The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broadside ballad entitled 'The Confession of James Bryce'


This ballad begins: 'I am a poor unhappy man, James Bryce it is my name, / I murdered my brother-in-law, I may tell it all with shame'. Above the title a woodcut illustration of an isolated house in the forest, next to a river, has been included.

According to the narrative Bryce occasionally pawned items to his wife's brother, as his situation was often desperate. He returned one evening for more money, but when refused, killed Geddes, his brother-in-law, with a pair of fire tongs. The text reveals Bryce's plans for escape and his state of mind. In the last instance, a comparison is drawn with the biblical story of Cain and Abel. There are other broadsides on this case held in the National Library of Scotland's collection.

Reports recounting dark and salacious deeds were popular with the public, and, like today's sensationalist tabloids, sold in large numbers. Crimes could generate sequences of sheets covering descriptive accounts, court proceedings, last words, lamentations and executions as they occurred. As competition was fierce, immediacy was paramount, and these occasions provided an opportunity for printers and patterers to maximise sales.

previous pageprevious          
Date of publication: 1844   shelfmark: L.C.Fol.74(337a)
Broadside ballad entitled 'The Confession of James Bryce'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland