Thursday, 20 September 2018

The Costs of Robert Scott's Execution in 1823.

The previous post on the Auld Earlston blog told the tale of Robert Scott, who, on the night after the Earlston Fair, murdered two men on the road near Fans, and was duly tried and executed on the spot where he committed the crime.

 Section of the handbill giving the news of Robert Scott's execution. ** 

The account book of the Sheriff Officer has survived and  gives us details of  the costs of  the execution and the transporting of the body to Edinburgh for medical dissection.  The report, transcribed below, makes fascinating reading - not least for the amount spent on refreshments and liquor!

In connection with Scott’s confinement in Greenlaw Jail:

  • William Matthewson, Greenlaw, renders the account ­: 29th July 1823 for  removing the irons of Scott sundry times - 3s.  To  one large swell in Scott’s irons - 1s.10d.
  • George Robertson, barber, renders an account for shaving- eleven times at 2d, each  - 1s.10d.  Cutting Scott’s hair - 2d.

The accounts after Scott was handed over to the Sheriff of Berwickshire are rendered to the Right Honourable Barons of Exchequer by Andrew Easton, Sheriff Officer, Berwickshire. Among the items are the following:

  • Paid a joiner affixing chair in cart for conveying Scott from Earlston to the place of execution  - 3s.6d.
  • Paid for conveying police officer and hangman going to the scaffold early in the morning to adjust the rope (sic) etc
  • Paid additional expenses at Earlston ordered by the sheriff to superintend the watch on the scaffold; waiting on the sheriffs and giving instructions relative to the execution   - 16s9d.
  • For refreshments to the extraordinary constables at Greenlaw going to the execution of Scott  - 5s.9d.
  • Paid to Mr Carter, Earlston, for whisky etc. to man watching the scaffold per order of the sheriff, per receipt  -  16s.9d.  and one bottle 2s.
  • Paid Mr Duffy, Fans, for straw
  • To Mr Carter for three bottles of whisky for the men  - 8s.4d.
  • To self for same and horse from Monday 27th to Wednesday 29th ordered to remain by the sheriff  -  £1.6s.6d.
  • For a cheese to the men at the scaffold  - 2d.
  • Paid Walter Dickson, Fans, for a breakfast for seven men  -  7s.0d.
  • Also to same for eleven men for victuals for watching the scaffold -  6s.10d.
(It is said that the watchers amused themselves playing cards using the waiting coffin as a table.) 
  • To Andrew Darling for peats  - 4s.6d.
  • To George Gibson for bread and candles for night when watching -  11s.6d

  • To Mr Carter for bottle of wine and gin ordered to be taken to the scaffold by the sheriff  - 10s.0d.
  • The refreshments at Greenlaw for the extraordinary constables returning from
    the execution  -  5s.6d.
  • To tolls and corn for George Pringle’s horse and cart when going to Earlston to convey Robert Scott’s body to Edinburgh -  1s.2d.
  • Paid the bill at Earlston ordered for two constables to remain at the inn by the sheriff  two days -  13s.9d.
  • For a lanthorn when escorting the corpse to Edinburgh -  3d.
  • Paid bill for man and horse at Shaw’s, Lauder  -  13s.3d.
  • The refreshments at Carfraemill men and horse  -  2s.6d.
  • Also at Pathhead the same -  1s.6d.
  • To a porter in Edinburgh conducting the cart to the place where the corpse was going  -  1s.
  • Paid fee to keeper of cottage getting admission  -  1s,
  • Paid porter searching for a Mr McKenzie, dissector, to take charge of the corpse - 1s 
  • Paid bill at Mr Watson’s, Edinburgh, for men and horse  - £1.19s.0d.
  • George Ingram’s account for men and horse returning from Edinburgh  -  19s.10d.
  • Expenses in returning from Edinburgh to Dunse -  6s.3d.
  • Tolls going and returning from Edinburgh  - 1s.6d.

Total £16.1s.1d 

£16 in 1823 is equivalent to £919  in today's money. 
1s 6d is equivalent to £4.30
Source: National Archives Currency Converter

The total account rendered by the Procurator Fiscal on 15th December 1823 to the Exchequer for the Execution of Robert Scott £243.2s.7d. 

 The Gallows was probably included in the above total. It cost £150. It was afterwards kept in an outhouse at Blandfield Cottage at a rent of £6 yearly. 


**  "Execution".  Edinburgh, 1823. Printed for William Johnston. Price One Penny.
On the National Library of Scotland website at

Until the mid 19th century, broadsides (or handbills) were the forerunner of the popular press. Printed on one side of a single sheet of paper, they were designed to be displayed in public places.


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