From A NEW HANDBOOK ON HANGING
by CHARLES DUFF of Gray's Inn, Barrister-at-Law
Being a short Introduction to the fine Art of Execution containing much useful information on Neck-breaking, Throttling, Strangling, Asphyxiation, Decapitation and Electrocution; Data and Wrinkles on Hangmanship; with the late Mr Hangman Berry's Method and his pioneering List of Drops; to which is added an Account of the Great Nuremberg Hangings; a Ready Reckoner for Hangmen; and many other items of interest.
All very Proper to be read
and kept in every Family
(From the Introduction)
Readers of this handbook enjoy a rare privilege in that they have here the only book in the English language which presents a comprehensive statement on one of England's oldest institutions. When the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes honoured this country in A.D. 449 by invading it, they brought hanging with them as an improtant element in their culture. It was then that the benighted Britons first made its acquaintance. Hengest and Horsa and their colleagues used a very rough and out-of-hand method, but it seems to have worked well enough for nearly a millenium and a half; the complaints recorded are few.
In the nineteenth century the mechanics of hanging came under scientific scrutiny - it was a great age of science - although there was no real demand for it. Certain suggestions and "improvements" were adopted, after which sweeping claims were made that the newly-introduced dislocation trick was a vast improvement on the old method of simple strangulation. It was certainly better for the ireduced company of onlookers, though not necessarily better for the person hanged even if it sometimes speeded up the ceremony. The simple truth is that, in spite of all the progress we have witnessed in science in our own time, it is not yet possible for the greatest physician to define the exact moment when a hanged man ceases to feel pain. The same applies to a hanged woman.
Nevertheless the new method has many advantages, one of them of political importance. Ever since then those who commend hanging as a method of capital punishment have been able to make propaganda with a set of meaningless catch-phrases: such as, for example, "death is almost instantaneous". And they still make this claim too often in the knowledge that the unphilosophical man in the street will swallow the little word "almost" without ever realising that, in relation to hanging, it can allow for a period of time which might be only a couple of minutes, or might extend to a quarter of an hour, or, as has happened, much longer.
And yet, in recent years, a large numnber of people in this realm have grown uneasy about capital punishment in general and hanging in particular. It is no longer uncommon to hear good Conservatives saying, "The whole thing is barbarous," just as if they were red revolutionaries, or as if they were speaking of the behaviour of the Germanic gangs of Hengest and Horsa, who first established hanging amongst the people of this country. I have even heard a Conservative M.P. say that hanging is so barbarous that only barbarians can support it! This is a great change. It means far more than estimates of opinion based on polls, whose value on such a subject as hanging can be shaken from one day to the next by a change in the waves of emotion with which it is beset.
(From the Conclusion)
But enough has surely been said to show that, in Old England at least, hanging is well done from beginning to end. Let us forget the heads occasionally pulled off by bad hangmen, and the strangulation which may happen through no fault of the hangman. All we need remember are those impressive words uttered by the august judges: "To be hanged by the neck until dead." UNTIL DEAD - those are the operative words.
In executing the Judgement of Death, the hangman never fails. Nothing else matters to the State; and the hangman's place in our culture and civilization seems to be solid and assured.