1736: Both John Vernham and Joshua Harding survive a hanging

Bristol, September 4.

Yesterday at 12 o’Clock, Vernham and Harding, were carry’d from Newgate to the Place of Execution on St. Michael’s hill, attended by the Under-Sheriff, and his Officers, and the Constables of the City, (in a Cart, with Halters about their Necks;) the Divine who attended them, having finish’d his last Office, the Cart drew away: But to the Surprize of every one, after hanging the usual Time, and being cut down, Vernham was perceived to have Life in him, when put into the Coffin; and some Lightermen and others, who promis’d to save his Body from the Surgeons, carried him away to a House; and a Surgeon being sent for, immediately open’d a Vein, which to recovered his Senses, that he had the Use of Speech, far up, robb’d his knees, shook Hands with divers persons that he knew, and to all seeming Appearance, a perfect Recovery was expected.

Appropriately metaphorical image of a gateway on St. Michael’s Hill in Bristol, (cc) Daniele Sartori.

The Rumour of this, soon came to the Under-Sherif’s Ears, who, with Mr. Legg, and several Officers armed, went to know the Truth, and finding it certain, were about to remove him to a proper Place, in order to have him again under their Care for a second Execution,and finishing the Law; which we hear would have been done in a private Manner, without any Ceremony: But whether any secret Method was used to dispatch him, or not, he died about Eleven o’ Clock, in great Agony of Pain, his Bowels being very much convls’d, as appeared by his rolling from one Side to the other, and often on his Belly.

{He was bout 20 Years of Age; while [under] Sentence of Death he behaved very penitent, laying the whole of his Misfortune upon a fatal Companion,* particularly as to the breaking open Mrs. Atherton’s House. Harding behaved very unconcerned, charging his Wife with being the chief Inset to his Misfortunes, and even curs’d her just before he received the Sacrament that Morning.}

And to our second Surprize, Joshua Harding is also come to Life again, and is actually now in Bride-well, where great Numbers of People resort to see him, Particularly Surgeons, curious of Observations. He lies in his Coffin, covered with a Rug, has Pulsation, breathes freely, and has a regular Look with his Eyes; but he has not been heard to speak, only motions with his Hand where his Pain lies. ‘Twas thought he would be executed a second Time {to the finishing his unhappy Fate by a private Execution, at the same Tree he was cut down from}; but we are now told, he is to be provided for in some convenient House of Charity, with Restraint, he being to all Appearance defective in his Intellects. Two such Resurrections happening at one Instant in the World, was never heard of in the Memory of man.**

The Virginia Gazette, Dec. 24, 1736. {Curly-braces portions from an otherwise largely identical report in The South Carolina Gazette, Jan. 15, 1737.}

Coverage from The Daily Gazetteer is available here. The London Magazine adds the detail that all those curiosity-seekers visiting Harding “give him Money” and “are very inquisitive whether he remembers the Manner of his Execution: to which he says, he only can remember his being at the Gallows, and knows nothing of Vernham’s being with him.”

* This Annals of Bristol says that Vernham nearly refused to plead until the prospect of judicial pressing caused him to chicken out. (And ironically, to the extent it forwarded his execution date to this evidently felicitous occasion, almost saved his life.)

** Two hanged men reviving at once is remarkable indeed, but it was not so strange at this time for individual prisoners to survive their executions.

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