Craig and the London Connection

One aspect of George Craig’s legal practice is his relationship with London solicitors. One firm which had a strong link to the Borders is Richardson & Connell. Craig is very likely to have known the leading partner in that firm, John Richardson (1780-1864), quite well. Richardson was originally from Gilmerton in Midlothian and was a good friend of Sir Walter Scott. He purchased property in Ancrum in 1829.[1]  

Ever since the parliamentary union in 1707, and the development of Scottish appeals to the House of Lords, Scots had based themselves in London in order to manage these appeals and also to act as parliamentary agents. A small number of London agents dealt both with legislative business and appellate business but, as the letter which is the subject of this blog demonstrates, there were other matters which they were well placed to handle on behalf of their Scots clients. Craig used such agents for a variety of purposes and they proved to be very helpful in providing him with information. 

The letter relates to Dr James Dunbar Mudie, a physician who had formerly resided in Alford in Lincolnshire. He had acted as guarantor in a transaction for Robert Dunlop W.S., his son in law, granting him a bond of relief. This meant that if Dunlop could not pay the debt which underlay the transaction, Mudie agreed to become liable to do so. When the risk of non-payment materialised, rather than pay up Mudie left England and Craig had the task of trying to track him down.  

Given that Mudie was last known to be domiciled in England, it made sense for Craig to seek help from his London agents. These were attorneys and solicitors who were generally resourceful and well-connected. Tracing fugitives would, perhaps, not have been in their normal line of activity but it was certainly something that fell within their capabilities. Given that Mudie was known to have gone to Paris, Craig was optimistic that he might be traced there. 

Dr Mudie was no Crippen. This was not a fugitive criminal suspect, simply someone who had found himself liable for a potentially very large debt. It was a very typical type of scenario in Craig’s experience, particularly since he himself would insist on security if lending money on behalf of his clients. Many lawyers were sequestrated in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Most who found themselves in that position did so either through a poor investment or simply by taking a chance and guaranteeing the debt of a respectable friend or client. Craig himself, on at least one occasion, was willing to do so  Craig himself was sequestrated when the Leith Bank went out of business because, having become a partner in the bank, he was liable without limit for its debts. Catastrophic debt was one of life’s hazards as we see in the pages of Dickens and in the life experience of Sir Walter Scott. 

What Craig wanted was to get at Mudie’s assets through debt recovery procedures in French law or English law depending on where those assets were located. There are numerous examples of Craig using English-based attorneys to undertake legal steps to recover money from debtors, but normally the debtors were known to be England (usually the north of England). This particular case is unusual. From Dr Mudie’s perspective, at his time of life, and given his social position, to leave his home in Lincolnshire for fear of a debt contracted in Scotland was no small thing.  

George Craig to Richardson & Connell, Westminster, 31 Mar. 1832 

Dear Sir 

A Dr Mudie & his wife (people of property) left Edinburgh about 18 months ago, principally I apprehend with a view to get quit of trouble in his son in law’s affairs, a W.S. in Edinburgh. 

Another Gentleman & myself have a considerable claim against him but hitherto we have been unable to find out where he went. 

A Mr H. Wilson of Alford in England wrote my agents Messrs Gibson & Hector W.S. Edinburgh 21st current that Dr Mudie is in Paris, but the Doctor’s letter to Mr Wilson had been conveyed by a private hand to London, & posted from thence to Alford, evidently with the intention of preventing any farther correspondence. Now whether the Doctor be really in Paris or in London is the point: And as there can be but few English residents in Paris unknown to the French Posts or Police, I should think that it might be easily ascertained whether the Doctor be really in Paris. 

Would you therefore take the necessary steps to ascertain the above circumstance, & provided you think that any legal measure can be resorted to against him in Paris by arrest or other Process that would make the money recoverable I shall send you a state of it with any authority requisite to be produced in the matter. 

The person you employ in Paris will have to go nicely about it, as the Doctor would instantly shift his quarters in suspicion of any one looking after him. 

Dr Mudie is a tall thin man aged about 70, with white hair, & no person generally living in his family, except his wife who is an old lady. 

I have been informed that Dr Mudie’s property is vested in the Public Securities or Bank of England Stock, which you could perhaps also ascertain & get attached. 

I remain, &c.


[1] H.J.C. Grierson, ed., Letters of Sir Walter Scott (9 vols, London, 1932-1937), XI, 237, 248.