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THE CONDEMNED POACHERS

It is stated that the jury, by whom Vickers and Innes were on Monday found guilty of the murder of the two game watchers at Roseberry, were divided in their opinion in the proportion of nine to six. The majority countered for the verdict of guilty, while the minority, we understand, were in the favour of 'not proven'. It is understood that an effort will be made to obtain a reprieve for the condemned men. Yesterday steps were being taken towards this end, and in the course of a day or two a memorial, it is expected, will be forwarded to the Home Secretary on behalf of the prisoners. Immediately after the rising of the Court on Monday night the prisoners were conveyed to the Calton Jail, were they occupy two of the ordinary cells. They slept fairly well on Friday night. Yesterday they appeared quite as composed as they had been before the trial. Neither in health nor in demeanour it is said, do they seem altered since the passing of the capital sentence. The last case in which the sentence of death was passed in Edinburgh was that of James Smith, convicted before Lord Moncreiff, in February of 1883, of the murder of a gamekeeper in Ayrshire. In that case, however, the capital sentence was afterwards commuted to one of penal servitude for life.

Preparation for the Execution

On Saturday morning the agents of the condemned prisoners Innes and Vickers received the following communication from the Home Office: -Whitehall, 28th March 1884 " Gentlemen, -With reference to the memorial forwarded by you in behalf of Robert Vickers and William Innes, now lying under the sentence death, I am to acquaint you that the Secretary State, after careful consideration of all the facts of the case, regrets that he does not feel justified in advising Her Majesty to interfere with the due course of the law. -I am gentlemen, your obedient servant. 'A. F. O. Liddel' In the course of the afternoon, the prisoners were informed by the chaplain of the Calton Jail, Mr. Fleming, and by the Rev. Mr. Wilson, North Merchiston, that a reprieve had been refused, and that they must prepare for death. The convicts are said to have received the announcement with wonderful composure, observing that they could not have expected anything else, and using words to the effect that they must put their trust in God, and prepare to face the inevitable as well and as firmly as possible. They had not ventured to anticipate a reprieve, nor had their visitors ever led them to hope for such an issue: hence, no doubt, the comparative calmness with which they received the news. Mr. Fleming and Mr. Wilson engaged with them in prayer, and then left the prison. The Rev. Mr. Keay and the Rev. Mr. McAlpine also visited the jail on Saturday.

The most distressing incident of the imprisonment was the final visit paid to the convicts on Saturday afternoon by the wives and several of their children. The interview in each case lasted over forty minutes, and was throughout of the most painful description. Men, women and children sobbed aloud, and the women fairly broke down at the parting. They cried bitterly even after leaving the prison, and attracted the sympathetic attention of many people in Waterloo Place. During several hours thereafter the prisoners appeared to feel keenly their position, and Vickers wept as he spoke of his wife and children. During Saturday night the convicts were somewhat restless, and they woke yesterday morning earlier than usual. But they each, at 7.30, ate a good breakfast of coffee, eggs, and sweet milk. Vickers dinner at 12.30 consisted of ordinary prison diet, but Innes had chops and potatoes. Both had tea at 6.30. Vickers, it is understood would take no supper last night, but Innes desired the usual fare. Vickers during his imprisonment has been kept on ordinary prison fare, but Innes on account of his low state of his system consequent of the gunshot wound he received on the morning of the murders, has been furnished with larger quantities of milk, and has had meat each day for dinner. The prisoners were visited early yesterday by the chaplain, and later at late hours by Mr. Wilson, Mr. McKeay, and Mr. McAlpine. They betrayed in the course of the day considerable excitement, occasionally uttering expressions of grief and uneasiness. Yet on the whole, they bore up wonderfully well, and those that saw them in the evening expected them to pass a good night. They spoke little yesterday, but in that little they indicated penitence, apparently realising that they were spending their last day of life. Vickers once alluded to the fate of the Port Glasgow poachers, who were executed for a similar crime to his. He had taken, he said, no warning from that awful example. It ought to have been a warning to him, but he had been blind to it. He hoped, however, that his fate would afford ample warning to all miners, to all poachers -indeed, to everyone.

He hoped that everyone inclined to practices such as he had led him into mischief would take a lesson from his end. Innes is understood also to have spoken to his impending fate. He formerly observed that it was an awful thing to think of two strong healthy men, in the prime of life, being executed by the sentence of law. He dreaded the approach of the day, and wished he had been killed long ago by a mining accident. Yesterday he again referred with similar expressions of regret to the solemn position in which he stood. Both men spoke of their wives and children -Vickers, however, more frequently and with more feeling than the other. The latter seemed to apprehend the shame and disgrace that would fall on his children because of his end. He wondered what would become of them, and said surely some Christian friend would provide for them. Neither prisoner has had any work to do since the trial. Innes cannot read, and the Bible has been frequently read to him. Vickers yesterday read the Bible, and had access to other books. Both men had, as usual, an open air outing extending over an hour. But in the open air, as in the prison, they were not permitted to even see one another.

There is not in the Calton Jail what is commonly known as the 'condemned cell'. Since their trial, accordingly, Innes and Vickers have occupied, not cells strictly speaking, but two moderately sized halls -one at the top of the eastwing and the other at top of the west wing of the prison. A warder and an assistant have been watching each convict night and day. The preparations for the execution were completed on Saturday night. A flagstaff was put up on the eastern turret -that nearest the High School -and here the black flag will be displayed to announce the carrying out of the sentence. The scaffold has been erected in an obscure corner between the east prison and the new buildings. Here a considerable area of ground had just been excavated to a depth of about thirty feet below the level of the door of the east prison. The standards of the scaffold spring from the bottom of this excavation. The platform will be on a level with the prison door, and so near it that the convicts will walk right off the doorstep on to the scaffold; and when the bolt is drawn they drop out of sight into the space beneath. A low wooden board on each side of the scaffold is draped in black cloth. The scaffold has been completely shut off from view by a timber shed, a portion of which can be seen from the North Bridge, and from a point on the Calton Hill near Dugald Stewart's monument. The convicts, it is expected, will be afoot about six o'clock this morning, about which hour the four clergymen who have had access to them since the trial are expected to arrive at the prison. They will, it is understood, have breakfast earlier than usual. At half-past seven they will be removed from their rooms to the surgeons's room on the first floor, and here, it is understood, there will be a short service, commencing at a quarter to eight. The men thereafter will be pinioned by the executioner, and led through a short passage to the door opening on to the scaffold. The distance they will have to walk after pinioning will only be a few yards from the lobby. Among the few person who will witness the execution will be Baillie Roberts and Baillie Clark, the four clergymen already named, Dr. Littlejohn and an other medical gentleman, and five representatives of the press. The executioner, Berry, is a man of apparently about 30 years of age. His assistant is a few years older. Both are members of the Blue Ribbon Army. They have been residing in the prison, but accompanied by a warder in plain clothes, they had an outing on Saturday.

 


 

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