An awful and impressive spectacle: crime scene executions in Scotland, 1801-1841

Rachel Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early nineteenth-century Britain witnessed rising numbers of offenders facing capital punishment and a plethora of legal and public discourse debating the criminal justice system. This article will examine a distinct Scottish response to the problem in the form of crime scene executions. By the turn of the nineteenth century, it had long been the established practice of the Scottish courts to order that capitally convicted offenders would be executed at an established “common place”. However, between 1801 and 1841, the decision was taken to execute thirty-seven offenders at the scene of their crimes. This article argues that, in the face of an unprecedented number of offenders facing the hangman’s noose, the Scottish judges chose to exercise this penal option which had not been used to a similar extent since the mid-eighteenth century. In turn these events had a multiplicity of impact and provoked responses ranging from a morbid curiosity to witness the spectacle to anxiety and outright disdain at its intrusion into areas previously unsullied by the last punishment of the law.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCrime,history & societies
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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