The surgeons at Surgeons' Hall and the London hospitals want corpses to dissect for research and for teaching students anatomy. They obtain them by paying the hangmen to give them the bodies of executed criminals.
Sometimes men condemned to death will sell their own bodies to the surgeons in return for money to live comfortably during their last days in jail. However, most condemned criminals and their friends regard the idea of their bodies' being dissected with horror.
When George Ward, a carpenter from Dublin, is hanged at Tyburn for a burglary, there is a battle between the men who supply bodies to the surgeons and a crowd of his fellow Irish. The Irishmen win and take his corpse for burial.
This is one of a number of occasions on which the Irish community in London combine to rescue the bodies of executed Irish people and give them Christian burial.
It has been estimated that during the eighteenth century, roughly one in seven of the people hanged at Tyburn was born in Ireland.