Poor bad and sad Jessie King, the perhaps wrongly-condemned baby farmer, the last woman hanged in Edinburgh, executed under what is now the seat of the Scottish government, St Andrew's House, and still buried in their car-park. A young woman of the 1870s and 80s, ricocheting through institutions and hospitals for prostitutes from her teenage years, she was suggestible, perhaps mentally subnormal ( perhaps poisoned by large doses of mercury for VD), and fell into the clutches of a scheming controlling much older male alcoholic - Thomas Pearson. It was Pearson who came up with a scheme: to write letters to obtain babies advertised for adoption and promise a rosy future for the illegitimate infants of single mothers, if they would pay him to take the child off their hands. Money and babies were handed over - but the rosy future turned out to be the baby being strangled and hidden in their coal closet. It's Jessie, over-awed into this scheme, who was eventually caught holding a dead baby. She naively took all the blame on herself to spare Pearson and he promptly turned Crown evidence and saw her convicted and hanged while he got off clean. For the first time we unearth Jessie's tragic background and find out what happened to Thomas Pearson.

Comedian and history enthusiast Susan Morrison teams up with historians Louise Yeoman, Louise Settle and Eric Graham and law lecturer Clare Connolly to delve into the case.

Did Jessie King murder the babies of poor people? Susan Morrison re-opens the case.


In 1661-2 Scotland was in the throes of its biggest witch-hunt ever. The sight of a witch-pricker plying his trade, searching for the devils mark - the sign that a Devil had accepted a woman as a witch - had become a ghastly sensational sight that was no longer rare. These highly-paid men plunged long pins into terrified shaven-headed women in church yards and tolbooths up and down the land - for a stiff fee. In the audience of such a shocking performance at Newburgh in Fife was a woman who thought something like - 'That's easy money, I could do that.' Meet Christian Caddell - the woman who dressed as a man to hunt witches.

She de-camped to Inverness and re-invented herself as 'John Dickson - witch pricker'. She was so convincing she was given an expensive and exclusive contract to hunt witches in Moray. There followed a reign of terror in which the female witch pricker found suspect after suspect - torturing and humiliating dozens of innocent people - but did she come face to face with Scotland's most famous witch - Isobel Gowdie? Susan Morrison and Louise Yeoman join Moray historians Sarah Fraser and John Barrett to find out.

Dressed to kill - Susan Morrison tracks the female witch-hunter who dressed as a man.

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Few know her name in Scotland but in Japan Rita Taketsuru is a legend. In 1920, at the age of 23, she left her hometown of Kirkintilloch with Masataka Taketsuru, a young Japanese chemist who had been lodging with her family, for a new life in Japan. Masataka, who worked for a drinks company, had been sent to Scotland to learn the secrets of making Scotch whisky. Having married Masataka without the blessing of her mother, Rita was determined to help him realise his dream of making quality whisky in Japan. She did her best to adapt to life in her new country, but it wasn't always easy. Despite being a naturalised citizen, she was ostracised by her neighbours during the second world war and suspected of being a spy. But with Rita's help, Masataka succeeded in his dream, building up a successful drinks company and their legacy is such that the company is now beating the Scots at their own game: Taketsuru malts have been declared the best in the world for the past four years in a row. In this programme, Susan Morrison looks back at the incredible life of the woman known in Japan as 'The Mother of Japanese Whisky'.

Susan Morrison explores the life of Rita Taketsuru, 'The Mother of Japanese Whisky'.


In 1850 a shooting star crossed the skies of Revolutionary Europe - Helen Macfarlane. A radical journalist hanging out with Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in Soho, the star columnist of 'The Red Republican who wrote under the pen-name 'Howard Morton', the first translator of the Communist Manifesto into English. Karl Marx admiringly said of her that she was the only one on the paper who had any original ideas. But when the jealous Scottish wife of her editor turned on her and mortally insulted her - Helen walked out, never to be seen by history again. No-one knew where she came from and no-one knew where she went to.

David Black and Louise Yeoman have changed that. At first working independently and then together, they found that Helen came from Barrhead just outside Paisley. They found her family's business and Scottish background - and the personal catastrophe that may have set her on the road to radicalism. Helped by South African historian Shelagh Spencer, they traced Helen's Scottish family to South Africa. Helen married a refugee from the revolutions - Frederick Proust and then she pitched up in Cape Town, minus her husband who jumped ship, but with a short-lived baby named like a manifesto - poor wee Consuela Pauline Roland Proust - named after a feminist character in a novel and a radical French feminist political prisoner. Within a few days of the traumatic voyage the baby died. Helen, broken-hearted and maybe out of place the young colony couldn't stay there. What became of her? The programme reveals her utterly surprising fate. You'll never guess where she ended up - you'll have to listen.

Susan Morrison tells the story of radical journalist Helen Macfarlane.


In 1784 Robert Burns had a brush with that rarest of rare things in 18th century Scotland: a female religious cult leader and her followers - who "pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures and practices that are scandalously indecent; they have likewise disposed of all their effects, and hold a community of goods... where they lodge and lie all together, and hold likewise a community of women". He claimed he was "personally acquainted with most of them, and I can assure you the above mentioned are facts". He may have been reporting exaggerated gossip on their alleged sexual practices, but the false messiah, Elspeth Buchan was real enough. An inn-keepers daughter who fooled an entire cult's worth of Ayrshire folk, (including a Relief Church minister) into believing that she was 'The woman clothed with the sun' from the Bible's book of Revelation.

Kicked out of Irvine, they set up a commune in a barn at New Cample, and wrote strange hymns and songs, saw off lynch mobs armed with torches and pitchforks (it's not just a movie cliché!), and then one night, the spirit came upon them, telling them to fast for forty days and they would never taste death. The Apocalypse was coming.

Weak with hunger from their fast, men, women and bairns toiled to the top of Templand Hill, where with the last of their strength, they built a platform for the Lord to take them home. He never came - yet they believed. They believed Elspeth would never die. When she did - oops! Then they faced the final test of their faith - only one man held out and survived over 50 years waiting for her to rise - her most faithful follower Andrew Innes in the Galloway village of Crocketford. But he had a macabre and ghoulish secret... Susan Morrison explores.

Susan Morrison tells the story of Elspeth Buchan, the false messiah of Burns country.


It's 1705. You're Barbara Wauchop, Lady Garleton, a devout Catholic lady, hiding almost half of the illegal Scottish Jesuit mission in your castle behind you and your six children. There's just one problem. Your husband, Sir George Seton. Well, let's make that two problems. Your husband Sir George and his mistress, Anna Chiesly, the Edinburgh shop girl who sells cravats to gentlemen, and sells day-dreams to herself. Anna dreams that one day she'll be a real Lady. She's already put your husband's moniker on her silver spoons. But Anna's dream world is a nightmare of prison, disgrace, public humiliation and moonlight flits, and it's about to bring your world crashing down. A final dawn raid by the morality police of the Kirk Session finds your erring husband nicked with no breeches on, hiding behind Anna's bed. He has carried on up 'the wrang close' of Edinburgh's maze-like old town, and he can't bribe his way out of prison. The estates are in danger. Your children's future is in danger. You're publicly shamed. What do you do?

Barbara does the unthinkable. The Catholic heroine goes to the Protestant divorce court. Can she win? Susan Morrison finds out.

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When she heard about Signora Violante's act, dancing a minuet on the slack rope with a child hanging from each ankle, comedian Susan Morrison was mightily impressed - good child care is so hard to get in any era. When she realised that the Signora was also a theatre manager, commedia dell'arte actor and later a top-notch 18th century Enlightenment dancing mistress, Susan was even more impressed, and wanted to know more about her eminent predecessor on the Edinburgh and Dublin comedy stage. Helped by Commedia dell'arte specialist Didi Hopkins and dance historian Grainne McArdle, Susan finds out how you play Columbine and dance a minuet (thankfully on the floor and no children were harmed in the making of this production). We find out more about what the Signora did in Dublin at the new Smock Alley theatre with its director Patrick Sutton, and how she managed to start a theatre war involving smutty songs from the stage. But what did the Signora do in Edinburgh? Historian Louise Yeoman helps Susan unravel the story, finding out about the Signora's children, her husband, her fabulous stage clothes and a scandalous family link to the first night of Handel's Messiah.

Oh and also the flying donkey. Don't stand underneath the flying donkey as it goes by - words to live by in 18th century showbusiness!

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Euphemia (Effie) Chalmers Gray was the beautiful, vivacious wife of art critic and social reformer John Ruskin - but something was terribly terribly wrong in their marriage. For one thing, it was not consummated. Every Ruskin and Effie scholar has their theory about the downfall of the relationship - was he horrified by some aspect of the nude female body on his wedding night? Were his Evangelical 'helicopter-parents' to blame for ruining the match (especially his mum, Margaret Ruskin)? Could Ruskin have thought Effie had married him for money and felt repelled and unloved? There's no end of speculation but what we know is that Effie was driven to make a potentially reputation-ruining bolt for freedom to seek an annulment and to marry Ruskin's protégé - the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais.

The story has fascinated playwrights and novelists in the past, and now a forthcoming film starring Emma Thompson is due to open this year. We follow in Effie footsteps from the house where she was born, Bowerswell in Perth (a site of ancestral horror for the Ruskins - where his grandfather committed suicide) to Brig o'Turk where she fell in love with John Everett Millais, as he painted Ruskin's portrait in a beautiful but midge-infested river gorge. We speak to one of Effie's modern biographers Dr Suzanne Fagence Cooper in the V&A's prints and drawings room, while Ruskin scholar Dr Rachel Dickinson takes on the unenviable task of thinking about one of the worst chapters in her hero's life.

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Exploring the life of minister's wife, suffragette and communist Helen Crawfurd.

Helen Crawfurd (later Anderson), the minister's wife and aspiring missionary who turned communist and who was smuggled out of Norway in a fishing boat to meet Lenin, left a fascinating unpublished autobiography charting her conversion from the manse to Marx. She was born in 1877 in the Gorbals, and at the age of 21 she married an elderly Church of Scotland minister nearly fifty years older than herself and then embarked on a course of reading and radicalisation. First she became a militant suffragette: going to jail, hunger-striking and body-guarding for Mrs Pankhurst, but when Pankhurst turned to patriotic fervour and dropped the struggle on the outbreak of WW1, Helen refused to give up. She became active in the Red Clydeside rent strikes, the ILP and the anti-war and anti-conscription peace movement. But it was the Bolshevik revolution which gave her a life-long cause. She made her daring pilgrimage to the Soviet Union in 1920, joined the infant British communist party and a few years later became a member of its central executive committee.

Her autobiography follows an uncompromising Stalinist line but there were whispers that this wasn't her whole view on things... What was a convinced communist doing, far from the struggle, becoming in 1945 the first woman councillor in douce respectable Dunoon? Susan Morrison, who co-incidentally comes from Dunoon herself, goes on Helen's trail.