H is for Hardman

H is for Hardman

From the Lancaster Guardian, Saturday 5th September 1857:

The sentence of death passed upon Edward Hardman at the last Lancaster Assizes, for the wilful murder of his wife, by the administration of poison, was carried into effect at on Saturday…

Edward Hardman was hanged at Lancaster gaol two weeks before Dickens visited Lancaster with Wilkie Collins in 1857. They stayed at the Royal King’s Arms Hotel in Lancaster and the book The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices is based on their travels.

In The Lazy Tour, there is a short story by Dickens entitled The Bride Chamber in which the two supposed apprentices are visited by the ghost of a hanged man – perhaps Hardman’s execution was in his mind. Hardman’s murder of his wife had been in all the London papers. And Dickens dwells on the hanging which the ghost describes in lurid detail. At Lancaster gaol the hanged man was turned to the wall. The ghost describes his own hanging:

Your face is turned to the castle wall. When you are tied up, you see its stones expanding and contracting violently, and a similar expansion and contraction seem to take place in your own head and breast. The there is a rush of fire and an earthquake, and the castle springs into the air, and you tumble down a precipice.

In the bride chamber story a husband murders his wife, Ellen, and so did Edward Hardman – he poisoned his wife, Ellen, with arsenic. He had bought half a pound, telling Mr Crutchley, the druggist of Preston, that he wanted to rid his home of bugs. He had also purchased tartar emetic which is a form of the poison antimony – both were found in the victim’s body. Apart from the forensic evidence, there was the damning detail of his telling a female friend within days of his wife’s death that there was now a place to hang up her bonnet. Hang – an unfortunate choice of word for him, I think. His female friend never had the chance to hang up her bonnet on Ellen Hardman’s peg.

Hardman confessed to the crime and lamented that Ellen was the best wife a man could have had… Too late, the hangman, Mr William Calcraft, came from London to do his grisly work. The Lancaster Guardian reported the hanging, describing the prisoner exhibiting the most distressing internal emotions. He looked pale and livid and almost insensible. A crowd of between 10 and 12 thousand people watched the dreadful scene.

By 1857, Calcraft had been the public hangman for 28 years – he lasted for 45 years and carried out an estimated 450 hangings.

Incidentally, the bride chamber murderer did not poison his wife – he drove her to her death, telling her day after day, night after night, to ‘Die!’ and so she did – of terror. But there are parallels with the Hardman case. A witness at the trial testified that Ellen Hardman was frightened of her husband and that he threatened to burn her books and to beat her. He told her that the poison he was administering was medicine and she believed him just as Ellen of the bride chamber believed that she must die because her husband told her so.

In Dickens’s story, the ghostly murderer tells the horrified apprentice, Mr Goodchild, that the curse upon him is that he becomes on the anniversary of hanging, twelve men: with Twelve times my old power of suffering and agony… at Twelve at night, I, Twelve old men turned off, swing invisible outside Lancaster Castle, with Twelve faces to the wall!

Edward Hardman was hanged at twelve noon.

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