Death on the Pillory

by janisleofwight

How John Waller, highwayman and perjurer spent the last hour of his life.

He stood up in court and explained how James Dalton had robbed him. Swearing his innocence, Dalton was nevertheless executed and when John Waller's perfidy was unmasked he was sentenced to stand in the pillory. As the crowd threw rubbish and abuse at him, Edward Dalton took his chance and revenged his brother by beating Waller to death.

The longest hour

John Waller in the Pillory
John Waller in the Pillory

The Accuser Accused

The Pillory

Somewhere beneath the frenetic traffic around London's Cambridge Circus, stood the Seven Dials' pillory.  Here, men were routinely punished for crimes as varied as libel, theft, selling short measure, sodomy and perjury. This was a piece of free theatre for the public to join in and administer their own justice.

The usual length of time on the pillory was for one hour and at best the experience was uncomfortable and unnerving.  At worst it might result in public humiliation, bruising, broken bones and even death.

On Tuesday June 13 1732, John Waller stepped up to the platform of the pillory for the first of two one hour incarcerations.  He had also been sentenced to two years' imprisonment plus a fine, but this was the most grueling part. His crime on this occasion was perjury and the gathering hurled both insults and various missiles at him.  The worst was yet to come.

 A New Kind of Profession

In November 1729 John Waller had appeared in court as a witness.  He explained that he had been drinking with one, James Dalton.  As they left the pub, Dalton produced a pistol and robbed him of his money, clothing and also some tea.  By this time Dalton was already in prison charged with another crime but on that count, he was cleared.  Waller's evidence was detailed and in light of Dalton's bad character, he was sentenced to death.  In an attempt to prove his innocence, he even confessed to the earlier crime of which he had been acquitted but it availed him nothing. He railed against Waller as a ...vile Character...who has found a new Method of Living by Swearing the away Lives of Others.  In the following April Dalton was hanged.

It came to light that this was not the first time that Waller had given evidence against suspects and, there being a reward for information, he was adding to his income by working as a professional witness. Poor unsuspecting Dalton had been targeted once before but Waller then discovered that his victim was actually in prison at the time of a supposed crime so he had reschedule the evidence. 

 Crime and Punishment

The crowd had no liking for Waller.  He was reputed to have robbed a man called John Eglin and to have then used a false name to give evidence against him.  He was also suspected of highway robbery.  As they pelted him and gave vent to their feelings, along came Edward Dalton.  Dragging the helpless Waller from the pillory he proceeded to beat him to death in front of the crowd.  It was not difficult to deduce where their sympathies lay for mysteriously no witness came forward to attest to what had happened.  Waller's death was attributed to "persons unknown."

Trial by Jury

Guilty as Charged
Guilty as Charged
Old Bailey on-line
Updated: 03/30/2015, janisleofwight
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Mira on 04/29/2015

I, too, enjoyed that little tidbit that the man was robbed of his money and "some tea." Interesting piece.

Mari Nicholson on 03/25/2015

Another great article from Jan Toms which apart from being a great read, also taught me something. I used to wander around Seven Dials during my lunch time when i worked in London, wish I known about this at the time. I loved the little detail in list of things Walter was robbed of "and some tea". I presume this was highly prized then. Let's have lots more like this, Jan.

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