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"Murder Most Foul"

 

The Murder of Lady Margaret Hume of Billie at Linthill House, Eyemouth 13th. August 1751

 

The history of the Church at Bunkle (earlier Bonkyl with variants of Boncil and Bonckle) can be traced back to the late 11th. century being one of the oldest Christian foundations in the county. The present day Church in its peaceful rural setting close to the remains of Bunkle Castle was built in 1820 using much of the stonework from the original mediaeval church.

However the apse of the original Church was left standing and became a burial aisle for the Homes of Billie. Today there is a stone near the keystone of the arch, badly eroded, which would appear to read;

 

" Billie 1820” or "Billie Isle"

 

While there is now no sign of any interments within the burial aisle according to the Session Records there was at one time a stone reading;

 

“Mrs. Margaret Home, Lady Billy, murdered August 1751”

 

Lady Margaret Home was the widow of the Rev. Ninian Home and eldest daughter of Sir George Home whose estates had been forfeit because of his support for the 1715 Jacobite uprising. During his lifetime the Rev. Home, who in 1716 had been deposed as minister of Sprouston for "untender and unministerial conduct" had amassed a considerable fortune and Lady Margaret was a wealthy widow. The Rev. Ninian had also supported the Jacobite cause and as a consequence of this and his rather ruthless property dealings would appear to have had few friends and the couple seem to have lived a rather hermitic existence.

There was however one trusted retainer the butler, one Norman Ross who had been with the family for many years.

Lady Billy involved herself personally in the ingathering of the rentals as these fell due riding round with Norman Ross to collect them. It was then her habit to store the rents in a strong box under her bed and while in the room she kept the door locked at all times using an elaborate cylinder lock which she had personally designed to ensure that no one else could enter or leave.

Ross however knew the mechanism of the lock and had been able to sabotage its workings by dropping some cherry stones into it.

One evening having let himself into the room he concealed himself until Lady Billie had retired for the night and then sought to get hold of the keys to the strong box.

Unfortunately for Ross, Lady Billie awoke, a terrible struggle ensued during which Ross drew a knife causing severe injury to Lady Billy. She did however manage to pull the bell cord and in desperation Ross jumped through the window, breaking a leg and badly injuring himself in the fall. He barely managed to drag himself to a nearby covert where he was discovered four days later.

Lady Billie also survived for a few days but died of  wounds inflicted though having been able to give a full account of the happenings.

Norman Ross was subsequently found guilty of murder at the High Court in Edinburgh and was hanged from the gallows but not before his right hand had been first chopped off. Ross was the last person in Scotland to suffer this grizzly punishment.

As a postscript it would appear that at the funeral the cortege arrived at the kirk yard only to discover that they had forgotten the corpse.

There was a very grizzly and macabre follow on. As Ross's body swung on the gallows an Edinburgh butcher by the name of Nichol Brown boasted that he could cut a portion from Ross' thigh which he would fry and eat. This apparently he managed to do but afterwards, having very much over indulged in drink either to celebrate the winning of his wager or to blot out the memory of his actions, returned home and in an argument murdered his wife. He ended up swinging on the same gallows as Ross.

This incident gave rise to the rhyme;

“The Lady’s gane and Norman’s ta’en
Norman wi’ the bludy hand
Now he will have to pay the kain
For being the deil’s command.

Norman Ross wi pykit pow
Three corbies at his e’een
Girnin in the gallows tow
Sic a sight was never seen”
 
The inscription can be seen above the keystone.

A full account of the murder can be read in “Borderline Cases” by Norrie McLeish Abba Publishing Jedburgh 2000.

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