The story of Half-hanged Ewen MacDonaldIn 1754, Ewen MacDonald was sentenced to death by hanging in Newcastle. After being hanged, his body was ordered to be dissected and anatomized. When surgeons were preparing his body for dissection, to everyone’s surprise, MacDonald sat up “and immediately begged for mercy.” One of the surgeons grabbed a wooden mallet and killed him, again, on the spot.

MacDonald was duly found guilty on 28 September 1754. The judge passed the death sentence under the Murder Act: ‘You will be hung by the neck until dead, and thence to be dissected and anatomized’. An extensive report of the execution and its post-mortem rituals appeared in the Newcastle General Magazine:

Ewen MacDonald was executed on the town moor, Newcastle pursuant to his sentence at the Assizes….this most unfortunate young man, who was only nineteen years of age appeared all the time of his confinement deeply effected with a true sense of guilt…but at the gallows his behavior in endeavoring to throw the executioner from off the ladder was unbecoming to one just on the brink of eternity…His body was taken to Surgeon’s Hall and there dissected.

The following day, popular broadsheets also featured an execution-day special. They reported that the dissection of MacDonald was a troublesome affair for the Newcastle officials:

It was said that after the body was taken to Surgeon’s Hall and placed ready for dissection, that the surgeons were called to a case at the Infirmary, who, on their return, found MacDonald so far recovered as to be sitting up; he immediately begged for mercy, but a young surgeon not wishing to be disappointed of the dissection, seized a wooden mallet with which he deprived him of life.

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