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.

If you have read our previous post on the Dundee Health Report of 1896 into zymotic diseases, you’ll already know that disease was prevalent in our city – just like in any other – with all sorts of nasties just waiting to bump you off without so much as a warning.  The Health Report also talks about general mortality and causes of death not covered by the heading of ‘disease’.  It also gives us a lot of good information as regards the overall status of the town, from which we can draw our own conclusions.

Respiratory diseases and complications accounted for 663 of the 3103 deaths in 1896, amounting to just over 20% of the overall death rate for that year.  Bronchitis was the biggest killer, claiming 338 lives.  Inflammation of the airways causes sufferers to have problems with breathing as swelling narrows the air passages.  Excess mucus build-up can also complicate the breathing process, and without treatment, lungs become unable to clear themselves, making them more prone to chronic infection.  Viral bronchitis also carries the risk of fever, which brings its own set of problems.  Death is usually due to the extra pressure put on the heart to produce more oxygen, although it has been noted that severe respiratory problems can result in death.

Pneumonia was the next largest killer of Dundonians, knocking off 285 of us in 1896.  Another respiratory infection, pneumonia is considered more serious than bronchitis (at least, nowadays).  Poor health or advanced age can make pneumonia even more of a killer.  Whereas bronchitis affects the air passages, pneumonia affects the tissue of the lungs themselves.  Symptoms include fever and/or chills, laboured/rapid breathing, pain upon breathing and excessive coughing.  Normally death from pneumonia is because of sepsis, which is the body’s toxic response to infections (sometimes known as blood poisoning).  Even today, early detection of sepsis is vital, as, worldwide, over 30% of people who develop sepsis, die.

Pleurisy took 14 of us that same year, and usually pops up when you’re already being deluged by some kind of other nasty infection, whether they be bacterial, viral, or otherwise (usually infections of the lungs, air passages or ailments such as arthritis).  Poor health and bad lifestyles don’t help the matter much, so if the initial disease didn’t kill you, you could be assured that pleurisy would.  With extreme shortness of breath and intense, stabbing pains when breathing, sufferers have been known to pass out from pain or even run out of breath completely.  Add in our old favourite, fever, rapid weight loss and collapsed lungs, and you’ve got all the classic symptoms of pleurisy.  Thankfully only 14 of our 3103 dead had to suffer that excruciating fate that year.

Laryngitis accounted for 8 lives, with croup claiming 9.  Croup and laryngitis are very similar in that they are inflammations of the larynx and vocal chords.  Whilst not a huge killer, paralysis of the vocal chords can restrict breathing and swallowing, with no indication of when the paralysis occurs.  Diseases marked as ‘other’, but not elaborated on, made up for another 9 deaths.

370 deaths were attributed to ‘phthisis’, which is explained as a ‘chronic wasting away’ or tuberculosis – then known as ‘consumption’.  Another disease commonly associated with the lungs, tuberculosis can actually occur in any organ of the body.  Other names this infection goes by include, ‘the white death’, and ‘the robber of youth’, with sufferers seen to waste away in rapid fashion.  From the lungs, where it causes the usual myriad of health issues such as night sweats, chest pains and rapid weight loss, it then moves throughout the body, wreaking havoc as it goes.  Pustules can form and burst on the skin.  The spine can become infected, causing them to collapse and cause paralysis.  Infection can quickly spread through the kidneys, bowels and bladder.  For men, the prostate can be affected, and in women, ovaries are at severe risk.  Arthritic pains in joints can accompany meningitis, heart failure and eventual wasting away (consumption).  With no real way to treat it at the time, patients were often kept isolated in a hospital or sanatorium.

The report goes on to state that 261 people died in 1896 from ‘diseases of the heart’, but does not elaborate.  Considering that many of the above diseases put undue stress on the heart as a matter of course, we must assume that subsequent examinations of otherwise healthy bodies brought medical officials to this conclusion. Further reading shows a list of sudden and accidental deaths, which we will paraphrase here, as it is fairly succinct:

“The sudden and accidental deaths during the year numbered 188, as follows:- Convulsions, 42; Overlaying, 28; Suffocation, 13; Apoplexy, 25; Severe burns, 14; Fracture of Skull, 19; Other Fractures (Accident), 13; Dislocation of Neck, 1; Acute Poisoning by Alcohol, 4; Poisoning by Opium, 2; Drowning, 11; Hanging, 1; Choking, 1; Cut throat, 3; Gunshot Wound of Heart, 1; Gunshot Wound of Abdomen, 1; Syncope, 3; Spasm of Glottis, 2; Angina Pectoris, 1; Sun-stroke, 1; Ulceration of Stomach, 1; Ruptured Blood-vessel (fall), 1 – total, 188.”

A lot of these you will have heard of, but some you may not have.  Overlaying is the accidental death of a child by smothering, usually when a larger person rolls onto them during sleep.  Mechanical asphyxia occurs as the child is unable to breathe due to the force pressed against it.  Whilst overlaying was mainly said to be accidental, any family whom it happened to faced stigma – more so if they already had a large family, as overlaying was also seen as a way of getting rid of extra mouths to feed!

Apoplexy relates to a stroke and the paralysis that so often accompanies it.  Syncope actually means fainting or swooning, so, as a primary cause of death, it’s not particularly descriptive, as it merely indicates that someone ‘dropped down dead’.  It is likely that ‘syncope’ refers to a sudden, unknown death. Spasm of the Glottis can result in immediate death and usually occurred in young children.  The muscles which control the vocal chords contract suddenly, preventing air from entering the lungs.  In severe cases, the muscles do not relax, asphyxiating the sufferer.  It’s not all doom and gloom in the report – some people managed to live a fairly long (albeit hardly wonderful) life:

“Eighty-seven died at ages of 80 and upwards, 32 males and 55 females.  Of these 76 were between 80 and 90, and eleven between 90 and 100 years, three of the latter being females who died at the age of 96.”

It just goes to show you, that, even with all these diseases and afflictions running rife in not-so-olden Dundee, some hardy critters managed to hang on until the bitter end.  Women did better on the life-expectancy scale compared to men in the late 1800’s – something they still continue to do now.  Thankfully, we now have proper sanitation, preventative medicines and vaccines in our country to combat the worst effects of some of the most horrific diseases mankind has ever seen…but it’s not that way for everyone in the world.  It may seem alien to us now, as we’ve moved on more than a century from this, but for other places in the world, it’s still very much a harsh and fatal reality.

Burial Grounds of Dundee in Pictures

Book cover for burial grounds of Dundee in pictures book, by DD Tours. Black and white image of Roodyard cemetery in Dundee

See pictures of the Howff and the ‘new’ Howff in our book – pre order now


‘City of Dundee Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year ending 31st December 1896.’ (Dundee City Archives) pp 1 – 15.

‘The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis’, T. Dormandy.  Hambledon Press, 1999, pp 34-36, 125-137, 392.

‘The Home Hand-Book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine, Volume 2’, John Harvey  Kellogg, Pacific Press 1881, Nabu Press, 2010 pp 7-12, 218-220, 425-431.

‘Vaccines’ (Sixth Edition), S. Plotkin, W. Orenstein & P. Offit, Elsevier Health Sciences, 2012, pp 747.


In March of 1897, the Public Health Department, which at that time was situated in West Bell Street, issued the ‘Vital Statistics’ report for Dundee for the previous year to the town Council’s sanitary committee.  In 1896, the population was estimated at 161,620 (in 2014, the estimate was 141,870), with the number of registered deaths noted as 3103 (in 2014, the number of deaths in the city was 1604).  The report refers to the number of deaths from ‘Zymotic’ diseases, which is the 19th century medical terminology for acute infectious and contagious diseases.

Diseases are mainly spread by infected water droplets and air transfer such as coughing and sneezing, blood and faeces, as well as via contact with infected skin, clothing or objects.  Nothing was particularly clean, which made almost everything a perfect breeding ground for a multitude of bacterial nasties.  Children were particularly vulnerable to disease, with 151 of the reported 3103 deaths being of children under the age of 5.  This made up around 5% of the overall deaths in Dundee in that year.

We have listed them according to their death rate, from highest to lowest.

Whooping Cough – 60

The report mentions the prevalence of Whooping Cough at the start of 1896, and also goes on to state that the record is most likely inaccurate due to the fact that, at the time, Whooping Cough was not an infectious disease that had to be notified to authorities.  Because of this, many cases of infection and subsequent death simply would not have been registered.  As the name suggests, Whooping Cough is associated with a persistent cough and a very distinct sound. It is a highly contagious disease, which claimed 61,000 lives worldwide in 2013.  Symptoms begin much like those of a cold, but gradually becomes worse as you struggle for breath.  In small children, breathing can stop altogether for periods of time, resulting in death.  Even now, an estimated 16 million people around the world are diagnosed with Whooping Cough every year. In 1896, 25 children under the age of 1 year died from Whooping Cough, with a further 33 deaths attributed to children between 2 and 5 years old.  Only 2 deaths were not in this age range from a total of 60.  37 of those deaths happened in the first two months of the New Year.

Measles – 41

The second-highest cause of deaths in the infectious diseases category was due to measles.  It is reported that from May to July of 1896, there was an epidemic (albeit mild) of measles in the East of the city.  Of the 655 cases of measles reported during that year, the epidemic counted for 438 of them.  Considering that only 41 deaths were registered due to measles, we could assume that the medical professionals had this well under control.  However, the report did say that it was a ‘mild’ epidemic, so perhaps, on this occasion, we just got lucky.  Measles is an airborne disease and can bring a variety of major health complications such as blindness, inflammation of the brain and, in severe cases, death.  It’s not the ‘spotty’ disease we seem to know it as, but is in fact a highly effective killer with children as its main target.  Currently, around 85% of children globally are immunised.  Unlike many other diseases, you can only catch measles once.  In the report, all deaths in Dundee in 1896 were of children under the age of 5.

Typhoid Fever – 23

Typhoid Fever (Typhoid) also increased that year by around 24 cases, with the autumn season playing a key part in the spread of the disease.  A scandal over contaminated milk that had been supplied (unknowingly, we assume) by a local farm, directly causing 3 deaths was also noted, but, in spite of, and despite this, the death rate was fairly low overall.  Typhoid means “resembling Typhus”, and the symptoms are pretty dire, including (but not limited to, or exclusive) intestinal haemorrhaging, respiratory disease, delirium and inflammation of the heart.

Diarrhoea – 23

Diarrhoea was the 4th biggest recorded killer in Dundee in 1896, and was added to the report due to the ‘action of micro-organisms’.  As strange as it may sound, death from diarrhoea was actually a thing.  Acute diarrhoea leads to dehydration and a loss of valuable minerals, ultimately resulting in malnutrition.  Death is usually due to dehydration, which is a symptom of diarrhoea.  With lack of sanitation, nutrition or clean water, sufferers were likely to be in extreme discomfort in their final days.  The report goes on to state that, of the 23 reported deaths, 14 of them happened during the autumn months.  Bizarrely, there seems to be no correlation between this event and the scandal of the milk farm incident which happened at the same time. The increase in deaths was put down to seasonal changes with no mention of the possibility that the infected milk could have also caused some of these deaths. 17 of the 23 recorded deaths were of children, 14 of which were under the age of one.

Diphtheria – 21

An antitoxin treatment for Diphtheria was hailed as the reason for the low number of infections registered, with 92, but as we can see, there were 21 deaths still recorded, taking the mortality rate of the disease to over 20%. A vaccine was not introduced for this moisture-borne killer until 1942, and, until then, Diphtheria claimed an annual death-rate average of around 4000 people in the UK.  Even today, with full medical treatment, there is still a 5 – 10% risk of death.  Symptoms include fever, sore throat, increased heart rate and nausea, but the real kicker is in the powerful toxin produced by the Diphtheria bacteria.  The toxin attacks and destroys the cells in all of the airways, and, as they die, they form a membrane which can attach to the throat and cause death by choking.  If the infection reaches the heart, it will cause heart failure and death (if the choking hadn’t already got you by then).  In 1896, 19 of the 21 recorded deaths were of children aged 5 and under. As you can probably tell, the report makes for pretty grim reading.

Scarlet Fever – 19

In December of 1896, there were 73 cases of Scarlet Fever reported – the highest month of the year.  For the year in total, the number was 422.  Despite there only being 304 cases being reported the previous year, the low death rate showed that it was not a major killer, and indicated that the strain may have been milder that year.  Again, a high proportion of deaths were of children under the age of 5, with 13 of the 19 reported fatalities being within this age range. Scarlet Fever is a ‘flesh-eating’ infection, and amongst the most dreaded of all ailments, capable of wiping out an entire family of children in a matter of days.  Symptoms included the obvious red rash and bright red tongue, but also included paranoia, hallucinations, pneumonia and meningitis.  Imagining an adult going through something like this is harrowing enough, but to think of those young children suffering in such a horrendous way is something altogether more distressing.

Typhus Fever – 2

The 2 deaths attributed to Typhus Fever were in Hilltown and Lochee, in March and May respectively.  In the first case, the patient had been ill for a week before seeking medical help.  Unfortunately, they died on what was believed to be their 12th day after contracting the disease.  Typhus is transferred to humans via animal parasites such as ticks, lice and fleas.  Flu-like symptoms are followed by a rapidly-spreading rash, which can then lead to light sensitivity, an altered mental state, and in some cases, coma.  Untreated, the skin can become blistered and gangrenous, causing necrosis and a build-up of lethal toxins in the bloodstream. Definitely not a nice way to go!

In more recent times, statistics show that, between the years 2012 and 2014, there were 38 deaths recorded in Dundee City involving children under the age of 14, with a city-wide death-rate of 4842. In adults, most of the causes of death have remained the same, with cancer topping the list, followed by circulatory disease, respiratory diseases, digestive diseases, external causes and ‘other’.  Maybe we haven’t learned as much about healthier living as we thought we had!


‘City of Dundee Report of the Medical Officer of Health for the year ending 31st December 1896.’ (Dundee City Archives)

Oxford Vaccine Group


A pandemic outbreak of Asiatic cholera swept over most of the world between 1829 and 1851, reaching from India, across Asia and into Europe.  By 1832, Dundee had been hit – the pandemic itself still in its infancy.  From there the pandemic swept across to the Americas, devastating lives wherever it fell.  In Dundee, large numbers of citizens were rapidly falling ill as the disease took hold.

Cholera caused more deaths, more quickly, than any other epidemic disease in the 19th century.  Classic cholera symptoms include watery diarrhoea, which leads to dehydration and mineral imbalances.  It is spread by contaminated water and food that has been contaminated with human faeces, and humans are the only species of animal susceptible to the disease.  Back in Dundee, with no clean water and no real means of sanitation, the situation worsened as people fell gravely ill and died.  With such a staggering number of cholera deaths, our gravediggers couldn’t work fast enough to dig burial holes as the bodies began to literally pile up!

It became clear very quickly that there was just not enough time in the day (or night) to keep digging individual holes for people, so work got underway to build a trench along the southern wall of the Howff.  This was to be a mass grave for the victims of cholera – people of all sorts, many of them unknown to each other in life, but now destined to lie together in death.  Thankfully, they were still allowed to be buried in coffins, so it wasn’t as though the bodies were just flung in the trench unceremoniously! These coffins were all piled up in rows on top of each other until they came close to the surface, and then the trench was filled in.

It was probably a horrible decision for a family to make – burying your loved one in a mass grave – but with no other options available due to limited land and manpower, it was the only way to deal with such a deluge of bodies.  The only remaining gravestone which indicates the location of the trench, is that of William Forrest Esquire, a Lieutenant Colonel with the Hon EIC Bengal Army, and inspector of their Militaty Stones in London.  Died of Cholera Morbus on 20th July 1832 on the passage from London to Dundee, deeply lamented by his family and friends.

Gravestone of William Forrest Esquire in Dundee Howff graveyard, who died of Cholera in 1832. This gravestone marks the site of a cholera mass grave.
Gravestone of William Forrest Esquire in Dundee Howff graveyard, who died of Cholera in 1832.

When we were in Dundee University Archives recently, we came across a trio of photographs relating to a vault that had been discovered during the excavation work to build Bell Street car park over the site of the Constitution Burial Ground in December 1972.  With it is a memo from the then-Director of Parks to Dr Scott of the University of Dundee, relating specifically to the potential problem of cholera and its continued infectivity.  Whilst there was no further correspondence on the matter in the archives, the memo did go on to say that the vault had been filled with dry sand after the photographs were taken to allow the building work to continue.

The images show three adult sized coffins, all lying side by side, barely a foot apart from each other in an open, dark vaulted space with brick walls on the sides that are visible in the photograph.  They are covered in mould, bits of earth and some debris, and are severely decaying.  The first coffin (in the immediate right of the picture) and the second central coffin both appear to be marginally larger than the third, which is on the left of the overall image.  Between the second and third coffins, there appears to be lying a much smaller coffin.  It looks like this coffin had initially been laid between the two coffins, perhaps on some kind of elevation, but it has since fallen over, losing its lid slightly in the process.  The small coffin, perhaps one eighth the size of the others, sits at a strange angle to the floor, its lid askew (but not enough to reveal its contents).

The first coffin has a series of what appears to be metal riveted edging along the base and on the lid of the coffin – presumably some kind of grave-robbing deterrent, but, due to the decay of the other two coffins, it is hard to tell if they too had some kind of metalwork on them.  The same riveted work can be seen on the small coffin.  Whilst the vault may have been infilled, we know they are still under the car park, biding their time in their dirt and mould-ridden coffins.  Perhaps future building and excavation will uncover them once again, or else we will rebuild over the car park in time, pushing them further into the recesses of forgotten history.

Sources FDCA website

Dundee University Archives

Wikipedia (cholera symptoms)

 Dead Centre Walking Tour 

Take the Dead Centre Walking Tour which visits the cholera pit and the rest of the dead under our feet in the city centre. This tour starts at the Howff graveyard, and ends at the City Square.

Find out more and book tickets

When the Scottish Reform Act was finally passed into law in 1832, none were more jubilant than the folk of Dundee.  Known as a ‘radical toon’, Dundee is said to have been of significant help to the cause of Reform.  Once the news had hit the town, it quickly spread to the Radicals, who prepared to celebrate with an ‘illumination’.  An illumination was the preferred way to celebrate events, and involved lighting up pubs and homes until they were as bright as they could be.  Usually, gunpowder would be ignited in the streets to add further illumination and excitement.

The Reform Act sought to change the way the landscape of politics and voting was to be decided, so, as you could imagine, many of the self-appointed burgh officials weren’t particularly keen on the new legislative changes.  This being said, there was no “official” celebration of the Act – the illumination celebration was very much a public affair.  The weekend proceeding the news of the Act’s passing was one of excitement, happiness and a great deal of fun.  It was the end of June, and a perfect time for an outdoor celebration.  Pubs and Inns took part, helping to light up areas of the centre as people partied into the early hours.

Despite all the revelry, some believed that this party was not quite up to the standard of such a prominent event, and preparations were soon under way for a party on Monday night, much bigger and brighter than the first.  Arguments against allowing this new party to go ahead were heard by the Town Council, but it was decided to allow the celebrations to continue without interruption unless things got out of control.  Perhaps, already sensing their loosening grip on the city, the Town Council agreed purely to avoid a rebellious riot.  Whatever they were thinking, nobody could have foretold the events that soon unfolded.

Monday certainly lived up to its hype.  The hills of Fife burned with celebratory fire as Dundee’s harbour was festooned with sailing vessels covered in flags, illuminated by a multitude of buildings and fires all the way into the centre of town.  Still in need of more illumination, a tar barrel was placed inside and old boat and the barrel set alight.  From there, the burning boat was hauled up Union Street to the corner of Nethergate as people whooped and cheered, shooting pistols into the air.  Whilst it all seems a bit crazy to us, this was just how our ancestors partied!

The atmosphere was said to have been one of happiness and relative peace as the fire was topped up and the boat pulled in a circle through the Nethergate, Tay Street, Overgate and then High Street, nearby where the Town House stood at this time.  As the party roared into the latter part of the evening, people began to disperse – it was Monday night, after all, and many would have had work in the morning.  As late evening turned to night, things took an unexpected turn that had disastrous consequences.

The Police Force, alongside Special Constables, commandeered the fire, pouring water on it to extinguish not only the flames, but the party, too.  By this point, it is estimated that there were still around 200 people enjoying the party, which had, by all accounts, been fairly incident-free.  As people tried to prevent their fun from being stopped, it is alleged officers handled the revellers somewhat roughly.

This did not go down well with the people of Dundee, and they turned from party animals into an angry mob, pelting the Police with sticks and stones, forcing them away from the fire.  The sudden disruption saw approximately 40 people arrested and put into the cells overnight; the party now well and truly over.  In the morning, almost everyone was let away by the Justices, with the exception of three men whom the Justices were confident had assaulted Police Officers the night before.

Many people took objection to this, and, as news spread of the three men’s detainments, crowds began to gather outside the Town House.  It did not take long for things to get as rowdy as they had the previous evening; crowds threw rocks, stones and threats at the doors of the Town House, but the Justices refused to budge on their position.  In scenes that echoed those of less than 24 hours before, a flaming boat was heaved from the harbour once again and placed against the doors of the Town House.  Here, the story seems to take an unlikely turn which was instrumental in what was to become total chaos.  It is said that when one of the Justices went to the Police Offices to release the men and quell any more tension, the key to the cells could not be found.

The already-mad crowd became as inflamed as the fires they had set and tore along to the Police Offices filled with rage.  Grabbing a thick plank of wood, they relentlessly battered at the locked doors of the Police Office until they finally yielded.  As the doors flew open, anyone who wasn’t a prisoner fled through the back doors, fearing for their lives.  The mob, by now completely uncontrollable, released the prisoners and began tearing the place apart.  The office itself was completely destroyed, with everything that could possibly be removed taken into the street and set alight.

Meanwhile, some of the men had broken into the Superintendent’s house, smashing all his windows, destroying his belongings and throwing things out into the street before attempting to set the house on fire.  Thankfully they didn’t succeed, but destroyed a grocery owned by another Police Officer on their way back into the centre.  In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Dundee was still at the hands of the rioters.  With not enough officers to suppress the mobbing men, Police presence was non-existent and reinforcements had been called in from Perth in the form of the 78th Highland Regiment.

The Lord-Lieutenant of the County at the time, the Earl of Airlie arrived on Wednesday morning, a few hours before the arrival of the 78th Highland Regiment, in an attempt to try and bring about some peace and order.  Amidst the burnt rubble and wreckage of what used to be the Police Office, he stood talking to the angry mob as they continued to shout at him and throw things at him from the charred, cooling remains of the fire.

Surprisingly, things took an unexpected turn, and the mob seemed to eventually warm to the Earl and began to settle down.  The 78th Highland Regiment made their presence very well known that day and night, just in case it all got a bit rowdy again, but it seemed that a 2 day riot was enough for any one person, and the streets fell quiet.  Although many people, including Police Officers were hurt, there appears to be no mention of any deaths as a result of the riot, which is unusual considering how out of hand it got.

7 men were eventually singled out and tried for the outbreak; the three original prisoners who had been detained for the first attack on Police Officers, and 4 others who had been identified as being involved in the jail-break and destruction of the Police Office.  The first 3 were lucky; Thomas Kettle, James Barnet and John Jolly were sentenced to 6 months in Dundee Jail after pleading guilty to rioting, but the other 4 pleaded not guilty, but were found guilty anyway.  James Findlay and John Tomlinson were sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay for 14 years.  17-year old George Haggart was sentenced to transportation for 7 years.

In returning their guilty verdict, the jury had recommended mercy for the 4th accused, watchmaker James Findlay.  It was unclear his level of involvement, and his alibi was more credible than the others, but they were still certain he had something to do with it, however minor.  He was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in Bridewell Prison.

 Dark Dundee Walking Tours 

Want to hear more stories like this?

Join us on one of our walking tours.

Find out more and book tickets

St John’s RC High School, November 1967

The man above is Robert Mone; depraved multiple killer and the murderer of local teacher Nanette Hanson. Having been expelled from St John’s Roman Catholic High School in 1964, Mone returned to exact deadly revenge on the morning of 1st November 1967. Having spent some time serving with the Gordon Highlanders in Germany, Mone had returned to Dundee depressed and vengeful. Armed with a shotgun, he entered the High School and went into a classroom on the first floor, occupied by Miss Hanson and her small needlework class of 14 and 15 year old girls who were quietly making dirndl skirts.

At gunpoint, he threatened Miss Hanson and ordered the terrified girls into the storeroom before ordering the tallest of the girls back into the classroom and subjecting her to horrific sexual abuse in front of her sickened, disgusted and pregnant teacher. He abused a further student whilst Miss Hanson begged for them to be left alone. As he ordered one pupil to leave the room and tell the headmaster what was going on, he forced others to barricade the door closed with desks to ensure they were not bothered. With instruction from Mone that if anyone tried to enter the classroom, he would start shooting, swarms of police officers stood by on the sidelines for fear of a bloodbath.

His demands included that he speak with a female acquaintance of his, Marion Young. A student nurse, 18 year old Marion was roused from her sleep and brought to St John’s RC High School, where she bravely made the decision to enter the classroom where Mone was in lockdown with his captives. Most of the girls remained in the storeroom, petrified with fear, as Mone brought one of the girls he had sexually assaulted back out to sit with Marion. As the women pleaded with him, Mone began to get stressed and erratic. Nanette Hanson bargained with her life for the sake of her young charges, peddling Mone to let the girls go and keep her instead. Surprisingly, Mone agreed, and the shocked, confused and frightened young teenagers were released after a stand off lasting approximately 90 horrifying minutes.

Things soon took a terrible turn for the worse as Mone turned the gun on Nanette Hanson and shot her dead. Cowardly Mone could not look the pregnant teacher in the eye, forcing her to turn away from him as he shot her from behind. By asking Mone to release the girls, 26 year old Miss Hanson’s fate had probably already been sealed. Nanette’s parents travelled from her home town in Yorkshire to receive the body of their daughter, and it is said that around 300 people attended her funeral, including Marion Young, who had been forced to watch in horror as Mone executed the heroic young woman.

Declared criminally insane and unfit to testify, Robert Mone was never actually convicted for the murder of Nanette Hanson, and was instead sent to Carstairs Hospital, a high-security treatment facility in South Lanarkshire. In 1976, along with his friend and lover, Thomas McCulloch, Mone broke out of Carstairs, killing an inmate, prison guard and then a police officer on their way. A car chase ensued down past the border between Scotland and England before the notorious duo were finally apprehended and once again incarcerated. For more details on this, read what the statement by Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Bruce Millan had to say about the events at the end of this post.

Claiming that his outbursts stemmed from having a dysfunctional childhood, it comes as no surprise to learn that his father later killed three women, including a member of his own family, and was sentenced in 1979 to life imprisonment. He was later stabbed in jail and died in 1983. Unfortunately for the general public, Mone is still alive, but thankfully, still incarcerated.


Mrs. Hart (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the incident at Carstairs State Mental Hospital yesterday.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

The whole House will wish to join with me in expressing its deep regret and sympathy to the families of the three people who died in the tragic events which took place in and near the State Hospital at Carstairs last night, and to the others who were injured.

Since criminal proceedings are pending against the two patients, Mr. Robert Mone and Mr. Thomas McCulloch, who escaped, it would not be proper for me at this stage to comment on the events, and I shall give only a brief summary of what is so far known to me.

The two patients were parole patients —that is to say, they had some freedom of movement within the hospital. A nursing officer, Mr. Neil McLellan. was in charge of recreation. The patients were members of his drama group. Early in the evening of 30th November there was a routine check of patients in wards, and, as some patients in the drama group were absent, a call was made to Mr. McLellan’s office in the old administration block, part of which is being used temporarily as a recreation area. As there was no reply, nurses went to the office and found the dead bodies of Mr. McLellan and another patient, Mr. Ian Simpson, with severe head injuries. Mr. Simpson was also a parole patient and a member of Mr. McLellan’s drama group. A fireman’s axe was missing. This axe had formerly been kept in a safe in the central nursing office in the old administration block. When the new block was opened the axe had been handed to Mr. McLellan to keep in the safe in his office for use in case of fire.

The alarm was given and escape procedure put into operation. It was found that the patients had got over the perimeter fence using a weighted rope ladder, which they had evidently prepared beforehand, by what means is not vet known. It is not the case, as stated in the Press, that the patients got through the gate in nurses’ uniforms. The patients had taken Mr. McLellan’s keys, but these were not used in their escape and they have now been recovered.

The police officers, Constables Taylor and Gillies, were meanwhile on routine patrol in the vicinity of the hospital in a Panda car. They saw two men and stopped to interrogate them. Constable Taylor sustained injuries from which he has since died. Constable Gillies was also slightly injured. The two men made off in the police car until it crashed on the A702. A van stopped at the crash so that the occupants might help. Its two occupants were seriously injured and are in hospital. The van was then taken by the two men, who made off to Town-foot Farm, Roberton, where they secured, apparently under threat of violence, the farmer’s car. The men then made off to the south on the A74, with the police in pursuit. The car crashed at roundabout 43, just north of Carlisle, and after a struggle the occupants were overpowered by the police.

Mr. Mone and Mr. McCulloch were brought before the Sheriff Court at Lanark this morning on a charge of murder. They were committed for further examination and sent to Barlinnie Prison.

These are the main facts as so far known to me. I am already pursuing my own immediate inquiries to satisfy myself that the incident does not reveal any obvious security deficiency that should be dealt with at once, but the House will know that the security record of the State Hospital has been a good one. In view of the nature of the incident, however, it is my intention to set up as soon as possible an independent inquiry into the circumstances in which the escape was possible and to report on any additional measures that might be taken in the interests of security.

Finally, I wish to express my appreciation of the prompt, brave and effective action taken by the police and of their ready co-operation with the hospital. I should also like to pay tribute to the constructive and devoted work done by the hospital staff in the care of patients, often in circumstances of the utmost difficulty.

text copied from

6th September, 1865

When Captain John Greig Junior set sail from Montrose to London in his father’s schooner on 6th September 1865, he was blissfully unaware of his fate. The schooner was towed from Montrose harbour, out of the shallower waters of the bay with a crew of three men, plus their Captain, not long after midday, carrying their cargo of wooden flooring. As they began to head South, Captain Greig, feeling the effects of the afternoon heat, soon lay down on the deck to take a nap, leaving the other three men to control and navigate the vessel. Those three men were Andrew Brown, who was the ship’s Mate, John Pert, who manned the tiller, and an older crewman, Alexander Raeburnes, who worked the rigging.

They had barely reached Inverkeillor, by a place called Red Head, when Pert is alleged to have heard two loud, dense thuds, like something heavy had fallen onto the deck. He was not prepared for what he saw as he turned towards the source of the sudden noise. Captain Grieg lay dead on the deck, his head split open almost in two separate parts in a bloody mess on the wooden deck. Standing over him with an axe, ready to deal yet another blow was the ship’s Mate, Andrew Brown. In horror, John Pert watched as Brown struck a third time, slicing the Captain’s head in two.

Panic and an overwhelming need for survival must have overwhelmed Pert, forcing him up from his position at the tiller and towards the murderous Brown. Pert gained possession of the axe and quickly threw it over the side of the schooner into the waters of the North Sea. Knowing that there was no way he could get away with what he had done, he ordered the two men to help him sail to Stonehaven, so he could see his mother one last time before he was taken into custody. Probably fearing for their own safety, the two men obliged, and they turned to set a new course.

Brown’s temperament was varied during the hours-long journey to Stonehaven, ranging from fear and anger to carefree and nonchalant. At one point, it is alleged he asked the crewmen to help him push the body over the side of the schooner, named ‘Nymph’, but the men refused. At another, he was said to have confessed that he had yet another man to kill. Despite the warmth of that day, the poor men must have felt chilled to the bone. The murder took place at around 5pm, so from this time until they reached their new destination about midnight, the men had sailed with the murderer and his victim.

The tension aboard the vessel must have been almost unbearable for Pert and Raeburnes – alone with an axe-murderer at sea with hours to go until docking, all the while, trying to avoid looking at the mutilated remains of their Captain, whose blood and brain matter must have been splattered over and seeping into the decking where he lay prostrate. Each of the three men took turns in different positions on the bloodied schooner, probably having to walk past or step over what would now be the congealing body of the ill-fated man. During part of a conversation both crewmen stated that Brown had said there was an old grudge between himself and Captain Greig, and that he had made threats against both men’s lives during the course of the their journey.

As they reached Stonehaven, two of Brown’s uncles were the men who approached the schooner to guide them into the pier. Understandably, they were horrified at what they saw, and Brown was said to have tried to prevent the vessel from docking, without success. As soon as they were close enough to land, both Raeburnes and Pert fled the scene and rushed to report the murder to local police. Brown went to see his mother, and it was at her home that he was arrested. It was some months before his case was called to Court, but his case was heard in early January the following year, where he pled Not Guilty on the grounds of insanity and the influence of alcohol.

Whilst both Pert and Raeburnes said that Brown was not heavily under the influence of alcohol at the time he murdered his Captain, who was also believed to be his friend, both the policeman who arrested him and Brown’s uncle, testified that Brown was definitely inebriated at the times they saw him. Further to this, it was heard that Brown suffered from debilitating headaches and changes in mood after a couple of unrelated childhood accidents that resulted in invasive medical intervention. As he grew older, he became more aggressive when under the influence of alcohol.

Despite more witnesses attesting to his erratic behaviour, and with a minority of the jury recommending mercy in light of this, Brown was found Guilty as charged and sentenced to the gallows where he would be hung until he was dead. With his place of execution set as Montrose, Brown was incarcerated in Forfar prison until 31st January 1866 when he was transported to Montrose amid a furore surrounding his execution.

William Calcraft was his executioner. With a reputation for theatrics and harbouring a sadistic nature, Calcraft preferred the “short-drop” hanging option; allowing the accused to slowly choke to death as the rope casually tightened around their neck. If the accused took too long to die, it is said that he would put his weight on their body, pulling on it to create tension enough to snap their spine at the base of the skull. Upon his death, Brown’s body was returned to Forfar and interred in the prison grounds.

Below is an extract of the trial, with some witness statements:

John Port, sailor, deposed, – I was engaged on the 4th of September to go a voyage on board the schooner Nymph, of Montrose. I was engaged by Mr. Greig, one of the owners of the vessel. I sailed on the 6th (Wednesday), about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, for London. There were on board, besides myself, Alexander Raeburnes, Andrew Brown (the prisoner), and John Greig (the master). The prisoner was mate. John Greig was the son of Mr. Greig, who engaged me. I first saw the prisoner two or three days before we sailed. We were all sober when we sailed. The prisoner was so, so far as I saw. I had seen him every day for two or three days before that, and had not observed him to be the worse of drink. The schooner was taken out of the harbour by a tug, and we set sail for London’ with a cargo of wood. The master lay down on the deck till tea was ready, and when I called him for tea he told me to let him lie a bit longer. Brown and I had tea together, after which I took the helm from Raeburnes to let him have his, and Brown went und lighted his pipe and walked the deck. A little afterwards Raeburnes carne up from the cabin and went forward to wash the deck. Shortly after Brown slipped forward and went to the forecastle. I did not see him come aft, but I found afterwards that he had slipped behind me. My attention was first directed to that by hearing two heavy blows. I looked over my right shoulder on hearing them, and saw the master’s head lying in two halves. I was stunned for a little bit, and Brown, who had the axe up, let it down again before I could get hold of him. The two blows I first heard were given quickly one after the other, and the prisoner had the blows struck before I had time to interfere I then rushed into the bulwarks and took the axe out of his hand and threw it overboard. The master was apparently dead by this time.

After I had thrown away the axe Brown said, “I have done the deed, and I will have to suffer for it.” A few minutes afterwards he asked me if I would come and see him hanged. About five minutes after I had seized the axe from him he said, “Jack, it’s a good job you got the axe, or else you would have got the same.” I had a good twist with him before I could get the axe out of his hands. When I was struggling with him he did not speak. I am sure he was sober at that time. I do not think he had much drink that day.

Before we went to dinner on shore we had a drink of ale together, but that was all .The murder took place at about 5 o’clock, when we were running off the Forfarshire coast. We were two miles and a-half from land. I called to Raeburnes, and he came to where I was. He reached me immediately after the axe was thrown overboard. The prisoner was then standing beside me and beside the body. The prisoner took the tiller and steered the vessel east, and in the opposite direction from where we were going. He said he was steering the vessel to Stonehaven. We put the sails right on his telling us where he wanted to go, I said to him, “Better go to Montrose with the vessel,” and he answered “No.” he said. “I want to go to Stonehaven to see my mother.” While off Bervie he asked Raeburnes to help him to throw the master’s body overboard. He next came to the ship’s quarter-deck and asked me to give him a hand to throw the body over the side; but I would not do so, and told him to let the master lie where he was killed. He did not tell me why he wanted to throw the body overboard.’ I was then steering the vessel.

I had taken the tiller when he went forward to speak to the old man. This would be about 11 o’clock at night; and from the time of the murder we had all had a turn at the steering. Brown had steered for three or four hours without stopping. There did not seem to be anything odd about him. He spoke about his mother, and in course of conversation said, but that he wished to see her, he would go over the side. I understood by that he would drown himself, but that he wanted to see his mother. He asked the loan of a shilling from me after we passed Bervie, and said he had a sixpence and he would give 1s 6d to his mother. He said it would be the last money he would over give her. He asked Raeburnes and me to wash up the blood, which we did. We saw the Montrose schooner Union, which we thought of signalling, just about half an hour after the deed was done, Raeburnes went up to the rigging and waved his cap to the Schooner. Brown called to him – “If you don’t come down I’ll heave you over the side.” He gave up when he heard the prisoner say that. After the disturbance that had taken place on board we were afraid of Brown. I said to Brown, “Better signal to some o’ these ships.”

There were two schooners in sight at that time. He said “No, never mind signalling; I am going to Stonehaven.” I asked why he killed the master, and he said it was for an old grudge. I did not ask what was the old grudge, Raeburnes and I kept very much together, but watching the prisoner. He asked how long the tide would stand at Stonehaven. We could not tell him, and he went below to consult the tide table and called on one of us to take the helm. He told us after he came up that the tide would carry us in. It was before he took the tiller that he said he would have to suffer for it. It was about an hour after the deed was done that he asked me if I would come to see him hanged. I made no answer. He was not weeping at any time. He said, “Jack, I am going stark mad out of my mind. This was said about two hours after the deed, and while he was steering. He seemed to know quite well what he was doing. He took the vessel into Stonehaven himself. A pilot boat came alongside a little out from the harbour. The pilots were the two uncles of the prisoner. One of them came on board. The prisoner told the pilot he had killed the master, and, pointing to the body, said, “There’s him lying by me.” It was about one in the morning when we got into Stonehaven harbour.

Raeburnes and I went ashore, leaving the prisoner and the pilot on hoard. We went to the police office, from which we returned to the ship. The police went to the prisoner’s mother’s house for him. He had left the ship before we returned to it. The axe was a common carpenter’s axe. I never noticed anything odd about the prisoner. I never noticed the effects of drink on him. He might have had drink of his own on board, but I did not see it. He was twice down the cabin after the murder, but I did not know what he was doing there. The captain’s age was about 26. About an hour after the murder he said, “I’ve got one more to kill before I die,” I did not ask who it was. Sometime before that he said, “Have you got a knife to lend me?” I said, “No.” I did not regard the one remark as connected with the other. The body remained untouched after the murder till we arrived. The master was asleep and snoring when he was killed.

Cross-examined.-The prisoner and the master appeared to be good friends. I never heard angry words between them. He was quite quiet when he asked me to come and see him hanged; he did not seem in the least excited by the prospect of it.

Alexander Raeburnes corroborated the evidence. He said they were all sober when the vessel sailed, but the prisoner had had a glass, Heard Pert call out ‘ My God! The mate has killed the skipper.” Saw the axe heaved overboard, but did not see Pert take it from prisoner’s hands. Pert called out, “My God! What will we do with the ship?” We wanted to get to Montrose. The prisoner then took the helm, and ordered me to go aloft and take a reef out of the topsail. I went aloft, and waved to the schooner Union, which was passing at the time, and the prisoner cried that if I waved there he would throw me overboard when I came on deck. I made no noise, but simply waved my bonnet to the schooner. Prisoner told us, “I’m master of the ship, and want to go to Stonehaven to see my mother.” We tried to get from him the best way we could the reason for the murder, and he said with great violence, and slapping his breast, “I have another to kill.” We asked what he had done this for. He simply replied, in a lamenting way. “I have done the deed and will have to suffer for it.” We asked him who the other person was he had to kill, but he would not tell us. I do not think he meant himself. I did not observe any difference in his spirits after the murder. He was not like a drunken man. He was not swearing or using any harsh language.

During the afternoon he came and asked, when off Bervie, if I would sanction to throw the master overboard. The words he said were:-” Wouldn’t you sanction me to throw the master overboard?” I understood by that he wanted me to help him. I said, “No; you have killed the master, and he shall be here till more see him.” Before he proposed to throw over the body he said to us, “What will you say to save me?” And we replied that we could say nothing. In sailing into Stonehaven he always gave the orders, and gave them correctly. If this deed itself had not been done, there would have been nothing about him to attract attention at all.

Cross-examined. – I saw no exhibition of I’ll feeling between the master and the prisoner. It did not strike me that there was anything wrong about his mind. I was much surprised by the deed.

Margaret Collie, public housekeeper, de-posed that the captain had ordered a bottle of whisky and a half dozen of beer for the journey, and that the beer was sent to the ship, and the mate came for the whisky just before sailing.

John Greig, senior, shipmaster. Montrose, the father of the deceased, deposed that the prisoner and deceased had sailed together for seven months. He thought the prisoner temperate for a sailor. Had no reason to suppose that there was ill-blood between them. Drink was observable on the mate before sailing, but no more. It did not unfit him for duty. It was not observable upon the others.

Andrew Brown, pilot, uncle of prisoner, de- posed that the prisoner, before leaving the ship, poured something from a bottle and drank it, and threw the empty bottle away. It had the smell of whisky. When the prisoner had drink, he made an entire fool of himself and would be con- trolled by nobody.

John Gordon, police-sergeant, who apprehended the prisoner in his mother’s home, deposed that prisoner said to him. “This is a bad job”; that the deceased was a bad fellow, and had led him to the bad houses about London, where he spent his money, so that he had nothing to take home to his mother. He spoke about having received a letter from his mother a few days before, and that she had complained she had neither money nor clothes, and that he had taken that so much to heart that he had committed the crime he had done. During the conversation he said that he was “quits with him now.”

Two declarations by the prisoner were read. In the first taken at Stonehaven on the 7th of September, he gave a circumstantial account of the murder, completely agreeing with the sea- men’s statements. He added:-“I had no cause of complaint with the captain except that he led me on to a bad life all the time I was with him, and I took that to heart. It came to my head all at once that I would kill him, and I went immediately and did it. When I was away from home the captain used to take me to bad houses when we were on shore and led me into drinking habits, and that is what I “meant by saying that he led me on to lead a bad life.” The second declaration was taken at Forfar on the 9th. In it, his statements were more vague, pleading want of recollection and understanding. He struck the captain, he declared, but could not tell if he had killed him. He did not know he was doing when, he struck the captain. He did not know what he was doing any harm, else he would not have done it.

Evidence was then culled for the defence, to show that the prisoner had sustained a fall in boyhood, that he had had a full four years ago which led to a surgical operation, that; a block had fallen on his head about a year ago, and that he had suffered other bodily injuries, which had his intern deposed, changed his disposition from cheerful to sullen, and that he had gradually fallen into, habits of drinking. The witnesses stated that very little drink produced great excitement in him, and some thought he was not right in his mind. As one witness expressed it, “The dram went to his brain.”

The Solicitor-General addressed the jury for the Crown, contending that there was no insanity proved, and that the prisoner’s conduct in charge of the ship showed perfect possession of mind. Mr. Nicolson endeavoured to show that the prisoner’s acts were those of a madman, and, as an example of insane delusion, pointed to his statement that deceased had led him into evil courses, of which there was no proof.

The Lord Justice Clerk, in charging the jury, dwelt on the prisoner’s first declaration as giving a perfectly intelligent account of the murder and one in entire accord with the seamen’s evidence. There was no proof that reason had been dethroned, but on the contrary, the prisoner knew the act he was committing and the consequences of it. As to the alleged delusion, there was no proof that it was a delusion, and even assuming the prisoner’s statement on this point not to be true it was more like the falsehood of cunning then the dream of an insane person.

The jury were about 50 minutes, and returned to court with a verdict of guilty, with a recommendation to mercy on the part of a minority of their number.

The Lord Justice Clerk said he would immediately send the recommendation to the proper quarter, but would delay sentence till Wednesday morning on account of some practical difficulty in appointing the place of execution.

The prisoner betrayed no emotion on hearing the verdict the Court adjourned after a sitting of above 12 hours.

Law, December 1992

A young woman was walking her father’s police dog on the morning of December 30th, 1992 by the Law when she made a horrifying discovery. Lying in the underbrush was a severed arm. Alarmed, she rushed home to notify her father, who reported the grim find. A further search of the area uncovered numerous plastic bags, each containing body parts. A public appeal led to information relating to a man’s disappearance, noted due to his absence from his family’s Christmas dinner. That man was Gordon Dunbar, 52. Identification of Dunbar was restrictive due to the fact that, despite his body parts being scattered all over the Law, his head was never recovered. Forensic analysis and tell-tale scarring were the only means of identifying Dunbar as the tragic victim.

As the search for Dunbar’s killer intensified, it became clear that Dunbar was last seen on Christmas Eve. With the knowledge that he was to attend the family dinner the following day, but never made it, it is assumed he was murdered either on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning, with the former being the preferred assumption. With no evidence forthcoming about the murder, Police were given a breakthrough when a tip-off led them to investigate a man called Alastair Thompson. Whilst searching Mr Thompson’s belongings, they came across a key to a flat on the 9th floor of Butterburn Court, a multi-storey apartment block within a moderate walk from the crime scene. Evidence in the flat linked Dunbar’s murder to this property, such as the plastic bags used to wrap the body parts and the remnants of stickers that were on the bags found on the Law. In addition to this was the startling and grim discovery of a blood-drenched saw and human tissue matter which DNA analysis matched to Dunbar.

Thompson’s violent and disturbing history included the murder of his own grandmother, for which he had been sentenced to life for in 1968 – later to be released in 1984, having served 16 years. He moved around the country before settling in Dundee shortly before he murdered Dunbar. It is believed that Thompson lured Dunbar to the flat in Butterburn Court under the pretence of sexual dalliance before he attacked him. What is evident, however, is that Dunbar suffered a horrific death before his body was cut into pieces in the bathroom with a hacksaw before being placed into plastic bags and strewn over the law. It is not noted anywhere whether or not this murder was a homophobic attack or whether it was motivated by the need to kill, a need for money, or just a quarrel that got out of hand. Thompson was not an openly gay man, although Dunbar was, however, news of Thompson’s apparent bisexuality spread as his story exploded in the media. Indeed, it later transpired that Thompson gifted a gold chain to his girlfriend – the same chain worn by Dunbar at the time of his murder.

Edinburgh’s High Court head the case against Thompson in the year preceding the murder. His defence was that he did not actually perform the murder/robbery of Dunbar, but had merely disposed of the bodies for who he described were “Glasgow heavies”. These so-called “heavies” were never identified, and, as the only suspect in one of the most brutal and callous murders in Dundee, a jury sentenced him to a minimum of 20 years imprisonment at Perth Prison, where he died in December 2010. Dunbar’s head was never recovered, and Butterburn Court has since been demolished, eradicating forever the scene of the crime.

Read Alexander McGregor’s book “The Law Killers” for the full story, or do a bit of digging for yourself…

Princes Street, Dundee, February 1889

When a man came to the police station on the night of 10th February 1889 to report the suicide of his wife, Ellen Bury, alarm bells began to ring for the Lieutenant who took his story.  Amid claims that she had killed herself, Bury made another startling claim.  Upon “finding” her prostrate body, Bury stabbed her in the abdomen.  Fearing he would be likened to Jack the Ripper, he had hidden her body.  In his empty, dank basement squat below a shop in Princes Street, officers found the dead body of his wife, and Bury was arrested.

Ellen’s lifeless corpse had been crudely stuffed into a wooden box, exactly where Bury said she would be.  The force required to push her into the box in such a manner was enough to break her bones, as her right leg had been broken in two places.  Whether this was done prior to putting her corpse into the box, or during the process is unclear.  Ellen had been strangled with a rope Bury had bought days before, and stabbed with a penknife later found in their squat.  Her abdomen had been sliced and mutilated to the point that her intestines were protruding.

The ligature marks around her throat and the bruising on her hands and body were consistent with a violent struggle, and injuries which she could not have applied herself.  It was theorised that Ellen would have been sufficiently stunned by the violence of the blows rained upon her to allow her attacker to strangle her without much of a struggle.  Whether or not Ellen was alive when Bury stabbed her still remains to be seen, and will probably never be known for certain.

Ellen and Bury were not long married, and had recently moved to Dundee from London, in a perceived attempt to rid themselves of their demons.  Bury was a violent drunk with a shady past, but Ellen had baggage all of her own.  A London bargirl and prostitute, Ellen met Bury whilst he was indulging in two of his favourite pastimes; alcohol and licentious women.  They married, despite his drinking, womanising and ceaseless violence – he attempted to cut her throat on more than one occasion – and, on the basis of a lie told by Bury, made their way to Dundee.

Euan Macpherson writes that Bury “stole from his wife, assaulted her, frightened her by sleeping with a knife under his pillow, gave her a venereal disease, reduced her to a life of utter misery…yet showed absolutely no guilt or remorse” in his book The Trial of Jack the Ripper: The Case of William Bury (1859-1889).

The reasons surrounding the motive for Ellen’s murder are unclear to this day, but Bury’s links to Jack the Ripper thrust the duo into the global spotlight for all the wrong reasons.  Whether Ellen Bury was keeping a dark secret for William, we will never know.  One thing we do know for certain is that she met her death at the hands of a violent, abusive, drunken man with no care for the torment he caused her in life or in death.

Atlanta Constitution Georgia, U.S.A.14 February 1889
Dundee Policemen Think They Have Caught Jack the Ripper

London, February 13.

The body of a woman concealed in a wooden chest, was discovered Monday by the police of Dundee. The body was mutilated. The chest was so small that the murderer had been compelled to squeeze the body into it. The husband of the woman has been arrested on suspicion of being her murderer. It was positively ascertained that Wm. H. Bury, the victim, murdered her. Bury was a resident of Whitechapel, London, and his antecedents suggest that he is probably Jack the Ripper, and that he is subject to fits of unconscious murder mania. The post mortem examination held on the body proved that the woman had first been strangled, and that her body had then been mutilated, the abdomen being ripped open and the legs and arms twisted and broken.

Bury says that he left Whitechapel three weeks ago. He refuses to say why he left there, and acknowledges that he had no business requiring his attention at Dundee. He says that he and his wife drank heavily last night before retiring, and that he does not know how he got to bed. Upon awakening, he says he found his wife lying upon the floor with a rope round her neck.

Actuated by a sudden mad impulse, for which he cannot account, he seized a knife and slashed the body. Upon reason returning he became alarmed and hastily crushed the body into the chest in which it was found, thinking to make his escape. He found, however, that he could not leave his wife’s remains, and he finally resolved to inform the police.

The theory of the police officials is that Bury’s wife knew of facts connecting him with the East end atrocities, and that she took him to Dundee in the hope of preventing a recurrence of the crimes.

Times (London)
29 March 1889

SENTENCES OF DEATH.-At a Circuit Court, held yesterday in Dundee, Lord Young presiding, William Henry Bury, 29, was charged with murdering his wife by strangling and stabbing, in Dundee, on the 5th of February. Prisoner pleaded “Not Guilty.” Mrs. Corney, Stanley-road, Stratford-le-Bow, London, said deceased was her sister, and before her marriage was in service. Seven years since an aunt left her £300. Prisoner and her sister married in April last. He was often drunk; and was always demanding money from deceased. He ill-treated her. Cross-examined, she admitted her sister was servant in a brothel in London, that it was there she first met prisoner, and that she married him after a month’s acquaintance. Other witnesses from London deposed to the drunken habits of the prisoner and his cruelty to his wife. In the first week of February prisoner went to the police and said his wife had strangled herself, and that, seized by an impulse, he had stabbed the body, which was found dreadfully mutilated in a box. Medical evidence was to the effect that deceased did not strangle herself, but was choked by a cord drawn round her throat. Lord Young summed up, and after a consultation the jury returned a verdict of Guilty, but was recommended prisoner to mercy. Sentence of death was pronounced.

‘Eight little whores, with no hope of heaven
Gladstone may save one, then there’ll be seven
Seven little whores beggin’ for a shilling
One stays in Henage Court, then there’s a killing
Six little whores, glad to be alive
One sidles up to Jack, then there are five
Four and whore rhyme aright
So do three and me
I’ll set the town alight
Ere there are two
Two little whores, shivering with fright
Seek a cosy doorway in the middle of the night
Jack’s knife flashes, then there’s but one
And the last one’s the ripest for Jack’s idea of fun’