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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
George Smith, Accomplice of Deacon Brodie


George Smith was a native of Berkshire, in England. He and his wife were hawkers, and travelled the country with a horse and cart. He came to Scotland about the middle of the year 1786; and, on arriving in Edinburgh, put up at Michael Henderson's, a house at that period much frequented by the lower order of travellers. In consequence of bad health, he was under the necessity of parting with all his goods, and, latterly, with his horse, in order to support himself and his wife. While thus confined in Henderson's, the "first interview" took place, on which occasion Brodie suggested the possibility of " something being done to advantage, provided a due degree of caution were exercised." There is every reason to suppose that the doing of something was nothing new to Smith, who appears to have embraced very cordially and readily the propositions of Brodie. He soon became a visitor of the gambling-house of Clark, at the head of the Fleshmarket Close, where he formed acquaintance with Ainslie and Brown.

In his declarations, Smith confessed to the robbery of the College— of Tapp's dwelling-house—of a shop in Leith—and also of the shop of Inglis and Horner. The latter individual was father of Francis Horner, Esq., M.P., and Mr. Leonard Horner, sometime Warden of London University. He also disclosed the extensive robbery committed on the shop of John and Andrew Bruce. In describing this affair we will quote iu part the language of the declaration, which is graphically illustrative of the career of Brodie, who had actually been a participator in almost all the forementioned depredations :—

"That Brodie told the declarant that the shop at the head of Bridge Street, belonging to Messrs. Bruce, would be a proper shop for breaking into, as it contained valuable goods; and he knew the lock would be easily opened, as it was a plain lock, his men having lately altered that shop door, at the lowering of the street: that the plan of breaking into the shop was accordingly concerted betwixt them; and they agreed to meet on the evening of the 24th of December, 1786, being a Saturday, at the house of James Clark, vintner, where they generally met with company to gamble: that, having met there, they played at the game of hazard, till the declarant lost all his money; but at this time Brodie was in luck, and gaining money: that the declarant often asked Brodie to go with him on their own business; but Brodie, as he was gaining money, declined going, and desired the declarant to stay a little and he would go with him." Smith, however, becoming impatient, as it was near four in the morning, went himself to the Messrs. Brace's shop, from which he took a number of watches, and a variety of jewellery articles, amounting in all to the value of .£850. Brodie called upon Smith next day, when the latter told him he could not expect a full share, "but that there were the goods, and he might choose for himself." Brodie accordingly took a gold seal, a gold watch-key set with garnet stones, and two gold rings. As the safest method, it was agreed that Smith should go to England and dispose of the goods—Brodie giving him five guineas and a-half to defray his expenses. The goods were accordingly sold in Chesterfield, to one John Tasker alias Murray, who had been previously banished from Scotland. Smith repaid the money advanced by Brodie, besides giving him three ten-pound notes more to keep for him, in case of suspicion, which he afterwards got in sums as he wanted it.

While in prison, a desperate attempt to escape was made by Smith and Ainslie—the latter of whom occupied a room on the highest floor. It occurred in the night between the 4th and 5th of May, by converting the iron handle of the jack (or bucket) into a pick-lock, and one of the iron hoops into a saw. Smith took one door off the hinges, and opened the other which led to Ainslie's apartment. Both prisoners setting then to work, they cut a hole in the ceiling, together with another in the roof of the prison, and had prepared about sixteen fathoms of rope, manufactured out of the sheets of their beds. The falling of the slates on the street, however, attracted the notice of the sentinel, who, giving the alarm, they were immediately secured. After this failure, Smith seems to have given up all hope. He at one time intended to plead guilty, and prepared a speech in writing for the purpose; but was afterwards prevailed upon to take his chance of a trial. He also, with his own hand, drew up a list of robberies— some of them of great magnitude—intended for future commission.

During Smith's stay in Edinburgh, he kept a kind of grocery shop in the Cowgate; and he affirmed that his wife knew nothing of his criminal mode of life. Her evidence was not taken in Court.

Of the history of the other accomplices nothing seems to have been known, even by their companions. In the list of witnesses, the designation of the one is, John Brown alias Humphry Moore, sometime residing in Edinburgh; of the other, Andrew Ainslie, sometime shoemaker in Edinburgh.


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