Category Archives: assault


Good day once more, fellow sufferers in this vale of tears.

As some of you will know, for the past few months I have written the occasional piece about the crimes I have experienced in my career as a Scotland Yard detective. In my time I have infiltrated what could have been a major insurrection and helped prevent an attempt on the life of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria; I have grappled with a mass-murderer in Dundee as I dogged the sinister China Jim and I was involved with one of the most audacious gold robberies of all times.

My biographer, Malcolm Archibald, wrote of these things and I suspect will be writing more, perhaps about my struggles with the Fenians or that terrible child kidnapping ring. I do not know: I only know that he has asked me to grant him the favour of a further interview. I may: I may not. That depends on the demands of my lady wife.

And then today I learned about this Johnny Raw upstart, this blackguard braggard of Baker Street who thinks he knows all there is to know about crime solving. What was his name? Sherlock Holmes? I ask you, what sort of name is Sherlock for a detective. Try walking into any pub along London’s Ratcliffe Road, or in Liverpool’s Scotland Road, or in the East End of Glasgow or Dundee’s Dock Street and giving the name ‘Sherlock’. Once the denizens have stopped laughing they would break a bottle over your head just to see the blood flow.

Oh ‘Sherlock’ may be very well at solving crimes of the upper classes, tracing stray dogs in country houses or finding  who is blackmailing titled gentle women who have been too free with their favours, but what good would be be when the hoi-polloi rise en-masse or a rampaging mob of redcoats decide to vent their frustrations by wrecking the town?

What good was his cleverness when that madman was ripping up prostitutes in Whitechapel? I’ll tell you: no good at all. He was nowhere to be seen. As expected: his clever words and fancy manners are useless against the real criminals, the ten-to-one street corner assassins, the garrotters, the sneak-thieves and drunken blaggards who cause most of the crimes in this Empire of ours.

No – it is then that you need the real police, the steady, blue-uniformed men who tramp the beat day after day, night after  night and know all the light-fingered gentry and the wife-beating brutes, the women who give their love-rivals a face-full of vitriol and the prostitutes who lure the foolish up dark alleys to be stripped, beaten and robbed. Oh and me of course, James Mendick of the Yard.

This week the kindle books about my good self are only 99p each, 99 cents in North America. And a bargain at twice the price, I may add.





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



The crime of employment

Good day once again from Sergeant Mendick.

Today I am not going to dwell on any specific crime, or type of crime. Instead I am going to talk about changes in types of crime that come through employment, or lack of it. As some of you may know, I am a detective with Scotland Yard, and have something of a roving commission. Although based in London, I have worked in Manchester, with my adventures there chronicled in The Darkest Walk, and in Dundee, as related in A Burden Shared. Now both these great cities, and every other in which I have worked, share some common experiences.

Both have pockets of bitter poverty, and both areas of affluence.Both have problems with drink and violence, and both have gangs of young street-Arabs roaming around looking for what they can thieve. There is wife-beating when a drunken brute staggers home and takes out his frustrations on his dearly-beloved, and husband beating when the wife spends her time studying the contents of a bottle rather than looking after the house, and proves her love by smashing a poker over her husband’s head. There is the occasional murder,usually as the result of a matrimonial dispute or drunken rampage, and there are carefully planned robberies where a cracksman uses all his skill to break into a jewellery shop, a mansion house or even a bank.

However, the vast majority of crimes are not like that. Most people within the Queen’s peace will never experience a murder in their family, or have an expert pick their lock. What they might see is the casual, pointless crime that most blights the country. There are two types: simple theft or drunken violence. Although both are common throughout the year, the experienced policeman knows which will be most prevalent according to the number of men and women employed in the area.

When unemployment scars the streets, the doors of factories and mills are closed and groups of sullen men stand idle on street corners, when haggard-faced women huddle their children close to them and search the gutters for scraps of left-overs, then theft will rise. That is a fact known to every policeman on the beat and the best of them will turn Nelson’s eye to the odd disappearing loaf of bread or pound of potatoes. People have to eat. Who with any common humanity, who with even the slightest hint of Christianity would arrest a woman who steals to feed her family, or a man who poaches a rabbit or a salmon from a landowner who boats of his thousands of fat acres. Why, I have known policemen, hard, cynical, long-service men who think nothing of arresting a habitual thief and sending him for transportation, drop a penny or a pound of cheese into the lap of an honest woman down on her luck. Christian charity is good for the soul.

There are other crimes associated with unemployment. Many a poor woman, desperate to feed her children, has resorted to vice to make a few pennies. That course could lead to the dangers of disease, or violence if unscrupulous men lure her into a dark alley for rape, or these evil predatory women encourage her to join their stable. Truly that is a temptation it is better to fight.

On the other hand, when jobs are plentiful and wages rise, then such simple theft eases. Fat-bellied children mock the very uniforms that keep the streets safe and mill and factory workers can demand another half-penny an hour in their pay, knowing that their masters can ill-afford to turn them down with order-books full and customers aware of other operating mills. When that happens, men and women earn full wages, but not all is spent sensibly. Rather than saving for the next rainy day, working men and women often choose to dash into the nearest gin-palace or squalid shebeen where kill-me-deadly whisky can be purchased. Drinking leads to all sorts of temptation, from immorality between unmarried people to sudden flare-ups of violence.

At time of full employment, drunken violence escalates in the streets of every town and city in the land.

So be warned, young people and old who are reading my memoirs, there is never a time when crime is quiet. Unemployment brings theft and employment encourages drinking and violence. Best keep clear of both. Have a safe day now.

Sergeant James Mendick





Rioting Redcoats in Liverpool


Good day again: Sergeant Mendick of the Yard back with another story of life in the police. This day I am writing about Liverpool, that most maritime of British cities, where pimps and prostitutes walked the streets alongside policemen, packet rats and perpetrators of a whole pickle of pernicious crimes.  Sometimes however, the police had to compete with people every bit as well trained and numerous as themselves.

Before uniformed police became the norm in the streets of British cities, the army was often called upon when there was riot or other civil unrest. Most cities had some sort of military presence, although soldiers were often lodged with the general public in inns and other establishments rather than in barracks. Liverpool was no different in this respect.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there was great discontent in many parts of the country and even fear of civil war and uprising because of unemployment, and general distress. There was also agitation about electoral reform that peaked in the 1830s with talk of discontented men making pikes and planning bloody revolution. The government was in fear and quite capable of using force to repress any show of political dissent. Perhaps that was why there was some consternation in Liverpool in November 1831 when the garrison of redcoats were drawn up near the Exchange and live cartridges issued to each man.  The people of the town must have wondered if the army was to be turned loose on them. In the event nothing happened, but the fear was genuine.

‘Down with the blues’

Sometimes it was the army themselves who caused the trouble. On Tuesday 1 July 1851 the 91st Regiment, the Argyllshire Regiment, were on duty in Liverpool but that night a number of them rioted and caused all sorts of trouble in the town.

The outbreak started in the Dale Street and North Street area, when a party of about fifteen to  twenty of the 91st slipped off their belts, grabbed sticks and shouted ‘down with the blues’ [the police]. A soldier’s belt was a formidable weapon of thick leather with a heavy brass buckle. When swung through the air to gather speed, it could be nearly lethal. Using belts for fighting was common in the century. As Kipling put it:

‘For it was: – ‘Belts, belts, belts, an’ that’s one for you!’

In this case there were also civilians handing out weapons, short, heavy sticks with knobs at the end, to the disaffected men.

The men continued to Fontenoy Street, shouting the odds at the police and obviously spoiling for a fight. Walking three abreast, they swaggered up Dale Street and saw a lone policeman, Constable John Duggan, outside the Earl Grey pub.

‘Here’s one of the buggers,’ one soldier, Private McGill said, ‘let’s kill him.’

The soldiers made a rush at Duggan, swinging their weapons. McGill had a short cane and struck the first blow, but others followed, with Privates John Wraith and Thomas Powers prominent. Duggan had no chance to defend himself against so many; the buckle of a belt staggered him and he went down in a flurry of blows. McGill promptly jumped on top of his prone body. Duggan rose and ran into a clothes shop where he sheltered until somebody cried out:


That was a warning that the army had sent out a patrol to quell the trouble and the redcoats immediately ran up Shaw’s Brow, shouting ‘down with the blues.’  As soon as they had gone, people moved to help the injured policeman. Powers met Constable Nelson Lees in Richmond Row and at once reached for his bayonet but Lees was quicker and struck his arm so he pushed the weapon back into its scabbard.  Lees took the bayonet away and arrested Powers.

‘We have it in for you’

As the redcoats roared along Shaw’s Brow there was more trouble.  According to the police version of events, Private Robert McFendries was first to see another lone policeman, Constable William Desseau and immediately started a barrage of insults:

‘You bloody blue-coated bastard; you damn thief, we have it in for you.’

If Desseau’s words are to be believed, he turned around and asked, very mildly: ‘what do you mean, my man?’

‘I was in the picket last night,’ McFendries obligingly explained, ‘and there was a row between us and your men and we are determined to have revenge.’ Immediately he said that, McFendries punched the officer in the face, but Desseau was not intimidated; he thumped McFendries with his official staff and tried to arrest him. Naturally McFendries fought back. A draper named Samuel Lloyd ran to fetch Constable Nelson Lees and the two policemen arrested the soldier. They laid McFendries on his back, but he continued to fight, yelling and kicking at them with his boots. However they got him under control and escorted him, still struggling, to the Bridewell, but had not got past Fontenoy Street when McFendries started again, sliding to the ground and kicking at them.

Different point of view

There was another version of the events concerning McFendries. An upholsterer named Robert Weston said that McFendries had been walking quietly when a policeman had grabbed him by the collar and shook him roughly. McFendries had asked to be released so he could return to barracks, but the policeman had held on. When McFendries tried to escape, the policeman had thumped him on the head and shoulders with his stick. McFendries had retaliated and knocked off the officer’s hat, after which another policeman arrived and joined in.   It was then that a picket of six soldiers under Sergeant Weber appeared.

Weber’s picket

The picket was not pleased to see one of their comrades under arrest. The police later claimed that Weber drew his bayonet even although one of the privates advised him to return it to the scabbard. Weber grabbed hold of Constable Lees’ shoulder: ‘clear out of this,’ he ordered, and held the bayonet to the policeman’s throat. Another version of the story had one of the privates draw a bayonet and Weber ordering ‘I will have none of your drawn bayonets,’ which seems more possible, given the rank and responsibilities of a sergeant. Either way, the picket released McFendries, who immediately began kicking and punching Lees as the sergeant watched but did nothing.  The picket took the prisoner him back to the barracks, with the police joining them in vocal protest.

Even when they reached the safety of the barracks, the police had not given up. They informed the commanding officer of the 91st why they had arrested McFendries, who was handed back to their custody the next day.

More trouble

As the police argued with Sergeant Weber, there was more trouble in Scotland Road and Hunter Street when a number of soldiers met the police head on. The soldiers prepared for combat with belts and boots but the police kept their batons under control, lifted their hands in the air to prove their peaceful intentions and bravely walked into the mass of trained and truculent redcoats. With a minimum of fuss and no violence, the police divided the soldiers into two groups and ordered them back to their barracks. That particular incident ended peacefully, but there were other groups of redcoats and discontent seethed beneath the surface.

There was further trouble in Byrom Street and Richmond Row. At about nine in the evening a handful of the 91st were in Byrom Street when they saw half a dozen police walking purposefully toward them. ‘Here they are,’ an unidentified soldier shouted, ‘go at them.’ The skirmish was not major, but there was worse elsewhere.

In Richmond Street there was much more serious trouble as police and soldiers met in a confused scramash that spread across the width of the street. Constable Rimmer was trying to arrest one unidentified soldier when Private McAddin swung his belt and cracked Rimmer on the back of the head.  As Rimmer turned to defend himself with his staff, Private Higgens hit him with a stone wrapped in a handkerchief, a simple but effective weapon at close quarters.  Constable Owen Fagan grappled with McAddin and arrested him, while Private Goodwin thumped Police Sergeant Halliday with his belt. Lunging in to help, Constable Samuel Lowe tried to reach Goodwin but the press of bodies was too tight and he could not grab his collar. However he did manage to arrest Private McHugh, who was also actively kicking and punching at any policeman in his reach. Private Campbell also had a go at Halliday, kicking out with his heavy boots as Private Benson unfastened his belt, doubled it and flailed it around his head before aiming it at Constable Crane. The two grappled and Crane came out on top, throwing Benson to the ground and fastening handcuffs around his wrists.

As civilians either watched or scattered from the riot on Richmond Street, there were a number of minor and not so minor scuffles elsewhere in central Liverpool as the police sought to arrest the soldiers and the soldiers actively looked for policemen to beat up.

And more

Sergeant McDonald of Rosehill Police Station led a section of five men toward Richmond Street to help control the situation and at the corner of Fox Street met eight soldiers. Rather than go on the offensive, McDonald acted calmly and simply requested that the soldiers return to barracks. Although that approach worked with most, one unhappy man, Private Connelly, tried to attack McDonald with a rock. He was quickly arrested.

In Richmond Row, six prowling privates attacked two police officers in a sudden frenzy of boots and belts. Private Donald McDonald swung his belt at Constable John Williams, while Private Joseph Dale struck him a number of times with his cane, and then kicked him viciously with his heavy army boots. Others had a go at Constable Probas, while further up the same street, soldiers felled Constable Laycock. Sergeant McDonald’s six men arrived to help, and Constable Swarbrick subdued Donald McDonald. He was taking him into custody when another bunch of soldiers swarmed out of a public house and attacked him.  The struggle in Richmond Row continued; the blue of the police outnumbered by the red of the army as blows and abuse were freely exchanged.

Constable Reed was off-duty and in his house when he heard what he called the ‘row in Shaw’s Brow’, grabbed his hat and staff and rushed out to help his colleagues. He hurried toward the noise, still fastening the buttons of his uniform as he walked.   It was not long before he saw the police and soldiers engaged in a furious struggle and identified Private Andrews, who was threatening Constable John Thompson with a heavy stick. Thompson had other things on his mind as he tried to arrest Private Burns.

‘Let him go,’ Andrews roared, ‘or I will knock your brains out.’

Reed dived in, snatched the stick from Andrews and arrested him. All around him, the fighting continued as the guardians of the country battled with the forces of law and order.

‘The soldiers are licking the police’

Naturally the public were interested in the spectacle of the two bodies of uniformed men, both intended to keep the country secure and orderly, engaged in a furious fight. Crowds gathered to watch the fun and a cry of: ‘The soldiers are licking the police’ ran around. Some of the civilians were caught up in the general excitement and joined in, generally on the side of the army. One man named Barnes was encouraging the soldiers to attack the police. ‘Use your bayonets’ he yelled, ‘stick them!’ Thankfully the soldiers ignored his shouts; more inclined to fight than murder. Another civilian named Goodison attacked Constable Richard Rauthorne, and tried to stop him arresting a redcoat, while youths threw stones at every policeman they saw.

According to the police, Private McGill, fresh from his escapades with Duggan, now used a life-preserver, a short, heavy and often lead-weighted club, as he thumped Constable Moore on the wrist to try and make him drop his staff.  Not only private soldiers were involved; a Sergeant named Keely also joined in the general attack on the police. According to later police evidence, he had tried to rescue one of his privates in Richmond Row and threatened one of the constables that he would ‘put six inches of steel into your guts.’

A confused court   

The riot was so confused and involved so many bodies of soldiers spread over so many different streets that when the perpetrators eventually came to court, the judge and jury, to say nothing about the police, had had a difficult time deciding exactly which soldier had been responsible for which particular outrage. The police believed that the soldiers who had been involved in the original trouble in Dale Street had not continued their escapades elsewhere; while sundry other parties of redcoats had been involved in a series of scuffles throughout the town. The court asked Major Gordon of the 91st to give evidence, but he refused, saying only that the police had meted out ‘brutal treatment’ to his men. Gordon also added that the soldiers involved in the riots had disgraced the regiment and the army and should hang their heads in shame.

As the members of the court nodded agreement, Gordon told them that the police were in the habit of treating the men badly, and several civilians had come to his quarters to inform him of the savage way the police treated soldiers, some of whom were not in the same regiment and had not been involved in the trouble.

The trial was delayed and put off a number of times because the evidence gathered by the police was scattered and contradictory. The accused soldiers were returned to Major Gordon’s command until the police could sort out their charges. Gordon said his men would be ‘closely confined to barracks’ and added that: ‘some of them are blackguards but when put on their honour they would not forfeit their bail. Coming from these horrid cells without being cleaned might operate against them but if liberated on bail they would appear clean and orderly as becoming Queen’s soldiers.’

Eventually the case was heard in the Crown Court. The first men to be tried were Privates Trussler and Carey for assaulting a civilian named William Yates and attacking Constable Dodd. Mr Snowball, in defence, said that Yates was drunk and had struck the first blow, while the crowd had provoked the soldiers by jeering ‘red coats’ at them. He added that the police were prone to be aggressive toward private soldiers. The prosecution denied this of course but Ensign Sweeney of the 91st gave evidence that the crowd had been shouting ‘bloody red ruffians.’ At one time the mob had Trussler and Carey backed against the wall and surrounded them with threats of extreme violence. The two soldiers had only defended themselves, Ensign Sweeney claimed.

Although the court would be reluctant to believe the word of an ordinary redcoat, a ‘Tommy’, they could not disbelieve an officer and a gentleman, however junior.  Although Sweeney suggested that the police had beaten up Carey after he had been taken to the station, and Surgeon Richard Peel of the 91st was ready to give proof, the magistrates did not want to hear anything against the police. They seem to have already decided that the army were to blame for any trouble. They fined Trussler sixty shillings, with an alternative of six weeks in jail, and Carey forty shillings or four weeks in jail. As a soldier’s pay, after stoppages, was around two shillings a week, these were huge fines.

McFendries was next and Snowball claimed that he was arrested merely because he had insulted the police ‘we all know that police officers are dignified persons and cannot submit to observations being made against them.’ Snowball claimed that the arrest was illegal, but it was the evidence that the magistrates were more concerned with. They heard a number of wildly differing accounts and decided they could not find out the truth so discharged McFendries.

Snowball tried to cast doubt as to the identity of several of the soldiers who were in custody, pointing out that Power had been on guard duty until ten to nine and claiming he had been quietly walking along Richmond Row minding his own business when the police pounced on him. Snowball, who seemed to have been a very able defence solicitor, also produced three steady sergeants of different regiments who claimed they had seen McGill being attacked by the police and not the other way round.

The magistrates listened but did not always believe. They discharged Power for lack of evidence but McGill and two others, Wraith and Cronin, were fined £5 each with the option of two months in jail. Other soldiers were discharged through lack of hard evidence after the testimony of the Rev J. R. Connor, chaplain to the 91st, that the police were ‘running about in all directions, breaking the soldiers’ heads wherever they could find them.’

With officers and the chaplain fighting hard to defend the honour of their men, the magistrates decided that sufficient of the soldiers had been prosecuted to ‘satisfy the ends of justice. Mr Dowling, who had been prosecuting, said he ‘trusted that neither the soldiers nor the police would thereafter manifest any spirit of revenge or ill-feeling.’ As the motto of the 91st was Ne Obliviscaris– do not forget – that may have been a forlorn hope.

However, Colonel Campbell, the commander in chief of the 91st, said he had always ‘cautioned his men against getting into quarrels’ and ‘he had so much confidence in his men that he had no fear of a repetition taking place.’ Perhaps fortunately, the loyal colonel’s faith was not put to the test as the 91st left Liverpool very shortly afterwards. The Police would have sighed with great relief.

Read more of my adventures in Darkest Walk or A Burden Shared.


Wild women

Good day to you all,

Sergeant James Mendick of the Yard here. I have been busy for the past few months, chasing pirates and a Daughter-of-the Gun half way across the world. This new discovery of gold in the colonies is causing all sorts of problems, don’t you know. Half the riff-raff of the world are descending on that hot country, with God-alone knows what consequences. At any rate I have written my report on that particular matter and it will be released to the world in the spring of next year, God willing. Although what the good Lord has to do with it I am sure I don’t know.

In the meantime I will talk about the crimes that women get involved in. Rather than cover the entire Empire, I will concentrate on one city: Dundee, that Sink of Atrocity as the High Court judge Lord Cockburn to accurately described it.

You may not know Dundee, well, it is an industrial town on the east coast of Scotland, known for its mills and its docks. As an ex-seaman myself I know exactly what sort of men go to sea, and what type of women wait for them when they land. Not the long-suffering wives, but the other sort, the fly-by-nights and street haunting whores that infest every dock area in the world. Dundee has its quota of them, especially in the Couttie’s Wynd area.

Couttie’s Wynd is too narrow a street to attract many respectable people and it’s a place of prostitution and drunkenness. In September 1861 Frederick Leverdowitz the master of the barque Lavinia of Libau visited one of the houses and came out minus a gold watch and chain and £90 in cash, which is a huge sum. The man was a fool to carry so much – that’s near as dammit to two years’ wages for a labourer. He came howling into the police office with his story and the local bluebottles buzzed around to catch the thieves. We  arrested three suspects, Catherine Grant, Catherine Hughes and her husband John Hughes. Catherine Grant, officially a millworker, was sent to jail for sixty days while the husband and wife team were eventually given longer sentences. Not long enough though, damn their thieving hides.

There are other areas of Dundee with nearly as interesting a reputation including Fish Street, square in the heart of the old Maritime Quarter. At one time Fish Street had been the home of some of Dundee’s elite but at the beginning of September 1824 three English seamen were at large in Fish Street when a trio of local ladies took them in hand. With promises of great favours they helped the seamen into one of the low houses and departed with the Englishmen’s money. Bloody fools! Take a lesson from that all you bold boys who think you can go where you like: a Dundee woman will beguile you with her eyes, entice you with her body and rob you with her hands. Think on!

Every city has some places that could have been made specifically for crime, and the Little Close in Dundee was one such. It runs between Blackness Road and the Hawkhill, a narrow, dark and airless passage, stickily hot in summer when flies feasted on the sundry dung heaps, slippery and chill in winter when fog and frost beset the traveller. At all seasons it’s dark, and with so little elbow room that two people could not pass each other unless one pressed against the wall. About half way down the close, the gable end of a single house formed part of the wall, and in here lived a family who terrorised the lane and the fear of whom deterred travellers from using this passageway unless in full daylight.

There were four of them; James Greig and his wife Helen Nicoll, her brother James Nicoll and their sister Margaret Nicoll. Of them all, Margaret Nicoll was the worst. She was the mainspring of the group, a woman who constantly abused her neighbours verbally or with violence and who had appeared before the Police Court on a number of occasions. Yet although the Nicolls controlled the house, the Little Close and much of the neighbourhood, they did not own the house and neither were they even the tenants. Margaret Nicoll was the servant of the owner, an unmarried man who seemed not to care what she did, and she had brought in her relatives to rule her employer’s house. From that time onward Margaret Nicoll was the real Mistress of the house. A classic case of a servant controlling the mistress: absolutely abhorrent and against the natural order.

On Saturday the 5th October 1833 John Murray, a rope maker, was walking along the Close when he heard Margaret’s voice: ‘Now Greig, give the bugger law!’ and two people attacked him. It was half past ten at night, and as dark and miserable as October can be, but Murray defended himself so effectively that he beat Greig off and made Margaret back away.

‘It’s all a mistake,’ Margaret assured him, and offered to take Murray into his house so he could have his wounds treated. More trusting than worldly, Murray agreed, and stepped inside the house, only to once again hear the words: ‘give the bugger law’ and the whole pack of Nicolls attacked him. Helen Nicoll cracked him over the head with the large house key, temporarily dazing him. Struggling free, he crashed against the gate, which burst open and he fell into the Close, followed by the howling mob. When a man loomed through the dark, Murray must have felt some relief, but it was Greig returning and they grappled together, until another rush from the Nicolls pushed Murray back. For a moment Murray thought his life was in danger, with one of the assailants attempting to ‘Burke’ or smother him, and he was about to be overcome when another man, James Macintosh, appeared and immediately helped him; between the two they rushed Greig and Helen Nicoll along the close and handed them to the police.

The next morning Greig made his confession and put all the blame on his sister-in-law, Margaret Nicoll. Both he and Helen was sent to jail for sixty days and the police made a quick raid on the Nicoll’s house, arresting Margaret as she worked in the garden. Her arrest was something of a public spectacle, as all her neighbours turned out to watch, together with many of the decent people of Hawkhill and Overgate who had suffered at her tongue and hands. She was also given 60 days, which was the maximum amount the Police Court could impose.   Bailie Christie also warned the police to keep a close eye on ‘that abominable establishment’ before somebody was murdered in the close.

When Lord Cockburn said: ‘What a set of she-devils were before us!’ he was referring to the Dundee women who were dragged, often kicking and swearing, before the bar of the Circuit Court, but Margaret Nicol was only one of a long line of Dundee women who were at least as dangerous as their menfolk, and they pepper the annals of nineteenth century crime in the city. Often they took out their aggression on each other, as in the case of the face-to-face battle of two women at Dallfield Walk in April 1824, when the stronger used a poker to batter her opponent into bloody submission.   A similar case occurred in April 1830 when Elizabeth Savage attacked Rose Montgomery in her own house in Hawkhill. In this instance the women had shared a single man, and when he chose to marry Montgomery, Savage lived up to her name and responded by attacking her rival. When this case came to court, Montgomery shouted at her ex-lover, calling him a ‘jackdaw’ and vowing to torment him at every opportunity. She was still screaming and threatening when she was dragged away to the cells.

Elizabeth Savage had some justification for her assault, as her trust had been abused and her man stolen from her, but in the case of Williamina Thomson, the only reason was theft. Thomson was a young woman, still in her teens and on the 16th of June 1878 in Watson’s Lane, she ambushed Ann McGillivray, or Ann Banks in Wilkie’s Lane. Mrs Banks was a much older woman, perhaps in her fifties, and she was walking through Watson’s Lane in the early hours of the morning when Thomson came up from behind her and asked if she knew a good place for a dram. When Mrs Banks said she did not know, Thomson put an arm around her neck and wrestled her to the ground. Kneeling on her breast, Thomson slapped Mrs Banks’ face and rifled her pockets. The spoil was really not worth the effort for Mrs Banks only had three farthings, a snuff box and a small bottle with a gill of whisky. When Mrs Banks screamed for help, a flaxdresser named Charles Lamb ran up and demanded to know what was happening.

‘Come come,’ Lamb said, ‘what are you doing?’

‘Mannie,’ Thomson said, ‘It’s my mother, and I’ll learn her not to go about and spend my money!’ She continued, saying that her mother had gone off with her father’s wages and there was no food left in the house.

Lamb nodded; it was not an uncommon situation for a wife to squander her man’s wages on drink and he had no intention of interfering in a domestic squabble. He left, and as soon as the echoes of his feet faded, Thomson rolled off her victim, landed a hefty kick and told her to go home.

Thomson was not the cleverest of thieves. After her failure to steal a respectable haul, she remained in the same area, so when Mrs Banks complained to the police, she was arrested that same day and hauled into the Police Office. As well as Charles Lamb, a weaver named Elizabeth Kennedy had witnessed the assault, and when her case came to trial in September 1878, Lord Mure sent her to jail for 18 months.

These were only a few examples of the women of Dundee. I have one of the most savage in my memoirs: A Burden Shared, published by Fledgling Press, and  others in A Sink of Atrocity, published by Black and White.

Walk safely now

James Mendick