Category Archives: Dundee

Sinks of Sin

Good day once more, good people.

It is Sergeant Mendick here, with some more snippets of crime. Now, every city has its bad areas and places best avoided and today I will tell you about one in Dundee. When seamen were ashore in Dundee many headed toward the public houses, but a considerable number ended up in the disreputable lodging houses, many of which doubled as brothels and were often dens of thieves. In the early years of the century, Couttie’s Wynd was one of the most notorious areas for these establishments. Couttie’s Wynd is a dark, narrow gulley that extends from the Seagate to the High Street. One of the public houses in this street was owned by James Davidson, known commonly as Humphie. At the end of October 1825 the master of a visiting ship was ill-judged enough to enter Humphie’s House and whatever happened there he also met Susan Frazer, notorious as a prostitute and thief.  When he realised he had somehow lost all his money he complained to the police and both Frazer and Davidson were arrested. While Davidson was set free, Frazer admitted to picking the captain’s pocket and sent on to a higher court and eventually a long spell in the jail.

couttie's wynd

Couttie’s Wynd

Couttie’s Wynd was too narrow a street to attract many respectable people and for much of the century it remained 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 was a huge sum at the time. The police 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.

Janet Cassels was one of the most notorious bad women in Dundee in the 1820s. She was a known prostitute who haunted the low lodging houses of Couttie’s Wynd but on the 12th September 1827 she excelled herself. Cassels was in a brothel run by a woman called Elizabeth Muat and took a dislike to a prostitute named Jean Adam. When she saw Adam at the other side of a glass door Cassels lifted a table knife and thrust it right through the glass, stabbing Adam in the arm and the face just below the eye.

When the case appeared before the sheriff later in the year, Cassels was as respectable looking as possible and declared:

“I am not guilty, please your lordship.”

Although the sheriff took the unusual course of being judge and defender, he still found Cassel guilty and told her she was lucky she was not at a higher court on a much more serious charge. Immediately Cassel’s politeness ended and she reverted to type:

“Go to hell you bugger; I hope to God I’ll be tried before the Lords next time and not before yon old damned sheriff.”

Those words were only the beginning of a tirade that continued as the sheriff sentenced her to two years banishment from Forfarshire, with the warning that if she returned she would be put in prison and sustained only on bread and water for two months. The messenger, Patrick Mackay, was given the unenviable task of taking her by post chaise out of the county and into Perthshire.

The very next day at twelve o’ clock the watchman at the Witchknowe arrested her and she was put into jail.  Rather than sorrow, she declared she preferred to be in prison in Dundee that exist outside the county. She was released in January 1828 but a week later was arrested again and returned to her former lodging. The same thing happened again, and again, as she held true to her promise not to leave the town.

So when in Dundee, good people, best to avoid Couttie’s Wynd although I have been told that it has cleaned up its act a little.

As a matter of interest, one of my cases is on offer this week at only 99 pence!

See more at:

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

 

SHERLOCK WHO?

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.

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

 

 

 

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

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

 

 

 

 

Body snatchers

Hello all

It is Sergeant Mendick once more, with a suitably ghoulish subject for the approach of Halloween. Today I will talk about bodysnatching:
THE BODY SNATCHERS: ‘BURY THEM ALIVE!’
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Edinburgh was one of the leading medical centres of the world. The University medical school was famous for teaching and innovation, but human bodies were essential to teach anatomy and the legal supply had just about dried up. In an era when religion was still important, people believed that the dead should be left undefiled so when God called them on Judgement Day they were entire. That notion, however, only applied to God fearing folk, so there was some leeway for doctors of dissection. The law stated that babies who died before they were Christened and orphans who died before they signed articles for an apprenticeship could be dissected, although the parents of the former probably raised some objections. Nevertheless the most common corpses in 18th century anatomy labs had been hanged criminals.
Such a situation was fine and dandy as long as there was a healthy crop of condemned men, but the swinging old days of full gallows were past. By the 1820s there were few crimes for which hanging was prescribed, and unless Scotland was flooded with murderers and rapists, the noose would wait in vain for its victim and the anatomy table for its corpse.
To rectify this situation, medical students and strong-stomached entrepreneurs would scour the graveyards of the countryside, watching for funerals so they could unearth the grave, remove the recently interred body and carry it to an anatomist. The most unscrupulous would even murder to obtain a fresh body: Burke and Hare was not the first in this trade; that honour goes to a pair of women, Helen Torrence and Jean Waldie who murdered a young boy as early as 1751 and were duly hanged for their pains. The rewards for body snatching, with or without the accompanying murder, were good; a prime body could fetch as much as £10, which was a small fortune at a time when a working man was lucky to earn £1 a week.
There were defences against these Resurrectionists, of course. Many graveyards had a watchtower in which men stood watch over their silent charges, shivering as cold moonlight cast long shadows on the ranked memorials of the town. Others had a mort house or dead house in which the dead were securely placed until they decayed to a condition unlikely to interest even the most avid of anatomists.
There were other, more personal methods of ensuring the peace of the deceased. In July 1823 one Dundee father went further than most.
When his child’s coffin was lowered into the grave, the mourners noticed there were a number of cables visible on top, running from the corners to the interior of the wooden box. When they asked why, the father explained that the wires were connected to what he called ‘an explosive device.’ If the resurrection men should dig up the coffin and tried to prise open the lid, the whole thing would blow up. Perhaps there was a bomb in the coffin, or perhaps the bereaved father had merely tacked on cables in the hope of bluffing the body snatchers. Either way, the sexton was fearful as he looked down on the tiny coffin at the foot of the newly dug grave. Scratching nervously as the pile of earth that lay on top of the grass, he dropped the first shovelful and immediately jumped back, joined by some of the gathered mourners. It is hard to blame him; if the coffin was rigged to explode if a resurrection man grabbed it, might the same result not be expected by an assault by a spadeful of earth?
On a dark night in March 1825, two men were on watch in the Howff, Dundee’s central graveyard, guarding a recently buried woman. At that time the Howff was surrounded by a high stone wall, pierced with two tall doors. Between the night and the high walls, the interior was dark, with the serried ranks of the gravestones dimly seen in the moon-less night. With their swinging lanterns casting bouncing shadows on the ground and emphasising the darkness beyond, the watch distinctly heard the creak of the middle door. It was between eleven and twelve on a Saturday night, no time for anybody to have lawful business in the Howff. The watchmen moved forward; when they heard the muffled whisper of men through the rustling branches of the trees, one raised his lantern and shouted a challenge.
‘Who’s there?’
The whispering ended, but muted threats hissed through the dark, followed by a pregnant silence. The watchmen returned to their post at the grave, glancing into the sinister dark, wondering who was out there, how many there were, and if they had been scared away. The answer came about half an hour later, when there was a whistle from one edge of the Howff, with an instant reply from the other. Then came calls in what might have been a code but was certainly in words that the watchmen found incomprehensible. Then silence again, and the gravestones unconcerned in the stern darkness.
That night passed, slowly, but the watchmen had no more alarms. They returned to their post the next night, no doubt a little more apprehensive, but also more prepared. As well as their lanterns they carried pistols and were prepared to defend their position. Even so, the first part of the night passed peacefully, but about half an hour after midnight they saw movement among the gravestones and the yellow glow of a lantern.
‘Who’s there?’ The watchmen called again and added that they were armed and would shoot anybody that came near the grave they were guarding. There was no reply, but the scuffling continued, so the watchmen fired, one after the other, the orange muzzle flare bursting the dark and the roar of the shot tearing apart the silence of the night. The result was immediate: the hollow thump of retreating feet and the creak of a door as the body snatchers made a quick retreat. Once again the watchmen had guarded their charge well. They picked up a spade and sack the intruders left behind as sure proof of their intentions, but listened with some concern to the threats that were shouted from the other side of the boundary wall. However, the watchmen could be satisfied with their endeavours as the remainder of that night passed peacefully.
They were back the next night, but so were the Resurrectionists. It was shortly after ten o’clock, dark and crisply cold when the watchmen turned up for duty. As they stepped into the night, one gave a cry and vanished foot-first into a gaping hole where the grave should be. The body snatchers had come early and had already dug half way down to the coffin. As the watchman struggled to escape from the grave, two shadowy figures emerged from the night, but rather than threats, the men offered bribes, saying if the watchmen looked the other way they would be rewarded.
True to his salt, the watchmen refused, which was a brave thing to do when he was up to his knees in a freshly dug grave. The nearest body snatcher reacted instantly, swinging his spade at the second watchman. The blow missed; the watchmen drew his pistol, moved forward to take hasty aim but stumbled over a grave and the priming of the firing pan fell out.
He would be cursing as he reloaded, but by then the Resurrectionists were retreating through the ranked gravestones. The watchman fired anyway, the shot going nowhere as the intruders scurried over the wall and vanished. Chasing them through the dark graveyard, the watchman tripped over something, looked down and realised it was a sack containing then freshly dug-up body of an elderly lady named Jean Anderson.
Naturally, with Dundee already on edge with the threat to their deceased, the sound of gunshots and shouting brought crowds, all asking questions, all looking for scapegoats. Two visitors from Edinburgh, probably entirely innocent of any attempt to unearth a Dundonian corpse, became targets for the misdirected fear and anger of the mob. As the crowd turned angry, the visitors insisted their innocence and pleaded for police protection. After a night in the cold cells of the Town House they may have wished they had chanced the mob, but they managed to persuade the police they were not grave robbers.
Early on Tuesday morning, huge numbers of women, sprinkled with a few dozen men, squeezed into the Howff. There was no reason for being there, no resurrectionists to chase and nothing to do but ask each other what was happening, voice their anger and search for somebody, anybody, on whom to fix the blame. Around seven in the morning a gravedigger named Begg appeared, the frightened mob turned their anger on him.
Surging forward, the mob threw both Begg and his wife into an open grave and crowded around, chanting: “Bury them alive, bury them alive!” Despite the threats, both the Beggs scrambled clear of the grave and fled ducking and dodging as teh mob pelted them with stones and turf. Reaching their home, they cowered there until noon when Begg was summoned to fill up an open grave.
Strangely, the crowd were quiet while he worked, but once the coffin was covered and the turf levelled, they again began their attacks, hurling abuse and missiles at the unfortunate gravedigger. Once again Begg had to run home and the crowd remained where it was, packing the burial ground and overfilling outside the gates. It was late afternoon before the Dundee magistrates ordered the Howff cleared, but the people were reluctant to go. They protested, but eventually obeyed, amidst much grumbling and muttered threats against any resurrectionist they should happen to catch.
With many of the crowd still watching suspiciously from the walls and the slight eminence to the south, Jean Anderson was returned to her rightful place under the turf. The authorities questioned Mr Begg, the watchmen and Mrs Duncan, a nearby resident who claimed to have seen some men acting suspiciously among the graves. However, nothing was learned that helped catch the body snatchers.
Not surprisingly, feelings in Dundee were high. Immediately after the weekend skirmishes, the Town Council recruited two watchmen to mount a nightly guard over the burial ground, and ordered one of the town officers to help whenever he could, but the Howff was large, the nights were still dark and the resurrectionists were cunning and could be violent. More security was needed. There was an idea to knock down the tall surrounding walls and instead build a low parapet topped by iron railings, so passersby could look into the graveyard and grave robbers could not hide in dark shadows. However good the idea, the tall walls remained in place and people continued to fear for the peace of their departed. There was another suggestion to build a house at the entrance and install a guard with a pack of mastiffs.
As the ideas rolled in, the paranoia continued. When one of the town scavengers died in the infirmary, many of his friends and family came down from the Highlands for the funeral. When Dr Dick ordered the coffin carried to the burial ground, the Highlanders refused to move and obstructed everything and everybody, turning what should have been a dignified procession to the graveside into something of a riot. As usual in Dundee, a crowd gathered to watch the fun and soon the rumour spread: somebody had stolen the body and sold it to an anatomist. When the protests grew unbearable even Dr Dick agreed to check. The coffin was placed on the ground, the lid unscrewed and the Highlanders crowded round to see the dead body of the scavenger. Once they were satisfied, the procession continued and the coffin was decently interred. It was a minor story, but one that reveals the impact resurrectionists had on Dundee.
In February 1827 the grave robbers tried again. A party of three or four entered the Howff from the south side, where the wall was lowest and the entrance easiest. One man slipped inside and eased himself into the midst of the gravestones, but the watchmen were alert and moved toward him, with their lanterns casting yellow pools of light among the gravestones. The grave robber ran, clutched a rope his companions had thrown down the wall for him, but the watch were faster. One of the watch lunged forward and thrust his makeshift weapon, a bayonet tied to the end of a pole, hard into the intruder’s bottom. With a yell of ‘murder’ the man dropped on the far side of the wall and in spite of a hot pursuit by the watchmen, neither he nor his companions were seen again. That was the last known attempt by the resurrection men at the Burial Ground in Dundee.
The watchmen remained for a few years, but after the murders of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh the law was changed, making it easier for anatomists to legally get their hands on corpses; the need for that grisly trade had ended. All the same, there was one last flurry of excitement in early 1829 when the Captain of the Watch suspected his watchmen of being body snatchers on the side, but after that peace descended on the Howff.
http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

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

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

A Sink of Atrocity

Good day to you.

The name is Sergeant James Mendick of Scotland Yard, but my friends call me James. Not that I have many friends, only colleagues. The others are citizens or criminals and neither like the police.

Queen Victoria is secure on her throne, the country is recovering from a great depression and the towns and country are crawling with criminals who prey on the respectable.

I have recently returned from a stay in Dundee in Scotland where I encountered one of the worst cases I have ever seen, with cannibalism, murder and street riots. Now I happen to know Dundee well as I was born there, but my early memories were anything but happy. The only bright spot this time was my meeting with Johanna. . . I believe my biographer will have mentioned that in his scribblings about my case in his book A Burden Shared: the Dundee Murders.

However this is not about me. I would like to tell you about a murder that occurred high in the hills when I was a youth:

Cock of the North

In common with many criminals of the 19th Century, Charles McEwan often adopted an assumed name. Sometimes he was known as Robert McLeod, sometimes as John McIntyre, or even Charles Mackay, but very seldom did he use his real name of McEoch.  Born in Armagh, to many people he was The Cock o’ The North and was a coppersmith as well as a tinker. He was a tall man, well made and muscular.

Around 1814 the 26 old McEwan and the rest of his tinker clan took the boat from Ireland and landed in Scotland. Rather than search for work in the burgeoning industrial towns of the central belt they headed north for the small communities and wide spaces of the Highlands and north east. The band soon became notorious for petty and not so petty theft mixed with a casual violence that saw doors locked on their approach. The other travelling people knew McEwan well and tried to avoid him. If they were unlucky enough to fall into his company he was quite capable of robbing them of their meagre livelihood; any resistance could lead to assault.

McEwan was a keen follower of prize fighting and was a lady’s man; or rather he had an eye and a fancy for any woman who could give him what he wanted. In his ten years roaming the north of Scotland he kept company with at least three different women and the second last of them gave him three children.  His final woman was short, well made and around 30 years old. Her name was Margaret Mooney and they had only been together for a few days when McEwan made his fatal mistake. On the 8 October 1823 McEwan had speared a salmon in an Aberdeenshire river and they cooked it under the autumn stars. The drop of blood that spilled on McEwan’s light corduroy trousers may have been seen as an omen, but if so he ignored it.  They were walking, as always, heading south over the high hills from Aberdeenshire and enjoying the hospitality of farms and cottages on the route, as was the way of old Scotland.

Elizabeth Middleton and John Smith were shearing sheep at the farm of Kildow, and passed a few hours with McEwan and Money before lodging them comfortably in a barn. The next morning, 9 October 1823, saw the tinkers trudge on to the Firmouth, a rough and lonely drove road that toiled over the Grampians from Deeside to Glenesk and the glens of Angus. They were walking side by side when a group of four whisky smugglers joined them. The smugglers were a jovial crew with the panniers on their garrons heavy with whisky. They were not afraid of McEwan in the slightest; these men were well used to taking care of themselves against the Excise or anybody else who tried to rob them.

At a place called Lochmaven, at the apex of the pass, McEwan and Mooney sat down to rest; both were sober, despite sharing the smuggler’s peat reek, but McEwan may have been a little less sober that Mooney.   What happened next is pure conjecture, based on later evidence, but at some point in the late afternoon McEwan and Money must have argued and he lifted a small iron anvil that he used in his tinkering trade and smashed her over the head until she was dead.

Although there were no witnesses to the actual act, there were people who used this lonely road and their stories helped piece together something of the story. Later that evening Joseph Stewart of Ballater rode past and saw Mooney lying on the heather with one hand above her head. He saw McEwan at her feet; gasped at the sight of the blood that stained McEwan’s shirt and trousers, kicked in his spurs and rode on into the slithering rain without stopping or looking back.

At around two in the morning of 10 October McEwan banged at the door of a lonely house at the south side of the Firmouth. His shirt was bloody, his trousers were sodden with rain and the deep blood stains below his knees suggested that he had been kneeling in blood.   Margaret Machardy answered the door to him and gave him lodgings for the night. Not surprisingly she commented on the blood but he told her little.

McEwan did not sleep well that dark morning, nor on the night of that Friday 10 October, which he passed at an inn at Balfield, about three miles North West of Brechin. The inn keeper, Helen Young had not wished such a bloody, battered apparition as McEwan to remain in her house all night, but she could not put him out into the dark, so allowed him to remain. Sometime during the long hours of darkness he demanded whisky; he was seen furiously scrubbing at his sleeve with a wet brush and trying to wash his hat but nobody questioned him.

On Saturday 11 October McEwan asked Young if she had heard about the woman killed on the Firmouth. When Young said that ‘there are many lies in the country and that was one, for I would have heard of a murder,’   McEwan said he had seen her ‘all over blood’ and was sure she had been murdered.

In the meantime, Elizabeth McDonald and Margaret Cruickshanks were first to find the dead body of Mooney about half past seven on the Friday morning. They had been harvesting in the south and were returning home when they saw the body lying among the heather. It lay close to the road in a welter of blood and disturbed ground.  When McDonald investigated, she saw that Mooney wore some rags of clothes and there was a basket nearby, with tea caddies and other items inside.  The two women followed a trail of blood for about twenty metres but it petered out in the heather and led nowhere.  They hurried the nearest cottage, some miles ahead, hammered on the door and told what they had found.

As soon as they heard the news, the scattered population gathered to see the body, but it was taken away and decently buried. Mr Garioch, a surgeon, later examined Mooney and decided that she had been killed by a blow to the head. He was shown a box of tools including a small anvil whose concave sides fitted the indents into Mooney’s head. Many tinkers carried such a portable anvil.  Garich said that Mooney had been drinking spirits before she was killed.  A second surgeon, Dr Murray did not entirely agree with Garioch; he was not so sure that the anvil had been the murder weapon.

As soon as Mooney was found, the authorities began the search for McEwan. He was a kenspeckle figure in Aberdeenshire and not hard to trace with his blue coat, corduroy trousers and prominent hat. John Fyfe, a King’s Messenger in Aberdeen, traced McEwan’s route by the places he had stopped and the people he had passed on the road. Fyfe arrested him in Brechin and brought to Aberdeen. The small anvil was inside the box of tools that he carried with him.

McEwan denied all knowledge of the murder. He said he came across the body in the moorland but he had not killed Money. Even so the deed seemed to affect him and his normal false joviality altered to a sullen silence. He gave conflicting statements about his background: in his first he said he had been apprenticed to a Dublin coppersmith and had no fixed abode and had never in his life been asked for a certificate of his character. In his second he said he was a Glasgow man but had been to Dublin. In this statement he said he and Mooney lived as man and wife; he agreed that he had travelled on the Firmouth with her, but said he had left her there, hale and hearty.

During the trial in March 1824 at the High Court in Edinburgh, McEwan challenged many of the statements made by the prosecution: he claimed he had not asked for whisky when in the houses south of the Firmouth, but only drank whey.  He said that the blood on his trousers was his own, from a bleeding nose.  He said he was wetting his hat to try and remove the ‘cloors’ or dimples in the material. His clothes were produced in court, complete with blood stains on the sleeve of his shirt and blood stains on his trousers. The jury had no difficulty in finding him guilty.

When Lord Gillies sentenced him to hang, McEwan said ‘Thank your Lordship, I’ll die innocent. There has not been a doctor here today but has perjured himself.’ As was normal in the period, McEwan was chained in his cell; he paced, clanking, back and forth as far as the chain would stretch.

He remained stubborn even as the day of his execution drew closer, and when the ministers tried to save his soul he replied: ‘I am not the better of you, or any like you.’ Only when three Catholic priests came did he show any interest, but if he confessed to them, his guilt travelled no further.   On the evening of Tuesday 6 April 1824 McEwan was taken from Calton Jail to the lock up house in the High Street of Edinburgh. At about ten past eight he was led out and he marched bravely to the gallows. He was hanged at Libberton Wynd in Edinburgh on the 7th April 1824 and his body was given to Dr Munro to be dissected.

Ah the good old days.

If you enjoyed what you read, I will be back with more stories of crime in my days.

That one was in Fishermen, Randies and Fraudsters’ by Malcolm Archibald