“If You Want A Job Done Properly …”

Edinburgh Castle (Photo: David Monniaux (CC BY-SA 3.0))

Turning once again to the pages of the Ipswich Journal for April 15th, 1721, we find this fascinating report of a criminal trial held in Edinburgh, at which one James Campbell of Burbank, “late of the Stores in Edinburgh Castle”, was indicted:

… for Rape, administering Poison, and being privy to, and aiding in the Barbarous Murder committed on the Body of Margaret Hall, by Nichol Musket of Boghal, her Husband, who was executed for it some time since.

Evidence was brought forward against Campbell, backed up by Musket’s confession, that he had been paid fifty pounds [around £100,000 in today’s purchasing power] by Musket to help him get a divorce from his wife.

The hapless Campbell began by hatching a plot to give Musket the incontrovertible evidence of adultery he thought would get him the divorce he wanted. He got Margaret Hall drunk to the stage where she passed out, then put her into bed (and presumably raped her), calling in her husband and other witnesses to witness this act of “adultery” on his wife’s part.

When this supposed instance of finding the poor woman in flagrant delicate failed to achieve the required divorce, he tried to kill Margaret by giving her poison. Quite why she would accept anything at his hand, and why she didn’t bring a charge of rape against him, isn’t made clear. However, this too failed and the woman survived.

At that point, Nichol Musket had clearly had enough of Campbell’s incompetence and killed his wife himself.

According to the article, Campbell made “a very good Defence”. Quite how he did so is not explained. What “good defence” could you make against overwhelming evidence of rape and attempted murder? Nevertheless, the court found that, since Campbell had not actually murdered the woman successfully, he should only be sentenced to transportation, with the threat of “perpetual imprisonment” should he ever return to Scotland.

As already noted, the murderous husband had already been executed, so poor Margaret’s death was at least partially atoned for. Such was eighteenth-century justice.

About William Savage

Author of mystery stories set in Georgian Norfolk.
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