1753: George Robertson, prick

Add comment May 28th, 2018 Headsman

We are indebted to the redoubtable medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris for the substance of this post, which she brought to our attention on her blog, The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. Fans of the macabre, and particularly of the recurring medicinal theme here at Executed Today, are sure to enjoy her book The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine — or her “Under the Knife” video series.

We (and Dr. Fitzharris) enter these sensitive parts via a bit of junk preserved at the Royal College of Surgeons: the severed penis which long ago inhabited, along with the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the trousers of a highway robber named George Robertson.

Neither bacterium nor reader will be surprised to discover that when Robertson and a couple of other hard men knocked down James Holland in Mansfield Street to dispossess him of his hat and his wig, the pestilential thief resided at “a bawdy-house” (per the evidence of his perfunctory trial).

We don’t know the ins and outs of what this specimen got up to when Robertson had his liberty — only that its condition was so obvious that it interested the doctors. With nary a care for patient privacy, the Ordinary of Newgate emitted to the public that Robertson felt “so ill with the foul Disease, as not to be able to walk, and wished himself dead, because he had no Money or Friend to put him in the Hospital.”*

Agony though it might have been to our dissolute footpad, such cocks excited the physicians.

Dr. Fitzharris directs our attention to A Treatise on the Venereal Disease, by Robertson’s contemporary, the surgeon John Hunter. Hunter might well have fondled this very todger in his own day; as we learn from this turgid treatise, he and his colleagues found in the engorged members of the hung a penetrating scientific tool. The eightfold execution in the spring of 1753 that Hunter references below might be a previous Tyburn hanging date, of February 12, 1753. (That hanging included Robertson’s accomplice John Briant or Bryant: no word on the condition of John Briant’s John Thomas.)

Till about the year 1753 it was generally supposed, that the matter from the urethra in a gonorrhoea arose from an ulcer or ulcers in that passage; but from observation it was then proved that this was not the cafe. It may not be improper to give here a short history of the discovery of matter being formed by inflammation without ulceration.

In the winter 1749, a child was brought into the room used for dissection, in Covent Garden, on opening of whose thorax a large quantity of pus was found loose in the cavity, with the surface of the lungs and the pleura furred over with a more solid substance similar to coagulable lymph. On removing this from those surfaces they were found intire. This appearance being new to Dr. Hunter, he sent to Mr. Samuel Sharp, desiring his attendance, and to him it also appeared new. Mr. Sharp afterwards in the year 1750, published his Critical Enquiry, in which he introduced this fact, “That matter may be formed without a breach of substance;” not mentioning whence he had derived this notion. It was ever after taught by Dr. Hunter in his lectures ; we however find writers adopting it without quoting either Mr. Sharp or Dr. Hunter. So much being known, I was anxious to examine whether the matter in a gonorrhoea was formed in the same way. In the spring of 1753 there was an execution of eight men, two of whom I knew had at that time very severe gonorrhoeas. Their bodies being procured for this particular purpose, we were very accurate in our examination, but found no ulceration, the two urethras appeared merely a little blood-shot, especially near the glans. This being another new fact ascertained, it could not escape Mr. Gataker, ever attentive to his emolument, who was then attending Dr. Hunter’s lectures, and also practising dissection under me. He published, soon after in 1754, a treatise on this disease, and explained fully, that the matter in a gonorrhoea did not arise from an ulcer, without mentioning how he acquired this knowledge; and it has ever since been adopted in publications on this subject. Since the period mentioned above, I have constantly paid particular attention to this circumstance, and have opened the urethra of many who at the time of their death had a gonorrhoea, yet have never found a fore in any ; but always observed that the urethra near the glans was more blood-shot than usual, and that the lacunae were often filled with matter.

* As usual, the Ordinary plied the condemned while they languished in Newgate. However, he broke with his usual practice and did not make the trip to Tyburn for this triple execution, “because as they all three died Roman Catholicks, I did not choose to attend, to give them the Opportunity of turning their Backs upon me, as a Protestant Minister, which I knew they must do if I did.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1954: George Robertson, the last hanged in Edinburgh

Add comment June 23rd, 2012 Headsman

This date in 1954 marked the last execution in the city of Edinburgh.

By the jaw-droppingly horrific murder he committed, George Robertson certainly earned the distinction.

Not actually topical save to George Robertson’s milestone as Edinburgh’s literal last drop; this Last Drop Pub is at the city’s Grassmarket where historic public hangings (long gone by Robertson’s day) were conducted. Image (c) Sh0rty and used with permission.

His ex-wife, Elizabeth McGarry, had recently kicked him out of the house after an attempted reunion led right back to the prolific domestic abuse that had ended their marriage in the first place. She was an unwed, unemployed mother of two teenage children, but anything beats being tied up and threatened with a hatchet.

Mother and children — 18-year-old son George Jr., and 16-year-old daughter Jean — lived in waking terror of the vengeful ex-patriarch; in the days before restraining orders, they kept doors constantly bolted and jammed with chairs under the doorknobs, and a poker within reach whenever possible.

According to this retrospective — and read the whole thing for a slasher film in prose — the estranged George managed to get into the house on the night of February 28, 1954, while everyone was asleep.

He summoned his former spouse to the kitchen and knifed her to death, then attacked young George Jr. when he arrived, too. Then he mounted the stairs — where Jean was desperately trying to escape out a window — carrying

the blood-drenched body of his ex-wife, a gaping hole in her stomach and a white handkerchief stuffed in her mouth, hands bound together.

George Alexander Robertson was just in the midst of trussing up Jean and stabbing her to death when the mangled George Jr. distracted the killer by reviving well enough to burst out onto the balcony and into the public quadrangle below. There, he

threw himself through a neighbour’s kitchen window, where he begged for help.

Following him, just yards behind, enraged and still clutching his knife, came his father.

The Hay family, whose quiet home was now about to become a murder scene, cowered in terror as blow after blow rained down on the terrified teen as he screamed for help.

Defenceless against his father’s brutality, young George finally slumped to the floor, dying.

Job done, his father threw his body over his shoulder and strolled home leaving a bloody trail across Tron Square.


View Larger Map

The savage “brainstorm” to which he would later attribute this wild spree must have been abating. As he returned to his former domicile, he didn’t bother finishing off Jean, but stuck his head in the kitchen gas oven, where responding police found him.

The obviously unbalanced paterfamilias attempted to plead guilty to avoid the spectacle of the trial (no dice: two days of horror from the witness box riveted the city) and did not attempt to fight the inevitable sentence once imposed. He was dead within 15 weeks of the bloodbath, at the skillful hands of Albert Pierrepoint.

Only three other Scottish executions anywhere — two in Glasgow, and one final hanging in Aberdeen — followed it before death penalty abolition.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Scotland,Volunteers

Tags: , , , , ,


Calendar

October 2019
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!