David Scott and Hugh Adamson were executed at Glasgow Cross on the 5th of June, 1805.
According to the website Capital Punishment UK (.org), between 1800 and 1868, there were 273 people publicly hanged in Scotland. Of those puir souls, 259 were men and 14 were women. A further 207 were sentenced to death, but escaped that fate by being reprieved or 'respited'. At the time, Scotland had a system of Assize Courts that covered four circuits; North, South, East and West, in case you hadn't guessed. There was a High Court of Justiciary, which sat in Edinburgh, but that was an independent court. In cases where the death sentence was pronounced, it had to be approved by the King and Privy Council, which meant that the condemned sometimes had a fair bit of time on their hands, between sentence and execution – or reprieve – during which to probe their conscience. Communications in Scotland weren't that quick, before the M8 was built, you'll understand.
Interestingly, less than
half those hanged in that period were 'turned off' for murder, there being only 125 executed for that crime. More fascinating is the information that nine were hanged for 'stouthrief', which was a form of robbery committed in a dwelling house, burglary if you like, and three for 'hamesucken', which is recorded as “the seeking and invasion of a person in his dwelling house”. Capital Punishment UK also indicates that neither of those two crimes appear in English Law.
It seems that in addition to murder, crimes not dissimilar to burglary were considered heinous enough to warrant the death penalty. Amongst other crimes carrying the ultimate sanction was forgery. In the first sixty-odd years of 19th Century Scotland, there were eight men hanged for forgery. Two of those were David Scott and Hugh Adamson, who were tried in Glasgow, in May, 1805. There's not much information to find about Scott and Adamson, but the latter gets a mention in Volume 1 of the February 1884 edition of 'Glasgow, Past and Present'. It seems he was a member of the Hell-fire club and, whether or not that was true, ultimately, he went to hell on the end of a rope, which you might then say was quite appropriate.
The courthouse where Scott and Adamson were tried was the Justiciary Hall, which fronted the High Street. The entrance to the Justiciary Hall was, however, from Trongate, by the 'Broad Stairs', in front of the Tolbooth. In 1805, the great door to the Justiciary Hall was kept by the 'Town's officers', who augmented their funds by charging members of the public a fee to gain entrance to the Court. The typical fee was a shilling and having paid, the professionally interested and morbidly curious alike were admitted to the gallery, from where they would have been able to see the Lords in their robes, sat upon the judgement-seat, and the attendant members of the bar, dressed in the trappings of office.
All sat in solemn silence until a prisoner was placed at the bar to be tried for for this or that offence. And, on the morning of Saturday, the 1st of May, 1805, Scott , an engraver from Edinburgh and Anderson, a potter from Glasgow, were tried and sentenced to death for having forged and uttered (offered) notes of the Ship Bank. Those two forgers were then 'turned off' at Glasgow Cross on Wednesday, the 5th of June, 1805. The last words uttered by the offenders have not been recorded.
Prior to the year 1800, when the first Police Bill was obtained, there was no official as in Government sponsored, police force in Glasgow. Up to that time, the effective guardians of the city were the burgesses or freemen and craftsmen, who set up a system of rotas to police the city during the night. Each night, a 'captain' was elected and the self-appointed protectors of the populace went about their rounds, dressed in long red coats and carrying staves. For a guardhouse, those officers were allowed to use the session house attached to the Laigh Kirk.
Both the Kirk and the session house were totally destroyed by fire on the 8th of February, 1793 and it seems Adamson, the pottering forger, may well have been involved in that escapade. Adamson's alleged role in the burning of the kirk is mentioned in a footnote in 'Glasgow, Past and Present', which reads: “About forty years ago it was stated by a citizen that he had been a member of the Hell-fire Club, and though, as he affirmed, not present at the burning of the session house, yet detailed with prolixity the whole transaction; also, that one of the party, Hugh Adamson, who went to the churchyard with a trumpet, etc., was hanged at the Cross on [the] 5th of June, 1805.
Reference to Adamson's trumpet is also made in the story of the burning of the kirk, where it is said that, prior to the burning, a party of the Hell-fire Club went to one of the kirkyards at midnight, “and with a trumpet, etc., endeavoured to turn into ridicule the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.” Seems Adamson got his just deserts in the end, but the burning down of the kirk and session house was essentially an accident.
When the town guard left the session house to go about its rounds that night in February, 1793, they left it unoccupied and worse, they left a fire burning and unattended. It seems that some members of the Hell-fire Club, as 'Glasgow, Past and Present' puts it, “being on their way home from the club, and excited with liquor, entered the session house in a frolic.” While warming themselves at the fire and “indulging in jokes against one another as to their individual capacity to resist heat” they stoked up the fire with what they found at hand. Things inevitably got out of control when they added some of the timbers of the session house, whereupon “they fled in dismay.” The pews in the session house were soon alight and when the flames spread to the kirk, both buildings were totally destroyed in a massive conflagration.
The Hell-fire Club lived up to its name in one respect, but its members don't seem to have been too keen to stick around to admire their handiwork. Afraid of the consequences, many of them are said to have absconded or fled abroad, where, “as was said, most, if not all of them, died miserably.” Anderson stuck around in Glasgow, but he seems not to have learned any lesson as he, like his Hell-fire cronies, also died miserably.