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Execution Dock: Wikis


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"Execution Dock" is located on the Thames in the Wapping area of London, England, United Kingdom. It was used for more than 400 years (as late as 1830) to hang pirates, smugglers and mutineers that had been sentenced to death by Admiralty courts.


Hanging of a buccaneer at Execution Dock.

The Admiralty only had jurisdiction over crimes on the sea, so the dock was placed within their jurisdiction just off-shore beyond the low-tide mark. Those sentenced to death would be taken from Marshalsea Prison paraded across London Bridge past the Tower of London before being publicly executed at the dock. Prisoners, prior to execution, were paired with a chaplain who encouraged them to confess their sins. They were then led onto the dock for sentence to be carried out.

With a particular cruelty, for those convicted of piracy, hanging was done with a shortened rope. This meant a slow death from asphyxiation on the scaffold as the drop was insufficient to break the neck. It was called the Marshal's dance because the body's limbs would often be seen to 'dance'. After execution, the bodies were not cut down unlike the hangings on land such as at Tyburn. Instead it was customary for the corpses to remain until at least three tides had washed over their heads. The worst offenders were then tarred and gibbeted at Graves Point - the entrance to the River Thames - as a warning to all seafarers about the fate awaiting those who pursued piracy.

An account from The Gentleman's Magazine, dated February 4, 1796, gives a vivid portrayal of a typical execution at London's Execution Dock.

"This morning, a little after ten o'clock, Colley, Cole, and Blanche, the three sailors convicted of the murder of Captain Little, were brought out of Newgate, and conveyed in solemn procession to Execution Dock, there to receive the punishment awarded by law. On the cart on which they rode was an elevated stage; on this were seated Colley, the principal instigator in the murder, in the middle, and his two wretched instruments, the Spaniard Blanche, and the Mulatto Cole, on each side of him; and behind, on another seat, two executioners. Colley seemed in a state resembling that of a man stupidly intoxicated, and scarcely awake, and the two discovered little sensibility on this occasion, nor to the last moment of their existence, did they, as we hear, make any confession. They were turned off about a quarter before twelve in the midst of an immense crowd of spectators. On the way to the place of execution, they were preceded by the Marshall of the Admiralty in his carriage, the Deputy Marshall, bearing the silver oar, and the two City Marshals on horseback, Sheriff's officers, etc. The whole cavalcade was conducted with great solemnity." [1]

The notorious Captain Kidd, who had been convicted of piracy and murder, was taken from Newgate Prison and executed at the dock in 1701. During his execution, the rope broke and Kidd was hanged on the second attempt. His body was left gibbeted in an iron cage by the River Thames for more than twenty years.

George Davis and William Watts were the final hangings at the dock on December 16, 1830.

Present day

Rocque's map of 1746 showing location of Execution Dock Stairs at Wapping, London

Some sources state there is a large E on the Thames side of on the building at Sun Warf (80 Wapping High Street) that indicates were Execution Dock once stood.[2][3] Another source states it was approximately where the small Underground station now stands, about two-thirds of the way along Wapping High Street going east.[4][5]


  1. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, 4th February 1796
  2. ^ Google Map
  3. ^ Macdonald, Guy. England, New Holland Publishers, 2004 ISBN 1860111165, 9781860111167 p. 120
  4. ^ Gillian Tindall, "Walking Wapping's Streets", New York Times, November 28, 1999
  5. ^ Note that Macdonald along with some other sources, including Rocque's map, state that Execution Dock is at the junction of Brewhouse lane and Wapping High Street, but the road layout has changed since the map was drawn and Brewhouse lane now runs parallel to Wapping High Street. (Google Map with the two proposed sites and the modern day sites of Wapping New stairs and Gun Wharf both of which appear on Rocque's map)
  • Ben Weinreb & Christopher Hibbert (1995). The London Encyclopaedia. Macmillan. p. 275. ISBN 0-333-57688-8.  

Coordinates: 51°30′12″N 0°03′26″W / 51.50333°N 0.05722°W / 51.50333; -0.05722

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