Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders

Explore the collection of English crime and execution broadsides.

"Dying Speeches" and "Bloody Murders" were terms used in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Great Britain to refer to cheap broadsides, sold in the streets and at the place of execution, which reported sensational crimes or described public hangings.

A broadside is a large, single sheet of paper printed only on one side. These ephemeral publications were intended for the middle or lower classes, and most sold for a penny or less. Published in British towns and cities mainly by printers who specialized in this type of street literature, a typical example features an illustration, usually of the criminal, the crime scene, or the execution; an account of the crime and the trial; and the purported confessions of the criminal, often cautioning the reader in doggerel verse to avoid the fate awaiting the perpetrator.

The Library’s collection of nearly 600 broadsides is one of the largest recorded and the first to be digitized in its entirety. The digitized material spans the years 1707 to 1891 and includes accounts of such crimes as arson, assault, counterfeiting, horse stealing, murder, rape, robbery, and treason.

Conservation and digitization of the broadsides was made possible by a generous grant from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, a charitable endowment for the support of genealogical, local history, and other museum and library collections.