William Masterton (1833- )

William Masterton (1833- )

Grocer, alleged re-setter, and outlaw

William Masterton appears in the records of the High Court of Scotland as a protagonist in a case of theft and re-setting of two 50 notes, when he was 18 years of age. He was first apprehended in London, on pretext of visiting the Great Exhibition, and was given the benefit of the doubt and released on bail. But his story has inconsistencies with later events, and his guilt appears to have been confirmed by him failing to appear at the hearing in the High Court, Edinburgh in November, 1851 for which he was outlawed. As yet, no further evidence of him has been found in the records.


William Masterton was the eldest son of John Masterton and Catherine Taylor, married in 1830 in Mid Calder, Lanark. This places him as part of the large group of Mastertons in and around Biggar. His father John was the eldest son of William Masterton and Rachel Hamilton. A fuller genealogy of the extended family of William Masterton can be found at this link.

A SCOTCHMAN IN TROUBLE. - At the Mansion-House Police Court, London, on Saturday, a young Scotchman, of respectable appearance and address, who gave the name of Masterton, was charged with having presented for payment at the Bank of England a 50 note, which had some time previously been stolen. The prisoner, in defence, said he kept a grocery and spirit-store in Edinburgh; that he had taken the note in question from a person who had purchased goods to the value of 7; the person, who gave the name of Thompson, refused to write his name upon the note, but said he had no other money about him. He had given 43 change in 1 Scotch bank-notes. He had never seen Thompson before. The prisoner said he had just come to London for the purpose of seeing the Exhibition, and had gone to the bank to present the note for payment, when he was taken into custody. The policeman who apprehended the prisoner said he had made inquiries about his character, and was perfectly satisfied with the account he had received from several respectable persons with whom he was acquainted in London. The Lord Mayor expressed his belief that the only thing censurable in the course taken by the prisoner was his want of caution in changing so large a note without knowing anything of his cutomer. He would, therefore, take bail for his appearance when required. The prisoner was immediately liberated, and went off to the Exhibition.

The Scotsman
9th July 1851

THE SCOTCHMAN IN TROUBLE. - At the Mansion House, London, on Monday, a young man named Masterton, who keeps a grocery and spirit store in Edinburgh, appeared upon his own recognisances upon the charge of having in his possession a Bank of England note for L.50 which had been stolen. He had been brought up a few days ago by Russell, the officer from the Bank of England, where he had presented the note, payment of which had been stopped. Mr Hobler appeared as solicitor to the person to whom the note belonged, John Price of Cornwall House, in the county of North Durham, servant to Mr Collingwood, said - I received two Bank of England notes of L.50 each, to the best of my belief, on Tuesday, the 17th of last month, with directions to pay them over to Mr Law at Edinburgh. I went to Edinburgh on that day, having the notes in my possession, and attended the theatre that night. After I came out of the theatre I met two young women, and walked down Calton Hill with them, and one of them slipped her hand into my pocket and took out my purse. I recovered the purse, but the two bank notes disappeared. I saw the comrade of the girl who took my purse stoop and take up something, but could not say what it was. I do not know that I ever saw the prisoner at the bar before the present time. Mr Hobler submitted that there was sufficient evidence to justify a remand; but Alderman Wire refused to detain the prisoner upon such testimony, but intimated that if the officer of the Edinburgh police who attended upon the occasion could produce a warrant for his apprehension, that authority should be backed, and the case might be regularly brought before the Edinburgh magistrates. The Edinburgh officer declined the offer of the alderman, and he then discharged the prisoner.

Caledonian Mercury
Tuesday, 15th July 1851


Morning Post
Tuesday, 15th July 1851

17 November, 1851
HER MAJESTY'S ADVOCATE - Sol.-Gen. Deas - G. Young A.D.

THEFT - RESET - EVIDENCE - HEARSAY. - Two pannels were accused of stealing two 50 Bank of England notes, and a third was charged in the same indictment with resetting them. The alleged resetter was fugitated for non-appearance. Held, that statements made by him, and a letter written by him on his apprehension in London, in the act of passing one of the stolen notes, were admissible in evidence, to the effect of identifying him as a party whose house the two other pannels were proved to have frequented.

ROBINA BURNET and ELIZABETH FISHER were charged with the Theft of Two Fifty-Pound Bank of England Notes; and WILLIAM MASTERTON, designed in the indictment as 'grocer and spirit-dealer, in or near Saint James Place, in or near Edinburgh,' was charged with Resetting the Notes.
The theft was alleged to have been committed on the Calton Hill, on the 17th or 18th of June 1851.
The pannel Masterton was outlawed for non-appearance.
The pannels Burnet and Fisher pleaded Not Guilty.
In the course of the trial, it appeared, that one of the notes, of which the number was known, and payment of which had been stopped at the Bank of England, was presented by Masterton on the 5th July.

JAMES CAMBUS, Cashier of the Bank of England - Deponed, A note was presented at the Bank, on the 5th July. We had information of it as stolen, and stopped it. I put the man into the secretary's office. He gave his name William Masterton.
GEORGE RUSSELL, an officer of the London Detective Police. - I was in the Bank of England on the 5th July. A man presented this note. I took him into custody; I was told in his presence that he wrote a letter.

BROUN, for the pannel Burnet, objected, that neither the letter nor the statements of Masterton formed competent evidence against Burnet. Even had Masterton been at the bar, his declaration could not have been received against Burnet; still less could any letter alleged to have been written by him. Besides, the statements of Masterton were liable to the objection of being mere hearsay evidence.
The SOLICITOR-GENERAL, for the prosecution, explained, that his only object in producing the letter, and putting in evidence the statements of Masterton, was to identify Masterton as the party whose shop the pannels Burnet and Fisher frequented. He was quite entitled to prove whatever tended to trace the stolen note from the posession of the pannel to that of Masterton, in whose hands it was identified.
The LORD JUSTICE-CLERK. - The object of the prosecutor is not to make the letter and these statements direct evidence.
BROUN. - If they cannot be made evidence directly against Burnet, can they be made evidence indirectly?
LORD COLONSAY. - This is just evidence explaining how the person apprehended by Russell is identified with William Masterton, keeping a grocery and spirit shop in St James Place, Edinburgh.
The COURT therefore repelled the objection, but held that the prosecutor ought first to establish some connexion or communication between Masterton and Burnet.
The Counsel for the Crown then called -

CHARLES GREEN, Sergeant of Police, who deponed, - On the night of the 17th June, I saw the prisoners together at the end of Register Street, about twenty minutes to ten. They are companions. I know the shop of William Masterton, in James' Place. I have seen the pannels in that shop; Fisher oftener than Burnet. I have seen them both separately and together. It was some time before June that I saw them; two weeks or so before.
GEORGE RUSSELL, recalled - Masterton admitted that he wrote that document - the letter in question. He said he was a shopkeeper in Edinburgh, in St James' Place; a grocery and spirit store; and that he had a brother in Edinburgh.
JOHN MASTERTON then identified the letter as being in his brother's handwriting.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL addressed the Jury on the part of the Crown, and was followed by the Counsel for the pannels Burnet and Fisher respectively.
The LORD JUSTICE-CLERK charged the Jury, intimating an opinion that the case was not proved against Fisher.
The Jury, by a majority of one, found the charge Not Proven.

In respect of which verdict, the pannels were assoilzied simpliciter, and dismissed from the bar.

Reports of Cases before the the High Court and Circuit Courts of Justiciary in Scotland
for the years 1848, 1849, 1850, 1851, 1852
John Shaw
T & T Clark, Law-Bookseller, Edinburgh, 1853
page 497-9