- Anyone who has ever been a sidewalk engineer—an ogler at workers erecting a building—has seen a crane lifting and moving steel beams and other heavy objects. This crane is called a derrick. Today a derrick is used in the construction of something useful to mankind. Many years ago, however, a derrick was used solely for the destruction of mankind; it was a device to hang people. And only the common people at that. Nobility was accorded the courtesy of beheading. This gruesome word was named after Godfrey Derrick. Whether he actually invented the gallows that bear his name is unclear but as the official executioner for Queen Elizabeth I and James I, his qualifications assured him a place in the dictionary. Derrick (or Derick) was said to have hanged or beheaded at least three thousand persons.Derrick came to his job in an odd way. According to a story during Elizabeth's reign, Derrick was convicted of rape while serving under the provost marshal in the expedition to Cadiz headed by the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux. For this crime he was sentenced to death. But the earl pardoned him when he agreed to become the executioner in London. Ironically, when Essex himself, a onetime favorite of the queen, was condemned to death in 1601, Derrick was his executioner. As a nobleman, Essex was not to be subjected to the indignity of hanging, He was entitled to be beheaded, which was Derrick's responsibility. But Derrick botched the job on the block. He hacked three times at Essex's neck before he severed the head. Essex's friends were so incensed that they rushed Derrick to give him the same treatment he had given Essex. Fortunately for Derrick, guards reached him in time to rescue him.He rides circuit with the devil,and Derrick must be his host,And Tyborne the inn at which hewill light.Dekker, Bellman of London (1608)
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.