26th April 1854

Lord Cockburn dies in Edinburgh

Henry Cockburn was Solicitor General for Scotland for four years from 1830, and, during his life, served as both an advocate and judge.

In the former of those positions, he represented William Burke’s wife, who had been accused of having knowledge of the murders committed by her husband and his partner William Hare. While Burke was hanged, she was acquitted. He was also a vigorous defender of Edinburgh’s architectural heritage.

Cockburn died in Bonaly where he kept one of his two Edinburgh houses, and is buried in Dean Cemetery.

Working until the end

On 4 May, the Inverness Courier broke the news to its readers, telling them that he had attended court in Ayr on 18 April but “being rather indisposed (suffering from diarrhoea), he was relieved by Lord Ivory of the arduous duty of presiding at the trial for murder, which occupied nearly two days; but after conviction, the sentence of death was pronounced by Lord Cockburn. It was the last judicial act which he performed, and none who heard him will ever forget it. Brief, gentle, simple, solemn, it was an exquisite specimen of the pathetic eloquence in which he was unrivalled.”

Cockburn advised the condemned man to make his peace with God. The day after Cockburn’s death, the Caledonian Mercury wrote that “one short week has passed [and] the Judge who pronounced the sentence and urged the use of time’s swift-winged hours, has anticipated the man whom he condemned, and has been summoned from the judgement seat on earth to appear at the tribunal of Heaven. An event so solemn, a lesson so striking, should not be lost on us.”



Other events that occured in April

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