‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 8.’ by a Correspondent in New York (8 April, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on employment.

Employment Agencies—How to Purchase Land—Best States to Settle In.

Before referring to the principal States which are most recommended to those who follow agricultural industry, allow me to warn all intending emigrants, of what ever class or sex, not to be led away be advertisements, whether in newspapers or otherwise, inviting there to patronise what are called “intelligence offices” or “employment agencies.” The advertisement generally reads something like this—“All unemployed help gladly assisted in obtaining employment. Call from 10 to 2. Merchants Mutual, 42 Fourth Avenue.” There are a great many such offices in large cities here. I have no doubt some of them are honest enough, but the difficulty is in knowing which is which.

Again there is another form of getting employment when emigrants (or greenhorns as they are called) land here; it is termed “The Castle Garden Labour Bureau.” I believe this Bureau is an honest affair. But I think it is far better for the emigrants, both male and female, to bring, if they can, a little money with them, so that they can go to any place where they may have relations or acquaintances, or where they have some knowledge that some particular State or place has more inducements than others for them. The following is a summary of the number of emigrants who were provided with work by the Labour Bureau last year, with the wages paid to farm hands and female servants:—

Males. Females.
Irish, 11,131 8,863
German, 23,812 1,125
Scandinavians, 812 273
Russians and Poles, 912 21
Swiss, 1,070 166
Hungarians and Bohemians, 585 147
English, Scotch, and Welsh, 522 302
French, 106 28
Hollanders, 58 9
Italians, 32 5
Arabs, 3
Turks, 3 1
Canadians, 10
Armenians, 2

The average monthly wages paid to farm labourers and female servants for whom work was procured, according to the statistics of the Labour Bureau, was as follows:— Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 8.’ by a Correspondent in New York (8 April, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 7’ by a Correspondent in New York (1 April, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on literature and a visit to Niagara falls.

Literature—Extravagance—Amusements—

Barnum’s Show—Visit to Niagara

                If there is one thing above another in which you far excel the Yankees it is in literature. We have two or three good magazines and a few good newspapers, but, generally speaking, the American press is very frivolous. The one half is taken up with politics, and the other half with anything that is horrible, sensational, or laughable. But what must I say in speaking of periodicals? All I have seen are of the Jack Sheppard and Claude Duval kind. But such stuff pleases the readers, and, I suppose, pays the publishers. But the literature of America wants the backbone of the literature of Great Britain. But we must not lay all this to the blame of Brother Jonathan himself. We must remember the heterogeneous mass of people there are in this country. The cosmopolitan character of nationalities which are represented in America may be gathered from the fact that over fifty different kinds, embracing every land and clime in Europe—Asia, Africa, and Australasia—landed in New York last year. So that in printing matter there are lots of different tastes to be considered.

There is one class besides the Chinese who are held in low estimation in America—viz., the poor darkie. As far as I have ever seen there is nothing but his colour (a thing he cannot help) to mark him out as not being in most respects the equal of his brother of the North. Not long ago ta conductor of a street car was fined for turning one out of his car merely because his skin was black, and there is a manager of a theatre going to appear as defendant in a case where he turned one out of his place of amusement. There was a Yankee who was going a-fishing and took a young ebony along with him. On crossing a very dangerous ferry the young darkie fell overboard. The Yank instantly sprang after him. Both were nearly drowned before they were got on board the boat again, and the rest of the white passengers began to remonstrate with the white man for being so foolish as to risk his life for a negro. He replied—“I didn’t care a cuss for the darned black whelp, but he had all the bait in his pocket.

I think it was Geordie the Third that said, “Sailors earned their money like horses and spent it like asses.” I think this may apply very well to Americans generally, for they win good wages by working hard, and they are not slow in spending them. It is quite a common thing for a young man to take his sweetheart or a married man to take his wife out on Sunday in a vehicle and drive her all round the town, and in winter the wife or sweetheart thinks herself slighted if she is not taken out sleigh riding. Why, this very day (second day of the year) I saw dozens and dozens of working men with their wives and sweethearts sleigh riding, and very expensive riding it is too. It is a very poor working man’s house that has not either an organ or piano in it, and almost every one has got a sewing machine. Then as to theatres, circuses, wild beast shows, and such like, they must be patronised. Some of these shows are of great magnitude, and can only pay in large places, but this does not hinder the people who live in smaller places from seeing them, for they will lose a day’s wages, pay railway fare, and all incidental expenses to see them. The great showman Barnum consolidated with another large show last year, and went round the country. Among other large places he visited Syracuse. At that time I was working 27 miles off, but the workmen where I was resolved to take a day and go to see the show, and I was as stupid as to follow suit. This cost each of us two and a half dollars for wages, one half dollar for railway fare (special train for the occasion), one half dollar for admission to the show, one half dollar for dinner and tea—total, four dollars or sixteen shillings and eightpence to see a circus and wild beast show. I have said that the shows are of great size here. On that occasion there were fifteen thousand people under one canvas roof. They performed in three rings at the same time. To show the extent of their menagerie they had twenty-one elephants, one of them a baby a few months old. Everything belonging to this exhibition was on the same scale. This beats your Wombwell of your Newsome, doesn’t it? Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 7’ by a Correspondent in New York (1 April, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 6.’ by a Correspondent in New York (11 March, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on murders, executions, and funerals.

Murders, Executions, and Funerals.

                On Friday of last week there were no fewer than seven executions in different States—three of them coloured men and four whites. One of the latter has been eighteen months in jail, and received sentence of death three times for the same crime. These seven were all murderers—two of them were executed at St Louis, State of Missouri, and in that State two men are under sentence of death. Another was hung a week ago, and twenty-seven are awaiting trial for murder. The newspapers here give graphic, but disgusting, accounts of executions. Here are a few extracts given us of one that took place in New Jersey last week. We are told on the morning of the execution the culprit several times walked to the window of the jail, and looked out upon the crowd which began to gather in the muddy streets. It was a gaping, idle crowd of slatternly women, beer-soaked men, and a large number of children. In one obscure corner of the street was an old woman kneeling and praying with spirit—swaying her body back and forth, mumbling over prayers for the murderer. She remained in her praying attitude for upwards of an hour regardless of the cold rain which was falling. Then we are told of how, when the condemned man was brought out to the gallows, one of the jailers who had hold of his arms had over-stimulated himself for the ordeal, and began to show signs of toppling over, and had to let go his hold of the prisoner. Next, of how, when this poor wretch was hurled into eternity, of the bending of the knees, twitching of the fingers, contortions of the limbs and body; of how the doctors immediately seized his wrists,, and kept correct record of the dying man’s pulse until his heart cease to beat; of how when cut down the noose of the rope had to be cut, as it was so deeply imbedded in his muscular neck, and of the face turning black and livid, and other disgusting details. One would think we ought to have had our morbid curiosity fully gratified by this account of the last moments of this felon; but not so, for in two days after we read of how the body was taken to an undertaker’s shop, where a motley throng was assembled. It rained incessantly, but the crowd was not to be deterred from seeing the last act of this disgraceful spectacle played out. The pavement in front of the shop was blocked, and the crowd filled the roadway in a solid phalanx extending twenty or thirty yards up and down the street. The crowd was not made up of loafers, but of well-dressed, respectable-looking people, and there were quite as many women to be seen around as men. Two policemen stood guard at the door. They had orders not to admit any boy or girl under eighteen years of age. It is only charitable to suppose that those guardians of the peace were but poor judges of age, as droves of young girls of not more than fifteen or sixteen gained admission, and gazed curiously, though quite unconcernedly, on the ashen face of the dead man. Fathers and mothers, to their shame be it said, brought children of tender years to see the dead felon, with his unhappy wife and worse than fatherless children weeping and wailing around the head of the coffin. The face and chest of the dead were exposed to view, a section of the lid of the coffin being removed for that purpose. The body was attired in a black suit, and a white collar and necktie concealed the ugly mark left by the rope upon the neck. The widow, with her boy and girl children, sat at the head of the coffin moaning and sobbing piteously while the curious throng filed around the dead man, peering curiously at the ghastly face as they paused a moment or so in passing by.

When the funeral rites had been concluded, the clergyman called upon all those present to with draw save the widow and her children, that, free from observation, they might take a last look at the dead husband and father. The scene that ensued was very painful. The poor women broke down utterly, and had to be led away by her friends, while the little lad, as he kissed the cold cheek of his dead father, wailed piteously, “Oh, my father; oh, my father.” On the arrival of the funeral cortege at the burying-ground, notwithstanding the heavy rain and the fact that the ways were ankle deep in mud, the road was lined five or six deep with men, women, and children, who had been waiting for hours to see the body of the murderer carried to its last resting-place. When the coffin was removed from the hearse a disgraceful scene ensued. A crowd of some hundreds of men and women, many of the latter carrying babes in their arms, rushed helter-skelter over newly-made graves, kicking aside, as they strode recklessly over, planted flowers placed by loving hands over the graves of their beloved ones, and even when the coffin was lowered into the grave they hooted and yelled, and the boys raced around the grave as though the occasion was the visit of a circus, instead of the burial of a fellow creature. The grave was speedily filled up, the crowd rapidly dispersed, and within five minutes only two or three morbidly curious people, who had arrived late upon the scene, stood around the spot beneath which lay the dead murderer in his gaudy coffin with its inscription—“Martin Kankowsky, died January 6, 1882, aged 35 years.” Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 6.’ by a Correspondent in New York (11 March, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 5.’ by a Correspondent in New York (4 March, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on women in America and the culture of marriage and divorce.

“There is no want of public speakers amongst them. In what is called the Free Methodist Church there are any amount of orators. The minister of the congregation will speak for about half-an-hour. Then he leaves it to his flock to gay the rest. He no sooner sits down than one of the sisters gets up and rattles on until from the sheer want of breath (not of words) she sinks exhausted into her seat. She no sooner faints than up pops another sister and repeats the dose, and so on. A few Sundays ago I, along with some friends, went to a Temperance meeting to hear a celebrated sister, and I can assure you she was “boss” of that meeting.”

American “Ladies” and Divorces.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

                Sir,—I want to tell you now what I think of the women folk of this country. From the time the feminine gender of America can lisp the name of “pa” or “ma” they begin to learn to be pert, forward, impudent, and cute, with plenty of gab. It is said that the animals we get the hams from grow ugly as they grow old, and, so far as salt tongue is concerned, the same can be said about the American ladies, By-the-by, there are no women here; they are all ladies. In their homes they are, generally speaking, slovenly-looking, going about their household work dressed like a broom-handle with a mutch and nicht gown on. Out shopping, they are dressed from top to toe with Gainsborough hats, fur-trimmed dolmans, Berlin cloaks, neal [?] sacques, ulsterettes, buttoned-up kid boots, white gauntlets, lace veils, and a large display of candlestick-gold jewellery. There is no want of public speakers amongst them. In what is called the Free Methodist Church there are any amount of orators. The minister of the congregation will speak for about half-an-hour. Then he leaves it to his flock to gay the rest. He no sooner sits down than one of the sisters gets up and rattles on until from the sheer want of breath (not of words) she sinks exhausted into her seat. She no sooner faints than up pops another sister and repeats the dose, and so on. A few Sundays ago I, along with some friends, went to a Temperance meeting to hear a celebrated sister, and I can assure you she was “boss” of that meeting. She both started and ended the meeting herself. Some brothers tried to get in a few words, but it was no use. They would have required a sharp knife to “whyte” their words, and then watched for a chance to get them in edgeways. Here is an anecdote which illustrates their cuteness. A certain gentleman went home one night rather late and rather unsteady. His wife was in bed, and he, not wanting to let her know that he had been looking on the wine when it was red, quietly slipped off his clothes and as quietly slipped into bed and on purpose not to let her find any perfume he might have, he turned his back to her. She lay very quiet for a few minutes, but she could stand it no longer. So she bawls aloud—“John, you need not try to fool me, for you are drunk through and through.

I am sorry to say that I do not think the moral status of the people here is so high as that of the old country, more especially among married people. It is quite a common thing to hear of a married man eloping with another man’s wife or vice versa, or some deviation from rectitude regarding the marriage vows. The divorce courts are well patronised institutions here, so much so that lawyers advertise through the press where and when people will get divorces consummated on the shortest notice and the least expense. The New York Herald, one of the most respectable newspapers in America, is lying before me, and in it are no less than six advertisements from lawyers on this matter. Here is a copy of one which is a facsimile of the others. “Absolute divorces, quietly and speedily, without publicity—desertion, drunkenness, incompatibility, every known cause. Pay when divorced. Detectives furnished, always successful,—F.K., lawyer, 317 Broadway, New York.” AS I have said, there are six such advertisements in one newspaper, and I don’t think it says much for the honour of these lawyers to hold out such inducements for people to pluck themselves apart—those whom a higher Power hath united together. I hope your readers will not think that I have the least idea that this opinion applies to the ladies of America as a rule. God forbid. I believe there are plenty of decent, moral women in this country as well as in ever other; but what I do say is, that a great many irregularities go on here both by males and females. We have little need for this sin amongst us, for there is plenty of crime here without it. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 5.’ by a Correspondent in New York (4 March, 1882)”

‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 4.’ by a Correspondent in New York (18 February, 1882)

The following is part of a series of articles on the condition of the United States of America for working class Scottish immigrants. One of the core tenants of The People’s Journal was to encourage self-improvement for the working classes. For these reason the paper would regularly promote emigration and provide news  and publish correspondence from the major destination of Scots in the period (the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand). Here the discussion focuses on transportation and church fundraising.

Canal Boats, Bazaars, and Tram Cars.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

                Sir,—In your Journal of December 17 I read a letter signed “Christian Democrat,” in which he draws a deplorable picture from a deplorable book entitled “Canal Adventures by Moonlight,” written by a Fellow of the Society of Arts with deplorable boots on, in which it appears that canal life in England is one of the most brutalising, immoral, and debasing occupations that can be imagined. If the state of canalers in England is one-tenth as bad as Mr Smith and “Christian Democrat” have painted it I wish them Godspeed in trying to remedy it. I have never been among canalers in England, but I have been among them here, both by moonlight and sunlight, and there must be a marked difference betwixt them here and in England. The canal trade in the State of New York is one of great importance in the summer time. The Superintendent of Canals issues orders every year when the canals are to be opened and when shut for traffic. This is on account of the frost. Last year they opened on the 10th of May and closed on the 15th of December. The year before, the frost came on before closing time, and all the boats that ply between New York and Buffalo—500 miles—were all frozen in in one night, and had to remain wherever they were until the spring of the year came to relieve them. The boats are of large dimensions, carrying large freights of coal, timber, wheat, iron, &c. They have got stables for their horses or mules (of which there are a great many in canal trade) on board at the forward part of the boat. There are always two on board and two on the bank towing the boat. They are relieved along with the drivers (of whom there are two) every six hours. Night and day, Sabbath and Saturday, there are generally two men on board, besides the captain, his wife, and family. There is a sleeping cabin about the middle of the boat for these men along with the drivers. The after-cabin is for the captain and family. The captain’s wife is cook, and all hands mess together in this cabin, which, as a rule, is kept scrupulously neat and clean, the children neat and tidy, and, although the life is necessarily a rough one, yet they seem to be well pleased with the lot assigned them.

“But how it comes, I never kenn’d yet,

They’re maistly wonderfu’ contented;

And [illegible] and clever hizzies

Are bred in sic a way as this is”

They are very hospitable, and will seldom refuse you a ride in their boat, as they term it, or a share in the good things in the cabin at dinner or supper time. In winter they try to get to where they belong to, and then they use their teams in drawing ice from the rivers to the ice houses, or drawing wood, or any other jobs they can get. I got acquainted with lots of them last winter, and found them good decent citizens. All the canals around large cities are used for skating rinks and ponds during winter.

The mode of conducting church fairs or bazaars, is as follows:—Some one having an interest in the bazaar makes a presentation of a whip, a pair of boots, a sewing machine, an easy chair, or any such article, then the Committee choose two prominent members of the church who have a great deal of influence with people both outside of and belonging to the church. These two are candidates to win the article, and whoever gets most votes gets the article. But the votes are sold at 5 cents each. Each candidate of course has his friends, and each party to show their respect for their friends rally round their partisans by buying votes. Any one can buy as many as he chooses. When I was working in the town of Owego, there was a church fair held there. An easy chair, probably costing 10 or 15 dollars, was the article voted for. The Committee chose two foremen of large moulding shops, and prominent members of the church, as candidates. The voting was most keen, as all the men belonging to the two different foundries went into the contest with great gusto. The result was that the net proceeds amounted to nearly 600 dollars. If the church or any other bazaar partisans in Dundee have not tried this plan yet, I would advise them the next out [?] have anything to do with to go and do likewise. [?] There is another way practised here in getting church funds augmented, viz., by disposing of church seats by public auction. In Plymouth Church (Henry Ward Beecher’s) the seats were sold recently. We are told that Mr Beecher took no part in the proceedings after introducing the auctioneer. The terms of the sale were:—“That the choice of all seats in the house was offered without reservation to previous occupants to the highest bidder. No bids accepted from those in arrears. The pews and seats to be rented with the understanding that if not occupied at least ten minutes before the commencement of services, they might be assigned to strangers. All regular attendants at the church are expected to rent sittings in order that the large current expenses may be shared by the whole congregation.” Last year the first choice for a pew was sold for 700 dollars, the next for 675 dollars, and so on. These two first bidders actually paid £2 16s and £2 14s respectively for every Sabbath in the year for a pew in the church. O Christianity! Christianity! what fanaticism is carried on in they name! This year they are cheaper, and I think your readers will agree with me in thinking that there was room for a reduction. The great Dr Talmage has commenced the same plan this year. The largest Presbyterian Church in Rochester and many others through the country are started on the same footing. It is a pity that church-going emigrants cannot bring their church pews along with them. Continue reading “‘A Dundee Working Man on America — No. 4.’ by a Correspondent in New York (18 February, 1882)”

‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)

The following is the second article which discusses the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Further Revelations.

Second Article.

Men Huddled Together Like Beasts.

Conversing at Abernethy with a Tay fisherman of over 50 years’ experience, we were informed that the bothies on the Earn and on the Tay down to Newburgh were pretty much the same as those we had visited. He said the proprietors would not allow their dogs to bide in them, much less their horses. They should be ashamed to allow their men to reside in them while they were in such an uninhabitable condition. The men were just huddled together like beasts. He understood that not long ago Dr Niven, Newburgh, had been appointed to examine the lodges on the Mugdrum estate, while Dr Laing had been asked to perform a similar duty in regard to those on the Earn.

On the Glove fishing station six men are employed at present instead of seven as usual. In the bothy there are seven beds. There is a great lack of ventilation. Light is provided by a little window which does not open. Here, too, there is no water supply and the men are frightened to use the Tay water. There is a general want of repair throughout at this lodge.

The Hen is another station which belongs to the Rev. A. Fleming, and the tenant is Mr Dunn, Newburgh. The bothy measures fourteen feet by eleven feet, and has a sloping roof about five feet high at the walls, and rising to between six and seven feet in the centre. Its peculiarity is that the door is not in the sleeping apartment. Before entering it you have to pass through a storeroom. The sleeping-room is so small that, when its seven occupants are all in the floor, there is just about standing room. For want of sufficient accommodation, the men have to take their meals in detachments. The heat just now is so great, they say, that unless they fall asleep at once after going to bed they seldom sleep at all.

Change in Fishermen’s Habits.

In the course of a conversation with Mr Pitcaithly, Elcho Castle, one of the largest tacksmen on the Tay, and a fisherman of from 50 to 60 years’ experience, several interesting items of information were gleaned. He says that with a little pressure the proprietors are improving the lodges year by year, but that much yet remains to be done. A sanitary officer has been in the district recently, and as a result of his visit there has been more whitewashing than usual. Some 30 or 40 years ago the fishings were leased by fewer tacksmen, and the bothies, many of which were never intended as permanent residences, were used principally by the men during working hours for cooking purposes only. In those days, he added, the cooking was not extensive, brose and porridge being the principal articles of diet. Now a days these are little appreciated, and in their place large quantities of tea and coffee and butcher meat are used. At that time the wages averaged 8s 6d to 9s; now the average pay is from 18s to 20s a week, some of the men having boot money in addition. When the fishings were broken up and the different stations belonging to one proprietor let separately, the men began to reside more in the bothies. Under the present system many more men are employed now than formerly. For example, on Seggieden there are at present twenty men whereas 30 or 40 years ago there were only five or six. While the bothies in many cases are very far from what they should be both as to accommodation and sanitation, he thinks the men might with a little trouble make themselves much more comfortable by being a little more cleanly in their habits. They never opened a window, and shovelled on coals on the fire till the place was like an oven. Contrasting the state of the lodges now with their condition in his younger days, he said that he recollected of a tent being erected with the bed sheets inside the wooden hut on the Hen station to prevent the snow getting in. He question whether the men were better off now than they were when thye had lower wages. In too many cases it all went on meat and drink. A great alteration for the better had been made by the passing of the Forbes M’Kenzie Act, for there were not nearly so many men that came drunk on the Sunday nights as formerly. Last year the Town of Perth renovated a number of their bothies. In Millhurst and Incherrat new beds were fitted up, the floors were laid with concrete, and the walls were whitewashed. The lodge on Seggieden, although not one of the best, has one privilege which a large number of the others want—that is a capital supply of excellent water. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; Second Article (4 August, 1888)”

‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)

The following is the first of two articles which discuss the state of the fishing stations and their accommodation along the river Tay in Perthshire.

Disgraceful State of Matters.

First Article.

The saying that property has duties as well as rights declares a principle which, in the latter end of this nineteenth century, is likely to be driven home to some purpose. Well had it been for property, and well, too, for the common weal of the kingdom, had this plain but important precept been more put into practice since it first became a watchword of political progress—since the time when Thomas Drummond, as Under Secretary for Ireland, applied the words in condemnation of the unreasoning rapacity of the landlords in 1839. Much has been done at variance with this rule, but signs are not awanting that change is imminent. Sharp work will be made with many sacred and cherished rights of property, which too frequently represent wrongs of the people; and amongst these the sacred right to maintain human rookeries will certainly receive but short shrift.

A New Species of Piggery.

One way or another the public are fairly alive to the miseries of the hovel in city and the miseries of the bothy in rural life, but to the riparian proprietors of the Tay belongs the credit of creating a new species of piggery to which the attention of the public may usefully be turned. At the instance of this newspaper a voyage of inspection was made last week among the lodges which stud the backs of the Tay between Perth and Dundee. Of these hovels—for by no other name can many of the wretched structures be more fitly described—there are over a hundred, and more than thirty were made the subject of personal inspection, while enquiry concerning the conditions of their lives when at work was made among the fishermen at various other points along the course of the river. The result in brief is the revelation of a state of things hitherto unsuspected, and which, as more particularly set forth below, proves that beyond all doubt a portion at least of the “property” of Perthshire is inattentive to its duties in a degree which decidedly constitutes a public scandal. For seven months of the year, from the beginning of February till towards the end of August, a period embracing the extremes of cold in winter and heat in summer, some hundreds of men are lodged in rickety buildings, which at the best could only be considered as a better sort of pig-stye—so constructed, so dilapidated and dirty, so utterly devoid of all comfort and convenience, that no person, let alone a laird with the amour propre peculiar to his class, would think of devoting them to the accommodation of a dog or a horse in which be took ordinary interest.

One Small Room for Seven Men.

With few exceptions these lodges consist of one small room, which in the average case has to accommodate from five to seven able-bodied men. In combination with the disagreeable nature of their work, the plight of these men is truly such that one is inclined to think that surely the salmon fishers of the Tay touch bottom rock n their experience of material discomfort. Wet, tired, and weary, they are forced to spend the period of rest and largely of leisure in a small and stuffy apartment, one hour in which to an ordinary mortal is almost enough to neutralise the benefit derived form a day in the open air. At once kitchen, dining-room, and dormitory, these hovels present to the eye of the stranger a scene of dirt and confusion of which no real conception is possible apart from personal experience. In very few is any provision made for ventilation, and the majority have only one small window nailed down to the sash. In each case the greater part of the space is devoted to wooden boxes divided by boards into sleeping bunks. In some of these beds hay and straw are used for bedding like common litter, and though a mattress was not unfrequently to be seen, the conditions under which life was necessarily led in the majority of cases obviously forbade the introduction of good material into such dens.

Uncouth and Unclean.

To some extent it may indeed be considered a necessity of the case, or at least an almost unavoidable feature, that the interior of these lodges should present an uncouth and far from comely or clean appearance. The bulk of the men employed at the salmon fishing are not and indeed can hardly afford to be, very finical in their ideas of what constitute comfort while actively employed employed on the river. But located as they now are, comfort if it exists at all has reached the irreducible minimum, and an apathetic regard to the ordinary decencies of life is a natural outcome of this circumstance. No doubt part of the want of tidiness apparent is attributable to the carelessness of the men themselves. In many cases the bothies would be dirty however arranged or constructed, and whatever the facilities for keeping them clean.

Rats and Vermin.

But as things now are, men desirous of having order and cleanliness around them are disheartened by the abominable nature of their environment. In no case was a table or chair to be seen in the bothy, for the good and sufficient reason that in most of them there was no room where such could possibly have been set. Rats and other vermin abound; water for drinking and cooking has frequently to be carried great distances; and very often the atmosphere of the apartment is rendered insufferably foetid with the steam and smoke from wet clothing set out to dry before large fires put on for the purpose. Under such conditions it is only natural to find straw strewn about, a mountain of ashes piled up in the fireplace, lumps of coal and miscellaneous rubbish scattered all over the floor, and little hillocks of rubbish, composed of egg shells, tin boxes, and other material, defending the approach to the lodge from every direction. Continue reading “‘Salmon Fishing Bothies on the Tay’; First Article (28 July, 1888)”