Deacon Brodie

The Real Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Portrait of Deacon Brode by John Kay, 1788.  Photograph by Antonia Reeve.

Portrait of Deacon Brodie by John Kay, 1788.  Photograph by Antonia Reeve.

October is the month of Halloween… so we’ve dug out an item for From the Collections with a suitably dark tale.

This is an etching of the notorious 18th century villain, William Brodie.  It comes from a volume of Original Portraits by the popular caricaturist John Kay, and is part of our collection of rare books.

Brodie lived an infamous double life.  By day he was a highly respected Edinburgh cabinet maker, and Deacon of the city’s Incorporation of Wrights (carpenters) and Masons.  By night he was a gambler, drinker and master burglar.

Kay’s portrait cunningly hints at Brodie’s dual personality.  Dressed in smart ‘gentlemanly’ clothes, the miscellanea on the table beside him suggest a darker side: dice and cards, lock picks and keys.

Brodie’s evil doings eventually caught up with him.  In 1788, he was found guilty of taking part in an ambitious robbery of the Excise Office.  The case caused ‘unprecedented excitement’ in the city, and on 1 October he was hanged before an ‘immense’ crowd of spectators.

Almost a century later, Robert Louis Stevenson published his chilling novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – inspired by the sensational real-life story of Deacon Brodie.

A copy of Kay’s etching, and some of Brodie’s burglar tools are on display in our Museum on the Mound.  The Museum is located in Bank of Scotland's Head Office, which was alleged to have been the next target for Brodie’s gang after the Excise Office.

Return to From the Collections to take a look at our other featured items.