Samuel Haughton Lecture 1997

25/01/1997 in Tulferris House, Blessington, Co. Wicklow

Men, Medicine and Machines

Pierce A. Grace, MCh, FRCSI, Department of Surgery, University of Limerick, Limerick Regional General Hospital, Dooradoyle, Limerick

 “Death is produced by hanging in one or other of the three following ways:

                    1. By apoplexy, caused by pressure on the jugular veins;

                    2. By asphyxia, caused by stoppage of the windpipe;

                   3. By shock of the medulla oblongata, caused by fracture of the vertebral column.

               In the first two cases death is preceded by convulsions, lasting from five to forty  five minutes …… In the third          case death is instantaneous and painless…”   Rev. Samuel Haughton, 1866


These words were written by the Rev. Samuel Haughton in the Philosophical Magazine in 1866. His concern for the plight of the condemned criminal led him to the macabre calculation of the length a man would have to be dropped to break his neck while being hanged so that he would not suffer the agonies of apoplexia or asphyxia.

The formula Samuel Haughton devised (“Divide the weight of the patient in pounds into 2240, and the quotient will give the length of the long drop in feet”) was generally adopted for all judicial hangings in Britain and Ireland until the death penalty was abolished in the middle years of this century. It is interesting that Samuel Haughton used the word patient in reference to the condemned man but I presume that this is not the reason why the Haughton Lecture is named for him.

Men, medicine and machines

The Third Samuel Haughton Lecture presented at the annual meeting of the Bioengineering Section of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland, Tulferris House, Blessington, Co. Wicklow, January 1997.

This being the third Samuel Haughton Lecture since its beginnings in 1995.

Meeting chaired by Patrick Prendergast

Bronze Medal Winner: T. Clive Lee (RCSI)