Death by boiling

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Death by boiling is a method of execution in which a person is killed by being immersed in a boiling liquid such as oil or water. While not as common as other methods of execution, boiling to death has been used in many parts of Europe and Asia.


Executions of this type were often carried out using a large vessel such as a cauldron or a sealed kettle that was filled with a liquid such as water, oil, tar, or tallow, and a hook and pulley system.[1]

Death in these cases was by severe scalding caused by the hot liquids (water or oil).[2] Immersion burns would form on the arms, torso and legs. Prolonged scalding would result in anything up to fourth-degree burns of the skin. The epidermis and the dermis are destroyed, leading to the complete breakdown of subcutaneous fat.

Historical practice

In the Dutch town of Deventer, the kettle that was used for boiling criminals to death can still be seen.[3]


The London Dungeon. Boiling in oil.

In England, statute 22, passed in 1532 by Henry VIII, made boiling a legal form of capital punishment. It began to be used for murderers who used poisons after the Bishop of Rochester's cook, Richard Roose, gave several people poisoned porridge, resulting in two deaths in February 1531.[4] He was found guilty of treason and sentenced to be boiled to death without benefit of clergy.[5] A contemporary chronicle reports the following:[6]

"He roared mighty loud, and divers women who were big with child did feel sick at the sight of what they saw, and were carried away half dead; and other men and women did not seem frightened by the boiling alive, but would prefer to see the headsman at his work."

Boiling to death was employed again in 1542 for a woman, Margaret Davy,[7] who had also used poison.[8][9] In the reign of Edward VI, in 1547, the 1531 act was repealed.[5]

In Scotland, there exist several traditions of local power players who were boiled to death. For example, in 1222, with the consent of Jon Haraldsson, the "Bloody Earl" of Orkney, the bishop of Caithness Adam of Melrose and a monk named Surlo, are said to have been boiled to death by angry husbandmen over the bishop's aggressive means of collecting tithes. Alexander II is said to have executed upwards to eighty persons as a punishment for the crime, and the earl fled his lands.[10] According to the Melrose Chronicle, Adam of Melrose was "burned alive", rather than boiled, and Alexander III executed up to 400.[11] William de Soules, a nobleman involved in a conspiracy against Robert the Bruce was reputed to be a sorcerer consorting with evil spirits, and was boiled alive in 1321 at Ninestane Rig.[12] Around 1420, Melville, the sheriff of the Mearns and laird of Glenbervie, who was resented for his strictness, was apprehended by some other nobles and thrown into the kettle. The nobles are said each to have taken a spoonful of the brew afterwards.[13]

Boiling as an execution method was also used for counterfeiters, swindlers and coin forgers during the Middle Ages.[14] In the Holy Roman Empire, for example, being boiled to death in oil is recorded for coin forgers and extremely grave murderers. In 1392, a man was boiled alive in Nuremberg for having raped and murdered his own mother.[15] Coin forgers were boiled to death in 1452 in Danzig[16] and in 1471 in Stralsund.[17] Even as late as in 1687, a man was boiled to death in oil in Bremen for having been of valuable help to some coin forgers who had escaped justice.[18]


Bandit Ishikawa Goemon was boiled to death for the attempted assassination of warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 16th century Japan.

In 16th-century Japan, the semi-legendary Japanese bandit Ishikawa Goemon was boiled alive in a large iron kettle-shaped bathtub.[19] His public execution, which might have included his entire family, was done after he failed to kill warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

In 1675, a Sikh martyr, called Bhai Dayala, was boiled to death in Delhi after he refused to accept Islam. He was put into a cauldron full of cold water which was then heated to boiling point. Sikh scriptures record that Dayala recited the Japji of Guru Nanak and the Sukhmani of Guru Arjan as he died.[20]

Modern times

The government of Uzbekistan under the regime of Islam Karimov has been alleged to have boiled alleged terrorists.[21]

In a 2004 document from US Department of State, the following is written:

During the year, there were no developments or investigations in the following 2002 deaths in custody: Mirzakomil Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov, members of Hizb ut-Tahrir who were tortured to death in Jaslyk Prison in Karakalpakstan resulting in extensive bruises and burns, the latter reportedly caused by immersion in boiling water.[22]

Depictions in Western media

Early reports of cannibals from islands in the Pacific, such as Fiji or Papua New Guinea, killing western Christian missionaries were mistakenly assumed to involve some form of boiling alive.[23] This became a fertile ground for film makers and especially cartoonists, whose clichéd depiction of tourists or missionaries sitting restrained in a large cauldron above a wood fire and surrounded by bone-nosed tribesmen was a staple of popular magazines and film for decades. Examples include the dream sequence in the movie Bagdad Café.[24]


  1. Geoffrey Abbott, Execution blunders, pages 21–22.
  2. Scald and Burn Care, Public Education City of Rochester Hills Accessed February 24, 2008
  3. Weigh-House, Deventer
  4. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. 5.0 5.1  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Boiling to Death". Encyclopædia Britannica. 4 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Burke, H.S: "The men and women of the English reformation", London 1870 p.240
  7. Chisholm 1911.
  8. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  9. Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie, and Ellery Sedgwick. 1876. Frank Leslie's popular monthly. [New York]: Frank Leslie Pub. House. p 343
  10. Pinkerton: "A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting Voyages, Volume 3", London 1809, p.158 The same tradition is transmitted in Journal (1842). The Scottish journal of topography, antiquities, traditions. Edinburgh: Stevenson and Menzies. p. 248.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Soc. Diff. Use. Knowl. (1842), p.310 in Society for Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (1842). The Biographical Dictionary. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. p. 310.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott, New York 1833 p.216
  13. "The new statistical account of Scotland, Volum 18", Edinburgh 1838, pp.34-35
  14. Monter, E. William (2007). A bewitched duchy: Lorraine and its dukes, 1477-1736. Librairie Droz. p. 163. ISBN 978-2-600-01165-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Mayer, M.M: "Kleine Chronik der Reichsstadt Nürnberg: Mit einem Grundrisse, Nuremberg 1847 p.102,
  16. Krüger, J.G: "Die beglückte und geschmückte Stadt Lübeck", 1697, p.20
  17. Klemptzen, N.von:"Nicolaus Klemzen vom Pommer-lande und dessen fürsten geschlecht-beschreibung", Stralsund 1771, p.39
  18. "Blätter für literarische Unterhaltung, Volum 1, p.116, review of "Taschenbuch für vaterländische Geschichte", Berlin 1843
  19. Goemonburo - Goemon-style bath
  20. Singha, H. S (2000). The encyclopedia of Sikhism. Hemkunt Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-81-7010-301-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Uzbekistan: Two Brutal Deaths in Custody". Retrieved 6 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. US Department of State: Diplomacy In Action, Uzbekistan

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