Thursday, 3 December 2009

Selapatana & Alepis Executions

1858 saw Swansea flourishing with ships and sailors of all nationalities, a thriving port. It was a rough, often dangerous environment. On the evening of 16th February 1858 the body of Atanasio Mitrepann, a twenty five year old cook on board the 'Penelope', was discovered in a canal near the Strand.
Watchmen had overheard harsh words being spoken in foreign language and a scuffle, and when they heard a loud splash, they hurried to the spot. By lantern light and using a boat hook they pulled Mitrepann's body from the water. He was dead, and had numerous wounds on his body; his head was beaten to a pulp.
A sling shot, consisting of strong rope and a iron ball was found on the canal bank. It was assumed to be the weapon which had caused such terrible injuries to Mitrepann's skull.
It quickly became clear that the dead man had gone that evening, together with two Greek sailors (23 year old Panotis Alepis and 28 year old Manoeli Selapatana) to a dancing house, the Powell's Arms in High Street. The Greeks had recently arrived in Swansea looking for jobs in one of the ships. One of them had been seen wearing a plaid cap similar to one found on the canal.
The following events were recounted in The Cambrian newspaper;

The two men were seen to enter their lodging house, the Jolly Tar in Wind Street, some short time after nine o' clock on the night in question. One immediately ran out of the back of the house and washed out a pocket handerkerchief which afterwards he threw upon a jack before the kitchen fire to dry, and this handerkerchief had several spots upon it, suppose to be blood.

The two sailors were arrested on the same night, within an hour of the murder. The cause of the argument was not made clear but supposed that drink had played a part in it. The moral tone of the Cambrian report (not to mention its inherant racism) seem hard to believe from todays perspective:

For the credit of Englishmen, aye Welsh too, we're glad to be able to say that the persons implicated in this atrocious act are foreigners, Greek sailors, whose long-bladed knives carried as daggers behind their backs make every english heart shudder at the very sight and which are too often drawn and used on the slightest provocation.

Alepis & Selapatana were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The day set, 20th March 1858, was one of sunshine with bright, cloudless sky. The scaffold was erected southwest of the prison, on the sand dunes around 250 yards outside the walls. A huge crowd of between 18,000 and 200,000 people ('street arabs' homeless children, women with babies and what the Cambrian called 'labourers, carpenters, engineers and mechanics of every grade and description') arrived to witness the execution.
The condemned men had retired at eight o' clock the night before, but from midnight onwards they had been preparing themselves. They ate nothing, saying food would be superfluous but had constantly smoked their pipes - a luxury allowed to them by the jails authorities.

At twenty to eight in the morning, officials went to the condemned cell, and the hangman Calcraft strapped the men's hand behind their backs. The grim party then walked calmly to the gallows. The Cambrian:

Up to this time the men had been screened from the immense multidudes gathered in front of the gaol but now they mounted the drop and met the gaze of that vast crowd, still they were unawed by the light of those 18,000 upturned faces, themselves the object of attraction.

When the condemned men appeared a hushed murmur ran through the crowd, but there were no screams, cries or angry shouts. The two Greeks joined hands for a moment and Calcraft shook their hands. As the clock struck eight, a bolt was drawn and the two men fell to their deaths.

The Cambrian:

Alepis seemed to die almost without struggle, but with his unfortunate companion Selapatana it was different. He heaved violently for some six or seven minutes, but neither required that the executioner should pull their legs in order to shorten the miserable existence.

After the execution, the crowd quickly dispersed, however the bodies were left to hang for a further hour. The scaffold was then removed.

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