Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders
"Dying speeches" and "Bloody Murders" were terms used in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Great Britain to refer to cheap broadsides, sold in the streets and at the place of execution, which reported sensational crimes or described public hangings. A typical example of this type of street literature is An Account of the Trial, Execution, and Dying Behaviour of Henry Fauntleroy who was executed in 1824 for the crime of forgery. A sheet of paper printed on only one side and measuring about 50 x 36 cm. (20 x 14 inches), the broadside contains illustrations (here, a portrait of Fauntleroy and a scene depicting the execution); a description of the accused's last hours; and a confession, often in the form of cautionary verse. One or more of these features are present in most examples of the genre.
The production of street literature was a specialty of only a few printers in London and the principal cities of the United Kingdom. In London the chief producers were the printing establishments of James Catnach, Thomas Birt, and John Pitts, two of whom printed the Fauntleroy broadsides shown here. Profits depended on the printer's ability to produce and sell broadsides quickly and cheaply to a definite audience -- the middle and lower classes. Production costs were modest; a broadside required minimal setting of type and presswork, and stock woodcuts could be reused as the occasion demanded. For sensational crimes, a printer would frequently produce more than one version of the event: the broadside first reporting the crime could subsequently be edited to include accounts of later developments, or in particularly important cases, to display illustrations of the perpetrator, the scene of the crime, or the actual place of execution. The following broadsides relating to the Fauntleroy case demonstrate this phenomenon.
Beginning in 1815, Henry Fauntleroy (1784-1824), the managing partner of a Marylebone banking house, forged his clients' signatures to embezzle funds which he used to support his expensive amours. Fauntleroy was arrested on 11 September 1824 when his misdeeds were at last discovered. Enhanced by his social station in life and by his alleged moral depravities, his notoriety in the ensuing weeks attracted much attention in the popular press. He was found guilty at his trial at the Old Bailey on 30 October 1824 and sentenced to death. Despite two appeals on points of law, Fauntleroy was hanged outside Newgate prison exactly a month after the original verdict; the crowd was estimated to number 100,000.
Contemporary printed accounts of the Fauntleroy case can be found in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey and in the issues of The Times (London) for October and November 1824. In addition to the broadside above, our collection of digitized broadsides includes an additional four devoted to this case: