Tag Archives: Scotland

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:

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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.

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The crime of employment

Good day once again from Sergeant Mendick.

Today I am not going to dwell on any specific crime, or type of crime. Instead I am going to talk about changes in types of crime that come through employment, or lack of it. As some of you may know, I am a detective with Scotland Yard, and have something of a roving commission. Although based in London, I have worked in Manchester, with my adventures there chronicled in The Darkest Walk, and in Dundee, as related in A Burden Shared. Now both these great cities, and every other in which I have worked, share some common experiences.

Both have pockets of bitter poverty, and both areas of affluence.Both have problems with drink and violence, and both have gangs of young street-Arabs roaming around looking for what they can thieve. There is wife-beating when a drunken brute staggers home and takes out his frustrations on his dearly-beloved, and husband beating when the wife spends her time studying the contents of a bottle rather than looking after the house, and proves her love by smashing a poker over her husband’s head. There is the occasional murder,usually as the result of a matrimonial dispute or drunken rampage, and there are carefully planned robberies where a cracksman uses all his skill to break into a jewellery shop, a mansion house or even a bank.

However, the vast majority of crimes are not like that. Most people within the Queen’s peace will never experience a murder in their family, or have an expert pick their lock. What they might see is the casual, pointless crime that most blights the country. There are two types: simple theft or drunken violence. Although both are common throughout the year, the experienced policeman knows which will be most prevalent according to the number of men and women employed in the area.

When unemployment scars the streets, the doors of factories and mills are closed and groups of sullen men stand idle on street corners, when haggard-faced women huddle their children close to them and search the gutters for scraps of left-overs, then theft will rise. That is a fact known to every policeman on the beat and the best of them will turn Nelson’s eye to the odd disappearing loaf of bread or pound of potatoes. People have to eat. Who with any common humanity, who with even the slightest hint of Christianity would arrest a woman who steals to feed her family, or a man who poaches a rabbit or a salmon from a landowner who boats of his thousands of fat acres. Why, I have known policemen, hard, cynical, long-service men who think nothing of arresting a habitual thief and sending him for transportation, drop a penny or a pound of cheese into the lap of an honest woman down on her luck. Christian charity is good for the soul.

There are other crimes associated with unemployment. Many a poor woman, desperate to feed her children, has resorted to vice to make a few pennies. That course could lead to the dangers of disease, or violence if unscrupulous men lure her into a dark alley for rape, or these evil predatory women encourage her to join their stable. Truly that is a temptation it is better to fight.

On the other hand, when jobs are plentiful and wages rise, then such simple theft eases. Fat-bellied children mock the very uniforms that keep the streets safe and mill and factory workers can demand another half-penny an hour in their pay, knowing that their masters can ill-afford to turn them down with order-books full and customers aware of other operating mills. When that happens, men and women earn full wages, but not all is spent sensibly. Rather than saving for the next rainy day, working men and women often choose to dash into the nearest gin-palace or squalid shebeen where kill-me-deadly whisky can be purchased. Drinking leads to all sorts of temptation, from immorality between unmarried people to sudden flare-ups of violence.

At time of full employment, drunken violence escalates in the streets of every town and city in the land.

So be warned, young people and old who are reading my memoirs, there is never a time when crime is quiet. Unemployment brings theft and employment encourages drinking and violence. Best keep clear of both. Have a safe day now.

Sergeant James Mendick

http://www.malcolmarchibald.com

 

 

 

 

Body snatchers

Hello all

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

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