Category Archives: Victorian Crime

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:




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.


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

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. . .