British Executions

John Stewart

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 19 Aug 1829

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


An account of the Life and Execution of John Stewart and
Catherine Wright his wife, who were executed at Edinburgh
on Wednesday the 19th August, 1829, and their bodies given
for dissection, for the horrible murder and robbery of Robert
Lamond, on board the Toward Castle steam boat on the 15th
December, 1828; with the manner in which they behaved
since receiving sentence.                           

EDINBURGH, 19th August, 1829.—This morning these two unfortunate,but
shockingly guilty creatures, paid, with their lives, the atonement due to the grossly
offended laws of their country. With the exception of Burke, no criminals have ex-
cited so much detestation as the two of whom society has just been rid of. It will
be recollected that Stewart and his wife were found guilty by the High Court of jus-
ticiury at Edinburgh, of administering such a quantity of laudanum to Robert La-
rnond, on board the Toward Castle steam-boat, as to occasion his death; previous to
which, and while lying in a state of stupefaction they robbed him of his pocket book
containing of £20 or thereby.

After their condemnation they were attended by the Rev. Dr. Gordon and Mr.
Porteous, and were daily brought together for a short time to hear the same exbort-
ations, and they were inspired with the same grounds of hope. They spent much
of their time in reading the Bible and such religious books as were given them by
the ministers. He was so settled in his mind, that from his manner no observer
could believe that he was placed in the awful circumtances in which he stood. He
spoke freely, and without the slightest remorseful allusion to the events of his past
life. He was also particuiary callous to the end which, awaited him. By those who
had the best opportunities to observe the workings of his dispositions, he was cou-
sidered to be one of the most accomplished villains that ever came under the cog-
nizance of the law. He was ardent and fearless— resembling in these respects the
lower animals, which rush forward with an impetuosity which nothing cau impede.
As an instance of this trait in the character of Stewart, we may mentiem, that after
he was conveyed to Edinburgh for trial, he formed the diabolical plan, along with
the other prisoners, of escaping from prison by murdering the turnkey and the go-
vernor. Luckily the scheme was discovered in time to counteract the operation of
this daring villain. He was in chains; but the woman was allowed greater liberty,
and was not manacled. She was very penitent.

At the usual hour the prisoners were brought from the lock-up (to which they had
been conveyed the preceding night,) to the place of execution, attended by the
Rev. Dr. Gordon and the Rev. Mr. Porteous, chaplain to the prison, who had been
unwaried in their ministrations of religious instruction and consolation to the de-
linquents since their condemnation—The concourse of people assembled to witness
the execution was very great, and although not near so large as the multitude pre-
sent when Burke was hanged, still from the peculiar atrocity of the offence for
which Stewart and his wife suffered, the crowd was much larger than is usually
brought together on an ordinaay occasion —After some time spent on the scaffold in
prayer, and after Stewart had embraced his wife, the executioner proceeded to put
the daps over the heads of the unfortunate couple, which office he performed to the
female first and after every thing was adjusted, and they had continued for a few
minutes in prayer with the ropes fixed around their necks, the signal was given, and
the drop fell. The female struggled a good deal, but the man appeared to die easily.
After they had been suspended the time required, the bodies were cut down, and
delivered to Dr. Munro' for disection, when the crowd qnitely dispersed.—The
crowd expressed their detestation of these, horrid murderers by hissing and other
marks of disapprobation.

Stewart was a native of Ireland—he was bred a blacksmith, but had wrought none
for l8 months previous to his apprehension, during which period this accomplished
and notorious villain, had served a number of individuals in the same way as he did
Robert Lamond.—His wife, who was about 22 years of age, was born in Glasgow,—
she had been married to Stewart about six years ago at Gretna Green; and she ac-
knowledged they had no place of residence, but had been travelling through Scot-
land in search of employment.

The sensation which was produced amongst all classes was almost as intense as
that which was excited on the occasion of Burke's execution. There is little to cre-
ate surprise in that, when we consider how extensively, and how long the parties ex-
ercised their internal calling. 


This report of an execution begins: 'An account of the Life and Execution of John Stewart and Catherine Wright, his wife, who were Executed at Edinburgh on Wednesday the 19th August 1829, and the bodies given for dissection, for the horrible murder and robbery of Robert Lamond, on board the Toward Castle steam boat, on the 15th December 1828; with the manner in which they behaved since receiving sentence.'

Stewart and Wright's case caused a sensation in Scotland when they confessed to ten more murders after their trial. Their method was to poison their victims with laudanum, then rob them. With the trial of Burke and Hare coming less than a year previously, citizens of Glasgow and Edinburgh were deeply concerned about public safety and law and order, and some of the many broadsides covering Stewart and Wright's case expressed these concerns.

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.