Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Ann Riddell or Pitcairn - The Habitual Criminal, Originally from Oldmeldrum

Ann Riddell was sentenced to seven years penal servitude on the 17th April 1868. She had stolen several items of clothing, although her crime was viewed as more serious because of a string of previous convictions, as mentioned in the brief report of the trial in the Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin Review of the 24th April:

"The first case called was that of Ann Riddell or Pitcairn for three acts of theft of wearing apparel in town in October and November last. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, her case being aggravated by six previous convictions"

On the 1871 census, Ann is to be found at HM General Prison, Perth, using the surname of Pitcairn, aged 41, her date of birth given as 1830, birthplace being Oldmeldrum and her occupation that of a "washer". A number of other female criminals who feature in this blog were also present in Perth prison at the time of the 1871 census, so they must have known one another. 

On her discharge from jail in July 1874, the Register for Returned Convicts tells us that Ann Riddell lived for a time at 10 Guestrow and then at Farquhar's Court, off the Upperkirkgate, in Aberdeen.


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Jane Wotherspoon or McIntyre - "An Accomplished Female Scamp"

Jane Wotherspoon or McIntyre was tried for forgery and fraud at the High Court in Edinburgh on the 31st May 1869. The seriousness of her list of crimes meant that the case was reported far-and-wide, with the Sheffield Independent calling her "an accomplished female scamp". The report goes on to say,

"Jane Wotherspoon or McIntyre was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude for theft of a cheque book; forgery of a cheque, which she uttered; for receiving money on false pretences when travelling as the daughter of one minister and the niece of another; and also with theft of jewellery and wearing apparel from a widow in Kirkcaldy, who, deceived by her representations as to being on a collecting tour for receiving subscriptions for the Palestine Exploring Fund, had taken her in and fed her".

The scant details in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen state that after her discharge from jail at the age of 26 in February 1874, she lived for a brief period alongside the harbour at 52 Regent Quay.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Helen Bremner - "The prisoner was not, to all appearances, the worse of drink when she sold me the sheet, but she looked a little stupid".

The sentence of seven years penal servitude that was handed to Helen Bremner on 20th April 1869 at the Inverness Circuit Court appears incredibly harsh for stealing a sheet from a clothes line. However, the judicial system of the time took a very dim view of habitual criminals, something which the presiding judge, Lord Jerviswoode, reflected on in his closing remarks as reported in the Elgin Courant and Morayshire Advertiser of the 23rd April 1869:

"It is a distressing case to see a person of your years at the bar on such a charge. I am afraid, looking at your past history, which has certainly been anything but satisfactory, penal servitude is the least we can give. It is no doubt a serious thing to impose another sentence of penal servitude on a person of your years, but the punishment has two objects. The first object is to deter others from committing such offences, and the second is to prevent you, should you see the period of sentence expire - which we can hardly expect, however, it will do - from stealing again".

 A native of Forres, Helen Bremner had four previous convictions for theft between 1857 and 1860, three of which had been dealt with by Elgin Sheriff Court and the fourth by the High Court in Inverness. When she appeared before the court in 1869 her defence was simply that she was drunk when the crime was committed and could not remember anything about the evening  in question. While a couple of witnesses confirm that she had indeed bought whisky on the 30th October 1868, the evidence of Christina Mackenzie proved conclusive: she confirmed that she had bought a (slightly damp) sheet from Helen Bremner for a shilling that evening, and while she may have "looked a little stupid", Bremner had not been drunk.

Following her discharge in December 1873, aged 58, Helen Bremner lived at 9 Princes Street, Aberdeen, for around three months. Why she chose to come to Aberdeen after her release from prison is not known, although it is quite possible that she had family connections in the city.

The Post Office Directory for Aberdeen covering 1873-74 suggests that Princes Street, which runs parallel to Frederick Street, joining King Street and Park Street, was a fairly diverse neighbourhood. A tobacconist, A. Ruddiman, ran a business from the same address that Helen Bremner lived at, so she may well have had lodgings above or adjacent to the shop. Other businesses on the street included a stabler, a leather merchant, a builder, a music teacher and a shoemaker.

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

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...