Letter | Published:

The Late Dr. Haughton

Nature volume 57, page 79 | Download Citation



IN your account of the late Dr. Haughton, as well as in those written of him elsewhere, I see no mention of a somewhat fantastic instance of his versatility—namely, his investigation into the most merciful way of hanging criminals. It was, I believe, entirely owing to him that the present method of the “long drop” was introduced. According to the older method the rope was so arranged that the culprit fell barely knee deep, all the rest of his body being in view above the scaffold. He died usually by strangulation, sometimes combined with apoplexy, after what seemed to be a protracted agony Now, he is allowed to fall through some 10 feet, more or less, according to his estimated bulk and weight, and he dies with a broken neck more painlessly than virtuous persons in their own beds. The problem was to find out the length of drop that would suffice to break the neck bone, but would be insufficient to tear off the head. Dr. Haughton experimented on the tensile strengths of the spine and of the muscles, and he published a formula for the length of drop, dependent on the height and weight of the culprit. In this, I thought he had omitted a small factor, and wrote to him about it—namely, the increased sectional area the muscles of the neck in fat men. It should be mentioned that a case actually occurred in which the drop was too deep, and the head of the criminal became wholly detached, and the legal doubt arose whether under those circumstances the sentence of being “hanged by the neck” had been duly carried out. I regret much that I have to write wholly from memory now, which I trust has not deceived me. It is very possible that Dr. Haughton's formula may be found in one of the earlier numbers of NATURE.

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