‘Mr Tammas Bodkin Makes his Bow and Sundry Observations’ (16 February, 1861)

The following epistle marks the first appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ of Tammas Bodkin, the character used by editor William D. Latto to speak frankly (and amusingly) on current affairs. Latto became editor of the people’s journal in December 1860 and used the platform to launch Tammas, bringing himself a fair amount of fame in Victorian Scotland. In this first column Tammas introduces himself and begins to put the world (or at least Dundee) to rights, revealing how he would deal with the poor conditions of the roads, and his views on a recent case of partridge poaching (more below).

Maister Editor,—I’ve opinions o’ my ain on maist subjects, as I behove to hae, seein’ I was brocht up at the foot o’ nae less a man than the warld-renowned Maister Mansie Waugh, late tailor in Dalkeith. Ye’ll find his history recordit in the amous book that gangs by his name, an’ which was penned by Dr Moir o’ Musselburro, the wreater o’ that fine poem ca’d “Cass Wappy.” In that same history, too, ye’ll find some mention made o’ me, an’ tho’ I say it mysel’, it tells naething to my discredit. But that’s neither here nor there, an’ I only speak aboot it to let ye understand that tho’ I’m a tailor I’m something mair than the nineteenth pairt o’ a man—that, in fact, there is mair gumption in my crawnium than is in my goose. Ye’ll maybe find oot that afore lang.

I’ve said that I’ve opinions o’ my ain on maist subjects, and I micht also add that I’m favourably sitiwate for hearin’ the opinions o’ ithers, for there’s no a day passes withoot half a score o’ folk bein’ in my shop, an’ ilka ane, of coorse, has his ain observe on what’s gaen’ on baith at hame an’ abroad. Noo, it has occurred to me that I micht do waur than let ye ken what conclusions we arrive at on several knotty points, for it’s maist a pity to let a’ our deep speakilations “waist their sweetness on the desert air” when they micht be published for general edification. Weel, it was joost yesterday that a customer o’ mine, Maister Andrew Trotter, cam’ into my shop to get himsel measured for a pair o’ slacks, an’ sae after some promiscuous conversation, I proceeded to tak the grist o’ his waist an’ the length o’ his legs. On liftin’ up his coat tails for that purpose I made the important discovery that his seat was completely plaistered ower wi’ glaur o’ a highly disagreeable odour. “i’ the warld, Andrew,” quoth I, “whare hae ye been wi’ the bottom o’ yer trousers!” “Ye may weel speir that,” quoth he, “Comin’ alang the Seagate my fit got into an illfaurd hole i’ the pavement, an’ doon I tumbled amo’ the gutters. An honest woman taen pity on me, an’ dichted the dirt frae my coat tails, but it seems, either no observin’ that there was nastiness below them, or maybe no likin’ to lift them, she had left the job only half accomplished. I did feel something cauld and clammy like aboot that region, Tammas, but losh man, never did I suspect that I was in sic a waesome plicht.” So, after gettin’ Andrew dichted, an’ made cosh an’ clean, we sat doon and had a crack aboot the pavement o’ the streets, an’ what was said aboot it at the meetin’ o’ the Police Commission. As Andrew and me agreed to hair on the subject, I’ll joost gie ye oor views in the first person plural.

Well, we agreed that the streets o’ Dundee were in a waur condition, generally speakin’, than ye’ll fin’ in maist toons. Aboot the Seagate, Bucklemaker Wynd, an’ the Hawkhill there can be nae doots, for the awfu’ state o’ thae streets was admitted by the Commissioners themsel’s, even if Andrew’s breeks hadna been a livin’ witness to the fact as regards the former thoroughfare. Bailie Cuthbert has lookit after Dudhope Street because he gangs hame that way, an’ we cam’ to the conclusion after lang cogitation that it wad be weel to hae Commissioners appointed so that ilk ane o’ them wad has a dirty street to pass through in gaen hame to his dinner. In that case, if they were a’ as patriotic as Bailie Cuthbert, we thocht, that a’ the streets micht be got in gude order belyve. We agreed that Mr Parker spak’ a gude hantle o’ common sense when he said there ware thoosan’s assessed for Police an’ Poor Rates in Dundee who ought never to be asked to pay a farthin’ o’ thae local taxes. It’s no the puir folk that wear the streets. It’s the cabe an’ waggons an’ gentlemen’s carriages that play the mischief. Noo, the workin’ folk never ride in cabs an’ busses—they maun be content to trot on shanks naig. The owners o’ public warks, it’s them that sid pay maist for the tear an’ wear o’ the streets, for it’s their heavily laden waggons that send the pavement to perdition. Yet they hae the impidence to gar the poor man pay as muckle in proportion to his rent as they do themsel’s! An’ it wad be naething, too, if a’ pairts o’ the toon got even-handed justice, but there are some o’ the streets pampered up wi’ the very best o’ pavement, while ithers hae naething allooed them but common road metal. There’s Princes Street, for instance, and Victoria Street, twa o’ the vilest places in a’ the toon, especially Victoria Street, whare a Navigation Company micht mak’ a fortune by establishin’ a steamer for sail a’ on mud. There can be naething waur in the backwoods o’ Amerika, an’ the streets o’ an Irish village are no to be compared wi’t. Noo, Andrew an’ me are of opinion that, as the fouk in thae streets are garred pay the Police Assessments as well as the fouk in Reform Street an’ Dudhope Street, they are joost as mickle entitled to share in the attentions o’ the Pavin’ Committee.

We had also a crak aboot the roads to the Law, as we were on roads at onyrate; an’ Andrew startit the question as to hoo there whole lands o’ the coontry come to be in the hands o’ a few muckle men, while the great majority o’ the sons o’ Adam are baith landless and penniless. I had to stop him afore lang, hooever, for he had got into a line o’ reasonin’ that threatened to lead him astray into the paths o’ socialism, or some ither ism that I dinna exactly oonderstand. We were quite agreed on this point, at ony rate, that sae far back as ony o’ us could mind—an’ Andrew is an aulder man than me—there was nae restriction as to hoo ye gaed to the Law, if sae be ye didnae gang through fouk’s craps. Afore the rage for agricultural improvements began there was room enough at ilka dyke-side for a footpath, an’ but few lairds challenged ye for usin’ them gin ye behaved yo’rsel. Mony an auld wife got girss to a cop aff thae dyke-sides, and that helpit to keep her aff the parish or frae the “meal-pocks;” but that’s a’ changed noo, an’ the laud is howkit an’ harrowed into the very roots o’ the hedges an’ foonds o’ the dykes. Noo, there wad be naething wrang in that; but it’s no honest to deprive the puir o’ the lands that belang to them by as gude a title as maist lairds can shew for their properties. Hooever, we’re glad to see that the fouk gaen up the Law are to hae the privilege o’ glowerin’ aboot them withour the necessity o’ wakin’ on stilts or gaen up in a balloon.

Joost when Andrew was on his feet to gangawa’, we were led by what philosophers ca’ the asssociation o’ ideas frae the Law to the Game Laws, an’ that led us in turn to crack aboot that cruel prosecution o’ the shepherd laddie the ither day for shootin’ a paitrick. Losh thae brute beasts maun thick a hantle o’ themsel’s when the whole machinery o’ the law maun be set in motion to punish by fines an’ Imprisonments whaever presumed to lift a murderous hand against their precious lives. Joost think o’ a conclave o’ “grave an’ reverend seigneurs” assembled to try the great cause o’ a herd laddie “usin a gun for the purpose o’ takin’ and killing game, to wit a partridge!” The thing is perfectly rediculous? If he had used a gun for the purpose of killin’ an auld wife’s favourite Tom Cat, wad he been held liable in a penalty o’ twenty pounds! Na, auld wive’s cats an’ farmers’ dogs are fair marks for the gamekeepers, an’ if they shoot or poison them, as they often do, there’s unco little redress, but let ony body wing a paitrick or knock a mawkin’s heels ower its head—even tho’ it be in the very act o’ stealin’ ither fouk’s fodder—an’ a’ the Bobbies i’ the parish will be at his heels. Pickpockets are thocht to be marvellously wicked because they’ve fa’en on the plan lately o’ trainin’ dogs to snatch people’s gowd watches frae their pockets, an’ mak’ aff wi’ them, but hoo muckle better are oor game-preservin’ Lairds, who harbour beevies o’ animals aboot them, to gang an’ steal ither fouk’s corn an’ neeps? Do they never reflect that the reset’s as bad as the thief?

Andrew an’ me cam’ to the conclusion that thae Game Law prosucutions sid be taen oot o’ the hands o’ the Justices a’ thegither, an’ tried afor the Shirra. As the Law stands at present the justices are baith prosecutors an’ judges, an’ woe betide the poor creature that comes before them, for they could pardon ony offence almost, but shoutin’ or snarin’ their darlin’ hares an’ paitricks.

Biddin’ you gude bye, Mr Editor, as I did Andrew Trotter at this point o’ oor discourse, I remain yours,

Tammas Bodkin.

In his introduction, Tammas says that he was brought up by Mansie Waugh, whose story is recorded in a book by Dr Moir. This was a real book that was published in 1828. (An 1845 edition can be read online through Project Gutenberg). In it ‘Tammy Bodkin’ does make several appearances. From this I take it that W.D. Latto just took the name from ‘The Life of Mansie Wauch’ to show his appreciation of Moir’s work, or as a nod to readers who would get the reference.

The second part of Tammas’ letter is devoted to a case of Game poaching and the laird’s disproportionate response. The details of the case he was referring to appeared in the previous weeks ‘People’s Journal’:

Yesterday, in the Dundee Justice of Peace Court… James Dick, shepherd, on the farm of Neuk, was charged… with having, on 4th January last, on the farm of Neuk, in the parish of Lundie, “used a gun for the purpose of taking and killing game, to wit, a partridge,” without having a license as required by the Act 23 and 24 Vict., c. 90, sec. 4, under a penalty of £20…

Laurence Turpie, gamekeeper to the Earl of Camperdown, deponed that on the 5th January, between 11 and 12 forenoon, he saw defendant, with a gun in his hand, stalking down the side of a hedge on the farm of Neuk, as if in search of game. Witness was between 400 and 500 yards from him when defendant raised the gun and fired. A covey of partridges rose, and Dick ran forward and picked up something. No other birds than partridges rose. No pigeons rose. He loaded his gun again, and then made for the steading. Witness followed and met him there. After much hesitation, defendant told witness he had been firing at pigeons. Witness saw the feathers of a partridge sticking from one of his pockets; and, after denying that he had such a bird, he at last admitted it, and gave it up to witness.

[The Prosecution] The field was in grass. There were turnips on the other side of the hedge. Witness knew Dick had been instructed by the tenant to go out that day with a gun. Knew, also, there were pigeons in that quarter, and that they destroyed the turnips. Witness could easily distinguish between pigeons and partridges at a distance of 400 or 500 yards…

[The Defense] Mr John Lindsay, tenant of the farm of Neuk, deponed that Dick was a shepherd in charge of some sheep on his farm belonging to Mr Fergusson, Craighead, who had the foggage. They were much troubled with wood pigeons, which destroyed the turnips. On 5th Jan., he asked Dick to go out with his gun and “fleg them or kill them”—(a laugh)—which he accordingly did. Saw defendant produce the partridge to the gamekeeper. Defendant told him he thought it was pigeons he was firing at. Do not think Dick would have gone out with the gun that day unless he had asked him. Witness gave defendant a very high character, as a quiet and orderly young man. He never saw him with a gun before…

[The Judgement] Mr Thoms pronounced the judgement of the Court. He said—James Dick, it is scarcely necessary for me to inform you that this case has been clearly proved against you under the stature. You are charged with having without a license, killed game, in so far that you shot a partridge on the day libelled; and the defence which has been set up for you, and which has been conducted with great fairness by Mr Lowson, will not, I am sorry to say, avail you in the present case. At the sametime [sic], we are quite willing to give you the benefit of your previous good character. I do not conceive that a young man, engaged as you are as a shepherd, should be looked upon at all when coming here as a poacher—as one who devotes himself to a very disreputable mode of life; but at the sametime, the Game Laws are exceedingly stringent, and it is our duty, sitting here, to enforce them. Finding you guilty of the offence charged against you, you are subjected to a penalty of £20; but, fortunately for you, the Court have the power to mitigate to the extent of one-fourth, or to £5. Beyond that we have no direct power of mitigation; but, looking to the circumstances—that you are a young man—that you have a good character—that, so far as we know, this is the first offence with which you are chargeable—we are disposed to recommend that the penalty shall be further mitigated to the sum of £1 1s; and I hope you will take warning from this case not to break the law in future.

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