Category Archives: canada

The Mysterious Canadian

Good day again,

It is Sergeant Mendick here once more, with another reminder of crime in this country where Queen Victoria sits on the throne. For all the glory of our navy that has swept all enemies before it, and the doughty deeds of our red coated army, things at home can be precarious when the criminal element is on the prowl.

Today I am going to relate the story of one of the gentleman thieves that plague the streets of our cities.

This case occurred in October 1853 with the target being D. C. Rait in Buchanan Street, the largest jewellery business in the city of Glasgow. I have pieced the case together after consultations with my Glasgow colleagues and an attempt at interviewing the principal thief, a tall gentleman of the Canadian persuasion.

On Saturday 1 October 1853 two men waited in Buchanan Street until Rait’s closed for the weekend. They knew the shop well, having visited in the guise of customers at least half a dozen times while they learned the layout and studied the stock. They also timed the routes of the local beat bobbies and walked the surrounding streets. This mysterious Canadian was very professional.

The taller named himself George Jackson, which was undoubtedly an alias, while the identity of the second man remains a mystery, although I suspect he was also from the colonies by his sagacity and skill. Jackson was about twenty-eight, a gentleman by appearance, handsome as the Devil’s deceit, with hair as dark as charcoal, a dandy set of whiskers, clear steady eyes and an accent he pretended was English but laden with the slow twang of the Canadian backwoods, damn his black heart.

Carrying a bag full of tools and equipment, the two men slipped through the narrow passage into Prince’s Court which gave access to the back door of Campbell’s soft goods warehouse. A false key opened the gate that led to half a dozen different businesses in a common stair. The two Canadians, for I am sure they were both that, quietly shut the gate behind them and climbed up a flight of steps to the Counting House and warehouse of Campbell’s. There were other premises above, but there was no need to go further.

They used another false key to open the door; Campbell’s warehouse stretched right above Rait’s shop, and they cut a square hole in the floor. This operation took them a few hours and ended in well-earned frustration. Rait’s were well aware of the temptation their stock would be to every blackguard in Glasgow and they also knew that people gained access by cutting through walls and ceilings. As a precaution, they had lined their ceiling with iron plates that proved invulnerable to the tools the Canadians had brought.

Jackson and his companion were stumped for a moment, but they knew a solution. They moved to the fireplace and with great labour prised free the hearthstone. As they hoped, there were no iron plates beneath. It was the work of a moment to saw through the timber joists and kick through the plaster ceiling. The Canadians had come prepared with a rope ladder and swarmed down to find the entire contents of the jewellery shop open to them.

Rather than grabbing everything in sight they chose only the most portable and most valuable. They chose diamond rings, gold bracelets , brooches of gold and pearl, pure gold chains, lockets and bracelets, which they packed in a leather travelling bag. The overall value was over £3,000 – about sixty years wages for an average working man.

Once the bag was packed the thieves waited until just after six on Sunday morning, slipped back up the rope ladder into Campbell’s warehouse and out onto the stairs leading into Princes’ Court. Quite confident that they had succeeded, they walked down the stairs – and met the private watchman head on.

The shock for both must have been immense. Jackson had done his homework and knew that Hugh Carmichael, the watchman, knocked off at six, which is why he had waited until that hour before leaving Raits’ premises. The next watchman was meant to take over at seven, allowing an hour for Jackson to escape. However that morning the seven o’clock man had been on night shift the previous day and asked Carmichael to remain longer.

Carmichael was elderly, wooden-legged and had never had any problems. He had the keys to all the external doors in the Court and checked all the premises assiduously; now he was confronted by two very respectable looking men emerging from the jewellers at seven on a Sunday morning.

If the thieves had both held their nerve all might have been well.

Jackson remained calm: ‘Could you open the door for us?’ he asked but before Carmichael responded the smaller man leaped on top of him, wrapped a hand round his throat and tried to cover his mouth to prevent him yelling for help.

Carmichael jerked his head to one side and shouted: ‘Murder!’ and ‘thieves.’ It was fortunate that Glasgow at seven on a Sunday morning was quiet so his voice travelled. The beat policeman happened to hear his shouts and rushed to help.

The policeman ran into the passageway but the gate was shut so he could only watch as the two thieves scrambled upstairs away from the watchman. There was a small window six steps further up and they wriggled through and jumped the fifteen feet to the court below. They ran into Buchanan Street and then separated, each man fleeing in a different direction. At that early hour there were no crowds in which to hide, but equally nobody to help the police. The police followed Jackson as the smaller man vanished into the wynds and streets.

As Jackson raced along Buchanan Street he dropped his greatcoat and turned into Queen Street, and the slipped into Tax Office Court, hoping to escape into the narrow closes at the head. Instead he slammed into a closed gate. There was no way out; he was arrested, all because of a one-legged watchman who should not have been there.

Carmichael found the leather bag full of swag and the police lifted Jackson’s discarded coat and found a bunch of false keys that opened the doors of the court. There was also a left luggage ticket that led them to a locker in the railway station where a second bag was full of fashionable clothes and books. They checked the local hotels and traced his steps all across Great Britain. There was no doubt as to his guilt, only his nationality and identity. He was transported for life as George Jackson, while his accomplice escaped and was never seen again.

David Rait presented Carmichael with £100 and a silver mounted snuff horn; he had done a good day’s work.

It is interesting how a small thing can solve a major robbery, but I would like to know the real identity of my mysterious Canadian

Sergeant James Mendick


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!