The History of Leith

May 9, 2011

Murder at the Gabriel Road

Mr. James Gordon, of Ellon, in Aberdeenshire, a rich merchant of Edinburgh, and once a baiiie there, in the early part of the eighteenth century had a villa on the north side of the city, somewhere between the Gabriel road and the village of Broughton.
His family consisted of his wife, two sons, and a daughter, these being all of tender age. He had a tutor for his two boys—John and Alexander—a licentiate of the Church, named Robert Irvine, who was of respectable attainments, but had a somewhat gloomy disposition. Views of predestination, drawn front some work of Flavel’s, belonging to the college library, bad taken possession of his mind, which had, perhaps, some infirmity ready to be acted upon by external circumstances and dismal impulses.
Having cast eves of admiration on a pretty servant-maid in Mr. Gordon’s house, he was tempted to take some liberties with her, which were observed, and mentioned incidentally by his pupils. For this he was reprimanded by Mr. Gordon, but on apologising, was forgiven. Into Irvine’s morbid and sensitive nature the affront, or rebuke, sank deeply, and a thirst for revenge possessed him. For three days he revolved the insane idea of cutting off Mr. Gordon’s three children, and on the «8th of April, 1717, he found an opportunity of partially accomplishing his terrible purpose.
It was Sunday, and Mr. and Mrs. Gordon went to spend the afternoon with a friend in the city, taking their little daughter with them- Irvine, left with the two boys, took them out for a walk along the then broomy and grassy slope, where now York Place and St Andrew Square are situated. While the boys ran about gathering flowers and pursuing butterflies, he sat whetting the knife with which he meant to destroy them Calling the two boys to him, he upbraided them with their informing upon him, and told them that they must suffer for it. They ran off, but he easily overtook and seized them. Then keeping
one down upon the grass with his knee, he cut the other’s throat
By a singular chance a gentleman enjoying his evening stroll upon the Castle Hill obtained a perfeect view’ of the whole episode—most probably
with a. telescope—and immediately gave an alarm.
Irvine, who had already attempted, but unsuccessfully, to cut his own throat, now fled from his pursuers towards the Water of Leith thinking to drown himseif, but was taken, brought in a cart to the
tolbooth of Broughton, and there chained down to the floor like a wild beast.
It was only necessary to bring him next day before the judge of the district and have sentence passed upon him. Irvine was tried before the Baronbailie upon the 30th of April, and received sentence
of death.
In his ” dying confession,” supposed to be unique, it is recorded that ” he desired one who was pre- The magistracy of this burgh consisted of a sent to take care of his books and conceal his papers, for he said there were many foolish things |. He imagined that he was to be hung in chains, and showed some concern on that acount. He prayed the parents of the murdered children to forgive him, which they, very christianly, consented he was afterwards hanged. While he was hanging the wound he gave himself in the throat with the penknife broke out afresh, and the blood gushed out in great abundance.”
He was hanged at Greenside, and his hands were stuck upon the gibbet with the knife used in the murders. His body was then flung into a neighbouring quarry -hole.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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