Edinburgh’s Hangman Executed, January, 1682

Hangings Alison and Harvie

Lord Fountainhall recorded the end of Edinburgh’s hangman in January, 1682:

13 January, 1682. ‘Alexander Cockburne (Cowban), hangman of Edinburgh, killed on[e] John Adamson, alias M’Keinzie, a blew-goun beggar, in the hangmans oune houfe, and under night laid him at his door. The magistrates of Edinburgh judged him within three suns as Shirefs within themselfes. The probation resulted upon strong presumptions against him of his guilt, as his denying that the beggar was in his house that day, the contrare wheirof was proven; the finding bloody cloaths in his houfe; the hearing groans from that place, &c. The Assise found him guilty, and he was hanged up in chains [at the Gallowlee] between Leith and Edinburgh; but never confessed the fact. He was peffimæ famæ, and had perpretrat it for greed of the poor beggar’s money. On Mackeinzie (whom Cowburne had undermined at Stirling, and got him thrust out of his place of hangman at Stirling), officiated bourreau [as executioner] upon him. It was reported, that the hangman of London having murdered his wife, was execute to death for it about the same very tyme with our’s.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 58-9.)

In his law manuscript, Fountainhall also noted the fate of Cockburn’s wife, Bessie Gall:

‘The Provest and Bailzies of Edinburgh, as Shireffs within themselves (having called me as ther Assessor, to sit with them, and assist them), doe judge Alexr Cowburne, ther hangman, or lockman, within 3 suns (the Earle of Errol as Constable, nor his deputs entring no protestation, on the pretence of its being a current Parliament), for murdering in his oune house one of the licenced blew-goun beggars, called John Adamson, alias Mackeinzie. The probation was slender, and most of it by weemen; (which is not so usuall, unlesse it be in some excepted priviledged crimes, and that they be domestick servants: …;) and was only presumptions against him. Yet the Assise found him guilty, and referred his wife, Bessie Gall, to the Judges. The Bailzies caused hang him in chains, betuen Leith and Edinburgh, on the 20 of Januar; for it leimes they are not bound to execute, but only to pronunce sentence within 3 suns after the delict; his wife they banished.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 346.)

Cockburn had been responsible for the executions of several Covenanters in Edinburgh. His duties, however, went well beyond hanging the condemned. He had mounted Richard Cameron’s head on a halberd in July, 1680.

He was also responsible for torturing prisoners suspected of treasonable plots in the boots: ‘Then the hangman put his foot in the instrument called the boot, and, at every query put to him, gave five strokes or thereby upon the wedges.’

At the execution of Donald Cargill and four others in July, 1681, Cockburn had ‘hash’d and hagg’d off all their Heads [upon the Scaffold] with an Ax.’.

And in October, 1681, he had officiated at the Gallowlee where he was alter executed at the execution of five Covenanters. According to Patrick Walker:

‘The never to be forgotten Mr. James Renwick told me, that he was Witness to this publick Murder at the Gallolee, betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, where he saw the Hangman hash and hag off all their Five Heads, with Patrick Foreman’s Right-hand: Their Bodies were all buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with Patrick’s Hand, were brought and put upon five Pikes on the Pleasance-port. Some honest old Men told me of late, that they were Witness to the same, and saw the Hangman drive down their Heads to the Foot of the Pike, and thereby broke their Sculls.’

The Gallowlee lay beside Shrub Place Lane, just off Leith Walk and on the boundary between Edinburgh and Leith.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on September 3, 2014.

One Response to “Edinburgh’s Hangman Executed, January, 1682”

  1. […] to be burnt at the Mercat-cross of Edinburgh by the hand of the new made hangman, (for the former hangman was executed for murdering a creeple blewgown, supposing to get money off him, covetousness the root of all evil;) and accordingly it was done on […]

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