Archive for ‘Aberdeen’

February 13, 2020

When Buckhaven was nearly the Torremolinos of Escocia: herein lies a fishy tail

Buckhaven

Scotland’s European credentials are well established but it may surprise you to know that Buckhaven in Fife just missed out on being the Torremolinos of, well, Spain when Philip II of Spain took a liking to the place and a boat-load of Spaniards were so fixated gazing at this little Fife gem their ship ran aground. Might have been part of the plan for they don’t appear to have left but struck up relationships with the Fifers who were soon speaking with Spanish accents and conversing in Spanish, shouldn’t it have been the other way round? So taken were Buckhaveners and Spaniards they kept marrying each other, tell me any old fishing community which didn’t, and evolved their own distinctive dialect.

And it wasn’t only Buckhaven that Phillip II was interested in. To be fair he was mainly interested in extending his empire – but he recognised quality when he saw it. On the west coast, Ailsa Craig, (now famous for its granite curling stones) whose natives paid their land rents with solan geese, seabird feathers and rabbit skins and caught an awful lot of cod was where Philip thought he would begin his annexation of the British Isles by having a castle built. Why start with Ailsa Craig. Well, why not?

Spanish wrecks littered the seas and beaches of Scotland. Their love of the place was second only to the Dutch’s. Their links with northeastern Scotland are long. Aberdeen’s sold salt herring and cod to the continent as far back as the 12th century and of such importance was this trade the Dutch word for salt cod is Labberdaan, its old spelling was haberdien – a corruption of Aberdeen.

White fish and pink. For hundreds of years salmon, fished out of Aberdeen’s two rivers, the Dee and Don, was exported, at first to the Continent and then around the whole world, in mind-blowing quantities.

In 1705, two years before the union, the Scottish parliament copied the Dutch example and remitted duties on everything herring-related, and other fish taxes. Fortunes were accumulated. Amsterdam is said to have been founded on the bones of Scottish herring (the stone for its Stadthouse was quarried and shipped out from the Firth of Forth but that is another story.)

With the waters around Orkney and Shetland teeming with fish they attracted the attention of European fishing boats. Don’t say I’m not contemporary. In 1633 1500 herring busses (vessels) protected by 20 armed ships and a further 400 dogger-boats went about in convoy as they fished. They were looking for cod, not difficult then, and caught them by rod and line. Sounds a slow business but tens of thousands were employed fishing. So thick on the water were these fishing vessels in what came to be known as the North Sea an area off England was named Dogger Bank.

Dutch dogger vessel

It’s as if fishing wars have always been with us. Post-union government bounties were offered to encourage more vessels take to sea to catch ever more fish, such was their value to the economy. The trouble was, and oh, how redolent this is of today, preferential treatment was provided to the biggest vessels over small fishing boats. After union with England, Scotland fishing trade declined, partly through the application of a salt tax (fish goes off quickly so must be cured for export and salt was one means of curing it.) Regulations surrounding the tax were complex and cumbersome. Salt was also difficult to acquire without having red tape attached. The setup was so confusing and risky potential fishers were put off from signing contracts.

When in 1720 an attempt was made to resurrect Scotland’s languishing fishing trade cash was paid to 2,000 of what were described as Scotland’s principal people. They failed but pocketed the cash. Similar failures followed, under royal patronage. Each one cost money. Each failed. Commissioners appointed to oversee every new scheme were richly rewarded. Always the same people. For them failure meant hardship for someone else, not them. They pocketed the cash. A lot of it.

Scotland’s water were then as now sources of incredible wealth, not always well-handled in the best interests of the people of Scotland. Bressay Sound at Shetland had one of the finest harbours in the British Isles in 1800. The fishing grounds here were almost monopolised by the Dutch; like those folk down the east coast many Shetlanders could communicate in Dutch. English vessels, too, headed north to fish for herring, ling, tusk, sea otters and seals. Sponges were sought and ambergris – a secretion of the bile duct in sperm whales that is disgorged into the sea and once used as for medicines, although Charles II loved to eat this stinking waste product. Whalers passed through this busy area on their way to and from Greenland and the Davis’ Straits from Dundee, Aberdeen, Arbroath and Peterhead.

Herds of grampuses (dolphins), sea otters, whales, fish of every description from round to flat were fished off Orkney including coalfish. Coalfish was a mainstay food for many of Scotland’s poorest folk. In Orkney the youngest fish were sillocks, year-olds were cooths and, I think, mature ones, Sethes. Orcadians preferred these wee fish to herring. They also harvested lots of sponges, corals, corallines, large oysters, mussels, cockles etc. and all kinds of unusual things washed ashore from the Atlantic including Molucca or Orkney beans. How they used these mimosa scandens seeds I don’t know – they might have roasted and eaten them or made them into drinks, used them as soaps or threw them at each other. Beyond exotic seeds many varieties of fish were landed. And the odd man. At least once a fin-man or Laplander turned up in his skin canoe.

Orkney beans

Situated between Orkney and Shetland is Fair Isle. Writing about 1800 one commentator described islanders living ‘almost in a state of nature’, whatever that means. His point was that crews on those fishing vessels from Holland and England fishing in the seas around the island raided not only their waters but stole everything they could lift from the island, leaving the people with next to nothing.

In addition to sea fishing carried out on an industrial scale, local communities fished in bays off their villages, in rivers and lochs. At the Solway Firth four distinct methods of catching fish were employed.

  1. Leister – a 4-pronged fork, its prongs turned slightly to one side, and attached to a long shaft of about 20 -24 feet was run along the sand on its edge or thrown at fish. Some expert fishers could spear fish from galloping horses, at great distances. This method was, apparently, very successful.
  2.  Haaving or hauling where the fisher stood in the current trapping fish with a small hand net.
  3.  Pock or small nets were fixed to stakes in rivers to catch fish swimming downstream.
  4.  Boat nets were used to catch salmon.

Fish provided food, oil for lamps and goods to barter for other items. Because fish was readily available it was an important source of income all around Scotland’s coasts. In the Black Isle or Ardmeanach to give it its old name, Rosemarkie’s salmon fishers preserved their catches in ice stored in an ice house near the shore , a deep, dark, dank echoing play place for local children that is now locked up, probably wisely. Avoch was a thriving fishing port taking large quantities of herring until recent times. Cromarty was another Black Isle fishing village, and Munlochy on the Moray Firth also had an excellent fishing station.

West Kilbride was known for its cod and white fisheries. Loch Leven for perch, pike, char, eels and especially its trout. Hebridean waters were rich sources of fish. Lewis took vast quantities of white fish, herring, trout and salmon as well as shellfish. Creeks around the rocky island of Muck provided shelter for fishing boats landing ling and cod. There, oil was extracted from cearban or sunfish – basking sharks. This oil was once popular as medicine and sold to Glasgow merchants. Seals were killed for their oil, too.

In addition to fish fish, shellfish were gathered from pools, off rocks, trapped in the water. It is patently obvious mussels were gathered at Musselburgh and there and Fisherrow were associated with good quality shellfish. Not only there, of course. Dornoch, Cramond and Inchmickery Island had their own enormous oyster beds, until overfishing of them put an end to that. Burntisland oysters were renowned, as were/are those from Loch Fyne. Loch Fyne also operated hundreds of herring boats. The harbour at Inverary at the head of Loch Fyne was called Slochk Ichopper, the gullet where vessels bought or bartered fish. Bartering herring for French wine took place at an area given the name, Frenchman’s point.

Men fished on boats but women and children were involved in all other aspects of the trade; preparing lines and nets, baiting lines, cleaning and processing fish and selling it. Local trading was hard graft for the wicker creels women carried on their backs were heavy before being loaded with wet fish and fishwives would walk long distances to make sales. As a point of interest, we often hear about fishwives but women hawkers sold all kinds produce in towns and country – kailwives sold vegetables and saltwives sold salt, for example.

The diversity of Scotland’s fishing trade began to dwindle when it stopped being a collective activity and became increasingly concentrated into fewer hands, of major businessmen. In addition, back in 1800 some small communities struggled to keep boats at sea and in rivers because their villages were targeted by the British Navy, eager to take away their fit and healthy young men who were able seamen. As with the army when men were needed all eyes turned northwards to Scotland. London could never get enough of Scots men, not only fit and strong but obedient. This was especially true during times of war – which was most of the time. Johnshaven, south of Aberdeen, lost many of its men to press-gangs.

Back in the day fishing was a community enterprise not confined to the handful of billionaire interests that we have now in the white fish industry but, as we’ve seen by the 18th century, public money found its way into the pockets of the rich through subsidies and enticements. During Scotland’s independent centuries fishing as a trade flourished, it was an important source of revenue for the nation, despite the attentions of Spaniards, Dutch and, yes, English seamen. Post-union whaling was for a fairly brief period enabled by virtue of larger vessels capable of sailing to inhospitable places such as Greenland and the Davis’ Straits. Risks were great, though not for the moneyed men behind voyages to harpoon the whale who waited in the warm comforts of their homes for the expected huge profits to further inflate their fortunes. And there was part of that that went straight into Westminster’s coffers; Scotland’s first oil bonanza went the same way as its second. It is hard for us to appreciate the degree of wealth generated from whaling, white fish and salmon. Good riddance to whaling and as for fishing, Scotland’s waters are no longer stuffed with fish as they once were; greed and overfishing have diminished stocks in our seas, rivers and lochs – denial, greed and short-termism has afflicted the trade of fishing for a very long time.

December 31, 2019

Soup, Bread & A Cup of Coffee – Foodbanks 19thC style

Guest blog from Textor

Lena’s recent fun and games with Tory recipes is a timely reminder that class society in subtle and at times not so subtle ways betrays prejudice, arrogance and condescension. But even Poor-house Perkins and Half-pay pudding would have been treats for some when commerce and industry were beginning to put their stamp on not only the face of the city but the throats and bellies of Aberdeen’s 19th century’s poorest.

The Bible tells us The poor you will always have with you and for Aberdonians of the 1840s it must have seemed that yet again the Holy Book was spot on. Charitable giving might be a Christian duty but the Good Book seems to imply poverty could be mitigated but not abolished.

Aberdeen’s former soup kitchen

Aberdeen of the 1840s was a city of growing splendour. It boasted of its Union Street which struck westward from the heart of the old city. It proudly displayed the fruit of its burgeoning stone industry: sparkling granite buildings dotted the landscape. Town houses, commercial buildings, churches and civic grandeur all seemed to say no matter how far the city was from the capitals of Edinburgh and London, no matter how “remote” in so-called North Britain Aberdeen was a place of wealth and good taste.

Paradoxically this revolution in the built landscape was founded not on the thrusting factory system which is usually associated with early industrialisation but on a stone-working industry of hand-craft skills with steam power augmenting only a few deeply laborious processes (polishing and sawing in particular). It was the merest hint of a factory system but nonetheless value producing and profitable. If a visitor wanted to see the fruit of Aberdeen’s factory system it was not to be found in the marvels of Alexander Macdonald’s granite yard on Constitution Street but in the large buildings in the Green, at Broadford and by the River Don at Woodside. There you would find textile mills.

Hadden’s textile mill at the Green
Grandholm works

Where granite yards and quarries might have multiples of dozens employed (all men and boys) textile mills gave work to women, children and men by the thousands with much of their labour dictated by the turns of water wheels and the drive of steam. But as fundamental as these were in determining the rhythms of daily work and the sheer exhaustion of what could be a fourteen-hour day in hot, noisy and dusty workshops “hands” also faced the uncertainties of business cycles. A worker at any of the mills might end a day’s labour overcome by fatigue knowing that the following day meant more of the same but had the “satisfaction” of drawing a day’s wage; just about enough to keep absolute destitution at bay. In the hardest of times even a day’s wage was not be enough to keep hunger from the door – as state of affairs replicated in the 21st century with its so-called gig economy. Back in the 19th century years of poor harvests and the seasonal impact of winter deepened poverty by pushing up the price of meal beyond the pockets of labourers.

Food Banks are the current charitable response to poverty; the 19th century equivalent was the soup kitchen. Established half a century earlier soup kitchens came into their own in 1847-48 when thousands in Aberdeen suffered absolute destitution. First opened in 1799-1800 in St Mary’s Chapel, part of St Nicholas Kirk, for some six months a soup kitchen provided something like 51,000 portions of beef broth and bread. The following year demand was even greater. Admittance was by ticket and those poor lucky enough to get a ticket were charged one penny per serving. As many as 600 per day sat down for what would have been their only meal of the day.

For some thirty years the seasonal kitchen regularly opened at the Chapel, eventually moving to the area of the Vennel, and on to Loch Street where many of Aberdeen’s poorest lived. Having raised enough money in 1894 for a brand-new building the Kitchen remained at the Loch street site for about one hundred years.

But back to the plight of thousands in 1847, a time when the menace of Chartism and radicalism appeared to threaten the very existence of Victoria’s Britain. This was a time authorities feared the strength of discontent would be harnessed by and coalesce under the banner of working class democracy. When the projected Aberdeen railway ran out of cash labourers working on it were thrown out of work and they and supporters, about 200 people, gathered on the south side of the Dee then marched on the Town House where they commenced yelling and causing considerable disturbance. Magistrates hurried to reassure them that they had spoken to grain merchants and were assured that they would not seek to profit from high prices by exporting grain from the city except where they were by law bound to fulfil.

Grain supplied basic and essential food for the poor in the form of bread but grain merchants had no interest in human need only human greed and sold their grain to the highest bidder and stored it until shortages raised its price. If grain could command higher prices outside the city then they would export it.

Of course the railway’s Irish and Highland navvies well knew the practices of grain merchants and refused to be placated. As the Aberdeen Journal reported In the course of the afternoon the crowd attacked some carts on their way to the Quay, and one of the principal ringleaders, while in the act of cutting one of the sacks and rolling it from the cart, was taken prisoner by Mr Barclay, of the police, and lodged in prison. Railway navvies were not alone in suffering the pangs of hunger. Across Aberdeen thousands in and out of work were forced to resort to public charity. Two kitchens were opened; the main one in Loch Street and another in the east end where soup, bread and coffee were sold. In one six-day week in February 1847 over 6,500 meals were served. Local textile magnet Gavin Hadden feeling something like sympathy for his workers proposed a third kitchen be opened near the city centre as it was problematic for his workers to find time in the “dinner hour” to travel far afield for sustenance. His charity did not extend to paying enough to keep them from the Soup Kitchen.

Further afield, and more charitably, Milne, Cruden & Co of Gordon Mills, outside the city boundary at Woodside, decided to open their own soup kitchen. As a voice of the city’s elite the editor of the Journal hoped that the kindness and attention of the employer have produced increased gratitude and fidelity on the part of the employed.

But things got harder for operatives as financial crisis hit. Women,children and men were put on short hours. Wages collapsed and yet more soup kitchens were opened. By April even with the worst of the winter passed Bannermill works in Aberdeen opened its own canteen and once again the local newspaper editor extolled the charitable virtues of the employer:  when the factory bell rings, 600 to 700 of the servants . . . find a warm and comfortable breakfast or dinner ready for them . . . a kindness, on the part of the employer, which we trust they duly appreciate. What would the workers have done without this kindness?

One Factory Inspector was much taken by the utility and efficiency of the canteen, reported that normally workers struggled to make ends meet:  provisions . . . consisting very often of nothing else than a piece of dry oat cake.    Having no house to go to, and no means of getting a more nourishing diet, the poor people subjected to this state of matters suffered much in bodily health and strength, being often quite exhausted before the labours of the day were over.   These consequences, so injurious to the employers and employed, have to a great extent been obviated by the plan which has been happily fallen upon in these northern factories. With pressure of time within the factory and the need to keep production flowing the kitchen could serve, Inspector Walker said, 400 meals in twenty minutes. And then it was back to the grind.

No matter how fast meals were served the kindness so-called was brought to a halt as the crisis in the textile industry deepened. Factory canteens were a viable response – viable in employers’ terms – only so long as some kind of profit could be ground from the workforce and available markets. But when mills closed, canteens closed. Unemployment burgeoned. Two new charities were established: Aberdeen Operatives and Labourer’s Fund and Woodside and Neighbourhood Fund.

1848 dawned for thousands with no prospect of things improving. Across Europe revolution threatened. On the 10 March hundreds suffering, it was said, starvation gathered at the Castlegate. Knowing of recent major disturbances in Glasgow Aberdeen’s magistrates decided to take no chances. Property needed protecting. Eight hundred special constables were enrolled. In the event “order reigned in Aberdeen”. Some charitable help was doled out but it still left the problem of how to keep the peace with so many thousands suffering. How to keep the loyalty of the poor, employed and unemployed.

Woodside ministers of the Established and Free Churches came forward and asked that the canteen at Grandholm mills, shut when work ceased, be made available. These kirk men offered a stark view of Woodside’s communities: upwards of two thousand persons have been deprived of all means of subsistence and this being disastrous more especially to the numerous helpless females at Grandholm, there is no other prospect, but the extremity of destitution . . . famine and its concomitants, disease and death, must stalk through our streets. The starving of Woodside were hit, it was claimed, harder than those of the city to the extent that there was only a small wealthy middle class locally. Most shopkeepers and merchants of the area relied upon the earnings of the textile workers so when they were thrown out of work everyone suffered.

In Aberdeen itself suffering continued. A meeting of close to 1,000 unemployed women and men complained of the soup kitchens failing to meet their needs. Kitchens ran out of soup, tickets which were necessary to gain admittance were, they said, being given to undeserving cases who were themselves drawing on the meagre dole of the Poor Law. Those administering the charities no doubt all with full-bellies decided that the bona-fides of applicants would no longer need the signature of a past employer but all – all! that was needed was  the signatures of two respectable householders. One Council member spoke of  fearful destitution and misery in the city and gave voice to concern of the threat of revolution. Westminster he said needed to act more especially at a time when there is great political excitement abroad, and when the distress in which they are plunged may make them susceptible of impressions, not calculated by any means to advance the peace of society.

The coming of summer saw no improvement. At Woodside “deserving” cases were being given a daily pound of meal but only after strict enquiry into the circumstances of the applicants. Meanwhile in Aberdeen the kitchens were doling out over 1,000 portions per day.  This continued into autumn by which time it was costing as much as £100 per week to finance the Aberdeen fund, with a running total bill of £1540 in mid-October against receipts of £1,380. Managers of the fund were at a loss, the more they collected the more was required and they conceded that not only was debt increasing, but there was upwards of a thousand persons unprovided for on the roll; deserving men and women and children who could not be fed.

Winter meant the probability of hard weather, the ending of any casual agricultural work, restricted supplies of fresh vegetables, local fishing became uncertain – dire prospects which faced thousands of the local population already suffering from weakened physical condition. Such was the state of male labourers at the time, that is men who were fortunate enough to be given permission to draw on the kitchens, that the managers of the unemployed fund recognised weakness and debility now stalked the workforce, meaning potential labourers were incapable of any strenuous work, that even if the languishing Aberdeen Railway was restarted there were not half a dozen of these poor people fit for labour.

Victoria and Albert arrive in poverty-stricken Aberdeen in 1848

Seeing no end to the call for charity fund managers proposed, and it does sound so contemporary, that any males so benefiting should be expected to give something in return –  this, said Ballie Nicol, had the double advantage of getting work out of the destitute and at the same time deterring “lazy” poor from trying to get something for nothing. And yet another of our contemporary tropes is found among 19th century free-market liberals when it was proposed that the local state might become a major employer. Provost Thompson said that the principle of any community or government providing employment for the people is a bad one, and that we must revert to the principle of using our funds merely for the purpose of preventing starvation, and giving the smallest amount of assistance compatible with bodily support, and by giving it purely as charity. In the midst of such a bleak economy Provost Thompson was, dear reader, able to greet Queen Victoria’s and Albert’s arrival in the Aberdeen in September when he presented her with silver keys to the city. A right Royal Circus at one side of town and bread at the soup kitchen if they were ‘lucky’ for unemployed starving women, men and children at the other.

Victoria visits a poor woman in her rain-leaking cottage at Braemar

There was no revolution. Unemployment and poverty remained hallmarks of the system. Crises pass albeit at the expense of life and hopes of individuals, families and whole communities. By 1849 British capital was entering a period of growth and greater stability as institutions evolved to cope with the forces of the free market.

Loch Street Soup Kitchen? The building still stands; a reminder to present-day food banks that what was, is.

December 16, 2019

Abigail’s Party: Food Politics 1930s and 1970s Tory Favourites

Clearing out my large collection of old cookery books I came two curiosities –Tory Treats, Banffshire Conservative and Unionist Association recipes and The Cook o’ the North. Let’s explore some of the delicacies offered up in the first of these and what, if anything, they reveal about the Tory within.

Tory Treats is contemporaneous with Mike Leigh’s 1970s play Abigail’s Party, a satire on the aspirational middle classes with undercurrents of prejudice, pretentiousness, ignorance, and mediocrity. The question is does a cookery book reflect anything of those times in all their gory glory? I’ll rummage through the pages for you but you can make up your own minds.

You’re probably condemning me for affecting a snooty attitude to what is only a cookery book but you’re not the one faced with what journalist Anna Raeburn might describe as ‘ghastly’ concoctions that sum up some of the frankly, well, ghastly, food dished up in the ‘70s. In some cases I’ll include the recipe. Believe me they aren’t complicated. Here’s a flavour so grab a sick bucket. We start with my favourite for quickness and it is so Abigail.

Rich Tomato Soup: – open a can of tomato soup, heat. Add a glass of sherry.

Told you it wasn’t a chore. Cheers m’dears.

Salmon Surprise: – The surprise for me was that the salmon comes from a tin. Open the said tin, remove any calcium in the form of bones, and mix the salmon with heated bread and milk. The salmon goes into an oven dish with sliced egg and, surprise! – a layer of cornflakes and grated cheese. Add white sauce and more cornflakes and cheese and bake. Think we’ll call that brunch.

I imagine the French Onion Soup, Belgian Loaf and Pork Roman would be hard to swallow nowadays given the current xenophobic state of the party, specially in millionaire fishing circles in Banff and Buchan but they might just go for an exotic little number such as Herrings in Orange Juice? Mind you the orange juice might prove a problem. On reflection I’d shelve it. Herrings in Orange Juice sounds – what’s the word? Ghastly. Suspect it won’t compete in popularity with the local delicacy of an Inverurie Speshul. Basically find any meat and bung it all in together – recommended is steak, liver, beef sausages. A scurvy speshul.

So Abigail is the Brazilian Peach: – open a tin of peaches. Place in a dish. Drop in almond essence and cherries and spoon on beaten egg white then grill. That’ll be warmed up tinned peaches. Nice. Pass the Blue Nun.

Being from Banff and Buchan there’s an oddly odd religious element to their grub. How about this one called For a Sudden Visitation. I think the idea is if God calls in unexpectedly you have to grab another tin of peaches (hope the Coopy hasn’t run out) sprinkle on some sugar and cinnamon then – hope you’re still with me – what d’you think? Yes! You heat them up. What is it with Banff and Buchan Tories and hot peaches? Beginning to think hot peaches is code for something else.

Any cornflakes left over from your Salmon Surprise can be used in making Caramel Cornflake Crunch. Take a ¼ lb caramels out of the bag and melt them. At this point you might want to add a few chopped nuts before mixing in those oh-so-handy cornflakes. Spread out and leave to set.

I’m fairly certain this is the sort of cooking once taught in our schools – processed foods, sugar, more sugar, fat and more sugar, and fat. Chocolate Pops have an unfortunate association for me since I first read them as Chocolate Plops. Anyhow, here goes. Melt a bar of chocolate – easy, huh? Add rice crispies or you could add cornflakes but I’m fairly sure the Coopy is now oot o’ cornflakes or as they say roon here, conflakes.

If you are now regretting having embarked on a dander down Conservative cookery retro road with the Hyena can I offer you a slug or five of Tory Potato Wine. It’s made from some old tatties and there are plenty of them available in the Tory Party.

Overdone the Potato Wine? You might reach for a restorative Advocaat. Mmm, this tasty brandy and egg drink was popular in Scotland for just such emergencies but making it with a tin of Carnation milk? Seriously. Seriously just wrang.

You’d have to be blootered to dish up Tripe Scampi. First catch yer tripe (kidding – tripe is in rich supply among Banffshire Tories), chop it up with flour and milk and fry. Yu……………..k.

Clean your palette with a couple of Cheese Meringues or a forkful of Frosted Meat Loaf served with mayonnaise made from condensed milk and mustard.

My other Tory cook book was published in 1936 when people really did cook, if the Tories left them with any money to afford food that is. Which wasn’t often. But Tories will be Tories so let’s dip into their own lifestyle.

The Cook o’ the North is a play on the Cock o’ the North which is – if you don’t know already check out my other blogs. This cookery book contains recipes from Kincardine and West Aberdeenshire Unionist Association which inexplicably has changed its name to West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Totheids or similar.

Mrs Spence’s Frigidity isn’t what it appears but mince. Liver Pie won’t be to everyone’s taste nor will Stewed Tripe which was as prolific among 1930s Tories as it is among today’s. And something else time and Tories hasn’t changed is their appetite for Stuffed skirt. Or does Stewed Capercailzie take the bird? First hunt down the rare bird then kill it and compliment yourself on being an animal lover, on your plate at least. Killed out all the Capercailzies? Worry not here comes a wee Grey Squirrel for the casserole pot. The recipe is from one of those protectors of the countryside, Major Hugh Pollard and The Sportsman’s Cookery Book. Sports it seems is a moveable feast. Well, not so very moveable once they’re shot.

Every kind of animal found its way into Tory bellies. Even Cats Tongues. Fit! Calm down, they were a kind of biscuit. I think, but you can’t be sure with Tories.

Half-pay Pudding wasn’t something that was needed by many Unionists, I’m sure. In the 1930s there were many folk on half or no pay. So what was it? Flour, grated bread, suet, raisins, powdered ginger, syrup and sugar – essentially a sponge pudding. Raspberry Pudding is probably more to the liking of old flush face himself, Jackson Carlaw. Made from raspberry jelly it surely doesn’t turn out as ruby as beamer Carlaw. But maybe Strawberry Fool better represents him. Take one bumbling fool, embarrass him – joking!  Before I leave the subject of poverty included in the book is a recipe for Poor-House Perkins which is pretty damn offensive. The biscuits sound tasty – oatmeal, flour, treacle and sugar but it’s the 1930s equivalent of Tories grinning at cameras and explaining how proud they are to be opening another foodbank.

There are some fine sounding recipes in both volumes; Black Piece being one of them. This recipe is at least 200 years old and is a ginger cake made with treacle. Gingerbreads have always been very popular in Scotland and often sold in markets. Descriptions vary but if you were middle class or a toff you’d talk about a moist gingerbread while common-as-muck folk described one that wasn’t dry as damp. At least we got through this section without straying into offensive racist language for describing certain confections, unlike a certain Tory cookery book.

The British Empire has a lot to answer for not least when it comes to Iced Vegetable Curry and continuing the international culinary trail Dresden Patties were a favourite in these parts: chop flesh up into tiny pieces, cook in a hot sauce and fry which was pretty much the fate of women and children in Dresden when Britain and the US bombed it and created a firestorm in 1945.  

Towards the end of the book there’s a list of Five Auld-Farrant Cures From Grannie Mutch of the Scottish Children’s Hour. Grannie provides such sterling advice: make cough mixture with vinegar, sugar candy, eggs (shells included) mixed with 4d of paregoric and shake. ‘The bairns like it fine’ probably because of the paregoric – camphorated tincture of opium. Cheers m’dears.

Finally back to Abigail’s Party and a suggested lunch menu – not a dinner party but hey ho. Mandarin & grapefruit cocktail; salmon scallops; creamed potatoes; garden peas; strawberry whip.

It’s not so complicated. For the cocktail, open a tin of mandarins and a tin of grapefruit segments and mix. For the salmon, open a tin of salmon and mix with cheese, white sauce and grill. And the scallops? Another salmon surprise. There are no scallops. You serve the salmon in scallop shells. Typical Tory promise – ends in let down. To accompany this disappointment open a tin of peas. At least there’s proper mash to go with it. Eh, not quite. This is the 1970s so it’s a case of open a packet of dried potato – instant potato. My farmer uncle told me he was approached by a guy representing a dried tattie company who pointed to a pile of discarded rotting tatties and asked to buy them. Perplexed my uncle told him they were discards not for eating. “Oh,” replied the tattie agent, “we’ll process and bleach them. No-one will ever know they’re eating crap” or words to that effect.

And if dishing up this instant garbage was too much an ordeal for the average Tory then the Links Hotel in Banff was ready to step up –

If your own efforts (sic) are none too successful, book in at The Links for a True Blue Meal!

Nah, you’re alright.

Who’ll join me in a nutritional glass of sherry? Open a bottle and pour into a tumbler. Add a can of tomato soup. Cheers!

December 1, 2019

Iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures – John Steill and William Wallace.

William Wallace at Aberdeen sculpted by William Grant Stevenson in 1888. Paid by John Steill of 38 Grange Road, Edinburgh.

‘Never was the destruction of an ancient state more complete and humiliating than that of Scotland; – never did a people consent so tamely to surrender their liberties, and submit themselves to the overbearing dictation of another kingdom, as the Scotch have done.’

These are the words of John Steill of Edinburgh. I knew that Steill left money to pay for the colossal statue of William Wallace which dominates Schoolhill in Aberdeen but nothing else. Steill would have loved Twitter, with a handle such as @Patriot for he was like the best of us, opinionated. But Twitter did not exist in Steill’s time and he had to make do broadcasting his views through letters to the press and published as pamphlets. His main interests were the union with England and Clearances in the Highlands and Ireland, all of which he vehemently disapproved. The press, mainly staunchly conservative and reactionary, vilified him describing his words as dangerous.

It was in 1844 Steill wrote his most famous letter, later pamphlet, attacking the union and to place it in some kind of perspective I clicked onto Wikipedia to see what else was happening in the UK in 1844. What I found was that nothing at all happened in Scotland that year. Any events worthy of note took place exclusively in England. I expect John Steill could have told me that.  Towards the foot of the Wiki page was a link to Scotland in 1844 which is odd since last time I looked Scotland was part of the UK – apparently an unworthy part but part all the same whose events were just not important enough to get a mention on the UK page.

The following year Steill took out his pamphlet

On the Necessity of Dissolving the Union between England and Scotland, and on Restoring Scotland to Her Ancient Supremacy As an Entire and Distinct Nation

For Steill signing the union between Scotland and England was

 ‘one of the blackest transactions in history’ which reduced Scotland to becoming a vassal nation and he questioned why any Scot would think it right that a once sovereign state could demean itself to become dependent on another –

not least as betrayal of all those Scots who fought and died for their nation – Scotland’s real heroes who

‘would utterly disown and despise us.’

Then as now apologists for the union insist it was good for the Scottish economy  – an argument that failed to dent Steill’s certainty that any margin of economic benefit was a very bad trade-off for the

‘the annihilation of our independence and very name as a nation.’

The economic advantage argument he states could be just as easily applied to justify slavery as slave owners insisted their people were well cared and even prospered under it.

Any prosperity created by Scots, Steill insists, comes not from being in union with England but through Scots using their intelligence and application to prosper.

Wreath on statue of William Wallace
Guardian of Scotland

Scotland has been the butt of an unremitting propaganda assault since before union where she is painted as uncivilised compared with England. The truth is Scotland far from being nation of savages, feckless and barbaric was one of the world’s best educated of nations with a long and significant literary tradition, its people clever, enterprising and outward-looking Europeans, more open to democratic principles than their English counterparts.

That this modern European state could find itself shackled to an insular and war-like country like England incensed Steill. England in union dominated and overwhelmed Scotland, insisted Scots travel to London to represent their Scottish constituents, no easy matter in the 18th century (even before the travails of Scotrail.) Having tackled the hundreds of miles to London over several days through difficult and uncomfortable conditions (still prior to Scotrail) Scottish MPs found their opinions drowned out by

‘iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures…’

The equivalent of the little woman who could do nothing without the permission of her husband Scots were forced to seek approval for each and every policy to be introduced into Scotland from English MPs. That any Scot should regard this humiliation appropriate for a nation that was once successfully independent struck Steill as reprehensible. In short Scotland, abundantly equipped to being a normal self-governing nation was constrained by England in a way that was degrading and oppressive.

Steill writes that his country is the victim of tyrants – ‘selfish aristocrats’ who contribute nothing but are idle, spend their time hunting on horseback and living in luxury but who have power to ‘beggar, starve, and banish’ Scots men and women who do work and contribute to the wealth of the country.

Steill points to parts of Scotland devastated as a direct result of the actions of tyrant landowners and distant Westminster and advocates nationalising their estates – distributing the land between the people who live there and depend on it. Condemning landowners who sell their land as if it ever belonged to them Steill insists, correctly, they were just lineal descendants of elected chiefs with no special right of property in the soil of Scotland. The land these Highland lairds sold or cleared, he writes, was never theirs – it belonged to the people of to the clan or sept collectively.

Not impervious to the hardships of English people, either, Steill blames their situation on ‘an imperious obligarchy’ stretching back to William the Bastard and his ilk who claimed entitlement to pillage and destroy right across the British empire for their own enrichment.

As though he had Gordon Brown breathing down his neck Steill tackles federal parliaments being proposed to quell Scottish discontent over the dominance of England in union. Steill is not in favour of federalism which he argues still chains Scotland to England with all that such an unequal partnership brings – its only benefit is not having to send MPs to London to look after Scottish interests. Federalism is a ploy to keep Scotland as an appendage of England with Westminster regarded as the chief government where real power resides with minor parliaments dispersed around the UK as England sees fit. The English parliament at Westminster still gets to dictate how every part of the union will be taxed based on England’s needs not theirs and these subordinate parts of the UK would still be obliged to participate in England’s wars.

Steill had no time for ‘crazed “gown-men” and ‘treacherous nobles and gentry’ who sell Scotland short. These scoundrels ‘sold off their native land to her enemies’ – against the wishes of the greater population of Scotland who deplore Scotland’s fate of becoming a vassal state of England’s instead of ranking equally among the ‘States of Europe’ that was once her position.

He pleads for Scotland to become ‘free and unfettered … independent and absolute, not a controllable and subordinate’ region of the UK. Scotland, he insists, should levy her own taxes, enter her own treaties with foreign powers, have control over her defence and not be a state that interferes with other kingdoms – as England does.

Steill’s Scotland once she recovers her independence should apply universal suffrage for her people and get rid of ‘monarchy and hereditary feudal aristocracy, both these useless, tyrannical, and all-devouring institutions…’ in other words become a democratic republic free to run her own affairs.

Sculptor and his masterpiece

He concludes with a plea for Scots to demonstrate some of that spirit of the past that resisted when Scottish ‘rights were trampled on, and their national honour invaded.’ Those strengths are even more needed now, he argues, that Scotland has become a ‘contemptible province, stripped of her very name (is referred to as North Britain) , deprived of the power to remove those crying evils which afflict her, both socially and politically, and when she is left with no other memorials of her former dignity and independence but the moss-covered ruins of her palaces and citadels, whose gigantic fragments but too emphatically tell what Scotland once was, and what she now is.’

John Steill certainly had strong views but then so did those who defended the union. He was said to have been a pleasant man, intelligent and a great reader who kept a fine collection of books on Scottish history. When he died he left his money to his housekeeper, Margaret Strachan, with the proviso that what remained after her death went to erecting a sculpture of his hero, William Wallace. Money was also provided by him for repairs and upkeep of the monument, left in the hands of Aberdeen’s magistrates.

The monument he declared was to be a colossal bronze raised up on a large pediment. There would be nothing fancy or fussy about it but bold to properly represent the statesman and warrior. Aberdeen’s granite roughly hewed and imposing would be ideal for its ability to support the hero Guardian of Scotland.  

Around the base would be engraved words spoken by Wallace such as his interview with the English Ambassadors prior to the Battle of Stirling Bridge when the English envoy requested the Scots lay down their weapons and submit to the English king at which point Wallace would be pardoned of ‘all his treasons’ – i.e. where treason was defined as daring to protect his country from foreign aggression.  

Wallace, the leader who in England was called the ‘Master of thieves’ told England’s ambassadors ‘to go back to your masters and tell them that we came not here to treat, but to fight and set Scotland free’  and so these words are cut into the plinth.

It should be said this monument is magnificent and undoubtedly the most impressive Wallace statue in Scotland which means in the world. I find it impressive and I’m certain Steill would be pleased at how it turned out. However, I suspect he would have been both amazed and depressed that there are still Scots who are apologists for a union that continues to treat Scotland as a vassal state. Not an admirer of the press which he regarded as apologists and champions of the union Steill reserved much of his ire for the Scotsman with ‘its marked dislike to anything Scotch.’ He dismissed much of the press for being prejudiced against Scotland’s interests and for being “profoundly ignorant” – about Scotland – thoughts that echo through time and are just as relevant today. Yes, John Steill @Patriot would have savaged today’s toady and unprofessional press fawning over ‘iron-hearted Tories, bloated corruptionists, and hordes of other venal creatures…’

November 11, 2019

What is mine is mine and what is yours is also mine: Scotland in union

Flag of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies

How England colonised Scotland.

A report out this week is critical of Westminster’s handling of the economy and its impact on Scotland – disastrous. It argues that Scotland’s potential for wealth is – big – but the actuality in a decidedly unequal union is – dodgy.

For fifty years we have watched as £zillions of revenue from oil and gas taken out of Scottish waters flows downhill to London to reduce the size of the national debt, support tax breaks and financial incentives for oil and gas multinationals, enable eye-wateringly costly building projects and infrastructure to boost the economy of London.

Tax revenue from the UK’s offshore industries, 90% of which lie off Scotland, could have been (should have been) designated as Scottish revenue. It wasn’t. Instead Westminster dreamed up a make-believe place which they called the UK Continental Shelf. This meant Scotland could not claim oil and gas fields as hers because they were situated in Wonderland aka the UK Continental Shelf.

At one fell swoop the enormous wealth that might have made such a difference to Scotland’s scattered, much of it rural, population – to the provision of health and social care, education, transport was whipped away. Imagine if anything like the money squandered on the bottomless pit that is London’s cross-rail project or HS2 had been invested around Scotland – proper roads and choice of transport in the Highlands – all you can do is imagine for it never happened. Wealth is what goes to southeast England, from Scotland.

Just to be sure that uppity Scots would not benefit from Britain’s offshore bonanza Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, picked up an HB pencil and drew a line through Scottish waters re-allocating a chunk to England – exemplifying that age-old practice of the coloniser to annexe territory wherever and whenever because they have the powers to do so. Westminster must have been gratified at how easy it was to achieve. That sort of thing used to cause wars.

It is one thing to allow fish taken from Scottish waters to be regarded as Scottish but not highly valuable oil and gas. No ifs no buts Westminster ignored protests from Scotland because despite the union of the UK being described as a union of equals it isn’t. The UK is England’s little empire. Scotland is a mere colony; there to provide the mother country with resources not to benefit directly from them.

Scotland’s waters

Imagine the scene – an office deep inside Westminster where a bourach of suited men with dandruff on their shoulders leaning in over a large table – highly polished by a migrant worker on minimum wage – concocting the means by which they could appropriate Scotland’s cash cow like a bunch of 20th century border reivers.

Of course the colony of Scotland was thrown a crumb in the form of per capita portion of the revenues but as England’s population is ten times that of Scotland you don’t have to be a financial wizard to realise which of the equal partners of the union got the lion’s share.

The plotters in London weren’t even very good at getting the best value out of hydrocarbons. A simple comparison with Norway which virtually mirrors the UK’s oil and gas industries reveals quite astonishingly that the Norwegians generated more than double the revenue of the UK on every single barrel of oil. These civil servants and politicians managed not only to screw Scotland but screw themselves into the bargain. Only just not as much.

Back in 2014 at the time of the independence referendum Scotland was in the unusual position of being a producer of one of the world’s most lucrative products and yet the message coming out from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats was this was a bad thing for once oil was gone it was gone and then where would Scotland be? Same place England would be. And as the silent and largely forgotten partner in the precious union dependent on crumbs tossed northwards from London, that’s where. Since Scotland has a tendency to see Nordic countries as fellow-nations it is highly likely that had Scotland been in receipt of her own oil and gas revenues Scots would be cushioned from the worst times through a Norwegian type oil fund that could have eased the transfer from hydrocarbons to renewable.

There is no question that Westminster is responsible for severely damaging Scotland’s economy. If what came out of the North Sea had been plastic waste Westminster would have let it alone instructing Scotland to deal with its own problem but it wasn’t waste it was wealth. Like the EU farming funds meant for Scottish farmers Westminster grabbed oil and gas revenues for itself. That’s the thing about colonists, remember – what’s theirs is theirs and what is the colony’s is also theirs – if it is valuable.

This is simply state organised abuse. You know the scenario where an abusive husband insists his abused wife stays with him because she keeps getting beaten up – and he’ll protect her. There’s an Eric Bogle song, Glasgow Lullaby about a woman who keeps taking a beating from her drunken man and never leaves –

Oh my God, it’s a weary, weary life
Who wid be a drinkin’ man’s wife
Who wid thole a’ this trouble and this strife
Who but a silly woman

Scotland is Westminster’s abused wife. She should tell it/him where to get off then take away its/his keys to the shared house. Scotland needs to just say no to Westminster. Scotland too poor to stand on her own? It’s the oldest trick in the bullies handbook. Demoralize, demean, intimidate, undermining confidence. Lie. You’re too stupid. Too weak. We’ll hurt you if you leave.

It is said that clarifying what counts as Scottish in the UK economic stakes is complicated. Well, not that complicated but I’ll simplify it.

Let’s take Scotland’s international trade. Scotland’s exports to the rest of the world are counted as Scottish. Or sometimes they are. If goods or services leave Scotland for England, Wales or Northern Ireland and then get jumbled up with other goods or services and are subsequently exported then whatever Scotland’s input is disappears and the export is recorded as a UK export. I have not been able to discover what an English-produced good sent to Scotland and then exported as part of some other product is designated.

Of course that applies to goods apart from oil and gas which are always listed under the UK. The same applies to services provided by offshore industries – these also get added to UK income not Scottish. Anyone living around northeast Scotland will know that over the past fifty years servicing oil and gas here and across the world has been a major source of work and income.

So what will happen in the coming months with another independence referendum on the horizon? The UK’s media will rediscover its Scottish granny once more and we’ll have wall-to-wall Britain rammed down our throats. Once again Scots will be warned and threatened and sneered at for their ingratitude at wanting their country to regain its soverign nation status. You won’t have oil and gas…and neither will England and rumpUK. You’re too wee…as if size matters.

Scotland’s land area covers 77,933 km2 and the population is about 5,424,000. The GDP is currently about $237.628 billion that works out per capita about $43,740. Compare that with other small nations – that just happen to be the wealthiest countries in Europe.

Switzerland is a bit like Scotland – lots of mountains and lochs (they call them lakes) and, like Scotland is a top tourist destination. It doesn’t have oil and gas and it isn’t a major source of wind and wave power. Its population is around 8,600,000 not too different from Scotland’s and its land area a sqeeny 41,285 km2. So far so similar only its per capita is about double that of Scotland at US$ 85,374.

How about Norway another small European country, even more like Scotland with mountains and lakes and it does have an oil and gas industry. It covers 385,207 km2  much of that mountainous with a population around Scotland’s at just over 5,000,000. It is almost Scotland’s double – double in that its wealthy per capita is more than double at US$ 97,226 and its GDP again double, running northwards of $400 billion.

Luxembourg is a tiny country of .2,586.4 km2 and its population just over 600,000. It has no oil and gas and is not exactly graced with mountains and lakes. It is the third richest country in Europe with a per capita income of US $ 116,560.

If the gloom mongers of Better Together are to be believed Lichtenstein would be an independent basket case  – too wee, no oil and gas. It is tiny at only 160 km2  and its population is the size of Airdie’s at around 37,000. It does have mountains and virtually no unemployment. Per capita income is an impressive US $ 143,000.

The richest country in Europe is minisculy, tiny – only 2.2 km2. Monaco has a population of around 40,000 and its per capita runs to US $ 168,000. Oh and it doesn’t have high mountain or oil and gas. And not only is it the richest country in Europe it is the richest country in the world.

Anyone who would deny Scotland’s right to become independent on the basis of size needs to be told again and again and again that size doesn’t matter – it’s what you do with it.

One of the reasons these small independent countries are so successful is that they aren’t tied into an unequal, though precious, union with England run from Westminster.

Westminster has been interfering with Scotland’s economy even before the precious union was a gleam in the eye of some speculators both Scottish and English. In the days when building empires was all the rage and Scots thought they might dabble in just such a thing the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies (and incidentally the Americas) was established. It ran from 1695 – 1707 and the more observant of you will have registered the end date.

This enterprise proved to be an adventure too far – at least for the English state. It was the brainchild of that entrepreneur, William Paterson, the Scot behind the Bank of England.

At the time Scotland shared a monarch with England – the result of the union of the crowns in 1603 – but was otherwise an independent state. However, Scotland was left in no doubt that with the transfer of its king to London so the crown’s interests also moved south. in fact Scotland was regarded as an irritant (not to be dependent upon to back England in its wars of which there were many) and gadzooks a potential economic rival to the East India Company and Royal African Company. Bold Scotland’s attempt to create its own empire – a colony in northeast Canada around what is now Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island in 1621 foundered a decade later – a victim of England’s war with France.

Nova Scotia

Paterson’s scheme to colonise Darien, (Panama) in Central America to provide Scottish commerce with a secure harbour with access to both Atlantic and Pacific oceans found initial support within England as well as Scotland. However, as soon as the East India Company got wind of the plan it lobbied the King and the English parliament to scupper it. English investors took fright abandoning the whole sorry mess to Scots speculators. Those of you familiar with recent banking scandals will not be surprised that bankers and businessmen were equally duplicitous in the 17th century and to cut a long story short much of the money raised to fund the venture disappeared into various deep pockets.

See Darien and Navigation Acts: https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2017/11/03/theres-nothing-like-the-smell-of-xenophobia-in-the-morning

The Darien scheme had two enemies, aside from the climate, the Spanish who regarded the area as theirs and the English who regarded everything else as theirs. Scots ships were attacked and relations with England reached their lowest point.

Having an enemy on its border concerned the English court and parliament while within Scotland hardship increased not least through the loss of so much money wasted on Darien, lost commerce from confiscated cargoes on top of several seasons of poor harvests which hit the poorest hardest with severe food shortages. Scotland was on her knees.

England’s Navigation Acts crushed Scottish commerce by forcing all goods imported into England to be transported in English vessels. With the wind behind them England’s parliament at Westminster pressed for union with Scotland – to enable it the better to control the land to the north.

There was no democracy back in the 18th century and Scottish merchants who lost fortunes because of Darien and England’s aggressive maritime policy that denied Scotland access to its markets, were made an offer they felt they could not refuse. Come in with England and we’ll pay you compensation or else. This was union at the point of a sword – blackmail. England had the whip hand and used it to great effect. The ‘compensation’ was a carrot – and Scotland’s wealthy donkeys bit.

And so some of Scotland’s landed interests and city merchants accepted the 18th century equivalent of cashback. Cash paid as compensation for losses incurred through the actions of England and Spain. This cashback was called the Equivalent. Needless to say such an enticement came with strings attached. Scotland would have to agree to take on a share of England’s horribly large national debt and – wouldn’t you know – be taxed higher.

Once agreed the Equivalent cashback was distributed from the offices of the former Company of Scotland in Edinburgh and from the ashes a new company emerged imaginatively called the Equivalent Company. This group transformed itself into a banking organisation out of which the Royal Bank of Scotland materialised. And we know what that led to.

Scots were reassured that the proposed union with England would retain Scotland’s sovereignty. Of course that was a lie.

I have read but cannot confirm that a century earlier James VI, the guy who started all this union malarkey, or perhaps it was Sir Henry Savile in 1604, remarked that union between Scotland and England would end with the conquest of Scotland by England. He/he wasn’t wrong.

Ref – A Union for Empire: Political Thought and the British Union of 1707, John Robertson ed.,, CUP 2006

October 8, 2019

The Power of Scotland

May 28, 2019

You can’t be a doctor you are a women: Scotland’s first women physicians

Men only medical lecture Glasgow

In ancient and early civilisations women physicians were accepted within their communities to practise healing but when medicine was professionalised through university degrees women found themselves excluded and their practical expertise scorned. Universities were for centuries exclusively male institutions of learning. The first chair of medicine at any university in the British Isles was introduced in Scotland, at Aberdeen’s King’s College, in 1497.

All kinds of obstacles were placed before young women attempting to enter the medical profession. Initially denied admittance to lectures, they were then tholled in some circumstances and confronted by male anger and hostility, sometime violence.

When eventually in the 19thc century women endeavoured to set up their own medical training facilities they faced reluctance from some male lecturers to provide classes. Undeterred these women stuck to their principles that women should have the opportunity to study and practise medicine in Britain.

By the eighteenth century attitudes towards female medics elsewhere in Europe were more enlightened.

Dorothea Erxleben was the first European women to be granted a decree to practise as a physician in Europe, in 1754. This was in Prussia. It took a century and a half for Scotland to produce its first graduate woman doctor, Marion Gilchrist from Bothwell in 1894.

Dr Marion Gilchrist

In England the London School of Medicine for Women was set up in 1874, its prime mover being the overbearing figure of Sophia Jex-Blake, and in 1876 a highly controversial Act of Parliament afforded females the right to gain access to the medical profession. Opponents of this Act included many women who thought themselves too feeble and inferior to the male species to cope with any professional career including medicine. Although Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Act she was staunchly opposed to any rights for women, not any that infringed on hers you understand.  

This Act meant women could now practice in the UK but not graduate in medicine here, kowtowing to those misogynist strongholds – British universities. British females were obliged to complete their studies at enlightened foreign universities. The first woman to be registered as a practising physician in the UK was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1859. From Bristol in England she took her degree at Geneva Medical College (incidentally she was also the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States.) Blackwell has a fascinating history and I urge you to read about her life.

A substantial number of women had their ambition to practise medicine thwarted by prejudice, discrimination and ignorance. When in the later 19th century Edinburgh’s prestigious medical school opened its lecture room doors to female students it still denied them completion of their courses so Jex-Blake replicated the school of medicine for women in London with a similar one in the Scottish capital in 1886. The women behind it were known as the Edinburgh Seven and comprised of Blake; Isabel Thorne ; Emily Bovell; Edith Pechey , Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Mary Anderson.This small body was representative of a larger body of women equally determined to break through the male-dominated profession and offer help to people and communities in desperate need of medical assistance.

Agnes Henderson from Aberdeen lived in grand Devanha House along with her parents, fifteen siblings, several horses and a kangaroo. The Hendersons were progressive people; her father supported and campaigned for the right of women to study medicine at Edinburgh and Agnes came to know and befriended Sophia Jex-Blake but in one of those disconnects that affects people Agnes’ father, William Henderson, a Lord Provost in Aberdeen, did not extend his support to his own daughter’s ambitions.

However Agnes Henderson was her own woman, she studied at the London School of Medicine for Women and took her LRCPE and LRCSE – Licence of the Royal College of Physicians of London and Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh – a means of becoming registered with the General Medical Council for those prevented from taking the straightforward route through university medical schools.

Despite her top qualifications Agnes was unable to practise as a doctor in Scotland so this bright young woman took her brilliance to the Continent; to Brussels and Vienna and became a member of the Royal College of Dublin. From there she went to India where her wealthy father had funded a clinic in Nagpur (Bombay.) Agnes decided she would like to run it and so at the age of 53 Dr Agnes sailed to India. One reason behind her decision might have been a ban on women Catholics practising medicine (until 1936) and she had converted to Catholicism while in Ireland.

Many of the women who fought the system to practise medicine were driven by what they witnessed of the appalling conditions women and children in particular lived in through the Victorian era. Women, especially poor women, were oppressed by child-bearing – denied information and access to family planning, to abortion, to safe childbirth by the indifference of society they were at the bottom of the social ladder in terms of social and medical care and wages. As bad as life was for men it was worse for women and children.

Dr Agnes Henderson of the Mure Memorial Hospital

It is still the case that in parts of the world women are denied the health care they desperately need because of gender discrimination. So it was when Agnes went to India. She worked to employ her medical skills to help women and girls and at the same time spoke out against the white slave trade that exploited so many females. For her service to medicine and missionary activities in India Agnes Henderson was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal.

Britain’s pioneering women doctors were often active in other areas of social improvement such as the women’s suffrage movement. Agnes was secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage and her stepmother, Priscilla Bright McLaren, was also active in the movement and the pair along with Jane Taylour (Taylor) travelled to Orkney and Shetland to promote women’s suffrage there.

The British Empire created opportunities for early women doctors to practise. India also attracted Dr Isabella Macdonald Macdonald from Arbroath who graduated as a medical doctor and pharmacist in 1888 from the London School of Medicine for Women. Another who used her skills to develop health facilities for women in India was Margaret Ida Balfour. She was born in Edinburgh, her mother a Blaikie from the prominent family of Aberdeen Blaikies who were industrialists and one a Lord Provost. A year after completing her qualification as a physician at Edinburgh in 1891 Margaret Balfour travelled to India, to Ludhiana, and within two years she had helped create a medical school for women. Margaret Balfour spent her working life in India in roles that included assistant to the Inspector General of Civil Hospitals in Punjab and Chief Medical Officer of the Women’s Medical Service.  She, too, was awarded the Kaiser-I-Hind medal for public service in India, in 1920.

Mary Anderson mentioned above as one of the Edinburgh Seven came from Boyndie in Banffshire in northeast Scotland. She, like Agnes, thwarted by the male stranglehold over medicine in Scotland went abroad to complete her studies – in Mary’s case to Paris after Edinburgh. She was forty-two when she completed her medical doctorate in France; her thesis was on mitral stenosis (heart disease) which disproportionately affected women. Mary Anderson went on to become a senior physician at the New Hospital for Women in London.

Flora Murray from Dumfries was another early Scottish woman doctor and in common with others who fought for the right to study and qualify she was very active in the women’s suffrage movement – in her case that included tending suffragettes forcibly fed in prison.  

The story of Dr Elsie Inglis is better-known. Born into a Scottish family in India in 1864 she studied at Edinburgh’s School of Medicine. She, too, was politically active and a supporter of women’s suffrage and advocate for social and political improvements in society in general.

Elsie Inglis went on to establish the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service committee during the Great War which made it possible for women to become involved in the war. Elsie Inglis worked in France, Belgium, Russia and Serbia. It is there in Serbia she made the greatest impact, developing its health care institutions and was responsible for reducing the incidence of typhus. For that she was recognised there with the Order of the White Eagle (first class) and a memorial fountain in Mladenovac.

I’ve selected a handful of Scotland’s early women doctors who succeeded against the odds to push the boundaries that restricted smart and ambitious women in this country but two that must be included before I wind up are the sisters Grace and Martha Cadell.

The Cadell sisters were involved in Sophia Jex-Blake’s Edinburgh group but were thrown out of the course for being over-attentive to a patient and breaching Jex-Brake’s hard-and-fast rules. The Cadells challenged Jex-Blake through the courts and won, damaging the Edinburgh School’s reputation. Then they along with Elsie Inglis formed the Edinburgh College of Medicine for Women – and prevented Jex-Blake from getting involved in it – soon after Jex-Blake’s own school closed down, in 1898.

In 1892 women eventually obtained the right to study at Scottish universities and Edinburgh born Jessie MacLaren MacGregor became one of the first women to graduate from Edinburgh University having begun her studies at Jex-Blake’s school. She was evidently extremely intelligent and highly qualified and she embarked on her medical career providing care for women and children in the capital, and to its working class women and their families in particular. Tragically Jessie MacGregor was only 43 when she died of acute cerebral meningitis in 1906 at Denver, Colorado in the USA where she had been working.  

Finally a word on Dr Mary Esslemont. She was a giant of the medical profession. Born in Aberdeen in 1891, her mother had studied medicine in those years when women were denied the ability to graduate but worked in her later years alongside Mary. Mary’s own career illustrated the backwardness of misogyny that denied women like her the opportunity to apply their skills to health and welfare throughout centuries of gender discrimination. Like so many women doctors, Mary Esslemont provided essential care to the poorest in society, and to the travelling community who spent time in Aberdeen. She was involved in establishing the NHS (the only woman on the BMA committee in talks with Bevan), was an assistant medical officer in Yorkshire, promoted family planning and free contraception, was a popular and enterprising general practitioner in Aberdeen – introducing child-centred practices from around the world to the city’s communities.

Being a feminist and determined woman seeking equality in the 19th century was a whole lot harder than it is today. There is still misogyny and now a different kind of gender politics which some see as threatening women from a different perspective. That’s the future. I deal in history.  

May 8, 2019

Poor Lexy Campbell, Lord Byron and the man who could raise the dead

Lexy Campbell was very young when she caught Lord Byron’s eye on a visit to his former nurse, Agnes Gray, in the village of Woodside, close to Aberdeen. Agnes and her husband, Alexander Melvin, lived in a first floor flat at 177 Barron Street, its back to the old turnpike road to Inverurie, as was the tradition. Following his visit the tenement was tagged ‘Byron Hall.’

A young George Gordon, Lord Byron, admirer of Lexy Campbell

I don’t know when that was but reckon she was around fourteen or fifteen, ten years younger than Byron; known in Aberdeen by his mother’s family name, George Gordon.

Lexy, Alexandrina Campbell was five foot three, fair with light brown hair and hazel eyes with a little mole on her right cheek. She lived near Agnes in Printfield, in the flat of a ‘very respectable spinster, called Nelly Calder. It was subsequently reported that poor Lexy’s reputation suffered following the attentions of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whose reputation is well-known but on this occasion he appears to have been innocent – well fairly innocent for she might have been tainted by the whiff of scandal that always hung about the poet and ‘Poor Lexy lost caste by this affair, and her subsequent history was unfortunate.’

When she was 30 years old Lexy Campbell was transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) Australia along with 99 other prisoners from Britain on the ship, Harmony. Why? Well, it all started like this –

Lexy Campbell became the housekeeper, tutor to his children and perhaps mistress of the notorious Black Malcolm Gillespie. Dark haired with a dark complexion Gillespie was a gauger, an exciseman – employed by the government to collect taxes, for the purposes of this account we’re concerned with the whisky tax imposed on the spirit in Scotland by the British government eager to control the smuggling of foreign spirits and illegally produced whisky in Scotland – illegal in the sense of not paying the government’s tax. Originally from Dunblane, Gillespie worked in various districts including Collieston, Stonehaven and later went to live at Crombie Cottage at Skene, west of Aberdeen. He was a very successful gauger and for 28 years he was a scourge of local whisky smugglers, well-informed and knowledgeable on the whereabouts of stills and routes taken by smugglers. He’s credited with seizing 410 gallons on a single occasion and over his time as an exciseman he captured 22,751 gallons of spirits, 165 horses and 82 carts.

It appears the government didn’t pay their gaugers very much for Gillespie felt the need to make a bit more besides to maintain the lifestyle he thought should be his. But I’ll come back to that.

One of Black Gillespie’s adversaries was entrepreneur whisky man, John Duff – a prolific whisky maker and smuggler. One day with 40 gallons of whisky concealed in his house ready to be carted to Aberdeen for sale he was dismayed to spot the approach of the exciseman, Gillespie. Time was too short to shift the barrels of whisky so Duff frantically thought how he might prevent Gillespie searching his property.

Landseer’s romantic image of an illicit whisky still

This was a time when itinerant craftsmen took their skills around the countryside rather than folk going to them in a village or town. It so happened that a travelling tailor was at Duff’s house ‘whipping the cat’ i.e. engaged on making up clothes there.

This particular tailor was a Highlander although that probably has little relevance to his insatiable thirst for whisky. And no, he wasn’t persuaded to drink 40 gallons of the stuff in the time it took Gillespie to arrive.

‘There’s Gillespie, we maun try to save the drink. Will ye render assistance, Tam?’ John Duff asked the tailor.

The tailor agreed to help Duff when he was promised he would be paid as much whisky as he could drink in a week but on discovering the plan involved him playing dead Tam the tailor was less enthusiastic for as a Highlander he had sufficient respect for religion to worry about playing with fate and death.

However, he agreed and lay down on the long table with a napkin tied under his chin and a cloth spread over his face – every inch a corpse.

Gillespie marched straight into the house and was surprised to be greeted by a body laid out in front of the window and Duff and his relatives seated about in a state of mourning – their faces wet with tears and bibles in their hands as they sang a Psalm.

‘Oh, Mr Gillespie! Ye hae come to a hoose o’ mourin’. As ye see, we hae just been askin’ Divine aid to sustain us in this sair dispensation, but come inbye! Come inbye,’ invited Duff.

The two men talked a little about the dead man who Duff claimed was his brother newly returned home from America. Gillespie was well-informed about the people in the community he policed and was certain Duff had no brother. Suspicious, he enquired what the man had died from. Duff was dumfoundered and thinking fast thought it best to say it was something highly infectious to encourage Gillespie to leave but his mind went blank. He dropped his gaze and his eyes fell on the open bible in his lap. And he read the first words he saw.

‘’Nae ither than leprosy,’ he said.

‘Leprosy, did you say?’ cried an astounded Gillespie.

The gauger was more suspicious than ever and asked to see the corpse. Duff warned him he was taking his life in his hands but to go ahead.

Gillespie stepped up, ‘Oh, I don’t think there’s much danger, for I am not very liable to infection.’ He lifted the cloth and was sure he recognised the man laid out who didn’t look very dead or diseased. It came to him that this was none other than the wandering and often drunken tailor he had seen weeks earlier. From his pocket he took out his snuff box and taking a pinch of the stuff pushed it into the nostrils of the ‘streekit’ man. The corpse sneezed, again and again, and sprung to his feet, tearing off the cloths around his face while the Duff family looked on aghast and Gillespie smiled.

‘What the devil gar’d ye stap yer langnailed fingers up my nose?’ demanded the risen corpse.

‘Man, I think you have reason to be thankful that I did so. If I had not, our friend here might have buried you alive. If you ever again fall a victim to the leprosy you now know the cure. Just try the effects of a pickle snuff,’ said Gillespie.

Then turning to Duff he told him he had just witnessed one of those miracles he read about in the bible.’ As for raising the dead Gillespie insisted he couldn’t do that but had come close, ‘for I have at least raised the ninth part of one… you thought the body only remained, and that the spirit was fled: you see you are mistaken. After such an error I could never pardon myself if I departed without searching the house. It is not known what further discoveries I may make. I may even find spirits absent from the body.’

And so it was that John Duff’s store of whisky spirit was discovered and confiscated and Duff dealt with by the courts which put a stop to his whisky smuggling career.

When it came to his turn Gillespie’s own court appearances must have raised a wry smile and a slàinte mhath or two around the straths and townships of Aberdeenshire.

In 1827 Malcolm Gillespie and George Skene Edwards were charged with forgery to obtain money. On his arrest Gillespie uttered, ‘Good God, I am a gone man. You must allow me to disappear and this will be all settled.’ He appealed to have the charges removed which was rich given his ruthless approach to those he apprehended. Before his arrest when he became aware the game was up on his forgeries he told one witness against him, ‘for God’s sake good woman, don’t do that, for, if the fiscal got notice of that, I might as well cut myself in pieces, or blow out my brains.’

The man with a craving for high living, or as high as a gauger cum fraudster could expect, who forged Treasury bills went on to try to defraud two insurance companies.

The home he and Lexy lived in, Crombie Cottage, he insured for £530 with one insurer and £300 with another. One or two others shared the house and all were implicated in Gillespie’s plot to burn down the house and claim insurance money on it. Gillespie took himself off to Edinburgh, presumably to give himself an alibi, leaving the others to arrange the fire by smearing the furniture with rosin, inflammable solid pine resin, jamming more resin between roof joists, pouring turpentine around and sprinkling gunpowder over surfaces. Coils of dry ropes were brought into the house to help it burn and one part of the thatch was cut to prevent a single area go up in flames.  On the night of 21 February 1827 all the participants took a dram of whisky then Lexy took a lit candle into the cellar and set it alight while another ignited the dry ropes.  

It was an elaborate plan and it worked. The house burnt down good and proper or in Gillespie’s words it was ‘genteelly done.’

On 30 April Gillespie was apprehended for his claim on the insurance companies. He, Lexy and the rest were held in Aberdeen’s tolbooth. By a majority verdict Gillespie was declared guilty of forgery and told to expect no mercy in this world. He bowed to both bench and jury. Gillespie retained hopes of a reprieve to near the end for he was much respected as guardian of the law of taxation by many a landed gentleman and MP but when that didn’t come the gauger became introspect and dejected. At the last moment he admitted his forgeries, protesting he acted honestly. He was executed on 16 November. When he stepped up to the scaffold he looked towards the west – supposedly towards Skene. Following his hanging he was cut down and transported back to Skene and buried there.  

The type of convict ship Lexy sailed on to Van Diemen’s Land

As he had been convicted on the capital offence of forgery Gillespie was not tried on fire-raising to defraud. His accomplices faced that charge but it was accepted by the court that Gillespie had been behind the plan so they were shown leniency – seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land – which is why Byron’s early love, fair Lexy Campbell, at the age of thirty found herself in the company of 99 others on a convict ship, Harmony, bound for Australia on 9 September 1828. Her fate there? I don’t know.

PS Thanks to John and Lesley who responded to the initial blog with links to information about Lexy. I had read previously she was from Ross-shire (like me) but dismissed this as it mentioned a place called Haries (which doesn’t exist) however it must mean Harris in the Western Isles which is in Easter Ross.

I didn’t find out much more about Lexy post-transportation other than she was described as well-behaved and married a man called Bryan. Grateful to readers and https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/index.php/about-convict-lives/about-convict-lives for this information and anymore is welcomed.

April 27, 2019

Oh look there’s a creepy guy in camouflage breeks with a mighty big weapon picking on a little unarmed roe deer

Good mixed shooting was once the boast of Aberdeenshire – perhaps it still is – bagging pheasant, partridge, woodcock, snipe, mallard, golden eye, pochard, tufted duck, ring-dove, brown hare, rabbit, curlew, golden plover, green plover, dunlin, little stint, purple sandpiper, turnstone, redshank, moorhen, water rail and coot were given as examples of the sheer variety of species taken on a typical shoot in an article in the Aberdeen and District British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1934. Several of those birds mentioned are now struggling for survival.

Over millennia changing climate patterns in association with human interference have led to the disappearance of Scotland’s elk, the extinction of the auroch, an ox (Bos primigenius) which looked similar to our Highland cattle, lynx, arctic fox, bear and wolf as human habitation encroached on habitats and animals regarded as dangerous or simply fair game were hunted to extinction.  Wolves, greatly feared by folk in the countryside and probably with good reason, found a source of meat fairly easy to access were human corpses which drove some communities to bury their dead offshore if an island was handy. Obviously eating already dead people was preferable to attacking the living and not unlike human practices of picking up bits of animal corpses from butchers and supermarkets though without producing payment, of course. In 1427 a law was introduced in Scotland for three annual wolf hunts during spring and summer to help control/wipe out the creatures at a time that would be most effective – when they were producing and nursing young.

Several claims exist over when and where Scotland’s last wolf was slain. One killed at Kirkmichael in Banffshire in 1644 was certainly not it. Another last wolf turned up in Moray in the middle of the 18th century and that might have been the sole survivor till then but it’s likely the odd one hung on after this.

Capercaillie

There were herds of little wild horses roaming Aberdeenshire’s forests into the 16th century. Evidence found at Birse suggested they were likely crosses with domestic horse – similar to the state of our wildcats. How many true wildcats remain is open to speculation but surely scant few. As with practically every other species these lovely creatures have suffered vicious persecution by farmers, gamekeepers, estate workers and the usual suspects that take potshots at anything that moves. It is said the last wildcat on Donside was killed at Alford in 1862 and on Deeside at Glentanar in 1875 but it’s possible they weren’t all wiped out or that some migrated to the area, perhaps from Speyside, for there have been sightings of what may be the wildcat in more recent years.

Gamekeepers have earned a bad reputation as exterminators of wildlife – with good cause. We are all familiar with the curious coincidences of our raptors meeting their deaths over shooting estates while the courts continue to treat such crimes as minor, failing to impose deterrent sentences on those found guilty of illegal killings.

While about the worst that happens to an estate employee convicted of illegal killings is exposure in the press for a day or two life was once far more comfortable for them. Dealing with vermin aka wildlife was part of the job. In 1863-4 a single Donside estate keeper killed 30 polecats. Thirty years later it was extinct in the area. Pine martens were likewise persecuted and are now protected because of their scarcity. There are pine martens around today, including in Ross-shire but they aren’t common.

Outrage over the vast numbers of mountain hares being shot on sporting estates has been met with insistence from estate interests that there are plenty stocks of hares. That they cannot come up with reliable figures for their claims is worrying but not surprising. That Scottish government ministers consort with sporting interests is also worrying but not surprising.

The encroachment of human habitation and agriculture, the drainage of muirs and removal of large tracts of ancient forests force out birds and animals dependent on those habitats.  Vestiges of the old Caledonian forests can be found at Glentanar, Ballochbuie, Deeside and Speyside but what remains is a mere trace of the woodlands that once provided areas of safety and food for our wildlife pushing them upland to less suitable territory which lack food and reduce the chance of survival.  

The red squirrel has become a great focus for protection to the extent that its grey cousins are eradicated by local authorities around the country – the same local authorities who removed trees used by red squirrels so reducing their chances of survival. However, it isn’t so long ago the red squirrel had the same reputation as the grey and was regarded as a pest – rats with long bushy tails and a popular target for the pot-shotter. On the subject of rats the black rat notorious for spreading the plague in the early middle ages having arrived on ships from the East was in time ousted by the common brown rat another immigrant, this time from Asia in the 18th century.

Rats have proven themselves pretty damn indestructible although many people wish they weren’t. It’s interesting that there aren’t tweedy types who go on rat shoots on a Sunday afternoon but choose something a whole lot prettier and a whole lot less capable of escaping their shotguns.

The capercaillie is/was fairly spectacular with its dramatic plumage provided welcome variety in rural parts of Scotland but they have all but gone. The menace of an armed idiot has all but wiped them out.  Indeed they succeeded in the 18th century for the capercaillie vanished around 1760 and was reintroduced from Sweden in 1837. By the 1960s these large birds were numerous again and said to be common. I saw one once – in the 1970s near the Cairn o’ Mount. It might have been one of the last ones in the area for they sure aren’t common now. Their future here is on a very shoogly peg.

The extension of farming, grazing sheep and cattle and the prevalence of mono-culture grouse estates that treated every other animal and bird as vermin have been instrumental in stripping away so much of Scotland’s native wild species. We are all too well aware of the targeting of birds of prey over these areas with lots of tall tales circulating about the extent of lamb predation and insistence that high numbers of disappearing raptors over sporting estates is purely coincidental. Rambling types around Alford are only too familiar with aggressive heavies employed on Aberdeenshire estates, other similarly run estates are available, – same gun-toting, shooting jacketed gamies. Ordinary folk out to enjoy the freedom to roam in their own country are most definitely dissuaded from doing just that by these bullies and heaven help any wildlife straying over their property.

I’ve written before about the insatiable desire of types who crave to destroy life. My mother used to tell of fox cubs being bred near Dingwall which were transported down to England and released for fox hunting there – putting to bed the myth that the hunt was to eliminate local vermin. Another myth is that hobby shooters eat or sell to butchers and hotels what they kill. Regulations have all but stopped the hotel trade and huge numbers of birds and animals killed for the sheer hell of it are either dumped or buried.

Rabbits – they are everywhere, mostly dead on our roads, were imported from southeast Europe. In Aberdeen they were first released at the links near Donmouth. Another import this time from Asia is the exotic-looking pheasant. It proved so popular they were shot out of existence and had to be reintroduced

Some creatures turned up accidentally on these shores such as the tropical loggerhead turtle that was picked up in salmon nets at Pennan in 1861. It never made it home, somewhere equally dangerous but farther south, and numbers are now dwindling.  The purple heron that flew to Donmouth in 1872 never made it home either to southern Europe, Africa or Asia but was inevitably shot. A glossy ibis discovered at Fraserburgh was so strikingly beautiful it was also shot. It along with an American killdeer plover, which doesn’t kill deer but got its name from its call, ended their days as curiosities in Aberdeen University’s Natural History Museum – post execution.

Nowadays our Scottish golden eagles are pretty rare and exotic. In the ten years between 1776 and 1786 seventy of them were killed in five Deeside parishes alone, severely affecting their numbers. As for the white-tailed eagle, Scotland’s largest bird of prey, it was once numerous but determined persecution of the bird resulted in its extinction in the 20th century. It is being reintroduced, to the chagrin of some farmers.   Another recently reintroduced species is the red kite which has become a  fairly familiar sight over Donside and once more around Conon Bridge following a disgraceful episode in 2015 when a large number of raptors including kites were killed, many poisoned, around there. A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to watch six of them soar over Strathpeffer. Meanwhile those criminals responsible for targeting them are keeping a low profile. The species once so common around Scotland were all killed off by the end of the 19th century. Peregrine falcons and ravens were all once very common and hen harriers, too, eventually succumbing to shooting and trapping.

It is not only large birds of prey which have fallen victim to the determined farmer, gamekeeper and the odd brainless wonder. Smaller birds have suffered from being labelled as farm pests. In 1930, Aberdeen County Council was responsible for the deaths of vast numbers of them including: 65,000 rooks, 3,563 eggs and 601 nests; 7,442 wood pigeons, plus eggs and nests; 1,992 house sparrows and 704 eggs; 1,108 starlings; 897 gulls and eggs along with 1,500 brown hares and everyone’s favourite – although not Aberdeen County Council’s evidently – 175 red squirrels.

Britain’s biggest rookery was at Hatton Castle near Turriff where some 6,000 nests were counted in old beech trees and coniferous plantations during the 1960s. Each year around 10,000 of them were shot by local farmers. In the 1960s the curlew, lapwings, skylarks were very common and winter visitor, the snow bunting. I still see the odd one but not flocks. I spotted a curlew recently near Kemnay but those I used to see near Alford have disappeared. There’s a skylark hereabouts. Singular.

 Before 1850 the starling was a non-breeding migrant in Aberdeenshire, one of our rare visitors. It liked what it saw in beautiful Aberdeenshire and stayed – actually because the spread of land cultivation inadvertently provided food for starlings such as daddy long legs and grass beetles which meant they did well and so their numbers increased to the extent that within a decade it was classified as a pest. Their numbers have since declined greatly with modern methods of farming. Our farmers plough right up to fences and dykes leaving virtually no green areas to provide habitat and food for birds and small animals. With the disappearance of the starling goes their spectacular mesmeric murmurations.

Whether it was on land, in trees, in the rivers or seas animals and birds have been hunted down and systematically killed for profit, for food, for fun and for fats. Think fat think whales and seals. Northeast Scotland dominated the 19th century whaling industry in the Greenland Sea and Davis Straits – a dangerous business for all involved. On October 13, 1830 the Aberdeen Journal lamented the decline of whaling and loss of whaling vessels from Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen and Aberdeen’s final whaling ship sailed in 1865. Of course that wasn’t the end of whaling, as we know.

A century later there was talk about the disappearance of mountain hares from our higher hills. This was a blow for the sportsman and woman who made do with blasting at the less prestigious brown hare, still numerous on the muirs. Despite being not much valued they were shot in their thousands. Social media has provided reminders that wildlife are not taken in penny numbers with pictures of trucks loaded up with mountain hare carcasses being taken off hillsides for disposal by sporting estate workers who say numbers of the mountain hare are high but have produced no credible evidence to back up their claims.

Our native red deer have consistently been popular with those who take to the hills for a spot of blood sport. In the 1960s around 10% of the red deer population was shot annually i.e. c.2000. There have been conflicting estimates of their numbers and the best means of controlling what are thriving numbers of them.

Roe deer are tiny animals; very timid. They are popular with creepy men in camouflage breeks, wax jackets and flat caps armed with huge guns that look like they’ve done a heap of damage in Iraq or Afghanistan.  In case you were wondering the little roe deer are unarmed.

The encroachment of humans, the adaption of the countryside to provide economic value will always put pressure on our wildlife. Add to this blend hobby hunters and climate change and the mix becomes toxic. Survival for so many species has been easy/tricky/impossible depending on so many circumstances but human interference arguably poses the most deadly threat to nature and that will only increase.

February 20, 2019

America – The Land of Opportunity – and death. The tragic case of Peter Adam.


All life lies in graveyards and it follows that sometimes an inscription intrigues and tantalises those of us who like nothing better than to wander around a cemetery with a camera and notebook.

There is a reference in Aberdeen’s Allenvale cemetery to ‘Poor Kate.’ What lies behind this poignant phrase I have no idea but when I came across another equally mysterious reference last weekend in Monymusk graveyard in Aberdeenshire I was tempted to probe behind its veiled reference.

ERECTED
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
PETER ADAM, MASON
SON OF GEORGE ADAM, DALMADILLY
WHO MYSTERIOUSLY MET HIS DEATH
ON HIS WAY HOME FROM FOX ISLAND
SEPTEMBER 17, 1872
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF AGE
AND LIES BURIED
AT PALMER MASS,US
AMERICA

The inscription goes on to include Peter’s parents – George and Isabella Reid and at the base of the gravestone is a message I can’t quite manage to decipher –

Peter Adams folks stone

Homeward with longing heart he sped To parents, Brothers, Sisters dear, Home, Home unto himself he said,   ?     ?     ?     not Home in Heaven so near

What happened to Peter was this 

He had sailed to America with his friend, Peter Murray, as a twenty-two year old to work there at his trade of stonemason. Stonemasons from across Scotland and specially from the northeast frequently spent months or years in America and Canada where their skills were sought for the rush of building taking place during the years of mass immigration of the 19th century and when the north American stone industry was only getting underway and in need of experienced and skilled labour. Many Scottish migrant masons settled in Canada and America like fellow-Scot, stonemason Donald MacLeod who was part of that mass exodus of the cleared and voluntary of the 19th century and who wrote about the brutality of the United Kingdom’s treatment of Highland Scots. Peter Adam was not forced abroad but chose to go for a time and this rather serious young man planned to return home to his sweetheart.

In September 1872 Peter, carrying the 500 dollars (equivalent to over $10,000 today) he had saved over the two years working in America, set out for Boston to catch a steamer back to Britain. The evening boat from Rockland, Maine was late in arriving and Peter missed his ship to Liverpool so he took himself off to a money broker’s office where he changed all but $200 dollars into gold which he hid about his person then boarded the night express train to New York to catch a ship home from there. Then he disappeared.

A week later some 80 miles west of Boston, at the town of Palmer, Massachusetts, a body was pulled from the Quaboag River. The victim had been stabbed in the neck and his jugular vein had been severed. Discovered sewn into an undershirt were two gold sovereigns and a gold watch and in a wallet in a trouser pocket was $7 along with a luggage receipt and train ticket to New York. The man’s boots had been cut open from top to foot – obviously when he was being robbed.

Peter Murray who had worked with the other Peter at Fox Island heard of the river corpse  which had been subsequently buried as an unknown person and suspecting it was his friend, Peter Adam, he insisted the body be exhumed and was able to confirm his identity. It was presumed the Peter Adam had been followed from the money broker’s office to the train where he hid his gold in his boots. He was then attacked, murdered, his boots cut open, the gold stolen and Peter thrown into the river from one of many rail bridges en route.

Quaboag River

Quaboag River

Peter Murray sent what remained of Peter Adam’s money, a mere $150 (perhaps $50 had been taken to bury him though that seems excessive) to the young man’s father back in Aberdeenshire.

Where the Peters were working was an area known as Vinalhaven and islands known collectively as Fox Islands. The granite they produced was called Fox Island. In 1872 over 600 men were employed quarrying and cutting granite on the Fox Islands for major building works primarily in Washington, Boston and New York.

The Granites of Maine (1907)

Granite areas of Maine c. 1907

Granite quarrying was a major industry and employer – in addition to Scots employed many of its workers came from Ireland and they formed the first Fenian Circle in Maine dedicated to liberating Ireland ‘from the yoke of England and for the establishment of a free and independent government on Irish soil.’ 

Donald MacLeod mentioned earlier, a stonemason from Strathnaver in Sutherland, was also conscious of yokes – of class and he wrote about the Clearances and the impact on Highland Scots of the practices of the vicious and ruthless British ruling classes. I mean to come back to Donald in a future blog. His experiences were different from men such as  Adam and Murray who were enticed away from Scotland to provide vital service to the stone industry in north America by agents of American and Canadian quarriers and mason workshops. Some went for the adventure of visiting a different land; some went for the money to be made there. Peter Adam’s motives are not known; perhaps he was driven by a combination of the two. He certainly saved much of his earnings which would have established a solid monetary foundation for his impending marriage. He was no flighty, immature young man for he was described as serious, religious and sober and we know he was cognisant of the dangers and lawlessness around him in north American when he took the precaution of hiding his gold and cash when he began his journey home. Sadly he would never see his native Aberdeenshire again – his family or his fiancé. He was robbed and killed and the perpetrators got away with their horrible crime.

It is interesting that Peter’s family shied away from declaring that their son was brutally murdered instead they chose to be ambiguous as if shielding themselves from the terrible reality of his death and his memory from being tainted by such horrible association. They might have added the words of the parents of Kate in Allenvale when reflecting on her life – equally ambiguous but suggestive of something tragic in her life –‘Poor Kate’ – ‘Poor Peter.’

Peter Adam folks full stone