In a remote area of Kershope Forest near the border between England and Scotland lies a weathered monument that is only seen by the occasional passing hiker. It is an engraved stone pillar erected in 1852 by the family of a man called Thomas Davidson, paid for by public subscription. The faded inscription reads: “In memory of Thomas Davidson game watcher who was murdered on this spot on the 8th day of November 1849. Genesis 1V.10. And the Lord said unto Cain what hast thou done, the voice of thy brothers blood crieth unto me from the ground. Romans X11.19. It is written vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord”
Thomas Davidson lived at Kettle Hall in the parish of Bewcastle on the Cumberland moors and worked as a game watcher for Sir James Graham. He had been an honest and faithful servant in his employ for over 20 years. Thomas was a 52 year old married man and was the father of 8 children. On Thursday November 8th 1849, Thomas set off to do his morning rounds after telling his wife his route, in case his boss the gamekeeper called by and wanted to meet him on the moor. Thomas was gone all day, and as evening fell there was still no sign of him and he failed to return home that night. The following morning a search party went out to look for him, but it wasn’t until 2 days later that his body was found by his brother John in a remote location on Bewcastle Fells, some 2 miles from his home.
Thomas had been strangled with his own neckerchief, and he was discovered lying face down in a pool of blood, having sustained facial injuries. All his money was found to be missing from his pocket. Three local suspects were soon rounded up by the police. Joseph Hogg, a well known and convicted poacher was the main suspect. Three weeks prior to the murder he had been fined 40 shillings for shooting without a game certificate, just the latest in a long line of crimes of that nature. Thomas Davidson had provided the evidence that led to him being brought to court on this occasion, and Hogg had been heard to make threats against Davidson’s life at that time.
Joseph Hogg’s cousin Nichol Hogg was also arrested, along with another local man named Andrew Turnbull. The three accused men were kept in jail whilst a lengthy investigation and inquest took place, determining if a trial would be necessary. Their friends were proven to have given false alibis and it was soon established that all three men had been seen poaching in the area on the day in question. The Hoggs and Turnbull all made many contradictory and ever changing statements in an effort to exonerate themselves from the crime. Turnbull eventually confessed that the Hogg cousins had called on him on the 8th November and invited him to go out poaching. They had said that if they came across Thomas Davidson during their outing that their intention was to murder him. Turnbull had replied that he did not object to this plan, as long as he himself was kept safe. They all went out for a day’s shooting and it was on their way home that Davidson saw them and gave chase according to Turnbull. He gave evidence at the inquest that he ran away, and the last he saw was the two other men tussling with Thomas Davidson.
The three prisoners were committed by the coroner to Carlisle Gaol to await the result of the inquest. At the time Joseph Hogg had a deep scratch on his mouth which extended through both his upper and lower lips. When questioned he said that he got the injury whilst shooting in the woods. The inquest took place over several days and many members of the Hogg family were proven to perjure themselves while lying about the whereabouts of both Joseph and Nichol. However Andrew Turnbull’s wife of just 18 months told the truth and gave very concise and damning evidence. She stated that her husband had indeed gone out shooting with the Hoggs on the day in question and when he returned that evening he seemed very disturbed. When she asked him what was troubling him, he stated that Joseph Hogg had killed Thomas Davidson out near Skelton Pike.
The three prisoners remained in Carlisle Gaol for many days while all the evidence was presented. Andrew Turnbull was very annoyed that he had not been released on bail and kept insisting that he was innocent and had told the truth. As the days passed he became more and more agitated and anxious. Eventually the inquest was over and the decision was handed down. The Hoggs and Turnbull were all to be put on trial for the wilful murder of Thomas Davidson.
The day after he heard the news of his impending trial Andrew Turnbull was found dead in his prison cell. He had hanged himself with a towel from the iron bars of the window. On the walls of his cell were messages he had scratched out with a burnt stick. Below the window he had written “ The Hoggs are guilty. I am innocent. I will not come in the hands of man”. Above the fireplace was the message “ I commit my soul to God that gave it, take my body to my father’s burying place” There was also a long message to his wife telling her that she was not to blame for his death and that he loved her very much.
Joseph and Nichol Hogg were both charged with the wilful murder of Thomas Davidson at the parish of Bewcastle. They were sent for trial at Cumberland Spring Assizes on March 2nd 1850. Despite many witnesses stating that they had heard Joseph Hogg verbally threaten the life of Thomas Davidson, and evidence to support the fact that the cousins were known to have been poaching in the area, and that they had appeared to have plenty of money to spend in the local hostelries after the murder, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The judge, Mr Baron Anderson asked if the jury were absolutely sure of their verdict, and the foreman replied “We think we are satisfied that there is no evidence for a guilty verdict against the prisoners”
The Hogg cousins were later taken to court by the lawyer who defended them for non payment of his fees. Jemima Turnbull, the widow of Andrew Turnbull never remarried and remained in the area until her death. No doubt at times she had to encounter the men who invited her husband out shooting on that fateful day, and who were ultimately responsible for the deaths of two men of the parish of Bewcastle.
Thomas Davidson is buried in the cemetery of Stapleton Church, 9 miles from the site of his memorial.
Walking the Border – Ian Crofton
Mountain Bothies Association handbook www.Bewcastle.com – Legends and Stories
19th Century Longtown