Cove Riot



Rioting at the Cove in the year 1877....


The exciting affray I refer to occurred while I was yet a policeman, and the locus of the disturbance was the village of Cove. The previous year the terrible calamity of the Torry ferry boat had taken place (1876), and in consequence the fishing suburb had lost much of its old popularity as a place of resort for holiday-makers. Instead, the majority of the citizens - or that section of them who were not given to "long jaunts" - began to favour Cove as a place for their revels, and so it came about that on the Fast Day to which I refer the little old world village by the sea was crowded with thousands of Aberdonians "out for the day." I got instructions to proceed to Cove for the day, and was informed before I left that when I had arrived in the village I would be joined by another constable from Auchinblae.

Before I had been a couple of hours in the place I saw that, owing to the number of roughs that had paid the village a visit, six times as many policemen would be required, but as no serious rioting had yet begun my "mate" and I decided meantime to make the best of matters. Gradually, however, as the day wore on the more rowdy element began to assert itself. On every side there were evidences of intoxication, and as the liquor began to take a greater effect the disorderly scenes became more frequent. So bad did matters become that the hotel proprietor was forced to close the bar door, and it was this action of his, and his refusal to supply more drink to those inside, that was responsible for the outrageous scenes that followed. Making a mad rush at the door, the indignant drouths outside almost burst in the panels, and the next minute the bar window was smashed to smithereens.

At this time I was endeavouring to pacify those inside the building, but I might as well have spoken to the wall. If the crowd outside was a disorderly one, that inside was even more so, and in about a couple of minutes a regular pandemonium prevailed. Bottles were thrown about, pictures were smashed, tables were upset, and finally the house was put in darkness. Proceeding downstairs, I endeavoured to cautiously open the bar door to let out one or two of the quieter element who had been "imprisoned" in the place. On opening the door, however, I was struck with a stone or piece of broken bottle on the forehead, and was consequently forced to retreat. Fortunately the proprietor and I managed to get the bar locked inside, otherwise the whole place would have been wrecked in no time.

At last, however, a most fortunate incident happened, which served to attract the angry mob outside. A great fight began among the crowd, and so great was the uproar that hundreds seemed to be involved in it. This attracted the attention of those inside, and there was once a rush for the door. Soon this coterie were mixed up in the combat too, and for the next couple of hours the terrible row continued. What with the noise of voices and the spilling of blood, the Donnybrook was one never to be forgotten. The fighting continued vigorously until the last train left for the city.

A may be understood, and apprehension was at the moment entirely out of the question with such an unruly mob, but I did the best thing in the circumstances, viz., kept watching the ring-leaders until I had their faces so thoroughly engraved on my memory that I could easily recognise them again. As events proved this idea was to be most successful, for in the course of two or three days I took no fewer than thirteen of the most obstreperous offenders. They were mostly labourers, and most of them I apprehended while on their way to and from their work. Needless to say the whole of this gang were very smartly punished.

The following year I was again sent to Cove, but this time there was a strong force of policemen. Notwithstanding, a riot was again about to break out, but the disturbers were promptly dealt with. Seven fellows were apprehended in the course of the day, and the last time I was there - a year later - I had five cases.

Aberdeen Detective Stories
By Alexander S Smith