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Scottish Trials of Note

I have included details and transcripts of many notable trials on this website. Some are notable because they represent some dubious rulings, others because of the strange circumstances surrounding them. Others are just because I found them interesting!

One of the reasons that this website includes English, Scottish and Irish trials is at the time of notable orators such as Curran and Erskine ie late 18th century/early 19th century, barristers from all over the world were qualified at or studied at the English Bar, and there was a lot more fluidity between barristers from different common law jurisdictions. For that reason, the website includes great legal orators from England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, rather than limiting itself to England alone.

The following are notable Scottish trials, drawn from original copies of the Notable Scottish Trials series, available from who describe their content as being copyright free and financially free.

The Appin Murder

The Appin Murder (Scottish Gaelic: Murt na h-Apainn) was the assassination of Colin Roy Campbell of Glenure on 14 May 1752 near Appin in the west of Scotland. The murder occurred in the aftermath of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and led to the execution of James Stewart of the Glens, often characterized as a notorious miscarriage of justice. The murder inspired events in Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novel Kidnapped. 

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Franz Muller murder - the first murder on a train

Franz Müller (31 October 1840 – 14 November 1864), was a German tailor who was hanged for the murder of Thomas Briggs, the first killing on a British train. The case caught the imagination of the public due to increasing safety fears about rail travel at the time and the pursuit of Müller across the Atlantic Ocean to New York by Scotland Yard. High speed transatlantic chases were a bit of a rarity in those days!

On 9 July 1864, Thomas Briggs, a 69-year-old City of London banker, was beaten and robbed while he travelled on the 9:50 pm North London Railway train from Fenchurch Street to Chalk Farm. The assailant took his gold watch and gold watch chain, but left £5 in Briggs's pockets, and threw him from the compartment.

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The Monson case (murder)

Monson began working as a gentleman's tutor for the Hambrough family in 1891. In 1893 he took the lease on the Ardlamont estate in Argyll for the shooting season. On 10 August he took Windsor Dudley Cecil Hambrough, his 20-year-old pupil, for a day's hunting in an area of woodland. A third man joined them, Edward Scott, a friend of Monson who had arrived at the estate a few days earlier. Estate workers heard a shot, then saw Monson and Scott running to Ardlamont House carrying the guns. They were cleaning the weapons when the estate butler asked what had become of Mr Hambrough. Monson replied that he had shot himself in the head by accident while climbing a fence.

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The Sandyford Murder

The Sandyford murder case (also known as the Sandyford Place Mystery) was a well-known proceeding of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Scotland. It is one of four notorious murder cases that took place in an infamous area of Glasgow known as the Square Mile of Murder, "situated where Sauchiehall Street is coming to an end as a shopping centre and giving way to well-built terraces". The case revolved around the brutal murder of one Jessie McPherson, a servant, in 17 Sandyford Place, Glasgow, Scotland, in July 1862. McPherson's friend Jessie McLachlan later stood trial, accused of having murdered McPherson. The Sandyford case was the first Scottish police case in which forensic photography played a role, and the first case handled by the detective branch of the Glasgow Police.

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The Douglas Cause

Lady Jane Douglas (17 March 1698 – 21 November 1753) was a Scottish noblewoman. She married secretly and had twins abroad at the age of fifty who would inherit the family's riches. This birth was thought incredible and the ensuing long and expensive court case was fought in three countries and it was settled in her favour by the House of Lords in 1769, over 15 years after her death. 

The story started when she started a romance with the penniless Colonel John Stewart of Grantully, but broke off the courtship having previously said that she had an 'aversion' to the married state. After a decade she wrote to him, saying she would admit their friendship publicly if he wanted to visit her again, and she and the Colonel were married in 1746 at Drumsheugh without the knowledge of her brother.

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The Trial of Captain Porteous

On 14 April 1736, three convicted smugglers, Andrew Wilson, William Hall and George Robertson, were arrested, tried and condemned to death. Hall's sentence was commuted to transportation for life, while Wilson and Robertson awaited their fate. A few days before the execution, George Robertson managed to escape by widening the space between the window bars of his cell and, with the help of sympathetic supporters, eventually made his way to the Dutch Republic.

The remaining convict, Andrew Wilson, was taken to be publicly hanged in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, on 14 April 1736. His body was cut down against the wishes of the mob, and the ensuing riot was such that the hangman had to be placed in protective custody. As the situation worsened, for fear of an attempt to rescue the victims, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh instructed Captain Porteous to call out the entire guard and to furnish them with powder and shot.

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The Trial of Deacon Brodie

Deacon Brodie was a Scottish cabinet-maker, deacon of a trades guild, and Edinburgh city councillor, who maintained a secret life as a housebreaker, partly for the thrill, and partly to fund his gambling. By day, Brodie was a respectable tradesman and deacon (president) of the Incorporation of Wrights, which locally controlled the craft of cabinetmaking; this made him a member of the town council. Part of his work as a cabinetmaker was to install and repair locks and other security mechanisms. He socialised with the gentry of Edinburgh and met the poet Robert Burns and the painter Henry Raeburn. He was a member of the Edinburgh Cape Club and was known by the pseudonym "Sir Llyud".

At night, however, Brodie became a housebreaker and thief.

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The Trial of Dr Pritchard

Edward William Pritchard (6 December 1825 – 28 July 1865) was an English doctor who was convicted of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning them. He was also suspected of murdering a servant girl, but was never tried for this crime. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.

On 5 May 1863, there was a fire in the Pritchards' house at 11 Berkeley Terrace, Glasgow, which killed a servant girl. Her name was Elizabeth McGrain, aged 25. The fire started in her room but she made no attempt to escape, suggesting that she was unconscious, drugged, or already dead. The procurator fiscal looked into the case, but no charges were brought.

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The Trial of Lord Lovat

After the Battle of Culloden, government forces spent several weeks searching for rebels, including Lord Lovat, confiscating cattle and burning non-juring Episcopalian and Catholic meeting houses.The brutality of these measures was driven by a widespread perception on both sides that another landing was imminent. Government forces struggled to catch the rebels, partly because there were no proper maps of Scotland, and the fact that Lord Lovat escaped capture for a while as a result of this led to the creation of the Ordnance Survey, that we still have today.

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