The electrifying air in Perth Circuit Court crackled with anticipation as Alexander Hutchison stood in the dock, the accused murderer of his wife, Christina. It was a high-stakes trial that gripped the entire city. The first witness, their neighbour James McKenzie, took the stand, revealing a chilling tale. He recounted how his young sons had anxiously revealed the grim truth—they had witnessed the life drain from the woman next door. McKenzie, dismissing their claims as childish imagination, sent them to bed and drifted off to sleep himself, unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded.
But the truth unravelled further when Mrs. Nicol, another neighbour, testified next. She vividly recalled the evening of April 6, 1861, seeing Christina stumbling into her home with their children, Annie, and toddler Euphemia. Drunk and desperate, Christina confessed to pawning her husband’s possessions for a taste of liquor. It wasn’t the first time she resorted to such acts, forcing Alexander to safeguard his clothes in others’ homes to prevent their sale by his wayward wife.
The grim details of the post-mortem examination emerged, delivered by Dr. Greig and Dr. Webster. Their findings painted a gruesome picture: lacerations on Christina’s chin, temples, and arms, coupled with severe facial swelling, testified to the brutality of her demise. Dr. Greig, after peering into her skull and observing the bleeding within her brain, surmised that heavy boots or a weapon like a poker had been employed in the savage assault. The courtroom bristled with tension as Alexander’s work boots were presented as potential instruments of the crime, capable of inflicting the observed damage upon Christina’s lifeless body.
A brave and heart-wrenching account came from six-year-old Annie, who spoke of witnessing her mother’s clothes being ripped off and her being mercilessly beaten that fateful night. As her mother trembled in fear, her father callously taunted Annie, asking her if she saw her “old bitch of a mother lying on the floor.” Trembling with terror, Annie averted her gaze, banished to her bed under the threat of violence. The haunting echoes of her sister’s cries filled the silent courtroom, a testament to the horrors witnessed in the Hutchison household.
In a peculiar twist, it was Alexander who initially raised the alarm. He had ventured out early that Sunday, seeking out Mrs. Ramsay, but upon discovering her, he led her to witness his wife’s lifeless form. However, Mrs. Ramsay’s horrified reaction accused him of the very crime he vehemently denied. Hastily covering Christina’s mutilated body with rugs, Alexander departed, leaving her to inform the authorities and their stunned neighbours. His subsequent arrest in Hawkhill sealed his fate, charged with murder and maintaining his innocence throughout the trial.
The jury’s verdict arrived with lightning speed, a mere twenty minutes to deliver their damning judgment. Despite expressing sympathy for dealing with a wayward wife who had provoked him relentlessly, they beseeched the court for leniency. Alas, their pleas fell on deaf ears as the sentence of execution was pronounced, May 22, 1861, forever etched as the day of reckoning for Alexander Hutchison in Dundee.
Alexander Hutchison faced trial at Perth Circuit Court on April 25, 1861, before Lords Cowan and Ardmillan, an event that captivated the city’s attention.
Bell Street Prison, standing from 1837 to 1927, served as Dundee’s correctional facility until its closure. The site now hosts a Police Headquarters and Courthouse.
In his declaration during the trial, Alexander Hutchison, a 43-year-old labourer and quarrier, vehemently maintained his innocence: “I am a labourer and quarrier, 43 years of age, and reside at Saint Mary St, Upper Pleasance, Dundee. In 1841, I married Christina Fowler. She was then 19 years of age. I have resided with her ever since. Last Saturday, the 6th of April current, I gave my wife £1.00, about 6:00 o’clock PM, and asked her to pay for provisions she had got and get some more. She returned in about 2 hours very much the worse of drink. I was sober myself. I was out at the time she came back, having gone to seek her, and when I returned, I found her lying on the floor with her face cut. She was alive. She continued lying on the floor all night and died, I think about 6:00 o’clock in the morning. I went for assistance when I thought she was dying. That was between 6:00 and 7:00 on Sabbath morning. I did not strike or assault my wife in any way either on the Saturday night or the Sunday morning.”
Lieutenant McQueen, hailed as the tenacious pursuer of justice, finally apprehended Alexander Hutchison in Hawkhill, closing in on the accused with unwavering determination.
The number five carried a dark weight in this case, as it represented the frequency with which Christina had found herself entangled within the halls of justice. Twice convicted in the police court for theft and twice remitted to the Procurator Fiscal, she had also faced charges of disorderly conduct.
Just as the hour of reckoning approached, fate took an unexpected turn. On May 20, 1861, two days before the scheduled execution, Alexander Hutchison’s sentence underwent a sudden amendment. The clenched jaws of justice granted him a reprieve, commuting his sentence to penal servitude for life. The decision reverberated through the corridors of power, leaving both the prosecution and the public stunned. The walls of Bell Street Prison would no longer bear witness to Alexander’s final reckoning. Instead, he would face a lifetime of penance, locked away from the world he once knew.
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