A mysterious Cavers court case in 1783 Selkirk

Graham Maxwell kindly sent me images of a Cavers reference he spotted in the Sheriff Court Decrees for Selkirk Sheriff Court (National Records of Scotland, SC63/6/9, page 175). The case was brought by Andrew Cairns in Burnfoot against Betty Cavers in Langtownsheel. Betty had been hired to be his servant, to be paid one pound ten shillings sterling in wages, as well as a pair of shoes and a coat. But when she was due to start service “she fell into distress”. Although she recovered she refused to work as his servant. The case report goes on at great length, but as far as I can tell the short version of the story is that the court found in Betty’s favour, and ordered Andrew Cairns to pay her expenses.

I honestly have no idea who Betty was! Firstly I’m not entirely sure where the places are. Burnfoot could be the place of that name in Hawick, but because the case was brought before the Selkirk Sheriff Court I think it’s more likely to be a place in Selkirkshire, possibly even in Selkirk itself, and likewise Langtownsheel.

Even if I look at my Cavers events database it’s hard to find likely candidate entries for Betty. For example there was a Betty Cavers christened at Hawick in 1764, and another Betty christened at Cavers in 1769. Either could be this person, especially the older one. But she could equally be someone else entirely. The parish registers do not record all births, and sometimes there are big gaps, or registers didn’t start early enough. Even looking for other variants of Betty like Elizabeth doesn’t throw up very likely candidates.

There were probably Cavers people in Selkirk at this time though. There certainly were in earlier centuries, per various Selkirk burgh court cases. And the 1841 census has quite a few elderly Cavers ladies in Selkirkshire e.g. Betty (81) and Jean (78) in Yarrow; and Isble (80), Margaret (80) and Eliza (73) in Selkirk. Could any of these be connected to the court case Betty, perhaps even Betty or Eliza?

So it’s currently a mystery. But perhaps more records will come to light in future to clarify things.

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Two more Cavers paternity cases

I’ve blogged before (here and here) about a Cavers man defending a paternity case, where the mother of his illegitimate child went to the courts to seek financial support for the child. This was found thanks to Graham and Emma Maxwell’s index of Borders paternity cases from various sheriff courts. I now have details of two more Cavers men in trouble with the courts.

The first case is from 1878, and Duns Sheriff Court, when Mary Laing daughter of John Laing, tailor, Auchencrow, in Coldingham parish in Berwickshire went to court against William Cavers, Groom at Rumbleton, in Gordon parish, also in Berwickshire. Mary had an illegitimate male child born at Auchencrow on 25 Jan 1878, and said William was the father. I was initially puzzled about who this was, though suspected it was one of the extensive Berwickshire family of Cavers. And it probably is. He’s almost certainly William Cavers son of John Cavers and Elizabeth Aitken, who was born at Eccles, Berwickshire, on 7 Jun 1861. He married on 1 Sep 1891 at Bedshiel, Greenlaw, Berwickshire, to Margaret Renwick. At his marriage William was described as a gamekeeper. I don’t know what happened to him after this.

The second case is from 1887, again Duns Sheriff Court. This time Elizabeth Penny daughter of Alexander Penny sometime farmer at Abbey Park, Berwickshire, and later residing at Tweedmouth, and now in Canada, brought a case against John Cavers, Saddler and Ironmonger in Swinton, Berwickshire. Elizabeth had an illegitimate male child born on 2 Feb 1885, and asserted that John was the father. Looking in census returns for a possible John, the best match in 1881 was saddler John Cavers born in Eccles and living in Coldstream. He was another son of John Cavers and Elizabeth AItken, born 19 Jan 1859, and thus the above William’s older brother.

I plan to write a blog post soon about this extensive Berwickshire Cavers family, which traces back originally to Ashkirk near Hawick.

More on the Murray versus Cavers illegitimacy case

Recently I blogged about finding a previously unknown illegitimate Cavers birth. I’ve since received copies of the full case papers, which shed more light on the case.

The case was brought at Jedburgh Sheriff Court in 1832 by Elizabeth Murray against Thomas Cavers for support of the female child she apparently had with him. The papers record she was a residenter in Newcastleton, and she signed her name as Elisa Murray. Thomas was recorded as son of John Cavers, Joiner in Newcastleton, which identifies him as the son of John Cavers and Jane Douglas.

The language used in the case papers can be quite entertaining to a modern reader, but must have represented a very shocking family event. The decreet records that Thomas “prevailed upon the Pursuer [Eliza] to yield to his embraces and to admit him to a carnal connexion with her”, leading to the birth of the female illegitimate child on the 9th May 1831. Then though “the Pursuer has often desired and required the said Thomas Cavers Defender to filiate and provide for the said Child yet he refuses at least delays to do so”. She sought £1 Sterling for various expenses, and £1 10 shillings per quarter for the first 9 months from the birth for nursing fee, and £1 per quarter afterwards for aliment until the child reached the age of 10.

The next bit of the case papers includes Thomas’s responses to the charges. He declared that he was “not much acquainted with the Pursuer That she has resided for some years past with her Mother in the village of NewCastleton”. Then he says that he was in company with her on the night of Langholm Fair, in the house of Robert Elliot, but not alone with her. Various other apparently innocent meetings are admitted to, including another in the last summer or autumn when “he went into the Pursuers house along with the said Walter Oliver and there were in the house the Pursuer, her Mother and Walter Nichol Carter That this was after dark – That the Pursuer and Declarant left the rest and went round to the back of the house into a shade – That he cannot say while he was standing in the shade whether he had his arm around her Neck or Waist That he lay down in the shade with the Pursuer, but he had no carnal connection with her” And he further goes on to declare that he never had carnal connection with her, and is not the father of her child.

Thomas’s evidence is contradicted by Elspeth Elliot daughter of Robert Elliot in Newcastleton. She remembers the night of the Langholm Fair, and specifically that “the Defender came forwards and spoke to the Pursuer, after which he pushed her into the house, that after they were into the house the Defender took hold of the Pursuer and threw her into the bed, and went in beside her”.

Based on all this and other evidence the court’s judgement went in Eliza’s favour. But the case papers reveal that she believed Thomas was considering fleeing from Scotland to America “in order to defraud the Petitioner”. Thomas appeared before the court again, but denied that he had any intention of going to America “or else where out of Scotland” But the court didn’t believe him, and ordered the officers “to apprehend the said Thomas Cavers and Commit him Prisoner to the Castle of Jedburgh there to remain until he find sufficient Caution … that he shall present himself at the Sheriff Clerks Office in Jedburgh upon the fifteenth day of May next at Twelve oClock midday in order that he may be then and there accessible to the Diligence of the Petitioner against him for payment of the sums due to her as contained in the Decreet mentioned in the Petition”.

Thomas may not have settled in America, but he went to Canada, where he married and had many children. Meanwhile searching the 1841 Scottish census finds at Newcastleton 10-year old Janet Cavers living with 33-year-old Eliza Murray, 38-year-old George Murray (mealdealer), and 65-year-old widowed Janet Murray. Further research identifies these as Janet Cavers’ mother, uncle and grandmother.

Janet Cavers married at Newcastleton on 10th February 1855 to James Scott, a 28-year-old labourer. Because it was an 1855 marriage, in the first year of civil registration in Scotland, when all certificates recorded extra detail, the marriage certificate includes Janet’s birth details: she was apparently born 23rd July 1831 at Newcastleton. Her parents are named on the marriage certificate as Thomas Cavers, Labourer, and Elizabeth Cavers maiden name Murray. Obviously her parents never married, and the birth date differs slightly from the court case version, but the details otherwise fit.

James Scott and Janet Cavers had 5 children, all born at Castleton parish, probably Newcastleton:

  • Eliza, born 2 Dec 1855
  • William, b. 10 Mar 1858
  • Agnes, b. 8 Jun 1860
  • George, b. 25 Jul 1862
  • James, b. 23 Jan 1867

Janet Cavers died at Newcastleton on 25th September 1867, aged 35, cause of death typhoid fever. Again her parents are recorded on the certificate, and match the court case: father Thomas Cavers, farm servant, and mother Eliza Murray, domestic servant.

Her mother Elizabeth Murray outlived her, dying on 12th November 1894 at Newcastleton aged 84 years. Her death certificate records her occupation as domestic servant, and her parents David Murray, shepherd, and Janet Murray maiden name Murray. The informant was her son-in-law James Scott, who was present at the death. Eliza was living with her daughter and son-in-law in 1861, and the census records her birthplace as Canonbie in Dumfriesshire.

James Scott died on 16th April 1909 at Newcastleton, aged 82 years. The informant at his death was his son William. Two years later the 1911 census for 40 North Hermitage Street, where the family lived for a long time, records two of his children still living in the house: Agnes, a retired domestic servant, aged 50; and her brother George, “Farm Labourer (Cattle man)”, aged 48. Also living there then was Agnes’s daughter Nancy Scott aged 17 (Agnes was recorded as unmarried) and her granddaughter Nellie Scott aged 5. It’s quite possible that there are living descendants today of this family.

And just to add a little extra colour to the story, here are the signatures of the two parties at dispute before Jedburgh Sheriff Court, as recorded in the original case papers.

Signature of Thomas Cavers Signature of Eliza Murray

A Cavers policeman with beer all over his face

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive digitising many decades of Southern Reporter issues I’ve been able to find more Cavers references. There will be more to find in local Borders newspapers: Hawick had its own newspapers at this time, so this may explain why the Hawick coverage in the Southern Reporter isn’t as good as some other areas of the Borders. And the Hawick papers haven’t been digitised yet, so I can’t readily search them at the moment. However searching the Southern Reporter has revealed new references to Cavers people, and I will share them on the blog over the coming months.

First up here is a Cavers policeman in Galashiels who ended up with beer over his face:

Southern Reporter, 1894 February 1

GALASHIELS. POLICE COURT.

David Cleghorn pleaded not guilty to a charge of assaulting Constable Cavers by throwing a pitcher of beer on his face in High Buckholmside on the evening of Wednesday last week. Constables Cavers and Quarry stated in evidence that they saw accused go into Hare’s public-house eight or nine minutes past ten o’clock carrying a pitcher, and when he came out they wanted to learn what was in the pitcher, when Cleghorn threw the contents in Cavers’ face. Accused said it was milk, and asked how the constable could prove it was beer. Constable Cavers said some of it went into his mouth. (Laughter.) Charge found proven, and sentence of 10s, or five days, imposed.

Constable Cavers was David Cavers born in 1849 at Ashkirk, son of William Cavers and Mary Hunter. See the relevant blog post for details of his family line. David married Margaret Chisholm at St Boswells in 1875, and by the time of the 1891 census was living in Galashiels, at 73 Lintburn Street with his wife and many children.

Cavers death after assault in Hawick, 1874

Only recently I discovered that my distant g..uncle Francis Cavers in Hawick had died from injuries sustained in an assault in 1874. His death certificate, which I’d checked previously, gave the cause of death as “inflammation of Brain, 8 days”, which didn’t strike me as anything unusual. But it was only through a search in the online Scotsman newspaper archive that I discovered the fuller story:

The Scotsman; 1874 July 7. JEDBURGH-JURY COURT-At a Jury Court at Jedburgh yesterday, Walter Murray, labourer, Wilton-dean, was charged with assaulting Francis Cavers, gardener, Wilton Lodge, by knocking him down with his fist, and attempting to strangle him. From the evidence it appeared that each party had given the other the lie before the assault took place. Cavers had been so seriously maltreated that congestion of the brain set in, and he died three weeks after the assault. The jury, by a majority, found the charge proven, but considering that there might have been provocation, recommended the prisoner to the leniency of the Court. The Sheriff sentenced Murray to two months’ imprisonment.

Sometime I plan to check local newspapers in Hawick, to see if they say any more about the incident and subsequent death and trial. I’d also like to check the trial papers, if they survive, but I’m not sure if they’d be in Edinburgh, or in Jedburgh. The death must have had a big impact on the family at the time. Francis Cavers was married, with six children, and also had many surviving brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. He was the oldest son of Thomas Cavers and Helen Scott, and a great-grandson of James Cavers and Isabella Coltherd.