Thursday, September 24, 2020

Margaret McDonald or Ross - A Resident of the Gallowgate

Margaret McDonald or Ross was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude for theft on the 14th July 1869. Margaret committed her crimes in Perth and it was there, at the High Court, that she was tried. The Perthshire Advertiser of 16th September reported as follows:

Margaret, alias Elizabeth, McDonald or Ross, was charged with several acts of theft, the articles stolen being clothing and jewellery from houses in and around Perth between July and August of the present year. Two previous convictions for theft were libelled against the accused. Ross pleaded guilty and Lord Cowan sentenced her to eight years' penal servitude.

From the 1871 census we know that Margaret served her sentence in Ayr prison, and in common with several other criminals featured in this blog, she was originally born in Ireland. Her occupation is given as a "sewer", and she is noted as married. However, her trial papers, held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh under the reference JC26/1869/58, state that she was in fact a widow, her husband, William Ross, a carter from Perth, having died prior to 1869. Another detail on the trial papers reads that she "cannot write at present".

What drew Margaret to Aberdeen on her release in May 1876 is not known, although it may well be that she had contacts in the city, quite possibly fellow Irish emigrants. Between May and August of that year she reported to the police on four occasions (see image below) giving her address on the first occasion as 9 Porthill Close, which was situated just off the Gallowgate, and on the other occasions she was living at 107 Gallowgate.

Monday, September 21, 2020

John McDonald - "Reported while drunk"


The vast majority of the criminals to feature in the blog thus far have been habitual and repetitive thieves, together with a couple of individuals convicted of culpable homicide. However, John McDonald is noteworthy in having been convicted of horse and cattle stealing on the 29th November 1869, a crime for which he was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude.

His trial was held at the High Court in Aberdeen and was reported in the Press & Journal of 1st December 1869 as follows:

At the High Court of Justiciary on Monday, John McDonald pleaded guilty to having stolen a horse from a stable in Harbour Street, Nairn, and a cow, the property of Mr. Robert Cowie, Windyhill, Chapel of Garioch, from the market stance of Cornhill, parish of Ordiquhill, in the County of Banff. He was sentenced to eight years' penal servitude. 

 Released on licence on 30th March 1876 with approximately eighteen months of his sentence still to go, John McDonald's entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" (below) is unusual in that no residence address is given. Indeed, it would appear that John's rehabilitation went awry almost immediately as on the 1st April 1876 he "Reported [to the police] while drunk", and then on the 3rd April he was "Apprehended for housebreaking and theft".

Monday, September 14, 2020

George Robertson - a resident of Justice Street following a theft near Old Deer

There is a certain irony in the fact that George Robertson lived at a couple of addresses on Justice Street in Aberdeen in the months immediately following his release from prison on licence in February 1876. From this date until July 1877 the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see image at foot of page) reveals that he reported to the police on a monthly basis and that during this time he also lived at addresses at 11 Longacre, a street that no longer exists but which ran adjacent to the east side of Marischal College, and at 61 Broad Street.

Situated just off the Castlegate, Justice Street was a busy thoroughfare and, as the entry from the Post Office Directory for 1876-77 below shows, at the time George Robertson was resident there it was home to a population with a diverse range of occupations.

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

The crime for which George Robertson was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude was committed not in Aberdeen but on the road that leads between Old Deer and Maud. As the Dundee Courier of the 10th September 1870 reported:

George Robertson was charged with theft, in so far as on the 20th July, on the road leading from Old Deer to New Maud, he stole from the person of Alexander Mutch junr., New Deer, a bank note for £5. Five previous convictions for theft were recorded against the prisoner. He pleaded not guilty and a jury was empanelled. He was defended by Mr. Begg. After evidence had been led, the jury unanimously found the prisoner guilty as libelled. Lord Cowan gave the sentence of the court - seven years' penal servitude.

With George Robertson being a fairly common name, it has been impossible to identify our man with any degree of certainty on any of the census returns for 1861, 1871 or 1881. However, we do know from another newspaper report that prior to his trial George was held in prison at Peterhead and that the offence took place at the Aikey Fair market near Old Deer.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

David Todd - An Alleged Murder on Castle Terrace, Aberdeen.


When he was 8 years old, David Todd lived at Collie's Court, just off the west side of Shiprow in Aberdeen. The 1861 census shows him at the address with his two brothers, William and James, who were both 'comb-makers', and a sister, Jane, who was a 'worsted bobbin filler'. The occupation of their father, originally from King Edward, is not given, but their mother, Isabella, was a 'flax dresser'.

Move forward ten years to the 1871 census and David is to be found as an inmate of H.M. General Prison, Perth, his occupation given as a 'shoemaker'. The reason why he ended up there is to be found in a report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 14th September 1870 under the headline "ALLEGED MURDER", the trial having taken place exactly 150 years ago today, on the 9th September 1870:

"David Todd was charged with the crime of murder, in so far as, on the 28th April, 1870, in Castle Terrace, the said David Todd did attack and assault James Watson, boilermaker, now deceased, then residing in Albion Street, and did with a knife, or some other sharp or cutting instrument, stab or wound the said James Watson on the neck, whereby he was mortally injured, and in consequence died, and was thus murdered.

Mr Keir appeared on his behalf and tended a plea of guilty of culpable homicide. The Advocate-Depute accepted the plea.

Mr Keir stated on behalf of the prisoner that the wound was inflicted in the course of a violent struggle between the prisoner and the deceased, James Watson. That in that struggle the deceased was the aggressor, although without a weapon and that the prisoner was put upon his self defence. Mr. Keir then read two certificates, one from Todd's employers, Messrs. McPherson, comb manufacturers, and one from Mr. Smart, Police Commissioner, both of a satisfactory nature. Mr. Keir further noticed that the prisoner had been in prison since the month of April, and in the whole circumstances of the case the ends of justice would be met by their Lordships imposing a very lenient sentence. 

Lord Cowan in passing sentence, adverted to the heinousness of the crime with which the prisoner was charged, the sentence on conviction being necessarily a capital one. It was well, however, that he had been well advised, and that the Advocate-Depute had accepted the plea of culpable homicide, which was one that implied various degrees of guilt. There no doubt was a quarrel, and the prisoner was placed on his defence, but it was not implied that his life was in danger, the other man being without a weapon. His Lordship then spoke strongly against the practice of using a knife in quarrels of that kind; it was not legal and would not be tolerated in the administration of justice. The sentence of the court is Seven Years' Penal Servitude".

Comparisons can be drawn from this article with the debate that rages today around knife crime. It is also interesting to note that the sentence of seven years' penal servitude that was handed down to David Todd is the same as that given to petty but habitual criminals that have featured in previous editions of this blog. 

His entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (at the foot of the page) shows that David Todd was released from prison on licence after serving around six-and-a-half years of his sentence. From February 1876 through to the expiry of his sentence in September 1877, Todd reports to the police on a monthly basis, giving his address as 41 Jack's Brae.

Jack's Brae, Aberdeen, early 20th century.

By the time of the 1881 census, David Todd is to be found living with his mother at number 36 The Spittal. It would appear that David's father had died in the intervening period as his mother is described as an 'annuitant'. As for David himself, he is unmarried and his occupation given as a 'comb-maker', possibly employed, like many others at the time, at the Aberdeen Combworks on nearby Hutcheon Street.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

James Stewart - "The verdict was received with slight hisses from the back of the court"

After his discharge in November 1875, the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen records that James Stewart, who had been sentenced to seven years penal servitude in April 1870 for the theft of a vest, lived at 5 Berry Lane, near Spring Garden, Aberdeen, until at least the expiry of his sentence in April 1877.

Map Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland
Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St Clements, East, West, North & South) 
Survey date: 1864 to 1867   Publication date: 1869

He was 45 years of age when his photograph was taken and 5 feet 3½ inches tall. What hair he had on his head was described as 'sandy' and he had blue eyes. Among his other distinguishing features were that he "wants upper front tooth, blue spot on right breast, front of body hairy".

The 'Press & Journal' of 4th May 1870 contains a brief report of his trial:

James Stewart, a habit and repute thief, who has been previously convicted of theft, pleaded not guilty to a charge of stealing, on the 18th of March, from the person of Robert Forrest, plasterer, a cloth vest, but after evidence had been led, he was convicted and sentenced to Seven Years Penal Servitude. The verdict was received with slight hisses from the back of the court.

From this newspaper report it is evident that Isabella Sievewright, otherwise known as "The Butterfly", who has previously featured in this blog, was tried for one of her many crimes just prior to James Stewart's appearance in court. Unlike Isabella, however, it has not been possible to locate James Stewart on any of the census returns so additional information about him remains scanty.

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...