Posts tagged ‘Edinburgh’

Aug 27, 2020

Break the Chains of Empire: nationalism and independence

The British Empire lasted some 300 years; about the same length of time that the United Kingdom has existed. The British Empire has gone. It is time the remnants of colonialism within the UK were also relegated to the past.

Good morning, Scotland. What is it you want?

Please, sir, I want some more.

What! More!

Yes, sir. I want more.

There is disbelief all round.

You already have devolution. What more could you want?

Independence, sir. I want my independence.

Independence? What nonsense is this? Not everyone can be independent. If everyone was independent nobody would appreciate it.

That’s not fair, sir. I want to be independent.  

Want! Want! It’s not your place to want! You’ll take what you’re given. Who ever heard of such a thing! There are people who make the rules and people whose duty it is to follow our rules. You are the latter. People who want, don’t deserve independence. And that’s the end of it.

The meaning of empire

The British Empire began as the English Empire although it adopted the name British before the Act of Union. England’s imperial expansion began in the 1500s, enabled by its aggressive navy expanded to break into the slave trade. Union in 1707 was sought by England primarily to remove potential support by Scotland for England’s enemy, France – henceforth Edinburgh was denied decision-making powers over foreign affairs and so has that remained. That the Union gave England control over Scottish trade was an additional, if secondary benefit. The Union of 1707 was not set up to benefit Scotland but to protect England politically and economically. And there was no whiff of democracy anywhere about the agreement struck between a few monied interests in Scotland and England’s parliament.

The Union of 1707 colonised Scotland in much the same way England then the United Kingdom colonised other parts of the world over three hundred years. As with its other colonies the Union parliament never envisaged equality between its heart, in London, and authorities in the peripheral parts of its empire. Power lay with London and there it would remain. That was the intention and nothing changed over three hundred years. Devolution of powers has not altered the conception of hierarchy and subordination within the United Kingdom. Within the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are subordinates which are not provided with the same levers of power provided to England.  

The idea the United Kingdom represents equality between the four nations is a chimera. Power lies with Westminster and in Westminster Scotland’s representatives are outnumbered 10:1. There has never been a time Scotland has been able to influence decisions in Westminster. And there never will be a time Scotland will be able to influence decisions made in Westminster, nor will Northern Ireland and Wales ever be placed on an equal footing with England.  

United does not mean equal

Like empires throughout history which have risen and declined so has the British Empire. Empires establish themselves when in a position to wield power against weaker nations and can crumble when their dictum of might is right is questioned by the powerless within their dominions.  

When under threat empires tighten their grip on the reins of power through brutality, corruption and threat. Opposition is condemned as treachery – anti-patriotic. In the case of the United Kingdom, loyalty means Britishness and Britishness has always been largely based on Englishness.

Not only does Scotland have no power whatsoever at the heart of England’s rump empire, the United Kingdom, for most of the past 300 years of its existence Scotland has scarcely been considered. Similarly with Wales and Northern Ireland – their representation at Westminster is as tokenistic as Scotland’s. Influence they have none. The populations in the three peripheral areas of the England’s rump empire are demeaned, patronised and the butt of humour as demonstrated in national ‘pet-names’- the equivalent of the racist term ‘boy’ in farther-flung parts of the empire – Scots are Jocks; Irish are Paddies; Welsh are Taffies. Jocks, Paddies and Taffies are invariably depicted as lacking sophistication, feckless, mean, chippy, grievance monkeys – ungrateful for the protection the ‘broad shoulders’ of the empire/UK affords them.  Empires evolve cultural myths. Given the hierarchical nature of empires it is the interests and culture of the dominant state that come to embody them.  Cultural values of the peripheries are defined as archaic curiosities and sources of derision and humour which tend to be abandoned in favour of those of the dominant power.  

Faced with ingratitude/challenge from within the peripheral nations the dominant power tends to act more aggressively. Troops might be sent in/ stationed in the troublesome periphery. We see this across the world and within the Union the population of Scotland was threatened and subdued by General Wade’s army in the 18th century. Empires might impose control through more sophisticated means such as installing bureaucracies into peripheral areas for greater control in parts far away from the centre of power. A recent example of this type of imperious incursion is Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh, embedding Westminster-rule into the heart of Scotland in defiance of devolution and meant as a visible reminder to Scotland of who really is in charge; and it is not the Scottish people or their own parliament. 

It is an observation often made that the farther away populations are from the centre of power the less the centre represents their interests. Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth House may be a recognition of this but given that Scotland has never figured in its consideration of what is best for the Union as opposed to what suits south-east England it is more likely this hub is the equivalent of General Wade’s force – intimidation and reminder that authority rests with London.

Where threats to empire exist but are less threatening to the dominant power degrees of autonomy are sometimes used to diminish calls for independence. This gives an impression of a benevolent centre of power willingly sharing responsibilities but powers transferred are an illusion for the centre of empire retains the ability to withdraw those same powers whenever it decides. Remember the Union like any empire is a hierarchy in which ultimate authority is retained by the dominant nation; democracy is limited to partial self-government in peripheral areas. Democracy under the Union favours England’s needs and ambitions above those of other parts of the UK through the makeup of the Houses of Parliament and chain of command of government based in London.    

India was the British Empire’s greatest source of wealth. Britain’s ransacking of it began when England set up the East India Company in 1599 and by the 1700s Britain was imposing taxes on India. By stealth greater and greater controls were imposed until eventually Britain ruled India directly, governing it with a rod of iron and keeping the ‘peace’ through a policy of divide-and-rule in which divisions between Hindus and Muslims were encouraged.  A period known as the British Raj, notorious for luxury and moral decay lasted from 1858 to 1947. This was rule from London to benefit London, the heart of empire. Rarely were native authorities and peoples consulted on any matter. When the British prime minister declared war against Germany in 1939, the announcement was made without consultation with Indian ministers although India was expected to provide millions of troops and provisions for the war effort. High-handed, disrespectful, racist and xenophobic – qualities demonstrated by the British Empire.

Sick of centuries of exploitation by the racist empire, Indians demanded self-determination instead of being administered by London. In London this was regarded as outrageous ingratitude. Lord Linlithgow, the Empire’s man-in-charge in India at the time, a staunch British unionist, threatened India by further inflaming the very internal divisions that London had so adeptly used in the past to keep India in its place. He and London were implicated in the deaths of millions from famine in Bengal in 1943 because of Britain’s policy of destroying food supplies and requisitioning of boats and other means of transport that prevented the movement of goods and food within India. Ruthless and heartless government by Westminster encouraged support for the Quit India movement that demanded an end to British rule. It’s spokesman Mahatma Gandhi said,   

“I discovered that I had no rights as a man because I was an Indian.”

The Empire struck back. Gandhi and fellow Indian Congress members were arrested and imprisoned. Press censorship intended to silence the independence movement and the Empire’s human rights abuses could not happen now with social media but then lies spread about India’s independence movement were fed to a lackey press.  

There are different forms of nationalism just as there are different forms of democracy in the world. Empires exist to benefit a tiny portion of their populations. When people grow sick of being oppressed for the benefit of the few at the heart of empire they try to change the political structure to better reflect their interests and needs. Empires by their nature are parasitic, sucking the life-blood out of the peripheral areas they govern. So nationalist movements emerge offering hope in the shape of government that will take more cognisance of the desires of the affected people. John Maclean the great socialist advocated Scottish nationalism as the path to socialism and a better world for Scots.  

As more Indians saw through the desperate dirty tricks employed by the British Empire so the clamour for independence grew – for India to govern itself in its own interests, not those of the Empire/UK. The Empire/UK struck out – 1,000 Indians were killed during protests and movement leaders imprisoned (Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, died in jail.)  The Empire/UK lost the people’s respect. Once that has gone it is a matter of time before any empire falls. For 300 years India had been subjugated by the British Empire/UK. Soon, Pakistan, too became independent.

The British Empire was once the alpha power and London the alpha capital. This is no longer the case. The Empire created through violence and threat declined because of its arrogance, corruption, xenophobia and disrespect for its peripheral areas. Yes, it was Scots who largely ran the British Empire. It has been said this was because Scots were better educated than in other parts of the UK. Perhaps there is truth in that. It may also have been because educated ambitious Scots had few career opportunities available to them within Scotland because of how Scotland’s infrastructure was run down so that the majority of high-powered jobs were created/preserved for the centre of UK power, London, and Etonian Oxbridge friends of friends in the capital. That Scots participated to a high degree in the British Empire is neither here nor there. Scotland as a nation was as much a victim of the imperial motivations of London as other peripheral parts of the Empire. And while other colonies have won their independence, Scotland remains trapped in a Union founded on inequality.

The British Empire’s decline left behind a debtor United Kingdom, pressurised by the USA because of world war debt to open up access to its international markets. The rump of Empire/UK that remains – the union of the UK – still exhibits the predatory characteristics shared by all empires. They are ingrained in it. The alpha power lashes out whenever its authority is challenged. Whereas India and other former Empire nations were subjected to brutal repression in response to their demands for independence Scotland it is supposed will be subjected to a thrashing by propagandists for the UK. Threats of disaster and failure; of ingratitude have been and will increasingly be made.

Empires resist their loss of power. The mythical hand of friendship extended from the centre of empire to the peripheries is always in the end a fist. Threats escalate as an empire defends its authority. The UK built on violence and threats will die issuing still more threats meant to undermine confidence in the subordinate nation’s future success.

But as India proved, lying and threats, corruption and moral decay, far from saving a venal order leads to its demise. Once people stop believing the indoctrination; once they see it for what it is propaganda concocted to preserve inequalities of the Union/empire they have won – by realising they are the means of changing the world.

Dec 19, 2017

The Whip Hand

dsc02672

Prison warder with a cat-o-nine-tails from Peterhead Prison Museum

On January 2, 1891 it was reported in an Aberdeen newspaper that the town’s whipper had resigned after his home was besieged by angry protesters.  

It was New Year and it may have been the occasion with all that involves that emboldened Aberdeen’s citizens to vent their disapproval not-so-much of the man but his chosen occupation. Whatever the stimulus that attracted a crowd to his door that particular night their actions unnerved him sufficiently that the town’s whipper got to thinking about his job and when he had done thinking he decided to quit it.

His appointment a year earlier attracted the attention of the London Echo which described his role as more akin to barbarous practices of earlier and ruder times. In response a Glasgow newspaper ridiculed the London Echo‘s reporter for getting, well – the wrong end of the stick – and imagining Aberdeen loons (boys) were being strapped to grills to be lashed to within “an inch of their lives by some brawny and brutal giant wielding the cat-o-nine-tails.”

The Echo was quoted in the piece –

“If the hardened burglar sinks into deeper degradation through the lash, what effect,” this tearful Echo exclaims, “will it not have upon the delicate and impressionable mind of a lad?”

The Glasgow reporter reassured the London Echo its imagination went far beyond the truth. It was pointed out that schools used corporal punishment through caning and there was no intention to treat Scottish youth to immeasurable agony and disgrace but only to extend the type of punishment commonly applied in schools to municipal whipping rooms. The alternative of a fine, the reporter argued, only punished parents not the lad.

Many will remember more recent controversies over the birching of youths, notably on the Isle of Man, for misdemeanours too inconsequential for custodial sentence. Edinburgh’s whipper was busy as late as 1927 birching around six boys aged between ten to fourteen accused of stealing money from gas meters and other articles. One lad was given twelve strokes while the rest got up to six.

At the Borders town of Hawick a public whipper was sought in 1889 when 17 boys were brought before the police court on charges which included the theft of turnips, handkerchiefs, a hammer, a tea-cup and maliciously breaking a ladder. Casting an eye towards parents and teachers Hawick’s magistrates insisted that if they could not restrain the laddies then the police and magistrates would have to take them in hand.

Whipping is the act of using an instrument to strike a person or animal to cause pain as punishment or instil fear to teach a lesson or encourage compliance. If I might divert a little – who would be a whipper? A bully or inadequate type of person surely and there’s a fine line between legally sanctioned whipping and violent assault against a person.

In 1868 in Milwaukee Wisconsin a man called Downer charged his neighbours with assault and intent to kill after he was attacked by them. He claimed he had been sitting peaceably at home when a group of women broke in and without a word set about him; striking him with clubs, sticks and guns. He was left soaked to the skin, his clothes torn, his face and neck badly scratched and missing clumps of head hair and whiskers and he angrily demanded the women be arrested and punished. In the subsequent court hearing a witness told how that evening Downer was indulging in his ‘usual amusement’ of whipping his wife when neighbours were alerted by her desperate cries and responded armed with a mop, a broom, fire shovel and pair of tongs. They struck out at Downer mopping his face with dirty water and beating him. He fought back punching at least one woman which only enraged the rest to thrash him more soundly till he was the one crying out and begging not to be killed.

Back in the UK there were references to the distinctive coats or robes worn by town whippers but I haven’t come across actual descriptions of any which is a pity as I would like to have an accurate picture of the men whose task it was to lash 18th century scallywags who cared so little for their passengers they carelessly let go when carrying sedan chairs propelling the unfortunate traveller inside tumbling out and meriting, according to the custom of the time, a sound thrashing.

dsc02671

Tripod to hold prisoner receiving a flogging from Peterhead Prison Museum

The 1880s appears to have been pivotal to changing attitudes towards whipping. At Peterhead’s fine prison museum there is a contraption that was used in the 19th century to flog prisoners with the cat-o-nine-tails. A designated prison warder took on this role until public pressure ended the practice and in Aberdeen the last whipper was engaged in September 1885. The following year magistrates tried to have all whipping or birching carried out in prisons because of the reluctance of the public to take on the role but the prison authorities resisted and the law was changed to allow the police birch youths in police cells or court rooms.

 

In August of 1886 Exeter was the last cathedral in England to take on a dog whipper and so mercifully vanished another ancient occupation used to keep dogs from wandering into open churches and devouring communion wafers, or whatever. It was in the 1880s that the British Navy notorious for its floggings largely gave up the punishment although it wasn’t formally removed from the statute books until 1949. I suppose schools were the last stronghold of the whipper in a physical sense with the term whipping giving way to birching or belting and punishment confined to particular institutions.

43-Scotlands-tawse

The Lochgelly, belt, strap, skud, tawse

In Scottish schools the 2-foot long piece of coiled leather known as the tawse, strap, belt, skud or Lochgelly (the town where they were made) continued whipping by another name and on another part of the body, except perhaps in public schools. The strap was banned in state schools in 1987 while public schools hung onto it, or a cane, for a further ten years. The ban came after years of campaigning against corporal punishment in schools. In 1961 Aberdeen’s redoubtable Trades Council secretary James Milne, in response to a council plan to permit only headmasters administer the strap, said corporal punishment in schools was no business of the Trades Council but that of teachers alone. Headteachers complained they were to be made into public whippers – turned into ogres who would be feared instead of regarded with affection and trust by their pupils. The Trades Council called on the education committee to impose a headmaster only rule as first step towards abolition of the strap in city schools and suggested parents should be forewarned when their child was due to be strapped – a view rejected as daft by at least one headteacher for drawing out the punishment.

For those of us who don’t saddle up to terrorise our native fauna whipping now conjures up its symbolic form – in the Westminster parliament. There MPs are frequently ‘whipped’ to vote along party lines although there is no physical assault involved, as far as I’m aware, more the application of something akin to strong persuasion and even blackmail. The parliamentary whipper-in was initially appointed to make sure enough recalcitrant members of parliament would abandon their appointments with horse racing, women and bottles of claret to ensure sufficient were available to carry on the duties of government. Without the whipper-in it was doubted parliament would meet one day in seven during the earlier 19th century. Whippers-in made it their business to know what was happening in London’s social scene – gatherings and parties; and who was invited where. London clubs around Westminster were often the first port of call when bodies were required to back a vote.

“The whipper had to get to know new members and flatter and cajole them if they were gastronomic he dines him, operatic then attends opera with him, the sport lover, foxhunter, literati, Soyer with the epicure, John and Jesus men of Exeter Hall with the devout member, admirer of women with others, informed on cotton twist with the manufacturer, of guano with top boots and breeches… he lures radicals with a ticket for the Speaker’s dinner, introduces him to Court in a bobwig, sword and ruffles and makes him a member of some safe committee, like that upon petitions – after a session or two he is no longer a flaming radical but a mere whig, a ministerial driveller and a safer voter than even Lord Tom Noddy.”

The parliamentary whipper had learnt the art of subtle people-handling at the smooth and oily school. And for their great service to the state the whipper-in might expect fine reward – a plum job in a position quiet, well paid and respectable or a sturdy pension. 

Whipper-in was first applied in parliament when in May 1769 that giant of 18th century politics Edmund Burke referred to Treasury officials ‘whipping in’ members for the final parliament of the session. The term caught on and was soon abbreviated to whips.

ed ramsden hunt whipper

Captain Edward Ramsden convicted of animal cruelty

The whipper-in title came from fox hunting as I hinted above – but you probably knew that and to Westminster’s shame it still hasn’t loosened its attachment to that particular appalling pursuit. One whipper-in who caught my attention when researching this piece was one Captain Edward Ramsden, master of the South Durham hunt, who in 1935 was found guilty of cruelty to animals after he entered a house in pursuit of a terrified fox that had sought shelter there. The conquering hero emerged dragging the fox by a leash wrapped around its neck and tally-ho’d to the hounds who set upon the distraught animal tearing it to pieces. He was fined £10. Personally I would have had him publicly whipped.

 

 

Sep 24, 2017

Edinburgh’s Snowball Riot, Police Brutality and the Youth with Red Whiskers

On the morning of Monday 30th January 1860 what came to be described as a very serious snowball riot broke out between university students and police in Edinburgh.

It all began as students were arriving for morning classes and found firemen attempting to clear deep snow from the university quadrangle by hosing it down. One or two of the young students playfully sent a few snowballs in the direction of the firemen who in turn turned their hoses on the students and drenched them with water. Snow versus water fights ensued and with the arrival of more students the contest grew. The police were called and they turned up in force, both uniformed and plain-clothed, and soon they, too, were embroiled in battle. It was not yet 10 o’clock in the morning but as the hours went on so the battle turned into a veritable war which lasted until 4 o’clock in the afternoon during which time heads and windows were broken and shopkeepers shuttered up for fear of damage to their premises.

9 (2)

Edinburgh firemen

 

The first arrest came at 1 o’clock when a student called Lewis was apprehended by the police and as he was being led away a great struggle ensued with Lewis’ fellow students attempting to free him. By this stage hundreds of students were pelting anyone and everyone with snowballs but mostly the police.

Ignoring the initial order to interfere as little as possible to prevent an outbreak of a conflict between town and gown policemen ran at students hitting out with their heavy wooden batons. The increasingly vicious spectacle attracted an enormous crowd so that most of the South Bridge and Nicolson Street became blocked with spectators.

It was later claimed in a 5-day trial held in the wake of the riot that many students had been repeatedly struck by police batons even when down on the ground. Recognising they were out-armed a call went up among the students present of “Sticks. Sticks” and several ran to a toy shop and a general dealer re-emerging with walking sticks which they flourished in the faces of the police.

When a policeman, Sergeant Auld, was attacked by a student apparently with a stick one of the students was identified as the assailant and surrounded by ten constables as around one hundred students yelled and hooted, “Down with the police” and attempted to rescue their companion but were fought back by baton-wielding constables who knocked many down to the ground and continued to strike them so that several youths had blood streaming from wounds. The noise was deafening with spectators joining in on both sides – “as if the whole street was fighting” said one eyewitness. Two or three students were badly injured and helped into a druggist shop to have wounds dressed and several police were sent home with injuries.

Police reinforcements arrived to contain or beat back the students but the young men’s anger and determination was unrelenting. Each arrest was met with cries of “To the rescue” and “Down with the police” as they pelted the police all the harder with snow.
With over 50 police constables and over 100 students as well as enormous numbers of bystanders from the town sometimes participating in the affray there were fears for public safety. Eventually the police succeeded in driving back the youths into the college grounds and off the street but there in the quadrangle the firemen’s unfinished work had left considerable accumulations of snow to provide further ammunition for their cause. Fresh snowballs were soon flying thick and fast with the police unable to stop them.
Magistrates and professors from the university who tried to restore order were ignored. Students were angry. They shouted “Away with the police” and “Retire” but the battle continued until around 4pm when eventually the police withdrew, to the nearby School of Arts and so ended the riot.

Students congregated in small knots in and around the college as the police left the scene to discuss the day’s events and the arrest of fourteen of their number charged with mobbing and rioting and assaulting police officers as well as a charge of snowballing.
After an initial appearance in the Sheriff Court on 4th February the case was deferred until the 10th.

***

snob

In the days following the snowballing riot it emerged students involved in the episode wrote to the Lord Provost offering to pay for any damaged property while around Edinburgh opinion was divided over responsibility for the episode; a flurry of letters to local newspapers elicited views on both sides.

There was a references to “idle lads and boys” and police who were ignorant of their duty to move on trouble-makers more concerned were they in catching drunks and spying on publicans. It was clear this writer, who signed himself A. Citizen, had his own cause in mind and indeed he spelled out some of it in his letter in which he complained that the police didn’t pay attention when he reported a policeman to his superiors for failing in his duty and urged that the police be taken out of the hands of the Town Council.

Another correspondent who described himself as An Eyewitness condemned university professors who were sympathetic to the students and those condemning “blackguard policemen” for he had seen with his own eyes a lady with an infant in her arms hit by a mass of hardened slush. While he agreed participating in a fair ‘snowball bicker’ was a healthful pastime when it came to disturbing the peace and destroying private property not to mention endangering the lives and limbs of citizens it was a different matter and he made an offer to police constable number 61 to prosecute the individual who pelted him with ice.

Another wrote “Until the Bailies, or somebody, can succeed in passing a bill to alter young human nature, and to stop snow from falling, there will, whenever youths congregate and snow lies, be some innocent snowballing” and he went on to complain of the decision to send in the police and close the college gates so confining crowds into a small area with police marching up and down as though encouraging the students to react. He described how a student bystander was beaten by the police, knocked down and further struck about the head to his severe injury and claimed that this was not an isolated example of the brutality and ruffiansim of the police that day but he doubted any such claims would be allowed to be heard in court although “it cannot be a policeman’s duty to thump a person and break his head” he concluded.

A correspondent who identified himself as Medicus placed blame for the disturbance at the door of the police and magistrates on grounds it was the actions of the police entering the private college quadrangle that initiated trouble with their ostentatious parading and display of batons. It was this behaviour, he said, which produced a response from students; recognised by members of the public who shouted “Shame” at the police. Medicus wrote, “Men who have a right to be angry are generally those who are truly brave. The police on Monday had no cause to be angry, and hence acted like cowards. They were present, not to put down a riot, but to create one; and in this they succeeded most effectually…” and he complained of the press exaggerating the matter and siding with the police to place the entire blame on the students. The press, he noted, made out that snowballs were filled with stones but there were no stones in the quadrangle and the allegation was not true. Neither was it true that members of the public were targeted and he finished by further condemnation of the “obnoxious presence of police.”

***

9 (1)
The fourteen students put on trial at Edinburgh police court on February 16th were: Didymus Clark, John Swanson, Arthur McShedden, John Hop, William Kennedy, Nicol Carter, John McLeod, John Dunn, Alfred Lewis, George Phipps, Henry Nicolson, Alex. Tod, Archibald Hamilton and Samuel Swabey.

A crowded courtroom heard how Mr McLellan, First-Lieutenant of Police, ordered a group of uniformed and plain-clothes men to attend the college on the morning of the 30th January. It emerged that McLellan had a rare talent for observation for he was able to confirm in court that all of those students who appeared there were guilty of violence and of repeatedly attacking the police while chanting “Rascals, Rascals” while not one policeman exceeded his duties.

The Sheriff shared McLellan’s view of the battle (which lasted ten times longer than Culloden) and made no secret of his belief in the students’ guilt and in his opinion the police were largely innocent from the outset. Sheriff Hallard’s role as a police magistrate presumably did not influence his views in any way.

Police witnesses appeared one after the other all with matching stories. The violence came from students and any actions on the part of the police was justified as self-defence. One policeman claimed from the witness box that he saw a particular student buy a walking stick which he then used to strike out at the police and when confronted with the information that this student always used a stick to help walk the police witness altered his story and accused the student of swearing at him.

Another police witness, constable 161, denied threatening a student who was writing down his police number by telling him, “We’ll teach you to take our numbers again.” When pressed about a student seized by the hair this officer claimed the student annoyed and interrupted him and other constables on the way to the station.

Police constable Kavanagh confirmed he was an Irishman and knew how to handle a shillelagh. He was accused of striking a good many people but he could not say how many or on which part of their bodies he had hit them. “I daresay you went straight to the poll,” it was put to him amidst laughter.

It emerged the most badly injured students had been repeatedly hit over the head by batons. It was said that Sergeant Auld had been struck with a stick or baton. Kavanagh was asked to look his baton and say whether marks on it had been there before the snowballing affray.

Kavanagh – “They were there when I got it I think.”
Police solicitor – “I knew an Irishman who put a nick on his pistol every time he shot a man with it” to laughter in court.
To more laughter it was said that police batons were said to “poke people about.”
Kavanagh denied the police had been given any orders over how to behave that morning at which point he was asked if it was his mother Mrs Malone who gave his instructions to which he plied, “No.”

And so the trial continued as a kind of farce. When pressed as to why the student Swabey was arrested and charged with the assault of Sergeant Auld it was said he was seen with a stick and had used very bad language towards the police. Asked what kind of bad language the police witness replied, “Bobbies,” to loud laughter. It was put that was a compliment, after Sir Robert Peel, to more laughter, but the witness complained “Sir, he called us a lot of b—-s, again to laughter. He then claimed Swabey attacked another policeman and when it was put to him the police gave out as much as they took the police witness denied it saying the police got the worst of it.

“How so?” he was asked.
Witness – “Because we were retreating at the same time. (Laughter)
Police defence – “Did you retreat and not strike back?”
Witness – “We did.”
Police defence – “Very patiently?”
Witness – “Yes.”
Police defence – “And you retreated, like “the King of France, with twenty thousand men marching up the hill, and then marching back again? (Laughter) Job himself, I should say, could not exceed your patience.”
Witness – “No, he could not.” (Laughter)

And so it went on. Of the injured and bleeding students no policeman was able to recognise who among their ranks beat them but every student who attacked a police constable was identified and all police action was justified as self-defence.
The police brought out a police surgeon said to have been passing the college and witnessed the disturbance who overheard the police asking people to move on with no aggression whatsoever. However, this evidence was challenged by the other side with witnesses for the students offering very different accounts – of “much excited” police chasing them, beating and dragging students away. It was reported that even bystanders with hands in their pockets were assaulted by police batons and constables highly excited and dancing about wielding their heavy truncheons. Evidence was given of a policeman hitting a little boy who got in his way and of a woman pushed in the ribs with a baton and knocked down.

Swabey, the student accused of hitting Sergeant Auld, had been hit so hard without provocation, it was said, the blow could be heard across the street. Witnesses spoke of Swabey falling down and being struck again and again on the head till unconscious with blood streaming from his wounds. Others told how a young student was pinned down by two policemen while another two continually struck him with batons.

***

i (2)

All of the students but one were found guilty of mobbing and rioting but not proven of assaulting the police. They were each fined £1 or 3 days in prison while Swabey, found guilty of assaulting Sergeant Auld, was fined £5 or 10 days imprisonment. The case against student Dunn had been dropped despite him squaring up to a policeman and the case against him technically proven according to the Sheriff who recommended the case against him be dropped.

Following the trial a meeting of the students condemned its conduct. They were astonished that anyone could read the evidence and come to the Sheriff’s conclusion of student guilt alone. Short of charging the Sheriff with dishonesty or incompetence it was stated he began the court case apparently convinced of the students’ guilt. And so it appears he did.

Over the question of the identification of Swabey as Auld’s attacker Sheriff Hallard was in no doubt. That five or six constables identified Swabey as Auld’s attacker encouraged the Sheriff to fine him more than the rest despite strong evidence that Swabey had been standing at the College gates while Sergeant Auld was assaulted in the doorway of a Mr Imrie’s shop – even evidence from Auld, himself, that he had been attacked by a man with red whiskers when Swabey had none made no difference to the judgement. There was a student there with red whiskers who was seen wielding a stick, a John Mackenzie , but he did not come forward and it was Swabey the police insisted was responsible.

At a meeting of students they spoke of pressing the Home Secretary to launch an investigation into the conduct of the police and arranged for a subscription be opened to pay the students’ fines, complaining £5 was far too large a fine even if Swabey had knocked down five policemen. They ended their meeting with three groans for Sheriff Hallard to cries of “No, No” and three enthusiastic cheers for Swabey.

Towards the end of the year what remained from the Snowball fine fund was given to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Perhaps with the snowball riot in mind the snows that fell that winter were cleared by the town authorities when over 400,000 carloads of snow were driven away from the centre of Edinburgh

Apr 1, 2017

News in Scotland 100 years ago today

Some of the stories making the news around Scotland on 1 April 1917 (outwith the Great War with over a year to run.)

dundee

Daughters of some of Dundee’s men at the Front

  • Aberdeen to get women police patrols.
  • Proposal to start a co-operative jute factory in Dundee.
  • Edinburgh grocers are in favour of a card system for sugar distribution.
  • Some Glasgow grocers are selling sugar in pennysworths.
  • Holidays in munition areas are to be deferred until after the end of July.
  • It is reported that 11,000 teachers in Scotland are getting less than £100 a year.
  • Protests in Lochgilphead against Sunday labour in the woods and fields.
  • Net profits of £270,432 reported by the Bank of Scotland for the past year.
  • There is a credit balance of £150 from the British Industries Fair recently held in Glasgow.
  • Crookston Combination Poorhouse is to be taken over for the reception of mentally afflicted soldiers.
  • A ban on the sale of spirits in parts of Argyllshire and Buteshire has come into force.
  • Some conscientious objectors from England are to be employed in forestry work at Ford in Argyllshire.
  • The Marchioness of Graham has undertaken to provide Lamlash with a convalescent home for the wounded.
  • The Dunoon and District Merchants’ Association have agreed to hold the Fast Days.
  • The fishing village of Whitehills near Banff has lost in one week four men who were on Admiralty service.
  • Tillycoultry Parish Council has decided to proceed with an extension of the cemetery at a cost of £2000.
Mar 2, 2017

The Fate of the Embroiderer from Peterhead

It was in 1707 that fraudulent bankruptcy became a capital crime in England; what the penalty for personal sequestration in Scotland was then I have not been able to discover but I suppose an English hanging may have been preferable to the French punishment of strangulation. 

embroidery-1

Peterhead’s Alexander Thompson was about thirty years old when he found himself on trial at the Old Bailey in London in February 1756. Brought up in the Blue Toon in the northeast of Scotland, Thompson was educated to some degree, as were most Scots children, in the basics of reading and writing.

Like many of his countrymen and women before him, Thompson travelled abroad, first to Paris where he learned the specialized craft of embroidery.  No mere stitchers embroiderers were skilled in designing patterns used to create gorgeous intricate needlework that would be used decorating clothing worn by the wealthy and for home furnishings. 

After five years in France and still a young man in his early twenties Thompson took his experience as an embroiderer to Holland where he carried out his trade for several years, enhancing his reputation as a successful businessman in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam, before turning up in England.

plate_19_18_1

In London he took lodgings in a ‘reputable’ coffee house and enjoyed the high life of the city; forever visiting entertainments. It was at a dance he met his prospective wife, Lydia Davis, but safe to say her father wasn’t keen on his prospective son-in-law. Lydia, or rather her father, had some money as apparently did Thompson and the couple moved into a comfortable house in St. James’s, Westminster. From there Thompson earned a living as embroiderer, dealer and a chapman (seller of cheap popular books.)

However, Thompson was of the mind that all work makes Jack a dull boy and quickly the marriage turned sour and the couple separated. Then one evening Thompson asked his wife to go dancing with him and together they went to Fish Street Hill which appeared to have prompted something of reconciliation. They were at a friend’s house when at around four in the morning on the 20th February 1755 the marital home, where Thompson still carried on his business, went up in flames. Fortunately it was well insured nevertheless all his work materials were lost as well as personal belongings and more importantly two people, both servants, died in the fire.  

Rumours abounded that Thompson had been seen in the neighbourhood before the fire broke out, denied by Thompson who maintained he was with his wife the whole of that night. He collected an insurance payout of £500 despite the property having been insured for £900 and immediately went off to a tavern with his father-in-law and a friend to pay off a debt. It emerged Thompson was in debt to several people but despite having enough money in hand he chose not to discharge his debts which amounted to no more than £200 and sent a note to his wife informing her he was leaving London.

His marriage over Thompson sailed for Scotland and in his absence he was declared bankrupt by the courts in England. He later claimed he knew nothing of this although he would have been well aware when he turned his back on England he left as a debtor and failure to discharge debts was then a very serious offence.

Thompson arrived in Edinburgh, described erroneously as the north of Scotland in English court papers and in the southern press. He was still only in his twenties and before long he got married again. History repeated itself when he found this father-in-law was none-too-keen on him either and kept at him to pay off his debts which Thompson must have admitted to so Thompson, possibly reluctantly, sailed back to London. Knowing he was in trouble not only over the money he owed but having committed bigamy Thompson persuaded a woman he met there to impersonate his English wife and swear before a lawyer that they had not been married but only cohabiting in an attempt to make his Scottish marriage legal.

embroidery-3

The attempted fraud was quickly discovered when under pressure the woman broke down and admitted the deception. Thompson was apprehended and dragged before his English father-in-law who identified him. In no time Thompson found himself locked up in Clerkenwell New Prison and later Newgate. His bigamy was by now the least of his worries.

During his absence in Edinburgh the London courts issued an order for his appearance before the Commissioners in Bankruptcy at the Guildhall “to make a full discovery and disclosure of his estate and effects, when and where the creditors are to come prepared to prove their debts.” Having failed to comply, Thompson hired a legal representative to argue he had no knowledge of the matter, being in Scotland at the time. He was put on trial for bankruptcy and failing to comply with an interdict to deal with it. His declaration he knew nothing of the action did not wash with the jury and he was condemned to death for not surrendering himself to the Commissioners’ scrutiny.

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Robertson’s portrait of Flora Macdonald

Meanwhile at Edinburgh Baillie Court that July an action was taken out against Thompson by William Robertson, a limner,* for what I don’t know  as the court papers are missing and an application was made by Margaret Lamb, daughter of George Lamb, a wright of Potterow, against Alexander Thompson for his bigamous marriage to her.

Despondent in his English goal Thompson wrote several letters imploring understanding of his situation including one sent to his English father-in-law demanding his help. Thompson, a Protestant, also railed at the church for failing to support him and increasingly desperate angrily declared his desire to die a Catholick. His rekindled interest in religion found him penning prayers, attending chapel and spending time in quiet devotional meditation which led him to regret his ill-treatment of his English wife. And so a contrite Thompson calmly faced the hangman’s rope – and in doing so left two widows.

* artist, or portraits or miniatures