‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere.

But tempus fugit and we must be going. The deck of our steamboat it once more crowded, and we are ready to start. There is a great deal of shaking hands and good-byes, and well-wishes passing between the good folks of Dundee and their Edinburgh friends. The steam is on; the piston moves alternately up and down in the cylinder; the paddle-wheels begin to resolve, and we are off at last. There is a waving of hands and handkerchiefs on the deck and on the shore, and when we turn our tear-filled eyes for another look of the place we leave behind, we behold a young Dundonian, in tattered jacket and patched unmentionables, looking after us from the land, with his thumb planted on the tip of his nose! Soon again Dundee is lost to our gaze beneath its overhanging cloud of smoke and forest of tall chimneys; and whoever looks from thence at our vessel, sees but a black speck on the bosom of the majestic Tay, leaving behind it a slimy track on the waters, and on the air a long volume of trailing smoke.

An important change has come over many of us since we landed at Dundee; we were far noisier going home than we were coming away. We imbibed a large quantity of alcoholic liquors when on shore, and the consequence is that some of us begin to imitate Tom Sayers and the Benica Boy. Here is one man, scarcely able to keep his perpendicular, who imagines himself no small drink. “Just you—hic—show me,” says he, “the man who says he’ll fight me, and my name is’nt—hic—if I dont do for him. Yes, I’ll—hic—do for him, so help me Bob, I will.” But here the valiant fellow falls, ingloriously over a bench, and not being able to rise again, he shows his wisdom by doing the only things he can—he lies still, and falls a-cursing. Drink operates differently on different characters, and where it makes one man quarrelsome it makes another remarkable social. Here is one of the social kind. He comes and takes you by the button, and tells you that he was sure you were a right good fellow. “Not a teetotaller, are you? No; I was—hic—certain of that. Then you and I will go down stairs and—hic—have a jolly glass of grog together. You see, old fellow, I’m—hic—what you call a moderate drinker. I can take a glass, and I can—hic—want a glass. Moderation, my boy; nothing like moder—hic—ation.” And here, unfortunately, the moderate man loses his equilibrium, and falls down the open hatchway, with a crash indicative of broken ribs and severe contusions of the head. Poor fellow, his moderate drinking will cost him rather dear before the doctor is paid, and himself fit for work again.


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