This crime report begins: 'THE LAST SPEECH AND DYING WORDS, Of Neil Cordey Sentinel in the Fuziliers, who was Execute in the Grass-Market of Edinburgh on the 25th Instant; for Murdering John Anderson Coachman in the Cannongate.' It was published in 1719 by Robert Brown of Edinburgh.
The 'last speeches' of condemned criminals were popular subjects for broadside publishers, as well as allowing the subjects some opportunity to make their peace with the world and with God. The speeches were often formulaic and were probably drafted by anonymous scribes. The amount of actual input from the subjects seems to have varied. This example balances specific biographical and case details with standard expressions of contrition and repentance. The facts and sentiments may well have been Neil Cordey's own, but were probably interpreted by an experienced author sensitive to public tastes.
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.
View Transcription | Download PDF Facsimile
Date of publication:
1719 shelfmark: RB.I.106(116)
View larger image