Joseph Shepherd

Joseph Shepherd was tried for the wilful and deliberate murder of Bethel Parkinson at Wadsworth in January 1858.

He was executed at the Tyburn at York on Saturday, 3rd April 1858 before a crowd of around 10,000 people.

The Halifax Courier describes him:

Shepherd is about 22 years of age and married. His place of abode is at Holdsworth, in Ovenden, a little more that 2 miles from the farm of the murdered man. He is short and somewhat thin, notwithstanding which he seems active and vigorous. Shepherd is the son of a furniture broker, Robert Shepherd, alias Bob o' the Cloggers of Holdsworth, Ovenden and formerly of the Old Workhouse of the same township. He is one of a numerous family. Shepherd the prisoner is very well known in Halifax. He has been in the service of 2 or 3 gentlemen in the town as a groom, and was subsequently hired as a cab-man

The Reynold's Newspaper reported

He was married but lived apart from his wife with his father at Holdsworth. At the trial, [he was] a good-looking young man, of fair complexion, but rather effeminate appearance

In February 1858, newspaper reports said that

the mother of the prisoner is in a distressing state of illness and not likely to survive

The following extracts are from the prison records

[Shepherd] was a most hardened and impenitent wretch and blasphemed to the last

On Tuesday last before the execution, Shepherd said to one of the officers of the prison,

I don't mean to go to hell

whereupon the officer replied,

Don't you?

He then said,

I have done the best I know how

and this drew forth the rejoinder,

I don't think you have

Shepherd then observed,

In what way haven't I?

the answer was,

When one person has injured another in past life, if it lies in his power he has a right to make restitution; you cannot give life, but public justice demands a public confession

Shepherd asked

Would you have me to confess what I never did?

and the reply he received was,

No, but I believe you are guilty

He immediately said,

I am not

He made no confession of his guilt, beyond saying that he knew who had committed the murder.

In the days before his execution, Shepherd

made observations to the effect that he hoped he could have a blow-out before he was hanged, as he should like a good dinner, that he should rather go to hell as he was (that is, die a natural death) than go to heaven with a halter round his neck; that he would rather be shot than hanged, that he was glad the weather was fine, as he would rather be topped in summer than in winter, and that if he caught the watchman in the burial ground after the execution he would give him a good thrashing

This and other conversation equally to be deplored, if not more so, he has indulged in and we believe he has said that at such an hour on Saturday he should be dancing on nothing.

During the present week he, in a jocose manner, made an inquiry if his coffin was made. The officer in charge remonstrated with him, telling him this was not the sort of conversation he ought to indulge in, and asked him if he believed there was a God. The culprit made a reply too irreverent and shocking to be repeated.

On one occasion, after boasting of his innocence, and declaring he had never touched the murdered man, in reply to the interrogatory whether he meant to state that he did not know anything about the transaction, he said

Oh, never mind that.

It is rumoured that he has written to a companion, desiring him to be present at the execution. Askern, the executioner, who resides near Rotherham, arrived at the Castle last night, and will remain there until after the execution.

This morning about four o'clock workmen commenced erecting the scaffold, and at a later hour groups of pedestrians, who had come apparently from a considerable distance to witness the execution, were seen walking about in the streets of the city.

The Execution

The Rev J. Parkes, Wesleyan minister, attended upon the culprit at ten o'clock this morning and remained with him up to the time of the execution.

The criminal still manifested no change in his demeanour and if anything was more callous and impenitent than ever, and he did not add anything to his former statement as to the murder.

At half past eleven o'clock, William Gray, Esq, the under-sheriff, proceeded to the Castle and made the usual formal demand of the body of the culprit.

Precisely at twelve o'clock, Shepherd made his appearance on the scaffold, his face, contrary to the usual custom, being already covered with the white cap. This probably being a precautionary measure in consequence of the threat he had made against the executioner. He was accompanied on to the scaffold by the usual officers.

The culprit knelt down for about a minute, during which the minister engaged in prayer with him, the criminal making the response

Lord have mercy upon me, Christ have mercy upon me

These were the last words he uttered and he then nimbly sprang to his feet and submitted to the operation of having his feet secured.

The rope was then adjusted by Askern, the bolt was drawn and the criminal soon afterwards ceased to exist, but not without a considerable amount of struggling.

The crowd was one of the largest ever assembled on a similar occasion, and numbered from 10,000 to 15,000 persons, a large proportion of whom were women and boys. The whole of the people conducted themselves with more decorum than is frequently observed on such occasions and several robust-looking men, apparently strangers, actually fainted away during the execution.

We may state that contrary to the practice hitherto observed on such occasions, the sacrament was not administered, nor was the burial service read on his way to the scaffold.

The body, after having been suspended until one o'clock, was cut down and buried within the precincts of the prison in accordance with the sentence which was passed upon him.

Newspaper reports estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 people assembled to see the execution. Shepherd's wife and his parents were present at the execution, as were the widow of the murdered man Bethel Parkinson and his father

© Malcolm Bull 2022
Revised 13:13 / 19th January 2022 / 9538

Page Ref: X4

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