At a quarter past eleven o’clock, on Monday December 8, 1862, the sad procession began its short journey from the cells in the courthouse into the frigid air.
The Hastings Chronicle reported:
The sun shone out brightly but it had scarcely risen above the horizon before it was obscured by the clouds, which hung heavily in the sky. Heavier clouds hung over the doomed prisoners.
At an early hour Rev. Mr. Brennan visited the prisoners and remained with them until the hour of their execution arrived.
During the whole of Sunday night people were streaming into the town from all quarters, and before daylight Monday morning all the hotels were crowded.
As early as 4 a.m. the grounds of the Court House were covered with an anxious crowd of not less than one thousand.
The crowd kept increasing, and every street and spot within the vicinity of the Courthouse was alive with a moving mass of humanity. There were old men with whitened locks and bent forms, and infants nursing on their mother’s breasts, young men and maidens, boys and girls, of all sizes and ages.
At ten o’clock, the hour fixed for the execution, there could not have been less than from five to six thousand people on the ground—some estimate the number present at from eight to nine thousand.
The vast multitude swayed to and fro and their attention was diverted by one of two small fights and wrestling matches. Many of the people in the crowd were drunk. Some unfeeling wretches exhibited their impatience by using such expressions as ‘hurry up there” and “bring them out”.
The procession solemnly approached the gallows. First came the Deputy Sheriffs and Bailiffs and the hooded hangman. With a “deathly pallor on her countenance” Mary Aylward, immediately followed by her husband Richard, stepped slowly, trembling, up the steps of the scaffold. And as Mary and Richard stood upon the platform, every breath was hushed, and they saw nothing but a sea of upturned, eager, anxious-looking faces. Mary was dressed all in white with a crepe shawl covering her shoulders. She also wore around her neck the noose – ready to be fastened to hooks on the gallows.
No sooner had they arrived on the platform, husband and wife fell upon their knees in prayer with Rev. Mr. Brennan. Following their devotions the priest assisted the Aylwards to their feet while the executioner hooked the ropes to the wooden cross-piece which would suspend them in death and covered their heads with the newly-made black hoods. This was done in an experienced, but nervous fashion, by the hangman, a short thickset man, dressed head-to-toe in a face-covering white gown.
The male prisoner attempted to address the people present but was overcome by emotion and stopped. The Rev. Mr. Brennan then stepped forward and asked those present in their charity to pray for the repose of the souls of the unfortunate prisoners, that the Almighty God, through the merits of the passion of his only Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, would have mercy on their souls.
The prisoners then joined their spiritual advisers in the Lord’s prayer,- they were left alone on the fatal drop,- the ministers of religion having retired,- the fatal bolt was drawn, and the two unfortunate beings stood in the presence of their Maker.
Let us hope that the mercy which an outraged law could not accord them in this world will be extended to them on the other side of the grave.
The Rev. Mr. Brennan, who bore up remarkably well amidst the trying scene, was finally so overcome by his emotions that he was obliged to be carried out of the room. A Mass in behalf of the prisoners has been said in the morning in the Church, which was crowded to overflowing.
The drop was very short, and the male prisoner struggled fearfully for a few minutes when life became extinct, although the muscular spasms continued for some six or several minutes afterwards. The Doctors say that life was extinct in 2 ½ minutes. Mrs. Aylward died almost without a struggle, life being extinct in 1 ½ minutes. The bodies were allowed to remain suspended for about 35 minutes when they were taken down, and delivered into the care of their friends.