Friday, May 22, 2009

Crime Broadsides of the Harvard Law Library

I found these wonderful crime broadsides on the Ephemera Assemblyman blog, which showcases a large number of excellent examples drawn from an online exhibition called "Dying Speeches and Bloody Murders: Crime Broadsides Collected by the Harvard Law School Library." More on the broadsides, from the digital exhibition's webpage:
Just as programs are sold at sporting events today, broadsides -- styled at the time as "Last Dying Speeches" or "Bloody Murders" -- were sold to the audiences that gathered to witness public executions in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. 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 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 (sometimes) the trial; and the purported confession of the criminal, often cautioning the reader in doggerel verse to avoid the fate awaiting the perpetrator.

The Library's collection of more than 500 broadsides is one of the largest recorded and the first to be digitized in its entirety. The examples digitized here span the years 1707 to 1891 and include accounts of executions for such crimes as arson, assault, counterfeiting, horse stealing, murder, rape, robbery, and treason. Many of the broadsides vividly describe the results of sentences handed down at London's central criminal court, the Old Bailey, the proceedings of which are now available online at
You can see the Ephemera Assemblyman post by clicking here; you can browse the entire Harvard collection by clicking here. Click on images to see much larger versions.


Hypergraphia said...

Hello, First of all its an absolute pleasure reading this blog, it the only blog I visit daily and its an endless source of inspiration. So thank you.

You might have read this already, but I found this Times article and I thought it might interest you, particularly the slideshow of Glessner Lees crime dioramas.

Thanks for a wonderful page.

joel. said...

thank you for linking my blog, its an honor. 'morbid anatomy' is one of my favorite blogs.
thanks again
-joel [ephemera assemblyman]

amber d. said...

These are so compelling. I had to jump over to the Harvard collection and I can't stop reading. I read a couple of broadsides in Harold Schechter's True Crime anthology - so happy to be reading more. The illustrations too are fantastic. Fascinating complete short stories, each one. Great post, thank you!

Anonymous said...

In the same vein you might also be interested in the 'Newgate Calendar', (famous London prison) which is available for full view on googlebooks. Rather macabre.