Bell M'Menemy & Thomas Connor - 1828


Isabella “BellM'Menemy, was born around 1803 in the County of Tyrone, Ireland, and had gone to live in Paisley, Scotland in 1821 before moving to Glasgow where she got to know Thomas Connor through a friend and also to know his mother. Up to this time, Bell had stayed out of trouble and had been employed at a steam loom factory.  All this changed upon starting the relationship with Thomas and his mother.  She had at least one conviction, for stealing a watch, for which she had served a short prison sentence. She was described as a good looking woman, about 23-25 years old with a fair complexion and red hair. 


Thomas Connor, was 21 or 22 years of age, and had also born in Tyrone. He had a criminal record stretching back to childhood.  He had been banished from the County of Renfrew for stealing an anvil and a cart wheel from a smith in Mearns.  He had also been banished from Glasgow for theft; and on the 12th of May 1826, he was tried at the Circuit Court for robbing a man but escaped by a verdict of Not Proven.


The crime.
Bell and Thomas assaulted and robbed one Mr. Alexander M'Kinnon (also given as Mc Kennon) who had come to Glasgow from Tralee to sell eggs. The crime had taken place on the 20th of May 1828, sometime in the early hours of the Tuesday morning. Alexander had sold his eggs on the Monday and had some £8 in notes, £2 in silver and some coppers on him.  He had decided to go for a drink at the end of the day.  He met Bell in a drinking house in Glasgow and had a drink with her.  She suggested that they went to another drinking house and on their way they met a night watchman who spoke to Bell. Towards the Aqueduct Bridge, they met a man who Bell claimed was her brother, but was in fact Connor, and chatted to him for a few moments before Connor grabbed Mr. M'Kinnon and hit him on the head with a rock, knocking him unconscious.  When he came round, he found his money had gone together with his shoes and the silver from the stocking he carried it in. Two policeman arrived at the scene and found a blood stained shirt and the rock used to hit Mr. M'Kinnon.  Bell and Thomas and two others were duly arrested and charged with the then capital crime of assault and robbery.


Bell and Connor came to trial on at 8.00 a.m. on Wednesday the 17th of September 1828 at Circuit Court of Justiciary in Glasgow before Lord Meadowbank, along with two other alleged accomplices, Hugh Richardson and Charles Hill, who were acquitted.  Bell pleaded guilty and Thomas not guilty. 

They were both found guilty by the jury who accepted Bell’s confession and convicted Thomas on the evidence offered against him.  On account of his youth, the jury recommended Thomas to mercy. Lord Meadowbank then addressed Conner saying that he would have thought getting off last time he was in court would have deterred him from further crime.

He then sentenced them both to death and set an execution date of Wednesday the 23d October, between the hours of 8 and 10 in the morning.  They were then removed to the New Jail to await their fate.

In prison, as they were both Catholics, they were frequently visited by Bishop Scott and two other priests, Fr. M'Grigor and Fr. M'Donald. It is reported that they behaved with much propriety, and listened to the religious advice of these gentlemen with seeming penitence, especially Bell, who seemed from the questions she asked, to be an intelligent young woman.  The judge’s report went to London for consideration by the King and Privy Council.  Petitions for a reprieve were got up for both of them on account of their age and sent to the authorities, but these were denied and the execution date confirmed. Bell was reported to have wept bitterly on being told there was to be no reprieve.


Bell had been given a suit of new clothes to wear for her execution by the Female Benevolent Society and Thomas had also obtained suitable clothing.

Before she was led out, Bell was reported to have given her fellow prisoners a lecture on avoiding the wrong sort of friends and company, the need for keeping regular hours and associating with sober and industrious people and attending church regularly.  Whether this really happened or whether it is just another example of the moralistic inventions printed in broadsides of the time we have no means of knowing.

The “New Drop” style gallows was erected in the square outside the New Jail, which was located in the Saltmarket area of Glasgow and a huge crowd had assembled behind the railings to witness the event.  This was the first hanging of a woman in Glasgow since 1793, when Agnes M’Callum (White) had been executed on the 22nd of May of that year for the murder of her bastard child. They were to die at the hands of Thomas Young, who worked in Glasgow and elsewhere between 1815 and 1834. At least three companies printed broadsides purporting to have all the details of the crime, confessions, trial and execution of the couple and these were no doubt sold in large numbers amongst the crowd, at a price of one penny. 

Bell and Thomas emerged from the New Jail around 8 o’clock.  Thomas had to be supported while Bell reportedly faced her death with considerable courage, although she seemed somewhat fazed by the size of the crowd when she had mounted the gallows platform.  As well as the prison officers, they were accompanied by the Magistrates and at least one Catholic Priest. A psalm was sung on the way out of the prison and another on the gallows.  Unlike many couples in their position, they acknowledged and spoke to each other and shook hands with the officials.  

They were then both prepared by Thomas Young, the hangman and their heads covered with white hoods. After a few moments to allow for private prayer, the signal was given and the drop fell.  Both struggled briefly before unconsciousness supervened.  They were left to hang for the customary hour before being taken down and their bodies claimed by family and friends for burial.

The next time Scotland was see to such a large crowd at a hanging, was on Wednesday the 28th of January 1829, at the execution of multiple murderer and body snatcher William Burke in Edinburgh.  Burke’s hanging was attended by a crowd estimated at between 32 and 40,000 people. The last public execution outside the New Jail was on Friday the 28th of July 1865, when Edward Pritchard was hanged for murder. After that, executions were carried out within Duke Street prison.


Prior to 1834, there were still a large number of capital crimes and assault and robbery often actually resulted in execution.  Three more men were tried for this offence between 1828 and 1834 and all three were hanged.  They were William Porter and John Hill at Glasgow on the 12th of May 1830 and Mannus Swinney on the 4th of April 1834 at Greenlaw.

It is clear that the public of 1828 greatly enjoyed the gruesome spectacle of a hanging and particularly so if one of the criminals was a woman.  At this time, executions took quite some time to complete.  There was no hurry at all and it was probably at least half an hour from the time that Bell and Thomas left the New Jail until they were actually hanged.  The singing of psalms was also quite normal.

It is quite unusual to have at least three broadsides published on one case. These were rather like tabloid newspapers of their day and were very good at inventing what they didn’t know and of printing wonderful confessions and last laments of the condemned prisoners.  In some cases, the prisoner was reprieved after the broadside had been printed, proclaiming their confession and details of their execution.  The National Library of Scotland has a large number of execution and murder broadsides on its excellent website at and has a very good search facility.


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