In The Newspapers For All The Wrong Reasons: Snippets From The Life Of John Gaull

Today, we might refer to it as his ’15-minutes of fame.’ But for John Gaull, his mentions in the media tended to be for all the wrong reasons or at the least for reasons he likely would not have asked for.

Genealogists have long known that newspapers can be a great source of rich information and stories about the lives of our ancestors. It is for this reason that I try to spend as much time as I can searching through newspaper archives to find the stories of those in my family who laid the foundation for who I am.

In the case of John Gaull, archived copies of the Aberdeen Journal from the 19th century provide me with three stories: he was a victim of fraud; he was accused of fraud; and, when he died he funeral procession took two hours and covered a distance of about eight miles.

John Gaull is my 4X great grandfather and as I remind myself, he is not to be confused with his grandson, my 2X great grandfather also a John Gaull.

The records I have found tell me that John (the elder) was born in 1806 in Inverurie, Aberdeen, Scotland, one of at least six children born to Alexander Gauld and Elspet Harper. Early newspaper mentions confirm what later census records report, that John was employed as the farm overseer at Whitehaugh, an estate owned by Lewis Xavier Leslie of Old Aberdeen, in Chapel of Garioch. In that capacity, John can be found listed in newspaper advertisements as the contact person when the estate had land available for prospective tenant farmers or when livestock and farm equipment was being offered for sale.

In December of 1850 however, John along with several other men of Aberdeenshire fell victim to a fraud perpetrated by a man named James Forbes. Forbes forged John’s signature as well as the signatures of two other men on a bill in the amount of 400 pounds. Forbes had committed a similar fraud on two other occasions with different victims, each time passing off the forged notes as legitimate obligations. When his fraudulent activities were uncovered, Forbes is reported to have ‘escaped’ to America only to be tracked down by constable John Scott and returned to Scotland to face justice. 

On Monday, December 16, 1850, Forbes was brought before the High Court of Judiciary in Edinburgh where he plead guilty to the three frauds. He was sentenced to 21 years transportation. No mention is given as to where Forbes was sent but I’m guessing it was likely Australia.

In November of 1877 the newspapers report that a horse dealer named Alex Smith brought a lawsuit against John Gaull, accusing John of selling him a mare on July 31, 1877 that was sick and subsequently died. Smith alleged that John knew the horse was unwell so completed the sale in order to avoid the loss himself. John told the court that he believed the horse to have been in good health at the time of the sale, that he had offered Smith no warranty and, that Smith had subsequently re-sold the horse to a John Mackie who later returned the horse to Smith. John alleged that Smith had brought the lawsuit to recoup losses that Smith was solely responsible for. Following an adjournment of one month, the case returned to court on December 26, 1877 where Smith gave up the case and the court found in John’s favour including granting him expenses.

Finally, confirming the information on John’s death registration, a death notice was published in the Aberdeen People’s Journal newspaper on August 20, 1892 (page 6). But there was also a separate funeral notice for John published on August 13, 1892 in the Aberdeen Journal (page 6), two days after John died. 

The funeral notice states that his funeral procession would be proceeding from Skene and travelling to his burial site at the churchyard in Kintore, a distance of about eight miles. In 1892, that funeral procession was take an estimated two hours to complete.

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