On this date in 1866, “On hanging considered from a Mechanical and Physiological point of view” was published, calling for a drop of energy of 2,240 ft-lbs. This ‘Standard Drop’ soon became the preferred method of humane execution the world over.
Samuel Haughton proposed a new, and more humane, method of hanging. In those days, a condemned prisoner would be forced to stand on a cart or trap-door and the rope placed around the neck.
When the cart was rolled away or the trap-door released, the prisoner would fall a few inches before the slack in the rope was taken up. The slow agonising death, from strangulation, took about three minutes. The eyes bulged in their sockets and the tongue protruded from the mouth. Haughton proposed the rope be lengthened, allowing the victim to fall further. The neck would be broken by the sudden jerk and the spinal cord would be severed. Unconsciousness and death would follow in seconds.
The length of the rope had to be carefully calculated; an excessive drop would decapitate the unfortunate prisoner. The correct drop would be anything from five to eight feet, depending on the weight of the victim.
Samuel Haughton was an active philanthropist, a strong supporter of Father Theobald Mathew, a vegetarian, and an anti-slavery worker and writer.