Friday, December 18, 2020

George Campbell - A Melancholy Incident in Court, Habitual Theft and the Assault of a Constable on Guestrow


George Campbell was no stranger to a courtroom. One of his appearances before the Circuit Court of Justiciary for the Counties of Aberdeen, Banff and Kincardine took place on Tuesday April 22nd 1873. The day was also notable for a death that occurred in the courtroom, as reported by the Aberdeen Press & Journal of April 23rd, which also gives a sense of the ceremony and occasion that accompanied the proceedings:

"The court opened yesterday morning at ten o'clock. The usual procession of the county and municipal authorities, the military and police, took place from the Douglas Hotel to the Court House. When the court was seated, a very melancholy incident occurred, which caused at the time a profound sensation amongst all present, as it will be heard of with regret by a large number of the citizens. The Rev. Thomas Dewar, of the South Parish Church, whose turn it was as one of the city clergy, to open the Court with prayer, had just arrived and taken his seat, preparatory to engaging in the solemn service, when he was seized with a sudden illness, and almost immediately expired. The rev. gentleman, we understand, had found it necessary to walk at an unusually rapid pace, in order to be in time for the Court, and had thereby excited the cause to which his death is attributed, viz., apoplexy". 

These days, apoplexy would usually be referred to as a stroke. Far from bringing the business of the court to a premature conclusion, the prison chaplain, a Mr. Baxter, is called upon to stand in for the newly deceased Rev. Dewar to say the opening prayer - thereafter the court carries on as usual.

That day, George Campbell was charged with having stolen a coat on the 18th March belonging to a gardener, James Henderson, from premises near Kettock's Mills, Oldmachar. The charge was further aggravated by the fact that George had a previous conviction for which he had been sentenced to seven years in prison. The jury was unanimous in its verdict, finding George guilty as charged. In his summing-up, Lord Deas rails against the practice of liberating prisoners before their full term had been served as he felt they invariably reverted to their old ways. As evidence for this pattern, Lord Deas cited the case that the court had dealt with immediately prior to George Campbell, that of the habitual thief, Ann McGovern, who has featured in a previous edition of this blog.

The offence for which George received his seven year sentence was also reported in the Aberdeen Press & Journal, appearing in the newspaper under the headline "Theft By Shipbreaking" on 26th September 1866:

"George Campbell (36) was charged with (1) on the 21st day of July last, stolen from a shed on Waterloo Quay, fifty-two lbs. weight or thereby of iron or other metal rivets, the property of Messrs. Leckie, Wood & Munro, engineers and iron shipbuilders, Torry; and (2) with having, on or about the 31st day of July, broken into the cabin of the schooner 'Cheviot', of Aberdeen, then lying at Regent Quay, and stolen a copper, or other metal, funnel, belonging to the owners of the vessel, as also a flannel shirt and cloth cap, the property of John Laing, mate of the vessel. Three previous convictions for theft stood against Campbell in the Sheriff Court of Aberdeen, and one before the Circuit Court of Justiciary at Aberdeen". 

In passing sentence, the presiding judge, Lord Cowan, mentioned that George's sentence would have been more severe, but that his previous convictions occurred a number of years ago and that he had been in the army in the intervening period. 

Whether he was forced into crime by circumstances, or whether he couldn't help himself, George appeared before a court once more in January 1882, shortly after he was released from his ten-year stretch on 17th August 1881. The image  below of the full page from the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen shows that George initially stayed at the Victoria Lodging House at number 45 Guestrow, now Provost Skene's House. He was supposed to report to the police on a monthly basis, but the note accompanying his photograph records that he failed to do so. He next comes to the attention of the authorities in January 1882 when he assaulted a police constable on Guestrow, as reported by the Aberdeen Press & Journal on the 25th January 1882:

"At the Aberdeen Police Court yesterday - Baillie Macdonald on the bench - George Campbell, labourer, was charged with having on Monday, in Guestrow, assaulted William Connon, police constable, by striking him with a stone a severe blow on the head. He pleaded guilty and was fined 30s., with the alternative of ten days' imprisonment".

Because he had failed to report himself to the police following his discharge on licence, George was sent back to prison to serve the remaining fourteen months of his ten-year sentence.   

Friday, December 11, 2020

James McLean - Theft of a Horse on Deeside and a Pursuit to Tomintoul

This picture of James McLean pasted into the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen is the first photograph in the volume to feature a prisoner with their hands placed on their chest so as to be seen by the camera. This archetypal pose was to become common practice for criminal mugshots from the last quarter of the nineteenth century and was another way by which distinguishing features could be recorded. At a time when industrial accidents were commonplace, missing fingers or marks on the hands could provide important additional information about an individual. The banner above his head also shows the exact date on which the photograph was taken: the 7th October 1880.

At that date, James was about to be released on licence having served just over six years of an eight year sentence for horse-stealing and related theft. We know from the 1881 census, when he was living on Seamount Place just off the Gallowgate in Aberdeen, that James originally came from Grantown-on-Spey. Indeed, when he was apprehended in May 1874, it followed a pursuit from Ballater across the hills to Kirkmichael near Tomintoul, close to his 'home-turf'.

The Aberdeen Press & Journal of 23rd September 1874 contains a detailed report of James's trial which begins, 

"James McLean, alias William McDonald (22), from Aberdeen jail, alleged to be a habit and repute and previously convicted thief was charged with eight separate acts of theft, some of them by means of housebreaking, committed at various premises on Deeside, between Blairs, in the parish of Maryculter, and Aboyne Castle, at Aboyne, on dates extending from 3rd February to the 11th May 1874. From the libel it appeared that McLean had visited various farm premises and outhouses - Altries House, occupied by Colonel Charles Inge, and Aboyne Castle, occupied by the Marquis of Huntly, having also attracted his attention. The articles stolen, aside from a considerable quantity of wearing apparel, included joiners' tools, a cartridge-loading machine, and a loading rod; a mare, a gig, a saddle, and a set of harness; and a corn bag and half a bushel of oats. The libel set forth that the prisoner had been convicted of theft under the name James McLean before the Burgh Court of Elgin on the 16th June 1863; before the Sheriff and a jury at Elgin in January 1869, and November 1870; and before the Circuit Court of Justiciary at Aberdeen on 26th April 1872". 

The route of James's crime-spree through Deeside becomes clear as the witnesses for the prosecution appear before the court: starting at Blairs, Maryculter, he also aroused suspicion at Crathes Station, Banchory, Kincardine O'Neil, Aboyne, Tullich, the Pass of Ballater, and Balgairn, just to the west of Ballater. The most serious of these thefts was the taking of the horse from an address near Crathes Station. James evidently rode bare-back as he is quoted in the trial report as saying that he subsequently stole a gig from Aboyne because "he couldn't get a saddle to ride upon".

Ultimately, it was the tracks left by the wheels of this gig, coupled with some expert sleuthing by a Constable Chivas and an Inspector McHardy, that enabled the police to track down the abandoned mare and gig to a location four miles to the west of Ballater. In the first instance they proceeded to Balmoral by train, but then had to take a route over the hills to Tomintoul where they caught up with the fugitive. 

When James McLean was apprehended he claimed that he had not been in the Aboyne area at all, but had come to Tomintoul "direct from Braemar". However, the fact that he was wearing all the clothes that he had stolen was something of a giveaway and something which caused much amusement in court.

The jury did not even retire to consider its verdict. In his summing up, Lord Neaves reflected that,

"....[McLean] had been convicted of several serious charges, and one a very heavy one - that of horse stealing. Horse-stealing used to be a capital crime, and although the law now treated it more leniently, yet it was still viewed as a serious offence. His lordship passed sentence of eight years' penal servitude".

For at least one of his previous crimes, James had already spent time in HM General Prison, Perth, where he appears as an inmate on the 1871 census. After serving around six years of his eight year sentence for horse-stealing, James is released on licence where he lives at various addresses in Aberdeen including Causeway Place, 105 Gallowgate and 76 Upper Denburn. At the time of the 1881 census (which was conducted on the 3rd April) James, whose occupation was that of a "general labourer", was living at 61 Seamount Place with his 27 year old wife, Margaret, who was born in Huntly, and their lodger, 44 year old James Reid.


Friday, December 4, 2020

James Pirie - "Extraordinary" Sheep-Stealing at Durris and Old Deer

Sheep-stealing is a crime that has not featured in this blog up until now, but I'm pleased to say that this can now be included with the audacious and sometimes farcical exploits of the agricultural labourer James Pirie. James didn't appear in court until October of 1876, although two reports of his rural misdemeanours appear in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 24th and 31st May that year, the first under the headline, "Sheep-Stealing in Kincardineshire":

"A somewhat extraordinary case of sheep-stealing, involving several features of a rather romantic nature is being investigated by the Kincardineshire police authorities. It seems that very early on Wednesday morning a farmer in the Durris district and one or two of his servants had been out in a field for the purpose of watching for the appearance of some dogs, which had on several previous nights done considerable damage to a flock of sheep belonging to the farmer, several lambs having been worried. It is stated that about three o'clock a man, whom they believed to be a poacher, was seen to enter the field in which the sheep were, and, as he was accompanied by a dog, the watching party immediately made in his direction. Thinking probably that he was being pursued by a party of gamekeepers, the intruder instantly turned and fled, closely followed by the farmer and his assistants. In his rapid career, the hunted sportsman bolted right over the dyke onto the public road, and, to his utter astonishment, found himself landed in the midst of a number of sheep. Before he recovered himself his pursuers came up and captured him. It was then discovered that two men were in charge of the sheep, which were six in number; and, on being questioned by the farmer, they could give no satisfactory explanation as to how they had come into possession of the animals, or where they were going with them".

Following investigations by the police, it became apparent that the sheep in question had been taken from Wardend Farm (about two miles south of Crathes, just off the Slug Road) and had subsequently fetched a good price at the King Street Auction Mart in Aberdeen. The flesher (or butcher) who purchased the animals had slaughtered them soon after, although the police were able to recover the heads and skins. James Pirie and his accomplice Alexander Philips were arrested "near the Queen's statue", which at that time stood on the corner of Union Street and St. Nicholas Street. They were then committed to the prison in Stonehaven "pending further investigation".

During these further investigations, it came to light that about a week prior to their rustling exploits at Durris, Pirie and Philips had stolen and sold a further eight sheep from the farm of Millhill near Old Deer. Judging from the report in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 31st May 1876, this was evidently a well planned and brazen operation. The pair had caught a train from Aberdeen alighting at Auchnagatt where they coolly booked space for a number of animals in a livestock wagon for the return leg of the journey due to depart the following morning. They then made their way to Millhill Farm, stole the sheep and drove them back to Auchnagatt station where they were then loaded and taken to Aberdeen and sold at the King Street Auction Mart.

There was a delay in reporting this second crime as the farmer at Millhill took a number of days to realise that his animals were missing. Nonetheless, justice caught up with Pirie and Philips who were tried at the High Court in Inverness on 2nd October 1876. On the trial papers (held at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh under the reference JC26/1876/53) Pirie is described as an "odd job man, formerly a shepherd", while Philips is noted as a "former shepherd to Mr. Biedie, Banks of Strichen". Although Pirie pleaded not guilty and Philips guilty, the evidence against them was overwhelming and after a short trial they were both sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Interestingly, one of the newspaper reports alludes to a motive for the crime, suggesting that Pirie and Phillips were intending to use the money raised from their crime to emigrate. 

Following his discharge from prison on the 5th October 1880, James Pirie's mugshot was pasted into the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' (see below) and his various details such as age, height, and colour of hair are noted alongside. These details also record that he was blind in his left eye, a feature which can just about be made out in the photograph. The entry reveals that after his release, Pirie lived at 28 Virginia Street, Aberdeen. This address was known as Prospect Court and was situated just off the south side of Virginia Street. In the 1881 census, which took place on the 3rd April, there are five separate households listed as living at Prospect Court a number of the residents being either mill workers or coopers. James, however, is listed as living alone, his occupation being that of an agricultural labourer. He remains at that address until June of 1881 when he moves to the address of Forbes Court situated just off Back Wynd. He lives there until at least October of 1881, at which point he no longer has to report to the police and no further entries are given.


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...