18 May 2017

Mahoney’s Gibbet: Dark Heritage and the Criminal Body in 18th Century Bristol

Following a sensational and widely reported trial in 1741, three men were executed at the gallows on St Michael’s Hill for the murder of Sir John Dineley Goodere on board his own ship as it lay at anchor in the Bristol Channel.

Two were given regular burial but the body of the third, an Irish sailor named Matthew Mahoney, was taken to the mouth of the Avon and hung there in chains (‘gibbeted’) from a tall post erected on the sands of the Swatch.

By 1749, three more convict corpses had been consigned to gibbet cages and exposed to permanent view on Durdham Down, and a second gibbet was added to the riverside at Broad Pill in 1761.

A proposal that several pirates executed in London be brought up to join them was rejected but only on grounds of cost.

What was the purpose of hanging dead felons in chains and placing them on public view in 18th century Bristol? What was their impact upon popular imagination at the time, and how did the relics of public execution continue doing their ‘memory work’ in the city a century or more later?

Speaker: Steve Poole, Professor of History and Heritage at UWE, Bristol and Director of the Regional History Centre

This is a UWE Regional History Centre talk.