British Executions

James Wemyss

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 16 Apr 1840

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



A Full and Particular Account of the Execution of JAMES
WEMYSS, Umbrella Manufacturer, Grassmarket, Edin-
burgh, who was Hanged here on Thursday the 16th day of
April, 1840, for the Cruel and Barbarous Murder of his own
Wife, or reputed Wife, on the 27th of January last.

This unfortunate man was tried on the 16th of March last, and
was unanimously found guilty of the Murder of his wife, as libel-
led, by a respectable jury ; both his victim and himself being in a
state of beastly intoxication at the time, and was sentenced to be
fed upon bread and water only, till the 6th day of April; on which
day he was to be taken from the jail to such place as the Lord
Provost and Magistrates of Edinburgh should appoint, and there to
be hanged by the neck, by the hands of the common Hangman,
till he was dead, and his body to be afterwards buried within the
precincts of the jail. Though Wemyss appeared quite careless and
unconcerned during the whole proceedings of the trial, and even
while the awful sentence of the law was pronouncing, he was
no sooner removed from the bar, than he became fully aware
of his dreadful situation, and his assumed hardihood forsook
him; indeed he appeared quite overcome while he was con-
veyed to jail. He was brought up in great ignorance, and
could neither read nor write, nor was of any religious persuasion
whatever. He was regularly visited by Mr Hyslop, the Chap-
lain of the jail, and by the Rev. Mr Sym of Greyfriars Church,
to whose pious discourses and exhortations he seemed to give due
and apparent thankful attention.

April 16, 1840.—The ill-fated James Wemyss suffered the last
penalty of the law this morning on the scaffold, which was erected
at the usual place in the   Lawnmarket, he having   been respited
for   ten   days    after   the   6th of   April.    He was previously re-
moved from the Calton Jail to the Lock-up-House, where he was   
soon waited on by the officiating Clergymen, who continued in
conversation and religious exercises with him till a late hour, and
to whose earnest prayers and pious discourses he paid the greatest
attention.    He confessed and acknowledged the justice of his sen-
tence, and sadly lamented the awful crime he had committed, and
the unlawful and sinful life he had latterly led, for which he was
now about to suffer ignominiously ; and most earnestly beseeching
all those who saw or heard of his sad fate, to avoid drinking ardent
and intoxicating liquors, and the company of loose, disorderly and
debauched people, which was the ruin of millions, as well as him.
After praying privately very eanestly, he was advised to lie down,
which he did, and slept for a short while, occasionally sighing and
groaning very bitterly.    He then   rose, and, after praying again
privately, partook of a very little refreshment.   Soon after the Rev.
Clergymen arrived, Dr Hunter, Mr Sym and Mr Hyslop, the Chap-
lain of the Jail, and Wemyss was brought to the Hall, where his
arms were pinioned, and where after the arrival of the officiating
Magistrates and their officers, a psalm was sung and earnest prayers
offered up to the throne of Grace on his behalf; and where also he
most thankfully acknowledged the great kindness and attention he
had received, not only from the Rev. Clergymen, who he said, were
most assiduous in their endeavours to enlighten his dark and dis-   
mal mind, and to bring it to a proper sense of his awful situation,
but likewise from the Governor of the Jail, and all under him.   The
melancholy procession then formed, and moved slowly up to the
scaffold, whereon he appeared a few minutes after eight o'clock, de-
cently dressed.    His appearance indeed indicated that he had un-
dergone much mental suffering, and when we saw him on the scaf-
fold, we could not actually recognize the firm and cool character
which we witnessed at his trial.    To the astonishment of the spec-
tators, he seemed ro be quite dead when he received the first fall,
but in a few seconds the convulsions of departing life revived, and
he suffered most awfully before life became extinct, which took
place in a few minutes.

Menzies, Printer, Edinbur


This report begins: 'A Full and Particular Account of the Execution of James Wemyss, Umbrella Manufacturer, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, who was Hanged there on Thursday the 16th day of April, 1840, for the Cruel and Barbarous Murder of his own Wife, or reputed Wife, on the 27th of January last.' The sheet was printed by Menzies of Edinburgh.

Wemyss and his wife, Sally McRavey, who had once been tinkers, had settled in Plainstane Close, Edinburgh. However, they were prone to drinking and it is while both were arguing and in a 'state of beastly intoxication' that Wemyss murdered his wife. He then put her to bed and made his escape. He was caught soon after, tried and condemned. He was around 40 years old.

Although this report only hints at it, the executioner, John Scott, made a mistake in his first attempt at the drop. He didn't take the correct bolt out, much to the crowd's horror. An official noticed and soon Wemyss was 'launched into eternity'.