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By Martin Baggoley
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Martin Baggoley
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CASE ONE 1814
DEATH OF A SEAMAN
Suspect: Thomas White
In the early months of 1814, as the Napoleonic Wars were approaching their end, the Admiralty notified the Fleet that the Royal Navy was to be reduced in size. It was proposed that those seamen who had served the longest would be the first to be discharged and allowed to go home. However, once the order became known, many ratings decided not to wait for their official discharge papers, which led to a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of desertions. The authorities ordered that deserters must be halted and officers were therefore directed to use the strongest measures necessary to prevent men from leaving their ships in this manner. One ship for instance, the frigate Unicorn, had lost fifteen crewmembers, who deserted after being paid their wages at Stromness ten days before she arrived in Leith on 14 June 1814.
On 15 June, one of the Unicorn's boats, which carried two midshipmen, Robert Wright and John Levit, accompanied by six ratings, was sent to the yard with rigging in need of repair. One of the ratings was William Jones, who, despite being a good sailor, could be awkward and cause problems for the ship's officers. As soon as the boat docked, Jones sought permission to leave the yard but his request was refused. Later, he repeated his request, only to be turned down once again. In response, he turned to Midshipman Levit and said, 'You know you cannot keep me,' which was interpreted as a threat to desert.
Later that afternoon, the frigate's captain ordered another boat to be sent to the yard and among its crew were midshipmen Andrew Carroll and Thomas White. On its arrival, Levit advised his fellow junior officers of the possible problems posed by Jones. Midshipman White approached Sergeant Murrell of the West Norfolk Militia, who was acting as sentry at the dockyard gates, to instruct him that none of the ratings off the Unicorn should be allowed to leave unless accompanied by an officer.
Jones made a third request to be allowed to leave the yard, but this was once more refused by Levit. Jones replied, 'Here goes,' and ran through the main gate and out of the dockyard. Levit gave chase, caught the fleeing seaman and ordered that he should be confined in the dockyard guardhouse. Following this incident, the midshipmen visited the nearby Britannia Inn, where they dined and drank a great deal of ale. When they returned to their boats at seven o'clock that evening, they were told that four men had deserted.
White immediately called out for Jones, who replied, 'Here, Sir.' He had been released from the guardhouse but did not abscond with the others. However, he too had been drinking and was lying on his side close to the edge of the quay. When ordered to lower himself into the boat, he refused and told White that he was waiting for a barmaid from the Britannia to bring him some bottles of ale to take back for his shipmates on the Unicorn. This act of insubordination enraged White, who responded by drawing out his cutlass.
Addressing Jones, the midshipman demanded, 'Won't you go on board Sir, when I desire you?' Jones ignored him and joined in singing with those sailors who were already in the boat preparing to row back to the frigate. Angry at this further display of disobedience by the seaman, White struck him twice across the head with the flat of the blade. Jones rose to his feet but before he could say or do anything, the midshipman stabbed him once in the stomach. The wounded man staggered and fell to the ground and, as he did so, White stamped on his head. Jones fell off the quayside and as the tide was out he landed on some exposed rocks. Several members of the boat's crew picked him up and laid him out in the small vessel, but he died later.
Twenty-five-year-old White was not court-martialled but stood trial at the High Court of Judiciary on 12 July 1814, at which he pleaded not guilty to murder, claiming Jones's death was an accident. In court, powerful and hugely incriminating testimony was given by a number of respectable civilian witnesses, all of whom were local tradesmen who were in the vicinity at the time of the alleged murder. These included Leith bakers James Allen, David Thompson and John Bayne, carpenter Archibald Morrison and stocking-maker John Duff.
James Allen told the court that he shouted to White that he was a murderer and should hang for what he had done. White turned towards him, making threatening gestures with his cutlass and screaming that he would kill anyone who attempted to restrain him. He continued to shout that he had only been performing his duty as Jones was about to desert.
White, who had been drinking for much of the afternoon, seemed to be confused and unsure what he should do next. He boarded the boat and made for the bowsprit, where the boatswain attempted to take the cutlass from him. White was able to struggle free but was threatened with a mallet by a crewmember. He jumped out of the boat and was eventually held down by the boatswain and a local innkeeper, Fowler Ferguson, who was able to prise the bloody cutlass from his hand.
White was escorted to the town's council chamber to await questioning while attempts were made to treat the wounded man. However, Jones was beyond help and died a short time later. A post-mortem revealed that death was due to one deep stab wound to his stomach and it was clear that the weapon must have been plunged into the victim with great force.
The first defence witness was Rear Admiral William Johnstone Hope, who described the pressure placed on the shoulders of junior officers given with the task of preventing desertions by men under their command. Another officer, Lieutenant Kedger of the Unicorn, recalled an incident three years earlier off the coast of Spain, when Jones was punished for striking a Master of Arms, thus making the jury aware of the fact that the dead man's disciplinary record was far from exemplary. The admiral and lieutenant spoke highly of the prisoner, who was said to have been an excellent young officer destined for a brilliant career with the Royal Navy.
The Crown had presented White as someone who acted with malice in a wholly inappropriate manner and who had used excessive and unnecessary violence against the deceased. However, midshipmen Carroll and Levit emphasised the disobedience of Jones on the day in question and his attempt to desert, which the defence believed put White's actions in a different light. Credence to this was given by a Mrs Christie, the wife of the captain's steward on board the Appelles, a sloop of war also berthed at Leith at the time. She witnessed the incident and told the jury that in fifteen years, she had never seen such blatant disobedience and despicable behaviour by a sailor.
Two ratings who served on the Unicorn named Baskin and Tough, both captains of the main top and therefore senior and experienced seamen in charge of a group of sailors, also appeared for the defence. They spoke highly of White, describing him as a just and humane officer who treated his men well. They insisted that he bore no ill-will towards the dead man and confirmed that three days before the alleged murder, White had spoken on behalf of Jones and prevented him from being flogged for being drunk on duty.
The jury returned with a verdict of guilty of culpable homicide and White was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years.
CASE TWO 1818
RAISING THE DEAD
Suspect: Matthew Clydesdale
On the afternoon of Wednesday, 26 August 1818, a foot race took place before a large number of spectators at Clarkston, near Airdrie. The competitors were two local handloom weavers, William More and twenty-five-year-old Matthew Clydesdale, a married man with two children. Clydesdale was the victor and afterwards, the two runners visited John Smith's tavern, close to the Clarkston toll bar, where they were joined by William's brother John and a friend, John Rankin.
The four men drank heavily for several hours and although drunk, they were in good spirits, especially Clydesdale, who was keen to celebrate his victory. However, when they were asked to leave at two o'clock in the morning, his mood turned ugly after his demands for more alcohol were refused by the landlord. It was only with great difficulty that his companions persuaded him to leave and when challenged to a race by William, he appeared to regain his good mood. Eventually, the men reached Laigh Drumgelloch, close to Clydesdale's home. They parted company but within a matter of minutes, William heard a cry of 'Murder!' coming from the direction in which Clydesdale had walked. Fearing his friend may have been the victim of a robbery by footpads, William ran in the direction of the shout, to offer assistance if it was necessary for him to do so.
A little earlier, eighty-year-old Alexander Love and his fourteen-year-old grandson, Alex, were preparing to leave home for the start of the early morning shift at Blackridge Pit, where both worked as colliers. They set off, each carrying his pick, and after walking a short distance they encountered Clydesdale, who was recognised by Alex as the youngster had attended the foot race earlier in the day. Alexander realised the man was very drunk and was in a belligerent mood. As they passed him, Clydesdale glared menacingly at Alexander and demanded, 'What do you want?' Wishing to avoid any trouble, the elderly collier replied, 'Nothing, I am on my way to work.' Without any warning, Clydesdale pushed Alexander to the ground and, grabbing his pick, began to strike him with it. He ordered Alex to kneel but the youngster refused and it was he who shouted 'Murder!' as he began running back towards home to seek help.
William discovered Alexander lying on the ground, moaning loudly. At first he thought he must have fallen and injured himself, as he could see nobody else. However, when he knelt by his side to tend to him, William realised he had been the victim of an assault as blood was flowing from his mouth and he noticed a number of head injuries. Hoping to attract more help, William shouted, 'Here is a murdered man!' After a few moments the silence was broken by the sound of someone, who had clearly been hiding in nearby bushes, running away in the direction of Clydesdale' house. William did not realise that they were the footsteps of Clydesdale.
Meanwhile, Alex had reached home and alerted his parents, William and Catherine, together with his grandmother, who cried out, 'My man is killed!' Despite nursing a sick child in her arms, Catherine ran with her husband to the spot where Alexander lay and found William More cradling the elderly man's head in his arms. The two men carried Alexander home, where his distraught wife and grandson were waiting. Surgeon Mr Niven was called to the cottage and discovered that the injured man had suffered several deep wounds to the head and body. Each of these was a distinctive square shape, one quarter of an inch in diameter, and to the surgeon there could be no doubt that Alexander's own pick had been the weapon used to inflict the injuries.
Clydesdale fell under suspicion almost immediately and the police visited his home a few hours later. He was not there but his lodger told the officers that their suspect arrived home in the early hours, claiming he had been attacked by two tinkers who attempted to rob him. He managed to escape, but not before suffering an injury to his knee. It was presumed that Alexander was able to strike his assailant at least once during the struggle. The lodger also informed the police that Clydesdale was in such a rage that he smashed the family cat against the floor with such ferocity that it was killed and he threw its body onto the fire.
Clydesdale's description was circulated throughout the district and he was arrested soon afterwards. Alexander died on the following Sunday morning and it was for his murder that Clydesdale stood trial in early October, at which he entered a not guilty plea. In his opening address to the jury, the Crown barrister emphasised that it was in many respects a motiveless crime from which the perpetrator gained no profit. It was also clear that revenge was not the reason for the murder, which was committed simply because the killer was drunk and had lost all self-control. However, this in no way excused the crime, which should not be reduced in seriousness, for he was guilty of wilful murder.
In Clydesdale's defence, it was argued that there was sufficient doubt to enable the jury to declare him innocent and an important point in his favour was that before he died, Alexander was unable to state categorically that Clydesdale was the man who attacked him. The only witness was young Alex, who, it was argued, may have been confused in his own mind having seen him earlier in the day at the foot race. Furthermore, Alex told the police originally that the attacker was wearing white breeches, whereas all the other witnesses swore that Clydesdale wore breeches of a different colour that night. This, it was claimed, cast doubt on the reliability of the youngster's evidence and thus the jury could not convict the prisoner of murder.
The defence concluded by saying that all of the evidence pointed to Alexander being the victim of a planned robbery, committed by unknown footpads who had been lying in wait for the two colliers, who, due to their great age and youth, would have been incapable of offering any meaningful resistance. However, the jury was not persuaded by the defence's arguments and convicted Clydesdale of murder. He was sentenced to death and it was ordered that he should be fed only bread and water as he awaited his execution, following which his body was to be handed over to Dr Jeffray, Professor of Anatomy at Glasgow University, for dissection.
Three other criminals were sentenced to death at the sitting: Mary Kennedy for uttering a forged bank note, and housebreakers James Boyd and Simon Ross. The four convicted prisoners were put in a single cell together and made a determined but unsuccessful attempt to escape, which led to them being put in irons. Kennedy and Boyd were later reprieved, which left Clydesdale and Ross for execution on Wednesday 4 November at three o'clock in the afternoon.
On the Monday before his hanging, the governor of the gaol permitted Clydesdale to drink a bottle of ale. The bottle was not taken off him and during the night, the condemned man smashed it and with a fragment of glass inflicted severe wounds to his arms and throat in a determined suicide attempt. He was found close to death by a warder when his cell door was opened in the morning and he was only saved by rapid medical treatment by the gaol's doctor. This meant that he was fit enough to keep his appointment with the hangman the following day.
The last murderer to be hanged in Glasgow had been James Gilchrist in 1808, thus there was a great deal of excitement at the prospect of Clydesdale's execution and a large crowd awaited his appearance outside the walls of the gaol. At two o'clock, his arms were pinioned and he spent some time in prayer with the chaplain. Also in the pinioning room was Simon Ross and his father, who had been allowed to see his son for a final emotional meeting. The two men were then led on to the drop and were soon dead. After being left suspended at the end of the ropes for an hour, their bodies were cut down. Ross's corpse was buried, but Clydesdale's was taken in a cart to the university, where it was to be dissected. On its journey, the cart was accompanied by a large number of people who hissed and booed it all the way to its destination. As it was being lifted out of the cart there was a loud cheer, for there was no sympathy for this brutal killer of an elderly man who had been incapable of defending himself.
What was not widely known was that Dr Jeffray had invited Andrew Ure, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Anderson's Institute, to perform a series of experiments on the corpse prior to its dissection, which involved using a galvanic battery to pass electricity through it. Professor Ure was following in the footsteps of Louis Galvani, who in the late eighteenth century had conducted similar tests on frogs, and also of Giovanni Aldini, who had later performed tests on the bodies of executed criminals at London's Newgate Gaol.
At the time, it was believed by many scientists that life could be restored in some circumstances using this method and in particular it could possibly assist in the resuscitation of supposed victims of drowning. There was widespread interest and many of Professor Ure's academic colleagues and members of the general public were crowded into the chamber to watch. What occurred next has become the stuff of legend and the following contemporary account, which was published in The Examiner, provides an accurate account of the four experiments performed on the body and their impact on those present:
On the 4th November last, various galvanic experiments were made on the body of Clydesdale by Dr Ure of Glasgow, with a voltaic battery of 270 pairs of 4 inch plates. The results were truly appalling. On moving the rod from the hip to the heel, the knee being previously bent, the leg was thrown out with such violence as nearly to overturn one of the assistants, who in vain attempted to prevent its extension! In the second experiment, the rod was applied to the phrenic nerve in the neck, when laborious breathing instantly commenced; the chest heaved and fell; the belly was protruded and collapsed, with the relaxing and retiring diaphragm; and it is thought that but from the complete evacuation of the blood, pulsation might have occurred! In the third experiment, the supra-orbital nerve was touched, when every muscle in the murderer's face was thrown into fearful action. The scene was hideous – several of the spectators left the room and one gentleman actually fainted from terror or sickness. In the fourth experiment, the transmitting of electrical power from the spinal marrow to the ulnar nerve of the elbow, the fingers were instantly put in motion and the agitation of the arm was so great that the corpse seemed to point to the different spectators, some of whom thought it had come to life! Dr Ure appears to be of the opinion that had not incisions been made in the blood vessel of the neck and the spinal marrow been lacerated, the criminal might have returned to life!
Excerpted from Scottish Murders by Martin Baggoley. Copyright © 2013 Martin Baggoley. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Case One 1814 Death of a Seaman,
Case Two 1818 Raising the Dead,
Case Three 1820 The Deadly Gaol Break,
Case Four 1823 The Madam and the Phrenologist,
Case Five 1829 The Abbey Murders,
Case Six 1829 Giving the Doctor,
Case Seven 1830 The Gilmerton Outrage,
Case Eight 1830 Touched by Evil,
Case Nine 1835 Death of a Sergeant Major,
Case Ten 1839 The Thorter Row Murder,
Case Eleven 1853 The New Vennel Outrage,
Case Twelve 1855 The Body in the Loch,
Case Thirteen 1857 The Oldmeldrum Murder,
Case Fourteen 1862 A Dutiful Daughter,
Case Fifteen 1862 Slaughter at Sandyford Place,
Case Sixteen 1865 The Killer Doctor,
Case Seventeen 1868 The End of an Era,
Case Eighteen 1868 Truly Mad or Simply Bad?,
Case Nineteen 1869 Robbery and Murder at the Blackhill Toll Bar,
Case Twenty 1870 Murdered by her Pimp,
Case Twenty-one 1871 Kleptomania, Murder and Attempted Suicide,
Case Twenty-two 1883 A Deadly Poaching Affray,
Case Twenty-three 1888 The Baby Farmer,
Case Twenty-four 1889 Did they Hang Jack?,
Case Twenty-five 1889 Murder on Goat Fell,
Case Twenty-six 1890 Death at the Wedding,
Case Twenty-seven 1892 Death by the Sword,
Case Twenty-eight 1892 The Dismemberment of Elizabeth O'Connor,
Case Twenty-nine 1893 The Mysterious Death of Cecil Hambrough,
Case Thirty 1900 The Body in the Gladstone Bag,
Case Thirty-one 1903 The House of Death,
Case Thirty-two 1906 The Case of the Poisoned Shortbread,
Case Thirty-three 1907 The Deserter,
Case Thirty-four 1908 The Oscar Slater Case,
Case Thirty-five 1913 Failed by the Parish,
Case Thirty-six 1920 The Queen's Park Murder,
Case Thirty-seven 1921 The Prison Van Raid,
Case Thirty-eight 1921 The Whiteinch Horror,
Case Thirty-nine 1923 Addicted to Meths,
Case Forty 1923 The Murder of a Coatbridge Newsboy,
Case Forty-one 1925 A Racist Murder,
Case Forty-two 1927 A Case of Matricide,
Case Forty-three 1928 Duke Street's Last Execution,
Case Forty-four 1928 The Gang Fight,
Case Forty-five 1944 A Nazi Atrocity,
Case Forty-six 1947 The Bolfracks Tragedy,
Case Forty-seven 1950 Murdered by a Motorcar,