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The Grantown Stabbing: Policeman killed by deranged Black Isle farmer

PC James Fraser was murdered in the line of duty at the Grant Arms in Grantown-on-Spey in 1878.
PC James Fraser was murdered in the line of duty at the Grant Arms in Grantown-on-Spey in 1878.

When a policeman was shot and killed in the line of duty in Nethy Bridge in 1898, the community was shocked to the core.

The death of PC Thomas King after being shot by notorious poacher Allan Macallum was dubbed ‘The Speyside Tragedy’.

It was greeted with horror far and wide at the time, and is still remembered.

But 20 years earlier, in July 1878, another police officer was murdered in the same area in the line of duty.

This tragedy was dubbed ‘The Grantown Stabbing’ and also occupied many column inches at the time.

PC James Fraser, 39, one of the officers for the county of Elgin (Morayshire), found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time at the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey.

PC James Fraser of Elgin (Morayshire) police was stabbed to death in an incident in The Grant Arms, Grantown on Spey, on July 17 1878.

The tragedy had been set in train hours earlier – literally, when Andrew Granger, cattle dealer and tenant of Fettes farm, Redcastle, in the Black Isle, boarded the mail train south on the evening of July 17.

At Dunphail, Granger left his seat and headed for the engine cab where he insisted on remaining.

But there was a problem.

Deranged from the DTs

Granger was suffering from delirium tremens, the DTs, and was hallucinating and delirious, alarming the driver and stoker.

Alarm spread to the passengers when they heard Granger shouting, “Murder!”

The driver stopped the train to try and get him off, but he wouldn’t budge.

Reinforcements were called for, and a number of men were summoned who ‘held him among the coals in the tender’ according to newspaper reports, until the train reached Grantown.

Here Granger was persuaded to get off, but was very emotional, crying and demanding to see a doctor.

Eyewitness account

A Mr Fraser, landlord of the Grant Arms, witnessed what happened.

He later told the court: “I saw the train coming in.

“I observed three or more people on the coals on the tender, holding the prisoner, Granger.

“There was a man on each side of him holding him by the shoulder.

“He was sitting on the coals far back on the tender.”

Asked to calm himself

Granger was helped down.

The hotel-keeper went on: “He recognised me and asked me to see that nobody would hurt him or some such words.

“I said there was not the least fear of anybody meddling with him and he should sit still and calm himself.

“He said something about his tongue having been burnt.”

A modern view of the Grant Arms Hotel, Grantown, where Constable James Fraser was stabbed. Picture by Sandy McCook

The station master took charge of the situation, and Mr Fraser was to see Granger again at his hotel later that afternoon.

He had been attended by a doctor, who prescribed rest and sleep.

Granger asked him for the quietest room he had, so Mr Fraser took him to Room 18, where he feared Granger intended to lock him them both in.

Fraser managed to slip out, and heard Granger lock himself in.

Peace reigned for a short while, but by around 4pm, Granger began to kick off violently.

Terrifying noises

Loud noises began to issue from his room as he began to smash the windows and furniture, terrifying the maids, who feared he would jump out of the window.

He had taken the key out of the lock, and was refusing to let anyone in.

At this point Constable Fraser was fetched to the scene, as staff rushed around to try and find a key which would open the bedroom door.

Large sheath knife

Eventually a key was found and PC Fraser rushed in, little knowing that Granger was holding a large sheath knife.

As the officer approached him, Granger, who knew PC Fraser, plunged the knife into his left side, near his stomach.

As he fell back, PC Fraser simply said: “Oh.”

Contemporary accounts are very graphic about what happened next.

Mr Fraser went to his aid.

“I asked him if he was severely wounded, he said, ‘oh yes, I’m stabbed and fear I’m done for.'”

PC James Fraser suffered fatal wound

Unaware of the gravity of his injury, Mr Fraser helped him downstairs and put him on the sofa, telling him: ” ‘You’re not so bad.’ He replied, ‘oh yes man, look here’, and he took away his hand and showed me part of his dinner coming out – he had just had his dinner.”

PC Fraser was attended by the local chemist and doctor, who dressed his wound and arranged for him to go to his home in the police station at Grantown courthouse.

The  former Grantown Police Station and Courthouse from where Constable James Fraser left for the incident in the Grant Arms Hotel just 100 yards away.  Picture by Sandy McCook

The stricken police officer only lasted 36 hours after that before he died.

Meanwhile the drama continued at the hotel as Mr Fraser, Mr Forbes the stationmaster and others forced their way into Granger’s room.

Eventually ‘the maniac’, as they called him, was secured with ropes and carried to the police station.

Lethal knife discarded

He had dropped the knife out of the window, after using it to cut one of his own thighs.

At Elgin police station, Superintendent Lyon said he seemed “quite unconscious of the enormity of his crime. All through the night he seemed to be suffering delirium tremens, but towards morning became quiet.”

Granger appeared before the sheriff two days later and was committed for trial on a charge of murder.

He pleaded not guilty due to temporary insanity, and was sentenced to seven years’ penal servitude.

Constable James Fraser’s grave in Abernethy graveyard. Picture by Sandy McCook

PC Fraser rests in peace in Abernethy graveyard, Nethy Bridge, not far from that of the PC Thomas King, shot 20 years later.

Retired police officer Dave Conner now runs the Northern Constabulary Museum, and has written about the Grantown Stabbing, as well as about the Speyside Tragedy involving PC King.

The grave of Thomas King who was murdered in Tulloch, Nethy Bridge. He lies not far from PC Fraser, stabbed to death 20 years earlier in the line of duty. Picture by Sandy McCook

He’s been able to make contact with some of King’s descendants in Australia.

But it’s his great regret that he hasn’t yet managed to trace any descendants of PC James Fraser.


Mr Conner said: “I would love to establish contact with the family, especially since there is no memorial plaque anywhere to him, something I would like to rectify.

“It is remarkable, and chilling, that both these officers, from different forces and different generations, lie together in the same remote cemetery near Nethy Bridge, their graves no more than 20 yards apart. ”

PC Fraser had three sons, and a girl only six weeks old when he was killed.

His name is engraved on the Scottish Police Memorial at the Scottish Police College, Tulliallan.

If anyone can help track down relatives of PC James Fraser, Mr Conner can be contacted through his Northern Constabulary Museum page.