Reverend Thomas Hunter

Perpetrator : Reverend Thomas Hunter

Crime : Murder of two of his pupils.

The Victims : The two sons of Mr & Mrs Gordon

Weapon of Choice: Knife

Motive : They had revealed his affair with the maid and thus caused acute embarrassment.

Date: 1700

Punishment : His right hand to be cut off before he is to be pulled by rope up the gibbet (gallows type structure). After execution to be hanged in chains and the weapon passed through his hand before being place on top of the gibbet.

Location: Outskirts of the village of Broughton, near Edinburgh.

The Story 

The case of this criminal, who was executed in the year 1700, for the barbarous murder of his two pupils, the children of a gentleman named Gordon, an eminent merchant, and a baillie, or alderman of the City of Edinburgh, is the first on our record ; and, certainly, for its atrocity, deserves to be placed at the head of the list of offences which follows its melancholy recital.

From the title of the offender, it will be seen that he was a preacher of the word of God ; and that a person in his situation in life should suffer so ignominious an end for such a crime, is indeed extraordinary; but how much more horrible is the fact which is related to us, that that on the scaffold, when all hope of life and of repentance was past, he expressed his disbelief in that God whom it was his profession to uphold, and whose omnipotence it had been his duty to teach !

The malefactor, it would appear, was born of most respectable parents, his father being a rich farmer in the county of Fife, and at an early age he was sent to the University of St. Andrew's for his education. His success in the pursuit of classical knowledge soon enabled him to take the degree of Master of Arts, and his subsequent study of divinity was attended with as favourable results. After quitting college, in accordance with the practice of the time, he entered the service of Mr. Gordon in the capacity of chaplain, in which situation it became his duty to instruct the sons of his employer, children respectively of the ages of eight and ten years.

The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon, the two boys, their younger sister , Mr. Hunter, a young woman who attended upon Mrs. Gordon, and the usual menial servants. The attention of Hunter was attracted by the comeliness of the lady's-maid, and a connexion of a ciminal nature was soon commenced between them. The accidental discovery of this intrigue by the three children, was the ultimate cause of the deliberate murder of two of them by their tutor.

The young woman and Hunter had retired to the apartment of the latter, but, having omitted to fasten the door, the children entered and saw enough to excite surprise in their young minds. In their conversation subsequently at meal-time, they said so much as convinced their parents of what had taken place, and the servant-girl was instantly dismissed ; while the chaplain, who had always been considered to be a person of mild and amiable disposition and of great genius, was permitted to remain, upon his making such amends to the family as were in his power, by apologising for his indiscretion. From this moment, however, an inveterate hatred for the children arose in his breast, and he determined to satisfy his revenge upon them by murdering them all.

Chance for some time marred his plans, but he was at length enabled to put them into execution as regarded the two boys. It appears that he was in the habit of taking them for walks in the fields before dinner, and the girl on such occasions usually accompanied them, but at the time at which the murder of her brothers was perpetrated she was prevented from going with them.

They were at the country-seat of Mr. Gordon, situated at a short distance only from Edinburgh, and an invitation having been received for the whole family to dine in that city, Mrs. Gordon desired that all the children might accompany her and her husband. The latter, however, opposed the the plan, and only the little girl was permitted to go with her parents.

The intention of the murderer to kill all the children was somewhat thwarted, but he still persevered in his bloody purpose with regard to the sons of his benefactor, whom he determined to murder while they were yet in his power. Proceeding with them in their customary walks, they all sat down together to rest; but the boys soon quitted their tutor to catch butterflies, and to gather the wild flowers which grew in abundance around them. Their murderer was at that moment engaged in preparing the weapon for their slaughter, and presently calling them to him, he reprimanded them for disclosing to their parents the particulars of the scene which they had witnessed, and declared his intention to put them to death.

Terrified by this threat, they ran from him; but he pursued and overtook them, and then throwing one of them on the ground and placing his knee on his chest, he soon despatched his brother by cutting his throat with a penknife. This first victim disposed of, he speedily completed his fell purpose, with regard to the child whose person he had already secured. The deed, it will be observed, was perpetrated in open day ; and it would have been remarkable, indeed, if, within half a mile of the chief city of Scotland, there had been no human eye to see so horrible an act.

A gentleman who was walking on the Castle Hill had a tolerable view of what passed, and immediately ran to the spot where the deceased children were lying ; giving the alarm as he went along, in order that the murderer might be secured. The latter, having accomplished his object, proceeded towards the river to drown himself, but was prevented from fulfilling his intention; and having been seized, he was soon placed in safe custody, intelligence of the frightful event being meanwhile conveyed to the parents of the unhappy children.

The prisoner was within a few days brought to trial, under the old Scottish law, by which it was provided that a murderer, being found with the blood of his victim on his clothes, should be prosecuted in the Sheriff's Court, and executed within three days.

The frightful nature of the case rendered it scarcely uncharitable to pursue a law so vigorous according to its letter, and a jury having been accordingly impanelled, the prisoner was brought to trial, and pleaded guilty, adding the horrible announcement of his regret that Miss Gordon had escaped from his revenge.

The sentence of death was passed upon the culprit by the sheriff, but it was directed to be carried into effect with the additional terms, that the prisoner should first have his right hand struck off; that he should then be drawn up to the gibbet, erected near the locality of the murder, by a rope ; and that after execution, he should be hanged in chains, between Edinburgh and Leith, the weapon of destruction being passed through his hand, which should be advanced over his head, and fixed to the top of the gibbet.

The sentence, barbarous as it may now appear, was carried into full execution on the 22nd of August, 1700; and frightful to relate, he, who in life had professed to be a teacher of the Gospel, on his scaffold declared himself to be an Atheist. His words were, " There is no God—or if there be, I hold him in defiance."

The body of the executed man, having been at first suspended in chains according to the precise terms of his sentence, was subsequently, at the desire of Mr. Gordon, removed to the outskirts of the village of Broughton, near Edinburgh.