Date Of Execution: 23 May 1823
Execution Place: Aberdeen
An account of the Execution of Wil-
liam Buchanan and William M'Leod
and Thomas Donaldson, at Aberdeen
on Friday 23d May 1823, with the
affecting seperation with their Parents
and Relations, also a most pathetic
speech made by Buchanan on the
Scaffold, a genteel young Man belong-
ing to Edinburgh.
Aberdeen Saturday 24th 1823.
It is our painful task to state the awful example exhibited here
yesterday, in the revolting spectacle, wholly unprecedented in.
this place, of three unfortunate young men expiating their crimes
by an ignominious death. The unhappy criminals were Thomas
Donaldson, William Buchanan, and William M'Leod, convicted
at the last Circuit Court of the crimes of theft and southrief.
Buchanan, now aged 20, was born in Fiseshire, of honest and
respectable parents. He for some time adhered to the maxims
laid down for him. and prosecuted with steadiness the business of
a book printer in a respectable house in Edinburgh. Fom the
influence of bad company and other causes, he threw his business
at his heels and went to London, and after 2 years absence re-
turned to his friends in Edinburgh. Now, lost to habits of so-
briety and industry, he left his father's house, and coming north.
ward, got acquainted with the family of the Donaldsons, in the
parish of Ellon, and with his fellow sufferer of that name, now 25.
Maclepd, a native of this place, aged 27, was the son of a soldier
who died 5 years ago.
Buchanan, whose unhappy fate was unknown to his relations,
whom he had hitherto concealed, and from whom he had been
estranded about 4 years, now divulged the secret by a letter to
an aunt on the subject. His disconsolate father immediately
wrote a most pathetic letter to his nnhappy son. expressive of the
agonised feelings of his parents. Impelled by maternal solicitude.
although weighed down with the most poignant grief, hastened
from Edinburgh, accompanied by his two brothers, to pay their last sad
offices to the unhappy object of their lamentation. The scene was betwixt
them, on Sunday last, was in the utmost degree affecting—their cries
were heard to a distance; Imagination alone can can paint their horrors.
As the fatal day approached, they were occasionally agitated,
and shcwed in one or two instances considerable disquietitude,
but in the early part of the week a letter was shewn to them
from the Lord Justice Clerk, that merey could not be granted
them in this world, they became quite resigned to their fate.
On the Tuesday afternoon they took farewell of their parents
and relations, and a more heart-rending scene could not be wit-
nessed. To the Rev. Dr Kid. the Rev. Mr Penman, and the
Rev. Mr Thom, they expressed Themselves very sensible as well
as grateful, for their fatherly care and unceasing endeavours for
their spiritual welfare.
The night before the execution proved nearly sleepless to the
dying men. At a quarter past two p. m. they entered the old
court House, discovering great fortitude, attended by the above
mentioned clergymen, the criminals were all genteely dressed in
black, which had been raised by subscription by some young
men of Aberdeen. The magistrates took their place and the
procession advanced about 5 minutes from 3, A portion of the
23d psalm was then sung, in which the prisoners and part of the
people joined. A most impressive prayer was given by the Rev
Mr Thorn. Buchanan now stepped forward to the front of the
scaffold, and addressed the people for a considerable time in en-
ergetic and feeling language. He deeply deplored the vices of
his youth, and lamented in bitter terms his disregard and diso-
bedience of the kind injunctions of his worthy parents. To the
breach of the Sabbath, and neglect of the scriptures, he attribut
ed his many backslidings, warning the youth in particular, and
others, against the neglect of those sacred obligations, to which
he said many modern books of infidelity were great inlets if not
incentives. These and other pious sentiments delivered by a
genteel young man within a few minutes of his death, had a
powerful effect on the people.
The other two followed in much the same terms.
About 25 minutes past 3 they ascended the drop, and after
the executioner had adjusted the rope, he shook hands with
them, and immediately after they dropt the fatal signal, and
were launched into eternity, without the least struggle. Ow-
ing to their examplary behaviour since they had been condemned
a number of young men, in token of respect, attended the corpses
to the grave.
This crime report begins: 'An account of the Execution of William Buchanan and William M'Leod and Thomas Donaldson, at Aberdeen on Friday 23d May 1823, with the affecting separation with their Parents and Relations, also a most pathetic speech made by Buchanan on the Scaffold, a genteel young Man belonging to Edinburgh.' This sheet was published in Aberdeen, on Saturday 24th May 1823.
This style of sentimentalised and sensational reporting is one of the features which makes broadsides the forerunner of modern newspapers. There is a great emphasis on religion in this text, with the young men regretting their neglect of the Sabbath and the Scriptures. The three men's sober behaviour and self-control are also highlighted in favourable terms. These characteristics would eventually became the cornerstone of Victorian society.
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.