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

James Knox


James Knox was a quarryman.  Born in Liberton, Edinburgh but residing in North Queensferry, he was released from Morningside Asylum in February, 1869.

On 20th February 1869 he attacked his wife with a coal axe. She survived the ordeal.

Found not guilty due to being insane at the time the act was committed, James Knox died in the lunatic Department of Perth Prison in 1893.

Dundee Courier – Saturday 07 May 1870

4. James Knox, residing in Dunfermline, was charged having on Saturday, the 20th Feb., 1869, in the house occupied by him, assaulted Margaret Smellie or Knox, his wife, by striking her on the head with an axe to the effusion of blood, and serious injury of her person and danger of her life. He pleaded not guilty and was defended by Mr Dundas. The Clerk read a special defence which had been lodged for the prisoner to the effect that he was insane at the time of the assault. 

Mrs Knox-The prisoner came out of Morningside Asylum on the 5th February last. On the 20th February the prisoner became very ill. Thomas Knox came in and asked her husband if he was going to work. He said no, but that he was going to St Cuthbert’s in Edinburgh to the father of the son of Jesse, the Lord Jesus. He then took an axe and struck me on the head. 

Thomas Knox, brother of the prisoner–I asked him how he was, and he said, “Not so bad.” He was confused. He afterwards struck his wife on the back of the head. I took hold of him, but he wanted to get at his wife again. By Mr Dundas -Prisoner seized the axe suddenly, and after he had struck his wife he was so weak that he could not stand. He is a quiet man generally. 

Constable M’Nair—Went to the prisoner’s house after the assault. Apprehended the prisoner. Dr Bartholomew, Inverkeithing -Attended the prisoner’s wife. She was seriously injured, and might have bled to death. 

By Mr Dundas—l believe at the time the man was insane. The following witnesses were examined for the defence:–Dr Durie, Dunfermline—Saw the prisoner at the time of the assault, and was satisfied he was a dangerous lunatic. Dr Tuke, Superintendent of Fife and Kinross Lunatic Asylum—The prisoner was under my care for some time. He was labouring under religious delusions. He was discharged cured on 19th Feb. this year. By Advocate-Depute-His insanity would be likely occur again if he resorted to drink. 

The jury found the prisoner not guiity, on the ground that at the time the assault was committed he was insane. The Court ordained that the panel be kept in safe custody in prison at Perth during Her Majesty’s pleasure.

Excerpt from the forthcoming Kalendar of Convicts:

KNOX, JAMES (1831-1893): a quarryman born in Liberton, Midlothian. At one time he was confined to Morningside Asylum in Edinburgh, but was released in 5 Feb 1869, when he went to work at his trade of a quarryman in North Queensferry; on 20 Feb 1869 he attacked his wife, Margaret Smellie, with a coal axe, striking her several times in the head, and would have surely killed her had not his brother, Thomas, intervened; he was tried at PCC 6 May 1870 for attacking his wife, to the danger of her life, but was found to be insane at the time of committing the crime, and ordered to be detained during HM pleasure (AD14/70/243; JC26/1870/4); he was committed to the Lunatic Department of Perth Prison from the Fife and Kinross Asylum on 24 May 1870, and this was where he died on 23 April 1893, after an attack of asthmatic pneumonia; case notes (with photograph) in HH21/48/1, Pp 349-53;

Falkirk Herald – Saturday 27 February 1869
NORTH QUEENSFERRY. SERIOUS ASSAULT. —On Saturday, a man named Knox, employed as a quarryman, who is said to have been recently liberated from Morningside Asylum, committed a serious assault on his wife, while employed at her domestic duties in their house at North Queensferry. The unfortunate man, it appears, had become excited, and assaulted his wife with an axe, inflicting severe wound on her head. A medical gentleman from Inverkeithing was called to her assistance. The woman, we understand, is in a fairway of recovery. The man was taken into custody, and conveyed to the Police Office at Dunfermline.

Fifeshire Advertiser – Saturday 07 May 1870
James Knox, North Queensferry, was charged with having committed an assault upon his wife with an axe. A special plea—that of insanity was set up on behalf of the prisoner, who was ordered by their Lordships to be confined in jail at her Majesty’s pleasure.

Clips from the Asylum Register of Lunatics

Source Information

Available on Fife, Scotland, Asylum Registers, 1866-1937 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2017.

Original data: Fife and Kinross District Asylum Registers, Fife Library and Archives Services, Fife, Scotland.

About Fife, Scotland, Asylum Registers, 1866-1937

Historical Context
Now known as Stratheden Hospital, Fife and Kinross District Asylum opened on 1st July 1866 and was built to accommodate up to 200 patients. The first Chief Physician, John Batty Tuke, was an early pioneer of ‘open door’ treatment policy, meaning that patients were granted the responsibility to come and go as they pleased and helped to revolutionise the way psychiatric patients were treated. In 1896, the facility was extended to home up to 600 patients.

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