Biography of Deacon William Brodie the Original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Part 3
About the Scottish figure Deacon William Brodie who was the inspiration for Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, his biography and behavior
DEACON WILLIAM BRODIE (1741-1788). Prototype for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Where Dr. Jekyll, in fiction, clubbed a man to death, the good deacon confined his crimes to robbery, though he was later charged with murder. Where Dr. Jekyll maintained a midtown mansion for his public person and a small room in Soho for his alter ego, Deacon Brodie maintained his house in High Street for his daylight activities and 2 apartments elsewhere in Edinburgh for his evening amours and adventures. Where Dr. Jekyll dressed in black for his nightly excursions, Deacon Brodie daringly wore all white until his final crime, when he dressed himself all in black, sporting also a cocked hat and 2 pistols.
The final crime took place on a windy March evening in 1788. With special police patrolling Edinburgh, Brodie and Company prepared for their boldest robbery yet. There were thousands of pounds in the Edinburgh Excise Office. Like Mr. Hyde, who always "had a song upon his lips" after a crime, Brodie also liked a merry tune. Over his tankard he sang "The Rogue's March" from The Beggar's Opera, and slipped out of his house early in order to be finished with the Excise Office before the watchman came on at 10 o'clock. Brodie and his 2 helpers, all masked, entered the government building, leaving their 4th member--supplied with an ivory whistle--as lookout. At 8:30 the whistle blasted frantically. A government solicitor, who had forgotten some papers in the Excise Office, was returning. In a frenzy, Deacon Brodie fled, leaving the others behind to escape as best they could.
The next morning the Government offered pound 150 and a full pardon to any member of the gang who turned stool pigeon. One member, angry at having been deserted, went to the police. Hastily, Brodie left Edinburgh. A King's Messenger was dispatched to hunt him down. Twice, in London, Brodie barely evaded the detective. Next, the fugitive boarded a small sailing vessel bound for the Continent. Later, fellow passengers saw posters with his picture, and reported to the police that he had crossed the Channel. Brodie was found hiding in a cupboard in Amsterdam.
He went on trial August 27, 1788. Since felony trials could not be adjourned, Brodie literally stood at the bar, and the jury sat without a break, for 21 consecutive hours. He was found guilty, and sentenced to hang.
In his cell, he was chained to the floor. On his last morning he heartily ate a beefsteak and went cheerfully to the gallows. He was positive he would cheat death. He had slid a silver tube into his throat to prevent suffocation, had bribed the hangman to keep the rope short in order not to break his neck, and had hired a French surgeon to revive him. After he dropped, and was cut down, his friends threw him into a cart and drove furiously to the surgeon, who bled him but was unable to bring him back to life. There is still a legend in Scotland that he did survive, and was seen strolling in Paris years later. But his grave can be found behind the Chapel of Ease in Edinburgh, and in the Court of Justice stand his lantern and his sets of false keys. No, Deacon Brodie was not revived--until Robert Louis Stevenson was awakened from a nightmare.
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