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.