were the jails overcrowded? |
Who was policing the town? | Who
were the criminals and what to do with them?
The Court System | Punishment
| Notorious Crimes
in the 19th century:
a rapidly industrialising town where population
and crime rates soared, a police force was first appointed
and a new jail was built. This was an era where a
gibbet was built at the new Dundee jail for the public
hanging of notorious criminals such as William Bury
(thought by some to have been Jack the Ripper) and
a person could be setenced to 7 years transportation
for stealing a pair of shoes. In fact, the early 1800's
saw escapes taking place from incarceration in the
overcrowded old Townhouse Gaol and St Mary's Tower.
contains images of documents relating to Crime & Punishment
in 19th Century Dundee, Scotland.
why were the jails so crowded?
in the 19th century was a rapidly growing manufacturing town and
shipping port, attracting large numbers of people from across
Britain in search of work in the jute industry. With an increase
in population and wealth, crime rates began to soar, reaching
epidemic proportions in 1820-40, with housebreakings, thefts,
assaults and robberies with violence occurring frequently. The
well-to-do citizens of Dundee carried pistols as they traversed
the dimly-lit streets at night due to attacks by disguised and
masked 'ruffians' demanding for their 'purses or their lives'.2
this epidemic of lawlessness, the jail became inadequate for the
numbers of prisoners detained within, and after a public meeting,
plans were made for the building of a new 'bridewell' or jail
in Dundee. Up until 1837 when the new jail was built, the upper
portion of the Town House had been used as a jail, and although
it was strongly built, there were occurances of prisoner escapes
from there. While the new jail was being built, the Old Steeple,
or St Mary's Tower was used as a temporary jail, and though it
was deemed safer than the Town House, numerous escapes also took
place from there.3 Prior to the building
of the Town House in 1732, the Dundee Tollbooth, above the Guild
Hall, (which was situated near the present day Overgate shopping
centre) had been the place of incarceration for criminals. With
its leg irons and dingy punishment room, 'it is said that a woman
was once eaten alive by rats in this fearful place'.4
was policing the town?
first official police force - the Police Commissioners, were appointed
in 1824, 5 with responsibility for
lighting, paving and cleansing the town, and a concerted effort
to provide gas lighting and pathways began. Prior to this, the
Town Council and Magistates would appoint Town Officers, who would
patrol the streets, fetter the prisoners and guard the jails.
As the 19th century progressed, the powers granted to Police Commissioners
gradually increased, allowing them to undertake major town refurbishments
in the 1870's. The granting of the 'Police and Improvement Bill'
act in 1871 saw the destruction of many of the seedier, overcrowded
slum areas of Dundee, which had been seen as the sources of many
were the criminals and what to do with them?
the town quickly grew and changed, so too did the types of crimes
committed. Rioting was common in the earlier part of the century,
often over the price and availability of food. According to records
of the Circuit Court from the 1830's, thieves could receive at least
7 years transportation to Australia, while a bigamist could be sent
to jail for 12 months.7
large number of people in the jail were imprisoned for the non-payment
of debts and separate cells were kept for these prisoners. In the
problem with drunkenness had become problematic, and one policeman
would bring in between 60 and 70 drunk men and women on a Saturday
In the late 1870's, the crime of 'shebeening' (selling alcohol without
a licence) was one crime committed by more women than men, and in
imposed on persons selling liquor without a licence raised almost
£300 in revenue for the police.9
reform was a wide-spread and influential movement throughout the
19th century. Breaches of the peace and assault were also common
crimes in these years.
19th century justice system consisted of two courts, the Sherrif
Court and the High Court (based in Edinburgh). Both of these courts
travelled on a circuit to different regional locations where cases
would be tried. The most common crimes to be tried in the Sherrif
Court were theft and assault, and more difficult cases were referred
to the High Court - the supreme criminal court of Scotland.
addition to being sent to Dundee jail or being transportated to
Australia, punishments included being sent to one of a number of
other correctional institutions. Not only criminals, but people
(especially children) 'at risk' of becoming involved in criminal
activities, could be sent to industrial schools. It was hoped that
the kind of practical education provided in these schools would
prevent them from slipping into a life of crime. A
number of these correctional facilities which were established were
the Rossie Reformatory10,
the Dundee Industrial School 11,
the 'Mars' training ship for wayward boys 12
and the Female Rescue Home for 'fallen' women 13.
number of hangings took place in Dundee in the 1800s, usually for
the crime of murder. The last man to be publicly hanged was Dr Edward
William Pritchard in 1865, who had achieved some notoriety in the
media for his crimes. Below can be read a study of the doctor's
head by the 19th century 'science' of 'phrenology' which claimed
to be able to identify criminals by the shape of their skulls [L313(8-20].
The last execution by hanging took place in Dundee in 1889, with
the death of William Henry Bury, thought by some to have been Jack
the Ripper (due to his untimely arrival in Dundee at the same time
as the 'Ripper' murders in London stopped). In the case of Arthur
Woods, a gibbet was built especially for his hanging at the new
Dundee jail in 1839. Documents relating to these criminals can be
read below by clicking on the images associated with them. A number
of death warrants are contained in the Lamb Collection, however,
not all of them were carried out - Royal pardons could be applied
for and were granted to those lucky enough to have someone intervene
trial to have achieved notoriety was the trial of of Mary Elder,
or Smith, in 1827, who was more popularly known as "The Wife
o' Denside" and had many ballads and stories written about
her. She was accused of murdering her maid-servant, Margaret Warden,
by administering arsenic. A jury returned a verdict of "Not
Proven"against her, though popular opinion condemned her as
guilty [Lamb no. L312(2)]. Boxes 312 & 313 in the Lamb Collection
contain a number of trial cases from the 1800's.
information can be found in original documents contained in the
Lamb Collection, Dundee Central Library and Dundee City Archives.
A large portion of the material has been digitised and is available
for online viewing at www.rls.org.uk.
you click on the images below, you can view them at an enlarged
These images may take some time to download.
at Dundee Jail, 1819
fascinating document lists the inmates of Dundee jail throughout
the year 1818. The information given includes the names of the miscreants,
the nature of the offences, whose warrant they were committed by,
their punishments and their dates of liberation.
can be seen, rioting was a common offence during this period, though
most rioters were treated fairly leniently. One prisoner, Alexander
McPherson, Perth Road, convicted for theft, escaped through the
roof of the prison. Ann McKenzie was committed to prison for not
obeying the Sherrif's sentence of banishment.
leaflet includes cases which were brought before Lords MacKenzie
and Meadowbank at the circuit court in Perth. One such case was
of a Elizabeth Brown accused of stealing a petticoat and pair of
sheets from a Mrs Ross, innkeeper of Forfar, she was sentenced to
seven years transportation.
case was Innes Kelley sailor, charged with the murder of his wife
Janet Mitchell at their home in the Hawkhill. Even though there
were several witnesses with concurring testimony proving his guilt,
Innes Kelly escaped justice because of a technical discrepancy,
and was discharged.
Regarding Enlargement of Gaol and Building of New Gaol in Dundee
Memorial for the Magistrates and Town Council
Gaol of Dundee in 1833 was situated in the Town House and was inadequate
for detaining the increasing number of prisoners in a town with
an increasing population. This memorial for theTown Council was
intended to secure support for the construction of a new jail on
land north of the Hospital Ward, between the Coupar-Angus Turnpike
Road and the Dundee and Newtyle Railway.To raise the £40,
000 in funds needed for its construction, a proposal to tax the
inhabitants of Dundee over a period of ten years was suggested.
In this statement of facts, the state of overcrowding in the Town
House jail is described; In four rooms, an attic and a make-shift
lock-up on the ground floor, the prison held 61 male and 18 female
prisoners. The health dangers and the inadequacy of it for security
are emphasised - there had been a number of successful escapes made
by prisoners from the Town House. The new jail in Bell Street was
not constructed until 1837.
Act for Erecting a Gaol for Dundee
25th July 1834
Act was presented in the reign of King William IV, for the erection
and maintenance of a Gaol, for the Royal Burgh of Dundee, to replace
the gaol which was inconveniently situated in the upper part of
the Town House.
meeting was called to appoint commissioners, who in turn would have
power to appoint committees to decide the site of the gaol which
should be provided by the Town Council. The Police Commission should
contribute funds towards the new gaol.
Warrant for Alexander Marshall
28th September 1835
Town of Dundee's Charter Chest includes a bundle of 19th century
death warrants and, sometimes, pardons or remissions of sentence.
This hand-written warrant for the death of Alexander Marshall calls
for his execution 'by the hands of the common executioner, to be
hanged by the neck upon a gibbet, until he be dead'. He was later
pardoned and was instead sentenced to imprisonment and deportation.
warrant states that Alexander Marshall, weaver, was found guilty
of murder and is to be brought from the Perth tolbooth (detention
place) to Dundee where the execution will take place on the 24th
of October between the hours of 2pm and 4pm. The letter is signed
by James W. Moncreiff and J.H. Forbes.
Pardon for Alexander Marshall is also included in this collection
[Lamb Number: ACC9-Bdle-1(iii)]
Regarding Setting Up a Gibbet at New Dundee Gaols
for the execution by hanging of Arthur Wood)
25th March, 1839
report, written by James Black, was sent to the Provost of Dundee
and details the setting up of a gibbet in the 'East Room on the
second floor of the Hospital Buildings in front of the new gaols'.
This was erected for the execution by hanging of Arthur Wood, for
the murder of his son, John Drew Wood. Both he and his wife were
tried for the murder, but his wife was acquitted. Both had given
different stories to the police regarding what took place preceding
the murder, but arguing had been heard and a witness had seen them
both carry the strangled body of the son out of their home and leave
the body at the foot of a stairway.
The new jail and bridewell had been erected at the corner of Bell
Street and Lochee Road, and this report also details the erection
of an eight-foot railing around its grounds. The execution of Arthur
Wood in 1839 at the new jail attracted a large crowd and two companies
of cavalry had been sent from Edinburgh to keep control of them.
Chamberlain's Intromissions, 1838-1839
City Archives includes a series of Treasurer's Accounts from the
16th century to the present which provide detailed information on
everyday life in 19th century Dundee as well as more extraordinary
of the expenditure items listed on these pages are related to the
execution of Arthur Wood in 1839. The erecting of the scaffold
cost £40, 7 shillings and 11 pence (£40 7s11d); John
Scott, the executioner was paid £17 5s; meat for the executioner
while in the gaol cost 14s 9d; and transport for the executioner
back to Edinburgh cost £2 10s.
poster relating to the execution of Arthur Wood is also contained
within the Lamb Collection (Lamb Number: P6)
of Death Sentence for William Bury
last execution to take place in Dundee was in the year 1889, within
the walls of the prison of Dundee. Between the hours of 8 and 9
o'clock a.m., 29 year-old William Bury, thought by some to have
been Jack the Ripper, was executed for the crime of murdering his
wife. His trial was one of the longest trials in Dundee at the time.
poster declares that a sentence of death was passed on Bury on the
24th of April and includes a certification of death signed by J.W.
Miller M.D., the medical officer at the prison. Known for his drunkardness,
Bury confessed before his death his plan to kill his wife to acquire
her money, which he carried out - strangling, then stabbing her
and placing her body in a trunk. The couple had moved to Dundee
from London and had acquired lodgings on Princes Street, where the
murder took place.
poster relating to the execution of William Henry Bury is also included
in the Lamb Collection (Lamb Number: P5)
news sheet dated 1853 contains a summary of crime in Dundee and
surrounding areas and also reports from the courts including the
case of Margaret Crabb who was accused of "swearing",
"bawling out" and behaving in a "turbulent"
manner in the Overgate. Her sentence was a ten shilling fine, or
ten days in prison.
of the crimes committed in Dundee at that time were petty, involving
street brawls, petty theft and drunkenness amongst the poor. Another
case reported was that of Mary Eagan who was imprisoned for ten
months for exposing her six week old infant on the Lochee Road.
from the Executioner - William Marwood
April 22, 1873
to the Governor of the Dundee County Prison, this letter from renowned
English-born executioner William Marwood asks that the governor
consider using his services for an upcoming execution in Dundee.
by trade a cobbler, designed the scaffold drop platform whereby
death was instantaneous for the hanged person, rather than the slow
choking process which had been commonly used before. His belief
that for humane reasons, criminals should not be choked to death,
turned his attention to developing different methods.
City Police Annual Criminal Returns 1876-77
Report for the Year Ending 31st December, 1876
book contains the Police Superintendent's Annual Reports with statistcs
relating to crimes and offences. From the 1876 Report comes this
table showing the number of cases brought before the Dundee Police
Court and the trade or occupation of the person apprehended or cited.
total number of cases reported is 4780, with breaching the peace,
drunkenness and assault being the most common crimes, and labourers
being the most common offenders of these crimes. One murder case
was reported, the offender being a mill worker, and 123 prostitutes
were arrested for 'Loitering and Importuning'.
Key to Dr. Pritchard's Character
Edward William Pritchard, a convicted criminal in the 19th century,
has his head analysed according to the system of Phrenology, the
study of head shape and size which claims to indicate an individual's
personality and intelligence. Pritchard was a physician renowned
for his extra-marital seductions of young women and was convicted
of murder after he confessed to the crime of poisoning of his wife
was hanged on 28 July 1865 and was the last man to be publicly executed
in Scotland. This article refers to his 'small, round head' and
attributes his criminal behaviour to shape, saying 'There is an
enormous mass of brain behind the ear...and wherever it exists,
we find an extensive tendency to crime'.
1. Tollbooth Illustration from Kidd's Guide to Dundee,
2. A. H. Millar, 'Haunted Dundee'
in The City of Dundee - The Third Statistical Account
of Scotland. p. 554
3. A. H. Millar, 1923, Haunted Dundee,
4. Kidd's Guide to Dundee, 3rd Ed.
5. The following and other documents relating
to the formation of the early police force are contained in
the Lamb Collection: e.g. 'Dundee Police Day and Night Beats'
Collection no. L319(2)
& Minutes of the Dundee Police Commissioners - ATC-PBM-13(a),
(b), (c), (d) & (e), Rules and Regulations of the Police
Court - L319(10). Box 319 contains a number of interesting
documents relating to the prison system and police force.
6. A number of documents relating to the
powers granted to Police Commissioners are included in the
Lamb Collection, as well as information regarding the changes
made to Dundee as a result of the 'Police and Improvement
Bill' of 1871. e.g. Lamb
L467(29), ATC-DP-1(i)(a), ATC-DP-1(i)b, ATC-PBM-13(a).
7. The Crown Agent, 1839, [Perth Circuit
Court - List of Trial Cases - Ref no. D6128]
8. The City of Dundee - The Third Statistical
Account of Scotland. p. 573
Dundee City Police Annual Criminal Returns 1876-77 [Lamb
Collection no. APo-1-1(a)]
10. Rossie Reformatory [See Lamb Collection
no. L41(10) and L41(11)]
Industrial School [See Lamb Collection no. L41(6) & L41(3)]
12. 'Mars' Training
Lamb Collection no. L44(2), L44(4) & L44(7)]
13. Female Rescue Home [See Lamb Collection
no. AGD-X-406-1-1(a)&(b); AGD-X-406-1-2(a)&(b) and
Another criminal with a death warrant against him not included
in the selection of documents on this page is James Fraser.
[Lamb Collection no. L442(10A) and L442(10B)]
Local Studies Department,
Central Library, Dundee