Date Of Execution: 13 Jul 1835
Execution Place: unknown
A Full, True, and Particular A count of the EXECUTION of
JAMES BELL, late private in the 5th Dragoon Guards, who
was Executed this morning, at the head of Libberton's Wynd,
for the Murder of Serjeant-Major Moorhead ; together with his
Cunsession, his Behaviour in the Jail and on the Scaffold, and a
short Sketch of his Life.
Edinburgh. Monday, July 13, 1835.
THIS morning, soon after eight o'clock, James Bell, late private
in the 5th Dragoon Guards, underwent the extreme penalty
of the law, at the head of Libberton's Wynd, pursuant to his sen-
tence, for the murder of Serjeant-Major Moorhead, by shooting
him in the back with a pistol ball, while on duty at the stables at
Piers-hill Barracks, on Sunday evening the 17th of May last.
This unfortunate man was born in Ireland in the year 1808, of
poor but honest parents. He was bred a labourer, and in the year
1829 he enlisted into the 60th Rifle Brigade, then lying in Dublin,
where he remained for upwards of four years. Not considering
himself comfortable in that distinguished corps, he effected a trans-
fer from it to the 5th Dragoon Guards, under pretext of having a
senior brother in that regiment, which was afterwards found to be
a fabrication. About a year ago, this unhappy man, who was na-
turally of an unsettled and discontented disposition, was drafted
into Captain King's troop, of which the deceased William Moor-
head. a rigid disciplinarian, was Serjeant-Major. Bell appears to
have formerly suffered under his displeasure, for some misconduct;
and having been refused leave of absence from evening stables on
the day alluded to, he, in a fit of revenge, committed the rash act,
which has brought him to an ignominious end.
Since his condemnation he was very penitent, paying the most
particular attention to the religious instructions communicated to
him by the Rev. Mr Terriot of St. Paul's Chapel and the Rev. Mr
Hunter of the Tron Church, both of whom were most assiduous in
their attendance upon him.
He was brought over to the Lock-up-house about half-past eleven
o'clock last night where he was immediately Waited upon by his
spiritual adviseres wich whom he spent the greater part of the
night in devotional exercises.
A little before eight o'clock, the Magistrates, attended by ther
officers, appeared in the ball of the Lock-up, when Bell was usher-
ed in, and underwent the operation of pinioning his arms. After
prayer, the melancholy procession moved up the wynd, and the
unfortunate man appeared on the scaffold a few minutes past
eight, decently dressed.
A most fervent and pathetic prayer was offered up on his behalf,
in which he appeared most seriously and attentively to join ; and,
after shaking hands with those around him, he was then assisted to
mount the fatal drop. The executioner, who seemed much agi-
tated and rather dilatory is his motions, was then assisted in ad-
justing the aparatus of death, when the unfortunate man appeared
to pray very earnestly. Every thing being ready, he then firm-
ly dropped the white handkerchief, when, in a few minutes, the
drop fell, and he was launched into eternity, amidst a very great
concourse of spectators. He struggled a good deal, and was much
convulsed. After banging about six and thirty minutes, the body
was lowered down, and afterwards conveyed to the Calton Jail
there to be interred, in pursuance of the sentence.
Sanderson, Printer, High Street, Edinburgh.
This execution notice begins: 'A Full, True, and Particular Account of the EXECUTION of JAMES BELL, late private in the 5th Dragoon Guards, who was Executed this morning, at the head of Libberton's Wynd, for the murder of Serjeant-Major Moorhead; together with his confession, his behaviour in the Jail and on the Scaffold, and a short Sketch of his Life.' It was published by Sanderson of Edinburgh's High Street in 1835.
Irishman Bell had shot his Sergeant-Major, after he had been refused leave. It is reported that Bell was very repentant for his crime, 'paying particular ttention to the religious instructions communicated to him by the Rev. Mr Hunter of the Tron Church'. The Tron Church is still standing, just off the Royal Mile, in Hunter Square. Presumably named after this same Reverend Hunter. The National Library of Scotland holds another broadside detailing Bell's trial.
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.