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What Was The Story of Ewen MacDonald’s Execution?

Imagine waking up on an operating table and not knowing what happened. Then you start remembering bits and pieces of events when you realize you’re not supposed to be where you are. Here’s the peculiar story of Ewen MacDonald. 

Scottish soldier Ewen MacDonald was hanged for murder in 1752. His body was given to the medical research at the Surgeon’s Hall. However, the ‘dead man’ on the operating table woke up suddenly. The surgeon struck him with a wooden mallet.

Crime and Punishment

In 1752, MacDonald was a 19-year-old Scottish soldier posted in Newcastle, in the area known as Bigg Market. Bigg Market was already home to many taverns and alehouses, and Pinkey’s has already established its infamous reputation of being one of the rowdiest alehouses. (Source: Chronicle Live)

On his off-duty time, MacDonald was in Pinkey’s since it was near the inn he checked into. As with any young, drunk individual, he got disorderly.

MacDonald took note of some slurs thrown at the Scottish and didn’t take kindly of it. He started a brawl that spilled to the street and continued in an alleyway. This is where he drew a knife and stabbed local Robert Parker, hitting his jugular vein. (Source: NCBI)

In the morning, the Newcastle coroner was called in to inspect the victim’s corpse. The coroner, upon execution, ruled that it was a case of ‘wilful murder.’ This led to his capture and imprisonment. He was taken to the Borough jail, pending his trial for homicide.

Later on, MacDonald was found guilty and sentenced to death, according to the Murder Act of 1752. The judge sentenced him to be hanged and later on studied by the Surgeon General. (Source: NCBI)


MacDonald was hanged on September 28, 1752. However, reports mentioned that he did not go quietly. He refused to accept the fact that he was guilty or that he was about to be executed. On the way to Newcastle’s town moor, MacDonald even threw the executioner off the ladder.

MacDonald’s corpse was brought to the Barber Surgeons’ Hall to be dissected and anatomized. It has been known that MacDonald was the first-ever official case recorded where post-mortem punishment was served – that he will be examined after execution by hanging. (Source: Criminal Corpse)

Half-hanged MacDonald

The story of Ewen MacDonald certainly gained publicity. Newspapers and other popular broadsheets published his execution and his post-mortem punishment. The dissection would be set as a public event and to be marveled at by anyone who wished to watch. (source: NCBI)

What made Ewen’s story more controversial was that he was the first official recipient of post-mortem punishment, thus was executed twice.

It has been reported in Sykes’ Local Records of 1833 that the surgeons to perform MacDonald’s dissection were temporarily called out to attend a different case at another infirmary. An apprentice surgeon was left in charge of MacDonald when he became conscious and lucid. The report stated that MacDonald was ‘so far recovered as to be sitting up,’ clearly showing he was very much alive. The apprentice surgeon then took a wooden mallet and finished MacDonald himself.  (Source: Criminal Corpse)

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