Execution of Robert Kewley, 5 June 1818

taken from Manks Advertiser :

On Friday last between 11 and 12 o'clock (5 June) this unfortunate man was executed on the gallows lately erected upon the lake near Castletown. After spending a considerable time in prayer he was conducted from Castle Rushen in a cart - being seated on a board placed across - his arms pinioned, white night cap on and the halter fixed around his neck. Another board was affixed at the bottom of the cart, on which the Rev. Messrs. Howard, Qualtrough, and Christian (being the clergymen who have substantially attended him since the death warrant arrived) were seated and with whom Kewley held serious conversation, stooping forward. For that purpose, a funeral psalm was sung before the rest which was attended by a detachment of the 95th Regiment quartered in this Island, also by the Captains of Parishes, each bringing with him horsemen out of each parish - to the Lieut. Governor's order. The general cavalry of the Island, with the Coroners, constables and supernumerary constables, were in attendance, and the greatest concourse of people ever remembered in this Island on any occasion.

On reaching the place of execution (where the coffin was placed) he entered into prayer with the clergymen for a considerable time, with all he shook hands and lastly the executioner whose hand he kissed. After exhorting all around him to take warning by his untimely end, he was launched into eternity - dying instantly. The office of hangman was performed by a person of the name of Quilliam, who had been a prisoner in Castle Rushen. The execution has excited a general and awful sensation - being nearly 40 years since anything of the kind occurred in this Island; and from the solemn manner in which it was conducted it is to be hoped, it will have a good effect. We are well informed that although this unfortunate man had long conducted himself in a depraved and hardened manner, he died a sincere and true penitent. His remains were interred in K.K. Braddan Churchyard at ten o'clock on Sunday morning.

By the 'Lake' was presumably meant the harbour below the newly erected road bridge.

Robert Quilliam was transported to New South Wales on board prison ship Hebe in July 1820 - at time of his trial in 1816 the Manx law did not allow for transportation but changes brought in in 1817 to align Manx Law better with English Law allowed this punishment. Hampton Creer states that Death was commuted to Life on 3 June 1816 (presumably on usual Manx condition that he became hangman!) but this does not quite tie in with Train's anecdote though neither does the character of Kewley.

A note in Manx Annals states : About the end of February, 1818, a man [Robert Kewley] stole a sheep from John Quiggin, of Ballayieree, and afterwards disposed of the animal for five shillings, On the 22nd April he was sentenced to be hanged

The Letter book [MS 09845/11/3/19] contains the letter from Lieut Gov Smelt informing the UK Home Office of the verdict, as the approval of the UK authorities is needed for capital punishment to take place - in the letter Smelt mentions the Jury's recommendation to mercy and pointed out that Kewley had served in the 2nd Battalion of Manx Fencibles in Ireland during the rebellion and that he had been made a Serjeant but had been reduced to the ranks for some neglect of military duty but not for dishonesty - Smelt goes on to remind the Home Office about Quilliam, also sentenced to hang two years previously but whose sentence had been respited during Royal Pleasure - his maintenance, and that of others, in Castle Rushen being a significant drain on resources and should be defrayed from the Custom Revenues - a later letter suggests that Quilliam could be now transported.

Cubbon in his Bibliography lists a unique broadside - A Faithful Account of The Execution and last Declaration of Robert Kewley, of Ballacrink, Kirk Braddan, who suffered at Castletown, on Friday, 5th of June, 1818, in the 52nd year of his age, for Sheep Stealing,. taken from the Isle of Man Weekly Gazette . . . with a few additional particulars. Isle of Man Weekly Gazette office.

In it is stated that Kewley had been a soldier in the 2nd battalion of Manx Fencibles, and had done duty in Ireland during the Rebellion of '98. There were, it is stated, 6,000 persons assembled to witness the execution, which took place at the Claddagh, Castletown.

There is apparently a letter in private possession written by Robert Kewley to a Lieutenant Montgomery with whom he had served in Omagh requesting his help in getting a release from Lord Murray so as to return to his wife and children in the Island (unfortunately he does not name either wife or children). There is a Robert Kewley found in Major Taubman's company of Royal Manx Fencibles - joined in 1793 age 24 and a corporal when discharged 5 June 1798 to R. M. Fencibles. The reference to Ballachrink however does not uniquely identify him as two possibilities (1) eldest son of Robert Kewley and Isabel(or Elizabeth) Dawson baptised Braddan 1769-05-28 (compatible with age in 1793 RMF) or (2) eldest son of James Kewley and Cath Creer baptised Braddan 1767-08-30 - the latter is consistent with execution in 52nd year. The only located Robert Kewley producing children in 1790's was Robert Kewley with wife Ann Caley who married Lezayre 1790-08-17 - Ann was underage and married with approval of her father John - they had twin daughters who died with a fortnight of baptism, then son John in 1792 with their next child, daughter Elizabeth baptised in 1803 which is consistent with Robert being away in the army - however this Robt appears to be alive in 1821 as named as husband of Ann Caley (d/o Alice Caley als Garrett) in decree of Alice.


Hampton Creer Never to Return Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation 2000 (ISBN 0-952-4019-7-5).
Letter Books - Manx Museum




Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2002