"Captain Swayne pitchcapping the people of Prosperous"

Pitchcapping was a form of torture used by the British military against suspected Irish rebels during the period of the 1798 rebellion, most famously on Anthony Perry, one of the leaders of the Wexford Rebels.


The process involved pouring hot pitch, or tar (mainly used at the time for water proofing seams in the sides of ships and boats), into a conical shaped paper "cap", which was forced onto a bound suspect's head, allowed to cool, then rapidly removed, taking with it a portion of the suspect's skin and tissue. Less elaborate versions included smearing a cloth or piece of paper with pitch and pressing onto the head of the intended victim such as described by Myles Byrne [1] in his memoirs.

"Flogging, half hanging, picketing, were mild tortures in comparison of the pitch caps that were applied to the heads of those who happened to wear their hair short, called croppies; the head being completely singed, a cap made of strong linen well imbued with boiling pitch was so closely put on that it could not be taken off without bringing off a part of the skin and flesh from the head : in many instances the tortured victim had one of his ears cut off to satisfy the executioner that if he escaped he could readily be discovered, being so well marked. "[2]

The torture was usually preceded by the crude shearing of the victim's hair. The effect on the skull of this controlled form of local boiling somewhat resembled scalping. In another form of torture, pitch could also be poured into a victim's orifices. However, doing so invariably proved fatal, and was therefore more suitable as a form of execution. Dating back to antiquity, this method often involved other hot liquids, even molten metal such as gold (which was used by Mithridates VI of Pontus to execute Roman consul Manius Aqullius in 88 BC. It was also rumoured that the triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus was executed in this way by the Parthians after losing the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, but this probably happened after his death.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Byrne, Miles (Jul 15, 1907). "Memoirs of Miles Byrne". Dublin : Maunsel. Retrieved Jul 15, 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ Memoirs of Miles Byrne
  • "The Peoples Rising - Wexford in 1798" (1995) Daniel Gahan ISBN 0-7171-2323-5
  • "Pitchcap and Triangle - The Cork Militia in the Wexford Rising" (1998), J. M. Barry ISBN 0-9533151-0-X
  • "Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue" (1991) Nicholas Furlong ISBN 0-906602-18-1