Catherine Murphy (died 18 March 1789) was an English counterfeiter and the last woman in England to be officially burned at the stake. She and her husband Hugh were convicted of coining[a]Forging coins at the Old Bailey in London, and sentenced to death on 18 September 1788.[1] The pair were executed on the morning of 18 March 1789 at Newgate Prison, along with seven other men who had been convicted of various offences.[2]

The eight men were executed by hanging. But being a woman, the law demanded that Catherine should be burned at the stake. She was brought out past the hanging bodies of the others, and made to stand on a one-foot (0.3 m) high, 10-inch-square platform in front of the stake, to which she was secured with ropes and an iron ring. When she finished her prayers, her executioner, William Brunskill, piled faggots of straw around the stake and lit them. According to testimony given by Sir Benjamin Hammett, the Sheriff of London, he gave instructions that she should be strangled before being burned. She was reportedly tied with one rope around her neck, after which the platform was removed from under her feet and 30 minutes passed before the fire was lit; thus she was not actually burned alive.[b]Catherine HayesCatherine Hayes née Hall (1690–1726), was the last woman in England to be executed by being burned alive. was the last woman to burned alive in England, in 1726. But Catherine remains the last person to have been sentenced and at least officially executed by the method of burning. In part through the efforts of Sir Benjamin Hammett, who presented Catherine’s execution as an example when he criticised this form of punishment, burning as a method of execution was abolished the following year by the Treason Act 1790.[3]

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Bibliography


Staff writer. “Old Bailey Intelligence.” The Times, 19 Sept. 1788, p. 3.
Staff writer. “News.” The Times, 19 Mar. 1789, p. 3.
Wilson, James Holbert. Tenple Bar, The City Golgotha: A Narrative of the Historical Occurrences of a Criminal Character Associated with the Present Bar (1853). 1853.

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