19th July 1865

Trial that led to Glasgow’s last public execution

Dr Edward William Pritchard was the last person publicly executed in Glasgow when hanged for poisoning both his wife, Mary, and his mother-in-law.

Pritchard killed his mother-in-law, 75-year-old Jane Taylor, on 28 February, and his wife on 18 March, when she was being treated by her husband for gastric fever. The mother-in-law was buried, even though a fellow doctor refused to sign her or Mary’s death certificates as he considered their passing somewhat suspicious.

Rumours circulate

Soon, people were talking, with details of his trial emerging on 19 July. The Dublin Medical Press reported on that day that, “ugly rumours had… spread abroad that his wife had not met her death by fair means; and these rumours attained such tangible form that, on his arriving at Glasgow, before the last rites were performed over the remains of his wife, he was taken into custody.”

The Cork Examiner of 28 March 1865 had already reported on “the apprehension of Dr Edward William Pritchard” who was then in police custody while post-mortems were carried out on both bodies. Professor Maclagan and Dr Littlejohn, who were conducting the examinations announced that “nothing indicating death by natural causes had been discovered [which] intensified in a great degree the painful feelings which the apprehension of and the suspicions attaching to, Dr Pritchard, have created throughout the community.”

Edward Pritchard stands trial

As a result of the medical examiners’ findings, Pritchard was ordered to stand trial. The trial began at the High Court of the Justiciary at Edinburgh on 3 July, and, on 19 July, the Dublin Medical Press reported that the motives for the murders “appear to have been lust and avarice. In the year 1864 there entered into the service of Mrs Pritchard a young girl of seventeen years of age in the capacity of nurse and housemaid. Dr Pritchard appears to have been enamoured of her, and, on one occasion, according to the girl’s (Mary McLeod) evidence, Mrs Pritchard surprised her husband in the act of kissing her.”

McLeod testified at his trial that Pritchard had said he would marry her if his wife happened to die. However, there was a second motive, in that the doctor was also in debt and, if his wife and her mother should die before him, he would inherit her house. However, Pritchard’s representative suggested that it could have been Mary McLeod herself who had poisoned Pritchard’s wife and mother-in-law, despite a pharmacist testifying that Pritchard had been buying unusually large quantities of poisons in the run up to the deaths.

Pritchard found guilty

After hearing the evidence, the jury took an hour to return a unanimous verdict: guilty on both counts of murder. Pritchard was sentenced to be executed on 28 July.

Three days before his execution, the Brechin Advertiser reported that Pritchard had been visited by “four or five clergymen of various denominations” and had been subdued and apparently quite penitent. But, said the paper, “it is difficult to say whether it is real or assumed, as the man has been so great a hypocrite”. Pritchard had been writing numerous confessions, few of which seemed to be entirely in agreement with each other, and which were published in many of the papers.

Enormous crowd

On 28 July, the Express reported that “nearly 100,000 spectators” (other sources say 80,000) had turned out to watch Pritchard hang. Witnesses said that he had slept well until around five o’clock that morning and, when asked if he had anything to say, he told the senior magistrate “I beg to acknowledge the justice of my sentence”.

The following day’s Leeds Times recorded that “some little delay occurred in consequence of the convict’s long beard and hair, [the executioner] not being able satisfactorily to adjust the rope until some moments had expired. When the culprit was ultimately turned off, he struggled hard, our account stating that he was five minutes in dying, and other statements concurring in that opinion. The body was cut down three-quarters of an hour after the execution, and it was subsequently interred within the precincts of the gaol.”



Other events that occured in July

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