A vitriolic attack

Davina Brown and the vitriol attack, 5th December 1924

Davina Brown was in her mid-twenties, slogging away in the jute mills like so many other young women in the 1920s when she met Thomas Crombie. He owned his own cooping business, ooh fancy, cooping is making barrels and casks, but hey, he owned his own business and as their romance blossomed Davina thought she had found the one.

A few months into their relationship, Davina was pregnant. When she told Thomas, they started to make plans to leave the country and start a new life, but something seemed to be troubling Thomas. A month later he confessed the truth, he already had a wife and child and couldn’t continue to see Davina, and he wouldn’t be there for the child. At first, Davina was heartbroken, she couldn’t believe she’d been left alone and pregnant. And then she got angry. As the months went by, and true to his word Thomas wouldn’t even speak to Davina about support, let alone offer up any money, so Davina went to see a solicitor for advice. She was told there was nothing they could do until the child was born, and then they could make a claim for child support. They wrote up a letter for Davina, stating her intent to make a claim and that he was the father, and sent it off to Thomas.

A few weeks go by so Davina, now quite a few months along, goes to Thomas’s home on the Hawkhill on Wednesday 5th December 1924. He wasn’t there but his wife answered and said she knew exactly what Davina was doing there, she’d seen the solicitor’s letter. Davina said to her ‘‘I will make him pay sweetly for what he has done’.

She lay in wait up a dark side street off Perth Road, waiting for Thomas to walk by on his way home from work. Spotting him she dashed in front of him, asking what he was going to do about the child she was carrying. He laughed in her face! No way was he paying for the child, he said how did he even know it was his, he was leaving the country, setting sail for Canada in a few days and there was nothing she could do about it.

Continuing to laugh at her, Thomas had no idea what lay in Davina’s pocket. She pulled out a snuff box and threw the contents in his face. Immediately Thomas’s eyes and skin burned like it was on fire, as she’d thrown sulphuric acid, or vitriol right into his face. screaming in agony he stumbled and somehow managed to make his way home, gripping onto walls and buildings for dear life.

He was taken to DRI where it was confirmed, both of his eyes were so severely burned he was blinded completely in both eyes for life. Davina was swiftly arrested and charged with throwing vitriol, which was made a capital crime in 1825, so Davina could be facing the death sentence for what she’s done.

She tried to defend herself in court, saying she was just trying to keep him in the country until her child was born so she could make her claim for child support. He had abandoned her, and she felt she had no other choice.

The court wasn’t buying her reasons, it was premeditated the prosecution said, as Davina had bought the vitriol 2 days before the incident, and it was waiting in her pocket long before she knew he was leaving the country. She’d also lied to buy the vitriol, claiming she was married, and her husband was working on a brass toy engine he needed vitriol for. The druggist had to defend why he had sold her the vitriol so told the entire story to defend himself, saying he hadn’t sold it lightly.

The court also brought up the fact that Davina was 27, she wasn’t a young naïve girl, and this also wasn’t her first illegitimate offspring. The judge stated that the crime was ‘one of the most horrible and dastardly one could conceive, but fortunately, Dundee had been immune from such crimes and there were no other incidents of vitriol throwing in the Dundee records.

Eh? I dunno what records they were looking at, but this was a quite common crime, even in Dundee we could find half a dozen cases of vitriol throwing just in the 50 years before Davina’s case! Just over 50 years before Davina’s crime, Peter Anderson threw vitriol at his wife’s face after he found out she was having an affair, blinding her in both eyes and deafening her too. The judge in that case said Peter was such a kind and upstanding citizen, it saddened him to have to commit him to jail, but they would make sure to give him the shortest sentence they could, 5 years in jail.

Davina was also lucky in that although she was found guilty, they decided to charge her under common law for assault, and not the act of George VI which was a capital crime. Although the judge wanted to make an example out of her, so no one else would copy such an awful crime, he could only sentence her to a maximum of 2 years in jail.

I’d say poor Davina, but she left that man permanently scarred and disabled. Often vitriol attacks used diluted acid and would just burn some of your clothes, but if you were on the murder tour a couple of years ago or have got our books (another shameless plug) you’ll have heard the harrowing story of Bridget Kiernan who killed her baby with vitriol, whether it was accidental or intentional, only she will know.

– DD Tours operates walking tours in Dundee city, covering dark local history such as wars, battles, murders, diseases, riots, disasters and executions. Walk with us for an unforgettable storytelling experience.


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