The Backrow Shooting Case 1872

Backrow farmhouse Sim home 2

Backrow farmhouse, Bothkennar, taken during a visit to Scotland. © Pauleen Cass 2003

Quite some time ago, I found a family story among the British Newspaper Archives on Find My Past. It’s taken me ages to get to it, but I finally transcribed the whole story[i]. It involved the prosecution of my great grandmother’s brother, William Sim aka Sym, for feloniously shooting Hugh Cowan on 12th July 1872. It seems to me that the prosecution did their best to get a conviction. However, the charge was rather more elaborate than that, including inter alia:

 

 

SIM William Glasgow Herald 16 July 1872 p4

Glasgow Herald, 16 July 1872, page 4.

“…. yet true it is and of verity, that you the said William Sim are guilty of the crime first above libelled, aggravated as aforesaid , or the crime second above libelled, actor, or art and part: in so far as on the 12th or 13th day of July 1872, or on one or other of the days of that month, or of June preceding, at or the near the farm house of premises at or near Back-row aforesaid, then and now or lately occupied by the said James Sim, you the said William Sim, did wickedly and feloniously, attack and assault Hugh Cowan, miner, then and nor or lately residing at or near Kinnaird, in the parish of Larbert, and shire aforesaid, and presented at the person of the said Hugh Cowan a gun or other kind of firearm, loaded with powder and shot, or other hard substance to the prosecutor unknown and did wickedly and feloniously shoot at the said Hugh Cowan the contents of one of the barrels of said gun or other fire-arm, whereby the said Hugh Cowan was struck and wounded on or near the right shoulder, or other part of his person to the effusion of his blood and serious injury of his person…”

 

William Sym aka Sim, the 19 year old son of James Sim of Backrow farmhouse in the Parish of Bothkennar was thus charged. The early news reports had stated it more succinctly as we can see in the image from the Glasgow Herald of 16 July 1872.

A Letter to the Editor from a Mr Meikle to the Falkirk Herald, published on 27 July 1872, makes it clear that it wasn’t quite as clear-cut as the earlier news reports suggests.

SIM William Falkirk Herald 27 July 1872 p3

Falkirk Herald, 27 July 1872, page 3

In this context it’s helpful to have a sense of the local geography:

BACKROW Bothkennary Ord SurveyXXIV12.JPG

This is an extract of the Ordnance Survey Map of Stirlingshire XXIV.12 (Bothkennar) Completed in 1859, it was published in 1862, so very relevant to the case in point. Backrow farm steading is in the lower left, Skinflats on the lower right, and the Bothkennar kirk is in the top right. National Library of Scotland.

As we can see from a current Google Maps satellite view, the geographic layout remains very similar. Having read the reports, I believe the miners were on the direct path between Skinflats and the rear of the Backrow property, rather than on a normal road.

Backrow and Skinflats

The case came before the Stirling Autumn Circuit Court on 13 September 1872 when those involved were brought before the court. One of the advantages of court reporting in newspapers is that it should be accurate, or risk all sorts of legal penalties. Each of the people involved in the event was interviewed by the prosecution and the defense:

John Jenkins, a miner from Kinnaird, also part of a band which had played at a miners’ meeting in Skinflatts (sic).

Hugh Cowan, who had been shot in the shoulder.

James Penman, another of those who’d attended the miners’ meeting.

Robert Jenkins, a pit-bottomer, also from the meeting.

James Sim, farmer of Backrow, Bothkennar, my 2xgreat grandfather.

Ann Sim nee Wood, wife of James Sim, farmer (my 2x great grandmother).

James Sim, son of James and Ann, also of Backrow.

Dr Haig from Airth, who treated Cowan, described the Sim family “I known the Sims, and have done so for ten years. I never heard anything against the panel or his family. They are very respectable people altogether. The prisoner, so far as I know, is a quiet, inoffensive lad.”

Mrs Duncan, a local resident who provided water to Jenkins for the injured man.

Constable Campbell of Carronshore, who’d been called out by Annie Sim.

The Rev. Mr Stevenson, minister of Bothkennar, “bore testimony to the excellent character borne by the prisoner. He was a quiet inoffensive lad.”

William Sim’s testimony after his arrest was tabled:

I am 19 years of age. Am son of, and reside with James Sim, farmer, and Back-row in the parish of Bothkennar, and county of Stirling. Last night, about 11 o’clock, I was in bed and asleep at home, when I was awakened by hearing my mother crying out to some men who were making a noise outside our house to let our dog alone. I had previously heard stones rattling against the dog-house. I arose and went down stairs, and followed my father out of the house. On going out I saw nearly a dozen men around the door of the house, and some of them having large sticks or stack props in their hands. I found them still throwing stones at the dog, and threatening to drive the life out of it with their sticks. My father told them to let the dog alone, and they then turned upon him, and he received one blow upon the face from a stick. Three of the men then seized hold of my father and threw him down among some corn, after dragging him across the road. I then went forward to assist my father but before I reached him two men attacked me on each side, each pair of men having a stack prop in their hands, and I was struck upon the elbow by one of these, and prevented from assisting my father. My sister, Ann Sim, then came out, and she was threated in the same way, but she succeeded in getting my father away, and we all three escaped inside the house door. Upon this all the men turned upon eth dog worse than ever. My father then opened the door again, and I called out that I would bring a gun to them if they did not leave the dog alone. They swore and said they would knock both me and the gun to hell. The gun was then brought to me by someone from within. I know that the right barrel was loaded with powder and small shot – I think number two – but there were no caps on. I first held up the gun in order to frighten the men. I then put some loose powder into the left barrl, and put on a cap, and tried to snap it in the air. I then put a cap on the right barrel, and tried to snap it in the air, but it also hung fire. Upon this I was turning into the house when the gun went off as was fetching it down from my shoulder. I declare that I did not aim at anybody, or intend of hit anyone. As soon as the gun was discharged some of the men came still nearer the house, threatening us with sticks, and calling out that the house would be no longer ours. They remained at the door threatening us, and in about ten minutes, while they were still there, a man came up to the door and asked if we knew what we had done. I said we had not done much, and he replied you have shot a man. I replied that it was not intended then, for I fired in the air, and the gun hung fire. Some of them then cried out to draw us out and take our life. Upon this we shut the door, and they again yoked on the dog with their sticks. Shortly afterwards some of the party came back accompanied by a Police Constable and asked for a cart to take away the wounded man. We got him a cart and I accompanied it to the place where they man was lying at a quarter of a mile or less from our house.

My great grandmother, Annie Sim later McCorkindale, gave her experience of the events:

Ann Sim deponed – My mother cried to the men to go away. There was a great noise. There be about a score of men. I was standing at the garden when father was dragged past me. William went out behind my father to help him but I saw nothing done to my brother -only, I believe, some of them kept him back. I went to help my father. They were kicking him in the field. I dragged off two and one fellow had hold of him by the finger with his teeth. There would be five of them in the cornfield and there were others about the premises. My brother brought the dog on the chain and we got my father in. The men then came rushing to the door. I had not gone for the constable then. They threatened to break open the door, and were asking matches from each other to set fire to the town (Note: I assume this to mean the farm-steading including out buldings). I went for the constable after the gun was fired off. I told him they were killing my father. I did not know any of the men. The constable came and I afterwards heard a person had been shot. During the struggle one of the men caught hold of me and said he would knock my brains out.

I am proud of my great-grandmother’s feistiness that she took on the men who were threatening her father and managed to get him inside the house safely, despite personal threats, before going to fetch the constable.

One day I will get to read the actual court documents in the Scottish Records Office for myself, but for now I’m content to have been privy to a rather scary experience of my ancestors in the middle of the night. Shooting Cowan was not a good thing, even if accidental, but they must have been more than a little frightened in the middle of the night, fairly isolated, to have to deal with this threat.

The conclusion to the case?

‘….the jury retired, and after an absence of about 20 minutes returned with a verdict, which was read by the foreman, as follows :_ “On account of great provocation the jury find the prisoner not guilty.” Sim was accordingly discharged. The result seemed to give great satisfaction.’

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[i] Falkirk Herald, 14 September 1872, page 3 through the British Newspaper Archives on FindMyPast.com

 

 

Fearless Females #2: Thoughts from a photograph: Annie Sim McCorkindale

The photo which inspired this post is the same as that for the Carnival of Genealogy  post on Catherine McCorkindale for Women’s History Month 2012. It shows my great-grandmother, Annie Sim McCorkindale seated with her daughters Catherine, Jean and Edith around her. Her eldest daughter Isabel is not in this photograph. I’ve estimated the date of this photo at c1900 which makes me suspect it may have been taken to give to sons Duncan and Peter before they left for Australia.  She looks composed in this photograph and I’m guessing she’s holding her bible.

Annie Sim, second wife of Duncan McCorkindale, gives every evidence of being a strong woman capable of dealing with life’s challenges. She grew up on Backrow farm at Bothkennar, Stirling, daughter of James Sim and his wife Ann Wood. The farm had been in the family’s management for generations, though it’s likely they only leased it, but it does mean that she came from a family with rather more money than many of my ancestors. Backrow farm faces the Bothkennar church and school and Annie’s parents are buried in the kirkyard.

As a young woman, Annie defended her father when some hooligans entered the farm property and took her father into the corn fields to rough him up, apparently all because the family dog barked at them.[i] I loved discovering my female ancestor was a feisty woman!

Annie had an illegitimate daughter, Annie Lindsay Sim. I’m waiting on the release of the online Kirk Sessions to see what they tell me about the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s illegitimacy. Annie Lindsay Sim was essentially brought up by her grandparents after Annie’s marriage to Duncan.  I wonder how Annie felt having to care for the two children of her husband’s first wife while forgoing her own first-born child. She did not inherit under her father’s will because he had brought up his granddaughter. However history proves that the family links remained close as we’ll see later.

Family legend tells that shortly before Annie’s husband Duncan died in 1906, her wedding ring came off and rolled across the floor. She went to give him a cup of tea, only to find him dead. Of course these may be only family stories, impossible to verify. Four years after Duncan’s death, Annie and most of her children emigrated to Australia. Her sons, Duncan and Peter, had come to Australia about 10 years earlier, supposedly to separate them from the 2nd cousins they wanted to marry. Annie’s first-born child, Annie Lindsay Sim, who by then had been widowed and remarried, arrived in Australia with her husband Daniel McVey and his family, around the same time. It’s interesting that the whole family, minus one son (Thomas Sim McCorkindale), had decided to make the big move.  Annie Lindsay Sim’s son from her first marriage, Robert Anderson, also made emigrated.

I admire Annie Sim McCorkindale’s fortitude at making this international migration when she was 59 years old. She arrived in Queensland as a sponsored migrant, nominated by Alex McCulloch of Paddington, and documented as “married” rather than widowed[ii].  I’m still trying to work out what the connection was between Alex McCulloch and the McCorkindales.

Annie Sim McCorkindale in her old age, near their house in Brisbane. Do you think this might be the same dress revamped? The chain looks the same to me.

In her old age Annie lived with her daughter and son-in-law in Guildford St, Kelvin Grove. A granddaughter remembered that Annie had blue and white jugs in the kitchen, loved “wee brown eggs” and the family grew a coffee plant and ground coffee (people after my own heart!). It’s safe to assume that Annie would have met my father as an infant and toddler, since she lived quite close to my grandparents’ home. Annie Sim McCorkindale died in 1926, aged 75, and is buried at Toowong Cemetery with an infant grandson.

Annie’s relocation was worthwhile for her adopted country as well as the family. Her descendants made their impact on Australian society in various ways, small and large. Her son Duncan was a foreman at the Kingston joinery works and so instrumental in the construction of Canberra. He also contributed to the development of a Caledonian tradition in Canberra, acting as a judge of the pipers and dancing at the first Highland Games held by the Burns Club in 1925. His early death in 1928 was a loss to the Caledonian community as well as his family. Duncan’s daughter Ida was also worked in Canberra but subsequently vanishes. Annie’s other sons Peter and Malcolm were great pipers and Highland dancers, and although my father said Malcolm was the better piper, his nerves affected his performances. Newspaper reports reveal Peter winning one competition after the other at various Highland or Caledonian games as well as being Pipe Major with Brisbane’s Caledonian Band. (I wonder if there’s anyone still alive who was taught or mentored by one of the McCorkindale pipers). Annie’s step-grandson, Sir Daniel McVey, had a pivotal role in post-war aviation and was also Director of Posts and Telegraphs.

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[i] A discovery from the recently released British Newspaper Archives. Falkirk Herald Saturday 14 September 1872.

[ii] Queensland State Archives microfilm Z3985 IMM 132 p57.

Guess who’s coming to dinner…my ancestors.

Julie over on Angler’s Rest totally inspired me to write this post in her story for NaBloPoMo on Relatives. Thanks Julie for the inspiration!

I’d love to welcome my earliest Australian ancestors to an early evening dinner party so I could get to meet them as real people. I think it would have to be a typical outdoor event, under the shade of a spreading Banyan tree or a Moreton Bay fig so everyone felt at home. We’d have long tables and folding chairs. I’d buy some brightly-coloured melamine plates and drinking glasses to match pretty place mats and napkins (of course).  Hurricane lamps with lightly scented candles would light the tables so the mood was familiar and cosy, and I’d hang some lamps from the trees.

To welcome everyone we’d have a good malt beer to honour my Kent family who were Hertfordshire publicans…before they became Methodists…and some spring water for those who were traditionally abstemious. Thinking on my maternal 2x great grandfather, William Partridge from Coleford, I think we’d need a good Gloucester cheese to go with the beer.

We would have to serve roast pork in honour of my Bavarian 2 x great grandfather, George Kunkel, who was a pork butcher. Instead of slaving over a hot oven in the kitchen we’d cook the pork in our Weber Q – would that seem familiar to them or somewhat wondrous? George also made his own wine and so we’d drink a white wine similar to that traditional in his birthplace…and again that spring water.

The pork would be accompanied by crispy roast tatties for my Irish ancestors, Mary O’Brien Kunkel and the Gavin and (Mc)Sherry families, and, come to that, my Highlanders, the McCorkindales. We might even introduce them to multi-cultural 21st century Australia with an Asian-inspired salad as an accompaniment.

While we ate we’d play some Scottish reels and Irish fiddle music to cross the cultural borders of my ancestry. How much nicer it would be to have a real fiddler play rather than a 21st century i-touch and if our feet wouldn’t stop tapping, we’d dance a quick reel in the twilight. There are so many questions I’d love to ask my ancestral visitors about their lives…another reason to keep that wine and beer flowing. I think they’ll be glad to escape by the end of the night!

McCorkindale brothers informal jam session. Gift of a family member c1988.

Dessert would certainly have to be spectacular to impress my pastry chef ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, with perhaps a real Aussie pavlova (great pic) decorated with King Island cream and superb fruits like passionfruit, mango, kiwi fruit and fresh summer berries. Maybe we could even buy some delicious Haig’s hand-made chocolates to see if they match SGM’s standards…I’m realistic here, I couldn’t make them myself.

As this wonderful inter-temporal gathering came to a close, I would ask one of my McCorkindale great-uncles to play Auld Lang Syne on the pipes, and with a wee dram, toast the courage of these ancestors who came to Australia. I’ve nary a doubt I’d share more than a few tears as I farewelled my guests who’d visited all too briefly.

I raise my glass to all my Aussie immigrants: George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien, Denis and Ellen Gavin, Annie Sim McCorkindale and her adult daughter Catherine, Peter and Mary McSherry/Sherry and their son James Joseph, Stephen Melvin and later his mother Margaret Gillespie Melvin/Ward/Wheaton, James and Bridget McSharry/Sherry, Richard and Mary Kent and their adult daughter Hannah and her future husband William Partridge.

Honouring female McCorkindale and Sim ancestors

This photograph includes two of my direct female ancestors: Catherine (Kit) McCorkindale is the young girl on the left and her mother is Annie Sim McCorkindale. The photo will have been taken in Glasgow circa 1895. Annie Sim came from the parish of Bothkennar in Stirlingshire where her family had lived for centuries. She died in Brisbane, Australia.

Annie Sim McCorkindale and daughters