The Little Thief, 1916

Teacher caning a school boy

In July 1916, little Alexander McLuckie Jnr (11), the son of Alexander McLuckie a miner, was in trouble again.

Not with parents though. With the law. As summer holidays started, the lad who lived on Glasgow Road, Blantyre found himself in a Hamilton Juvenile Court after being charged with a series of thefts from other children.

The crime was one of bullying other children into submitting their money over to him. Alexander had been preying on younger, vulnerable children sent out on messages (errands) by their parents. Seeing other children approaching certain shops, he was confident in knowing the kids had money on them and intervened before the shops were reached.

On 22nd June 1916, it was said that he stole 2s from a boy of four years of age in Windsor Street, Burnbank; from a six year old boy in Wilson Street, Burnbank; and a purse containing 7s 6d from a little girl in the grocery department of Burnbank Co-operative Society. Alex had been going into Burnbank where he thought it less likely that he would be known.

The judge was rightly not amused. Like other children in the court that day, punishment was dished out accordingly. As Alexander had been previously given 1 lash of birch to the hands for theft, the authorities on this occasion increased the penalty to twelve stripes with the birch rod. The judge declared it was the only way to break the likelihood that once a thief, always a thief. Perhaps enough to make the wee chap think again.

Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:

Blantyre Project I wonder if he stopped doing it? Cant see further reports about him. Perhaps the beating made him see the error of his ways.
Elizabeth Weaver I wonder what kind of man had the job of birching an 11 year old? What a hero 🙄 And did they just keep adding “stripes” when the latest punishment didn’t work? No mention of his parents, I see.
Blantyre Project im sure i read that at times, repeating child offenders frequently up in childrens courts, could directly affect the employment of parents. e.g miners could have pay deducted or even be unemployable in other professions. I fear though, whilst this may have worked in the long run, the intermediate step was likely further beatings, this time from parents.
John Cornfield Corporal punishment if severe enough would work!
I just wouldn’t want to be the one dishing it out !
Elaine Baillie Was it done in the courtroom or public place ??
Blantyre Project dished out there and then in the courtroom, though I suspect it wasn’t the judge himself who did it. There are many stories of boys sobbing in courtrooms as punishment was lined up.
Peter Bird Different time, different beliefs. Back then they still believed in “spare the rod, spoil the child”.
Elizabeth Grieve Some kids today could be doing with it. Not very PC I’m afraid
Blantyre Project true, thieves, certainly the ones older than children, deserve as good caning. Stealing from others is a low, immoral thing. Sadly, I think its true the saying, “once a thief, always one” and as such stories go, thieving is remembered as news right down history and generations when outed or put into written record.
Peregrine J Montgomery In those days they could relate to crime / punishment. I’m pretty sure a stinging hand is more of a deterrent than 15 mins on the naughty step.


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  1. I spent a number of my earlier years in Whitehill Road. Affectionately known locally as Sing Sing. Just minutes away from Wilson Street. Times were hard. Memories.

  2. He did get off lightly. Perhaps the harsher beating made him finally give up his thieving ways. I don’t see further reports in newspaper articles about little Alexander.

  3. Gosh that wee boy was lucky I got the thick leather strap at 4 1/2 years of age across my hands every day for at least a month at nessies school in 1954, for going to comfort another wee lass who cried every day. So for leaving my seat and talking! That wee lad got off lightly the first time at least!

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