‘Scottish Characters — Jock Bouce, Sheriff Jameson’s Fule’ (5 January, 1889)

The following is one of a series of stories and anecdotes about local Scottish eccentrics. They remain an insight into the characters and exploits that had already passed into folk memory by the late 19th century.

John Younger, or rather jock Bouce, for that was the name he was most familiarly known by in and around Cupar Fife, was one of those half-witted, innocent characters so plentiful in Scotland in the earlier and middle part of this century. Bouce lived with his father at the Backbraebead, Cupar Fife, in a single-roomed house, and after his father’s death he still retained the house down to the time of his own decease, which was a very sad affair indeed, he being suffocated and burned to death in his own house. It was surmised that he had risen out of bed in the night time to replenish his fire with coal, and that in turning his back to the fire his shirt had caught fire. Helpless and aged, for he was close on 70 years of age when this occurred, he succumbed to his injuries. He was found quite dead lying on the floor of his house the next morning by his next door neighbour. This happened about eight years ago, and he was buried in the old churchyard in Cupar Fife.

The above sketch of Bouce represents him being shaved. It is from a photograph by Mr D, Gordon, Cupar Fife, and the picture on the contents bill is from a photograph by Mr R. Heggie, Cupar Fife. He was about 50 years of age at the time this was taken, and it will give my readers some idea of what like he was.

I shall endeavour to lay before you some of his quaint sayings and doing. Bouce was left at home by his father to look after the house one day, and to superintend the cooking of the dinner, which was Scotch kail and a well-stuffed haggis boiling amongst them. When his father came in from work they sat down to dinner. After they had had their kail Bouce’s father set about getting out the haggis. He stirred away n the pot, but nothing like a puddin’, as he called it, could be found.

“John! John! What hae ye dune wi’ the puddin’,” he asked.

“Ah tae do!” said Bouce, “D’ye think I ken, faither? It’s maybe up the lum for ocht that I ken. I believe the cat’s taen’d,” and diving below the bed he came out with the skin of the haggis, saying, “Eh, aye, faither, the cat’s taen’d, and here’s the skin o’t,” as though the cat would not have eaten the skin as well; but in reality it was Bouce who ate it himself.

It is as the Sheriff’s gardener, or rather “fule,” that Bouce can be seen best. The Sheriff was always very good to him, overlooking all his misdeeds and laughnig at his tricks. Many of Bouce’s jokes are forgotten by those who heard them at the time they were uttered; still I have succeeded in gathering a few of them from some of the old folks who remember him best.

Bouce was one day bedding a large pig belonging to the Sheriff, and it, resenting the intrusion of its domains, was buff, buffing at his heels, and he, thinking that the pig was crying “Bouce! Bouce!” stuck the graip with which he was spreading the bedding into the pig’s side, saying, “Ah tae do! I’ll Bouce ye if ye cry Bouce tae me, ye baste.” The pig had to be killed.

Bouce was carrying a young pig home to the Sheriff on another occasion, and meeting a man he told him where he had been for it. The man to annoy Bouce struck the sack on his back with the pig in it with his plumet stick, which, unknown to Bouce or him either, proved fatal to the pig. Arriving home Bouce put it in the cruive, when he discovered it was dead. Making tracks to get out of the Sheriff’s way, he met him full in the face. “Well, Bouce,” said the Sheriff, “did you get the pig?” “Yes, sir,” said Bouce. “It’s in the cruive.” “Come and let me see it.” “Ah tae do, sir!” said Bouce; “I’ve been owre lang already.” After some persuasion Bouce was induced to return with him.

“That pig’s dead, Bouce,” exclaimed his master. “Ah tae do! you’re richt, sir; it’s choked itsel’ wi’ the chinge o’ meat,” replied Bouce readily.

Bouce was tarring a paling one day, when the Sheriff, dressed in a fine light suit of clothes, leant against it, bouce dropped his tar brush and, clapping his hands, said, “Aff wi’ thae claes. They’re mine noo, sir, and folks should aye stick up for thair ain.”

Bouce get all the Sheriff’s soiled clothes.

The Sheriff meeting Bouce one day saw two bunches of his own grapes sticking out of Bouce’s pocket. “Where got you these grapes, Bouce?” he asked. “Ah tae do, sir!” said Bouce, “I never kent you had dishonest folk aboot ye. That maid o’ yours, Peg Milne, has put them intae my pouch, instead o’ Jock Tamson’s, the joiner. He’s her chap, ye ken, and he is working up at yer house. She made a mistake, the limmer, but I sanna mention’t.” Such was the case, as was afterwards learned, though Bouce kept the grapes.

A policeman was sent for to take Bouce to the Sheriff Court, where they dressed him in a red coat, and placed him at the bar. He was charged with stealing a quanitity of apples and pears belonging to the sheriff, his master, and now his Judge. Bouce blurted out, “Ah tae do! it wasna me, sir. It was Kate Wallis taen them awa’ in her milk pitcher ,and she telt me they were split yins.”

The crime was then brought home to the guilty parties.

Shortly after the above event Bouce asked the Sheriff if he knew who was the greatest stranger to the Sheriff Courtroom. “I don’t know, do you?” said the Sheriff. “Ah tae do!” answered Bouce. “I ken sir! It is justice, sir. Ye sanna find her within its wa’s.”

Another day Bouce was feeding the heus when the Sheriff came on him. He had an old rusty kettle in his hand, and seemed to be lost in thought.

“A penny for your thought, Bouce,” cried his master.

“ was winderin’, sir, if you could tell me when thae hens would be like this kettle,” said Bouce.

“I’ll give you half-a-crown if you tell me,” said the Sheriff.

“Doon wi’ the clink, then, for it’s when they’re roasted,” said Bouce.

Bouce after his father’s death possessed a cradle, in which he used to bed an imaginary baby made out of a spindle of yarn. He would rock the cradle all night through and croon the following song:—

Sleep, sleep ye, my bonnie bairu, bye, bye ye;

Solomon in all his glory sanna see ye.

Humphy-hackit Mary, throe, throe the night,

You’re [illegible] of a mamie, she’s gaen fair gyte.

Robie Saumond, the gingerbread weaver o’ Kirkcaldy, was busy selling off his “real road blokes o’ metal” at Ceres market one day, when, spying Bouce amongst the crowd, dressed in his best moleskins and his lum hat on his head, he thus addressed him—

“Guid afternoon tae ye, Bouce. I see you’ve gotten ower tae the market.”

“Ah tae do! ye’re richt, sir,” said Bouce.

“Come in ower, Bouce, an’ I’ll gie ye ye’re fair,” winking at the same time to the “ravens,” as he called the boys that hung around the lorry on which he stood. “Tak’ aff ye hat, Bouce,” filling his own “oxter” as he spoke with parleys and gingerbread. “Come awa’ noo, Bouce.”

“Ah tae do! I’ll no dae that, sir, and spile my hat,” said Bouce.

“Come on noo, Bouce, or doon they gang among the ravens.” Bouce doffed his hat and held it up. Down came the gingerbread, &c., into it. Down then went Bouce, the ravens snatching the most of the hat’s contents.

When Bouce reached Cupar that night he was minus a hat.

Some friends once told Bouce that he ought to get married, saynig that a wife would cook his food for him. “Ay,” said the sagacious Bouce, “but, faik, she’ll eat the hauf o’d.”

Many other stories might be quoted, but space forbids. However, I may mention that the man who turned out Bouce’s household effects and took possession of them remarked that Bouce must have been a fule, as he had left no money behinid him, but a few sticks and a lot of rage, which were of no use to anybody. These rags consisted of eight cheats of clothes—coats, waistcoats, and trousers by the score, and in all the fashions of this century. After quoting another saying of Bouce’s to his landlady we shall bid farewell to him:—

“Ah tae do, Rachie! when rich men dee there’s lots o’ strife, but, lassie, when I dee there sanna be nae noise.”

Bouce is already a dim memory of the past.


The above sketch was sent by

Mr Alexander Fyfe,

7 Church Street.

St Andrews.

Mr Fyfe has been awarded one of the six prize watches given in this competition.

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