This execution notice begins: 'Particulars of the Life, Trial, Character, and Behaviour of / MARGARET DICKSON, / AGED 22, / Who was executed at Edinburgh, on Monday, Feb 1, 1813 / For the MURDER of her Bastard Child'. The sheet was published by Wilkins of Derby, although the story occurred in Edinburgh. A woodcut of an execution scene has been included above the title.
This story covers the infamous 'hanging' of Margaret Dickson, although the dates are quite confusing. Maggie Dickson, a Musselburgh fishwife, was convicted in Edinburgh in 1728 for murdering her own illegitimate child. The story goes that as her body was on the way to interment after the hanging, the coffin moved and Margaret stepped out, completely unharmed. She could not legally be rehanged and afterwards continued to deny the charges. She eventually had many children and died of old age. It is interesting to note that this case is reported to have occurred in 1813. Presumably the Derby printer was confident that none of his readers would have been able to tell him that it actually took place in the 1720s!
Unfortunately, due to social and religious conventions illegitimate pregnancy during the nineteenth century caused huge problems. Women dealt with this in different ways and most of these means are reported on broadsides. Some women, 'usefully', died after giving birth, whilst others simply brazened their reputation out. There are cases of midwives who performed the gruesome task of smothering babies, whilst some mothers did it themselves. A high percentage of the charges brought against women on these sheets were in relation to child murder, abuse or neglect.
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1813 shelfmark: APS.4.98.8
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