THE REVEREND BENJAMIN RUSSEN
Executed for rape, 12th December, 1777
THIS man was master of the subscription charity-school at Bethnal Green, in which had been bred up a poor girl named Anne Mayne.
At the sessions held at the Old Bailey in October, 1777, Benjamin Russen, clerk, was indicted for having committed a rape on the said Anne Mayne, on the 18th of June preceding. The girl deposed that, when Mrs. Russen lay in, the prisoner desired that she (Mayne) might stay below stairs with him, while he went to sleep after dinner, lest he should fall into the fire; and that he took this opportunity to perpetrate the fact with which he was charged; and, after it was committed, said that, if she told her mother, sister, or any body of it, be would flog her severely.
She proved a second commission of a similar fact, during which be looked out at the door, in apprehension that somebody was coming; but this did not happen to be the case. It appeared, likewise, that the crime was committed a third time; but it would be indelicate in the highest degree to recount the particulars of a fact of this nature.
A surgeon, who was present when Mr. Russen was carried before Justice Wilmot, deposed that, on examination of the girl, he did not discover that any absolute violence had been committed.
There were three other indictments against Russen of a similar nature, but he was acquitted of them all. He now proceeded to call several persons to his character, who spoke well of him as far as they knew.
In his defence he denied the fact, and pleaded the malice of his enemies, who, he said, had charged him with those offences to deprive him of his place. He urged the favourable representation of the surgeon, who had sworn that the child had not been materially injured; and insisted that, at the time the fact was charged to have been committed, be was so ill as to keep his chamber.
By endeavouring to prove this he proved too much; for the witness swore that he kept his chamber two months successively, contrary to the tenor of all the other witnesses; so that the jury were induced to think that he had not kept his chamber even one month.
The counsel for the prisoner laboured hard to adduce some proofs of his innocence; but the jury brought in a verdict that the prisoner was guilty; in consequence of which he received sentence of death.
After conviction the behaviour of Mr. Russen was exceedingly proper for a man in his unhappy situation. No very extraordinary exertions were made to obtain a pardon for him, because it was presumed it would not have been granted.
On the morning of execution Mr. Russen was taken from Newgate to Tyburn in a mourning- coach. Just before he left the prison, seeing a number of people about him, he made use of this emphatical expression, 'Stand clear! look to yourselves! I am the first hypocrite in Sion!' The parting scene between himself and his son was extremely affecting.
He was attended in the coach by the Ordinary of Newgate (the Reverend Mr. Hughes), a sheriff's officer, and an undertaker, who bad engaged to conduct the funeral.
At the place of execution Russen seemed to have a proper sense of his past wicked life; but, in regard to the crime for which be suffered, he thought himself ill treated, as he always asserted that he had never been guilty of a rape, though he acknowledged, a day or two before his death, that he had taken liberties with the child which were highly unbecoming. Previous to the prayers commonly used at the place of execution he made a long extempore prayer, and earnestly exhorted the surrounding multitude to take warning by his fate. He likewise censured the indecency of the people, who stood near the gallows with their hats on, and with apparent unconcern, during the time of prayer; and observed that the place where unhappy victims are to suffer the sentence of the law should be held as sacred as a church. He therefore requested the spectators to be uncovered, and to join in their supplications for him to Almighty God, which accordingly several of them complied with; and, after having prayed for his wife and helpless children, he once more recommended his soul to the mercy of God, and was then launched into eternity.
On the way to execution the mob insulted Russen but the propriety of his behaviour at the fatal tree had an evident effect on the spectators; and, when his body was out down, it was put into a hearse, and delivered to his friends for interment.
Benjamin Russen was executed at Tyburn on the 12th of December, 1777.
It is with pain that the pen of delicacy touches a subject of this nature; and this pain is increased when we consider that the object of our remarks was in a line of life that ought to have induced him to set the best example to others. A clergyman who is a school master is bound by a double tie to exhibit every mark of his attention to the duties of religion and morality; and, when he fails of this duty, his example is presumed to have a worse influence than that of a man differently situated.
Mr. Russen had a wife and six children, which was no slight aggravation of his crime.