1733: William Gordon, almost cheating death

On this date in 1733, English highwayman William Gordon was hanged at Tyburn (along with three thieves unconnected to him) for stealing a hat, wig, watch and ring while “in a state of intoxication.”

Gordon is hardly notable as a criminal at a time and place hangings were ubiquitous. But the Newgate Calendar relates that he came within a whisker’s breadth of making himself very notable indeed in the history of hangings; indeed, since punching a hole in one’s own neck is far less desperate than the straits of a man expecting the rope, it’s a bit surprising that this relatively favorable experiment didn’t find more imitators.

Mr. Chovot, a surgeon, having, by frequent experiments on dogs, discovered, that opening the windpipe, would prevent the fatal consequences of being hanged by the neck, communicated it to Gordon, who consented to the experiment being made on him. Accordingly, pretending to take his last leave of him, the surgeon secretly made an incision in his windpipe; and the effect this produced on the malefactor was, that when he stopt his mouth, nostrils, and ears, air sufficient to prolong life, issued from the cavity. When he was hanged, he was observed to retain life, after the others executed with him were dead. His body, after hanging three quarters of an hour, was cut down, and carried to a house in Edgware road., where Chovot was in attendance, who immediately opened a vein, which bled freely, and soon after the culprit opened his mouth and groaned. He, however, died; but it was the opinion of those present at the experiment, that had he been cut down only five minutes sooner, life would have returned.