On 2 June 1937 the Dundee Courier reprinted an article concerning the execution of Margaret Wishart that had been published 110 years previously.
A SINGLE-SHEET newspaper in the possession of a Dundee man records a public execution which took place at Forfar more than a hundred years ago.
It is an interesting document, for while the more vivid details of the occasion are painstakingly recorded, the entire report is couched in terms of deliberation and almost of dignity.
The story is reprinted here as it appeared:-
ACCOUNT OF EXECUTION OF MARGARET WISHART
Who suffered the awful penalty of the Law, on Saturday, the 16th June, 1827, at the Eastmost Window of the Town House of FORFAR, for the Murder of her Sister.
Forfar, Saturday evening, June 16th.
‘Tis our painful task to state the awful example exhibited here to-day, in the revolting spectacle, wholly unprecedented in this town, of an unfortunate woman expiating her crimes by an ignominious death.
Margaret Wishart was tried before the Circuit Court of Justiciary at Perth, on the 14th April. She was charged with the murder of Jean Wishart, her sister, and her infant male child, by administering to them arsenic in porridge or gruel, which caused their death.
She pled Not Guilty. After the examination of thirteen witnesses for the prosecution and three in exculpation, the Depute Advocate asked for a verdict of guilty, and the Hon. Lesslie Melville, a verdict of Not Proven.
The Lord Justice Clerk, in a speech of upwards of two hours, concluded with expressing his conviction of her guilt; and the Jury, having retired for half an hour, returned by their Chancellor, John Collier, Esq., a verdict finding the panel, by a plurality of voices, Guilty of poisoning her sister; but the poisoning of her child Not Proven.
She was then sentenced to be executed at Forfar on Saturday, the 2nd June, and her body to be given for dissection.
During the trial, she maintained a tolerable degree of composure; but when sentence was pronounced she cried.
She was so much wasted since her apprehension that a gentleman, before whom she was then brought, could scarcely recognise her. The trial lasted thirteen hours.
On Monday, the 23rd April, the unfortunate woman was removed to Forfar Jail; when she was waited upon by the Rev. Mr Clugston, and at his desire was provided with a Bible, and other necessary works to aid her in her devotions.
She was also visited by the Rev. Mr Edie, Mr Lindsay of Letham, and several other clergymen.
During the few days she was in Perth Jail, she was waited upon by some ladies belonging to a religious society there, and furnished with a few tracts; and we are happy to say that her own sex have not been unmindful of her here, but have cheered her lonely dungeon and poured religious consolation into her troubled mind.
About five weeks since, having shewn symptons of mental derangement, four women were appointed to sit up with her, two each night; which arrangement was continued all the time.
When the fatal result of the application that had been made in her behalf, was communicated to her, about three weeks ago, she took no notice of it, and to some questions that were put to her, she returned most incoherent answers; but in a few days she gradually recovered the use of her reason.
The first use she made of it was to make preparations for her approaching end; and for that purpose her two sisters paid their last sad offices of tender regard to the unhappy object of their deep and heartfelt woe – the bitter lamentations at their meeting surpass the power of description.
When an answer was received to the representation made of her state of mind, ordering the execution to be delayed for fourteen days, she regretted the circumstance as she was ready to die.
In the meantime an extra-judicial investigation was taken in Arbroath before the Sheriff-Substitute but nothing was elicited that could, in any degree, clear the prisoner of the crime.
During the greater part of yesterday, the Rev. Mr William Clugston was present with the unfortunate woman; and during the night he was also present with her, as was also the Rev. Mr Dickinson.
About eight o’clock, she was left to endeavour to get a little rest as she had slept very little this week; and at ten she washed herself from top to toe, and arranged her toilette for the last time.
At 11 she was joined by the Clergymen, who remained with her and conducted her devotional services.
During the whole time, she conducted herself with the greatest composure and to the last she acknowledged herself a great sinner, but trusted to Redemption through the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
She acknowledged with gratitude the kind attention paid her by all who had anything to do with her. Margaret Wishart was not ignorant. She was well versed in Scripture and selected the different portions of Scriptures read, and the psalm, paraphrase, and hymn sung.
At two o’clock she entered the Town Hall, supported by the Rev. Mr Clugston, and accompanied by the Provost, two Bailies, and the Rev. Messrs Rankin, Edie, Lindsay, and Dickinson.
She was received by the Council, and Messrs Steele, Milne, and Adamson, surgeons, whom she had requested to attend, in case she should require their services, on being exposed to the air, after her long confinement.
Mr Clugston then read out the 7th to the 12th verses of the 51st Psalm, which were sung by all present, and in which the unfortunate woman joined. Afrer which, The Rev. Rankine, of Inverarity, offered up a most appropriate prayer on her behalf.
After resting a little, she signified her readiness to ascend the platform, previous to which she shook hands with the Provost and other Magistrates and Ministers.
A chair was placed on the platform for her accommodation, and she was assisted in going up to the platform by Mr Clugston on the right, and Mr Rankine on the left.
After being seated on the chair, Mr Clugston gave out the following verses of the hymn, which he requested the audience to join in singing, which was cheerfully complied with:-
Not in mine innocence I trust,
I bow before Thee in the dust;
And through my Saviour’s blood alone,
I look for mercy at Thy throne.
I leave the world without a tear,
Save for the friends I held so dear.
To heal their sorrows, Lord, descend,
And to the friendless prove a friend.
I come, I come, at Thy command,
I give my spirit to Thy hand;
Stretch forth Thy everlasting arms,
And shield me in the last alarms,
The hour of my departure’s come,
I hear the voice that calls me home,
Now, O my God! Let trouble cease;
Now let They servant die in peace.
Mr Clugston then offered up a most impressive prayer on her behalf, of which we profess ourselves utterly incapable of giving an outline to convey an idea of it to those at a distance, and to all those present we are convinced that it will be long remembered.
At its conclusion, the unfortunate woman retired a little, and, having taken away her ruff, the executioner adjusted the rope around her neck and put on a covering on her face.
She was then supported to the drop, where she continued in earnest prayer for upwards of twenty minutes.
As her time was more than expired, it was found necessary to inform her of it, when she intimated that she would be ready in a few minutes; and accordingly at twenty minutes past three she was launched into Eternity.
After hanging the usual time, her body was cut down, put into a box, and immediately sent off to Edinburgh for dissection.
The composure which she evinced during the whole of the time astonished every person. She was dressed in a black gown and white apron and wore black gloves and stockings.
Upwards of 200 special constables were appointed to preserve the peace. Twelve of their number mounted guard at the barricade yesterday evening, and were relieved by the like number at eight o’clock this morning.
At a quarter to twelve this day, they were mustered at their respective rallying places, the town being divided into six districts, and each division being commanded by a chief constable, aided by two assistants.
At one o’clock they were marched to the Town House and placed within the barricade, where they remained until the execution was over.
By this judicious arrangement, the whole was conducted with the greatest decorum and the multitude retired with the utmost order.
Margaret Wishart was born in the parish of St Vigeans, and was for several years a servant in two of the most respectable families in this town, and also in the neighbourhood – where she was noted for industrious habits and an obliging disposition.
About twenty years ago she left this town, and had since resided in Arbroath. She was a middle-sized woman, between 40 and 50 years of age.