September 2, 1724
Margaret Dickson (approximately 22) is hanged, incompletely, for the murder of her child
“Ye Sons of Satan, Candidates of Hell, Listen unto the serious Truths I tell,” cautions a pamphlet announcing Dickson’s execution. The pamphlet continued, in rhyme, explaining the nature of Dickson’s crime and concluded: “The Miscreant kills the Fruit of her own Womb, To make Damnation her eternal Doom.”
Margaret Dickson, later known as “half hangit Maggie,” had been married to a man who left her in 1723. The reason behind Mr. Dickson’s departure varies between sources, either to join the Royal Navy, to work on a fishing fleet, or to simply abandon her. Regardless of the reason Dickson was left without a husband, she soon took up a position as a domestic servant at an inn. She and the innkeeper’s son began an intimate relationship, leading to Dickson finding herself pregnant. She hid her pregnancy out of fear of losing her job, and delivered her child in secret.
The baby was born prematurely and was either stillborn or died soon after birth. Dickson knew she could not afford to give the newborn a proper burial — both in terms of finances as well as the potential backlash from her employers should they discover her concealed pregnancy. Dickson resorted to either placing the baby in the river Tweed or leaving the body on the banks of the river. The corpse was found the same day and, through investigations that have been lost to time, was traced back to Dickson.
Some sources claim Dickson had been convicted and sentenced under the Concealment of Pregnancy Act, though a report published the day after and the pamphlet printed the year of the execution noted she was hanged for the murder of her child. Later publications also seemed to vary wildly in the date of the execution, ranging from June 19, 1728 to February 1, 1813.
Dickson’s body was cut down after she was pronounced dead; according to The Caledonian Mercury, the hangman loosened the knot of the noose with his teeth. Dickson’s body was put in a coffin and transported to her to her family in Musselburgh. During the trip, Dickson regained consciousness and lifted the lid of her coffin.
The law deemed Dickson’s resurrection an Act of God and she was given a full pardon. Dickson died around 40 years later, circa 1765.
“Catalepsy Dickson 1728.” Alamy. Accessed: September 3, 2020. https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-margaret-dickson-hung-for-the-murder-of-a-child-later-revived-the-105294965.html?irclickid=23jTnM1CKxyOTfq0TWXZ0S3wUkiVEA2WPzp5QY0&irgwc=1&utm_source=77643&utm_campaign=Shop%20Royalty%20Free%20at%20Alamy&utm_medium=impact
“Half Hangit Maggie.” The Grassmarket. Accessed: September 2, 2020. http://www.the-grassmarket.com/history/maggie-dickson.html
“Maggie Dickson.” Undiscovered Scotland. Accessed: September 2, 2020. https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/d/maggiedickson.html
“Half-hangit Maggie: The Scots woman who survived hanging.” The Scotsman. April 7, 2016. Accessed: September 2, 2020. https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/half-hangit-maggie-scots-woman-who-survived-hanging-622567
“Revivals After Execution.” The Maitland Mercury. May 14, 1887
“Particulars of the Life, Trial, Character, and Behavior of Margaret Dickson.” 1813 (digitized: https://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/view/?id=16830)
“A Warning to the Wicket, or, Margaret Dickson’s Welcome to the Gibbet.” c. 1724 (digitized: https://digital.nls.uk/broadsides/view/?id=15756)
The Caledonian Mercury. Num. 691. Edinburgh, Scotland. September 3, 1724