The Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany: Volume 83 – 1819.

High Court - Dumfries Circuit.  The Court was opened here on the 17th May by Lords Succoth and Pitmilly, and closed on the 20th. Two men, Peter McFinlay and W. Donald, were found guilty of housebreaking and robbery, and sentenced to be executed at Dumfries on the 19th of May; and Arthur Killan, or Kelly, was sentenced to be executed on the 20th of May for robbery, but has since been respited by the Prince Regent.

Several other convictions took place for minor offences; but the most remarkable case before the court was that of Isabella Halliday, accused of murdering the child of Mary Ann Wilson, who, although doubtless a participator in the crime, had turned what is termed King's evidence. The pannel, one of the most miserable looking objects ever brought to any bar, was aged 80 and upwards; and for the last 60 years had resided in the parish of Borgue, and had been a pauper during a considerable part of the time.

She never was married, but lived in a miserable cottage with her sister, who died six years ago. Since that time she had been taken care of by Mary Ann Wilson, who was in the habit of going round the parish to collect the private offerings of charity, by which they were partly supported. The prisoner was carried to the bar in the arms of an officer; and when he had propped her up in the seat, and had raised her head so as to disclose to the bench her ghastly and shrivelled countenance, and body wasted to the last degree of emaciation, an universal exclamation of astonishment bust from the audience, mingled, no doubt, with a secret feeling of horror, that she, who was so near her last account, and apparently without a motive for her cruelty, should nevertheless have been guilty of a deliberate and horrid murder.

It is impossible to describe adequately the appearance of this miserable old woman, and the effect it produced on the minds of the court; but, when the officer occasionally held up her head, the spectators were powerfully reminded of an Egyptian mummy, which some rude hand had raised from its niche, or one of those unhappy creatures, who, in no very remote time, were tried and tortured for the ideal crime of witchcraft. It appeared in evidence that the pannel was supported entirely by private charity, in a small hut in the parish of Borgue, and for years was unable to get out of bed without assistance. For six years past, a young woman, named Wilson, had resorted to the hut, and had been very industrious in levying charitable contributions for her own and the old woman's support. Towards the end of the year 1818, Wilson appeared to many persons to be in a state of pregnancy; but, when challenged, she uniformly denied being in that situation.

Observing a change in her appearance, several persons asked her what had become of her child; to some she answered it would never trouble any one, but did not deny having been delivered. Wilson, being apprehended and carried to Kirkcudbright, in her examination before the stewart-depute on 11th February last, admitted that she had brought forth a child; and declared that the pannel, on hearing the child cry, asked for it, and immediately plunged the infant into a bucket of water that stood at the bed to catch rain water that came in, through the insufficiency of the roof of the hut; and she further declared, that she and the pannel afterwards burned the child to ashes; and Wilson being called as a witness in the trial, gave evidence to nearly the same effect before the Court. The pannel being also carried before the steward-substitute, declared, that she and Wilson were sleeping in one bed; that one night Wilson appeared very restless and uneasy for some time, and afterwards the pannel heard a cry, and, asking Wilson what it was, Wilson answered a child; that Wilson handed the infant to her, and she put it into the bucket, and thereafter Wilson made a fire, and burnt the child to ashes upon it.

The almost universal opinion of the crowded Court was, that, from Wilson having uniformly concealed, and even denied, her situation, and not having made any provision for her delivery, she evidently had all along been determined in the destruction of the infant; and that the pannel, if she really did put the infant into the bucket, must have acted under the influence, or perhaps direction, of Wilson, who, if inclined, could easily have resisted the utmost exertions of the pannel, whose haggard. shrivelled appearance, when brought into Court, and while at the bar, bespoke utter inability to put a spoon to her mouth, or to judge of anything.

After what had been stated, it is almost unnecessary to say, that the jury returned a verdict of not-proven, and, consequently, the pannel was acquitted.

This miserable old woman died in Dumfries Jail on the Tuesday following, and was carried to the grave by a party of police officers.