three pairs of lovers with space

THE HANGING OF JAMES NEHEMIAH TAYLOR, 1809

 

James Nehemiah Taylor (1771-1809) was a surgeon in the British Royal Navy who was court-martialled and hung for having sodomised a boy, implicitly aged under fourteen.[1]  Here are presented all the known reports on the case which contribute anything original.

 

The Globe (London), 13 December 1809

COURT MARTIAL.

Monday morning, a Court-Martial was held on James Nehemiah Taylor, Esq., surgeon of His Majesty's ship Jamaica, of 24 guns, on board His Majesty's ship Gladiator, in Portsmouth Harbour.

 
MEMBERS OF THE COURT: Captain Lee, President, …, M. Greetham, Esq. Judge-Advocate.
         

The Court being sworn, the Prisoner was brought in, attended by the Provost Marshal, when the Judge Advocate read the charge, in which the prisoner was accused of an abominable offence on Thomas Ashton, a boy of the Royal Marines, his servant, on board the Jamaica, on the 23d of August last, on her voyage from Halifax.
         

John Harris, a sail-maker, belonging to His Majesty's ship Jamaica, sworn and examined by Capt. Lysaght, of the Jamaica.         

Relate to the Court every thing you know relative to the charge against the Prisoner.

A midshipman in the Royal Navy, ca. 1800

– A. On the 23d of August last, the ship being at sea, I had been covering a gun rope, in the place of paddings, for the table; I carried it down into the after-gun-room, betwixt the hours of 3 and 4 o'clock in the afternoon; on my doing so, I saw two boys, A. Minnet and Adam Clarke, and Benj. Kindon, a marine, acting as wardroom-steward. The boys were laughing; I asked them what they were laughing at? Minnet said “come here and I will shew you.” Accordingly I looked through a small hole that is cut in the corner of the Prisoner's cabin, for the tiller to traverse over; I saw Mr. Taylor and Thomas Ashton, his servant, a marine boy. Witness then proceeded to detail the particulars; and his evidence was fully corroborated by Benjamin Kindon, Abraham, Minnet, and other witnesses.
         

The evidence for the prosecution being closed, the Prisoner requested time to prepare his defence; which was granted, and the Court adjourned until next day (yesterday).
         

At one o'clock yesterday the Court met again, and the prisoner’s defence was read, in which he insisted that it was a false charge, originating in malice, he having formerly accused the witness Kindon with embezzling and seling wine and spirits belonging to the ship. He also dwelt much upon his previous good character, and urged the improbability of the charge. The reading of his defence having finished, the following witnesses were called on the part of the prisoner:–
         

William Arthur, a private marine, belonging to His Majesty's ship Jamaica, called in, and sworn:       

Prisoner asked – Did you, when in the Jamaica, receive any spirits from Ben. Kindon, when acting as gun-room steward of that ship.

– A. Yes; some rum, about half a gallon, about six months ago, when the ship lay at Spithead, getting in her masts.         

Q. Was you a prisoner when you bought the rum?

– A. Yes, I was.         

Q. Have you also known of wine being sold by Benjamin Kindon, while acting as gun-room steward, to one Ward, a marine?

– No; I do not know that he sold the wine; I saw Ward with some wine.         

Q. Do you know of Abraham Minnet, the witness examined against me on this trial, being flogged for a thief, on board the Jamaica, for stealing wine?

Ships anchored in Portsmouth Harbour by Thomas Rowlandson, 1814

– A. No, I cannot say; I heard that he had stolen part of a bottle of wine in his master's cabin; I do not know what he was flogged for.         

Q. Did Jones partake of the spirits bought of Kindon?

– A. Jones was in irons at the time I was, and drank some of the spirits; but I do not know of whom he bought it.

Q. Did you give B. Kindon a seven-shilings-piece?

– Yes, I did.         

Q. Did he return you the charge?

– No, he did not; he should have returned two shillings; as Jones and I were both in irons, Kindon said that Jones owed him some money, and that he would keep the shillijngs in part of it.         

The Court asked – Have you, at any time since the 23d of August last, received any present from the Prisoner?

– A. No. I have not.
         

William Jones, a seaman belong to the Jamaica, called in and sworn,        

The Prisoner asked – Did you, when in the Jamaica, and when, buy any spirits of Benjamin Kindon, when acting as gun-room steward of that sip?

– A. No, I never did.         

Q. Did you see William Arthur buy any spirits?

– A. I did not see him buy any; about six months ago I was a Prisoner, and Arthur a centry over me, I think he had about a pint in a bottle; I never asked him how he came by it; two ship-mates of Arthur's came to see him from the sheer hulk, at Spithead, and there was about a gill a-piece.         

Q. Do you know of Abraham Minnet, the witness examined against me on this trial, being flogged for a thief on board the Jamaica, for sealing of wine?

– A. Yes, I saw him flogged; they said they found a bottle of wine in his master's cabin.         

COURT. – Q. Did you ever owe any money to Kindon, the wardroom steward?

–: A. No.         

Q. Did you ever purchase any spirits of him?

– A. No.
         

The Royal Hospital, Haslar, where Taylor's father had been Dispenser, and whence he drew five of his character witnesses (aquatint by J. Wells, 1799)

John Lind, M.D. of Portsmouth,[2] being sworn –        

The Prisoner asked, have you known me formerly when at Haslar, when you resided there as physician?

– A. I did.         

Q. What was my general character at that time?

– A. At that time the Prisoner's character was correct.
         

Robert Hope, M.D. physician of Hasler Hospital,[3] called in and sworn.         

Q. Have you known me formerly, when on shore up to last summer; and what has been my general character since that time?

– A. I have known the Prisoner for several years; during which time I have never known any thing improper belonging to his character.
         

Charles Dods, of the Royal Hospital, sworn.         

Q. Have you known me for some years past; and what has been my general character during that time?

– A. I have always entertained the most honourable and respectable character of him.
         

Mr. John Waithinson, Hospital Mate, sworn.         

Q. How long has you known me, and what has been my general character during that period?

– A. I have known Mr. Taylor thirteen years nearly; when on shore we lived together; I always entertained the highest opinion of his character in every respect. I have known him also to be the sole support of his sister for many years.
         

Lieut. John Martin, of Haslar Hospital, sworn.         

Q. How long have you known me, and what has been my general character during that period?

– A. I have known him eighteen years; he was with me in the Magnificent as an assistant surgeon, and then bore an excellent character; he has never been with me since. I have several times been in his company since, and always found him a very respectable young man.
         

Pencil drawing of Arthur Lysaght, Taylor's commander, later, when he had become an admiral

Capt. Arthur Lysaght[4] sworn.         

Q. Will you please to state to the Court, how long you have known me, and what has been my general character while I have been in the Jamaica?

– A. Prior to the charge, the Prisoner, I think, but will not be certain, has been about a year and three-quarters, surgeon of the ship; and, prior to this unfortunate business, I considered his character as a very good one.
         

William Arthur was again called in – The following question was repeated to him by the Court:–         

Q. Have you, at any time since the 23d of August, last, received any present from the Prisoner?

– A. No, I have not.         

Q. Have you received a ring from him?

– A. I picked up a ring; I was shaking Mr. Taylor's carpet in his cabin, in the morning, about a week or a fortnight since, a ring fell out, which I shewed to Mr. Taylor; he said it was not gold, and he did not care what I did with it; I kept it. – The witness produced it.
         

The COURT was cleared, and agreed that the charge had been proved against the said Nehemiah Taylor, and did adjudge him to suffer death, by being hanged by the neck on board such ship of His Majesty, and at such a time, as the Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Ireland, &c. or any three of them for the time being, should direct.
         

The Court was again opened, the Prisoner brought in, audience admitted, and sentence passed accordingly.

 

The court martial proceedings were also reported more briefly in the Morning Chronicle (London), British Press (London) and the Sun (London) of 14 December, the  Kentish Gazette of 15 December, the Bristol Mirror of 16 December, and the National Register of 17 December 1809.

 

The Globe (London), 27 December 1809

PORTSMOUTH, DEC. 26.
This morning Mr. J. H. Taylor, late Surgeon of His Majesty's ship Jamaica, suffered death, in conformity with his sentence, for an abominable offence.

Portsmouth Harbour by Neil Marshall

Kentish Weekly Post, Friday, 29 December 1809

Tuesday morning, Mr. N. Taylor, late Surgeon of his Majesty's ship Jamaica, suffered death, at Portsmouth, for a crime against nature, in conformity with his sentence.

 

Bristol Mirror, Saturday, 30 December 1809

On Monday, Nehemiah Taylor, surgeon of H. M. ship Jamaica, was executed at the yard-arm of that ship, at Portsmouth, for a detestable offence. This wretched man was about thirty seven years of age; 18 of which he had been a surgeon in the royal navy. He was very respectably allied by family connections. His crime he confessed, with sincere repentance.

 

Hampshire Chronicle, 1 January 1810

On Tuesday morning Mr. Nehemiah Taylor, surgeon of his Majesty’s ship Jamaica, was executed at the yard arm of that ship, for a detestable offence. This unfortunate gentleman was about 37 years of age, eighteen of which he had been a surgeon in the royal navy. He had very respectably allied connections. His crime he confessed, with sincere repentance and contrition.

 

Hampshire Telegraph, 1 January 1810

A chaplain and captain in the Royal Navy

PORTSMOUTH,
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 30, 1809.

On Saturday morning last, the warrant for the execution of Mr. James Nehemiah Taylor, surgeon of his Majesty's ship Jamaica, sentenced to suffer death for an abominable crime, was received. – Capt. Hall,[5] of his Majesty's ship Puissant, on board which ship the Prisoner was confined, soon afterwards called on the Rev. Mr. Howell, Chaplain of that ship, and they both proceeded on board the Puissant.         

A surgeon on a man-of-war, ca. 1807 by Wm. Younghusband

On their arrival, Captain Hall informed the officer of the ship and that the warrant was arrived for the execution of the prisoner, and wished them all to be present when he broke it to him. He then sent a message to the prisoner by the Provost-Marshall, that he (Capt. Hall) wished to have an interview with him, and that he would come to him as soon as he (the prisoner) was ready to receive him. – After a few minutes, a message came from the prisoner that he was ready to receive Captain H.'s commands. The Captain immediately went down to the wardroom, attended by the Commissioned Officers of the ship, the Officers of Marines, and Mr. Howell. – The door of the cabin, which was the first on the starboard side, was opened by the Provost-Marshal, and Captain H. entered the cabin – Mr. Howell followed, and the Officers of the ship came close to the door of the cabin. The prisoner, who was sitting in an arm chair, immediately rose up and made a respectful bow. Capt. H. then addressed him, with saying – “that he felt himself extremely hurt in being obliged to communicate to him unpleasant tidings, but that as he had had so much time attended him since his condemnation, he trusted that he was sufficiently prepared to receive them. He then informed him, in a very solemn and impressive tone of voice, that the warrant was come down to the Admiral’s Office for his execution, and that it was to take place on Tuesday morning.” The prisoner then made another bow, and said – that the intelligence was by no means unexpected, that he had made up his mind to his fate, and had come to receive it with resignation. Captain H. then turning to Mr. Howell, said, “This is Mr. Howell, the Chaplain of this ship, he will feel himself extremely happy if he shall be able to alleviate your misfortune by administering to you the only considerations you can now receive – those of religion.” The Captain and Officers then withdrew, and the prisoner, turning himself to Mr. H. said – that he should feel great comfort in his attendance; that he was not unknown to him; that he had heard him preach at St. John's Chapel; then he enquired after Mr. H. but was informed that he resided in the country; that he was fearful of intruding too much on his time, and subjecting him to inconvenience, or that he should have before requested his attendance on him. Mr. H. replied, that he considered it his duty to devote his whole time and attention to his service; that he should have before offered his assistance, but that he was informed it was his wish to have another Clergyman; that on receiving his request, he had applied to Sir Roger Curtis for permission, who had granted it; that he understood Mr. Dusatoy had been twice with him, and he made no doubt he had received both consolation and instruction from his visits. Mr. H. then said, “Captain Hall intends to have Divine Service performed in the ward-room, and could wish, if you do not feel any great repugnance to it, that he would attend, he is desirous, with myself, to make your unhappy fate as serviceable as possible to the ship's company; at the same time, if you feel that it would disturb your mind, or too much agitate you, he leaves it to your own discretion?” He replied – “that he bowed with great submission to Captain H.'s wishes, but that he had been much indisposed in his bowels during the night, and was so at that moment; that if the Captain would permit him to remain in the cabin, he could join in the service, and should feel himself obliged by the indulgence.” Mr. H. then took his leave of him, by saying, “that after the service he should consider his time entirely at his disposal, and hoped that God Almighty would assist the sincere desire he felt of bringing him to a real sense of the dreadful precipice on which he stood, and of reconciling him to God, through the blood of a Redeemer.” – Mr. H. immediately waited on the Captain and informed him of the prisoner’s wish, to which Captain H. assented. Divine Service was then performed, and a Sermon on the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorah immediately followed. The ship’s company were extremely serious, and when the prayers of the Congregation were desired for a prisoner under sentence of Death, it seemed to make a strong impression on them. The prisoner joined in the whole of the service with great fervour and devotion, and was particularly attentive during the Sermon. A few minutes after the service was finished the Provost Master came to inform Mr. Howell that the prisoner was desirous of seeing him, he immediately went to him, and on his entering the cabin, he said, “I feel myself now Sir, perfectly prepared to receive any instruction you may think proper to bestow upon me; this world is disappearing before me, and another is arising to my view which demands all my attention.” – Mr. He. replied he was glad to find him in so composed a state of mind, and that he would thank him before he commenced his important task, if he would inform him what his present notions of the Supreme Being were and what expectations he entertained with respect to his future state. He then begn by saying, “That he believed in One Great and Supreme Being, the Creator and Governor of all things – that he considered man a free agent sent into this world as a probationer for eternity – that he looked on the Deity as a merciful Being, who would make allowance for human frailty, and not be severe in punishing for the indulgence of passions which were implanted in our nature and constitution – that he considered moral honesty as the great chain by which men were bound together in society, and civil and religious liberty the greatest blessing they could enjoy – that he did not look upon himself as a notorious sinner – that he had his infirmities and frailties like other men – that he had been an honest man, and in many respects a useful member of society – that he had endeavoured to discharge his social duties to the best of his abilities – that he had supported an only sister who was entirely dependent on him, in as comfortable a manner as his circumstances would admit of – and that he trusted God would pardon such parts of his conduct as had been faulty, in consideration of his having performed some worthy actions – that with respect to the crime for which he was about to suffer, and which he had been repeatedly pressed to confess, he thought he should be highly culpable were he to acknowledge himself guilty of – a great many things had been imputed to him – that a variety of reports had been circulated which had not the smallest foundation in truth – and that the witnesses who appeared against him were instigated by revenge, and had sworn things which were false – that he should fall a victim to their malice – that his Lot was cast – and that he must submit.” – As he seemed to make a pause in this place, Mr. Howell told him before they proceeded further, he thought it necessary to inform him that he had read the Minutes of his Court Martial with great attention, and that he was so thoroughly convinced of his guilt, and so perfectly satisfied that the charge had been fully brought home to him, that had it been left to his own option to sign an order for his death, or to grant him a reprieve, he should not have hesitated a single moment in determining to carry the sentence pronounced on him into execution. In speaking these words, Mr. H. observed the prisoner's eyes fixed on him, with great stedfastness, and he continued, “I am aware that the frankness with which I feel it my duty to act towards you, may have the appearance of harshness, but I am satisfied that your own heart, if you would but acknowledge its dictates, is at this moment in perfect unison with the sentiments I have expressed, and if you can not be brought to make a confession of your guilt, I have to request, at least, that all asseverations respecting your innocence may be suppressed, as they can be of no service to you; and will only induce me to suppose that you entertain an idea of imposing upon my understanding; let us therefore leave this part of the business for the present, and have the goodness to lend me your attention, while I endeavour to lead your mind to a subject you seem to have but little, if any, knowledge of – I mean that of Revealed Religion. Mr. H. then explained to him the nature, evidences, and benefits of the Christian Religion, which he heard with the most serious attention for nearly two hours, occasionally making very pertinent remarks. Mr. H. then left him, saying, should he wish to ask him any questions arising out of his conversation with him, he would endeavour to satisfy his mind. Mr. H. offered to stay with him all night, but this he declined. However, he soon lamented the absence of his instructor, for during the night, his mind was restless and disturbed, though, at intervals, he prayed with great fervour and correctness. The next morning Mr. H. again visited him. – He found his mind more expanded, and he manifested a dispositon to be acquainted with the truths of the Christian Religion. He said he felt some difficulties with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity: he could not comprehend it. – Mr. H. appealed to his own understanding, as a professional man, whether it was surprising that he should not comprehend the Deity, since we did not understand the formation of our own frame. Mr. H. then entered into an explanation of the doctrine, and he said he was satisfied. Mr. H. found he had been reading Venn's Whole Duty of Man, which the Provost Marshal (the Minister at Arms of H.M.S. Royal William) had lent him, and which Mr. H. recommended most strongly to his perusal, and pointed out the particular parts of it most suited to his case. On the afternoon of that day Mr. H. again visited him. – He found a most wonderful change in him. His language and manner evinced the strongest contrition and repentance. He said he had been made to believe, most firmly, the truths of Christianity, and noticed, that he understood the Scripture phrase Regeneration to mean, a total change of heart and mind; and if ever a total change did take place, he said he had experienced it. The crime which for many years he had been guilty of, he now abhorred, and it was more detestable in his sight than he could possibly describe it. Should he obtain a pardon, which he did not wish, he should never think of living any but a life of seclusion from society, and a penitence towards God. After he had used these expressions, and many others, which shewed the sincerity of his belief and repentance, he said, now Sir, I am willing to make a disclosure of all my sins, for I feel I must unburden my heart and mind of them. I will tell you with whom I have been concerned in this hateful crime, which I have practised so long and so often, and who are the persons that have tended to bring me into this baneful practice. – Sir, this crime is more general than you are aware of – there is a Society formed for the practice of it! and belonging to it are some men whom the public look up to. – He was preoceeding to make this painful and disgustful disclosure, when Mr. H. desired he would not mention any names, as, in his present situation, it could be of no service, and the recollection of the circumstances might only tend to ruffle his mind, and break off his communications with the Deity, which, above all things, he should endeavour to preserve. He proceeded: – in London, in France, and in the Mediterranean he had seen the crime committed, and it was not considered a crime; that having taken up with the baneful opinion, that he had a right to do with himself as he pleased, and was not accountable to God, he had frequently committed it, and so powerful was the influence of the vice over him, that when objects did not present themselves to him, he sought them. He now loathed himself, he saw its detestable nature, and cried unto God for a pardon of all his sins; and he hoped, and believed, that, through Christ, he should obtain it. His subsequent conversation and prayers were most pious, scriptural, pathetic, and affecting. The night before his execution he asked if he might receive the sacrament. Mr. H. could not for a moment deny it to him; for so satisfied was Mr. H. of the total change of heart and mind the prisoner had experienced, that he said to him, “I conceive your present situation, with all your crime upon your head, in your present apparent state of mind, preferable to that of the most righteous man, in his own estimation, who should reject God's method of saving the world.” When the prisoner requested to be shaved, it was apprended (as he had twice done before) that he would attempt to destroy himself, and when it was told him, he said, “were I alone in this cabin, and it was filled with instruments of death, I would not attempt to do that which the law is about to do for me; for why should I, feeling as I do, I hope, reconcilation with God.” When he was about to be removed from the Puissant to the Jamaica (on the morning of the execution) he said to Mr. H. “could the curtain of life drop here, in this cabin, I should meet it with satisfaction and composure, resting as I do, on the mercy of God through the Saviour. But should you perceive me flurried or discomposed, in my last moments, do not attribute it to any thing but that awfulness, which it is impossible not to feel; from the scene of the boats round the ship, and the preparations made to make an example of my end. When the boat arrived alongside the Jamaica, he turned to Mr. H. and exclaimed – “This is indeed, Sir, a most awful moment.” He continued in prayer for some time, in the Gun Room of the Jamaica, and said twice or thrice “he was ready,” though the hour appointed for his execxution (11 o'clock) had not arrived, yet his wishes were complied with. He walked to the place of execution, praying all the time, and was joined most fervently by the Provost-Marshal, a man of superior mind. He was so composed, as to correct the Provost-Marshal twice, in reading the warrant for his execution; and when, putting on the cap, it being too small, the Provost-Marshal said he wished it had come down over the whole of his face, he said “never mind.” Mr. H. now said to him, “Here I must leave you, my feelings will not allow me to remain with you longer; I will go into the cabin and pray for you.” – Shaking Mr. H. most affectionately by the hand, he replied, “Do, do! God bless you!” – These were the last words he uttered, and a few minutes before eleven he was launched into eternity. He apparently suffered very little; in three or four minutes his struggles were ended. The last three days of this unfortunate gentleman's life, if fully before the pulic, would be a most impressive lesson to many classes of society. He was a man of a good education, strong natural abilities, and very extensive reading; but his principal reading, as he said, was in Voltaire, Bolingbroke, and other infidel authors. His manners were easy and courteous, and his quick flow of observations, upon almost every subject, shewed a well stored mind. He was 38 years of age, 19 years of which he was a surgeon in the navy. He was son of the late Mr. Taylor, Dispenser of the Royal Hospital at Haslar. His body was landed, and interred last night at Alverstoke.[6]

A hanging from the yard-arm

 

The Naval Chronicle, vol. XXIII (from January to June 1810), London,  pp. 172-3, under the heading “Naval Courts Martial”, reproduced the last third of the foregoing report (after a very brief summary of the court martial proceedings).

An identical report to the latter appeared in The Jersey Magazine; or, Monthly Recorder for 1809 (Jersey, 1809), pp. 136-7. Saunders’s News-Letter (Dublin) reported the same (without mention of the court proceedings) on 6 January 1810. Another similar article appeared in The Sun (London) of 2 January 1810.

 

Norfolk Chronicle, Saturday 6 January 1810

CONFESSION. – Taylor, the surgeon of the Jamaica, who was lately executed on board that ship, for an unnatural crime, made a most shocking disclosure of his guilt to Mr. Howell, the Chaplain of the Puissant, in which he stated as follows:– “I will tell you with whom I have been concerned in this hateful crime, which I have practised so long and so often, and who are the persons, that have tended to bring me into this baneful practice. Sir, this crime is more general than you are aware of – there is a Society formed for the practice of it! and, belonging to it, are some men whom the public look up to.” Mr. H. desired he would not mention any names. His manners were easy and courteous, and his quick flow of observations, upon almost every subject, shewed a well-stored mind. He was 38 years of age, 19 years of which he had been a surgeon in the navy.

 

Northampton Mercury, Saturday 6 January 1810

The Balance of Justice, a cartoon alluding to the unequally applied harshness of justice in the Royal Navy, March 1802

The Portsmouth Paper, received yesterday, contains a long narrative of the confession and execution of Taylor, the Surgeon, for an unnatural crime, which we have already briefly mentioned. It appears he made a most shocking disclosure of his guilt to the Rev. Mr. Howell, the Chaplain of the Puissant, in which he stated as follows:– “I will tell you with whom I have been concerned in this hateful crime, which I have practised so long and so often, and who are the person that have tended to bring me into this baneful practice. Sir, this crime is more general than you are aware of – there is a society formed for the practice of it! and belonging to it are some men whom the public look up to.” – He was proceeding to make this painful and disgusting disclosure, when Mr. Howell desired he would not mention any names, as, in his present situation, it could be of no service,[7] and the recollection of the circumstances might only tend to ruffle his mind, and break off his communications with the Deity, which, above all things, he should endeavour to preserve. He proceeded – “In London, in France, in the Mediterranean, he had seen the act committed, and it was not considered a crime; that having taken up the vile and baneful opinion, that he had a right to do with himself as he pleased, and was not accountable to God, he had frequently committed it; and so powerful was the influence of this vice over him, that when objects did not present themselves to him he sought them. He now loathed himself, he saw its detestable nature, and cried unto God for a pardon of all sins, and he hoped and believed that through Christ he should obtain it.” He died apparently a most sincere convert to the truths of the Christian religion, of which he appeared to have had previously but a very slight knowledge. He was a man of good education, strong natural abilities, and very extensive reading; but his principal reading, as he said, was in Voltaire, Bolingbroke, and other infidel authors. His manner was easy and courteous, and his quick flow of observations upon almost every object shewed a well-stored mind. He was 33 years of age, 19 of which he had been a surgeon in the navy.

A ship of identical design to the HMS Jamaica on which Taylor served and died, by Thomas Whitcombe, 1809

 

Lancaster Gazette, 6 January 1810

Maritime Execution – Pursuant to the sentence of death, passed upon him by a Court-Martial for an abominable offence, Mr. Nehemiah Taylor was, on Tuesday morning at eleven o'clock, executed on-board his Majesty's ship Jamaica, at Portsmouth, all the ships of the fleet, having boats armed in attendance, to escort him from the Puissant, 74 guns.

 

Hull Packet, Tuesday 9 January 1810

Tuesday se'nnight James N. Taylor, late surgeon of His Majesty's ship Jamaica, was executed at Portsmouth, pursuant to his sentence, for sodomy. – He died a true penitent, and with a lively hope of pardon, through the means of the Christian religion, to a proper sense of the truths of which he was brought by the affectionate labours of the Rev. Mr. Howell, chaplain of the Puissant. To this gentleman he confessed that he had long been addicted to the detestable practice for which he suffered. That in London, France, and in the Mediterranean, he had seen the act committed, and that it was not considered a crime; that in this country there is a society for the practice of it! and belonging to it, are some men to whom the public look up. He was proceeding to mention names, when Mr. H. stopped him, as, in his present situation, it could be of no service. He was 33 years of age, 19 of which he had been a surgeon in the navy, and was a man of great acquirements.

 

The same report appeared in the Lancaster Gazette for 13 January and the Manchester Mercury on 16 January 1810.

 

The Diary of Matthew Tomlinson, 14 January 1810

The title page of Tomlinson's 5th diary

Matthew Tomlinson was the tenant farmer of Doghouse Farm, Lupset, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He left at least eleven diaries, three of which (covering the years 1806-39) are preserved in Wakefield Libraries as ms. 920:TOM.  The following extract from volume 5 (30 Nov. 1806 to 5 Oct. 1812) pp. 1049-50, gives the thoughts of one countryman of the time on Taylor’s execution.[8]

The original page in Tomlinson's diary

14th   Was this week sencibly affected in reading the behavior, and Execution of a Mr Dixon Taylor, Surgeon on board the Jemaica Westindia-man for an unnatural crime: a Man of great genious, and a ready turn of Wit: it appears a paradox to me, how Men, who are men, shou’d possess such a passion; and more particularly so, if it is their nature from childhood (as I am informed it is) – If they feel such an inclination, and propensity, at that certain time of life when youth genders into Manhood; it must then be considered as Natural, otherwise, as a Defect in Nature: – and if natural, or a defect in nature, it seems cruel to punish that Defect with Death: But if it first takes its rise in the human mind from a viciated, and corrupted inclination; and by cherishing and encouraging such a propensity or inclination it becomes habitual, then it is upon such premises worthy of capital a severe punishment: It must seem strange indeed that God Almighty shou'd make a being, with such a Nature; or such a Defect in Nature; and at the same time make a decree that if that being whome he had formed, shou'd at any time follow the dictates of that Nature with which he was formed he shou'd be punished with Death. Now we do not see any symptoms of such a propensity in the Brute Creation: Male, invariably seeks the Female, and that is the only argument which causes me to think that it is first formed from a visiated principle. Now as life is very desirous to all animated beings, I think it would be no reproach to the legislative power, were they to mitigate the punishment which is executed upon Rapes, and Sodomy, from Death to Casteration: as I shou’d suppose that if a Man was casterated, he wou’d neither have power, or feel inclination to commit such a crime a second time, and he might perhaps become a useful member of society: but when he is punished with Death, we are certain that he cannot do either any more hurt or good; whereas if he was only casterated, it wou’d be equally put out of his power to commit the same evil, and there wou’d be a great possibility of him doing much good.

 

[1] One can infer that the boy, Ashton, was under fourteen, the age of consent for boys, otherwise, since he appears to have been willing, he would have been culpable and equally liable to suffer capital punishment under the “Acte for the punishment of the vice of Buggerie” (25 Hen. 8 c. 6), which drew no distinction between the active and passive participants.

[2] John Lind was a particularly eminent physician, the senior physician at the Royal Hospital, Haslar (where Taylor’s father had been Dispenser) since 1783 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 1781. (C D Waterston and A Macmillan Shearer, Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783-2002, Part 2, Edinburgh, 2006, p. 545)

[3] Hope was also a distinguished physician, “the senior physician of the Royal Navy” by the time of his death in 1828. (The Naval and Military Magazine, vol. 3, London, 1828, p. xcvi)

[4] Captain Lysaght (1782-1859) was the commander of HMS Jamaica, on board which Taylor had sodomised Ashton. He eventually in 1848 rose to be a Rear-Admiral of the Red. (William O’Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary, 1849, p. 689)

[5] Robert Hall commanded the Puissant at Spithead. He eventually rose to be a Vice-Admiral of the Blue, before dying in 1842. In December 1809, he was a long-experienced officer aged 43 or 44. (Gentleman’s Magazine, vol. 172: 1842 July to December inclusive, London, 1842, p. 207)

[6] Haslar was in the parish of Alverstoke on the coast of Hampshire. Taylor’s burial there is confirmed by the burials register.

[7] Frances Henry cites this as an example of how ‘when faced with rumours of elite involvement in sodomitical activities, the “first duty was silence”,’ in her thesis “Love, Sex, and the Noose: The Emotions of Sodomy in 18th- Century England”, p. 123. (Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 6736.)

[8] This diary entry received publicity in the press after being brought to its attention in February 2020 by Eamonn O’Keeffe, an enterprising Oxford student. See, for example, The Daily Mail of 20 February 2020, The invariable line taken was that it showed early 19th-century attitudes to sodomy were not as intolerant as previously thought compared with the supposedly-enlightened 21st century. Naturally, in conformity with the usual hypocrisy and dishonesty of 21st-century writers on the subject, care was taken to avoid revealing that the male sodomised by Taylor was a boy under 14, lest the average reader be exposed to the uncomfortable truth that his own attitude, if he knew this, would probably in fact be much less humane than Tomlinson’s. Considering hundreds of other crimes bore the death penalty in 1809, the law then was not singling out pederasty for especially harsh treatment in the way of 21st-century law.

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