Few Dundonians are as well remembered for their contributions to battle than Admiral Adam Duncan, yet many of us may not even know who he is, despite there being a statue dedicated to him in the centre of town.  The lands now known to us as Camperdown Park were gifted to him because of his decisive naval victory over a Dutch Navy fleet, whom outnumbered them in battle.  That battle was called the Battle of Camperdown, and was fought on 11th October 1797 in waters just outside Haarlem (unsurprisingly called Camperduin)

The son of Lord Provost Alexander Duncan, Adam Duncan was a well-educated and handsome man who married into good connections. Women were said to follow him everywhere and swoon at just how attractive he was – and tall, at 6’4.  Born in the Seagate in July 1731, his naval experience began at 15.  He became a lieutenant less than 10 years later, and ranked as commander after a further 4 years, by 1759. He continued to climb the ranks, making Admiral and commander-in-chief in the North Sea in 1795.

Despite his stellar career already guaranteeing him a place in the history books, it wasn’t until 2 years after his Admiralty that the Battle of Camperdown was fought.  In addition to the lands at Camperdown, he received a very generous pension as well as Camperdown house, a beautiful building that is still standing within the grounds. 1797 really was Adam Duncan’s year, as he was created Viscount Duncan of Camperdown, Baron Duncan of Lundie and also was the guest of honour at a Thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was attended by King George III and many lords and noblemen, who were all genuinely grateful and thankful to him for his services to his King and country.

He retired in 1800, aged 68, having been appointed Admiral of the white the previous year (which was the 2nd highest senior ranking in the Navy). Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see too much of his retirement, as ill-health in 1804 saw him rapidly decline, killing him before the year was out.  His eldest son was granted earldom (it’s believed his wife was fairly miffed that he didn’t receive it immediately after the Battle of Camperdown).

There is a marble statue in St Paul’s Cathedral of Admiral Duncan, as well as a bronze statue in the centre of town.  Not bad for a Dundee lad, we’re sure you’ll agree.  Admiral Nelson personally penned a letter to Admiral Duncan’s son Henry (a naval officer by this time) in October 1804, in which he wrote, “There is no man who more sincerely laments the heavy loss you have sustained than myself; but the name of Duncan will never be forgot by Britain, and in particular by its navy, in which service the remembrance of your worthy father will, I am sure, grow up in you. I am sorry not to have a good sloop to give you, but still an opening offers which I think will insure your confirmation as a commander”

To read more on the Battle of Camperdown (which, in case you didn’t read earlier, didn’t happen in Dundee), click here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Camperdown


Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without itFrances Wright

In her book “Frances Wright and the ‘great experiment’”, Margaret Lane notes that very few people today have heard of Frances (Fanny) Wright, despite being a famously notorious figure on both sides of the Atlantic. Her views during the first half of the 19th century shocked both her peers and, in fact, whole countries! Even today she would not have gone unnoticed in voicing her opinion in her own indomitable style – just like a typical Dundee wifey!  Lane writes ‘If ever she is referred to, it is with the innuendo of an old-fashioned joke…”  So, who was Fanny Wright, and what did she do that was so notorious?

Frances (Fanny) Wright was born in the Nethergate in Dundee on 6 September 1795, in the middle of very Revolutionary times.  Her father, James Wright was a wealthy linen manufacturer and bit of a political radical himself, so it seems the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree!  James believed that taking huge risks paid off (when they worked) and he even found himself under police surveillance because of his antics.  Despite the crackdown on ‘radical ideologies’, James frequently attended secret political meetings of a radical nature. We read that he was almost caught red-handed with radical literature, and had to take a wee boat out into the Tay and dump it all in the river.

Unfortunately, Fanny never really knew her parents, as both James and his wife died within a few months of each other, when Frances was barely two years old.  Orphaned at such a young age, her mother’s sister took her to live in England, where she was taught until she was 16.  By then, she had learned much by way of philosophy and politics, forming some fairly radical opinions of her own.  She returned to Scotland to live with her great-uncle, and it was this time which inspired her to write and study even more.

By the age of 18, she had written her first book, but the sight of so many poor people boarding an emigrant ship in Glasgow which was on its way to America really shook her to the core.  For the first time, she had seen for herself the peasant farmers and their families who had been forced from their lands by the rich and powerful.  She wrote that she swore an oath to herself ‘to wear ever in her heart the cause of the poor and the helpless; and to aid in all she could in redressing the grievous wrongs which seemed to prevail in society’.

If America was such a ‘land of the free’, Fanny wanted to see this for herself, so she made secret plans for herself and her sister Camilla to travel to America by boat.  She was 23 at this point, and required a larger platform from which to preach her ideas – notions and concepts that did not fit in with the America of 1818.  She spent 2 years going around America with her sister, speaking out against organised religion, greed, capitalism and universal education, before briefly returning to Scotland.  From there, she went to France, where she wrote ‘Views of Society and Manners in America (1821).

When her writings were published in America, it cemented her into the history books as an established social reformer – the books were translated into numerous languages and sold around Europe and the Americas.  She went back to America in 1824 with an influential Revolutionary War hero from France, and his travelling party.  This time, she was mixing in much more influential circles, meeting Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who were the 3rd and 4th US presidents! Her political activities still continued, as she focused on rights for women, creating a furor with her ‘outrageous’ views on legal rights for married women and the right for equal education.

Something she detested whilst in America, was slavery – especially in the South.  Nothing filled her with horror quite like what she felt upon seeing the conditions of the slaves she saw in the Mississippi.  She wrote: “The sight of slavery is revolting everywhere.  But to inhale the impure breath of its pestilence in the free winds of America is odious beyond all that imagination can conceive.”

She was the first woman in America to act publicly against slavery, in 1825 she bought a tract of land twenty miles outside one of the Mississippi River trading posts named Memphis and there she established a commune she called Nashoba.  Its purpose was to discover and then to demonstrate how slaves could be responsibly educated and then freed without undue cost to their owners. Fanny had received a healthy inheritance from her parent’s death, a lot of which was used to build Nashoba, but her wealth didn’t stop her from getting stuck in with all the manual labour that needed to be done, such as clearing forestland, building cabins and tending to the surrounding lands.

Dealing with unexpected social and financial issues, as well as the burden of so much physical labour, she became physically weakened and contracted malaria. The illness was so severe that she had to move to Ohio because the heat was making her worse. Frances later went to Europe to improve her health and returned to America in January of 1828. By that time Nashoba was in financial collapse, and Fanny admitted that, despite having a manager to oversee the plantation whilst she was convalescing, there was no way it could be rescued.

Despite Nashoba being dedicated to the abolition of slaves, its ‘radical’ teachings saw it accused of being a love-camp.  Topics such as birth control, abolition of slavery and the death penalty and the trappings of organized religion made her detractors uncomfortable. Nashoba’s manager, James Richardson was openly living with a woman of colour, which, at the time, created a scandal which sent shockwaves from America to Europe!  With rumours that ‘anything goes’ at Fanny’s love camp, it became somewhat of a farce.  Her sister, Camilla, was sick, and, in her absence, had married the only other white man at Nashoba.  Amidst a flurry of criticism, mockery and personal humiliation (not to mention the fact that she had spent most of her wealth on funding this project), she was forced to abandon her plans, and it subsequently collapsed.  In doing so, she paid for the slaves she had emancipated to go back to Haiti.

Her critics called her ‘The Great Red Harlot’, not only because she had red-hair, but she was alleged to have had many illicit romances and dressed ‘inappropriately’ for the time (bodices, pantaloons and an above-the knee dress).  Her failure with Nashoba, as well as the onslaught of continuous persecution for her radical views saw Fanny begin to recede from the constant scrutiny of the public eye.  She married a French physician and had a daughter the following year, but she later divorced her husband.  He gained control of all of her resources, and what followed was a lengthy and protracted divorce, made worse by the restriction of cash from any lectures she spoke at, and any royalties from her writings, which went directly to him instead!

Health problems swiftly began to follow, and she eventually died in December 1852 from complications following a fall on an icy staircase in Ohio.  It’s a little ironic to think that she moved to Ohio from Mississippi because the heat and malaria were killing her, yet it was the ice that ultimately sealed her fate.

Despite everything, Fanny Wright stood up for what she believed in, and campaigned hard for things that were far ahead of her time.  She shouldn’t be seen as any kind of ‘old fashioned joke’ – she was a woman ahead of her time, progressive, modern and radical…and not afraid to stand up for the rights of others less fortunate than herself.  Maybe we should all take a leaf from her book.


Special thanks to Ashley Todd.


Women in History of Scotland – electricscotland.com

Frances Wright – Wikipedia

Frances Wright and the ‘Great Experiment’ – Margaret Lane, 1972, Manchester University Press

National Women’s History Museum – www.nwhm.org

Although piracy has been around almost as long as the act of sailing itself, the ‘Golden Age’ of piracy was between the 15th and 18th centuries. Our tale lands us near the end of this era, with the rise and fall of a man from Dundee called William Kidd. William Kidd was born in January of 1645, as identified by Dr David Robson, who found records of his baptism naming his birthplace as Dundee. It is not known whether or not Kidd and his family remained in Dundee after Kidd’s birth, but if they did, then they would have undoubtedly bore witness to the siege of General Monck in 1651. William would have only been 6 years old at the time the town was laid to waste by English forces.

What is known is that his father, Captain John Kyd, was lost at sea and his family were supported by a local society (perhaps a religious society?) in the years following the disappearance. It should be of no surprise that William found himself following in his father’s footsteps, turning to a life at sea. As an apprentice aboard a pirate’s ship, he quickly found his feet, gaining valuable skills that would serve him well in years to come. Kidd eventually became captain as the result of a mutiny aboard the ship on which he was sailing, which saw him rise to the position over his peers. Under new rule, the ship was renamed Blessed William and became part of a small fleet of ships tasked with defending the British colony of Nevis from French attacks.

Kidd’s new life as a privateer served him very well, and he found himself in a world of influential and very powerful people. By rights, privateers were not pirates. They were given special dispensation by their governments to attack enemy ships, without fear of reprisal. In doing so, the privateers were allowed to keep whatever items, artefacts and jewels they found upon boarding. It was whilst in New York at the age of 46 that he happened to cross paths with a young English woman called Sarah. Although she was only in her early twenties, Sarah had already been widowed twice, and was one of the wealthiest women in New York at the time, mainly due to an inheritance from her dead husband. The fact that they applied for a marriage license merely 2 days after the death of her most recent husband sent the rumour mills into overdrive. With her reputation as somewhat of a black widow, you would have thought Kidd may have thought twice about marrying her, but that wasn’t that case. It wasn’t much of a leap in thinking for people to assume Kidd may have worked with his new bride to kill her husband, but despite this, they still maintained their circle of influence.


A few years after this, in 1695, he was tasked with hunting the seas with the intent of attacking anyone who associated with pirates, as well as any French ships (whom we were at war with at the time). His skills as a privateer were highly thought of, and he had access to financial backers in the form of English aristocracy. His papers, signed by King William III laid out the terms and conditions of his privateering, guaranteeing no legal ramifications (provided he stay within the terms of the King’s wishes). With his finest men prepared, Kidd almost managed to get the ship into open waters until an incident involving a Navy vessel saw many of the men pressganged off the ship and forced into naval service. It seems that Kidd and his men did not show respect to the Navy yacht at Greenwich and instead, slapped their backsides at them when a warning shot was fired over their hull for their disregard of naval custom. In another later altercation, Kidd agreed that some “thirty or so men” would be surrendered to the Navy, but, as soon as he could, he set sail, saving those of his crew who had not been forced off the ship. This act would soon come back to haunt him in ways he could not have imagined.

Undeterred by his unexpected decline in men, Kidd sailed for New York, where he picked up a new crew – a real motley bunch if ever there was one. With his newly-acquired crew of hardened criminals with highly dubious credentials, Kid set sail for South Africa in a French ship he had captured on his travels to New York. Despite his best efforts in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, Kidd failed to find any pirates. Many of his crew died of cholera on a small archipelago off the East coast of Africa. These setbacks are alleged to have angered the crew, who tried to coax Kidd into attacking ships over which he had no Royal protection. Kidd murdered one of his own crew in broad daylight with a metal bucket for daring to suggest they attack a Dutch ship, then calling Kidd out on his cowardice when he refused. Murder of a crewmember was most definitely not permissible under admiralty law, but Kidd seemed to think that his supporters in England would not see him charged for it, under the circumstances. Unfortunately for Kidd, his reputation was already beginning to take a turn for the worse and his crew were beginning to get out of control, irrespective of his best efforts to contain them.

In early 1698, he captured the Armenian ship Quedagh Merchant, laden with fine materials, metals and jewels. Under normal circumstances, the capture of an Armenian ship would have been acceptable, especially as the crew were carrying papers offering them protection under the French Crown. Once Kidd realised that the captain was travelling under English, he tried to convince his crew to return the ship, but they refused to comply, stating that the ship was travelling on French passes and was therefore French. Kidd relented, keeping the vessel. What happened to the crew, we don’t know, but judging by some reports of what happened to the crew of ships Kidd’s men boarded, the outcome was probably fairly grim. Regardless of Kidd’s logic in his handling of the Quedagh Merchant fiasco, news quickly travelled back to England that Kidd had captured and kept the Armenian vessel, and an order was given to pursue and seize the piratical Kidd and his criminal crew.

Even though word had reached him that he was to be tracked down and brought before the courts to face charges of piracy, Kidd still managed to have a couple of wee adventures before he eventually sneaked back to New York. He managed to have a bit of a showdown with one of his old enemies, which resulted in most of his mutinous crew abandoning him for his rival, and, with a severe lack of crewmen, found himself sailing the Caribbean in another, smaller vessel, the Adventure Prize, before sailing to New York aboard an even smaller sailboat called a sloop. It was whilst on this journey that Kidd famously deposited some of his loot, inspiring generations to come with tales of buried treasure and fictitious pirates of the High Seas. Kidd is the only pirate ever known to have actually buried treasure. Whether every pirate did it or not, we will never know, but Kidd is the only one on record to say he had buried his loot.

Kidd was tricked into meeting an old “friend”, who, unknown to Kidd, had become disillusioned and fearful of their continuing relationship. He was captured and arrested in Boston, where he was taken to the Boston Gaol (Stone Prison) and subjected to extremely harsh conditions. In addition to this, his wife, Sarah, was also arrested and imprisoned in an attempt to get Kidd to confess who his financial backers were amongst the English government. After a year in Boston, he was transferred to England for further questioning. What happened to Sarah at this point, we do not know. Despite their attempts to get Kidd to divulge the names of his elite shadow-partners, he refused to budge, probably believing that his backers would reward his silence with the granting of a pardon. None of the men involved with Kidd said a word in his defence, and Kidd found himself on trial for five counts of piracy and one for the murder of his crew member, William Moore.


He wrote to the King for clemency, realising no-one was coming to help him, but his requests were denied. Those who had initially backed him had now turned against him, ensuring that evidence was lost and monies were not made available to him to continue to pay for good legal support. Kidd’s reputation as a pirate, whether justified or not, had cast him in an unpleasant and untrustworthy light. With the Golden Age of piracy coming to an end, and a crackdown on such activities, Kidd found himself at the end of a very sharp stick. Two of his own crew testified against him in William Moore’s murder trial in exchange for pardons from the King for their participation in any acts of piracy. Documentation that could have proved, or at least cast doubt on the charges set against Kidd were either lost or were simply not produced. Kidd knew his case was failing, and, as he expected, he was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to death. The “lost” documents mysteriously turned up almost 300 years later, which could have helped towards clearing Kidd’s name, with many claiming he should be granted a posthumous exoneration.

Kidd was sentenced to be hung at Execution Dock on 23rd May 1701 – an execution that, in itself, was not without drama. On the first attempt, the rope around Kidd’s neck broke as he hanged, offering him only a moment’s reprieve before he was subjected to the process again. This time, the rope held and Kidd was executed for his “crimes” against the Crown. Not only was his body hung up in a gibbet over the River Thames at Tilbury Point, but it remained there for 3 years, slowly rotting away as a constant reminder to those who would consider piracy or disloyalty to the King. After Kidd’s death, his crew, who had all been charged with piracy, were conveniently pardoned before their executions. Many believed (and still do) that Kidd was made a scapegoat and was set as an example in a time when the Golden Age of piracy was drawing to a close.

Many have searched for Kidd’s lost treasure over the centuries, inspiring tales of secret maps and buried bounties, but it hasn’t been until the last few decades that things really got interesting. In 2000, one of Kidd’s ships, the Adventure Galley was found off the coast of Madagascar. Further searching uncovered at least 13 other pirate ships in the area. In 2007, the Armenian Quedagh Merchant – the ship that literally turned the tides against Kidd, was found in shallow waters off the coast of Antigua. Barry Clifford found a huge 120 pound silver ingot during an excavation expedition of the Adventure Galley in 2015. Barry believes that not only is this part of Kidd’s alleged buried loot, but it is not the only piece of treasure at the site. This is just Barry’s belief, however, as there are a lot of other pirate ships in the watery graveyard with the Adventure Galley, so it could very well have come from one of those ships, too.

Whatever you think of Captain William Kidd, whether you think he is a pirate, or whether you think he was just doing his job as a privateer is entirely up to you. There is a ton of research and a mountain of writings on the subject, for you to read over if you ever feel the need. But there is one thing we can probably all agree on – William Kidd certainly had a pretty wild life for a wee laddie from Dundee!

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George Mealmaker was a Dundonian, born in 1768 from a humble background, but gained some affluence as a hand-loom weaver. He was most famous for his radical activity in forming the ‘Friends of Liberty’ in the 1780s, a group formed in support of the ideals of the French revolution. Mealmaker was an active and extreme member of this group, producing writing containing radical and revolutionary ideas, as well as holding regular meetings and speeches, decrying the current political agenda.

In 1793 Mealmaker wrote Dundee address to the Friends of Liberty, in which he criticisted the ‘despotism and tyranny’ of the British Government. Despite admitting that it was he who wrote it, his friend and fellow founder of the Friends of Liberty Thomas Palmer was arrested and found guilty of preparing the text for publication and circulating it. The authorities claimed that the pamphlet was “calculated to produce a spirit of discontent in the minds of the people against the present happy constitution and government of this country, and to rouse them up to acts of outrage and violence”. For this, Palmer was sentenced to fourteen years penal transportation to Australia.

Mealmaker continued to be outspoken and published several writings on revolutionary ideas, and after being made secretary of the Dundee friends, he spread propaganda urging the militia not to fight against France. Although he was brought before the magistrates for this, no charge was laid against him. Others across Scotland in groups such as the Friends of Liberty including Thomas Muir, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot and Joseph Gerrald all met the same fate and were transported to Australia, and were collectively known as the Scottish Martyrs to Liberty. After this period of several outspoken radicals being deported to Australia, radical activity quietened in the next few years, no doubt the desired effect of the deportations!

Mealmaker did not remain quiet however, and continued to be outspoken. He delivered sermons in London and continued to produce writing, and was quick to join the ‘United Scotsmen’ in 1796 who began to organise in imitation of their Irish namesakes. Mealmaker himself wrote the group’s constitution which asserted its whole aim to be ‘to secure Annual Parliaments and Universal Suffrage’ – a very radical aim in the eyes of the current political elite. He also published The Moral and Political Catechism of Man in 1797, his most famous and influential work, which promoted such radicalism at length. The powers that be reacted, and in January 1798, Mealmaker himself was tried for sedition and administering unlawful oaths. After a very prejudiced hearing, at which the two charges were not distinguished, he was sentenced to transportation to Australia for fourteen years.

You can read the full text of his trial here, and also the trials of the Scottish Martyrs to Liberty Here. This quote from Mealmakers address to the court after his sentence has been passed is telling enough:

“He said he thought his sentence hard, considering it had only been proved against him that he had published Catechism, which he solemnly declared was merely intended as simple or abstract political propositions, and with no view to injure the country. He said, however, he saw that he was to be another victim to the pursuit of a parliamentary reform; but he could easily submit, and go to that distant country, where others had gone before him. He did not fear it. His wife and children would still be provided for, as they had been before; and the young Mealmaker would be fed by that God who feeds the ravens – As to the Court, he had nothing to say, but, he thought the Jury had acted very hastily, for if he was rightly informed, they had only taken half an hour to consider the whole of his case. They knew best whether their conscience said they had done him justice; but there was a day coming, when they would be brought before a Jury where there was no partial government, and where the secrets of the heart were known. – He begged now to take his leave of them all.”

When Mealmaker first arrived in Australia at Sydney in 1800, he upheld his political interests. There were rumours of convict rebellion, but he claimed not to be involved. He was no doubt looking forward to being with the other members of the Friends of Liberty who had been transported earlier. However, only Maurice Margarot of the original five Scottish Martyrs was still in captivity. William Skirving, Joseph Gerrald and Thomas Muir were dead and Thomas Palmer had finished his sentence and was just about to travel back to Britain.

It was his weaving trade, and not his political beliefs which shaped his new life. Mealmaker made a success of the weaving industry there, and received a conditional pardon for his work there. Unfortunately, Mealmaker’s life did not have a happy ending. In December 1807 the weaving factory where Mealmaker was supervisor was destroyed by fire. On 30th March 1808, Mealmaker, destitute and apparently a drunkard, died from alcoholic suffocation.

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George Wishart was born in 1513 and became one of the earliest Scottish religious reformers.  Wishart is widely recognised as a martyr for his Protestant beliefs and was burned at the stake because of them in St Andrews on the orders of Cardinal David Beaton under accusations of heresy in 1546.  George Wishart is best known in Dundee as the Protestant Reformation preacher who refused to stop preaching during a time of plague, when the town had closed its gates to prevent more infected from breaching the walls.  Part of the original wall of the city still exists in the form of an arch named the Wishart Arch. Born to James Wishart and Elizabeth Learmont, he had a short but influential life, teaching as well as preaching in many different locations, including Europe and challenging the practices of the Christian Church at that time.  During one of his preaching sessions, an assassination attempt was made against him.  Cardinal Beaton was a powerful man, enraged by Wishart’s efforts to further the process of reform, and employed a priest to stab Wishart to death during one of his sermons.  Thankfully for Wishart, he managed to not only disarm the priest, but also stopped the angry crowds from exacting their revenge on the would-be murderer.

Cardinal Beaton, whilst powerful, was not a man without sin himself, having allegedly fathered up to 20 children in addition to a sexual relationship with Marian Ogilvie.  For Wishart and his sympathisers, Cardinal Beaton was the epitome of everything that was corrupt about the Church.  Another attempt was made on Wishart’s life, but was again thwarted, much to Beaton’s fury.  John Knox had become not only an avid supporter of Wishart, but also his bodyguard, confidante and tutor.  Knox is believed to have followed Wishart everywhere with a large sword by his side, ready to defend his mentor to the death.  The Cardinal was determined to wreak revenge on Wishart, eventually arresting him in 1546 with the help of Lord Bothwell.  He was taken immediately to Elphinstone Castle, before being transferred to Edinburgh Castle.  He finally arrived back at St Andrew’s Castle, under the orders of Cardinal Beaton, and was held in the dungeon prison pending trial.  Accused of being an English spy and a heretic, Wishart was prosecuted by the Public Accuser of Heretics, John Lauder, who just happened to be Cardinal Beaton’s secretary.  Regardless of Wishart’s responses to the accusations, he was found guilty and was sentenced to execution by burning at the stake.

On the morning of 1st March 1546, the day of his execution, it is reported that the keeper of St Andrews castle ate breakfast with Wishart and smuggled him gunpowder to put into his clothes so that he did not have to endure his fate by fire for too long.  Upon meeting his executioner, it is said that the man begged Wishart for forgiveness.  Wishart agreed to forgive the man for carrying out the sentence exacted upon him by the evil Cardinal, and the executioner fell to his knees with gratitude. George Wishart was hung by the neck and burned soon after, in what turned out to be a brutally gruesome display of torture.  Whilst the gunpowder given to him by the keeper of the castle did explode, it did not have the intended effect of killing him outright, but instead, endured him further agony.  Cardinal Beaton watched the horrific spectacle from a window of the castle, revelling in Wishart’s incredible suffering.  Wishart finally succumbed to the agonising torment and died as his hanging body continued to burn.tour-banner-ad

The response to Wishart’s trial and execution was as swift as it was brutal.  Less than three months after Wishart’s death, on the morning of 29th May 1546, a group of supporters entered St Andrews castle.  Under the guise of labourers, they made their way to the Cardinal’s bedroom, killing anyone they encountered on their way.  Cardinal Beaton was stabbed to death in his bedroom, mere minutes after Marion Ogilvie had left the castle.  Upon his death, the group further defiled his corpse by stripping and mutilating it. To serve as a further warning, the Cardinal’s naked, bloody body was hung from the castle window, where it was displayed in a macabre saltire position for all to see. St Andrews Castle became a popular gathering place for Protestants from all over Scotland, including Wishart’s protégé, Knox.  The Castle was defended from the forces of Mary of Guise for a year or so until its surrender in July 1547.  When the castle was recaptured, the remains of Cardinal Beaton were found pickled in a barrel in the dungeon.

Legend would have it that the ghost of Wishart haunts the archway, and that sounds can be heard, as though a sermon is being taught.  It is believed that George Wishart stood atop the Wishart Arch to preach to the infected on the outside of the town gates, but historians have shown that this particular wall was not erected during the time of Wishart, so it could not have been this wall he preached from and must have been another structure, since lost to time.


William Bury presented an alarming story concerning the death of his wife to local police in Dundee on 10th February 1889, whose body was subsequently discovered in a box in the bedroom of their home.  She had been choked with a rope and brutally stabbed both whilst alive as well as posthumously, and is believed to have been dead for around 5 days before she was found.  Bury was immediately arrested and was swiftly tried for her murder.  He was executed by public hanging on 24th April 1889.  In itself, the story of William Bury would have went down in local history due to the fact he was the last man in Dundee to be executed, but events took an unexpected turn that gained him further notoriety as he became linked to the infamous Jack the Ripper. As far as serial killers go, Jack the Ripper is by far one of the most legendary.  Also known as “The Whitechapel Murderer” and “Leather Apron”, Jack the Ripper was a highly active, vicious serial killer whose crimes elevated his public image to sensational heights in the late 1800’s.  As he laid waste to the (typically) female prostitutes of the Whitechapel area of London, his exploits incurred spates of copycat killings and a grisly cult following.

Bizarrely, despite this (or perhaps because of it), Jack the Ripper was never caught or even formally identified. This didn’t stop accusations flying, however, which brings us to the story of William Bury and how Dundee managed to get itself caught up in the ‘Ripper’ saga.  The wealth of information on Jack the Ripper, as well as each of the men speculated to be ‘The Ripper’ is understandably vast, with each and every one of them having arguments as to why their specific candidate is more likely than the others http://www.casebook.org/suspects/ .  We’re not here to talk about the others; we’re only concerned with William Bury and what went on in Dundee in 1889, otherwise, we’d be here forever!

Bury was born on 25th May 1859, the youngest of four children.  He was an orphan by the age of 5 – his father of an accident; his mother dying of “melancholia” in a Lunatic Asylum in Worcestershire.  Skilled with a knife, Bury is alleged to have been a horse butcher prior to moving to London from Worcestershire in 1887, but switched careers in London, working in the sawmill industry instead.  His employer was James Martin, and Bury stayed with James and his wife (who was the madam of a brothel in the area). A heavy drinker who was quick to temper, Bury spent time with the prostitutes of London who he not only related to, but who could also satisfy his sexual perversions.

It was whilst mixing in these circles that he met his future wife, Ellen Elliot, and the clock began ticking for them both.  A violent drunk, Bury is reported to have attempted to cut his wife’s throat on more than one occasion prior to their moving to Dundee.  The death of Ellen’s aunt gave them a small financial boon, but Bury quickly began to work his way through it, squandering it on alcohol and prostitutes.  Both Bury and Ellen contracted syphilis (which was not uncommon), and, facing apparent financial issues, made plans to relocate out of London as soon as possible.

It’s worth noting that the hysteria over Jack the Ripper had reached its peak by this time, and, for all intents and purposes, it appeared as though the murderous rampage was over (despite the lack of a culprit).

Bury is alleged to have mentioned to his landlord that he and Ellen were sailing to Australia, and, as such, he would require 2 wooden boxes for storage during transportation.  His landlord made the wooden boxes for him, as per his specifications, but instead of moving to Australia, the pair sailed to Dundee on board the Paddle Steamer Cambria. A skilled liar as well as a known thief, Bury lied to Ellen in order to get her to leave London by telling her he had the promise of work in Dundee.  Reluctantly, she agreed to make the fateful journey with him.  They stayed above a bar at 43 Union Street in the city for little over a week before making the move to 113 Princes Street, basement property below a shop, where they squatted after William conned the letting agents into giving him the keys.  The owner of the shop, Mrs Smith is reported to have had this conversation with William and Ellen Bury soon after their relocation to this property in late January 1889:

Mrs Smith: “What sort of work have you Whitechapel folk been about, letting Jack the Ripper kill all those people?”

William falls silent.

Ellen: “Jack the Ripper is quiet now.”

Ellen is also alleged to have told neighbours “Jack the Ripper is taking a rest” during a conversation about the serial killer.  Is it possible that Ellen was hiding information?  In doing so, she not only sealed her own fate, but may also have taken a vital secret to the grave that could have perhaps answered one of the most elusive questions in criminal history.

On the same day that they moved to Princes Street, Bury paid a visit to St Paul’s Cathedral in Dundee, where he came face to face with a childhood enemy.  Edward Gough grew up in Stourbridge with Bury, but under extremely different circumstances.  Whilst Gough came from an upper class background, Bury did not.  As a young child of ten years old, Bury stabbed Gough with one of Bury’s father’s slaughterhouse knives, and stole his money.  The wound was non-fatal, but the bitterness towards the two was palpable.  Despite his initial shock, Bury made an attempt to reconcile with Gough, who was now the Reverend of St Paul’s Cathedral.  Initially, Gough was hesitant, but the two appeared to patch things up, with Gough even visiting the Burys in their basement squat.

Bury had more on his mind than healing an age-old rift, however, and a few days after the chance meeting with Gough, he purchased a rope from the grocer’s shop.  The rest of that day, 4th February 1889, Bury spent at the Dundee Sheriff Court, watching proceedings and taking notes.  His movements for the 5th and 6th of February are unknown, although, retrospectively, they do not take much to figure out.  He visited again on 7th and 8th February, watching from the gallery with pensive curiosity.  His whereabouts on the 9th are either unknown or unrecorded, but the events of 10th February 1889 set in motion a cascade of events which saw him forever immortalised as a potential ‘Ripper’ suspect.

On the evening of the day in question, William Bury walked into the police office a reported the matter of his wife’s apparent suicide.  Speaking with Lieutenant James Parr, Bury described the events that led to his discovery of Ellen’s body.  He told Lt. Parr that both he and Ellen had been drinking very heavily the night before, to the point whereby Bury could not recall going to sleep.  When he awoke, he found Ellen dead on the floor with a rope tied round her neck – the very same rope Bury had purchased from the grocer’s in the days before her death.  In stopping the story there, it may seem no more than a tragic case of suicide…but Bury had yet still to finish his tale.

Instead of obtaining medical help, Bury told Parr that, in a fit of rage upon finding her dead body, he grabbed a knife and struck her with it repeatedly in the abdomen.  Once his rage had settled down sometime later, he attempted to conceal his deceit by hiding her body in their home.  When asked why he had done this, he replied he was afraid he would be arrested and blamed for being Jack the Ripper.  The Courier report stated that Bury actually confessed to Parr that he was Jack the Ripper, but this was refuted by Parr at the trial.

Understandably alarmed at the magnitude of Bury’s claims, Parr took Bury to retell his story to another officer, Lieutenant Lamb.  Again, Bury gave his version of events, but this time he said he struck one posthumous blow to her abdomen and elected to omit his earlier reference to Jack the Ripper.  The property was searched, and Ellen’s body quickly discovered in one of the boxes Bury had commissioned to be made for his alleged voyage to Australia.  Contrary to his earlier claims, it was evident that Ellen had been stabbed more than once.  Her body had been mutilated and was crushed and crammed into the wooden crate.  Parephrenalia linking Bury to the crime scene was taken away, and Bury himself was arrested.  Further examination of the body showed that Ellen did not kill herself as Bury had suggested, but had been choked from behind with considerable force.  Multiple stab wounds were present, as well as evidence of serious mutilation.

As the search had begun at night, a more thorough investigation was carried out the following morning which produced not only a knife with blood and human tissue on it, but also the rope Bury had bought days before – with Ellen’s hair trapped between the fibres.  On a door, written in chalk was “Jack Ripper is at the back of this door” and in another part of the property was written “Jack Ripper is in this seller [sic]”.  Clothing soaked in blood was also found in the box with Ellen, as well as the charred remains of some of her clothes.  Were the chalk scrawls the confessions of a murderous madman, or merely a cheeky attempt at childish vandalism on the part of a stranger?  Were Ellen’s clothes being burned in an attempt to hide incriminating evidence?

Newspapers from all over the world started reporting the murder, with many fingering Bury as Jack the Ripper:

New York Times, February 12th, 1889 – “…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…The theory of the police is that Bury’s wife knew of facts connecting him with the East End atrocities and that she took him to Dundee hoping to prevent recurrence of the crimes.”

Amidst the growing hysteria, Bury was questioned in Dundee by detectives from London in connection with the ongoing ‘Ripper’ inquiry, but it is believed they did not think Bury a plausible enough candidate.  Whilst the ‘Ripper’ murders had indeed stopped, the nature of Ellen’s murder coupled with the difference in some of the characteristics of her subsequent mutilation led officers to believe that Bury was a copycat, at most.  Abandoning this line of their investigation, Bury was left in Dundee for the Court to decide his fate, where, on 18th March 1889, he entered a plea of not guilty.  In a hearing lasting 13 hours, a guilty verdict was passed.

Due to Dundee’s opposition to the death penalty at that time, the jury recommended mercy be shown in Bury’s case on the basis of contradicting medical evidence.  Two experts were initially at odds over whether Ellen had in fact killed herself but, as they examined the body days apart, each agreed to accept the other’s hypothesis.  It has been asserted more than once that the people of Dundee were merely trying to get around passing the death penalty, but the judge presiding, Lord Young, encouraged the jury to rethink and come back with a definitive answer, one way or the other.  The verdict was returned as unanimously guilty, with mandatory punishment for murder being death by hanging.

Appeals for lenience were sought from Lord Lothian, the Secretary of State for Scotland by those few faithful to Bury – namely his solicitor and his “auld enemy”, Reverend Gough.  Although the residents of Dundee held Bury to blame for Ellen’s murder, many of them felt the sentence of death was unnecessary and barbaric, despite his actions.  Lord Lothian’s refusal to overturn the sentence doomed Bury to his fate, and he was executed within the walls of the Prison of Dundee between the hours of 8am and 9am on 24th April 1889, aged 29.

Officials present at the execution were John Craig, Magistrate; William Stephenson, Magistrate; William Geddes, Governor; David Robertson, Chaplain, C. Templeman, Police Surgeon, D. Dewar, Chief Constable and John Croll, Assistant Town Clerk.  The prison surgeon, James William Miller, pronounced Bury dead upon examination. James Berry was the executioner and was convinced Bury was Jack the Ripper.  On 28th March, written notification was received by Lord Lothian stating that James Berry had told the author “explicitly that bury was known to have been Jack the Ripper”.  The following day, The Dundee Courier printed an article criticising and condemning the actions of those involved in the passing and carrying out of the sentence, crying that “Yesterday’s proceedings amounted to nothing less than cold-blooded murder.”

It is alleged that, in the days leading up to his death, Bury confessed to Gough that he had killed his wife, and, at Gough’s instruction, wrote a confession which was to be held by Gough until his execution.  Bizarrely, the confession contradicted information known to be true in the case of Ellen’s murder.  Could it have been possible that his “friend” Gough had written the letter himself, or had edited it in some way as to distort the truth?  Did he really forgive Bury for the stabbing a robbery all those years ago when they were children?  It is believed that Gough visited Bury’s house in Prince’s street, and it is further alleged that Gough’s extracurricular habits ran to the perverse insofar as he had a penchant for photographing dead bodies.  Were the two men in cahoots?  Was Gough present at the time of the murder?  Did he visit the property between the date of the murder and the date of Bury’s confession?  Was it simply revenge?  We’ll probably never know.

It has also been intimated to us that, despite what has been written about Gough seeking clemency for Bury, the reality of the matter could not have been further from the truth.  Whilst Gough may have been acting as a confidante to the beleaguered Bury, he may have been acting against him all along, conducting a relentless campaign behind Bury’s back to ensure the sentence would be death, irrespective of the local feelings towards the imposition of the punishment.  Gough is also said to have been present at the death of Bury, along with other death-seekers, where it is alleged he watched with a smile on his face.  In an unrelated event, Gough’s own son was hanged in Wolverhampton for the rape and murder of a woman, but, as far as Gough himself goes, there appears to be no trace of him after he left St Paul’s Cathedral in 1906.

Despite all of this information, the notion that Bury was Jack the Ripper is not a widely accepted one, as there are other suspects who have, upon further expert analysis, a higher chance of being the legendary killer.  Either way, Bury earned his infamy by not only being the last man to be hanged in Dundee, but also for bringing the Victorian nightmare that was Jack the Ripper to the fair streets of Dundee.

With special thanks to our friend, Marc, for his contribution to this article.

Grissell Jaffray is undoubtedly the most famous witch of Dundee, having been the last witch to be executed in Dundee, but Dundee’s superstitious side was still alive and well in the 19th century, when Janet Kindy, or ‘Hurkle Jean’, was believed to be responsible for a number of afflictions that allegedly beset the town. Sickness in cattle and children was attributed to the evil presence of Hurkle Jean. Sadly for Janet, her deformed appearance only served as more fuel to the fire for the townsfolk, and thus, another legend was born. Belief in Hurkle Jean’s demonic abilities was so ardent, that, by the time it had reached its peak, effigies were being burned and exorcisms performed!


Thankfully with the repeal of the witchcraft acts in 1735, Janet was protected from persecution by law; but this didn’t prevent her neighbours from demonising her all the same, as a letter from one of her close neighbours “M.G.”, submitted to the Edinburgh Magazine in 1818 tells us:

“Mr Editor,

Dundee, as you know, was the last place in Scotland where the public execution of a witch took place; and the witch burnt there was neither so old, so ugly, nor so poor, as these unfortunate persons usually are. That Grizzel Jamfre [sic] was not poor, however, was probably the cause of her death; for the lawyers who could prove the crime of witchcraft against any person, were rewarded by great part, if not the whole, of what the convict died possessed of, – no small temptation to use diligence. But though the modern capital of Angus is thus distinguished in the annals of demonology, I did not expect to find the belief in witchcraft so general among the lower classes, as you will perceive it is from the following account, the heroine of which is my very near neighbour.

Janet Kindy, otherwise Hurkle Jean, is poor, old, and deformed; her evil eye is so dreaded in this neighbourhood that the sickness of children and cattle is often attributed to it, and if she happen to cross a fisherman’s path as he goes to his boat, the fishing is invariably spoiled for that day. I verily believe that nothing but the feat of the law prevents the tragedy of the witches of Pittenweem from being acted over again, so convinced are her neighbours of her supernatural powers, and so inveterate is their hatred against her. Six years ago, a boat having been for some months unfortunate in fishing, a council of war was held among the elder fishers, and it was agreed that the boat should be exorcised, and that Janet was the spirit which tormented it. Accordingly, the ceremony of exorcism was performed as follows. In each boat there is a cavity called the tap-hole; on this occasion the hollow was filled with a particular kind of water, furnished by the mistress of the boat, a straw effigy of poor Jane was placed over it, and had they dared to touch her life, Janet herself would have been there. The boat was then rowed out to sea before sunrise, and, to use the technical expression, the figure was burnt between the sun and the sky, i.e. after daylight appeared, but before the sun rose above the horizon, while the master called aloud ‘Avoid ye Satan!’. The boat was then brought home, and since that time has been fortunate as any belonging to the village.

M.G. goes on to describe an account of another witch who transformed into a hare, and a necromancer from Forfar called William Grey…but those are stories for another day.

(Letter taken from – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QF0AAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s)


Bonnie Dundee, or John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee (c. 21 July 1648 – 27 July 1689), known as the 7th Laird of Claverhouse until raised to the viscountcy in 1688, was a Scottish soldier and nobleman, a Tory and an Episcopalian. Claverhouse was responsible for policing south-west Scotland during and after the religious unrest and rebellion of the 1670s and 80s. After his death, Presbyterian historians dubbed him “Bluidy Clavers”. Contemporary evidence for the fairness of this soubriquet in the Covenanting tradition is mixed. Tales of the Covenanters and Covenanter monuments hold Claverhouse directly responsible for the deaths of adherents of that movement. However, Claverhouse’s own letters frequently recommended lenient treatment of Covenanters, and in 1684 he married into a prominent Covenanter family. Later, as a general in the Scottish army, Claverhouse remained loyal to King James VII of Scotland after the Revolution of 1688. He rallied those Highland clans loyal to the Jacobite cause and, although he lost his life in the battle, led them to victory at Killiecrankie. This first Jacobite rising was unsuccessful, but Claverhouse became a Jacobite hero, acquiring his second soubriquet “Bonnie Dundee”.

The Graham family was descended from King Robert III, through his second daughter Princess Mary. John Graham was born of a junior branch of the family that had acquired the estate of Claverhouse near Dundee. He was the elder son of Sir William Graham and Lady Madeline Carnegie, 5th daughter of the Earl of Southesk. He had a younger brother, David, and two sisters. Both John and David were educated at the University of St Andrews, graduating in 1661.

William Graham died in around 1652 and the brothers became the responsibility of their uncles and other relatives. In 1660 they were listed as burgesses of Dundee, probably at the instigation of their paternal uncle George Graham. John Graham inherited the Claverhouse estate when he came of age in about 1667. The Claverhouse properties included a house in Glen Ogilvie in the Sidlaw Hills to the north of Dundee (since demolished), Claypotts Castle, and a house at Mill of Mains. In 1669 Graham’s maternal uncle, David Carnegie, Lord Lour, secured him an appointment as a Commissioner of Excise and Justice of the Peace for Angus.

He began his military career in 1672, as a junior Lieutenant in Sir William Lockhart’s Scots Regiment. This regiment was under the command of the Duke of Monmouth, in the service of the French King, Louis XIV. By 1674, Graham was a Cornet in William of Orange’s guards. It is claimed that he was present at the Battle of Seneffe that year, and that he rescued the young Prince when his horse fell on marshy ground although there is little evidence to support or disprove this claim. It has been conjectured that, as a reward for his actions, Claverhouse received a Captain’s commission in the same troop. Two years later, following an unsuccessful siege of Maastricht, Graham resigned his commission and returned to Scotland. William wrote a letter to James, Duke of York (later James VII), who was both his uncle and father-in-law, recommending John Graham as a soldier.

After leaving Holland, Graham was appointed captain by Charles II and sent to south-west Scotland in 1678, with orders to suppress conventicles (illegal outdoor Presbyterian meetings).

On 1 June 1679 he stumbled upon a field conventicle, “little to our advantage; for, when we came in sight of them, we found them drawn up in batell, upon a most advantagious ground, to which there was no coming but through mosses and lakes. They were not preaching… They consisted of four battalions of foot, and all well armed with fusils and pitchforks, and three squadrons of horse.

Estimates vary, but it is certain that Claverhouse was outnumbered by at least four to one. He gave battle as his duty required him to. Despite the early success of his skirmishers he and his troopers had to beat a very hasty retreat from the Battle of Drumclog. Claverhouse returned to Glasgow, successfully defending it until his party left on 3 June and headed towards Stirling. In a letter about Drumclog, Claverhouse concludes by stating “This may be counted the beginning of the Rebellion in my opinion.”


Joined later by the Duke of Monmouth, the whole of the militia and two regiments of dragoons, both sides met again at the Battle of Bothwell Brig, on 22 June, and the Covenanters were routed. In 1680, he was dispatched to London to influence the King against the indulgent method adopted by the Duke of Monmouth towards the extreme Covenanting party. The King seems to have been fascinated by his loyal supporter, and from that moment onwards Graham was destined to rise in rank and honours. Early in 1680 he obtained a royal grant of the barony of the outlawed Macdougal of Freuch, and the grant was confirmed after some delay by subsequent orders upon the exchequer in Scotland.

In January 1681, he was appointed to the sheriffships of Wigtown, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Annandale. In December 1682, he was appointed colonel of a new regiment to be raised in Scotland. He had still greater honours in view. In January 1683, the case of the Earl of Lauderdale was debated in the House of Lords. Lauderdale was proprietor of the lands and lordship of Dundee and Dudhope, and the decree of the Lords against him was issued in March 1683 for the sum of 72,000 pounds. Graham succeeded in having the Castle of Dudhope (part of the property of the defaulter) and Lauderdale’s title of Constable of Dundee transferred to him by royal grant in 1684. In May 1683, he was nominated as a member of the privy council of Scotland.

He married Lady Jean Cochrane, a daughter of a fiercely Covenanting family in 1684. Shortly after the death of Charles II in 1685, Graham incurred a temporary disgrace – he stood up for the rights of ordinary soldiers who were being poorly treated – by his deposition from the office of privy councillor; but he was reinstated in May, although his commission of justiciary, which had expired, was not renewed. In 1686, he was promoted to the rank of major-general, and given the additional position of Constable, the dignity of Lord Provost of Dundee. One of his first acts as Provost was to abolish the death penalty for theft under his jurisdiction. In 1688, he was second-in-command to General Douglas in the army which had been ordered to England to aid the falling dynasty of the Stuarts. In the same year, however, he was created Viscount Dundee by James VII while with the Scots army in England. He was also given military command of all the King’s forces in Scotland.

Dundee returned to Scotland in anticipation of the meeting of the Convention of Estates in Edinburgh, and at once exerted himself to bolster the waning resolution of the Duke of Gordon, the governor of Edinburgh Castle, with regard to holding it for the King. The Convention proving hostile, he conceived the idea of forming a rival convention at Stirling to sit in the name of James VII, but the hesitancy of his associates rendered the design futile, and it was given up. Prior to this, on 18 March 1689, he had left Edinburgh at the head of a company of fifty loyal dragoons, who were strongly attached to his leadership. He was not long gone before the news was brought to the alarmed convention that he had been spotted clambering up the castle rock and holding a conference with Gordon. In excitement and confusion order after order was dispatched regarding the fugitive. Dundee retired to Dudhope. On 30 March, despite a letter to the Convention stating that he was not in arms and that he was living peacefully at home awaiting the birth of his first child, he was publicly denounced as a traitor. He had offered to give a bond or parole to no avail and in the latter half of April attempts were made to apprehend him at Dudhope, and at his residence in Glen Ogilvy; but the secrecy and speed of his movements outwitted his pursuers, and he retreated to the north.


In 1689, after the overthrow of King James VII, he continued to support the Stuart dynasty in his capacity as commander-in-chief of all Scottish forces. Dundee raised the Scottish Royal Standard on Dundee Law in support of his king, country and the Jacobite cause. However, in spite of his subsequent association with the city of Dundee, he was to face what the historian of Jacobitism, Bruce Lenman, has described as a “stony faced” reception from its townsfolk. It is claimed that Claverhouse’s association with Dundee was brief and unpopular as he was seen as the representative of an arbitrary authoritarian monarchy that was eroding the self-autonomy the burgh had enjoyed. Indeed, when he returned to Dundee with a small troop of horse (Dundee Law at that time lay outside the burgh walls) he was to find the walls guarded and the gates firmly shut.[8] In fact, the city was heavily garrisoned by Williamite forces at the time which may better explain why the gates were barred to him. The fact that the large force in Dundee made no attempt to give battle or capture him may actually suggest they were to some degree sympathetic to his cause. Later events show that cavalry based in Dundee at the time later attempted to defect and join his forces. For four months he rallied support in the hope that King James would return from Ireland. Modern biographers, particularly Andrew Murray Scott consider that his skill as a diplomat was as great as his inspiration as a leader.

His greatest victory was won at the Battle of Killiecrankie later that year against much greater Williamite forces led by General Hugh Mackay. Scott believes that Claverhouse’s death in victory as he led the Jacobite charge down the hill at sunset was the final desperate act of a man who was aware that he had been betrayed by Melfort, the King’s adviser, and was trying to overcompensate for their lack of support. The Highlanders were completely victorious, but Dundee, in the act of encouraging his men, was pierced beneath the breastplate by a musket ball of the enemy and fell dying from his horse.

Graham reputedly asked a soldier “How goes the day?”, to which the man replied, “Well for King James, but I am sorry for your lordship.” The dying Graham then replied, “If it goes well for him, it matters the less for me.” A short letter describing the engagement to King James was later produced which purported to be from Graham but is now believed to be spurious. The battle, disastrous as it was to the government forces, was in reality the end of the insurrection, for the controlling and commanding genius of the rebellion was no more.

The death of Dundee, in the midst of the confusion of a cavalry charge, became the subject of numerous legends, the best known of which was the long prevalent but of course entirely false tale that he was invulnerable to lead (due to having made a pact with the Devil) and was killed by being penetrated by a silver button from his own coat. He died on the battlefield and was carried the few miles to the nearby parish church of St Bride, above Blair Castle, where he was buried. The stone which commemorates him at the crypt gives his age (erroneously) as 46, when he was actually 41. Dundee’s helmet and breastplate, removed from the vault below the church in the 19th century, are preserved in Blair Castle,

The tune under the title of “Bonnie Dundee” (or “Bonny Dundee”) predated Claverhouse’s appointment as Viscount Dundee, and several 18th century songs under that title refer to the city of Dundee and not Claverhouse. With Walter Scott’s publication around 1828 of his poem adapting the old tune to praise Claverhouse, the phrase “bonnie Dundee” became generally associated with the Viscount rather than the town, though the older ballads were still published.

It might be worthy to note that, although Dundee’s helmet and breastplate are now in Blair Castle, this wasn’t always the case.  A century after his burial, his vault was opened and his armour removed, which was then sold to merchants, but eventually recovered.

most of the above text appears courtesy of wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons Attributtion-Share-Alike Licence

Now, you might be thinking, what has Mary Slessor got to do with Dark Dundee?  Sure, she’s from Dundee, but as a missionary, she is hailed as somewhat of a heroine.  Of course she is, and we’re not denying that…but what’s truly dark about Mary Slessor are the things she witnessed during her lifetime.

Her father, Robert Slessor was a reported alcoholic, and, whilst a shoemaker to trade, became unable to continue his craft.  Relocating the family from Aberdeen to Dundee was an effort to leave behind their problems and start afresh somewhere new. Robert became a mill worker, labouring for pittance, but continued to spend the vast majority of it in the local public house. Her mother, also called Mary, had to take up work in the mills as a weaver – a trade in which she was highly skilled. By 11 years old, young Mary was working for the Baxter Brothers, spending half of her day in the mill-provided school, and the other half working in the mill itself.  Her mother would often come home from the United Presbyterian Church and would gather the children around her as she regaled them with stories of missionaries in far-off lands.  Mary felt sorry for the poor children, and the bizarre rituals which saw them murdered or abandoned and this inspired her thinking and began the first steps of what was to become an incredible life – but not one without it’s significant hardships.

Life wasn’t easy for the family, and, after years of living in the slums, Robert died of pneumonia.  The second of seven children, Mary witnessed the deaths of her brothers proceeding the demise of her beleaguered father.  Mary, began to develop an interest in religion and, when a mission was set up in Quarry Pend, close to the Wishart Church, she wanted to teach. Mary was 27 when she heard that David Livingstone, the famous missionary and explorer had died, and decided she wanted to follow in his footsteps. By the age of 28, Mary was assigned to the Calabar region in the land of Efik people. She was warned that the Efik people there believed in traditional West African religion and had a myriad superstitions.

The problems Mary confronted as a young missionary included the lack of Western education as well as widespread human sacrifice – adults as well as children! It is believed that one of the first things Mary bore witness to was voluntary human sacrifice during the burial celebrations of a prominent tribal chief.  It was widely thought that chiefs would require his wives in the afterlife, so, during the proceedings, his wives were sacrificed, much to Mary’s shock.  Not only were wives sacrificed, but, in some cases, villagers would be sacrificed to act as servants in the next life for their chief.  Such was their belief system, that they went willingly to their deaths, ready to serve their masters in the next life.

Once, during an epidemic of smallpox, people fled a village in terror, but Mary stayed to nurse and feed the stricken victims and, without assistance, buried the many of the dead. In a letter describing her experiences she wrote: “It is not easy. But Christ is here and I am always satisfied and happy in His love.”

Further to this, superstitions of violent deaths being solely attributed to witchcraft were rife.  When one of the sons of a village chief was crushed by a tree and subsequently died, blame was attributed to a nearby village.  Armed warriors besieged the village, capturing a dozen villagers to bring back to their village in chains.  Another superstition concerning the use of poison to determine guilt, caused Mary considerable alarm. The chief who had lost his son believed that if the accused were not guilty, they would not die from the poison, despite Mary’s protestations that this was not the case. After days of arduous discussions, most of which were heated and threatened extreme violence, all of the prisoners were released, and a cow was sacrificed, its blood used to soak the grave of the chief’s son in the place of  the blood of the villagers.  It was noted this this was “the first time in the entire district that a chief’s grave had not been saturated with human blood“. (www.wholesomewords.org).

The birth of twins was considered a particularly evil curse. Natives feared that the father of one of the infants was an evil spirit, and that the mother had been guilty of a great sin. Unable to determine which twin was fathered by the evil spirit, the natives often abandoned both babies in the bush. It wasn’t uncommon for the mother to be banished to the bush also until the village elders deemed her “safe”, usually to the detriment of her own life. The beginnings of the gin trade created even more problems, as violence inevitably ensued between traders as well as drunks, leading Mary and her missionaries to live their lives in a constant state of alert.  All of these things – a mere snapshot of what life must have been like for her – coupled with the illnesses that dogged her throughout her life, must have been an incredible strain on her both physically and mentally.  Whilst Mary returned home on a few occasions to convalesce, her heart and soul remained with her African family. She eventually succumbed to a severe fever on 13th January 1915, having become so weak she could no longer walk, and was given the colonial equivalent of a state funeral. This amazing, remarkable woman achieved everything she did by refusing to succumb to the darkness that surrounded her every day, threatening to engulf her.  By reflecting on the horrors that she must have encountered during her time as a missionary, it makes her story all the more remarkable.


Grissell Jaffray is famous in Dundee history for the crime of being a witch. She was choked and burned at the stake in a public execution and is the last person to have been burned in Dundee for the crime of witchcraft. Much of the truth is unknown about Grissell Jaffray, with some believing her to be the wife of local man James Butchart, whilst others maintain that she was the spouse of Thomas Buchart or Boutchard.  What is known about Grissell is that she was burned in Dundee’s town centre in 1669 (which just happens to be the year that both Mount Etna and Volcano Etna erupted, killing over 30,000 people – no relevance, we just thought you’d like to know).  Grissell Jaffray was incarcerated in the Tollbooth before being accused of witchcraft and cavorting with the devil himself. Suspiciously, the records pertaining to Grissell’s crimes were destroyed in a fire, so nobody really knows what she stood trial for, or indeed why.

Leading ministers in the Presbytery of Dundee were held responsible for the barbaric murder of Grissell Jaffray, namely, Harry Scrymsour, John Guthrie and William Rait. In times such as those that Grissell lived, it was not uncommon for women to be “outed” as a witch by their peers over petty things such as gossip-mongering, paranoia, blame-shifting and jealousy. For those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be given a trial, eye witness testimonials played a heavy part in the prosecution. Accused witches stood by as their own townsfolk laid waste to their credibility, desperate to rid their town of anyone they perceived to be dabbling in the black arts. In other witch trials, the accused would be “tried by water”, whereby they were forced under the water in the belief that Satan would not allow his daughter to be harmed, and she would continue to breathe. Naturally, the witches drowned, thus rendering the exercise pointless and needlessly barbaric.


Rather than change this practice, the belief was that those who were not witches and died by this method would be welcomed in heaven. Artifacts such as herbs and decorated bowls would be used as evidence in convicting women of witchcraft. Some women stood accused based on the fact that they had an unusual mole or skin tag, which was referred to as a witch’s teat. The accused were stripped naked and their bodies thoroughly searched for these “devil’s marks” (moles). The saying “as cold as a witch’s teat” comes from the fact that, during their trial, when the mole or skin tag was pierced, if it did not bleed or if no pain was expressed by the defendant, she was deemed a witch.

There is no record of what happened to Grissell during her time in the Tollbooth, or of the events leading up to her incarceration, but one theory seems to suggest that her death was no more than a “religious assassination” in a time of great religious unrest.
Unlike their English counterparts, witches tried in Scotland were routinely tortured for their confessions, so it is highly likely that Grissell was tortured in an attempt to evoke her admission of guilt.

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of 1563 made the practice of witchcraft and the consorting with witches, punishable as a capital offence. By the middle of the 17th century, amidst religious and political tensions, the Act was amended to include the words “devils and familiar spirits” – the sentence being death. By this definition, anyone deemed to be a witch was seen to be cavorting with the devil himself, acting as a human vessel from which to perform his nefarious deeds. Watch our Grissell Jaffray info video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WuZFb2SbGns