‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)

This retelling of Macduff’s flight from Fife received second prize in a ‘People’s Journal’ short story competition in 1860.

Second Prize Tale

It was a dark and stormy night during the reign of the usurper Macbeth, that a man, who had evidently come a long journey, wended his way up the steep and rocky ascent that leads to M’Duff’s Castle, on the Firth of Forth. The snow was falling fast and thick, when, after mounting the brae, he arrived at the gate which was used as the chief entrance to the Castle. He sought admittance from the warden, who asked loudly for what purpose he had come. “I seek an interview with the Thane,” answered the stranger. Hearing this the warden at once unfastened the ponderous bolts which secured the gates in those rude times, and admitted the messenger, for such he was. Macduff, being informed of his arrival, ordered one of his retainers to bring him into his apartment.

The servitor having left, he began pacing up and down the rough floor in a disturbed state. “If such is the case, by my father’s sword,” said he to himself, “he shall feel the weight of my revenge; but no, he would not dare!” He was interrupted by the entrance of the stranger, accompanied by a party of his retainers. “Declare thy message, fellow,” exclaimed Macduff, as he fixed his piercing eye on the person before him. “Please, my lord, I was commanded by the King to deliver this document into your hands,” uttered he, and so saying, he placed a paper into the Thane’s hand. Macduff’s brow became overclouded, and he muttered between his clenched teeth, “My surmise is then true.” He withdrew to a corner to peruse the document. It was a command from Macbeth to repair to the place where the King was residing, for the purpose of assisting in the erection of a Royal Castle. After reading it, the Thane cast it into the fire, and ordered his servitors to set food before the messenger. He then directed his steps to his wife’s room, for the purpose of consulting as to what should be done. His lady was a woman of powerful intellect, and was far better educated than her rude husband. This he himself knew, and he therefore sought her opinion on the subject on hand. Opening the door he entered her apartment, and told her that he had something for her private ear. She, therefore, dismissed her attendants, and Macduff, after seating himself on a rough bench, related what had passed. On finishing his narrative, she appeared lost in thought, but recovering herself, suddenly asked what he purposed to do?

“I have thought of disobeying the order,” replied Macduff, “and if my vassals stand by me I have little fear of the result.”

“This cannot be,” she exclaimed, “for you are now at enmity with Earl Lainge, who would, along with his dependants, surely help the King. The only thing that can be done is to despatch two of your vassals to represent you; for it is not to be thought that you would descend to serve him yourself.” Continue reading “‘The Thane of Fife’ by Claymore (29 September, 1860)”

‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)

The following is the second of James Easson’s series ‘Transcripts from Memory’, published in the ‘People’s Journal’ in 1860. In Scots the ‘poopit-fit’ literally means the foot of the pulpit, but in this context refers to the whole institution of the Church of Scotland.

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).

Imagine, reader, that you wander over the wide plains, and through the deep green groves of Canada West; that you feel home-sick and weary, and that roaming there you have chanced to meet with a stranger of European aspect. How high you heart leaps with joy as this thought flashes across your mind—“Perhaps he is a Scotchman, and may have some feelings in common with myself!” Gladly you solute him with words of friendly greeting, and forthwith begin to converse. You go on to speak of many places and about many things, till at length your conversation chances to run upon the church of your fathers. But the stranger turns out to be an Englishman; he knows nothing of the “kirk,” though he recalls with true feeling the memory of the aged curate of his native place, the beautiful prayers of the liturgy; of its old, but to him familiar chaunts, as they used to swell though the ancient chancel, and of the steady, golden voice of the organ. All this is very sweet and very beautiful; but he cannot talk to you of “puir auld Scotland,” of her children, her homes, her pulpits, her ministers, or her “household words.” Again, your yearning heart feels disappointed and charged with chagrin; so, you give vent to a tremulous sigh, and with a faltering “God speed,” you part from you fellow-sojourner, who soon pursues his onward way.

You also wander along till evening approaches, and the fiery Canadian sunset floods all the landscape with burning red—a radiance that causes the lakes to blaze like sheets of bright gold, whilst the woods look black and solemn. Then you see a log-house in the distance, thatched like a Scotch cottar house; a train of blueish reek ascends from it, and latterly your eye can discern a sonsy Scotch gudewife pottering about the door, her broad face florid with the ruddy light. The stalwart gudeman sits at the door-cheek of his log-cabin, and little pawky Johnny, seated on his knee, is pulling away at his father’s beard, or trying vainly to untie his neckerchief. Betimes they notice you; they herald your approach with an earnest welcome, somewhat like this—“Losh, man, but ye are tired-like; ye’ve surely come a far road—sit doon an’ rest ye—sae, sit doon here i’ the arm-chair, an ‘mak’ yersel’ at hame!” When the conversation has advanced so far, the gudewife thinks of supper, and the gudeman suggests the propriety of having a little tea for “a dentis.” It may be that you are no fellow-townsman of your host; but you are a Scotchman, so you speak of the latest news from the old country, and from that you ramble on till you speak to him of the old churches and the old ministers at home. By-and-bye the table is set, the gudewife’s presence graces the homely board, and she also takes up the subject in hand. She laments that they are so far away from Scotland, for she would have “liket the bairns bapteezed at hame,” where she was baptized, and where her “forebears” lived, died, and are buried. Then they talk of the baptisms of their brothers and sisters, and of the beloved pastors who administered the ordnance, and who are also left behind. These and such like memories are all recalled, and recollection lingers in fondest retrospect around them still.

Yes, and it were strange did any emotion, save that of affection, like the affection of those poor emigrants, attach to that familiar “poopit-fit.” As parents, some think, at its mention, of sinless cherubs—upon whom the dew of morning scarce fell, when Death, like a thief, stole silently in, laid his frozen hand upon the young one’s heart, and carried t away, smiling spitefully at their agony, and his own fell triumph; whilst others of us have there received those names which have since become as pleasant to our friends, as they are familiar to ourselves. Continue reading “‘Transcripts From Memory: Transcript Second—”The Poopit-Fit”‘ by James Easson (3 March, 1860)”

‘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)”

‘Auld Granny—A Right-of-Way Story’ by J.A. (10 November, 1860)

This short story by J.A. from Baldovan touches on the issue of rights-of-way which was somewhat contentious at the time, with access to the Dundee Law being made difficult for locals. It is also interesting to note that the antagonist is a wealthy East India merchant, new money taking the place of the old aristocracy.

Near a pleasantly situated village in the south of Scotland, there is an old church-yard, which, at the time we allude to, had been shut up for a considerable number of years; but it was still the favourite resort of the villagers during the long evenings in the summer months. The path which led to it was about three-quarters of a mile in length, and was kept in good order by the villagers, who cut the grass, and carried it home for food to their cows. One morning they were surprised to see the small estate, on which part of the path and the church-yard was situated, advertised for sale. Various offers were handed in, and at last it was sold to a wealthy East India merchant, who was possessed of more money than brains, and a heart as cold as Greenland ice. A few days after the purchase, he made his appearance, accompanied by his wife, and two proud haughty daughters. During the first two months of the residence there, they were little seen, it being the depth of winter; but spring came with its cheering influences, and the youngsters of the village began to turn out to cull the wild flowers, and search the woods for the earth nuts that were thickly scattered over them. One morning their sports were suddenly put a stop to by the appearance of the new Laird amongst them. He ordered them to begone! warning them if ever he caught them there again he would horse-whip them. They needed no second telling, but quickly scampered off to the village, and breathlessly told their friends all that had happened. These ominously shook their heads, and said one to another—”I doot the new Laird winna fill the auld ane’s shoes.” Things went on smoothly for another month, and during that time workmen had been employed to carry out some alterations on the house and grounds, and, amongst others, a new carriage-drive. The villagers saw, with consternation, by the stakes which had been driven in to mark its course, that it would cross, and consequently shut up their favourite path. A meeting was called, and three of the village worthies were appointed to wait upon the Laird, and learn his intentions of the matter. They did so, at the earliest opportunity; but he only laughed them to scorn, and told them he could do with his own as he chose. They answered him firmly, but civilly, that the path had belonged to their forefathers for generations, and they could not stand quietly by and see their rights trampled on with impunity. The Laird, seeing he was to meet with determined opposition, promised to make another to them equally good, if he were allowed to make his drive. The drive was accordingly made, a fancy wire-fence was run along each side of it, entirely shutting up the ancient path to the church-yard. True, another had been substituted in its place, but care was taken to make it as circuitous as possible, with the view of driving them from it altogether. Continue reading “‘Auld Granny—A Right-of-Way Story’ by J.A. (10 November, 1860)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 3 (28 May, 1881)

The following is the third 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 III.—The Spinning Flat.

Through a series of incidents which I need not particularise I by-and-by found my field of labour and sphere of observation in the spinning flat, that very place I had been so solicitous to see and know about. My work there was to oil the machinery. It is easy to see that where so much depends upon smooth and rapid motion, every bearing must be kept moist and sweet, and therefore an oiler’s duties are important. I had to undergo a course of pupilage at this for several days under a young man who was about to be promoted as second foreman; and as I received much patient kindness at his hand, I cannot but note how much of practical goodness is to be found among millworkers. Not but that the general features of mill manners are such as to impress one unfavourably—so much rudeness, duplicity, and profanity, hidden by the noise and activity of work, afford anything but a good school for the morals of young persons. But against so dark a background the guileless faithfulness of Harry, my predecessor, appeared all the more striking.

Tutored by him, I learned not only what was to be done, but the reason for its being carefully attended to. Neglect in my duty could not be hidden, for the rapid motions soon dried up the imperfect supply of oil, and induced heat and hindrance. Besides, what a disgrace as well would it be to hear some journal screeching out my remissness. An intelligent hint from Harry taught me a lesson in conscientiousness in the discharge of other duties than the more oiling of machinery—a lesson which has been of use to me all my life.

It was at the beginning of winter I made this change of work—the weather was becoming cold, and I was therefore the more struck by the warmth of the spinning flat as compared with the low mill. There we had a stone floor, and a good deal of openness about the whole apartment; but here the floor was of wood, and the room was pervaded with a pleasant kind of warmth, which felt as if one had suddenly gone into another climate. The heat of this place arises from the friction of so many shafts and spindles revolving at great speed. On the coldest day of winter we may find the spinner girls going about their work with bare feet, and yet quite comfortable. The heat is better than from steam pipes or stoves, and is very rapidly evolved, for ten minutes after starting, the whole place feels quite as warm as on a summer day. There was also a more agreeable smell in the place, the heavy towy flavour of the low mill was almost absent, an the fragrance of the lubricating oil (in which the mineral element was present) came in its place. The noise of the machinery, although deafening, was so steady and solid that after a little while I did not notice it at all. The workers are so little affected by it that they rather observe the unpleasantness when, from any accident during working hours, the machinery is stopped, and the room, instead of being pervaded by the deafening rush suggestive of silence, has sharp talking and noisy steps to strike them with disagreeable acuteness.

My duties led me over every part of this flat, and gradually made me aware of the whole process as well as the functions of the different parts of the machinery. I saw that the essential principle of the spinning frame was the same as that of the roving frame I had attended so long. The rove bobbins which were brought hither were set on pins on the top of the frame and the end drawn down between a pair of retaining rollers running at a slow speed, but immediately it was caught by another set going much faster, and the slack rove was drawn into a thin thread—the revolving flyer and bobbin in front giving it a twist, and it was then the finished yarn. At the end of the frame were pinions which could be shifted so as to adjust not only the reduction (or draw), but also the twist of the yarn, and a good spinning foreman could regulate this to any degree by an exchange of wheels. This I learned not only to assist at, but to do independently, and I wisely reckoned it a valuable lesson to me. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 3 (28 May, 1881)”

‘Love and Tobacco’ by R.D.T. (23 April, 1859)

The author of the following, R.D.T. from Birkhill, had two short stories published in ‘The People’s Journal’ in 1859. The other, ‘The Dancing Master From Home’, appeared in the 30 July edition.

You will perhaps infer from this grotesque title that I design to inflict upon you a threadbare panegyric on the one, and a sweeping censure upon the other; such, however, is not my intention.

Being one day en board a steamboat on my way to a port not quite a hundred miles from Dundee, we were so incautious as to give, unasked, our advice to a little yellow mannikin, apparently about fifteen years of age, who was sucking away with great satisfaction at an immense French clay pipe.

“If you mean to preach down tobacco here,” said the miniature gentleman, “you had better collect the whole of the passengers, as I observe there is scarcely a man on deck who is not smoking as well as myself.” This reply drew upon him the attention of an elderly man who was sitting opposite reading a newspaper, and who might be a quack doctor, a travelling lecturer, or a city missionary, to judge from his serious and intelligent appearance.

“Young man,” said he, “I suppose you think it is the smoke of tobacco you are whiffing out so composedly?”

“Real cavendish,” said he promising youth, nodding.

“But,” continued the other, “you are grossly mistaken; it is the dissipating, the smouldering away of health and strength, of perseverance, energy, and ability, of the will, the desire to achieve anything great or good, of the very essence of manhood, and even of life itself.” “Tobacco,” said he, now fairly launched on what seemed to be with him a favourite topic, “is the foster-parent of more vices than ever were laid to the charge of that demon—drink. Its influence over the faculties of man, moral, physical, and intellectual, cannot be calculated, and is seldom suspected. I never look upon the sallow, sunken cheek and dim eye of a hibitual [sic] smoker without inwardly cursing this insidious invention.”

“Discovery, you mean,” said a stout good humoured looking farmer, with whom we had been on “cracking terms” during the whole of the passage.

“Discovery,” cried the now excited lecture, “can you call the most abominable practice that ever degraded mankind a discovery? To discover, my friend, implies to perceive the fitness of some natural object for a purpose to which it has never before been applied; to lay open the supplies of Nature for her legitimate wants. True, she gives us tobacco, but never gave us the appetite for it, which is as unnecessary and hurtful to our system as a charge of gunpowder would be to an air-gun.” Continue reading “‘Love and Tobacco’ by R.D.T. (23 April, 1859)”

‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 2 (21 May, 1881)

The following is the second 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 II.—The Low Mill.

Soon after entering the full time list I was shifted—I may say promoted—to a place in the “Low Mill.” This part of the establishment is where the heaviest kind of machinery is placed, and almost always on the basement flat. I had observed long ago that the great barrow-loads of softened and scutched jute which had been removed from the batching house were always taken in here; and I was now about to have my curiosity gratified by learning what was done with it.

The particular duty assigned me was to attend a roving frame, with two boys as my companions, and as this much engrossed me at first, it was some time after, and only by repeated observations, that I learned the processes by which the great bunches of jute were gradually converted into the soft rope-like material which I saw wound on the big bobbins at our frame. The great room in which I was now employed contained two or three rows of heavy machines, standing about eight or ten feet high, and which were attended by a number of boys about my own age and a little older, and a few women. These were the carding machines, or more familiarly the “cards.” In the first row the jute was received as it came from the batching house, and after passing through came out in the form of a broad, soft ribbon or “sliver.” This sliver was received in long tin cans, which cans were speedily removed to the second row of cards, where a great many slivers were run in and treated so as to come out at the side as one. The first range of these cards get the name of breakers, the second that of finishers. One important service of the doubling of so many slivers was to make the texture of the composition as regular and fine as possible. It was some time before I could discover the processes by which their connection was effected, but one day being called away to assist at the removal of a lot of staves, I found one of the cards opened up, the shrouding cover being removed, and two mechanics busy unscrewing those staves from the surface of a large cylinder about 6 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The cylinder surface was completely covered with sharp wire teeth, and which revolving and working into other smaller cylinders combed and separated the jute even as I had found it partially done in the scutching machine. The teased product I had already seen streaming down a great tin conductor and being drawn into slivers by smooth iron rollers. This was next conveyed to a range of “drawing frames,” through which it was passed, and the broad soft stuff reduced to a narrow and comparatively fine ribbon, about an inch and a-half in width. This was effected by being drawn out in passing over the hackle teeth, one part of the machine going faster than the other. The drawing frames were attended by boys whose duties were to keep the supply running regularly, or, in the technology of the mill, to “keep up the ends.” The cans thus furnished were then removed to the back of the roving frame, and the finished sliver carefully fed in, when it received a twist as it came out, and was wound on the big bobbins. Continue reading “‘Sketches of Life in a Jute Mill’ Part 2 (21 May, 1881)”

‘Luda; A Tale of the Castle of L—.’ by Charles F— (10 July, 1858)

My native village is, I regret to say, very little known. Historians and antiquarians, it would seem, find nothing in or around it worthy of notice. ‘Tis true that it has not the remains of a Cardinal Beaton’s Castle to be ashamed of, neither can it boast of the gorgeous ruins of a Melrose Abbey. It is a quiet, unassuming, little place, with its kirk, kirkyard, manse, and school-house. However, when its antiquities are hunted up from oblivion, it, too, can show that men have been connected with it who have borne their parts in the world’s affairs. ‘Tis not my wish, however, to render it famous; I withdraw from such a task, knowing that abler pens than mine could undertake it. Although many of the readers of the People’s Journal may never have heard of the village already alluded to, yet I trust this short narrative in connection with it may not be found out of place.

On his first entering the village the curiosity of the stranger would be aroused by the old parish church, but not being an antiquary, I cannot pretend to tell the date when this edifice was built; suffice to say that it is still there with its Gothic carved windows, chancel, and belfry, while in its shade lie the dead of many generations. Away to the east, at a short distance from the village, enclosed in a shady wood, stands the ancient mansion house of E—, the seat of a family named Bruce. One of the descendants of this house seems to have borne an active part in the persecution of the Christians; we find at least in Hislop’s “Covenanter’s Dream” the following lines:—

“’Twas the few faithful ones who with Cameron were lying,

Concealed ‘mong the mist where the heath fowls were crying,

For the horsemen of E— around them were hov’ring,

And their bridal-reins rising through the thin misty cov’ring.”

The youngsters of the village are still hushed to peace by the name “Bluidy Bruce,” if at any time they are like to rebel against their grandams! Many a time have I, when a boy, hurried past the gate leading into the avenue, with a timid side-long look, fearing lest “The Bruce” should break forth upon me! I might describe some of the other ancient places in the neighbourhood, but wish to come to the scene of my narrative. Continue reading “‘Luda; A Tale of the Castle of L—.’ by Charles F— (10 July, 1858)”

‘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)”

‘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)”