Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Robert Paterson - "An Extraordinary Theft of Groceries"

Together with his accomplices, Christopher Byres and Gordon Bruce, Robert Paterson was one of a trio of criminals who were involved in an "extraordinary theft of groceries" according to the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 22nd January 1892, and were tried for handling and reselling a vast quantity of stolen goods taken from the premises of William Davidson, a wholesale merchant, located on Castle Street, Aberdeen. The items in question were appropriated by a porter named William Jack, an employee of the wholesaler. Jack (who was tried separately) was in cahoots with Paterson and his partners, passing the goods to them and they in turn sold them on to other retailers in the city. A number of these retailers were called as witnesses at the trial and were all remarkably clueless as to why they had been offered goods by Paterson at such attractive prices.

The thefts from the wholesaler took place on multiple occasions between August 1890 and November 1891, comprising a mind-boggling array of items including 108 tins of corned beef, 84 tins of mustard, 84 tins of roast beef, 6 cwts rice, and 2 cwts semolina. Also among the items listed were 20 cwts Davie's lustre, and 7 cwts James's lustre, otherwise known as "black lead", used for treating and polishing domestic stoves. The value of the stolen goods equated to about £45,000 in today's money.

The wholesale merchant was not in the habit of undertaking an annual stock-check, and it was only when he did so that the missing items came to light. The origin of the stock was traced with the help of invoices and corresponding serial numbers. Indeed, a representative from the packing department of Colman's of Norwich appears as a witness at the trial to vouch for the origin of the large number of mustard tins!

The judge who presided at the trial was the no-nonsense and irritable Lord Young who took exception to applause in his courtroom following a speech from the  defence counsel, stating:

"It is not like the good sense which, according to my experience, prevails in Aberdeen. It is a silly noise, and the people of this town are not a silly people".

While Lord Young may not have regarded the people of Aberdeen as silly, he undoubtedly took a dim view of Robert Paterson and his partners in crime. In his summing-up, the judge mentioned that Paterson had previously been found guilty of a similar offence in which he "induced an employer's servant in a shop to rob his master". Paterson, Byres and Bruce were ultimately found guilty of reset rather than theft - reset being defined as the dishonest possession of goods obtained by another, by way of theft, robbery, fraud or embezzlement, in the knowledge that they were obtained that way. 

Paterson was sentenced to five years' penal servitude, of which he served about three-and-a-half years inside Peterhead Prison where his mugshot was taken on the 10th October 1895. His entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen, below, shows that on his release in November 1895 he lived at 9 Berry Street for a short while and then at 46 Broad Street for the next year.


Thursday, April 15, 2021

Peter Anderson - "It was drink that killed the woman and not the man"

Regrettably, domestic violence is as old as humanity itself, although thankfully there is far less acceptance of it as "just one of those things" than there once was. The connection between violent crime and alcohol is also well established: a defence of "the drink made me do it" is no defence at all, but that was not always the case.

In January 1889, Peter Anderson, a quarry worker who lived at Cluny, was accused of the murder of his wife, Ann Watt or Anderson, and he subsequently stood trial at the High Court of Justiciary in Aberdeen. The Aberdeen Free Press of the 23rd January 1889 reported the proceedings:

"He tendered a plea of culpable homicide, which the Court accepted. The Advocate Depute thought it right that he should state to the Court the reasons for accepting this plea. The prisoner committed this offence in the month of October [1888], and only married the deceased in the month of January last year. He was 33 years of age and the deceased was at her death 44. She had a croft at Ladymoss, Cluny, and the prisoner married her and moved into the croft along with her. On the day of the murder, the accused left home at nine o'clock in the morning, and went to a feeing market. He returned at nine o'clock in the evening and, undoubtedly, he was the worse for drink. His wife found fault with him and he seems to have struck her. Her son, a boy of twelve, interfered to protect his mother, and the accused struck him and pursued him through a field. He came back no doubt very much excited and plunged the knife into his wife's abdomen...Medical aid was procured, but in the unfortunate circumstances in which the woman was placed it was not possible to render such assistance as might otherwise have been available".

According to the newspaper report, the doctor who attended to Ann Anderson was "a man of great standing and experience". Nonetheless, his botched attempt to replace her intestines in the gloomy croft at four o'clock in the morning with only a paraffin lamp for illumination resulted in her death from obstruction of the bowels some three or four days later. The court went on to hear that the prisoner was given "the benefit of the doubt" because Ann Anderson would almost certainly have died from peritonitis, even if the procedure carried out by the doctor had been successful. 

In support of his good character, a number of positive references were read out in court from previous employers of Peter Anderson who had evidently spent a number of years in Dublin, probably between the late 1870s and mid-1880s. One of these testimonials read as follows:

"A commercial firm in Dublin certified that Anderson was employed by them for three or four years. They were pleased with his energy and honesty. He always conducted himself well and had a good deal of property under his charge. They trusted the judge would take into consideration that it was drink that killed the woman and not the man".

The counsel for the defence sought to apportion a hefty chunk of blame at the door of Ann Anderson herself, stating that: 

"On the day of this unfortunate occurrence, [Peter] Anderson had been at a feeing market, and returned home the worse for drink. His wife lectured him. He had nothing to say as to the terms she used, but taking what one knew of the habits of people in that class of life one could imagine that she probably used terms likely to irritate a man who was not in his sober senses. It appeared that he was cutting tobacco at the time, and in a moment of ungovernable passion, he struck her with the knife".

The use of the words "imagine", "probably" and "likely" convey just how much speculation surrounded the precise circumstances of Ann Anderson's death and the extent to which she was perceived to have been, at least in part, guilty of provoking her husband.

In his summing-up of the case, the presiding judge, Lord Kinnear, emphasised the lack of premeditation as a key factor, together with the difficult conditions in which the subsequent medical treatment had been performed in determining that Peter Anderson was guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide rather than murder. He was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude.

He served just over five years of this sentence at Peterhead Prison. He appears as an inmate there on the 1891 census, in which he is described as a widower and originally from the parish of Marnoch in what was then Banffshire. His mugshot (above) was taken inside the prison on the 29th March 1894. He was released on licence in May of that year, at which point his details would have been logged in the 'Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen' (below).

Between June 1894 and December 1895, Peter Anderson lived at various addresses in the city including Gerrard Street, Holburn Street and Nellfield Place. After a short spell living near Cove, he returned to Aberdeen, staying at 7 Rose Place, 4 Mannofield, 78 King Street, 5 Granton Place and 10 Mitchell Place.

Peter was to return to his roots in Banffshire: on the 1901 census he is to be found living with his brother and sister at 91 North Street, Aberchirder, in the parish of Marnoch. 

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Elizabeth Waugh - Selling Sex to Exist in Victorian Aberdeen

Among the many incredible records held by Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives is a list of prostitutes compiled by the Police Commissioners in the January of 1855. Along with the names of nearly 500 women aged between 15 and 44 who were engaged in selling sex, the document also includes the proprietors and addresses of thirty-six public houses, “to which prostitutes and men resort” along with a similar number of “common brothels”, mostly concentrated on the Guestrow, Broad Street, Gallowgate and Shuttle Lane areas. Among the names listed is Elizabeth Waugh: her picture (above) appears in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" nearly twenty years after the list of prostitutes was compiled, following her discharge from the General Prison at Perth in October 1874.

A  detail from the 1855 Police Returns on Prostitution (Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives - CA/9/6/1)
showing the name of Elizabeth Waugh.

Between the ages of 15 and 59, Elizabeth was frequently on the wrong side of the law, being convicted over a hundred times for offences relating to breach of the peace, prostitution and theft. The prison registers for Aberdeen, Ayr and Perth together with the contemporary newspaper reports, trial papers and census returns all help to compile a vivid picture of her life.

Elizabeth was an inhabitant of Aberdeen at a time when it was growing very rapidly: between 1851 and 1901 the population of the city doubled from about 75,000 to 150,000. This expansion was due partly to an increasing birth rate but was also caused by migration of the existing rural population to the city, where employment might be easier to come by. However,  the vagaries of the economic cycle and the restrictive system of poor relief meant that some women had little option but to resort to prostitution in order to survive. Elizabeth's story provides a glimpse of the often chaotic lifestyle endured by these women.

Elizabeth was born in Ayr in about 1834. Precisely why the family moved north to Aberdeen is not known, although it is evident that she had two sisters, Mary Ann (born c.1831) and Jane (or Jean, born c.1837), both of whom were also involved in prostitution in Aberdeen at around the same time as their sister. The first record of a conviction for Elizabeth appears in the Aberdeen prison register of 1849 when she was found guilty of assault at just 15 years of age. Her address was given as Justice Street while her occupation was recorded as prostitution.

About a year later, Elizabeth appeared in court on the 11th April 1850 alongside Andrew Roork and James Killhowlie on a charge of theft. On that occasion the verdict handed to Elizabeth was one of 'not proven', although her two co-accused were each sentenced to seven years' transportation. The trial was also notable because an excessively sanctimonious witness, Thomas Farquharson, a shoemaker and resident of the Gallowgate, refused to take the oath in court. When the judge asked him why he was refusing, Farquharson replied that:

"...I don't think it right to swear. I am forbidden by Scripture to make use of oaths...I am commanded, "Swear not at all""

As a consequence of his short stroll up to the moral high ground, Farquharson was committed for contempt of court.

In December of 1851, Elizabeth is again in court, this time on a charge of assaulting two soldiers. Under the ironic headline of "A Heroine", the Aberdeen Press & Journal of the 17th December reported the trial as follows: 

"Elizabeth Waugh, a young lady who has had extensive experience in criminal business, was brought before Baillie Henderson, in the Police Court, on two several charges of assault, aggravated by their being to the effusion of blood. The heroism of the affair, consisted in the accused having drawn the blood of two sons of Mars. It appeared that the picquet or guard of the 42nd had visited a house in Frederick Street, in search of stragglers, when Waugh struck one of the soldiers, "several severe blows on the head, face, and other parts of his person, and did lacerate his face with her nails". The second assault was perpetrated on the sergeant, while also on duty, by striking him several severe blows on the head, etc., with an iron poker. Waugh plead guilty; and being an old offender, was sent to prison for 30 days, the first ten of which to be devoted to hard labour".

The ten days of hard labour would almost certainly have consisted of being subjected to the dreaded "crank", a piece of machinery comprising a handle which forced large ladles through sand contained inside a central drum. The load on the handle could be varied by the adjustment of screws, from which the slang term for a prison warden is thought to derive. The energy expended in turning the crank was utterly pointless, serving no useful purpose other than to exhaust the prisoner.

However pointless it may have been, a newspaper report of one of her trials in the Montrose Standard of the 12th January 1866 suggests that Elizabeth preferred hard labour and hints at her volatile personality:

"...Seventeen previous convictions were recorded against the prisoner. The Bailie said, - As you have been so often previously convicted, I shall send you to prison for sixty days, the half of that period with hard labour, and further - Prisoner: You'll give me all my time hard labour, if you please; it'll pass sooner awa'. Bailie - Oh, I have no objections; then your sentence is sixty days, with hard labour; and I further bind you over to keep the peace for six months, under a penalty of £5, or suffer thirty days' additional imprisonment. The prisoner, on receiving sentence, commenced swearing at the pitch of her voice, kicked open the door of the dock, and otherwise conducted herself in a most outrageous manner in the Court, and such was her strength that it took three constables to take her through to the prison, where she continued shouting and yelling for a considerable time".

From the entries relating to Elizabeth's many incarcerations in Aberdeen's East Prison during the 1850s and 60s she evidently lived at a number of different addresses in the city centre including Shuttle Lane, Broad Street, Peacock's Close, East North Street and Gallowgate.

Elizabeth Waugh's Aberdeen:
Detail from a map drawn and engraved by J. Rapkin, published by J. Tallis and Company, London, 1854.
Reproduced by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland

Because of her persistent offending, it was only a matter of time before Elizabeth was to enter the convict prison system where she would serve much longer sentences than those that she was subjected to at the East Prison in Aberdeen. Her entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts" (see image at the foot of this page) shows that she was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude on the 31st January 1870. A brief report in the Aberdeen Press & Journal records that on that occasion she stole £26, a coat and a pair of boots from a ship's master while he was "in a state of intoxication".

The 1871 census, conducted on 2nd April, lists Elizabeth as an inmate of Ayr prison, she was 33 years of age with her occupation recorded as a "rag sorter". She had been admitted to Ayr prison almost a year earlier, on the 20th May 1870. Among the additional details given in the Ayr prison register (held by the National Records of Scotland) is that Elizabeth's religion was the "Free Church". Remarkably, the prison registers of the time also recorded the weight of the inmates on their admission and discharge: in Elizabeth's case, these figures were 145lbs and 137lbs respectively. When discharged from Ayr, a note in the prison register records that she was transferred to the General Prison at Perth on the 8th May 1872 where she remained until her liberation on licence on the 3rd October 1874. 

After her discharge from Perth, Elizabeth returned to Aberdeen, living on Harriet Street and McCook's Court, situated off the east side of the Gallowgate. She went to Dundee twice in 1875, once in the April and then again in the autumn when she was apprehended for theft and brought to Aberdeen, although on that occasion the case against her was dismissed.

In the following April of 1876, a report in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 12th April recounted how Elizabeth stole £30 12s from John Simpson, a farmer in Peterculter, 

"...The woman pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr Smith. From the evidence it seems John Simpson, farmer, left home to attend a sale at Bellhelvie on Tuesday 2nd November, and on returning at night he met the prisoner and went with her to the premises of James Buie [a spirit dealer, Gallowgate] and treated her to a drink in a ‘box’ there for about half an hour. When he entered the premises of James Buie he had a £20 note and 10 £1 notes in a leather case which was placed in a pocket inside his vestHaving parted with the prisoner at the door of Buie’s shop the farmer proceeded to the premises of John Watt, spirit dealer, West North St, where he called for a drink but on opening the leather case he discovered that the money was gone".

The crucial piece of evidence in the case turned out to be the £20 note which was subsequently located after passing through several hands. As the Press and Journal report recounted the note in question was, 

"...traced to the possession of Alexander Mennie, junior, carter, then of West North St. This man on being examined stated, amid much laughter, that two days after her first liberation Elizabeth Waugh had met him and while in Donald’s public house in Crooked Lane, she offered him a bargain of the £20 note. She said that she would sell it for £6, whereupon he offered her £5 and got the note, paying for it in silver. Being shown the £20 note that Simpson had previously identified as that stolen from him, Mennie declared it to be the note that he had received from the prisoner".

Elizabeth was found guilty and sentenced to eight years' penal servitude which she served at the General Prison in Perth, appearing there as an inmate on the 1881 census. She is discharged on licence once again in December of 1883, when another entry in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" records that she lived on Chapel Lane, Exchequer Row and Chapel Row for the next eighteen months, until April of 1885.

Using entries in the Aberdeen prison registers, where her name appears many times, it is possible to follow Elizabeth's criminal career, which consisted mainly of multiple breaches of the peace, through to at least 1894 and probably beyond, although later registers have yet to be checked! In 1886 her occupation is still listed as prostitution, although thereafter she is frequently noted as a hawker or pedlar, sometimes with no fixed abode, but otherwise recorded as living at various addresses in central Aberdeen including Longacre, Chapel Lane, Chapel Court, Exchequer Row and Exchequer Court.

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Dee Hoole, University of Aberdeen, for a number of additional details regarding Elizabeth Waugh that have been used in the writing of this blog.


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...