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

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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

Gangland murder in Liverpool

Good day to you all. Sergeant James Mendick here again. It has been a quiet weekend, with just the usual quota of drunks and assorted blackguards causing problems and nothing major to disturb the peace of good Queen Victoria. That gave me time to append pen to paper and write another account of my memoirs. You people who know me will be aware that I have a roving commission that takes me to many parts of the country, indeed many parts of the world, so I make no apologies for jumping from town to tow. This morning’s piece is from Liverpool, that most maritime of Britain’s cities.

The Tithebarn murder is one of the best known incidents of nineteenth century Liverpool crime, and one that echoed around the country as an example of the unruly state of Liverpool.

Bank holidays are rare days of pleasure in the hard lives of working people. They’re ays when families can get together and for one full glorious day enjoy each other’s company; the weather might be good and the pressures of work are eased. However, some people do not rest on those days, policemen, shopkeepers and publicans were among those who had to work, and of course the corner men were always on the prowl. For those of you who do not know, the Liverpool corner men are the youthful blaggards and scoundrels that haunt the street corners and prey on innocent passers-by.

In August 1874 Richard and Alice Morgan were making the best of their day. Richard was a 26 year old porter from Leeds street and the couple had been at the New Ferry Druids Gala on the Wirral. They met Richard’s brother Samuel at Liverpool Landing Stage. Samuel was a carter, so both Morgans were respectable men. As they passed Exchange Station and approached the corner of Lower Milk Street, a group of five corner men approached them. One was named John McGrave, a notorious corner man. He deliberately bumped into Richard.

‘Give us sixpence for a quart of ale,’ McGrave demanded.

Richard Morgan refused, and advised the speaker to get a job so he could pay for his own ale. That was not the reply the corner man wanted, and as Richard walked away, thumped Richard from behind, sending him face first onto the ground. Samuel swung a punch at the nearest of the gang, but they called up their friends and McGrave, Patrick Campbell and Michael Mullen surrounded the Morgans, hunting like wild dogs. The boots were soon crunching into Richard as he lay helpless.

Alice tried to shield her husband and threw herself on the attackers, but one of the corner men kicked her on the side of her head, and the mob continued their assault. Two were kicking and a third unfastened his belt and used the heavy buckle as a weapon, hammering it down on Richard’s head and back. Helpless, Alice could do nothing but scream for help.

A crowd gathered, but instead of helping, some joined in the attack so there were as many as seven corner men kicking and hammering at Richard. They kicked him up and down the street, until about fifteen to twenty minutes later somebody saw a policemen approaching and the warning cry of ‘Nix! Nix!’ [Run, run] they scattered and ran down Lower Milk Street. Samuel, who had been doing his best to help, chased after them but lost them. When he returned Richard was already dying, with a stab wound to the neck and his body battered and bruised. Alice was also injured. Not only had she lost her husband; the blow to her head deprived her of her hearing as well. Among the interested spectators was McGrave, who had doubled back to mingle with the crowd.

The police picked up McGrave, Campbell and Mullen. The jury found them guilty but recommended mercy for nineteen year old Campbell, who not only held a steady job, but who was engaged to marry McGrave’s sister. The judge sentenced all three to death, but Campbell was in fact reprieved and sentenced to life imprisonment instead. McGrave and Mullen were hanged at Kirkdale Jail on 3 January 1875 with McGrave apparently very afraid but Mullen stoic.

So you see, today’s gangs in Glasgow, London and even in cities outside the Empire and not a new phenomenon. There have been gangs infesting the towns and cities for many years. Nothing is new under the sun.

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

I wish you good day

Good Day to all

My name is James Mendick but you will call me Sergeant Mendick of Scotland Yard. My mission is to help cleanse the Empire of all the villains, blackguards and ruffians that infest every corner.

In this series of communications I will inform people of the different types of criminals that endangers them in their everyday life, from the  footpads that lurk in the unlit streets of the towns and on the long lonely stretches of the Queen’s Highway, to the murderers that hunt for prey. I will mention the rioters and the vitriol throwers, the thieves and robbers, card sharps and thimble riggers as well as the cracksmen and fraudsters.

Today is just an introduction. There is much, much more to come.

In the meantime, see some of my more interesting cases in

The Darkest Walk

and

A Burden Shared,

published by Fledgling Press

Sergeant James Mendick

Scotland Yard