As we have already described the nature of Courts Martial we shall immediately proceed to show the solemn ceremony of a military execution.
From the hour of four in the morning of the day of execution the whole line of encampment were ordered to hold themselves in readiness: at five, however, in the evening the officers were given to understand, that the execution of those two unfortunate men, Edward Cooke and Henry Parish, was countermanded for that day. The cause of the short respite was attributed to the absence of the Prince of Wales's 10th regiment of light dragoons, which did not march into the town till nine o'clock this morning, and of course could not pitch their tents till late in the evening.
When this regiment were seen on the march to their station, all hopes of an expected reprieve seemed entirely to vanish; the most respectable people, however, of the place, took this opportunity of one day's delay to repeat their petitions in favour of the two men; but all proved ineffectual; for early on the 13th the Oxfordshire Militia (the regiment to which the mutineers belonged) began their march from the barracks at Blachington to this place to be made awful spectators of their unhappy comrades' punishment, and to be their executioners!
At four o'clock the whole were ordered to accompany them from the ground to Colestoun Bottom, at which place they arrived about five. The six men (for there were 13 mutineers) that were sentenced to be flogged proceeded afterwards in a covered waggon guarded by a strong escort, which was composed of select men, picked from every regiment in the line: the two condemned to be shot followed in the rear in an open cart, attended by the Rev. Mr. Dring, and guarded by a second escort, under the command of Captain Leigh, of the 10th regiment of light dragoons, and one of the captains belonging to the Lancashire Fencibles. When they arrived, however, at the winding road which leads to Colestoun Vale, and which is surrounded by an eminence, both the escorts were commanded to halt. The six men sentenced to be flogged were then taken from the covered waggon, and having been marched through the whole line, who were under arms to receive them, they were brought back to a whipping-post which were fixed in the centre of the different regiments. The drummers selected to flog them were men belonging to their own corps. Three of them received three hundred lashes each; this was all the number they then received, as, from their long durance, and consequent weakness, the surgeon of the regiment pronounced that they could suffer no more. The fourth was then stripped, and, after being tied to the flogging-post, was reprieved; as were his two other comrades. This part of the distressing ceremony being gone through, the two unfortunate men condemned to be shot were taken from the cart, and marched, as the others had been, up the line, with this difference only, of being conducted also through part of the outer one, which was composed of the prince's regiment, the Lancashire and Cinque Port Fencibles; they were then marched to the front of the Oxfordshire Militia, were their coffins stood to receive their bodies; the artillery being planted on the right, with lighted matches, in the rear of the Oxfordshire, to prevent any mutiny, if attempted, and the whole height commanded by 2000 cavalry.
Cook and Parish being conducted to the fatal spot, exchanged a few words with the clergyman, and then kneeled with the greatest composure and firmness on their coffins: the first time, however, they kneeled, it was done the wrong way: but being placed in a proper situation, they put the caps over their eyes, and received their death from a delinquent platoon of twelve of their own regiment, at the distance only of six paces. One of them was not quite dead when he fell, and was therefore shot through the head with a pistol. This, however, was not the last awful ceremony the line had to experience; for, to conclude the dreadful tragedy, every regiment on the ground was ordered to file off past the bodies before they were suffered to be enclosed in their coffins. The whole scene was impressively awful beyond any spectacle of the kind ever exhibited. No disturbance whatever resulted from the above melancholy affair: everything was conducted with the greatest solemnity and order: the awe and silence that reigned on the occasion, infused a terror, mingled with an equal degree of pity, that was distressing beyond conception. The Oxfordshire Militia naturally experienced more afflicting sensations than any other regiment on the ground.
Cooke and Parish were both young men, and behaved with uncommon firmness and resignation; they marched through the lines with a steady step, and regarded their coffins with an undaunted eye. The former was called Captain Cooke, from his having headed the Oxfordshire soldiers, at the fatal period of the mutiny.