Friday, August 28, 2020

William Auld - "Belongs to Peterhead"...and Fraserburgh too!

 At the age of 62 on his discharge in August 1875, William Auld is the oldest male convict to feature in the Criminal Portraits blog so far. The Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, in which his mugshot is pasted, also reveals that he was five feet two-and-a-half inches tall, had a "ruddy" complexion, grey hair and blue eyes and that he "Belongs to Peterhead". While his connection to the "Blue Toon" may have been true for part of his life, he also had a connection with Fraserburgh, as disclosed by The Dundee Advertiser of the 1st May 1866:


William Auld (54) from Aberdeen, was charged with this crime in so far as (1) on the 11th or 12th of November 1865, he broke into the premises at Fish-Cross Street, Fraserburgh, occupied by George Hay, tailor and clothier, and did steal therefrom 10 yards pilot cloth, 1½ yards black cloth, 4 yards tweed, 2½ yards doeskin, 10 woollen caps, 3 cloth caps, a cloth hat, and several remnants of black and doeskin cloth; (2) on the 18th or 19th November, he did break into and enter the premises in Back Street, Fraserburgh, occupied by Jane Kerr or Annand, and did steal 5 oz. of tobacco; 2s. 6d. in silver, and 2s. 1d. in copper money. Auld had been twice previously convicted before the Circuit at Aberdeen, and once before the Sheriff at Peterhead. The accused pled guilty and was sentenced by Lord Ardmillan, to ten years' penal servitude. 

The severity of the sentence is a reflection of the dim view that the judicial system of the time took towards repeated and habitual theft. Following his discharge in 1875, Auld lived for a short time at 45 Guestrow, otherwise known as the Victoria Lodging House (now Provost Skene's House). Later in the August of 1875 a note records that he had gone "To Fraserburgh" which he appears to have made his home as on the 1881 census he is to be found, aged 69, living at a boarding house at 3 Cross Street, his occupation being that of a shoemaker.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Rosina McKenzie - "Assault and Robbery by Two Sisters"


A note in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen states that Rosina McKenzie "Hails from Edinburgh". Although her crime was most definitely committed there, the 1871 census, where Rosina is to be found incarcerated in the prison at Ayr, reveals that her birthplace was not Edinburgh but Peebles and that she was an unmarried mill worker employed in a flax mill.

She was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude in February 1870 for a crime committed just off the Royal Mile on the 23rd December 1869. The Scotsman of 22nd February 1870 reported her trial under the headline, "Assault and Robbery by Two Sisters":

"Christina McKenzie and Rosina McKenzie, two sisters and known to be reputed thieves were accused of assaulting Mary Ann Robertson Miller, residing with Robert Miller, cabinetmaker, Drumdryan Street, Edinburgh, and robbing her of a leather purse and bead purse containing the sum of £3 5s. 1½d., also a parcel containing a wincey skirt and apron on the 23rd December 1869.

The prisoners pleaded not guilty and the case went to trial. Mr Melville conducted the case for the defence.

Mary Ann Robertson Miller deponed that she left the City Police Office between 11 and 12 o'clock on Thursday 23rd December last, and was met by the prisoners in High Street. Witness expressed herself to the prisoners that she felt very unwell, and they advised her to take something.

His LORDSHIP - By something I suppose they meant spirits?

Witness - Yes. Witness and prisoners went into Hamilton's public house in High Street and had three glasses of toddy. Witness paid for the liquor with a shilling she took out of her purse. The prisoners afterwards decoyed her to their own house in Dickson's Close. Witness was very unwilling to go but ultimately she went along with the prisoners. When witness entered the prisoners' house she saw no one in it. She had not been more than five minutes in the house when the prisoner Rosina McKenzie rushed out of a room, seized hold of witness by her arm, and forced her purse out of her hand. Christina stood behind her, and assisted Rosina to take the purse from her. Witness also had a parcel containing a wincey skirt and apron, which was likewise stolen from her by the prisoners. She cried, "Murder" and "Save my life". The prisoners after robbing her of her purse and parcel left the house, and witness attempted to follow, but was prevented from leaving the house by two girls named Coyne and Purves, who were in the house". 

The locations mentioned in the newspaper report will be familiar to anyone with a knowledge of Edinburgh, particularly the Royal Mile. Indeed, the entrance to Dickson's Close, where the assault and robbery took place, now forms part of the reception of the Radisson Blu Hotel, just down from the Tron Kirk.

Why Rosina went to Aberdeen on her discharge from prison in July 1875 is not known. Initially she stayed at the Victoria Lodging House on Guestrow, now  known as Provost Skene's House, after which she moved to an address on Park Street. In September of that same year, she found herself in trouble once more, with the Register of Returned Convicts recording that she was again "Committed for Theft" (see image at bottom of page).

Although it hasn't been possible to locate a newspaper report of this second trial, it is almost certain that Rosina was sentenced to a further seven years' penal servitude for this crime, and that she served this sentence at H.M. General Prison, Perth. The reason for believing this is that she is noted as being incarcerated there on the 1881 census, while her mugshot (below) appears in a register of convicts released from Perth prison which is also held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives. The card alongside her image provides both the date (7th April 1876) and length of her sentence, as well as the fact that she was tried at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen.


Rosina was liberated from Perth prison in July 1883, with her intended residence being her old haunt of Edinburgh.


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Isabella McLaren or Sievewright - "The Butterfly" from Turriff


Of the 250 or so individuals featured in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, Isabella McLaren, or Sievewright, is the only one where a nickname is specified. Her moniker of "The Butterfly" would suggest that she fluttered gracefully from one crime to the next. However, her long list of well over 30 convictions, together with the newspaper reports of her various court appearances, hint at a nickname laced with irony.

Her many crimes, coupled with a slightly unusual surname, mean that further details about Isabella readily emerge from the newspaper reports of the time, making it much easier to paint a picture of her eventful and ultimately tragic life.

At the time of the 1871 census, Isabella was serving a sentence at the prison in Ayr. The census enumerator noted that she was born in Turriff around 1838, and we know from her death certificate of 1898 that her parents had been crofters, William and Isabella McLaren. Our Isabella married a William Sievewright, a farm servant, at Cairnie, near Huntly, in November 1854. However the marriage did not last: William was prosecuted for bigamy and sentenced to three months imprisonment for marrying an Isabella Duncan in November 1866 while his first marriage was still subsisting.

Given the social structures that existed within Victorian Scotland, a working class woman who lost the support of her husband in this way would have almost certainly have been consigned to a period of financial insecurity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is around this time that Isabella appears to really go off the rails, with reports of her petty thieving appearing with greater frequency in the newspapers. Under the title, "The Butterfly Creates a Scene", the Aberdeen Free Press of the 30th November 1869 ran the following report which conveys something of Isabella's character:

"Isabella McLaren or Sievewright, better known as "The Butterfly", who puts in frequent appearances at the Police Court, was charged with having committed a breach of the peace on the 29th, in a house in Mackay's Court, Gallowgate, the offence having been aggravated by 30 previous convictions since 1860. Prisoner pleaded not guilty and evidence of the most conclusive character was then given. Sievewright then called a witness for the defence and proceeded to ask some incoherent questions at him, although to what effect could not be heard. The answer was shouted out, "It's a lie! It's a lie!". Prisoner, who had gradually been nearing the witness, and was now close beside him, here stamped with rage, and actually yelled out an avalanche of Billingsgate, and in the excess of her vehemence and passion and before anyone could divine her intention, she seized the unfortunate witness with both hands by the whiskers, and tugged away fiercely, and then to vary the performance somewhat, still retaining hold of the whiskers with one hand, she planted the other amongst the hair of his head, and tore out a few handfuls, stamping with positive rage and fury all the time. Immediately there was a rush of policemen and spectators to the spot, and a speedy clambering over benches, but it was not without some difficulty that the prisoner was separated from the witness. The Fiscal...[said that]...such an offence he had not seen before any court and he would have to report it to the crown. Sievewright was sent to jail for sixty days".

During the 1870s and 1880s, Isabella makes further court appearances for crimes committed in Aberdeen, Huntly and Dundee. In 1891 the Aberdeen Press and Journal reports that she was involved in a breach of the peace at New Pitsligo in which she is described as having "no fixed place of residence". From this report and others it is also evident that Isabella was an alcoholic which may well have played a part in her death in 1898 when she drowned in Peterhead harbour. The Dundee Advertiser of 6th September 1898 reported the incident as follows:

"An unfortunate drowning accident occurred at Peterhead late on Saturday night. A South Firth fisherman named Alexander Lawrie saw a woman fall off Birnies Pier, and seeing her struggling in the water he made strenuous efforts to save her. The young man could hardly keep the woman's head above water, and the consequences might have been serious to himself had not a Coastguardsman named Gillard gone to his assistance. The woman was with difficulty got on the quay, but all efforts to restore animation were unavailing. The body was identified as that of Isabella McLaren or Sievewright, widow, aged 66 years of age. How she fell into the water is unknown".


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Mary Cameron or Davidson - A Theft of £86 From Alexander Smith at the 'Banks of Ythan Inn', Queen Street, Aberdeen

One of the most striking features about this Criminal Portrait is the sum of money  (£86) that Mary Cameron was found guilty of stealing from Alexander Smith, a gardener, on 4th January 1871 when he was waiting for a cab, somewhat the worse for wear, at a public house called the 'Banks of Ythan Inn' which was situated on Queen Street in Aberdeen. Using an online inflation calculator, £86 in 1871 equates to over £10,000 today - an astonishing amount of cash to have about your person in the pub.

Mary stood trial alongside her husband James Davidson. While she was accused of the more serious crime of theft, he was charged with 'reset', defined as being privy to the retention of dishonestly obtained property. Both of them pleaded not guilty, and a lengthy account of the court's deliberations appears in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 26th April 1871, including Alexander Smith's account of how he came to be robbed:

Alex. Smith identified the pocket book in which he had had the money, and stated the circumstances under which his pocket was picked. He had been in various public houses during the day. He had it in his pocket after leaving a house in the Netherkirkgate about four o'clock. He went from that to the Banks of Ythan Inn. He was not aware of seeing anyone about the door. His intention was to get a cab to drive him home, as the night was stormy. When in a room waiting for the cab, the female prisoner came in and sat down. He had something to drink and although he was not very drunk he fell asleep. When he awoke there was no one in the room. He was almost insensible then and Mrs. Glennie [an employee at the inn] sent for a cab, put him in it and had him driven home. When he felt for his pocket book and found it in his pocket, he did not look into it then, but in doing so next morning, he found that all the money had gone...In cross-examination the witness said the woman did not propose to sleep with him all night. He should be very sorry to sleep with her or any other one. (Laughter). He gave her no money, he had no idea what she wanted, but he found out that she had told Mrs. Glennie that she knew him.

The report of the trial further reveals that Mary Cameron and her husband lived just off West North Street in Rettie's Court, where, "A great quantity of new goods were found in the house - bed clothes, wearing apparel, cooking utensils and sundry other articles". Several witnesses attest to seeing Mary Cameron purchase items with £5 notes which they considered unusual because although they, "had never heard anything bad about her, she always appeared destitute".

Although Mary Cameron maintained that she had received the money as a present, and testaments of good conduct were produced on behalf of James Davidson written by the captains of the ships on which he had served, they were both found guilty. Mary was sentenced to five years' penal servitude and James to one year in prison.

The trial had taken place on the 19th April 1871. With the census that year having been taken on the 2nd April, Mary would have been waiting on her court appearance and indeed is noted as being held at Aberdeen Prison on Lodge Walk, aged 30, with her place of birth given as Inverness. Following her release in August 1874 she lived for at least a couple of months on the Gallowgate.

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...