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The Glasgow Herald, Tuesday April 1, 1884. Page 7

DOUBLE EXECUTION IN EDINBURGH


 

At ten minutes past eight o'clock yesterday morning, Robert Flockhart Vickers and William Innes suffered the extreme penalty of the law for the murder, in December last, of two gamekeepers on the estate of Rosebery. The execution took place within the Calton Prison at Edinburgh, and conducted in private, only officials, three clergymen and representatives of five newspapers being allowed to be present. As the reports which have appeared within the past few days have shown, the prisoners confessed their guilt, and, having no hope of pardon, have been preparing themselves by attention to the ministrations of the Rev Mr Wilson, the Rev Mr Keay, the Rev Mr M'Alpine and the Prison Chaplain, for the fate which awaited them.

On Sunday, the last day they had to spend on earth, they were engaged for a considerable time in reading and hearing the Bible read to them and in prayer. The Rev Mr Wilson, lately parish minister of Cramond, now of St Michael's. Merchiston, was with Vickers till ten o'clock in the evening. Both the convicts retired to bed very shortly thereafter, and rested well until about five o'clock yesterday morning, when they arose and dressed. After taking breakfast, Vickers had an interview with the Rev Mr Wilson with whom he engaged in conversation for a considerable time. He entrusted Mr Wilson with several messages of love and counsel to his wife and children, and said he hoped and believed that the event which was so soon to take place would be 'rest for him'. He deplored the bad example he had shown his children and the evil effects which his conduct might entail upon them; but that which cheered and pleased the reverend gentleman most was that the doomed man requested him to call on the families of the murdered gamekeepers to express his sorrow at the trouble he had brought upon them, and to say that he died praying for them along with his own wife and family.

At Innes's own request the Rev Mr Keay waited upon him yesterday at six o'clock and remained with him until the hour of execution. Outside the prison walls, the first indication that anything unusual was about to take place was the assembling on Waterloo Road and of the southern slopes of the Calton Hill of little groups of men and boys. By and by the little groups clustered more closely together and gradually a large crowd, numbering around 5,000, which included a few females, congregated as near as possible to the only point of view from which a glimpse could be obtained of a portion of the roof of the wooden shed within which the execution was to take place. Many seemed to belong to the mining classes, some of whom, having acquaintance with the prisoners, had come in from Gorebridge in the morning. There were no demonstrations of feeling. Silence prevailed everywhere, the vast crown waiting anxiously the moment when the hoisting of the black flag should announce that all was over.

Some time after seven o'clock, Bailies Roberts and Clark, the Magistrates deputed to see the death warrant carried out, accompanied by three of the city officers, were admitted within the prison gate. The clerk to the Magistrates, the medical officer of health and the prison surgeon, with the chief constable of Edinburgh, the governor of the prison and other officials were in attendance. At twenty-five minutes to eight o'clock the Magistrates, having donned their robes of office, proceeded to a building at the south-eastern extremity of the prison. In the surgeon's room there, a little chamber on the first floor, preparations had been made for a brief service, and into this room the prisoners were led. From the time of their trial until that moment they had not seen each one another, although they had sent through the clergymen, many kindly messages of mutual comfort and encouragement. Now, however, as they left their respective cells for the last time, they met on the landing leading to the surgeon's room, and shaking hands, greeted each other warmly, but with deep emotion which each endeavoured to conceal. Little time was allowed for words; and the men, walking behind the prison chaplain and the minister of St Michael's, entered the surgeon's room and seated themselves on the chairs disposed for them in front of the little meeting. The men were quite calm, but the expression on their faces showed how deeply they realised their position. . . . . . .

The chaplain having addressed a few parting words to the men, the Rev Mr Wilson offered up a solemn and impressive prayer, and then addressed Vickers and Innes, enjoining them to be brave and strong in the strength of their position as humble, penitent, believing sinners with full reliance on the mercy of God, and to let the last act of their life be a perfect surrender of their souls into the hand of Christ. Then would their first awakening in the life to come be a realisation of the truth. 'Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow'. The 'Amen' which followed this exhortation was joined in by everyone present, of whom many were deeply affected. The executioner, James Berry, with his assistant Richard Chester, who like his principal, is a Bradford man, were then admitted. On their entrance, the prisoners rose and shook hands with most of those who had been auditors of the brief religious service and with the executioners. They then allowed themselves to be pinioned, during which operation the Magistrates and others left the room, and proceeded to the place of execution. This was only a few paces distant, at the end of the corridor leading from the cells. The door of the corridor opened upon the platform of the scaffold. Scarcely two paces forward, hung from a huge cross-beam the fatal cords, slightly coiled and with nooses all ready. A low barricade, about three feet high draped in black, ran round three sides of the false floor, leaving the side to the corridor open. Scarcely had the officials and others taken their places than the voice of the Rev Mr Wilson was head reciting the words of the 1st, 2nd and 9th verses of the 51st psalm; and Mr Wilson continued reading until the drop fell from Luke XV, the 18th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd verses, and the 1st, 3rd and 4th verses of the 5th Scripture hymn.

Meantime the executioner and his assistant, quietly and unostentatiously, but remarkable readiness and skill, proceeded with their work. Vickers and Innes, having taken their places on the scaffold, Berry and his assistant quickly drew the white caps over their heads. Up to this time the unhappy men had shown no sign of emotion. There was nothing defiant, nothing self-confident in their mien of bearing. Resignation to their fate seemed to have taken possession of them, and so resigned they were able unflinchingly and without betraying any weakness to walk to the scaffold. When the cap had been adjusted, however, Vickers in on of the momentary pauses in the reading of scripture spoke in tremulous tones, but loud enough to be heard by all "Lord have mercy on me a sinner". The words were taken up and repeated by his fellow sufferer and the prayer found an echo in the hearts of those around. In tones of deep feeling, Vickers now exclaimed "Lord, bless my wife and family!" "Lord bless them all " came like an antiphon from Innes.

Everything was now in readiness. The nooses were carefully adjusted and the medical officers examined them and found them properly placed. The whole operations at the scaffold had not occupied more that three or four minutes. The minister had just read the line of the hymn, "And to the friendless, prove a friend" when one last prayer, "Lord, remember me", rose from the lips of the unhappy men, and the signal was given. The bolt fell, the men disappeared instantaneously. For a second or two the ropes quivered, and then all was still. Death appeared to have been instantaneous. When all was over, there was no delay made in leaving the melancholy surroundings. The Magistrates and officials adjourned to sign the necessary papers, and to arrange for the post-mortem examination of the bodies. Immediately after the execution, the black flag was hoisted over the prison and the prison bell tolled dismally for half an hour.

James Berry the executioner.

Berry, the executioner, and his assistant are being very highly spoken of by the prison and other authorities for the manner in which they discharged their part of the painful work. Berry is a young man, probably between 30 and 35 years of age, of medium height, with intelligent features and smart active manner. He assisted Marwood on many occasions, and seemed thoroughly experienced in the work which he had to do. His assistant appears slightly older than himself, less intelligent looking and of stronger build. Both are from Bradford, and both are teetotallers and members of the Wesleyan denomination. At the execution yesterday, Berry used a rope five-eighths of an inch in diameter. The drop allowed for Vickers was eight feet six inches and for Innes, who was the lighter man, ten feet. The hangman Berry has been requested to proceed to London to meet the Sheriffs of Middlesex.


Previous reports in The Glasgow Herald

Monday, March 31, 1884, page 6. EDINBURGH THE GOREBRIDGE MURDERS REPRIEVE REFUSED by the Home Secretary. . . . .

In the course of the forenoon (Saturday), the Rev George Wilson, St Michael's E.C communicated to the unhappy convicts the intimation that there was now no hope of the execution of the sentence being delayed and they received the announcement with apparent resignation as if they had already prepared their minds for the worst. On Saturday afternoon, the last interview between the convicts and their wives and families took place and it is said to have been a most affecting one. James Brady, the executioner . . . . . . has been in Edinburgh since Thursday. He and his assistant have been living within the Calton Prison and on Saturday afternoon they had a carriage airing round Queen's Drive.

Monday 24th March 1884 On Saturday afternoon, the condemned prisoner Innes was visited by his wife and family. The interview which lasted for some time was of a painful character. As yet, the other condemned man, Vickers has not been visited by any of his relations.

Wednesday March 19, 1884 Seven of the jurymen who tried Vickers and Innes for the murder of the gamekeepers at Gorebridge have now signed the memorial for a reprieve and an eighth has promised also to sign. The foreman of the jury has refused to adhibit his name to the document. Some 500 persons are said to have signed the memorial in the Gorebridge district.


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