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History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick
Criminal and Ecclesiastical

Some curious criminal and ecclesiastical cases have occurred in the history of the parish. Two cases of theft, about 1698, show the fearful retribution then inflicted for petty pilfering. One, William Spence, was “apprehendit with the fang, incarcerate at Stonehyve and afterwards confessed that he did steal a hen and three chickens from the Laird of Ardoch’s henhouse. Banished the shire, and his goods escheat. Janet Forbes and James Ross convict of stealing two pecks of malt out of a kiln in Banchory-Devenick, ordered to be scourged through the town and banished the shire for ever.”

A debt case occurs as early as 1562, when “ Loke Traill, duelland in Petfoddellis grantit and confessit him awand to Alex. Robertson, and Johnne Robertson, his Brother, the soume of aucht pound 13s. 4d. vsuall money of Scotland, quhilk he obleist him to pay to the saidis personis . . . for the quhilk the said Alexander for himself and all vtheris, his kyn, and freyndis remittis and forgiffis the said Loke and all vtheris, his kyn, freyndis, assisteris, complicis, faueraris, and part takaris of the bluid drawing of him, and art and parte thairof; and als of the slauchter of vmquhill Besse Chalmer, his spouse, allegit, committit be the said Loke of suddentie , . .”

A case of slander appears in 1598 which the Presbytery dealt with. A woman, Barbara Baddie, had an action “aganis hir nichtboris, vyfielling maney, efter tryell baith afoir thair particular sessione of Banchorie-Devenick, and sic lyk heir.” The Presbytery “findis that the said Elinge haid committit offence aganis the said Barbara Baddie, yit be the consent of the said pairtie offendit var reconsilit afoir the presbitrie, be the said Ellinge teallinge hir pardone upone hir kneis, and baith var admonesit to keip guid concord in tym cuminge, under penalty of ten lib, and to mak thair publick repentance upone the stuill, within thair awin paroche kirk, that utheris may tak exempill theirby.” On the same occasion “Mathow Hill, being convict afoir his awin sessione for the sclanderinge of his nichtbor, Thomas Philpe, in Pitfoddell, calling him commond theiff and cuttar of fenss and siclyk, be his awin confessione, vas ordenit heirfoir to pey tua merkis, and to aske the pairtie quhome he hes offendit forgeve-ness ; and in caice he dissobey this, the ordinance of the presbiterie to the persone of Banchorrie to proceid aganis him, aie and quhill he satisffie this act in all pointtis.”

An extraordinary case of assault occurred at the kirk of Banchorie for which Alexander Cruickshank, in Little Banchorie, Robert and James Cruickshank, his children, “were summondit before the Sheriff at Stonehyve to underly the law for beating, blooding, and dragging Jean Darg in Little Banchorrie through the gutter, and threatening to put her in the joggis. And at last, taking her prisoner, carrying her to the kirk of Banchorie and there tying her and locking her within the same, affrighting her out of her wits. Cruickshank convict and mulct in 50 scots of penalty, and 4 of damage to the party injured, as also to pay ilk ane of the witnesses.”

It is a remarkable coincidence that in the five cases of murder and murderous assault that occurred in the annals of the district, the perpetrators in each case got off unpunished. It will be remembered that in 1580 Forbes of Portlethen cruelly murdered Alexander Menzies at the Cairn of Loirston ; that in 1642 Menzies of Pitfodels attacked Forbes of Leslie, and that two years later Forbes, the young laird of Banchory, killed Irvine of Kingcausie. The lairds of the lands escaped, and their subjects were no less fortunate. In 1788 Robert Walker, residing at Findon, was tried at the spring Circuit Court on a charge of murder. Proof having been led, the jury returned a verdict of “not guilty,” when the accused was dismissed from the bar. The other case has become famous in the annals of local crime. In it, Francis Forbes—it is noticeable that some one of the name Forbes appears in four of the important cases cited—was tried at the High Court of Justiciary held in Edinburgh in November, 1854, charged with the murder of Ann Harvey at Cults, on the morning of Sunday, 7th May of that year. Harvey, who was a young woman engaged at the paper mills at Peterculter, had gone to Aberdeen on the evening of Saturday, 6th May, with a view to purchasing a supply of provisions. After making several calls in the city, she left intending to proceed to Peterculter. It was alleged that Forbes, who was considered as a sweetheart of Harvey, accompanied her on the journey, but the movements of the pair were not clearly traced. Next morning, however, two young men, on their way to Aberdeen, and whilst passing a spot on the public road a little to the east of Cults House avenue, saw a quantity of blood and a shawl lying close to the left wall. The lads were surprised at the sight, and on looking over the wall beheld the corpse of Harvey in a ghastly condition. On the deceased were found two shillings and several letters, one of them being a love epistle, with some verses, bearing the address of “Francis Forbes, East Middleton, Banchory-Devenick.” Suspicion at once fell upon this man, and, as blood was found on his clothes when examined, the authorities had him arrested and lodged in gaol on the capital charge. A large amount of evidence was adduced at the trial, which strongly pointed to the accused as guilty, but it failed to satisfy the jury, who brought in a verdict of “ not proven.” The prisoner was thereupon discharged.

A single case of witchcraft trial appears in 1607, when the Presbytery visited Banchorie and tried Isabell Smith for this offence:—“Accused grantit that James Bryanis wyff, haiffing hir dochter seik, callit Janet Mellit, causit the said Elspet tak a threid and a slew of the said Jonettis and put a threid about hir, to sie giff the seik ness was the feweris or not.” Several witnesses were examined on oath, one of whom deponit that Elspet “causit hir tak a wolne thred and a slewof, and put the threid about hir bodie and the slewoff, and then commandit hir to gang anes about, in the name of the Father, the Sone, and the Halie Gaist.” The case was continued indefinitely.

The remaining cases are all ecclesiastical.

In May, 1605, the kirk-session of Aberdeen appointed an officer to “nott the persones that passis ovr the watter to Dunie, and absentis thameselffis fra the sermone at efternone, and ordainis him to giwe vp thair names, that they may be puneist for thair brak and prophanatioun of the Lordis Saboth.” In 1696 a number of persons were tried before the kirk-session of Aberdeen, and censured for celebrating May-day morning. One of them “acknowledged his offence on the first morning of May, but denyed it to be any offence to be a precentor to Mr. James Gordon,” minister of Banchory-Devenick. On the 1 ith October, 1678, “the Bishop and Synod, considering that Mr. James Gordon at Banchorie, and Mr. Alexander Leask, had uttered some unbesseeming and passionat expressions yesternight, the one against the other, in face of the synod, therefor, both the said bretheren wer rebuiked publickly for the same.”

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