Monday, November 30, 2020

Grace McIntosh or Masters - The Habitual Thief With A Husband in Australia

Grace McIntosh or Masters was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude on the 5th April 1875. The original trial papers (JC26/1875/7) are kept at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh in a series of records known as the "High Court of Justiciary Processes". Among the details provided about Grace McIntosh are that she was unable to write and that she was the wife of an Aaron McIntosh, described as a "copper-miner in Melbourne Australia". In the absence of a marriage record it has not been possible to pin-down where or when Grace and Aaron got married. However, Grace does appear on the 1861 census as a prisoner at H.M. General Prison, Perth, where she was serving a six year sentence for a crime committed in 1855. She is listed as married on that census while her occupation is given as a "hawker". 

Like many of the other individuals who have featured in this blog, Grace was a habit and repute thief. The report of her conviction in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 7th April 1875 mentions her previous brushes with the law:

"Grace McIntosh or Masters and Mary Buchan or Murray were charged with theft in so far as on the 16th December last, in a house on Rettie's Court, West North Street, Aberdeen, occupied by Murray, they stole from the person of James Grant, flesher, residing in Union Lane, Aberdeen, three £5 notes, nine £1 notes thirteen half-sovereigns, and a piece of silk cloth. Both prisoners were alleged to be habit and repute thieves, and against Masters, three previous convictions for theft were libelled - obtained before the Aberdeen Circuit Court on 23rd April 1844, 19th April 1855 and 22nd April 1864 respectively. Both panels pleaded guilty, and were sentenced, Masters to seven years' penal servitude and Murray to eight months' imprisonment". 

Grace evidently had a somewhat chaotic lifestyle: could this have been a result of her husband going to Australia to find work, thereby leaving her unsupported and struggling to make ends meet, or perhaps he emigrated during one of her stretches in prison?

Either way, the evidence suggests that overtime they became estranged: when she was discharged from prison on the 6th December 1879, Grace initially stayed at the Victoria Lodging House at 45 Guestrow, Aberdeen (now known as Provost Skene's House). Sadly, she must have been in ill heath as her entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" (below) records that during January and early February 1880 she was a patient at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The entry for the 6th February states that she was "Reported Dead".

Grace's death certificate reveals that she in fact passed away on the 4th February and had been suffering from "bronchitis emphysema for several years". The death certificate notes that she was the "widow of..." but the space for her husband's name is left blank.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

James Hunter - The Trouser Thief With a Sweet Tooth and a Weakness for Religious Literature


James Hunter's eyes in the image pasted into the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' fix the viewer with a very direct, almost confrontational, gaze. The details that accompany the photograph convey that he had been sentenced to seven years penal servitude for housebreaking on 28th April 1874. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of the following day carried a report of the trial:

James Hunter, George Mortimer and John Ford were charged with breaking into the premises of Peter Henderson, furnishing tailor, Woolmanhill, on the 5th or 6th of February, by breaking or removing one or more panes of glass, and stealing therefrom four pairs of trousers, and some pieces of cloth etc. The panels are all habit and repute, and Hunter was convicted before a Sheriff and jury in April 1873. Hunter pleaded not guilty and Mortimer and Ford pleaded guilty as libelled. A jury was then empanelled. The jury, after hearing the evidence, found that Hunter was "art and part". He was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, and Mortimer and Ford were sentenced each to twelve months' imprisonment.

James's conviction the previous year meant that he received a significantly harsher sentence than his accomplices. His crime of April 1873 in which he was found guilty of stealing confectionary and a large number of other items from a railway wagon was also reported in the Press & Journal:

Before Sheriff Dove Wilson and a jury on Saturday, James Hunter was charged with having stolen or assisted in stealing from the goods station of the Deeside section of the Great North of Scotland Railway at Aberdeen, on 18th February last, various articles among which were boxes containing about 60lbs. of lozenges and confections, 56lbs of marmalade in tins, two dozen champagne, 14 volumes of religious literature, 35 manuscript sermons, and a variety of other articles

When he was discharged from his seven year sentence, on 10th November 1879, James lived for at least three months at 98 Commerce Street, Aberdeen. The Post Office Directory for that year (below left) lists a horse dealer by the name of George Paterson at that address, so it is more than likely that James found lodgings and possibly employment there too.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter - Her Second Appearance in the Criminal Portraits Blog

Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter is your archetypal 'habitual offender', a term that gained currency in the mid nineteenth century and one which became an accepted part of legal and criminal terminology in the late 1860s. The urgent requirement for surveillance and monitoring of this criminal class in an increasingly urbanised society is one of the reasons why the use of mugshots increased in popularity at this time. Indeed, Elizabeth has the dubious distinction of being the only person whose image appears twice in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen', and is the subject of an earlier post in this blog, which features her mugshot of 1869, the oldest such photograph held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives.

The image of Elizabeth at the top of this page was taken some ten years later, around the time of her discharge in April 1879. In April 1870 she had been sentenced to ten years' penal servitude following her trial before the Circuit Court which was reported in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 4th May 1870:

"Elizabeth Wilson or Baxter was charged with stealing, on Sunday the 2nd day of January 1870, from a house in Berry Lane, Aberdeen, two petticoats, two jackets, and a dress. Baxter, who had been previously convicted and who is a habit and repute thief, pleaded guilty. Mr. Duncan stated on her behalf that, after her last term of imprisonment had expired, Baxter had returned to her friends, but being cast off by them, she fell back into her old courses.

Lord Jerviswoode, in passing sentence, remarked on the fact of the prisoner having already been five times previously convicted, and also stated that the last term of imprisonment for seven years had not yet expired. She had now been at liberty for some time, but instead of mending her ways, she had fallen back on her old courses. The sentence of the Court this time must be even more severe than last. A sentence of ten years' penal servitude was accordingly passed".

A ten year stretch for such petty thieving appears disproportionately harsh by 21st century standards. As the newspaper report conveys, the legal system at the time took a dim view of repeated offending resulting in Elizabeth receiving increasingly lengthy sentences.

Another newspaper report of the 5th January 1870 relating to Elizabeth's arrest reveals that she had spent her previous period of incarceration at H.M. General Prison, Perth. However, at least part of her subsequent ten year sentence was spent at the prison in Ayr, where she appears as an inmate on the 1871 census, aged 40, a widow, her birthplace given as Aberdeen and her occupation as that of a "hawker", i.e. a person who travelled around selling inexpensive goods. 

On her return to Aberdeen in April 1879, she lived at addresses at 9 Porthill Close, which was situated just off the Gallowgate, and 18 Hardweird. This latter address, sometimes written as "Hard Ward" was the site of one of the most notorious slums in Aberdeen, sandwiched between Skene Street to the south and the Upper Denburn on its north side. 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey
Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Old Machar, Greyfriars, St. Clements, East, West, North & South)

There is an image of the Hardweird on the Silver City Vault from which this description of the street also comes:

"Part of old Gilcomston, it resembled a small "ferm toon" standing between the foot of Jack's Brae and Upper Denburn and it consisted of 18th and early 19th century artisan and labourers' housing - a product of the period when Gilcomston had a flourishing weaving industry. One of Aberdeen's worst slums, it was cleared during the early 1930s and the playground of Gilcomstoun Primary School now occupies part of the site".

Elizabeth did not reside at the address for long, and in September of 1879 the register records that she had "Gone to Glasgow". 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

James Walls - The Trouser Thief From Strichen

James Walls stood trial for theft on the 26th April 1872 at the Aberdeen Circuit Court. The case was reported the following day in the Dundee Courier:

"James Walls or Wallas, who had five previous convictions recorded against him, was placed in the dock charged with theft, in so far as (1) he did on the 11th December last, steal from a green at Newseat of Drumbreck, Udny, a pair of trousers and a pair of drawers belonging to Robert Forbes, farm servant, and (2) on the same day or the day after, he stole from a field near Orchardtown, Udny, a pair of trousers and a jacket, belonging to Alexander Paterson, farm servant. Prisoner pleaded guilty. Lord Neaves, in passing sentence, remarked that short periods of imprisonment had done panel no good and he would now try the effect of seven years' penal servitude".

Given the remark in the report regarding James's five previous convictions, it was a fair-bet that James would appear as a prisoner in the 1871 census. Sure enough, on checking this he is listed as an inmate at H.M. General Prison, Perth,  aged 43 his occupation given as a 'labourer', he was unmarried, and his birthplace was Strichen. 

After serving his sentence for the thefts near Udny, James was discharged on licence in October of 1877, aged 50. His entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see image below) records that he lived for at least a while at 19 Loch Street in the city. Accompanying the usual details of height, complexion and colour of hair, the entry records that he had "several moles on breast, sores on right side of neck, varicose veins on both legs, covering the calf". Although we can't be certain, it is quite possible that the sores on the right side of his neck were caused by scrofula, a form of tuberculosis from which Peter Reilly, who features elsewhere in this blog, also suffered.

Friday, November 13, 2020

John McKirran - "A Dishonest Pauper"


John McKirran was a native Aberdonian, growing up on Chapel Street where he appears on the 1841 census aged just 2 years old. He was living with his brother William, then 6 years old, and their parents William, a labourer, and Eliza who were both 30 years of age. William snr.'s occupation indicates that the family were solidly working class. In an era when social mobility was incredibly difficult, it is perhaps no surprise that John's entry in the Register of Returned Convicts (see image at the foot of the page) conveys clues as to a life lived in poverty while the title of the newspaper report of his trial which appears in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 20th September 1871 describes him as "A Dishonest Pauper":

"John McKirran was charged with having, on the 22nd or 23rd March last, stolen a pair of trousers, a coat, a pair of drawers, a shirt and a vest, from the Old Machar Poorhouse, St. Machar Place. McKirran was libelled with three previous convictions before the Aberdeen Police Court in 1860, and one before the Sheriff of Aberdeen in 1863, and three before a Sheriff and a jury at Aberdeen the three following years. Prisoner pleaded guilty. It was stated in his behalf that he was an inmate of the Poorhouse at the time of the theft. He had pawned the clothes and was again lifting them when detected. The Lord Justice-Clerk passed sentence of Penal Servitude for seven years". 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey Aberdeen 1867
Sheet - LXXV.15.7

Following his discharge from prison in February 1877, the Register of Returned Convicts reveals that John McKirran lived at several addresses in Aberdeen during the course of that year. These included Shoe Lane (at "Mrs. Cruickshanks"), the Old Machar Poorhouse where he had stolen from earlier that year, and 45 Guestrow, otherwise known as the Victoria Lodging House. Following his second stint at the Old Machar Poorhouse in September that year, John was again apprehended for theft and further sentenced in November 1877. Incidentally, the register also notes that John had "lost [his] right leg below knee" - given that he was caught so many times, we can only guess that this hindered a more successful life of crime.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Thomas McGregor - "From the Prison of Stonehaven"

Thomas McGregor was tried for housebreaking alongside an accomplice, David Burns, at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen on the 19th April 1871. The 1871 census for Scotland was conducted a little over two weeks earlier, on Sunday 2nd April. A search of the census returns covering Stonehaven lists both men as "prisoners" awaiting their trial at the prison on the High Street, along with nine other prisoners. Thomas, aged 28 and born in Dundee, is listed as a "seaman" while his partner-in-crime, David Burns, is described as a "hawker of hardware". The Stonehaven Journal reported the trial in its edition of the 20th April 1871 - the range of items that the pair stole is mind-boggling, including hymn books, silver cutlery, brandy and a bible:

Thomas McGregor and David Burns, from the prison of Stonehaven, were charged with several acts of housebreaking, individually and while in each other's company. On the 4th March McGregor had entered the dwelling house on the Guestrow, occupied by Colin McKenzie, railway porter, and had stolen therefrom, a silver watch and chain, the property of Neil McKinnon, hawker, resident with said Colin McKenzie. On the 24th February, both prisoners, while in company with each other, broke into the Craigness Cottage, in the parish of Fetteresso, by means of pressing against the kitchen door till they had forcibly destroyed the lock, and having thus obtained entrance, stole the following articles therefrom, the property of Henry Thurburn, now residing at Kingslangley, Watford, Hertfordshire, England - a pair of trousers or knickerbockers, a vest, a coat or jacket, two pairs of stockings, four pairs of socks, a pair of boots, three volumes of "Good Words", a Bible, a hymn book, an inkstand, a blotter or pad, a photograph of Elgin Cathedral, a screwdriver, eight knives, and eight forks, the property of the said Henry Thurburn. On the 2nd March, the prisoners, in company, broke into the dwelling house known as Muchalls Cottage, parish of Fetteresso, the property of the representatives of the late Dr. Keith, by means of breaking a pane of glass in a bedroom, and having entered, by the aperture thus made, fraudulently possessed themselves of 18 silver desert spoons, 12 desert forks, 12 dinner forks, 12 silver teaspoons, a silver ladle, silver sugar-tongs, 4 silver egg spoons, a pound of tea, a bottle half-filled with whisky, a bottle filled with raspberry vinegar, and a pint bottle filled with brandy, the property of Mr. Keith. McGregor pled guilty of the first charge, and the third charge, minus the housebreaking. He pled not guilty of the others. Burns pled guilty as libelled. The pleas were accepted. McGregor was sentenced to seven years, and Burns, whose first conviction it was, to five years, penal servitude.

It is likely, although we don't know for certain, that Thomas served his sentence at H.M. General Prison, Perth. When he was released in 1877, we know from the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see the image at foot of the page) that he lived for a short while at 45 Guestrow. This was the address of the Victoria Lodging House, now known as Provost Skene's House, where a number of individuals featured in this blog, such as Ann McGovern, also stayed immediately following their discharge from prison.

Thomas didn't hang around in Aberdeen for long: the day after he initially reported to the police on January 28th 1877, he is noted as "Gone to Dundee to obtain a ship". You will recall that the 1871 census recorded that he was a seaman by occupation, so perhaps Thomas swapped a life of crime for an honest living on the seas?

His tattoos, which are recorded as distinguishing marks in the register, certainly fit with the stereotypical markings of a sailor: "Bracelet and female figure on right arm. Ship, flag, anchor, heart and diamond on left arm. Ship, anchor and flag on breast. Blue mark on left leg. Lump on right shoulder blade".

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...