Date Of Execution: 3 Apr 1844
Execution Place: unknown
An Account of the Last Days. Behaviour and
Execution of JAMES BRYCE, Labourer,
who was Executed here this morning, 3d
April, 1844, for the Murder of his Brother-
in-Law, John Geddes, at Blaw Wearie, parish
of West Calder, on 27th December last.
This unhappy man, JAMES BRYCE, suffered the extreme penalty
of the law for his crimes of murder and robbery this morning, 3d
April, 1844, a little before 9 o'clock, on a Scaffold erected for the
purpose, at the head of what was called Libberton's Wynd, now
the head of the entrance to the County Hall, west side, nearly
facing the head of Bank Street, Edinburgh.
The melancholy and degrading circumstances that led to the
fatal and ignominious death of this unfortunate man were detailed
at great length st his trial, which excited much interest at the time,
and which rook place before the High Court of Justiciary, at
Edinburgh, on the 12th and 13th days of March last; and
though he pled not guilty to the charges, when put to the bar,
the chain of evidence adduced against him was so strong and
plain, and so clearly, fairly, and forcibly stated by the Solicitor-
General, that the Jury, after the most anxious and mature delibera-
tion, unanimously found him guilty ; and that, too, notwithstand-
ing a long, brilliant, and most ingenious speech addressed to them
on his behalf by his counsel, Mr Crawford, for which he was com-
plimented from the bench.
Soon after his condemnation, however, it is certainly satisfactory
to record, that he confessed his guilt freely, fully, and willingly,
notwithstanding his gloomy, sullen, and taciturn appearance and
conduct at his trial. Indeed the Lord Justice Clerk's solemn ad-
dress, at passing sentence, must have made a very serious and deep
impression on him. After stating that by the verdict returned, and
the sentence which the law annexed to the fearful crime of which
he had been found guilty, his Lordship emphatically said, " your
days are numbered—the hours are numbered which you are to re-
main in this world. It is for you, then, to think what is to follow
the execution of this sentence—the announcement of which ought
to shut out for ever from you all thoughts of this world. You will
pass, after a space which your sentence specifies, into the presence
of Almighty God—into the presence of that Great Being who can
destroy, not the body only, but the soul, and from whose unerring
justice the punishment due to guilt—to unrepented guilt—must
follow after you appear at His judgment seat. I exhort you not to
turn your mind away from the atrocity of the guilt with which you
stand charged ; but on the contrary, by dwelling upon that, to
bring your mind into that state of abasement, and contrition, and
penitence, by which alone you can be brought to implore mercy
through the merits of the blessed Redeemer. You will be assisted,
I doubt not, by able clergymen, who will direct you in this way,
who will strive to produce an impression of divine truths on your
soul ; yield yourself willingly and submissively to their instruction.
Do not delude yourself with false hopes of mercy here. With them
and by yourself implore the mercy of God through faith in that
blessed Redeemer, whose atonement alone can pardon the sinner."
After this solemn admonition, working on a convicted conscience,
Bryce soon became penitent, and acknowledged the justice of his
sentence. He was regularly attended by the City clergy, as well as
by the Chaplain, who were unremitting in their attentions to him.
Within the last few days several friends waited upon him, who ap
peared quite satisfied with his conduct and behaviour. Indeed, he
appeared perfectly penitent and resigned to his fate. Late on Tues-
day night he was brought over from the Jail, and lodged in the
Lock-up, where he slept several hours, occasionally starting and
moaning. This morning he was early waited upon by two clergy-
men and the officiating magistrates, and, after singing and praying
for a short time in the hall, he appeared on the scaffold soon after
eight, decently dressed and apparently quite resigned to his fate.
A few minutes being spent in prayer and praise, he was, assisated up
to the fatal drop, where he was observed solemnly praying, when
he threw the handkerchief—the drop fell—and he ceased to exist.
This execution notice begins: 'An Account of the Last Days, Behaviour and Execution of JAMES BRYCE, Labourer, who was Executed here this morning, 3d April, 1844, for the Murder of his Brother-in-Law, John Geddes, at Blaw Wearie, parish of West Calder, on 27th December last.' There is a woodcut illustration of gallows and body included above the title. This illustration is quite common on execution notices.
This case must have caused a stir at the time as there are other sheets held in the National Library of Scotland's collection covering the progression of the case. Both the trial details and a more personal account of the crime and Bryce's state of mind were also published. Here, however, the hours before his execution are described and then the manner of his death.
Broadsides are often crudely illustrated with woodcuts - the earliest form of printed illustration, first used in the mid-fifteenth century. Inclusion of an illustration on a broadside increased its perceived value, especially among the illiterate. To keep costs down, publishers would normally reuse their limited stock of generic woodcuts.