Criminal East Lothian
East Lothian archives allow you to explore the darker history of the county. Stories of petty criminals nestle alongside those of jailbreaks, fraudulent bankers and murder.
One of these stories is the case of Robert Emond of North Berwick, who was convicted of the vicious murder of his sister in law, Catherine Franks, and her daughter Magdalene. Emond was executed in Edinburgh on 17th March 1830 and his body was delivered to the Professor of Anatomy at Edinburgh University for dissection.
Or there’s the story of Half Hangit Maggie Dickson from Musselburgh, who came back to life after being hanged in Edinburgh’s Grass market for murdering her child. There is a pub of her name near where she was hanged.
One of the most popular volumes is the Haddington Criminal Register (1894–1901). This volume details petty crimes in the town and has inspired illustrator Lucy Roscoe to draw a series of cartoons, which can be seen here, using the characters from the volume.
Report of Emond’s execution, 1830
The Maggie Dickson’s Pub and an illustration showing the moment Maggie came back to life
Lucy Roscoe illustration –‘Drunk and Incapable’, 2013
Jailbreaks & Fraudsters
In this case you can see some of the documents relating to more of the criminals lurking in our archives.
William Borthwick was the chief cashier of the East Lothian Bank. Founded in 1810 the bank went bust in 1822 when Borthwick took the money and ran off to America plunging the county into economic depression. It is unclear if he ever faced trial for his crime. The Baillie court book from Musselburgh dates back to 1620 and includes the tale of James Watherstone, a young man who was charged with theft and was imprisoned in the Tollbooth. Driven by desperation, he managed to escape by climbing over the battlements – risking his life in the process. He was captured and fined for this foolhardy act.
Image of Musselburgh Town House, c. 1890s
In 1732 Elizabeth Golight and Agnes Blaik stood accused of ‘unclean and lewd’ behaviour because they had been entertaining dragoons.
Both women admitted their crime. Elizabeth Golight particularly was named as ‘a vicious strumpet’ by the court. Both women were to stand at the market cross with a paper announcing their crime attached to their clothes and thereafter they were to be drummed out of the burgh, allowed never to return. However both women did return to the Haddington. Agnes Blaik was whipped through the town on her return whilst Elizabeth Golight was sentenced to two year’s hard labour at the house of correction in Edinburgh, alongside her mother who had harboured her.
Black Book for recording criminals, 1725
Haddington, Market Cross