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Broadside regarding the execution of Margaret Dickson


Particulars of the Life, Trial, Character, and Behaviour of


AGED 22,

Who was executed at Edinburgh, on Monday, Feb. 1, 1813,
For the MURDER of her Bastard Child.

MARGARET DICKSON was born at Mugsleburgh,
about five miles from Edinburgh, and brought up by
parents in a strict attendance on the worship of God, and
taught early the duties of that station, in which was most
probable Providence would place her, namely, a labori-
ous one.

It is necessary to observe, that the people in the town,
where she lived, are either fishermen, gardeners, or those
who are employed in making salt; and as Edinburgh is
supplied with those articles from that place, most of the
mens wives are employed to get their living, by carrying
the different articles thither, which they cry about the

When Margaret Dickson grew up, she was married
to a fisherman, but there being a demand for seamen he was
impressed on board one of the ships of war.

During the time he was abroad, she became acquainted
with a man in the same neighbourhood, who seduced her,
and the consequence was, that she became with child, in
Scotland every woman who was guilty of fornication, was
obliged to sit on a seat in the most conspicuous place
in the church, three different Sundays, when she received
a public rebuke from the minister, and so much were the
women intimidated at the disgrace, that many of them de-
stroyed the fruits of their amours, rather than be made a
spectacle to all the inhabitants of a parish ; for nothing was
more common than for these, who would not come to church
to hear a a sermon in seven years, would go to hear the shame
of one of her own sex.

Margaret Dickson was accused by some of her neigh-
bours with being pregnant, but the fear of shame induced
her to deny it, although the symptoms were very plain.

As the time of her delivery drew near, she endeavoured
to conceal it the more, and at last the child was born, but
whether alive or not, cannot be certainly known ; only
that she was apprehended on suspicion, and committed to
Edinburgh Gaol. The surgeon, who examined the body
of the child, made the usual experiments, by putting the
lungs into water, but according to the opinion of some
eminent physicians, that experiment is not always to be
depended upon, it is impossible for men to know every thing;
and it often happens, that gentlemen, who have made the law
their study, and obtained seats on the bench, are obliged,
in taking evidence, to abide by the opinion of a surgeon.
Indeed, where cases are plain, such as a wound with a
weapon, that must of course prove mortal, no doubt can
remain ; but then, when the life of a person depends upon
the opinion of two or three surgeons concerning a disputed
point, we think that both the court and the jury ought
to lean to mercy. In the course of the evidence produced
against Margaret Dickson, it appeared from the depositions
of several witnesses, that she had been apparently pregnant,
although she continued to deny it. It also appeared,
that a child was found dead near the place where she lived,
and there were to be seen about her all the appearances of
a delivery.

The surgeon deposed, that when the lungs of the child
were put into water they swimmed, so that it was their
opinion that it had breathed ; for as they said, unless a child
has breathed, so as air could be drawn into the lungs those
parts of the body will not swim. Upon the whole the evi-
dence was believed by the jury, who found her guilty, and
she received sentence of death.

While she lay in confinement she was extremely penitent,
and acknowledged that she had in many instances, neglected
her duty, and likewise that she had been guilty of fornica-
tion ; but to the last denied murdering the child, or that she
had the least intention of so doing. Her reason for conceal-
ing the birth of the child was for fear of being made a public
example in the church, and a laughing-stock to all her neigh-
bours. She said she was suddenly taken in labour, sooner
than she expected, and her agonies not only prevented her
from getting assistance, but also left her in a state of insen-
sibility, so that what became of her child she could not say.

When she was brought to the gallows she behaved in the
most penitent manner, but still denied her guilt, after which
she was turned off, and hung the usual time.

When cut down her body was given to her friends, who
put her into a coffin, in order to carry it to Musselburgh, for
interment; but the men who had charge of the corpse stop-
ped at a village, called Pepper Mill, about two miles from
Edinburgh, in order to get some refreshment, leaving the
cart with the body near the door. While they were drinking
one of the men thought he saw the lid of the coffin move, and
going towards the cart, uncovered it, when he could per-
ceive the woman to move, and she arose upright in her coffin;
upon which he and others took to their heels, almost killed
with fear. A gardener who was drinking in the house went
up to the coffin, and had the presence of mind to open a
vein, and within an hour afterwards she was so well recovered
as to be able to go to bed. Next morning she walked home
to Mussleburgh. It is necessary to observe that much of the
Scottish law is built on Roman Pandects, and according to
them every person upon whom the judgment of the court has
been executed, has no more to suffer, but must be for ever
discharged. Another maxim in the same institution is, that
the executed person is dead law, so that the marriage is dis-
solved. This was the case with M. Dickson, for the King's
advocate could not pursue her any further, but filed a bill in
the High Court of Justicary against the Sheriff, for not seeing
the judgment executed, and her husband being a good-natured
man, was married to her a few days after. She still conti-
nued to deny that she had committed the crime. From her
example, and the uncertainly of her guilt, it is to be hoped
that juries will be cautious how they find a verdict where the
case may appear doubtful.

This remarkable affair happened at Edinburgh.
Wilkins, Printer, Derby.

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Date of publication: 1813   shelfmark: APS.4.98.8
Broadside regarding the execution of Margaret Dickson
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