‘Old Stories Retold: The Cradle of Logie’ (26 November, 1887)

The following was part of a series of historical tales about Dundee which appeared in ‘The People’s Journal’. ‘The Cradle of Logie’ is a sombre piece of Dundee folklore surrounding the dreadful mistreatment of an Indian princess by Fletcher Reid of Logie House, and the brutal revenge carried out by her father. This episode (although many of the details are highly doubtful) demonstrates the significant connection between the east coast of Scotland and India. Many landowners (or rather the sons of landowners) from the region made their fortunes in the East India Company. When they returned flush with the rewards of their plunder of the subcontinent, these nouveau riche were dismissively called ‘nabobs’.

In the earlier years of this century Logie House, near Lochee was the residence of Fletcher Reid, a man who had risen to some distinction in the service of the Indian Government. At that time there stretched in front of the house a large field, and in the middle of the field stood a lofty pole with a gilded ball and spire on the top. Long ago the plough and harrow gave place to stone and brick and lime, and many people, dwellers in the locality and others, will be interested to learn that the street built on this field is called Polepark after the flagstaff. Our illustrations are taken from Crawford’s plan of Dundee published in 1777.

Some ninety years ago the people residing in the neighbourhood of Logie House were surprised one morning at finding a number of workmen commencing to lay the foundation of a cottage within the grounds. What, they asked, could Fletcher Reid of Logie want with a house like that? and why should he erect it within his entrance gates? Great were the curiosity and mystification even among the servants themselves, and thus it is that we find James, the gardener closeted with Mrs Saunders, the housekeeper, on the evening of the day above alluded to. Mrs Saunders, for reasons known to herself, and also to James, has provided that worthy with a hearty meal and something to drink, and the two now settle down for a gossip.

“’Deed, Mistress Saunders,” began Jeems, in his slow, deliberate way; “ think the maister maun be clean daft. That Indian cleemat’s been ower muckle for’m. They tell me noo—”

“Daft,” broke in the housekeeper. “’Od, there wid be some excuse for’m if he wis. Dae ye think sae?”

“I believe it’s that strayaigin’, ne’er-dae-weol Laird of Brechin that pits a’ the mischief intill his heed,” said Jeems. “Did ye hear aboot the twa idyits ridin’ at nicht to the kirkyaird on a hearse an’ blawin’ trumets. It’s eneugh to bring a judgment on the toon.”

“Guidsake, Jeems, dinna speak that way,” said Mrs Saunders, glancing round uneasily. “What wi’ the maister’s cantrips, and that young Indian heathen woman, his wife’s manoeuvres, I’m turnin’ clean nervous. “What dae ye think be married a cratur’ like that for?”

“Faix, Mrs Saunders, he married her for rizzens that shouldna animate the breest o’ ony man when he—ahem—when he gangs about sic business,” rejoined James, with a meaning glance at the buxom housekeeper, who would have blushed if she had been twenty years younger. “Ye ken hoo mony rupees and gowd and jewels he got wi’ her frae her faither, wha’ is the Rajaw o’ some ootlandish place oot there, and a verra big man amang thae heathen blackguards. They say the maister himsel’ was a big man there to; but, losh, Mrs Saunders, that’s no sayin’ muckle, for it stands to rizzen that amang thae puir black heathen cratur’s any man with a heid on his shoothers an’ a pair o’ breeks on—”

Here an imperative ring at the bell, calling for Mrs Saunders, cut the conversation short, and James had to leave, much against his will. James and the housekeeper “understood” one another.

By-and-by the cottage was finished. It was a little ugly stone building with a door and no window. At each corner projected an ornamental pinnacle, resembling the knobs of a cradle and the cottage was dubbed the “Cradle of Logie.” Surely the rich Anglo-Indian must be mad? Yes, he was mad—not mentally, else he might have been forgiven, but morally—mad with evil passions, mad with lust, mad with drink, mad with every conceivable kind of wickedness known to our depraved human nature. In this particular instance his diabolical purpose was soon unveiled. His gentle wife, the daughter of an Indian prince, whom he had married out in India, had grown distasteful to him. So this monster in human shape built this little, close, undrained, unlighted place as a prison for her, and here he shut her up and deprived her of proper food and every necessary, and even decency of life. Starved, beaten, shut up, without ever getting a breath of air or seeing a ray of sunlight, the poor creature soon pined away and died. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold: The Cradle of Logie’ (26 November, 1887)”

‘Old Stories Retold: The Thorter Row Murder’ (12 November, 1887)

The following was part of a series of historical tales about Dundee which appeared in ‘The People’s Journal’. A key tenant of the paper was to promote self improvement in its readers and articles pleading for sobriety were common—this can be seen as a moral story in that tradition.

On the peaceful Sunday morning of August 5th, 1838, an event occurred in Dundee which not only made a profound sensation in the town itself, but was the cause of much commotion throughout the country. What this was we shall endeavour to set forth, and our task will be made easier by the fact that the scene of this dreadful occurrence has remained unchanged since that day. Proceeding to the East side of Thorter Row, still a well-known and busy thoroughfare, we turn up a narrow entry and find ourselves in a small court, closed in on every hand by tall houses, with grimy smoke-stained walls and many broken windows stuffed with rags, showing that they are occupied by the poorer classes. Looking inquiringly around, we should then have found the keynote to this story and the spring from which its incidents flow in the fact that into this little, desolate, squalid, poverty-stricken court no less than three public-house back doors opened. Today, thanks to better habits and wiser legislation, there is nothing of the kind, but in 1838 it was considered no disgrace but rather a right and proper thing for people, even in the highest circles, to drink till late and go to bed under the table, and their habits were naturally imitated by their poorer fellow-countrymen. With such facilities close at hand need we wonder that the people living in this court were poor, miserable, ignorant, wretched, and steeped in vice and crime? Would it not rather have been amazing if they had been anything else? Now to our story.

The History of Woods.

Just in the middle of this court, facing us as we enter, stands a house isolated from its neighbours, with a cellar below, and a short outside stair leading to the door. This house was occupied by one Arthur Woods, whose career we must trace for a little. He was a native of Ireland, the son of a small farmer there, who seems to have given Arthur a fairly good education. When about 30 years of age Woods came to Scotland, and started in business in Glasgow as a hawker, a trade which was of considerable importance and respectability in a time when communication between town and country was not so easy as it is now. Woods married a woman named Drew; and owing no doubt to the fact that this wife’s father carried on a business as a fish-dealer in Perth, he settled down in that city. Several children were born to him, but only two—a boy and a girl—lived to grow up. About the time of his son’s birth Woods came to Dundee and started in business as an auctioneer. Here his ready native wit, good education, and powers of “blarney” stood him in good stead. He soon had an immense business, and enjoyed a considerable reputation among his fellow-townsmen for uprightness, energy, tact, enterprise, and—most noteworthy of all—for sobriety. Having got into a good connection with wholesale dealers in Dundee, Woods now bought the extensive business of an auctioneer named Taylor, and seemed to be on the highway to fortune. Elated by his success, Woods turned his attention to larger speculations than any he had yet engaged in, and here his good fortune began to desert him. Taking with him a large stock of valuable goods, he went to Aberdeen, and proceeded to sell them in a public hall in the Granite City. This adventure turned out disastrously, and just about the same time his wife’s bad behaviour caused him great trouble and uneasiness. She frequently left him, and finally went to stay with her friends in Perth, where she met with a fatal accident. Fresh business speculations brought further losses, and Woods, discouraged and disappointed, turned, like many another out-worn spirit, into the way which led him to ruin and death.

He Took to Drink,

and went downhill with wonderful swiftness. With his children Woods went back to Ireland, where he stayed and for a year or two, then returned to Dundee, and confided his little ones to the care of their grandmother in Perth. Woods had now a fair chance of retrieving his character and regaining his former respectability; but his bad habits had got too strong a hold upon him to be shaken off without a great effort. That effort he does not seem seriously to have made, and the downward course continued. He got odd sales to conduct in the Greenmarket on Fridays and Saturday evenings; but even this humble employment left him, and he was forced to make a living as a street porter, occupying his frequent leisure house in the making of straw mattresses. At this point Woods made another fatal mistake. He married a woman of worthless character named Hourietta or Honey Young, and the union, as was inevitable, deteriorated him still further.

Father and Son Hastening to Ruin.

John Woods, the son of Arthur by his first ‘marriage, was now growing up, and having been reared under such adverse circumstances, he turned out a very bad young man indeed. He also carried on the business of a hawker, but having no character, he made a very poor living. His stepmother having taken a dislike to him did all she could to make dispeace between him and his father, and seems to have been only too successful in carrying out her base designs. Both father and son drank to excess, and fighting and quarrelling were nightly occurrences in the miserable home in Thorter Row. On the sultry evening of Saturday, 4th August 1838, one of his old-fashioned watchmen passing down Thorter Row heard the sounds of fighting and quarrelling in Woods’ house. This, however, was nothing unusual. It only meant that John and his father were drunk, so the sagacious watchman went on his way. Had he been near enough to have heard the words spoken he would assuredly have interfered with all speed. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold: The Thorter Row Murder’ (12 November, 1887)”

‘Old Stories Retold: Execution of David Balfour’ (29 October, 1887)

The following was the first in a series of historical tales about Dundee which appeared in ‘The People’s Journal’. The execution of David Balfour occurred 51 years previous to the publication of this story and, while the apparent crush in the crowd is played up in this article, the full truth of the matter is rather unclear. A ‘Dundee Courier’ report from the time does not suggest that there was a serious incident among the watching public:

“During Mr Murray’s prayer, there was one or two interruptions occasioned by a bustle on the street, but which did not in the smallest degree discompose Balfour” [From the ‘Dundee Courier’, printed in the ‘Caledonian Mercury’ 5 June, 1826]

The most disturbing aspect of this story (or at least its telling) is the way the author tacitly blames the murder of Balfour’s wife on the victim herself. 1887 was a different time, but it still makes for uncomfortable reading.

Extraordinary Noise—Panic Amongst the Spectators.

On the morning of Wednesday, December 21, 1825. Dundee was thrown into a state of great excitement by a rumour that, in a house in the Murraygate, a sailor named David Balfour had murdered his wife by stabbing her to the heart with a butcher’s knife, and immediately afterwards delivered himself up to justice. The rumour proved too true; the murderer was tried and condemned at the next Perth Assizes, and executed in Dundee in the beginning of the following June. As the case, which was in some respects unique in the history of Dundee, is now almost unknown to the present inhabitants, we consider it worth retelling.

David Balfour,

the culprit, was by no means a coarse ruffian, such as too frequently appears before our modern Police Court for wife-beating, but a man of superior intelligence, kindly disposition, and good, honest character. Like Othello, his chief error was “loving not wisely, but too well;” and, unlike Desdemona, his wife, instead of being a pattern of virtue, gentleness, and modesty, was a base and unworthy woman, who made his life a perennial martyrdom. Balfour was born in the parish of Dun, Forfarshire, in 1787; his father, James Balfour, being coachman to Mr Cruikshanks of Langley Park. David came to Dundee about the age of ten, and was shortly afterwards apprenticed to Mr Robert Lithgow, master of the brig Helen, of Dundee. Three months after the expiry of his apprenticeship he was pressed by the press gang, and afterwards served eleven years in the navy. While in the King’s service he appears to have deserted, and again joined under the name of David Mitchell, under which designation he was discharged at the peace of 1813 with a pension of £4 a year. He then came to Dundee, sailing thence three or four years, when he removed to Greenock, from which port he sailed six or eight years. Three months previous to the murder of his wife he returned to Dundee, and he had just arrived from a short voyage two days before the murder.

When A Mere Boy

he became deeply enamoured of a young girl named Margaret Clark. She was at that time little more than fifteen years of age, possessed of great personal attractions, but even then of a giddy and inconstant character. Captain Lithgow, who spoke highly of Balfour as a sober, diligent, civil, and truthful lad, remonstrated with such a girl, and succeeded twice in getting him to cease his attentions to her; but, like the doomed moth revolving around a candle, he could not resist her fascinations. He therefore told the captain that it was vain to say any more on the subject; his whole heart and soul were bound up in that young woman, and he could not exist without her. They were therefore married, he at the age of 17 and she a year younger, and from that period love and jealousy held complete possession of his mind. Her indifference towards him, and bestowal of her favours upon others, rendered him miserable. Often, he said, on nearing the land returning from a voyage, when his messmates would be rejoicing, and drinking to a happy meeting with their wives, sweethearts, and friends, he could not join them, but held aloof, considering himself an outcast. There was no welcome for him, and sometimes on landing he would go in a state of sheer distraction to an inn and drink, though he had no natural liking for it, till he had stupefied his senses. There were three children the issue of that ill-starred marriage, two of whom died in infancy, and the last, who had been long repudiated by his mother, was at the time of the murder a lad of eighteen, residing in Greenock. Shortly after his marriage Balfour unfortunately became security to a considerable extent for Robert Clark, a brother of his wife, a small manufacturer in Dundee.

Through The Failure Of This Brother-In-Law

he was thus involved in pecuniary difficulties, and these led to some of the first of his bitter domestic troubles. One Alexander Hogg, who possessed some money, offered to advance it to Mrs Balfour to relieve her brother and father, who was also involved, from their difficulties on conditions of becoming her paramour during her husband’s absence at sea. The unprincipled woman was evidently nothing loth to accept the terms, and thus one of the earliest of her married infidelities was inaugurated. While Balfour was in the navy his wife regularly got his half-pay, so that poverty was not an exuse for her ill-doing, which soon afterwards became notorious. Latterly she took up with a man named Turtell Macleod in Greenock, for whose little finger, she told her husband, she cared more than she did for his whole body. Two years before he did the rash act, Captain Aaron Lithgow, who had been a fellow-apprentice with Balfour under his brother, Captain Robert Lithgow, recognised him on the streets of Belfast. Balfour, in the course of conversation, gave Lithgow to understand how unfortunately he was situated with regard to his wife. The captain replied—”David, man, you a sailor, and break your heart about a woman! Can’t you engage yourself on board of some foreign vessel, and leave her to her own doings?” David answered that such a proceeding would be to no purpose, for even were he at the Antipodes she would be as much in his thoughts as if in the room beside him. He had no happiness away from her, and her conduct at home was simply distraction. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold: Execution of David Balfour’ (29 October, 1887)”

‘Old Stories Retold; The Bell Street Hall Catastrophe in 1865.’ (21 January, 1888)

The following is a retelling of the dreadful crush at the music hall on Bell Street which claimed 20 lives, only three of which were over 18 years old. This was the first ‘Old Story Retold’ in a sequence that appeared in ‘The Peoples Journal’.

Bell Street Hall was, exactly 23 years ago, the scene of a fearful tragedy. The dreadful occurrence put an untimely end to New Year holiday festivities, it saddened many hearts, and overshadowed many lives for over, and it created a widespread feeling of dismay, not in Dundee only, but over the whole country. For, as the Scotsman pointed out, the occurrence was one that might happen anywhere, and among any class of people.

It is a strange thing that, while one man would probably not lose his presence of mind in the face of danger, yet men in a crowd always become panic-stricken. The ever recurring stories of theatres on fire, with audiences, composed of people usually sane, madly rushing to the doors, and bearing down everybody and everything in their way, are sufficient proof of this extraordinary tendency. The proverbial flock of sheep are not more uniformly animated by a single desire than is every man and woman there determined on the same thing—to be out first. On board a sinking ship, too, the passengers and crew have been known to make a wild rush for the boats; but for this there is some excuse. The danger is great and obvious. But why men should crowd and push and jostle when there is no danger and no panic whatever is more than any one can understand.

This, however, is what happened on the 2d [2nd?] of January 1865, at the door of Bell Street Hall, Dundee. This building, which has long been used as a furniture wareroom, was then a popular Music Hall. It was occupied by a Mr Springthorpe, who had provided a specially attractive entertainment for the Christmas and New Year holidays. The year 1865 began on a Sunday, and Monday the 2d [2nd?] was, therefore, a general holiday. Some snow had fallen, and the weather was seasonable. About seven o’clock in the evening a large crowd of people might have been seen making their way to Springthorpe’s Music Hall. They were mostly young men and women, factory operatives, shop assistants, and the like, bent on having an evening’s amusement. Springthorpe’s Music Hall was very popular among this class.

The hall was reached by a flight of steps, lending downwards, not upwards, from the street. Such an arrangement would not, of course, be permitted now-a-days. At the top of the steps an iron gate stretched across. The gate was in two divisions, only one being open, and here the money-taker was stationed. Entrance to the hall was thus not very easily or quickly obtained, and soon the crowd began to stretch up and down, and right across the street. Then the people grew impatient. The night was cold, the waiting was tedious, the delay seemed, to those behind, both long-protracted, and unnecessary. Would the people in front not move off a little quicker? Those on the outskirts showed a tendency to crowd in upon the centre, and the money-taker began to find himself borne back by the pressure of the dense, ever-increasing mass of human beings that surged and swayed before him. Continue reading “‘Old Stories Retold; The Bell Street Hall Catastrophe in 1865.’ (21 January, 1888)”