the vermin that swarmed upon her clothes into the fire, ordered her to "return to her kennel." Thereupon she returned to the closet, the door of which was then locked till next day, when she was found to be in a delirious state, in which she continued till the time of her death, which happened about two o'clock on the Tuesday morning.

The coroner's jury being summoned to sit on the body, and evidence being adduced to incriminate Williamson, he was committed to Newgate. At the ensuing sessions at the Old Bailey he was brought to trial before Lord Chief Baron Parker, and sentenced to death. From the time of his commitment to prison till the time of his execution he behaved in a very decent and penitent manner. The gallows was placed on the rising ground opposite Chiswell Street, in Moorfields. After he had sung a psalm and prayed some time, with an appearance of great devotion, he was turned off, amidst an amazing concourse of people. His body was conveyed to Surgeons' Hall for dissection, and his children were placed in Cripplegate Workhouse.


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