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A murderer’s socks, allegedly

A murderer’s socks, allegedly

It is a unique quirk of the Scottish legal system that a verdict of 'not proven' may be declared. Such was the verdict of the jury at the trial, in Edinburgh's High Court of Justiciary, of Alfred John Monson (34) who was charged with the murder of Cecil Hambrough (20) in 1893. These socks were possibly used as evidence in the trial. A letter, written by W.H. Parsons in 1900 claims they are the very pair of socks worn by Monson on the day of the alleged murder, although that cannot be verified.

 

On 10th August 1893, Windsor Dudley Cecil Hambrough was shooting rabbits on the Ardlamont Estate in Argyllshire with his tutor (the frequently in debt Alfred Monson) and the shady Edward Scott a.k.a. Edward Sweeney, a.k.a. Edward Davis. Hambrough and Monson carried the only two guns. A shot was heard, two men were seen fleeing from the wood and Hambrough's corpse was discovered - he had been killed by a three-inch horizontal wound behind his left ear. The butler came across Monson and Scott cleaning the weapons and questioned them.
 
Monson claimed that Hambrough, in a tragic accident, had shot himself while climbing over a fence or wall. Coincidently, Hambrough had been persuaded six days previously, by Monson, to take out two life insurance policies in the name of Mrs. Monson. And, just the day before, Hambrough, a non-swimmer, had almost drowned when Monson took him fishing off Ardlamont Point and allegedly drilled a hole or removed the bore from the boat.

A witness for the prosecution, Dr. Joseph Bell (a surgeon, forensic detective and inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes) was of the opinion that Monson had murdered Hambrough. Dr. McMillan, who examined the body, thought the fatal wound might have been self-inflicted, using a short 20-bore gun. He subsequently withdrew his report and death certificate when it was ascertained that the gun had, in fact, been a long 12-bore (Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, September 3rd, 1893). The public thought Monson guilty too. The case, which came to be known as ‘the Ardlamont Mystery’, and trial were given hyperbolic press coverage.

Reference: Clarke General Biography Box 30 Monson, A pair of woollen socks (18--?), Clarke (Edwin) General Archive, Newcastle University Special Collections, GB 186.

Potential research ideas

The socks could prompt research in one of several directions. You could choose to focus on real-life crimes to explore issues relating to crime and punishment in the Nineteenth Century. Or, you could use newspaper reporting to investigate how information about crimes, trials and criminals was communicated in different sources. How did crimes such as the ‘Ardlamont mystery’ work their way into public consciousness? You might decide, instead, to examine the relationship between real crime and Victorian fiction. Can you establish what the market was for detective fiction? Are there common themes running through nineteenth-century crime novels? Was crime treated any differently in cheap popular print such as chapbook literature? In the ‘shilling shockers’ or yellowback novels that were often sold at railway stations for entertainment on the journey? Or in the of Arthur Conan Doyle, L.T. Meade, Louisa May Alcott and other contemporaries?

Selected background reading

  • Scotland High Court of Justiciary, [1908]. Trial of A. J. Monson. Glasgow & Edinburgh: W. Hodge & Co. – An account of Monson’s trial.
  • Flanders, J., 2011. The invention of murder: how the Victorians revelled in death and detection and created modern crime. London: Harper P. – Murder in the Nineteenth Century.
  • Ward, I., 2014. Sex, crime and literature in Victorian England. Oxford; Portland, Oregon: Hart Publishing. – Analysis of statutes alongside contemporary fiction.
  • Rowbotham, J. & K. Stevenson, c.2005. Criminal conversations: Victorian crimes, social panic, and moral outrage. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP. – Crime and public opinion.
  • Atkinson, L. & D. Majury, 2008. Law, mystery, and the Humanities: Collected essays. [Online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442688476. (Accessed 15/07/2020). – Relationships between law and fiction.
  • Smith, D., 2018. The Ardlamont mystery: the real-life story behind the creation of Sherlock Holmes. [S.l.]: Michael O’Mara. – A re-telling of the real-life events that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes.
  • Glazers, A., 2018. The case of Sherlock Holmes: secrets and lies in Conan Doyle’s detective fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP. [Online] Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctv7h0vt4. (Accessed 15/07/2020). – An exploration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective fiction.

What can I find here in Special Collections?

What can I find elsewhere?

  • Newspapers can be a fantastic source of information. Through the library, you have access to a wide range of digitised historic newspapers; local, national and international: https://libguides.ncl.ac.uk/news/historic.
  • The National Records of Scotland holds many documents relating to crime and criminals. The Crime and Criminals Research Guide will help you to navigate their catalogues and to think about the type of records that will be relevant, for example, the records of the High Court of Justiciary.
  • Portsmouth City Libraries’ History Centre houses a significant collection of works by Arthur Conan Doyle (1812-1870). Doyle lived and worked in Portsmouth for eight years and wrote the first Sherlock Holmes story there. The collection includes papers, magazines and photographs relating to the author and his work. Some of the books are included in a permanent Conan Doyle exhibition at the Portsmouth Museum. Other archival material relating to Conan Doyle can be located via the National Archives Discovery.

Interested in Victorian crimes and mysteries?

If you are interested in the real-life crimes that were committed locally, in the Nineteenth Century, you might want to look at the reward notices that are part of our Broadsides collection. You can request access to the original documents, or view digitised surrogates online.

The Nineteenth Century Novels collection comprises nineteenth-century novels, including yellowbacks – cheap sensational literature. Among titles are the X.Y.Z.: a detective story by A.K. Green (1883) and The Margate murder mystery by B. Delaney (1902).

The Meade (L.T.) Collection contains around 180 out of the 150 books that L.T. Meade (1854-1914) wrote. Meade contributed short stories and articles to magazines such as The Strand Magazine but was best-known for her novels, which included crime fiction. Her mysteries include: A princess of the gutter and ; The Gold Star Line.  

The Whyte (Frederic) Archive comprises the papers of Frederic Whyte (1867-1941). Much of the archive is made-up of literary correspondence from the Nineteenth and early-Twentieth Centuries, including letters from Arthur Conan Doyle.