scottish Lawmen in the 1830s

"Letters from the Past

19th century lawmen in Ayr and Wigtown,
Scotland 1831 and 1832".


Eunice Shanahan

We have two interesting letters addressed to Sheriff or Sheriff Clerk. The first concerns the transfer of prisoners, and the second is about the cancellation of a trial. The links between them are that they were both signed by D. Cleghorn in Edinburgh, (who was the Crown Agent) and they both concern the town of Ayr. The first is a really interesting letter, and the outside of it also has interesting notes, which almost hide the address

The paper is heavy cream with a watermark of J WHATMAN 1831.

The letter is addressed to
Sheriff or Sheriff Clerk, Ayr, and contains information about the transfer of prisoners. It is very easy to read, as the writing is so clear and the paper is very thick and strong and has the watermark J WHATMAN 1831.

Edinburgh 17th Dec 1831

I enclose two Justiciary Warrants for transmitting Samuel Waugh & other prisoners in the Tolbooth of Ayr to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh.

I also enclose a Justiciary Warrant for transmitting James Farrel, a witnefs agt Waugh &c who ought not to be transmitted along with the accused parties, but on a different day.

If Mefsrs Eaton, Gray, Murdoch and Mann can all attend, the declarations of the accused in the three cases can be proved by them, in which case it will be unnecefsary for any of the other declaration witnefses to be present at the trial, and they should be so informed. Please write me in course as to this, that another arrangement may be made, if the one now proposed does not suit.

I am Sir
Your mo: obt. Servt.
D Cleghorn
(NOTE: Justiciary: definition in O.E.D 1. Adminstrator of Justice ) .

The filing notes on the outside would have been written by the Ayr Sheriff or his Clerk. The first is just the basic filing info:-
“Ed. 17 Dec 1831 The Crown Agent with Warrants agt Sam. Waugh &c.”

The second is information regarding the prisoners.

“Waugh, Ramsay, Moffet & Forsyth to be sent off on Tuesday 20 Decr so try to be at Roadside from 10 to 11 a.m. Farrel to be sent off on Weds 21 Dec by the Glasgow Coach 18 Dec. wrote Sh. At Paisley accordingly.”

The contents explain why the cost of sending the letter was so high, the enclosure of the warrants would have put the weight up to 7 times the basic rate of 8d for ¼ of an ounce, but unfortunately the warrants are not with the letter, presumably having been filed in the court records in Ayr. It would be interesting to know the crimes involved with these prisoners.

I wanted to know about this tolbooth, and received the following information from the Museum of Scotland.

They advised that it was likely that at the time of this letter, the prisoners would have been held in the Canongate Tolbooth in Edinburgh, built in 1591. It is a historic landmark of the Old Town section of Edinburgh built in 1591 as a tolbooth, that is, a courthouse, burgh jail and meeting place, for the then separate burgh of the Canongate. The building is now occupied by The People's Story Museum and is protected as a category A listed building.

Canongate Tolbooth

The next thing was to find out about the Ayr Tolbooth, and found it from Wikipedia , the free encyclopedia.

The New or Over Tolbooth was where the town's business was conducted and the jail was below. It crowned the rising ground in the centre of the Sandgate. It was built in 1574-5 on the site of its predecessor and in 1614-5 a belfry was erected on it. A steeple was projected for it in 1697, but was not completed until 1726. It was removed about 1823, at which time it was replaced by the new Town Hall.

This was 8 years before our letter was written, so the new place must also have had facilities to include room for holding prisoners.

D. Cleghorn was the Crown Agent in Edinburgh, and an internet search explained his duties

Crown Agent, Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer and Chief Executive

The Crown Agent is the principal legal adviser to the Lord Advocate on prosecution matters. He also acts as Chief Executive for the Department. Part of his duties include acting as solicitor in all legal proceedings in which the Lord Advocate appears as representing his or her own department. He issues general instructions from and on behalf of the Lord Advocate for the guidance of Crown counsel, procurators fiscal, sheriff clerks and other public officials, transmits instructions from Crown counsel to procurators fiscal about prosecutions.

The second letter, is also written by D Cleghorn in Edinburgh dated September 6th 1832 and addressed to Sheriff or Sheriff Clerk, Wigtown, endorsed with O.H.M.S. in manuscript.

The paper is cream and good quality and with the watermark of J WHATMAN 1832

It also has an Edinburgh additional halfpenny stamp, but this is figure F18 type IIa but a different size 18mm x 14mm recorded in use 10.6.1829 to 11.8.1836. It has only the Edinburgh circular date stamp for SEP 6 1832 in red ink with the identifying letter C and N for night mail. No backstamp for the receipt at AYR. The rate appears to be 6d which covers a distance between 20 and 30 miles.

This letter is quite different, but shows what kind of correspondence would be involved between the Crown Agent in Edinburgh and the Sheriff in the other towns, in this case Wigtown.

Edinburgh 6 September 1832
I have received your letter of the 5th. In so far as Citations had been given before you received my letter of the 28th ultimo the expense cannot be helped. In answer to your question as to those parties who have been cited I have only to say that regular notice should be immediately given to the Jurors and witnesses that their attendance is not required and intimation made to the accused that the Trials are not to go on under the indictments served. As to those to whom no citation has been given some will now be given.

You appear to have misunderstood the terms of my letter of the 28th and of the act of adjournal. The circuit was not adjourned neither was it intended that the trials should be adjourned. The circuit was simply discharged, whereby no proceeding is to take place.

I am Sir,
Yr most obdt servt
D. Cleghorn

The letter has been folded (as it was posted ) for so long that the folds make it difficult to scan it without trying to press it flat, but the image is legible despite the creases.

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