Convicted killer buried 190 years after his execution


A murderer whose skeleton was found hanging in a university laboratory was laid to rest today – exactly 190 years after he was executed.

Convicted killer buried 190 years after execution

John Horwood was just 18 when he became the first person to be executed at the New Bristol Gaol in 1821.

The teenager was convicted of killing his former girlfriend Eliza Balsum after a pebble he threw at her struck her on the head.

Tragically Eliza, 20, died a fortnight later after she suffered complications during a bungled operation.

Horwood was hanged for murder and his body controversially handed over to the surgeon who carried out Eliza’s operation for medical research.

Last year a distant relative set about tracking down his remains after finding letters from Horwood’s bereaved parents pleading for a funeral.

Mary Halliwell, 67, eventually tracked his remains to the University of Bristol where John’s skeleton was displayed with the noose still around its neck.

After proving she was a descendent, Mrs Halliwell, whose great-great-great grandfather was Horwood’s brother, was declared the legal owner of Horwood’s remains.

He was buried at the Christ Church in Hanham, Bristol, at 1.30pm today – exactly 190 years to the minute after he was hanged.

The service was carried out in a traditional Georgian fashion by Bristol funeral directors EC Alderwick & Son Ltd.

His skeleton left the premises of EC Alderwick and Sons funeral directors in Hanham, Bristol, in a full-size black coffin at 12pm.

It was then placed onto a traditional wooden bier and slowly pushed along the High Street by four pall bearers.

Convicted killer buried 190 years after execution

Traffic came to a standstill as dozens of mourners followed the coffin on foot to Christ Church.

Canon David Adams, who presides over 30 churches in the parish, commenced the funeral ceremony at 12.30pm.

The mourners sang traditional hymns ‘On a hill far away’ and the not-so-traditional ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Irish boyband Westlife.

One local man Martin Loughran read a heartfelt poem about Horwood – whose name is legendary in Bristol folklore.

The hour-long service was ended by Horwood’s four times removed great niece, Josephine Newell, from Leigh, Lancashire, who sang ‘Going Home’ by Bolton singer Annie Haslam.

John was then buried alongside his father in the pretty church graveyard at 1.30pm – exactly 190 years to the minute after the teenager was hanged.

Emotional family members watched the coffin as it was lowered into the plot and then dropped 12 red roses into the grave, alongside handfuls of earth.

Speaking after John Horwood’s funeral, Mary Halliwell said: ”The ceremony was wonderful and it’s very humbling so many people came to pay their respects.

”It’s a relief now that John’s journey has come to an end and that he can finally rest in peace alongside his father.

”All his family ever wanted was to bury their loved one. I feel I can relax now that I’ve adhered to John’s parents’ wishes.”

The entire ceremony was arranged and funded by local funeral directors EC Alderwick & Son.

Convicted killer buried 190 years after execution

Austin Williams, who organised the funeral, said: ”We’re a fourth generation funeral directors in Hanham and this case is very well known in the area.

”It was only right that we were the ones who could help lay John to rest.”

Former miner Horwood, from Hanham, Bristol, had his heart broken by local girl Eliza in 1820 and pledged to ”mash her bones to pieces” if he ever saw her with another man.

On January 26 1821, he spotted her walking near a stream in the village with new boyfriend William Waddy.

In a fit of anger, he picked up a pebble and hurled it at her head.

It struck Eliza on the right eye near to her temple and left a small wound, which was treated at home with a poultice made of bread and butter.

The wound steadily grew worse and Dr Richard Smith, chief surgeon at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, drilled a hole in her skull to relieve to pressure.

Convicted killer buried 190 years after execution

The failed operation caused an abscess which then became infected and Eliza died on February 17.

Horwood was found guilty of her death after a one-day trial at the Star Inn in Bedminster, Bristol.

He was hanged on April 13 – just three days after his 18th birthday – at 1.30pm above the gates of New Bristol Gaol.

Members of Horwood’s family waited around in the hope they could ambush his cart and give him a private burial – preventing a public dissection.

However, the plan was thwarted and Dr Smith, who formed part of the prosecution at the trial, whisked the body away at night.

He then publicly dissected the body at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in front of 80 people.

Dr Smith removed the skin, had it tanned and used it to bind a book about the incident.

Convicted killer buried 190 years after execution

The ‘Book of Skin’ is currently kept at the Bristol Records Office and contains letters from his parents asking for his body.

Mrs Halliwell was critical of Dr Richard Smith, who refused the family’s requests for the body to be released for burial and instead kept it for medical research.

She said: ”It really affected me when I read letters from the parents who begged Dr Richard Smith to release the body.

”Dr Smith blatantly refused. I found out every detail and felt John had been treated in a cruel way.

”It’s unfair and he was made a scapegoat by Dr Smith who knew John’s execution would give him another body to work on.

”I don’t know how Dr Smith could do this to another man and then skin him and then make him into a book.”

Canon David Adams, 64, who took the service said: ”I knew this was going to be different, the funeral was unlike anything I’ve done – it was unique.

”Why have a funeral? Well it’s a moral and spiritual justice from a time when the law of the land was very harsh.

”John was only 17 when he committed the crime and apart from the delivery of a stone he didn’t do anything else.

”Dr Richard Smith was an unpleasant character and was instrumental in the whole case in which he covered his tracks.

”Dr Smith operated on Eliza between getting the abscess and her death, knowing full well that the likeliness of this type of successful operation was zero per cent.

”He was a powerful person while the Horwood’s were only a very humble family.”

Horwood’s skeleton was kept in a wooden cabinet at Dr Smith’s home and it was later passed to the Bristol Royal Infirmary after his death before being given to Bristol University – where it was kept in a laboratory.


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