I have spent some time contemplating and researching the 9 women who were hung at Bodmin. There is almost no actual detail of the individual women available other than name sometimes age and the crime they committed. This started me thinking about the sadness that this is all that is left. Nothing about their personality, their lives up to the point of the crime, what drove them to commit these crimes, circumstance or inherent evil? It is easy to assume that the reasons for hanging are inherent evil but the cases are complex and often poor women were driven to desperate measures as a way to survive.
Caught in unhappy, difficult or abusive marriages they were trapped with no way out. Some resorted to murder as a way out. Sarah Polgrean, poisoned her husband with arsenic laced butter as a desperate move to release her from an unhappy marriage of jealousy where she was unable to pursue a religious education.
Selina Wadge was poor and was living in the workhouse at Launceston. She had two children and had been promised marriage and a better life with a man, James Westwood who had spend 15 years in the army but was then a farm labourer. Selina Wadge claimed that Westwood had promised marriage but only if she ‘could rid of one of her children’.(p165 The History of Bodmin Jail)
It struck me that most of these cases are desperate acts by lost and hopeless women. Often with little or no education and with mouths to feed and no means to feed them.