6th November 1830
The papers were excited by a Guernsey execution
Even when it did retain the death penalty, not many people were executed on Guernsey. It’s perhaps understandable, then, that when it carried out its first execution in almost 20 years on 5 November 1830, the national papers should have been buzzing about it the following day.
Marie Joseph Francois Beasse was convicted of infanticide when he killed the five-month-old baby he’d had with his servant, Sarah Elliot. Elliot was raised in Exeter, but Beasse had connections to France and a considerable income. Neither of these factors, though, was sufficient to spare him the noose. His advocate had travelled to London in an effort to have the sentence commuted, but his pleas had been unsuccessful. All he had managed to do was delay the drop by a week.
In an age where the death penalty was routinely handed down in convictions for murder, it might seem strange that there was such reluctance among the people of Guernsey to see it carried through – particularly when the manner of the baby’s killing had been so gruesome. Beasse had thrust a sword stick into the child’s bowels, from either end, and buried the body at the end of his garden. In doing so, he hoped to conceal any external signs of injury. However, he hadn’t accounted for the child’s mouth being full of blood when discovered.
Victor Hugo recounted the discovery in his book, Things Seen:
The doctor visited the servant, who was in bed; then the constable said to Beasse, ‘The woman has been confined. There was a child; we must find it.’ Beasse, who up to that moment had declared he did not know what they wanted, took a shovel, went into a corner of his garden, and began to dig furiously. One of the constables, thinking that he wished to give a blow with the spade to the object and pass the mark as an accidental wound, took the spade himself and continued to dig more carefully. In a moment or so the child was discovered. The poor little thing had one larding pin buried in its throat and another in the anus.
Despite this, nobody wanted to build the gallows. The Bailiff had to resort to drawing lots and threatening a fine if the randomly chosen subject didn’t complete the work. Even the executioner, who happened to be Beasse’s gardener, was imprisoned for 24 hours before the sentence was carried out to make sure he didn’t abscond.
Elliot, the mother, wasn’t executed. Instead, having been found guilty of concealment, she did have to undergo an unusual punishment. She was forced to walk through the streets of St Peter Port in bare feet, carrying a torch. She was then lectured at by a priest and banished from the island for six years.
Guernsey only executed one other person after Beasse: John Tapner in 1854.