A headline from the Brandon Sun at the time of the Webb hanging.
Today marks the 125th anniversary of the first legally sanctioned hanging in Brandon.
While 43-year-old William Hickin Webb was being led down the halls of the Brandon Gaol to the much-dreaded gallows, members of St. Matthew’s Church had assembled to simultaneously offer up their prayers for a man who was about to be hung for murdering his wife, Mary Jane (née Gilbert), nearly four months prior.
The Webb family had owned and operated the Pacific Laundry, out of a lean-to built next to their home, which was a little east of First Street and south of Rosser Avenue.
William H. Webb’s actions were especially heinous, because four young children were left trembling, with "teeth chattering" upon witnessing the brutal shooting of their unsuspecting mother on
Sept. 1, 1888, by their intoxicated father. Mary Jane’s expectant body had reportedly lay in place for several days, as evidence, while an inquest was performed by city officials.
After surrendering himself to Chief Duncan, Webb was reported to have stated that he killed his wife because "she had been jawing him day after day and week after week, and he had become tired of it."
The consequences of Webb’s crimes were enacted swiftly. On Nov. 21, 1888, the Chief Justice sentenced the prisoner to be hung on Dec. 28, "between the hours of 7 and 9, in the forenoon of that day."
In the final weeks leading up to the event, Ralph Pilling had apparently constructed the gallows platform elsewhere in Brandon and transported it to the gaol yard a week prior to the hanging. The immense structure created quite a spectacle among numerous Brandon residents. Curious gawkers would gather near the yard to steal a glimpse of the grisly contraption, which would ultimately carry out the first execution in the Wheat City’s history.
The Department of Justice, in Ottawa, had commissioned someone to serve as the hangman for $100. This unidentified individual arrived a few days prior to the event and remained hidden in relative seclusion from the local public.
Sheriff Clement was tasked with acquiring and selling the 50 admission tickets, which were available to members of the press and a few other select attendees. It was the sheriff’s intention to keep Webb’s hanging as low-key and private as possible.
Webb was able to bid a private and emotional farewell to his three young daughters and 14-year-old son, and he found solace in the comforting presence of Rev. Mr. Flewellyn. Various newspaper accounts reveal a man who initially appeared to be a "worthless drunkard," but to have then been transformed into "a changed man" as his date with destiny approached.
Finally, just after 8 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 28, 1888, William Hickin Webb was pronounced dead, after being hung from the gallows at the Brandon Gaol. Webb’s body was buried in the southeast corner of the gaol yard later that same day.
Ultimately, William and Mary Jane’s three young daughters were adopted out. The children were stripped of both their mother and father, due to Webb’s heinous actions.
William Webb’s death marked the first of four executions conducted in the city of Brandon.
» Trish Cullen-Watt is a Carberry resident who performs freelance research in genealogy, local historical events and First Nations issues. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 27, 2013