Corpses Strewn: Collmore and his gang

For this month’s brief but quite graphic Corpses Strewn series (pair, really) concerning Irish outlaws who were hanged and cut apart in 1719, we are indebted to the curated collection of gallows broadsheets in James Kelly’s Gallows Speeches From Eighteenth-Century Ireland.

Gallows Speeches delivers what it promises to the tune of 61 broadsheets and one pamphlet transcribed from surviving originals; we’ll certainly have occasion to revisit some choicest morsels in future posts.

But Kelly really makes the book with a 58-page introductory analysis of this genre’s evolution through the 18th century, and the difficult job we have in posterity to situate such artifacts confidently in their own world: how accurate were they? how much did the genre’s formula and the demands of commercial publishers swallow up the convict’s “true” voice? how wide a readership did these broadsheets enjoy, and how did the general populace engage with them?

We don’t have answers in these specific instances or hardly any others, either. If nothing else, their discomfiting content — a performance of spectacular public butchery, preceded by the criminals’ own self-conscious performance of contrition — give us a window into the period of the death penalty as exemplary deterrence.

On this day..