OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: June 27, 2017.
Webpage updated: June 27, 2017

        

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DEATH BY FIRING SQUAD

Walkers on Plymouth Hoe may notice a cross embedded in the pathway that runs between the Promenade and Citadel Road with the number '3' engraved upon it.  It lies on a line between the Prejoma Clock in the Hoe Lodge Gardens and the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

The cross on Plymouth Hoe which is said to mark the spot three marines were put to death by firing squad.

This simple cross is said to mark the spot at which three Royal Marines were put to death by a firing squad 'for mutiny and sedition'. 

In its issue dated Monday July 10th 1797, the "Sherborne & Yeovil Mercury" reported the event:

'PLYMOUTH, July 8 - On Wednesday morning an express arrived here from the War-Office, with a warrant for the execution of Lee, Coffy, and Branning, three marines who were last week tried by a General Court-Martial, and found guilty of an attempt to excite a mutiny among the marine corps at Stone-house Barracks; and on Thursday at 12 o'clock the troops at this place and in the neighbourhood, consisting of the Sussex fencible cavalry, four companies of the royal artillery, the Lancashire, East Devon and Essex regiments of militia, the 25th regiment of foot, royal independent invalids, and Plymouth volunteers, assembled on the Hoe, and formed in a half circle in order to witness the execution.  McGennis, another marine tried for a similar crime, and sentenced to receive 1000 lashes, and to be afterwards transported to Botany Bay for life, was brought on the ground soon after twelve o'clock, and received 500 lashes, and then conveyed back to Stone-house Barracks'.

'At half past one o'clock, Lee, Coffy and Branning were marched from the citadel under the escort of a party of marines, with a coffin before each, preceded by the band of that corps playing the Dead March in Saul.   The former was attended by the Rev. Dr. Hawker; and the two latter by a Roman Catholic priest, who after praying with them near an hour, quitted them, and they all three knelt on their coffins for a few minutes, when an officer of marines came and drew the caps over their faces, and a party of twenty marines immediately came down and put a period to their existence by discharging the contents of their muskets through their bodies, after which all the regiments marched round them in solemn procession, the whole forming, perhaps, one one of the most awful scenes that the human eye ever witnessed.   They all behaved in a manner becoming their melancholy situation, and apparently very resigned and penitent.  About thirty thousand people were supposed to be present at the execution'.

July 8th was a Saturday and the day of the execution was thus Thursday July 6th 1797.

From a sketch plan of the site of the execution it appears that the three Marines were set facing towards the north.  In front of them was the firing party, under Lieutenant White, behind whom was Major General Campbell, president of the Court Martial.

This plan, which is held at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office, indicates that Lee had two priests in attendance, The Reverend Hawker, the vicar of Charles Church, and also the Reverend Williams of the Dock Chapel.  Fathers Elyzz and Places were in attendance upon the the other two.

The 25th Regiment of Foot, the Royal Lancashire Regiment and the Plymouth Volunteers were positioned to the west and the Royal Artillery and Artificers, Corps of Marines and Royal Invalids were on the eastern side.  It would appear from the report above that the number of troops in attendance was greatly increased from those in the plan.