Category Archives: theft

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

 

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Before the Aberdeen Police

Good day to you all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

Trouble at Sea

Hello all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com