The Pay Dispute of Wigtown’s Hangman in 1685


Two days after Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson were convicted and their doom pronounced, the town council convened an extraordinary meeting about their hangman, John McIlroy. Clearly, after the sentence of death, the leaders of the burgh expected him to work and live in the tolbooth, but McIlroy demanded, and got for a short period at least, an allowance for his work:

‘Wigtoune, Apryle 15th, 1685
Councell Extraordinar.
The qlk Day, the bailzie and Councelors having convened John Malroy, hangman, befoir them, and examined him, what was his reason to absent himself at this tym, when ther was employment for him, he acknowledged he was in the wrong, and was seduced yrto; but now acknowledged himself the tounes ssrt [i.e., servant], and promised to byd be his service; but aleged that he had no benefit or cellarie for his service, and craved to have some allowance for tyme coming; Which he refered to the toun councell at ane frequent meiting efter the provest’s retourne from Edr.; and in the meintym the bailzie, with advyce and consent of the councell, appoynts the thesser to furnish four schillings Scots ilk day to the s[ai]d. John Malroy dureing his abod in prissone, which shall be alowed to the thesser to furnish him one beddine of Close, for ye which he shall be satisfied dureing his imprisonment.’ (Morton, Galloway and the Covenanters, 440.)

‘John Malroy’ probably appears as John McIlroy on the parish list of October, 1684.

In 1684, Wigtown had a provost, William Cultran of Drummoral, councilors and six baillies. The latter, who were the magistrates of the burgh, were Alexander Gordon, Adam McKie, George Stewart, Patrick Stewart, Baillie McIlroy and Baillie [John] McKeand. Several of them are mentioned in the sources as playing a role in the trial and deaths of the women.

The document also mentions that Provost Cultran was absent on 15 April, as he was heading to Edinburgh to attend the riding of Parliament. He had literally departed the previous day.

What can we take from the dispute and document? It is clear that the hangman was not busy at all, as he did not have regular payments. For some reason on 15 April, the burgh council opted to pay him four shillings (Scots) a day, presumably as they expected him to have work with prisoners (i.e., the two Wigtown Martyrs), and possibly later execution work. He had a short-term contract. However, the payments to him would be reviewed when Provost Cultran returned from Parliament in Edinburgh. He did not return until 26 June.

Nothing is recorded about the Hangman’s dispute after the Provost returned.

It is clear that the burgh council expected the hangman to have work in the period post 15 April, as they has two female prisoners in the tolbooth awaiting execution and perhaps some others. Why else were they paying him four shillings (Scots) a day? We know that at some point prior to 28 April, a petition from (at least one of) the prisoners was sent to Edinburgh, as it was read on 30 April before the Privy Council. That petition definitely came from Wigtown. A reprive for an unspecified time was issued, but it was misdirected. There is no evidence that any of the two female prisoners were present on 30 April before the Privy Council. There is only evidence that their petitions were read before the Privy Council.

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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 December 16, 2014.

2 Responses to “The Pay Dispute of Wigtown’s Hangman in 1685”

  1. […] at least a week with her sister in the tolbooth after the trial. She was there on 15 April, when Wigtown’s hangman agreed to return to work in the tolbooth. She may have been there when Margaret McLachlan petitioned the council from the […]

  2. […] the following day, Wednesday 15 April, the burgh’s hangman launched a pay dispute over his having to remain in the tolbooth with the … (including the two women), at an extraordinary meeting of the burgh council at which Cultran was […]

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