Crime: highway robbery
Date Of Execution: 1 Mar 1827
Execution Place: unknown
A Full and Particular Account of the Execution of
WILLIAM THOMSON, Labourer, who was Executed
this day, Thursday, 1st March 1827, at Dalkeith,
for Highway Robbery; together with his Beha-
vour since his condemnation, and at the place of
Execution, as also his Last Words on the Scaffold.
THIS unfortunate young man was condemned before the High
Court of Justiciary, on Monday the 22d January last, along
with his brother, James Thomson, and John Fram, (but who were
recommended to mercy by the Jury, and have since been respited
during his Majesty's pleasure,) for attacking and assaulting George
Dickson, farmer in Cousland, on the evening of the 30th November
last, near the foot of Langside IBrae, in the parish of Dalkeith, to
the great effusion of his blood, and robbing him of a silver hunting
watch, and other articles. They were unanimously found Guilty,
and heard the awful sentence of death pronounced unmoved Wil-
liam Thomson pertly ejaculating to the Lord Justice Clerk, " Thank
you, my Lord."
These men were very hardened at the time of their trial, but as
William Thomson never entertained any hopes of pardon, conse-
quently he was soon induced to make up his mind to his awful
situation. Mr Porteous, the chaplain of the Jail, has been most assi-
duous in his attentions to this unhappy man, as well as several
other ministers of this city. He felt bitterly, for a short time, when
his brother and Fram got the respite, but soon recovered his usual
composure. He latterly became very penitent, and rergretted exceed-
ingly the life he formerly led. He was often heard to cry, " Oh !
if I had my life to begin again, it would not be spent as formerly/'
On Wednesday he took a last farewell of his wife, and several other
friends, which was a most heart-rending scene, we have heard, to
those who witnessed it. He likewise took leave of James Thomson,
his brother, and of John Fram, in an aff/?/ctionate manner.
Accordingly, this day, Thursday the 1st March 1827, in pur-
suance of his Sentence, William Thomson was put into a hackney
coach at the Calton Jail, attended by the Sheriff and his Officers, in
several other carriages, and drove off for Dalkeith, after 12 o'clock.
After resting there for a few hours, during which a psalm was sung,
and a fervent prayer offered up to the throne of grace on his behalf,
his arms were pinioned, and was led out to the scaffold, which was
erected on the main street of Dalkeith, where another psalm was
sung, and another prayer put up for him. He then turned to the
multitude, and spoke a few words in an audible distinct manner,
bewailing his own awful fate, and beseeching them to take warning
from his disgraceful and shameful end. All this while the Execu-
tioner was adjusting the apparatus of death. The pannel then shook
hands with his friends, and with all the official gentlemen around
him, returning them his sincere thanke for their attention, and for
their kind indulgence since his confinement. He then mounted
the fatal drop, and while the Executioner was untying his handker-
chief, fixing the rope, and drawing the cap over his head, he was
observed to be engaged in most fervent prayer. All things being
adjusted, and the unfortunate man left on the fatal drop, with in-
structions how to act, in a very few minutes he dropped the signal,
and was launched into eternity, admidst a vast multitude of specta-
tors, there being no execution in Dalkeith, within the memory of
any living man.
After hanging for half an hour, the body was cut down, and de-
livered to his friends for interment, a few minutes before 4 o'clock.
Printed for WILLIAM HENRY.
This report of an execution begins: 'A Full and Particular Account of the Execution of WILLIAM THOMSON, Labourer, who was Executed this day, Thusday, 1st March 1827, at Dalkeith, for Highway Robbery; together with his Behaviour since his condemnation, and at the place of Execution, as also his Last Words on the Scaffold.' The broadside was published by William Henry. The place of publication is not given.
The hanging of William Thomson in Dalkeith was unusual, especially as he had been held in Calton Jail in Edinburgh. Commonly people who committed capital crimes so close to Edinburgh would have been hanged in the city itself, either in the Grassmarket or at the head of Libberton's Wynd. It may be that the nature of Thomson's offence dictated his fate: often highwaymen were hanged at the scene of their crime, and their bodies left there in gibbets as a warning to other potential highwaymen. In this case, however, although Thomson was hanged at the crime scene, his body was taken down and given to his friends for burial.
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.