In this talk, Dr Rose Wallis, historian for Shire Hall, explores the broader legal and cultural significance of the case of Martha Brown and its resonance today.

Elizabeth Martha Brown was the last women to publicly hanged in Dorset. Convicted at Shire Hall for the murder of her husband in July 1856, her case caused a sensation. Martha, as she has become known, is probably best remembered as the inspiration for Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. As a young man, the author witnessed her execution at Dorchester Gaol, mesmerised by ‘the figure turning slowly round on the rope’. But there is more to Martha’s story than its influence on Hardy. At the time, her case became part of national debate on the validity of capital punishment and the treatment of women in the criminal justice system.

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