‘The Treatment of the Poor.’ by A Christian Democrat (7 February, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. Here the topic tackled is the impact of Gladstone’s Education Act, their positive impact and how it can be improved upon. This was prompted by the publication of a book on vagrancy in Scotland by a former Sheriff of Aberdeen William Watson. Vagrancy was an issue which preoccupied contemporary liberal commentators, perhaps disproportionately. Vagrancy symbolised everything which the ‘People’s Journal’ sought to eradicate from the working class of Scotland through their doctrine of self-improvement.

Sir,—The Education Act of Mr Gladstone’s Government has already done much good, but it does not yet reach that class fully for whose benefit it was chiefly designed. The way in which the Poor Law is being administered in many parishes is rapidly increasing vagrancy, and thousands of uneducated children are growing up a curse to themselves and a burden to society. I argued at the time that the land of the country ought to have borne a far larger proportion of the school rate. The ratepayers were taxed at the expense of the landowners. They ought to have been forced to provide far better schools. The great expense of the recent Act is the best proof that they were neglecting their duty. Now, not content with taking the school teind as a bribe to let the Education Bill pass, they are in Parochial Boards forcing the poor literally upon the parish. Sheriff Watson, of Aberdeen, in a recent ale pamphlet* tells us that vagrancy is rapidly increasing in Scotland. In 1873 the number of vagrants in Scotland was 40,678. In 1878 they had increased to 54,236. The indignant Sheriff traces this largely to the selfishness of Parochial Boards, who are encouraged by the Board of Supervision to refuse all outdoor relief, and to apply the Poorhouse test rigidly. I do not deny that in certain eases the Poorhouse test is valuable, but it is often applied so as to decrease pauperism only to increase vagrancy. The Education Act is fitted to deal with the evil. Children move from place to place; they cannot be got at, not kept at school. Sheriff Watson argues that while children of working people are well provided for, the very poor are, in some respects, worse off than before the passing of the Education. Subscriptions can hardly now be got for ragged schools. People are so assessed that they refuse to give to voluntary schools for the neglected. Even criminal children, the Sheriff tells us, are better cared for than are the children of the very poor. Reformatories are supported by Government aid, stylish schools are built for the children of the ratepayers, but the “mitherless bairn,” the forgotten poor, are flouted at the doors of the Parochial Board, and flung out to wander over the country as vagrants and beggars.

Besides losing their education, the Sheriff goes on to show that they are never trained to work. The skilful workman, be his labour ever so hard, has a pleasure in it, but boys who have never learned any handicraft hate work. The only work they have ever got to do has been in Poorhouses or the like, and work has never been to them anything but repulsive. In this way a large class grow up injuring the moral tone of the working population and increasing the dangerous classes. I think that in rural parishes especially far more attention ought to be paid by the people to the administration of the Poor Law. If a Chairman does happen to be a man of sense and humanity the poor will be cared for, but if he is a selfish man, bent only on lessening the rates and decreasing pauperism, he will refuse all outdoor relief and flout the poor. Pauperism will of course diminish, but vagrancy—a far worse evil—will rapidly increase. I do hope that the new County Reform Bill will not much longer be delayed, and that the whole administration of the Poor Law will be placed upon a more popular basis.

In not a few parishes houses are allowed to go to decay, and labourers forced to walk miles to their work, lest their families gain a settlement. Cruel wrong is being done in this way, and it is very difficult to get the evil stopped. Electors in cities do not know the sufferings of the poor in rural districts, and the county franchise is so high that a whole suffering class are dumb and helpless. Sheriff Watson shows clearly how a great commercial disaster, when not properly met, depresses the moral tone of a whole district. He instances Aberdeen, and shows that when the workman and his family get out of work and lose hope they go rapidly down. Continue reading “‘The Treatment of the Poor.’ by A Christian Democrat (7 February, 1880)”

‘Bodkin Spends a Night with the Wizard’ (18 April, 1863)

The following is William D. Latto’s Scots satirical column on the return of the ‘Wizard of the North’, John Henry Anderson, to Dundee. Anderson was a pioneer in bringing magic shows into theatres and was a direct predecessor and inspiration to the likes of Houdini. This is the advertisement for his show that appeared in the edition of the 4th of April.

“The Wizard of the North.”—It will be observed that the world-renowned Professor Anderson is to be in Dundee on Wednesday, after an absence of eight years, during which he has been all the world over exhibiting his wonderful feats of magic, and reaping golden opinions everywhere. We have no doubt that many will embrace this opportunity of seeing the tricks of this famous magician.

See below for the review of Anderson’s show that appeared in the ‘Journal’ in the 11th April edition.


Maister Editor,—Ae day towards the hinderend o’ last week, Mrs Davidson comes in wi’ a lang palaver aboot hoo John an’ her had been doon on the previous nicht seein’ that great “ambidextrous prestidigitator” man, the Wizard o’ the North, an’ hoo he had wrocht miracles nearly as wonderfu’ as ony we read aboot in holy writ. I was juist sittin’ takin’ an after-dinner blast o’ my cutty, when her leddyship made her appearance, an’ so I was privileged to participate in the conversation. Mrs Davidson was lip fou o’ the mervels she had seen, an’ said that Tibbie an’ me wad be losin’ an opportunity we micht never hae again, if we didna gang doon an’ pay oor twa shillins. Of coorse, I never yet despaired o’ Tibbie fa’in in wi’ opportunities enoo o’ spendin’ her twa shillinses withoot gaen doon to the Corn Exchange to pay for gettin’ hersel’ imposed on by Wizards; but as Mrs Davidson assured us that every body wi’ the sma’est pretensions to be thocht genteel had either been there, or were to be, it was oot o’ the question to suppose that we were to be ahent oor neebors in that or in ony ither respect. A weel ye see, the lang an’ the short o’ the story is, that I agreed to accompany Tibbie to see the Wizard; an’ as Willie is perfectly competent to manage the business in my absence, I left him at the helm o’ affairs, wi’ a promise that if he behaved himsel’, I wad gie him an’ Mary Ann tickets apiece for the next performance, whilk I fulfilled to the very letter, as baith o’ them can testifee.

Awa’ we went an’ secured a seat as near the lug o’ the law as possible, so that we micht baith see an’ hear to the full value o’ oor siller. Tibbie was a wee thocht uneasy when she saw the muslin coortins, an’ pictured in her ain mind what wad be gaen on ahent them. She whispered into my lug—an’ I could hear the teeth rattlin’ in her head when she said sae—”Losh, Tammas, he’s no a richt man that, or he wadna need to hae recoorse to the warks o’ darkness. Folk sid aye be open an’ aboon boord wi’ whatever they do.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Spends a Night with the Wizard’ (18 April, 1863)”

‘The Black Bridge’ by W.R.M. (30 June, 1860)

The following is a dark, atmospheric tale about the creation of a bridge over the River Ugie, which flows into the north sea at Stonehaven. About the author: as far as I can tell they had one other story published in ‘The People’s Journal’, ‘The Peasant Poet’ from May of 1860.

When I was a child—my chin is still quite downy—I entertained a great love for dark things, and eagerly sought after them for the gratification of my childish mind. This, as well as the heading hereof, will lead you to suppose that the present subject is a dark one; amen! I shall respond, Hoc moda.

I do not exactly remember the very hour, or even year, in which my eyes first formed acquaintance with the subject of my rumination; but well do I remember how exceedingly intimate we became, as the silent tide of years rolled more heavily over my head, and the purling tide of Ugie flowed more familiarity beneath its gloomy parapets. Well do I remember that in morning’s rosy hours, in the sunny hours of noon, in the shady hours of twilight, and in the sombre hours of evening, mine eyes might have been seen beholding it; half-wept tears nestling in their brightness; for the sight of it brought many sad associations into mind. Dark indeed was its aspect, and the memoirs connected with it are likewise far from fair.

At a farmhouse, two or three hundred yards from where the Bridge still is, lived a man accounted by the parish wondrous clever; but what its reasons were for so judging I cannot conceive. All I know of his skill is that he was his own master, his own doctor, and probably would have been his own sexton, had permission been granted by “the powers that be.” These were the only peculiarities that marked his worldly career, and if any one of them is more worthy than the other of the epithet—clever, I know not; bearing this in mind, he died, through caprice, a terrible death; he died a self-destroyer.

He leased a small farm, capable of giving work to a couple of horses, and the said farm was conscientiously reputed to be the best kept in the laird’s whole estate; for its “dear, dear, dead and gone husband”-man took great pains and spared no attention in making it worthy of notice, both for the benefit of his own coffer, and because of the wish he had to excel everybody, in every place, in everything relating to agriculture. Withal, he kept for hire a very useful vehicle of four wheels, a vehicle—in one word, a hearse. I have never discovered why the valuable machine was not employed as a conveyance in the transferring of its owner’s remains from the top of the closet drawers—no, not that—from the court of the now dilapidated steading to the grave in—no!—to the gateway of the village churchyard, a few miles off. There is a mystery hanging about that hearse besides the cottsey-woolsey drapery; and although I have sought all that I thought eligible means of giving light to the sable mystery, I have failed in extracting one single glint of the sunshine of information. All people of whom I enquired merely shook their heads, and assumed, with due gravity, what is called a Sunday’s face; raised a hand, shook it; and if they raised their voice at all, shook it also. Oh! would I not like to hear something believable of that dismal matter? Some person knows, and yet I may die unenlightened. Continue reading “‘The Black Bridge’ by W.R.M. (30 June, 1860)”