The execution of Baird and Hardie – Negotiations in Edinburgh

On the 2nd September 1820, William Galbraith is still in Edinburgh trying to find a cheaper hangman than the one available in Glasgow. He has been unable to track down the man they are hoping to engage who has recently come out of the army owing to some problem involving a theft, which is not elaborated on. At this point, Galbraith had been able to find someone to fulfil the role of decapitator and give them the job. The person, whose name is not given in these records, was a medical student at the University in Edinburgh, someone who would have the requisite knowledge to do the job as quickly as was required.

Letter William Galbraith in Edinburgh to Alexander Littlejohn, 2nd September 1820

Dear Littlejohn

I saw Captain Brown this morning. He had since I called on him last night, seen the decapitator, who will come to Stirling & do the business for a sum not Exceeding 20lbs & expenses. I authorised Captain Brown to conclude with him, as much below that sum as possible. I had at same time a conversation with him & Mr Callander the Clerk of Police as to the Executioner. He is it seems just come out of the army on account of some theft but they are sure to find him. Mr Callander was to let me know by 4 this afternoon if they had got him, but I have not yet heard from that gentleman. I shall see him tomorrow however, & write you the results. From what he and Brown said the terms will be moderate; & indeed Brown said if he can’t be had, he will find another. They think if he is in Stirling by Wednesday it will be quite sufficient; but it is necessary to know whether or man is to be sent with him from this or if you can send a man who can be relied on. Learn this & write me in councel & if you are to send one, let him be here on Tuesday. Cause him to enquire for me at Stuart’s.

It is proposed that the Decapitator shall go to Stirling by the night mail to Falkirk on Wednesday evening, to walk from Falkirk on Thursday morning & Captain Brown thinks if a room could be filled up for him quietly in the Gaol, it would be the best way. The man wishes of all things to be kept private so that it must be gone about as quietly as possible so that nobody may know when he comes and goes. He would also require a man to meet him on Wednesday evening in the outskirts to conduct him. The less air of mystery that appears in the business the better.

A place must of course be prepared in the Gaol for the Executioner.

Yours in haste

Wm Galbraith

Edin. 2 Sep.


The letter alludes to the fact that both Galbraith and Littlejohn were of the opinion that both the hangman and the decapitator would have to be brought to Stirling at night with as little fuss as possible so that local people would not know they were there. The decapitator was to come on the mail coach to Falkirk and then walk to Stirling from there. It seems that walking that kind of distance was not unusual at that time as there is no suggestion that any kind of conveyance be sent for the student.