Public hanging

Great debate on social media today about whether the site new council offices at the old Burgh Hall in Church Street, Dumbarton, was the scene of the last public hanging in the town. Was it or wasn’t. I thought it was outside the old prison and nearer McLean Place. The consensus was that  it was certainly in that area and probably in front of the Sheriff Court building. The last hanging?  Valeman Bryan Weir, who specialises in local history, dug out the following details:

Last public hanging in DumbartonDumbarton Jail

Dumbarton Prison in McLean Place behind the Sheriff Court building.

Saturday 18th January 1861:  This morning, Patrick Lunnay, who was convicted at the last Glasgow Winter Circuit Court, of the murder of James Cassidy, mason, Alexandria, Dumbartonshire, on the 11th of November last, suffered the extreme penalty of the law in front of the County Buildings, Dumbarton.

The murder for which the penalty of death was thus inflicted, was of a very atrocious character. So atrocious, indeed, that although the jury added to their verdict a recommendation to mercy, not a single effort appears to have been made to obtain a commutation of the sentence; and although his counsel drew up a petition in his favour, scarcely any could be got to sign it.

The murderer and his victim were bedfellows — had been so for several weeks — and on the evening prior to the perpetration of the brutal deed had supped together. In consequence of some jocular expressions made use of by Cassidy, Lunnay became excited, and insisted that their difference should be settled by a fight; and, for the purpose of pounding his opponent to better advantage, he stripped off his coat and called upon the latter to prepare.

Cassidy did not appear anxious to fight — indeed, from all that has transpired, he was rather averse to such a proceeding; and the inmates of the house having, to all appearance, pacified Lunnay, the men, after some little delay, left the apartment for the purpose, as was believed, of retiring to bed. The sequel is soon told.

The murderer returned to the apartment he had shortly before left, in such a condition, that the inmates of the house had no doubt that he had been after mischief — that he had again allowed his passionate feeling to get the better of him.

This surmise proved too true; for it was ascertained that Lunnay, in the most brutal, atrocious, and cowardly manner, had attacked his unarmed opponent with a clasp-knife, stabbed him as a butcher would the inflated portion of a carcase while skinning it, and left him lying in the street with his life’s blood oozing from fourteen places.

The murderer from the first exhibited no remorse for his deed, and went through his trial and sentence with a stolid indifference, which he maintained to the last, although his pale face and haggard appearance betokened much selfish suffering.

Balloch author Billy Scobie writes: “There is still a bit of the old prison there – barred window and all. The sketch map was not exactly Ordnance Survey standard, but it clearly indicated the gallows as being approximately where the new [council] offices are, or just yards behind them.” Pictures below are of the old Burgh Hall and of the courts complex, the Denny Institute, the Lennox Herald offices and the Buurgh Hall.

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