Last Horse Theft Hanging
The last horse theft hanging in Scotland took place in 1811, following a guilty verdict after the thief had been tried at Ayr court.
The thief was George Watson, who had repaid the generosity of farmer John Kerr by stealing his best horse, a grey Clydesdale mare, after being given shelter for the night, together with the group of tinkers he was part of. Kerr, of Knockburnie, near New Cumnock, Ayrshire, had a reputation for kindness to travellers, but was angered when he discovered that not only was his horse gone, but another had been stolen from his brother William's neighbouring farm of Marshallmark, and the pair set off after the horse thieves.
William gave up the chase at Kilmarnock, but John carried on, and followed the trail through Fenwick, Mearns, Glasgow, past Loch Lomond and up to Tarbert. His horse had a broken shoe, and left a unique track which he was able to follow on the road.
He next went to Inveraray, where he was able to obtain a warrant from the Sheriff, and the assistance of two constables who accompanied him. People on the road remembered the group of travellers with a grey mare, and this allowed the the three to follow the groups through Dalmally, Glencoe and Appin, finally catching up with it in a remote glen, in an area now known as Benderloch.
The two men are said to have had a short conversation:
"I didn't expect to see you, Knockburnie" said Watson.
"I didn't expect you would steal my horse", replied Kerr.
Said to have then tried to attack Kerr, Watson was restrained by constables.
The chase had taken more than a week and covered a distance of more than 150 miles. It has come to be referred to as the pursuit of justice.
After being apprehended, George Watson was first taken Inveraray jail, and from there was sent to Ayr to for trial, where he was was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The law was changed after the sentence was carried out, and the crime became one that no longer attracted capital punishment, so George Watson became the last man to be hanged in Scotland for stealing a horse.
The horse returned home with its rightful owner, and a new name - Tinker.
Pursuit of justice recreated
In May 2011, John Nelson - John Kerr's great great grandson, and also a farmer - recreated his ancestor's pursuit of justice.
Modern developments and changes to the land and roads meant that it was no longer considered safe to take a Clydesdale horse through Glasgow, and the journey commenced instead from Balloch. The plan thereafter being to follow the original roads as far as possible, passing through Glencoe, and on to Appin.
2 ⇑ Ardchattan Observer » Tired but delighted .. the journeys end. Retrieved June 08, 2012.
- BBC News - Last hanging for horse theft remembered Retrieved May 23, 2011.
- ExecutedToday.com » 1811: George Watson, the last horse thief hanged in Scotland Retrieved June 08, 2012.
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