Date Of Execution: 16 May 1821
Execution Place: unknown
E X E C U T I O N,
A particular Account of the Behaviour and Execution of WILLIAM LEONARD SWAN,
at Glasgow, on Wednesday the 16th May, -1821, for ultering two Forged Five Found
Notes of the Paisley Banking Company, in. the month of November last.
GLASGOW, MAY 16, l821.
WILLLIAM LEONARD SWAN was Ex.
ceuted this day. pursuant to his sentence,
convicted of issuing a forged note for L.5, on
the 8th November last, in the house of Agnes
Mitchell, change-'keeper in Airdrie, purporting
to be of the Paisley Banking Company, and of
passing another of the same amount in the
house of John Smellie, change-keeper, Clark-
Swan was brought up to the profession of the
law, and for some time was clerk to M'Kechnie
and Mann, writers in Glasgow, but in March,
1815 , was tried before the High Court of Jus-
ticiary, for theft, fraud and forgery, accused of
having abstracted from the letter box of his
employers, a letter directed to " Mr. Alexan-
ander Mann, Glasgow," containing a bill of ex-
change for L. 100, snd with forging,or causing
to be forged Mr. Mann's indorsation.
Having procured a school-boy, of the name
of Glassford, by promising him money, to pre-
sent the bill to be .discounted at the office of
the Bank of Scotland, in Glasgow, he was ap-
prehended, owing to the bill being stopt at the
bank, and the boy told it .was Swan and another
person that gave him the bill, and they were
Both seized and committed to prison. They
both, however, were dismissed from the bar,
the Lord Justice Clerk observing to Swan,
that he might rest assured, if he ever again
appeared at the bar, accused of any similar con-
duct, the strong suspicion under which.-he now
day, would not-be forgotten, but should infallia-
biy rise up in judgment against him, and a very
different verdict would await him." One-would
have thought that this narrow escape should
have been a lesson to a person of his informa-
tion, this, however, has not been the cast", and
all now saw the melancholy result of his mis-
He afterwards took up his residence in the
village of Airdrie, where his parents at present
reside, where be acted in the capacity of a
messengers, but having tallen into some pecu-
liar embarrassments. a caption was issued a-
gainst him and he fled to Paisley, where he
was apprehended for the crime for which he
suffured. On his trial he solemntly declared his
innocence of the crime of which he was found
guilty, and denied to the last all knowledge of
the notes being forged.
He was in hopes of a mitigation of his pun-
ishment till Sunday last, when an answer to his
petition from the Secretary of State was receiv-
ed, which stated, that owing to the recent ex-
ample which had been made at .Stirling, he
could not consistently recommend him to mer-
cy. On the same day he attended sermon in
the Chapel, along; with the rest of the prison.
ers, when an excellent discourse was delivered
from Zecariah ix chap, and 12th verse, " Turn
ye to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope,"
and seemed to be deeply affected.
He was assisted in his spiritual concerns by
the Rev. Principal Taylor, and several .other
ministers, whom he thanked for their attention.
He has devoted part of his time to writing a
serious Address to his fellow prisoners, which
we under stand is to be published in the form
of a cheap tract.
Swan was a fine looking man, about 35 years
of age, and has left a wife and four children,
and his -last farewell .with them on Tuesday
evening, was truly affecting.
At two o'clock the Magistrates entered the
Court Hall, and the prisoner soon after, gen-
teelly dressed in black, with weepers on his
coat Dr. Taylor, the Rev.Mr.Marshall,
and several other Gentalman assisted him in
his devotions, ;which being fershed, about 3
o'clock he ascended-the scaffold and immedi-
ately thereafter dropt a handkerchief as a sig
nal when the drop tell, and he was separted
from this world for ever the crowed was not
It is much to be lamented that the many ex
amples which have been made have not in the
least tended to put a stop to this unpardonable
crime the conmission of which struk at the
very life and soul of a commercial country like
Printed by John Muir.
This account of an execution begins: 'a particular Account of the Behaviour and Execution of WILLIAM LEONARD SWAN, at Glasgow, on Wednesday the 16th May, 1821, for ultering two Forged Five Pound Notes of the Paisley Banking Company, in the month of November last.' It was published by John Muir of Glasgow and is dated 16th May 1821.
The sentence of death for forgery appears very harsh, but the judge's decision was probably swayed by Swan's earlier trial for a similar crime where, despite being acquitted, he was warned that the suspicion against him would not be forgotten. The report records that Swan's appeal to the Secretary of State failed because a recent forgery case in Stirling had also resulted in the death penalty. This is a reference to the case of John Fleming, who was executed at Stirling five days before Swan for issuing a forged £5 note.
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.