Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 26 1 from the great excitement in the public mind, was crowded to excess at an early hour. Smith and Brodie only were indicted, the other two having become “king’s evidence.” The trial commenced at nine o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, and the jury were inclosed till six o’clock in the morning of the following day. All the facts we have previously narrated were fully borne out by the evidence, as well as by the declarations of Smith while in prison. An attempt was made to prove an alibi on the part of Brodie, by means of Jean Watt and her maid ; but the jury, ‘‘ all in one voice,” returned a verdict finding both panels “ guilty.” They were sentenced, therefore, to be executed at the west end of the Luckenbooths, on Wednesday the 1st October 1785. When the sentence had been pronounced by the Lord Justice-Clerk, Brodie manifested a desire to address the Court, but was restrained by his counsel. “His behaviour during the whole trial was perfectly collected. He was respectful to the Court ; and when anything ludicrous occurred in the evidence, smiled as if he had been an indifferent spectator. His conduct on receiving sentence was equally cool and determined. During the whole period of Brodie’s confinement his self-possession and firmness never forsook him. He even at times assumed a Macheath-like boldness ; and, with an air of levity, spoke of his death as a “ leap in the dark.” On the Friday before his execution he was visited by his daughter, Cecill, about ten years of age; and here “nature and the feelings of a father were superior to every other consideration; and the falling tear, which he endeavoured to suppress, gave proof of his feeling. He embraced her with emotion, and blessed her with the warmest affection.” Brodie’s manner of living in prison was very abstemious ; yet his firmness and resolution seemed to increase as the fatal hour approached-the night previous to which he slept soundly for five or six hours. On the morning he suffered he conversed familiarly with a select number of his friends, and wrote a letter to the Lord Provost, requesting, as a last favour, “ that as his friends, from a point of delicacy, declined witnessing his dissolution, certain gentlemen (whom he named), might be permitted to attend, and his body allowed to be carried out of prison immediately upon being taken down,” -which request was readily granted. The following account of the execution we give from one of the periodicals of the day :- “About a quarter past two the criminals appeared on the platform, preceded by two of the Magistrates in their robes, with white staves, and attended by the Rev. Mr. Hardy, one of the ministers of Edinburgh-the Rev. Mr. Cleeve, of the Episcopal persuasion, in their gowns, and the Hay, Esq. (afterwards Lord Newton) ; Agents, Mr. Robert Donaldson, and Mr. Alexander Paterson, Writers to the Signet. For George Smith-John ‘Clerk, Esq. (afterwards Lord Eldin) ; ‘Robert Hamilton, Esq. ; Mr iEneas Morrison, agent. The jurymen were-Robert Forrester, banker ; Fbbert Allan, banker ; Henry Jamieson, banker ; John Hay, banker j William Creech, Bookseller ; George Kinnear, banker ; William Fettes (after wards Sir William), merchant ; James Carfrae, merchant ; John Milne, founder ; Dunbar Pringle, tanner ; Thomas Campbell, merchant ; Francis Sharp, merchant ; James Donaldson, printer ; John Hutton, stationer ; Thomas Cleghorn, coachmaker. Smith was much affected.”
Volume 8 Page 365
  Enlarge Enlarge  
262 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. Rev. Mr. Hall of the Burghers. When Mr. Brodie came to the scaffold, he bowed politely to the Magistrates and the people. Smith was dressed in white linen, trimmed with black. Eaving spent some time in prayer with seeming fervency with the clergymen, Mr. Brodie than prayed a short time by himself. “ Having put on white nightcaps, Brodie pointed to Smith to ascend the steps that led to the drop ; and, in an easy manner, clapping him on the shoulder, said, ‘ George Smith, you are first in hand.’ Upon this Smith, whose behaviour was highly penitent and resigned, slowly ascended the steps, and ww immediately followed by Brodie, who mounted with briskness and agility, and examined the dreadful apparatus with attention, and particularly the halter designed for himself. The ropes being too short tied, Brodie stepped down to the platform, and entered into conversation with his friends. He then sprang up again, but the rope was still too short ; and he once more descended to the platform, showing some impatience. During this dreadful interval Smith remained on the drop with great composure and placidness. Bmdie having ascended a third time, and the rope being at last properly adjusted, he deliberately untied his neckcloth, buttoned up his waistcoat and coat, and helped the executioner to fix the rope. He than took a friend (who stood close by him) by the hand, bade him farewell, and requested that he would acquaint the world that he wa.9 still the same, and that he died l i e a man. He then pulled the nightcap over his face, and placed himself in an attitude expressive of firmness and resolution. Smith, who, during all this time had been in fervent devotion, let fall a handkerchief as a signal, and a few minutes before three they were launched into eternity. Brodie on the scaffold neither confessed nor denied his being guilty. Smith, with great fervency, confessed in prayer his being guilty, and the justice of his sentence ; and showed in all his conduct the proper expressions of penitence, humility, and faith. This execution was conducted with more than usual solemnity ; and the great bell tolled during the ceremony, which had an awful and solemn effect. The crowd of spectators was immense.” He had on a full suit of black-his hair dressed and powdered. In explanation of the wonderful degree of firmness, if not levity, displayed in the conduct of Brodie, a curious and somewhat ridiculous story became current. It was stated that he had been visited in prison by a French quack, of the name of Degravers,’ who undertook to restore him to life after he had hung the usual time; that, on the day previous to the execution, he had marked the temples and arms of Brodie with a pencil, in order the more readily to know where to apply the lancet; and that, with this view, the hangman had been bargained with for a short fall. “ The excess of caution, however,” observes our worthy informant, who was himself a witness of the scene, exercised by the executioner in the first instance, in shortening the rope, proved fatal, by his inadvertency in making it latterly too long. After he was cut down,” continues our friend, “ his body was immediately given to two of his own workmen, who, Dr. Peter Degravers, according to his own account, was at one time F’rofessor of Anatomy and Physiology in the Royal Academy of Science at Paris, and a member of several medical societies. Whatever may have been his circumstances in France, Kay says it is certain his finances were at a very low ebb when he came to Edinburgh, where, in order to get into immediate practice, he advertised his advice in all cases at the low rate of half-a-crown. After having been some time in Edinburgh, he succeeded in securing the affections of Miss Baikie, sister to Robert Baikie, Esq. of Tankerness, M.P., whom he married, and with her was to receive aeven hundred pounds of portion. Some delay, however, occurred in the settlement ; and, unfortunately for the Doctor, before he had obtained more than an elegantly furnished house, his lady died in childbed, when the money was retained by her friends as a provision for the child, which waa a daughter. Not long after this event the Doctor decamped, no one knew whither, leaving debts to a considerable amount unsettled. In 1788 Degravera published a “ Treatise on the Diseases of the Eye and Ear,” to which an etching of the author, by Kay, was prefixed, as well aa two anatomical prints by the same artist. These platss are not to be found in Kay’s collection, having, we understand, been paid for and carried away by Degravers. Like the productions of most other quacks, hia treatise was full of invective against the gentlemen of the faculty.
Volume 8 Page 366
  Enlarge Enlarge