Glasgow: The Matthew Clydesdale Story.

Ever hear the story about Matthew Clydesdale?

Well alright then,
Sit back and I’ll tell you.

Matthew Clydesdale was a weaver from Aidrie.
He was in his mid 30’s.

On September 1st, 1818 He was charged with murdering a 70 year old Man in a drunken rage and brought to Glasgow.
On October 3rd, Clydesdale was found guilty at trial and was sentenced to be hung and anatomised.

The public execution of Matthew Clydesdale for the crime of murder was the first in Glasgow for 10 years and people turned out in their thousands at Jail Square which was at the bottom of the Saltmarket.
The gallows were set up in front of the new High Court Building which had opened 4 years earlier in 1814 and the timber footbridge across the River Clyde had to be guarded by soldiers to prevent the crowd from overloading it in their effort to get a better viewpoint.

Clydesdale was brought out on the afternoon of November 4th along with another man named Simon Ross who was also sentenced to be hung for the crime of theft.

The men were dropped and swung from their necks.
It was later reported that Simon Ross twitched for a long time before dying while Clydesdale died immediately.

As soon as both men were pronounced dead,
Clydesdale’s body was let down, and quickly carted up the Saltmarket, across Trongate and up High Street to Glasgow University.
Simon Ross was buried the next day on November 5th in the common ground of the Ramshorn and Blackfriars graveyards which were in the grounds of the University.

The inside of the University anatomy theatre that day was crowded with people.
This was a rare opportunity.
It wasn’t everyday that anatomists performed operations on a fresh corpse in full public view.

The anatomists were:
Dr. Andrew Ure, A senior lecturer at the recently founded Anderson’s Institution (Which was on John Street) and Professor James Jeffray who was Glasgow University’s Professor of Anatomy, Botany and Midwifery.

One of the major scientific interests at the time was ‘Galvanisation’; The animation of corpses by means of electric currents.

5 minutes before Clydesdale’s corpse was brought into the University anatomy theatre,
Dr. Ure charged his galvanic battery with dilute nitric & sulphuric acids.
A series of experiments were then carried out on the body of Matthew Clydesdale.

Both Jeffray and Ure were deliberately intent on the restoration of life.
Dr. Ure was certain he could bring Clydesdale back to life.

In his account of the experiments Ure commented:
This event, however little desirable with a murderer, and perhaps contrary to the law, would yet have been pardonable in one instance, as it would have been highly honourable and useful to science’.

Appropriate dissections exposed the various sites on the body selected for electrical stimulation.
No bleeding occurred proving that Clydesdale was indeed dead. Application of the connecting rods to the heel and the spinal cord at the level of the atlas caused such violent extensions of the bent knee ‘as to nearly overturn one of the assistants’.

In an attempt to restore breathing, the rods were connected to the left phrenic nerve and the diaphragm.
The success of it was truly wonderfull. Full, nay, laborious breathing instantly commenced. The chest heaved and fell; The belly was protruded and again collapsed, with the retiring and collapsing diaphragm’.

The real drama occurred when the electric current was applied to Clydesdale’s supraorbital nerve and heel.
By varying the voltage, ‘Rage, horror, despair, anguish, and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the murderer’s face’.

‘…At this period several spectators were forced to leave the arena from terror or sickness, and one Gentleman fainted’.

The final experiment had spectators believing that Clydesdale had returned from the dead.

A cut was made into the forefinger.
Once the current was turned on,
Matthew Clydesdale began to raise his hand and point to the people in the audience.

While Dr. Ure later delivered a lecture and wrote an account of the experiments, only one of the three Glasgow Newspapers of the day bothered to cover the story.

In 1865, A writer and Glasgow ‘Character’ by the name of Peter MacKenzie claimed to have been present at the Matthew Clydesdale experiments.
MacKenzie claimed to have seen Clydesdale’s body brought back to life in front of a horrified audience.
He claimed that one of the anatomists grabbed a scalpel and slit Clydesdale’s throat and that the re-animated corpse then dropped down dead.

Nice yarn eh?

In the 1980’s One Dr. Fred Pattison (Also an anatomist) stumbled across the Matthew Clydesdale story and intrigued, followed it up with his own account.

Dr. Pattison concludes his review of Dr. Ure’s account by saying “At no point did Ure claim to have resuscitated Clydesdale”.

Dr. Ure had been keen to conduct a certain experiment on Clydesdale’s body but was unable to due to a lack of time.
Dr. Pattison picked up on one of Ure’s apparently inconsequentiable notes.

Although Ure concluded in his discussion that direct stimulation of the phrenic nerve was the most promising procedure for restoring life to a dead individual, he did suggest in a prophetic aside that two moistened brass knobs, connected to the battery and firmly placed on the skin over the phrenic nerve and the diaphragm, might also be effective.
Unwittingly, he had come close to describing the electric defibrillator which, a century later, has saved so many lives

There is no record of how Matthew Clydesdale’s body was finally disposed of.

The practice at the time was to bury executed murderers under the open courtyard in the middle of the High Court building but nobody knows for sure if this is where Clydesdale was finally laid.


Author Mary Shelly was said to be in attendance at one of the public Galvanic experiments which occurred in 1803 in Newgate, London. It is said that this partly influenced her novel ‘Frankenstein’.

In London 1803, Giovanni Aldini conducted public Galvanic experiments on several human heads of corpses. Here are 2 accounts of the demonstrations:

I.Galvanism was communicated by means of 3 troughs combined together, each of which contained 40 plates of zonc and as many of copper. On the 1st application of the arcs the jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted, and the left eye actually opened”.

II.The 1st of these decapitated criminals being conveyed to the apartment provided for my experiments, in the neighbourhood of the pace of execution, the head was first subjected to the Galvanic action. For this purpose I had constructed a pile consisting of a hundred pieces of silver and zinc. Having moistened the inside of the ears with salt water, I formed an arc with two metallic wires, which, proceeding from the two ears, were applied, one to the summit and the other to the bottom of the pile. When this communication was established, I observed strong contractions in the muscles of the face, which were contorted in so irregular a manner that they exhibited the appearance of the most horrid grimaces. The action of the eye-lids was exceedingly striking, though less sensible in the human head than in that of an Ox“.

On September 1st 1818, The first gas lighting in Glasgow was installed in the premises of Grocer James Hamilton at 128 Trongate.

On September 18th 1818, Visitors to the Theatre Royal on Queen Street experienced a performance of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’.
The Theatre Royal was the first theatre in Britain to be illuminated with gas.

Dr. Fred Pattison discovered the Matthew Clydesdale story in the 1980’s while researching material for a biography. Dr. Pattison is a descendent of Granville Sharpe Pattison who was also an anatomist living and working in Glasgow in 1818.

In 1818 while Dr. Andrew Ure was attempting to resuscitate Matthew Clydesdale, he was also in the middle of a domestic situation which would eventually lead to a successful divorce trial in 1819 on the grounds that his Wife had had a child by…Granville Sharpe Pattison.

In 1813 Granville Sharpe Pattison was tried on a charge of graverobbing from The Ramshorn Graveyard and illegal anatomical research. The verdict was ‘Not Proven’.

After the Ure divorce scandal, Granville Sharpe Pattison left Glasgow forever going to London then on to America where he played a significant role in the development of medical and surgical practice.
His Father was a Glasgow merchant named John Pattison who was buried beside his Wife in The Ramshorn Graveyard; they were later moved to a grander family site in Glasgow’s Necropolis, where Granville’s remains also lie, brought back from America on his death.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment


  2. We have the chair he was sat in 😀

  3. […] More on Ure’s experiments: Glasgow: The Matthew Clydesdale Story. […]

  4. Брехня !

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