Tragedy in Self Defence

On the evening of Wednesday 9th January 1907, an old fashioned “square go” had a profound and devastating effect on Blantyre’s youth. I wouldn’t like to comment on comparing it in any way to modern times, but the story is an interesting one.

James Wallace was 22 years of age and lived with his parents at the old Aitkenhead Buildings, (Builders yard at the bottom of Sydes Brae). On that particular evening, his parents were shocked to answer the door to 2 local policemen complete with papers for the arrest of their son on a charge of culpable homicide. The police story is as follows:

On the Tuesday of that week between 8 and 9 o’clock in the evening, James had been walking alone through High Blantyre on his way home from seeing his sweetheart. Unfortunately though, the gentle giant was subjected (for unknown reason) to taunts from 6 local youths. The night was dark and in the dead of Winter, cold and frosty. The youths were standing at ththe corner of Forrest Place, High Blantyre , actually not too far from James’s home, blocking his route. Standing up for himself, James stood defiant against the 6 youths and said he would “box the best of them”. Stands forward Mr Thomas Russell , a 20 year old from Forrest place. On his “home patch”, James was invited into the garden of Thomas Russell and “made to put on gloves for an impromptu boxing match”. Two rounds were allegedly fought, when at the start of the third, a devastating blow from self defending James, knocked Thomas to the ground. Out cold, Thomas’s friends poured water on his face and he recovered , only to quickly lose consciousness again. At that point, James took off the gloves, claimed himself the winner and walked home to his parents. Unknown to him though, Thomas lay on the ground , in a coma.

The next day, Thomas’s family walked to the doctors at Victoria Street and to the nearby Police Station. Reporting the incident in favour of their own injured son. Dr Donaldson of the Health Institution saw the boy and proclaimed he had swelling to the brain, which would pass. Unfortunately though, later that afternoon Thomas died. The police proceeded to the home of James to arrest him.

The Fiscal and eventual court case, heard that James had been taunted and acted in self defense “with honour”. It appears this verdict was given as Thomas’s own friends eventually told the truth about what happened. No charges were brought to anybody, the event archived as an accident and James was released.

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