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Article dated : Fri, 2nd January 2004

The Last Public Execution at Maidstone Goal

On 11 January 1866, at the County Goal in Maidstone one of the most notorious murderers of Victorian Kent paid the final penalty for his crimes. This was Stephen Forwood (or Forwood) also known as Emest Waiter Southey. He was the last person to be publicly executed at Maidstone Goal.

The morning of Thursday 11 January 1866, was very cold, a severe snow storm driven by a harsh wind prevailed and this kept the usual crowd that gathered for this occasions down to about 1500 persons. The execution was presided over by Mr. F Scudamore, the Under-Sheriff of the County of Kent accompanied by some of his officers.

Arriving at the Gaol just before midday they immediately went to the cell where Forward was held. The executioner was Calcraft who acted as executioner at Stafford and in the "Midland Counties". The prisoner asked for permission to speak and "exclaimed in an audible voice", " I desire to say in the presence of you who are now assembled, and in the presence of Almighty God, into whose immediate presence I am now about to depart, that I die trusting only to the merits of the God-man Jesus Christ".

The prisoner was now "pinioned" by Calcraft and as he was lead to the scaffold he could be heard praying loudly. Just before he was placed on the drop he shook hands with Major Bannister, the Governor of the Gaol, and with the chaplain. To the chaplain he made his last request that when he was upon the scaffold the chaplain would only utter the following prayer" Lord, into thy hands we commend the soul of this our brother, for thou hast redeemed him. Oh Lord, thou God of Troth."

Forward said that his reason for this request was that he wished to "concentrate the whole powers of his soul and spirit into one mighty act of volition, and render himself up to God in the words mentioned." The request was granted and as the chaplain began to speak, the drop opened and Forward "ceased to exist".

The Maidstone and Kentish Journal describes the scene so:- " The scaffold was hung round with black cloth to such a height that when the drop fell only just the top of the convict's head was visible to the crowd. The body, after hanging an hour, was cut down and a cast of the head taken. In the afternoon the body was buried within the precincts of the gaol".

Edwin Ruck, the Registrar for the East Maidstone District, registered the death on Saturday 13 January 1866. The informant being the Governor of the Gaol, Major C W Bannister, the cause of death was stated as "Hanging for Murder'.

The events that brought Stephen Forward to this unhappy and grisly end in Maidstone Gaol surrounded the murder of his wife and child in Ramsgate on 10 August 1865. But Forwood was a man of two lives. He was also known as Ernest Walter Southey, and it was as Southey that he had murdered three children in early August 1865, in Holborn when he believed the woman he was living with, Mrs White was leaving for Australia and taking the three children with her. After these deaths Southey (or Forward) fled to Ramsgate and his wife, and shot her and his eight year old daughter.

The Metropolitan Police wanted him tried in London for the murder of the three White children, but the Kent Police had him in custody and he was therefore tried for the Ramsgate killings. Whatever the outcome Southey or Forward was doomed to the scaffold.

Forward claimed to have been born in St Lawrence on the Isle of Thanet the son of a smuggler and a laundress (or washerwoman). Looking at his life he was an inadequate person who moved from failure to failure and eventually murdered five people.