Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 3

My last post was probably overly long in summarizing the witness statements and evidence presented in 1877 at the trial of my third great grandmother, Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking and her trial was held in December 1877. This post will summarize the witness statements and evidence involved in the next charge against Roseannah.

Third Charge

Barbara Smith was a millworker residing in a ground floor flat at 47 Naburn St., Hutchesontown, Glasgow. Barbara testified that between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 1877, she went up two flights of stairs in her apartment building to the flat of her sister. There she remained until about 3:00 p.m. She stated that when she returned to her flat in the afternoon the door was locked just as she had left it but that once in her flat, she noticed some cloth sticking out of a chest drawer. On further inspection, she found that four petticoats, two jackets, a plaid, a napkin, a tunic and a silk cape were missing.

She reported the theft to the police and over the next few days, she attended the police station to identify three petticoats, the silk cape, the tunic and the napkin that police had recovered. Barbara further testified that she knew Roseannah well as Roseannah was a 'hawker' who had been in her building almost daily for the past year even though Barbara stated she had never dealt with Roseannah personally. She had a "strong impression" that she had opened her sister's flat door to Roseannah but because she saw Roseannah so frequently she wasn't really sure it was her.

Elizabeth Gray (nee Smith) was Barbara's sister. She corroborated that Barbara was in her flat between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on September 25, 1877. Barbara left her flat but returned shortly afterwards telling her of the theft. Elizabeth stated that she went with Barbara to the police station when the missing items were identified.

Mary Jack (nee Duncan) was a widow who lived at 33 Duke Street in Glasgow and worked as a pawnbroker at 8 Burrel's Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow. Mary testified that on September 26, 1877, Roseannah 'pledged' a petticoat and was given 5 pence and a pawn ticket. Mary also stated that on September 29th, police arrived and removed the petticoat from the shop. Mary later identified Roseannah as the individual who had 'pledged' the item.

Patrick Blession lived with his mother at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street i Glasgow. Patrick testified that he took a woolen napkin to McGuire's pawn shop on September 26, 1877 and that Roseannah had given him the article in her house at Havannah Street. He stated that he received £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket which he turned over to Roseannah.

Michael McElaney was a pawnbroker's assistant who resided at Stirling Road in Glasgow. Michael testified that on September 26, 1877, Patrick Blession 'pledged' a woolen napkin in McGuire's pawn shop and was given £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket. Michael further stated that on September 29th, a woman 'pledged' "a pair of trousers" under the name Jane Mitchell and was given 6 pence and a pawn ticket. He later saw Roseannah at the police station but could not identify her as the woman who had 'pledged' the trousers explaining that he had been very busy at the time of the exchange so he didn't remember much of the woman.

Robert Smith resided with his father, Thomas Smith, a shoemaker, at Havannah Street in Glasgow. Robert testified that he knew Roseannah "as she lives below us." Robert testified that Roseannah asked him to take a petticoat and tunic to a pawn shop for her. He went to Conway's pawn shop, accompanied by Roseannah who waited outside the shop for him. He received 8 pence and a pawn ticket that he gave to Roseannah. Robert stated that Roseannah paid him a half penny. According to Robert, she told him "to give my own name but I did not do so but gave in her name."

Finally, the court heard from Edward McKay, a pawnbroker's assistant at Conway's pawn shop at 2 Duke Street in Glasgow, resided at 183 George Street in Glasgow. Edward testified that on September 28, 1877, at about 9:00 a.m., a person using the name of John Mitchell of Duke Street 'pledged' a petticoat and a tunic and was given 8 pence and a pawn ticket. Edward stated that he later gave these goods to the police when requested. Edward also couldn't remember nor identify the person in the transaction.

The jury found Roseannah guilty of theft by housebreaking.

My Opinion

As was the case with charges one and two, there doesn't appear to have been much of a defence, if any, offered on behalf of Roseannah. It might be that Roseannah was possibly in possession of articles that had been reported as stolen in the worst case but even with this, the witnesses were unable to positively identify the persons involved in the transactions that might have then linked back to Roseannah. There can be numerous reasons as to why Roseannah didn't complete all of the pawn transactions herself. As a 'hawker' I suspect she regularly bought, or otherwise received as barter, articles from a range of sources, both honourable and quite possibly dishonourable. Successful 'hawking' involved like most entrepreneurial activities, buying low and selling high. Roseannah again appears to have been an easy, expendable target for the charges chiefly on the fact that she daily was in the vicinity of where the theft occurred, the infamous being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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