Jun 8, 2022

Cynicus: the first comic postcard artist and a biting caricaturist – Fife’s Martin Anderson

Political cartoonist Martin Anderson sounds like a great guy who would have gone down a storm on Twitter. Born in Leuchars in Fife in 1854 Anderson honed his creative skills at Glasgow School of Art but finding Glasgow Art Club too snooty for his liking he set up an alternative  – St Mungo Art Club. Several members of the GAC, nevertheless, became his friends, including painters James Guthrie and John Lavery and charismatic journalist, adventurer and supporter of Scottish nationalism, R.B. Cunninghame Graham, whose doppelganger he was.  

For a short time Anderson worked as a calico printer before moving to London to

 to study art proper

That lasted only a little while before he headed back to Scotland to take up work with Dundee publishers John Leng and Co. as its staff artist and set up home at Broughty Ferry.

Forever on the lookout for fresh opportunities to bring his talent with pen and pencil to a wider public Anderson contributed to Quiz, a Scottish rival publication to Punch magazine, using the pseudonym, bob but soon bob gave way to the name that would forever be associated with him, Cynicus. It was in Quiz in 1888 that his famous series of sketches was first published, The Satires of Cynicus; biting satires on politics and contemporary society.

Sales of his sketches failed to sell in the numbers he hoped and so Anderson once more took the road south to London where he chanced on a redundant fish and chips shop in Drury Lane which was turned into a studio for his Cynicus Publishing Company. He was giving it the finishing touches, adding its name to the studio window, when a fellow from Dundee happened to walk past and recognised Martin who had just completed CYNICUS PUB. The Dundonian returned home and reported that Martin Anderson had opened a bar in London. Once Anderson completed painting the name CYNICUS PUBLISHING COMPANY on the outside of the shop he set up a display inside the window with a number of his caricatures and one Monday morning he drew up the blind. In no time the police were at the door.

You’ll have to take those pictures away

Anderson’s window display was stopping passers-by in their tracks. Even street traffic was grinding to a halt. A policeman ordered him to remove his cartoons to free up the streets but Anderson sent the policeman packing, telling him it was a police problem, not his. No sooner had the copper left to sort out the horse and wagon chaos than a bunch of reporters turned up – to the cartoonist’s delight. At last, his caricatures would receive the attention they deserved. And so they did. Cynicus’ print series of 1000 copies of his cartoons all but sold out in no time.  

Anderson’s popularity spread in London’s political and artistic circles. His little studio became a mecca for many – among them Canadian poetess, author and performer, E Pauline Johnson, who took the stage under her Mohawk name of Tekahionwake. She appeared in native costume to recite Mohawk poems or as the press described them, “barbaric war songs” that reportedly “scared Keir Hardie stiff.” Hardie became a friend, as did Ramsay MacDonald, George Bernard Shaw, Jerome K. Jerome, James Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, William Morrice and a host of others. Several of these people, including Anderson, were members of a private and exclusively male club called Vagabonds.  

Cynicus’ studio shop was remembered as being always very untidy but homely with the tea-kettle always boiling and ‘no one was allowed to go away without a cup, with food as well pressed on them.’  Anderson was a kindly man who lend money liberally.

Outlets for Anderson’s drawings expanded as his reputation grew. His drawings illustrated many articles and opinion pieces in magazines and newspapers. In 1891 he published The Humours of Cynicus as a book with revisions of several of his early cartoons first seen in Quiz. He also created a series of new cartoons which he called Symbols and Metaphors. The final edition of his Satires of Cynicus was published in 1926 and two years before he died Martin Anderson published Memoirs of Cynicus in 12 instalments in the Glasgow Evening News.

Always looking to increase exposure of his caricatures, Anderson went into postcard production. Postcards were new in the late 1890s and quickly caught on. Anderson’s initial output was for a company called Blum & Degan. These early postcards were court-sized, that is smaller and squarer than later and more familiar rectangular postcards. By 1902 the Post Office cleared the way for postcards to be produced with a split back for message and address and a picture front. And the public loved them. Martin Anderson, Cynicus, was the first person to produce comic postcards.

A postcard studio was set up at Tayport, across the river from Dundee. There at the Cynicus Publishing Company Anderson trained and employed disabled boys and girls who found it difficult to get employment to hand-colour individual cartoons. The Tayport studio opened in 1902, turning out coloured postcards and for a time they sold well but as demand dried up debts increased and by 1911 the North of Scotland Bank insisted it be shut down to pay off creditors, selling off the stock for less than its value.

Anderson went to Leeds where postcards were being produced and he set up there but not for long. The Great War put an end to the enterprise and he moved back to Scotland, to Edinburgh’s York Place which surprised many of his friends but he explained,

I was country bred, and I wanted to be back in Scotland.

That was in 1915, the year he created his powerful anti-war allegorical poster, War! In War! he depicts society as a pyramid with Mammon sitting on top, on a throne, frittering away the nation’s wealth whose main beneficiaries are greedy, unscrupulous war barons. A figure of Lust is there with famine at her feet. Government and Justice are bound and gagged and the Lamp of Truth has been extinguished. Anderson was scathing about the Church, disliked the hypocrisy of those professing to be Christians. In War! the Church is shown supporting the obscene slaughter of war that leads to the blood of soldiers running like a river while rapacious Bankers claim their assets.  

War! was regarded as provocative and dangerous by the state and Anderson was threatened with internment without trial under the government’s strict emergency powers, Defence of the Realm Act or DORA, for displaying the poster in his shop window. Anderson duly removed it from the window and reproduced it as postcards which were lapped up by the public.  

In another poster entitled, Dictator (I can’t track down an image of it) Cynicus addressed another broken government promise – the one that promised any who enlisted in the army would return from war to homes fit for heroes. Some homes were built but for many, post-war brought homelessness, hunger, unemployment and humiliation. Government promises don’t change. Dictator shows demobbed soldiers being met by the bloated figure of Capitalism sitting pretty on a sack stuffed with profits made from selling arms to all sides in the war. The British press are portrayed as a megaphone disseminating government propaganda and lies. The Police who imposed DORA are brutal suppressers of Liberty and Freedom that lie dead and buried. A bloated Lloyd George represents Government as the maker and breaker of promises, and the hypocritical Church with a banner, “Britain’s welcome to the Troops” – that in fact leads to the poorhouse. Britain’s government’s brutal anti-independence policy in Ireland is represented as Black and Tan dog.  

Despite his successes, ill-luck dogged Martin Anderson’s life. In 1924 fire destroyed his shop in Edinburgh and with it, all its contents. There was no money to start up again from scratch so Anderson retired to his native Fife. He had a large house, Castle Cynicus, built on Lucklaw Hill above Balmullo overlooking St Andrew’s Bay which he called Liberty Hall. Carved into the lintel over its main door was the word, Truth.  

His ‘castle’ was tastefully designed and built of red sandstone with yellow Caithness stone roofing and walls of glass windows so that light flooded its spacious interior. A hall ran the length of the building; a huge pipe organ at one end and a grand piano at the other. There were expanses of polished floors, winding staircase, water colour painted wall panels, hand-painted ceiling, large potted plants, studio, tower and lift. A museum was packed with all sorts of rare artefacts Anderson had collected over his lifetime – a chair dating back to 1622, an ancient copy of the Koran, a purple coat that belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie, Chinese jade carvings, precious stones, crystals, fossils, coins, ancient weapons, many rare books and a lot of stuffed animals and birds – a jaguar, reindeer, fox and wild cats and the remains of an Inca princess from 1500 years ago.  

On 14 April 1932 the popular charismatic Cynicus died suddenly, aged 80, a generous man in his lifetime, he died in poverty. A brief death notice appeared in the Dundee Courier four days later – of the ‘artist and author’. A service was held at Liberty Hall and he was buried at Tayport Old Churchyard. Among the wreaths was one from the ILP Cycling Club in Fife. The funeral was never paid and the man who was the first designer of comic postcards and produced biting satires on the dishonesty of life in the UK lies in an unmarked grave.  Two of the pall-bearers were, unusually, women – Miss and Miss A. Peden of Dundee.

Following his death there was an auction of some of Anderson’s belongings to pay off debts. Much of Anderson’s wonderful and rare collections remained in the beautiful empty mansion. Almost inevitably vandals turned up at the empty property. They smashed the large picture windows and gained entry. What remained of the museum collection were destroyed – rare books ripped apart and scattered around. Anderson’s paintings were torn off walls and slashed. His painted wall panels suffered the same fate. Stuffed animals and birds were pulled to pieces. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s purple coat was trampled and thrown down amidst the devastation. The mummified body of the Inca princess had a leg ripped off and the rest of the body pulled apart.

A sad end to the life of a talented and humane man who made a significant contribution to popular culture with his mockery of the establishment – of government, church, military and the whole capitalist structure of Britain’s unequal society. At his death Anderson was remembered in Reynold’s News as a man at

the birth of the modern democratic movement

no living cartoonist is more able to preach a sermon in a minute

bold and profound thinker, with a thought in every line he drew

Martin Anderson provided sketches for newspapers and periodicals and drew for postcards that sold in their millions. In his later life he established a school for disabled children at Liberty Hall where he taught them to make a living by drawing and hand colouring. He was an accomplished musician and a man with shrewd powers of judgement that saw right through the duplicity and pomposity of the British establishment.

May 13, 2022

The First Scotsman to carry an Umbrella

Johnny Macdonald’s peaceful revolution.

I don’t think I knew any man who carried an umbrella when I was young. Not sure I know any now. Scotsmen are not given to wielding umbrellas, except perhaps on the golf course.

Scotsman John Macdonald aka Beau Macdonald aka the Scotch Frenchman is said to have been the first Scot’s bloke to walk about with an umbrella in Britain. This was in the 1770s when it was considered unmanly to carry an umbrella.

Umbrella from the Italian word ombrella from the Latin umbella, as in clustered blossoms at the extremities of grouped spokes radiating from a stem.

From Urquhart near Inverness, Johnny Macdonald was one of the Keppoch Macdonalds; his father was a cattle grazier. When young Johnny was two years old his mother, a Mackay, died in childbirth. Heartsick the father, already inclined towards adventure persuaded a number of his cattle drovers to join him and off they went to join the forces fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Their Jacobite cause took them down through Scotland into England and back. A letter arrived at the family home from the father in Edinburgh – at Goolen’s Inn and Livery Stables in the Canongate. A reply sent by the children went unanswered – mail sent to and from Jacobite supporters was routinely intercepted by government spies.

In mid-September 1745 young Johnny’s fourteen-year-old sister, Kitty, set off for Edinburgh to search for the missing father. She took her three youngest brothers with her – Johnny aged four, Alexander, two and Daniel seven years old. Ten-year-old Duncan was already working and remained at Urquhart. The youngsters had fourteen pounds Scots with them (twenty-three shillings and four pence English) and their father’s letter. They set off after dark to evade their neighbours who would have tried to stop them undertaking such a hazardous journey. They walked through the first night, some twenty miles to Inverness with Kitty carrying Alexander on her back.

From Inverness the children headed south towards Edinburgh. They were at the mercy of strangers – some hostile but most kind who willingly shared what food they had with the children and sometimes provided an indoor place for them to sleep. The young Macdonalds were well-dressed in woollen plaids which they used as blankets when sleeping, with additional warmth provided by branches of broom picked by Kitty and essential when they slept in the open.

The route they took across country avoided main thoroughfares and entailed them having to cross many bodies of water; still and moving. Then Kitty would have to carry the smallest boys, one at a time, and hold Daniel’s hand to guide him safely across. Once she and two-year-old Alexander were swept into a whirlpool and only saved from drowning by a man who happened to be working his potato patch nearby and witnessed their predicament. He took them home so they could dry their clothes and fed them and put them up in warm straw beds in his barn for the night.

The longest the children stayed anywhere on their journey was at Dundee where they waited for three weeks with a blacksmith and his wife who provided them with food and shelter. By the time they got to Edinburgh the Jacobite army had left for the south. They found Goolen’s Inn run by Jacobite sympathisers who put them up but they were keen to find their father and walked on in pursuit of him. They failed to track him down for the Jacobite army was moving quickly and by April of 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie’s bedraggled force was close to the Macdonald’s home in the north of Scotland. The children remained in Edinburgh where Kitty and Alexander were involved in an accident with a coach and six horses owned by the Countess of Murray. The Countess was herself a Jacobite supporter and she arranged for little Alexander to be fostered and Kitty found with work as a servant. Daniel and Johnny continued their itinerant life; begging and sleeping where they could. Many of Edinburgh’s tenements had spaces under stairs that were popular with the homeless at night but for young boys they were dangerous places and the brothers took it in turns to sleep and lookout when they used them. Their predicament was all the greater because they were Highlanders and so despised by many Lowlanders around Edinburgh. In addition, orphan children were frequently kidnapped in Scotland and sent overseas to work on plantations in British colonies and the boys were careful to avoid this fate. They got to know one or two fellow Highlanders, older youths and men, enlisted men who were part of the city guard. The troops arranged with Mr Goolen of the Inn to provide the boys with safer shelter which worked out better until a woman stole their 6-yard-long plaid which deprived them of clothing and their night blanket.  

The boys found odd jobs. Johnny was hired to rock a cradle which he hated and took his resentment out on the baby so was sacked. He then was taken on to turn a roasting spit and that satisfied him for a while – remember he’s only about four-years-old. After this he spent four months as the eyes of a blind fiddler walking from place to place so he could earn money playing at fairs and events. When he left that role little Johnny was offered a job as a postilion by another Jacobite family. As a postilion the boy rode on the back of one of the leading horses pulling a coach or carriage. He was given a uniform of a green jacket, red cape, red waistcoat and a leather cap. He loved horses and enjoyed the work that took him out and about across the country. In his journal he writes proudly of being ‘the littlest position in Scotland or anywhere.’ So began Johnny Macdonald’s working life.

The children kept in touch with one another and Johnny discovered through a message from his older brother, Daniel, that their father had been killed at Culloden. In the aftermath of battle it was highly dangerous to be a Highlander or live in the Highlands, then and for years to follow. Jacobite sympathisers or those suspected of being sympathisers were hunted down and brutalised. Many, many were summarily killed and others arrested and removed south for execution or to await transportation to one of the colonies. Homes and farm steadings were set alight and crops destroyed or stolen. The Macdonald’s neighbours rallied round to protect their late father’s farm still worked by Duncan, to prevent their house and its belonging being stolen and wrecked by government troops under Prince William, Butcher Cumberland. With Cumberland’s men pillaging and attacking everywhere Duncan decided to escape and followed his siblings to Edinburgh (where Highlanders were no less despised it has to be said) where the ever-dependable Mr Goolen arranged for him to be apprenticed as a stonemason at Falkirk.

Johnny Macdonald moved from employer to employer, mostly fellow-Scots – landowners with private wealth and businessmen involved in overseas trade. It is clear there was a Scottish web of contacts in south Britain, on the continent of Europe and elsewhere in the world. Wherever his masters went, for business or pleasure, Johnny went along too. James MacPherson of Ossian1 fame was Johnny’s master for a time. They met through a mutual friend, Colonel Alexander Dow, originally from Crieff. Dow had fled Scotland after killing a man in a duel and ran away to the East India Company in Calcutta which in turn led him to making translations of Persian literature. Macdonald and Dow spent two years together in India.

Despite having lived a huge chunk of his life abroad Macdonald did not forget his home. When with Sir John Stuart in Spain and Stuart waxed lyrical about the Spanish countryside ‘I never saw a finer sight; such a fine country and fine river’ Macdonald turned to him and said, ‘Sir, there is a finer sight in Scotland.’

‘Where, for God’s sake!’ asked Stuart.

‘Sir, from the castle of Stirling.’

The Irish author, Laurence Sterne (Tristram Shandy), did not employ Macdonald but at the end of his life, in 1768, he and Johnny Macdonald were living in London. Macdonald was a servant to John Crauford of Errol, a vile toadying man, a Scot who hated his native country but was content to use it to further his political career. As a MP he represented various constituencies – although representing communities is not what being an MP was about in the 18th and early 19th centuries. MPs rarely or never went near their constituencies; they were just names on the political map that ticked a box of frogs called democracy. Anyway, when Crauford sent Macdonald to Sterne’s lodgings to ask about his state of health Macdonald found the writer at the point of death. He waited with him, later reporting that just before he died Sterne raised his hand ‘as if to stop a blow’ and with his last breath gasped, ‘Now it is come.’

A more usual duty for Johnny Macdonald was to prepare food for his employers. Queen of Scots soup was a dish he frequently made. And here’s the recipe. Cut six chickens into small pieces, rinse out hearts, gizzards and livers. Place the meats in a pan and cover with water. Stew until the chicken is cooked. Season with salt and cayenne pepper and add finely chopped parsley then stir through eight beaten eggs and serve immediately. Macdonald’s varied his soups and his herb seasonings and sometimes substituted barley with rice.   

From when he was a tiny boy, Macdonald led a colourful life, mixing with some of society’s most illustrious characters. He absorbed some habits and dress from places he visited around Europe such as tying back his long hair with a silk hanger and wearing lace ruffles at his neck – and, of course, carrying an umbrella, the very mark of effeminism in England and Scotland. Umbrella’s were for women. In the eighteenth century when it rained men who could afford it hired a carriage. Those who couldn’t, got wet.

Beautifully turned-out and ready for all weathers, Johnny Macdonald attracted cat-calls in London’s streets because of his appearance. Being rude and opinionated has a long pedigree among taxi drivers – Hackney coachmen didn’t shrink from voicing their narrow prejudices, more so for taking him for a foreigner, a French man.

What, Frenchman, why do not you get a coach?

Frenchman! take care of your umbrella.
Frenchman, why do not you get a coach, Monsieur?

At these times if his sister Kitty was with him she would be embarrassed by the attention he attracted but Macdonald took it in his stride, answering back in French or Spanish, as though he didn’t understand their mocking calls.

Johnny was in his own way a kind of revolutionary. Although not a ‘gentleman’ he and a handful of other men led a change among that class in Britain influencing them to carry an umbrella in place of a walking stick which had replaced swords as the well-dressed gentleman’s accessory when out in town. By 1780, shortly after Macdonald took to London streets under his umbrella the first patent to manufacture umbrellas in England was taken out, in 1780. They were not initially very popular and much caricatured in the press.  

While Johnny Macdonald seems to have been the first Scotsman to brave carrying an umbrella the man attributed as the first male umbrella user in London was Jonas Hanway – ‘friend of chimney-sweepers and the foe of tea’. Like Macdonald, Hanway was well-travelled. A merchant, his trade took him as far as Russia and Persia, not without incident. After his merchandise was stolen by a Turkish Khan, Hanway was attacked by pirates. Unsurprisingly, he decided this life wasn’t for him and settled in London where he railed against drinking tea which he claimed caused bad breath, ugliness and nervousness and consequentially made Britons who drank the stuff ugly, halitosis-breathing wrecks. In the umbrella stakes Hanway may have beaten Johnny Macdonald to opening his ombrella in rain-swept London but as a role-model for men he can’t hold a candle to the charismatic and handsome Johnny Macdonald.  

Being considered effeminate did not bother Johnny Macdonald. He was proud of his dandy-like appearance and the attention he got from women such as happened a lot in Edinburgh. So much so he asked a friend why young women were so attracted to him. Her reply was,

Johnny, there is nothing in it further than this – they think you have so good a temper, and never hear you say an ill word…But you are always praising their beauty.” However, she added, “If you don’t take care women will be your ruin.

Johnny wasn’t ruined by his attractiveness to the opposite sex but it’s very possible some of the  women he encountered in his life were through their encounters with the beguiling Johnny Macdonald. That said, he was a decent man by the sounds of it. One time when in Spain he had a relationship with the daughter of an inn keeper in Toledo called Malilia. On his return the following year he discovered she had a baby four months earlier. She was relieved to see the child’s father again and he was equally happy to discover he had a family there. Despite the age difference – Malilia was eighteen and Macdonald thirty-eight they arranged to live together in Britain. However, Malilia’s mother dissuaded her daughter from following her husband so Macdonald eventually returned to Toledo where he was surprised to find she had given birth to a second son. A happy Johnny commented,

The Macdonalds grow in Spain.

And they lived happily ever after. Or so I assume as I’ve read nothing to the contrary. And that’s the tale of the first Scotsman to walk under an umbrella in Britain – and one of a very few who have since.  

1Macpherson published The Poems of Ossian he claimed came from ancient Gaelic poetry. This body of work is linked to the emergence of the Romantic movement and interest in Gaelic. Macpherson was only a few years older than Macdonald and also from a Highland Jacobite family. After going into hiding as a child post-Culloden, he studied literature at Aberdeen’s two universities.

Travels published in 1790, later republished as Memoirs of an 18th Century Footman in the Broadway Travellers series (London: George Routledge & Sons, 10s 6d).

Internet Archive Hints to the Bearers of Walking-sticks and Umbrellas. John Shute Duncan, 1769-1844

Mar 24, 2022

Paper roses, Imperialism, Fascism, Franco and a Mysterious Scotsman

It was the 26th of June 1924, Alexandra Rose Day. One or two women were gathered outside London’s swanky Ritz Hotel selling paper flowers to raise money for charity when they were approached by a well-dressed man who handed one of them a large sum of money. “For the hospital,” he said, and walked on as he had done each Alexandra Rose Day for several years, promising to see the flower sellers again the following year.

The women told a reporter who turned up they had no idea who the generous benefactor was – “He looked like a traveller to Russia or Africa or somewhere” one of them said.

I was curious. Who was this mysterious Scotsman? I began scranning through newspapers and books and found myself transported into a world of which I knew next to nothing. Did I uncover the identity of the Scotsman? If you have a few moments to spare I’ll explain what I found out.   

1924 London and the Rif

Staying in London at the time, in a west end hotel, was a Scotsman who was a technical adviser to Muhammad ibn al-Karim al-Khattabi, known as Abd el-Krim or Krim. Krim was President of the Republic of Rif – a mountainous region in northern Morocco. His people were Amazighs, a tribal group among the Berbers. Krim was one of several tribal leaders in the Rif and all were at war with the European power of Spain that held the Rif as a protectorate, having been granted it by France that colonised Morocco in 1912 and governed to the south.   

Why had Spain been attracted to this inhospitable though beautiful area on the other side of the Mediterranean? Not its stunning beauty, hills sweeping up from the sea washed yellow with corn and green from banks of olive trees and everywhere giant prickly pears. No, that wasn’t it. The Rif region of Morocco was rich in easily extracted high-grade iron. And Europe couldn’t get enough cheap iron. Britain and Germany were interested. So was Spain.

Extracting the iron ore was physically damaging to the landscape and to sites that were sacred to the Berbers. It also meant the eviction of people from their traditional homelands. What did the Berbers get in return? Nothing. No compensation although some were hired to mine the ore at half the rate paid to Europeans – 4-5 pesetas per day against European wages of 7-8 pesetas. Mining was carried out under American management.  

The people of the Rif resited the incursion of Europeans onto their land. But European powers still believed the world belonged to them and claimed territory they thought would be beneficial to them, if they had the power to impose themselves. So war came to the persecuted people of the Rif. A dreadful war of great cruelty and loss. The events in the Rif in the 1920s had consequences for mainland Europe over the next sixty years.

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli was another Berber leader, of the Jebala in the north-western territory. To some he was the Desert King and to others the Rob Roy of Morocco. Raisuli’s early life seemed to promise a quiet existence. A teacher of law and theology, Raisuli’s love was books and writing. That all changed on the day he chanced upon a woman who had been assaulted by some men, apparently Europeans. Raisuli decided it was his duty to rid his country of the European Christians – the Spanish, British and Americans whom he regarded as his country’s oppressors. The Rif’s jails were filled with Rifs – put there by the Spanish colonists – beaten and denied trials Rif people were simply locked away for challenging Spain’s authority. Rifs were ordered to carry passports to move around their own country. The war that disrupted farming created Rif starvation on an immense scale. People were dropping down in the street from hunger so the Spanish authorities opened camps to contain them – picking them off the streets ‘like refuse’ to die away from the public eye. Spain complained of the cost of keeping their piece of Morocco. And yet they held it.  And taxed the people. Everything sold carried a tax and people were encouraged to pay up by tax collectors armed with machine guns. Resentment against the Spanish among the Rif tribes was huge. 

Raisuli used kidnap in his campaign of resistance to European colonists. In 1903 he kidnapped Walter Harris, a journalist from The Times, and exchanged him for fifteen of his Rif fighters held by the Sultan of Morocco who had submitted to France in a treaty that allowed him to retain his titles and position so becoming France’s puppet ruler in Morocco. When Spain came knocking on Morocco’s door France divied up Morocco under which France retained the southern portion and Spain was given the north. Raisuli’s men snatched a wealthy American and his son-in-law. Almost immediately British and American warships anchored in the Bay of Tangier. A deal was struck and the pair released but the guns were out for Raisuli and his people were driven deep into the mountains from where they pursued a guerrilla war against the European colonists. One of the intermediaries negotiating between the Berbers and the Europeans was a Scotsman called Kaid MacLean.

Kaid MacLean aka Sir Harry MacLean aka General Sir Harry Aubrey de Vere MacLean born in England to Scottish parents entered military service and served in Gibraltar and Tangier. Reputedly a debonaire larger-than-life character who was said to have ‘walked straight out of the pages of a novel’ MacLean came to the attention of the Sultan of Morocco who made him his counsellor, business adviser and envoy. MacLean lapped up the Moorish life except for its food. In the grand residence the Sultan provided for him MacLean employed a French chef and his musical needs were supplied by his own Italian orchestra. Classical strings can satisfy a Scotsman to a degree but a piper, himself, MacLean returned from a visit back to Britain with Aberdeen piper, John McDonald Mortimer. Soon the Sultan was won over and established his own Moroccan pipe band, attired in the MacLean tartan.

In his role as the Sultan’s envoy, MacLean was occasionally required to undertake long and arduous journeys including on horseback for up to fourteen hours a day for hundreds of miles. But he had less challenging missions. The Sultan, a shopaholic, bought a hansom cab that nobody could or would drive so MacLean took the reins and took it for a 120 mile trip to Fez. Roads in the Rif mountains were practically non-existent and mostly the cab’s wheels were removed and the cab of the hansom slung between two camels to negotiate the rocky terrain. Among the Sultan’s other purchases from Britain were several Coventry bicycles for the women in his harem to cycle. Apparently, they were none too keen.

In July 1907 the Sultan’s envoy, Kaid MacLean, was kidnapped by Raisuli’s men and held captive for seven months on demand of a ransom of £20,000 – about £200,0000 today. In the end Raisuli was only paid £5000 up front with a promise the remainder would be banked to ensure he ‘behaved’ over the next ten years. He never did get the remaining cash. In April 1922 an air bombing campaign in conjunction with a land attack by a Spanish force of 30,000 men forced his surrender. Raisuli later escaped captivity and made an uneasy alliance with Abd el-Krim to resist Spain’s grip on northern Morocco.   

By this time, Kaid MacLean, Scottish soldier of fortune, was dead. He died in February 1920 at the age of 72 so he could not have been the mysterious Scottish traveller who beguiled the paper flower sellers in 1924.

In September 1924, three months after the mysterious Scot donated a large sum to charity on Alexandra Rose Day British newspapers were reporting a plot to buy weapons and recruit former officers for the Berber campaign to oust the Spanish from Morocco. Two submarines from redundant stock were sought from an armaments company in the north of England at a cost of £30,000 to use in the Straits of Gibraltar to torpedo Spanish vessels supplying their Moroccan forces with food and arms. Payment for the submarines was being put up by Abd el-Krim.

The man who had Krim’s ear was Scottish – a former officer with the Scots Greys and fluent Arabic speakers – a “daring professional soldier to whom war and adventure is life itself” and perfectly placed to recruit British men, officers, fairly recently demobbed from the Great War. The Scot offered his mercenaries 30 shillings a day plus extras dependent on “the results they obtained, together with a big gratuity when the war was over.” As well as the submarines and men, Krim’s man was authorised to purchase machine guns and aeroplanes. The Scot was confident as he knew of plenty British former pilots keen to get involved.  

Despite talk of large arms the Berbers mainly depended on guerrilla tactics against Spain and later France. The Rif war reintroduced the medieval war craft of tunnelling into modern-day battle arenas – later picked up by Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.

By now Spain’s military force included the fascist Francisco Franco Bahamonde who took control of the Spanish army in Morocco. Franco and his legionnaires were notoriously savage. They delighted in mutilating Berbers and exhibiting their body parts to terrorise the local people into losing heart.

But still mighty Spain failed to overcome the Berbers of the Rif on their own and appealed to France for assistance. France provided large numbers of men under Marshal Pétain. Pétain would later become notorious for collaborating with the Nazis in Vichy France during WW2 and be convicted of treason but back in the 1920s he was a French hero who led a joint French/Spanish force against the tribes people of the Rif. France recruited sixteen American pilots to reinforce their air attacks on the Berbers in the summer of 1925. Their leader was Charley Sweeny, son of a rich industrialist who had served with the French foreign legion in WW1. Gertrude Stein criticised him for fighting on the wrong side in Morocco and for the bombing raids he led on people armed only with rifles to defend themselves with. The air action was widely condemned in the USA, especially by black groups, and 1925 became known as the year of the airplane.

Failing to make fast progress the western forces resorted to chemical warfare – attacking the Berbers with mustard gas, phosgene and diphosgene – deliberately targeting civilians shopping in markets and poisoning drinking water. This despite Spain and France having signed up to a ban on chemical and biological weapons in 1925. There was little outcry from the rest of the world over Spain’s use of chemical weapons since they weren’t used against white people.

Spanish atrocities against the Rif

But what of the mysterious Scotsman?

Captain Robert Gordon Canning, descendent of the Gordon’s of Cluny in Aberdeenshire, supported Arab nationalism. With strong links to Germany he organised German arms and field supplies be sent to Krim’s forces. He became Krim’s peace envoy when it was clear the Berber’s were losing the war against the combined powers of France and Spain and he left Morocco for Britain at the end of the war, in 1926.  Ten years later he was best man at the wedding of the British fascist leader, Oswald Mosley, and Diana Mitford. A fellow fascist, Canning was imprisoned for three years in 1940. Canning’s German connections included an Anglo-German organisation called The Link – a pro-Nazi group particularly popular in London. The Link was banned at the outbreak of war in 1939 but reportedly resurrected in 1940 by James Bond author, Ian Fleming, to lure Rudolf Hess to Britain in 1941.  

The combined forces of Spain and France and their dirty war spelled the end for the Berbers of Rif. On 26 May, 1926, Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French and was exiled. The Rif war of 1921-26 was regarded as a harbinger of the Algerian war and independence in 1963, which Krim just lived long enough to witness.  Morocco achieved independence in 1956 with the submissive role of its Sultans still being much criticised by the people of the Rif. While in exile in Cairo Krim had again appealed for help for his fellow Rifs but none came and many were slaughtered by the Sultan’s forces for their continuing opposition to him. Little has changed. The people of the Rif are still persecuted – by the Moroccan authorities. They still resist. They are also still dying too young of cancer, believed to be a legacy of Spain’s illegal used of deadly chemicals in the twenties.

The surrender 1926 – Krim is fourth left in the first picture

As for Franco – he and his legionaries gained valuable battle experience in the Rif mountains and within ten years they crossed the Med into Spain to carry out atrocities there in the Civil War of 1936 -39. Of that encounter the American journalist, Webb Miller wrote of Spain’s fascists –

I came out of Spain badly shaken by the atmosphere of blood, tears and terror, and profoundly discouraged about the future of Europe. What I saw and heard of the wide development of the use of terrorism as a definite weapon in warfare was sickening. Never in modern times has there been such a holocaust of cold-blooded slaughter of prisoners, of wounded and of helpless hostages in thousands. Terrorism of civilian populations by indiscriminate bombing from the air had largely wiped out the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants. Amongst the dead and wounded on both sides were many thousands of women and children. “We are fighting an idea,” and officer told me. “The idea is in the brain, and to kill it we have to kill the man.

(Waterford Standard 8 May 1937 )

And the Scotsman? Well I can’t say for certain. There was an Englishman, a photographer and trader called John Arnall. He was a socialist who sympathised with the Islamists of the Rif. Arnall formed the Anglo-Ottoman Society in 1914 and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (but later turned against communism.) He and his wife lived for a time in Tangier and in early 1922 he visited the Rif with a plan to make money from selling mineral rights which is how he came to be involved as a spokesman for the Rifs in London, attempting to drum up support for their cause. Arnall was also a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and his various activities made him a target of the British Special Branch who intercepted his mail and generally kept an eye on his movements. It is believed he was killed by the Spanish in Morocco in 1924.

John Arnall extreme left, front row with members of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

In 1977 a British film was made based on the Rif war of 1921-26. Called March or Die it starred Gene Hackman as a heroic white man fighting for the heroic French against the villainous Berbers. Ian Holm played el-Krim.

In 2017 a film called Iperita was made about a former Spanish pilot, guilt-ridden because of his part in the bombing of Rif villages and his return to the area to find the landscape almost obliterated and its people gone. You can watch it here –

The Scotsman outside the Ritz in 1924? I don’t know. None of the above. But there are roses still – mentioned in a contemporary song aimed at informing the young of the Rif of the cruelties of the past which have never quite left them –

We know the whole truth
But we want you to confess and reveal everything
Just as the pain in my heart speaks of the many torments it has endured
Just as roses grow on the graves of the victims who fell from your crimes.

Mar 12, 2022

The Scots that built Russia’s army and navy

Why did so many men from northeast Scotland play such an important part in the development of Russia’s army and navy? According to the American writer, Washington Irving, it was down to the topography of their homeland – the flat coast, eastward-facing that produced

men of the clearest brains, the strongest arms, and the most determined wills, to a country in which these commodities have never been wanting.

Russia’s military and naval might might not be what it is today had it not been for a few Scotsmen. Quite a few Scotsmen as it turns out but one or two who were instrumental in reorganising the Russian empire’s defences (and lines of attack.)

Russian Imperial Navy 1700s

Since boats were boats Scots sailed to the Baltic from Aberdeen and Leith and points in-between to trade, to study and ply their crafts – including the arts of war. Mackenzies, Lindsays, Watsons, Farquhars, Hays, Elphinstones, MacLeods, Learmonths – George Mikhail Lermontov, ensign in the Russian army and descendant of Thomas the Rhymer, Gordons.

There are a lot of Gordons in Scotland and quite a lot were to be found in Russia over the past four hundred years.

Patrick Gordon from Auchleuchries in Aberdeenshire was in danger as a Catholic from the religious civil wars that brought Cromwell to power so at the age of sixteen he was taken by his father and uncle to Aberdeen to purchase clothes and put him aboard a merchant ship sailing to Danzig. Danzig (now Gdańsk) then held within a union between Poland and Lithuania was an important Baltic port. There he found accommodation with another Scot, John Donaldson, before making his way across Europe, lodging as he went mainly with Scots with whom he was put in contact. For a time he travelled with fellow-countrymen, Thomas and Michael Menzies and a Jesuit priest, Father Blackhall.

Not familiar with the local languages and dialects young Gordon struggled at first to get by speaking Latin and a smattering of Dutch. One particular day it all got too much for Gordon and he sat down on the roadside and wept from desperation but on being comforted by a stranger the young lad found the determination to continue.   

In 1655 young Patrick Gordon, a capable swordsman, did what thousands of his compatriots did, he sold his battle skills to the highest bidder, as a mercenary soldier. He enlisted with the Swedish army as a cavalryman. Opportunities there were plenty for mercenaries with Europe in constant turmoil battling over land and power. Gordon’s allegiances switched about. He fought with the Swedes at times and at other times with the Poles, against his former comrades. It was while in the pay of the Swedes he found himself a prisoner of a Russian force led by Scot, Colonel John Crawford (Crawfurd). Crawford persuaded Gordon to cross to the Russian Imperial army where he was told he’d be in the company of many Scotsmen.  

Patrick Gordon proved himself again and again on the battlefield and he rose through the ranks becoming a Major General, later Lieutenant General and Chief of Command at Kiev (Kyiv in Ukraine). By this time Gordon had become Pyotr Ivanovich, a trusted adviser and friend to the Tsar, Peter the Great. Gordon was the first foreigner in Russian history that a Tsar visited privately, when eighteen-year old Peter went to Gordon’s house in Moscow’s German Quarter. Trusted implicitly by him, Gordon laid the foundations of Peter the Great’s army that became the strongest in Europe.

Gordon died in 1699 at the age of sixty-four having served under three Tsars. The young Scottish laddie broken by loneliness fifty years earlier ended his life deeply mourned by a Tsar who provided his friend with a state funeral.

By the Grace of God, We Peter the First, Tsar and Sole Monarch of all Russi …blah blah blah …Be it known to Every one, That We have Graciously Appointed and Constituted Thomas Gordon (Captain Commander in our Navy for his well recommended to us Experiences, Dilligence and Zeal for our Service) to be our Rear Admiral the first day of January, 1719…  blah blah etc etc.

*

Gordon’s namesake who made a career for himself with the Swedish and Polish armies in which he attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and earned the nickname, Steel Hand for his swordsmanship, is sometimes confused with the Auchleuchries Gordon.

*

Another Gordon was Thomas Gordon, sometime captain of a merchant ship, Margaret, that sailed out of the port of Aberdeen, and was in 1703 in charge of the Royal Scots Navy ship, Royal Mary. Until the Union in 1707 Scotland was often the target of English aggression and ambition – some incidents were deadly and others petty though revealing such as Scottish vessels being denied the right to fly the Scottish pennant when in English waters. Following Union with England the Scottish Navy was scrapped in favour of the continuation of England’s Royal Navy. Scottish vessels and crews were absorbed into it and where both navies included identically-named vessels Scottish ships were ordered to change names – a move that was unpopular with Scots crewmen. From the start of the Union it was clear Scotland would be an inferior partner.

Royal Scottish Navy vessel

Thomas Gordon tholed so much English high-handedness but he refused to take an oath to the newly-crowned George I and left the navy, sailing to France where he stayed for a time before joining the Russian navy in 1717. He was promoted to Admiral in 1727 and later made Chief Commander of the Russian maritime port of Kronstadt. 

In common with numerous other Scots of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Thomas Gordon’s family settled in Russia, either marrying Russians or bringing up their families as Russian. Ann Young was Thomas Gordon’s granddaughter. She married Thomas Mackenzie (Mekenzi) a Rear-Admiral in the Russian Navy. Their son, Thomas, also became a Rear-Admiral in the Imperial navy and founder of the city of Sevastopol – the largest city in Crimea and principal port on the Black Sea, in 1783. Sevastopol under him became a vital station for naval supplies as well as developing its shipbuilding capacity. The Mekenzi mountains in Ukraine are named in honour of him.

*

The ’Father of the Russian Navy’

The Sevastopol Thomas Gordon served under another Scot, Samuel Greig. Greig, the son of a merchant captain from Inverkeithing in Fife, became an Admiral and then Grand Admiral during the period of Tsarina Catherine the Great, who tasked him with modernising the Imperial Navy. She was the godmother of Samuel Greig’s son, Aleksei Samuilovich Greig, who was given the rank of midshipman at his birth. Almost inevitably the younger Greig made the navy his life. In 1816 he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Black Sea Fleet and ports at a time when Russia had full control of the Black Sea. Other Greigs enjoyed status roles in both the Russian army and navy. This family were part of the elite of Russian society for a century and a half but the sons were educated in Edinburgh.  

When the ‘Father of the Russian Navy’, Samuel Carlovich Greig, died he was given a magnificent funeral. Laid out with full pomp Greig was dressed in his Admiral uniform, his many medals illustrating his service to Russia Governor of Kronstadt, Chevalier of the Order of St Andrew, St Alexander Newski, St George, St Vladimir, St Anne. A crown of laurel was placed on his head. At the foot of the black-draped bier in a silver urn were his bowels.  

If Great and Good Actions
Command the Respect of Mankind,
The name of Greig will live for Ever.
He deserved good Fortune,
And he found it under the Banners of Cath.II.
He scattered the Enemies of Russia . . .

*

James Keith from Inverugie in Aberdeenshire who became a General Field Marshall in the Prussian army, a major military leader in Europe and trusted friend and adviser to Frederick the Great was for a time responsible for the Russian forces in Finland then being fought over by Russia and Sweden. Keith was one of three Inspector Generals of the Russian forces – his responsibility being the frontier with Asia along the rivers Volga and Don and a section of the border with Poland. Keith, however, did not settle in Russia but transferred into the service of the Prussia’s Frederick the Great. Like so many fellow-Scots, Keith was forced to flee Scotland because of his religion and/or his support for the Jacobite cause. He did briefly return to Aberdeenshire once no longer branded an outlaw but couldn’t settle having lived so long on the Continent. He returned to the army and died, killed by cannon fire at the Battle of Hochkirch in 1758. He had been let down by the man whose ear he normally had, Frederick the Great. Keith had warned him his Prussian troops were in grave danger from the Austrians if they didn’t alter position. Frederick disagreed, and Keith paid the ultimate penalty, knocked out of his saddle, he was killed instantly. Generalfedlmarschall Jacob von Keith has a granite memorial at Hochkirch.

*

An earlier army reformer with Russia’s Imperial forces was Alexander Leslie of Auchintoul in Banffshire (now Aberdeenshire). Alexander Leslie fought for the Swedes and Poles before transferring to the Russians and becoming Russia’s first General. Leslie recruited men from Scotland as part of his army improvements. He returned to the British Isles and took up arms in the Civil Wars for the Duke of Montrose and was ultimately banished from Scotland. Returning to Russia he lived out his life there, dying in Smolensk in 1663. His son, John, was killed while a Colonel in the Russian cavalry. John was married into the Scot-Russo Crawfords mentioned above.

*

Thomas Dalyell (Dalziel) of Binns, West Lothian, Bluidy Tam, fought in the Scottish Royalist army. In the civil wars a price of 200 guineas was put on his head. Not unsurprisingly he fled to Russia, into the service of Tsar Alexis I where his brutal reputation earned him the nickname, Muscovite De’il. He did not remain in Russia but returned to Scotland to crack down on the Covenanters with such force he came to be known here as Bluidy Tam.

Russian Imperial Army in the 18th century

Robert Bruce, not that one but a later scion of the clan, whose family under James Daniel Bruce settled in Russia in the mid-1600s – Robert, Roman Vilimovich Bryusov, served in Peter I’s personal guard and he became the first Commander of St Petersburg. His army career lasted around thirty years and when he died in 1720 he was buried in the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg,

Other members of the Bruce family were prominent in Russian society. Robert’s son, Alexander Romanovich Bruce was a Lieutenant-General in Russia’s Imperial army. Alexander’s uncle, Jacob Bruce, was primarily a diplomat and scientist (astronomer and naturalist – and also an alchemist and magician) but he also did a stint in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish war and the Great Northern War when he was promoted to Major-General of Artillery – and rewarded for his successes by being made a count, one of the first in Russia, almost exactly 300 years ago.  Other Scots would follow into the Russian nobility.

When they travelled Scots took with them their birth brieve – a birth certificate with details of their origins. Additional documentation was kept in the Propinquity Registers of Scotland. Aberdeen holds some of these among its unique collection of archives dating back to Robert the Bruce’s time. Propinquity Books provided early modern travel documents. There’s an entry on 9th July 1725 relating to the family of the late James Gordon of Auchleuchries, ‘brigadier in the service of the Emperor of Russia’ that records the disposal of his property to his kin in Scotland.  

Aberdeen’s Propinquity Registers reveal the importance and extent of Scotland’s east coast maritime trade with Europe. Sailing from Scottish ports such as Aberdeen to Baltic ports “the path to the Baltic ports was easier, and the welcome greater, than the highway that led to England” it has been said. Europe provided opportunities for wealth and reputation and many a Scottish family counted their fortunes in Russian rubles.

Feb 24, 2022

The Union Dividend: emigrate if you know what’s good for you

     Scotland is gradually being emptied of its population, its spirit, its wealth, industry, art, intellect and innate character. If a country exports its most enterprising spirits and best minds year after year, for 50 or 100 or 200 years, some result will inevitably follow.

Edwin Muir, Scottish Journey, 1935:

Migrating Scots mother and children, 1911
(Library & Archives, Canada)

It is reprehensible that any government would regard its people as its main export but this was the fate of Scotland following the establishment of the Union – during the later 18 th century, 19th century and even into the 20th  century.

Without the broad shoulders of the Union, Scots are frequently told, Scotland would be a failing state – which begs the question, if Scotland has done so well from the Union how is it her population was compelled to abandon her in such huge numbers soon after the Union of 1707?

Either the Union has been devilishly good for Scotland and transformed her from a backward and struggling country into one both so innovative and confidently successful that she would have no trouble forging a bright future alone or it hasn’t. Which is it? We should be told.

Size seems to confound Unionists. Scotland’s population of about 5.5 million is too small, they argue. Successful nations with similar sized populations – Ireland, New Zealand, Kuwait, Denmark, Finland, Slovakia, Norway, Oman, Croatia might disagree and by now I’m getting into the 4 millions – Latvia, Bahrain, Estonia, Cyprus, Mauritius – below 2 million and could carry on to tiny Malta, Iceland, Barbados, Bermuda, Gibraltar – all of 33,000 inhabitants. But where was I? Scotland, unlike some of the above is richly endowed with potential for market-valuable renewables, is still an oil and gas producer, has unique and sought-after food and drink commodities, has an educated and skilled workforce and strong engineering pedigree.  If Scotland with all of this is not capable of standing on her own feet then the Union has failed Scotland and failed Scotland spectacularly, reducing our country to a pathetic dogsbody of a nation perpetually insulted and patronised and one whose interests are simply ignored by Westminster where the Union’s power is anchored.  

Bring on some goalposts. Not there. Over there. Where size is clearly not the issue it must be the economy that stops independence. Scotland isn’t rich enough. Remember the guffawing back in 2014-15 when oil prices collapsed? You’d be broke, Unionists crowed while simultaneously denying Scotland’s seabed was, in fact, Scottish. They aren’t laughing now with Brent crude prices back up in the 90s. Goalpost change. Climate change – you can’t open any more oil and gas fields – although this is a reserved matter and Unionist HQ, Westminster, is doing just that. Scotland’s large and expanding renewable energy sector is dismissed by Unionists who insist England will refuse to buy Scottish power and fresh water. Doesn’t sound like the actions of a friend never mind Union partner. But the Union has never been a partnership based on respect or trust.

From the inception of the Union government in Westminster operated on the principle that England’s industries and trade took precedence over Scotland’s. And in case we didn’t get the message Scots were told their country was poor and barbaric and we should sling our hooks and leave Scotland, the worthless nation, to rot. And many did. Some were forcibly displaced. Some chose to leave. The British Empire had spaces that needed filling with Europeans – so to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa – ousting their native populations. Like so many of today’s migrants, Scots moved abroad in the hope of making a a better future for themselves and their families than was possible at home – because the Union dividend has always been a myth. Or they had no choice but to leave. Because the Union has been a disaster for Scotland.

One hundred years ago, in 1912, in the month of April 9,000 people left Scotland – just under 3,000 in a single week. In another week, in May of 1912,  3,520 Scots migrated to Canada or America from the Clyde alone. Other ports were available. On 1st June, again from the Clyde, a further 2,000 were shipped west. On 6th June 1912, a report claimed emigration from Scotland was running twice as fast as from England.

Canada was the favoured destination for Scots. Before the Union, Scotland established a colony in Canada in 1621. It was called Nova Scotia (New Scotland.) This colonisation proved brief, being surrendered to the French in 1632. Two centuries later, under the Union, the Canadian authorities employed squads of agents to sell Canada to Scots – to entice the brightest and best to settle there where farm land could be bought for the price of a year’s rent in Scotland and where industries required skilled men and women. Leaflets were pressed into hands and colourful posters pinned up in public places promising everything that was great and everything that was different from failed Scotland bogged down by hardship, low pay, high rents, filthy slums and poor food – the Union dividend.  

Lord Strathcona, a Scot who became a Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a big shot in Canada, enthused about the vast territory of Canada able to maintain 150,000,000 people – he wasn’t talking about Canada’s own indigenous peoples, you understand, he wanted Scots to up sticks and settle there where everything was “the best.”

“Anyone – even a lady – could succeed on the land there” Strathcona said by way of encouragement. He knew ‘ladies’ from Russia who were farming. 

Back in Scotland the Union had so run down the country Scots took little persuading to leave. In 1912 a flood of humanity boarded vessels, mainly for Canada and America, but also for South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. This flood was a continuation of the one the year before. In 1911, about 90,000 Scots packed up and left the old country. Across the rest of Europe emigration to America and Canada was slowing down but not from Scotland where it was accelerating because Scots could see no future in Scotland in the Union. In 1906 Scottish exceeded Irish emigration for the first time and did so again in 1911-12.   

In 1911 Scotland recorded its lowest death rate since 1855 (when records began) and lowest birth rate since 1873 except for 1890. The low birth rate might be explained by the drainage of young men, sometimes abandoning wives, and young women moving abroad. Scotland’s population depletion was only regarded with concern once rate payers discovered they were being asked to provide poor relief for deserted families. But emigration provided excellent business opportunities for shipping lines.

American bound from Aberdeen

Between 1830 and 1914 around 2 million Scots emigrated abroad and a similar number are believed to have moved to other parts of the UK. Throughout the 20th century Scotland’s population decline continued. Since 1851 the proportion of Scotland’s population to the population of the UK as a whole has diminished by 25%.

People, industries and company headquarters have moved away from Scotland. The oil and gas sector off the northeast of Scotland ran counter to this long-term trend and had a major impact on population, jobs and wage levels. Unfortunately, the immense wealth produced off Scotland’s coast failed to benefit Scotland. Instead, Thatcher ensured that London and the southeast of England profited with vast building and infrastructure spending there. Compare Europe’s oil and gas capital, Aberdeen, with London. You would never know Aberdeen was the hub of so much multinational activity. Scotland was prevented from benefitting from this klondike which is an odd sort of dividend – aka no dividend at all but cynical exploitation by a greedy partner.

James Annand, an Aberdeenshire journalist and soon-to-be Liberal MP (the shortest serving MP, dying within a couple of weeks of winning and never taking his seat) was campaigning in 1903. He buttered up his audience in St Fergus with references to townies who had no idea how tough life and work were for country folk and complained about the lack of affordable farms for rent. He reminded his audience that Scotland was a poor country – a poor country? Surely some mistake – after two hundred years of that Union dividend how come Scotland was still poor? The Unionist never explained but he did emphasise just how poor Scotland was and how it was understandable that so very many Scots migrated because they could not make a decent living at home. Annand supported Scots getting out of Scotland to Canada – the land of opportunity.

Canada still tempting Scots away in its quest for “suitable men and women to go there.’  Annand mentioned Texas with its “three million acres of land, owned by a single company, that was being offered in lots for sale at £1000 each” and Australia with its “incalculable opportunities for enterprise in connection with unoccupied territory” – where indigenous people didn’t appear to matter.

And so Scotland continued to be drained of many of its most “suitable men and women” – from countryside and cities – the populations of Edinburgh and Glasgow were also in decline. The tide of migration that swept “the best young men and women of Scotland” ashore in North America was detrimental to the economy back home as well as reinforcing how Scotland was failing its own people following years of underinvestment, attacks on its manufacturing, lack of opportunities, lack of hope and ambition over generations. The coming of the Great War placed a temporary halt on Scotland’s population depletion by emigration, replacing it with another loss, of many of its fine young people, in that disastrous bloodbath.

Early in the twentieth century when England’s population was about five times greater than Scotland’s its wealth was about thirty-six times greater than Scotland’s. That Union dividend, again.

Two hundred years of the Union, of the Union dividend, and the message was – emigrate if you know what’s good for you.                   

Westminster government statistics income 2014-16

For centuries England repeatedly attacked Scotland, in an attempt to annex it. It did not succeed until 1707 when a handful of Scottish nobles sold out their country for personal gain. That was the point that Scotland became an irrelevance in the eyes of the British monarchy and government except for the money it could raise from Scots taxpayers to help pay for England’s near continuing wars and her young men to sacrifice themselves as cannon fodder – for wars have a habit of eliminating people at a fearful rate. Peacetime taxes levied by Westminster favoured English industries to the detriment of Scottish ones. The Union was an English protectionist measure set up by the monarchy and Westminster. The myth it has been good for Scotland is just that. Westminster operates to benefit the city of London and this is why present talk of ‘levelling up’ is just talk. Ireland was treated in a similar manner to Scotland. The Irish woollen trade was destroyed to protect England’s and during the terrible famine years of the 1840s while 400,000 Irish people were starving to death the grain they grew on their land was carted away to fill British bellies. Destitute Irish could see no future at home and so left. Likewise in Scotland. Between 1840 and 1940 a little short of a million Scots went to live in other parts of the UK while more than two million emigrated abroad.

The Highlands and Islands Emigration Society encouraged Scots escape starvation during the Highland Potato Famine of 1846 by emigrating to Australia. In Westminster the Emigration Act of 1851 provided subsidies to landlords to ship people abroad like so much livestock. Queen Victoria and assorted aristocrats contributed to the costs to rid Scotland of Scots, though she, herself, decided to use the country as a holiday retreat.   

At the Union Scotland’s population was about 20% of the UK’s population. Today Scotland’s 5.5 million make up 8.2% of the UK’s overall population. According to the James Hutton Institute Scotland’s rural populations could decline by 33% in little more than 20 years.

While I was able to find sources that looked at the impact of emigration on Ireland I found none on the impact of emigration from Scotland on Scotland. Although not identical emigration from Ireland has comparisons with Scotland but in Ireland’s case destitution drove emigration much more than occurred in Scotland. The perception that migrants are always poor and low skilled has never been true. Of course people emigrate for different reasons and some impoverished and low skilled will take their chances moving abroad, often under duress, but these groups are those least likely to migrate while the educated, skilled and ambitious are more likely to voluntarily emigrate.

Migrants have also moved to Scotland. Through the 19th and 20th centuries they came mainly from Ireland, the Baltic countries and northern Europe (a reversal of 16th and 17th century Scots moving abroad to trade), Italians and, of course, people from Wales and England. With increasing global migration, the number of Scots born outwith Scotland continues to increase; in 2018-19 just under 40,000 moved to Scotland from overseas – 20,000 greater than left.

Fraser of Allander gross disposable household income across UK 2018

The return of some autonomy to Scotland through the partial resurrection of a parliament in Edinburgh provided hope for the future of the country. However, Westminster jealously guards its overall control of the whole UK and will chip away at Edinburgh’s authority and will as far as possible implement policies that protect and support that southeast corner of England, as it has done since 1707. These are dangerous times for Scots. If Westminster succeeds in extinguishing Scotland’s recently found confidence and optimism the country will again be plunged into a state of hopelessness that led to people leaving over three hundred years. The Union that needed heavily armed fortifications to ensure compliance in its early days, that ran down Scotland and drained it of “its best men and women” might have proved a dividend for Westminster but at a terrible cost for Scotland.

Jan 18, 2022

The Dud

Jan 16, 2022

Oncology – Scottish impact on cancer treatment and the perils of radium

Very many of us have had all too close experience of cancer either in our own lives or in those of family and friends. Cancer is not a new disease and historically surgeons cut out malignant growths to try to prevent their spread. It wasn’t until the very end of the 19th century and into the early part of the 20th century that there were major scientific developments that would revolutionise the treatment of malignant tumours – with the discovery of radium and x-rays.

Nowadays we bundle cancer treatments under the label oncology, an umbrella term for medical, radiation and surgical methods of dealing with cancers; the intensity of treatments dependent on the severity and stage of illness – frequently surgery is followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

X-rays were discovered at the very end of the 19th century, in 1895, by the German engineer and physicist, Wilhelm Röntgen.  This must have seemed like magic. In 1896 the first patient with a cancer of the throat was irradiated in an attempt to stem the growth of his tumour. The following year Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts emitted rays similar to x-rays. That same year Marie and Pierre Curie announced to the world an element they called radium, extracted from radioactive uranite or pitchblende and in 1902 they isolated radioactive radium salts from the mineral.

In 1910 John R. Levack at Foresterhill Hospital in Aberdeen in Scotland sought out a supply of the much talked-about, radium. His request was turned down by the hospital board and then the Great War was upon them so it was not until 1922 that Aberdeen Royal Infirmary obtained a small stock of radium salts, as did a few other hospitals in the UK, which led for instance to their use treating women with cancer of the uterus.

A quantity of radium was provided to the University of Aberdeen’s science hub at Marischal College’s Department of Natural Philosophy (Physics). There radium was turned into radioactive gas, radon, and needles were loaded with radium for medical interventions. Given the hazardous nature of these radioactive substances a radium officer was identified who was given responsibility for their safety. In 1922 this was John Cruickshank, a lecturer in malignant disease. As well as the radium officer, several other new roles were created at the hospital and university relating to the handling of radioactive substances and in order to develop appropriate methods for dispensing radium treatments to the sick.  

Loaded needles were inserted into malignant tumours

New academic and medical departments were created along with a raft of national and international organisations on the back of radioactivity. The British Association for the Advancement of Radiology and Physiotherapy was formed in 1917, later known as the British Institute of Radiology. A UK radium commission was set up in 1929 to regulate the use of radium in Britain, leading to a handful of radium centres and local radium officers. 1. 

Radium requires very careful handling for it is inherently dangerous and at the onset of WWII a new problem arose – where to store the hospital’s supplies safely in the event of Aberdeen being bombed. It was. Aberdeen was the most bombed Scottish city during WW II. On the 21st April 1943 127 bombs fell in just 44 minutes killing 125 people and destroying and damaging a huge amount of property. Any direct hit on the city’s store of radioactive material would have spelled death to many more, to thousands potentially, and for years to come with lethal radioactive dust finding its way into people’s and animal’s bodies the nightmare would be long-lasting. What to do? The answer had to come quickly.

In anticipation of this arrangements were made to protect radium supplies. Burying the material underground, to a depth of 50 feet or more was recommended but given Aberdeenshire sits on fairly impenetrable granite this was problematic so where could a place of real depth but still within the vicinity of the city be found? Anyone with any knowledge of Aberdeen will know what comes next – Rubislaw quarry. Rubislaw is 142 metres (465 feet) deep and one of the largest man-made holes in Europe. Local supplies of radium in solution were taken out of their glass containers, dried and restored. (Supplies from Inverness were included.) They were protected with lead and steel and placed in part of the quarry wall that had been specially prepared and the opening plugged with heavy timbers. Gaining access to the hospital’s supplies during the years of the war involved someone being lowered deep into the quarry on a Blondin  – an aerial ropeway. Not for the fainthearted. None of the handling of these toxic substances was for the fainthearted. As it happened the Germany Luftwaffe did manage to find Rubislaw quarry with a bomb but fortunately little damage was done to the borehole containing the hospital’s deadly supplies, and so the good folk of Aberdeen lived to fight another day.  An additional small quantity of radium was also preserved west of Aberdeen at Torphins hospital. Why I don’t know. Could it be that was closer to Balmoral and potential needs of royalty?

The ‘laboratory’ at Cove quarry

Although it was risky having radium right in the heart of the city there was little option if it was to be available for delivering medical treatments given the very limited life of radon gas. It had to be produced near Foresterhill. This couldn’t take place in Rubislaw quarry and the place chosen was at Cove on the southern edge of Aberdeen. Here both electricity and water were available and the railway ran close-by which was to prove valuable. Cove’s Blackhill’s quarry had a face excavated to store glass bulbs filled with dried radium for making into radon gas when needed. In the same way as it was protected at Rubislaw what became the little laboratory at Cove consisted of the mineral, steel, lead and in addition sandbags and a shed. One bad winter a south-bound train carrying the university’s H.D. Griffith (its first medical physicist) and his staff was stopped close to the site so they could more easily get through the snow drifts to make up essential medical supplies.  

Each time radon was needed liquid oxygen and gas cylinders had to be carried in to the ad hoc lab at Cove. But it worked and between March 1940 and September1945 Cove’s little workroom supplied not only Aberdeen but Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle hospitals with radon gas.

Every care was taken to protect and preserve this potentially lethal but medically beneficial substance but still radium did go missing: seven filled needles of it disappeared in 1932; years later a 50 mg tube was flushed down a toilet by a hospital patient and despite valiant attempts to trace the radium through the sewer system to its outlet at the Bay of Nigg nothing was found; a further 50 mg tube was inadvertently incinerated at Woodend Hospital which must have resulted in radioactive smoke getting out into the atmosphere in west Aberdeen but there were no reports of associated health impacts.

Aberdeen’s early foray into nuclear medicine led in 1950 to Britain’s first oncology unit being established at the city’s Royal Infirmary under Professor James F. Philip who had been the hospital’s radium officer from 1939 till then and was a founding member of the British Association of Surgical Oncology. The department initially known as the malignant diseases unit built on Aberdeen’s ground-breaking joined-up approach to nuclear medicine that would influence cancer therapies across Scotland. By the 1970s all Scottish hospitals were encouraged to setup their own units based on what had been operating at Foresterhill for 20 years.

The most stable radium isotope is radium-226 which has a half-life of 1600 years. Radon 222’s half-life by contrast lasts only 3.8 days. Needles of radium salts were able to be used indefinitely but radon within them built up and leakages were likely. Radon needles were designed for fast application and needed constant replacement but their radiation hazard declined quickly. Needles were inserted directly into tumours as opposed to irradiation from outside. Radium or radon are no longer used. In 1980 caesium-137 replaced radium in the treatment of cervical cancer and iridium wire replaced radium for solid tumours.

Establishing safe and effective doses of radium isotopes became the source of many conversations in the scientific world, as among everyone else. Their impact on patients must have been significant.

Finally, a number of years ago I found myself in Würzburg where Roëntgen carried out many of his x-ray experiments and having read there was a small museum dedicated to the great man I tracked down what I thought was the place. Everyone must have been hard at work in labs or offices for it took me quite a time to find anyone there and none of whom seemed to know about displays so I left as disappointed as they were confused. No idea where I was but it doesn’t seem it was the right place because there is a Roëntgen museum which is, thankfully, available online. Nothing to do with this whatsoever but the small private hotel I stayed in for a couple of nights offered the best breakfasts of any hotels I’ve been to. And I’ve been to lots.

https://wilhelmconradroentgen.de/en/

Finally, finally.  The perils of exposure to radium were not understood at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries and even when its hazards were beginning to be apparent its potential for industrial applications were too great for commercial enterprises to ignore. Staff and customer safety were of no concern and very young women employed in the USA to paint numbers and hands onto watches and military instruments so they could be seen in the dark involved the women licking the paintbrushes to form delicate points. The women were not told of the dangers of handling this curious paint that glowed in the dark and happily messed about painting it onto their fingernails and even their teeth as they kidded about while working. They became known as the Radium Girls and they developed cancers and many died as a consequence.

Radium ‘girls’

A craze for all things radium early in the 1900s led manufacturers to lace all sorts of products with the stuff, for no reason other than they could – chocolate, cosmetics, playing cards, clothing, health tonics. Bizarrely radium was added to hen feed with the idea irradiated eggs would self-cook and perhaps self-incubate.  Sounds nuts to us today but it was all new then. On the subject of nuts – Brazil nuts contain radium, naturally. Two to three nuts daily is not a health risk but go canny with those moreish chocolate Brazils.

*

1.One eminent doctor whose name is permanently linked with the early years of radiology is Professor James Mackenzie Davidson one-time president of the British Association of Radiology (BAR) and the British Institute of Radiology (BIR).

Mackenzie Davidson’s parents were among the earliest Scots to emigrate to Argentina, in 1830. At least that was when his father went out there, aged 21, from St Martin’s in Perthshire. Don’t know about his mother because details about women are usually regarded as unimportant – I do know she was from Argyll. The Davidsons bought up pieces of land around the River Platte to farm sheep and cattle and did that successfully. Davidson senior survived many an adventure, including an attack by three gauchos who thought they’d killed him but it was Davidson’s horse that died, on top of him. When he was eventually able to extract himself from under the poor beast he was able, eventually, to find help and lived to experience several more adventures, apparently. The family were related to Marshall Mackenzie, the eminent architect from Elgin and Scotland remained important to the Davidsons who frequently sailed back from South America for visits. Their son, James, was educated at the Scottish School at Buones Aires and studied medicine at Aberdeen, Edinburgh and London. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1882 and opened a medical clinic at West North Street in the city. From there, in 1886, he was appointed Professor of Surgery and lecturer in Ophthalmology at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the Sick Kid’s hospital and Blind Asylum. James Mackenzie Davidson became fascinated by the newly discovered x-rays and visited him at his workshop in Würzburg in Germany to learn more about x-rays and radiation and was able to carry out his own x-ray of a foot that had been pierced with a broken needle.  He devised the cross-thread method of localization to trace foreign bodies in the eye which proved of immense value for treating horrific eye injuries in WWI. Mackenzie Davidson was by this time in London, working with x-rays at Charing Cross Hospital’s Roëntgen Ray department. Following his death in 1919 an annual lecture in his honour was established by the British Radiological Society and a medal is presented for outstanding work in the field of radiological medicine.

H D Griffith Physicist ARI Zodiac Journal of Aberdeen University Medical Society Vol 1 p 190, Jan 1950.

Aberdeen Royal Infirmary: The People’s Hospital of the North-East. Iain Levack and Hugh Dudley, 1992.

Jan 5, 2022

The Great Hair Cut Riots

While hard-nosed peace negotiations were taking place at Versailles in France at the end of the Great War. While 74 ships of the German fleet were scuttled at Scapa Flow in Scotland. While Greeks and Turks fought over territory, encouraged by Britain. While rioting by Canadian troops stationed in England and Wales resulted in brutal murder. While all this was happening in 1919, a year the world was plunged into crises – uprisings, mutinies, riots and revolution – the Spartacists in Germany, reds versus whites in Russia, rebellion against British imperialism just about everywhere – always viciously repressed – in Egypt, Malta, Belize, Trinidad, Jamaica, India – and closer to home tanks and military turning their firepower on civilians in Ireland and in Glasgow. 1919 while the world tottered on its axis Aberdeen was rocked by rioting over haircuts. It happened like this.

Frederick Street School with its rooftop playground

In 1919 young girls usually wore their hair long and loose, no less so in pockets of the city where desperate poverty meant large families lived cheek-by-jowl in tenement rooms with limited access to soap and water – cold water from a communal tap on a stair landing or outside. Never hot water on tap. These were the homes for heroes promised by Lloyd George during WWI. In 1919 seriously deprived families, their men-folk just returning (if they were lucky) from serving in one of the most horrific wars ever, were no doubt struggling to contend with adjusting to life, attempting to find work, trying to keep the wolf from the door and possibly one of the last things on their minds were nits (head lice.)

Nits are little insects that crawl from one head of hair to another. There they set up home and lay their eggs until another head of hair comes close, in which case they may decide to jump ship and infest a different head. Nits are blood-suckers. And they itch like mad. Getting from head A to head B is easier on long hair that effortlessly comes into contact with other long hair. In 1919 the Health Committee of Aberdeen Burgh Education Authority decided to tackle an outbreak of nits among school pupils with action taken in the case of schoolgirls whose parents persistently failed to take responsibility for the problem themselves. Dr George Rose, the schools medical officer took it upon himself to deal with verminous heads and if parents would not cut their child’s hair, he would arrange for it to be done.  

In fact incidence of head lice was not an enormous problem in Aberdeen and Dr Rose found only one girl with ‘filthy hair’ at the Middle School when he inspected children there in June 1919 and when an appeal to her parents was ignored the doctor took matters into his own hands. His insensitive handling of the case was misjudged. All hell broke loose.

Several pupils from the Middle School went on strike, their number boosted by youths already skiving (truanting) who when they heard of the hair-cutting incident readily joined the collective action. STRIKE was chalked over the school’s playgrounds to underline their protest. Word got out and pupils from schools across the east end joined the protesters or rioters as they were identified, mainly but not exclusively, teenage boys. They went from school to school drumming up support. More playgrounds were chalked to indicate strike in those schools and school buildings were pelted with stones. Windows were smashed; scarcely a pane of glass remained intact at the Middle School. Marywell Street and Ferryhill suffered similar attacks. Some rioters turned their attention on Union Terrace, gathering outside the education authority offices they booed their disapproval of the committee that sanctioned cutting girls’ hair. Loud protests carried on into the nights of the third week of July 1919 and there was consternation among the citizens of the town about where it would all end. The local authority fought back.

At the root of this Middle School fracas there seems to be the contempt for and insubordination to authority which are characteristics of the times among certain classes of the community.

I think the city fathers feared rebellion against authority affecting both Britain and the rest of the world that year had permeated through to the lower classes in Aberdeen. The haircut riots had become class riots. Working class parents complained of being given no or too little warning to have their girls’ hair cut and heads treated for lice while middle class critics sneered that –

The working-classes are all for State control of everything…glass was smashed because they dislike the medicine they themselves demand.

These were harsh times. A correspondent to Aberdeen Weekly Journal had little patience for treating children with kid gloves and on the subject of punishing school pupils for misbehaviour had this to say,

A few children may have died as the result of corporal punishment, but they were exceptional cases, and furnish not reason for its abolition. 

The school medical authorities justified their behaviour by pointing to powers under the Scottish Act of 1908 that enabled them to act if after 24 hours written notice to a parent to

…cleanse the child within 24 hours…[if] this notice is not complied with, the medical officer…may remove the children…and cause their persons and clothing to be cleansed.

The school strikes spread. Pupils from Skene Square school abandoned lessons and headed to the beach noisily shouting and cheering. At Frederick Street school the appearance of a nurse at a window led to a rumour that the vilified medical officer, Dr Rose, was about to wield his scissors there. In no time local mothers and children assembled by the school gates. The police were called and tried to assure them Dr Rose was not inside but the crowd were in no mood to be pacified. Missiles were thrown. A janitor was struck. At the end of the school day, at four o’clock, pupils were dismissed with no sign of Dr Rose. The crowd waited; certain the now notorious doctor would emerge. He did not.

Head lice

Some striking youths hanging about the nearby Links decided to seek out Dr Rose at his house in the city’s west end, at Rubislaw Terrace. They lined up outside it, shouting and waving union Jacks before pelting it with stones, breaking one window. When the police turned up a group of rioters disappeared round to the rear of the property where the police didn’t think to follow.  Stones rained down on a garage thought to belong to Dr Rose. It was his unfortunate neighbour who lost 19 panes of glass from his garage. From the west end they turned their attention again to Skene Square School which received volley after volley of rocks.   

One of the lads was dressed in soldier’s trousers and puttees and seemed to be in command. He was carrying a banner and shouting his orders to his ‘troops.’ He was considered a great hero that night, and imagined himself as such. His mother stated that he came home that night without his collar and tie; and thinking he had done a great thing.

Eventually the hair cut riots petered out. Then came the aftermath with punishments taking the form of the scud (the tawse or belt) or an appearance at the Children’s Court which resulted in 12 months probation for all the youths who appeared before it, for glass breaking.

Dr Rose was criticised for acting without tact over the few cases he had to deal with; one or two girls in a thousand had their hair cut by the school authorities. Just nine percent of the city’s girls had what was classified as dirty hair compared with forty percent found ten years earlier. So the problem was waning.

A proposed increase in Dr Rose’s salary was turned down by the Staffing, Salaries and Bursaries Committee and remained at £650. The doctor was backed by the BMA who said his salary should be £800, describing him as one of the best school medical officers not only in Scotland but ‘in the kingdom’ and called the local authority members who failed to support Dr Rose, ‘unfair and cowardly.’

It might be supposed Dr Rose would have decided to move on but in 1920 he was still in his position reporting on the usual childhood ailments: whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria – all on the increase. He also noted a resurgence in city children’s ‘fetish’ for sugar – which had been interrupted during the war years when supplies couldn’t get through. Schoolchildren’s teeth were in bad shape. Some schoolchildren were still verminous – from about 93 city families.

1919 the year of revolt and riot. Few protesters came out on top. Authority everywhere had come though four years of terrible bloody conflict and were in no mood to compromise although in a way Aberdeen’s school authorities did by rapping Dr Rose across the knuckles in denying him a promised salary increase and they did ensure that in future parents would be more courteously treated when asked to keep their children’s heads clean and clear of nits.

Dec 31, 2021

Here’s to a happy and safe 2022, folks. And in memory of the friends we’ve lost this year.

Dec 24, 2021

The Headless Ghost

Jack’s Brae

It was the winter of 1842 and two thin and poorly-clad girls pulled their shawls closer about their spare bodies in an effort to keep from shivering in the raw cold of a dark November morning. It was early, about five o’clock, a time when better-off children were still fast asleep under feather quilts, but for eleven-year-old Bell Moore and her thirteen-year-old sister the mill bell was ringing as they hurried to work in Spring Garden in Aberdeen.  As they descended Jack’s Brae, Bell uttered a cry and in her terror she stumbled into the icy waters of a burn running along the roadside – for there by the Gilcomston brewery the ghostly figure of a man towered over them – a man with no head. The terrified girl turned and ran back home, abandoning her sister who had also seen the apparition to carry on to work; for their parents were sore in need of their earnings. Young Bell was so distressed she daren’t leave her home for several days for her nerves were shredded and she sighed constantly from anxiety. Eventually Bell was persuaded to return to her work at the mill and she found the courage to set foot outside but that scary apparition was always on her mind and a day or two later, one Friday morning, she could stand it no longer and crept out of the mill to return home. All the time she imagined the apparition jumping out at her and as she approached Gilcomston from John Street her fear was such that she collapsed in a faint in the street. People dashed to her aid and carried the child home where she suffered several seizures.

By the Monday Bell’s extreme distress passed on to her sister who had no sooner finished her supper and gone to bed than she jumped back out of it complaining to their mother,

“Na, mither, I’m as ill as Bell.”

Neither child was capable of standing upright for their legs were weak with fright. Their teeth chattered and when they attempted to drink out of their wooden cogs they bit at them, gripping the rims with their teeth. They talked of the ghostly figure at the brewery and admitted to having seen it several times over the past two or three years but had never been unduly frightened by it for it appeared with a snowy white cap on its head, unlike that unlucky day they saw it, headless. The monster, they said, was known to sometime stand and sometimes sit down, next to the black drinking fountain on the brae.

The phenomenon was the talk of the town. Other people admitted to having seen the ghostly man such as a fellow called MacKenzie and the girls’ aunt. People grew fearful, suspicious of passing down Jack’s Brae by dark. Local doctors put their heads together to explain the appearance but were left mystified.

A week or two later one Tuesday in early December two men were ascending Jack’s Brae. It was between ten and eleven o’clock at night and the two were deep in conversation. Just as they approached the brewery their discussion became so animated they stood still to clear the air when mid-sentence one of them happened to glance to the side and to his astonishment he saw a shape, perhaps a man, slowly emerge from the ground and uncoil upwards. The man, if that is what it was, was dressed all in white but for a broad black stripe up each of his legs. On his head was a white nightcap.

The two friends were momentarily stupefied and stared at the apparition. The apparition stared back at them. Then the ghost took a few steps to the north. One of the companions croaked, “The Ghost!” His friend cried, “We’ll chairge him! We’ll chairge him!” On hearing that the ghost took off at full speed. It ran helter-skelter with the pair of intrepid ghost hunters at his heels.

Along the burn, the lead-side, they ran and into Short Loanings. The phantom turned right. The pair turned right. At the brae head they turned into Back Loanings and down to Skene Square. On and on they sprinted, the ghost never daring to falter and his pursuers gaining on him all the time – along Caroline Place and up into Berryden. The ghost turned back then scaled the high stone dyke into the Barkmill wood where he was swallowed up amidst the trees. The exhausted friends pulled up. They had chased the nimble spectre for about two miles and one had even got a hand onto the ghostly shoulder but couldn’t keep a grip of it.

And that is a true story of the headless ghost of Aberdeen. Some people said the mystery of the spectre had been solved – that the mischievous spirit was someone in high spirits who set out to terrify folk out of their wits because of his cantrips and was not a late-deceased owner of Gilcomston brewery come back to check on how it was getting on.

The Moore girls admission of having seen a ghostly figure for at least two years including on early mornings meant it was not likely it was an impish youth intent on scaring honest folk but that, too, was explained when it was told that during cold weather the outside iron waterpipes attached to the brewery were wrapped with straw ropes which when frosted could appear to be a tall unearthly goblin wearing a snowy white cap.  

If you ever have cause to find yourself on Jack’s Brae on a cold and dark winter night, or even very early in the morning, don’t stop. Walk on, as fast as you can because you just never know.