August 24th, 2011 Headsman
On this date in 1782, a crowd contemporaries pegged at 100,000 mobbed the gruesome public execution of David Tyrie — the last man hanged, drawn, and quartered in British history.
Tyrie was a Scotsman clerking at a Portsmouth naval office, who was caught in a treacherous correspondence with the French. He lacked political pull of his own and either the means or inclination to shop confederates, and therefore faced the full weight of the treason statute.
Said venerable statute, a theatrically bloody relic of the Middle Ages popularized by Edward I for terrorizing malcontent subjects, had persisted for half a millennium or so and in its grisly Tudor efflorescence crowned the careers of saints, terrorists, lovers, fighters, and Shakespeare characters.
Tyrie might have been small time by those standards, but he wore it well this date — “played the man,” in the old parlance — before the throng on Southsea Common.
From the time he was put on the sledge, till be came to the gibbet, he continued in an unconcerned conversation with the gaoler, in which he expressed that he thought there were not three better, sounder, or honester hearts in the kingdom, than his own, which was just going to be burnt. That there was only one thing which gave him concern, which was, that his father was living, and he feared this misfortune would bring his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. He declined saying a word to the populace, observing, that he knew not why he was to feed or gratify the idle curiosity of the multitude. He never hung his head the whole time. — When arrived at the place of execution, no halter was provided, upon which he smiled, and expressed astonishment as the inattention and neglect of his executioners; and indeed the business would have been retarded for some time, had not a rope and pulley been procured out of a lugger that lay under shore, during which time he read several passages in a bible he carried in his hand. – Before he was drawn up, he delivered a paper, setting forth, that he had authorised no person to publish any account of his life, nor was there any one who knew sufficiently of him to give any genuine particulars of his transactions in the world.
After hanging exactly twenty-two minutes, he was lowered upon the sledge, and the sentence literally put in execution. His head was severed from his body, his heart taken out and burnt, his privities cut off, and his body quartered. He was then put into a coffin, and buried among the pebbles by the sea-side; but no sooner had the officers retired, but the sailors dug up the coffin, took out the body, and cut it in a thousand pieces, every one carrying away a piece of his body to shew their messmates on board. — A more dreadful, affecting execution was perhaps never seen.
Before disemboweling, he was probably stretched out somewhat like David Tyree.
In fact, it was so dreadful (including many injuries in the distasteful rush for souvenirs) that they stopped doing it. Only gradually: Edward Marcus Despard, for instance, was sentenced to drawing and quartering, but they only hanged him to death and cut off his head posthumously. In 1814, that sentence — hanging plus posthumous beheading — formally replaced the old disemboweling-and-quartering bit as the penalty for treason.
(The invaluable CapitalPunishmentUK.org says that one James O’Coigley suffered hanging, drawing, and quartering in 1798 for that year’s Irish Rebellion; however, the Newgate Calendar’s record says that O’Coigley was “merely” hanged and beheaded, like Despard.)
Also on this date
- 1889: Auguste Neel, on St. Pierre
- 1460: The residents of Amlas, impaled by Vlad Dracula
- 1751: Thomas Colley, witch-killer
- 1993: Ruben Cantu, an innocent child?