Fascinating facts on the
Victorian History of Scotland
Historical Research Services
Lynne Wilson – Author and Historical Researcher
This month in Scotland's History
From ordinary life to the more strange and unusual events!
The village of Wishaw was filled with excitement, upon the arrival of gas street lighting. Villagers turned out to celebrate the event, which was accompanied by the sound of the local instrumental band.
In the fishing town of Burghead, near Elgin, the newly built Free Church was the scene of a disturbance, over the allocation of seats. The argument, having later moved to the local pub, unfortunately developed into a full scale riot.
A man described as 'a respectable citizen of Glasgow', attempted to have a bill introduced in Parliament, to enable the indefinite detention of drunkards. The man's reasons for this seemed to be that he had for twenty five years suffered 'the enormous burden of a drunken wife'.
An English visitor to Glasgow over the Christmas period wrote to the newspapers detailing his disappointment at the lack of festivities in the city. As the Presbyterian Church in Scotland did not recognise Christmas Day as a religious festival, it was not a holiday at this time. With businesses and shops being open, people carried on as normal.
The new Art Gallery and Industrial Museum buildings in Aberdeen were inaugurated in this month. The Museum was the largest of its kind and was built at a time when art and art collecting were at a peak. The classical design of the building was due to well known architect of the time, Alexander Marshall Mackenzie, who went on to design Marischal College, Australia House and the Waldorf Hotel in London.
Death by Chloroform - As Chloroform was becoming popular in pain relief, many people with ailments were using it in their homes, due to their being no restrictions on buying dangerous chemicals at this time. One unfortunate man with asthma decided to use the vapours to relieve his condition late one evening, and was found dead the next morning by a servant.
Breach of Promise by a Clergyman - An action was raised at the Court of Session in Edinburgh by a young woman who had been set to marry a Minister, who had later changed his mind. Cases of this type were common, as due to the public humiliation and effect on a woman's future marriage prospects, jilted partners often sought compensation.
Warranty on a Cow - An action was raised at Aberdeen Sheriff Court against a cattle dealer who sold a cow under warranty knowing that she was suffering from a disease at the time of the sale. The pursuer was awarded £20 compensation.
The safety of railway travel received a boost, after Queen Victoria herself travelled over 500 miles by rail, beginning her journey in Scotland. Railways throughout this era had been plagued by accidents and were often criticised for their lack of safety and comfort.
In Glasgow, two boys were sentenced to 14 days imprisonment and 5 years detention in the Reformatory School for stealing a hen from a Close in Paisley Road.
A three month trial of electric street lighting in Edinburgh came to an end. The trial had been the subject of some controversy, as the original estimated costs had almost doubled, and many finding the whole thing quite unnecessary.
An Ayrshire woman was apprehended by police, following the discovery that she had attempted to send a living child by parcel, on the train from Glasgow to Ayr.
An Excise Office in Gilmore Place,Glasgow, was broken into during the evening by thieves, who whilst stealing various items, became curious about a large package in the corner of a room. On taking off the sheeting to have a look however, the thieves sprang back in alarm and fled from the room, leaving the stolen items behind, after seeing the pale face of a woman staring back at them from under the sheet. The 'woman' however, turned out to be a statue which was being stored there for safe keeping by an artist.
At the Glasgow Police Court, a woman was charged under the Prevention of Crimes Act, with the fairly nondescript offence of 'being a rogue and a vagabond'. She was sent to prison for thirty days.
In Edinburgh, police were alerted one afternoon, by cries of "murder!" coming from what was described as 'a notorious house' in South Gray's Close, High Street. On entering the house they discovered thirteen people present and 'a general melee' going on. It seemed that, as was common in these types of low lodging house, an argument had broken out and general chaos ensued, ending with one unfortunate woman being hit on the head with a frying pan. Luckily the injuries inflicted by the frying pan were not serious.
A man convicted of the murder of his wife in Dalkeith and facing the death penalty had his death sentence commuted to a sentence of 'transportation for life', which meant deportation to the colonies. The sentence was reduced following a petition by medical professionals which called into question the cause of death.
Many meetings were held in Scotland over the proposed Poor Law Scotland (Amendment) Act. The purpose of the Act was to establish a central Board of Supervision and Inspectors of the Poor, who would deal with applications for poor relief, taking the responsibility away from the individual Parishes. The discussions in this year culminated in the 1845 Scottish Poor Law Act.
At the annual fair in Barrhead, a murder described as a 'shocking outrage' occurred. All work in the village and neighbourhood had been suspended during the afternoon, and everyone was enjoying the festivities. As the evening advanced however, a large party of railway workmen began to proceed along the streets in what was described as 'a riotous manner'. Despite this, there was no injury or breach of the peace during the evening, until a little after eleven o'clock, when a young man who had been taking the lead of the disorderly group, was stabbed. The man, who had been 'a little the worse liquor' died a few moments later. As no quarrel had occurred within his group and no other assailant had been seen, the matter of who carried out the act was a complete mystery.
At the Gorbals Police Court, a man found himself in court after threatening to shoot a woman with a pistol. The weapon, it was established, had no powder or shot in it, and the man had claimed he had intended the threat as a joke. However, as this information had been unknown to the woman at the time, she had been terribly alarmed by the event. Despite causing such alarm, the man received only a fine.
A disagreement between a Flesher (Butcher) and another tradesman in Wales Street, Aberdeen, resulted in the tradesman being hit on the head with a sweeping brush. The Flesher was charged with the assault, and of causing a disturbance.
A family in a house in Blackford were awoken shortly after going to bed for the night, by the sound of someone in the house. The woman of the house, on trying to find a light to see what was going on, took a package of gunpowder and sprinkled some on the ashes of the grate. On doing this, there was an explosion which tore the plaster from the ceiling and forced the door out of its frame. The 'intruder' turned out to be one of the daughters, who lived elsewhere, returning home.
The Gorbals Police were busy with two cases of sheep stealing within the space of eight days. In the first case, one sheep was killed while grazing in Kinning Park, with the hind quarters carried off. In the other case, two sheep were killed in a field in Hangingshaw, and the carcasses carried away without their heads.
In Coaltown of Wemyss, near Kircaldy, two boys had been playing when they found a gun on the roof of an outhouse. The gun had been laid there earlier in the day by one of the villagers who had intended to shoot crows in his garden. Unaware that the gun was loaded, one of the boys aimed it at the head of the other and shot. The boy was taken to Cupar Jail.
At Govan Sheriff Court, two sets of parents were charged with failing to provide education for their children. They were both convicted and fined 10s or the alternative of five days imprisonment. In the case of one of the parents, having told the court that his son was beyond his control, the boy was additionally sent to the Industrial School for five years.
At the Edinburgh Sheriff Summary Court, two men were convicted of having stolen four hens from a henhouse in Coltbridge Terrace. Both men received 30 days imprisonment.
A Shoemaker, accused of murdering his sister by stabbing her thirteen times, was found guilty and sentenced. The Glasgow Circuit Court determined that the man had been insane at the time and ordered that he should be detained for life in an institution, or given over to his friends, if they could be trusted with his safekeeping.
In Limekilns, whilst ploughing a piece of ground, a man uncovered a large quantity of old silver coins. It was estimated that at least ten thousand coins were found. Soon after the discovery, crowds of men, women and children turned up to carry away a share of the treasure.
In Coatbridge, a terrible tragedy occurred in the form of a steam boiler explosion. The explosion took place within a saw mill, whilst the engine was in full operation and the mill was fully staffed. The saw mill itself, made of bricks and timber, was blown apart, with debris strewn in all directions. Five people were killed in the tragedy, and many were injured.
Near Airdrie, a serious accident occurred at a funeral. The occupants of a carriage in the funeral procession, had to leap out of the carriage after the horses took fright and bolted, whilst passing through a village.
A Railway Link Between Edinburgh and Glasgow - During this month, it was reported that work was well underway on the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line. Following an Act of Parliament the previous year, the building of this railway line to link the two cities was commenced, with services between Haymarket and Glasgow Queen Street running by 1842.
Imprisonment for Lying - Giving false information to a registrar led to imprisonment for a blacksmith. Having gone to register the birth of his sister's illegitimate child, the man, due to the shame attached to illegitimacy at this time, had informed the registrar that his sister was a married woman whose husband lived in Greenock. At Edinburgh Sheriff Court, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment, having been warned by the Sheriff that this type of offence usually attracted a sentence of seven years transportation to the penal colonies.
A Double Execution in Edinburgh - Two men faced the death penalty this month, convicted of the cold blooded murder of two gamekeepers. Since 1868, executions were no longer carried out in public, however people would gather outside the prison and wait until the black flag was hoisted, announcing to all that the hanging had taken place. This particular execution took place within Calton Prison, the prison of Edinburgh at this time, which was situated on Calton Hill. Only officials, clergymen and newspaper representatives were permitted to be present. A large crowd, numbering about five thousand and mostly consisting of men and boys, congregated on Calton Hill, as near as possible to a vantage point which gave a glimpse of the wooden shed, inside which the execution was taking place.
An Attempt to Stop Opium Abuse - A meeting of the Anti Opium Crusade took place, proposing a resolution calling for the prohibition of its sale and use other than for medical purposes. Since 1868, highly addictive substances such as opium could only be sold by registered Chemists and Druggists, but could still be bought over the counter by anyone for any purpose, often resulting in recreational use. The inevitable social problems were a matter of great concern amongst the general population.
In the early hours of the morning, residents of a cottage in Kelso were awakened by the sound of a man knocking on their door. Seeking assistance for his wife who he said had taken ill, the man was given help to bring his wife inside the cottage. However, on seeing the woman, who had suspicious injuries on her face and body, the householder suspected that she had been assaulted. The man then left the cottage, stating that he was going to obtain a cart to take her to where she could get medical help, however he did not return. A short time later, the woman died and her husband was tracked down and arrested.
In George Street, Glasgow, an elderly lady who was walking along the street was suddenly set upon by an 'infuriated bull', who knocked her down and injured her with its horns. Attempts to find the owner of the bull proved unsuccessful.
At Calton Police Office, Glasgow, a case of theft was heard. However, the unusual nature of this theft was that it was committed in a Church. The accused parties were three women, described as 'well known bad characters', however as only one of the women had been caught with her hand in a person's pocket, she was the only one found guilty. She was sentenced to 60 days imprisonment.
In Greenock, workmen uncovered the bones of a human body, in a pit under a house. The pit had been dug about three feet under the house, and the bones, from their appearance, were thought to have been there for around a century.
In Edinburgh, meetings and discussions were rife concerning the Education Bill for Scotland. This Bill led to the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872, which made education compulsory and put responsibility on to parents to see that all children attended school. This was paid for by local property tax, thus taking education out of the control of the Churches.
A policeman in the Canongate in Edinburgh became concerned on seeing a young girl standing in the street, looking lost. On questioning the girl as to how she came to be there, she told him that she was from Stonehaven and had taken a fancy to going to sea. So, having left home secretly, she travelled to Edinburgh intending to dress in boys' clothes and get on board a ship at Leith. However, after arriving in Edinburgh, the girl had second thoughts about her endeavour.
Canal steamers were trialled on the Forth and Clyde canal. Advertised as travelling 'at a speed equal to that of horses', a newspaper predicted that steamers would 'soon be in general use on all canals'.
Late one night in Glasgow, whilst a police constable was doing his rounds, he heard the noise of breaking glass in a nearby street. On arriving in the street in question, the constable found a well known drunk standing in the street with the top of a street lamp on his head. The drunk man, having no recollection of breaking the lamp, was reported to have been completely bewildered as to how it had come to be sitting on his head.
Work began to try and recover pieces of the collapsed Tay Bridge. The Tay Bridge disaster occurred on 28 December 1879, when the bridge collapsed during a violent storm as a train was passing over it. The recovery operation in February 1880 was very much hampered by bad weather.
In Stirling, a young couple who had just married, and their male friend, left the town to return home to the nearby village of Menstrie. However, due to the dense fog and having celebrated in the town's public houses, their journey home took an unusual turn. The groom, who had last been seen holding on to a lamp post at Stirling Bridge, lost sight of his new wife and his friend in the fog and, on taking a wrong turning, ended up in Sheriffmuir, five miles in the opposite direction. The bride, on arriving at Menstrie, had fallen asleep and only realised her new husband was missing when she awoke the next morning.
A meeting of the soap manufacturers took place in Glasgow, with the topic of discussion being the petitioning of the Treasury for a repeal of the Soap Tax. Like many commodities in this era, soap was heavily taxed and was therefore very expensive for ordinary people. With the great increase in population due to the Industrial Revolution, and the overcrowding that resulted, this tax on soap did nothing to alleviate the hygiene and health problems experience by the working classes. The tax was finally abolished in 1853.
A newspaper reported on the Hogmanay entertainment at Barnhill Poorhouse: 'The Chairman delivered an excellent address, after which songs, recitations etc. were given by a number of the inmates with great spirit, concluding with 'Auld Lang Syne'. The dinner consisted of soup, pies, and plum-pudding….at night tea, bread and cheese, and oranges formed the bill of fare'.
A case was heard in Glasgow Sheriff Court, involving an action for damages against a horse drawn cab proprietor, who had run over a nine year old boy. As a result, the boy's father was awarded damages of £25.