GEORGE CLERK AND JOHN RAMSAY
Executed 1st of March, 1675, for poisoning John Anderson, an Edinburgh Merchant; Kennedy, the Chemist's Apprentice who supplied them, being banished
JOHN RAMSAY, servant to the deceased John Anderson, and George Clerk, late servant to Mr John Clerk of Penicuik, were prosecuted for the murder of John Anderson, merchant in Edinburgh, at the instance of Mr John Clerk of Penicuik, and James Clerk, merchant in Edinburgh, nephews to the deceased, and of Sir John Nisbet of Dirleton, his Majesty's advocate.
The indictment set forth that the prisoners lived in the house with the deceased, and waited on him at the time of his death, and for some months preceding. The deceased was an unmarried person, and had nobody living in the house with him but the prisoners, who perfidiously abused the trust reposed in them. When their master was counting his money, having the room door shut upon him, they were in use to rap at the door, and when he opened it they slipped in and stole part of his money. The season was very sickly; a flux in particular raged with such violence that many died of it daily, and it was deemed so contagious that those who were not infected were afraid to approach the sick, from the danger of infection. The prisoners conspired to bring this disease upon their master. They consulted one Kennedy, apprentice to Thomas Henryson, apothecary in Edinburgh, in the month of October or November preceding, and got from him some purgative powders and drugs, which they administered to the deceased in his drink and otherwise. The first purging powder wrought slowly. They then got a white powder, which operated to their wishes; so that the deceased had recourse to Hugh Brown, apothecary, his ordinary medical adviser. The prisoners took advantage of the sickness they had brought on him, by combining to steal his money and jewels, which he kept in an iron chest. That they might steal with the greater security, they also applied to Kennedy for intoxicating or somniferous draughts, obtained from him a medicine which he called syrup of poppy, and gave it to their master when he was bad, and keeping the house, without his knowledge or that of Brown his apothecary. It was mixed in his drink, and he fell into a deep sleep. They took out his keys, opened his chest, carried off a large gold chain, gold bracelets, a gold ring with a blue stone, two pieces of gold, twelve of silver, and five purse pennies, silver buttons, brooches, and various other articles. They then got from Kennedy several drugs, which he called powder of jalap and crystal of tartar, which they gave to their master. Clerk told Kennedy that, their master being ill, they had stolen several pieces of coin from him, and that there were three bags of money in his chest; that they were resolved to take some of it, and would give Kennedy a part. They gave the jalap and the tartar to their master, to counteract the effect of Brown's prescriptions.
On the Wednesday preceding their master's death, which happened on Monday, the 15th of November, 1674, Anderson's friends visited him, and he told them he was greatly better. On this the prisoners, fearing his recovery, and that he should discover their practices, came to a positive resolution to murder him, communicated it to Kennedy, and sought poison from him to effect their purpose. But Kennedy would not give poison, saying the body would swell, and so they would be discovered; but he would give a powder which would do the business slowly, and which he would engage would kill their master in a month. They got a powder accordingly, which Kennedy called powder of jalap, but which either in quality, quantity, or frequency of being administered, was truly poison. On the five days immediately preceding his death the prisoners and their associate Kennedy held frequent consultations in the shop of Kennedy's master, in the house of the deceased, and in the King's Park. They gave Kennedy part of what they had already stolen, and promised him an equal share of their future plunder. On Saturday night the deceased was so well that his apothecary said he would not visit him next day. On Sunday he was not thought near death, but rose,
dressed himself, and supped in his usual style. On Sunday night the prisoners mixed some drugs in conserve of roses that had been prescribed for him by his own apothecary. These were so poisonous that he died on Monday morning at ten o'clock. At five o'clock their master called for the bed-pan, which they gave him; they then ran to the iron chest, filled their hands with jewels, goods, and money belonging to their dying master, and did not look near him till about eight o'clock, when they found him speechless, the whites of his eyes turned up, and the bed swimming around him. They then called in the neighbours to see him die.
Both the prisoners emitted confessions corresponding in general to the charge in the indictment. They added that, before they conceived the idea of giving their master drugs to bereave him of life, they had frequently been in use to infuse powders in his drink, which made him outrageously drunk, that they might make sport of him in his drunkenness -- a dreadful lesson to beware of the first steps in vice. Had they not infused powders to make their master drunk, in order to gratify a barbarous and disrespectful mirth, the idea of taking away his life by similar means would not have occurred to them.
They were convicted, and sentenced on the 8th of February to be hanged at the Cross of Edinburgh on the 1st of March, and their movable goods to be forfeited. The trial of Kennedy, the apothecary's apprentice, for furnishing the medicines, was brought on upon the 22nd of February, 1676, and after various adjournments, and a tedious confinement of eighteen months, he, on his own petition, on the 30th of July, 1677, was banished for life.