Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Margaret Hendry or Ross - "The Women in the House Evidently Lived by Prostitution"


The ten year sentence that Margaret Hendry received at the Circuit Court in Aberdeen in September 1864 appears completely disproportionate to her crime of stealing a quantity of cloth, clothes and bed-clothes. However, her crime was aggravated by a string of previous convictions from the Police Courts of Aberdeen and Leith as well as from the Burgh and Sheriff Courts of Edinburgh. The Aberdeen People's Journal of the 24th September 1864 reported her appearance before the Circuit Court as follows:

Margaret Hendry or Ross (42) and William Thomson (58) were both charged with having committed three separate acts of theft. The articles in the first charge were stated to have been stolen from Euphemia Duff or Napier, wife of George Napier, Chronicle Lane, who had given them to the female prisoner to make into clothes; and those in the second and third from John Murphy who resided in the same place. 

The wonderfully named Chronicle Court (one surely worthy of J.K. Rowling) where the victims of Margaret's crime resided, was a long, thin close, that ran parallel to Queen Street and lay to the west of the East Prison, a site which is nowadays partially occupied by the footprint of the Town House Extension.

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeen 1866, Sheet LXXV.11.14 

Newspaper reports and other sources covering the 1870s and 80s reveal that Margaret would have been a "well kent face" in this part of the city, particularly to the police. When she was discharged on licence in May 1871, the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen records that until at least August of that year she lived just a short distance away at Alexander's Court, which ran between the Gallowgate and Loch Street. Over the next few years, several newspaper reports of her court appearances reveal not only that she was frequently in trouble, but that she continued to live in the locality, at addresses off the Gallowgate and on the notorious Shuttle Lane. The Dundee Courier of the 4th June 1872 reported proceedings at the Aberdeen Police Court:

"On Saturday before Bailie Fraser...Jane Brown or Watt, Elizabeth Murray or McKenzie and Margaret Hendry or Ross were fined 15s., with an alternative of twenty days in prison for committing a breach of the peace in Alexander's Court, Gallowgate, on the 31st ult. The whole of the prisoners are well acquainted with the inside of police cells, this being the...fourth time that Hendry has received sentence at the Police Court. Hendry, however, was in 1864, sentenced at the Circuit Court to 10 years' penal servitude for theft, and as she was liberated three years before the expiry of her sentence, we understand that she will be reported at headquarters with a view to her being detained in prison for the unexpired term of her 10 years' sentence". 

Margaret's next appearance before the Police Court occurs in October 1879. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 18th October reported the case under the headline "The Best Help":

"Margaret Hendry or Ross (60) was charged with causing last night a breach of the peace in the house at McLean's Court, Gallowgate, occupied by David Wells, slater, and using abusive language, particularly towards Mrs. Wells. Accused, who has been three times previously convicted, pleaded guilty, saying that she had lost some money and spoken about it - heaven help her. The Baillie said that she should just help herself, for she was the sole cause of all her misfortunes. He imposed a fine of 10s.6d. with the option of seven days' imprisonment".

Given that she was in her early 60s, it is perhaps unlikely that Margaret was herself a prostitute when she again appeared before the Police Court in May 1884 charged with theft. Nonetheless, The Aberdeen Free Press of the 27th May reported that the Procurator-Fiscal was of the opinion that, "The women in the house evidently lived by prostitution". The house in question was on Shuttle Lane with the newspaper report giving a glimpse of what went on there:

"An old woman named Margaret Hendry or Ross...was charged with having, in the house of Jane Horn or Watson, Shuttle Lane, stolen a pair of boots from the person of a farm overseer. Accused said that she got the boots to be pledged from another person who was in the house at the same time. This plea was taken as one of not guilty...The overseer had come from the country on Saturday and had been drinking rather heavily. In the course of the day he found his way to a house on Shuttle Lane along with the accused. Here he got more drink which so stupefied him that he had but a hazy conception of what took place. He was certain, however, that he had his boots on before he went to Shuttle Lane. He fell asleep in the house and when he awoke made enquiry as to what had become of his boots...The women in the house evidently lived by prostitution, and the countryman, dazed with drink, had got mixed up with them. There was a tendency among many to turn away from these cases, thinking that the plundering that went on there, should be overlooked. They would ask what else a man who went to these houses could expect. At the same time this plundering could not be tolerated. The Baillie sentenced the accused to twenty-one days' imprisonment".

Margaret is next mentioned in the newspaper five months later, with a report in The Aberdeen Evening Express of 8th October 1884:

"Margaret Hendry or Ross (65) residing in Gallowgate, had her left leg broken below the knee, by falling down the stair, leading to a dwelling house in Sutherland's Court, between nine and ten o'clock last night. She was attended by Drs. Macgregor and Simpson, and afterwards taken to the infirmary".

Sutherland's Court was located on the east side of the Gallowgate: a set of stairs within the court is shown on the Ordnance Survey map, below, published in 1867. 

Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeen 1867, Sheet LXXV.11.8 

A fractured leg and a trip to the infirmary may well have had dire consequences for a woman of a lesser constitution than Margaret. However, she was evidently made of stern stuff and lived for another ten years: the statutory registers of births, marriages and deaths show that she died at the city poorhouse on the 24th April 1895 aged 76. The death certificate notes that she was the widow of a George Ross who had been a gardener, her parents being John Hendry (a joiner) and Margaret Hendry.

The following details have been kindly provided by Dr. Dee Hoole of the University of Aberdeen: 
After her death at the poorhouse, Margaret's body was sent to the medical school at Marischal College on 6th May 1895 and subsequently dissected by Dr. Reid and his students. It was worked on until it was interred on 2nd November 1895. The place of interment was probably Nellfield cemetery .

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Charles Macpherson - "The Daring Street Robbery in Aberdeen"

Anyone who has ever been in the position of taking a large sum of money to or from the bank will know the accompanying sensation of vulnerability along with that irrational little voice in your head that keeps warning of your imminent mugging, until you safely reach your destination. This feeling must have been all too familiar to Alexander Black, the unfortunate lad who was tricked into handing over the equivalent of a little over £10,000 by Charles Macpherson at the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street on the 10th December 1891. The details of what happened were reported in the Aberdeen Evening Express of the 31st December that year:

 "In connection with the recent daring street robbery from a boy while on the way from the Market Street branch of the North of Scotland Bank to the office of Messrs. Ben. Reid & Co., two other arrests have been made. It will be remembered that on the 10th inst., the boy was sent to the bank for money with which to pay the weekly bill of wages. He got the money and was returning with it in a bag, when a young man, with a pen behind his ear, and without a hat, came running after him and said, "There is something wrong with the cheque: give me the money back and take that letter to your cashier. The bank will be kept open for a quarter of an hour for your return". That this was one of the clerks of the bank did not appear the slightest doubt, so the young man gave back the money and straightway took the "letter" to his cashier. Alas! The "letter" was a blank piece of paper! At the bank there was nothing found wrong with the cheque. But by this time the thief - who, of course had no connection with the bank - had disappeared. It was believed at the time that the thief, who decamped with the sum of £77, took a train for the south but subsequent discoveries have led to the belief that this was not the case. Before Sheriff Hamilton-Grierson in chambers at Aberdeen Sheriff Court today, Charles Macpherson, shoemaker, Justice Mill Lane, Aberdeen, and Robert Kirkland, tailor, North Broadford, Aberdeen, were charged with having, on the 10th December last, at the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street, Aberdeen, stolen a bag, a bank book, and £77 of money from Alexander Black, South Mile End, Pitmuxton, Aberdeen. These men were arrested on Tuesday morning, and according to the allegations of the prosecution, they acted in concert in the robbery and have been "doing very well" since - i.e., they have not been at all pinched so far as monetary matters are concerned"


The scene of the crime - the junction of Windmill Brae and Bath Street
Ordnance Survey, Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Aberdeen) 
Revised: 1899 to 1900, Publication date: 1902  
Map reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland 

In a report of Charles Macpherson's trial on the 19th January 1892, mention is made that Charles had a previous conviction for a theft in 1886 for which he was sentenced by the Sheriff Court at Banff to nine months' imprisonment. The Aberdeen Press & Journal of 25th August 1886 reported the crime as follows:

"Yesterday, Charles Macpherson, a shoemaker, lately residing in Aberdeen, was brought up at the second diet of a Sheriff and Jury Court - Sheriff Scott Moncrieff on the bench - charged with having on the 19th July last stolen from the dwelling house of May Cruickshank, grocer, Union Street, Keith, the sum of £4 in bank notes belonging to the said May Cruickshank. The offence was aggravated by previous convictions...The evidence went to show that on the evening in question the accused had gone to the shop of May Cruickshank, and represented that he was the son of a doctor, that he had induced her to go out for a pint of beer for him, that she had seen where she took the money from, and that shortly after he had left she missed the £4. The jury, after an absence of about half an hour, returned a verdict of guilty".

The common denominator between the two offences in 1886 and 1891 is that on both occasions Charles Macpherson brazenly impersonated someone else in order to get his hands on money.

The photograph of Charles that appears in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' is very similar in style to others that were taken in Peterhead prison around that time. When I get the opportunity I will have to check the registers for Peterhead to confirm this, but it is highly likely that Charles was incarcerated there between 1892 and his discharge on licence in May 1894. For the remainder of 1894, Charles lives at two addresses in Aberdeen: Pirie's Lodgings on Guestrow and then at 87 Barron Street.


Thursday, March 4, 2021

James Hunter - A Theft From an Old Soldier on West North Street

James Hunter has previously appeared in this blog, albeit a younger, better looking version with more hair. On that occasion he had been sentenced to seven years' penal servitude in April 1874 for the theft of a pair of trousers and a quantity of cloth from an address at Woolmanhill in Aberdeen belonging to a tailor, Peter Henderson. The severity of his sentence was a result of a previous conviction a year earlier for the theft of a bizarre range of items from a railway wagon belonging to the Great North of Scotland Railway Company.

The picture of James that appears at the top of this page was taken at Peterhead prison on 22nd February 1894, about six weeks before his discharge on licence. He had been sentenced to five years penal servitude in June 1890 as a result of a "Theft From an Old Soldier" as the headline ran in the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 27th June. The old soldier in question was one John Robertson, a farm servant who had been in the army for eight years. After returning to Aberdeen from England, he had fallen into company with James Hunter and a George Nicolson on the 14th April 1890.

The trio embarked on something of a pub crawl: despite being refused drink in at least one public house on George Street, they each consumed around half-a-dozen drams of whisky before ending up at John Robertson's sister's house at 169 West North Street. The court proceedings, as reported by the Aberdeen Press and Journal, described the events that unfolded as follows,

"They then went to his sister's at West North Street. The accused saw his [Robertson's] purse because he paid three times out of it for the whisky they were drinking. When going into his sister's house, he had his money, for he asked for supper and took out his purse to pay it. He was the little the worse of drink at the time. (Laughter). His sister had to go out for supper. He asked Nicolson to shave him and took off his vest and jacket for the purpose. He hung them on the end of the bed and his purse and money were in them. The accused was sitting at the end of the bed in a chair beside the greatcoat; Nicolson was at the fire. His sister went out for soda water for him to sober up. Between the heat of the fire and the shaving he got sick".

That John Robertson felt sick was probably more down to the amount of whisky he had thrown down his neck rather than the combination of the heat of the fire and shaving. When John's sister returned to the house, James Hunter and George Nicolson made their excuses and left. Sometime after this, it was discovered that John Roberston's purse and the money within it were missing. 

A number of witnesses for the prosecution and the defence are called: amongst the latter is James Hunter's mother who turns out to be a less than perfect character witness having herself been previously convicted of receiving stolen goods, on that occasion concealing money inside her wooden leg.

The jury reached their guilty decision after only the briefest deliberation. In his summing up and passing sentence of five years' penal servitude, the judge, Lord Shand, makes much of James's status as a "habit and repute thief", stating that he had, 

"....seen a great deal of prison life in consequence of the habit of thieving in which he had indulged".

Following the trial, James Hunter was sent to the then fairly new prison at Peterhead, appearing there as an inmate on the 1891 census. Following his discharge on licence in April 1894, the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen records that James lived at a succession of addresses in Aberdeen (see image below) including  18 Headinghill, 64 Park Street, and 3 Garvock Street. 

If you missed our Granite Noir talk which takes a closer look at some of the individuals featured in this blog, you can catch up with it here

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...