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Memorial stone for Donald Swanson

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  • Memorial stone for Donald Swanson

    Readers may have seen the announcement below in the current issue of Ripperologist about a memorial being erected in honour of Chief Inspector Donald Swanson in his hometown of Thurso, Scotland.

    I believe it's worth repeating here as I think it's important that the work of another prominent officer involved in the case is now being recognised, with only Insp Abberline previously being afforded that honour:


    In the Ripper world, much emphasis is placed on the lives of the various suspects as authors and commentators attempt to name the Whitechapel Murderer. It’s all too rare that the efforts and achievements of those who were tasked with catching the killer are recognised, probably because their careers are viewed in the tunnel vision of 1888. Until now, only Inspector Frederick Abberline has seen his police work commemorated in the form of a blue plaque erected on his former home at Bournemouth, and then a headstone for his previously unmarked grave.

    Now, plans are being finalised for a memorial stone for Donald Swanson in his hometown of Thurso, in the far north of Scotland.

    The Rip’s Adam Wood, who is writing a biography of Swanson, visited Thurso last year to research his early life and spent a couple of days with Alan McIvor of Thurso Heritage Society, who shared his great knowledge of the town in Victorian times. Inspired by Adam’s outlining of Swanson’s 35-year career from Constable to Superintendent, Mr McIvor discussed producing some form of memorial to commemorate the achievements of this son of Thurso with his fellow Heritage Society members and it was decided to mount a board bearing a biography of Swanson onto a slab of locally-quarried Caithness flagstone which will be erected in the grounds of Thurso police station, which backs onto Durness Street, Swanson’s childhood home. The 2ft x 3ft waterproof board has been designed by Adam Wood.

    The memorial stone will be unveiled on 12 August 2014, Swanson’s birthday, by his great-grandson Nevill. Also in attendance will be Adam Wood, Alan McIvor and representatives from Police Scotland, and the event will be covered by BBC Scotland along with local media. Plans are being made to host a reception at St Peter’s Lodge, where Swanson was a mason.

    Mr McIvor said: “It has been fascinating finding out more about Donald Swanson’s life and achievements through Adam. I’m really proud that this memorial is going to be unveiled for this unsung man and his incredible achievements by his great-grandson Nevill Swanson. On behalf of the Society I would like to thank everyone who has kindly assisted in making this project a reality, its greatly appreciated.”

    Robert Sutherland of Caithness Flagstone commented: “We are delighted to be donating the stone as part of this community project, paying respect and credit to a local man about whom and his various remarkable achievements many know little.”

    The memorial is being erected by Caithness Broch Project, whose spokesman Iain MacLean said: “There are so many great aspects to Thurso’s undiscovered past that need representing. The whole community is happy to pull together to do what we can to see our local heroes remembered for their achievements.”

    The unveiling will be marked with a toast to Swanson of Gerston whisky, distilled in the 1840s by his father John Swanson and now resurrected by the Lost Distillery Company, whose owner Andrew Hogan commented: “I am delighted for my small whisky business to be associated with this project. Given that Swanson was born at the distillery at Geise, while his father and uncle produced the whisky apparently enjoyed by Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, it seems fitting to toast the memory and life of Donald Swanson with a dram of Gerston whisky.”

    A report of the unveiling will appear in August’s Ripperologist.


    Best wishes