James Hunter's eyes in the image pasted into the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' fix the viewer with a very direct, almost confrontational, gaze. The details that accompany the photograph convey that he had been sentenced to seven years penal servitude for housebreaking on 28th April 1874. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of the following day carried a report of the trial:
James Hunter, George Mortimer and John Ford were charged with breaking into the premises of Peter Henderson, furnishing tailor, Woolmanhill, on the 5th or 6th of February, by breaking or removing one or more panes of glass, and stealing therefrom four pairs of trousers, and some pieces of cloth etc. The panels are all habit and repute, and Hunter was convicted before a Sheriff and jury in April 1873. Hunter pleaded not guilty and Mortimer and Ford pleaded guilty as libelled. A jury was then empanelled. The jury, after hearing the evidence, found that Hunter was "art and part". He was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, and Mortimer and Ford were sentenced each to twelve months' imprisonment.
James's conviction the previous year meant that he received a significantly harsher sentence than his accomplices. His crime of April 1873 in which he was found guilty of stealing confectionary and a large number of other items from a railway wagon was also reported in the Press & Journal:
Before Sheriff Dove Wilson and a jury on Saturday, James Hunter was charged with having stolen or assisted in stealing from the goods station of the Deeside section of the Great North of Scotland Railway at Aberdeen, on 18th February last, various articles among which were boxes containing about 60lbs. of lozenges and confections, 56lbs of marmalade in tins, two dozen champagne, 14 volumes of religious literature, 35 manuscript sermons, and a variety of other articles.
When he was discharged from his seven year sentence, on 10th November 1879, James lived for at least three months at 98 Commerce Street, Aberdeen. The Post Office Directory for that year (below left) lists a horse dealer by the name of George Paterson at that address, so it is more than likely that James found lodgings and possibly employment there too.