Tuesday June 5 marks a historic yet dark date in the history of Greenock. This ancient little town has had a something of a colourful history, playing host to one of the busiest ports in the British Empire as well as welcoming migrants from around the world with open arms. However, as with any town with a rich colourful history there are often dark shady undertones. With such a diverse population it was clear that a number of the less affluent townsfolk would turn to crime in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately for these folk the law did not take kindly to such simple things as robbery and ultimately, those who strayed from the law were arranged to meet the hangman.
The tale of Moses McDonald is an unfortunate one indeed. Arrested for the crime of stealing from the grocer Mr. James Jelly on December 1811, McDonald, who we believe did not act alone, was left to suffer the consequences of his actions through a method that would ultimately end his life. And on what did the event occur I hear you ask, why it was the June 5, 1812.
Moses McDonald had been employed at the quay as a labourer. One December evening in 1811, McDonald, along with companion John Gray broke in to a grocers shop on Harvie Lane, owned by a Mr. James Jolly. Between them they managed to gather; a chest and a half of tea, eighteen cheeses, half a ton of beer, bacon, hams, butter and provisions, together with £4in silver and £2 in Irish fivepenny, tenpenny and two and sixpenny bank tokens. It is obvious that a robbery of this required more than two men, as well as the aid of a horse and cart. A bounty of £50 was placed upon their heads, and ultimately McDonald was arrested.
|McDonald's statement giving his whereabouts at the time the robbery took place|
The case was heard at Glasgow Circuit Court of Justiciary in April 1812, where Gray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to be transported “beyond seas to such places as his Majesty, by and the advice of his Privy Council, shall appoint.” McDonald on the other hand, was not so fortunate and was sentenced to be hung on Friday, 5th June, 1812.
Four companies of the Ayrshire Militia from Paisley were present to keep order in Cathcart Square. At a quarter past two o’clock, a procession comprising the Magistrates, Sheriff substitute, ministers, the prisoner’s father, brother and sister, all dressed in black, preceded the prisoner and guard of soldiers to the gallows. After prayers and psalms, he mounted the gallows at ten past three, had the rope adjusted around his neck and signalled to the executioner, by dripping a handkerchief, that he was ready.
|An Account of Executions in Scotland.|
However, this shows McDonald's death date as 1822 which is incorrect.
Upon withdrawing the bolt, the rope snapped, and Moses fell to the ground. He was escorted back to the Mid Kirk by his sister while reciting verses 1 – 15 of the fifty first psalms:
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
Half an hour later, after a new rope had been fitted to the gibbet, Moses McDonald was hung for the second and final time. His body was cut down at twenty past four and put into a coffin by his father, brother and sister, and buried the following day.
|The story of Moses McDonald from the Edinburgh Annual Register|
McDonald was not the only man from the town to be hung, there are documented cases of six other men ranging from 1812 to 1892, not all of them share the same story as Moses, In fact, many of the crimes committed are MUCH worse. You can read these yourself in the short booklet we put together.
For more information on Moses McDonald you can view the McDonald Family History Website
The Greenock Hangings