When the crowd gathered to see the hangman launching teenager Robert Smith into eternity on a wet Tuesday in 1868, it was the last time this public spectacle would be witnessed in Scotland. Smith's crime was heinous, his public punishment brutal. And, finally, it was the end of a tragic public theatre which had drawn eager, baying crowds for more than a thousand years.
Launched Into Eternity is a fascinating account of crime and public punishment in Scotland. From bloody Viking penalties to the execution of William Wallace, and from witch hunts and public drownings to the horrific execution in 1820 of three Scots Radicals whose crime was to campaign for a fairer deal for the downtrodden, this is an astonishing and macabre story. But it is perhaps less surprising when you consider that by 1800, judges had the authority to hand out the death penalty for more than 200 separate offences.
Times have undoubtedly changed for the better, but the shadows of our history offer a fascinating insight into the brutality of life and the public punishments of the past.