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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 357 larly unlucky-got into debt-and in consequence fled to Tonningen, and from thence embarked for London. His native city being still too hot for him, he resolved to try the atmosphere of the north. He set sail by one of the packets for Leith, and arrived there in September 1805. Here, retaining his assumed name of Moffat, he remained a few days at the Ship Tavern, kept .at that time by one Cairns. He afterwards took lodgings in New Street, Canongate, where he lived very retired. He generally dined every day at the Ship Tavern, walking down by the Easter Road, and returning to Edinburgh in the evening by Leith Walk, In the public room of the tavern he was fond of smoking and drinking among the masters of the smacks, to whom he represented himself as a Hamburg merchant, who had been obliged to leave in consequence of the French. This plausible story was generally believed ; and, affecting to be witty, he usually engrossed the whole conversation of the room. Mackcoull is not known to have been engaged in any depredation till the spring of 1806, when he was detected picking a gentleman’s pocket in the lobby of the theatre. Breaking from those who held him, he was pursued by a town officer of the name of Campbell, a very powerful man. Mackcoull ran with great speed towards a stair which thon led from the head of Leith Street to the Low Calton, through a close called the Salt Backet. Thinking he was about to escape him, and having no assistance, Campbell struck him a severe blow with his baton on the back of the head, when he fell senseless down the stair and groaned deeply. The officer, thinking he had killed him, became alarmed, and returned to the theatre without securing him. Mackcoull gradually recovered ; and getting up, covered with blood, went to his lodgings, where he mentioned that he had been set upon by some drunken sailors. He was confined for a length of time by this accident, and retained a deep score on his forehead, which he most likely had received on falling. In the course of the summer and harvest prior to the murder of a man of the name of Begbie, porter to the British Linen Company Bank, he was again repeatedly seen in the Ship Tavern, but not subsequently. This mysterious deed was committed about five o’clock on the evening of Thursday, 13th November 1806. The porter was on his return, as usual, from Leith with a parcel of notes sealed in a yellow piece of parchment, and was stabbed in the side, while in the entrance to Tweeddale’s Court, where the British Linen Company’s Office was at that time, and which is now the printing-office of Messrs. Oliver and Boyd, booksellers. It was stated in the Hw and Ci.y “that the murder was committed with a force and dexterity more resembling that of a foreign assassin than an inhabitant of this country. The blow was directly in the heart, and the unfortunate man bled to death in a few minutes.”’ Several persons were apprehended, but the murderer was never traced.; No suspicion attached to Mackcoull at the time. More recently, hlr. Denovan investigated the circumstances Begbie left a wife and four chdhen. The most active ineasnres were adopted to discover the murderer. Rue and Cry bills were thrown off during the night, and despatched by the mail-coaches in the morning to all parts of the
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358 B I0 GR AP H I C AL S KET C HE S. of the murder, and collected many facts which tended to throw suspicion upon him. Mackcoull arrived in Dublin towards the end of November, or beginning of December, following the death of Begbie. Captain Moffat, frequented the gaming-tables, and was looked upon as a person of respectability, till detected in the act of picking a gentleman’s pocket in the pit of the theatre, for which he was committed to Newgate, but liberated before the sessions commenced, in consequence of the death of his prosecutor. About the end of October 1807 he returned to Edinburgh, took genteel lodgings in Mid Rose Street, dressed well, and went out much in public. He associated with many of the higher order of gamblers, and was frequently a guest at the table of young men of fortune. He seldom went to Leith, and when met by any of his former acquaintances, accounted for his absence by saying he had made a voyage to the West Indies. He pretended at this period to make his living by a new system of staining lamb and sheep skins; and he had a vat or two erected at his lodgings, the better to deceive his acquaintances. Not long after his return, the large notes of which Begbie had been robbed were found carelessly laid in the hole of an old wall in Bellevue grounds on the north side of the town then being taken down to make way for building. Mackcoull had been often seen walking in this direction, and it was conceived that, afraid to put the notes in circulation, he had adopted this mode of restoring them.’ Immediately after this, he changed his lodgings, taking up his abode at a gardener’s house, about a mile distant, on the opposite or south side of the city. This movement he accounted for on the score of ill health. Here he likewise carried his vats, and kept up the show of shining leather ; but it was observed that he always had plenty of money and wrokght very little. He was a great favourite in the neighbourhood-smoked, and drank, and joked with every one j and all his new acquaintances were fond of the “English gentleman.” Here his wife paid him a visit, and being a well-bred woman, and dressed in the first style of fashion, her appearance tended greatly to strengthen her husband‘s credit. At length, however, his good character waa blasted. The well-known vocalist, Incledon, having played a few nights at the Edinburgh Theatre, immense numbers flocked to see him, and it was !observed that Moffat was so fond of theatricals, “that although then very corpulent, he did not care how much he was jostled in the crowd.” On one of these occasions he was discovered in an attempt to pick a gentleman’s pocket. n e got off with the money, and Here he represented himself as ’ country. agreed to put a particular mark on their notes, in order to ensure detection. immediately intimated to the pmviucial banks and acted upon. the grounda of Bellevue. discovery. plaoe where the murder waa committed. not in Edinburgh at the time. A meeting of all the bankers in Edinburgh w a ~ held next forenoon, at which they This resolution waa 1 For more than three wekap&w, it was rumoured everywhere that they had been found in This report must have been circulated for the purpose of leading to their It is rather curious that the person who found them-a won-resided at the very He had no ditficulty in proving, however, that he was
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