Hanging in Jersey
From an article in Jersey Topic Magazine in 1966
In the ‘good old days’ when a man could be hanged for stealing anything worth more than a shilling, executions were the excuse for a public holiday and were held on market day. Schools were closed — to enable the youngsters to witness the necessity of leading a good life — and announcements of the hanging were made in all churches on the previous Sunday.
There was a real festive spirit among the huge crowd that gathered on Jersey's Tyburn — Gallows Hill. In French it was known as Le Mont es Pendus or Le Mont Patibulaire (the mount of hanging). Today it is called Westmount.
A small summerhouse stands on the spot where, it is thought, four pillars — the King's Gallows — once stood. It is on this site that hundreds of poor wretches drew their last strangled breath.
It takes little imagination to hear the expectant hush that fell on the crowd as a prisoner, under a guard of halberdiers, neared the gibbet. He had marched across the dunes from the prison in York Street — if an atrocious crime had been committed the convicted man was dragged up the steep hill on a hurdle to signify he was not fit to walk on the earth.
Occasionally the huge gatherings had more to please them than the final address by the convict and the 'beauty' of his dispatch. In 1640 the rites were interrupted by the condemned man climbing up a pillar of the gibbet and refusing to come down.
Eventually he was prodded off and fell, with the noose around his neck, to his death. A problem arose. Had the man who displaced him committed murder? Only the hangman was entitled to take a life.
Reference was made in the House of Commons in 1885 to a gruesome but unique episode which had taken place in Jersey 78 years earlier: an event which has since been described as ‘The man they could not hang’.
A private in the 34th Regiment of Light Infantry, William Hales, was condemned for breaking into and robbing a watchmaker's shop in St Helier. A large crowd gathered on Gallow's Hill on Saturday 25 April and gave its usual gasp of appreciation as the hooded body hurtled through the trap.
After a while the executioner noticed signs of life in the victim and, to complete his dreadful task, grabbed the dangling legs and pulled. Instead of dislocating the man's neck, however, this action merely stretched the rope — so much so that the soldier's feet touched the ground,
The executioner, Jean Vasselin, then climbed on to the suspended man's shoulders to dispatch him. Hales' feet were firmly on the ground by this time and he freed himself.
An order was made to collect another rope but officials, officers of the Regiment and the crowd shouted against it. Hales was later granted a pardon by King George III and is said to have settled in England, married, had a large family and died at a ripe old age.
After this incident the office of executioner was abolished by an Order in Council. Hitherto the Maitre des Haute Oeuvres had lived in a special cottage (in what is now Waterworks Valley) and was paid 25 crowns a year.
After each execution he collected threepence from every stall holder in the market and kept the dead man's clothes. Invariably the clothes fetched a high price from the victim’s relations, who bought them back to prevent the body hanging naked.
The last hanging on Gallows Hill — that of Philippe Jolin in 1829 — has mistakenly been called the Island's last public death. Jolin, who blamed his plight on bad company and drink, and the fact that he never paid his devotions to God, has his death recorded in detail by the Gazette de Jersey.
But the final public hanging was that of 20-year-old Francis Bradley, who was hanged on the prison wall in Newgate Street 37 years later. [Editor's note: The writer has failed to mention the next execution, that of Joseph Philip Le Brun on 12 October 1875, which also took place under the same conditions. It was the last public hanging in the British Isles.]
The two column report of Bradley's hanging in the Jersey Times and British Press was written in such flowing prose and contained such intimate details that all modern day commentators seem mere apprentices in their trade.
Of Bradley, convicted of murdering a Miss Le Brun, of St Peter, it was said he had eaten his meals ‘in the same way as any man in perfect health and with a good appetite would have done; but, before noon (on the day before the execution) he evinced signs which indicated that both confidence and appetite were leaving him’. The report added, almost maliciously: ‘He could not eat his dinner’.
Having whetted the appetites of the readers the writer went on to give details of the man playing the supporting role of the show — the executioner. Rumours had been rife: ‘Calcraft was favoured. Smith, who has been long known in Stafford, and who hanged Collier on Tuesday last, at that town, was engaged for the purpose’.
Barriers were fixed in place and the number of people having had a preview of the scene was ‘immense’. The country people began to arrive soon after midnight, and all the streets were crowded.
‘The prisoner went to sleep at two o'clock this morning and did not awake until six. He declined breakfast’. The bearing of the crowd was reported as ‘exemplary’. ‘And there can be no doubt that the carrying out of the law has had the effect which it was intended it should have.’
Not less than 15,000 people assembled, they did not know — until they read in the paper — that Bradley had lost his nerve in the cell when the hangman came to tie his hands.
He ‘gushed into tears; he cried most piteously’. It was thought he would have to be carried to the gallows and, for the officers of justice the position was trying. ‘For a moment they were perplexed’. The prison solved the problem by prescribing a glass of brandy.
Earlier in his report the writer had penned: ‘From an early hour the sun shone brightly and the air was bracing. A nice touch to the pomp and ceremony that went with these occasions was added by the Governor who, on being told that the weapons held by the 150 Halberdiers were not of uniform size, allowed arms to be supplied from Elizabeth Castle.
‘The view below the gallows and round about was solemn and impressive. Every nook and corner from which a good sight could be obtained was occupied’.
Bradley, continued the report, was constantly sweating when he appeared before the crowd — ‘as silent as death’. He mounted the scaffold and was hooded. Not a murmur was heard — ‘somewhat strange, for upon all occasions of this kind at least a moan runs through the crowd’.
The young man fell when the bolt was drawn: ‘Every eye was upon the murderer, but the only motion which could be observed was that he opened his legs wide. The spectators stood breathless. All that could be seen was a twitch of the shoulders’.
Bradley was a dead man in one minute after the trap swallowed him. Most of the crowd had gone before the body had hung the regulation hour, but they learned later that ‘in expression of face Bradley had altered very little’. His grave was ready in the prison yard, he was deposited, and quicklime was thrown in.
Although executions afterwards were held privately in the grounds of the prison — following the successful proposition of the Constable of St Helier in the States, in January 1907 — newspaper reports were not less detailed. The Evening Post of 19 February 1907 gave a lengthy account — plus a photograph — of the hanging of Thomas Connan who was convicted of breaking the second commandment without the law of the land behind him. The report gave the depth of the drop required to kill the man and named the English executioner.
The streets around the prison were cordoned off by police. Three hundred islanders arrived before 8 am for their own personal and peculiar death watch.
‘Fortunately’, said the writer, ‘very few people gathered near the prison which shows that the public taste has grown less morbid.’
On the hour the prison bell began to toll. The law had taken its course. Notices were posted on the prison gate, Full coverage was also given to the inquest which took place later in the day. The jury was told that the execution had been conducted with ‘celerity and in a suitable manner’.
The prison surgeon said that on examining the body once it was cut down, he found one of the upper cervical vertebrae was fractured and the spinal cord compressed. Death was instantaneous.
An official statement issued to the Press and which, without doubt, was avidly read, gave details of how, preceeding the execution in ‘Bradley's Yard’, which was 45 paces from the condemned cell, Connan's arms were tied, he had slept little the night before and that he ate a slight breakfast.
52 years later Francis Joseph Huchet, known as Frank, the last man to hang in Jersey, hooded and bound, stepped onto the indoor trap and hurtled to oblivion. No bell tolled his passing to the 100 or so people congregated outside.
At 7.30 on the morning of Friday 9 October 1959, Frank Huchet, a 32-year-old Jerseyman, died on the gallows in HM Prison. He had paid the penalty for mutilating a fellow islander, John Perree, by shooting him in the face.
This was only the second execution since the turn of the century — the other had been Thomas Connan in 1907. Since 1959 the sentence of death has been passed on three men, Richard Harding Murray Stableford, Anthony Oliver Lynch and Alan William Norton, and all have been reprieved and their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
Francis Joseph Huchet, a Sewerage Board worker, may, therefore, be the last man to pay the ultimate penalty for taking a human life.
The events which led to his death began with a small notice which appeared in the Evening Post on Thursday 2 April. It told how Perree had been missing from home since the previous Monday — Easter Monday. Perree, a bachelor who worked the for Main Roads Department, was blind in his right eye and had a glass- eye. He had been wounded while taking part in the Sicily landings.
Two days later his body was unearthed by children playing in the sand dunes near Spion Kop, Mont a la Brune, St Brelade.
The discovery set off a chain of inquiries and at 2 am on the following day Huchet was fetched from his home at Le Geyt Flats, and three hours later was arrested by Centenier J W Le Breton.
He appeared briefly before the magistrate, R E B Voisin, at the Police Court on Monday. Because there were no other counsel present Advocate J C K H Valpy appeared for the defendant to help the court. He represented Huchet, who was granted legal aid, at the subsequent trial at the Assize.
Evidence was given at the initial hearing by Centenier C E Vibert and Dr D N M Scott Warren. On the five successive Mondays all the witnesses were heard and their evidence built up a case. Huchet was committed to stand trial at the September Assize.
The courtroom was packed on Monday 7 September when the Deputy Bailiff, Cecil Harrison, took his place with Jurats Malet de Carteret, Cabot, Orange, Anthoine, Benest, Ahier, Davey, Graham, Billot, Syvret and Esnouf. Huchet was charged by the Attorney-General, Robert Le Masurier. Advocate Valpy, assisted in the defence by Advocate Philip Le Cras, entered a not guilty plea.
The evidence of 44 witnesses, including two children and experts from the South West Forensic Laboratory, was heard in the days that followed. The court was told that Perree was known to carry large sums of money.
Evidence was given that before he disappeared he had £50 to £60 savings in his wallet, Only £2 9s was found on the body. A witness told the court that he had made some remark to Perree about the money and the future victim said "If anyone wants it more than I do, I'll give it to them."
Details of a shotgun, the sound of a shot late at night, blood stains, a stolen lorry, a diary containing three £5 notes and an anonymous letter were presented. The letter, written on the fly-leaves of a book from the prison library began:
- "To The Judge or Lawyer, I see you have blame Frank Huchet on a murder charge well you are all wrong and I bet Frank was alarm when he was arrested by the CID on the charge. Well I know Frank and I bet he is having a good laugh at all of you because he knows he is innocent of the murder charge and I know it because I am the Man you should have in court on that charge .... "
At 4.15 on Wednesday 9 April Mr Le Masurier completed the prosecution. Mr Valpy said he would not be calling any defence witnesses and Huchet did not go into the witness box. Both counsels addressed the jury and the summing-up was given by the Deputy Bailiff.
The jury filed out at 5.15. The tension which mounts while the 24 chosen representatives of the people consider their verdict is electric. Just under an hour and a half later they returned with a unanimous verdict of guilty.
The Attorney-General addressed the court: "Francis Jospeh Huchet has been found guilty of the crime of murder. The law of this Island is that this offence is punishable by one penalty and one penalty only — and that is the penalty of death. It is my duty to ask the court for that sentence and I formally do so." There was no objection and Huchet was sentenced to death.
A newspaper report said "Huchet, looking completely calm and relaxed, left the court half smiling."
A month later Huchet was hanged within the precincts of the prison. About 100 people gathered outside. The first of them arrived soon after 7 o'clock and watched as the witnesses of the execution arrived. They were Deputy Keith Baal, President of the Prison Board, Dr. P G Bentlif, the prison medical officer, and Mr H V Benest, then Sergeant de Justice. Three uniformed policemen and all the town centeniers patrolled the streets.
Huchet was bound in his cell and hooded as he stood on the trap. His body dropped out of sight when the bolt was pulled. Twenty-three minutes after the Home Office hangman and his two assistants had done their job, the waiting crowd were told that no notice of the execution would be posted. They quietly dispersed.
An inquest was held at the General Hospital later the same morning and it was reported that Huchet, born on 17 January 1928, had died instantaneously.