When visiting Dr Johnson’s House recently, I was intrigued by the story of Dr William Dodd (1729 – 1777), a portrait of whom is on display there (not the one featured here). I met him again a few days ago where he is covered in Stephen Halliday’s excellent book about Newgate Prison (page 109), which I’m reading.
Dodd, a clergyman, was a social-climber, dilettante and bon viveur who, in order to support his lifestyle, put himself in terrible debt: this ultimately cost him his life. But he seemed to be well-liked as evidenced by the trouble that many influential people took to see him pardoned. To no avail.
In 1777, Dodd was tried for forgery and sentenced to death by hanging. Finding himself in insurmountable debt, he had forged a bond in the name of his friend the Earl of Chesterfield for £4,200, a whopping sum. The Earl himself did not wish for the prosecution to proceed, but matters were out of his hands. Even at his trial, the jurors themselves did not wish for Dodd to be condemned to death. There followed a petition of 37,000 to have him pardoned. Samuel Johnson and others vigorously petitioned for his life to be spared and the matter eventually reached the King. Despite Dodd having once been the King’s own chaplain, George III decided that he could not make a special case, and the flamboyant reverend’s fate was sealed.
Or was it? One of Dodd’s many past preoccupations was the development of a method to resuscitate victims of hanging. He collaborated on this with the eminent surgeon Dr Hunter and even published a paper on it. The procedure involved the immersion of the corpse in a warm bath. Immediately after his execution at Tyburn, Dodd’s friends rushed his body to a private house and attempted his own innovation to return him to life, but unfortunately their efforts failed.
There is much more to tell about the fascinating Dr Dodd, a true eccentric. I recommend you follow the Wikipedia link above, whence there are excellent further external links.