This is my blog, intended to provide information relevant to the history of Edinburgh in the Georgian period. I would love to hear any comments you may have.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Execution of Robert Watt, 1794

Robert Watt was a political radical who was found guilty of high treason by the Edinburgh authorities in 1794 after a revolutionary plot to capture the capital cities of Scotland, Ireland and England was uncovered.¹ The following is a transcription of an account of his execution in Edinburgh published in the Scots Magazine for that year. ²


"Robert Watt, convicted of high treason, was executed at the west end of the Luckenbooths, pursuant to his sentence. About half past one o'clock, the two junior Magistrates, and the Rev. Principal Baird walked from the Council Chambers to the Castlehill, preceded by the city constables, and town officers, and the city guard. When they reached the Water-house (the limits of the burgh), they were met by the procession from the Castle, which was in the following order: Two Chief Constables of the shire of Edinburgh, in black, with batons, two county constables, with batons. The Sheriff-Depute and Sheriff-Substitute, dressed in black, with white gloves and white rods. Six county constables, two and two, with batons The hurdle painted black (drawn by a white horse), in which were seated the executioner, dressed in black, with the axe in his hand, and the criminal drawn backwards, and tied to the hurdle. Six under constables on each side of the hurdle - twelve on the outside of them, and twenty in the rear. Two hundred of the Argyleshire fencibles keeping off the mob, walking the dead march from the Castle to the Water-house."

"Having entered the Tolbooth, the criminal, soon after, attended by the Sheriffs and Magistrates, came out upon the scaffold, where he was assisted in his devotions by Principal Baird. About a quarter before three, he ascended the platform: but craving some longer indulgence, he came down, and kneeling, prayed with much fervency, for a short time, when he again mounted, and having dropped a handkerchief as the signal, the platform dropped, about three o'clock."

"When the body had hung about thirty-two minutes, it was cut down lifeless, and placed on a table The executioner then came forward with a large axe, and in two strokes severed the head from the body. The head having been received in a basket prepared for the purpose, was afterwards, in the usual form, held up by the executioner, who pronounced 'This is the head of a traitor.'"

"This execution was conducted with much regularity, and the procession in particular was highly solemn and impressive. Watt himself exhibited a picture of the most abject dejection. He was wrapt (sic) up in a great coat, a red nightcap, which on the platform he exchanged for a white one, with a round hat, his stockings hanging loose, and his whole appearance wretched in the extreme The croud (sic) on this occasion was slow in collecting, and though numerous at last, scarcely amounted to what has appeared at former remarkable executions."


1. For a fuller account of Watt, see the blog post "Robert Watt: radical or government spy?" below, dated 28 March 2012.

2. The Scots Magazine, January 1794.

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