Unfit for purpose

The subject of this blog is a letter about the sale of an unnamed horse which was made at Earlston Fair in 1831. It is a short letter but the sale of horses was a regular occurrence and this is representative of a whole genre of business with which law agents would have been well familiar. Given that horses were work animals as well as modes of transport, these cases are often the nineteenth-century equivalent of the sale of a faulty car or a washing machine that soon breaks down. 

The letter was written to Thomas Scott, a writer in Gattonside near Galashiels. Why did George Craig, a writer himself, require the services of another writer? Scott, as the letter indicates, had been in the past a practitioner before the sheriff court at Greenlaw which was the county town of Berwickshire. This meant that Scott would have been admitted as a procurator by the sheriff, probably after a formal process of examination as to his understanding of law and procedure (carried out either by the sheriff or existing procurators nominated for that purpose).  

George Craig was not a litigator. He certainly advised his clients on litigation, but he left the actual task of representing them in the local courts to those with experience in that line of legal work. Scott was one such individual and we know from Craig’s letter books that Scott had formerly practised as a writer and procurator at Lauder, a few miles to the north. 

The matter that is the subject of dispute was an ‘unsound broken winded horse’ purchased by the overseer at Torwoodlee, John Tillie. One of Craig’s most important clients was the laird of Torwoodlee, James Pringle, and he was very familiar with the people at the Torwoodlee estate. It was quite natural, therefore, that he would act for them against the seller, Robert Aitchison, described as a ‘tenant & horsedealer’.   

The outcome of the case is unknown. It is clear, however, that Scott was still a sheriff court practitioner because Craig subsequently wrote to him on other matters relating to litigation. As Craig did his best to ensure that Scott did not receive a place on the voters’ roll for Selkirkshire in 1836 (Scott evidently not being a Tory), relations may have been less cordial, although by then it was Craig’s partner, William Rutherford, who handled court matters for the firm. 

This was one of a number of cases involving horses in which Craig was involved and in them he demonstrated a good knowledge of the subject. He was clearly entrusted to buy, sell and hire horses by others who regarded him as a good judge. When selling one of his own ponies, in 1826, Craig remarked to a potential buyer that it was ‘impossible to find fault to it, it has been so well broke that it is more like a trained person than a horse’. 

Craig to Thomas Scott, writer, Gattonside, 26 July 1831  

Dear Sir 

If you still practise before the sheriff court at Greenlaw you will please order Robert Aitchison tenant & horsedealer at Mellowlees in the parish of Nenthorn a Summons for £7 the price of an unsound broken winded horse sold to John Tillie Overseer at Torwoodlee at Earlston fair last 29 June, which by a written pencil note under Aitchison’s hand that Tillie had the caution to take, & which I enclose, he warranted to be sound except a grass cough. The horse was immediately offered back, but he refused to take it. It has done nothing since it was bought & continues in a field at Torwoodlee unfit for use. 

I am &c.