Thursday, June 10, 2021

Donald McNab - An Elusive Convict

Donald McNab's entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen is the most extensive within the volume. Spanning two pages (see images at the foot of the page) it provides the usual details relating to height and appearance, the date when he was convicted and when he was discharged, but it also provides a long list of addresses in Aberdeen at which he lived between 1895 and 1901. These included 64 Upper Denburn (with a "Mrs McNab", who was almost certainly a relative), 2 Stronach's Close, 9 and 12 Exchequer Row, 30 Shiprow and the Victoria Lodging House. Among the other details are that he had sojourns in Leith, Turriff and Peterhead as well as two further convictions for theft at the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen in 1898 and 1899, for which he received three months imprisonment on both occasions.

Despite this rich detail, additional information about Donald McNab has so far proved elusive. It is pretty certain that it was "our man" who was sentenced to 5 years' penal servitude by the High Court in Glasgow in October 1891 when a Donald McNab and a James Boyle (both listed as then living at 6 Meuse Lane, Cowcaddens) were tried for the assault of Amelia Boyland and for stealing her purse containing 15s. 9d. Her address was given as Stirling Street, also in Cowcaddens. Although there is a report of the trial in the North British Daily Mail of 22nd October 1891, it is annoyingly brief with no additional information.  Although the trial papers are kept at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh under the reference JC26/1891/136, I've not yet had a chance to view these.

Detail from Ordnance Survey map showing Muse Lane, Cowcaddens, Glasgow, where Donald McNab lived in 1891
Ordnance Survey Sheet VI.6.25; Scale 1:500; Surveyed 1892-94
Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland 

The NRS catalogue description of the trial papers states that Donald McNab was a "van driver" by occupation: the 1881 census lists a Donald McNab, aged 18, occupation "van driver", as an inmate at HM General Prison, Perth. This would fit with what we know of Donald having previous convictions and the age is about right, but in the absence of any corroborating details I can only be 90% sure that this is the same person. Assuming that my educated guesswork is correct, the 1881 census gives Donald's place of birth as Crieff in Perthshire. However, I've not been able to find him on the 1871 census, so the trail goes cold.

The 1891 and 1901 census returns are similarly mute regarding Donald's whereabouts, although the evidence would strongly suggest he was living in Glasgow in early 1891 while the Register of Returned Convicts puts him at 8 Exchequer Row, Aberdeen, at around the time the 1901 census was conducted, on the 31st March.  

Friday, May 21, 2021

William MacDonald - "Daftie" and the Theft at Tarland

Along with the amazing collection of mugshots that form the basis of this blog, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives is fortunate to hold several hundred "wanted" posters as part of the historical records of Grampian Police. That these posters survive at all is remarkable: the useful life of such items was limited and they were usually destroyed once the crime was solved or the missing property found. The survival of this particular collection is thanks mainly to the staff employed at the police stations in Dufftown and Elgin. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they evidently hoarded the posters that were sent to them from police forces throughout Britain. The collection even includes a poster published in 1910 by the Metropolitan Police offering a reward for information about the notorious murderer, Dr. Crippen.

As you might expect, many of the wanted posters relate to crimes that took place in the north east of Scotland, but only one of them has a corresponding mugshot in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, something which was brought to my attention by my eagle-eyed colleague, Katy Kavanagh who also provided some of the background research relating to William McDonald, alias Strachan, alias Ramsay, alias Gordon...and who also rejoiced in the nickname "Daftie".
It is this nickname, together with his somewhat 'glaikit' expression, that originally brought the poster to our attention. It relates to a crime that William MacDonald had committed in Tarland in December 1891. His stock-in-trade was picking pockets with his list of crimes, some of which are listed on the poster, stretching back to 1859 when he was sentenced to 12 months in prison by the Justiciary Court in Inverness for offences committed at the market in Elgin. The following year, he was sentenced to 6 years penal servitude for a similar offence, and in 1867 he was sentenced to 10 years, with his arrest being reported in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 15th May 1867:

"Two notorious pickpockets, David Sutherland, alias "Headie" and William MacDonald, alias "Daftie", are in custody here. The former was captured plying his vocation along with his accomplice in a market in the parish of Bourtie, and the latter was picked up last night by the city police in the vicinity of the police office. A third associate who was seen doing business in Longside market, was also, we understand, captured in Ellon yesterday, and will be lodged in prison on a similar charge with that of the other two above-named. Farmers would do well to look strictly after their pockets at markets just now". 

In February 1879, MacDonald appears before the High Court in Edinburgh on another pickpocketing charge. On this occasion the crime had a more sinister aspect to it as the victim was described in The Scotsman of the 25th February as being "drugged" before being relieved of a silver watch, a gold chain, a locket and £5 15s. in cash.

Whether the intoxicant was alcohol or something stronger is not clear, although ensuring that those he robbed were not in full command of their faculties was a tactic that "Daftie" also used in subsequent crimes. Despite his claim to be "as innocent as the child unborn of stealing the watch", the High Court sentenced him to 7 years' penal servitude, after which he was to be subject to an additional 7 years police supervision. According to the precognition for the trial (which is held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh), MacDonald was 35 years of age. He gave his address as Haddington Place, Edinburgh, and his birthplace as King's Cross, London. Intriguingly, and unusually, his occupation is also noted as a "photographer", although no one by his name (or aliases) appears as such in the Edinburgh and Leith Post Office Directory for 1878-79.

On the 7th December 1891 when MacDonald was arrested for the theft in Tarland to which the "wanted" poster relates, he described himself as a "travelling hawker, and hailing from Glasgow" which adds further confusion to his likely background. He was tried at the High Court in Aberdeen on the 21st January 1892, with the proceedings being reported at length in the Aberdeen Press & Journal. Among the details on the poster are that MacDonald "Frequented hotels etc., and while treating others to whisky, he himself invariably drank port wine". The newspaper report confirms this behaviour, with his hapless/drunk victims, James Anderson and John Ewen, being targeted at the Commercial Inn and the Aberdeen Arms Hotel in Tarland. In total, MacDonald stole £101 from the two farmers, which equates to a little over £13,000 in today's money.

Towards the end of proceedings, MacDonald makes a fairly pathetic plea for leniency:

"[The] Prisoner, leaning heavily against the rail, of the dock made a pieous appeal for mercy. He was an old man, he said, and had already done 23 years' penal servitude and 3½ years of short sentences. His breathing was bad and he was afflicted with rheumatism; and he begged his lordship to give him one more chance for life in his old age. 

LORD YOUNG: What do you want to do?

PRISONER: I want a short sentence and you will never see me in this court any more. You are a merciful man, I know; and I know that you will be merciful to me this day.

LORD YOUNG: I do not think on this occasion I should be justified - that I should be doing my duty to the community - if I let you at large with any reasonable possibility of your going about to such places as Tarland looking out for farmers and others who are intoxicated and emptying their pockets. (Laughter). That seems to be what you wish to have a chance of doing again; but I must prevent that if I possibly can. At the same time, I cannot possibly make your sentence now less than it was on the last occasion - 

PRISONER: Good Lord! I'm an old man! (Laughter).

LORD YOUNG: The ways of transgressors are hard, and I must sentence you to penal servitude for seven years

PRISONER (excitedly): I do not think I shall live to see it. (Renewed laughter)".

We know from his entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see below) that William MacDonald did indeed survive to see the other end of this sentence which he served in Peterhead Prison, being discharged on the 2nd August 1897. During the following months, he lived at various addresses in Aberdeen including Harriet Street, Marischal Street, Guestrow and Leadside Road. In September 1897 he was apprehended for failing to report a change of address for which he was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment. By the end of 1897 he is a resident of the West Poorhouse where he remains for much of 1898, apart from a short stay at the infirmary. 





Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Robert Paterson - "An Extraordinary Theft of Groceries"

Together with his accomplices, Christopher Byres and Gordon Bruce, Robert Paterson was one of a trio of criminals who were involved in an "extraordinary theft of groceries" according to the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 22nd January 1892, and were tried for handling and reselling a vast quantity of stolen goods taken from the premises of William Davidson, a wholesale merchant, located on Castle Street, Aberdeen. The items in question were appropriated by a porter named William Jack, an employee of the wholesaler. Jack (who was tried separately) was in cahoots with Paterson and his partners, passing the goods to them and they in turn sold them on to other retailers in the city. A number of these retailers were called as witnesses at the trial and were all remarkably clueless as to why they had been offered goods by Paterson at such attractive prices.

The thefts from the wholesaler took place on multiple occasions between August 1890 and November 1891, comprising a mind-boggling array of items including 108 tins of corned beef, 84 tins of mustard, 84 tins of roast beef, 6 cwts rice, and 2 cwts semolina. Also among the items listed were 20 cwts Davie's lustre, and 7 cwts James's lustre, otherwise known as "black lead", used for treating and polishing domestic stoves. The value of the stolen goods equated to about £45,000 in today's money.

The wholesale merchant was not in the habit of undertaking an annual stock-check, and it was only when he did so that the missing items came to light. The origin of the stock was traced with the help of invoices and corresponding serial numbers. Indeed, a representative from the packing department of Colman's of Norwich appears as a witness at the trial to vouch for the origin of the large number of mustard tins!

The judge who presided at the trial was the no-nonsense and irritable Lord Young who took exception to applause in his courtroom following a speech from the  defence counsel, stating:

"It is not like the good sense which, according to my experience, prevails in Aberdeen. It is a silly noise, and the people of this town are not a silly people".

While Lord Young may not have regarded the people of Aberdeen as silly, he undoubtedly took a dim view of Robert Paterson and his partners in crime. In his summing-up, the judge mentioned that Paterson had previously been found guilty of a similar offence in which he "induced an employer's servant in a shop to rob his master". Paterson, Byres and Bruce were ultimately found guilty of reset rather than theft - reset being defined as the dishonest possession of goods obtained by another, by way of theft, robbery, fraud or embezzlement, in the knowledge that they were obtained that way. 

Paterson was sentenced to five years' penal servitude, of which he served about three-and-a-half years inside Peterhead Prison where his mugshot was taken on the 10th October 1895. His entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, below, shows that on his release in November 1895 he lived at 9 Berry Street for a short while and then at 46 Broad Street for the next year.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Peter Anderson - "It was drink that killed the woman and not the man"

Regrettably, domestic violence is as old as humanity itself, although thankfully there is far less acceptance of it as "just one of those things" than there once was. The connection between violent crime and alcohol is also well established: a defence of "the drink made me do it" is no defence at all, but that was not always the case.

In January 1889, Peter Anderson, a quarry worker who lived at Cluny, was accused of the murder of his wife, Ann Watt or Anderson, and he subsequently stood trial at the High Court of Justiciary in Aberdeen. The Aberdeen Free Press of the 23rd January 1889 reported the proceedings:

"He tendered a plea of culpable homicide, which the Court accepted. The Advocate Depute thought it right that he should state to the Court the reasons for accepting this plea. The prisoner committed this offence in the month of October [1888], and only married the deceased in the month of January last year. He was 33 years of age and the deceased was at her death 44. She had a croft at Ladymoss, Cluny, and the prisoner married her and moved into the croft along with her. On the day of the murder, the accused left home at nine o'clock in the morning, and went to a feeing market. He returned at nine o'clock in the evening and, undoubtedly, he was the worse for drink. His wife found fault with him and he seems to have struck her. Her son, a boy of twelve, interfered to protect his mother, and the accused struck him and pursued him through a field. He came back no doubt very much excited and plunged the knife into his wife's abdomen...Medical aid was procured, but in the unfortunate circumstances in which the woman was placed it was not possible to render such assistance as might otherwise have been available".

According to the newspaper report, the doctor who attended to Ann Anderson was "a man of great standing and experience". Nonetheless, his botched attempt to replace her intestines in the gloomy croft at four o'clock in the morning with only a paraffin lamp for illumination resulted in her death from obstruction of the bowels some three or four days later. The court went on to hear that the prisoner was given "the benefit of the doubt" because Ann Anderson would almost certainly have died from peritonitis, even if the procedure carried out by the doctor had been successful. 

In support of his good character, a number of positive references were read out in court from previous employers of Peter Anderson who had evidently spent a number of years in Dublin, probably between the late 1870s and mid-1880s. One of these testimonials read as follows:

"A commercial firm in Dublin certified that Anderson was employed by them for three or four years. They were pleased with his energy and honesty. He always conducted himself well and had a good deal of property under his charge. They trusted the judge would take into consideration that it was drink that killed the woman and not the man".

The counsel for the defence sought to apportion a hefty chunk of blame at the door of Ann Anderson herself, stating that: 

"On the day of this unfortunate occurrence, [Peter] Anderson had been at a feeing market, and returned home the worse for drink. His wife lectured him. He had nothing to say as to the terms she used, but taking what one knew of the habits of people in that class of life one could imagine that she probably used terms likely to irritate a man who was not in his sober senses. It appeared that he was cutting tobacco at the time, and in a moment of ungovernable passion, he struck her with the knife".

The use of the words "imagine", "probably" and "likely" convey just how much speculation surrounded the precise circumstances of Ann Anderson's death and the extent to which she was perceived to have been, at least in part, guilty of provoking her husband.

In his summing-up of the case, the presiding judge, Lord Kinnear, emphasised the lack of premeditation as a key factor, together with the difficult conditions in which the subsequent medical treatment had been performed in determining that Peter Anderson was guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide rather than murder. He was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude.

He served just over five years of this sentence at Peterhead Prison. He appears as an inmate there on the 1891 census, in which he is described as a widower and originally from the parish of Marnoch in what was then Banffshire. His mugshot (above) was taken inside the prison on the 29th March 1894. He was released on licence in May of that year, at which point his details would have been logged in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' (below).

Between June 1894 and December 1895, Peter Anderson lived at various addresses in the city including Gerrard Street, Holburn Street and Nellfield Place. After a short spell living near Cove, he returned to Aberdeen, staying at 7 Rose Place, 4 Mannofield, 78 King Street, 5 Granton Place and 10 Mitchell Place.

Peter was to return to his roots in Banffshire: on the 1901 census he is to be found living with his brother and sister at 91 North Street, Aberchirder, in the parish of Marnoch. 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Elizabeth Waugh - Selling Sex to Exist in Victorian Aberdeen

Among the many incredible records held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives is a list of prostitutes compiled by the Police Commissioners in the January of 1855. Along with the names of nearly 500 women aged between 15 and 44 who were engaged in selling sex, the document also includes the proprietors and addresses of thirty-six public houses, “to which prostitutes and men resort” along with a similar number of “common brothels”, mostly concentrated on the Guestrow, Broad Street, Gallowgate and Shuttle Lane areas. Among the names listed is Elizabeth Waugh: her picture (above) appears in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" nearly twenty years after the list of prostitutes was compiled, following her discharge from the General Prison at Perth in October 1874.

A  detail from the 1855 Police Returns on Prostitution (Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives - CA/9/6/1)
showing the name of Elizabeth Waugh.

Between the ages of 15 and 59, Elizabeth was frequently on the wrong side of the law, being convicted over a hundred times for offences relating to breach of the peace, prostitution and theft. The prison registers for Aberdeen, Ayr and Perth together with the contemporary newspaper reports, trial papers and census returns all help to compile a vivid picture of her life.

Elizabeth was an inhabitant of Aberdeen at a time when it was growing very rapidly: between 1851 and 1901 the population of the city doubled from about 75,000 to 150,000. This expansion was due partly to an increasing birth rate but was also caused by migration of the existing rural population to the city, where employment might be easier to come by. However,  the vagaries of the economic cycle and the restrictive system of poor relief meant that some women had little option but to resort to prostitution in order to survive. Elizabeth's story provides a glimpse of the often chaotic lifestyle endured by these women.

Elizabeth was born in Ayr in about 1834. Precisely why the family moved north to Aberdeen is not known, although it is evident that she had two sisters, Mary Ann (born c.1831) and Jane (or Jean, born c.1837), both of whom were also involved in prostitution in Aberdeen at around the same time as their sister. The first record of a conviction for Elizabeth appears in the Aberdeen prison register of 1849 when she was found guilty of assault at just 15 years of age. Her address was given as Justice Street while her occupation was recorded as prostitution.

About a year later, Elizabeth appeared in court on the 11th April 1850 alongside Andrew Roork and James Killhowlie on a charge of theft. On that occasion the verdict handed to Elizabeth was one of 'not proven', although her two co-accused were each sentenced to seven years' transportation. The trial was also notable because an excessively sanctimonious witness, Thomas Farquharson, a shoemaker and resident of the Gallowgate, refused to take the oath in court. When the judge asked him why he was refusing, Farquharson replied that:

"...I don't think it right to swear. I am forbidden by Scripture to make use of oaths...I am commanded, "Swear not at all""

As a consequence of his short stroll up to the moral high ground, Farquharson was committed for contempt of court.

In December of 1851, Elizabeth is again in court, this time on a charge of assaulting two soldiers. Under the ironic headline of "A Heroine", the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 17th December reported the trial as follows: 

"Elizabeth Waugh, a young lady who has had extensive experience in criminal business, was brought before Baillie Henderson, in the Police Court, on two several charges of assault, aggravated by their being to the effusion of blood. The heroism of the affair, consisted in the accused having drawn the blood of two sons of Mars. It appeared that the picquet or guard of the 42nd had visited a house in Frederick Street, in search of stragglers, when Waugh struck one of the soldiers, "several severe blows on the head, face, and other parts of his person, and did lacerate his face with her nails". The second assault was perpetrated on the sergeant, while also on duty, by striking him several severe blows on the head, etc., with an iron poker. Waugh plead guilty; and being an old offender, was sent to prison for 30 days, the first ten of which to be devoted to hard labour".

The ten days of hard labour would almost certainly have consisted of being subjected to the dreaded "crank", a piece of machinery comprising a handle which forced large ladles through sand contained inside a central drum. The load on the handle could be varied by the adjustment of screws, from which the slang term for a prison warden is thought to derive. The energy expended in turning the crank was utterly pointless, serving no useful purpose other than to exhaust the prisoner.

However pointless it may have been, a newspaper report of one of her trials in the Montrose Standard of the 12th January 1866 suggests that Elizabeth preferred hard labour and hints at her volatile personality:

"...Seventeen previous convictions were recorded against the prisoner. The Bailie said, - As you have been so often previously convicted, I shall send you to prison for sixty days, the half of that period with hard labour, and further - Prisoner: You'll give me all my time hard labour, if you please; it'll pass sooner awa'. Bailie - Oh, I have no objections; then your sentence is sixty days, with hard labour; and I further bind you over to keep the peace for six months, under a penalty of £5, or suffer thirty days' additional imprisonment. The prisoner, on receiving sentence, commenced swearing at the pitch of her voice, kicked open the door of the dock, and otherwise conducted herself in a most outrageous manner in the Court, and such was her strength that it took three constables to take her through to the prison, where she continued shouting and yelling for a considerable time".

From the entries relating to Elizabeth's many incarcerations in Aberdeen's East Prison during the 1850s and 60s she evidently lived at a number of different addresses in the city centre including Shuttle Lane, Broad Street, Peacock's Close, East North Street and Gallowgate.

Elizabeth Waugh's Aberdeen:
Detail from a map drawn and engraved by J. Rapkin, published by J. Tallis and Company, London, 1854.
Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Because of her persistent offending, it was only a matter of time before Elizabeth was to enter the convict prison system where she would serve much longer sentences than those that she was subjected to at the East Prison in Aberdeen. Her entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts" (see image at the foot of this page) shows that she was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude on the 31st January 1870. A brief report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal records that on that occasion she stole £26, a coat and a pair of boots from a ship's master while he was "in a state of intoxication".

The 1871 census, conducted on 2nd April, lists Elizabeth as an inmate of Ayr prison, she was 33 years of age with her occupation recorded as a "rag sorter". She had been admitted to Ayr prison almost a year earlier, on the 20th May 1870. Among the additional details given in the Ayr prison register (held by the National Records of Scotland) is that Elizabeth's religion was the "Free Church". Remarkably, the prison registers of the time also recorded the weight of the inmates on their admission and discharge: in Elizabeth's case, these figures were 145lbs and 137lbs respectively. When discharged from Ayr, a note in the prison register records that she was transferred to the General Prison at Perth on the 8th May 1872 where she remained until her liberation on licence on the 3rd October 1874. 

After her discharge from Perth, Elizabeth returned to Aberdeen, living on Harriet Street and McCook's Court, situated off the east side of the Gallowgate. She went to Dundee twice in 1875, once in the April and then again in the autumn when she was apprehended for theft and brought to Aberdeen, although on that occasion the case against her was dismissed.

In the following April of 1876, a report in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 12th April recounted how Elizabeth stole £30 12s from John Simpson, a farmer in Peterculter, 

"...The woman pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr Smith. From the evidence it seems John Simpson, farmer, left home to attend a sale at Bellhelvie on Tuesday 2nd November, and on returning at night he met the prisoner and went with her to the premises of James Buie [a spirit dealer, Gallowgate] and treated her to a drink in a ‘box’ there for about half an hour. When he entered the premises of James Buie he had a £20 note and 10 £1 notes in a leather case which was placed in a pocket inside his vestHaving parted with the prisoner at the door of Buie’s shop the farmer proceeded to the premises of John Watt, spirit dealer, West North St, where he called for a drink but on opening the leather case he discovered that the money was gone".

The crucial piece of evidence in the case turned out to be the £20 note which was subsequently located after passing through several hands. As the Press and Journal report recounted the note in question was, 

"...traced to the possession of Alexander Mennie, junior, carter, then of West North St. This man on being examined stated, amid much laughter, that two days after her first liberation Elizabeth Waugh had met him and while in Donald’s public house in Crooked Lane, she offered him a bargain of the £20 note. She said that she would sell it for £6, whereupon he offered her £5 and got the note, paying for it in silver. Being shown the £20 note that Simpson had previously identified as that stolen from him, Mennie declared it to be the note that he had received from the prisoner".

Elizabeth was found guilty and sentenced to eight years' penal servitude which she served at the General Prison in Perth, appearing there as an inmate on the 1881 census. She is discharged on licence once again in December of 1883, when another entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" records that she lived on Chapel Lane, Exchequer Row and Chapel Row for the next eighteen months, until April of 1885.

Using entries in the Aberdeen prison registers, where her name appears many times, it is possible to follow Elizabeth's criminal career, which consisted mainly of multiple breaches of the peace, through to at least 1894 and probably beyond, although later registers have yet to be checked! In 1886 her occupation is still listed as prostitution, although thereafter she is frequently noted as a hawker or pedlar, sometimes with no fixed abode, but otherwise recorded as living at various addresses in central Aberdeen including Longacre, Chapel Lane, Chapel Court, Exchequer Row and Exchequer Court.

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Dee Hoole, University of Aberdeen, for a number of additional details regarding Elizabeth Waugh that have been used in the writing of this blog.


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Margaret Hendry or Ross - "The Women in the House Evidently Lived by Prostitution"


The ten year sentence that Margaret Hendry received at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen in September 1864 appears completely disproportionate to her crime of stealing a quantity of cloth, clothes and bed-clothes. However, her crime was aggravated by a string of previous convictions from the Police Courts of Aberdeen and Leith as well as from the Burgh and Sheriff Courts of Edinburgh. The Aberdeen People's Journal of the 24th September 1864 reported her appearance before the Circuit Court as follows:

Margaret Hendry or Ross (42) and William Thomson (58) were both charged with having committed three separate acts of theft. The articles in the first charge were stated to have been stolen from Euphemia Duff or Napier, wife of George Napier, Chronicle Lane, who had given them to the female prisoner to make into clothes; and those in the second and third from John Murphy who resided in the same place. 

The wonderfully named Chronicle Court (one surely worthy of J.K. Rowling) where the victims of Margaret's crime resided, was a long, thin close, that ran parallel to Queen Street and lay to the west of the East Prison, a site which is nowadays partially occupied by the footprint of the Town House Extension.

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeen 1866, Sheet LXXV.11.14 

Newspaper reports and other sources covering the 1870s and 80s reveal that Margaret would have been a "well kent face" in this part of the city, particularly to the police. When she was discharged on licence in May 1871, the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen records that until at least August of that year she lived just a short distance away at Alexander's Court, which ran between the Gallowgate and Loch Street. Over the next few years, several newspaper reports of her court appearances reveal not only that she was frequently in trouble, but that she continued to live in the locality, at addresses off the Gallowgate and on the notorious Shuttle Lane. The Dundee Courier of the 4th June 1872 reported proceedings at the Aberdeen Police Court:

"On Saturday before Bailie Fraser...Jane Brown or Watt, Elizabeth Murray or McKenzie and Margaret Hendry or Ross were fined 15s., with an alternative of twenty days in prison for committing a breach of the peace in Alexander's Court, Gallowgate, on the 31st ult. The whole of the prisoners are well acquainted with the inside of police cells, this being the...fourth time that Hendry has received sentence at the Police Court. Hendry, however, was in 1864, sentenced at the Circuit Court to 10 years' penal servitude for theft, and as she was liberated three years before the expiry of her sentence, we understand that she will be reported at headquarters with a view to her being detained in prison for the unexpired term of her 10 years' sentence". 

Margaret's next appearance before the Police Court occurs in October 1879. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 18th October reported the case under the headline "The Best Help":

"Margaret Hendry or Ross (60) was charged with causing last night a breach of the peace in the house at McLean's Court, Gallowgate, occupied by David Wells, slater, and using abusive language, particularly towards Mrs. Wells. Accused, who has been three times previously convicted, pleaded guilty, saying that she had lost some money and spoken about it - heaven help her. The Baillie said that she should just help herself, for she was the sole cause of all her misfortunes. He imposed a fine of 10s.6d. with the option of seven days' imprisonment".

Given that she was in her early 60s, it is perhaps unlikely that Margaret was herself a prostitute when she again appeared before the Police Court in May 1884 charged with theft. Nonetheless, The Aberdeen Free Press of the 27th May reported that the Procurator-Fiscal was of the opinion that, "The women in the house evidently lived by prostitution". The house in question was on Shuttle Lane with the newspaper report giving a glimpse of what went on there:

"An old woman named Margaret Hendry or Ross...was charged with having, in the house of Jane Horn or Watson, Shuttle Lane, stolen a pair of boots from the person of a farm overseer. Accused said that she got the boots to be pledged from another person who was in the house at the same time. This plea was taken as one of not guilty...The overseer had come from the country on Saturday and had been drinking rather heavily. In the course of the day he found his way to a house on Shuttle Lane along with the accused. Here he got more drink which so stupefied him that he had but a hazy conception of what took place. He was certain, however, that he had his boots on before he went to Shuttle Lane. He fell asleep in the house and when he awoke made enquiry as to what had become of his boots...The women in the house evidently lived by prostitution, and the countryman, dazed with drink, had got mixed up with them. There was a tendency among many to turn away from these cases, thinking that the plundering that went on there, should be overlooked. They would ask what else a man who went to these houses could expect. At the same time this plundering could not be tolerated. The Baillie sentenced the accused to twenty-one days' imprisonment".

Margaret is next mentioned in the newspaper five months later, with a report in The Aberdeen Evening Express of 8th October 1884:

"Margaret Hendry or Ross (65) residing in Gallowgate, had her left leg broken below the knee, by falling down the stair, leading to a dwelling house in Sutherland's Court, between nine and ten o'clock last night. She was attended by Drs. Macgregor and Simpson, and afterwards taken to the infirmary".

Sutherland's Court was located on the east side of the Gallowgate: a set of stairs within the court is shown on the Ordnance Survey map, below, published in 1867. 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeen 1867, Sheet LXXV.11.8 

A fractured leg and a trip to the infirmary may well have had dire consequences for a woman of a lesser constitution than Margaret. However, she was evidently made of stern stuff and lived for another ten years: the statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths show that she died at the city poorhouse on the 24th April 1895 aged 76. The death certificate notes that she was the widow of a George Ross who had been a gardener, her parents being John Hendry (a joiner) and Margaret Hendry.

The following details have been kindly provided by Dr. Dee Hoole of the University of Aberdeen: 
After her death at the poorhouse, Margaret's body was sent to the medical school at Marischal College on 6th May 1895 and subsequently dissected by Dr. Reid and his students. It was worked on until it was interred on 2nd November 1895. The place of interment was probably Nellfield cemetery .

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Charles Macpherson - "The Daring Street Robbery in Aberdeen"

Anyone who has ever been in the position of taking a large sum of money to or from the bank will know the accompanying sensation of vulnerability along with that irrational little voice in your head that keeps warning of your imminent mugging, until you safely reach your destination. This feeling must have been all too familiar to Alexander Black, the unfortunate lad who was tricked into handing over the equivalent of a little over £10,000 by Charles Macpherson at the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street on the 10th December 1891. The details of what happened were reported in the Aberdeen Evening Express of the 31st December that year:

 "In connection with the recent daring street robbery from a boy while on the way from the Market Street branch of the North of Scotland Bank to the office of Messrs. Ben. Reid & Co., two other arrests have been made. It will be remembered that on the 10th inst., the boy was sent to the bank for money with which to pay the weekly bill of wages. He got the money and was returning with it in a bag, when a young man, with a pen behind his ear, and without a hat, came running after him and said, "There is something wrong with the cheque: give me the money back and take that letter to your cashier. The bank will be kept open for a quarter of an hour for your return". That this was one of the clerks of the bank did not appear the slightest doubt, so the young man gave back the money and straightway took the "letter" to his cashier. Alas! The "letter" was a blank piece of paper! At the bank there was nothing found wrong with the cheque. But by this time the thief - who, of course had no connection with the bank - had disappeared. It was believed at the time that the thief, who decamped with the sum of £77, took a train for the south but subsequent discoveries have led to the belief that this was not the case. Before Sheriff Hamilton-Grierson in chambers at Aberdeen Sheriff Court today, Charles Macpherson, shoemaker, Justice Mill Lane, Aberdeen, and Robert Kirkland, tailor, North Broadford, Aberdeen, were charged with having, on the 10th December last, at the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street, Aberdeen, stolen a bag, a bank book, and £77 of money from Alexander Black, South Mile End, Pitmuxton, Aberdeen. These men were arrested on Tuesday morning, and according to the allegations of the prosecution, they acted in concert in the robbery and have been "doing very well" since - i.e., they have not been at all pinched so far as monetary matters are concerned"


The scene of the crime - the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Aberdeen) 
Revised: 1899 to 1900, Publication date: 1902  
Map reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland 

In a report of Charles Macpherson's trial on the 19th January 1892, mention is made that Charles had a previous conviction for a theft in 1886 for which he was sentenced by the Sheriff Court at Banff to nine months' imprisonment. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of 25th August 1886 reported the crime as follows:

"Yesterday, Charles Macpherson, a shoemaker, lately residing in Aberdeen, was brought up at the second diet of a Sheriff and Jury Court - Sheriff Scott Moncrieff on the bench - charged with having on the 19th July last stolen from the dwelling house of May Cruickshank, grocer, Union Street, Keith, the sum of £4 in bank notes belonging to the said May Cruickshank. The offence was aggravated by previous convictions...The evidence went to show that on the evening in question the accused had gone to the shop of May Cruickshank, and represented that he was the son of a doctor, that he had induced her to go out for a pint of beer for him, that she had seen where she took the money from, and that shortly after he had left she missed the £4. The jury, after an absence of about half an hour, returned a verdict of guilty".

The common denominator between the two offences in 1886 and 1891 is that on both occasions Charles Macpherson brazenly impersonated someone else in order to get his hands on money.

The photograph of Charles that appears in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' is very similar in style to others that were taken in Peterhead prison around that time. When I get the opportunity I will have to check the registers for Peterhead to confirm this, but it is highly likely that Charles was incarcerated there between 1892 and his discharge on licence in May 1894. For the remainder of 1894, Charles lives at two addresses in Aberdeen: Pirie's Lodgings on Guestrow and then at 87 Barron Street.


Donald McNab - An Elusive Convict

Donald McNab's entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen is the most extensive within the volume. Spanning two pages (see ...