Gudge’s School

Henry Gudge was a native of Bo’ness with property at Corbiehall.  He ran a private school situated to the rear of what later became the Co-operative Store in South Street.  He fell into considerable debt and to settle this his property was transferred to John Anderson, the Bo’ness banker and shipowner.  The school consequently closed around 1837.  It is probable that the root cause of the problem had been excessive alcohol consumption.

Many thought that the bargain with Anderson was unfair, especially Gudge himself.  This rankled in the mind of the old man and in 1840 he saw a way to get even with Anderson.  He discovered that his nephew was working as a carrier, taking money for Anderson to the bank in Falkirk, there being no bank in Bo’ness at that time.  Gudge encountered the boy about a mile and a half from Bo’ness and directed his attention to a hare in a park.  While the boy went in chase of the hare, his uncle set off with the money bag containing about £300, and he made his way to Edinburgh. 

The case was given into the hands of the police, and Anderson offered a reward of £25 to anyone who would give information that would lead to the detection of Gudge.  Gudge set up a market garden in the city and became a respected citizen under an assumed name, and so was able to remain undetected for some time.  The advertisement for the reward had been seen by a girl living in Edinburgh, who was a native of Grangepans, and had attended Gudge’s school.  She spotted Gudge visiting a public-house near to where she lived.  She informed the police, and Detective McLevy took up the case, and took Gudge prisoner in the public house. 

Gudge had three ceramic bottles of ginger beer in his coat pockets at the time and when asked to explain them stated that he was returning them to the pub to get money back on the empties.  McLevy, however, discovered £168 hidden inside.  The police applied for the reward, but Mr Anderson very rightly gave the money to the girl.  Gudge was tried in Linlithgow and transported to Tasmania for twenty years.  

For an old man this should have been a death sentence but he enjoyed good health and towards the expiry of the period he showed a desire to return to his native town.  He wrote to John Anderson in 1858 asking for forgiveness of his actions – and £40 for the passage home.  Anderson sent him some religious tracts explaining the nature of his sins and promised the money would follow.  Gudge ended his last letter “instead of ending our days in warfare, we will do it in peace.”  He died in Van Diemen’s Land in 1859.

National Grid Reference

South StreetNS 9992 8163

G.B. Bailey, 2023