A man hanged for murder nearly 190 years ago will finally receive a burial after his family tracked down his skeleton – to a university science laboratory.
John Horwood was the first person to be executed at the New Bristol Gaol in 1821 after being convicted of killing his former girlfriend with a single pebble.
His parents begged for his body to be returned for burial but a local surgeon insisted it was handed over for medical research.
Recently his distant relative Mary Halliwell, 67, decided to track down his remains after finding letters from Horwood’s bereaved parents pleading for a funeral.
She traced his skeleton to the University of Bristol – where it was displayed with the noose still around its neck.
After proving her family descendancy Mrs Halliwell has been declared the legal owner of Horwood’s remains.
Mary and husband David, 66, will now lay him to rest in his family’s burial plot in his home town of Hanham near Bristol – exactly 190 years after his hanging.
Mrs Halliwell, from Leigh in Lancashire, whose great-great-great grandfather was Horwood’s brother, said the burial would finally give ”closure” to the family.
“Mash her bones to pieces”
She said: ”As a descendant of his, my wish is to lay him to rest as his parents wanted – to have him buried in a dignified way.
”After 190 years I will have fulfilled his parents’ wishes, and that is the most important thing. It will give me peace of mind that I can put closure to it.”
Former miner Horwood, from Hanham, Bristol, had his heart broken by local girl Eliza Balsom in 1820 and pledged to ”mash her bones to pieces” if he ever saw her with another man.
On January 26 he spotted her walking near a stream in the village with new boyfriend William Waddy, picked up a pebble in anger 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.
This 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.
Dr Smith, who formed part of the prosecution at the trial, quickly whisked the body away despite pleas from Horwood’s family for it to be released to them for burial.
He then publicly dissected the body at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in front of 80 people, removed the skin, had it tanned and used it to bind a book about the incident.
The ‘Book of Skin’ is currently kept at the Bristol Records Office and contains letters from his parents asking for his body.
Horwood’s skeleton was kept in a wooden cabinet at Dr Smith’s home and it was later passed to the BRI after his death, before being given to Bristol University.
It was kept in one of the laboratories in the university – with the noose that killed him still around its neck.
Former taxi company owner Mr Halliwell slammed the doctor for his conduct.
He said: ”The verdict was on the doctor’s evidence.
”He was the man who took out the warrant for his arrest, he did the autopsy on Eliza, he was the chief prosecution witness at the trial and he was the one who ended up with John’s body at the end of it.”
“Massive part of local history”
Mrs Halliwell added: ”I am angry that a human being, Dr Smith, could do something so barbaric to another person. It is terrible and certainly wasn’t very dignified.”
The skeleton is currently with funeral directors EC Alderwick at a chapel of rest in Bristol.
Funeral director Austin Williams, of the company said: ”It’s a massive part of local history and often talked about.
”We felt it was our right as part of the community to become involved. We feel a funeral should be a true reflection of how a funeral would have been in 1821.
”The big difference is that it would have been a burial and not a cremation. All John’s family are buried in the local church.”
The family now plan a full funeral and burial service on April 13 next year – the 190th anniversary of his death.