Monday, May 25, 2020

David Sutherland - "A Cunning Schemer"

The characteristics recorded under distinguishing "Marks" in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen almost always refer to unique features such as tattoos, scars, missing fingers and the like - attributes that would help to identify an individual. It is rare that observations about the person's character appear, but David Sutherland is an exception. He is described as, "A cunning schemer, being found sane after release". A note accompanying his discharge date of 13th December 1872 states that he was given his freedom, "As insane". The clear inference being that David Sutherland feigned mental illness whilst incarcerated in order to secure his release, perhaps on compassionate grounds.

Sutherland had been convicted of theft in September 1867. The Peterhead Sentinel and General Advertiser for Buchan District of 20th September that year reported his trial as follows, "David Sutherland (32), John Ramsay, alias John Ramsay Strachan, alias William Strachan (27) were charged with the theft, from the person or custody of Adam Wood, farmer, Longfolds in the parish of Bourtie, of a leather pocket book, five £1 notes, 2s. in silver, 4 receipts, a certificate of membership of the Gallowgate U.P. Church, in favour of George Wood, and a paper with a list of names. The theft was charged as committed on the 13th May at Shadowside, Bourtie. Both were habit and repute thieves and had been several times convicted before the Police and Sheriff Courts. Strachan had also been convicted before the Circuit Court at Inverness, in April 1859. They pled not guilty, but after evidence was heard they were both found guilty. Lord Deas sentenced Strachan, who argued that the witnesses had "perjured" themselves to his disadvantage, to penal servitude for ten years and Sutherland to seven years penal servitude".

Following his release in December 1872, David Sutherland lived for a short while on Porthill Close, which was situated off the Gallowgate. In February 1873, however, a note in the register states that he had gone "to Dundee as a Pedlar".

Monday, May 18, 2020

Margaret Anderson - A Theft at a Spirit Shop on King Street

Unfortunately the identity of the photographer who took the images that have so far featured in this blog, and which appear in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, 1869-1939', has proved annoyingly elusive. It may well have been the case that for these earlier mugshots a local photographer was employed by the police when pictures were required. The Habitual Offenders Act of 1869, along with its associated statutes, had first mandated the photographing of criminals. I will, no doubt, return to the fascinating background and implications of this piece of legislation in future blogs.  

It is certainly the case that many of these earlier images, including this one of Margaret Anderson, are reminiscent of the formal, posed portraits that were increasingly popular with the middle and upper-class clients of studio photographers of the time. Indeed, the images that appear within the Register of Returned Convicts are remarkable precisely because they are of a sector of society that would not normally have appeared before the camera. 

Margaret Anderson was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude on the 18th September 1867. In the words of the Edinburgh Daily Review of the following day she, "Pleaded guilty to theft, on the 17th April, in a spirit shop in King Street, from the person of William Thomson, of a purse with three pounds and some silver money. She had been twice convicted of theft before the Sheriff Court, three times before the Police Court, and once before the Circuit Court, all of theft".

The 1871 census finds Margaret incarcerated at HM General Prison, Perth, giving her marital status as single and her occupation as that of a "domestic servant". Her place of birth is given as Auchterless, near Turriff.

Her picture was taken on her discharge in January 1873. The additional details provided about her (see below) show that she was just over 5 feet 2 inches tall and that she had a fair complexion and fair hair. Her address subsequent to her release is given as 17 Gardener's Lane, which was situated in one of the long, narrow lanes linking East North Street with Justice Street.

Map Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Plan of the City of Aberdeen Corrected to 1871
Keith & Gibb, 1871 

Monday, May 11, 2020

Ann McGovern - A Well Travelled Criminal

Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives holds two volumes containing mugshots: the 'Register of Returned Convicts' for Aberdeen covering 1869-1939 contains 61 images, while a much larger album holds over 930 images taken at HM General Prison, Perth, in the early 1880s. Only two individuals appear in both - Ann McGovern being one of them. I was very familiar with her full-length photograph which appears in the first of these volumes (above) so the discovery of her mugshot in the Perth Prison album (below) had me falling off my chair in surprise, but it was unmistakably her.

The first photograph relates to a crime that Ann committed in 1868. The 'Huntly Express' of Saturday 18th April 1868 reported her trial as follows,

“Ann McGovern is not unknown to our readers, having been convicted at a Justice of the Peace Court, Huntly, on 26th August 1865, and sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for stealing a pair of ladies’ boots from the shop of Mr Yule, shoemaker, here. She now goes “over the water” for a theft committed in the city of Aberdeen”.

The details that accompany Ann's image in the Register of Returned convicts for Aberdeen (see below) show that she was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude for the theft committed in the 'Granite City'.

The details also state that she was 51 on her release on Christmas Day 1872. Using these two pieces of information, I was able to find her on the 1871 census, as a prisoner at HM General Prison, Perth. The census return further reveals that her occupation was that of a "hawker's wife" suggesting that she was used to an itinerant lifestyle. 

By searching other census returns, a picture of Ann's well-travelled existence begins to emerge: in 1851 we find her at an address off the Cowgate in Edinburgh where she is listed as an unmarried "milliner and itinerant maker of women's caps". Her birthplace is given as Ireland, so she was almost certainly part of the great wave of Irish immigrants to Scotland in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine.

Come the 1861 census and we find Ann married to a John McGovern, whose occupation is given as a "scavenger". They are living at Calton, just east of the Trongate in Glasgow. As we have already discovered from the report in the Huntly Express, sometime between 1861 and 1865, Ann travels north and ends up in trouble in Huntly and then Aberdeen.

After her release on Christmas Day 1872, we know that she lived for a short period of time at the lodging house at 45 Guestrow, Aberdeen. In April 1873 however, the Register of Returned Convicts records that she was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude for theft. 

This pattern of incarceration continues for the rest of Ann's life: although the 1881 census reveals that she is by then widowed and living as a 'housekeeper' with her niece, a shopkeeper, on Union Street in Dundee, we know from the details accompanying her 1883 mugshot that she was convicted in December 1882 and by the time of the 1891 census she is back inside HM General Prison, Perth, aged 70.

Monday, May 4, 2020

William Robertson - An incident on Exchange Street by a "habit and repute" thief?

If you had happened to see William Robertson on his discharge in 1872, when this picture was probably taken, it is likely that you would have noticed the "hole in left cheek" as described in the accompanying details and which is clearly visible in this mugshot.

The additional information about him conveys that he is 38 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes. How he came to be afflicted with a hole in his cheek is not known, but such distinguishing marks were key details in being able to identify individuals. Similarly, tattoos, scars, missing fingers, poor teeth and the like are frequently noted alongside mugshots in the Register of Returned Convicts for the Burgh of Aberdeen: they hint at the living conditions and rudimentary healthcare that people endured in the Victorian city.

William Roberston had been sentenced to seven years' penal servitude in April 1867. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of 17th April that year reported his trial as follows, "William Robertson (33) was charged with having, on the 7th September last, in Knight & Son's Refreshment Rooms, Exchange Street, Aberdeen, stolen from Alexander Mathieson, general dealer, Shiprow, Aberdeen, two one-pound notes, three pounds in silver, and a purse, the property of Mathieson. The case was aggravated by Robertson having been three times previously convicted, and being habit and repute a thief. The prisoner pleaded guilty as libelled, with the exception of the charge of habit and repute".

The criminal historian, Dr. Nell Darby provides a succinct discussion of "habit and repute" in her blog here. Essentially it was a charge under Scottish common law that took into account the temper and disposition of a person, and was an admittance of ‘bad character’. Crucially, an individual could not be charged with being "habit and repute" in isolation: they had to be charged with another offence (though not murder or assault) at the same time. Similarly the accused could not be found guilty of "habit and repute" unless they were also found guilty of the other charge.

The court accepted William Robertson's plea, so although he was found guilty, he escaped the charge and stigma of being a "habit and repute" thief, possibly because he had already been in prison for seven months before the case had come to trial. Nonetheless, the sentence handed down by Lord Justice Clerk was seven years' penal servitude.

Following his discharge, William Robertson lived on Harriet Street and Guestrow in Aberdeen before going to Dundee in April 1873 after which there are no further entries for him.

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...