Welcome back to Random Scottish History’s True Crime Project, Glasgow’s Square Mile Murders, and the very last part of Dr Edward William Pritchard’s round up for the murder of his wife and mother-in-law. In this episode we’ll find out how the jury decided the case and what the aftereffects of that was for our Dr and the wider Scottish community. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Caledonian Mercury, Saturday 8th July, 1865, p.7.
TRIAL OF DR PRITCHARD
MURDER OF HIS WIFE AND MOTHER-IN-LAW.
FIFTH DAY – FRIDAY.
The trial was resumed this morning at ten o’clock. A great crowd had assembled in front of the building long before the doors of the Justiciary Hall were opened, and in a few minutes that part of the Court-room set apart for the accommodation of the public was completely filled, while numbers of people loitered about the various lobbies anxious to obtain admission. The prisoner entered the dock at ten o’clock, accompanied by two policemen, but on this occasion he was not joined by his brother. He looked pale, and there was a nervous twitching about his features and an occasional grasping of the hands that contrasted strangely with the quiet calmness which distinguished his appearance on the previous day of the trial. The Lord Justice-Clerk, Lord Jerviswoode, and Lord Ardmillan entered the Court at four minutes past ten.
The Jury retired at twenty minutes past one, and returned at a quarter-past two, when their names were at once called over. All having answered,
The CLERK of COURT said – Gentlemen, have you elected your Chancellor?
A JURYMAN – Mr Sim.
The CLERK of COURT then asked for the verdict, and
The CHANCELLOR said – The jury unanimously find the prisoner
GUILTY ON BOTH CHARGES.
The verdict having been recorded, the SOLICITOR-GENERAL moved the Court for sentence.
The prisoner then rose, and was addressed as follows by the LORD JUSTICE-CLERK in giving sentence:- Edward William Pritchard, you have been found guilty by the unanimous verdict of the jury of the two murders charged in this indictment, and the verdict proceeds upon evidence which I believe left in the mind no reasonable doubt as to your guilt. You are aware that upon such a verdict only one sentence can follow. It is neither my duty nor intention to say one word that shall have the effect of aggravating the horrors of your position; and I leave it to the ministers of religion to address suitable exhortations to you, which, I hope, by God’s blessing, may be attended with good results. Let me only remind you that you have but a short time to wait upon this earth, and I beseech you to improve the time, and pray for forgiveness for your fearful crimes. Listen now to the sentence which I have to pass. Here his Lordship assumed the black cap, and pronounced sentence as follows:- In respect of the verdict before recorded, the Lord Justice-Clerk and Lords Commissioner of Justiciary decern and adjudge the panel, William Edward Pritchard, to be carried from the bar to the prison of Edinburgh, and from thence forthwith to be transmitted, under sure guard, until brought, and incarcerated in the prison of Glasgow; therein to be detained and fed on bread and water until the 28th of July curt., and on that day, between the hours of eight and ten o’clock, ordain the said William Edward Pritchard to be taken furth the said prison to the common place of execution of the burgh of Glasgow, or to such place as the Magistrates of Glasgow shall appoint as a place of execution, and there, at the hands of the common executioner, to be hanged by the neck till dead, and ordain his body thereafter to be buried within the precincts of the said prison of the city of Glasgow, and further ordain his whole moveable goods and gear to be escheat and forfeited to the Crown; which is pronounced for doom; and may God Almighty have mercy upon your soul.
Dr Pritchard then asked for his hat, which was lying at the end of the dock; and between the two policemen, who had been sitting beside him, walked down the stair, after bowing to the bench and the jury.
Greenock Advertiser and Clyde Commercial Journal, Saturday 8th July, 1865, p.2.
The trial of Dr PRITCHARD came to a conclusion yesterday afternoon, the conclusion which for several days had seemed inevitable. The abundant evidence had formed round the wretched man a net from which there was no escape, and in which his able counsel’s address failed to discover or show a single loose cord. Beyond the deep and humiliating sense of pity that a human being, brought up in society where respect for human life is a most commonplace virtue, could have fallen so low, no regret can be felt for the awful doom which now awaits him. In some important respects, his crime is more wicked, deceitful and abominable than that which has rendered the names of BURKE and HARE infamous in the annals of crime. He had such fascinating or winning ways with him, that the poor ladies, even when to some extent aware of the foul practices by which at least Mrs PRITCHARD was being brought to the grave, never once hinted, never even perhaps allowed themselves to imagine, that the author of such severe suffering was the ungrateful object of their love and self-sacrifice, the man whose lip mockingly spoke to them in their distress words of kindness, affection and sympathy. So shocking was the wickedness and deceitfulness of his crime, that the most effective plea in his counsel’s defence was that it was impossible to conceive a human being guilty of such a fearful and treacherous outrage.
The Jury were unanimous in finding PRITCHARD guilty of both the crimes with which he was charged, and the Lord Justice Clerk sentenced him to be hanged at Glasgow on the 28th of this month.
Glasgow Herald, Monday 10th July, 1865, p.4.
REMOVAL OF DR. PRITCHARD TO GLASGOW.
On Saturday morning the condemned criminal, whose trial has excited so much interest during the past week, was removed from the Calton Jail, Edinburgh, to the Glasgow North Prison. After receiving sentence he passed a restless and feverish night, and scarcely slept an hour. The warders conducted devotional exercises, in which he joined; and though his mind appeared distracted, he frequently called to them to continue the reading of the Scriptures. He frequently asserted his innocence, and expressed sorrow for the disgrace of his family. We understand that the death warrant was on Friday night placed in the hands of the Sheriff of Mid-Lothian, by whom the fatal document was in due time consigned to the care of Mr. Ferguson, an Edinburgh Sheriff officer. In the course of Friday evening, Governor Stirling, of the Glasgow Prison, was summoned to Edinburgh for the purpose of giving his advice with regard to the removal of the convict, and, in accordance with his suggestions, a plan was adopted by which all public excitement was happily avoided. Mr. Stirling left Edinburgh on Saturday morning by the 9 A.M. train, and arrived here in good time to despatch a cab to Cowlairs to receive the prisoner on his arrival there in the succeeding train.
Shortly before ten o’clock the prisoner was removed in a cab from the Calton Jail to the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Station, Waverley Bridge. He was attired in the black dress suit which he had worn during the trial. The wretched man was in charge of Mr. Ferguson and three assistants, the precaution having been taken before leaving the jail of having him secured by handcuffs to the wrists of two of the officers. On reaching the railway station he was conducted into the stationmaster’s room, there to wait till the train was ready to start. At ten o’clock the train was run back till it was opposite the room, so that the prisoner had merely to cross the platform in order to reach the carriage. He appeared quite composed, and looked about him with the utmost sang froid. His departure was witnessed by a large number of persons who had assembled on the platform. A compartment of a second-class carriage was reserved for the prisoner and his attendants. While on the way to Glasgow Dr. Pritchard occupied the most of his time in reading a book. Once or twice he spoke to the officers, and seemed ready to enter into conversation if they had been inclined. He passed some remarks on the weather and the crops, saying that the country was looking very fine. He handed to the officers a carte de visite showing a group of the Pritchard family; but he did not exhibit the slightest emotion. He made no remarks whatever on the trial or the awful position in which he was placed.
On the arrival of the train at Cowlairs he was conducted to the cab which was in waiting and driven to the North Prison, where he arrived about ten minutes before 12. Thanks to the judicious arrangement which Governor Stirling had made, his transference from the train to the prison was managed in the quietest possible manner. On reaching the jail the prisoner was received by Sheriff Strathern, to whom the death warrant was handed by Mr. Ferguson. The Sheriff granted a receipt for the warrant and the culprit, and in his turn handed both over to the Governor of the prison, who is answerable for their production on the morning of execution.
On being taken in charge by the prison authorities the unhappy man was stripped of his clothes, and attired in the ordinary prison garb. While this operation was in progress his fortitude gave way considerably. He appeared to become quite faint, and asked for a glass of water, after tasting which he gradually revived. He was afterwards removed to one of the cells in the east wing of the prison, usually appropriated to convicts in his melancholy position. During the day he remained quiet, though apparently a good deal dejected, and showing little or no disposition to converse with those around him. Yesterday, after passing a rather restless night, he seemed calmer, and towards evening he fell into a peaceful slumber. Before his removal to Edinburgh for trial; the prisoner, who is understood to have been of the Episcopalian persuasion, was visited in prison by the Rev. Mr. Bonar, of Finnieston Free Church. That gentleman, we understand, has not yet seen him, but he has been repeatedly visited by the prison chaplain.
Dundee Advertiser, Tuesday 11th July, 1865, p.5.
THE CONVICT PRITCHARD.
(From the Edinburgh Courant.)
THE PRISONER BEFORE CONDEMNATION.
It will be remembered that when two of the prisoner’s children were being examined he exhibited a good deal of emotion, and shed tears. After he left the Court, he stated that the sight of his children caused the first feeling of a “break-down” that he had experienced since his apprehension; that he felt, when they before him, as if he would sink to the ground; and that he would have asked leave to be removed had he not thought that such an application would have been considered by the spectators as affectation on his part. When he was brought to Edinburgh, he had a small parcel in his possession containing one or two articles of clothing and two cartes-de-visite. On the bundle being unloosed, he pointed to the photographs, and asked if he would be permitted to retain them. One of the cartes exhibited a group of the Pritchard family. The group consisted of Mrs Pritchard sitting with a child on her knee; her mother, Mrs Taylor, sitting beside her; a little boy sitting at their feet; and the two elder boys and the girl to the right of their mother; and the doctor himself standing behind. The prisoner appeared to prize the cartes very much, and his request to be allowed to keep them was granted. He said he was glad to have them in his possession, as they formed the only consolation he now had in the world. He has shown them to almost every person with whom he has since come in contact, and it seemed to gratify him highly to tell the names of the different members of the family, and point out their individual likenesses. In pointing to Mrs Pritchard on one occasion, he said – “That is my dear little wife;” and in referring to the portrait of Mrs Taylor, he said – “This is grandmamma.” We understand that at the rising of the Court each day after the prisoner left the dock, he was searched, owing to the possibility of his carrying about with him the means of poisoning himself; and after one of the officers of the prison had been engaged in that duty on Thursday night, he said to him – “Good-bye, Dr Pritchard;” to which he answered very cheerfully – “Oh, but, I will see you again.” The officer reminded him that it would not be well for him that he should be in his hands again, to which he replied in jaunty manner – “Oh, true; I will just go right through;” meaning, as the officer understood, to Glasgow, where he had previously informed him of his intention to go. He also, we understand, expressed great satisfaction with the treatment he had received in the Edinburgh prison; and in a plausible tone said that the Edinburgh prison was much superior to the Glasgow one. Up till Friday morning, it would seem that he had entertained strong hopes of the trial resulting in his acquittal; for singular as it may appear, he had made up his mind to go south as soon as he should be set at liberty. He spoke of going to Southampton, and ultimately to Italy, to join Garibaldi…
THE PRISONER AFTER CONDEMNATION.
… Immediately on his arrival [back at the Calton Jail] he was supplied with a dish of tea, which had the effect of reviving him considerably. Although in terms of the sentence, persons condemned to death are only to be fed on bread and water till their execution, that part of the law is seldom carried out, and may be regarded as obsolete. The medical officer has a discretionary power of giving what he thinks the convict requires to sustain him; and in this case the prisoner got what he desired in the way of food. He drank the tea with avidity, and asked another supply, which was brought to him. After he was attired in the prison dress, and had been removed to his cell, he began apparently to realise more fully than before the awful position in which he was placed. Condemned criminals are usually attended by two warders; but as there was a suspicion that the prisoner had an intention of committing suicide, there were three officers shut up with him all night; and he was also occasionally visited by the Governor and Deputy-Governor. He appeared very ill at ease from the time he entered the cell… He frequently asserted his innocence, and said he had been convicted by mistake. He expressed his sorrow that his life was to be brought to such a fearful termination; and that it would bring such scandal on his family… About seven o’clock he was again dressed in his own clothes, previous to his removal to Glasgow. The Rev. Mr Russell, the chaplain, conversed with the prisoner before leaving the jail, and offered up an impressive and suitable prayer. The prisoner exhibited deeper emotion during the short service than at any time since the commencement of the trial. He sobbed bitterly, and showed that he was attending to the supplications that were being offered up on his behalf by occasional responses. The scene was very affecting and impressive. He thanked the Governor and Mr Russell for the kindness shown him while he had been in prison. Dr Pritchard has not since his condemnation been visited by any of his relatives.
THE UNANIMITY OF THE VERDICT.
Among the jury, we believe, two at least had some doubt whether they should find the panel guilty of the murder of Mrs Taylor, but eventually they concurred with their brethren. As in the jury box, so in the public mind, there has been a slight hesitation manifested by some on that point. Had the case of Mrs Taylor stood alone, it is quite possible that the charge would have been found not proven, but with the light cast upon that by the other crime, there was really no room and no occasion to restrict the verdict.
THE CHILDREN OF DR PRITCHARD.
A great amount of sympathy is naturally felt in connection with this dreadful case for the children of the prisoner, and the only consolation to the public mind regarding them is the fact that they will be in the hands of kind and loving relatives, from whom they will receive all the attention that can form a substitute for parental care.
Brechin Advertiser, Tuesday 18th July, 1865, p.4.
CONFESSION OF DR PRITCHARD.
I, Edward William Pritchard, M.D., M.R.C.S.E., and L.A.S., &c., hereby make in writing, in presence of the Rev. R. S. Oldham, M.A., the following confession for transmission by him to the proper authorities:- It was when my wife was at Kilmun in the summer of 1863 that I first became intimate with the girl Mary McLeod, sleeping with her in my house, 22 Royal Crescent. This continued at intervals up to the time of our removal to 131 Sauchiehall Street. She became pregnant in May last year, and with her consent I produced a miscarriage. I have reason to believe that Mrs Pritchard was quite aware of this, and rather sought to cover my wickedness and folly; and my mother-in-law, Mrs Taylor, came last February to our house, and caught Mary McLeod and myself in the consulting-room; and the day before her death, having apparently watched us, she said to me in the same room – “You have locked her into the cupboard,” which was true, but nothing more passed. I declare Mrs Taylor to have died in the manner I have before stated, and I now believe her death to have been caused by an overdose of Battley’s solution of opium. The aconite found in that bottle was put in by me after her death, and designedly left there in order to prove death by misadventure, in case any inquiry should take place. Mrs Pritchard became much better immediately after her mother’s death, but subsequently became exhausted from want of sleep. I accounted for this by the shock produced by her mother’s death, and hardly knew how to act. At her own earnest request I gave her chloroform. It was almost midnight. Mary McLeod was in the room; and, in an evil moment (being excited by whisky), I yielded to the temptation to give her sufficient to cause death, which I did. I therefore declare, before God, as a dying man, and in the presence of my spiritual adviser, that I am innocent of the charge of murdering so far as Mrs Taylor is concerned, but acknowledge myself guilty of the adultery with Mary McLeod, and I declare myself repentant of my crime, earnestly praying that I may obtain Divine forgiveness before I suffer the penalty of the law.
EDWARD WILLIAM PRITCHARD.
John Stirling, Witness.
R. S. Oldham, do.
John Mutrie, do.
North Prison, Glasgow,
July 11, 1865.
On Monday afternoon Dr Pritchard was visited in the North Prison by his brother, sister, and eldest daughter, who had obtained permission to see him from the Prison Board. The interview, which was a very affecting one, lasted about twenty minutes. The prisoner slept well on Sunday night, and on Monday he seemed more composed than during the two preceding days. The clergyman whom he wishes to see, being out of town, has not yet visited the prison, but it is expected he will return to the city immediately.
Greenock Advertiser and Clyde Commercial Journal, Tuesday 22nd July, 1865, p.2.
The trial of Dr PRITCHARD has ended in his conviction as a double murderer, the guilty author of the death of his wife and her aged mother, Mrs TAYLOR.
This was one of the foulest deeds of crime that has marked the present century. Mrs PRITCHARD did not fall a victim to a husband’s vengeance on account of crimes manifest or suspected, but from a motive still lower and less human. And the venerable parent could only have been sacrificed to stop her mouth in silence as to what she suspected of the perfidy and truculence of the man towards her helpless, passive daughter, and perhaps to prevent her changing the destination of her private fortune. Although it does not appear to be proved that simple pecuniary advantage as respects his affinity relatives was the cause of this vile atrocity, yet, in his depraved imagination, Dr PRITCHARD may have seen an opening to wealth beyond the grave of a murdered wife. But the man was graceless and immoral, a libertine within even the sanctuary of domestic life. This, in his case, prepared the way for the bitter death inflicted on his wife by poison, as out of his diabolic machinations arose the death of the parent of the victim. It was “expedient” that the aged lady should die, as the dead tell no tales, even where the treacherous death of a most unfortunate child is concerned.
Murderers have no doubt escaped, and it is not universally true that “murder will out.” But it often happens that the crime will come home notwithstanding the most fair and plausible appearances on the part of the agent. PRITCHARD likely judged himself secure in his strategy. He killed by inches, and the effect of the poisons in the body of the women coincided largely, rather assimilated itself, with what happens in cases of disease attributable wholly to natural causes. He would have expected to escape suspicion, and that a certificate of the usual kind would have consigned the name of his murdered wife to the bills of mortality without special comment. Great was the miscalculation of the guilty man. The very physician in attendance refused to authenticate the demise as an ordinary casualty. The authorities, too, were warned by letter to institute an inquest after innocent blood. And on the case proceeded, till, after a trial extending over days of vigorous investigation, the doom of a murderer was pronounced on the prisoner. All left [to] him now is to seek mercy from above – in the way of penitence and humiliation – as a sinner to whom attaches blood guiltiness, and more of criminality besides.
Elgin Courier, Friday 28th July, 1865, p.8.
A GOOD STORY. – On the morning after Pritchard was condemned, the hustings for the election were being erected in Edinburgh, when a plain, decent country woman, passing by, said to one of the men, “Hech me, is that for Pritchard?” “No,” said the man, “it’s for Adam Black.” “Losh preserve us!” cried the astonished woman, “wha has HE pushioned [poisoned]?” – Falkirk Herald.
Dundee People’s Journal, Saturday 29th July 1865, p.3.
(BY OUR OWN REPORTERS.)
Yesterday morning, in front of the Jail at the west end of Glasgow Green, and in presence of an immense concourse of spectators, Dr Edward William Pritchard suffered the last penalty of the law, for the infamous crime of poisoning his wife and his wife’s mother…
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE EXECUTION.
The Forbes Mackenzie Act was a dead letter with many of the public houses in Glasgow on Thursday evening, but at the more respectable hotels admission at a late hour was vainly implored. Those who had been more fortunate in obtaining admission at legitimate hours span out the evening and night with songs and speeches, little thinking as to how the wretched convict was spending his last hours in this world.
As early as twelve o’clock, on a rough computation more than a thousand people had taken up their places behind the barricades in front of the prison. Hanging on the barricades were many of the roughest of the rough mob of which Glasgow can boast. Some of them, their arms clutching the wooden rail, were fast asleep; others were swearing, and wide awake for a row. One large portion of the crowd at this time was composed of old women, with shawls tied tightly round their heads to protect them from the cold. Little girls and boys were also present in great numbers. Generally the mass was pretty quiet, but the police had work enough to keep back the crowd from the barricades which surrounded the gaol. At two o’clock a slight drizzle began to fall, but by three the sky was again clear, and gave every promise of being a fine morning.
ERECTION OF THE SCAFFOLD.
At half-past two o’clock the scaffold was wheeled round from behind the jail to the front, and the beam was erected above by a large staff of workmen. The proceedings were watched with great interest by the mob, which at this time was not very numerous. But the whole city seemed alive, and down all the streets leading to Jail Square crowds began to pour. By half-past three o’clock the erection was completed, and the rope with the fatal noose dangled ready for its victim. And here it may be mentioned that the rope is not, as has been stated, a silken one, but is smallish and of strong hemp – so small indeed that it makes one feel as if the sudden contraction would cut through the neck of the unhappy mortal. The sight was a mournful one. Outside the barriers the crowd hustled, and shouted, and laughed. Policemen were jeered, and every opportunity was taken to crack a rough disgusting joke. In front of the jail stood the gallows. Right opposite and within thirty yards of where the criminal would stand, Price’s Spanish circus made a most incongruous contrast to the grim erection on the other side. “Entrance to the stalls and boxes,” “Half-price to the pit and gallery,” stared the wretched criminal in the face as he ascended the scaffold. There was no screen erected in front of the gibbet on this occasion, it being understood that the authorities, in presence of so large a mob, considered it right to give the public every facility for seeing that the last sentence of the law had been duly carried out, and that Dr Pritchard had been really “hanged by the neck until he was dead.”
BENEATH THE SCAFFOLD.
The sight beneath the scaffold was enough to unnerve the most callous. At the further end of the dark apartment stood the coffin ready for the unfortunate man who in sound health occupied the condemned cell in the adjoining building. The coffin itself was of plain deal, sized of a slate colour. To the eye it looked much too short for a man of the dimensions of Dr Pritchard, but on a rule being produced, the lid was found to measure on the outside six feet three inches. No breast-plate or mounting ornamented the coffin, which was simply a plain box, and one could not help reflecting on the quotations from Scripture which were inserted on the more costly coffins of Dr Pritchard’s victims. Looking up from the coffin, one saw the trap which in little more than four hours would be withdrawn leaving Dr Pritchard deprived of life.
At five o’clock the crowd rapidly augmented. From the top of the Green and down the Saltmarket great multitudes of people poured. Round the barriers the mass was very dense, but comparatively good order prevailed. Policemen stationed at short distances easily kept back the crowd from surging into the open space in front of the scaffold. Very few hats were to be seen above the heads of the crowd, the majority having on caps, and having evidently put on their worst clothes for the occasion. It was melancholy to see so many young boys and girls eager to witness the ghastly sight. In the streets leading to the Square young men dressed in black walked about and distributed tracts bearing such sensation titles as “The Scaffold is Erected,” “The Execution,” “Are You Ready?” &c. A little past five o’clock a band of men took up a place right in front of the scaffold and at the side of the Circus. Hoisting a banner on which was inscribed a number of texts from Scripture, they gave out a revival hymn, the last line of each verse, “Repent, repent, and be ye saved,” being repeated by a few of the crowd. After the hymn had been finished, a preacher harangued the crowd in stentorian tones, exhorting them to flee to Christ. The whole proceedings of these perhaps well-intentioned men was in very questionable taste, taking up their position as they did where the crowd was most dense and most inflammable.
At six o’clock a reinforcement of 60 police reached the Square by way of the Salt Market, and relieved for a time those who had been on duty during the night. The people now began to take up places at the windows of houses on both sides of the river from which a view of the scaffold could be obtained. At a quarter past six o’clock the crowd broke through the lines of police and rushed right up to the outmost barrier, between 20 and 30 feet from the foot of the scaffold; once they had secured places it was useless for the police to attempt driving them back. To have done so, the police would require to have been equal in number with the mob. Batons were now and again lustily applied over the heads of the more unruly of the mob. Two or three minutes more and with a tremendous rush the crowd all around the place of execution charged up to the inmost barrier. This gave greater ease to the mass at the foot of the Saltmarket, down which street a continuous stream of people again began to pour. After pressing as far as the inmost barrier the crowd remained comparatively quiet – apparently quite satisfied with what they had achieved. From six to seven there was little alteration. Preachers held forth unweariedly, but their exertions seemed to produce little if any effect on their hearers… A little before seven, a heavy wetting shower fell, making the spectators thoroughly uncomfortable… The shower soon passed over, and about seven o’clock the sun shone out brilliantly, lighting up the faces of the crowd, and casting a curious reflection on the smoke which curled up from thousands of pipes. Another reinforcement of police arrived at this time, and, surely by some mismanagement, were brought right through the densest portion of the crowd. This latest addition swelled the total police force to somewhere about 750 men, who, under Captain Smart and Mr McColl, were most efficient in preserving order. The passage of the policemen seemed to have given the crowd at that place a little more elbow room, for large and small boys were shot up from the middle like corks from lemonade bottles, and sent spinning over the heads of the mass till they reached the inmost barrier, where in many cases they were thrown right over the hats of the constables, who speedily seized and marched out of the Square the innocent breakers of the peace. Some of the boys seemed to enjoy the novel position amazingly, and were easily used. Others who got testy under the rough treatment were harshly handled. At seven o’clock the noise from the crowd was at its highest, and the shouts of boisterous laughter were most frequent.
CALCRAFT’S APPEARANCE ON THE SCAFFOLD – HIS RECEPTION.
Precisely at a quarter past seven, the aged executioner, [William] Calcraft, ascended the scaffold, along with his assistants, to see that all the necessary preparations had been made. Immediately on his head showing above the drop, he was recognised by the mob, who sent forth a ringing cheer – a sound Mr Calcraft very seldom hears when doing his sad and unpleasant duty. Hooting and hissing succeeded the cheer, but Calcraft maintained his self-possession, and, after bowing coolly and politely to the vast throng, he descended the stairs as leisurely as he had ascended them.
Half an hour before eight there was a marked change in the demeanour of the mob. The noisy talk subsided into a subdued him, broken only by the shouting of the preachers and the peals of laughter that succeeded the successful launching of some unfortunate boy. About this time the preachers made their last attempt to be heard, and after giving out a psalm, the singing of which was joined in by a very few, they departed from the place where they ought never to have been. Many an anxious glance was now cast to the clock on the Old Merchant Steeple, the hands of which showed that there only remained a quarter of an hour to the fatal moment. The top of the Baths, of Greendyke Hall, and of many of the houses in the neighbourhood were clad with people, and on lamp-posts and other uneasy points de vue boys clustered like bees. One trio in the middle of the Green obtained a capital view from a urinal, to the top of which they had clambered and obtained a precarious footing. Two or three minutes before eight the swaying to and fro of the crowd increased to a fearful extent, and at one time it looked as if barricades, policemen, and scaffold would be swept away before the surging unwieldy mass. The component parts of the crowd appeared to be pushing each other in their anxiety not to miss a sight of the notorious criminal. Nine minutes before eight caps began to fly in all directions from the heads of their owners, and in response to peremptory and angry shouts of “Hats off,” every head was bared, and all eyes were intently fixed on the scaffold. Those behind of course saw the criminal emerge from the court, but those outside did not see him until his head appeared above – almost a roar – thrilled through the crowd, which then became silent as death, in the expectation no doubt that the convict would address them. In this they were disappointed.
LAST HOURS OF THE CONVICT.
During Thursday night Pritchard slept soundly for some hours, but not continuously. He arose shortly after five o’clock, and, after dressing in the black clothes he had worn when apprehended and at the trial, he partook of a hearty breakfast. From six o’clock he was engaged with Mr Doran in earnest prayer and in reading the Scriptures. About half past seven Dr Macleod and Mr Oldham arrived at the condemned cell, and took part in the devotional exercises, which continued till eight o’clock, when the clergymen retired to permit of Calcraft’s beginning his odious office, by pinioning the arms of the culprit.
SCENE IN THE COURT-HOUSE – THE PRISONER’S LAST WORDS.
… The appearance of the Rev. Dr McLeod, and the Rev. Mr Oldham, through the trap door leading from the condemned cell, attracted notice about twenty-five minutes before eight o’clock, and there was some wonder why they had left the prisoner so early. They had, however, but newly arrived to visit the poor criminal, and their errand to the Court Room was to ascertain whether the burial service could be read on the scaffold. They immediately after returned to the condemned cell with Mr Stirling… Precisely at eight a number of the Magistrates took seats on the bench. There were present, Bailie Brown, who presided in the absence of the Lord Provost; Bailies Gilkison, Raeburn, Wilson, Taylor, Mirrlees, and Salmon; Mr Turner, City Clerk; and Mr West Watson, City Chamberlain. The silence deepened, and in a minute or two a voice was heard reading slowly and distinctly a portion of the English Church funeral service. The sound became stronger, and the slow tramp of feet passing along the corridor was also noticeable. Precisely at five minutes after eight the short but mournful procession began to emerge through the trap door on to the floor of the Court in front of the Clerk’s table. Every eye was turned toward the group. First came Mr Stirling; and closely following him was the Rev. Mr Oldham, wearing his gown. He stopped reading on reaching the head of the steps. Next came the Rev. Mr Doran, and immediately behind him was Dr Pritchard, who at once became “the observed of all observers.” His bearing was almost dignified. So composedly and firmly did he appear under the disadvantageous circumstances. He advanced to the table and stood with bent head. Those at some little distance heard no word from the senior Bailie, and they were startled to see Dr Pritchard raise his head, and to hear him say in a low but firm tone, “I ACKNOWLEDGE THE JUSTICE OF MY SENTENCE.” The presiding Magistrate bent forward a little, as if speaking, and the quick, eager glance cast towards him by the Doctor was something to be remembered. It showed that the doomed man, so subdued before, was yet full of life, and ready to notice every incident. The Bailie appeared to be merely indicating by a bow that the officials should proceed. Another procession was then formed – two red-coated officers leading the way. After them was Pritchard. There was an eager stir to notice him as he turned from the table to pass out of the Court; and he gently moved his head round and took a glance at those assembled. His look was somewhat vacant, however, and he seemed suddenly to recollect that it was his part to be staid and calm. He almost struck an attitude when half way to the door, straightened his form, slightly upturned his head, and almost closed his eyes. This was done so quickly that he stumbled a little at the next step, and Calcraft bustled forward to support him, and went out of the door almost encircling the Doctor in his arms. It might have been that the hangman was merely seeking to prevent any alteration of the pinioning straps, but it really seemed as if he was loth to lost the grasp of the man whom he was so soon to put out of this world.
… Then there was a slight rush to get out of Court to the portico in front of the building, and behind the scaffold. This was at first prevented by the police, but the force became too great for them to stem, and when the Magistrates had reached the foot of the steps leading to the scaffold the Court Room was allowed to empty itself, and about three hundred persons were assembled on the landing. Before much of this took place, it may be mentioned that the death warrant was handed over by the Governor of the Prison, who received in return a receipt for the person of Dr Pritchard.
About seven minutes past eight o’clock Pritchard came out at the centre door under the massive portico. He walked with a firm step, and as erect as a soldier on parade. His face was ashy pale, and his eyes were fixed towards heaven. Two assistants of Calcraft were placed one on each side of the convict. He did not require any aid from them, but ascended the steps of the scaffold firmly, his face still turned upwards. At the step next the drop he stumbled and leant forward a little, but, quickly regaining his balance, he stood below the noose facing the immense multitude, of whose presence, however, he seemed to be quite unconscious. The two assistants then retired, and Calcraft adjusted the rope round Pritchard’s neck with great coolness and self-possession – almost leisurely pulling out the long beard in order to allow the rope to be firmly fixed round the criminal’s neck. The moment was one of terrible suspense. When the beard was adjusted to his satisfaction, Calcraft went behind and rather roughly pulled the long streaming hair, and allowed it to lie above the rope. The sight of Pritchard’s face covered with the ghastly white cap was most painful. He was dressed in a suit of black – the same suit worn by him at the funeral of his wife. One could not but be struck with the proportion of his figure, and the scrupulous neatness with which the suit was made, displaying these proportions to the greatest possible advantage. His left hand was gloved, and he held the other glove loosely in his right. After shaking hands with the executioner the bolt was drawn, the block went from beneath the feet of the prisoner, and he was left dangling, having fallen about three feet. Simultaneously with the falling of the drop a piercing shriek rose from the immense multitude, but there was no booing, hissing, or other noise. He seemed to die very hard; but the fall was so great that he must have been quite insensible to feeling. Nine distinct throes were visible, and the body then swung slowly round, the face looking towards the door from which he had just emerged, and facing the officials and others who were congregated below the porch. Just as the face turned direct round, the right hand relaxed a little, and the black glove which it had held fell down into the coffin which lay directly beneath. The throes of the body ceased, and all was over.
CUTTING DOWN THE BODY.
The body finally swung round and remained at rest, with the face towards the river… Not many of the crowd moved off till the body had been cut down. About a quarter to nine o’clock, Calcraft (who had gone into the Court buildings after the drop fell) stepped briskly out, and ascended the short wooden stair leading to the scaffold with quiet deliberation. His re-appearance was greeted with a curious kind of half-subdued “oo-oo-oo-ing” which was not very pleasant to hear. He heeded it not in the slightest degree, but quickly unfastened the rope from the cleat, and let the body drop rather suddenly out of the sight of the mob. Several joiners had previously gone under the scaffold and placed the coffin on two pieces of wood so as to keep it off the ground, and enable it to be conveniently got hold of for lifting. But this proceeding, and the rapidity with which the body was lowered, led to a slight delay in the “chesting.” The joiners caught the body by the legs to place it in the shell, but as it dashed down, it knocked two pieces out of the bottom. It was then laid on the ground with the rope still round the neck. Some dozen or fifteen persons were at this time crowded in the square box formed by the scaffold – one or two of the Bailies, a surgeon, the workmen, and others – and it was with difficulty that Calcraft could enter. While the wrights repaired the coffin, the executioner busied himself in undoing the straps and unloosing the rope. The white cap was taken off, and it almost seemed to us as if Calcraft changed it into the form of a handkerchief, which he tied round Dr Pritchard’s neck to hide the rope mark, and pulled over the mouth to keep the lips close. When the rope was taken off, Calcraft cut the noose from it, and handed it to Mr Elliot, who has charge of the prison cells at the Court House. Having finished his duties, the hangman was stepping off, when Dr Leishman remarked, “I suppose you have now completed your work.” The reply was in the affirmative, and Calcraft disappeared. Bailie Brown then turned to Dr Leishman, and said he supposed he was ready to certify that the body was quite dead; and the response was “Certainly.” The remains of Dr Pritchard, “in his habit as he lived,” with the mere addition of the handkerchief tied round the throat, were then lifted into the coffin, not with any degree of gentleness or ease. The face was very little changed. There was only the most slight discoloration. The hands were not clenched, but the fingers were slightly curved inwards to the palm. After the body was placed in the coffin, Dr Leishman told the men to adjust the dress coat properly, and this having been done, the lid was screwed down, and the shell carried back to the lower corridor by the same passages as Dr Pritchard had walked out. Exactly fifty minutes elapsed from the time he had emerged out of the trap door into the Court Room till his remains passed down the same steps.
The interment of the body took place at one o’clock, in a grave five feet deep, in the court-yard, to the north of that of Riley, who was the last person hung in Glasgow. The body was interred in the same clothes which the culprit wore on the scaffold, and no quicklime or other decomposing material was placed in the coffin or in the grave, as is sometimes done in the cases of persons executed for murder. The interment took place in the presence of a few of the warders and other officials.
Orcadian, Tuesday 22nd August, 1865, p.2.
WHAT can be the attractive power in public executions which influences such a number of people as that which assembled in front of Glasgow jail, the other morning, to witness the execution of Dr Pritchard. Could it be the nature of the crime itself, or lies there in the human heart some sentiment or desire so prone to humanity as can derive special gratification from such an exhibition as the gallows, that Dr Pritchard had to undergo the extreme penalty of the law before the gaze of an assemblage of people estimated at 100,000! Whichever or whatever the influence may be, it says very little, I think, either for good taste or good feeling, when such a number of people can go and look upon a human being ending his days on the scaffold with the greatest complacency… what I have to say now is this: that assuredly what I had often heard said regarding the very low standard of people, who went to public executions, was amply verified. For what I had heard described as the “scum” of society, I saw there in abundance. There were a few respectable looking people there, certainly, but these seemed anything but comfortable in such a place… But I need not particularise; the sum appears, to me to be this – that that vast assemblage was little more or less than a loathsome panorama of human beings, drawn out, for a short time, from their dens of indolence and moral degradation, to see a fellow-being executed. The scene was worthy of the crowd, and the crowd of the scene, for were there one thing more than another that would convince me of the degrading tendency which public executions have on society, it would be the crowd I beheld assembled to witness the execution of Dr Pritchard… They tell us that it is to prevent the committal of the crime of murder that the murderer dies on the scaffold; but can it be shown, in one single instance, where this effect has been accomplished by it? I venture to say it cannot. And farther, I am inclined to believe that the fortitude with which criminals in general ascend the scaffold to die is considered by a large majority of such spectators as assemble to witness the execution to be little less than a species of heroism… Say not that public executions have the influence to deter from crime until it can be proved to be the case, nor that they have a tendency to strike a feeling of fear and pity into the human heart until they can be performed without drawing together a considerably smaller number of spectators than that which assembled to witness the execution of Dr Pritchard.
Glasgow, August, 1865.
Glasgow Morning Journal, Wednesday 27th December, 1865, p.2.
THE report of the Capital Punishment Commissioners has just been published, and contains several important suggestions in reference to the infliction of the death penalty. The Commissioners recommend that for all murders deliberately committed with express malice aforethought, such malice to be found as a fact by the jury, the punishment of death should be retained, and also for all murders conjoined with arson, rape, burglary, robbery, or piracy. In all other cases of murder, they recommend the punishment to be penal servitude for life, or for any period not less than 7 years. They also suggest the abolition of public executions, and the carrying out of the sentence of death within the precincts of the prison. In regard to the prevalent crime of infanticide, it is recommended that to maliciously inflict injury on a child during its birth, or within seven days afterwards, so that it die, should be punishable with penal servitude or imprisonment, without any proof being required that the child was completely born alive. Concealment of birth, it is recommended, should not be found under an indictment for murder, but ought to be charged separately, but there should be no acquittal if the offence amounted to murder or manslaughter. The commissioners also recommend that the power of recording sentence of death should be restored to the Judges. Though the report is adhered to by all the Commissioners, some of them signed a separate document recommending the abolition of capital punishment altogether.
Stonehaven Journal, Thursday 14th May, 1868, p.3.
THE bill for inflicting Capital Punishment within the walls of prisons passed the House of Lords on Monday, so that the execution of the Dumfriesshire murderer, which took place on Tuesday morning will be the last public execution in Scotland.
Hamilton Advertiser, Saturday 16th May, 1868, p.1.
EXECUTION AT DUMFRIES. – Robert Smith, the perpetrator of the diabolical tragedy at Annan, involving rape, robbery, murder, and attempted murder, was hanged in front of the jail at Dumfries on Tuesday. He will be the last public execution in Scotland, the bill legalising the carrying out of capital punishment privately now only awaiting the royal assent to become law.
And that ends part six and the case for Dr Edward William Pritchard for the murder of his wife and her mother, his mother-in-law. He got his just desserts but in the confession that was read he did it in a really strange way; he admitted to having overdosed his wife with chloroform while denying having had any hand in the murder of his mother-in-law, but admits that he did add aconite to her bottle, which would only serve to inspire suspicion. He said he did that in case there might be an inquiry into her death, yet that would only add suspicion, as she’s not going to put aconite into her own bottle of medicine. He then goes onto admit to, and seek repentance for, the adultery with Mary McLeod, but didn’t take that chance to also, in the same way, confess and repent for the murder of his wife. He takes you through how he gave in to the temptation while “excited by whisky” and gave her too much chloroform but he doesn’t then go on to admit to the murder of his wife as strongly as he does to the adultery with Mary MacLeod. He’s a very strange person. Obviously very vain, very full of himself, and that’s apparent from the get-go. If we know anything about the man, it’s that he loves showing his cartes de visite, his photos, about, and I think it was probably the highlight of his life – despite the reasons for it – that his photos were being sold in shops and in railways, around both Scotland and England. I think he probably loved that. I feel sorry for his wife who literally did nothing wrong. She wasn’t a particularly passive person by all accounts and she must have had some suspicion of her husband. She literally had dressmakers and servants telling her, “isn’t it a bit weird that you’re only sick when you’re in Glasgow, and mostly after eating a thing…” I don’t know. Having her mother die in front of her as well, so shortly before she’s then murdered, it’s all just horrible. I hope his kids got on alright with whatever relatives they ended up with. Regardless, that’s us for Dr Edward William Pritchard’s case history and we’ll start Oscar Slater’s story next. That will be the final part for Random Scottish History’s Glasgow’s Square Mile Murders project. Hope to have you back for it. Take care.
Narration by Jenny
Art by Alex
Intro-Outro by Tony ‘Lucky Dog’ Wilson
Greysteil by Paul Burns.