Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Great Escape

In October 2012, Stewart Bain, organised the Crime-writing festival Orcrime, and the Archive staff duly supported this event with an exhibition of crime in Orkney. We hinted here about the adventures of Caleb Isbister, but never told you lovely followers the whole story. Some of the library staff very sportingly agreed to pose for our "Jackie" style photo story. So as we say a fond farewell to Stewart, our great twitterer (who is himself escaping at the end of this week - to a new job), we can hold him forever in our memories pretending to be the dastardly criminal, Caleb Isbister.

In 1807, Caleb Isbister was a very naughty boy...
Would you trust this man?

Caleb, originally from Firth & Stenness, owned a straw-plaiting factory in Caithness and employed Lille Manson to be his manager. Unfortunately he failed to pay her any wages...

"Caleb Isbister, formerly residing at Forster's buildings, London, and lately in Kirkwall stands indebted to the Pursuer - Lille Manson in the sum of one hundred and forty five pounds fifteen shillings and one penny stirling" 

Whar's me money? - Talk to the hand!

Caleb was arrested and imprisoned while the Kirkwall magistrates tried to recover his debts from the sale of his possessions.


"Caleb was incarcerated within the tollbooth of the Burgh of Kirkwall...The magistrates of the said Burgh of Kirkwall disobeying or neglecting the warrant for incarceration or detention, either by themselves or others in their employ allowed such improper latitude and liberty to the said Caleb Isbister as was altogether unwarrantable and at last they permitted him upon the 23rd or 24th day of August last either through connivance or culpable negligence or remissness to leave the prison."

I'm aff

In other words, they let him escape.

"Caleb Isbister, who broke the Tollbooth of this place in August last and effected his escape thereupon, had been apprehended in London, from whence he was conveyed to Edinburgh."
[The cost of retrieving Caleb from London to Edinburgh was £200 - present day value of £6,792.]

Gotcha! You've cost us £200!

The magistrates of Edinburgh then demanded the magistrates of Kirkwall to pay the costs incurred. Kirkwall disagreed. But in court...

"The libel concludes against the defenders [the magistrates of Kirkwall] personally, for payment of several large sums alleged to have been due the pursuers by Caleb Isbister late prisoner in the Tollbooth of Kirkwall."

The Grumpy Magistrates
So the magistrates were forced to pay up. "And the council hereby authorise and empower Provost Traill to draw from Sir William Forbes and Company the sum of Two Hundred pounds Sterling to be applied in payment of Mr Anderson's debursements and in defraying the other expenses"

We have no more records of Caleb Isbister after 1807, but since he could have lived afterwards in Kirkwall, Edinburgh or London, he may turn up in another Archives' records. We know that his parents were Thomas Isbister and Ursula Robertson and that he was christened on 28th Aug 1761. He had four siblings, all younger: a brother Thomas, ch. 9th Sep 1764; a sister Christian, ch. 1770; a brother Robert, ch. 17th May 1772 and another brother John, ch. 9th Jan 1776. The family lived in Firth & Stenness parish.

References used: K7/2/42 - Kirkwall Town Council Minute; SC11/5/1807/84 - Sheriff Court Summons Money Owed to Lille Manson; SC11/5/1807/86 - Sheriff Court Precept of Poinds and Arrestment.

Archiver, Dusty and The Fonds wish Stewart all the best in his new job! We will miss you!

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