On April 3, 1820, the ill-fated Radical War took its first real action, with a strike by artisans in central Scotland. A militant group among the Radicals determined to seize weapons at the Carron Iron Works. Proceeding from Glasgow toward the Carron Company, they were stopped at Bonnymuir by Perth-based troops; the 11th Hussars commanded by Lt. Ellis Hodgson. Two of the Radical leaders, John Baird and Andrew Hardie, were later tried and executed for their roles in this uprising.
Walter Scott recorded these words concerning the executions of Hardie and Baird in the Edinburgh Annual Register (v. 13)
8th (September 1820).—Stirling.—Execution Of Hardie And Baird.—During last night the usual apparatus was erected in front of the stair leading to the Townhouse, and in the morning exhibited two decently ornamented coffins on the platform, with a dark-coloured wooden block.
About 12 o'clock two troops of the Dragoon Guards entered the esplanade before the Castle, and formed a wide semicircle in front of the drawbridge. Within this a party of the 13th foot drew up. The crowd collected on the esplanade was inconsiderable. At a quarter to one o'clock the Sheriff and Magistrates left the Townhall in procession, and walked to the Castle to receive the prisoners. Immediately on their arrival the gates of the Castle were thrown open, and Baird and Hardie appeared, attended by the authorities of the garrison and the established clergy men of the town. Baird looked pale and thoughtful; Hardie's countenance did not seem much altered. With astonishing calmness they bade an affectionate farewell to the officers of the corps in the Castle, and expressed warmly their gratitude for the indulgence they had experienced during their confinement. They both surveyed the ignominious preparation for their removal with dignity, and were kindly assisted to their seat on the hurdle by the clergymen. The headsman in the mask, who decapitated Wilson at Glasgow, took his seat on the hurdle opposite the two victims, with his hatchet resting on his thigh. As he entered, a slight expression of contempt marked the features of Hardie. Baird was busy with a Bible, and spoke a few words to the clergyman next him. The cavalcade began to move down the esplanade, and the prisoners united in singing a psalm till they reached the bottom of the scaffold. Hardie stepped out of the hurdle, and looked up to the drop without the slightest trace of discomposure. They walked into the court-room, each resting on the arm of a clergyman— With great apparent earnestness they joined in the religious devotions, which lasted till twenty-five minutes past two, when their arms were bound, and they walked with a firm step and elevated mien to the drop. They were followed by the civil authorities and the clergymen. Baird advanced to the railing, and bowed gracefully; a smile was on his countenance, and he expressed a wish to be heard. Silence being obtained, with a loud unfaltering voice, he recommended to the understandings and lives of his hearers the doctrines and precepts of Christianity. We caught, "Oh ! I entreat of you, notice your Bibles, and conduct yourselves soberly ; mind religion at all times; but be not regardless of justice and reason on every subject." He then maintained his strong attachment to the cause in which he had been merely imprudent, and declared himself pure, in his political purposes. He rejoiced in the. knowledge he had obtained of a Saviour, who had likewise Buffered innocently ; and spoke gratefully of the clerical aid he had enjoyed. During his address he gesticulated violently, turning round in all directions. Hardie, at the commencement of it, sat calmly down on the block, and in rising up paid his respects to an acquaintance whom he saw in the crowd. He then spoke with equal freedom, but less distinctness, and seemed less subdued in spirit. His political conduct appeared uppermost in his thoughts; and the crowd could only hear him say, " I die a martyr to the cause of liberty, truth, and justice." This seemed to operate like a charm on the hitherto sad multitude, and was greeted by three vehement cheers. He was interrupted by the cheering and a tap on the shoulder by the sheriff, to whom he turned round, and replied to whatever had been said to him. He then resumed his address, changing the subject to an expression of his religious feelings. The executioner having prepared Baird during the address of Hardie, they were soon both ready to be launched. Having both joined in the prayer of a clergyman behind them, Baird spoke something towards the spectators through his cap, and dropped the signal. They died almost without a struggle.
After hanging half an hour, Calder, the sheriffs officer, came forward and caught the bodies alternately, whilst the hangman cut them down. They then placed them on the scaffold, and Calder having bared the neck to the shoulders, cutting open the coat and vest, the decapitator came forward amid execrations, hisses, and shouts of "Murder!" One blow aimed at the first neck he engaged failed to sever the head; and a second, with mangling, scarcely effected it. He held it up; it seemed to be that of Hardie, swoln and livid, but placid. The blood trinkled down ; the usual proclamation was feebly pronounced, having to come through the crape, mask of the headsman. The cries of "Butchery ! Ruffian!" were general, but seemed to make no impression on the operator, who advanced to the next, and was equally unfortunate in his odious work. The mangling horrified the spectators; the head was proclaimed; and the decapitator quickly retreated, amid loudly expressed disapprobation.
To the credit of the humanity of the inhabitants of this place, very few attended the execution. The crowd seemed almost entirely composed of people from the country, this being the market-day. Females of any respectability there seemed none; and scarcely any spectators occupied the neighbouring windows.