Death by boiling is a method of execution in which a person is killed by being immersed in a boiling liquid. 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.
In England, the 9th statute passed in 1531 (the 22nd year of the reign of King Henry VIII) made boiling alive the prescriptive form of capital punishment for murder committed by poisoning, which by the same Act was defined as High Treason. This arose from an incident in which the Bishop of Rochester's cook, Richard Roose, gave several people poisoned porridge, resulting in two deaths in February 1531. A partial confession having been extracted by torture, the sentence was thus imposed by attainder and without benefit of clergy. A contemporary chronicle reports the following:
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.
Scotland has several traditions of persons 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 of eighty persons as a punishment for the crime, and the earl fled his lands. According to the Melrose Chronicle, Adam of Melrose was "burned alive", rather than boiled, and Alexander III executed up to 400. 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. 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.
Boiling as an execution method was also used for counterfeiters, swindlers and coin forgers during the Middle Ages. 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. Coin forgers were boiled to death in 1452 in Danzig and in 1471 in Stralsund. Even as late as in 1687, a man in Bremen was boiled to death in oil for having been of valuable help to some coin forgers who had escaped justice.
In 16th-century Japan, the semi-legendary Japanese bandit Ishikawa Goemon was boiled alive in a large iron kettle-shaped bathtub. 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.
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.
Former ISIS commander Abu Abboud al-Raqqawi referred to ISIS' brutal execution methods, among others, boiling prisoners alive in engine oil:
Some people were boiled alive in oil. Engine oil. They burned wood on a fire for an hour before throwing the victim into boiling oil. It's the Tunisians who were responsible for that.
Depictions in Western culture
Early reports of cannibals from islands in the Pacific, such as Fiji or Papua New Guinea, killing western Christian missionaries were assumed to involve some form of boiling alive. 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 1985 film adaptation of King Solomon's Mines and the dream sequence in the movie Bagdad Café.
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