Michael and Peter Scanlon

Court Case 1852, June 14th
Before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh, the Lord Justice – General and Lords Cockburn and Cowan on the Bench, Michael and Peter Scanlan, two brothers, natives of County Mayo, were charged with murder and stouthrief (Robbery with violence), committed at Hilton of Forthar, Fife. The men were employed at the adjacent lime works, and lodged next door to a woman named MARGARET MAXWELL , who kept a small shop.
They had owed the woman some money, and she had refused to give them further goods on credit. Out of revenge, the prisoners, during the evening of 16th February, broke into the house by the back window, pulled the woman from her bed, and smashed her skull to pieces. It was found that a silver watch, about £3 in money, and a copy of the New Testament, had been stolen. The two brothers were arrested, along with another labourer, Thomas M’Manes. The latter was not put on trial, but gave evidence that he was with the Scanlans when the crime took place.
The men were found guilty, and were sentenced to be hanged at Cupar on the 5th July. During the trial, the prisoners had remained perfectly still, but when sentence was passed they both shouted that they were the innocent, and that the judges and jury were “d—–asses.” On the 1st July a supplement to the death warrant was issued on account of the prison of Cupar being out with the jurisdiction of the Cupar Magistrates. The warrant ordained the keeper of the prison to deliver the condemned men to the Sheriff of Fife, who in turn was to deliver them over to the Magistrates of Cupar, “for the purpose of seeing the death warrant carried out.” The warrant further ordained the Sheriff to see the bodies buried within the precincts of the prison of Cupar, “as they all shall severally answer at their highest peril.’ A petition for a reprieve was refused.
A scaffold was borrowed from Edinburgh, and Calcraft, the celebrated London executioner, was engaged. The scaffold was erected at the north east corner of the Fluthers Green, near Braehead, about six hundred yards from the prison. Dressed in the same white moleskin clothes which they had worn at the trial, the men were driven by omnibus from the jail (now a seed warehouse), Calcraft sitting next to one of his victims, while Bishop Gillies and a priest were also present. The Sheriff and police officials brought up the rear. On account of a rumour that a number of Irishmen from Dundee and labourers from the lime works would combine to rescue their comrades even from the clutches of Calcraft, extensive preparations were made by the authorities. Four hundred citizens were sworn in as special constables, while every available member of the County Police force was drafted into town. A strong detachment of the 42nd regiment and the 7th Hussars from Piershill were also present. The prisoners kissed each other several times on the scaffold, and declared : ” We are dying innocent of the murder of Margaret Maxwell, and forgive all who have to do it “- meaning the witnesses at the trial. In front of the scaffold a woman, said to be the sweetheart of one of the brothers, was waving her hands and crying piteously. That brought forth the homely ejaculation from one of the men: “Peter, that’s Margret.”
The execution was carried through without a hitch, the overwhelming forces of law and order being more than sufficient to cope with any emergency. As the drop fell, a terrible thunderstorm broke over Cupar, which to a large extent cleared the streets of the thousands who had flocked into the town. Every place around the scaffold was densely crowded, and all the points of vantage which afforded a view of the dismal scene were occupied. It has been said that this was “one of the day of days in Cupar’s long history.”
All the roads had been crowded by break of day with carts conveying sightseers, far in excess of an ordinary fair. The writer has conversed with one who as a boy had been present at the execution. He said that he never saw such a large crowd of people in Cupar in all his life.
Executioner Calcraft’s fee was £30.
Hanged at Cupar 5th July 1852

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