Tried in Scotland for Murder, and beheaded by the Maiden, 30th of June, 1716
The execution of John Hamilton
THIS offender was born in the country of Clydesdale, and was related to the ducal family of Hamilton. His parents, to whom he was an only son, sent him to Glasgow to study the law; but the young gentleman's disposition leading him to the profession of arms, his friends exerted their interest to procure a commission, but the intervention of the crime of which we are about to relate the particulars prevented their generous intention taking effect.
Young Hamilton soon becoming connected with some abandoned young gentlemen at Edinburgh lost considerable sums at gaming, and going to his parents for more, they supplied him for the present, but said they would not advance him any further sums while he continued his dissipated course of life.
Being possessed of this money, Hamilton went to a village near Glasgow to meet his companions at a public-house kept by Thomas Arkle. Having drunk and gamed for several successive days and nights, Hamilton's companions left him while he was asleep, leaving him to discharge the bill. Exceeding his ability, a quarrel ensued between him and Arkle, and while they contended, Arkle stripped Hamilton's sword from the scabbard. The latter immediately ran away, but finding he had no sword to his scabbard he instantly went back to the house, when, on Arkle calling him several scandalous names, he stabbed him so that he instantly expired.
The daughter of Arkle, being present, attempted to seize Hamilton, in doing which she tore off the skirt of his coat, which was left on the floor, together with his sword, on his effecting a second escape. This daughter of Arkle was almost blind, but her keeping the sword and the skirt of the coat proved the means of bringing Hamilton to justice. The murderer, having gone to Leith, embarked on board a ship, and landed in Holland, where he continued two years; but his parents dying in the interval he returned to Scotland, when he was taken into custody on account of the murder.
On his trial he pleaded that he was intoxicated at the time the fact was committed, to which he was instigated by the extreme ill-usage he had received from Arkle. The jury, not allowing the force of these arguments, found him guilty, and he was sentenced to be beheaded by the Maiden. After Mr Hamilton received sentence of death his friends made great interest to procure a pardon; but their endeavours proved ineffectual, and he suffered death on the 30th of June, 1716. At the place of execution he owned that he had killed Arkle, but presumed to think he was justified on the principle of self-defence.
Mr Hamilton's case will teach us to reflect on the sad consequences of keeping bad company, and an attachment to gaming. But for these vices, he might have lived happy in himself, and a credit to the worthy family from which he was descended. The youth who will devote those hours to the gaming-table, which he ought to employ in the honest advancement of his fortune, can expect only to be reduced to beggary at the best: but in a thousand instances, as well as the present, the consequences have been much more fatal.
Hence let young gentlemen learn to shun the gaming-table as they would a pestilence; to proceed in the plain path of honour and integrity, and to know that there can be no true happiness in a departure from the line of virtue!