When an on-duty constable patrolling the harbour on 11th March 1894 noticed something in the water at King William Dock, he quickly called for assistance in dragging it out of the water.  When the object was lifted to shore, they quickly realised that what they had pulled out of the Dock was a human body – very much dead.  So dead, in fact, that the local newspaper reported that it ‘gave considerable evidence of having been a considerable time in the water’.  With the body off to the mortuary, a search was made of his pockets, which revealed a letter addressed to a female correspondent in Calcutta and a pawn ticket in the name of William Panioty, amongst other small items.  By the afternoon, an acquaintance of the dead man, Alexander Brown identified the body as belonging to Mr Panioty, a clerk who worked in Calcutta.  Mr Panioty was aged around 40, and had went missing on 3rd February after returning to Dundee on a steamer around 23rd January.  He stayed on board the steamer for almost a week before lodging at the Sailors House and then in private lodgings in Dundee.  Mr Panioty was supposed to be heading to the Isle of Wight to see his grandmother, but for some unknown reason, he decided to stay in the city; perhaps he was just enjoying himself so much he wanted to extend his visit to Dundee!

Mr Brown had more to add to the tale, however, which added a bit more interest to the case beyond an accidental drowning.  Mr Brown told police that Mr Panioty had visited his home on 31st January and seemed to be in his ‘usual health and spirits’, which we must assume was jovial, as, at this point, Mr Brown had no cause for concern.  On 2nd February, however, Mr Panioty met with another member of Mr Brown’s family on the streets of Dundee and passed over a sealed envelope for Mr Brown, with explicit instructions not to open it until the following day.  The request was so strange that the Brown family failed to adhere to the instruction, and instead decided to open the letter that evening.  In it, Mr Panioty spoke of his lack of interest in life and that he intended suicide on the date of the letter, 2nd February.  His intention was, that by the time the letter had been read, he would have already done the deed and nobody would be in a position to try and stop him.

Obviously alarmed, having not detected anything on Mr Panioty’s last visit that would have led them to this conclusion, the Brown family immediately began a search of Dundee, walking all over the city, but to no avail.  They asked about him at the railway station and were told that some guards had seen him a few days prior to this, and he was discussing leaving for London very shortly.  The guards seemed to think Panioty was also in good spirits, and believed he had boarded a train for London.  Feeling a bit more relieved, and putting the letter down to no more than a drunken rant or a moment of temporary madness, the Browns returned home and did not think of the incident again until the morning of 11th March when Mr Brown identified the body pulled from the Docks.

Based on the decomposition of the body in water, it was estimated that Mr Panioty died on either the night of 2nd February or the early hours of the following morning.  When officers opened the letter in his pocket, addressed to his female correspondent, Mrs Duncan, it seemed to further confirm the theory that he had indeed killed himself.   In it, he made various statements that he intended to put an end to his life and that he was tired of life itself.  He wrote that she need not be surprised if she never heard from him again – but this was a letter she never received.  No mention is made in the article as to whether anyone informed Mrs Duncan, and, indeed, there is no mention of what happened to his body.  If his family were in the Isle of Wight, perhaps the body was taken there, or perhaps it was buried somewhere in Dundee; the story seems to raise more questions than it answered.

On the surface, it looks like a case of suspected suicide, corroborated by 2 letters written by the deceased.  But what if the letters weren’t written by him at all, but were perhaps written by someone else – someone who may, in fact have murdered him and put his body in the water?  If this is the case, then surely suspicion must fall on Mr Brown, who also happened to be in possession of a letter (which we have to assume, once again, was in the same handwriting as the letter to Mrs Duncan).  With no other handwriting evidence to go on, was it also just assumed that this was Mr Panioty’s handwriting?  Did Mr Brown inform the police at all after their search concluded that Mr Panioty did indeed go to London, or did he wait until the body had been found?  None of this is documented, frustratingly, and for us, leaves us thirsting for more information.  Perhaps we’re just too sceptical and this is just a case of a man, down on his luck and at a terrible point in his life, intending to take his own life, but, to us, this has the smell of a murder cover-up all over it.

Dundee Advertiser, Monday March 12, 1894, British Newspaper Archives Online.

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 to 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 prostrate 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 breath 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 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.

References:

‘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.

www.humanillnesses.com

http://patient.info/health

http://medhealthwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

http://www.sepsis.org/

http://www.healthline.com/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

http://www.pleuritis.net/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/

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 Dead Centre Walking Tour – tickets now available 

Disease, death and execution are on the menu in our Dead Centre walking tour – with a side order of Vikings and body-snatching!

This tour starts at the Howff graveyard, and ends at the City Square –  the site of the Town-House, and public hangings and executions.

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!

References:

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

www.healthline.com

www.wikipedia.com

www.nhs.uk

Oxford Vaccine Group www.ovg.ox.ac.uk

www.nrscotland.gov.uk

 

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 www.fdca.org.uk

Dundee University Archives

Wikipedia (cholera symptoms)

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 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

If you’ve seen any really old maps of Dundee, you might notice that there’s no mention of the Overgate as we know it, or indeed, the Nethergate.  Known back then as Argyllsgait (Argyllgait) and Flukergait respectively, it wasn’t until the latter part of the 1500’s that the new names came into play, not long after the time period set on our map.  Originally no more than a few wooden houses, Argyllgait slowly grew over the centuries, slowly spreading towards the lower Flukergait and beyond.

Such was the attraction of Argyllgait, that the Mercat Cross was uprooted from its position in the Seagate and moved in the mid 1400’s to a new position where High Street met Argyllgait.  Trade and commerce swiftly followed, making it a hive of activity.  Many rich and wealthy people began moving to Argyllgait, making it a very desirable place to live.  The Seagate ceased to be the main centre of trade whilst still retaining its unique character and vantage point near the river.  The Mercat Cross remained there until the late 1700’s.

The naming of Argyllgait is claimed to be either down to the occupants of the area at that time, who came to stay in Dundee from the Highlands, or from a wealthy family – the Campbell’s of Argyll – who were alleged to have resided in the area.  By the turn of the 16th century, Argyllgait was almost beyond what we can imagine by looking at the area today.  A very good place to live, it boasted not only the majestic City Churches, but an array of well-built, stone houses, in which dwelled the rich and the noble.

However, as its popularity rose, those who sought to steer clear of the ‘common’ folk soon began to move to larger estates on the outskirts of the town.  The houses at Argyllgait had lovely gardens, so it wasn’t like people were living on top of one another at that point, but the allure of the outskirts of town, with even larger expanses of land were too appealing to the rich, and they soon abandoned their homes in the heart of the town.  Losing the nobility didn’t do anything to dent the character of the Overgate, as it soon became known.  In fact, if anything, the heart of the town only beat harder.

As more and more working class people moved into the Overgate, they set up shops, stalls and workshops in the free space around the buildings.  Some even built their own housing on the land, and by the 17th century, the era of Argyllgait was well and truly over; nothing more than a passing memory making way for the ever-expanding Overgate.  Many notable people from Dundee’s history, both famous and infamous have lived in the Overgate, such as Grissell Jaffray, David Balfour, the Duke of Monmouth and Mary Brooksbank, to name but only a few.  It’s also fair safe to assume that, considering its longevity, anyone notable throughout Dundee’s entire history will have stood on these grounds somewhere, from royalty and robbers to warriors and murderers.

When the Earl of Huntingdon landed upon Dundee’s shores following a storm in 1190, he had the Church of St Mary built over a period of many years as thanks for his safe landing. Throughout the ages, endless attacks by English armies forced us to fortify our walls and solidify our defences, to the point where we held the majority of the wealth of the Earls and nobility of Scotland within our confines.  Unfortunately, this ended tragically for us during the siege of 1st September 1651, when Monck’s troops stormed the town after Governor Robert Lumsden repeatedly refused the city’s surrender.

The word “gait” means to walk, or, more specifically, the pattern of movement of the limbs during locomotion.  We learned on Lost Dundee that the word “gate” is derivative from the Norse word ‘gata’ meaning road or street.  As Overgate was the higher of the two thoroughfares running alongside Dundee’s City Churches, thus it was named.  Flukergait, being the lower of the two, was renamed Nethergate.  Our Lady Warkstairs was a timber-fronted building, reported to have been built sometime in the 15th century and connected to the Church of St Mary, perhaps as an almshouse.  It was situated where Primark sits now, looking down Crichton Street. At the time of the building’s construction, however, this street would not have been there.

On the other side of Primark, which faces towards the corner of Reform Street sat the Duke of Monmouth’s house – a substantial building, constructed around the same time as Our Lady Warkstairs.  This property was famous for a few reasons.  This was the house in which General Monck set up his Headquarters whilst in Dundee during the siege of 1651 which we touched upon earlier.  During this period, the Duke’s daughter was born in the home; Anna, Duchess of Buccleuch and Monmouth.  It was also used as the Town House for a while, earning it the nickname “The New Tolbooth”.  Its stature, position in the centre, and a handy wee turret made it a very attractive property indeed – and it certainly saw more than its fair share of action.

Whereas nowadays, the Overgate area is fairly open and easy to navigate, it was not always this way.  Streets and pends ran all up and down this area, like a warren of narrow paths, crammed with overpopulated housing.  With the boom of the textile industry in the 19th century, the population of Dundee also grew considerable, with many of them living in and around this area.  So dense was the population, that it was reported there were around 400 people per acre in the Overgate, compared to a city average of 36.  Thorter Row, Tally Street, Barrack Street, Lindsay Street, Tay Street, Long Wynd, Church Lane, Mid Kirk Style are only a few of the myriad pends and streets which formed part of the Overgate’s impressive portfolio, including closes such as St Salvador’s Close, Argyll Close, Mint Close, Methodist Close and the legendary Beefcan Close (not it’s official name).

Whilst this added a whole lot of hustle and bustle to the area, it also meant that they were never short of a drama in the Overgate.  Described as a bit of a circus, the area was literally heaving with people, shops, pubs, flea-markets, entertainers and religious preachers.  Fights would often break out – and not just between the men – and alcohol, gambling and women of ill repute were never far out of reach.  Despite its reputation swiftly gaining notoriety, the Overgate was the only place to go to be guaranteed a good time; so much so that the area has been coined in many a local phrase and song.

With some of what was claimed to be the worst housing in Dundee, the Overgate also had five properties which were used as common sleeping places for the homeless, where (mostly drunk) people slept in hospital-style beds in a dormitory fashion, sleeping on their possessions to avoid robbery.  Outside toilets were used by dozens of people, and conditions were far from sanitary.  Having so many people crammed into such a small space made it very easy for diseases to spread.  In 1832 and in 1849, Cholera struck Dundee.  Cholera is spread mainly by water and food products that have been contaminated with human faeces containing the disease.  In 1845, piped water first became available in Dundee.  Shortly after, the 1848 Public Health Act was the first step in the right direction to improving what was said to be squalid conditions.

 

In 1910, plans were developed to completely change the way the Overgate looked, in an attempt to reinvigorate it and clean up its image both in terms of image and reputation.  Unfortunately, both World Wars put a halt to regeneration attempts and funding until the 1960’s, when a concrete monolith was erected in place of the dilapidated housing.  It wasn’t the nicest looking thing in the world, but it was beginning to change the way people looked at the Overgate and the surrounding area.  During the demolition, everything was destroyed with exception of St Mary’s Tower and the City Churches.

Overgate2

Despite its best intentions, and boasting a hotel as well as a decent range of shops, the Overgate began to lose favour to the new Wellgate Centre, which was constructed in the late 1970’s.  Fortunes turned for the Overgate as shopkeepers could not afford the rents and moved out, damaging its reputation once again.  As the years progressed, the Overgate became a ghost of its former lively self until the question of redevelopment became a talking point.  By the late 1990’s, work was underway to change the face and the reputation of the Overgate.  A multi-level shopping mall was built, housing many well-known retailers, and brought positive attention (and, more importantly, revenue) back into the area.

Whilst many things have changed over the centuries with regards to what we now know as the Overgate, what has never changed is the resilience of the city – no matter what happens, we always bounce back fighting.  Whilst we don’t profess to know what will happen to the Overgate of the future, we’re pretty certain that she won’t be going anywhere any time soon!  The next time you’re wandering about the Overgate, just have a wee think of all the things that have happened there over the history of the town…and all the dead bodies that lie right under your feet!

Images courtesy of City Archives, Wikimedia and Lost Dundee.

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.

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.

 

In Dundee, body snatchers, graverobbers, or “Resurrection Men” turned over a considerable amount of business.  When Cholera struck in 1832, the memories of Burke and Hare’s atrocities were still very much at the forefront of people’s minds. Even though Burke had been executed in 1829 (whilst Hare spent the rest of his years in relative seclusion, having been granted his freedom in exchange for Burke’s conviction), there were still real and valid concerns over secret pacts between the Sextons of Scotland and the medical profession. People were in a high state of alarm over the frequent exhumations made in their churchyards and it was shrewdly suspected that this was done for the purpose of supplying the Edinburgh doctors with viable dissection subjects.

The churchyard of Dundee, then popularly known as the Howff was laid under heavy contribution to the cause of science.  In an effort to deter would-be grave robbers, watches were set, but, often aided by whisky to deter the cold, their vigils were often unsuccessful.  The Resurrection Men were too sharp for them, for it was almost a matter of certainly that the body of anyone who died of a peculiar disease would disappear within a few days after it had been interred.  However, there are records of a gun fight between the tombstones, people falling into open graves in the night during their watch, and a grave robber who couldn’t get away fast enough, and ended up with the sharp point of a bayonet stuck up his bum!  So, whilst they were sometimes unsuccessful, the graveyard watchers still had their fair share of excitement from time to time.

The Logie Cemetery was another frequent location for Resurrectionists, as well as a host of drunks, highwaymen and many others of ill-repute.  The cemetery was so overcrowded that graves were dug in the pathways and onto the roads.  On 13th May 1824, The Dundee Advertiser ran a story about two graveyard watchers who had been assaulted by a pair of body snatchers during their shift.  They managed to fend off the attack and the offending duo ran off, but a second attempt to steal from the grave was carried out the following evening.  Thankfully, this attempt was also foiled, and the Resurrection men fled empty handed once more.

The most notorious of local Resurrectionists was Geordie Mill.  He was the Sexton of Dundee, and was believed to have had dealings with doctors and professors in Edinburgh.  His neighbour, Donald M’Nab, suspected Geordie of graverobbing, but, unable to catch him in the act, he is believed to have penned the following song:

” THE ROOND-MOO’ED SPADE.”

Geordie Mill, wi’ his roond-moo’ed spade,
Is wishin’ aye for mair fouk deid
For the sake o’ the donnal an’ the bit short-bread
When he gans wi’ the spaiks i’ the mornin’.
An’ if the tale that’s tauld be true,
A greater gain he has in view,
Which mak’s his fryin’-pan richt foo
To skirl baith nicht and mornin’.
A porter cam’ to Geordie’s door,
A hairy trunk on his back he bore,
Which the Quentin Durward frae Leith shore
Brocht roond that very mornin’.
This trunk, I’m tauld, contained a line
Wi’ sovereigns to the amount o’ nine.
The price o’ a well-fed, sonsie quine
They had sent to Monro ae mornin’.
But Geordie, to conceal their plan,
A story tauld as fause as lang,
Sayin’ the trunk belanged to a travellin’ man
That wad call for it next mornin’.
Noo Geordie doon to Robbie goes.
The doctor’s line to him he shows,
Which wished frae them a double doze
By the coach on Wednesday mornin’.
Says Robbie, ” Is the box come back ? ”
“Oh, yes,” says Geordie, giein’ the purse a shak’,
“An’ we maun gae an’ no’ be slack
To flirt again ere mornin’.”
Quo’ Robbie’s wife, ” Oh, sirs, tak’ tent,
sure a warnin’ I’ve been sent,
Which tells me ye will yet repent,
Yer conduct on some mornin’.”
” Ye fule,” quo’ Robbie, ” Hush yer fears,
While I’ve the keys fat deil can steer’s ?
We’ve been weel paid for’t ten past years,
Think o’ auchteen pounds i’ the mornin’.”
Sae aff they set to Tarn an’ Jock,
The lads that used the spade an’ pock,
An’ wi’ Glenarf their throats did soak
To keep them brisk till mornin’.
The hour grew late, the tryst was lain
Amang these Resurrection men,
When each his glass did freely drain,
Sayin’, ” Here’s success to the mornin’.”
But Robbie noo does sair repent
His slightin’ o’ the warnin’ sent,
For the noise o’ a second coffin’s rent
Caused in Dundee a deil o’ a mornin’.

Such was the popularity of the song, it sparked outrage and M’Nab was brought before local Magistrates to be examined and questioned on his alleged ditty.  As nothing could be proved, he was released without any charge.  Geordie Mill himself, was suspended from his duties, but was never prosecuted.

It is the party season, and while family gatherings can be joyous occasions, sometimes we don’t get on with our family. Things can quickly take a turn for the worse when alcohol is involved, and on this day in 1974 Daniel Flanagan was sentenced for the culpable homicide of his brother, and assault for stabbing his nephew following a family party.

The article below is from the Glasgow Herald, 7th December 1974:

1974 homicide brother

273 people were publicly hanged in Scotland between 1800 and 1868. Of these 273, 14 were women. Few of them actually took place in Dundee, with only six recorded hangings, five of them public, the final one private. The last man to be hung in Dundee, William Bury, was the infamous murderer who was suspected by many of actually being Jack the Ripper.

A new gibbet was erected for the execution of Arthur Woods, sentenced for killing his son, John Drew Woods. His execution in 1839 at the new jail at the corner of Bell Steet and Lochee Road, drew a large crowd and cavalry had to be sent from Edinburgh to keep control of the crowd. The treasurers accounts list the expenditures related to this including the erecting of the scaffold which cost £40, 7 shillings and 11 pence (£40 7s11d); John Scott, the executioner was paid £17 5s; meat for the executioner while in the gaol cost 14s 9d; and transport for the executioner back to Edinburgh cost £2 10s.


Perth, tried 16 April, 1801

Date of execution Name Crime Place
Friday 12th June John Watt (West) Housebreaking & theft Dundee

Tried at Perth on the 20th of April, 1826.

Date of execution Name Crime Place
Friday 2nd June David Balfour Murder Dundee

Tried at Perth on the 1st of May, 1835.

Date of execution Name Crime Place
Saturday 30th May Mark Devlin Rape Dundee

Tried by the High Court of Justiciary on the 25th of February, 1839.

Date of execution Name Crime Place
Monday 25th March Arthur Woods Murder Dundee

Tried by the High Court of Justiciary on the 1st of September, 1847.

Date of execution Name Crime Place
Tuesday 5th October Thomas Leith Murder wife Dundee

After 1868, private executions were still carried out and one last man was executed in Dundee in 1889 – a man who many believed to be the notorious “Jack the Ripper”.

Trial date Name Age Hanged at/reprieved Crime/Victim
25/03/1889 William Bury 29 Dundee24/04/1889 Wife, Ellen