In my earlier post, “How many prisoners were buried at Gloucester Prison?”, I reported that out of the 121 prisoners who were hanged at Gloucester Prison between 1792 and 1939, 81 of them were executed for offences other than murder, and so were not required by law to be either sent for dissection (up to the 1832 Anatomy Act) or buried in the prison grounds (after 1832). I had found 33 of these 81 prisoners either had their burials recorded in parish registers, or were said to have been collected by friends, leaving 48 people whose fate was unknown.
I now believe that I was being rather naïve in saying that these 48 prisoners were probably buried in a pauper’s grave somewhere. Although there was no requirement by law for hanged prisoners who had not committed murder to be sent for dissection, it seems likely that if no-one came forward to claim a body, it would probably have been quietly sent to the infirmary.
My revised thoughts on this subject arose from a communication from Nikki Bosworth, who sent me a piece she had written about her ancestor Matthew Pinnell, who was hanged alongside his brother Henry in 1829, for highway robbery*. Looking again at newspaper reports on the case, I found an article in the Bath Chronicle of 16 April 1829, which stated that after the judge had sentenced the brothers to death, Henry Pinnell said:
“My lord, I have one favour to ask you, and that is, that you will order my body to be delivered up to my mother.”
This suggests to me that Henry may have been worried that his body would be sent for dissection. He does not appear to have been worried about the fate of his brother’s remains!
*Nikki’s article was printed in Wiltshire Family History Society’s Journal, no.132. You can read it in the comments section on my ABOUT page.
© Jill Evans 2014