British Executions

John Howison

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 21 Jan 1832

Crime Location:

Execution Place: unknown

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


An Account of the Behaviour, Confession and Execu-
tion of John . Howison, who was executed at Edin-
burgh, this morning, Saturday, the 21st January,
1832, for the Inhuman Murder of an old Woman,
in her own house, at Cramond.

EDINBURGH, 21st January, 1832.—It will be recollected, that
this unhappy man, almost at the very moment that other
two unfortunate men, Gow and Beveridge, were suffering the last
penalty of the law, in this city, for a similar crime, committed mur-
der, in a very brutal and barbarous manner, on the person of a very
innocent and industrious old woman, at Cramond, with in five
miles of Edinburgh, by cutting her face, with a garden spade,
down and across her face, which laid it fully open, in a shocking
manner, even in broad day-light. He was brought in the next day,
the 3d of December last, after considerable resistance on his parr,
on a cart, tied; and, after several examinations before the Sheriff,
was fully committed for trial.

He was accordingly tried, before the High Court of Justiciary,
on the last day of the year, Saturday, 3lst December, 1831, and,
after an interesting and impartial trial, which lasted from ten on
Saturday morning, till after three on Sabbath morning, was unani-
mously found Guilty of Murder as libelled. A plea of insanity
was urged in defence, but which was rejected on the medical evi-
- dence, as well as on other evidence. Therefore, after a serious ad-
monition, and a most feeling exhortation, from the presiding Judge.
the Lord Justice Clerk, Boyle, sentenced to be executed at Edin-
burgh, on Saturday the 21st January, 1832, and his body to be
given to Dr Munro, of the University, for dissection.

Several persons obtained permission to visit him since his con-
demnation, in order to satisfy themselves as to his sanity ; of course,
there were various opinions formed. The most prevalent opinion,
however, by all those who had the best opportunities of forming
any, correctly, was, that the more was seen of him, the more he
seemed to be perfectly sane ; and he even spurned the very idea of
his being, in any manner whatever, considered insane. He posi-
tively denied having committed the crime for which he was about
to suffer, saying—" That no person ever saw him do it." He was
a great gormandiser when he could get it, and considered good
living every thing to be wished for He condsidered himself to be
particularly attached to the Society of Christian Friends, commonly
called Quakers, though it is well known he never was admitted a
member of that respectable association.

At a quarter past three yesterday afternoon, he was brought over
from the Calton Jail to the Lock-up house. After being a short
time there, he went to bed, and slept soundly for a considerable
time. He arose this morning, and appeared in the same indiffe-
rent state as before, strengthening the belief, formerly strongly sus-
pected, that more murders lay as heavy at his heart as that for
which he was just about to suffer. About eight, Bailies Haig and
Aitchison, attended with the proper officers, appeared at the Lock-
up, when the culprit was brought into the hall, attended by the
Rev. Mr Bruce, and the Rev. Mr Porteous, who were with him for
some time previous; and, indeed, who were indefatigable in their
endeavours to bring him to a proper sense of his awful situation
since his condemnation. After a psalm was sung and prayers of-
fered up, the procession moved slowly up the wynd to the scaffold.

He appeared on the scaffold shortly after eight, where he remain-
ed but for a short time, and while a most devout prayer was offered
for him to the Throne of Grace for mercy. All things being pre-
pared, he mounted the fatal drop ; and, after a few minutes, he re-
luctantly dropped the signal, and was instantly launched into eter-
nity. He was about 44 years of age, of very loathsome and un-
couth appearance. After hanging the usual time, the body was
cut down, and sent to the College for dissection.

His Confession will soon appear at full length, in which he ac-
knowledged having murdered a Jew, four boys and one girl be-
sides a boy who he attempted to murder, but who was preserved,
making eight, including Mrs Geddes.


This account begins: 'An Account of the Behaviour, Confession and Execution of John Howison, who was executed at Edinburgh, this morning, Saturday, the 21st January, 1832, for the Inhuman Murder of an old Woman, in her own house, at Cramond.'

In the first paragraph of this broadside reference is made to the execution of Gow and Beveridge. James Gow and Robert Beveridge were both executed on the 2nd December 1831 for murdering their respective wives. Another broadside in the National Library of Scotland's collection offers Gow's dying speech. The broadside seen here is decorated by a woodcut showing a hanged man. Woodcuts were printed from a design cut in relief along the length of the grain. They were often rather crudely made and generally lacked much detail. Printers were renowned for reusing the limited selection of woodcuts in their possession. Whilst in this instance the woodcut is appropriate, in many cases the illustration selected bore no relevance to the topic of the broadside.

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.