About the Collection

The Harvard Law School Library's collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British crime broadsides dates from 1932 with the purchase from the London bookseller Marks & Company of a folio scrapbook entitled Executions of criminals: more generally known by the uninviting name of "Dying speeches."

Acquired as a complement to the Library's extensive collection of eighteen- and nineteenth-century British and American trials, the scrapbook contained more than 280 broadside dying speeches, engravings, newspaper clippings, and holograph pages pertaining to sensational London crimes and executions primarily during the period 1820-1840. Disbound for the digitization and preservation of the individual items, the album was previously bound in full calf embossed with the arms of Sir George Chetwynd, Bart. The inside front cover bears the armorial bookplates of Sir George (1783-1850) and Archibald Philip Primrose, Earl of Rosebery (1847-1929).

The anonymous compiler, who signs the holograph preface, "G.S, Peckham [a London suburb], 1840," states in his introduction to the album that he collected the material to demonstrate the barbarity of public executions. "Indeed," he writes, "could a person so form his mind as to go over similar Chronicles of Crime, innumerable proofs of the grossest barbarism might be found, sufficient to satisfy him, it is time England -- the boasted moral England -- should set a purer and more Christian-like example to the world, by entirely abolishing the Punishment of Death!" The scrapbook, a snapshot of British capital crime of the period, is best appreciated by examining it from front to back using the site's page-delivery system.

In 1991, the Library purchased from Jarndyce Books, London, its second largest acquisition of dying speeches -- a collection of 110 broadsides assembled in the mid-twentieth century by Fernand and Anne Renier, British authors and bibliophiles whose principal collection, that of early children's books, is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. These broadsides span the years 1812 to 1868; many describe crimes that occurred outside of London and are printed in provincial towns. The remainder of the collection has been acquired from British booksellers, especially Anthony W. Laywood and A. R. Heath.