Mr. Williamson was originally a printer, and for some
time employed in the Courant Office. He became King's Messenger
about 1784; and among the first cases of any note, in which he was
called upon to act, was that of the celebrated William Brodie, in 1788.
After the apprehension of the Deacon in Holland, he escorted him from
London to Edinburgh.
On the way the prisoner behaved with much levity of
manner, and Williamson used to tell several amusing stories respecting
him. While at Amsterdam, Brodie met a Scots woman who asked him if he
had been long from Scotland, adding, that one Brodie, a citizen
of Edinburgh, was accused of robbing the Excise Office; and that a great
reward was offered for his apprehension. In the same city, he became
acquainted with the person who had committed a forgery on the Bank of
Scotland. "He was a very clever fellow," said Brodie, "and had it not
been for my apprehension, I could have mastered the process in a week."
Before arriving in Edinburgh, Brodie was anxious to
have his beard cropped, an operation in which he had not indulged for
several days. Afraid to trust the razor in the hands of a person in his
circumstances, Mr. Williamson offered to act the part of tonsor,
assuring the prisoner that he was well qualified for the task. Brodie
patiently submitted to the process, which was awkwardly and very
indifferenty performed by the man of captions and hornings. "George,"
said he, as the last polishing stroke had been given, "if you are no
better at your own business than you are at shaving, a person may
employ you once, but I'll be------if ever he does so again!"
Williamson acquired considerable notoriety in his
official capacity in 1793, and subsequent years, among the "Friends of
the People," to whom he became obnoxious for his activity as an emissary
of the law. Muir of Huntershill, and Palmer from Dundee, were among the
first and most distinguished of the Reformers whom he arrested; and when
the late Mr. Hamilton Rowan, accompanied by the Hon. Simon Butler, came
from Dublin to challenge the Lord Advocate, Williamson was prepared to
welcome them, on their arrival at Dumbreck's Hotel, with a warrant for
In the performance of his duty, Mr. Williamson
displayed considerable tact and address ; and, without rudeness, was
firm and decided. He was a man of more gentleness and humanity than
individuals of his profession are generally supposed to be. There are
many instances in which he has been known, rather than resort to extreme
measures, to have himself paid the debt of the unfortunate individual
against whom he had diligence. Being Excise Constable, at that time all
the decreets for arrears of licenses were put in force through his
hands, under the direction of the late Mr. James Bremner,
deputy-solicitor of stamps, to whom he invariably reported all cases of
distress. The reply of that good-hearted gentleman usually wasó"I leave
the matter to yourself, Mr. Williamson; the Government do not wish to
make beggars, though they may be fond of the revenue."
In extensive employment, Williamson is understood to
have at one time realised a considerable fortune. He lived in the Lord
President's Stairs, Parliament Square, but had a country house at
Libber-ton, where he and his family resided during summer.
Mr. Williamson died at Edinburgh on the 15th
February, 1823, in the seventy-fourth year of his age, and was buried at
Newbattle. He was twice married, and by his first wife had two sons and
a daughter. His second wife was a sister of the late Mr. Peacock of
Stenhouse, from whom he held the house and ground at Libberton on very
advantageous terms. His eldest son, David, was a Writer to the Signet;
and James, a writer and messenger.