Wednesday, March 25, 2020

John Stephen - A Theft on Union Street

The Stonehaven Journal of Thursday 27th September 1866 contains a report of the trial of John Stephen who appeared before the Aberdeen Circuit Court of Justiciary on 21st September that year. It reads, "John Stephen, from Aberdeen Jail, pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with having stolen £2 17s 6d and a scarf on Saturday 21st July 1866. James McLaren, a labourer, residing at Hill of Portlethen, parish of Banchory-Devinick, on the date mentioned went into the shop of Mr. Jamieson, clothier, Union Street, Aberdeen, to purchase a jacket, and while trying it on, the prisoner Stephen, who had watched his opportunity, stole from the pocket of Mr. McLaren's coat, which had been laid down on the shop counter, the money and scarf. He was immediately pursued and caught by John Smith, the manager in Aberdeen for Mr. Jamieson. There were four previous convictions for theft against Stephen. Stephen seemed quite callous when placed at the bar. He pleaded guilty to the charge set forth in the indictment, and Lord Jerviswoode passed sentence of seven years' penal servitude".

The Register of Returned Convicts for the City of Aberdeen, 1869-1939 (POL/AC/6/6) in which Stephen's mugshot appears provides some additional information about this "callous" individual: alongside the usual details regarding age, height and complexion we can see that he was tattooed with a crucifix and sailor on his left arm and a woman on his right arm, while also having a scar on the bridge of his nose.

After his release in May 1872, Stephen evidently lived on the Gallowgate for the next two years during which time he had to report his whereabouts to the authorities at regular intervals as detailed.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Elspet Falconer or Scobbie - "a very feeble and sickly looking woman".

This image of Elspet Falconer or Scobbie is more akin to a formal posed portrait than a typical mugshot. Like the two previous blog posts, the photograph is pasted into the Register of Returned Convicts for the City of Aberdeen, 1869-1939 (POL/AC/6/6).

Elspet Falconer was sentenced to 10 years' penal servitude in September 1864 at the Aberdeen Autumn Circuit Court. The report of her trial appears in the Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine People's Journal of the 24th September that year. It states that she, "Was charged with having on the 21st of June last, stolen from the dwelling house in Charleston of Nigg, Kincardineshire, occupied by Jane Morrison or Bremner, widow, a sheet and towel. There were no fewer than nine other charges against her. The prisoner, who was a very feeble and sickly looking woman, on being asked to plead, said she was guilty".

Discharged in May 1871, Elspet is recorded as living at 45 Guestrow (the Victoria Lodging House) in May and June of that year, see image below. In July she is noted as living at 4 Water Lane and the last entry gives her address as 14 Netherkirkgate in April 1873. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

John Smith - A Reformed Character?

John Smith was sentenced to seven years penal servitude for housebreaking on the 18th April 1865. His crime has been abbreviated to "H.B." in the full-page image below. He was aged 22 years on his discharge on 23rd September 1870 so he must have been about 17 when he was imprisoned.

The details supplied about an individual within the 'Register of Returned Convicts' help us build a picture of the person in question: he was five feet, three-and-a-half-inches tall with a fresh complexion, brown hair and grey eyes. He also had a cut on his third finger and a right hand described as 'crooked'.

Once released on licence, 'returned convicts' such as John Smith had to report at regular intervals to the police. These instances are detailed on the page shown below from which it can be seen that John was noted as living at 40 Blackfriar's Street or was 'at sea', evidently having picked up employment as a sailor.

Unfortunately there are no newspaper reports of his trial to add further detail to what we know of John as an individual. It would appear, however, that far from embarking on a life of crime he became something of a reformed character: one of the comments refers to a, "First class certificate of character" while another speaks of, "A promising young man".

Monday, March 2, 2020

Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter

Taken in 1869, this image comes from the 'Register of Returned Convicts' and is the oldest mugshot held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives. Photographic portraiture of criminals was still quite a new technology: the earliest evidence of the photography of prison inmates comes from Belgium (1843-4) and Denmark (1851) with examples from Switzerland, the USA and England following in the 1850s and 1860s. At this early stage, there was no standardisation of how the images should be composed or technical conventions governing what should be included in the picture. Nonetheless, the existence of the photograph is proof that the police in Aberdeen had faith in this new technology as providing the best means of capturing the likeness of the individual.

It is not known where the picture was taken, although it could have been HM General Prison, Perth, as we know from a report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of Wednesday, January 5th 1870 that Elizabeth had only been released from there a week previously before being arrested in Aberdeen for stealing several articles of clothing from a house on Berry Lane. Further details regarding her age and appearance are given on the page to which the image is attached.

These details include the fact that she had been living on Gardener's Lane and, when sentenced in April of 1870, she received ten year's penal servitude (P.S.)

Thomas Jackson or Johnston - A Theft at Braemar Followed by Escape From Forfar

According to The Weekly News  of Saturday November 21st 1885, Thomas Jackson (alias Johnston) was a joiner by trade who came originally from...