British Executions

John Dempsey

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 13 Dec 1820

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown



A Full and Particular Account of JOHN DEMP-
SEY, late Private Soldier in the 13th Regiment of
Infantry, who was Executed at Edinburgh, on Wed-
nesday morning, the 13th December, 1820, for Mur-
der, committed at Greenock, in July last, and his Bo-
dy given for Dissection ; including his Behaviour at
the place of Execution.

THIS unfortunate man, JOHN DEMPSEY, it will be recollect-
ed, was tried at Edinburgh, before the High Court of Juati-
ciary, on Monday the 6th of November last, along with four others,
all privates in the 13th Regiment of Foot, for the murder of Ro-
bert Simpson, Henry Pearson, and Arahibald Morison, who were
shot, in a squabble that took place at Greenock, very early in the
morning of the 31st day of July last, between them and a party of
sailors and others, After a very long and interesting crial, which
occupied the Court upwards of ninteen hours, Dempsey and Ro-
bert Surrage were both found Guilty of the murder of Simpson
and Pearson only, there being no direct proof as to the death of
Morrison, and sentenced to be Executed at Edinburgh, on Wednes-
day morning, the 13th December, 1820, between the hours of 8
and 10 o'clock, and their bodies to be delivered over to the Profes-
sor of Anatomy for dissection; but the Jury unanimously recom-
mended Surrage to mercy, and the sentence passed upon him has
since been commuted into banishment for life. The other three,
after an impressive admonition, were dismirred from the her the
libel being found Not proven against them.

Dempsey and his companions were part of a detachment of the
13th Foot, stationed at Greenock for a short time last summer; and,
as appeared from the evidence at the trial, had been drinking together
till very late on the evening of the 30th July. On their way home
to their quarters, they fell in with some sailors and women, with
whom they had had some altercation, and immediately a mob col-
lected about them, when some severe blows were given and receiv-
ed on both sides. The soldiers then precipitately retired to their
lodgings, followed by the mob, and some of them were knocked
down before the door was opened. Upon gaining admission,. they
ran up stairs, and some of them soon appeared at a window, with
their firelocks in their hands, when several shots were fired, and the
three unfortunate men above mentioned were killed. The Guard
of the detachment arrived soon afterwards, and took the soldiers
immediately into custody.

Accordingly this unhappy man appeared very much affected when
the awful sentence of the law was pronounced against him, having
been solemnly assured that he need not expect any mitigation of
the punishment then awarded him. He was very penitent, and ap-
peared perfectly sensible of,as well as thankful for the kindness
and attention shewn him since his condemnation by several of the
clergymen of the City, as well as many "private individuals, and
particularly by the clergy and several other persons of his own re-
ligious persuasion residing in Edinburgh, who often visited him in
his solitary confinement He was a good looking young man, a rs-
tive of Ireland, apparently about twenty-five years of age, unmar-
ried we believe, and of the Roman Catholic Religion.

Edinburgh, 13th Dec. 1820.-—This morning, pursuant to his
sentence, John Dempsey was executed here, at the ordinary place
of execution, head of Libberton Wynd, Lawnmarket, opposite the
head of Bank Street. The unfortunate man, who was previously
waited upon, at the Lock-up-house, by two clergymen, where some
religious preparation had been made, was conducted up the Wynd tc
the scaffold, attended by the officiating Magistrates in their gowns,
preceded by their officers, accompanied by the Clerglymen, and
guarded by a strong detachment of Police officers, a little past
eight o'clock. After prayers, by one of the reverend gentlemen at-
tending, to whom he seemed to speak seriously for a short time, he
bowed respctfully to the magistrates, and shook hands with some
of those around him, and then mounted the drop, assisted by a
clergyman, where he continued for a few minutes in most earnest
and fervent prayer. He then exclaimed, " Gentlemen, I am inno-
cent of the crime charged against me," dropt the fetal signal, and
was instantly launched into eternity, about half past eight -' clock ;
amidst few spectators comparatively, owing to the earliness of the
hour. After hanging the usual time, the body was cut down, and
sent to the College to be dissected.            

Edinburgh—Printed for R.Watson,—PRICE ONE PENNY.


This report begins: 'A Full and Particular account of JOHN DEMPSEY, late Private Soldier in the 13th Regiment of Infantry, who was Executed at Edinburgh, on Wednesday morning, the given for dissection 13th of December, 1820, for Murder, committed at Greenock, in July last, and his Body given for Dissection ; including his Behaviour at the place of Execution.' This sheet was published by R. Watson of Edinburgh and cost one penny.

After an evening out on the town, Robert Dempsey and his fellow soldiers ended up fighting a group of sailors and some members of the public. One thing led to another, and the angry mob pursued Dempsey and his friends to their lodgings. The soldiers ran upstairs and fired at the mob, killing three of them. Only Dempsey was sentenced to death for these murders, his comrade, Robert Surrage, was banished for life. After summarising the story, the broadsheet reports Dempsey’s last words before he was 'launched into eternity'.

Broadsides are single sheets of paper, printed on one side, to be read unfolded. They carried public information such as proclamations as well as ballads and news of the day. Cheaply available, they were sold on the streets by pedlars and chapmen. Broadsides offer a valuable insight into many aspects of the society they were published in, and the National Library of Scotland holds over 250,000 of them.