Matthew Clydesdale

Matthew Clydesdale

Matthew Clydesdale

Weaver and murderer, ?-1818

Matthew Clydesdale, a weaver, was a "middle-sized, athletic, and extremely muscular man, about thirty years of age". He was also a murderer and the description of him is given by Dr. Andrew Ure in 1818.

Dr. Ure was an ambitious researcher with a special interest in the possibilities of bringing the dead back to life.

Matthew Clydesdale and Andrew Ure were acquainted through the good offices of Tammas Young. Tammas, the Glasgow hangman, consigned Matthew Clydesdale to the hereafter on November 4th, 1818.

The public hanging brought out a larger than usual crowd, for a few reasons. Firstly, because it was two for the price of one; a certain Simon Ross also met his end on the same day for the heinous crime of robbery. Secondly, there hadn't been a hanging for murder in Glasgow for almost ten years, and thirdly, because Clydesdale had been sentenced to be hung and anatomised.

Once he was executed, his body was to be immediately handed over to anatomists. Anatomy was also a public occasion. So, those for whom a double hanging was not enough, could troop off to Glasgow University after the first entertainment of the day and watch the unfortunate Clydesdale being dissected and experimented upon.

One of the anatomists for the day was Dr Andrew Ure and the other, was Professor James Jeffray. Their specialist subject for the day was "galvanisation", or, the animation of dead bodies through the application of electricity. You can imagine the attraction for the crowd. See a man die and afterwards watch him twitching about as researchers applied belts of electricity to various parts of the corpse. It must have been fun for all the family.

And this was a particularly fun galvanisation. Quite what made Clydesdale such a receptive receptacle is not clear. But Ure and Jeffray had a wonderful time. They made the corpse display "most horrible grimaces …. rage, horror, despair, anguish and ghastly smiles". It was so successful that "several gentlemen were forced to leave from terror or sickness and one gentleman fainted".

The wonders of the law and medicine. Given the recent article on NMD, it would appear that little has changed in either "profession".

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