‘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. Continue reading “‘Bodkin in the Barrack Park’ (27 July, 1861)”