From baby-faced thieves to seasoned swindlers, Fife criminals were captured in more ways than one in the Fife Criminal Registers.
The new collection, spanning from 1910-1931 collection, includes 900 records and more than a thousand historic images of criminals convicted in Fireshire.
Men, women and children charged with criminal offences were recorded in registers, providing an essential tool to law enforcement in tracking those accused of crimes in the local area. The inclusion of photographs and physical descriptions, such as tattoos, scars and permanent injuries, helped police identify thieves, swindlers and violent individuals in the local area, especially as many were or became repeat offenders.
One of the youngest lawbreakers in the collection is William Rennie (alias William Robertson); William, a 14-year-old labourer, photographed in a baker boy hat, with his freckles visible in his black and white mugshot. William was convicted of two counts of theft and given two years of probation and a strict reprimand; these measures were intended to turn child crooks away from lives of crime, but the records show they weren’t always effective.
The oldest criminal in the collection is James McIntosh, aged 69, whose record spans 43 years and includes close to 20 counts of theft, whilst David Westwood, despite spending several years at Rossie Reformatory school, had already managed to notch up 14 charges of theft by the age of 19.
The records are searchable by name, birthplace, conviction date, discharge date and sentence. Verdicts ranged from reprimands for the youngest thieves through to imprisonment for days, months and even years in the harsh conditions of early 20th century prisons. Entries of interest in Fife, Scotland, Criminal Registers, 1910-1931 include:
▪ Matthew Marshall Martin – A professional lithographic craftsman by trade, Matthew was arrested on 5th November 1912 aged 40, charged with forgery & lettering. While not detailed in his criminal record, will forgeries and promissory notes for money were two of the most common forms of counterfeiting and perpetrators were subject to serious punishment. Apprehended in Edinburgh, Matthew was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
▪ Henry Burns – Henry first came to the attention of police in 1905, when he was caught stealing potatoes in Cupar. The 26-year-old labourer’s physical description is one of the most detailed in the records as he had amassed a sizeable collection of tattoos including one dedicated to his mother, a shamrock, a butterfly, a star, a heart pierced by an arrow and a tattoo in honour of King Edward. With his hands pressed against his chest in his mugshot, you can spot Henry’s missing right index finger, a common punishment for stealing throughout the centuries.
▪ John Gilmour (alias John White) – John’s criminal record sheds light on his penchant for the finer things in life, with convictions for stealing scones, cigars and wafers. On the 2nd January 1904, the labourer and pedlar was arrested for stealing chocolate and given the option of paying a fine or prison time. Interestingly, John’s record also reveals that police took his fingerprints in 1913, to be sent to Scotland Yard.
▪ James Izatt – Using multiple aliases, including Simpson, Wilson and Driver, James was arrested in Buckhaven on 31st January 1905 for assaulting his wife. Two years later, in 1907, he was arrested again for wife desertion and sentenced to 30 days in prison; the records suggest the James left his first wife and settled in Ayr, Scotland with another woman illegally, as he was arrested in 1912 for bigamy.
It wasn’t just men who found themselves in the dock, the collection includes a number of criminal women working alone or as part of wider gangs stealing, as well as some more unusual cases. At 4’ 10”, diminutive Mary Ann Brodie (or Henderson) was a prolific thief, with 16 charges for stealing and one arrest for drunkenness notched up between 1896 and 1913. Mary Ann’s physical description not only mentions her height, it records her as having ‘a nervous twitching of the eyes’. Pauline Marjory Lyden, also known as Madam Roselle, was arrested in Dunfermline in April 1924 and charged with conspiracy. The music hall artist’s conviction made the Sunday Post headlines, exposing her tricks for conning money and other goods from unsuspecting marks.
Were your ancestors on the wrong side of the law? Find out by viewing the Fife, Scotland, Criminal Registers, 1910-1931.