How convenient was it to have access to an almost endless supply of labour, free labour – slaves by any other name? How just was it to put a man to trial, when that man had no right to speak in defence of himself in court? Just how many of the countless ‘convicts’ sent to the ‘new world’ by the British legal system were actually guilty of the crimes they were accused of?
Short extract from Elshender: A Tale of a Poor Man
To aid understanding of the following events, events that led up to James being transported for life, I will now refer to James’ friend Robert (eleven crosses) as Rab, a well-known shortened version commonly used between friends (he will continue to be Robert eleven crosses in newspaper articles though). Robert six crosses, the alleged victim and case for the prosecution against James, will continue to be referred to as Robert. I do this because I tread on factual grounds in my fictional story of James’ life. An amateur detective (mentioned just before), now deceased, uncovered the ‘facts’ I am about to share with you sometime at the end of the twentieth century (sometime between 1984-8-ish but my memory of this is somewhat hazy so I may be out by a couple of years but no more than that). During his investigation of the facts surrounding James’ arrest, trial, and sentencing, this amateur detective took it upon himself to talk to people still living in the area where James’ crimes are alleged to have taken place (the crimes I refer to as alleged are the ones involving Robert (six crosses) but there are others that are not alleged, if you get my meaning). Some confusion still exists today where James is believed, by some, to have committed murder and robbery in the summer of 1840. James did not commit murder. He was a rogue. He survived as he saw fit in a hard country. He was affectionately known, by some, in the area as a ‘modern day Rob Roy.’ Here now is a re-telling of the events as they were told by Robert (six crosses), leading to James’ and Rab’s arrests, along with the findings of the amateur detective investigating James’ ‘crimes.’
Robert stated that he was a pig-dealer, or dealer in swine, and that he travelled all over Scotland selling young pigs. He claimed to have been assaulted and robbed after leaving Forth on the evening of 30th June 1840. On 29th June he had left Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire with four shillings in his pocket and a cart loaded with thirty-eight young pigs for sale. He travelled through Beattock, Crawford, Abington, Douglas Mill, Ponfeigh and Kirkfieldbank, selling said pigs along the way. The final leg of his journey this day saw him pass through Lanark on the morning of 30th June, and on to Carstairs, where he had made provisions to spend the night at Walter Alexander’s Inn, before arriving in Forth at 7pm where he called on Orrick (sometimes also referred to as Orrock), a baker with whom he was acquainted, and the two went for drinks at the Inn at Forth. In the four hours that he admitted staying in this establishment, Robert spent over two shillings on alcoholic drinks, a considerable amount as beer was around 2d a pint (although this information is based on London prices, as the amateur detective could not find evidence of ale prices in the area for this period, and so one can assume that the drinks at Forth would have been much cheaper – much like today). If we assume that Orrick drank roughly half the amount bought by Robert, we may also assume that Orrick bought his fair share and that the amount consumed by both men was indeed considerable but even if Orrick did not buy any drinks that night, each man would have been suitably drunk, regardless. Robert’s intention from here was to travel to the Carnwath Fair that was due to be held on Thursday 2nd July. What he actually said he did at around 11pm on the evening of 30th June was to leave the Inn at Forth, with his horse and cart, and make for Carnwath, heading south at the West Forth Toll Bar before turning left onto a track road that would lead him to the Carnwath road. Robert later made a statement that he was assaulted and robbed of £16 by two men whilst attempting to make this journey.
The amateur detective has walked the route that Robert stated he used that night and has uncovered some glaring inconsistencies in the evidence that eventually led to James’ conviction. Said amateur detective did this in a period of the late twentieth century prior to the advent of such devices as 3G (4G, 5G, 6G – and so on) mobile phones, laptops, tablets and GPS. This means, for those of you young enough not to have experienced life prior to such wondrous stuff, that he actually had to go to lots of different places to find out lots of different things in order to allege that there was a miscarriage of justice in this instance. Some of the places he visited and things he found there: Lanark and District Library, The Tasmanian State Archives in Hobart, the Scottish Records Office in Edinburgh, the Public Records Office at Kew, libraries in Edinburgh, Lockerbie, Dumfries and Airdrie, the Hobart Mercury newspaper offices, H. M. Stationery Office, the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, graveyards, church registers, and testimonials from all sorts of professionals and lay-people – ‘interfacing’ if you like.