Repentance and a corresponding conduct are sure of forgiveness, for the past, before Heaven; but earthly tribunals differ from those above; and it is supposed that occasional examples of capital punishment are necessary for the good of society, though the victims of penal laws may have ceased to offend, and consequently, from them individually, there is nothing more to apprehend. In hanging one man, and acquitting another guilty of the same crime, there may be policy; but there certainly is not justice; and he that suffers may reasonably accuse his judges of vindictiveness and partiality. There are, however, shades of criminality which would warrant a difference of punishment, and we hope that, in the present case, these shades were found by the attorney-general, who conducted the prosecution, and we have no reason to suspect he did not.
In 1808, a number of British sailors and mariners were confined, as prisoners of war, in the Isle of France [Mauritius]. The prison, being much crowded, was greatly incommoded with dirt and vermin, and, there being no way of escaping from such inconvenience but that of desertion, every art was practiced by their keepers to induce the unhappy prisoners to enter the French service. Fifty men, among whom were Caudell and Smith, had not virtue enough to resist the temptations on one hand, and the hope of escaping from distress and filth on the other. They forgot their country and allegiance, and put on the enemy's uniform, acting as sentinels over those who were so recently their companions in captivity.
These traitors continued to do duty with the French until the surrender of the island to the British forces, when Caudell and Smith, with ten others, positively refused to accompany the enemy, and threw themselves upon the mercy of their country, having immediately surrendered to the English, while the thirty-eight others marched off to old France.
These culprits were now transmitted to England, and a special commission was issued for their trial, which took place at the Surrey Court House, February the 6th, 1812.
Caudell, Smith, and five others, were found guilty of adhering to his majesty's enemies, when the attorney-general stated that he thought the ends of justice obtained, and that he would not press the conviction of the remaining five, who were discharged, not for any want of proof of their guilt, but through the clemency of the government. He pitied the situation of the unfortunate men at the bar; but as an example, to deter others from forsaking their duty, it was necessary that the law should take its course, in order that those engaged in the service of their country might be impressed with the conviction, that such offenders could not expect to escape the hands of justice. There were reasons for selecting the men who had been tried, as well as those who were acquitted, and, from his official knowledge of the particulars, he thought the ends of justice obtained.
The lord chief baron then proceeded to pass sentence, after a suitable address -- 'That you, and each of you, be taken to the place from whence you came, and thence be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, where you shall be hanged by the necks, but not till you are dead: that you be severally taken down, while yet alive, and your bowels taken out, and burnt before your faces; that your heads be then cut off, and your bodies cut in four quarters, to be at the king's disposal.'
The prisoners were then, after again crying for mercy, reconducted to their cells. Almost every individual in court was dissolved in tears during the melancholy scene.
On Monday morning, the 16th of March, 1812, at eight o'clock, these two young men were conducted from their cells to chapel, from whence, after remaining some time, they were drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and having with becoming fortitude ascended the scaffold, attended by the clergyman, they again spent a short period in prayer, seemingly thoroughly sensible of that fate fast approaching them. The dreadful moment having at length arrived, they were launched off, and their bodies, after hanging nearly half an hour, were taken down. The scene then, while the executioner was performing that part of the remaining sentence, in severing off their heads, and alternately with his right hand presenting each to the surrounding spectators, exclaiming, Behold the bead of a traitor!' became truly awful, and apparently dissolved in tears each individual who beheld the fate of two men, who thus, in the bloom of life, suffered death, according to the laws of their country.
The remaining five were pardoned on condition of serving in colonies beyond the seas.