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The Christmas Day trials

Christmas Day was like any other day for the prisoners in Inveraray Jail. There were no treats or presents – not even an extra spoon of porridge. Back then, it wasn’t even a holiday. In fact, over the years a number of trials were held in the Courtroom on 25 December. So while you’re tucking into your turkey, spare a thought for these poor people who were facing Christmas behind bars.

Facing trial in the Courtoom

Facing trial in the Courtoom

Ann McLauchlan, a housekeeper from Dunoon, was tried on the 25 December 1848. She was found guilty of stealing a carpet and Sheriff MacLaurin sentenced her to 30 days’ imprisonment. Not the greatest Christmas present! Ten years later Alexander Mason, an 18-year-old from Strone, faced Sheriff MacLaurin on Christmas Day. He was found guilty of theft and spent 30 days in jail.

In another Christmas Day trial, this time in 1858, Donald McDuff, a 25-year-old farm servant from Port Charlotte on Islay, faced charges of assault and was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment. No Christmas cheer for him.  Fellow Port Charlotte man Donald McLean, a 19-year-old labourer, was also up for assault. Sheriff MacLaurin sentenced him to 30 days too. Donald, however, didn’t spend Christmas in jail. Following the trial, he paid a fine and was set free. History doesn’t show whether he spent the rest of the day drinking whisky and rye!

John McTavish from Lochgilphead, meanwhile, might had started his festive celebrations a bit early. He faced the jury on 25 December 1866 charged with being drunk and disorderly. Sir John Orde JP sentenced him to seven days in jail. That would have sobered him up.

And finally Hugh Robertson, an 18-year-old sailor whose residence was recorded as ‘usually at sea’, faced trial for breach of the peace on 25 December 1868. Sheriff McArthur sentenced him to 7 days’ imprisonment or payment of 7/-. Hugh must have been broke because he opted for jail. He was released on 1 January, so he spent New Year’s Eve behind bars too.

Unlike those unlucky prisoners, you can’t get locked up in Inveraray Jail on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or New Year’s Day – they’re the only three days in the year when we close our doors. But we’re open every other day over the festive period from 10am to 5pm. Come and watch the courtroom trials, talk to the prisoners, meet the Warder, go to jail and imagine what it must have felt like to be behind bars in Inveraray Jail on Christmas Day all those years ago.


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Inveraray Jail, Argyll, Scotland, PA32 8TX