‘Scottish Characters — Jock M’Cue’ (22 December, 1888)

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.

Private M’Cue, better known among his intimates as “Big Jock,” was a bit of a character in our regiment, from which he retired not so very long ago. By way of introduction, I shall relate a story of which Jock was the actual hero, which went the round of every Scotch regiment a few years ago, and eventually, I believe, found its way into print.

At the time the incident happened Jock was a recruit of a week’s standing in one of our Northern depots: and while in the hands of a drill sergeant on parade, he drew upon himself the notice of the Sergeant-Major by his inattention. The Sergeant-Major was a very little man, and coming up to Jock, who was looking about and did not see him, he seized him by the shoulder, turned him round to the front, and shoved his chin upwards till his gaze was fixed on the sky above. “Now, my man,” said he, “that is the position of a soldier; see that you keep it.” “And have I always to be like this,” sad innocent (?) Jock. “Yes.” “Weel, Sergeant-Major, I’ll bid ye guid-bye, for I’ll ne’er see ye again.”

During the few months Jock remained in the depot he proved a thorn in the side of his more immediate superiors by his assumption of stupidity and habit of getting drunk regularly every pay night. On one occasion when standing half-drunk by his berth at roll call, he was the recipient of a torrent of abuse from his pay sergeant, who wound up by asking Jock if he thought the non-commissioned officers of his company had nothing to do but look after him. “Weel, sergeant,” was the reply, “yer non-commissioned officers micht as weel be lookin’ after me as be n the puirshoose.” As the pay sergeant was known to have emerged from a charity school, and was besides universally unpopular the hit told, and Jock had more peace afterwards.

One afternoon Jock and some cronies having got half fou’ in the canteen, resolved to finish the spree in the adjoining village. They proceeded to leave barracks, but were met at the gate by a lady who took a great interest in the welfare of soldiers, and was much respected by them in consequence. Saluting her they attempted to pass on, but their evident hurry and disinclination to speak at once caused the lady to guess what was the matter, and hurry back after them with an invitation to tea at her house. She was well acquainted with all but Jock, and as she would not be put off, the whole party accompanied her to her residence, which was not far distant. At the door they were met by two young lady visitors, who, after seeing our friends settled down to their tea, prepared to enliven the meal by singing a hymn. While doing so one of our soldier friends, with the laudable desire of making the best of his position, quietly appropriated a large jar of jam which had been placed near him on the table, and began surreptitiously to sup it with a table (not tea) spoon. This was too much for Jock, who, after looking wistfully at the jam for a short time lost patience: and while the singing of the hymn was in full progress he seized a loaf near him, and flung it across the table at the offender’s face shouting, “For G—d’s sake, man, hae some decency afore folk.” Thereafter, in the language of the newspaper reporter, the meeting broke up in confusion.

After some months spent in the depot, Jock, with others, was sent to join his regiment in Egypt, and early brought himself under the notice of his officers. Jock had been taken to the orderly room as second evidence in a case of drunkenness, the prisoner being a crony of his own, and was asked if the man had been drunk when he was arrested. “Weel, sir, he had yill [beer],” was Jock’s reply. The Colonel was more French than Scotch, and had not the slightest idea what Jock meant. This was exactly what was intended by our hero. He was tried again, this time by the Adjutant, “Was the man drunk? Yes or no?” “Weel, I wadna like tae say the man was drunk, but there’s nae doot he had yill, sir; the man had yill.” After another attempt to get a precise answer, equally unavailing, Jock was dismissed as incorrigibly stupid. Continue reading “‘Scottish Characters — Jock M’Cue’ (22 December, 1888)”

‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)

The following is a sketch story about a steamship journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. The author, A.S., had several stories published in the ‘Journal’ around this time.

One morning in the latter end of last April, a large steamboat, crowded from stem to stern with a goodly company of men and women, young lads and lasses, belonging principally to the working-classes of Edinburgh, sailed from Leith harbour, bound on a cheap pleasure trip to a certain city in the North. The day was clear and bright, scarce a cloud obscured the sky, the sun shone brightly from above, and its reflection dazzled the eye from the rippling billows below. We were all in the best of spirits, light-hearted, social, and merry. The paddle-wheels, impelled by the powers of steam, churned the waters into milk-white foam, and urged the crowded vessel onward at a glorious rate. We were not long in passing the Bass Rock and the Isle of May on our right; Largo Law, Largo Bay, and the East Neuk of Fife, with its pleasant slopes dotted with white cottages and farm steadings, on our left. We soon doubled Fife Ness, and steered northward past St Andrews Bay, until at last we entered the Frith of Tay, and beheld, many of us for the first time, a dense cloud of smoke and a forest of tall chimneys, beneath which throbbed the hearts of the denizens of Dundee. We were but four hours on our voyage. We had two or three to wait before we started home, and we resolved to make the most of our time by scampering about the streets and seeing whatever was to be seen. We saw a large, prosperous city, full of life and activity, like a hive of busy, busy bees; full of people intent—as all Scotch folks are—on making, not honey, but that which rhymes to it and buys it, namely, money; a city full of shops that seem to drive a good trade; large factories where the inventions of Watt and Arkwright create a deafening sound, and convert the Russian flax into fine linen. We saw few idle people, either rich or poor , in Dundee; everybody seemed to have something to do, and to be doing it. There were no ridiculously dressed ladies, rustling in silks and satins, glittering with rings and jewels, such as may be seen any sunny day parading along Princess Street, Edinburgh—ladies as idle as they are useless, as proud as they are contemptible, who seem to imagine this world was made for no other purpose than to be trod under their feet, who have never done anything in their lives but eat and drink and create work for others. But then there were plenty of real ladies, neatly and tastily dressed, who did not go idle, but were out at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the grocer’s, or the linen draper’s, purchasing household necessaries, and making themselves useful and their homes happy by their frugal and industrious habits. These are the ladies we admire and honour, not those mincing votaries of fashion made up, for the most part, of millineries, sparkling jewels, and self-conceit. And then, oh ye gods are little fishes (as Robert Nicoll used to say), did we not see in that city a number of the prettiest girls that ever we saw! Bless their sweet eyes. Have we not dreamed of them every blessed night since, and do we not count ever day and hour between us and the next holiday when we may get back to see them once more! Of the male portion of Dundee folks, we have little to say. Sam Slick’s description of Scotchmen in America may be applied to them:—“Them ere fellars cut their eye-teeth afore they set foot on this country, I expect. When they get a bawbee they know what to do with it—that’s a fact;—they open their pouch and drop it in, and its got a spring like a fox-trap, it holds fast to all it gets like the grim death to a dead nigger.” Ditto with Scotchmen and their pouches everywhere. Continue reading “‘A Stranger’s Glimpse of Dundee’ by A.S. (29 September, 1860)”

‘Bodkin Agitates the Nine Hours Question’ (2 March, 1861)

The following epistle is an early appearance in ‘The People’s Journal’ 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 column Tammas discusses the Nine Hours Movement, demands from Edinburgh Masons and joiners to reduce working hours from ten to nine hours a day. This would lead to a strike, following on from similar action in London in 1860. There is also a discussion of a meeting in the Liff and Benvie parish which occurred on the Monday (28 February) in regards to changing the mode of assessment for levying the poor-rates (parish tax for poor relief) to ease burden on working people.

Maister Editor,—The nicht afore last I was sittin’ after supper pickin’ my teeth wi’ my bodkin, when Jamie Mallet, the mason chield, wha lives richt aboon me, gallows button for him. It was rather late, bein’ little oot or in o’ eleven o’clock, an’ after a hard day’s wark my shoothers were achin’, no to mention that my ‘ee-holes were nearly closin’ wi’ sleep; an’ so I wad hae preferred my bed to sewin’ on a button in ordinary circumstances, but as Jamie is a gey neeborly sort o’ body, an’ a tremendus hand for a crack, I bade him come in-bye, an’ I wad see what could be dune. Jamie is mannerly eneuch, an’ began makin’ apologies for disturbin’ me at sic an untimeous time o’ nicht, “but ye see, Tammas,” quoth he, “I canna gang to my wark the morn withoot braces, for, as I need baith hands to my business, it wadna do for me to wield the mell wi’ ae hand an’ haud up my breeks wi’ the ither.” “That’s very true,” quoth I, “an’ I’ll soon put you a’ to richts; but what think ye o’ this nine oors’ movement that the Edinbro’ folks are a’ gaen gyte aboot?” “Weel,” says he, “that’s joost the question I was aboot to put to you, Tammas. What’s your opinion on that point?” “My opinion is joost this, Jamie, that if folk can manage to live on the wages o’ nine oors, they wad me great fules to work ten, but for my pairt it taks me saxteen or auchteen oors’ hard work to win aitmeal an’ petawties for my wife an’ family.” “Na, na, Tammas, ye maun be exaggeratin’ noo surely; ye dinna mean to say that ye’re slaved in that way, except it be ye’re greed o’ gain that gars ye work sae lang oors.” “Weel, Jamie,” quoth I, “greed or no greed, it’s geyan certain that I winna leave a fardin’ behind me. But if hunger didna compel me to work lang oors I wad aften hae to do sae to gratifie the pride o’ my customers. There’s aye the ither birth, an’ death, an’ marriage takin’ place, an’ the folk maun hae their braw new claes at a day’s notice, never considerin’ that my shoothers maun pay for’t. An’ I maun say that the workin’ classes are as oonreasonable as the rich folks, an’ maybe mair, some o’ them. They joost tell me—’Noo, Tammas, ye maun hae them dune by sic an’ sic a time,’ an’, of coorse, I’m obligated to submit to their dictation withoot daurin’ to say that my lugs are my ain, for it wad joost be—’Weel, weel, then, if ye winna anither will,’ an’ sae the matter ends. That’s what I ca’ tyranny, an’ I wad thank ony body wha could tell me hoo to get quit o’t. An’ them, if I dinna hae the duds ready at the preceese time appointed, its ‘O, ye’re joost like a’ the tailor tribe—a set o’ doonright leein’ scoundrels!’ ‘Od, they’re weel aff that hae only ae maister to serve, an’ regular oors to work in, for me, I’ve as mony maisters as I’ve customers, an’ I’m sure there’s no an’ oor o’ a’ the four an’ twenty that I can ca’ my ain!” “Tammas,” quoth he, “it’s a’ true ye say, but ye see machinery has dune sae muckle to lighten oor kind o’ wark, that the human machine can surely afford to tak’ it easy, or what’s the use o’ machinery ava? Ye hae lang oors, Tammas, that’s true, but ye maun remember that ye’re no daidled wi’ dirt, and weet, an’ cauld the way we are. Ye’re aye at hand to steer about the pat an’ lick the theevel, an’ lunt ye’re cutty whenever ye weary; but we mason chields maun trudge awa’ wi’ a piece in oor pouch an’ a pitcher o’ milk in oor hands for maybe sax or aught miles to oor wark, an’ the same distance hame again at nicht, an’ sair as yer shoothers may become wielding that wechty steel bar o’ yours, they wad be still sairer, I’m thinkin’, if ye had to knock, knock, knock awa’ wi’ a meil aboot a stane wecht frae sax to sax, wi’ nae mair time ye could ca’ yer ain than joost to swallow yer steerabout at nine o’clock an’ mump up yer bit aitmeal bannock at twa i’ the afternoon.” “A’ very true, Jamie,” said I, “but hoo will yer maisters stamack that nine oors’ ploy?” “I dinna see what objections they can hae,” said he, “seein’ that we are willin’ to tak’ a reduction o’ pay correspondin’ to the reduction o’ labour.” “Ay, ay, that’ll do a’ weel enuch,” said I, “as lang’s there are planty o’ hands, but as soon as the labour market is no able to supply the demand, the wages will soon rise as high as ever.” “That may happen, Tammas, an’ it canna’ happen ower sune,” quoth Jamie, “an’ if it do happen, the maisters maun joost estimate their jobs a wee thocht higher; that’s a’. Wages o’ a’ kinds are gaen up, an’ what for no masons’ wages? The ministers are gettin’ three or four chalders added to their stipends, an’ the very sweeps are lookin’ for a glass o’ whisky to draik the stour in their thrapples in addition to their ordinary chairge.” “Gin that be the gait o’t, Jamie,” quoth I, “I maun raise my scale o’ chairges too, sae ye winna grudge to gie me saxpence mair for makin’ a waistcoat, ninepence mair for a pair o’ breeks, an’ auchteenpence mair for a coat. At that rate I could afford to keep a journeyman, and sae I could hae my workin’ oors shortened by aught or nine oors, an’ be nae loser.” Continue reading “‘Bodkin Agitates the Nine Hours Question’ (2 March, 1861)”

‘Pompey’s Breakfast—A True Picture of Edinburgh Life’ by James Easson (4 December, 1858)

The following is the first of James Easson’s short stories published in the ‘People’s Journal’. Easson—or ‘the people’s poet’ as he was posthumously dubbed by a reader—wrote many short stories, sketches, essays and poems from 1858 until his death in 1865. In many ways Easson was the sort of contributor that the ‘Journal’ was founded for. He was a painter decorator from Dundee who found an audience in the paper and was loved by its readers. He died in the Royal Lunatic Asylum in Dundee after three weeks of paralysis aged just 31, his only living relative being his Grandmother Betty Easson. Readers donated money to pay for his burial and the support of Betty when his death was announced. His stone can still be visited in Dundee’s Eastern Necropolis and the inscription reads; ‘Erected by the Proprietors of “The People’s Journal” in Memory of a Working Man who had Rare Literary Gifts and Whose Writings are his Best Memorial’.  For a full collection of his work and a short biography, see ‘The Life and Works of James Easson; The Dundee People’s Poet’ by Anthony Faulks (Dundee, 2016).

One fine morning during the past summer, and at an unusually early hour, the mansion of a rich East India Captain, situate in one of the fashionable crescents of Edinburgh, was thrown into great confusion, and its inmates into great distress, for a lamentable—a very lamentable—occurrence had just taken place. Was it the death of the master of the house, who had been found dead in his bed? No. Neither had the Captain’s niece eloped in the night, nor any other calamity of any such sort, but it was Pompey—her little lap-dog, Pompey—he had refused to east his breakfast, which to serve up was the special duty of the tall footman, John. Oh, poor dear little creature, Pompey—the dear, dear little dog—the fine little pet; so the crusty old Captain’s niece was half beside herself to think that her sleek little doggie, Pompey, had not taken his usual meat—the poor little creature!

John, the tall footman, was in agonies; the cook was in a stew last she might be blamed doing the poor little doggie’s chicken over brown. The fat house-maid sat in the drawing room sofa, wringing her hands—the butler vainly tried to pour oil on the troubled waters of their feelings by assuring them in a whisper that Pompey was over-fed, and that it was only a slight colic. But all this would not do: they ran up stairs and down stairs—to the kitchen and back to the servant’s hall—asking and answering questions as to the state of the poor little Pompey, who lay before the fire in the latter place like a big fat sheep, scarcely able to move from excess of fat and want of exercise.

Never, never had the dear little pet refused his breakfast before (such was the wail of the house-maid)—the most regular dog in his habits, and so sensible too! He was so fond—so very fond—of the Captain too; he lay at his bed-room door all night and whined, just like a little baby, when the gruff old man gave him a kick that sent him spinning over the stair-rail. Oh, deary, deary—and he would not eat! Oh, could not that cook prepare a sweet little sauce for the dear animal’s chicken? if not, what was she good for? What a state of mind the kind-hearted Miss Catherine must be in, when she should come down to the drawing room and have him brought up to her on the rug! The soft-hearted house-maid was all but crying at the bare reflection of that trying scene. Continue reading “‘Pompey’s Breakfast—A True Picture of Edinburgh Life’ by James Easson (4 December, 1858)”