Executed for the murder of his wife, August 14th, 1754
Brown holding his wife to the fire
IN the account given of this man there is a savage ferocity which has not before come under our notice; for, though we read in Captain Cook's, and other accounts of circumnavigators, of their meeting with cannibals and, further, that even civilized men, by the dire dint of the excruciating pains of hunger, have slain, and, with horrible compunction, eaten one of their companions, to support life in the rest; yet where shall we find, except in this instance, a savage, in the land of civilization and of plenty, eat human flesh? After this it no longer remains astonishingly horrible that such a brute could force his wife into the fire, and burn her to death.
This atrocious monster was a native of Cramond, a small town near Edinburgh, where he received a school education. At a proper age he was placed with a butcher in that city, and, when his apprenticeship was expired, went to sea in a man of war, and continued in that station four years. The ship being paid off, Brown returned to Edinburgh, and married the widow of a butcher, who had left her a decent fortune.
Soon after this marriage Brown commenced dealer in cattle, in which he met with such success, that, in the course of a few years, he became possessed of a considerable sum. His success, however, did not inspire him with sentiments of humanity. His temper was so bad, that he was shunned by all serious people of his acquaintance; for he delighted in fomenting quarrels among his neighbours.
Taking to a habit of drinking, be seldom came home sober at night; and, his wife following his example, he used frequently to beat her for copying his own crime. This conduct rendered both parties obnoxious to their acquaintance; and the following story of Brown, which may be relied on as a fact, will incontestably prove the unfeeling brutality of his nature.
About a week after the execution of Norman Ross for murder, Brown had been drinking with some company at Leith, till, in the height of their jollity, they boasted what extravagant actions they could perform. Brown swore that he would cut off a piece of flesh from the leg of the dead man, and eat it. His companions, drunk as they were, appeared shocked at the very idea; while Brown, to prove that he was in earnest, procured a ladder, which be carried to the gibbet, and, cutting off a piece of flesh from the leg of the suspended body of Ross, brought it back, broiled, and ate it.
This circumstance was much talked of, but little credit was given to it by the inhabitants of Edinburgh till Brown's companions gave the fullest testimony of its truth. It will be now proper that we recite the particulars of the shocking crime for which this offender forfeited his life.
After having been drinking at an alehouse in the Cannongate, he went home about eleven at night, in a high degree of intoxication. His wife was also much in liquor; but, though equally criminal himself, he was so exasperated against her, that he struck her so violently that she fell from her chair. The noise of her fall alarmed the neighbours; but, as frequent quarrels had happened between them, no immediate notice was taken of the affair.
In about fifteen minutes the wife was heard to cry out 'Murder! help! fire! the rogue is murdering me! help, for Christ's sake! ' The neighbours, now apprehending real danger, knocked at the door; but, no person being in the house but Brown and his wife, no admission was granted; and the woman was heard to groan most shockingly.
A person, looking through the key-hole, saw Brown holding his wife to the fire; on which he was called on to open the door, but refused to do so. The candle being extinguished, and the woman still continuing her cries, the door was at length forced open; and, when the neighbours went in, they beheld her a most shocking spectacle, lying half-naked before the fire, and her flesh in part broiled. In the interim Brown had got into bed, pretended to be asleep, and, when spoken to, appeared ignorant of the transaction. The woman, though so dreadfully burnt, retained her senses, accused her husband of the murder, and told in what manner it was perpetrated. She survived till the following morning, still continuing in the same tale, and then expired in the utmost agony.
The murderer was now seized, and, being lodged in the gaol of Edinburgh, was brought to trial, and capitally convicted.
After sentence he was allowed six weeks to prepare
himself for a future state, agreeably to the custom in Scotland.
He was visited by several divines of Edinburgh, but steadily persisted in the denial of his guilt, affirming that he was ignorant of his wife being burnt till the door was broke open by the neighbours.
Among others who visited the criminal was the Reverend Mr. Kinloch, an ancient minister, who, urging him to confess his crime, received no other reply than that, 'if he was to die to-morrow, he would have a new suit of clothes, to appear decently at the gallows.' Mr. Kinlioch was so affected by his declaration, that he shed tears over the unhappy convict.
On the following day, August the 14th, 1754, he was attended to the place of execution at Edinburgh by the Reverend Dr. Brown; but to the last he denied having been guilty of the crime for which he suffered.
After execution he was hung in chains; but the body was stolen from the gibbet, and thrown into a pond, where, being found, it was exposed as before. In a few days, however, it was again stolen; and, though a reward was offered for its discovery, no such discovery was made.
It is impossible to express sufficient horror at the crime of which this man was guilty; and it is therefore the less necessary to make any remarks on his case, as no one can be tempted to think of committing a similar crime till he is totally divested of all the feelings of humanity. From a fate so wretched as this may the God of infinite mercy deliver us!