The River Tay is arguably the finest Salmon fishing river in the world, with people flocking to Scotland from around the globe to fish it’s silvery waters. But while those visitors pay a premium price for fishing this fine river, poaching has always been a problem and in April 1870 the constant cat and mouse game played out by the water bailiffs and poachers resulted in a violent death near Sleepless Inch or
Island, a site now occupied by the sewerage works east of Perth.
In the early hours of the morning on Friday the 8th of April 1870 seven men, Alexander Lamond, A McKenzie, and John and Alex Simpson all from Newburgh in Fife and Duncan McPherson, William Armstrong and George Wyllie from Perth left Newburgh and headed up river. The night was dark with rain clouds obstructing the moon during frequent showers as the men rowed upstream with the intention of using a net to catch fish in the river. Arriving at Sleepless Island they anchored the boat near the riverbank and sent two men ashore to act as lookouts while the other five mencast the net, getting a number of fish. As they were preparing to cast again one of the lookouts called out that the Watchers were coming. Six Watchers, paid to patrol the river looking out for poachers, ran towards the boat and a violent fight broke out. At the end of the affray Alexander Lamond from Newburgh lay dead in the water.
On the 6th of June 1870 two of the watchers involved, Thomas Anderson and his son Edward Anderson from Perth, were tried at the High Court in Edinburgh. Both men were charged with Culpable Homicide.
At the trial the prosecution called on all the other poachers to give evidence. The first called was Simpson from Newburgh. He stated that when he heard the alarm he rushed to pull up the anchor and as he did this he was hit on the leg by a stone thrown by one of the Watchers, another stone flew by just missing his head. He saw another poacher being hit on the head by a stone and the deceased man, Lamond, being hit on the back. Then the Watchers were at the waters edge armed with sticks and stones and they grabbed the boat. Simpson stated that the last time he saw Lamond he had one leg in the water, the other in the boat, and was being violently attacked by the accused. As this was taking place Simpson stated that Alexander Lamond was crying out “Oh, dinna kill’s leave the life in’s, an ye’ll get everything that’s in the boat”.
The second poacher to give evidence was another man from Newburgh, John McKenzie. He also stated that he saw the accused strike Lamond on the head and back with sticks. He also told of being attacked and knocked down. William Armstrong, a labourer who lived in the Speygate Perth stated that he was with the party of men poaching in the Tay. He was hit on the head by a rock, which he said
knocked him “heels over heads”. He then told the court that he too had heard Lamond call for mercy as he was attacked Armstrong specified that he heard one of the prisoners cry “Smash his head” as they assaulted Lamond. Although he admitted he could not identify the watcher who was alleged to have shouted. The evidence of another poacher, Macpherson, correlated the evidence already given.
Then William McGregor, the Perth Police Sergeant who arrested the prisoners, stated that Thomas Anderson said it was a pity Lamond was killed but it could not be helped. McGregor stated another watcher called Henderson was heard to say about the death “what did it matter” and thought the whole affair funny.
Two doctors stated that Lomond had died as a result of drowning but injuries to his head showed he would have been stunned first. A William Murray who lived near Kinfauns was out fishing on the night the affray he stated that he had heard the noise of a fight taking place and a man yelling “Oh dear” he also heard a man shouting at someone to come out for god’s sake and saying that they would not touch him, he also said that before the shouting he heard a noise that sounded like stones or sticks striking a boat.
One of the watchers, a man named James Motion, stated in court that with a cry of “Nail them” it was the poachers that threw the stones first. With witness contradicting each other’s version of events, the jury after only a few minuets returned with a verdict of Not Guilty and the accused father and son were allowed to go free. So no one was ever brought the justice for the death of Alexander Lamond, and
the cloak – and-dagger war between poacher and river watcher continued.