At the Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, Fife on Saturday 21 April 2018

Elizabeth Dawson Gray


Elizabeth Gray née Dawson lived in the Kirkton of Burntisland. In June 1872 she drowned her younger son in a tub of water. 

At her trial in Perth she was found to be insane and spent the rest of her life in prisons and asylums.

Fife Free Press, & Kirkcaldy GuardianSaturday 21 September 1872

FOUND INSANE. Elizabeth Dawson or Gray, from Cupar, was charged with murder. The indictment set forth that on the 24th of June last, within the house at Kirkton, Burntisland, occupied by James Gray, the husband of the accused, she murdered her son, Thomas Gray, by drowning him in a tub full of water.

Mr John Rhind appeared for the prisoner. On the case being called, Mr Rhind put in special defence to the effect that the prisoner was insane. The following evidence was then led in support of the defence :

James Carmichael, Burntisland – I have known the prisoner for three years, and attended her professionally on several occasions. During these three years she has been insane to the best of my belief. I saw her on the day the boy was drowned, and I believe that on that day she was insane. Since then I have only seen her to-day, and she is still, I believe, insane—unable to distingush between right and wrong, and unable to give instructions for her defence.

Advocate-Depute.—What name would you give the insanity ?—Lacteal insanity.
What are its characteristics ?—There are peculiar alterations in the patient’s manner and bearing; certain delusions also exist. What are these delusions ?—The principal delusion is with reference to identity. She believes that this child she murdered was not her own.
You saw her shortly after the murder of the child?—I did; she said it was not her child; she did not believe it was hers.
Had you any reason to suppose she was not feigning or acting at the time she said that?—I had no reason to suppose she was feigning; I believe she was insane, and under delusion.
Has she been in that condition for three years? —Yes. I had not seen her for a long time before that. I was called on one occasion to see her about three months after the birth of the child. I believe that at the time the birth she was also insane.
Has she any homicidal tendencies ?—I believe she has. 
On your own observation?—Not on my own observation. 
Do you think she is aware now that it was her child that died then —She believes it was not. Have you spoken to her to day about it?—I have, and she still holds it was not her own child. 
Do you think she is in a fit condition to give instructions for her defence?—Certainly I do not. 

By Lord Jerviswoode.—On the first occasion I called on her she had delusions and suspicions. She was very low-spirited, taciturn, and morose ; and, in fact, could hardily get her to speak a single word. She refused her food, and was sleepless. Her bodily health was not in a satisfactory state at all. She was very thin; she had been nursing the child for some months. 

Lord Neaves —Is she a married woman?—Yes. Is her husband alive?—Yes. Lord Jerviswoode—In what condition was she on the second time you saw her?—On the second occasion I saw her she had tried to poison herself with laudanum. I strongly recommended that she should be put into confinement on the first occasion, but the friends objected to it. Lord Neaves —On what information do you proceed when you say she tried to poison herself? —All that I know is that I was sent for to see her. I found her in certain state, and there was evidence in the house that she had taken laudanum. Some of the neighbours had given her an emetic, and there was laudanum mixed with the matter vomited. It was not analysed, but I believe laudanum was there. Was she in a morose state then?—I do not know if she said anything then, but it was very difficult for her to say a word. She was the same as you see now —hanging her head, never saying a word, and could not look you strait in the face. 

Dr James Walker, Cupar, medical officer to the Cupar Jail—Since the 24th June last I have visited the prisoner. I did so twice, and very often three and four times a week. I saw her again this morning. She evidently does not know right from wrong, and is not able to give instructions for the defence. It came to my knowledge that she attempted to commit suicide during the time she was in Cupar prison. That is about six weeks ago. She said she had attemped to do away with herself by a pair of scissors. I saw the wound, and I believe it was made a pair of scissors. I sewed up the wound.

By Advocace-Depute —She admitted having killed the child, believing it not to be her own. She did not seem the least sorry until she knew she was to tried. She said she was very sorry she had done it.
Was she sorry about being tried or about the child?—About the consequence, and not the act.
Did she say why she killed the child? —She said it was not her own; she did not like it; it was a changed child, and that probably when it was changed her own child was taken away from the cradle, and this child was put into it. This she said she discovered about two years afterwards, and she never liked it.

Examination continued —When she was brought up for examination before the Sheriff, I gave a certificate to the effect that she was insane. She is in the same condition now then. If she is not the same she is worse.

Sheriff Bell also deponed that when the accused was brought for examination, he found that she was not in a fit state to undergo examination.

Mr Rhind asked whether the Court wished any further evidence.

Lord Neaves —No. The charge against the prisoner was then deserted pro loco et tempore, but the prisoner was ordered to be kept in strict custody in the prison of Perth until Her Majesty’s pleasure be known.

Excerpt from the forthcoming Kalendar of Convicts:

GRAY (or Dawson), ELIZABETH (1834-1902): aged 38 in 1872, a native of Dundee, where she was born/baptised 2/6 April 1834, dau of Thomas Dawson, blacksmith, and Isabella Horn(e), and was a house servant, aged 28, when she married Aberdour, 12 Dec 1862, to James Gray (aged 30), maltman/labourer at Grange Distillery in the Kirkton of Burntisland, where they had resided for 3 years, prev to which for 5 or 6 years they had been resident in Burntisland itself; he was the son of John Gray, shore porter, and Jean Rae; she was tried at PCC 19 Sep 1872 for the murder, by drowning, in June 1872 of her 3-yr old son, Thomas Dawson Gray (born High Street, Aberdour, 9 June 1869); as she had been of unsound mind for nearly 2 years (suffering from chronic mania), she was found insane and the diet was deserted (AD14/72/245; JC26/1872/47); the child was buried in Kirkton Churchyard, Burntisland, on 26 June 1872 – “this boy was murdered by his mother, while out of her senses, by drowning in  a tub” (from Kirkton Lair Register, 1872-1955); at CSC in Nov  1872, Mr W D Patrick, writer in Cupar, who had acted as agent in her defence, sued James Gray for the sum of £9.0.8d,  the sum was restricted to seven guineas, with 4/1 of expenses (FFP 14 Nov 1872 & 11 Jan 1873); Elizabeth Dawson shown as inmate of Perth Prison in the Census Returns of 1881 and 1891; she had been admitted to the Lunatic Department of Perth Prison from Cupar Jail on 2 Oct 1872, and transferred to Fife and Kinross Asylum on 29 Jan 1898; case notes (with photograph) in HH21/48/1, Pp 409-411; she died in the Fife and Kinross Asylum on 31 May 1902 aged 68

The ScotsmanFriday 10 January 1873

THE BURNTISLAND MURDER CASE. — Sheriff-Beatson Bell, at a Small-Debt Court held in Cupar yesterday, gave decision in the action at the instance of Mr W. D. Patrick, writer, Cupar, against Mr James Gray, maltman, Kirkton, Burntisland, taken to avizandum last court day. The sum sued for— £9. 0s. 8d. —was the amount of the pursuer’s professional account for acting as agent in the defence of Elizabeth Dawson or Gray, the defender’s wife, wlio was charged at the last Circuit Court at Perth with having murdered her son, and was found insane. His Lordship explained the circumstances of the case. Mr Patrick, as agent for the poor, finding that the husband was not in a position to demand the services of the poor’s agent, wrote Mr Gray to that effect, and suggested the employment of an agent in the usual way for his wife’s defence. The husband declined to do so on the ground that it was needless, because his wife was either insane or guilty. Mr Patrick having been so far entrusted with the case did not leave the woman unprotected, but took up her defence, warning the husband, however, that he did so, uot as agent for the poor, and that he would claim payment from him. The account had now been tendered to the defender, who refused payment. The peculiarity of the case was that the woman herself had not been in a condition to enter into a contract tor legal assistance. Had she been in a state to do so, and employed an agent to look after her, the case would have been too clear for argument. As it was, the husband was bound to pay a third party for supplying his wife with legal skill, particularly so, since he was previously informed that would be done out of humanity and not of charity. He therefore gave decree for the pursuer. With the consent ot parties, the sum was restricted to seven guineas with 4s. 1d. of expenses. Mr R. Mitchell, Cupar, was agent for the defender.

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