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A Kilmarnock ‘Soiled Dove’

‘There was, however, about the deceased an honesty which raised her high above those with whom she consorted. Often had the police to interfere and bring her from the midst of her fallen companions, who were mistreating her because she would not be so wicked as they were ... she never robbed, and even warned those whom she saw were being made victims by her companions’.1

The preceding quote is taken from an 1866 newspaper report of the death of Elizabeth Muir. Commonly known as ‘Dublin Jack’, Muir was a Kilmarnock prostitute, who was aged about 40 when she collapsed in Wright’s public house, and died shortly afterwards in the police office in Guard Lane.2 The names of a number of mid 19th Century prostitutes in Kilmarnock have come down to us from the press reports of their appearances in court, but the sympathetic tone displayed in Muir’s obituary is remarkable. Unfortunately, we know little more about Muir than this. However, for another Kilmarnock prostitute we can put together some account of her life.

Elizabeth Mulholland was born in Ireland in about 1841. Her parents were William Mulholland, a shoemaker, and his first wife, Mary Ann McCaig. It has not proved possible to discover when her mother died, nor when William Mulholland came to Scotland. We know that the family were in Kilmarnock by 1850. Elizabeth’s half-sister, Martha, was born in 1851 or 1852.3 She was William's child by his second wife, Martha Williamson.4 William and Martha Mulholland must always have lived in near-poverty. On Census night 1861, the family was living at 30 West Shaw Street, and consisted of William, his wife Martha, and their daughter Martha.5 In 1868 William made application for poor relief: the family were then living at 1 Bentinck Street.6 The Inspector of Poor noted that he had been born in Ireland (c.1793, for his age is given as 75), was a Protestant, a shoemaker, and was partially disabled due to chest disease. At that time his second wife, Martha, born c.1812, and his youngest daughter, Martha, were living with him - the daughter being employed as a bonnet maker. His other children, who no longer lived at home, were named as Susan, 38, married and living in Glasgow, Ellen, 30, Elizabeth, 28, Thomas 26, unmarried and working as a plasterer, and Catherine, 25, married to a coalman. William was stated to be earning 2s 6d a week, and was awarded poor relief of 1s 6d.

By Census night 1871, the family, which now consisted of William, his wife, his daughter Martha, and her illegitimate 9-month-old daughter, Margaret, had moved to 47 Low Glencairn Street. Here William Mulholland died on 3rd August 1871; the cause of death was asthma.7 Almost immediately, Martha Mulholland, his widow, applied for poor relief, giving her address as 35 Low Glencairn Street.8 The Inspector noted that she was born in Ireland, was a Protestant, earned her living as a hawker, and was partially disabled, due to ‘debility’. She earned 2s 6d a week, while her daughter, Martha, earned 4s a week as a bonnet worker, and had, as we have seen, an illegitimate child.9 It is not clear what relief was offered Mrs Mulholland, but in May 1876 she was removed from the Poor Roll, and was encouraged to go to the Cunninghame Combination Poor House at Kilwinning. She seems not to have gone, for she got casual relief in March 1877, and was restored to the Poor Roll the following month, getting 2s a week. She died in June 1878, and was buried at the expense of the Poor Relief Board.10

Elizabeth Mulholland would have been about 20 in August 1861, when she was already working as a prostitute, as the following passage shows:

‘On Tuesday a young man of the Campbell clan from the town of New Cumnock visited Kilmarnock for the purpose of transacting business in the baking line.11 He managed however quite apart from his business to get into rather an ugly entanglement which cost him rather dear. Some wayward fancies inspired by John Barleycorn induced him to visit a well-known house of fallen women in Fore Street, kept by a notorious person of the name of Hay.12 He in yankee phrase liquored with two girls, Elizabeth Mulholland and Jeannie Carl, and with these two he afterwards visited the public house of Mr William Robertson in Green Street. In Robertson’s, according to the baker’s statement, one of the girls had filched from him his purse containing 75s in silver, and gave it to the other who made off with it towards the Holehouse Road. The police were called and both of the girls taken into custody. Search was made on the farm of Parkhead for the money, but none was found, and as it was not got in the possession of the girls, it was found necessary to liberate them. The baker had while in company with the girls in his breast pocket £24 in notes, but luckily for him it escaped the hands of the thieves, into whose hands he foolishly placed himself’.13

It seems apparent, therefore, that by this time Elizabeth Mulholland had fallen into a way of life that revolved around drink, casual sex and opportunist theft. We have no way of knowing what in her character, and her personal circumstances, led her to this situation, though there are indications that she had a poor relationship with her family. It would also be interesting to know more of the role of brothel-keepers such as John Hay in the recruitment of girls such as Mulholland.

Over the following years, Elizabeth Mulholland appears regularly before the authorities in Kilmarnock. In April 1865 she was fined 5s for being drunk in Waterloo Street, Kilmarnock,14 and again in September 1865 ‘John Hay, a labourer, and Elizabeth Mulholland, a soiled dove,15 having been carousing, conducted themselves in an outrageous manner in Boyd Street on Saturday. They were both wilfully forgetful of the offence but after proof was led the charge was found true, and they were each fined in 10s 6d’.16 It is noteworthy than she is still involved with John Hay; the nature of the report also suggests that the offence was of a sexual nature.

Hay is a shadowy character. Looking again at his entry in the 1861 Census, we see that he gives his age as 43 (i.e. born c.1818), and his wife as Isabella, 28.17 It may be that she was merely another of the ‘boarders’, their wedded state a sop to the sensibilities of the census enumerator. In 1862 it was reported that on 29th June, ‘in John Hay’s brothel, Fore Street, James Connery, furnaceman, Hurlford, and Owen Woods, engineman, Crookedholm, attacked and assaulted, by striking, kicking and dragging by the hair, Hay’s wife, Lilias Paton’.18 In August 1863, John Hay, ‘keeper of a notorious house in Fore Street’, was jailed for 1 month for assaulting one Agnes Cunningham.19 After their court appearance in 1865, Hay disappears from the record, and nothing further is known of him.

Elizabeth Mulholland does not appear in the papers again until 1869, when she was found guilty of being drunk and disorderly.20 She was before the Court again in December 1870, charged with prostitution.21 A few months later, she was back before the Court, and jailed for 30 days after being found guilty of breach of the peace at her father’s house in Low Glencairn Street.22 The following month, March 1871, she was again before the Court, charging with assaulting her father on the 23rd March, having only just been released after serving her last sentence. She was imprisoned for a further 30 days. It was noted that she had been imprisoned about 11 times in the previous two years.23 She spent the Census night (3rd April) of 1871 in Kilmarnock Prison.24 The nature of these offences suggest that Mulholland had a bad relationship with her father, but whether this had been a factor in her drift into crime and prostitution cannot be tested.

As we have seen, her father died later in 1871. Elizabeth Mulholland appears not to have caught the interest of the press over the next few years, but her life must have continued to be a sad one of drink and dissolution. On Saturday 27th October 1877, she was found by the police, drunk and incapable, and taken into custody. The following morning, she was seen in her cell by the duty officer, and she asked him to go to her step-mother to get her a cup of tea. When he returned in ten minutes later, ‘he discovered that she had hanged herself by a napkin tied to one of the bars of the door’.25

So ended a life which can have had few redeeming moments.

© Rob Close 2001

This article appears in Ayrshire Notes No.20, published in Spring 2001.

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  1. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 1st December 1866, 8a.

  2. The registration of Muir’s death is Deaths 1866, Registration District 597, Entry no. 645. Her occupation is given as ‘sewer’, and her father’s name as John Muir. Her mother’s name is not recorded, and the cause of death is given as congestive apoplexy, the result of alcoholic poisoning.

  3. In the 1871 census Martha’s place of birth is given as Kilwinning, but when she applied for poor relief in 1878 her place of birth is given as Kilmarnock. [Kilmarnock Poor Register, Book 17/3/1/20, Item 2079. I owe this reference, and other Poor Register references, to Jim Steel]

  4. They were married in Kilmarnock on 4th February 1850. [www.familysearch.com, seen 20th January 2001]

  5. Census 1861, Registration District 597, Enumeration District 21, Entry no.110.

  6. Kilmarnock Poor Register, Book 17/3/1/18, Item 821.

  7. New Register House [NRH], Register of Deaths 1871, Registration District 597, Entry No. 362. His parents’ names are given as John Mulholland and Elizabeth Salmon.

  8. Kilmarnock Poor Register, Book 17/3/1/20, Item 1363.

  9. Martha Mulholland had, besides Margaret, other illegitimate children. Jessie was born c.1873. In May 1878 Martha was pregnant, unable to work, and sent to the Cunninghame Combination Poorhouse. She appears to have been pregnant again in December 1879, while her 2-day-old daughter Martha died in December 1880. She appears to have subsequently married a labourer, Alexander Cochrane, and died in February 1920 [Kilmarnock Poor Register, Book 17/3/1/20, Item 2079; NRH, Register of Deaths 1880, Registration District 597, Entry No.552; NRH, Register of Deaths 1920, Registration District 597, Entry No.66]

  10. Her date of death is given as 15th June in the Poor Register, but the certificate of death [NRH, Register of Deaths 1878, Registration District 597, Entry No 239] gives the date as the 14th June. She died at 7 Sandbed Street, Kilmarnock. Her parents are recorded as John Williamson, labourer, and Janet Irvine or Williamson.

  11. 1861 Census, Registration District 608, Enumeration District 1, Entry no.21, for a house in Castle, New Cumnock, records John Campbell, 55, a master baker, and his two unmarried sons, both journeymen bakers, James, 24, and David 18. One of the sons is presumably the callow youth who fell in with Mulholland and Carl.

  12. There appear to have been two, probably related, brothel-keepers in Kilmarnock called Hay. One, John Hay, is at 18 Fore Street in the 1861 Census, living in a house with 2 windowed rooms with his wife, Isabella, 4 boarders (all described as hand sewers), Susan Fury, Mary Lochhead, Elizabeth McLucky, Helen Downe, and Helen’s 6-year-old son, James. [1861 Census, Registration District 597, Enumeration District 7, Entry no.90]. The other, William Hay, seems to have operated from Ladeside Street and, latterly, Soulis Street.

  13. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 10th August 1861, 3f.

  14. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 22nd April 1865, 8a.

  15. The Oxford English Dictionary has no examples of this expression for a prostitute earlier than 1882, and regards it as being an Australian and North American term.

  16. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 23rd September 1865, 8a. This case, at Kilmarnock Police Court on the 18th September, is also reported, briefly, in Kilmarnock Weekly Post, 23rd September 1865, 5a, Hay being described as a ‘brothel keeper’, and Mulholland as a ‘prostitute’.

  17. See footnote 9.

  18. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 5th July 1862, 3a.

  19. Kilmarnock Weekly Post, 22nd August 1863, 5d. Cunningham is described as a prostitute in 1865. [Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 4th November 1865, 8d]

  20. Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 3rd July 1869, 8c. It is probable that other references to Mulholland in the local press remain to be discovered.

  21. Kilmarnock Standard, 10th December 1870, 2e.

  22. Kilmarnock Standard, 25th February 1871, 2g.

  23. Kilmarnock Standard, 25th March 1871, 2e.

  24. 1871 Census, Registration District 597, Enumeration District 14, entry no. 74. Another inmate was Margaret Murray or Sharp, another prostitute.

  25. Ayr Advertiser, 1st November 1877, 6f. See also Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald, 3rd November 1877, 5c, which says that she hanged herself with a neck shawl ‘from the stanchion of the aperture for light and air to the cell’.

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