See also Halifax gibbet, a kind of guillotine.
Gallows at Caxton Gibbet
The reconstructed gallows-style gibbet at Caxton Gibbet, in Cambridgeshire, England

A gibbet /ˈdʒɪbɪt/ is any instrument of public execution (including guillotine, executioner's block, impalement stake, hanging gallows, or related scaffold), but gibbeting refers to the use of a gallows-type structure from which the dead or dying bodies of criminals were hung on public display to deter other existing or potential criminals. Occasionally the gibbet was also used as a method of execution, with the criminal being left to die of exposure, thirst and/or starvation.[1] The term gibbet may also be used to refer to the practice of placing a criminal on display within a gibbet.[2] This practice is also called "hanging in chains".[3]


Hanging of William Kidd
Captain Kidd, who was tried and executed for piracy, hanging in chains
Breads's Gibbet Iron, Rye
1899 sketch of John Breads's Gibbet Iron, Rye, East Sussex.
Fomfr cage
A gibbet with a dummy inside

Gibbeting was a common law punishment, which a judge could impose in addition to execution. This practice was regularised in England by the Murder Act 1751, which empowered judges to impose this for murder. It was most often used for traitors, murderers, highwaymen, pirates, and sheep stealers and was intended to discourage others from committing similar offences. The structures were therefore often placed next to public highways (frequently at crossroads) and waterways.

Exhibiting a body could backfire against a monarch, especially if the monarch was unpopular. The rebels Henry of Montfort and Henry of Wylynton, enemies of Edward II, were drawn and hanged before being exhibited on a gibbet near Bristol. However, the people made relics of these bloody and mutilated remains out of respect and later used the relics in violent protest. Miracles were even reported at the spot where the bodies were hanging.[4]

Although the intention was deterrence, the public response was complex. Samuel Pepys expressed disgust at the practice. There was Christian objection that prosecution of criminals should end with their death. The sight and smell of decaying corpses was offensive and regarded as "pestilential", so it was seen as a threat to public health.

Pirates were sometimes executed by hanging on a gibbet erected close to the low-water mark by the sea or a tidal section of a river. Their bodies would be left dangling until they had been submerged by the tide three times. In London, Execution Dock is located on the north bank of the River Thames in Wapping; after tidal immersion, particularly notorious criminals' bodies could be hung in cages a little farther downstream at either Cuckold's Point or Blackwall Point, as a warning to other waterborne criminals of the possible consequences of their actions (such a fate befell Captain William Kidd in May 1701). There were objections that these displays offended foreign visitors and did not uphold the reputation of the law, though the scenes even became gruesome tourist attractions.[5]


In some cases, the bodies would be left until their clothes rotted or even until the bodies were almost completely decomposed, after which the bones would be scattered.

In cases of drawing and quartering, the body of the criminal was cut into four or five portions, with the several parts often gibbeted in different places.

Hanging cage at the main gate to Corciano, Province of Perugia, Italy

So that the public display might be prolonged, bodies were sometimes coated in tar or bound in chains. Sometimes, body-shaped iron cages were used to contain the decomposing corpses. For example, in March 1743 in the town of Rye, East Sussex, Allen Grebell was murdered by John Breads. Breads was imprisoned in the Ypres Tower and then hanged, after which his body was left to rot for more than 20 years in an iron cage on Gibbet Marsh. The cage and Breads' skull are still kept in the town hall.[6]

Another example of the cage variation is the gibbet iron, on display at the Atwater Kent Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cage, created in 1781, was intended to be used to display the body of convicted pirate Thomas Wilkinson, so that sailors on passing ships might be warned of the consequences of piracy; Wilkinson's planned execution never took place, so the gibbet was never used.[7]

An example of an iron cage used to string up bodies on a gibbet can still be seen in the Westgate Museum at Winchester.[8]

Historical examples


The Old Testament (Torah) law forbids gibbeting beyond sundown of the day that the body is hanged on the tree.[9] Public crucifixion with prolonged display of the body after death can be seen as a form of gibbeting.[10] Gibbeting was one of the methods said by Tacitus and Cassius Dio to have been used by Boudica's army in the massacre of Roman settlers in the destruction of Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St. Albans) in AD 60–61.


Being a seafaring nation in the 17th and 18th centuries, Bermuda inherited many of the same customs as England, including the gibbet. Located in Smith's Parish at the entrance to Flatt's Inlet is Gibbet Island, which was used to hang the bodies of escaped slaves as a deterrent to others. The small island was used for this purpose because it was not on the mainland and therefore satisfied the superstitious beliefs of locals who did not want gibbets near their homes.


Gibbet of La Corriveau (NYPL) (cropped-2)
The gibbet in which Corriveau was exhibited after her execution, the "cage" of La Corriveau

Marie-Josephte Corriveau (1733–1763), better known as "La Corriveau", is one of the most popular figures in Québécois folklore. She lived in New France, was sentenced to death by a British court martial for the murder of her second husband, and was hanged for it, and her body was hung in chains. Her story has become legendary in Quebec, and she is the subject of numerous books and plays.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy used Hangman's Beach on McNab's Island in Halifax Harbour to display the hanged bodies of deserters, in order to deter the crews of passing warships.

Colony of New South Wales

A rocky outcrop not far into Port Jackson – originally called Mat-te-wan-ye in the local Aboriginal language, later renamed Rock Island by Governor Arthur Phillip but today known as Pinchgut Island, and the location of Fort Denison – was a gibbeting site. It took its name after a convict Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on the rock in iron chains sustained by only bread and water; the conditions literally pinched his gut, hence the name. The rock was levelled in the 1790s, and a gibbet installed in 1796. Francis Morgan, transported for life to New South Wales after being convicted of murder in 1793, killed again in 1796 and was hung in chains on Pinchgut in November 1796. His dead body, later a skeleton, remained on display on the island for four years.[11]


Execution of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton, 1661
Hanging of Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton.
Hinrichtung Joseph Süss 2
Execution of Joseph Süss

The body of Oliver Cromwell was gibbeted after his death, after monarchists disinterred it during the restoration of the monarchy.[12] Robert Aske, who led the rebellion against Henry VIII known as Pilgrimage of Grace, was hanged in chains in 1537.


The leaders of the Anabaptist movement in Münster were executed in 1536, and their dead bodies were gibbeted in iron cages hanging from the steeple of St. Lambert's Church, and the cages are still on display there today. Similarly, following his execution by hanging in 1738, the corpse of Jewish financier Joseph Süß Oppenheimer was gibbeted in a human-sized bird cage that hung outside of Stuttgart on the so-called Pragsattel (the public execution place at the time) for six years, until the inauguration of Karl Eugen, Duke of Württemberg, who permitted the hasty burial of his corpse at an unknown location.


In 838, the Iranian hero Babak Khorramdin had his hands and feet cut off by the Abbasid Caliphate and was then gibbeted alive while sewn into a cow's skin with the horns at ear level to crush his head gradually as the skin dried out.[13]


On 4 February 1820 six British pirates were hanged on their vessel in the middle of the harbour at Valetta. Thereafter their bodies were hung in gibbets erected at the bastions of Fort Ricolli. Lieutenant Hobson of HMS Spey, in the tender Frederick, had apprehended them and their vessel in the harbour at Smyrna.[14]

United States

While still under British rule Bird Island and Nix's Mate island in Boston Harbor were used for gibbeting pirates and sailors executed for crimes in Massachusetts. Their bodies were left hanging as a warning to sailors coming into the harbor and approaching Boston.[15] About 1755 a slave named Mark was hanged and gibbeted in Charlestown, Massachusetts; twenty years later Paul Revere passed the remains of Mark on his famous ride.[16]

After independence, a gang of Cuban pirates was gibbeted in New York ca. 1815.[17]

Last recorded gibbetings


The January 1921 issue of National Geographic Magazine contains two photographs of gibbet cages, referenced as "man-cages," in use in Afghanistan. Commentary included with the photograph indicates that the gibbet was a practice still in active use. Persons sentenced to death were placed alive in the cage and remained there until some undefined time weeks or months after their deaths. [18]


In 1837, five years after the practice had ceased in England, the body of John McKay was gibbeted near the spot where he had murdered Joseph Wilson near Perth, Tasmania.[19] There was great outcry, but the body was not removed until an acquaintance of Wilson passed the spot and, horrified by the spectacle of McKay's rotting corpse, pleaded with the authorities to remove it. The place where this occurred was just to the right (when travelling towards Launceston, not to be confused with the private road with the same name) on the Midlands Highway on the northern side of Perth. It is the last case of gibbetting in a British colony.

United Kingdom

Combe jibbet jan 7 2007 128
Combe Gibbet, a replica gibbet in Berkshire

The Murder Act 1751 stipulated that "in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried";[20] the cadaver was either to be publicly dissected or left "hanging in chains".[20] The use of gibbeting had been in decline for some years before it was formally repealed by statute in 1834. In Scotland, the final case of gibbeting was that of Alexander Gillan in 1810.[21] The last two men gibbeted in England were William Jobling and James Cook, both in 1832. Their cases are good examples of the changing attitudes toward the practice.[22]

William Jobling was a miner hanged and gibbeted for the murder of Nicholas Fairles, a colliery owner and local magistrate, near Jarrow, Durham. After being hanged, the body was taken off the rope and loaded into a cart and taken on a tour of the area before arriving at Jarrow Slake, where the crime had been committed. Here, the body was placed into an iron gibbet cage. The cage and the scene were described thus:

The body was encased in flat bars of iron of two and a half inches in breadth, the feet were placed in stirrups, from which a bar of iron went up each side of the head, and ended in a ring by which he was suspended; a bar from the collar went down the breast, and another down the back, there were also bars in the inside of the legs which communicated with the above; and crossbars at the ankles, the knees, the thighs, the bowels the breast and the shoulders; the hands were hung by the side and covered with pitch, the face was pitched and covered with a piece of white cloth.[23]

The gibbet was a foot in diameter with strong bars of iron up each side. The post was fixed into a one-and-a-half-ton stone base sunk into the Slake.[24] The body was soon removed by fellow miners and given a decent burial.

James Cook was a bookbinder convicted of the murder of his creditor Paas, a manufacturer of brass instruments, in Leicester. He was executed on Friday, 10 August 1832, in front of Leicester prison. Afterwards:

The head was shaved and tarred, to preserve it from the action of the weather; and the cap in which he had suffered was drawn over his face. On Saturday afternoon his body, attired as at the time of his execution, having been firmly fixed in the irons necessary to keep the limbs together, was carried to the place of its intended suspension.

His body was to be displayed on a purpose-built gallows 33 ft high in Saffron Lane near the Aylestone Tollgate. According to The Newgate Calendar:

Thousands of persons were attracted to the spot, to view this novel but most barbarous exhibition; and considerable annoyance was felt by persons resident in the neighbourhood of the dreadful scene. Representations were in consequence made to the authorities, and on the following Tuesday morning instructions were received from the Home Office directing the removal of the gibbet.[25]

Although the practice of gibbeting had been abandoned by 1834 in Britain, during the British Raj of India in 1843, Charles James Napier threatened to have such structures built in parallel to any attempt to practice Sati, the ritualized burning of widows, to execute the perpetrators.[26]

See also

Citations and references


  1. ^ Pettifer, Ernest (1992). Punishments of Former Days. Winchester: Waterside Press. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-8-72870-05-2.
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd Ed., Oxford University. Electronic CD edition.
  3. ^ Gallagher, Rob. "Gibbeting". Archived from the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2009.
  4. ^ Jusserland, J. J. (1891). English Wayfaring Life in the Middle Ages. London: T. Fisher Unwin. pp. 342–343.
  5. ^ Hanging in Chains By Albert Hartshorne, pp. 73–75, ISBN 0-554-81481-1, ISBN 978-0-554-81481-0
  6. ^ "Rye area and tourist information". Archived from the original on 12 January 2007.
  7. ^ Sellin, T. (1955). "The Philadelphia Gibbet Iron". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 46 (11): 11–25.
  8. ^ "Latest News around the World". Southern Life. Winchester, UK. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  9. ^ Deuteronomy 21:22-23.
  10. ^ Seneca the Younger, Dialogue, Ad Marciam, De consolatione, 6.20.3
  11. ^ Smith, Tom (27 October 2018). "This Island off the Coast of Sydney Holds a Terrifying Secret". Culture Trip. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  12. ^ "Bits and Pieces".
  13. ^ The golden age of Islam by Maurice Lombard, p. 152, ISBN 1-55876-322-8, ISBN 978-1-55876-322-7
  14. ^ "Ship News." Times [London, England 3 Nov. 1819: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 17 Oct. 2018.]
  15. ^ Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by George Francis Dow
  16. ^ DeLombard, Jeannine Marie (2012). In the Shadow of the Gallows: Race, Crime, and American Civic Identity. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0812206333.
  17. ^ Congressional series of United States public documents, vol. 936. 35th Congress, 1st session. Misc. doc. #207., Memorial of Lawrence Kearney..., Pg. 3. Published 2012 by US Congress.
  18. ^ Simpich, Frederick (January 1921). "Every-day Life in Afghanistan". The National Geographic Magazine. XXXIX (1): 85. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  19. ^,1837.htm Archived at the Wayback Machine (archived 21 August 2011)
  20. ^ a b Dr D. R. Johnson, Introductory Anatomy, Centre for Human Biology, (now renamed Faculty of Biological Sciences, Leeds University), Retrieved 17 November 2008
  21. ^ Bennet, Rachel. "Gibbeting Alexander Gillan". Harnessing the power of the criminal corpse. Leicester University. Retrieved 31 August 2017
  22. ^ Gatrell, V A C (1994). The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People, 1770-1868. Oxford: OUP. pp. 268–269. ISBN 978-0-19-285332-5.
  23. ^ Richardson, Moses (1844). The Local Historian's Table Book connected with the Counties of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland and Durham. IV. p. 131.
  24. ^ "Durham prison". Retrieved 12 April 2013.
  25. ^ "The Newgate Calendar - JAMES COOK". Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  26. ^ Napier, William. (1851) History Of General Sir Charles Napier's Administration Of Scinde. (p. 35). London: Chapman and Hall [1] at, accessed 10 July 2011


  • Gatrell, V. A. C. (1996). The hanging tree: execution and the English people, 1770–1868. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. &nbsp, 266–269. ISBN 978-0-19-820413-8.
Algor mortis

Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.

The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.


In medicine, dysthanasia means "bad death" and is considered a common fault of modern medicine.Dysthanasia occurs when a person who is dying has their biological life extended through technological means without regard to the person's quality of life. Technologies such as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, artificial ventilation, ventricular assist devices, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can extend the dying process.

Dysthanasia is a term generally used when a person is seen to be kept alive artificially in a condition where, otherwise, they cannot survive; sometimes for some sort of ulterior motive. The term was used frequently in the investigation into the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna in 1994.

Fan death

Fan death is a well-known superstition in Korean culture, where it is thought that running an electric fan in a closed room with unopened or no windows will prove fatal. Despite no concrete evidence to support the concept, belief in fan death persists to this day in Korea, and also to a lesser extent in Japan.

Funeral director

A funeral director, also known as an undertaker (British English) or mortician (American English), is a professional involved in the business of funeral rites. These tasks often entail the embalming and burial or cremation of the dead, as well as the arrangements for the funeral ceremony (although not the directing and conducting of the funeral itself unless clergy are not present). Funeral directors may at times be asked to perform tasks such as dressing (in garments usually suitable for daily wear), casketing (placing the human body in the coffin), and cossetting (applying any sort of cosmetic or substance to the best viewable areas of the corpse for the purpose of enhancing its appearance). A funeral director may work at a funeral home or be an independent employee.

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.

List of methods of capital punishment

This is a list of methods of capital punishment, also known as execution.


Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.


A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.


Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones, funerals, cemeteries). With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living.Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation. The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media.The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.The word necrophobia is derived from the Greek nekros (νεκρός) for "corpse" and the Greek phobos (φόβος) for "fear".


An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.

Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with assistance from a funeral home. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.

Rigor mortis

Rigor mortis (Latin: rigor "stiffness", mortis "of death"), or postmortem rigidity, is the third stage of death. It is one of the recognizable signs of death, characterized by stiffening of the limbs of the corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles postmortem. In humans, rigor mortis can occur as soon as four hours after death.


Skeletonization refers to the final stage of decomposition, during which the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the skeleton is exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years or may never occur, if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of a corpse or carcass can be used to determine the time of death.After skeletonization, if scavenging animals do not destroy or remove the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about 20 years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, especially in very fine, dry, salty, anoxic, or mildly alkaline soils, bones may undergo fossilization, converting into minerals that may persist indefinitely.

Spence Broughton

Spence Broughton (c. 1746 – 14 April 1792) was an English highwayman who was executed for robbing the Sheffield and Rotherham mail. After his execution he gained notoriety because his body was gibbeted at the scene of the crime on Attercliffe Common between Sheffield and Rotherham, where it hung for 36 years.

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