Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Last Execution

As can be seen on our Twitter page today marks the day that the last public execution took place in Britain.
Michael Barrett was convicted of killing a dozen people and injuring many more when a bomb left inside a wheelbarrow outside of a prison exploded in London December 1867. The terrorists responsible believed ‘it would bring down the wall, allowing Irish Republican prisoners to escape’.[1] Barrett was an Irish Republican who had previously been arrested for discharging a firearm; however at the Old Bailey in April 1868 he called witnesses who testified that he was in Scotland on the day of the Clerkenwell explosion, thus he got off free.[2] However this time he was not so lucky and he was to be hanged on the 26th May 1868.
The case was reported in numerous newspapers from the time, as can be seen from the clippings below. The Times wrote ‘never were there more numerous than this occasion’ and ‘none could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England.’[3]

The Execution of Micheal Barrett. [4]

I thought I would add in an interesting story from Devon, even though it did not occur in May. John Lee or the man they could not hang was born in Abbotskerswell, Devon on the 15th August 1864 and is famous for surviving three attempts to hang him for murder.[5] The Babbacombe Murder, as it is known, occurred on the 15th November 1884, and saw Miss Emma Keyse (Lee’s employer) bludgeoned to death with an axe, her throat slashed with a knife and her house set on fire.
In the house at the time was Lee and two other servants, but ultimately it was Lee’s behaviour on the night, the fact that he was already under notice to quit the service of Miss Keyse and his recent conviction (of theft in 1883, where he was sentenced to hard labour at prison in Exeter) which landed him guilty.[6] Lee maintained his protests of being innocent saying to the judge at his trial, "the reason I am so calm is that I trust in the Lord and he knows I am innocent."[7] Lee was sentenced on the 23rd February 1885 at Exeter prison and famously survived three attempts to hang him.[8]

He served a life sentence at Portland Prison, and was released from on the 18th December 1907. He then went on to marry Jessie Augusta Bulled at Newton Abbot, Devon on the 22nd January 1909. Now this is where his story gets confusing. On the 28th of February 1911 John Lee allegedly travelled to America to start a new life with a woman claiming to be his wife, leaving a pregnant Jessie and his son behind in the Lambeth workhouse.[9] It is believed that Lee never became a legal citizen of America and died, aged 80, on the 19th March 1945.[10]

[1] True Crime Library, 'Michael Barrett', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[2] Execution of the Day, 'Michael Barrett', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[3] The Times, Wednesday, May 27, 1868; pg. 9; Issue 26135.
[4] Liverpool Mercury etc (Liverpool, England), Tuesday, May 26, 1868; Issue 6343.
[4] The Man They Could Not Hang, 'John Lee's Story', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[5] Ancestry, 'John Babbacombe Lee', 2011. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[6] BBC, 'The Man They Could Not Hang', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[7] Old British News Research, 'Death Sentences 1880s', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[9] Ancestry, 'John Babbacombe Lee', 2011. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).
[10] The Man They Could Not Hang, 'John Lee's Story', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 28/04/2012).

Thursday, 17 May 2012

May Inventions

The 25th May 1948 saw the patent (No 2, 423, 873) granted to Andrew Moyer for a method of mass production if penicillin.[1] Penicillin is one of the earliest discovered and widely used antibiotic agents and it was Alexander Flemming in 1928 discovered its importance.  By 1941 Moyer has succeeded in increasing the yields of penicillin ten times, it was not until 1948 when the patent was granted. This new production lay in the ‘cultivation of molds, whereby the yield of penicillin is substantially increased’.[2]

Patent for Penicillin Production. [2]

More recently, the 28th May 1996 saw Theo and Wayne Hart received a patent for a ponytail hair clasp.[3] Patent No 5, 520, 201 is the design for a pony tail clasp which ‘substantially departs from the conventional concepts and designs of the prior’, the result of this clasp that ‘allows a user to readily and fixedly clasp his or her hair in a pony tail type configuration’.[4]

Patent for pny tail hair clasp. [4]

Very importantly, the 5th May 1809 saw the first patent granted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office to a woman. This was granted to Mary Kies for the process of weaving straw with silk or thread, mainly for the purpose of creating women’s hats and bonnets.
There are no images of this patent, as the original file was destroyed in a fire in 1836, in which ‘approximately 10,000 patent records were lost’.[5] By 1840 approximately 20 U.S patents had been issued to women and this number had continued to grow and grow.[6] By 2004 18% of all patents issued to U.S inventors were from women, double the amount granted in 1990.[7]

[1] Google Patents, ‘No 2, 423, 873’, 2011. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 12/05/12).
[2] Google Patents, ‘No 2, 423, 873’, 2011. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 12/05/12).
[5] Inventor of the Week, ‘Mary Kies’, 2004. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 12/05/2012).
[6] Inventor of the Week, ‘Mary Kies’, 2004. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 12/05/2012).
[7] Business Week, ‘Women Inventors Double their Share of Patents’, 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 12/05/12).

Monday, 7 May 2012

Mystery Item No 4

-.-. --- -. --. .-. .- - ..- .-.. .- - .. --- -. ...   - ---   - .... --- ... .   .-- .... ---   --. ..- . ... ... . -..   - .... .   .. - . --   -.-. --- .-. .-. . -.-. - .-.. -.
Or in English congratulations to those who guessed the item correctly! It is in fact a railway morse code tapper.
The museum's transmitter

Our example of a railway Morse code transmitter is from Lapford Railway Station in Devon. The station opened by the North Devon Railway on the 1st August 1854.[1] Lapford features on the Tarka Line running between Exeter and Barnstaple. However, the history of the Tarka Line is complex, it was first opened in 1851 by the Exeter and Crediton Railway and was then extended in 1854 by North Devon Railways.[2] Later the line was taken over by the London & South Western company and then eventually became part of the Southern Railway, ‘which ran the famous 'Atlantic Coast Express' services to the north coast of Devon and Cornwall’.[3]
A view of Lapford Station on the Exeter to Barnstable line in 1913.[4]

Our transmitter has a brass rocker tapper key, Bakelite finger pad and a wooden base. It measures 15cm long, 7cm wide and 6.5cm high.

The Museum's transmitter

Morse code was invented in the 1830s by Samuel Morse. The code we know today has only been through a few changes since its development.[5] One of its major changes was from numbers to letters. Originally morse code was transmitted in numbers and the receiver would then use a dictionary to translate the numbers into words, a long and tedious task.[6]

Morse code patent. [5]

The first public message was transmitted on 24th May 1844 and was “What God hath wrought” (.-- .... .- -   --. --- -..   .... .- - ....   .-- .-. --- ..- --. .... -).[7] Ten years after the first telegraph line opened in 1844, over 23,000 miles of line crossed the country, having a profound effect on the American West.

[1] Encyclopedia Titanica, 'First Use of Morse Code', 2011. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012).
[2] Wikipedia, 'Lapford Station', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012).
[3] The Art of Manliness, 'Become a Morse Code Expert', 2010. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012). 
[4] The Art of Manliness, 'Become a Morse Code Expert', 2010. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012). 
[5] Nicholas, John (1992). The North Devon Line. Sparkford: Oxford Publishing Company.
[6] Great Scenic Railways of Devon and Cornwall, 'Tarka Line', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012).
[7] Great Scenic Railways of Devon and Cornwall, 'Tarka Line', 2012. [Online] Available from: (Accessed 24/04/2012).