January 15, 2016, by Harry Cocks
The Execution of Benjamin Candler, Valet to the Duke of Newcastle, 1823.
On Friday 21 March 1823, three men – a half-pay army lieutenant named William Arden; John Doughty, a joiner, of Grantham, and Benjamin Candler, valet to the 4th Duke of Newcastle at Clumber Park – were hanged at Lincoln for sodomy or, as the handbill produced to commemorate the event said, ‘for committing Horrid Crimes’. As I outline in an article for East Midlands History (see link below) the events that led to Candler’s downfall began in the late summer of 1822. William Arden had been living in Grantham for the hunting season, and had become acquainted with his two fellow defendants and a third man, Henry Hackett, an apprentice draper in that town. The links between them were discovered in September, when Hackett wrote a letter to Candler at Clumber. At that time, peers and MPs were allowed to receive letters without paying postage, and Hackett had aimed to avoid that expense by sending the letter under the Duke of Newcastle’s frank. However, he had neglected to address the envelope specifically to Candler, with the result that the Duke or one of his secretaries had opened it.
After Hackett’s letter to Candler was discovered, the servants at Clumber were interviewed and Candler admitted to knowing the apprentice. Candler’s answers ‘being suspicious and unsatisfactory,’ a gentleman was sent to Grantham to make further inquiries. Hackett, ‘whose guilty mind instantly became conscious of his danger,’ agreed to confess all he knew in order to try and save his own life. One report claimed that ‘these wretches are part of a gang; and that the number of individuals already implicated in the affair amounted to thirty-six’. Following Hackett’s testimony, Arden was arrested at his home in Golden Square in London and conveyed back to Lincoln in a mail coach. The lieutenant was said to be ‘the Lucifer of the gang’ and ‘by rank . . . entitled to be called a gentleman’. In prison awaiting trial, Arden appears to have gone on hunger strike, in order, as the handbill which recounted his execution said, ‘to anticipate the fate that awaited him by an attempt at starving himself to death!’
The trial of the three men on 14 March 1823 was unusual in taking up almost twelve hours – most cases even for serious offences like these lasted no longer than a few minutes. Mr Justice Park told the men that even though the principal witness against them had been of his own admission participes crimines, which meant that his evidence usually required corroboration, ‘he could not perceive how the Jury, consistently with their oaths, could have come to any other conclusion’. Hackett’s evidence ‘had been so confirmed in many essential points of his evidence, that the jury could not but give credit to his testimony’. Moreover, the crime of which the prisoners had been found guilty, ‘was too dreadful to reflect upon; it was of so horrible a nature, that in every page of the law it had been designated as an “offence not to be named among Christians”’. The Almighty had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for it, ‘and to persons convicted of such a crime, against whom God had denounced the punishment of death, a British Judge could not, dared not, hold out hopes of mercy in this world’.
“Horrid Crimes, Unnatural Offences”, East Midlands History and Heritage 2 (December 2015)
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