Edward William Pritchard

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Convicted murderer

Edward William Pritchard (6 December 1825 – 28 July 1865) was an English doctor who was convicted of murdering his wife and mother-in-law by poisoning. He was also suspected of a third murder, of a servant, but was never tried for it. He was the last person to be publicly executed in Glasgow.[1][2]

Early years[edit]

Pritchard was born in Southsea,[3] Hampshire, into a naval family. His father was John White Pritchard, a captain.[4] He claimed to have studied at King's College Hospital in London and to have graduated from there in 1846. He then served in the Royal Navy as an assistant surgeon with HMS Victory. For another four years he served on various other ships travelling around the world, before coming back on HMS Hecate to Portsmouth where he met his future wife Mary Jane Taylor, the daughter of a prosperous retired silk merchant from Edinburgh.[5][6]

The couple married in 1851, but after a period apart, Dr Pritchard resigned from the Navy. He first took a job as a general practitioner in Yorkshire, living for a time in Hunmanby. He was also the author of several books on his travels and on the water cure at Hunmanby, as well as articles in The Lancet. In 1859, however, he left under a cloud and in debt, moving to Glasgow.[5][7]


On 5 May 1863 there was a fire in the Pritchards' house at 11 Berkeley Street, Glasgow, which killed a servant girl. Her name was Elizabeth McGrain; she was 25 years old.[8] The fire started in her room but she made no attempt to escape, suggesting that she may have been unconscious, drugged or already dead. The procurator fiscal looked into the case, but no charges were brought.[2][9]

In 1865 Pritchard poisoned his mother-in-law, Jane Taylor, 70, who died on 28 February. His wife, whom he was treating for an illness (with the help of a Dr. Paterson), died a month later on 18 March at the age of 38. Both were living at the family's new home in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Dr. Paterson was actually highly suspicious of the "illnesses" of both women, and when the time came would not sign the death certificates. However, he did not go out of his way to contact the medical or legal authorities of his suspicions. Pritchard was caught after an anonymous letter was sent to the authorities.[10] When the bodies were exhumed, the poison antimony was found.


The trial was actually not too difficult (for a change in medical murder trials) to follow. The only major points of interest were Pritchard's motive (possibly he was having an affair with another maid in the household, but he would blame her for the poisonings as his defense) and the strange reticence of Dr. Paterson to informing anyone in authority of his suspicions. Pritchard was convicted after a five-day hearing in Edinburgh in July 1865[10] presided over by the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Glencorse.[5][11] He was hanged in front of thousands at the Saltmarket end of Glasgow Green at 8am on 28 July.[2]


Pritchard had five children with Mary.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1947 Scottish playwright James Bridie wrote Dr Angelus, based on the case. It originally starred Alastair Sim.[13]

Pritchard was played by Joseph Cotten in an episode of the television series "On Trial" (episode name: The Trial of Edward Pritchard) in 1956.[14]

In the Sherlock Holmes short story, The Adventure of the Speckled Band, while commenting on the apparent villain, Dr Grimesby Roylott, Holmes tells Dr Watson that when a doctor goes bad he is the first of criminals. He then illustrates this with the comment that Drs Palmer and Pritchard were at the "head of their profession". Since neither was considered a good doctor, and Pritchard was considered something of a quack by the medical fraternity in Glasgow, the "profession" involved was that of murder.


  1. ^ Hallworth, Rodney and Mark Williams, Where there's a will... The sensational life of Dr John Bodkin Adams, Capstan Press, Jersey, 1983. ISBN 0-946797-00-5
  2. ^ a b c Leighton Bruce, A deadly beside manner, The Scotsman, 21 November 2005
  3. ^ John Emsley, The Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, Oxford University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-19-280600-9, p.225 [1]
  4. ^ Roughead (1906)
  5. ^ a b c The Grange Association
  6. ^ Roughead (1954) pp.144-145
  7. ^ Roughead (1954) p.146
  8. ^ Scotland's People official death record
  9. ^ Roughead (1906) p.335
  10. ^ a b True Crime Library
  11. ^ "An eminent lawyer" (1865) p.1
  12. ^ "An eminent lawyer" (1865) p.5
  13. ^ Alastairsim.net
  14. ^ IMDB


  • "An eminent lawyer", A complete report of the trial of Dr. E. W. Pritchard for the alleged poisoning of his wife and mother-in-law, Issue 8 of Celebrated criminal cases, William Kay, 1865. [2]
  • William Roughead, Trial of Dr. Pritchard, Notable Scottish Trials, William Hodge, 1906 [3]
  • William Roughead, "Dr Pritchard" in "Famous Trials 4" (ed. James H. Hodge), Penguin, 1954, 143-175

External links[edit]