Montrose connection to gruesome murder at sea

Dave Ramsay
Dave Ramsay

Singer/songwriter Dave Ramsay has been inspired by the 150-year-old Red Head Murder, in a book by Roy Soutar, ‘A Wild and Rocky Coast’.

Dave was researching for material to record a CD about the wild and rocky coast of Kincardineshire when he found the tale.

He said: “This story leapt out of the page for me, as it had so many different connections.”

The local connection with a murder at sea and a public execution, involving Montrose, Stonehaven, and the Red Head promontory, provided a perfect basis for Dave’s song, ‘The Red Head Tragedy’.

He recalls: “I stood at the Red Head, I felt a powerful sense of ‘connection’ and ‘place’ and, as I looked out to sea, I could visualise the events of that day.”

On September 6, 1865, Captain John Greig had just lain down on the deck to sleep after his ship left Montrose when the mate, Andrew Brown, hit him three times with an axe.

Afterwards, the other two crewmen agreed to Brown’s request to sail to Stonehaven where his family lived.

Brown was tried at the High Court in Edinburgh where, despite lodging a special plea that he was ‘labouring under insanity’, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.

There was debate as to where the execution should take place but it was decided that as it had been a Montrose ship and victim, Brown should be executed in the town.

According to the Review, local people were “anxious that the town should be relieved of this dread spectacle”, the first since the execution of Margaret Shuttleworth in 1821.

But their argument was less about morality and more about cash; the host burgh had to pay for the execution.

Brown was hanged on the last day of January 1866 at the foot of George Street (beside Kwik Fit’s premises) by executioner William Calcraft, who stayed in the Eagle Inn, on the site of the George Hotel, prior to carrying out his gruesome task. Calcraft received £28.

William Brown was the last person to be publicly hanged in the area. The authorities had made plans to accommodate 20,000 spectators but in fact only some 2000 turned up.

The Review described them as mostly “strangers and the lower orders of society”.

The full story of Andrew Brown and other murders and executions in Angus and Dundee can be found in ‘Murders and Misdeeds’ by Review columnist Forbes Inglis, available from Hogg’s in the High Street.