Marie Manning (murderer)
Marie Manning (1821–1849) was a Swiss domestic servant who was hanged outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol, England, on 13 November 1849, after she and her husband were convicted of the murder of her lover, Patrick O'Connor, in the case that received a name of "Bermondsey Horror". It was the first time a husband and wife had been executed together in England since 1700.
The novelist Charles Dickens attended the execution, and in a letter written to The Times on the same day wrote "I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun." He later based one of his characters—Mademoiselle Hortense, Lady Dedlock's maid in Bleak House—on Manning's life.
Manning was born Marie de Roux in Lausanne, Switzerland, and entered domestic service in England. At first maid to Lady Palk of Haldon House, Devon, she entered the service of Lady Blantyre at Stafford House in 1846, and on 27 May 1847 married, at St James's Church, Piccadilly, Frederick George Manning, a publican. His background was a chequered one. He had worked on the railways, but was discharged on suspicion of being involved in several robberies. Marie had previously made the acquaintance of Patrick O'Connor, a gauger in the London Docks, and this friendship was continued after her marriage. O'Connor, besides being a figure on the docks, was also a money lender, and one who charged extraordinary interest. As a result he was extremely wealthy, and was smart enough to invest his money wisely.
On 9 August 1849, O'Connor dined with the Mannings at their house, 3 Miniver Place, Bermondsey. Husband and wife, according to a preconcerted plan, thereupon murdered their guest and buried his body under the flagstones in the kitchen. On the same day Mrs. Manning visited O'Connor's lodgings, Greenwood Street, Mile End Road, and repeated the visit next day, stealing the dead man's railway shares and money. However, it is apparent that the guilty couple were mutually planning a double cross on each other. Marie, being the smarter of the two, actually fled with most of the loot from the murder. Frederick took the smaller portion and fled as well.
Trial and execution
The police discovered O'Connor's remains on 17 August, and soon after apprehended his murderers. Marie was tracked down to Edinburgh, where she was caught when trying to exchange some of O'Connor's property (a listing had been published). Frederick was caught on Jersey. They were tried at the Old Bailey on 25 and 26 October 1849. The trial was not one of the most fascinating in terms of legal problems, except that it was argued that the jury had to include people of French or Swiss ancestry in fairness to Marie. During the trial, Frederick said that he "never liked him [O'Connor] very much". They were found guilty, Marie yelling imprecations at the British as a perfidious race. They were reconciled shortly before they were executed by William Calcraft at Horsemonger Lane Gaol on 13 November 1849. Mrs. Manning wore a black satin dress on the scaffold, resulting in the myth that the material went out of fashion for many years (though, following the execution, fashion catalogues continued to show black satin garments, suggesting no evidence to support the myth).
Wilkie Collins in his novel The Woman In White (1860) has one of his heroines comment (referring to the fat villain, Count Fosco) that "Mr. Murderer and Mrs. Murderess Manning were not both unusually stout people?" In fact, Marie would have been considered overweight today, but in the 1840s she was considered quite attractive with her chubby features, which at the time were considered to imply that the person had the means to be somewhat "plump". The novel is set in 1850, a year after the "Bermondsey Horror".
- Dickens, Charles. Little Dorrit. Penguin Classics, 2003, Footnote 10, chapter XVII, p. 975.
- Dickens, Charles. Letters to the editor, The Times, November 14, 1849. He wrote:
"Sir — I was a witness of the execution at Horsemonger-lane this morning. I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so, at intervals all through the night, and continuously from daybreak until after the spectacle was over.
"I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that execution this morning could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime which brought the wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before the atrocious bearing, looks and language, of the assembled spectators. When I came upon the scene at midnight, the shrillness of the cries and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came from a coucourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching, and laughing, and yelling in strong chorus of parodies on Negro melodies, with substitutions of "Mrs. Manning" for "Susannah," and the like, were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes, ruffians and vagabonds of every kind, flocked on to the ground, with every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings, whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly—as it did—it gilded thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from himself, as fashioned in the image of the Devil. When the two miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment, no more restraint in any of the previous obscenities, than if the name of Christ had never been heard in this world, and there were no belief among men but that they perished like the beasts.
"I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any community can prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralization as was enacted this morning outside Horsemonger-lane Gaol is presented at the very doors of good citizens, and is passed by, unknown or forgotten."
- Terry Deary, Horrible Histories: The Villainous Victorians
- Brian P. Block; John Hostettler (1997). Hanging in the balance: a history of the abolition of capital punishment in Britain. Waterside Press. p. 38. ISBN 1-872870-47-3.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Manning, Marie". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.