4th April 1836

Leith petition fails to save a man

Charles Donaldson killed his wife when he came home and found her drunk one night in November 1835. A broadside – effectively a handbill – describing his execution on 4 April 1836 explained how he had dragged her from her bed, “struck her repeatedly upon the head with a frying pan until she became insensible… in this state she was put to bed where she continued in a state of stupor and died on Wednesday evening [two days later]”.

The man stood trial and was convicted of her murder, but the jury recommended that he be shown mercy, despite the violent killing. The judge thought differently, and sentenced the man to hang.

Neighbours’ support

It’s said that Donaldson, who had been a resident of Leith, had still held out hope that he could escape the noose throughout his subsequent imprisonment, and it seemed that his old neighbours thought likewise. The Scotsman of 2 April 1836 wrote that “a strong feeling has been excited in this place [Leith] to have the punishment commuted, not so much from the circumstance of Donaldson being a native of Leith, as from the high provocation he received from his wife, which led to the crime for which he is to suffer”.

A petition calling for his life to be saved attracted 130 signatures and was submitted to the secretary of state. Alas – for Donaldson – it was unsuccessful, and the secretary of state replied that he couldn’t recommend clemency to the king.

Poorly attended execution

Donaldson met his end on the scaffold at Edinburgh. The Caledonian Mercury of 4 April carried details of the execution. “Although he is only forty-six years of age, he walked with great effort, and had all the appearance of a decrepid [sic] man… from his weak state, he died with little or no struggle; and the body, after hanging the usual time, was lowered into a shell, preparatory to being interred within the precincts of the jail, conform to the sentence of the court.”

Although his execution was reported in the papers, it didn’t attract a large crowd. Further, despite suffering such a horrible death, there seemed to be little sympathy for Donaldson’s wife, either, whom the Globe of 7 April described as “a woman of very dissipated habits”.



Other events that occured in April

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