Category Archives: aberdeen

Sex crime in Aberdeen

 

Hello all

Sergeant Mendick here again. This day  I am going to talk about sex. Now stop smiling all you young ‘uns, it’s a serious business, this sex thing. It can be fun, I know, but not when it’s forced, or when you have to pay for it, you know.

All right then, here we go now.

Our queen’s Britain has a reputation for sexual repression and high morals, with Victorian Values a byword for all that is upstanding and correct in society. However, the reality revealed by the scrape of a prostitute’s painted nails would curl the hair of the most respectable gentleman. Every city and probably most towns were home to a thriving population of prostitutes.

There are many types of prostitutes, from those who service gentlemen and live in comfort to those who frequent the dockside alleys and dark closes and spend their lives in squalor. Sometimes a woman can start at the top but as her looks fade she will end up pressing her back against some festering wall while a drunken seaman expends the pent up lust of a long voyage in a few panting moments. Nevertheless, most prostitutes are not full time professionals, but women with no option; prostitution is a hard necessity rather than a career choice. Most work open to women is low paid, repetitive and harsh: just ask the Missus.

Us Victorians are as concerned about prostitution and its attendant evils of disease as we are about juvenile crime and drunkenness. In June 1857 the Aberdeen Police Commissioners discussed what powers they possessed to put down brothels and prostitution. At that time there were an estimated 500 prostitutes living in Aberdeen, and working in about 100 licensed premises. There was some disagreement about the best course to take, as a few years before there was an attempt to clean up the streets by arresting any woman on the streets after a certain time, in other words subjecting women to a curfew.  That attempt had failed as the many innocent women who had been swept into the Police Office had strongly objected. The police had quickly scrapped the system. With that recent memory to embarrass them, the Commissioners decided that it was the job of the Kirk to control vice, not the police.

However others were equally concerned and even heavier handed. In 1864 Parliament passed the Contagious Diseases Act, which gave the police sweeping powers to arrest prostitutes and have them inspected for venereal diseases. This Act only applied to some ports and towns where there was a large military presence.  Once again completely innocent women were swept into the net along with hardened street walkers, with the additional humiliation and genuine trauma of an internal examination. It was not the police’s job to prove the women’s guilt; the women had to try and prove their innocence.  Those women who were found to be diseased were secured in a locked hospital until they were judged clean enough to be released to the hordes of innocent men who waited their attentions.  The men were not subject to any such restrictive act. Not surprisingly, there was a hurricane of protest against this draconian act, which was repealed in 1886.

Now, any British city can have one prostitute for every 36 people.   It is also believed that up to one third of the soldiers in Queen Victoria’s army carry venereal disease, but as marriage is not encouraged for private soldiers, nor for officers under a certain rank, sexual license is hardly surprising among healthy young men.

In Aberdeen, the police targeted brothels when the neighbours complained about them, and arrested women for ‘loitering’ on the streets. Women seem to run most of the city’s brothels or ‘disorderly houses’ but some were run by a partnership of a woman and a man. For example in August 1829 Elizabeth Birnie and John Hay were each sent to Bridewell for 14 days and then banished from Aberdeen for a year for keeping a brothel.

The brothels are not concentrated in any one place but are scattered all over the centre of Aberdeen. In the 1850s one of the most notorious was in Frederick Street, but they can be virtually anywhere. In August 1879, 58 year old Margaret Macdonald was charged with keeping a brothel in Flourmill Lane. Thirteen prostitutes were found in her house. Detectives Innes and Wyness said the house had been a brothel for years.  When they raided the place the detectives said she was keeping thieves and prostitutes; Macdonald said she had ‘no thieves but I can’t deny harbouring prostitutes.’ Alex Badenoch, tailor, said he often passed the house especially on a Sunday and it was a notorious brothel particularly when the militia were around. He had not heard much foul language but the girls had sometimes accosted him and he had seen many young girls standing with soldiers about the place. Macdonald was fined £10 with the option of 60 days in prison.

On 12 October 1880 the Police Court heard a case against William Kirton who kept a public house at Green. He was accused of allowing women of ‘notoriously bad fame’ to assemble in his pub. The police had heard rumours and on 21 September 1880 Inspector Ewan and Detectives Wyness and Innes held a snap inspection. In one room the police found one man in the company of two women, in another two women and two men and in a third room tucked away in the back they found two women and three men. The rooms had no doors but were separated by curtains. All the seven women were known to the police as prostitutes.

Kirton claimed he had not known that the women had bad characters and anyway there was no assembling or meeting in the accepted sense of the words.  He also said he was entitled to serve anybody he liked at an open bar. Detective Innes returned three days later, on 24 September and again found the place full of women of the same profession. Mrs Kirton told Innes that a businessman had assured her that she was legally permitted to serve such women.  That statement proved that Kirton knew exactly in what line of business the women were in. Baillie Alexander Duffus fined Kirton twenty five shillings with expenses or fourteen days in prison.

There was another well known brothel in Shiprow in 1880 where Robert Bennison harboured five known prostitutes. In November the following year Elizabeth Christie denied she had kept prostitutes at her house at 46 Netherkirkgate. However the police brought forward evidence that the neighbours had complained that her house was used as a brothel, with numerous men and women of ‘bad character’ being frequent visitors. At least two of the women who had been acting as prostitutes were only fifteen years old and they testified that their customers paid Christie for their services. When Christie appeared at the Police Court, Bailie Walker said it was a very aggravated case as not only was the house used for immoral purposes but Christie had also used it to train up girls for immoral purposes and thereby ruining their body and soul. He imposed a fine of £10 or sixty days in jail.

In the spring and summer of 1893 Mary Reid kept a brothel in Burnett’s Close. She pleaded not guilty at the Police Court, but the police had frequent complaints from people about money being stolen from them in the house and a ship’s officer had had a gold ring stolen from him there. She was sent to prison for two months. These examples were just the tip of the iceberg as the police struggled to remove prostitution from the city. For instance in 1863 alone upwards of 20 brothels were closed down and the number of females known to be prostitutes reduced from more than 400 to just 200.

The second prong of the police assault on prostitution targeted the street walkers. These women loiter in certain places and approach men who looked as if they were lonely or perhaps too drunk to realise what was happening. The campaign against these women is relentless. For example at the police court on 9 February 1830 two street walkers, Mary Moir and Elizabeth Henry, were given 30 and 60 days in Bridewell for ‘conducting themselves in a riotous and disorderly manner’ in Broad Street.

The late 1870s and the 1880s saw the police inject more vigour into their campaign against street walking. For example in 1879, 27 year old Margaret Duthie of Flourmill Lane and 30 year old Barbara Watt were both fined 10 shillings for loitering. The same crime cost Cecilia Scorgie and Margaret Grant of Flourmill Lane 10 shillings each on 23 September 1880, while in October 1880 Elspeth Robb, Helen Mann and Ann Low were fined 21 shillings for loitering in Shiprow. There were many others.

Sometimes the same woman would appear on numerous occasions. Ann Burke of Exchequer Court, described as a ‘young woman’ was one such. On 11 September 1880 she was fined 21 shillings for loitering, only to be picked up again in Union Street 11 days later and fined another 20 shillings and again in St Nicholas Street on 18 October and fined 21 shillings again, with an alternative of a jail sentence. If she was able to pay these fines, then she must have made enough money by selling herself. It is unlikely that any factory or mill worker could have pocketed sufficient wages to avoid prison, which is a pointer to the reason so many women fell into prostitution. Rather than hit the effect, if the authorities target the cause; starvation wages for women, they may have had more success.

http://www.malcolmarchibald.comthe-darkest-walkdundee murders

 

 

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Before the Aberdeen Police

Good day to you all

This is Sergeant James Mendick back again, reporting on crimes old and new. Today I am going to talk about one aspect of criminal Aberdeen. Now you all know that today we have a dedicated, skilled and professional body of policemen, like myself, dedicated to keeping Good Queen Victoria’s towns and cities free of crime and criminals so that the respectable people such as yourselves can walk in safety.

It was not always so. Once there were only a very few overworked individuals to guard the populace from the hordes of the wicked. In Aberdeen up in the north east of Scotland there were the Town Sergeants.

Of all the Town Sergeants, Charles Dawson was perhaps the best remembered. He lived at Well Court in Broad Street and became legendary for his knowledge of all the local bad men.  Dawson was a busy man as he kept his stern eye on the bad characters of the town. One family that stirred his interest were the Pirie brothers: John, Peter and Thomas Pirie, who were known thieves and housebreakers. If the criminologists’ theory of a criminal class was ever true, the Piries were role models.   When there were a number of burglaries in the winter of 1829, Dawson looked at the modus operandi, checked the whereabouts of the Pirie clan and put his detective skills to work.

The first break-in that Dawson could connect with the Piries occurred on the night of 14 November 1829. Burglars had hit the firm of William Mackinnon and Company, Iron and Brass founders of Windy-Wynd. This was a lane that ran between Spring Gardens and Gallowgate, where the north bank of Loch of Aberdeen had been. The burglars were not subtle. They forced open an iron front door to enter a short corridor that led into the premises. There was a second, wooden door with a lock that was nailed in place. The burglars forced this lock as well. That door led into a space from which doors opened onto a tin workshop and a copper workshop. The door to the tin shop was open and the iron shutters to the copper workshop had been thrust back; there had been a fair amount of strength needed to break in.

The burglars stole a variety of objects that could be kept, pawned or sold: a number of tin dishes, a zinc-brass cover, two brass pump valves, files, brass fire irons, an oil flask, a bow saw and other objects. Dawson notified the pawn shops about everything that had been stolen.

The second break-in that Dawson linked to the Piries was on 12 December 1829 when the home of Harry Grassie was burgled. Grassie lived at Holburn on the road from Union Grove to the Deeside turnpike.    Once inside, the burglars had emptied a desk of promissory notes and bills, an insurance policy, £9 in bank notes [more than a junior domestic servant earned in a year], pocket books and various personal and business papers.

Dawson and the police asked for more details of the Holburn break in. Harry Grassie was an elderly man with money, but in a move that was not uncommon at the time, he had married a young and attractive wife. His wife had fallen foul of the excise and had been fined, but Grassie had refused to pay the fine so she was jailed instead. Despite his apparent callousness, Grassie visited his wife in the jail every night between six and seven. Ironically, or perhaps with poetic justice, it was when Grassie was visiting the jail that the burglars struck, removing a pane of glass from the bedroom window to get in.

Dawson investigated the break in with a careful eye that would have found favour with Sherlock Holmes. He found three sets of footprints on the earth underneath the bedroom window. He measured the prints; one was quite distinct as if the heel had been lost from the boot, so that could have been a valuable clue: now all Dawson had to do was search all of Aberdeen for a man with no heel on one of his boots.

Although Dawson suspected that the Piries may have been involved in the factory robbery, he had no evidence against them. However when he examined Pirie’s house in Ann Street, he took Grassie in case there was any of his property to identify. He also brought and two other men in case of trouble. After Dawson banged on the door for a good fifteen minutes, the Piries allowed him in. Dawson asked to see all the boots in the house. There were three pairs; all dirty but that was not unusual at a time when paved streets were not universal. The boots were an exact match in size for the footprints on the earth, and one was lacking half its heel. Dawson guessed that he had found his burglars and immediately arrested them.

He searched the house and found two chisels, one of which had a piece of putty on the blade, which suggested it had been used to remove a pane of glass from a window. The colour of the putty on the blade matched that around the glass on Grassie’s window. Dawson searched further; he lifted the hearthstone and found a snuff box with Grassie’s bills inside. There seemed no doubt that the Pirie’s had burgled Grassie’s house.

However there remained the Mackinnon burglary. Although Dawson had no evidence, he strongly suspected that the Piries were involved there as well. He remained alert and asked his informants to keep their ears open for any information.   The Piries lived right next door to Mackinnon’s foundry and worked in a factory in nearby Wapping Street. As the weeks passed they must have thought they had escaped, but when Charles Dawson arrested them for the break in at Grassie’s, one of their work mates, William Ross remembered one of the Piries using a bow saw. Ross recollected that such an item had been stolen from Mackinnon and searched the factory further. In a hidden corner of the factory he found three bags of material that had been stolen from Mackinnon. Ross took the bags to the Police Office.

Working closely with the police, Dawson questioned Pirie’s neighbours and their servant, a woman named Moir. She lived in the flat immediately below Grassie and knew his house well. She told Dawson that John Pirie had asked her to sell a set of brass fire irons for her. When Dawson asked, she handed him the irons, which were the set that had been stolen from Mackinnon. There was more than enough evidence to charge John Pirie with the Mackinnon break in.

The case came to trial in the April Circuit Court. The Piries pleaded not guilty and put up a spirited, if strange defence of alibi. Although there had been a number of people who were definite that they had seen the Piries leave their work early on the Saturday afternoon, the Piries found counter witnesses who had apparently seen them hard at work. One woman, Agnes Faulkner, swore blind that she left the work with John Pirie at quarter past six, and that she accompanied him to the Ann Street house, where she remained until quarter past eight. Even stranger, the Piries had a sister who put herself square in the firing line when she claimed that her husband had brought home the box full of Grassie’s bills, and told her to hide them. She claimed that she had not known they were stolen, but she had placed them under the hearthstone, without her brother’s knowledge. When the Advocate General heard that this woman was estranged from her husband, he prevented her from continuing, as she might incriminate him.

After hearing from four Glasgow criminal officers that John Pirie was a well known thief, the jury found him guilty of the Mackinnon burglary, but the case against his brothers was not proven. All three were found guilty of the Grassie burglary. John Pirie, the eldest brother, was transported for life and his two brothers for seven years. The Pirie brothers sailed on Burrell on 22 July 1830 along with another 189 convicts. The Pirie sister was not charged with perjury; although it seemed obvious she was more concerned with getting her husband in trouble than ensuing that justice was done.

If I say so myself, that was not a bad result for a man who worked without training. Of course if you want to read about a real criminal officer in action, two of my own stories, Darkest Walk and A Burden Shared are in print. . .

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

Trouble at Sea

Hello all

It is Sergeant Mendick again, stealing a few moments of your time to tell you about another case I found interesting. I was not involved in this one but my young colleague, George Watters, had to read up on maritime law and came up with this one. It is a whaling case, which is not unusual as the whaling men – the Greenland men – are a rowdy, truculent lot!

In the first half of the 19th century Aberdeen was a major whaling port. One of her chief rivals was neighbouring Peterhead. Both ports sent ships north to the Greenland Sea and Davis Straits to hunt for whales and seals. Although both these areas are vast, the actual whale hunting grounds could be quite limited, and ships tended to hunt within easy view of one another. Most of the time that did not cause any problems, for mutual support was welcome, particularly if the ice closed and a ship was sunk, when having another vessel close by to rescue the men could only be good. However there was always the possibility of more than one ship harpooning the same whale, which caused some ownership problems.

In the summer of 1856 the Aberdeen vessel Alibi and the Peterhead ship Clara sailed to the Cumberland Straits, off Arctic Canada. On 13 October both vessels were part of a group of whaling ships at anchor in the Bay of Niatilick on the west side of the Straits. This was a favoured spot for whaling ships, having a fairly safe anchorage, and an island to shelter behind. The island was also called Niatilick and had the added advantage of a prominent hill. The ship masters often climbed the hill and scanned the surrounding icy seas to search for whales. Shortly after six in the morning Captain Sutter of Clara was on the hill and he saw signs of a whale in the distance. He alerted an Inuit named Bullygar, who commanded an Inuit manned whale boat, and told him to approach cautiously so the crew of Alibi did not realise the whale was there.

Bullygar was an expert and came up astern of the whale, threw his harpoon and got fast to the whale without too much difficulty. The whale at one sounded – dived- but Bullygar knew all about whale hunting and kept the harpoon attached as the whale pulled her through the icy water. Eventually the whale lines ran out, so Bullygar attached what was known as a drog or drogue to the end of the line and cast it off. A drog was an inflated sealskin float of indeterminate length, but they could be as little as two feet long and as much as five feet, with a circumference about the same. They had three functions: they slowed the whale down; they tired it out and they marked where it was.

Following the float, Bullygar steered his boat north west, with another of Clara’s boats rowing beside him. About two miles from Niatilick island, both boats landed on a small rock and watched the progress of the drogs. They had barely taken sightings when the whale surfaced, and they rowed hard toward it, but before they reached it two of Alibi’s boats appeared from behind an ice floe and had plunged their harpoons into the whale, and a boat from a third ship also came and thrust in the killing lance. With the whale dead, the boats united to tow it to the island of Niatilick, where the mother ships were.

Once they arrived at Niatilick, Bullygar and the other Clara boat tried to tow the whale to Clara, but the men from Alibi objected. The boat’s crews began to argue, but mere words escalated into something more serious as the excited whaling men saw their oil money bonus slipping away from them. Men on both sides lifted the lances, long, sharp weapons designed specifically to kill wounded whales, and tail knives, six foot long blades that could easily cut a man’s arm off. There was a fight; a man was slashed, and things could have developed into a full scale Arctic battle until Captain Sutter of Clara intervened and called a halt.

The whale was towed to Alibi, whose crew flensed it – stripped off the blubber- and claimed both ownership and profit. With the hunting season over and the ice closing in, all the whaling ships returned to Scotland, but the owners of Clara instigated legal proceedings to claim what they said was their whale. They estimated they were owed £1200, for loss of profit and damages, with interest for ‘the illegal seizure of a whale’. Captain Stewart of Alibi contested the claim vigorously.

It was not the first case of its kind, and centred on the legal rights of ownership: was the whale owned by the first ship to see and harpoon her, on by the ship whose men actually killed her? The law in the Arctic was a bit vague, so that even if a boat had harpooned a whale, if the lines broke, or became unattached from the boat, the animal was termed as a ‘loose whale’ and was fair game for any other vessel to claim. If this law was followed, then the whale was loose as Bullygar had either tossed the lines overboard, the line had run out or had broken. In either case, there was no line attaching the boat to the whale, and the drogue was doing the work of the boats in tiring the whale. If that argument was correct, then Captain Stewart of the Aberdeen ship was legally correct in claiming the whale.

However the owners of Clara claimed that as Cumberland Inlet was a new area for whaling, the old law did not apply there, and the ships should abide by the law of the native Inuit. The local law, which applied particularly to drogue fishing, stated that the person who first struck the whale owned it. If that argument was proved correct, then Bullygar and Clara were undoubtedly the owners.

Captain Sutter brought over an Inuit harpooner named Tessuin from Niatilick Island , who spoke to the court through an interpreter to tell them that this was the case when the Inuit hunted, and to remind them that the first harpoon had been made fast by a local Inuit. Captain George Brown, another whaling man, acted as interpreter.

Despite all the trouble Sutter had gone to, the Court of Session found in favour of the Aberdeen Arctic Company and Captain Sutter of Clara lost his case and his money.

What do you think? to whom would you have awarded the whale? It’s a tricky one!

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