Tuesday, 16 February 2010


In the Exeter Flying Post for the tenth of August 1814 was reported the hanging of William Vincent, a smuggler who, with other smugglers, had murdered an exciseman. The murder had taken place nine years before on the beach near Churston Ferrers. The exciseman was called Thomas Wills. The news of William Vincent’s grisly execution must have made chilling reading for the many in Lympstone and Kenton and elsewhere on the Estuary who were working hand in glove with the free traders of the coast ferrying the contraband goods across the Exe on their way up country.

The evidence against William Vincent was strong enough for him to be found guilty at the Exeter Assizes and he was sentenced to be hung by the neck at the Devon Gaol Drop on Saturday the third of August. The prisoner, however, had a knife with which, very early in the morning of the fatal day, he tried to cut his own throat, “but not so effectually as to deprive him of existence.” He was carried to the execution platform on a bed and with not much life left in him. When the hangman turned him off, “the blood gushed from his wound, flowing over his body and arms which rendered it a most shocking sight to the spectators.” After his bleeding corpse had dangled for the prescribed time it was taken to the Devon and Exeter Hospital for dissection.

The parson sighed, put down his paper and reached for the brandy.


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