Monday, 28 December 2009

Joseph Lewis - Executed 30th August 1898

Joseph Lewis (also known as Harris) was convicted of murdering Margam Estate keeper, Robert Scott, in August 1898. Lewis was an Army deserter and was described as 'the terror of his native place.' He was fond of poaching and the Margam woods were an obvious attraction to him.
The Margam Estate was reknowned for keeping fine stocks of game and Robert Scott was on the lookout for poachers plaguing the area. Despite the real dangers the Gamekeeper only carried a stick, never a gun. In a clearing in the Estate, Robert Scott discovered Lewis and challenged him. The result was a forgone conclusion: Lewis fired both barrels of his shotgun into the gamekeeper's head.
Initially suspicion fell upon a man and woman with whom Lewis lodged and they were arrested. But the deserting soldier soon gave himself away. One evening he joined a group of colliers who were discussing the murder and emboldened by the beer Lewis stated: 'Go on boys, they've collared the wrong people. It was I who shot Scott.'
If he thought the miners would keep his confession quiet he was wrong. He was arrested shortly after and put on trial. He appeared to have no remorse for the murder, in fact he seemed he was justified in the shooting as The South Wales Daily Post reported that Lewis had claimed:

Scott was a big man and he had a formidable stick. Other poachers had been beaten senseless by keepers. I had a gun to save myself from the same punishment and so I used it.

Around 3000 people gathered outside the prison on the morning of the execution and these numbers were still rising as time went on. James Billington was the executioner, assisted by his son Thomas. They had arrived the previous day, and had the unfortunate experience of running into distraught members of Lewis's family at the Terminus Hotel before the execution.
Joseph Lewis walked to the scaffold from his cell, seemingly to display no emotion at all. Death was instantaneous. On the prison roof Warder Williams unfurled the black flag for the waiting crowd.

Of note it seems Lewis confessed to the crime in a letter to Scott's widow, asking her to forgive him for the killing. There is no record of her response.
Joseph Lewis was buried about twenty yards from where Thomas Nash and Thomas Allen were interred. Like the other executed men, his burial spot is marked by a small tablet inset in the prison wall.
Interestingly this was the last time the black flag was flown from the roof of Swansea prison. Having come to the conclusion that public executions served no useful purpose, and that they merely played to the morbid urges of a fascinated mob, the authorities decided that in future they would pin a formal notice of the execution to the prison gate as soon as the hanging had taken place.

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