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.
Maister Editor,—I concludit my last week’s epistle by intimatin’ that Tibbie left the Park on the evenin’ o’ the “Ninth,” under the erroneous impression that the balloon had gane aff an’ tane me alang wi’t, an’ I promised to explain in this present letter hoo she cam’ to entertain that foolish notion. Weel, ye see, the mistak’ arose in the manner followin’:—When Tibbie left the Park aboot five o’clock, she saw Mr Coxwell thrang blawin’ the gas into the balloon, she saw the crood colleckin’ aroond it, an’ she heard the folk conversin’ aboot the approachin’ ascent as if it had been an event thoroughly determined on. Hoo was she to ken? hoo was the crood to ken that the wind was ower bawld, and that it was blawin’ frae the wrang point o’ the compass? Except in the mind o’ Mr Coxwell himsel’, there was nae doot at the time when she left the Park but that the balloon was to tak its grand aerial flicht at the oor appointed—sax o’clock. When she was baudin’ in the road by Lilybank, she keppit thoosands o’ people hurryin’ helter-skelter towards the Park, ilk ane like to ding doon his neebor, for fear o’ bein’ ower late to see the show. It was sair, sair against her will that she was turnin’ her back on the wonderfu’ spectacle, but, as her solicitude for my safety far ootweighed her curiousity to see the aeronauts, she had magnanimously resolved to rin hame an’ inquire if I had casten up, at the risk o’ the balloon bein’ aff an’ awa afore she could trodge back again. Certainly this was an instance o’ self-sacrifice on her pairt for whilk she deserves, as I hereby gie her, a deal o’ credit. I dinna think but if I had been in her shoon—that is to say, if I had been as fearfu’ o’ her trynin’ hersel’ as she was aboot me tynin’ mysel’—I wad hae waited to see the balloon gang aff afore takin’ active staps to inquire into her whereabouts; but that arises frae “the selfish indifference o’ us men folk,” as Tibbie observes, “to the comfort an’ even personal safety o’ oor wives.” Hoosomdever, whether I wad hae played Tibbie’s pairt if I had been in Tibbie’s sitiwation is quite immaterial in the present inquiry—it is eneuch for me to ken that Tibbie did her duty, and did it, too, nobly, heroically, magnanimously—like a Roman matron wha wadna stick to sacrifice, not only her curiosity, but even her very life, if need had sae required, for the preservation o’ her husband. Hame she gaed to Crinoline Crescent, an’ speered at the neebors if they had seen ought o’ her Tammas, but they, of coorse, had neither beheld nor heard tell o’ that individual. Under happier circumstances Tibbie wad hae tane her tea afore returnin’ to the Park, but in presence o’ the appallin’ fact that her guidman was tint—probably trampled to death in the crood—the idea o’ meat an’ drink an’ bodily comfort never ance penetrated even into the maist accessible corner o’ her understandin’. Hungry an’ weary though she was, she again retraced her staps to the Park, an’ as she was gaen alang by Lilybank she overheard twa men, wham she forgaithered wi’, crackin’ aboot the balloon, an’ quoth the tane to the tither, “Man, I saw Bodkin inby at the balloon—what could he be doin’, think ye?” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Lost and Found’ (26 September, 1863)”