The Execution of Baird and Hardie – Finding an executioner

Authorisation to Alexander Littlejohn, Town Clerk of Stirling to engage an executioner for the execution of Hardie, Baird and Clelland, 30th August 1820.

Stirling 30th August 1820

We hereby authorise Alexander Littlejohn Junr. One of the Town Clerks, to proceed to Glasgow without delay and afterwards, if necessary, to Edinburgh, in order to engage an Executioner for the approaching Execution of Andrew Hardie John Baird and James Clelland for High Treason, and to make the proper arrangements For securing his attendance.

John Fraser

John Buchan

D. Mackenzie

Adam Flett

This gave the authority for one of the Town Clerks of Stirling to travel to both Edinburgh and Glasgow to find and engage someone to perform the execution of both Baird and Hardie.

Public execution in Stirling was usually handled by the Hangman or Staffman as he was known. This official had his own acre at Braehead and a house on St John’s Street. Previously, in the 17th century, executions had taken place at the Mailing Gallows where the Black Boy Fountain now stands. On this occasion however, such was the public feeling for the two condemned men that officials were brought from Glasgow to Stirling to undertake their grisly work in order to avoid known local figures being involved. Two men were required, one hangman and one decapitator. The latter gentleman had precise requirements with regard to what equipment should be available to him on the day.

This letter from William Galbraith to Alexander Littlejohn indicates that the latter is in Glasgow looking for an executioner there. There is reference to the previous execution of James Wilson in Glasgow, at which there appear to have been some difficulties, and the need to find horses to draw the hurdle. The fact that they are not confident of finding horses in the Stirling area gives a clear indication that local sympathies are with the two condemned men rather than with the authorities.

Letter William Galbraith, Town Clerk of Stirling to Alexander Littlejohn, Town Clerk of Stirling 30th August 1820

Stirling 30 August 1820

Dear Littlejohn,

I called on the Sheriff With the paper you sent up, who at once subscribed it, and I have since got the Provost, and Bailies MacGowan & Steel’s names to it. While you are in Glasgow, it Will be useful if you can get some Information as to the form of the Hurdle there, and what is to be  done with the body of Wilson. I doubt the bodies can’t be given to the friends in consequence of the terms of the Warrant here. I fear much no person will be got in or about Stirling to give them horse or horses (for I suspect we must have two) voluntarily to draw the men to Execution. Perhaps you might engage some person provisionally. Any Executioner you engage will require to be here some days before hand. I suspect Sheriff Fraser is in a bad way. While I was with him, he could scarcely speak sometimes, for want of breath. I suspect I must leave This for Edin[burgh] by Tuesday’s steam boat (& ash) – but I shall get any letter you may write me ere I go.


Wm Galbraith.