The Tolbooth Prison, Edinburgh

Thursday, 27th February 1817

Robert Kinniburgh climbed the High Street wearing his smartest clothes. He had been called upon by a clerk dispatched from Lord Succoth’s chambers. The clerk wore a pinched look and had little capacity for niceties. He waited outside the house while Robert informed a servant of his destination, gathered his pen and notebook and pulled on his overcoat. 

            Once they had reached their destination, the clerk relinquished his charge to the keeper of the Castle Street Tolbooth, Thomas Sibbald, and scurried back to his duties. Robert was shown to Jean Campbell’s prison cell. It was a cold February and the thick stone walls of the building were damp with rain, yet Robert found that he was sweating under his woollen coat. 

            Sibbald, a gruff, heavyset man, said little as he led Robert up a narrow central staircase to a landing that fanned out in a circle and was punctuated by dark wooden doors. Each of these doors was furnished with a slit at eye level. Robert noticed that the keeper passed them without bothering to look inside. Whether Sibbald was supremely confident about the state of the people in the cells or whether there were currently no other inhabitants apart from the newly arrived Glaswegian murderess, Robert couldn’t tell. 

Extract from Hear No Evil by Sarah Smith. An historical crime novel.