A Private Matter? Robert Burns, Agnes Maclehose & the Court of Session, by Professor Hector MacQueen

 

We head back to the law courts this week for a nineteenth century court case with some surprisingly modern themes about privacy and the public interest.

On Valentine’s Day this year, Professor Hector MacQueen of the University of Edinburgh joined us at General Register House to share his observations about a court case arising from the affair between a couple who had written romantic letters to each other using the pen names “Sylvander and Clarinda”.  The pair are better known as Scotland’s most famous poet Robert Burns and Agnes Maclehose, to whom Burns later dedicated his famous song, Ae Fond Kiss.

In 1804, their relationship was the subject of a legal action aimed at preventing publication of their private correspondence, which had been written while their mutual passion was at its height.

Burns was long dead by the time the court case began and although Agnes was very much alive, she wasn’t party to the litigation. However, one of the judges deciding on the matter just happened to be Agnes’s uncle, lending an edge to proceedings…

Hector investigates what our legal records can tell us not only about the conduct and outcome of this case but about public attitudes in Scotland during the early 1800s, and ultimately about Robert Burns and Agnes Maclehose themselves.

You can find images of selected items from Hector’s talk below, and our previous podcasts – including one on Robert Burns’ professional and artistic life as an exciseman – are available to download here.

 

Ae Fond Kiss
‘Ae fond kiss’, the parting song which Robert Burns sent to Mrs Maclehose after their final meeting in December 1791. This manuscript is part of the Watson Autograph Collection at the National Library of Scotland. Photograph courtesy of the National Library of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland.
Clarinda grave
The final resting place of “Clarinda” and Lord Craig – overlooked by the Burns Monument on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Image courtesy of Professor Hector MacQueen.

From Disorder to Order: Cataloguing the 19th Century Criminal Case Papers of the High Court of Justiciary, with Simon Johnson

 

Have you ever wondered what an archivist does?

In this week’s podcast, NRS archivist Simon Johnson opens up the case papers of Scotland’s supreme criminal court in the early 19th Century.

Case papers from the High Court of Justiciary provide endless research potential, both as a record of individual cases and as a tremendous source of Scottish social history.

Cataloguing these case papers can be a laborious and dirty job but it’s always fascinating and in this talk, recorded on St Andrews Day, Simon looks into the process of arranging and cataloguing a collection from the latter Georgian era of 1800-1830.

He’s also picked out some of the more startling criminal cases that he and his colleagues found – cases involving murder, grave robbing and an insight into the very earliest days of forensic analysis in Scotland.

Throughout his talk, Simon refers to photographs and individual case papers, and you can find a selection of these images below.

The NRS Catalogue is available online, including the High Court records. Click here to start searching…

Part of the most recent transmission of records from the High Court of Justiciary
Parliament House and the Laigh Hall
“A chaotic state, unarranged and… mostly indecipherable”… Scottish Records Office Correspondence with the High Court, 1928
Types of libels in criminal cases: Indictment, Criminal Letters and Porteous Roll
19th Century records before cataloguing – a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it…
The NRS Catalogue, available to search online at nrscotland.gov.uk
The John Fordyce case, 1804: Surgeon’s letter stating Jean MacKenzie was killed by shot fired by Fordyce; samples of lead shot, including one piece that was removed from Jean’s heart post-mortem
Case papers from the trial of Hugh Maxwell for murder, 1807

Case papers from the body-snatching case against James Hogg et al, 1807

Trailblazers: The world’s first football club, with John Hutchinson & Andy Mitchell

Long before there was an Edinburgh derby; before the offside rule and the Wembley Wizards or pies and Bovril there was the Football Club, founded in Edinburgh by John Hope in 1824.

It was the world’s first dedicated football organisation, active until 1841, and John Hope’s meticulous records have been preserved among his personal papers here at National Records of Scotland.

In this episode of the NRS podcast, we hear from sport historians John Hutchison and Andy Mitchell, who joined us at General Register House to tell us all about the club; about its extensive membership and how they interlinked through sport and work; where they lived and where they were educated.

They also introduced some startling links between the members of the Football Club and the next generation – the ones who gave us football in the form we know and love today.

You can find some of John Hope’s records from the NRS archives below, including membership lists and receipts.

The NRS podcast Open Book is also available to download from iTunes and other podcasting platforms, and you can find previous episodes here, including a look at the radicalism of Robert Burns; Criminal cases from the archives and a trip to the lonely isles of St Kilda.

John Hope 654
Receipt for payment by John Hope for the use of Dalry Park to play football and practise archery, 1826.
John Hope 653 place after 654
List of subscribers to John Hope’s Foot-Ball Club for season 1831-1832.
John Hope 655
Receipt for payment by John Hope for blowing up footballs, July 1832. A more laborious and much less pleasant process than it is today!

St Kilda: The Edge of the World, with Dr Alison Rosie

 

This is the third episode of Open Book, a Podcast by National Records of Scotland dedicated to preserving Scotland’s past, recording its present and informing our future.

This week, we’re off to the lonely isle of St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides, forty miles west of Benbecula.

This craggy isle once supported a small but hardy population, who survived long periods of isolation on a diet comprised of mostly puffins and fulmars. They endured the hard climate and outbreaks of disease, as well as the occasional troublesome tourist and kidnapped aristocrat, until St Kilda was finally evacuated for good in 1930.

Dr Alison Rosie is head of the National Register of Archives of Scotland, which surveys records held in private hands and provides advice and support to custodians. In this talk, recorded at General Register House in Edinburgh’s New Town, Alison looks into the NRS archives to see what we can discover about St Kilda, its people and their history.

She also talks about her recent discovery of the earliest known census of the island’s population from the year 1764, which she found unexpectedly in a private collection.

You can find some of the images that Alison refers to in her talk below, including the 1764 census and many other documents and photographs from the island.  More detailed versions of some of these images are available at the NRS website.

Alison begins her talk with a reference to the album The Lost Songs of St Kilda and you can find a sample of recordings of old St Kildan music at YouTube.

The Open Book Podcast is also available to download via iTunes and several other podcasting applications.

 

 

 

 

Podcast: Inspiration from the Archives, with ES Thomson

Crime and Punishment: How Archives Can Inspire Fiction, with Dr Elaine Thomson.

Rogues podcast outline

In this week’s Open Book Podcast ES Thomson, author of “The Peachgrowers’ Almanac”, “Beloved Poison”, “Dark Asylum” and others, tells us how archives have inspired her and how the stories of real people from the past can help to develop and inform creative writing.

Elaine looks at some of the strange and remarkable case papers from 19th century Scottish courts she’s found in the NRS archives that inspired elements of her own fiction, including a man transported to Australia for the pettiest of thefts; a bodysnatching medical student with parental issues and a particularly tragic case involving the murder of a newborn infant.

Elaine’s talk is a great introduction to records held by National Records of Scotland and an insight into forgotten stories of a bygone era, whether you’re a budding writer yourself or just have an interest in crime, records or Victoriana.

Find out how to access historical papers from the criminal courts, along with a huge range of other records, at the NRS website.

Open Book, the National Records of Scotland Podcast, is now available to download via iTunes.

Recorded on 20 November 2017 at General Register House, Edinburgh.

Open Book Podcast – Episode One

 

This is the first episode of the Open Book Podcast, a new series of talks and discussions from National Records of Scotland dedicated to preserving Scotland’s past, recording the present and informing our future.

We kick off with a talk given by Gerard Carruthers, Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, on Scotland’s most famous poet and lyricist – Robert Burns.

Centered on recently identified documents at the National Records of Scotland, Gerard’s talk discusses Burns’ place in the Excise Service during revolutionary times.

Was the poet a willing government employee or was he a reluctant, neutered individual, deliberately de-barbed by the powers that be? What were the cultural and intellectual contexts afforded to Burns as a civil servant? What kind of relationships did he have with Excise colleagues and how did his career intersect with his creative and family lives?

Following the French Revolution and the Excise Service enquiry into the poet’s political beliefs, Gerard discusses the nature of Burns’ views and how these were expressed during the turbulent 1790s.

Our exhibition Robert Burns: Radical Exciseman is free to visit on weekdays at General Register House, Edinburgh, between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm until 23 February 2018.

You can find extracts from the letters on display, to which Gerard refers, below.

Burns Letter 1 compressed

“He stood, with Eyes & hands, directed upwards, in an attitude Poetically fancifull”…

Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 6 August 1789 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/35A)

 

Burns Letter 4 compressed
“He had certainly many shining qualities, blended with foibles of various kinds, the most irreconcileable whereof were his political principles, which somehow unluckily was rooted, & proves now a drawback to the humane feelings of many, but such a Genious as he possessed behoved to have eccentricities of some kind or other”.
Letter from John Mitchell, Collector of Excise, to Robert Graham of Fintry, Commissioner of Excise, 2 September 1796 (National Records of Scotland, GD151/11/26/47A)

Recording and images Crown Copyright 2018.