The Crime, Trial & Execution of Margaret Wishart Pt.2: The Trial
The good need fear now law;
It is his safety and the bad man’s awe.
Part Two: The Trial
The law’s delay, both civil and criminal, is proverbial. Margaret Wishart was kept a prisoner in the jail of Arbroath for six long weary months, until at last it was announced that she was to be put on trial for the murder of her sister, at the Perth Circuit, which was to open its proceedings on the 12th April, 1827.
I was so much interested in the fate of Margaret that I determined to go to Perth, to be present at the trial. I booked an outside place on the “Defiance” Coach for the 11th. This “Defiance” stage-coach was the property of Captain Barclay, the Laird of Ury, the famous athlete and sportsman. This coach was not the “mail.” The mail ran from Aberdeen, via Arbroath and Dundee, to Edinburgh, but the captain’s coach, which he often drove himself, was said to be the fastest and best conducted coach to be found in three kingdoms. The “Defiance” was timed to perform the whole journey from Aberdeen to Edinburgh (129 miles) in 12 hours – upwards of ten miles an hour, including stoppages, which perhaps was almost as great a feat as the celebrated proprietor performed when he walked 1000 miles in 1000 hours. We started from Mr Ross’s Inn on the forenoon of the 11th, with a full compliment of passengers. We soon left the town of Forfar behind, and were merrily bowling along the turnpike road, past the Halfpenny Burn, through the village of Douglastown, and away along the beautifully wooded domain of Glamis. It was a fine day, the trees were just beginning to awake from their long winter sleep, putting forth young buds, which were soon to develop into beautiful green leaves; the hedge-rows were not yet in blossom, but a few more genial days of sunshine and shower would make them resplendent in floral loveliness. I could see from my elevated position, as wee drove past the foot of Hunter Hill, a red flag waving from the battlements of Glamis Castle, announcing that the family were home. We soon arrived at the beautiful little village of Glamis itself, with it Post Office, (which is also a general store), its saddler’s shop, its sawmills and spinning mills, forming a perfect little busy hive of industry. We drove into the commodious court-yard of Glamis Inn, where we were to change horses, and here three quarters of an hour was allowed for refreshment. The landlord of the Inn at this time was a Mr Hammock, a hearty jovial old soul, with rubicund countenance, and a merry eye, the very picture of a genial Boniface.
Although it is foreign to the subject-matter of my story I cannot resist recording a little incident that happened at the Inn of Glamis that day. The most of the inside passengers who had booked at Aberdeen that morning, took dinner, as well as some of the outside passengers. Having had a very early breakfast I also resolved like a wise traveller to fortify the inner man with a good square meal. Soup and fish had been served and finished and mine host, who acted as Chairman as the feast, had just begun to carve a large juicy roast, done to a turn, when the guard of the coach appeared at the room door and announced that they were all ready to start, and could not wait a minute longer. The disappointed travellers, although grumbling sore at this unwelcome interruption of their dinner, rose from their half-finished meal and rushed out to the court-yard fearing they might be left behind. I went with the rest, but away down near the foot of the table sat a tall military-looking gentleman, who paid not the slightest attention to all the bustle and hurry. He sat calmly eating his dinner with an imperturbable countenance, helping himself at his leisure to all the good things on the table – mutton, tongue, ham, chicken, &c. Although the landlord told him he would lose the coach, and the guard epostulated that he was already behind time, and could not wait another minute, the gentleman still continued to make way quietly with his dinner, giving no heed to the clamour. We were now all outside and had taken our seats on the coach, the landlord also coming to see us off, but before the word was given to start he again looked into the dining room, where he saw his cool customer had now got the length of the sweets. When the driver had cracked his whip and the coach was just on the eve of starting the landlord came rushing from the Inn door, bawling out “Halt, halt, somebody has stolen all my silver spoons.” We were soon all again in the dining room, everyone vociferating that they knew nothing about the stolen plate, when my silent gentleman, who had just finished his dinner, arose from the table and said quietly to the landlord, “Please look into the soup tureen, I think you will find your spoons there,” and sure enough there they were. This simple ruse kept us all merry during the rest of the journey. It is said that the guards are bribed by unscrupulous landlords to cheat travellers out of the meals for which they have to pay so handsomely. If this is so, I only wish they may often come across acute customers like this silent self-possessed military-looking gentleman.
We arrived in the fair city of Perth about mid-afternoon, and I took up my abode with an old messmate and comrade, John Grant, who lived at the foot of the Skinnergate. John told me that all the prisoners from a distance had been brought to the city the day before, and lodged in the old prison, which stood beside the Town-House and the High Street. He also informed me that the macer of the Court was a friend of his, and that he had told him that it would likely be Saturday before Wishart’s case was reached, judging from the position it was in on the roll. I had therefore two days (Thursday and Friday) to wait before the case I had come specially to hear was likely to come on. Having no morbid desire to sit and listen to Helen Mitchell from Kinghorn being tried for concealment of pregnancy, John Hill, messenger-at-arms, from Dunkeld, for forgery; John Badenoch from Crieff, for sheep-stealing, and so on, I resolved along with my old friend Grant, to have a peep at the historical antiquities and beautiful scenery in and around the Fair City. Will take a more fitting opportunity to dilate on what I saw these two days, such as Gowrie House, the Monk’s Tower, Greyfriars Convent, the view from Kinnoull Hill, the ancient village of Scone and its Royal Palace, the battlefield of Luncarty, the Thistle Brig, and the Linn of Campsie, all scenes bristling with historical associations and romance.
Through the goodwill of Grant’s friend the Macer I was accommodated with a good position in the Court on the Saturday morning, expected to be the last day of the Circuit. Lord Mackenzie was the presiding judge, and the Right Hon. Lord Justice Clerk (Boyle) was on the bench beside him. I remembered, as I looked at the latter Judge, that six years before I heard him pronounce the judgement of death on Margaret Tindall or Shuttleworth, of Montrose. The Court opened at ten o’clock, when a prostitute from Dundee named Janet Macdonald was placed at the bar charged with robbing Donald Macleod, road contractor, Carnoustie, of nineteen bank-notes, in the house of Thams Wallace, Seagate, Dundee. The poor creature pled guilty and was sentenced to be imprisoned in the jail of Dundee for one year. Then came up a case of forgery which occupied the Court for some hours. A woman had forged her father’s name to a bill for £89 16s. In consequence of some legal technicality this case was certified to the High Court of Justiciary, and the woman admitted to bail. Then a habit-and-repute thief from the Meal Vennel of Perth, for stealing a linen shirt, was sentenced to transportation for life. These cases occupied the time of the Court until one o’clock, when Margaret Wishart was placed at the bar. She was very pale, and so thin that had I not known her so well I would not have recognised her; but nothing else could have been expected, after the long imprisonment she had endured, and the anxiety of mind she must have experienced.
What a painful realism there is about the proceedings in a Court of Justice, more especially when engaged in a trial for murder, when expert highly-trained men can at will turn a witness inside out. Everything to the minutest detail is laid bare, the habits, the employment, even the thoughts of the accused person are all exposed, sifted, and analysed, and held up naked and unclothed to the scrutiny of the world. A Court of Justice also is a great attraction to the philosopher, who can read between the lines. To him it is more entertaining than the most complicated novel or thrilling romance.
I am fortunately able from the copious notes I took at the time to give a good resumé of the evidence and speeches that day, from which the judicious reader can judge for him or herself as to the guilt or innocence of this unfortunate woman, Margaret Wishart. The substance of the indictment, which at this stage was read to the panel, was as follows :-
“Margaret Wishart, you are accused of murder, by having administered a quantity of arsenic to your sister, Jean Wishart, who resided with you in Arbroath, on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th day of October, 1826, which poison was mixed up with a quantity of porridge or gruel, and given by you to her to eat – and also to an infant male child, of which the said Jean Wishart had been delivered upon the said 6th October – in consequence of which poisonous mixture the said Jean Wishart immediately thereafter became violently ill, and lingered in great pain until the 8th day of said month – when she died in consequence thereof – the male child also died on the 9th of the said month, because of arsenic administered to it.”
The panel being asked to plead she in a firm tone said. “Not guilty, my Lord.”
The jury was then sworn, and the first witness, David Edwards was called.
DAVID EDWARDS deponed that in October last he lodged in a house in Arbroath kept by panel and Jean Wishart her sister, who was blind; during which time the latter died. He never saw the latter prepare her victuals. She became unwell some days before her death. Has never seen deceased take porridge. Has never seen Jean Wishart take her meat, but has seen Margaret take hers. Remembers seeing Catherine Greig in Wishart’s house one evening, but did not see Wishart eat porridge while she was present. Here witness was cautioned by the Lord Justice-Clerk to speak out as an honest man on his solemn oath, and said his evidence would be taken down on record. Being interrogated, if the deceased did, or did not, on the evening of the Tuesday before her death, eat any porridge or any other substance, answered No. His words were taken down in which he denied that he had ever seen Jean Wishart take food. He had seen panel take her meals. Took breakfast in Wishart’s house on Wednesday morning. Jean Wishart complained of being unwell on Tuesday evening, in consequence of eating some turnips she got from the milk boy, said she had a sore belly. Did not see her vomit on Tuesday evening. Saw her get some whisky toddy from panel on Thursday evening. Did not see her vomit then but on Friday. Sat by her all the night of Friday, when he sat up with her. She slept in a small bed off the kitchen. Conversed with Jean Wishart during the night, who said Andrew Roy was the father of the child of which she had been delivered. Panel sat up along with witness. She complained of her head and of docan water that had been given to her to drink. Witness went to bed early in the morning, and did not see or speak to her afterwards. Heard her vomiting during the night. Her sister gave her water in a small mug. He sat with the child on his knee part of the time, and it appeared in good health. Afterwards saw child vomiting in Catherine Robertson’s arms. Margaret Wilson never told him that deceased had been sick. Left Arbroath on Saturday morning, and returned on Monday, when he found deceased and her child in a coffin. Examined by the Hon. Leslie Melville, panel’s counsel – Had seen Margaret Wishart make gruel for her sister to drink. By the Lord Justice-Clerk – Panel said she did not know that Jean was with child, and that it would be a terrible affront on them all, but she would do the best she could for it. After a good deal of equivocation witness said when he came back to Arbroath, Margaret said she would do everything in her power for the child, that she had a conversation with her sister about it during the night of Friday. On being asked whether panel seemed to think that her sister was going to die, the witness appeared either embarrassed or unwell, and did not answer the question. He said he had been unwell for some time. After getting a glass of water the witness answered that the panel did not seem to be convinced that her sister was going to die. Deceased complained on Wednesday also, and witness thinks took her bed, but did not see her. The witness, after signing his deposition, was put into a solitary room.
CATHERINE GREIG deponed to knowing panel and her sister Jean, who was blind. She died on Saturday night or Sunday morning of last autumn. She visited her on the Tuesday evening before her death and found there David Edwards. Saw Jean supping porridge when she went in, but Margaret was not supping. Edwards was sitting with his hand on his face, and had as good an opportunity of seeing them take supper as her. Jean Wishart was the only one she saw eating. She remained about half an hour in the house, and ten minutes before she left the house Jean Wishart was taken ill, became very sick, and said she wished she had taken no supper that night, and was put to bed. Margaret Wishart and Edwards were present all this time. Witness heard her retching before she went away, and she was vomiting when she left the house. Saw Jean Wishart again on Thursday. She took her porridge in the usual way on Tuesday. She took them from the common broth plate. She was very ill on the Thursday. Said she was no better and would not be better soon, said she was all sore. Did not come out of bed on Thursday. Panel said nothing about her sister. Witness remained about an hour, and saw her again on the Saturday morning. Panel said “There is another child,” and asked if witness would go and see her sister, and said she was dying, but witness said she would see her brawly yet. The deceased said she was willing to submit to the will of the Almighty, but had rather die. On Sunday evening we proposed getting a doctor to the child, but Margaret said a doctor would do no good to a child, as he would not know its complaint. The child seemed very ill and threw up. By panel’s counsel – Deceased spoke of her child on Saturday morning, saying to witness, “be good to my laddie.” She had two children, one of them three years before this. Said at that time she was dying. The sisters always seemed quite agreeable. On both the Saturday evening and the Sunday morning deceased said she was dying. Witness promised to sit up that night. Edwards said nothing in hearing of witness respecting Jean Wishart’s illness. He was present when she went to bed unwell, and must have heard her complain before she went to bed. Neither panel nor Edwards said anything respecting the deceased’s illness whiles witness continued in the house. Witness was surprised at the silence of the panel concerning her sister’s illness, but supposed it had been the same complaint panel had formerly mentioned her having during the summer. Panel gave her sister water, then punch in a jug on the night she was taken ill. Edwards rose and walked in the floor while the deceased was in pain, but said nothing.
JESSIE or JANET MACKENZIE deponed that she knew panel, and also knew her sister Jean, and remembered of her death last autumn on a Sunday morning. On the Friday previous she saw panel, who called at her door and asked her to come up, that her sister was dying, and desired her to go for Mrs Prain, the midwife, which witness did. She had a male child which appeared in good health. Mrs Prain desired the deceased to get a drink of water gruel, which her sister prepared, while witness and midwife dressed the child in another room. Heard deceased say she disliked the gruel, and desire her to take it away. Saw tea made for the deceased, but did not see her drink it. Called again at 9 o’clock: it was on a Friday. Deceased was very weak, and asked witness what she would get to drink, and said she had a particular drouth. Called again next morning, when panel said her sister had been very bad all night, and that she thought she would die. She assisted in shifting her about 9 o’clock. The child had been ill on the night between Friday and Saturday. Panel said it had got some gruel; it was much swelled and there was marks of vomiting about its clothes. Panel said all the doctors in Arbroath would do them no good and no doctor was sent for. Deceased complained of great thirst and drank much. She was quite uneasy and could not get peace to lie. Prisoner said her sister wished her to keep the child when she was dead, which she had agreed to do. Deceased vomited the first time she saw her get drink. She died on the Sunday morning. Witness saw the child on the Sunday, and it appeared ill. It died on Monday morning. The two sisters lived on good terms, so far as witness saw.
MRS PRAIN, midwife, deponed that she was called upon to attend on a woman on Orchard Street of Arbroath about six weeks before Martinmas, Jean Wishart, whom she delivered of a male child. She desired her sister to give her some water gruel, and the deceased said she had taken part of it, but did not like it and said she would take a cup of tea, which her sister prepared. Saw her again about eight o’clock in the evening, when she was very ill with an upthrowing, and asked witness if she could give her anything, but witness said she would give her something tomorrow. Did not see her vomit that night. Was called by Mrs Mackenzie next morning between 7 and 8, and was told she had passed an awful night in distress and vomiting, and she had also purged violently. Her sister said she had no need of a purgative medicine which witness proposed giving her before she knew of her having vomited. Witness gave her some mace tea. She took an opium pill and witness recommended calling a doctor as nothing which had been given her, remained on her stomach. When witness returned in the evening she found her much in the same way. Dr Clark was not sent for, although witness recommended this. Panel would not call her own, sister, and Jean did not want any of her relations to come within the door as long as she was in life, as they would be upbraiding her. Prisoner desired her not to put it into deceased’s head to call a doctor, as it would do no good. She saw Jean Wishart no more in life, but helped to put her in the coffin on Monday. The child appeared healthy, and witness said it would be a pity if anything happened to it. Panel said it had refused some meat she had offered it, and next day it appeared very ill. The body swelled, made no water, and died on Monday morning. Saw some of the vomiting of Jean Wishart, which she did not like; thought her situation quite different from any woman she had ever seen. Panel always said her sister was dying; that she had been ill with upthrowing some days previous to her delivery. This was in hearing of deceased, who took no notice of this in one way or other. This was on the Friday evening. Deceased seemed to have no particular ailment that witness could perceive. Deceased said on Saturday she thought she was dying; did not say she had been ill before the pains of labour came upon her. Witness thought nothing particular had gone wrong until Saturday, when, deceased being seized with a violent coldness, she became alarmed. Could not mention any particular day on which she complained most. The Lord Justice-Clerk complimented this witness for the distinct manner in which she had given her evidence, and likewise for the respectable manner in which she appeared to go about her business, where her assistance was required.
CHARLOTTE PROPHET deponed that she knew panel and deceased, who kept boarders in Arbroath. Remembered deceased being unwell in the Autumn last year. Deceased had said to witness that she had a wretched life; has often heard her crying and knows the sisters did not agree. Deceased had a bad life between Margaret and Andrew Roy. Had seen Andrew Roy and Jean Wishart go out of the house about the same time when late, sometimes about 12 o’clock at night, which continued for some weeks. Deceased never said to witness how she had a bad life between panel and Andrew Roy. Saw deceased frequently before her death when she was vomiting. Saw her after death, and when the body was put into the coffin. Jean Wishart was quite blind in life. Does not know how long she had been blind. She was younger than panel.
MARY GREIG, on being sworn and interrogated in the usual way, to the question, “Nobody has told you what to say, or given or promised you any reward for your evidence here?” answered, “Yes, the prisoner had. Here an explanation took place, and on her saying that she meant to tell the truth according to the oath she had taken, examination proceeded, and she deponed that she remembered of Jean Wishart having a child, of which, she told witness, Andrew Roy was the father, in a secret. That she was sworn by her sister Margaret and Andrew Roy not to tell who was the father of the child, and that if she was to tell it to the minister, the minister would disown her, and her other relations would have nothing to do with her for it, and she did not reveal who was its father. Jean had at one time lived with witness, and at that time the sister made her victuals. She saw Jean once after she left witnesses house. Knew Andrew Roy had lived in the same house with both sisters for four years. Saw Jean standing at her sister’s door, and spoke to her. She said to witness that both Andrew Roy and her sister were very bad to her. She wished witness to take her to live with her. Told witness that Andrew Roy used her bad till she complied with his ways; that after he was tired of her sister he came and bad-used her. She saw Margaret Wishart in jail two months ago, when she took her into a toom room, and wished her (witness) to say that she had gone with her sister to Croll’s shop to buy poison, but witness said she could not do that, and panel said she did not think there was any evil in telling a lie if it was to do a person any good. Never went into a shop with Jean Wishart to buy poison. Said she could not tell a lie, besides she would be sworn to tell the truth, and could not tell a lie to gain a person’s character. There was one Nance MacPherson that came whiles about the prisoner. It was this conversation she alluded to when she first came into court and answered Lord McKenzie’s question. Had reason to think that deceased was with child twelve months ago. She told witness that her sister continued to illuse, and that she would not be suffered to live with after this, and although she (witness) would not believe this she would see after it happened. She wanted witness to take her into her house. It was her sister she complained of – from what she said to witness. Deceased was completely blind while she lived in witness’s house, and her sister brought her victuals. She span terribly (meaning she laboured constantly). Her blindness came on from trouble in her head. By the Hon. Leslie Melville – Had seen panel twice in jail, but it was the second time the conversation took place. A. Durward let her in. There were two women in the room besides her at the time. They said “this is an awful case that has happened.” Witness said it was. Did not say to panel that she would come forward as a witness. There were two persons present that day. There was no more the first time she was there. The first time she was there was on Tuesday, and the second time was on Wednesday. Panel said she was glad witness had come, rose and desired her to go and see the other room of the jail, and it was there the conversation took place. Has told no lie about the matter on this or any other occasion. After she left the room panel wished her to go to say aloud that witness went with her sister Jean to Croll’s shop, and wished witness to say so before the men and others present, but witness replied that she would tell the truth about her and nothing else. There were four in the room at the time, among whom was John Adam. Witness yielded so far to say these words, and panel said she would be called upon and would not refuse to go. She said she would not refuse to go and tell the truth. She yielded in consequence of the constant importunity of panel, and did not think at that time there was any harm in it. Never repeated the words in any other place. Durward was present at the time she said these words. Does not think she said them more than once or at any other time. Panel wished witness to say that her sister had gone to other doctors and got nothing, but got it from Dr Croll. Was only twice at the jail. Panel urged witness very much, and said there was no sin in speaking falsely to gain her character and clear her. Passed the room Ogg was in to go to the empty room with witness. Panel had it always in her power to converse with Ogg. John Adam was also a prisoner.
BELL SANDS deponed that she was in panel’s house on a Saturday, when she had a child on her knee which she was feeding with a tea spoon, with something like ale balm, and panel appeared condemned like in the face, as if she had been caught doing something wrong. She said she was giving it some drink. She said to witness “isna this is a terrible thing to have Jean crying again.” Witness said she was a poor blind object, and began laughing when panel said “I have had much and no little to do with her,” but that she was badly and would not live. She said the child would be a burden to her, and that her sister had been a burden to her many a day, and she used some harsh expressions towards her. She used another expression of sorrow for her distressed state, but appeared very angry.
MRS SHARP, nurse, deponed to knowing panel and her sister Jean. Remembers being called on a Sunday, and seeing a child very ill. Witness advised calling a doctor, but panel declined, saying she was not in circumstances to pay one. Witness said that was no matter, he would come if called. Witness met Dr Findlay on the street, and went along with him. He said he would go anywhere to see a child, whether paid or not. The child kept vomiting at intervals. It was Ann Wishart, prisoner’s sister, who came for witness to see the child. By the Hon. Leslie Melville – Child was much worse than any she ever saw.
DR FINDLAY was called to see Jean Wishart’s child. Did not know whether the panel was the person in the house; she did not speak. Witness found the child just dying. Its belly was swelled. The woman did not seem anxious for advice. Ordered warm fomentations, and left the house. Called next day; was told the child was dead. Was asked to go and see the corpse by a woman, but declined, as it would do no good. Rather thinks panel was the woman who was with the child.
DR ARROTT was acquainted with a blind woman named Jean Wishart, and in consequence of an order from a magistrate went to St Vigeans and disinterred a body there, and from the features recognised it to be that of Jean Wishart. There was the body of a child in the coffin. The bodies were removed to the school room and dissected. The stomach and intestines were taken out and carried to Dr Palmer’s shop. The stomach was divided and part of its contents were sent to Dr Christison, Edinburgh, sealed up in a bottle enclosed in a box; the rest he put into a bottle and put into a press of which he always kept the key. Dr Arrott then read a report drawn up and signed by himself, Drs Sharpy, and Palmer, stating minutely the different chemical tests to which they subjected the stomach and its contents; by which they had no doubt of Jean Wishart’s death being in consequence of arsenic. He was also of opinion that arsenic had been given deceased before her inlying, and it was probable on the Tuesday.
DR ARROTT and the other medical gentleman who made out the report were complimented for the careful and accurate manner in which they had discharged so arduous and important a duty. Dr Sharpy corroborated Dr Arrott in every particular.
DR CHRISTISON received a box containing a bottle which he identified. He then read a report signed and drawn up by himself, narrating the methods which he employed and the chemical tests used in detecting the presence of arsenic in the contents of the stomach, and the conclusion which he and the other medical gentleman came to were the same. The counsel for the panel put a number of questions to Prof Christison, relative to the quantity arsenic necessary to produce death in a child or adult, but as I could not be certain of giving the questions and answers correctly I should not attempt stating them.
The declarations of the panel, the first of which have been emitted a fortnight after the commission of the alleged crime, were then read. The substance of these I will not state at length, but shall merely notice two particulars which were founded upon astending to fix guilt on the prisoner. These were, namely, the panel’s assertion that she thought she gave her sister potatoes for supper on Tuesday the 3rd of October – that she partially recovered from the illness with which she was seized on that evening, and had got up and begun to spin before she was overtaken with the pains of child-labour.
DAVID EDWARDS, the first witness, was again brought forward, and upon the petition of the Advocate-Depute was committed to jail to await his trial before the High Court of Justiciary for wilful and corrupt perjury.
This ended the evidence for the crown.
At this stage of the proceeding the Court adjourned half an hour for refreshments. The judge, on resuming his seat at the bench, announced that as this was the last case on the Roll, the Court would sit it out, even although it was Sunday morning until it was brought to a close.
The witnesses for the exculpatory proof were, unfortunately for the panel, all more or less of a shady character, if we except Andrew Dorward, the jailor of the Arbroath Tollbooth; and he, poor fellow, was very sharply animadverted on by the Lord-Justice Clerk.
The first witness called for the defence was Elizabeth McPherson, and the substance of her evidence was as follows: – Resides in Arbroath and was imprisoned in jail there along with her mother about the beginning of the present year on the accusation of reset and theft. Panel was also in jail at that time, and kept in the same apartment; a man named Ogg, a debtor, occupied the adjoining room. A woman named Mary Greig came to the prison whilst they were there, but does not recollect the day of the week. Greig said that “had she been called when the lave were called Margaret Wishart would not have been in jail.” This was said when Mary Greig first came in. Andrew Durward gave her admittance. Did not hear her say that she had come in consequence of the prisoner having sent for her. Panel said – “Oh, Mary, what have you got to say?” but at that time she would not tell, neither did she hear her say any more about it. On the following Monday morning she came back. Panel told Ogg and Adam, who occupied the next room, what Mary had said, and they desired her to get back again. Did not see panel leave the room with Mary Greig either on the first or second occasion, but on the latter she said she had gone with Jean Wishart, the blind woman, to several doctor’s shops seeking something. She thinks she called it the bitter apple. Two or three nights after saw panel go with Mary Greig to Ogg and Adamson’s room. Greig said she went along with Jean to Dr Clark’s and Dr Traill’s shops, but did not get what they wanted, but at length got it in Dr Croll’s.
MARY MOWATT or MCPHERSON – Was in jail as described by former witness. When Mary Greig first came in she looked at panel, and panel at her, and then Mary Greig said – “If she had been called sooner panel would not have been there.” Witness’s daughter was present. Corroborated her daughter’s evidence in most respects except in this, that instead of bitter apple it was arsenic that was said to have been procured at Dr Croll’s. Mary Greig was twice in jail after this disclosure. Cross- examined for the Crown – Her daughter being present, must have heard what Mary Greig said.
ANDREW DURWARD, jailor of Arbroath, recollects of Mary Greig coming to him expressing a wish to see the panel. The first time she requested this she was refused admittance. Witness told panel that such a woman had wished to see her, and sit up with her all night, and panel replied she did not wish to see her, as she was a lying woman. Greig came about a month after entreating admittance. Witness told panel of this, and she was prevailed upon to see her. Nancy McPherson was accordingly sent for, and she came next day, 14th February, a Monday, when she said to witness that she went along with the deceased to Dr Croll’s and purchased arsenic. Had been at two other places before asking the poison, but did not obtain it. She again returned on the following Saturday, and a third time on the Monday following that. After these repeated visits, sent for her to take her to Mr Smith, the Procurator-Fiscal of the town, to state what she had said in the jail. Was quite certain that she was more than twice in the jail before this. The Lord Justice-Clerk sharply reprimanded the jailer for his conduct and thus becoming an agent to fish out evidence in the panel’s favour, and declared such conduct highly improper in one occupying an official situation of that nature. His lordship also condemned him severely for the discipline observed in the jail and the promiscuous mixture of its inmates. The jailer at length answered that “the discipline of the jail was such as the Magistrates permitted.” His Lordship said he should not fail to report this to the Lord-Advocate.
WILLIAM OGG was in Arbroath jail for a civil debt, and during part of his confinement the panel was there. Saw Mary Greig there who came to see panel. Witness went into panel’s room and saw Greig there. In course of the day panel came into his room and appeared much troubled in consequence of something Greig had told her. Upon this took an interest in panel’s case, and wished Mary Greig sent for. When she came she said she was under oath to the deceased not to tell what she alluded to, and thereafter refused to tell where the arsenic was got. At length she was prevailed upon to say that it was procured from Dr Croll’s boy after calling at other places without effect. He knew before this that arsenic had been got, because he heard the reports that the doctors had found arsenic on the deceased’s stomach. Had not heard of Mary Greig’s transaction till she told it herself. Cross-examined for the Crown. – John Adam and his son were present also. The woman went into another room, and he followed immediately. Was certain the younger McPherson was not present in that room. This closed the exculpatory proof.
The DEPUTE-ADVOCATE Julie said, but after the fall and patient investigation that had been made into all the circumstances of this melancholy affair, and the late hour to which the proceedings had been prolonged, it was unnecessary for him to take up the time of the jury long, and he would, therefore, only point out to them a few things, leaving them to form their own conclusions on the evidence which he had laid before them. He then adverted to the conclusive nature of the medical report as to the fact of arsenic having being administered, and all the circumstances attending the opening of the body, and the suspicion that attached to the panel from her having for a series of years prepared food of her sister. He alluded very feelingly to the destitute and forlorn situation of the deceased, and the obligations that lay on panel to discharge the duties of relationship and humanity, and the sad contrast that the proceedings of this day exhibited. He showed the upper utter improbability of the unfortunate woman, Jean Wishart, having taken poison for her own destruction, and contrasted the clear consistent, and uniform testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution with that brought forward in exculpation, which he contended was improbable, and in almost every instance the witnesses adduced contradicted each other, and had a different version of the same story. He concluded a neat, argumentative and concise speech by asking a verdict of guilty against the prisoner.
The HON. LESLIE MELVILLE, in reply to Mr Dundas, began by soliciting for himself the patient attention of the jury, conscious as he was off his own insufficiency to discharge adequately the duty which had fallen to him. He alluded to the eminent manner in which two eminent counsel had discharged similar duty to an individual who was lately placed in a situation like that of his unfortunate client, and lamented his fitness to discharge properly a task he would gladly resigned to abler hands. The panel at the bar, however, was poor and unable to fee counsel, and he had been applied to, and he could not feel himself at liberty to refuse under such circumstances. He was happy to think, however, that if he was unable to do justice to the cause of his unfortunate client, her case rested where it ought to rest, in the hands of fifteen independent and intelligent gentlemen, who were disposed to give it every attention and consideration. He did not go over all the evidence, but made some remarks tending to shake the testimony of some of the witnesses, particularly that of Mary Greig, which, he contended, was set aside by the two McPhersons, Ogg, and Durward, who heard her say in the jail of Arbroath that she went with Wishart to purchase poison. He denied that there was any disposition in the four witnesses he had adduced to give false testimony in favour of his client. Her extreme poverty prevented the suspicion of bribery or collusion. In regard to some remarks which the counsel for the prosecution had made on the declarations emitted by the panel, disagreeing with the direct testimony of several of the witnesses, he maintained that this might arise from the confusion and alarm she was in at the time. He remarked that it was impossible to emit a declaration on which the counsel might not build an argument against a panel, and he was of the same opinion he had heard expressed by a very eminent brother of his profession, that a person on being apprehended ought to answer no interrogatories that might afterwards be brought against him. He was of opinion that the proof adduced was not conclusive against his client, particularly in regard to the child, which, even according to the report of the physicians, could not have been said to have died of poison as they had not been able to discover arsenic in the contents of its stomach. After some general remarks on the nature of the evidence he concluded by asking from the jury a verdict of not proven.
At 11 o’clock the Lord Justice-Clerk began to sum up the evidence, and spoke for two hours and twenty minutes. He commenced by stating the circumstances of the apprehension of the panel, the taking up of the body, the clear and distinct medical report given in by Drs Arrot, Palmer, and Sharpy, and that of Prof. Christison of Edinburgh, who all agreed as to the presence of arsenic in the stomach, and complemented these gentlemen for the manner in which they had discharged the duty entrusted to them. He then went minutely into the evidence given by the witnesses for the prosecution, which he pronounced clear and conclusive as to almost every fact connected with the administering of the poison, and its effects upon the unfortunate Jean Wishart and her child. He also pointed out many little circumstances given in evidence by different witnesses, which though trivial at first sight tended much to strengthen the main testimony. As to the witness Mary Greig, whose testimony the panel’s counsel had laboured so much to invalidate by bringing forward his witnesses from the jail of Arbroath, he must still say it stood unimpeached. It was corroborated in many important particulars by that of the witness Prophet, whom he had found no fault with, and whose evidence was most important in many respects. She testified as to seeing the deceased getting the porridge, and that Edwards, whose deposition was so inconsistent, was present and had an opportunity and must have seen her take this meal as well as her. She also corroborated the evidence of Greig as to the bad agreement of the sisters, and the cause of it. She testified that she had often seen Margaret Wishart leave the house late at night, a little before or a little after Roy, and they returned about the same time, sometimes as late as twelve o’clock. He considered the evidence on the part of the McPhersons, who had been confined for reset of theft, as unworthy of credit, and the whole attempt on the part of them and Ogg and Durward as a sort of agency for the panel. He remarked with severity on the state of Arbroath jail, where prisoners of every description were allowed to mix promiscuously, and lay any plans they might think proper, and of which jail Ann McPherson appeared to enjoy her freedom. The counsel for the panel, his Lordship observed, had thrown out some reflections against taking declarations from panels, but he would tell him he entirely differed from him. They were an ancient and essential part of the law, as much so as any of the proceedings here this day. Although they might not suit panels, they were essential to the proper distribution of justice in the country. He would also say in the present instance that this part of the case had been very properly gone about. The declaration first taken had been before Mr James Thomson, a Justice of the Peace, and he had shown great propriety and good sense in performing the duty, such as would have done honour to any Magistrate in the British Empire. Hi Lordship took a general view of the conduct of the panel throughout the whole affair, and commented on the extreme harshness and cruelty towards her sister. It was common he said in cases of this kind to enquire what motive could induce the perpetration of such crimes. In the present case the impelling cause was to him quite clear. He turned to that part of the evidence of Mary Greig where she says that Jean Wishart told her that Andrew Roy was the father of the child she bore three years ago, which she had always concealed from her sister Margaret, and that he was also the father of the child with which she was pregnant, and that after this she would not be allowed to live. That after Roy was tired of her sister he came and ill-used her. Here, then, was a sufficient cause of the conduct of Margaret Wishart to her sister. Compare this with the testimony of the witness Prophet regarding the conduct of Roy and panel, and the whole appeared clear and consistent. The cause was jealousy, that powerful and diabolical passion in the female heart, which was known to overcome every other. The moment panel became acquainted with the circumstances of her sister’s children being to Andrew Roy she became furious and blind to every other feeling and consideration, and it was the theme of her conversation to every one, the affront it would be to all her relations. “Is it not an awful thing for Jean to be crying again.” The expense of the child was never out of her mind, and steeled her heart to every gentle feeling. His Lordship pointed out from the evidence of the different witnesses the steady resolute manner in which panel declined all medical advice for her sister and her child, and which he considered could only proceed from a knowledge that all such assistance was vain after the means she had taken for her destruction. He concluded with expressing his conviction of her guilt, but leaving the jury to decide according to what they considered due to their solemn engagements, and the evidence which had been laid before them, and to which they had a great attention, during one of the most painful and interesting investigations that have ever come before Court of Justiciary.
The jury having retired for half an hour, came into Court and returned by their Chancellor, John Collier Esq., a verdict, finding panel, by a plurality of voices, guilty of poisoning her sister Jean Wishart; but the poisoning of the child could not be proven.
The Lord Justice-Clerk approved of the grounds on which the verdict rested, and Lord Mackenzie observed that however painful this case might be, both to the country and to the individual, nothing remained but to pronounce the last sentence of the law upon her, and he therefore proposed that she should be executed at Forfar on Saturday the 26th day of May. The Lord Justice-Clerk then proceeded to pass sentence, in doing which he pointed out to panel the enormity of her guilt, and the little hope she could entertain of mercy being extended to her in this world, and advised her seriously to repent of her great wickedness, in hopes of mercy from the Almighty whom she had so deeply offended. The warrant was then written out for her confinement in the jails of Perth and Forfar till Saturday the 2nd June, when she was ordained to be executed at Forfar, between the hours of two and four o’clock afternoon, and her body to be given for dissection. When the prisoner stood up to receive sentence she rested her head on her hand, supporting her elbow on the front of the seat, and cried; but during the whole of the day she maintained a tolerable degree of composure, and although she seemed to pay great attention to the examination of the witnesses, and also to the speeches of the counsel on either side, and the summing up of the Lord Justice-Clerk, she betrayed little emotion, and one might have been led to conclude that, conscious of her guilt, she had long looked on her melancholy situation in the worst possible view.
Sometimes during the course of the trial I cast my eyes over the assembled audience in the court-room. I saw sitting in the gallery a man whom I took for Margaret’s old sweetheart, Andrew Roy. He had shaved off his whiskers, and otherwise disguised himself, but I am almost sure I was right. The man had an eager look on his careworn face, and his eyes glittered as we sometimes see them glitter in a person during the paroxysm of a fever. As I walked with my friend, Grant, along the dark silent streets of Perth that Sunday morning – for it was after three o’clock a.m. before the court rose, my mind was busy brooding on all I had heard. I tried to picture to myself what would now be the feelings of this arch-villain, Andrew Roy, who had played such havoc in the ranks of this poor but respectable family. Although I have always made it a point all my life to wish ill to none, I could not help condemning this brute for his vile conduct, and hoping that God would visit him with remorse, and agony, and suffering, as payment fit for his atrocious action. Although I went to bed that morning I could not sleep. Visions of poor Margaret in her cell presented themselves to my imagination; I lay and tossed in my bed, and I heard the church bells ring for the forenoon service before “quiet Nature’s sweet restorer” slid into my soul.
I came to Forfar with the coach next day, and a week after, on Monday the 23rd April, Margaret Wishart was transferred from the jail of Perth to the condemned cell in the old Forfar Tollbooth at the Cross, under the care and supervision of David Milne, jailor there, to await the day of her execution.