James Robb, murderer: a view from the judge

I’ve just come across another source  for James Robb (or Jamie, as he’s called here), the ‘Auchterless murderer’ (see these posts). It’s from ‘Circuit Journeys by the late Lord Cockburn’, who was the trial judge, published in Edinburgh by David Douglas in 1889. You can find it online here

Here’s the relevant extract:

ABERDEEN, Monday Night, 17th September 1849. Came here to-day, where Moncreiff joined me.

CASTLETON, Saturday Night, 22d September 1849. The Aberdeen criminal business exhausted four days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and yesterday. There were not more cases than usual ; but they happened to be of a worse description. In particular, there were four capital cases, viz. two murders, one murder combined with raptus, and one raptus alone. One of the murders ended in an acquittal, and very properly, because though the guilt was certain and savage, the evidence was not satisfactory.

In another murder, a plea of culpable homicide produced twenty years’ transportation. The simple raptus ended in a conviction, and in transportation for life. The murder and raptus combined caused a sentence of death. This last was a horrid case. The prisoner was James Robb, a country labourer of about twenty-five, a known reprobate, and stout. His victim was Mary Smith, a quiet woman of sixty-two, never married, or a mother, who lived by herself in a lonely house by the wayside. There was a fair held at a village in Aberdeenshire called Badenscoth, which sometimes, though in no eminent degree, produced some of the disorderly scenes natural to fairs.

Mary Smith, though not the least alarmed, happened to observe casually that ” she was not afraid of anybody, except that lad Jamie Robb.” That very night Robb left the fair (9th April 1849) about ten, avowing that he was determined to gratify his passion on somebody before he slept. He had then no thought of this old woman; but, unfortunately, her house lay in his way. He asked admittance, upon pretence of lighting his pipe. She refused. On this he got upon the roof and went down the chimney, which consisted of a square wooden box about 5 feet long by 2 wide, placed about 8 feet above the fire.  Its soot was streaked by his corduroy dress, which helped to identify him. Having got in, the beast fell upon its prey. She was thought in good health, but after death was discovered to have an incipient disease in the heart, which agitation made dangerous, but which might have lain long dormant. The violence of the brute, and the alarm, proved fatal. She was found dead in the morning, and the bed broken, and in the utmost confusion. A remarkable composite metal button, broken from its eye, was found twisted in what the witness called ” a lurk,” or fold, of the sheet. Buttons of exactly the same kind, and with the same words and figures engraved on them, were found on his jacket, all complete except that one was awanting.

But its eye remained ; and this eye, with its bright recent fracture, exactly fitted the part of the button that had been found. These circumstances would have been sufficient to have established his having been in the house. But his declaration admitted the fact. Consent was excluded by its being obvious that it was the energy of her resistance that had killed her.

It is difficult to drive the horrors of that scene out of one’s imagination. The solitary old woman in the solitary house, the descent through the chimney, the beastly attack, the death struggle, all that was ‘going on within this lonely room, amidst silent fields, and under a still, dark sky. It is a fragment of hell, which it is both difficult to endure and to quit.

Yet a jury, though clear of both crimes, recommended the brute to mercy ! because he did not intend to commit the murder ! Neither does the highwayman, who only means to wound, in order to get the purse, but kills.

Within a few hours after he was convicted he confessed, and explained that the poor woman had died in his very grip. (He was executed, solemnly denying his guilt, quoad raptus!)

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One Response to James Robb, murderer: a view from the judge

  1. Pingback: James Robb, murderer: the law officer’s story « Martin Robb’s Family History Blog

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