‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 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.

Maister Editor,—Ae mornn’ i’ th’ end o’ last week, I receives, amang my ither rather extensive correspondence, a letter that wasna juist a’thegither like a business letter, because it was written in a hammert hand o’ wreat, on an auld-fashioned sheet o’ letter-paper, withoot an’ envelope, and sealed wi’ a thimble; an’ so, my curiosity bein’ a wee thocht excitit, I seizes hauds o’ the epistle, first an’ foremost, breaks it open, an’ reads as follows:—

Cockmylane,

the four o’ September,

18 hundered and 61.

Auld Freend,

I have na seen or heerd tell o’ ye for more nor thirty year, and the last time I seed ye—ye’ll mind was in the year that Burke was hanged, and we were attackted by the gangrel Irishman on the hie road between Dalkeith and Musselburgh, and you thought he was the murderer Hare, and gave him such a wallop under the fifth rib, that his heels went over his head, and he landed into the middle of a whin bush; and you’ll mind how you and me parted at Mungo Mathew’s public, close by the toll bar, after we had had a half mutchkin thegither bekause it was a wet morning. After that I losed sight of you entirely, bekause I went to Ayrshire to work at the Iron-Stane, and after I wrought there for nine or ten year, I gaed out to Austreelia, and I made my fortune herding sheep to Mr Jone Wauchope, at a place thirty mile up from Melbourne, called Bloody Gully. I came home five year syne, and have took a farm, ye’ll see the name of it at the tap of this letter, and it is about six mile on this side of Cupar, and about two mile and a half on the other side of the coach-road to the water-side. I’m very comfortable, and I have a wife, and my farm is three plews lawbour, and I am very busy with the shearing just now, or I would have tried to find you out, for I’m sometimes at the market on Friday, but Mistress Sooter an’ me would be happy if Tibbie an’ you could come over and spend a week or 2 with us, and we will tak’ no denial, and you must come over to Newport with the 9 o’clock boat on Monday morning, and I will be at the water-side with a cart to drive you to Cockmylane, and I have to be at Newport at anyrate for a basketfu’ of ale, and a barrel o’ shearers’ bread. I found oot that you were in Dundee by seeing your letters and sae muckle about you in the newspaper. I must close this letter, because it is nine o’clock at night, and I am tired and sleepy, and we have to be up at five o’clock if it is a fair morning.

No more at present, but remains your auld friend,

Andrew Sooter,

tenant of Cockmylane.

Dog on it! the readin’ o’ this letter revived auld and kindly recollectons. I had nearly forgotten a’ aboot Andro Sooter, but when he mentioned my encoonter wi’ the drucken Irishman twa-an’-thirty years syne, my memory brichtened up, an’ I mind the particulars o’ that ploy, an’ a’ aboot drinkin the half-mutchkin wi’ Andro at the toll house, as weel as if they had happened only yesterday or the day afore. At that time, Andro, a young daft chield, aboot twenty years auld, was castin’ drains on a farm in the neeborhood o’ Dalkeith, an’ i’ the lang winter e’enins he was wont to come into the shop and chat awa wi’ the ‘prentices an’ journeymen, and he employed us to mak’ his stacks for him, an’ shape his corduroy cutikins, the sewin’ whereof he was wont to execute wi’ his ain hands, for he was aye a savin’ kind o’ a’ loon. Ay, ay, an’ Andro had warsled sae far up i’ the warld as to hae a farm o’ his ain. Weel, wha wad hae thocht it? For Andro was never kent to be a philosopher, but he was aye a wee thocht gruppy i’ his way, and attendit faithfully to his business, an’ after a’, it’s yer canny eydent, sayin’ kind o’ folk that grow rich, an’ no yer men o’ talent an’ genius. A’ thae thochts passed through my mind when I had read Andro’s letter, an’ sae I steps my ways ben to Tibbie, an’ reads the letter to her, an’ we had a consultation aboot oor invitation to Cockmylane, the result whereof was that we would be at Newport on Monday at the ‘oor appointit. We cam’ the mair readily to this conclusion, that we had half made up oor minds to tak lodgin’s for a week or ten days ower at Newport or doon bye at Carnoustie, at onyrate, for the sake o’ Tibbie’s health, that has been onything but in a satisfactory state sin’ we cam’ to live in this oonsavoury locality o’ the toon, amang the odours o’ fish-guts an’ the sickly aroma o’ Phelim O’Grady’s auld rags an’ rotten banes. The invitation to Cockmylane was therefore a special dispensation o’ Providence, that removed a’ financial obstacles to oor holiday jaunt an’ especially relieved me o’ the irksome duty o’ hagglin’ wi’ greedy landladies aboot room rent, an’ the price o’ gas an’ coal, an’ the perquisites due to the servent for cleanin’ oor shoon. That was what I never could put up wi’, an’ preserve my mental serenity, ever sin’ I cam’ to fend for mysel’ in this warld; an’ mony’s the time I’ve suffered mysel’ to be victmeezed rather than kick up a stoor aboot a paltry shillin’ or twa, an’ that’s dootless pairtly the reason why i’m the poor man I am at this oor an’ day. Continue reading “‘Bodkin Discovers an Old Acquaintance’ (14 September, 1861)”

‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)

This was one of a series of portraits of significant local figures that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1891. While this was not a competition winner, prize of one guinea was given to the best profile of a “well known man”. There are some lovely details about the Tay Ferries here, particularly that after eight o’clock those wanting to cross the river could hire out a small bout for 6s 9d.

There is nobody in Newport better known or more highly respected than Mr John Jackson, who for so many years has had charge of the parcel delivery work in connection with the Tay Ferries. Born in Dundee in 1820, Mr Jackson came to Newport at the age of ten, so that for the long period of sixty-one years he has been a resident in the beautiful suburb on the Southern shores of the Tay. He is almost the oldest inhabitant, there being only two others who can dispute the claim with him—Miss Gibb and Mr Robert Just. Mr Jackson’s father, Charles Jackson, carried on the business of a shoemaker in Dundee and Newport. He was a staunch Baptist, and for forty years, with unfailing regularity, he attended the Baptist Church at Tayport.

Newport Sixty Years Ago.

Sixty years ago, when Mr Jackson first came to Newport, there were no churches, no shops, no schools, and no resident medical man. At that time communication with the South was by stagecoach, and the delivery of parcels coming by coach was attended to by Mrs Brand, whose storehouse for articles arriving by coach, and also for bales of flax from Dundee by the ferry steamer, was the building opposite the pier now partly occupied by the Mission Hall. Mr Jackson entered the service of Mrs Brand, and was for some time engaged in delivering parcels on a hand-barrow. The last boat for Dundee left at eight o’clock, and those who wanted to cross the river after that hour had to hire the cutter, which was managed by four men, of whom Mr Jackson was one. The charge for a single trip was 6s 9d, and Mr Jackson has sometimes made as many as three trips in one evening. In due time Mr Jackson was promoted to the post of Piermaster, and at the same time looking after the delivery of parcels, a duty which he has always discharged with punctuality and despatch. When the daily newspapers were started in Dundee he undertook their distribution in Newport, and all those who have had dealings with him will testify that his branch of his business also has been attended to with unfailing regularity. The punctual appearance of the Dundee Advertiser on Newport breakfast tables every morning for so many years has been largely due to the efforts of Mr Jackson.

The Tay Ferries.

Mr Jackson has seen many changes in the Tay Ferries. When he first entered the service the Ferries were under the charge of the commissioners of Woods and Forests, and the boat on the passage was the Princess Royal, a twinsteamer, with a single paddle in the centre. The Princess Royal had a very large deck for goods, and could carry eight or nine hundred passengers, but she had no saloon; and when a saloon was added her engines were found to be too light for the extra weight, and she was discarded in favour of the Fifeshire. Afterwards the Forfarshire came upon the passage, and then the Dundee. The Newport Pier and the sea wall to the East were built in 1821-22. By and by the Ferries passed into the hands of the Scottish Central Railway, then into those of the Caledonian Railway, and finally they were taken over by the Dundee Harbour Commissioners, and placed under the charge of a Committee, of which the first Convener was the late Mr Harry Walker. Mr Jackson has served under six Superintendents—Captain Scott; Messrs John Leitch, Morrison, Cookston, Ritchie, and Captain Methven. Among those who have commanded the steamers in his day were Captains James Duncan, David Milne, and John Edwards. Another old Ferry hand is David Davidson, who, like Mr Jackson, was in the service of Mrs Brand. Mr Milne, the Newport Piermaster, has been twenty years in the Ferry service. Continue reading “‘An Old Newport Man: Mr John Jackson’ (19 December, 1891)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 1 (14 May, 1881)

The following is the first of eight stories about life working in a Jute mill. These sketches give a great insight into the operations of these mills, from the different machinery to the way leisure time was occupied. They also give a sense of how a family unit could be impacted by this new way of life, which was a world away from a quiet little toun in the Howe of Fife.

Chapter I.—The Half-Timer.

I was but a small boy when my parents determined to leave that quiet little village in the Howe of Fife where they had been struggling for years to gain a scanty subsistence at the handloom. The income from this was so small that I fear my reader would hardly give me credit for veracity were I to state its limited extent and unavoidable drawbacks.

My elder brother Tom was about to be set on the loom which my mother had formerly occupied, when matters took a turn, and it was that same Tom who brought it about. He had repeatedly heard and readily believed the reports current in the village that in the town of Dundee one could get a choice of employment and good wages, and it appeared to him much wiser to go thither than to drudge on in his native village for a pittance hardly sufficient to afford the bare necessaries of life.

When the thing was mooted at the fireside there was naturally an incredulous response; but happily a sensible neighbour backed up Tom’s energetic representations, and my father, beginning to reflect on the circumstances, and to weigh all contingencies of the case, at length determined to remove his whole family thither.

When we bade farewell to those scenes of my childhood, one cart was sufficient for the conveyance of our whole household effects, my mother, and sister, and me. Tom preferred to walk with my father beside the cart, and after some hours weary journeying we reached Newport on the Tay, and our eyes were greeted with the sight of the port of our destination—Dundee, which lay stretched along the opposite shore, and spread out on the heights behind.

The spectacle of so great a place, while exciting my interest and curiosity, also bewildered me, for sitting jolting in the cart I had exercised my youthful imagination on the kind of place to which we were bound, and had only got the length of a large village with a rivulet flowing through it, its clumps of trees, its tall steeple, and slightly multiplied streets; but that great town where chimney-stalks usurped the place of trees, and where ships added their bewildering fringes to the mighty sea which still separated us from the thousands of houses, dumfoundered [sic] me, and I almost cried with disappointment.

Our cart was taken on board the ferry-boat, and having dismounted I began to walk about the broad deck of the vessel, full of inquiring curiosity at all the wonders I saw. Before I had half exhausted my questions, we were landed on the pier at Dundee, and were walking on the hard causeway toward the town, followed by our cart of furniture.

My father had secured a house, and we were soon crowded into it. To me it seemed as if we had got into a prison, so close was everything. The alley up which I assisted to carry our effects was between dingy stone walls instead of bright green hedges, and the long stair we had to climb fatigued my limbs, so that I was fain to remain beside mother and watch her attempts to light a fire. When I looked out of the window I was surprised to find there was no green thing visible; instead of gardens or fields the only prospect was of tiled roots and chimney tops. Yet that night I slept soundly in my old bed, and next day we began our family life in Dundee. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 1 (14 May, 1881)”