This ballad begins: 'I spent my time in rioting, / debauch'd my health and strength, / I pillag'd, plundered, murdered, / but now alas! at length, / I'm brought to punishment condign, / pale Death draws near to me, / The end I ever did project / to hang upon a Tree.'
This ballad tells the sad story of Jamie MacPherson, who was hung for committing various crimes in 1700. Although MacPherson was guilty of some of the crimes, it is claimed that it was really political intrigue that sealed his fate. Legend has it that he read out his farewell poem on the scaffold, then played an original tune of his own on the fiddle. After finishing the tune, he offered the fiddle to the crowd. As no-one came forward to claim it, however, he smashed the fiddle, then was executed. This fiddle is on display in the Clan MacPherson museum in Newtonmore, Inverness-shire. The song, 'MacPherson's Farewell', by Robert Burns, is based on this incident.
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.
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