12 May 1830 – William Porter and John Hill

A skanky hanky – that’s one of the stolen goods which robbed two Glaswegian men of their futures in 1830.

William Porter and John Hill assaulted 76-year-old William Marshall and swiped his shoes, his glasses, seven shillings and a used hanky, and for that they were sentenced to be executed.

Teenage kicks

It’s hard to believe in this era, but in the 19th century the hapless pair’s crime was subject to the ‘Bloody Code’, which was aimed at protecting people’s right to own property. The sentence for stealing just five shillings was death, so if you threw in a couple more shillings, some shoes, a pair of specs and a used hanky and you’d have had no hope.

But we’re talking youngsters here – a pair of 18-year-olds – so the liberals came out in full force to try to secure them a lenient sentence. The petition was even signed by some of the jury members. By all accounts the two men behaved with real humility, which engendered visitors’ sympathy. But it was all to no avail – the appeal court deemed that the crime was too violent and the appeal was quashed.


So the pair headed for their execution. The night before their demise, the duo met up with their families and the reunion between Porter and his mother and sisters was said to be an emotional one.

A local report published by Felix O’Neill set out the events, which started at 7am with a meeting with the judge and a prayer session with a priest. The executioner then came and tied their arms. They were then led to the gallows, where they went up the steps ‘with comparatively light step’.

More prayers and a hug between the two condemned boys followed before Porter is said to have prayed loudly while the nooses were fitted.

Then Porter was given the method of signalling that they were ready to meet their end – yet another fateful hanky. He waved it and with that the trapdoor was opened and the gallows sprang into action. ‘They both struggled violently for three minutes, when life was extinct’ amid a huge crowd of Scottish onlookers, according to the local report.

Hope the hanky was worth it.


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