Tuesday, June 29, 2021

James Stuart - The Fraudster From Fyvie

The previous blog featured the final image from the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen" which forms part of the historical records of Grampian Police. The next batch of mugshots come from an album that was kindly handed to Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives earlier this year by Craig Pithie of Aberdeen. Craig discovered the item amongst a collection of Victorian and Edwardian books that he had purchased at an auction house. The provenance of the album isn't clear, although an inscription at the front reads, 

"Castlegate 1967: probably the personal collection of a retired CID policeman of cases in which he was involved some sixty years ago".

The album contains 69 mugshots taken between 1890 and 1906, the majority of which relate to Aberdeen and the North East of Scotland, but which also contain some from further afield. These captivating images will be the subject of the Criminal Portraits blog over the next few months as we try to uncover the stories behind the photographs. 

It is immediately noticeable that the images of the criminals in this album are of a different style than those in the Register of Returned Convicts which were official mugshots, most of them taken at Perth and Peterhead prisons. The subjects were posed, often showing their hands to assist with identification, with the prison reference numbers also captured in the shot. By contrast, the batch of images in this latest album are much less formal: they are rough-and-ready "snaps" taken by the police to assist with the apprehension and identification process. It is almost certain that the photographs of those criminals who were local to Aberdeen would have been taken at the police station at Lodge Walk.

The first image to feature in the new volume is that of James Stuart. The 1901 census shows that he was born in Fyvie in 1856 and his occupation was an attendant at an asylum. His wife, Olivia, is also listed at their address of 94 Gerrard Street, Aberdeen, as are their five children. It was during 1901 that James carried out the theft for which he was apprehended three years later.

Detail from the Ordnance Survey plan showing Gerrard Street, where James Stuart lived in 1901
Aberdeenshire LXXV.11 (Aberdeen)
Revised: 1899 to 1900, Publication date: 1902
Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland 

From contemporary newspaper reports of his arrest in 1904 it is evident that James worked as an attendant at Marischal College when he committed the crime which merited his photograph being taken. The Aberdeen Press and Journal of the 5th September 1904 reveals more of the story under the headline "Apprehended In London":

"The Metropolitan Police in the Marylebone district on Friday apprehended James Stewart or Stuart, who is "wanted" in Aberdeen on a charge of theft of jewellery from a jewellers in Aberdeen committed as far back as 1901. Stewart, who was formally a sergeant in the army, was at the time of the alleged theft, an attendant to a professor at Marischal College and the jewellery is said to have come into his possession by a somewhat clever dodge. Wearing the blue uniform of the college attendants, it is stated that he went to the jewellers in question and represented that he had been sent to get some articles on approbation which were required for a presentation gift. His story was believed, the fact that  he wore the dress of a servant of the university no doubt being taken as a guarantee that the man's mission was a genuine one. After careful selection, Stewart chose a handsome gold watch, chain and appendage, and a massive diamond finger-ring, the whole amounting in value to between £30 and £40. The jewellery was never returned and Stewart disappeared. Despite the most vigilant efforts of the police, no clue to his whereabouts could be discovered. Descriptions of him together with his photograph were circulated at home and abroad but without result until the Marylebone police "dropped" on their man. Stewart was on Saturday handed over to detective Dey of the Aberdeen City Police, who arrived in Aberdeen with his prisoner yesterday. Stewart has already made the acquaintance of the interior of His Majesty's prison he having, about 20 years ago, been incarcerated for four months for fraud. It is understood that he will come before the Sheriff of Aberdeen today". 

Among the additional details that emerge in the report of the trial are that while living in London James Stuart was employed as an attendant at a hospital (St. Bernard's Hospital, otherwise known as the Middlesex County Asylum) and that at one time he had worked for a railway company in Aberdeen. 

The newspaper report of the 5th September 1904 quoted above refers to a previous conviction "about 20 years ago".  This too was reported in The Evening Express of the 27th April 1883 following his apprehension in Liverpool, under the headline "The Aberdeen Bank Swindle: Career of the Forger - A Thrilling Story" and provides further detail about James Stuart's earlier life, including that he used the alias of "Murison": 

"...Born of respectable parents he was well educated and attended the University here with the view of qualifying as a doctor. This idea, however, was never carried out, for subsequent to leaving Aberdeen, he appears in the capacity of a clerk in Glasgow. There at the age of 25 years he was apprehended for having forged a cheque for £154, and was sentenced to five years' penal servitude. He was liberated on licence from the prison of Pentonville about two years ago and at that time an endeavour was made to regain the reputation he had lost. In November last he enlisted as a soldier at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and was transferred thence to the depot at Perth".

By claiming that he was the servant of a Captain J.S. Burton of the Royal Engineers, Stuart subsequently duped a horse-hirer in Perth to loaning him a horse and dogcart which he took to Edinburgh by way of Stirling and Linlithgow. On route he tricked a number of hotel and innkeepers who, trusting Stuart's Black Watch uniform, provided him with meals and accommodation "on tick" thinking they would be reimbursed at a later date by Stuart's fictitious superior.

After selling the horse and cart in Edinburgh and using the proceeds to buy civilian clothing, he then travelled to Liverpool by train where he spent a number of days in the company of a "sweetheart" in Southport. Following this romantic break, he then sailed back to Aberdeen at the end of March, arriving in the city on the 31st. On the 2nd April he presented a forged cheque for £185 at a bank in the west end. The suspicions of the authorities were aroused, but not before Stuart had left the scene of the crime having cashed the cheque, travelling first  to Forres and then to Perth, Glasgow and back to the arms of his lover in Southport. He spent a "pleasant few days in Dublin" before once again travelling back to Southport where he was eventually arrested on Lulworth Road.  

The newspaper report paints a vivid caricature of James Stuart, describing him as:

"...fully six feet in height, of powerful build, perfect proportions and prepossessing appearance. He has travelled in different quarters of the globe and possesses good natural powers, largely improved by his early culture. A humorous vein would seem to enter largely into his composition, some of the incidents that occurred in his last escapade being very amusing...In Southport and suburbs he seemed to be on free and easy terms with everybody. Assuming the character of a ship captain, he stated at one place that he was in command of the Alaska, and had the audacity to engage a well known person as steward of the ship and he arranged to take with him on the next voyage to New York the son of a gentleman in delicate health. Hats were freely lifted in obeisance to him and the respectful salutation, "Good morning captain!", was quite general to the dispenser of brandy and soda. His spicy narrative of his various adventures was wound up by a laughing declaration that he would not have foregone the fun of the thing for fifty years penal servitude"

The following additional details about James Stuart have been kindly supplied by a contributor to the "Fyvie Heritage" Facebook page:

James Stuart was born on the 26th of July 1858 at Greenmyre Farm, between Fyvie and Woodhead, where his father, Colin, was an agricultural labourer.  His father had previously worked at Braehead and Rothiebrisbane farms.  James' mother, Helen, appears to have died when he was very young, and he was left orphaned in his early teens.
On the 1871 census, when he was just 13, he was recorded as being an 'inmate' at the Skene Square Girls And Boys Industrial School in Aberdeen.  These schools were for the provision of pauper children whose parents were in the workhouse, or orphaned or abandoned children who were in the care of the workhouse.  The next census records him as staying with his brother in London and he was working as a plumber.  
By 1891 he was back in Aberdeen working at the docks and living with his wife and daughter, Olivia and Elizabeth at 18 Heading Hill, a place long since lost to modernisation.  In 1901 he was now an attendant at the Aberdeen Royal Lunatic Asylum, and living with Olivia and five children at 94 Gerrard St, just off George Street.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Christopher Byres - Our Last Mugshot From the 'Register of Returned Convicts' for Aberdeen

Christopher Byres was an accomplice of Robert Paterson who has featured in a previous Criminal Portraits blog. They were convicted of an "extraordinary theft of groceries" according to the Aberdeen Press & Journal of 22nd January 1892, having been 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 Byres and Paterson, passing the goods to them and they in turn sold them on to other retailers in the city. Both Byres and Paterson were sentenced to five years' penal servitude on the 21st January 1892, which they served in Peterhead Prison. Incidentally, they were tried on the very same day as William MacDonald who has also featured in this blog.

Robert Paterson, accomplice to Christopher Byres.

Details of the case appear in the previous blog on Robert Paterson, so rather than repeating them here, let's take a closer look at Christopher Byres. He was born in 1865 to Stephen Byres (a 'general labourer' and 'fruiterer') and Helen Byres. He  was one of at least nine children, growing up at addresses on Albion Court and Castle Street in Aberdeen. He married an Isabella Still in 1886, although the couple never had any children. On the 1891 census, the couple are living on West North Street, with Christopher's occupation given as a 'provision dealer': it was at about this time that his dealing was beginning to become illegal.

Following his trial and time inside Peterhead Prison, where the image at the top of the page was taken on the 1st November 1895, he was released on licence on the 31st December 1895 and for the next year stayed at family addresses at 34 Albion Street and 14 Castle Street. By the time of the 1901 census, he and Isabella are living at 9 Wales Street, Aberdeen, which no longer exists but which lay roughly where the current Beach Boulevard now sits. His occupation was given as a 'dock labourer'. 

Wales Street, circa 1920. Christopher Byres lived at number 9 in 1901.

Come the 1911 census, Christopher and Isabella are living on Constitution Street, along with a nephew, Henry Byres, aged 10. Christopher Byres died in 1921 at the age of 56 from chronic interstitial nephritis, a disease of the kidneys. His death certificate mentions that at the time of his death he was employed as a sawmill labourer.

Christopher's mugshot brings us to the end of the images in the "Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen". The good news is that Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives holds another couple of volumes containing similar images....so the blog will go on!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Donald McNab - An Elusive Convict

Donald McNab's entry in the Register of Returned Convicts for Aberdeen is the most extensive within the volume. Spanning two pages (see images at the foot of the page) it provides the usual details relating to height and appearance, the date when he was convicted and when he was discharged, but it also provides a long list of addresses in Aberdeen at which he lived between 1895 and 1901. These included 64 Upper Denburn (with a "Mrs McNab", who was almost certainly a relative), 2 Stronach's Close, 9 and 12 Exchequer Row, 30 Shiprow and the Victoria Lodging House. Among the other details are that he had sojourns in Leith, Turriff and Peterhead as well as two further convictions for theft at the Sheriff Court in Aberdeen in 1898 and 1899, for which he received three months imprisonment on both occasions.

Despite this rich detail, additional information about Donald McNab has so far proved elusive. It is pretty certain that it was "our man" who was sentenced to 5 years' penal servitude by the High Court in Glasgow in October 1891 when a Donald McNab and a James Boyle (both listed as then living at 6 Meuse Lane, Cowcaddens) were tried for the assault of Amelia Boyland and for stealing her purse containing 15s. 9d. Her address was given as Stirling Street, also in Cowcaddens. Although there is a report of the trial in the North British Daily Mail of 22nd October 1891, it is annoyingly brief with no additional information.  Although the trial papers are kept at the National Records of Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh under the reference JC26/1891/136, I've not yet had a chance to view these.

Detail from Ordnance Survey map showing Muse Lane, Cowcaddens, Glasgow, where Donald McNab lived in 1891
Ordnance Survey Sheet VI.6.25; Scale 1:500; Surveyed 1892-94
Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland 

The NRS catalogue description of the trial papers states that Donald McNab was a "van driver" by occupation: the 1881 census lists a Donald McNab, aged 18, occupation "van driver", as an inmate at HM General Prison, Perth. This would fit with what we know of Donald having previous convictions and the age is about right, but in the absence of any corroborating details I can only be 90% sure that this is the same person. Assuming that my educated guesswork is correct, the 1881 census gives Donald's place of birth as Crieff in Perthshire. However, I've not been able to find him on the 1871 census, so the trail goes cold.

The 1891 and 1901 census returns are similarly mute regarding Donald's whereabouts, although the evidence would strongly suggest he was living in Glasgow in early 1891 while the Register of Returned Convicts puts him at 8 Exchequer Row, Aberdeen, at around the time the 1901 census was conducted, on the 31st March.  

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...