The Edinburgh Advertiser
March 21, 1820
High Court of Justiciary
Yesterday, Patrick Branan, Isaac Eccles, William Brown, and Mary Fisher, alias McQuire, were placed at the Bar, charged with falsehood, fraud, and willful imposition. The indictment contained four distinct charges of a similar nature, viz., that the said Patrick Branan, Isaac Eccles, William Brown, and Mary Fisher, alias McQuire, did upon the 17th day of January 1820, at Corstorphine, fraudulently use or utter twenty-four, or thereby, false and forged passes or certificates, by presenting the same to the said Alexander Simpson, as genuine, they knowing them to be false and forged, and fraudulently claiming allowances as due thereon for twenty-four women and children, who they falsely pretended were then travelling on the road to Glasgow; whereby they did cozen and impose upon the said Alexander Simpson, and did prevail on him to pay to them, or to one another of them, and did defraud him of four pounds, four shillings or thereby.
Mr. Menzies, at some length, objected to the relevancy of the indictment, as the first three charges, not being had with that precision requisite in such cases, no description of the documents said to have been false or forged, being given therein.
Mr. Hope replied, that it was not material whether they were forged or genuine, the charges being that of practicing the fraud and imposition, by means of having such papers in their possession.
The Court sustained the objection to the first three charges, in so far as they were not specifically set forth as regarded the forged papers, but found the other parts of the first three charges, and the fourth charge relevant.
The first witness called was Alexander Simpson, schoolmaster and kirk-treasurer of the Parish of Corstorphine, who stated that it came within his duty to pay the subsistence money to the wives and widows of soldiers on foreign service, at the rate of three halfpence per mile to each wife or widow, and one penny per mile for each child; the relief is given on the production of the proper passes or certificates signed by the Commanding Officer of the regiment to which the husbands were attached, and also by a Magistrate. The facts as to the payment of the money to the prisoners at three different periods were clearly proved by this witness; they pretended they were belonging to different regiments, viz., the Royals, the 38th, and 66th regiments; that they were recently returned from India on account of a fever among the troops, and that at Leith the Magistrates thought it would be more prudent, on account of the infectious fever among them, that the women and children should go to Falkirk by a steam-boat, which accounted for their not accompanying the prisoners; at another time the women were said to have gone forward in a cart. The woman McQuire represented herself as a soldierís wife. On the first application he paid £4 4s, on the second £5 2 9d, and on the third £7 19 9d. Previous to the fourth application, Mr. Simpson received notice from the proper quarter that the whole was a fraud and imposition and the parties were in consequence apprehended.
The passes were signed, William Pattison Justice of the Peace, for the county of Edinburgh, but were evidently intended for the signatures of Mr. William Patison, senior Magistrate of Leith.
From the length of the pleadings on various objections started by the prisonersí Counsel, Mr. Simpsonís evidence was protracted for about four hours.
Mr. Watson of Saughton, John Cowie, James Dickson, W. Stephenson, gardener, and David Scougall, butler to Mr. Watson corroborated the facts stated by Mr. Simpson.
Mr. W. Patison said he was senior Magistrate of Leith, and acts as a Justice of the Peace for that place; there is no other of his name in Leith in office; he spells his name PATISON, there is no Magistrate Ö of the name of Pattison, they are a bad imitation; he never did sign such papers. Mr. W. Patison, Baron Bailie of Canongate; is the witnessís uncle; the writing is also unlike his signature.
Alex. Thomson proved the apprehension of the prisoners about a mile and a half from Corstorphine on their way back to Edinburgh; they at first refused to return but at length consented.
The declarations of the prisoners were now read, which closed the case for the prosecution.
David and Robert Robertson, shoemakers, were called to prove that the prisoner Branan resided in the fatherís house for some months, and that he could not write.
Mr. Duncan, boot-maker, Princeís Street, said the prisoner Brown worked for him, and was very attentive; he always believed him to be of good character; he was a good and industrious workman: He worked at Greenock previous to being employed by him.
The Lord Advocate addressed the Jury at considerable length in support of the prosecution. His Lordship had not anticipated that the case would have occupied so large a portion of time; and paid a high compliment to the legal abilities and zeal displayed by the Counsel for the prisoners. His Lordship maintained that the charges were completely made out, and that he was justified from the evidence, in looking for a verdict of Guilty against one and all of the prisoners at the bar.
Mr. Menzies addressed the Jury for Branan, Eccles, and the woman McQuire at considerable length and with great ability.
Mr. McNeill then rose to address the Jury for the prisoner Brown. The learned Gentleman contended that nothing attached to Brown, beyond what he had confessed to in his declaration. Mr. McNeillís argument relative to the forgery of the name of Patison concluded by insisting that neither the name nor designation was correct and therefore was not intended to pass for the signature of Wm. Patison, senior Magistrate of Leith, or Wm. Pattison, a Justice of the Peace for the county of Edinburgh, a person who was not supposed to exist.
The Lord Justice Clerk, before entering on the recapitulation of the evidence as for the fact of the case...took a minute examination of the objection of the prisonerís Counsel as to the forgery of those documents, upon which there was the evidence of Mr. Patison himself, who never had signed any papers of the kind shown him, neither were the signatures like his hand-writing. His Lordship, in concluding, stated that the charges were not made out, they would give the prisoners the benefit of that doubt. The case was one of great importance, and if they returned a verdict of guilty, the prisoners would be visited with such a punishment as would tend to repress the crime in future.
The Jury, after retiring for about half an hour, returned with the following verdict: Mary Fisher alias McQuire, Guilty of the 1st charge as restricted; Branan and Eccles, Guilty of the 2nd and 3rd charges as restricted; Brown and Fisher, Guilty of the 4th charge; and not proven against the prisoners Branan and Eccles on this charge. On account of the good character Brown had received, the Jury unanimously recommended him to the mercy of the Court.
Lord Succoth said that the Jury had very properly made distinctions in the guilt of the prisoners, and commented in strong terms on the dangerous tendency of the crimes in which they had been found guilty. With respect to Branan and Eccles, his Lordship did not think their crimes required they ought to be removed from this country, and should therefore propose they be confined in the Bridewell of this city for one year, and kept to hard labour. With respect to Mary Fisher, he proposed that she should be transported for seven years. In the case of Brown, his Lordship thought he should not do his duty if he proposed that a less punishment that transportation should be inflicted; but in consideration of the recommendation of the Jury, he thought the term might be shortened from that inflicted on Fisher. His Lordship therefore proposed that he should be transported beyond seas for a period of five years.
Lord Meadowbank fully concurred in the proposed punishments and went at some length into the enormity of the crimes of which the prisoners had been convicted.
The Lord Justice Clerk, in addressing the prisoners, gave it as his opinion, that consistent with their duty, the Court could not award less punishment than those proposed. A scheme of fraud and imposition had been disclosed, which had been perpetrated by means of false and forged instruments; who were the authors of these instruments was unknown to the Court, but they were known to the Almighty Disposer of events. It was their duty to teach the public, and particularly persons like those at the bar, that such crimes would not be suffered to pass with impunity. His Lordship, then pronounced the sentence of the Court, which was, Mary Fisher or McQuire to be transported for seven years, and William Brown for five years; Patrick Branan and Isaac Eccles to be imprisoned in the Bridewell of this city for one year and to be kept for hard labour. His Lordship earnestly exhorted them to reform their lives, for should they again be convicted at that bar, the punishment would be of a more serious nature.
Counsel for the Crown, The Lord Advocate and J. Hope, Esq. Agent, Hugh Warrender, Esq. W.S. Counsel for the prisoners, Duncan McNeill and William Menteith, Esq. Agents, Messrs. Campbell and Mack, W.S.
Owing to several objections taken by the Counsel for the prisoners, the proceedings did not terminate till half-past nine oíclock.