A Scotch Precedent

As the Whitechapel murders increased in their numbers and their ferocity, newspapers tried desperately to explain the killer’s possible motivation, and, if they couldn’t do so, they began looking back into history to see if their were any historical precedents for the atrocities.

On Wednesday the 3rd of October, 1888, The Pall Mall Gazette, decided that the murders – that were then starting to become known as the Jack the Ripper crimes – bore certain similarities with the reign of terror inflicted on the people of Scotland by Sawney Beane:-


In the reign of King James 1st of Scotland, there was born in East Lothian, a village a few miles from Edinburgh, Sawney Beane, the son of poor, but hard working people.

Evincing from boyhood a hatred of all labour, and displaying every kind of vicious quality, he at an early age abandoned his home and fled to Galloway.

He was accompanied by a fit companion for his crimes in the person of a young woman a native of the same village.


The home of this pair was in a cave of about a mile in length and of considerable breadth, the mouth of which was washed by the sea, the tide sometimes penetrating the cave a distance of 200 yards.

The victims were waylaid under cover of night on their way from country fairs, or, in the case of isolated travellers across the country, were openly attacked in daylight.

The same soul-sickening mutilation was inflicted in each case; the abdomen was cut open, and the entrails dragged out, and the body carried to the cave.


To prevent detection they murdered every traveller they robbed, and for years they continued their horrible calling.

In this manner, the chronicler tells us, they lived until they had eight sons and six daughters, eighteen grandsons, and fourteen granddaughters – all the offspring of incest.


After a long career of murder the gang were captured by King James, who, roused to action by the long immunity of the criminals from detection, headed a body of troops, and succeeded with blood-hounds in unearthing from the cave the whole vile tribe, to whom was meted out a death agreeable with the life they had led.


The men, says the historian, had their entrails thrown into the fire, their hands and legs were severed from their bodies, and they were permitted to bleed to death.

The mother of the whole crew, the daughters, and grandchildren, after being spectators of the death of the men, were cast into three separate fires and consumed to ashes.