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The Last Days of William Bull

Robert Evan Roberts was Governor of Bedford Prison from 1853 to 1885. His notebooks are held by he National Archives at Kew but Bedfordshire Archives and Record Service has copies on microfilm [Micf 265]. On 29th November 1870 Sarah Marshall was murdered by William Bull in her tiny one-roomed cottage in Little Staughton. Bull's last days are recorded in Governor Roberts' notebooks.

Saturday 3rd December 1870: "A most horrid murder has been committed at Little Staughton in this County - a young man "Wm Bull" is in Custody on Remand until Tuesday next charged with the offence. He was in custody here in 1864on a charge of Rape he was at that time nly 14 years of age. The offence was reduced to common assault. He is a stalwart dull dogged fellow of low animal passions - and apparently indifferent to his position".

Wednesday 15th March 1871: "Trial of Prisoners resumed this morning. "Wm Bull" convicted of the wilful mirder of Sarah Marshall at Little Staughton and sentenced to Death. The Convict was brought to Prison and placed under the imemdiate care of an officer day and night".

Friday 17th March 1871: "The Convict "Bull" remains much in the same condition as at first - stolid and indifferent and very reserved. He scarcely speaks a word the whole day through and then only when he wants anything or is asked a question and his answers are some what stereotyped "Yes, "No" or "I don't know".

Monday 20th March 1871: "There is little or no change in "Bull" since Friday, he is still very taciturn and sullen. Yesterday he attended chapel in the morning but had to be brought out, he complaining of fainting. He is slightly troubled with Diarrhoea. Tea and bread butter supplied him instead of gruel. The Surgeon and Chalpain visit him daily. I am with him every night as late as Midnight".

Tuesday 21st March 1871: ""Bull" seems a little more unsettled, he is getting very fidgety and restless. He is a sad specimen of ignorance and neglect. I had some conversation with him last night when he shed a few tears but it is with the utmost difficulty he can be got to utter a word. he can read a little but he does not appear to give his mind to it but sits brooding over a book, turning the leaves over backwards and forwards and frequently passing the time away sleeping with his head on the table"

"The day of Execution of "William Bull£ is fixed for Monday 3rd April at 8 o'clock a.m. and to take place in private according to Law".

Saturday 25th March 1871: "Bull's two sisters, one with a baby in her arms, visited him this afternoon for an hour. His manner towards them was cold and indifferent, would not speak to them only when spoken to by them but occasionally indulged in a smile, told them not to fret about him as he was prepared for his fate. His sisters left very much pained at his want of feeling towards them and beg'd him to pray to God for mercy and forgiveness before it was too late".

Tuesday 28th March 1871: ""William Bull" under sentence of death expressed a wish on Sunday night last "to tell me all about it". I told him he had better consider the matter over as I was not desirous that he should tell me anything unless he told the whole truth. The following morning I visited him and was shortly afterwards joined by the Chaplain when "Bull" made a full confession of his guilt which I took downin writing and which he signed in the presence of the Chaplain. He told his own tale without showing the slightest signs of feeling or emotion".

Saturday 1st April 1871: "I have been with "Bull" frequently during the past week - every night up till Midnight, his manner much the same - he eats heartily, sleeps soundly, scarcely disturbed the whole night thro'. His mother and his sisters visited this afternoon they remained with him nearly two hours. There was a coldness pervaded the whole affair and which I need scarcely say was painful to witness. He stated to his mother "that he deserved his punishment and had told the Governor all about it and it was time".

"Commenced yesterday getting the Gallows ready for Monday".

Monday 3rd April 1871: "Was with "Bull"until two o'clock this morning, he went to bed at 9 and slept soundly until this hour when he asked the time and went off to sleep again until 5 o'clock. At six o'clock he got up, dressed and washed himself and was shortly afterwards visited by the Chaplain".

"1/2 past 7 the Under sheriff arrived".

"At 8 o'clock a.m. Wm Bull was executed within the walls of the Prison in the presence of the Chaplain, myself, the Surgeon and the warders and five or six persons representing the press. "Bull" on ascending the scaffold said, and his last words were "I thank you for what you have done. I feel pardoned tell my mother". The body was taken down at 9 o'clock. A Coroner's Inquest (Mr Whyley) was held at 12 o'clock, Verdict Died from Apoplexy caused by hanging and was interred in the afternoon within the Prison. "Calcraft" was the Executioner who arrived at the Prison last night".