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Scottish Crime and Punishment -100 years of Murder & Execution (1884)

March 10, Before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, Lord Young on the bench. Robert Flockhart Vickars and William Innes, miners, residing at Gorebridge, were charged with the murder of two assistant gamekeepers named John Fortune and John McDiarmid. They were also charged with seriously assaulting James Grosset, head gamekeeper, at Rosebery. The gamekeepers, who were employed on Lord Rosebery's estate, which is situated at the foot of Moorfoot Hills, had gone out to look for poachers. It was a clear frosty morning on the 15th December, while overhead the moon was full. About 8 am., the gamekeepers came upon the men, who were armed with guns.

On being called to surrender one of the poachers said to the other " Take that on the left and I will do for that on the right." A moment later the guns were discharged and the two watchers fell fatally injured. Before the firearms could be reloaded, Grosset made off with the following words ringing in his ears " quick, don't let him away; we'll catch him at the bridge" (meaning the bridge which spans the South Esk), shouted by one of the men to the other, however, by changing his course Grosset arrived safely at Edgelaw Farm, and awakened Mr. Simpson, the farmer, who drove into Gorebridge and informed Sergeant Adamson. Fortune and McDiarmid were at once moved to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but they succumbed to their injuries Fortune on the 18th December and McDiarmid on the 8th January. Grosset was able to furnish such information as led to the arrest of the men, both noted poachers.

The Solicitor-General (Asher) conducted the prosecution, while the Dean of Faculty (Macdonald) appeared for the prisoners The defence was a complete denial that the men had ever left their own houses at Gorebridge at the time libelled. After an absence of forty-nine minutes the jury, at 7.50 pm., found the charges proved. Lord Young, who expressed his complete concurrence with the verdict, passed sentence of death, to be carried out in the Calton Jail, Edinburgh, on the 31st March. A week after conviction the men admitted shooting the gamekeepers Efforts to obtain a reprieve proved unsuccessful. Both men, particularly Vickars, thought that mercy would be extended to them. Even when he took his place on the drop he was buoyed up with the hope that a last minute reprieve would arrive. A dense crowd assembled outside the prison and on the Calton Hill. Waterloo Place was blocked with a seething mass of people to witness the hoisting of the signal at eight o'clock. Considerable speculation arose as minute after minute passed, but at length, at twelve minutes past the hour the black flag run up on the prison flagstaff to half-mast proclaimed to all who beheld that the Gorebridge poachers had gone to their doom. The execution was carried out by James Berry and an assistant Richard Chester. [In a somewhat rare volume, entitled "Experiences of an Executioner" Berry gives minute detail of the final scene and his four days stay in the Calton Jail. This was the first execution he carried through.


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