Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the City's archives

Nov 22, 2013

 ‘Horrid and Cruel Murder.’

Two hundred years ago on Monday 22nd November 1813 in the High Court, Edinburgh, a ‘respectable Jury’ found Christian Sinclair, an Orkney woman, guilty of the murder of an infant girl. The infant was the illegitimate daughter of Christian's brother Thomas. The murderer was sentenced to execution by hanging at the Old Tolbooth in the Lawnmarket, and her body was then to be delivered to the Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh for public dissection.


The National Library of Scotland (NLS) holds a copy of a broadsheet (or broadside), published after her execution, which offered a florid version of her story to the public.

According to the broadside, it seems that Christian was determined to be rid of the child. The baby's mother, Jean Petrie, was 'afraid of her life as Christian Sinclair was a very passionate and violent tempered woman'. When the baby was around eight months old, Christian visited Jean's home in Kirkwall, ordered her to go out to buy ale, and then carried out a brutal and premeditated murder:

                         (Extract from a broadside held by the NLS)

'on Wednesday the 28th April last; about seven o clock in the evening . . .  she sent the child's mother out for a bottle of Ale, and while thus absent and no other person being in the house, she wickedly forced a quantity of arsenic which she had previously procured evidently for that purpose, down the infant's throat, who, when its mother returned found the child crying piteously as in great pain . . . In a very short time she went away, and at the door returned twice, to tell Jean Petrie, not to let any person know that she had been there.'

Jean sought assistance from a neighbour who called for a doctor:

'Mr John Edgar, a professional gentleman, was immediately sent for, who ordered an emetic, and preserved the contents of the stomach for examination; but, notwithstanding, the child languished in great agony till about four o'clock next Morning, when it died.'

The broadside gives further details suggesting that Christian was unrepentant as she approached the day of execution, and then suggests that she was able to hurry the executioner in his task:

'.. She was brought to the Scaffold this day, Wednesday 29th December 1813, supported by a man on each side, and instantly mounted the drop. The Executioner then placed the Rope round her neck, and gave her a handkerchief, which she was to use as a signal, and which she dropped before he could come off the platform. She was instantly launched into eternity, about half past three o'clock amidst a very great concourse of spectators. After hanging the usual time her body was let down and delivered over for dissection.'

Read the full transcription of this dreadful crime on the NLS website: 






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