We’re so happy to be able to share this with you, a first look at our new book ‘Burial Grounds of Dundee in Pictures’ which we’ve just released for pre-order. We’re so happy with how it turned out in print, and our full delivery should be with us by the start of October but you can pre-order here now.
On January 4th 1922, the scene in the Harrison household on 24 Brook Street was probably very similar to many others. William Harrison and his wife were both at home with their two young children, three year old George and eighteen month old Catherine. The fire was roaring and the kettle was boiling up some water, perhaps for warm drinks or bathing water. Whatever the intention was for the water, it seemed fate had a different use for it.
Standing on a stool by the fire, wee George grabbed at the kettle which was sitting on top of the fireguard and gave it a pull. Whether he lost his balance or was just playing around, we will never know. What we do know, is that the fireguard was supporting the boiling kettle and as George took a tumble, so did the kettle. In a split second, George was on the floor screaming in shock, alongside his sister Catherine.
Rushing to the aid of their children, William and his wife were horrified to see that, whilst the boiling water hadn’t touched George, it had instead scalded the back of baby Catherine. Wasting no time, William summoned a taxi to take himself, his wife and daughter to Dundee Royal Infirmary whilst he made arrangements for someone to look after a very upset, but largely unscathed George. With three of the Harrison clan now in the taxi, anxiety levels were at an all-time high.
Undoubtedly, poor Catherine would have been wailing in agony and terror as her horrified and panicked parents tried their best to soothe her. The taxi driver was more than aware that time was of the essence, but driving conditions were not at their best that evening. With mere minutes to go until their arrival at the Infirmary, they turned into Constitution Road from Ward Road and collided with a tramcar heading into the town centre in the opposite direction.
William Harrison and his wife were catapulted from their seats with their daughter held between them. They flew into the windscreen of the taxi, smashing it as well as the side windows before falling onto the dashboard. Miraculously, by holding their daughter tightly between them, they shielded her from any of the impact of the smash – most definitely saving her life. Thankfully there were nearby motorists who stopped and took the Harrisons the rest of the short distance to the Infirmary.
The taxi driver escaped unscathed but probably traumatised from the entire event and, despite many of their cuts needing stitches, William Harrison and his wife lived to tell the tale. You’ll also hopefully be glad to know that after a spell in hospital where she was closely monitored, Catherine also lived to tell the tale. We bet the Harrisons kept the kids well away from the fireplace from then on, especially cheeky wee George!
The taxi itself was smashed up a bit, but it was still able to be driven to the garage for repairs. As for the tramcar; well it barely had a scratch on it – they don’t make things like they used to. Thankfully, everyone survived. This time.
Winter usually throws us a few curveballs as she goes; black ice, flooding, burst pipes and even thunder-snow is to be expected in Scotland at this time of year. Danger lurks on every corner and on every (un-gritted) path as we slip and slide our way around. There’s always something you can rely on – the local buses.
Say what you will, but they do a great job of ferrying us around, despite the conditions and are very rarely cancelled. Terrible snow or treacherous, untreated ice is one thing to grind a bus to a halt…but what about a fog so thick that buses full of passengers became lost? That’s exactly what happened to some of the buses in Dundee on the evening of Friday 14th December 1951, as reported by The Courier and Advertiser at the time.
A thick fog had formed over the central belt of Scotland following a fairly cold spell; we’re talking a right pea-souper, here, said to be so thick it was actually impossible to see more than a metre ahead at all times. The river Clyde was closed to shipping and no aircraft flew from Renfrew. Closer to home, Forfar and Kirriemuir were grinding to a halt…but not Dundee! We had the Rail Bridge open and rail services running as normal – at least until it hit the tea-time rush hour.
In the darkness of the December night, the fog thickened, if that was even possible. Buses full of passengers heading from the city centre out towards areas such as Fintry, Mid-Craigie, Linlathen and Douglas didn’t get very far before they started running into problems. The roads were becoming icier and the fog was so thick that it became a wall of vapour, now making it impossible to see anything at all. By the time the first buses had reached Dura Street, the drivers made the decision to stop the vehicles for the safety of the passengers on board.
Drivers with decades of experience under their belts said they had never seen anything like this before in their lives. Soon enough, the police intervened to help direct traffic, but with visibility at zero, the only thing they could do was begin to close off some roads. By this time, some of the buses had been led on a merry dance by the fog, slipping and sliding their way into unknown streets, sometimes several streets away from where they were intending to be.
One brave soul made the decision to try and continue driving so that some folk could get home, and actually made the 15 minute trip in an hour and a half (safely, we hasten to add). For many passengers, however, this was the end of the road quite literally. After a hard day at work, they had to trek from Dura Street or Mains Loan all the way home. Queues formed at bus stations for both local and regional buses, all of which were running hours late. When it comes to bad days, this one must have really put the icing on the cake for a lot of locals!
With some areas such as Stobswell and, a little further afield, the Carse of Gowrie declared as ‘no-go’ areas, it would seem that everyone was gripped in traffic chaos…but that wasn’t entirely the case. Coastal lines such as those running to Carnoustie, Arbroath and Monifieth were only a couple of minutes behind schedule. Passengers on board the Tay Ferries experienced no delays either, with one official going so far as to declare that they “never even broke an egg”.
Looks like radar beats headlights when it comes to freezing fog in winter. Thankfully nobody was injured in any incidents to do with public transport that evening, but there were certainly a lot of accidents on the roads involving private vehicles. Dr Graham was taken to Dundee Infirmary after skidding on ice with one of his patients in the car as they were on their way to the Chest Hospital at Ashludie. The pair, and the other driver were later released with no major injuries. Two taxi drivers were involved in a head-on collision at a junction where neither could see in front of them and were admitted to Dundee Infirmary with concussion and various cuts and scratches. With that in mind, please drive carefully and responsibly this winter. You should be driving carefully and responsibly at ALL times, but please take extra care on the ice.
- Curiosities, Dundee History Archive
- 19th century, burning, business, disaster, fire, Sugarhouse Wynd
It was late afternoon on Saturday 20th December 1873 when the flames were first spotted from the windows of the calendering department halfway down Sugarhouse Wynd in Dundee’s Cowgate. By the time they had been seen, the fire had already caused significant damage. The Fire Brigade were called, but despite their attendance and protracted efforts, the building suffered greatly, the gable wall collapsing under the strain.
Before you think this was a building that dealt with calendars, we should clear this up. Calendering is a process of finishing fabrics; smoothing or coating them and then subjecting them to stress by the use of pressured heated rollers (thanks, Wikipedia). For some more info on the building, check out this link. Calendering has moved on significantly over the decades, and includes plastics and various other materials too (but we digress).
Back to the fire; rumours quickly spread that one of the firemen had died in the resulting gable wall accident, but, this time, nobody died. When the wall collapsed, it was very close to a team of firefighters, but everyone was unharmed. Folk love a good rumour and a gossip so it’s easy to see why stories spread almost as quickly as the flames did. With people also piling into the streets for a good look (probably because this was the most exciting thing going on in the centre at that time), the firefighting efforts were said to have been severely hampered.
Despite this, the men fought for hours to control the blaze, under the ever-darkening December skies. A news report in the Dundee Courier and Argus a few days after the fire stated that “the flames lit up the Eastern sky with a deep crimson glow, magnificently contrasting with the surrounding darkness, and which was distinctly visible for miles around. The buildings destroyed were two storeys in height and occupied almost a square, extending in the one way from Sugarhouse Wynd to Queen Street and in the other almost from the Cowgate to the Seagate.”
The origin of the fire remained entirely unknown. When the works stopped for the day at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon, all the workers left the building, with only the 2 foremen in charge remaining. After determining that everything was in good order, the foremen left an hour after clocking-off time, at 3pm. Whilst the fire must have started sometime after they left, and before it was noticed around 4:30pm, the fire was of such an intensity that it must have burned for a good half an hour at least before it had been noticed – and continued to burn for hours afterwards.
The other buildings in the area remained relatively unscathed, thanks to the small streets dividing properties. Whilst the Dundee Calendering Company had been dealt a heavy blow (the damage to the building were estimated at around £20000, which is roughly around £1.5million in today’s money), there were no fatalities…and some of the building remained untouched. Silver lining, and all that…
Fires were prevalent in mills and factories – it was just accepted as part of the everyday hazards of industrial living. Between hot machinery, straw or hay-covered floors and the ever-present risk of flammable materials and substances (and no health and safety to speak of), it’s a small wonder any of us managed to survive. Homes weren’t free from the threat either; there are a whole host of stories about fires we may one day get round to tackling. If you’ve not read the burning of the city churches post, you can read it here or you can read about another fiery tragedy here.
www.archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk, Dundee Courier and Argus, City Library archives, Wikipedia
Jeez, where do we start? Best to start with our Deceased in the East tour which we did in early March this year – what a laugh. Who knew death, darkness and mystery could be so funny! If you were one of the 230 folk who managed to make it, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. If you’ve been on our tours, you’ll also understand our dark sense of humour and quirky storytelling. Plague, George Wishart, Mary Slessor and Mary Brooksbank all cropped up, with a few lesser known dark tales surrounding these characters and many more of the locals who defined the city. It hardly rained and it wasn’t even that cold (but we’re maybe just used to it by now), so we were super happy that the Scottish winter weather was having a week off!
In the midst of our Deceased in the East tour, the 11th of March saw us herding groups of Instagrammers from across Scotland for the annual Dundee Instameet, organised by Suzanne Scott from Whimsical Lush, Kristy Ashton, a fantastic up and coming photographer and social influencer, and Ian G Black from Ian G Black media. The theme was ‘Re-invention’, so what better city to explore than the Queen of Re-invention herself – Dundee! Herding Instagrammers is probably on a par with trying to herd flying cats, but we managed, and the tour was so much fun.
The reviews for both ‘Deceased’ & ‘Instameet’ were awesome, but we couldn’t sit back and soak up the glory – we had another collaboration to get on with!
23rd March saw our first collaboration with Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce when we did a joint networking and tour event. The event was held at Malmaison with Dark Dundee inspired cocktails (mocktails for the drivers) and loads of plates of tasty canapes. As much as we love snacks, we had to refrain, as we would have ended up with food all over our faces before having to talk to the room and then take them all on a tour. That would have been such a minter! Once we’d done our tour, we snaffled up loads, though – and had a wee drink too (rude not to).
We made loads of new contacts, and felt we gave people a really good impression of what we do and how we do it. You might think it looks easy, but it’s a lot harder than you think when there’s just the 2 of you running the entire operation, from the creation and maintenance of the website and marketing materials right down to going out and doing the groundwork and research for the tours, testing them out before they go live, then going out and actually taking them!
It totally helps that not only do we love our job, but we’ve met so many great people from both a business and a personal perspective thanks to running these tours. Anyway, with that event over, there still wasn’t time to hang around because the following day we had a radio interview with Radio Scotland where we once again talked about what we did and told a couple of dark facts about the city. Generally, a lot of laughter and banter was to be had – perhaps more than usual for their usual afternoon listeners. I mean, who doesn’t love a good graverobbery…right?
We also did an impromptu Facebook video when we noticed we could get down Malthouse Close. We weren’t planning on making a video, it was totally spur of the moment, but it was seen over 300,000 times and shared God knows how many times. Whilst it was pretty cool, we do wish we’d prepared something in advance. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson from the time we went up the bell tower of St Paul’s Cathedral and the Very Rev Jeremy Auld let us ring the bells and go outside on the super scary ledge in high winds and driving snow! If you’ve not seen the video from that, it’s on our Facebook page.
4th April saw us take our friends Suzanne (remember Suzanne from the Instameet?) and Caroll who runs Castle Horror out on a secret adventure. If you saw all the Oor Wullies last year and know anything about Mary Slessor Gardens and Discovery Walk, you can’t have missed Suzanne’s incredible artwork – she’s taking over the city, and she’s amazing! Caroll is the person responsible for the skeleton driving the big black hearse – the driving force behind Castle Horror (pun intended). People are constantly confusing Dark Dundee with Castle Horror, which is hilarious…but, for the record, it’s Castle Horror’s hearse, not ours!
We didn’t tell them where we were going, but we took them to the old bunker in Craigiebank, run by the guys at 28 Group Observed SCIO. What an amazing building – lovingly restored and full of brilliant artefacts, secret rooms and plenty of creepy corridors. The folk who run it are hoping to get the place opened for small tour groups in the future, and trust us when we tell you – you’ll want to see this! The four of us totally loved it and took loads of pictures; we stayed for hours and almost needed to be dragged out.
The following week saw us briefly resurrect our ‘Deceased’ tour (see what I did there) with a wee twist on it to coincide with the Rep’s Monstrous Bodies play. It was great to get our teeth back into the East end again, with a couple of twists to the original format. Once again the weather was brilliant, as were the reviews for both the play and the tour. We love collaborating with and meeting such amazing folk.
We had a meeting with a wonderful woman called Jackie with a view to planning a fundraising event for the various charities she champions. Plotting began in fervour and in no time whatsoever, we formulated a unique evening event in an effort to help raise money. Jackie didn’t miss a beat and, through her sterling efforts and commitment to charity fundraising, practically sold the event out before we had even returned home! That’s dedication for you.
Monday 24th April was a day out for us, so we went to Aberdeen to our friend Fiona’s storytelling event, through her business Hidden Aberdeen. Along with her friend Pauline, they regaled the room at Underdog Aberdeen with their tales of terror, ghosts and mysteries of old. Heading home that night in the driving rain and snow was not our idea of a good time, but we made it in one piece and lived to tell the tale. If you’re ever in Aberdeen, you should look up Hidden Aberdeen tours.
The following day was a beautiful day, which was really handy because we were part of the Cultural Heritage bus tours, run by Dundee Museum of Transport. As part of the experience, we ran our ‘Dead Centre’ tour, which saw people being dropped off outside Howff by DMoT to begin our tour and then to be collected at the end of the tour to continue their experience at the next destination. Look out for more information on this coming really soon. The day after this, we attended the Cultural Heritage bus tour, but this time as delegates providing feedback. We’ll not spoil it by telling you what we did or where we went, because the tours are still in development at the moment and could be subject to changes. What we will tell you, though, is that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, as did the other people who took the experience with us.
April ended with 3 international tours on top of our regularly scheduled tours. We took 20 German students from Abertay University on our Dead Centre tour, and then took 2 groups of about 35 French visitors who were here as part of the Carnoustie twinning association with Maule. Using a translator to help with our French guests, we caused chaos in the town on a sunny Saturday afternoon! There’s nothing quite like taking a walking tour on a Saturday afternoon when there’s local worthies playing the harmonica outside Boots just for the sheer Hell of it!
May saw us joining forces with HM Frigate Unicorn for our Sailors & Whalers tour. As usual, it was a total gas! Nearly 200 people attended the event, with Unicorn’s volunteer Bob taking the helm at the start of the show before allowing folk some time to wander about the creepy lower decks of the aged warship and training vessel. Taking our guests off the Unicorn and detailing the dark horrors of some of our local sailors and whalers was a real highlight. Our maritime history is as rich as it is horrifying – as many of our guests soon found out. With murder, suicide and shipwrecks at the forefront of all the carnage, Sailors and Whalers proved to be a real hit! Bob is now undertaking talks aboard HM Frigate Unicorn about some of the unsavoury characters and the dark history of maritime, so if it’s something that interests you, we would recommend taking the time out to book in and hear what he’s got to say.
In the midst of Sailors and Whalers, we had a visit from some Tay FM superheroes, who were running a competition to fill a ‘supervan’ with donated goodies which one person would win, subject to entry, of course. All funds raised from the ‘supervan’ were in aid of Cash for Kids, a charity which we also pledged to raise £100 for this year as part of the ‘500 faces campaign’. Join up and help raise £50,000 for Cash for Kids and support a local cause.
Speaking of fundraising, we also had a meeting with Hillcrest Housing Association because they are raising £50,000 to help various local charities by undertaking a series of events and wondered if we would be interested in doing a very special (and currently TOP SECRET) tour with them to help raise some money. Obviously we agreed, because we’re just not busy enough! Once we’ve got it locked down, we’ll let you know.
Louise attended a business breakfast at Abertay University with DACC, whilst Stewart looked after his one and a half year old niece for a week. To be fair, Louise definitely got the better end of the bargain that week, because it left her loads of free time for networking whilst Stewart was trapped at home watching Peppa Pig on an endless loop! All’s well that ended well though, and the week sped ahead with its usual carefree abandon.
Thanks to our ‘lazy’ week the week before, we packed umpteen meetings into the following week, including locking down ideas for Halloween 2018 with Angus Alive at Monikie, meeting with Steve from Shackleton Tech about a corporate scavenger event, Brett from Apex about one or two exciting new prospects – and we even managed to squeeze in the Courier Business Awards launch at DC Thomson.
We not only got to look over the Howff from the impressive windows in the roof of the tower, but we also had a sneak around some of the other floors when everyone wasn’t looking, and were let onto some of the floors for a nosey and to meet some of the staff and an Oor Wullie. What a cool building and an impressive use of the space! Oh, we also found the time to actually apply for the business awards, so wish us luck with that.
25th May saw us at Dundee Design Festival launch, where we were attending the Chamber’s business breakfast. We got talking to loads of new people, slowly converting them one at a time to the ‘dark side’. We bought an enamel pin badge and had a great tour of the building and the various artworks and designs on display. Very, very cool. Bear in mind, we’re still running our scheduled and private tours in amongst all of this, including our new Law tour which we managed to sneak out at the end of May and which has been really well attended, too!
June kicked off with us going out to the Woodlands Hotel to see Pete Mally, who wrote the book ‘Resurrection Mill’ about the time of the body snatchers in Dundee. He’s a braw lad and his book’s definitely worth the read – visceral and graphic, just the way we like it! Pete was doing a comedy show, so it was only fair we went along to support him. He did send us a free signed copy of his book, after all.
The day after the comedy show, we had another meeting with Brett and coerced him into letting us see inside Custom House, which the Apex have BIG plans for (and they sound amazing). To say it needs some work done is an understatement…but wow, what a building. Thank God someone’s going to restore it because it sorely needs a lot of TLC. We’re finalising some other plans with Brett too, including using the Apex as a base for some days of the week during the summer. We know – it’ll be tough fitting it all in, but we’ll manage. We’re troopers!
Mid-June has (so far) seen us dealing with enquiries for corporate and private events, as well as finalising the plans to go into some of the secondary schools in the city to give talks and workshops on tourism, customer service and local (dark) history. Anyone with kids at Harris or St John’s RC, you’ll probably be hearing about us in the near future! This was arranged in collaboration with Rachel from Developing the Young Workforce, who has been brilliant at arranging meetings and keeping us all on track. Everything we do with the schools in terms of the talks and workshops will be done in our own free time and at no cost to the schools participating. It’s another really nice way to give back and help to make a difference at the same time. What’s not to love?
We’ve had really great talks with Dundee Science Centre about some new upcoming collaborations too, but there’s still plenty of work and research to go into before we can even say any more, but watch this space! There was also a local history fair on Sunday 11th held at Verdant Works – obviously we were there peddling our usual brand of darkness. It was great to see so many other like-minded tourism and history focussed businesses and charities there…and we got free tea and biscuits and also took in the talk by the Great War Project on the Battle of Loos. All in all, Sunday was a roaring success! Can’t wait for next year’s history fair.
It’s nearly time to put this blog to rest, because we’ve got more meetings to go to and Father’s Day presents to buy (hint: buy your Dad a walking tour voucher for Father’s Day). Last night’s Law tour was amazing once again – thanks to the Law Heritage Project for getting us involved! – and the rain stayed off which was even better. Here’s a list of what we’ve got going on in the upcoming couple of weeks in terms of tours. Thanks for reading. Hope we’ve not bored you half to death!
Nestled away in a copy of The Evening Telegraph and Post from late July 1905 is a dark tale of a violent ex-soldier. There aren’t many words, as the railway disaster in Liverpool which claimed 20 lives takes up the vast majority of the page, but what it does say paints a vivid picture of an angry, domineering man who was not opposed to using violence on members of the fairer sex in his family.
The article tells the succinct story of Robert Logan, who, upon serving his time in the Army, returned to Dundee to stay at his mother’s home in Victoria Road. A brief marriage to a local woman was described by the newspaper at the time as ‘unpleasant’ and lasted no more than 3 months before Robert Logan found himself back at his mother’s once again. He was said to be a very overbearing presence in the house and somewhat of a bully.
Robert Logan ordered his mother and sister around as though they were his personal assistants, so it’s not really hard to see why his wife had thrown him out after only a few months of marriage. On 29th July 1905, Robert returned from the pub to his mother’s house, where he proceeded to verbally abuse his mother. As things between the two got more heated, Robert lashed out and slapped his mother on the face. Dundee women are known for being feisty, so it’s highly unlikely she just stood there and took this assault.
With his mother fighting back, Robert pushed her back and held her over the coal bunker as he struck her face once more, undoubtedly shouting and screaming over the clatter and din. Alerted by the racket, Robert’s sister came rushing into the room to see what was going on and found her brother attacking her mother as she struggled to free herself from his drunken grip.
Still fuelled by rage, Robert turned his attack on his sister. Grabbing her and threatening to cut her throat if she continued to intervene, Robert continued his assault. Thankfully, the two women were able to overpower him and run to the Police station for help. Police arrested Robert for assault and took him to be detained until his Court appearance the following morning where Baillie Quirk sentenced him to 40 days imprisonment.
Whether it was enough to quell his temper, we may never know. He doesn’t appear to have been arrested since, so perhaps it did…or perhaps he just moved away and found someone else to take his anger out on.
Sometimes fires can be deadly, as we all know, but not always in the way we expect. As we’ve been browsing the newspaper archives we’ve noticed a bit of a trend, with deaths by shock following a fire, including one woman in her 80’s dying after the shock and excitement of being evacuated by a fire, and also the tragic story in the article below from December 1953.
The fire itself was tragic, Mr Joseph O’Neill’s charred body was found on the bed after his flat was destroyed by fire. After Mr O’Neill’s neighbours heard screaming and smelled smoke, they raised the alarm and while the neighbours were saved, it was too late for Mr O’Neill.
Police officers went to give the news to his sister, Mrs Ogilvie who collapsed upon hearing the news. Her husband and two daughters tried for half an hour to revive her, but after calling an ambulance she was pronounced dead on arrival at the infirmary. It was thought she had assumed the police had come with bad news about her son, who was serving as a Sergeant in Germany. After expecting news her son had been injured, or worse, died in the course of duty, the shock of hearing it was actually her brother who had died at home in a fire was too much for her.
This was not the end of the tragic story for this family as after the death of his wife, Mr Ogilvie said he should go and tell the police about her death and left the house without a coat. Not a great idea as he had been ill recently and off work for the past two weeks because of asthma. He was found wandering in the Hilltown, clutching a cat which he thought was the family cat, and then collapsed.
At the time of the article Mr Ogilvie was seriously ill in hospital, but his son was being sent home from duty so the family could be together. This story is just one insight into how often a terrible accident and the resulting grief is just the start of a string of tragedies and one we really hope the family managed to recover from.
When an on-duty constable patrolling the harbour on 11th March 1894 noticed something in the water at King William Dock, he quickly called for assistance in dragging it out of the water. When the object was lifted to shore, they quickly realised that what they had pulled out of the Dock was a human body – very much dead. So dead, in fact, that the local newspaper reported that it ‘gave considerable evidence of having been a considerable time in the water’. With the body off to the mortuary, a search was made of his pockets, which revealed a letter addressed to a female correspondent in Calcutta and a pawn ticket in the name of William Panioty, amongst other small items. By the afternoon, an acquaintance of the dead man, Alexander Brown identified the body as belonging to Mr Panioty, a clerk who worked in Calcutta. Mr Panioty was aged around 40, and had went missing on 3rd February after returning to Dundee on a steamer around 23rd January. He stayed on board the steamer for almost a week before lodging at the Sailors House and then in private lodgings in Dundee. Mr Panioty was supposed to be heading to the Isle of Wight to see his grandmother, but for some unknown reason, he decided to stay in the city; perhaps he was just enjoying himself so much he wanted to extend his visit to Dundee!
Mr Brown had more to add to the tale, however, which added a bit more interest to the case beyond an accidental drowning. Mr Brown told police that Mr Panioty had visited his home on 31st January and seemed to be in his ‘usual health and spirits’, which we must assume was jovial, as, at this point, Mr Brown had no cause for concern. On 2nd February, however, Mr Panioty met with another member of Mr Brown’s family on the streets of Dundee and passed over a sealed envelope for Mr Brown, with explicit instructions not to open it until the following day. The request was so strange that the Brown family failed to adhere to the instruction, and instead decided to open the letter that evening. In it, Mr Panioty spoke of his lack of interest in life and that he intended suicide on the date of the letter, 2nd February. His intention was, that by the time the letter had been read, he would have already done the deed and nobody would be in a position to try and stop him.
Obviously alarmed, having not detected anything on Mr Panioty’s last visit that would have led them to this conclusion, the Brown family immediately began a search of Dundee, walking all over the city, but to no avail. They asked about him at the railway station and were told that some guards had seen him a few days prior to this, and he was discussing leaving for London very shortly. The guards seemed to think Panioty was also in good spirits, and believed he had boarded a train for London. Feeling a bit more relieved, and putting the letter down to no more than a drunken rant or a moment of temporary madness, the Browns returned home and did not think of the incident again until the morning of 11th March when Mr Brown identified the body pulled from the Docks.
Based on the decomposition of the body in water, it was estimated that Mr Panioty died on either the night of 2nd February or the early hours of the following morning. When officers opened the letter in his pocket, addressed to his female correspondent, Mrs Duncan, it seemed to further confirm the theory that he had indeed killed himself. In it, he made various statements that he intended to put an end to his life and that he was tired of life itself. He wrote that she need not be surprised if she never heard from him again – but this was a letter she never received. No mention is made in the article as to whether anyone informed Mrs Duncan, and, indeed, there is no mention of what happened to his body. If his family were in the Isle of Wight, perhaps the body was taken there, or perhaps it was buried somewhere in Dundee; the story seems to raise more questions than it answered.
On the surface, it looks like a case of suspected suicide, corroborated by 2 letters written by the deceased. But what if the letters weren’t written by him at all, but were perhaps written by someone else – someone who may, in fact have murdered him and put his body in the water? If this is the case, then surely suspicion must fall on Mr Brown, who also happened to be in possession of a letter (which we have to assume, once again, was in the same handwriting as the letter to Mrs Duncan). With no other handwriting evidence to go on, was it also just assumed that this was Mr Panioty’s handwriting? Did Mr Brown inform the police at all after their search concluded that Mr Panioty did indeed go to London, or did he wait until the body had been found? None of this is documented, frustratingly, and for us, leaves us thirsting for more information. Perhaps we’re just too sceptical and this is just a case of a man, down on his luck and at a terrible point in his life, intending to take his own life, but, to us, this has the smell of a murder cover-up all over it.
Dundee Advertiser, Monday March 12, 1894, British Newspaper Archives Online.
- Dundee History Archive, Wars & battles
- 16th century, conspiracy, Earl of Gowrie, kidnapping, Perthshire, raids, Ruthven, treason
The Raid of Ruthven was a political conspiracy where several Presbyterian nobles, led by William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, abducted the young King James VI of Scotland. They wanted to reform the government of Scotland and limit the influence of French and pro-catholic policy, and to prevent or at least manage the return of Mary, Queen of Scots from England. Their very short lived rule was known as the Gowrie Regime.
In July 1582 the nobles who were discontent with the current governing leaders made a pact to support each other in getting rid of the Catholic influences around the young King. Their main opponents were the French Esme Stewart, and James Stewart who shared control of the government.
While the young King was hunting near the castle of Ruthven, in Perthshire on 22nd August 1582 he was invited by the Earl of Gowrie to stay in his Castle for an evening. He felt instantly threatened once in the castle, by the number of other nobles there; many of them strangers to him, including the Master of Glamis, Earl of Mar and Pittenweem, Lord Lindsay, and the Constable of Dundee among others. He had no idea however, 1000 men, well-armed, were dispersed throughout the neighbourhood. When King James tried to leave the next day, he was blocked from leaving, and his aides thrown out of the castle. He had been kidnapped – finding himself a prisoner he threatened and tried to talk his way out, and finally burst into tears; he was only 15 years old after all.
Now, this wasn’t exactly an exceptional thing to do as in the previous centuries, under the other five James’ reigns factions in the nobility were often warring, and the sovereign was often a prisoner in the hands of some powerful combination led by one or more of the influential nobility, and when he was freed from the domination of one faction it was only to fall into the snares of their rivals.
The King was held and controlled by the Ruthven Lords for almost a year, moved around a number of houses. Although they treated him well and with respect, they limited his movements and who he could speak to. The Earl of Gowrie was the head of this government, who forced their two main opponents the two Stewart’s into exile, and favoured an ultra-Protestant regime. Queen Elizabeth was pleased with these events, and, in September 1582, sent £1000 (a huge sum of money in those days) as wages for the King’s guard.
In response to all of this, opponents of the Ruthven Regime including the Earls of Huntly, Argyll, Crawford, Montrose and others wrote a letter to the town of Edinburgh telling them that their ‘auld enemies’ the English had funded an army to take away their King, and when they arrived in their town the people should take arms against them. No one in Edinburgh seemed to take up this suggestion.
After almost a year in captivity, the King managed to speak to some of the opponents of the Gowrie Regime, and they made plans to have armed men waiting at St Andrews where the King could escape. He managed to sneak away from his guards, and meet up with these opponents in St Andrews Castle. Finally having escaped, although it was common for there to be punishment after such a thing including banishment or arrests for treason, James was far more forgiving to his captors. They were pardoned, as long as they would ‘show themselves penitent, crave pardon in due time and not provoke him by any further unlawful actions’.
The Earl of Gowrie however, found that no matter how humbly he professed his sorrow for his, very significant, part in the capture of the King, he could not regain his favour with the King. He wrote to his past conspirators the Master of Glamis who had fled to Ireland, and the Earl of Mar who had left to England, trying to get them to return and make another attempt to seize and control the King.
This was a new conspiracy, of which the Earl of Gowrie was now the leader. He obtained permission to travel to France from King James, and headed to Dundee under the excuse of needing to find a ship to take him there. But he lurked about in Dundee for far longer than he should, and was gaining suspicion. Even 5 months after Glamis and Mar had left, he was still lingering in Dundee, saying he would be leaving ‘any day now’ for France. His permission to go to France ended in March 1584, and he was told if he was found after that date he would be punished as a rebel.
Gowrie had no intention of leaving Dundee, he was busy there preparing for his new conspiracy. James got word however that Gowrie was corresponding with Glamis and Mar. The plan was that Glamis and Mar would return to Scotland, and take control of Stirling Castle, while Gowrie and the Earl of Angus along with some of the other nobles were to send a force to the King.
Mar and Glamis made it back to Scotland, but just two days before they were due to take Stirling Castle, the Royal Guard stormed the house of William Drummond, a burgess of Dundee, where Gowrie was staying. Gowrie put up a fight but as the soldiers were assisted by people of the town of Dundee, he had no choice but to be taken in. Mar and Glamis had no idea this had happened and attacked Stirling on the 18th of April 1584, taking control of the town. But this all fell apart in a few days, as word spread Gowrie had been arrested, the expected money and support from other nobles failed to materialise, and James had raised his own army who marched to Stirling. It was impossible for Glamis and Mar to continue, and so they fled to England.
Gowrie, having been arrested, was not so fortunate. Put onto trial in Stirling, many of those nobles who had opposed him were more than happy to give evidence of his treasonable behaviour. He was sentenced to be executed, and after a long speech on the scaffold where he maintained that all his actions were for the benefit of the King, calmly laid his head on the block and it was severed in one stroke. His servants, sewed his head to his body and buried him whole.
Away with the faeries
I was sitting reading a book the other day by Stuart Hardy called ‘Speakin O Dundee’, when I came across a rather far-fetched tale of a young man called Jamie Moir from the Hilltown. Jamie was found by some local men one morning rather worse for wear on the slopes of the Law – covered in bruises and with his clothes all mangled. More tellingly, an empty whisky bottle lay near to his splayed out body. Probably fearing the worst upon finding this body, the men would have been fairly relieved to find Jamie still alive, despite his roughed-up appearance. As they walked him back home, Jamie began to relay a tale to them that gave him a wee bit of a reputation afterwards, if the tale is anything to go by,
Jamie told them that he had been travelling on foot back home from the Longforgan fair, when, in the distance, he spotted a group of people. He called them over to chat, but, as they got closer, he could tell that they were not folk whom he knew. The group of around a dozen were a lot smaller than Jamie, and wore clothing which he found to be old fashioned and strange looking. By his own admission, Jamie was fairly drunk, having stopped off at an Inn on his way back to partake of a few (too many) refreshments. He bought a bottle for his journey home – the very bottle which lay empty beside him on the Law.
Despite this, Jamie said that the people he had met had asked him for a drink, which he willingly gave. They all had a sip, and, before he knew it, he had been lifted from the air and carried away to the Sidlaws, where he spent the rest of the night laughing and drinking liquor with his new companions – the fairies! How he ended up back on the slopes of the Law, he could not say. As you could imagine, many folk were more than sceptical, especially considering the evidence and the reliability of the ramblings of a drunk man.
However, others did believe him – those who believed in such legends, or perhaps those who have had their own experiences with the fairy folk. Many explanations have been given for a belief in fairies. Some say that they are like ghosts, spirits of the dead, or were fallen angels, neither bad enough for Hell nor good enough for Heaven. Some people believe them to be more like the modern adaptations, with pretty wings and magic wands, whilst others think that fairies are just an older version of our alien abduction stories of today.
Could it be that our tales of fairies are no more than interpreted tales about our Pictish ancestors? A 12th century document tells of the Picts as being no more than ‘pygmies’ in stature, working hard during morning and night, but staying out of the sunlight during the day. Scottish tribes in our earliest times used to kidnap the healthy children of their foes and replace them with sick children from their own tribe, which is a trick attributed to fairy folk. Were those who could see the future later labelled as fairies in an attempt to explain away their abilities?
The expression “away with the fairies” is meant to imply that someone is not facing reality or living in a dream world, which could definitely be the case in Jamie’s tale of the unexplained. Whether you believe or not, we, as a race are obsessed with ‘the unknown’ and strive to find an answer for anything. Nowadays, when we can’t validate something, we dismiss it as myth or fallacy…but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not there. Perhaps the fairies just don’t want to play with us anymore because we’re all too busy with technology?
Stuart McHardy, Speakin O Dundee, Luath Press Ltd, 2010