Date Of Execution: 18 Oct 1837
Execution Place: Paisley
Executioner: John Murdoch
THE LAST MOMENTS OF WILLIAM PERRIE
Executed at Paisley, October 18th, 1837.
" He died, as erring man should die,
Without display, without parade."
The morning came, the hours flew pas.-
Yea, the fatal hour, poor Perrie's last,
Drew near, on which he was to die,
And meet his God, his Judge on high.
Far as the eye could reach, front of the massy jail,
The eager crowds throng round the fatal pale :
A solemn stillness now pervades the air,
And awes the multitudes assembled there ;
And from each choked up window, house-top high,
Heads peer above each other to the sky,
All anxious each, (while silence rules each breath)
To view the blackened instrument of death,
Around whose site, due order to command,
The assembled batonmen of office stand.
He comes, the murderer he comes—palid, wan,
The downcast countenance of the fated man.
Slowly he comes, poor guilty creature of the sod,
Attended by the pious messengers of God,
The heralds of his mercy; and as they near
The place of death, soft to his willing ear,
And soothing to his spirit, the promises of Heaven,
The pleasing hope that he would be forgiven.
The period arrives, the precious moments roll—
A hoping cheerlessness pervades his soul;
Wav'ring 'twixt fear and hope, he knows not why,
And feels reluctant that he is to die
A death of ignominy and of shame,
And terror scizes on him at the name,
Shrinks his enfeebled, enervated frame.
Now stands he on the platform—not a sound
Escapes the bosoms of the crowd around;
The gaunt minister of death stoops down to loose
The neckloth folds, adjusts the fatal noose
In that stern, pityless, apathy of mind
Which characterise the beings of his kind;
Last draws the horrid cap, the emblem of disgrace,
Hides from the view the malefactor's face,
And shades it from the world—ah ! who could scan
The emotions of that breast, that soul, that man,
At the sad crisis of his fate, to feel and know
That his last hour was come, for weal or woe.
Hark! through the silence still that reigns in air,
A voice is heard, engaged in solemn prayer;
That lonely voice ascends to God on high,
Pours forth his soul for him about to die,
In thrilling accents, audibly convey'd
From ear to ear, his feeling heart betray'd;
Twas he, Macnaughtan, blessings on his head,
That strove thus to console, ere spirit fled.
He ceas'd, the heavy task was o'er,
His soul was full, he said no more,
And shaking hands, heart-rending to the view,
The minister of life bade him a last adieu.
Now stood the criminal, unaided and alone,
You hear his tremulous voice, as it ascends the throne
Of God, imploring mercy, through his Saviour Son.
There now the signal drops ! ah ! no, not yet;
His heart, perhaps, on earthly things is set.
His voice again strikes on the startled ear,
And harrowed up he seems, 'twixt hope and fear,
Implores his God, his Saviour, his Friend,
To grant support on this his awful end.
The man of death his victim calm surveys,
And heeds alike his pangs, the multitudes amaze.
Imploring still he seems, his hands he clasps,
And rigid to his breast his napkin graps—
He flings it from him—oh dreadful could it be—
His struggling soul was in eternity.
This execution ballad begins: 'The morning came, the hours flew past:- / Yea, the fatal hour, poor Perrie's last, / Drew near, on which he was to die, / And meet his God, his Judge on high.' Perrie was 'Executed at Paisley, October 18th, 1837'. Under the title a small quotation has been provided: '"He died, as erring man should die, / Without display, without parade."' This broadside was printed by Caldwell and Sons.
Glasgow-born William Perrie was executed for murdering Mary Mitchell, his wife of less than a year, in a fit of jealous rage. His executioner was John Murdoch who, although based in Glasgow, followed the Circuit Courts. Rather than employing their own executioner, it appears that Paisley relied on the services of the Glasgow 'hangman'. The National Library of Scotland's collection contains further broadsides regarding Perrie, including 'a very affecting and interesting letter, written by William Perrie, before his execution'.
Reports recounting dark and salacious deeds were popular with the public, and, like today's sensationalist tabloids, sold in large numbers. Crimes could generate sequences of sheets covering descriptive accounts, court proceedings, last words, lamentations and executions as they occurred. As competition was fierce, immediacy was paramount, and these occasions provided an opportunity for printers and patterers to maximise sales.