Corders Execution

The Red Barn Murder

The Execution

Corder was hanged before an audience of thousands shortly after noon on August 11th 1828, just 3 days after the trial ended. People had travelled from miles around, even from London, to witness the event. Some had arrived as early as five in the morning to get a good view. There were many women in the crowd, some dressed in the most fashionable clothes. On the scaffold, Corder again confessed his guilt. Curtis, who witness the event, described the hanging thus:
"Everything being completely adjusted, the executioner descended from the scaffold, and just before the Reverend Chaplain [i.e. the prison chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Stocking] had commenced his last prayer, he severed, with a knife, the rope which supported the platform, and Corder was cut off from the land of the living. Immediately he was suspended Ketch grasped the culprit around the waist, in order finish his earthly sufferings, which were at an end in a very few minutes. In his last agonies, the prisoner raised his hands several times; but the muscles soon relaxed, and they sank as low as the bandage around his arm would permit."

The body was taken down after and hour and removed to the Shire Hall where it was cut open from throat to abdomen to expose the muscles. The public were then allowed to file past to view it "divested of all its clothing, excepting the trowsers and stockings." The doors closed at 6 pm and the body was prepared for the casts to be made. Both head and face were shaved. Curtis remarks "The countenance did not appear much changed, except that the under lip was drawn down so as to expose the teeth in the upper jaw: this had the effect, in a great degree, of obliterating the indentation which in life was very observable on the top of the chin. There appeared to be a considerable effusion of blood about the neck and throat, occasioned by the pressure of the rope in the moment of strangulation." The body was afterwards taken down for dissection to the County Hospital "in a state of nudity" the hangman having claimed the trousers and stockings as a "matter of right". The dissection began the next day. Parts of the body were preserved. The scalp with one ear attached, along with other relics of the murder, can still be seen at Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds.

Not long before the sentence was carried out Corder was allowed to pen a final letter to his wife as Curtis recounts.

Corder's Last Letter to his wife

Shortly before the period arrived when he was to be taken to suffer, the prisoner signified his wish to write a few lines to his hapless and broken-hearted wife - his request was granted. He then sat down, and wrote the following with a tolerably steady hand: --

" My life's loved Companion, - I am now going to the scaffold and I have a lively hope of obtaining mercy and pardon for my numerous offences. May Heaven bless and protect you throughout this transitory vale of misery, and when we meet again, may it be in the regions of bliss! Adieu, my love, adieu! In less than an hour I hope to be in Heaven. My last prayer is that God will endue you with patience, fortitude, and resignation to his Divine will--rest assured that his wise providence wil work all things together for your good.

"The awful sentence which has been passed upon me, and which I am now summoned to answer, I confess is very just, and I die on peace with all mankind. I feel truly grateful for the kindnesses I have received from Mr. Orridge, and for the religious instruction and consolation I have received from the Reverend Mr. Stocking, who has promised to take my last words to you.

"Adieu - W. C."

The above letter was then handed to the Reverend Chaplain, together with two books, which the prisoner requested that gentleman to deliver to Mrs. Corder, as soon as convenient after his execution.

The Chaplain promised to comply with this request, and he fulfilled his promise in the course of the day.

(from Curtis, p. 296)

Account of Corder's execution, transcribed from Curtis, p. 297 & following.

We have at length arrived at the concluding act of this dreadful tragedy. "Blood for blood" is the cry of nature, as well as the demand of divine legislation, and also of the laws of all civilised communities, and the blood of the criminal is now to be shed, in order to expiate the foul offence of which he had been guilty.

At half past eleven o'clock, T.R. Holmes , Esq., the Under Sheriff, announced to the prisoner , through Mr. Orridge, that the time had arrived when he must resign himself to the officers of justice, and submit to the usual preparation for execution!* Awful annunciation! Although Corder was well aware of the precise time fixed for his exit from this world, (and he could see the minutes glide away by the prison dial which was within his view,) he appeared to start when the announcement was made; but he soon recovered himself, and descended to a room immediately under his cell, where his arms were pinioned, and his wrists tied by the executioner who officiates at the metropolitan prison of Newgate. During the time of these awful and preliminary preparations, the Reverend Chaplain whispered some consolatory words in his ear, when Corder falteringly exclaimed several times "May God forgive me!" "O Lord, receive my guilty soul!" His handkerchief was then taken from his neck, and put into his bosom, the executioner, at the same time, inquiring whether he would like to have it bound over his eyes at the place of execution. To this Corder made no reply. Every thing being ready, several sheriffs' officers attended, with their wands, to conduct the criminal to the platform, but, before they did so, his dying, and, we must say, laudable request was complied with. He was taken round to the different wards of the prison, at the gates of which the inmates were assembled, all of whom he shook by the hand. It is quite clear that Corder, at this time, was in full possession of his faculties, because he gave a very significant shake of the hand to some prisoners who had known him from childhood. He, in particular, singled out one of these of the name of Nunn, and, on taking his hand, shook it with more vigour than he manifested in regard to the others, and said to him, Nunn, may God Almighty bless you†!"

The unfortunate felons whom he addressed appeared to be much affected while he was bidding them farewell, and we hope that the impression will never be obliterated from their minds.

After he had gone round to the entrance of the several wards of the gaol, which are ranged round the Governor's house, he proceeded to the debtors' yard, when three of the inmates came to the grating, and cordially shook him by the hand. After he had preformed this duty, which Mr. Orridge thought was calculated to prove beneficial to the juvenile offenders in particular, the procession was formed in the usual manner, in order to advance toward the scaffold. The Under Sheriff and the Governor took the lead, and Mr. Stocking followed next, reading, with great solemnity, part of the burial service. Corder was sometimes at the side and sometimes in the rear, of the clergyman. His walk was not firm, neither could it be termed very unsteady, excepting when he once made a trip against a pebble. He was dressed exactly the same as on the days of trial, with the exception of his having substituted a pair of speckled worsted stockings for the silk and cotton ones. On the procession reaching the steps which led to the platform, it halted for a minute, when Mr. Stocking, to whom the prisoner again made his grateful acknowledgments, read the following passage : "I am the resurrection and the life : he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die." The officers and reporters having taken their places within the railing, and the executioner standing ready with the rope and cap in his hand, the prisoner was immediately conducted, by Mr Orridge, to that fatal plank, from whence he was to be launched into an eternal world.

The prospect from the place where the wretched criminal stood, is of the most beautiful description. The foreground consists of softly-swelling or gently-rising hills, which are bounded in the distance by extensive plantations of evergreens, so that they form a sort of picturesque amphitheatre round the prison. But to his view, upon whom the eyes of thousands were fixed, this lovely scene of romantic beauty had no charms ; and almost as soon as he glanced upon it, it was shut from his sight for ever.

* It is not customary here, as in London, for the High Sheriff to attend the execution of criminals.

¤Such was the certainty which the local authorities enter[ta]ined of a conviction, that they sent a "retaining fee" to the finisher of the law; and, in order to insure his important services, ordered him to proceed to Bury forthwith, and he actually started with a double set of furniture [ropes], as Jack calls them, before the prisoner was put upon his trial, and arrived at the place of destination twenty hours before it terminated.

†This was the man, to whom he frequently said before the trial, "That sword will go near to hang me."

From Curtis, p288 and following


On the night previous to the execution, several persons who had not been present at the Assizes arrived at Bury, for the purpose of being present at the moment when Corder was to expiate his offence by the forfeiture of his life, influenced, no doubt, by the belief that the culprit would make some extraordinatry declarations relative to his mysterious life ; or, perhaps, in the expectation that he would make an ample confession of his guilt. This being Sunday, there was a great number of persons hovering about the front of the gaol, or parading about it, in order to catch a glance of the spot where Corder was to die.
As early as five o'clock on Monday morning, hundreds of rustics poured into the town from different parts of the county ; and by six, chaises, gigs and vehicles of every description, some of which conveyed ten or twelve passengers, lined the several streets, until at length every stable and yard was full, as were also the inns and public-houses, so that adequate accommodation could not be afforded to either man or beast, and hundreds who had not been provident enough to bring food with them, were obliged to go to the place of execution in fasting condition. The visiters [sic] consisted of almost every grade of society ; but there were more labouring men than any other class : for although it was a fine harvest-day, the reapers, &c for miles around "struck," and came in gangs to witness the end of the murderer. The reason why they came so early, in all probability was in consequence of a rumour having been circulated, that the execution would take place at nine o'clock. Among the concourse of visiters, [sic] were an extraordinary number from the vicinity of Polstead, who started from their respective places of abode at midnight. Boxford alone was said to supply near two hundred persons, and many came from places more distant than Norwich, Newmarket, or Cambridge.

Before seven o'clock a number of persons had taken their places in the paddock ; but as the workmen were erecting the gallows and platforms, and also putting down the barriers, the crowd was removed by the constables, and the gate locked. The people did not seem to resent this ejectment, because Mr. Orridge signified, that as soon as the workmen had completed their preparations, the gates should be re-opened, and this promise was performed between nine and ten o'clock, when the people rushed in by thousands, every one being anxious to get a standing place near the scaffold.

A footnote in Curtis states that Jack Ketch was a general name for a hangman dating from 1682, when the office was filled by a famous practitioner of that name.

Various corespondence relating to the autopsy on Corder's body.

Letter from Mr. Creed to the Editor, containing anatomical and other observations connected with the dissection of Corder:-
" Bury St. Edmund's, Aug. 13.
" SIR,
" As you wished to know how the dissection of William Corder was conducted, I with pleasure inform you, according to my promise. I did not write yesterday, think- ing that the result of two days' dissection would be more satisfactory to you. At ten o'clock Mr. Smith and myself (two of the surgeons of the Suffolk hospital) proceeded to dissect the body. Dr. Yellowby, a physician of Norwich hospital, came over for the express purpose of seeing the surfaces of the mucous and serous membranes exposed: there were also a great number of medical gentlemen from considerable distances present, as well as those residing in this town and its immediate neighbourhood. The first step of dissection was to examine the parts of the sternum, and accurately to describe them to the gentlemen present, which, from the fine state of the subject, and his great muscularity, were well marked; the external and internal abdominal wings were exposed to view, as well as the fascias, &c. &c. forming the stricture in that dreadful disease. The cavity of the thorax or chest was next laid open, and the truth of his (Corder) having laboured under a pleuritic disease was verified by the firm adhesions of the lungs (on the right side) to the pleura covering the ribs ; with this exception the whole viscera of the thorax, abdomen, and pelvis, were remarkably healthy. A quantity of serous fluid was effused into both sides of the chest, (about two or three ounces,) and the lungs were gorged with blood.
" Upon the pericardium being opened, about half an ounce of serum was discovered in the heart, which was about the natural size. The left side was quite empty, but the riglit auricle and ventricle were full of blood, as well as the descending and ascending vena cava, the contents of which, from the sudden death of Corder, was perfectly fluid. Not the least coagulum was found in the cavities of the heart,-the internal surface of the aorta and vena cava were very abraded, but the external surface was more so-the vasa vasorum be- ing fully distended, the stomach was removed, and carefully examined. Upon the inner surface being exposed, it ex- hibited very strong marks of what is generally called in- flammation, the mucous and villous coats being loaded with blood, and the rugæ of the latter coat were very prominent, and corresponded with the description of the membranes so well explained, and published by Dr. Yel- lowby, in a number of the Philosophical Transactions. That gentleman obligingly explained the phenomenon, and compared it. with the state of the stomach of persons dying from poison, and from hydrophobia, which it closely re- sembles, showing how fallacious must be the opinion that rests only upon one proof of either such important circum- stances; the pylorus of the stomach, and the duodenum, were more vascular than any other part-the large and other small intestines partook of this state; the kidneys were rather enlarged.
" An interesting discussion took place, respecting the cause of death from hanging-whether it was suffocation or pressure upon the spinal chord. From the circumstance of the chest and shoulders of Corder being observed to heave several minutes after the drop fell, it was generally admitted that death roost probably took place from the latter cause.
" I must not forget to mention the remarkable contraction of the stomach, as well as of the bladder, probably de- pending upon the shock given to the nervous system. The abdomen contained a considerable quantity of fluid. The thoracic duct was very * * * to its conjunction with the left subclavian vein, but there was no appearance of chyle in it. It is to be regretted that the brain cannot be examined, as the determination of making a skeleton prevents any part of the bones being destroyed. The trachea, or windpipe, was examined, and part of it laid open -it appeared very highly inflamed on its internal surface. "The dissection is to be resumed to-morrow; and it has on both days excited considerable interest, and a great number of respectable persons have visited the hospital, and witnessed it. With regard to the phrenological proportions of the head, they are not yet fully described. My friend, Mr. Child of Bungay, took two moulds from it, but not having yet finished a cast, there has not been time to ex- amine the different developements.
" The remark of Mr. Child was, that there was rather a want of the parts indicating 'intellectual qualities. The forehead, although high, was very depressed, or inclined backwards.
" The moment that the result of Mr. Child's investigation reaches me, I will forward it to you.
" I find that the Reverend Mr. Stocking has ordered a cast to be forwarded to you.
" I am fearful that some little inaccuracies will he found in this account; but you will excuse them, from the hurry in which I am obliged to write, my time being so occupied in the dissection, and my other professional avocations; but I would not allow a day to pass, without furnishing you with the best account I could.

"I remain, Sir,
" Your obedient servant,

To Mr. J. C.

We were also favoured with the following letter from Mr. Creed, pursuant to his promise of the l3th of August.

" Bury, Aug, 16, 1828.
" SIR,
" I take the earliest opportunity of informing you of the result of my friend's inquiry respecting the phrenolo- gical developements of Corder's head. I heard from him last night. * * * He finds the following organs, which form the principal features of the cranium, viz. Secretiveness, acquisitiveness, destructiveness, philoprogenitiveness, and imitativeness. I may add, that a cast has been sent to Dr. Spurzheim, whose report we expect in a few days. If, therefore, you wish for his opinion, I shall be happy to send it you.
" The dissection is nearly completed. The muscles of the arm have been dissected, and a fine cast of them has been taken. The heart I, also, have minutely dissected, and shall make a preparation of it. Thus shall I be able to show visitors to our hospital, at distant periods, the skeleton, heart, and cast of the outward features of the head and face of this horrid murderer.

" I remain. Sir,
" Your obedient servant,
" G. CREED."

To Mr. J. C.

The same post conveyed the following, which was written by a medical gentleman, of great re- spectability, residing in Bury.

" Bury St. Edmund's, Aug. 16, 1828.
"Dear Sir,
" In compliance with your request, made through Mr. Orridge, I shall endeavour to furnish you with the most prominent appearances which were presented on the dissec- tion of Corder's body.
" On the removal of the body to the Shire-hall, where it was visited by several thousands of people, male and female, casts were taken of the head and neck by Mazotti. We have had no special Phrenologists here for the purpose of examination, and Phrenology is a science in which I am not minutely versed; still I am enabled to give you the deve- lopement of tlie most material organs of the murderer's cranium. The Craniologists will doubtlessly arrogate Mr. Corder's head, as a support to their now half-exploded sci- ence. The organ of destructiveness is, unfortunately, ex- tremely small; but to counterbalance that defect, we have those of combativeness and secretiveness, very large; as also that of acquisitiveness (theft). Adhesiveness (or attach- ment) is likewise fully developed; so is cautiousness. Firm- ness (or perseverance) is rather full. The intellectual deve- lopement is very confined. The organs of benevolence and veneration are almost wanting.
" Corder's body, though measuring something less than .five feet six, affords as fine a display of muscular proportion and strength, a capite ad calcem, as I have ever witnessed. The muscles of the limbs, particularly, prove him to have possessed great activity and power. I should say, arguing from the appearance of the muscles and ligaments of the feet and legs, that he was a first-rate pedestrian, or might have been, if he pleased.
" The body was perfectly healthy, and every organ sound. The suspicion of incipient disease of the lungs, alluded to by the surgeon for the defence, seems to have had little real foundation in fact. The most interesting appearance to the anatomist in this dissection, was that presented by the sto- mach and intestines on opening the abdomen. These ap- peared as if in a state of high inflammation, exhibiting, almost throughout, a fine vermilion blush. The stomach was very much corrugated, and had the cause of death been unknown, might have raised an opinion, from its appearance externally and internally, that the person had been destroyed by a large dose of arsenic. This was, however, exactly the appearance we were led to expect from former experience.
" Some of your metropolitan prints, I perceive, an- nounced the discovery of some scrofulous marks on the neck. They were deceived (I calculate) by the handywork of Mr. Foxton, as I could trace none such on the most minute inspection. All the marks which I could trace were the cicatrices of some old* * * " chancres.

" Dear Sir,
"Yours truly,

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