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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Dr. James Jeffrey's ghastly galvanic experiment


AT the Glasgow Circuit Court in October, 1819, a collier of the name of Matthew Clydesdale was condemned to death for murder, and the judge, in passing sentence, as was the custom, ordered that, after the execution, the body should be given to Dr. James Jeffrey, the lecturer on anatomy in the University, "to be publicly dissected and anatomised." The execution took place on the 4th of November following, and the body of the murderer was taken to the college dissecting theatre, where a large number of students and many of the general public were gathered to witness an experiment it was proposed to make upon it.

The intention was that a newly invented galvanic battery should be tried with the body, and the greatest interest had accordingly been excited. The corpse of the murderer was placed in a sitting posture in a chair, and the handles of the instrument put into the hands. Hardly had the battery been set working than the auditory observed the chest of the dead man heave, and he rose to his feet. Some of them swooned for fear, others cheered at what was deemed a triumph of science. But the professor, alarmed at the aspect of affairs, put his lancet in the throat of the murderer, and he dropped back into his seat. For a long time the community discussed the question, whether or not the man was really dead when the battery was applied? Most probably he was not. For in those days, death on the scaffold was slow—there was no long drop to break the spinal cord,—it was simply a case of strangulation.


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