William Brodie

William Brodie (aka Deacon Brodie) is one of Scotland’s most famous gamblers.  This guy led a double life.  He was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stephenson’s book “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

William Brodie was born in Edinburgh on 28 September 1741.  He was the son of Francis and Cecil Brodie. 

His father, Francis was a cabinetmaker and a member of the Town Council and Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights, an organisation that regulated various trades (eg carpentry, cabinetmaking). 

William enjoyed gambling and socialising.  He was an accomplished cabinetmaker himself.

When his father died, William inherited the family business. 


Day Job

By day, William continued in his father’s footsteps.  He was a respected cabinetmaker and a member of the Town Council.  He also became Deacon of the Incorporation of Wrights.

He was well-respected in the community.  As such, he was trusted as a locksmith and to install security systems for the wealthiest people in Edinburgh. 


Evening Jobs

By night, Brodie was a gambler and a burglar. 

His day job, working with locks, keys and security systems, provided him with information to commit his burglaries.

In turn, his burglaries earned him with money for gambling and providing for his mistresses and children.



William Brodie had 2 mistresses, Ann Grant and Jeannie Watt.  He already had 2 children before his father died.  Altogether he had 5 children and his mistresses didn’t know of each other.


Burglary Career

William Brodie’s career in stealing stuff spanned almost 20 years and is believed to have included breaking into houses, shops, and banks.  He is also believed to have helped a convicted murderer escape from jail. 

His first job is believed to be a bank job in 1768.  He used copied keys to rob £800 from Messrs Johnston and Smith, a bank in the Royal Exchange.  He is believed to be responsible for a ton of burglaries around Edinburgh.


Bungled Burglary

The year was 1788.  William Brodie hired 3 men to work with him.

John Brown was an escaped convict, who was a thief.

George Smith was an Englishman, who had a grocer shop in Cowgate.  He was also a locksmith.   

Andrew Ainslie was a shoemaker.

They tried to rob the excise office in Chessel’s Court on the Canongate.  The job was bungled.  Apparently, Brodie was supposed to be keeping watch and fell asleep.  The gang did escape but empty-handed.


Grassed Up

There had been a King’s Pardon offered for the previous robbery.  After the bungled robbery, John Brown grassed up Smith and Ainslie in order to benefit from the King’s Pardon. 

Smith and Ainslie got arrested the following day.  Brodie tried to visit them but was not allowed to see them.

At this stage, Brodie probably realised that, one of his 3 accomplices will probably name him and, the police would be coming after him next.

Ainslie did end up turning Kings Evidence.  


Brodie Goes on the Run

So, Brodie left Edinburgh for London.  From there, he went to Amsterdam.  He was aiming to go from Amsterdam to the United States.  However, he was arrested Amsterdam and sent back to Edinburgh.


The Trial

William Brodie and George Smith went to trial on 27th August 1788.  They found house-breaking equipment at Brodie’s house.  Brodie had also incriminated himself in letters, while he was on the run.

With Brown and Ainslie spilling the beans, Brodie and Smith were found guilty by a jury and sentenced to hang.



On 1 October 1788, Brodie (aged 47) and Smith were hanged at the Old Tolbooth in the High Street in front of 40,000 people.

William Brodie was buried in at the Buccleuch Church in Chapel Street.  His unmarked grave now has a car park built over it.


Was he Really Dead?

They say that Brodie tried to bribe the hangman to put a metal collar round his neck but the hangman didn’t take the bribe. 

However, since Brodie’s hanging, there has been a sighting of him in Paris.  





Deacon Brodie: Father to Jekyll and Hyde

Featured Image of William Brodie  Attribution Daniel Naczk [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons


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