Brodie, William (d.1788) (DNB00)

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BRODIE, WILLIAM (d. 1788), deacon of the Incorporation of the Edinburgh Wrights and Masons, and burglar, was the only son of Convener Francis Brodie, who carried on an extensive business as wright and cabinet-maker in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh, and was for many years a member of the town council. On his father's death Brodie succeeded to the business, and in the following year was elected one of the ordinary deacon councillors of the city. At an early age he acquired a taste for gambling, and almost nightly frequented a disreputable gambling-house in the Fleshmarket Close. In 1786 he became acquainted with three men of the lowest character, George Smith, Andrew Ainslie, and John Brown. With Brodie for their leader, these men formed themselves into a gang of burglars, and at the latter end of 1787 a number of robberies were committed by them in and around Edinburgh. No clue could be discovered to the perpetrators. On 5 March 1788 the gang broke into the excise office in Chessel's Court, Canongate. This undertaking had been wholly suggested and most carefully planned by Brodie. Though disturbed in their operations, they managed to get off with their booty undiscovered. Brown, however, who was under sentence of transportation for a crime committed in England, turned king's evidence. Brodie fled, and for a long time evaded pursuit. Through the means of some letters which he had incautiously written, he was at length traced to Amsterdam, where he was apprehended on the eve of his departure for America. He and Smith were tried at the high court of justiciary on 27 Aug. 1788, before the lord justice clerk and Lords Hailes, Eskgrove, Stonefield, and Swinton, and on the following morning the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both of them. In accordance with the sentence, they were hanged at the west end of the Luckenbooths on 1 Oct. 1788. Notwithstanding his profligate habits Brodie contrived almost to the last to preserve a fair character among his fellow-citizens. It is also a curious fact that he sat in the same court as a juryman in a criminal case only a few months previously to his own appearance there in the dock. A play written by Messrs. R. L. Stevenson and W. E. Henley, and founded upon the incidents of his life, was produced at the Prince's Theatre, London, on 2 July 1884, under the name of 'Deacon Brodie, or the Double Life.' Two etchings of him by Kay will be found in the first volume of 'Original Etchings,' Nos. 105 and 106.

[Kay's Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings (1877), i. 96, 119, 141, 256-66, 399, ii. 8, 120-1, 286; Creech's Trial of Brodie and Smith (2nd edit. 1788); Scots Mag. (1788), 1. 358-9, 365-72, 429-37, 514-16; Gent. Mag. (1788), Iviii. pt. ii. 648, 829, 925.1

G. F. R. B.