To put it bluntly, John Hoyland was executed for a crime one newspaper of the time could not name, namely bestiality with an Ass. Unfortunately this was totally false. John Hoyland had brought a large family up in the then rural surrounds of Atterclife and at the time of the alleged crime, was 77 years old!!. The local newspaper " The Sheffield Iris" noted that for some years he had been the subject of appalling violence from his sons. the beatings were so severe that "frequently was weeks together with bruises on him." The same paper is referred to in the book The Sheffield Hanged 1750 - 1864 by David Bentley who portray John as just a harmless old man.

The alleged offence was supposed to have taken place on 15th July 1793 when two Sheffield labourers John Hunt and William Warburton claimed to have seen John copulating with an Ass. The newspaper, along with most townspeople, thought the accusations spurious and that the prosecution had been motivated by "blood money"

I thought that the term was for money paid to the next of kin of a murder victim as a fine. But it appears that there were a number of statutes on the books which offered those who prosecuted felons to a conviction, a sum of money that varied according to the crime. Needless to say the potential for abuse was considerable, and so false allegations and entrapment were not rare events. Rewards received by prosecutors were known at the time as "blood money" and it was not until 1818 that the fixed rewards of the statutes was replaced by a court's discretionary reward - in other words, blood money was not assured.

What happened after that was remarkable. Within a week a report appears in the London Evening Post dated 22nd July 1793 detailing the court case the previous Friday which was only a couple of days after the so-called offence had taken place.

The story put forward by Hunt and Warburton must have been believed. But what is perplexing is that the other two offenders who were sentenced to death for what I would consider far more serious crimes against property, were reprieved. Woodfalls Register dated 26th July 1793 confirmed the reprieve

Prior to John's execution there had only been three public executions at the Knavesmire in York that year - William Atkinson for Riot, Richard Watson for Grand Larceny and Thomas Jewitt for Cattle Theft, and so John's execution looks even more stranger. I am not going to details the grim process that John must have endured over the three weeks since his arrest and up to his execution on Saturday 9th August 1793. The squalid and sordid "tradition" is described in detail in the excellent book by David Bentley - The Sheffield Hanged 1750 - 1864, and they are sections on-line as well. John protested his innocence of the offence from the time of his arrest to just before the noose was tied around his neck and he was "launched into eternity" as the hackneyed phrase goes.

There is no known grave for John, who was executed in a most violent manner for a crime he most certainly did not commit.


London Evening Post dated 22nd July 1793

Woodfalls Register dated 26th July 1793

The Sheffield Hanged 1750 - 1864 by David Bentley

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