Tuesday, June 14, 2022

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 Cambridge. As the newspaper report of his arrest reveals, his crime of choice was breaking into hunting lodges, 

"The Aberdeenshire Police have just apprehended a man on a charge of breaking into a shooting lodge at Glenclunie, Braemar. It appears that he had obtained permission from the housekeeper at the lodge to put up for the night in an outhouse adjoining the lodge, and during the evening the housekeeper left the premises temporarily. On her return she found the lodge lighted up, and on proceeding to ascertain the cause of its being so the man rushed past her. Information was given to the constable at Braemar who soon apprehended a man in a barn at Auchallater, whom the housekeeper identified as her lodger. In his possession were found a large quantity of miscellaneous household furnishings, such as blankets, bed curtains etc." 

Further enquiries alerted the attention of the police at Forfar who recognised the description of the items as matching those stolen from a shooting lodge at Mount Blair, in the area north of Blairgowrie, but south of the Spittal of Glenshee. 

Thomas Jackson's story would be a fairly unremarkable one of rural petty theft were it not for what subsequently happened when he was transferred to the prison at Forfar. The Aberdeen Evening Express of Wednesday December 16th takes up the story under the headline "Escape of a Prisoner From Forfar Prison" which reveals some of Jackson's cunning as well as the pressures on the prison system at the time,

"Thomas Jackson, an Englishman sentenced last week by Sheriff Robertson to six months' imprisonment for breaking into Mount Blair shooting lodge in the parish of Alyth, escaped from prison yesterday morning. Forfar prison is a short sentence prison, 14 days; but during the last week or two, prisoners sentenced to longer terms have been kept a portion of their time in Forfar and then transferred to Perth. Jackson had not been removed. There was only one man in charge of the prison, Inspector Morris of the county constabulary, and he had had his prisoners up at work as usual at six o'clock, and between seven and eight o'clock made them one by one clean out their cells. As each prisoner was disposed of he locked the cell door; but it would seem that in the case of Jackson a quantity of hemp had prevented the door locking, and while the keeper was attending to some other duty Jackson got out, and the other doors being also open, he escaped. The inspector a few minutes later missed his man by seeing his cell door open and his shoes lying in his cell. At that time a milk boy called, and in answer to the inspector said he saw a man in moleskins running along the Prison Road. Assistance was got and a chase instituted, the prisoner having about 15 minutes' start. He left the highway and cut through the Market Muir, and casting off his prison jacket called at a house in the suburb called Zoar and asked for a coat. This he did not get, and he then proceeded along the Brechin Road. His footmarks were traced to a wood at Carsegray, fully a mile from Forfar. By midday a regular search party went out, but up till evening Jackson had not been found. He is a man of spare build and about twenty-six years of age".

The following day, December 17th 1885, a report in The Daily Free Press describes Jackson's fate, 

"The prisoner, Thomas Jackson, who escaped from Forfar prison on Tuesday, was caught late at night at the Bridge of Finhaven. He had concealed himself in a wood all day, and had also got a coat and a pair of boots. His intention was to get over the hills to Aberdeenshire".

Given that it was the middle of December, Thomas Jackson's return to a prison cell was perhaps marginally the warmer option than tramping over the Angus hills. 

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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...