‘Bodkin on the Opening of the Baxter Park’ (19 September, 1863)

Baxter Park was officially opened on the 9th of September 1863, and was a significant public event in that year. ‘The Journal’s’ owner John Leng had a singular influence on the creation of the public park as he convinced Sir David Baxter to do something for Dundee where his father (William Baxter) had not [Small, Gordon, The Lengs: Dundee’s Other Publishing Dynasty (Dundee, 2009)].

The opening of the park was to include a large procession of military men, sailors, local guilds,  and the Earl of Dalhousie and Provost of Dundee. Much excitement was also generated by the prospect of the inflation of a large balloon by Henry Coxwell, whom a year earlier had gained fame for his daring ascent into the stratosphere. Unfortunately Coxwell’s balloon had to be cancelled due to the direction of the wind.

This is the second Tammas Bodkin column on the events surrounding the opening of the park. The first can be found here.

Maister Editor,—I understand that a few ill-informed individuals are dootfu’ as to whether I occupied the position on the “Ninth” assigned to me in the doggerel sang that the

“Wights o’ Homer’s craft”

hae been sae busy youtin’ aboot the streets, an’ especially i’ the Greenmarket, durin’ the last week or twa. Accordin’ to that authority I was to head the tailors in the Procession:—

“And the tailors likewise will join the throng,

For they say Tammas Bodkin is to lead them on(g).”

They were quite correct in sayin’ sae, notwithstandin’ the reports I’ve heard to the contrary, for I did lead on the snipperie—an’ a gallant band we were—wi’ oor green rosettes an’ the famous Auchtermuchty Band thunderin’ swa’ in front o’s. I’se be bound to say, an’ swear if necessary, that amang a’ the bodies, corporate and incorporate, that tane pairt i’ the Procession at the openin’ o’ the Baxter Park, nane o’ them a’ cam oot in sic a style o’ regal magnificence as the operative an’ inoperative tailors. Somebody was tellin’ me that John Davidson had been heard makin’ his remarks aboot the droll figure we wad cut i’ the Procession, in consequence o’ the quantity o’ cripple legs we wad put forward on the occasion, but my certie! Cripple legs an’ a’ thegither, we made a display that it wad hae been worth while gaen a lang simmer day’s journey to see—an’ that’s no takin’ mair credit to oorsels than has been bestowed upon us by ithers wha hae candidly stated their sentiments on the subject. Anither freend o’ mine (he didna venture to say sae in my hearin’, but he said it in the hearin’ o’ a man wha tauld me) had the impudence to remark that, as it tane nine tailors to mak’ a man, the Grand Marshal, Mr Sina’, sid hae ranged us fifty-four abreast, instead o’ sax, because nine times sax is fifty-four! Did ony body ever hear tell o’ sic nonsense comin’ oot o’ the mooth o’ a man allooed to gang at lairge! My troth! had it no been for the tailors the Procession wad hae been an unco baugh-lookin’ turn-out; so there’s naebody needs to point the finger o’ scorn at us! If the truth daur be said, the tailors were mair admired than ony ither trade or profession there present, for, although at my time o’ life it wad be daft-like to expect ony young quean to fix her admirin’ gaze upon my person, yet there were ithers i’ the squad, Willie Clippins, for instance, an’ mony mair forbye him, wha looked sae smart an’ spruce in thier fashionable attire an’ wi’ their green rosetes stickin’ on the breasts o’ their coats, that I observed on every hand the leddies glowerin’ at them frae the windows an’ platforms as the procession passed alang, juist as if their very teeth had been waterin’. ‘Deed, it’s my humble opinion that John Davidson an’ the ither freend I alluded to are eaten up wi’ envy because the operative tailors carried aff the principal honours o’ the day. Naething grieves some fold sairer than to see their neebors thrivin’, or to hear them weel spoken o’. But I manna tak’ up mair o’ yer time an’ space wi’ the Procession.

On arrivin’ at the Park, I put my hand i’ my pouch, thinkin’ I had nae mair to do than to pull oot my ticket an’ walk into the platform place amang the nobbery; but na, some chield had been there afore me! Feint a ticket could I get, an’ wantin’ a ticket, of coorse I wantit the “Open Sesame” that wad place me on a level wi’ Lord John’s white hat, the Lord-Lieutenant’s cockit ane, an’ the Provost’s nondescript lume, that seems to me to hae been fashioned after the pattern o’ Tibbie’s teapat “cozie.” Dog on it! me to hae been rubbit o’ my ticket, an’ Tibbie on the platform too! Yet I had mysel’ to blame, for the Magistrates had gien due warnicement to “Beware of Pickpockets,” but wha wad hae thocht that the reivin’ rascals wad hae broken the aucht command for the sake o’ a platform ticket? Weel, after a’ didna lose muckle by my failin’ to get on the platform, for I understand, frae Tibbie and other sources, that, wi’ the exception o’ the half dizzen o’ folk wha were fortunate eneugh to get themsels rammed into the space shapen like a cattle-truck, wherein the Trustees, the Lords, an’ the men o’ high degree were stationed, feint foondit could be either heard or seen by the hundreds wha were unfortunate eneugh to be congregated on the ither pairts o’ the ill-contriven platform. Hoo-somdever, as the reporters were busy notin’ doon a’ that passed, folk juist consoled themsels wi’ the reflection that they wad be adverteesed by the neist mornin’s papers o’ a’ that was bein’ said an’ done in their immediate vicinity. As for me, I plantit mysel as near to the platform as possible, wi’ the view o’ renderin’ what assistance I could to the cheerin’ an’ clappin’ o’ hands that I kent wad be furthcomin’; an’ after hoorayin’ my throat as hoarse as a rowpie’s an’ clappin’ my hands until my looves were a’ prinklin’ as if they had been jaggit wi’ nettles, I gaed my wa’s doon towards the balloon to see what progress Mr Coxwell was makin’ in blawin’ oot his muckle bladder. Aboot half-gaits foon the Park hooever, I chanced to forgaither wi’ Andro Sooter, wha had left his shearers to do what seemed richt i’ their ain een for ae day, an’ had made a run across frae Cockmylane aboot dinner time to see the balloon set aff. Andro’s throat was as dry as a wistle, an’ mine bein’ the same, we held awa’ to ane o’ the refreshment booths, an’ had twa or three pints o’ Bass atween the twa o’s, forbye a chack o’ something mair substantial to keep the banes green. While we were sittin’ discussin’ oor hindmost pint, an’ pledgin’ the healths o’ the generous donors o’ the Park, in comes a man in hot haste, inquirin’ if Tammas Bodkin was in the company. Of coorse he was. What was wanted?

“Ou,” quoth he, “there’s a hole i’ the balloon, an’ Mr Coxwell wad be obliged if ye wad come immediately an’ clap a cloot upon’t, or he winna be able to gang up.”

“Wi’ a’ my heart!” quoth I. “Andro, sit ye there till I come back.”

Awa’ I ran, an’, havin’ a needle stickin’ i’ the cuff o’ my coat, I had nae difficulty in doctorin’ up the balloon. That job accomplished, I returned to the booth to look for Andro, but feint an Andro was to be seen. He had left word wi’ the waiter that he was awa’ up to see them firin’ the great guns, an’ that he wad be back again in a jiffey, but, though I tarried for him the feck o’ an ‘oor, I never saw him atween the een again the hail nicht—he havin’ gotten ither fish to fry, as I understand; but it matters na.

By the time I left aff seekin’ for Andro, the ceremony on the platform was concluded, the cannons had gien their last an’ loodest roar, an’ the folk were a’ hurryin’ awa hame to their foor oorses. My next care was to seek for Tibbie, but hoo was I to find her amang sic a movin’ multitude? I wandered up the Park an’ doon the Park wi’ my hands i’ my pouches, keeping aye a gleg look-out for a female headpiece similar to that employed in the adornment o’ Tibbie’s upper storey, but though I saw bannets o’ a’ shapes an’ materials, feint ane o’ them was like hers—or if like hers, the faces that peered frae under their snoots werena at a’ tibbical o’ my wife’s coontenance. I kent—or at the least I jealoused—she wad be searchin’ for me through a’ the neuks o’ the Park, an’ bein’ anxious to set her mind at rest, I left nae stane unturned to discover her whereabouts, but a’ to nae purpose. I feil in wi’ Mr an’ Mrs Davidson, and they had seen her way through the thrang in the direction o’ the sooth-wast gate, an’ speerin’ at everybody she kent if they had seen her Tammas. After huntin’ aboot till I was tired seekin’ for her, I resolved to proceed to Crinoline Crescent, to see if she had been hame for her tea. There I was informed by the neebors that she had been hame makin’ an unco molygrant aboot me, but that she had left shortly afore my arrival, wi’ the view o’ institutin’ a fresh search for me in the Park. Here was anither bonny predicament to be in! Tibbie aff an’ awa’ wi’ the key in her pouch, an’ naething for me but the back o’ the door to stand at! Awa’ to the Park I went a second time, an’ found that the balloon had, durin’ my absence, been emptied o’ its gaseous contents—Mr Coxwell an’ his aero-nautical freends bein’ frichtened

“To mount up to the welkin’s harns.

An’ play Bo-peep amang the starns,”

Leat, like “the guid Sir Patrick Spens,” they micht hae been carried

“To Norroway, to Norroway,

To Norroway owre the faein.”

This was a sair disappointment, but better that the spectators sid be disappointed than that Mr Coxwell sid bae riskit his carkitch up i’ the cluds in sic a rievin’ wind, wi the immediate prospect o’m landin’ in twa or three minutes to the east’ard o’ the Bell Rock—maybe at Heligoland—maybe i’ the Skaggar Rack—maybe as far north an’ east as the Maelatroin.

Darkness set in belyve, an’ still I could obtain neither word nor witttens o’ Tibbie. It was a bad business, nae doot, but I kent she could take care o’ hersel’—even as I could tak care o’ maysel’, an’ sae when the firewarks began to gang aff, I ceased to mak ony further inquiries aboot her. The siege o’ Sebastopol was a grand spectacle. Hoo the shot an’ shell an’ rockets did whiz an’ spurt an’ gleam through “nicht’s gloomy canopy,” an’ hoo the poother-magazines within the beleagured fortress did blaw up “wi’ a rutherair an’ clatter” that reminded me o’ the stramash kicked up by the

“Daemons, dragons, spectres dire

Spewtin’ reek an’ riftin’ fire,”

wham John o’ Archa [?] encoonered in Martiu’s Den.

Havin’ seen the firewarks, an’ tane a peep o’ the illuminatins, I left the Park atween nine an’ ten, an’ hastened hame to the Crescent. There I faund Tibbie sittin’ wringin’ her hands an’ rivin’ her hair—under the impression that the balloon was af an’ awa, carryin’ me alang wi’t. Hoo she cam to intertain sic a foolish notion will be explained next week by

Tammas Bodkin.

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