Horrible phenomena! Galvanism

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: (Published 20 December 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:1319

On the 4th Nov. last, various galvanic experiments were made on the body of the murderer Clydsdale by Dr. Ure, with a voltaic battery of 270 pairs of 4 inch plates. The results were truly appalling. On moving the rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension!

In the 2d experiment, the rod was applied to the phrenic nerve in the neck, when laborious breathing instantly commenced: the chest heaved and fell; the belly was protruded and collapsed, with the relaxing and retiring diaphragm; and it is thought, that but for the complete evacuation of the blood, pulsation might have occurred!!

In the 3d experiment, the supra-orbital nerve was touched, when every muscle in the murderer’s face ‘was thrown into fearful action’. The scene was hideous - several of the spectators left the room, and one gentleman actually fainted, from terror or sickness!!

In the 4th experiment, the transmitting of the electral power from the spinal marrow to the ulnar nerve, at the elbow, the fingers were instantly put in motion, and the agitation of the arm was so great, that the corpse seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought it had come to life! Dr. Ure appears to be of opinion, that had not incisions been made in the blood vessels of the neck, and the spinal marrow been lacerated, the Criminal might have been restored to life!!!


  • Taken from The Medical Repository (January 1820)

  • Submitted by John Johnson, Bamburgh

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