‘Bodkin in the Barrack Park’ (27 July, 1861)

The following is one of the many epistles 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 entry the focus is a public disturbance that had occurred the previous Tuesday at a meeting of the Forfarshire Rifle Volunteers in the Barrack Park.

Dundee Advertiser, Wednesday 24 July, 1861

It being necessary that our Volunteers should have opportunities for firing practice it is also obviously necessary that, if places like the Barrack Park are granted them for the purpose, the public must on such occasions submit to exclusion from the ground while the firing goes on, or that they be strictly confined to a part of it, so as to leave the Volunteers ample space for their evolutions. Instead of only one serious accident occurring last night, it would not have been surprising if there had been a score. It was positively frightful to see the manner in which the crowd mixed with the firing parties; any of the young and giddy continually rushing into positions of the utmost danger, to say nothing of the embarrassment caused by their impeding in the movements of the several Companies. In future it will be rash to attempt firing in similar circumstances; and either the crowd must be excluded altogether, or parties must be told off to keep clear ample space for the evolutions of the Volunteers.

Maister Editor,—It wad be needless to mak’ a lang story aboot it, but Tibbie nae sooner heard the firin’ i’ the Barrack Park on Tuesday nicht, than she cam’ ben to me an’ says, “Tammas, d’ye hear that awfu’ firin’ gaen on?” “Hear it!” quoth I, “ye dinna suppose I’m deaf, d’ye, Tibbie?” “Ou na, Tammas,” quoth Tibbie, “but I was thinkin’ we micht do waur than tak’ a daunder oot the length o’ the Park, an’ honour the ploy wi’ oor countenance.” I was aye a loyal subject o’ her Majesty, an’ her twa uncles, an’ her grandfaither afore them, an’ sae I made nae objection, the mair sae as it was a fine nicht, an’ I was needin’ the air at ony rate, no to mention that, what wi’ the dulness o’ trade, an’ ae thing an’ anither, business has been rather slack wi’ me for some time back, as it has been wi’ ower mony folk, to their sad experience. I had a kind o’ hereditary respect for the Volunteers, too, seein’ as hoo, when I was an apprentice wi’ Maister Manzie Waugh, I was wont to accompany him on parade in the capacity o’ armour-bearer. That’s mony a year an’ day syne, but I’ve been blest wi’ a gleg memory that disna soon forget veeve impressions, an’ sae the rattle o’ the rifles brocht back to my recollection that memorable nicht when a’ the Volunteers turned oot, on a false alarm that “Bony” had landit at Dunbar, as I’ve heard the story rehearsed ower an’ ower again by the lips o’ Maister Waugh, wha played a very prominent part in that celebrated turn-oot.

It needit little o’ Tibbie’s eloquence, therefore, to induce me to fling on my pepper-an-saut suit, tak’ her airm, an’ daunder awa to the Barrack Park to see hoo matters were moovin’. The first sight me got, hooever, was onything but a pleasant ane—naething less than a puir man being carried awa to the Infirmary, woondit mortally, as it oonfortunately proved next day. That man’s family, noo that they hae lost their breadwinner, are clearly entitled to be adopted by the toon, an’ brocht up an’ educated at the public expense. That’s as little as can be done for them, an’ it’s naething put what is oor duty to do. I’m no very sure that the crood that pressed sae in upon the ranks o’ the Volunteers is a’thegither clear o’ that man’s death. I’ve seen nae that few croods i’ my lifetime noo, but the rablle i’ the Barrack Park on Tuesday nicht was aboot the wildest an’ most misleared that ever cam’ oonder my observation. If they wanted a guid view o’ the movements, they tane the very warst system o’ gratifeein’ their curiosity, for it was physically impossible for ony mortal man to see ocht for foondit except a confused boorich o’ bannets an’ moleskin jackets, wi’a baignet stickin’ up here an’ there juist to show that there really were a few Volunteers in the Park. On a Queen’s Birth Nicht folk dinna expect onything but a oonruly rabble, an’ if a body gets his hat knocked aff an’ his coat tails blawn to bits, as I did twa months’ syne, it’s a’ in the fair way o’ business; but when oor Volunteers come oot for a trial o’ their skill, they sid be allooed to gang through wi’ their exercise withoot bein’ mobbit an’ bamboozled the way they were on Tuesday nicht. Noo, Maister Rabblement, ye’ve smelt my breath on the subject, an’ if ye’ve ony desire to stand weel in my opinion, ye maun behave yersel’ better for the time to come.

Weel, ye see, Tibbie an’ me gaed awa’ weel wast the Park, an’ taen up oor station close by the north wa’, where we managed, wi’ an unco sair fecht, to get a glisk o’ what was gaen on. Aboon the noisy hum o’ the multitude, we could hear the word o’ command uco hoarse an’ roopet-like, an’ we could see oor valiant Volunteers wheelin’ roond an’ marchin’ past the Commander-in-Chief. But, losh! when the shootin’ began, hoo Tibbie stood shakin’ in her shoon, skirlin’ like very mad, an’ expeckin’ every moment to be her last. She stappit her fingers in her lugs wi’ the view o’ deafenin’ the din, thinkin’ that what she didna hear, wadna harm her. After the firin’ was ower, Tibbie brichtened up considerably, an’ enlarged on the fine sicht in a truly rational manner. So, we stod an’ crackit awa’ as man an’ wife sid do. By-an’-bye I got in tow wi’ a customed—Andrew Spindleshanks by name—a real crackie sort o’ a bodie—wha was i’ the Local Militia half-a-century syne; an’ sae Andrew fell to describin’ a’ the science o’ sodgerin’, an’ hoo he was thocht to be the gleggest i’ the uptak amang a’ his comrades when he was i’ the sodgerin’ line, an’ so on the bodie gaed till I was like to be deaved wi’ his havers. On lookin’ ower my shoother, Tibbie had evaporatit. East an’ wast, sooth an’ north I lookit, but feint a styme could I see o’ Tibbie. I pairtit wi’ Andrew withoot hearin’ him to the Amen, an’ withoot biddin’ him guid-bye, an’ awa’ I scuddit through the crood an’ through the crood, examinin’ ilka female face I forgathered wi’, but nane o’ them answered to the description o’ Tibbie, na, no ane o’ them! The thocht struck me that she micht be woundit, an’ awa’ to the Infirmary, an’ sae I addressed a series o’ queries to a’ the policemen I could see, but nane o’ them could tell me onything father than the fack that they ken’d naething aboot naebody. Sae I huntit backwards an’ forwards for the better pairt o’ an oor, but no ae moothfu’ o’ intelligence could I extract, either frae friend or fremmet, that had the slichtest bearin’ on the subjeck on hand. At last an’ lang the sodgers began to quit the Park, havin’ got through wi’ their business, an’ sae I ran an’ tane up my quarters ootside the yett in order that if Tibbie should happen to pass that way, I micht clap an’ e’e upon her i’ the passin’. Sie a sea o’ humanity I’ve seldom seen as cam’ surgin’ an’ roarin’ through that style. Mony a Tibbie, auld an’ young, passed through; an’ mony a Tammas forbye mysel’, but amang a’ the Tibbies there was nae appeareance o’ my Tibbie. But that wasna the warst o’t, for as I was makin’ an unco narrow inspection o’ the crood, there comes an’ awfu’ spate o’ rascals pushin’ an’ drivin’ at ane anither’s heels as if the muckle mischief had been in them; an’ what did they no do, but knock an auld man ower a big illfaured stane that sticks up i’ the middle o’ the yettway, garrin’ him come wi’ yerk, head-foremost, amang my feet; ower I gaed on a’ fours, aff gaed my hat, an’ awa’ flew my siller-headed cane that has been the constant companion o’ my travels for the better pairt o’ half-a-century. I managed to sprachle up wi’ little endamagement o’ my corpus or cleedin’, My hat, or rather Jeames Witherspoon’s hat, for I’ve never hae’n time to gang doon to Reform Street for a new ane—my hat, I say, I recovered wi’ nae that little trouble, but my gude siller-headed cane I ne’er mair clappit an e’e on. I’m richt vexed aboot the loss o’ my staff—no for the intrinsic value o’ the thing, but for the sake o’ the honest man it ance belanged to, an’ for a’ the happy an’ holy recollections that the very sicht o’ it preserved fresh and green in “memory’s waste.” I’ve a guid mind to wreat a poetical lamentation ower the loss o’ my staff, but I’ve nae time to put the irons i’ the fire i’ the meantime.

I stood till I saw the last woman leave the Park, but naebody like Tibbie made her appearance, sae I had nae help for’t but juist gang my wa’s hame wi’ my thoom in my cheek. If she didna cast up at hame, I had my mind made up to alarm the toon aboot it, by gaen to the Police Office, an’ sendin’ the bell through the streets; but hoosomdever I didna need to proceed to extremities, for on stappin’ up the stair an’ liftin the sneck, I found Tibbie at the ae cheek o’ the fire, a hail in limb an’ lith, an’ Mrs Davidson at the ither cheek. I began blamin’ Tibbie wi’ desertin’ her colours, an’ she began upbraidin’ me for strappin’ awa frae her on the sly. The truth seemed to be that i’ the hurrybustle o’ the crowd Tibbie had tint sicht o’ me, as I had tint sicht o’ her, an’ sae we were baith runnin’ hither an’ thither seekin’ ane anither. As the disappointment had been mutual therefore, there was nae use sayin’ ony mair aboot it. “But, i’ the name o ‘gudeness, Tibbie,” quoth I, “whare hae a’ thae bitties o’ window glass come frae that I see scattered ower the floor?” “Aye, ye may weel speer that, Tammas,” quoth she, “did ever onybody hear tell o’ the like o’t? Thae ill-behaved rascals at the mooth o’ the close—wha hae they no done but fling an iron spit through the window!” Sae Tibbie held up a lang sma’ iron rod, unco like a herrin’ spit, I maun needs say, but as like a rifleman’s ramrod as onything else. But hoo could a ramrod find its way into oor floorhead? That can only be accounted for by supposin’ that some o’ oor Barrack Park warriors had forgotten to tak’ oot his ramrod after loadin’, an’ sae on firin’ aff his rifle, the rod had by some means or ither found its way ower the hoose heads an’ through oor garret window. That’s my theory o’ the matter; but by what means soever it may hae come to intrude itsel’ on the privacy o’ my domicile, there it oondoubtedly is, an’ due warnicement is hereby given that, as it can be o’ nae use to onybody but to the owner thereof, if ony rifleman sid happen to find himsel’ minus his ramrod, he has naething mair to do but to apply to

Tammas Bodkin

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