Monday, June 29, 2020

Ann Sutherland - "She went away to her cell with an air as light and jaunty as if she had been setting out to her wedding! Poor thing!"

The quotation in the title of this blog is taken from the report of Ann Sutherland's trial of 15th April 1869 which appears in the Buchan Observer and East Aberdeenshire Advertiser of 23rd April 1869. The reporter's purple prose hints at the contempt with which habitual thieves were viewed at the time.

The Aberdeen Press and Journal of 21st April 1869 provides a more objective report of the proceedings:

"Ann Sutherland (49), was accused of two acts of theft - (1) in January last, two pieces of muslin, pair of wincey sleeves, pair of scissors, etc., etc., the property of John Mitchell, governor of Stonehaven prison, the theft having been committed in or near the prison of Stonehaven; also a waist belt with clasps, a jet brooch, and a metal brooch, belonging to Jessie Smith, then a prisoner in Stonehaven prison; (2) stealing a cap and a towel from a house in Market Lane, New Town of Stonehaven. The prisoner pleaded not guilty. She was defended by Mr. Melville. Evidence was briefly led on both charges. It appeared that the prisoner, very shortly after her release from prison, had got drunk and required the attention of the police, when the charges of theft were at once preferred against her. A long string of convictions for theft from Glasgow, Perth and Fife were proved against the prisoner. The jury unanimously found Sutherland guilty as libelled. Lord Jerviswoode said the prisoner was a melancholy example, apparently, of a hopeless determined thief. The sentence, a lenient one in the circumstances, would be penal servitude for seven years".

The 1871 census, when we find Ann incarcerated in HM General Prison, Perth, helps provide a little more information about her background: she is described as a widow with her occupation given as a "hawker" with her birthplace noted as Glasgow. It would appear that her situation had deteriorated in the preceding decade as the 1861 census reveals that she was at that time a domestic servant living in a household with a family and a number of lodgers described as "cotton weavers" on Green Street, Calton, Bridgeton, between the Trongate and the Gallowgate in Glasgow.

On her discharge from prison in December 1873, Ann Sutherland was required to report to the police in Aberdeen (see image below). Along with her alias of Rose Ann Ferrier or Sutherland, diminutive stature and distinguishing marks, it is interesting to note that she stayed for a short spell of time at 45 Guestrow, otherwise known as the Victoria Lodging House (now Provost Skene's House). It was a stay of less than a week as on the 23rd December 1873 she had gone "to Dundee".

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

William Philip - "The prisoner met him in Loch Street...and asked him for a dram"

The brief details that accompany the image of William Philip in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen include the he, "wants one front upper tooth and several double ones". Bearing in mind that he was only 28 years old on his discharge in September 1873, this hints at his poor state of dental health. The relatively high cost of treatment at the time, coupled with the small number of practitioners, meant that dental pain and tooth loss was a fact of life for most working class people. The diet that he would have endured in prison, a large proportion of which would likely have been gruel, would not have helped matters. In common with the other individuals featured in this blog, his stature (of five feet five-and-a-half inches) was small by today’s standards, something which was symptomatic of poor nutrition, and a subject to which we shall return to in future blog entries. 

Accused of theft, William Philip was tried on the the 17th April 1868. The Dundee Advertiser of the following day reported the case as follows,

"William Philip, from Aberdeen Jail, was charged with having stolen a purse containing 12s.6d. from the person of Robert Stronach, carter, Jack's Brae - the theft being committed in Loch Street, on Saturday 15th February 1868. Philip was libelled as a habit and repute thief, and two convictions for theft (both before the Sheriff and a jury in Aberdeen) were recorded against him. The prisoner pleaded not guilty. The evidence showed that Stronach received 15s. of wages on the date libelled. He spent some money on drink, but was sensible. The prisoner met him in Loch Street before eleven o'clock in the evening, and asked him for a dram. The prisoner then picked Stronach's pocket and ran away, but was almost immediately apprehended. The purse and the money were found on the Green, in Jopp's Lane, along which the prisoner had run. The jury unanimously found the prisoner guilty as libelled, and he was sentenced to seven year's penal servitude". 

After his discharge in 1873, it wasn't long before William Philip "Went to Dundee". For a brief period during September of that year he had temporary lodgings at 9 Exchequer Row in Aberdeen. According to the Post Office Directory for Aberdeen covering 1873/74 this address was also home to a Daniel McDougall, a slater, and James Black, a hairdresser who worked from premises on the Netherkirkgate. 


Monday, June 15, 2020

Jane Clark or Robertson - "she was deserted by her husband, and left entirely destitute"

To be a working class, single woman in Victorian Scotland was often to court precarious financial circumstances. Jane Clark, at the time a domestic servant, had married Robert Robertson, a mason, in Perth on 29th December 1865. Whatever went wrong in their relationship, Jane found herself single by November 1868 when she was arrested for stealing several armfuls of blankets and other items from a house in Dundee. As The Dundee Advertiser of 9th April 1869 reported, 

"Jane Clark or Robertson was charged with having, on the 27th or 28th of November last, entered the dwelling house on South Tay Street occupied by Margaret McPherson or Lindsay, widow, by breaking a pane of glass in the window and having thereafter undone a sneck by which the door was fastened, and having thus gained entrance to the house, stole a bed-cover, a double blanket, two half-blankets, and a sheet, the property of Margaret McPherson or Lindsay; and also four coats, a pair of trousers and two vests, the property of August Arnold, teacher of music, residing with Margaret McPherson or Lindsay. The accused pleaded guilty".

"Mr. J.C. Smith, for the prisoner, stated that she was a person of somewhat simple intellect - that was to say that she was easily deceived and misled and had been unfortunate on that account. At the time she committed this offence she was deserted by her husband, and left entirely destitute. She fell into the company of two women who pawned some of the articles for her. They were bad characters, probably worse than the prisoner herself, and they induced her to become the active party in committing the theft to which she has pleaded guilty. She had been convicted before the Circuit Court in 1859, but that was ten years ago. She had evidently had other means of acquiring a livelihood than stealing, for there had been no serious convictions since 1859".

Sentencing Jane Clark to seven years' penal servitude, the judge mentions this earlier conviction, before the Aberdeen Circuit Court, as an aggravating factor. She evidently had some connection to the city and it is to Aberdeen that she went on her discharge in December 1873, when her picture was taken and pasted into the Register of Returned Convicts.

Between December 1873 and February 1874, Jane is noted as living at number 63, The Green, which was then a bustling area with bakers, a basket maker and a fish curers in close proximity, not to mention the large textile mill of Hadden's just around the corner. From information within the Post Office Directory of 1873-1874, it looks like Jane may have rented one of the rooms at this address, located directly opposite the Back Wynd Stairs.

Map Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Aberdeen
Sheet LXXV.11.18
Surveyed 1867 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

George Mackay - "A Shepherd Accused of Murder"

In September 1868 George Mackay was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude for the crime of culpable homicide. He only served half of this sentence, being released on licence in September 1873 when this picture was pasted into the the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen. Mackay's connection to the north east of Scotland is not immediately apparent, with the crime having taken place at Glenlyon, near Aberfeldy in Perthshire. The Dundee Courier of the 18th September 1868 outlined the case under the sensational headline of "A Shepherd Accused of Murder":

"George Mackay, forty-two years of age, a shepherd, residing at Glenlyon House, who was charged with the crime of murder, in so far as, on the night of the 26th, or the morning of the 27th day of June, on the public road leading from Fortingall to Kenmore, at a part about 836 yards east from the public house at Croftgarrow, occupied by Robert Stewart, publican, he did assault John McMartin, farm servant, son of Archibald McMartin, farmer and miller, Balnald, and did strike him with his fists, and stab him twice on the left side of the chest with a knife or other sharp implement, whereby he was mortally injurred".

One of the witnesses who appeared in court was Archibald McMartin:

"The deceased, John McMartin, was my son...I remember the evening of Friday 26th June. I went to Acharn that day, and returned in the night in company of David Morris, miller. In coming home, when about a quarter of a mile from my own house, the miller pointed to something on the road, and asked, "what is that?" I jumped at once to the spot and exclaimed, "that is my son". He was lying on his knees, with his head on the ground. He was quite insensible. This was a little after one o'clock in the morning and it was raining heavily. I left Morris with my son and went home for help...On the Saturday morning between nine and ten o'clock, my son was quite sensible and continued so until nine o'clock on Monday evening when he died. On the Saturday I asked him repeatedly how he had been hurt and he told me "that Mackay did it". In answer to my questions he said that as he was coming home  Mackay began to show him "science" with a stick, and boasted that he could thrash any man in Perthshire. Mackay continued his exercises and frequently struck my son with the stick, till, the blows having become harder and harder, he turned about and faced him with the intention of resenting the blows. Mackay however, struck him a blow on the breast with his fist, knocking him down, and at the same time exclaiming, "You ----, I'll kill you". My son got up and caught hold of Mackay by the breast of his coat and put him off his feet; and while they were both on the ground the prisoner took a knife out of his pocket, my son seized hold of Mackay's hand, but he opened the knife with his teeth, and plunged the blade several times into his side. He cried, "George, you have killed me altogether now", but Mackay gave him another stab after that. He recollected that Mackay then turned and kicked him on the breast, and he afterwards became insensible".   

The testimony of George Mackay tells a different version of events in which McMartin's grievance against a local gamekeeper, James Robertson, plays a part:

"I was going home with John McMartin from Croftgarrow Inn. On the way, McMartin wanted to turn back and get hold of Robertson, threatening in Gaelic, "to tear his entrails out". I kept him from going back, but no blows were exchanged. We walked about fifty yards further, when McMartin again struggled to get away and hit me when I tried to prevent him. He caught hold of my tartan neckerchief, as I was in danger of being choked. At this time we fell to the ground, McMartin's head striking on a paling. Mackay cried and swore, and I was not aware he had been stabbed. He did not say he was stabbed. We both got up and as he was threatening me, I ran off and left him and went home to my bed". 

The witnesses for the defence make much of Mackay's good character which was ultimately pivotal in the decision to find him guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide rather than murder. Crucially, doubt was also cast on the version of events said to have been recounted by the deceased who was under the influence of drink at the time of the incident,

"...coming as they did through the strained channel of his relatives, one of whom at least - the man's father - had frequently expressed his wish to see the prisoner hanged". 

So, what of George Mackay's connection to the Aberdeen area? Agricultural workers were a fairly fluid workforce during the latter half of the nineteenth century, with single men like Mackay content to travel to where they could find employment. A clue appears in the newspaper report when one of the witnesses states, 

"I was twelve months with the prisoner in Aberdeenshire before I came to Glenlyon House. He was always very kind and obliging".

Armed with this nugget of information, it was possible to locate George Mackay aged 35 on the 1861 census at the farm of Mains of Tullo between Oldmeldrum and Fyvie, where he is listed as 'unmarried' and his occupation as that of 'shepherd'. With a name like Mackay it is perhaps unsurprising that his place of birth is listed as Creich, a parish on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, in Sutherland.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mary Barclay - "an old, grey haired woman, attired in a black shawl and white mutch"

Mary Barclay, aged 72 years on her discharge on the 23rd May 1874, is the oldest person to feature in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen. Census data reveals that she was originally from Huntly, and must have been drawn to Aberdeen, like so many other country-dwellers at the time, with the hope of finding employment. The 1861 census notes that she is a "sick nurse" while the 1871 and 1881 returns give her occupation as that of a "domestic servant". Coincidentally, the 1861 census gives her address as Lobban's Court, just off the Castlegate (see map below) which is where the theft took place which subsequently saw her imprisoned in HM General Prison, Perth between 1868 and 1874.

A syndicated report in the Dundee Courier of 24th September 1868 stated that, "Mary Barclay, was charged with the theft of a pair of blankets from the house in Lobban's Court, Castle Street, occupied by John Strachan, blacksmith, on the 22nd April. There were the aggravations of three previous convictions, for theft, before the Police Court of Aberdeen, two convictions before the Sheriff Court of Aberdeenshire - once with a jury, and two convictions before the Circuit Court at Aberdeen, on 25th April 1855 and on 24th April 1862. The prisoner, an old, grey haired woman, attired in a black shawl and white mutch, and looking exceedingly pale and sickly, pleaded guilty".

The nature of Mary's crime hints at the poverty in which she must have been living while the list of previous convictions would doubtless have counted against her when trying to find gainful employment. Following her discharge, Mary's addresses are given as 76 Queen Street and 45 Guestrow, the latter being the corporation lodging house. Despite of her 'colourful' life Mary Barclay lived to a ripe old-age: she is still in Aberdeen by the time of the 1881 census, aged 78.

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

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...