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.