"Other Spaces" of the 'Dangerous Dead' of Provincial England, c. 1752 to 1832
journal contributionposted on 23.08.2017, 11:43 by Elisabeth T. Hurren
The Murder Act (1752) decreed that homicide perpetrators should be hanged and sent for post-execution punishment. This article explores the event management of criminal dissections by penal surgeons in situ. It reveals that the punishment parade of the condemned did not stop at the scaffold, contrary to the impression in many standard historical accounts. Instead, ordinary people accompanied criminal corpses to many different types of dissection venues. Penal surgeons hand-picked these performance spaces that were socially produced for legal and practical reasons. They had to be able to process large numbers of people who wanted to be part of the consumption of post-mortem ‘harm’ in English communities. Event management on location had to have emotional and visual appeal, moral coherence, be timed appropriately, and, if successful, would enhance the deterrence value of the capital code. Yet, managing the ‘dangerous dead’ involved a great deal of discretionary justice with unpredictable outcomes. It often happened in ‘counter-sites’ of punishment in the community and involved a great deal of immersive theatre. Some events worked well, others threatened the social order. In ‘Other Spaces’ the ‘Dangerous Dead’ was hence a fascinating feature of the Murder Act outside the Metropolis from 1752 to 1832.