1723: Margaret Fleck, with a fresh dempster

On this date in 1723, Margaret Fleck was hanged in Glasgow for murdering her infant child.

According to “The Last Speech and Confession of Margaret fleck who was Executed at the Howgate-Head of Glasgow on the 5th of June for the Murdering of her Own Child”* (it does what it says on the tin):

I am brought this day, and that justly, to suffer for the murder of my own child, and I doubt not but that it will be expected, and I think it most proper and my indispensable duty, that as I have sinned so heinously against God, so I should glorify him by repenting my unnatural, atrocious and bloody fact — the murder of mine own child … For which crime, and all my other sins I desire heartily to mourn, and to fly to the fountain that is opened to the House of David and the Inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness; and I desire to take shame and confusion of face to my self for my sins and iniquities, especially for the bad entertainment I gave to the gospel of Christ.

At the time, death sentences in Scotland had to be pronounced not only by the judges but by the dempster, a juridical office responsible for the actual execution.

Major League Baseball pitcher Ryan Dempster: would he hang Margaret Fleck?

In this case, dempster Thomas Cochran refused to join the sentence, evidently partaking in a popular discomfort with Fleck’s hanging. Nothing daunted,

their Lordships having desired the Sheriff Depute to provide another Dempster instantly, or else to do it himself, he craved their lordships might delay the same till the next day, against which time he should have one provided. Which being condescended to by their Lordships, they continued pronouncing of sentence against the said Margaret Fleck till to-morrow at nyne o’clock; with certification that if the Sheriff Depute did not provide a Dempster against that time, they would oblige him to do it himself …

The Sheriff Depute wriggled off the hook when a guy named Robert Yeats stepped up and did the Dempstering.

* As cited by Anne-Marie Kilday in “‘Monsters of the Vilest Kind’: Infanticidal Women and Attitudes to their Criminality in Eighteenth-Century Scotland,” Family & Community History, Nov. 2008.

Kilday observes that “pamphlet material relating to deviant behaviour … became popular sooner [in Scotland than in England], with publications beginning in earnest in and around 1702, nearly three quarters of a century ahead of publishers south of the Tweed. In addition, it was unquestionably infanticide (and latterly child killing in general), more than any other crime, which became the focus for the pamphlet literature produced.”

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