Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) - Her Words and Summary

This is the final post in a series of five that summarizes the trial of my third great grandmother Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking in 1877 Glasgow, Scotland. This final post in the series is my transcription of the essential components of Roseannah's statements to the court. The original public court records are housed in the National Archives of Scotland from which I have obtained copies for a fee.

October 3, 1877 Statement

"My name is Roseann Dowds or Mitchell. I am a native of Ireland, 36 years of age, a hawker, and I reside at 77 Havannah Street, Glasgow.

I deny the charges preferred against me viz (1) of breaking into a house in Malvern Place on or about 24th August last, and stealing therefrom a cloth coat and various other articles of clothing; (2) of breaking into a house on or about 17th September last in Bernard Street Bridgeton and stealing therefrom a lustre dress, and various other articles of clothing; and (3) of breaking into a house in Naburn Street Gorbals, on or about 25th also and stealing therefrom a sateen petticoat and other articles of clothing.

A woman of the name of Joann Walker called upon me on Thursday last. She had a knitted shawl with her and a thing with bugles on it, and two pieces of silk.

She laid these articles on the top of my chest lid and afterwards they were put into my chest. I did not give Mrs. Prentice a suit of black clothes to pawn.

I can't say if I was in Bernard Street, Bridgeton, on 17th September, for I am hawking about from street to street.

I did not on 26th September pawn with Jack in Burrell's lane, Glasgow a Thibet petticoat, but a lad named Patrick Blession was sent with a petticoat and a tartan napkin by Joann Walker to pawn. I gave a boy, Robert Smith my own petticoat to pawn. He also got a bundle of clothes to pawn which I got fro Joann Walker.

All which I declare to be truth, and that I cannot write."

October 24, 1877 Statement

"The declaration emitted by me on 3rd current, which has now been read over to me and is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is all correct with this exception that I should have said that Joann Walker called on me on Wednesday last, and not on "Thursday last" as I stated in the Declaration. I wish to say, with reference to the first of the acts of Housebreaking preferred against me as and to which I emitted the Declaration read over, that I fell down the outside stair of my house, and was confined to the house for eight days. I was attended to by the Dispensary doctor at the Hannah whose name I don't know. I also want to add that a day or two after I got up Joann Walker gave me a black silk dress, a jacket, and another article I don't remember what it was, and asked me to sell them. I did so to a Mrs. Hanlon in the Bazaar and got £2.3/. Walker gave me the odd 3/ for my trouble. Three weeks after this again, I sold for Walker another dress, but I can't tell the material. I sold it to the same Mrs. Hanlon, and got 15/ for it which I gave to Walker with the exception of 1/ which she gave me for my trouble. The dress now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, and which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is the dress I sold for 15/.

I deny the charge of having on the 21st September last broken into a house in Victoria Street, Govan, and occupied by Patrick Malley, by means of a false key, and stealing therefrom a pair of trousers, a silk tunic, two merino dresses and a brown skirt. I also deny the alternative charge of resetting these articles or any of them between 20th and 30th September last, in my house in Havannah, or in Bazaar, or elsewhere.

It being now explained by the Sheriff Substitute that the merino dress which the Declarant stated she had sold for 15/ for Walker was one of the articles which she was accused of stealing from Malley's house by means of Housebreaking on the 21st September last, Declares I repeat my statement that the merino dress now shown to me, and docquetted and subscribed with reference to this Declaration is the merino dress I sold for Walker. The pair of trousers now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is a pair of trousers which I bought some time about the beginning of July last from a tailor's shop at the head of New Wynd. I bought them for a lodger of the name of Neil McKenzie. I paid 14/6 for them, which McKenzie paid me. He left me owing money, and telling me to get them cleaned, and as McKenzie didn't come back. I got Joann Walker to pawn them for me. The silk tunic now shown to me with a sealed Label which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto, was brought to my house by Joann Walker, and was found by the detectives when they came. I wish to add that I knew Joann Walker was a dealer in the clothes market, and so thought the articles that she had in her possession were honestly come by. I can't explain why, being a dealer, she asked me to sell certain of the articles. I can't write."

November 15, 1877 Statement

"I wish ... to say that I was not aware that any of the articles which were in my possession, or which I referred to as being in my possession on 3rd October last were stolen. All of which I declare to be truth, and I cannot write."


I am amazed that convictions were obtained for each of the charges brought against Roseannah. Upon being convicted for stealing the clothing, Roseannah was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

I recognize that mine may not be seen as the most objective of opinions due to my direct relationship with her but it seems clear that nothing directly tied Roseannah to actually stealing the clothing articles. In a worse case scenario, there could be a possibility that Roseannah could be seen as being in possession of property obtained by crime however she was never charged with that offence. And what of the mysterious Joanna Walker, a woman arrested at the same time and in connection to the thefts but then released as police felt she was a prostitute not a thief. At best it adds up to reasonable doubt.

Perhaps I am applying 21st century thinking to a 19th century circumstance and reading the statements of all the participants is not unlike reading a Dickens novel and while Fagin's manipulation of Oliver pre-dates Roseannah's run in with law, it seems that the same societal culture may have survived.

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