Was your Fife ancestor a convict?

From a murderous quarryman to violent mothers and the grandfather of a three-time winner of the Open Championship, the criminal pasts of hundreds of Fife convicts have emerged.

The Fife Kalendar of Convicts has been produced by Andrew Campbell of Fife Family History Society following a project to catalogue the region’s often brutal offenders of the late 18th and 19th Century.

Mr Campbell has trawled records of courts, wills, testaments, newspapers, monumental inscriptions and the Mormon Church, amongst others, to complete the file which spans 1790 to 1890.

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It is a project that was started 20 years ago.

Information on the family ties of convicts has also been included, in some cases. Earning a mention is golfing champion Jamie Anderson, of St Andrews, who took the Open title three times in a row between 1877 and 1879. His grandfather, James, was transported to Australia for handling counterfeit coins with the winning sportsman later dying penniless in the Dysart Combination Poor House in Thornton in 1905.

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The family story of Australian biscuit tycoon William Arnott, originally from Pathhead, is also included. Arnott added an extra “t” to his surname to distance himself from his father, David Millie Arnot (1806-1872), a bleacher at Denburn who was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia in 1837 for forgery and embezzlement.

His son William and brother David arrived in Australia in 1848 after being given passage by philanthropist Caroline Chisholm, who worked to reunite convicts with their families. The Fife boys were the only two children from Scotland on board, according to research by the society.

The Fife Kalendar of Convicts is littered with stories of ordinary working class men and women held responsible for terrible deeds.

Quarryman James Knox, from North Queensferry, attacked his wife with a coal axe after being released from Morningside Asylum in February 1869.

Found not guilty due to being insane at the time the act was committed, Knox spent the rest of his life in the lunatic Department of Perth Prison, where he died in 1893.

Meanwhile, Agnes Laing or Paterson, from Cupar, was charged with the murder of her six-year-old daughter, Mary Ann Paterson by wounding her on the throat with a razor on January 1872.

She was acquitted of capital murder by a jury and found insane. Detained and at Her Majesty’s pleasure at Perth Prison, she was discharged 25 years. She worked as a laundress and as a fish hawker until she died from heart failure after falling in the harbour at Newhaven.

Elizabeth Gray, of Kirkton, Burntisland, drowned her son in a tub of water in June 1872. Found insane during her trial at Perth, she was found to be insane and spent the rest of her life in prisons and asylums.

The Fife Kalendar of Convicts will be launched at the 29th Scottish Association of Family History Societies conference and family history fair at The Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, on Saturday April 21.

The records will be available on CD and in digital formats.