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Thread: 1840 Scottish Trial Papers

  1. #1

    1840 Scottish Trial Papers


    I was wondering anyone could give me some advice. I have found on the Scottish National Archives site some papers from the trial of my 3x great grandfather in 1840. He seems to have been a bad piece of work & a criminal all his life.

    I contacted the Scottish Archives and they gave we the following details about the two records they hold.

    The first is a bound precognition, which is the written report of the evidence of witnesses to a crime, taken before the trial in order to help prepare the case against the accused. It runs to eighty-two pages.

    It would cost me £50 to get a copy.

    The second is the case papers and consists of the following items:
    Second Declaration of John McDonald [4 pages]
    Execution against Witnesses [4 pages]
    Execution v. William Gordon [2 pages]
    Execution v. John McDonald [2 pages]
    Execution v. William Fraser [2 pages]
    Execution against William Fraser, John McDonald & William Gordon [2 pages]
    Diligence [2 pages]
    List of Assize [2 pages]
    Medical Report [2 pages]
    Second declaration of William Gordon [4 pages]
    Declaration of William Gordon [5 pages]
    Declaration of John McDonald [4 pages]
    Declaration of John McDonald [5 pages]
    Indictment [16 pages]

    It would cost me £35 to get a copy of this.

    I was wondering if anyone knew which would be the most beneficial for me to get. Looking at them I would think the second but I don't really know.
    Does anyone know what other information I would get & whether you think they are even worth getting. It says on the website that my ancestor, William Gordon was found guily of mobbing & rioting & his sentence was 6 months imprisonment to be served in the jail of Elgin.

    It's a lot of money so I'd really appreciate some advice first.
    Many thanks

  2. #2
    Member JBee's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Avatar - Frank sadly no longer with us 21/9/2013
    Sorry I've never had to look at any trial papers so can't help.

    However it all seems rather a lot for a 6 month sentence - I would probably go for the last case (as it may mention his previous record in the sentencing).

    Have you asked if anyone is going to the Scottish National Archives and might perhaps get a copy for you - I can't remember how much they charge but vaguely remember it was a set amount for 5 pages which wasn't too bad.

  3. #3
    Hi JBee,

    Thanks for the reply. I think there are alot of papers because the trial was of three men & not just William. I'm not sure whether I can just request the papers relating to him.

    He was only about 16 years old when this took place so it would be interesting to know if he already had a record. My guess would be yes. I've found a list of crimes for him in the 1840's-1860's & on the 1871 census he is in prison.

    Best wishes

  4. #4
    Hi Liz C,
    I have been to Edinburgh and had access to court papers from 1820's - 30's.
    The staff at West Register House (where court records are held) were very helpful.
    It costs nothing to view them and , if you want, takes notes.
    I had mine photo copied which did mount up and ended up paying about £40.
    I would say that a lot of the paperwork was repetitive so if someone could have a look and be selective for you and just get the relevant papers copied then that would reduce costs.

    Have you thought of phoning the staff and asking if they could select the minimum papers which would provide the most useful information? I am not sure if they will. Even to hire a genealogist to do this for you would probable cost more than the actual copying.

    By the way have you thought about contacting the National Library of Scotland, or other library to see if they would do a search and copy of some info. from old newspapers. It wouldn't be the court papers but may be enough to give you some interesting information.

    Sorry but I can't think of anything else.

    Good luck.

    Last edited by herky; 13-10-08 at 20:22. Reason: missed words

  5. #5
    Thanks Herky,

    I'll try phoning as you suggest. Maybe they could just send the papers relating to William Gordon. I'll also given the libraries a go. He might get a mention somewhere!

    It's quite good fun finding a criminal in the distant family. Something a bit different.

    Many thanks
    Last edited by Liz C; 13-10-08 at 20:49.

  6. #6
    Hi Liz C,
    Yes, isn't it funny how we get a thrill finding a convict relative and almost become fair chuffed to have found one. However if it was a close relative in present times then we would not be so happy.
    What funny people us genealogists are! What fun we have with all these skeletons. Makes a change from the hundreds of Ag labs and domestic servants.

    I hope you manage to get some useful information. What surprised me was the detail of the trial - lots of witnesses and thorough investigation even for a simple theft. Good to see that our relatives were not always sent away without a decent trial - well hopefully.

  7. #7
    Member deletejb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    West Lothian, Scotland
    I don't know if this helps

    It would cost me £35 to get a copy of this.
    It would cost you £40 to have that copied if you were in the Archives it's £2.50 per 5 pages IE :-

    Indictment [16 pages] would cost (£2.50 x 4) £10

    Each 2 page document would cost £2.50.

    It can work out expensive especially when some articles have just one page.

    Phone them again and ask the staff, who go out there way to help, what they advise would give most information. Perhaps the Indictment is a summery of the whole trial. Every time I've been they have been so helpful.

    Sorry I don't have time at the moment to offer to look through such a vast amount of papers.


  8. #8
    Hi Jan,

    I emailed them for the quote so I'll give them a ring & get further advice. Hopefully they'll be able let me know which is the better record to get. I don't mind spending £35 but I'm not sure I could stretch to £85!

    Best wishes


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