Monday, 14 December 2009

The Execution Of Thomas Nash

Thomas Nash was a labourer working for Swansea Corporation. As he was a widower he was unable to care for his 2 daughters (ages 6 & 17) so he lodged them to a Mrs Eliza Goodwin in Plasmarl. It was common to do this in Victorian Britain.
Nash fell behind with payments and despite Mrs Goodwin repeatedly asking he failed to pay the amount owed. On the evening of Friday 5th December (it being pay day for the Corporation) she took Martha Ann, the youngest child, to the Town Hall. Mrs Goodwin later said:

I showed him my bill; it amounted to £1.16s.2d (£1.81) for the food of the children up to that day. I gave him the bill and I said 'here is your daughter, take charge of her. He took the girl; he was then standing in the yard and he said 'I'll come up tomorrow Miss Goodwin and pay you.'

Thomas Nash immediately went to the beach and was next seen by boatmen walking along Swansea pier, holding his daughter by her hand. It was a wild night with rough gales and waters crashing onto the pier and the boatmen were suspicious. Minutes later the man returned without the child and instead of going past the group of boatmen he jumped over a rail onto the sand. The Cambrian tells what happened next:

The men now raised the alarm and ran around to the sands and on coming up with Nash, asked him what had become of the child they had seen in his hands a few minutes before. First he said he had left her on the pier, then that she was under the pier, and then that she had complained that she was tired and wished to be carried. That he had placed her onto the rails to get her onto his back and that she had fallen into the sea.

Nash was taken to the police station, pending enquiries. At 7 O' clock that night the body of the child, Martha Ann was discovered washed up on the beach.
Thomas Nash was brought to trial at Cardiff Assizes where the packed courtroom heard the evidence and verdict.
Found guilty of the wilful murder of his own daughter the death sentence was duly passed. His only comment was 'I am not guilty sir.'
Efforts were made to reduce the sentence to penal servitude for life, in view of his distressed state of mind and also the fact that nobody had actually seen him throw his child into the sea. Petions were placed in chapels and churches but they were not well supported. When the following letter was recieved from the Home Office it was obvious the sentence would be held:

Sirs - With reference to the memorial forwarded by you on behalf of Thomas Nash who is now under sentence of death. I am directed by the Secretary of State to inform you after a careful consideration of all the circumstances in this case he is unable to discover any sufficient ground to justify him advising any interference with the due course of the law.

I am, Sir,
Your obediant servant
Godfrey Lushington.

Thomas Nash was resigned to his fate. Apart from Sarah, the surviving daughter, he recieved no visits and was deserted by everyone. During trial it was revealed he had recently married for a second time but his new wife did not attempt to communicate with Nash after imprisonment.
The morning of Monday 1st March 1886 found five inches of snow covering Swansea, it was bitingly cold. The Cambrian wrote:

About seven minutes to eight, after the chaplain had left the condemned mans cell, Berry, the executioner, entered it with the pinioning straps in his hands....A broad leather strap went around the culprit's breast and arms, and was buckled so as to keep his arms to his sides. His hands were clasped in front. Before he was fastened he lifted a forefinger to his forehead in token of obeisance to the Sheriff and the Governor, and looked around once at the warders and others who stood in the corridor outside.

It was a short walk to the execution hall, across an open yard covered in crisp white snow. Nash uttered one brief phrase - 'Lord have mercy on my soul' - then the trap was pulled plunging him six feet into the pit and eternity.
A crowd of around 4000 had gathered outside the jail waiting for the black flag to be unfurled. When it was there were cheers and a few tears, mainly from the women. However in a few minutes snowballing had become of interest and Thomas Nash's fate was soon forgotten.
Its interesting to note that two last minute confessions by Nash confirmed the justice of the sentence. His reason for the crime was simple - 'I had not told my (second) wife I had children.'

A letter from a reader appeared in the Evening Post in September 2000:

I remember my late mother, who would have been ninety eight this year, singing a ditty which went something like this

Thomas Nash is lying down in Swansea Jail
For drowning his little daughter, her name was Marthe Jane.
He threw her in the river on a stormy night
And now she's up in Heaven with the angels bright
So clap your hands, he's going to be hanged,
Clap your hands, he's going to be hanged,
Clap your hands, he's going to be hanged
Early on Monday morning.

My mother had heard her mother singing this to her when she was a child, which would tie in with the year 1886 when my grandmother was a young woman. There may have been other verses but this is the only one I know.


  1. Very sad His own child's life ended in her father's mental state , Just like a worthless. Rag thrown in the water ,what went though his daughter small mind daddy thrown her I hope it was fast and not painful poor thing, if I was the hangman on that morning things would go wrong and he would suffer dearly ,hanging was fast sharp ending to your life,for him that would not be happening ,I will answer to my actions after getting it right when I say so ,Evil shadow of hell hanging I could not say his name and leave it to rot ,That's one Very evil person ,

  2. Did you ever stop to think about what life was like back in those days. He was up to his neck in debt and could not afford to feed his child. She would either end up in numerous amount of workhouses, living it rough with lice on the floor and a slice of bread to live on daily. If not she would have been taken off him and put into a foster homes, which again shows evidence of awfull treatment.

    Murder is never ok, but I don't believe this man was pure evil. Harsh and desperate times drove him to do what he did and in his own mind he was showing the poor young girl mercy.