Thursday, November 26, 2020

James Hunter - The Trouser Thief With a Sweet Tooth and a Weakness for Religious Literature


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.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter - Her Second Appearance in the Criminal Portraits Blog

Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter is your archetypal 'habitual offender', a term that gained currency in the mid nineteenth century and one which became an accepted part of legal and criminal terminology in the late 1860s. The urgent requirement for surveillance and monitoring of this criminal class in an increasingly urbanised society is one of the reasons why the use of mugshots increased in popularity at this time. Indeed, Elizabeth has the dubious distinction of being the only person whose image appears twice in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen', and is the subject of an earlier post in this blog, which features her mugshot of 1869, the oldest such photograph held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives.

The image of Elizabeth at the top of this page was taken some ten years later, around the time of her discharge in April 1879. In April 1870 she had been sentenced to ten years' penal servitude following her trial before the Circuit Court which was reported in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 4th May 1870:

"Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter was charged with stealing, on Sunday the 2nd day of January 1870, from a house in Berry Lane, Aberdeen, two petticoats, two jackets, and a dress. Baxter, who had been previously convicted and who is a habit and repute thief, pleaded guilty. Mr. Duncan stated on her behalf that, after her last term of imprisonment had expired, Baxter had returned to her friends, but being cast off by them, she fell back into her old courses.

Lord Jerviswoode, in passing sentence, remarked on the fact of the prisoner having already been five times previously convicted, and also stated that the last term of imprisonment for seven years had not yet expired. She had now been at liberty for some time, but instead of mending her ways, she had fallen back on her old courses. The sentence of the Court this time must be even more severe than last. A sentence of ten years' penal servitude was accordingly passed".

A ten year stretch for such petty thieving appears disproportionately harsh by 21st century standards. As the newspaper report conveys, the legal system at the time took a dim view of repeated offending resulting in Elizabeth receiving increasingly lengthy sentences.

Another newspaper report of the 5th January 1870 relating to Elizabeth's arrest reveals that she had spent her previous period of incarceration at H.M. General Prison, Perth. However, at least part of her subsequent ten year sentence was spent at the prison in Ayr, where she appears as an inmate on the 1871 census, aged 40, a widow, her birthplace given as Aberdeen and her occupation as that of a "hawker", i.e. a person who travelled around selling inexpensive goods. 

On her return to Aberdeen in April 1879, she lived at addresses at 9 Porthill Close, which was situated just off the Gallowgate, and 18 Hardweird. This latter address, sometimes written as "Hard Ward" was the site of one of the most notorious slums in Aberdeen, sandwiched between Skene Street to the south and the Upper Denburn on its north side. 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey
Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St. Clements, East, West, North & South)

There is an image of the Hardweird on the Silver City Vault from which this description of the street also comes:

"Part of old Gilcomston, it resembled a small "ferm toon" standing between the foot of Jack's Brae and Upper Denburn and it consisted of 18th and early 19th century artisan and labourers' housing - a product of the period when Gilcomston had a flourishing weaving industry. One of Aberdeen's worst slums, it was cleared during the early 1930s and the playground of Gilcomstoun Primary School now occupies part of the site".

Elizabeth did not reside at the address for long, and in September of 1879 the register records that she had "Gone to Glasgow". 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

James Walls - The Trouser Thief From Strichen

James Walls stood trial for theft on the 26th April 1872 at the Aberdeen Circuit Court. The case was reported the following day in the Dundee Courier:

"James Walls or Wallas, who had five previous convictions recorded against him, was placed in the dock charged with theft, in so far as (1) he did on the 11th December last, steal from a green at Newseat of Drumbreck, Udny, a pair of trousers and a pair of drawers belonging to Robert Forbes, farm servant, and (2) on the same day or the day after, he stole from a field near Orchardtown, Udny, a pair of trousers and a jacket, belonging to Alexander Paterson, farm servant. Prisoner pleaded guilty. Lord Neaves, in passing sentence, remarked that short periods of imprisonment had done panel no good and he would now try the effect of seven years' penal servitude".

Given the remark in the report regarding James's five previous convictions, it was a fair-bet that James would appear as a prisoner in the 1871 census. Sure enough, on checking this he is listed as an inmate at H.M. General Prison, Perth,  aged 43 his occupation given as a 'labourer', he was unmarried, and his birthplace was Strichen. 

After serving his sentence for the thefts near Udny, James was discharged on licence in October of 1877, aged 50. His entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see image below) records that he lived for at least a while at 19 Loch Street in the city. Accompanying the usual details of height, complexion and colour of hair, the entry records that he had "several moles on breast, sores on right side of neck, varicose veins on both legs, covering the calf". Although we can't be certain, it is quite possible that the sores on the right side of his neck were caused by scrofula, a form of tuberculosis from which Peter Reilly, who features elsewhere in this blog, also suffered.

Friday, November 13, 2020

John McKirran - "A Dishonest Pauper"


John McKirran was a native Aberdonian, growing up on Chapel Street where he appears on the 1841 census aged just 2 years old. He was living with his brother William, then 6 years old, and their parents William, a labourer, and Eliza who were both 30 years of age. William snr.'s occupation indicates that the family were solidly working class. In an era when social mobility was incredibly difficult, it is perhaps no surprise that John's entry in the Register of Returned Convicts (see image at the foot of the page) conveys clues as to a life lived in poverty while the title of the newspaper report of his trial which appears in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 20th September 1871 describes him as "A Dishonest Pauper":

"John McKirran was charged with having, on the 22nd or 23rd March last, stolen a pair of trousers, a coat, a pair of drawers, a shirt and a vest, from the Old Machar Poorhouse, St. Machar Place. McKirran was libelled with three previous convictions before the Aberdeen Police Court in 1860, and one before the Sheriff of Aberdeen in 1863, and three before a Sheriff and a jury at Aberdeen the three following years. Prisoner pleaded guilty. It was stated in his behalf that he was an inmate of the Poorhouse at the time of the theft. He had pawned the clothes and was again lifting them when detected. The Lord Justice-Clerk passed sentence of Penal Servitude for seven years". 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey Aberdeen 1867
Sheet - LXXV.15.7

Following his discharge from prison in February 1877, the Register of Returned Convicts reveals that John McKirran lived at several addresses in Aberdeen during the course of that year. These included Shoe Lane (at "Mrs. Cruickshanks"), the Old Machar Poorhouse where he had stolen from earlier that year, and 45 Guestrow, otherwise known as the Victoria Lodging House. Following his second stint at the Old Machar Poorhouse in September that year, John was again apprehended for theft and further sentenced in November 1877. Incidentally, the register also notes that John had "lost [his] right leg below knee" - given that he was caught so many times, we can only guess that this hindered a more successful life of crime.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Thomas McGregor - "From the Prison of Stonehaven"

Thomas McGregor was tried for housebreaking alongside an accomplice, David Burns, at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen on the 19th April 1871. The 1871 census for Scotland was conducted a little over two weeks earlier, on Sunday 2nd April. A search of the census returns covering Stonehaven lists both men as "prisoners" awaiting their trial at the prison on the High Street, along with nine other prisoners. Thomas, aged 28 and born in Dundee, is listed as a "seaman" while his partner-in-crime, David Burns, is described as a "hawker of hardware". The Stonehaven Journal reported the trial in its edition of the 20th April 1871 - the range of items that the pair stole is mind-boggling, including hymn books, silver cutlery, brandy and a bible:

Thomas McGregor and David Burns, from the prison of Stonehaven, were charged with several acts of housebreaking, individually and while in each other's company. On the 4th March McGregor had entered the dwelling house on the Guestrow, occupied by Colin McKenzie, railway porter, and had stolen therefrom, a silver watch and chain, the property of Neil McKinnon, hawker, resident with said Colin McKenzie. On the 24th February, both prisoners, while in company with each other, broke into the Craigness Cottage, in the parish of Fetteresso, by means of pressing against the kitchen door till they had forcibly destroyed the lock, and having thus obtained entrance, stole the following articles therefrom, the property of Henry Thurburn, now residing at Kingslangley, Watford, Hertfordshire, England - a pair of trousers or knickerbockers, a vest, a coat or jacket, two pairs of stockings, four pairs of socks, a pair of boots, three volumes of "Good Words", a Bible, a hymn book, an inkstand, a blotter or pad, a photograph of Elgin Cathedral, a screwdriver, eight knives, and eight forks, the property of the said Henry Thurburn. On the 2nd March, the prisoners, in company, broke into the dwelling house known as Muchalls Cottage, parish of Fetteresso, the property of the representatives of the late Dr. Keith, by means of breaking a pane of glass in a bedroom, and having entered, by the aperture thus made, fraudulently possessed themselves of 18 silver desert spoons, 12 desert forks, 12 dinner forks, 12 silver teaspoons, a silver ladle, silver sugar-tongs, 4 silver egg spoons, a pound of tea, a bottle half-filled with whisky, a bottle filled with raspberry vinegar, and a pint bottle filled with brandy, the property of Mr. Keith. McGregor pled guilty of the first charge, and the third charge, minus the housebreaking. He pled not guilty of the others. Burns pled guilty as libelled. The pleas were accepted. McGregor was sentenced to seven years, and Burns, whose first conviction it was, to five years, penal servitude.

It is likely, although we don't know for certain, that Thomas served his sentence at H.M. General Prison, Perth. When he was released in 1877, we know from the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see the image at foot of the page) that he lived for a short while at 45 Guestrow. This was the address of the Victoria Lodging House, now known as Provost Skene's House, where a number of individuals featured in this blog, such as Ann McGovern, also stayed immediately following their discharge from prison.

Thomas didn't hang around in Aberdeen for long: the day after he initially reported to the police on January 28th 1877, he is noted as "Gone to Dundee to obtain a ship". You will recall that the 1871 census recorded that he was a seaman by occupation, so perhaps Thomas swapped a life of crime for an honest living on the seas?

His tattoos, which are recorded as distinguishing marks in the register, certainly fit with the stereotypical markings of a sailor: "Bracelet and female figure on right arm. Ship, flag, anchor, heart and diamond on left arm. Ship, anchor and flag on breast. Blue mark on left leg. Lump on right shoulder blade".

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Margaret Hutcheson or Stewart - A Case of Forgery and Uttering at Peterhead, Mintlaw and Fraserburgh

Forgery and uttering are two distinct crimes: forgery creates a falsified document while uttering is the act of knowingly passing on or using the forged document. On the 16th September 1873 Margaret Hutcheson or Stewart, together with her accomplice Donald Stewart (there's no evidence that they were married), were tried at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen for having, at Peterhead railway station, forged or caused to be forged, a bank deposit receipt for £94 in the name of Catherine Hay, Little Ythsie, Tarves. The Aberdeen Press and Journal of 17th September 1873 reported that, 

"Further [they are charged with] uttering the same, as genuine, to John Farquhar, agent to the Town & County Bank, Mintlaw. Likewise on the 3rd April in the house of Alexander Morrice, crofter, Lonmay, the prisoners having erased the endorsation on the receipt that they failed to get cashed, did one or other of them, cause Alexander Grant, grandson of the crofter, to forge and adhibit the indorsation "Kethren Hay"; further, with uttering the same and obtaining £50 of cash from James Margets, accountant, Town & County Bank, Fraserburgh, the said prisoner, Margaret Hutcheson or Stewart, adhibiting her mark as the signature of the said Catherine Rae or Hay".

Margaret and Donald pleaded not guilty. Under cross examination in court it became clear how they came by the bank deposit receipt,

"From the evidence it appeared that Mrs. Catherine Hay had received from her father the deposit receipt at Ellon, and on going to her own house at Ythsie, had taken some money out of her purse, but left the deposit receipt in it. In a few days after she lost the purse. The accused were in the locality about the time the purse and receipt were lost, and on the 29th March, they showed the receipt to a lad, Matthews, at the station of Peterhead, and asked him to endorse it, which he did, with the name of Mrs. Hay, Little Ythsie. He then, at Stewart's request, presented the receipt to the agent of the Town & County Bank, at Mintlaw, who, however, being suspicious of the person presenting it refused to cash the document and erased what had been written by Matthews".

The report of the trial reveals that after they had eventually managed to obtain cash by presenting the receipt at the bank in Fraserburgh, Margaret and Donald had purchased a horse and cart for £24. However, they were apprehended soon thereafter and at the trial were each handed a sentence of five years' penal servitude.

Margaret was discharged from prison on licence on the 15th January 1877, at which point her details were recorded in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see image below). She was 28 years old, 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, dark hair and dark blue eyes. She is also noted as having a burn mark on her right wrist and that she was freckled.

Immediately after her release she is recorded as living at 1 Albion Street, Aberdeen, which was the same address as Samuel Craik Cumming who has previously featured in this blog. This suggests that this address may have been a lodging house of some description. Margaret did not stay there for long, however, and on the 25th January 1877 the register records that she has "Gone to Peterhead".

Monday, October 19, 2020

Samuel Craik Cumming - From Prison to Poorhouse by way of Fraserburgh, Aberdeen and New Deer

One of the advantages of an individual having a slightly unusual middle name is that it makes locating them in the newspapers, census returns and statutory registers that bit easier. Samuel Cumming had the distinctive middle name of "Craik". The North British Agriculturalist newspaper of 14th September 1870 contains a report of Samuel's appearance at the Aberdeen Circuit Court, on the 9th September 1870 which, incidentally, was the same day as the trial of David Todd who has previously featured in this blog:

Samuel Craik Cumming, from the prison of Aberdeen, was charged with stealing from different places in the parishes of Fraserburgh, Longside and Lonmay, three articles of wearing apparel on the nights between the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th February last. The offences were aggravated by six previous convictions before the Sheriff Courts of Aberdeen, Peterhead and Forfar, ranging from June 1846 to July 1860. Panel pleaded guilty and was sentenced by the Lord Justice Clerk to seven years' penal servitude.

Samuel Cumming was evidently no stranger to a court of law or the inside of a prison. Indeed, he appears on the 1861 census aged 50 as an inmate at H.M. General Prison, Perth, where his usual occupation is given as that of a "Labourer" and his place of birth as Fraserburgh. The census also notes that he is married. 

His trial of September 1870, reported above, saw Samuel incarcerated once more, until his release on licence on 31st July 1876. It is at this point that his mugshot and details appear in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see image at foot of page). Unfortunately the adhesive used to paste the mugshot into the register has, over time, bled through the paper leaving dark lines on the image. 

During the remainder of 1876 and until July 1877, Samuel lives at various addresses in Aberdeen including Harriet Street, 44 Gallowgate, and 1 Albion Street. Albion Street (also known as the 'Bool Road' because it led to the bowling green at the Queen's Links) no longer exists, but followed the approximate line of the present day Beach Boulevard. 

Map Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey
Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St Clements, East, West, North & South)
Published 1869 

On July 13th 1876 Samuel is noted in the Register of Returned Convicts as having gone "To Fraserburgh". We know from the 1870 trial papers (now held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh) that Samuel was of "no fixed abode" at that stage in his life and was doubtless resorting to crime in order to feed and clothe himself.

By the time of the 1881 census, Samuel's circumstances appear to have improved somewhat as he is listed as a lodger at a farm on the lands of Auchoch, New Deer. By this point he is aged 70, a widower, and his occupation is that of a stonebreaker.

We can't be certain how much longer he lived at the farm, but by the time of his death from 'dropsy' or heart disease in May 1883, Samuel was a resident at the poorhouse in Maud.


James Hunter - The Trouser Thief With a Sweet Tooth and a Weakness for Religious Literature

  James Hunter's eyes in the image pasted into the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' fix the viewer with a very direc...