Monday, 5 November 2012

The Legalised Liberation of the Flying Fugitive

                      Hare, during all this, remained in police custody, partly for his own safety (if he had been released he would certainly have been dead within the day) and partly because the Lord Advocate was looking for a means to bring him to trial on his own account. Burke had spoken openly in gaol about Hare’s crimes, not least because he wanted to pay Hare’s treachery with carefully considered revenge. The press, the public and the police all wanted Hare dangling on a rope of his own, the problematic question was, How can this be brought about? 

William Hare

One avenue, maybe, was a private prosecution brought by the family of one of Hare’s victims, and a public subscription raised the funds for the Wilson family, in particular Mrs Wilson, to prosecute Hare for the murder of her son, Daft Jamie. The Crown might have afforded Hare with indemnity in return for information, but Mrs Wilson most certainly had not. 

But it was not so simply cut and dried; Hare had made a deal with the Crown which had consequences in regard to future prosecutions and regardless of what anyone thought about him, he was innocent until proven guilty and had legal rights of his own. The original deal had seemed a good solution to a particular problem when it had been made, and it had delivered up Burke to justice as the criminal he undoubtedly had been, but no one at the time had thought that Hare was just as bad, if not far worse, than the prize he had delivered. When the Lord Advocate chose to sup with that particular devil, the spoon he brought with him was far, far too short. But in hindsight, hindsight is a marvellous thing, and we can’t help but concede that what was done, was done with the best of intentions. 

The legal repercussions were now coming home to roost, and a bench of six of the best Scottish legal eagles was convened to sort out the whole sorry mess. These Caledonian judicial luminaries went back to stroking their beards and furrowing their brows, and quarreled about which i’s needed to be crossed and which t’s should be dotted, and considered in depth the legal niceties of the whole question of socii criminis, noting that anciently a socius was, as a general rule, not admissible, and had no immunity; but by the Act 21 Geo. II., c. 34, an accomplice to theft or cattle-stealing was admitted, and immunity was granted him if his evidence proved the guilt of the prisoner, and obviously, reference to Macdonald and Jameson (1770) was made, and so on and so forth, in ever decreasing metaphorically-mixed circles, and naturally  if lawyers are involved, then the learned friends undoubtedly made many a pretty penny for each other along the way. Drunk on law, they kicked sober justice out of court. 

So, when the dust had settled, the backs had been scratched and the palms had been greased, the decision was reached that Mrs Wilson and Mr Hare and everybody else involved were all so irredeemably, unashamedly poor that there was no more money to be made in pursuing the whole miserable business (well, not in as many words maybe, but that’s what it amounted to). 

Castle Rock - Edinburgh

On Thursday February 5th 1829, William Hare was told he about to be released from custody and would be free to go on his way, knowing full well that he could be swinging by his neck from the bar of a lamppost or experiencing uninvited, unassisted flight from the Castle Rock before Friday morning arrived. Mr Lynch and his chums, Mr Howling and Mr Mob, knew where he lived and what time he went to bed. Helpfully, the prison authorities booked him a seat on mail coach bound for England under the not-at-all ironic pseudonym of Mr Black, and wrapped in an old camlet cloak, with the head turnkey in tow to see him off safely, at eight o’clock in the evening, he was released from Caltonhill gaol. The night was bitterly cold and Hare was seated on the top of the mail coach, freezing but free, when a scheduled stop was made at Noblehouse. 

As the horses were being changed and the mail taken off and on, the passengers disembarked and went inside the inn to warm themselves. With his cloak swathed around him, Hare sat with his back to his fellow travellers, who mistook his self-preservation for modesty and made a place for him by the fire. He warmed his hands and put aside his cloak and hat, and in an improbable twist of fate that beggars belief, was instantly recognised by another of the company, a certain Mr Sandford who had been one of the advocates employed by Daft Jamie’s mother to bring the private prosecution against Hare. What are the chances of that happening? 

Sandford shook his head at Hare, just to let him know that he had been recognised, and when the coach was ready to leave, it was discovered that there was a spare seat left inside, which the other, unaware, passengers offered to Hare. ‘Take that fellow out’ demanded Sandford at once, much to the consternation of the other passengers, but Sandford was adamant and Hare resumed his old seat, out in the cold in every sense. Sandford’s insistence raised questions, which he was only too glad to answer, and the true identity of Mr Black was revealed. 

Old Dumfries

The coach reached Dumfries, in Galloway, at about eight o’clock on the following morning and word quickly spread through the town about the notorious visitor. Hare sat in the King’s Head, drinking porter and chewing the fat with the ostlers and stable-lads, just whiling away the four-hour interval between the arrival of the Edinburgh mail and the departure of the Portpatrick and Galloway coach. What he didn’t know was that a crowd of over eight thousand vigilantes had made plans to intercept the Portpatrick coach either at the Cassyland’s toll-bar or on the bridge over the river Nith. When the coach left, it was empty, with the other passengers going ahead in a gig and Hare remaining in the King’s Head, and when the mob discovered this, the inn was surrounded. One or two got in and physically threatened Hare, and the publican, Mr Fraser, began to fear for the fabric of his establishment. 

King's Head - Dumfries

This was the most exciting thing that had happened in Dumfries since, well, someone or other had founded Dumfries in the first place, and the citizens were determined to have their fun. The magistrates met and stroked their beards and furrowed their brows and came up with a plan that had every chance of ending badly but it was the only one they had, so they went ahead. A chaise and pair arrived at the front door of the pub, and a great show was made of loading a trunk aboard, with quite the fuss about strapping it down properly, and whilst the multitude was distracted by this pantomime, Hare slipped out of the back window, along the stable wall and into a waiting chaise, locking the doors behind him and wrapping himself up in a cloak on the floor. 
The horses were whipped up and took off at high speed, but a couple of stable-boys spotted what was happening and raised the alarm. The mob flooded round the back of the inn and gave chase, hurling rocks at the departing chaise and breaking its windows, showering Hare in broken glass. Going pell-mell, the coach sped on down the road, almost overturning at a sharp turn and running on two wheels for a time before righting itself, hell for leather over the Nith and down towards the gaol. 

Dumfries - Bridge over the River Nith

In the nick of time, Hare sprang from the chaise and, surrounded by a chain of police, sprinted in through the prison gates. The crowd arrived seconds later and stoned the walls and windows, furiously baying for blood. An iron lamppost was torn down and used as a makeshift battering ram on the prison gates, and for four hours they laid siege to the prison, even bringing up tar barrels with the intention of burning down the gates. As night fell, the magistrates swore in a hundred additional special constables to swell the ranks of the ordinaries and sent for the militia, and these forces succeeded in dispersing the mob. 

At one o’clock in the morning, the prison authorities told the trembling Hare he was going to be released through the back gate and advised him to keep off the roads, avoid habitations and do not attempt to ride by coach. A lone man was seen at Dodbeck, a stranger was spotted at Annan, and at Gretna a wanderer was observed heading south, taking care to keep his face covered. Was that Hare seen skirting Carlisle and heading east towards Newcastle? 

Rumours abounded but none were substantiated. Some said he had been caught by a gang who had thrown him into a lime pit, blinding him and that an old, blind, white haired beggar, led by a dog, who worked the corners of London in the 1870s was really William Hare, the notorious murderer. Some said he fled to Canada and died there alone many years later. Others said he was himself killed, strangled by strangers and when his sorry soul reached the Gates of Hell, Satan himself came out and refused to let him in, sending him back to wander the earth forever.

Mrs Hare fared little better. Like the others, she was held for her own protection for a while, but was released two days before Burke’s execution. Inevitably, she was recognised, and rather mildly, pelted with snowballs, perhaps in sympathy for the infant she carried in her arms. 

Snowy Edinburgh

The police intervened and she was again placed in the lock-up until the evening, when she slipped away. A fortnight later, she was spotted in Glasgow, after apparently having walked there, and the Glasgow Chronicle of February 10th reported that she was taken into police custody, for the safety of herself and the child. She had, one morning, enquired at the Broomielaw about a boat to Belfast, but a woman had recognised her and shouted, “Hare’s wife – Burke her!” and very soon a stone-hurling crowd had formed. The police kept her under custody for two days before secreting her aboard the steamer Fingal, bound for Belfast. 

Mrs Hare in court

Back home in Ireland, she managed to disappear, although one account placed her at Paris in the 1850s, when an elderly nurse of between sixty and seventy years, accompanied by a girl in her thirties (the age the infant would then be), was employed by a Lady. Although she said she was Irish, she sang Scots songs in the evenings, gave her name as Mrs Hare, and she looked suspiciously like the sketch of the Mrs Hare made in the courtroom.

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