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Broadside entitled 'The Last Speech'


This report begins: 'Confession and dying words of the Lives of John Smith, and George Stevenson, who were Executed at the West End of the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, this day the 21st of January, 1807. For the crime of horse stealing.' The name of the publisher is not included.

This broadside reports the confessions and last words of the horse stealers, John Smith and George Stevenson. Both confessions identify their abandonment of God as the original cause of all their woe, highlighting the belief prevalent at the time that an absence of religion equated with immoral and illegal behaviour. Although the theft of horses might not seem that heinous an offence, the 'Bloody Code' (known as the 'Criminal Code' in Scotland) introduced in 1660 was designed to protect property above all else, hence the execution of these two unfortunates.

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.

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Date of publication: 1807   shelfmark: Ry.III.a.2(3)
Broadside entitled 'The Last Speech'
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