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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Gaol Records - Beyond the Internet

Cassmob at Family History Across the Seas, has introduced a series "Beyond the Internet" to highlight some of the sources for family stories beyond our computer screens. The latest theme focuses on Gaol Records .

So far I have not uncovered any prisoners or criminals  in my own family history, but there is no doubt that to have such an ancestor offers a fascinating research task and a source of good blogging stories.

thought I would highlight some of the records on crime and punishment available in my own area at the Heritage Hub, Hawick,
home of the Scottish Borders Archive, Local and Family History Service.  

The Hub holds  an  extensive  collection of Police Records for the three Border counties of Berwickshire, Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire.   Following a quick search  at the Hub online catalogue ( http://www.calmview.eu/HUBCAT/CalmView/default.aspx, a sample of such  holdings is listed below:

  • Complaint. Procurator Fiscal upon William Watt and others for refusing to assist Burgh Officers in seizing a vagrant and carrying him to jail. The vagrant made his escape. 1738.
  • Bill from James Brown, Yetholm to William Smith, Kelso for searching for and apprehending Andrew Young convicted of poaching and sentenced to Jedburgh Castle Jail. 1836.
  • Bill from David Armstrong, Constable to William Smith, Procurator Fiscal, Kelso for apprehending rioters, citing witnesses, taking prisoners to prison at Jedburgh etc 1836.
  • Bill submitted by James Lindsay to William Thompson for providing prisoners dinners and coals 1836.
  • Receipt signed by Thomas Aitcheson for payment for meals and fires while Barney Hamilton was confined, 1836.
  • Petitions of Indigent Prisoners held in the Castle at Jedburgh. 1862-1877.
  • Register of persons detained in custody at Hawick Police Station. 1871-1904.
  • Register of Criminal Prisoners, Berwickshire, 1881-96.
  • Register of Juvenile Male Offenders Sentenced to Punishment by Whipping in the Duns Police Station. 1885-1896.
  • Prisoners' Property Book Forkins Police Station, 1886-1923
  • Police charge book for county of Berwickshire, 1897-1903
  • The Police Gazette (includes list of deserters and absentees from His Majesty's Service). 1902.
  • Register of visits to criminal prisoenrs. (no date)
  • Abstract of the rules and regulations for convicted criminal prisoners (no date)

    Note - there will be data protection restrictions on accessing more recent records.

Accounts in local newspapers enable us to experience events as they are reported in the press at the time. They are often full of vigour in describing life of ordinary people and the three short items below are typical of what you might find.

Kelso Chronicle: 31 July 1847. Robert McIntosh was sentenced to seven years banishment for horse stealing at the Circuit Court at Jedburgh.

Kelso Chronicle: 9 March 1849. At Northumberland Spring Assizes - James Renwick (24) and Thomas Howey(30) were charged........with having maimed, bruised and wounded George Thompson with intent to do him grievous bodily harm. The prisoners were also charged with night poaching. After the examination of witnesses and the summing up of his Lordship, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. To be transported for ten years.

Kelso Chronicle: 22 Jaznuary 1847. At Dunse,  John Dodds, labourer was on Tuesday last convicted before the Sheriff, at the instance of the Inspector of Poor, of deserting or failing to mainain his illegitimate child and sentenced to sixty days imprisonment at Greenlaw Jail.

Indexes to Scottish Borders Prison Registers have been produced by Maxwell Ancestry (http://www.maxwellancestry.com/ancestry/publishing/prisons.htm. The registers, held at the National Archives of Scotland, are packed with
information about the  individuals who were in prison, including their height, colour of hair and eyes, physical state, their offence and sentence, and much more. The indexes are available for each prison, and if you locate someone of interest, you can send away for a transcription of the full entry.

So if you are looking for an elusive "black sheep" in your family, it is always worth contacting your local archive centre. You never know what you might find!

The Heritage Hub, Hawick, Scottish Borders


  1. Very useful bit of information --- I will keep this on file. Thanks

  2. Thank you, Joan - pleased you found it of help.

  3. Susan, thanks for joining in on this topic. You've clearly shown what great resources might be available in the local archive, and our ancestors don't have to have been master criminals to be included.


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