Margaret Bell's Lament


Margaret Bell's Lament


Margaret Bell murders her baby, is brought to Paisley to be executed by hanging, but is reprieved by the appeals of the people of Paisley and is exiled.
The Word on the Street:
'Margaret Bell's Lament' is narrated by a woman who is being transported for the murder of her illegitimate child. There are many broadsides on this subject. Due to the social stigma attached to illegitimate motherhood, infanticide among deperate single mothers was more common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than it is today. The usual sentence for the crime was death, but in this case the petitioning of the people of Paisley persuaded the Crown to commute Margaret Bell's sentence to transportation. This suggests that the was a great deal of sympathy and understanding among ordinary people for the plight of such women.

Digital Object

Image / Audio Credit

National Library of Scotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(028); National Library of Scotland Digital Gallery

Set to tune of...

Braes of Strathblane


Adieu unto Barrhead, and to Neilston also
Where the river Levern it sweetly does flow,
My poor aged mother, forever farewell,
An exile for life is your poor Margaret Bell.

That perfidious young man. the cause of my pain,
For he was the first that brought me to shame ;
The cause of my misery and sad poverty,
Which causes me now a poor convict to be.

A long time we courted, his words they were mild,
At length unto him I did prove with child.
When I to this young man my state I did tell,
He treated with scorn his poor Margaret Bell.

When my child was born I was in poverty's grasp,
And adversity blew with her cold bitter blast,
While he proved false that I loved so well,
The mind became frantic of poor Margaret Bell.

My sad situation, nought but misery in my view,
And he proving false that vowed to be true ;
I could see no way for me, but beg, starve, or steal,
And satan whisper'd to me, your baby go kill.

Unto his dictation, alas, I did give way,
Which will haunt my mind till my dying day ;
The thoughts of my badness my tongue cannot tell,
Kind heaven pardon me, poor Margaret Bell.

I was tried and found guilty of base cruelty,
And received my sentence to die on a tree ;
But the people in and round Paisley did much for me ,
And petitions forwarded to the Queen's Majesty.

Now all you good people that took my cause in hand.
I'll think on your kindness when in a foreign land;
For with grateful sensations my bosom does swell,
Accept the humble thanks of poor Margaret Bell.

Run on you sweet Lever, that gentle does flow,
The blue bell and violent on your banks will grow,
The primrose and daisy will bloom on each dell,
When far from those beauties is poor Margaret Bell.

You blooming young maidens that roam free of care,
Of false-hearted young men I'd have you beware,
They may flatter and vow and fine tales may tell,
And may leave you in sorrow, like poor Margaret Bell.

Method of Punishment

hanging, transportation





Execution Location


Printing Location

James Lindsay, 9 King St, Glasgow

Tune Data

Recording of The Braes o' Strathblane by Ossian


Trial papers relating to Margaret Bell for the crime of murder near bleachfield, Crofthead, Neilston parish, Renfrew. Tried at High Court, Glasgow 5 Jan 1853 Accused Margaret Bell, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty - recommendation for leniency, Sentence: Death - hanging by public executioner, Petition: Remission of sentence granted under the Great Seal at High Court, Edinburgh, 7 February 1853 (see JC8/60, f.13v).. Note: Pannel drowned infant in a bleachfield dam and was sentenced to hang at Paisley on 26 January, 1853. Victim Unnamed, female infant (


ulf_22_Margaret Bell's Lament.jpg


“Margaret Bell's Lament,” Execution Ballads, accessed May 30, 2024,

Output Formats