A footman, executed at Edinburgh, January 8, 1751, for murdering his mistress
This treacherous servant was descended from reputable parents at Inverness, in the north of Scotland, who gave him a good education, and intended that he should be brought up in a merchant's counting-house; but before he had completed his fifteenth year, his father and mother died, leaving Norman and several other children wholly unprovided for.
Norman made application for employment to several merchants; but though he was well qualified for business, his proposals were rejected, because he could not raise the sum usually given upon entering into a merchant's service as an articled clerk.
Thus situated, he engaged himself as a footman to a widow lady of fortune, who on account of having been acquainted with his parent, behaved to him with singular kindness. The lady had a son, who was then a military officer in Flanders; and the campaign there being concluded, the young gentleman returned to his native country, to visit his mother, and transact some business particularly relating to himself.
Observing Ross to possess many qualifications not usual to persons in his situation, he proposed taking him abroad in the capacity of valet-de-chambre; and the old lady acquiesced in her son's desire.
Ross continued in the officer's service for the space of about five years; during which period he behaved with the utmost diligence and fidelity. The regiment being broke, on the conclusion of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, the officer set out on the tour of France and Italy, and Ross returned to Scotland for the benefit of his native air.
Soon after his return to Scotland, he recovered his health, and set out in order to pay his respects to his former mistress; but learning that she had been dead about three weeks, he repaired to Edinburgh, where he was hired as a footman by an attorney-at-law. Having contracted an intimacy with a number of livery servants, he was seduced by their example to the practices of swearing, gaming, drinking, and other vices; and he was dismissed from his service on account of his impudence and the irregularity of his conduct. Ross now became footman to Mrs. Hume, a widow lady of great fortune and remarkable piety. In the winter she resided at Edinburgh, and in the summer at a village called Ayton, about four miles from the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. About four months after he had been hired by Mrs. Hume, the lady removed to her house at Ayton; and some time after, a female servant in the family, with whom he had maintained a criminal intercourse, was brought to bed; and it therefore became necessary for him to supply her with money for the support of herself and the infant.
He continued to provide her with the means of subsistence, from the month of April till August, by borrowing money of his fellow-servants and other persons with whom he was acquainted.
The woman at length becoming exceedingly importunate, and his resources being wholly exhausted, he was driven nearly to a state of distraction, and in that disposition of mind formed the fatal resolution of robbing his mistress.
Mrs. Hume slept on the first floor, in an apartment behind the dining-room, and being unapprehensive of danger, her bedchamber door was seldom locked; and with this circumstance Ross was well-acquainted, as well as that she usually put the keys of her bureau (and the other places where her valuable effects were deposited) under her pillow.
He determined to carry his execrable design into execution on a Sunday night; and waiting in his bed-room, without undressing himself, till he judged the family to be asleep, he descended, and leaving his shoes in the passage, proceeded to his lady's bed-chamber. Endeavouring to get possession of the keys, the lady was disturbed, and being dreadfully alarmed, called for assistance; but the rest of the family lying at a distant part of the bouse, her screams were not heard. Ross immediately seized a clasp-knife that lay on the table, and cut his mistress's throat in a most dreadful manner. This horrid act was no sooner perpetrated, than, without waiting to put on his shoes, or to secure either money or other effects, he leaped out of the window, and after travelling several miles, concealed himself in a field of corn.
In the morning, the gardener discovered a livery hat, which the murderer had dropped in descending from the window; and suspecting that something extraordinary had happened, he alarmed his fellow-servants.
The disturbance in the house brought the two daughters of Mrs. Hume downstairs; but no words can express the horror and consternation of the young ladies, upon beholding their indulgent parent weltering in her blood, and the fatal instrument of death lying on the floor.
Ross being absent, and his shoes and hat being found, it was concluded that he must have committed the barbarous deed; and the butler therefore mounted a horse, and alarmed the country, lest the murderous villain should escape. The butler was soon joined by great numbers of horsemen, and on the conclusion of the day, when both men and horses were nearly exhausted through excessive fatigue, the murderer was discovered in a field of standing corn. His hands being tied behind him, he was taken to an adjacent public-house, and on the following morning he was conducted before a magistrate of Edinburgh, who committed him to prison.
On the trial of this offender, he had the effrontery to de clare, that his mistress usually admitted him to her bed, and that it was his constant practice to leave his shoes at the dining-room door. He said, that upon entering the chamber, he perceived the lady murdered, and leaped through the window in order to discover who had perpetrated the barbarous deed; adding, that having lost his hat, he did not chuse to return till evening, and therefore concealed himself among the corn. He was severely reprimanded by the court, for aggravating his guilt by aspersing the character of a woman of remarkable virtue and piety, whom he had cruelly deprived of life.
The law of Scotland bears an affinity to that of the Romans. It invests the judges with power to punish criminals in such manner as they may deem to be proportioned to their offences. This privilege was exercised in the case of Ross, whose crime having been attended with many aggravating circumstances, he was sentenced to have his right hand chopped off, then to be hanged till dead, the body to be hung in chains, and the right hand to be affixed at the top of the gibbet with the knife made use of in the commission of the murder.
Upon receiving sentence of death, he began seriously to reflect on his miserable situation, and the next day requested the attendance of Mr James Craig, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, to whom he confessed his guilt; declaring that there was no foundation for his reflections against the chastity of the deceased.
Six weeks elapsed between the time of his trial and that of his execution, during which he was visited once every day by Mr Craig. He shewed every sign of the most sincere penitence, and refused to accompany two prisoners who broke out of gaol, saying he had no desire to recover his liberty, but on the contrary would cheerfully submit to the utmost severity of punishment, that he might make some atonement for his wickedness.
The day appointed for putting the sentence of the law into force being arrived, Ross walked to the place of execution, holding Mr Craig by the arm. Having addressed a pathetic speech to the populace, and prayed some time with great fervency of devotion, the rope was put round his neck, and the other end of it being thrown over the gallows, it was taken hold of by four chimney-sweepers, who are obliged to assist the executioner whenever they are required. The criminal now laid his right hand upon a block, and it was struck off by the executioner at two blows; immediately after which the chimney-sweepers, by pulling the rope, raised him from the ground; when he felt the rope drawing tight, by a convulsive motion, he struck the bloody wrist against his cheek, which gave him an appearance too ghastly to admit of description. The body was bound in chains, and hung upon a gibbet, the hand being placed over the head with the knife stuck through it.