Murdoch Grant was charged with murder at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh on Monday 28th June 1886. He was born and brought up near Olrig, a few miles from Thurso in Caithness. His father, also named Murdoch, was a tailor, and the family home was a property named Fenars Houses where Murdoch jnr. is to be found on the 1871 census aged just 3. At that point in time he had an older brother, Alexander and a younger sister, Isabella. The family evidently had enough money to employ a domestic servant, Jamesina Sutherland, who was from Longhope in Orkney. By the time of the 1881 census, Murdoch has two more siblings, James and Robert.
The case was reported the length and breadth of the country. Murdoch would have been very familiar with his local newspaper, The John O'Groat Journal, which reported proceedings under the headline "The Fatal Stabbing Case At Wick":
"Murdoch Grant...was charged with the crime of murder in so far as on the 25th of May last, while on board the smack "Isabel" of Wick in Pulteney Harbour, Wick, he wickedly attacked Benjamin Williamson, sometime known as Benjamin Sinclair, a cooper, and stabbed him in the neck with the result that Sinclair was mortally injured and died. The prisoner pleaded guilty to the alternative charge of culpable homicide. The Crown Counsel accepted this plea, and Mr. Wilson for the prisoner said he believed the reasons which had justified the Crown in accepting that plea were, firstly, that there was an entire absence of motive; secondly that the accused was under strong provocation at the time when the deed was done, although that provocation was not on the part of the poor lad who was killed; and thirdly, that at the time of the occurrence, the accused was in a state of intoxication, and having a weak brain, was in a state of complete unconsciousness of the act, and was in that respect not responsible for it".
The report goes on to describe how Murdoch was drunk on board the vessel so the master had detained him against his will. On being released he flew into a rage which is when the stabbing occurred. Further details about Murdoch and his family background are revealed in a later passage within the report:
"It did appear, and counsel thought this material to the case, that the accused belonged to a family naturally weak-minded, a brother of his being an imbecile. It was also the case, although the accused's conduct was generally sober and quiet, and he was well known in Wick, that when he took drink he was apt to get exceptionally excited; that on this occasion he was completely dazed and quite unconscious of what had taken place; and that when he became conscious of what had happened, his grief was deep and genuine. Several certificates were read testifying to the general sobriety and good character of the prisoner, who had been in the naval reserve...Grant was sentenced to ten year's penal servitude. In passing sentence, Lord MacLaren said that if the case had gone to trial, the charge would have been murder, and Grant would be justly condemned to death. In consideration, however, of his youth, the briefest term of punishment was given".
I was hoping to be able to find Murdoch as an inmate, most probably at the General Prison at Perth, on the 1891 census. Frustratingly, however, he has proved elusive. However, from the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen (see below), we do know that when he was discharged on licence in February 1894 he lived at a number of addresses in Aberdeen including 91a Chapel Street and 61 and 65 Rosemount Viaduct. A brief note in the register records that he appeared before the Police Court in Fraserburgh on the 31st October 1895 when he was convicted of theft, although this does not appear to have been reported in the local newspapers. The final address listed is 40 Skene Row where he was living in July 1896. After that date, he proves elusive once more.