“Half-Hanged Smith”

John Smith escaped execution three times. Convicted of housebreaking in 1705, he was hanged at the Tyburn gallows for a quarter of an hour before the people called for a reprieve and he was cut down.

When he had perfectly recovered his senses he was asked what were his feelings at the time of execution; to which he repeatedly replied, in substance, as follows. When he was turned off, he for some time was sensible of very great pain, occasioned by the weight of his body, and felt his spirits in a strange commotion, violently pressing upwards. That having forced their way to his head, he as it were saw a great blaze, or glaring light, which seemed to go out at his eyes with a flash, and then he lost all sense of pain. That after he was cut down, and began to come to himself, the blood and spirits, forcing themselves into their former channels, put him, by a sort of pricking or shooting, to such intolerable pain that he could have wished those hanged who had cut him down.

He returned to housebreaking on his release in 1706, but his strange luck continued: On his second indictment some difficulties in the case induced a panel of judges to set him free, and on his third the prosecutor died before the day of the trial.

The streak ended in 1727, when he was convicted of stealing a padlock and sentenced to transportation. He pleaded for corporal punishment instead but was sent to Virginia that July.