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The New Year Trials

Champagne bottle and streamers

The nation”s getting ready to celebrate Hogmanay.

Here in Scotland, Hogmanay is a big event. Across the country, people see in the New Year in style. But there was no partying for the prisoners of Inveraray Jail. They would spend New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day alone in their cells working – just like any other day. They weren’t allowed to socialise with other prisoners. There were certainly no special treats. So when you’re tucking into your cooked breakfast on New Year’s morning, spare a thought for the prisoners who would have woken up to a small bowl of porridge at 7.30am.

Back then, New Year’s Day wasn’t even a holiday. In fact, over the years a number of trials were held in the Courtroom on the 31st December and 1st January. Imagine what it must have felt like for these poor souls who were facing New Year behind bars in Inveraray Jail.

Perhaps John McQueen, a 21-year-old labourer from Inveraray, had started his New Year revelry early. He was tried on 31st December 1858 for being drunk and disorderly and for assault. Sheriff MacLaurin found him guilty and sentenced him to 20 days’ imprisonment. Not a great way to start the New Year!  Donald Sinclair, a 27-year-old shepherd from Kilmun, faced Sheriff MacLaurin on the same day. He was charged with assaulting a police officer. He’d already spent two days in the cells. He was sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment or payment of a fine of 10/6 (ten shillings and sixpence). He opted for the fine and was released after the trial – free to join in the New Year festivities.

Scene in the courtoom

The court in session at Inveraray Courthouse.

Alexander Wilkie, a 22-year-old mason from Dunoon, wasn’t so lucky. He was tried on 31st December 1873 for assault and breach of the peace. Sheriff Wyllie sentenced him to 7 days’ imprisonment or payment of a fine of 10/- (ten shillings). He paid his fine but wasn’t released until the next morning, so he missed out on toasting the bells.

Another mason, John McFarlane, faced Sheriff Home on 1st January 1875. The 38-year-old from Sandbank was also found guilty of assault and breach of the peace. He wasn’t given the option of a fine and spent 20 days – including New Year’s Day – in jail. John Dick, meanwhile, faced Provost McFarlane on 1st January 1877. The 25-year-old labourer from Dalmally was sentenced to 7 days’ imprisonment for stealing a pair of shoes and a shirt and started his year in the cells.

Visitors behind bars

Come and get locked up on New Year”s Eve and then make your escape.

Like those unfortunate prisoners, you can get locked up in Inveraray Jail on New Year’s Eve as we’re open to the public. Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are the only three days in the year when we close our doors. Come and watch the courtroom trials, talk to the prisoners and meet the Warder . Then make your escape and join in the New Year’s Eve celebrations with friends and family. Happy New Year!


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Inveraray Jail, Argyll, Scotland, PA32 8TX