Ketch (Grose 1811 Dictionary)


Jack Ketch; a general name for the finishers of the law, or hangmen, ever since the year 1682, when the office was filled by a famous practitioner of that name, of whom his wife said, that any bungler might put a man to death, but only her husband knew how to make a gentleman die sweetly. This officer is mentioned in Butler’s Ghost, page 54, published about the year 1682, in the following lines:

Till Ketch observing he was chous’d, And in his profits much abus’d. In open hall the tribute dunn’d, To do his office, or refund.

Mr. Ketch had not long been elevated to his office, for the name of his predecessor Dun occurs in the former part of this poem, page 29:

For you yourself to act squire Dun, Such ignominy ne’er saw the sun.

The addition of ‘squire,’ with which Mr. Dun is here dignified, is a mark that he had beheaded some state criminal for high treason; an operation which, according to custom for time out of mind, has always entitled the operator to that distinction. The predecessor of Dun was Gregory Brandon, from whom the gallows was called the Gregorian tree, by which name it is mentioned in the prologue to Mercurius Pragmaticus, tragi-comedy acted at Paris, &c. 1641:

This trembles under the black rod, and he Doth fear his fate from the Gregorian tree.

Gregory Brandon succeeded Derrick. See Derrick.

Definition taken from The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally by Francis Grose.

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