Crime fiction festival with added archives

A free exhibition staged as part of Aberdeen’s Granite Noir crime fiction festival at the end of this month shines a light into the hidden corners of the city’s past.

Drawn from original records in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Archives, The Grit in the Granite showcases photographs, documents and maps to highlight the darker side of Victorian Aberdeen as the city experienced rapid expansion and prosperity.

The exhibition, which runs from Thursday, February 24 to Sunday 27 in the Music Hall and the Lemon Tree, examines the rapid growth of the city’s physical area and population and the corresponding rise in poverty, crime, prostitution and juvenile delinquency.

City archivist Phil Astley and Dr Dee Hoole, Hon Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, will give an accompanying talk on the life of one particular individual living in the city during this period.

Grace McIntosh made her first court appearance in 1838 aged just 11, subsequent court appearances resulted in her being charged with theft aged 12 and 16, and then transported to Van Diemen’s Land in Tasmania. She returned to Aberdeen after 10 years to fall back into a life of prostitution and petty crime until her death in 1880. Astley and Hoole have recreated a vivid picture of Grace from original papers which have left a remarkable historical record of a life of poverty and desperation lived against the backdrop of the rapidly developing nineteenth century Granite City.

Phil Astley, city archivist, Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire Archives, said: ‘The poor and destitute in Aberdeen in the 19th century leave little or no trace of themselves, except through their court appearances and incarcerations, and in Grace’s case her transportation to Tasmania. Through these papers we can learn a great deal about the deprivations of the city’s underclass during this period of prosperity and expansion.’

The Grit in the Granite exhibition highlights the plight of a number of pre-teen children all arrested for petty crimes. In 1841 it was estimated that there were around 280 ‘delinquent’ or neglected children on the streets of Aberdeen who were existing by means of begging and theft. Over a quarter of these children had spent time in prison the previous year.

In 1843 62 boys and 14 girls under the age of 14 were imprisoned, and in 1844 the number fell to 37 boys and 10 girls. Of the 123 over the two years, only six of the boys could read with any degree of competency. While these cases are too early for prisoner photographs or mugshots, the court papers clearly show that children such as Michael O’Donaghoe (aged 12 years), Thomas McKenzie (aged 13) and Duncan Anderson (aged 12) were arrested and convicted on more than one occasion.

Granite Noir, now in its sixth year, provides a healthy dose of mystery, music, crime fiction and fact to entertain, excite and inspire audiences with a full programme of live, in-person events, workshops and theatrical performances.

Granite Noir is produced by Aberdeen Performing Arts on behalf of partners Belmont Filmhouse, Aberdeen City Libraries and Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives. Aberdeen Performing Arts Chief Executive, Jane Spiers, said: ‘Granite Noir celebrates the best in crime fiction, but equally the festival gives us an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the fascinating real life stories that inspire and ignite the imaginations of authors and storytellers.

‘The exhibition is a perfect example of this, providing a unique insight into the underbelly of Victorian Aberdeen, revealing the grit in the granite that makes up our city and really bringing the past to life. The exhibition runs throughout the weekend and is free, so make sure to drop in in between events!’

Granite Noir 2022 is supported by Aberdeen City Council and Creative Scotland and EventScotland.

Councillor Marie Boulton, culture spokesperson for Aberdeen City Council, said: ‘It’s absolutely fantastic to say welcome back to “Granite Noir in the flesh!” Last year’s digital edition of our world-renowned and much loved crime and crime-writing festival was a tremendous success and our use of innovative technology meant that were still able to welcome authors and aficionados from every corner of the globe. I think we’d all agree however, that nothing beats meeting our favourite crime writers in person and hearing at first hand a wealth of fascinating stories, both fictional and from often stranger-than-fiction real-life events.

‘As a fitting scene-setter for this year’s festival The Grit in the Granite exhibition, co-presented by our City Archivist Phil Astley, gives us a flavour of crime in 19th century Aberdeen and the harsh social conditions that led to criminal activity in the Victorian era as the city’s population rapidly expanded on its way to becoming the bustling and diverse centre we know today.’

Granite Noir runs from Thursday 24 to Sunday 27 February at various venues across Aberdeen. Tickets for all Granite Noir events can be booked at, by calling 01224 641122 and in person from the Box Office at the Music Hall and His Majesty’s Theatre.