Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

Touring central Scotland

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In my last paper I left off at Alva, but I must say a few more words about the delightful and interesting district of which that little place forms a part. On the right hand almost from Dollar to Stirling, a distance of about twelve miles, there is a beautiful range of hills, which only need to be seen in order to be admired. Alva itself is, or was, a manufacturing village with comfortable houses; but the chief attraction for all who visit it is Alva glen.

Who does not love the glens of Scotland? This is situated at the back of the village, if village it may s till be called. The road lay along a narrow wooden pathway, much higher than the little stream below. Fortunately there was a wooden railing, which, with a moderate amount of care, enabled one to walk with safety. At the upper end a small but gushing stream came rushing down between the rocks on either side, and the scene was lovely.

Dollar was the last place in which I lectured in that district. The meeting was held in the open air under the light of the moon. I hope I shall not be thought superstitious if I say that the lady of the night inspired me to speak well; at all events I gained the approbation of the meeting. I was much annoyed that night, because, although I had a book to read, there was not a candle to read it by. All the light proceeded from the fire. As the people of that district got coals for nothing, one could not blame them for making the best use of their resources.

I went afterwards to the old town of Dunfermline, an interesting place, if only for the ancient church which adorns it. My old friend, Henry Davidson, one of the leading Chartists in those days, yet no public speaker, accompanied me on a walk up the town. He took me to the shop of Mr. Paton, a dealer in pictures, and I saw such a collection as excited in me no small surprise. I spent a few minutes with Mr. Paton, who was also an old Chartist I have often asked myself, is the present Sir Noel Paton the son, or any other relative of the gentleman I saw? I think it not only possible, but probable. The taste and talent of the father sometimes, though not always, descend to the son, and shine out in a more brilliant light. In the evening we had an excellent meeting in large hall, which was comfortably filled. I spoke at great length. We expected opposition from Thomas Morrison,[sic] an old antagonist of Feargus O'Connor , who did me the honour of attending the meeting; but as I had nothing to do with personal differences in the course of the lecture, I was unopposed, and received the unanimous thanks of the meeting.

I went from Dunfermline to Kinross, a small town with no lack of democratic fire, as was proved by all the more fervent parts of my lecture being loudly cheered, although I never sought to raise mere excitement. Then I went to Strathmiglo, a very small town. At the inn at which I called to inquire for the secretary's address, I fell into conversation with the landlady, who was a Calvinist of the most rigid type. She was a most devout woman, whose whole hope lay in the conviction that she was saved from the foundation of the world. I attempted to reason; but what was reason compared with my fair opponent's strong, and, most probably, abiding faith? We had a cordial shake of hands as I was leaving her, and she expressed a hope that I would yet see as she did. I addressed a meeting that evening in the open air, with every satisfaction to myself and the audience.

Auchtermuchty was next visited. I heard that many Englishmen tried to pronounce the name of that town, but in the opinions of its inhabitants they all failed, and I am afraid I did not succeed better than those who had gone before me. There were many warm Chartists there, and I lectured in the Town Hall. A leading official of the little place was chairman. The meeting passed off well, and we had a very agreeable chat afterwards at the house where I stayed. 'Will you,' asked the chairman, 'take a bottle of beer with me?' I did so, and with perfect safety. It was only two pence a bottle, and was thought strong. Would that nothing stronger had ever passed human lips, for then but little injury would ever have accrued to either brain or body!

I lectured at Cupar, and then on to Dundee, 'Bonny Dundee', in which I met with some of the warmest friends I ever encountered in the course of my career. I lectured there in the Democratic Church. Poor John Duncan, one of the sincerest of the Chartist speakers in Scotland, had formerly been minister there; but a Government prosecution so preyed upon his sensitive nature, that he was attacked with softening of the brain, and ultimately died. At the time I was there the pulpit was occupied by my friend John Arran, who had come from Bradford. I had not a large, but an attentive and satisfactory meeting. 'I see,' said Arran, 'that you have got your diploma,' referring to a letter of Feargus O'Connor 's in the Northern Star , in which he had named me among many others as one who should be engaged to lecture in the Chartist movement. Arran had suffered imprisonment, and was a devoted admirer of the Rev. J. R. Stephens, and defended, in conversation, his physical force preaching's.

At Arbroath, I was taken so ill upon the platform that I was compelled to leave off. I journeyed to Montrose, and addressed a large meeting there, where I found a number of kindred spirits, the leading man among whom was Mr. Gordon, one of the most agreeable, and at the same time candid and intelligent men I had seen.

I went from there to the little town of Bervie, where I spoke in the open air, and found the meeting all I could wish. I called on one of our lady Chartists by invitation. She was at work at her loom. A more intelligent woman I had rarely met with. She knew at least as much about politics as I did, perhaps more, and our conversation was most agreeable.

I next went to StonehavenStonehive, as the natives called it. Although I had a good and numerous open air meeting, yet so timid were my friends that not one could be prevailed to take the chair or introduce me. It may be thought that this was enough to daunt me. On the contrary, it had the very opposite effect. It made me feel that reliance on myself, which was not only useful then but ever since, in any struggle in which I might engage. I believe my address was one of the best and most fluent of the many I delivered in Scotland, and it met with earnest attention. Timid as my friends were, I got abundant praise from them at the close. I had plenty to cheer me when I no longer stood in any need, as thousands more have experienced.

From Stonehaven I walked to the beautiful city of Aberdeen, where I had previously been engaged to deliver two lectures in a large hall. Here I met with an old Chartist leader, Robert Lowery, whom I had heard lecture in the little old Town Hall of Northampton, as he was returning from the second Chartist Convention in the spring of 1842. He had been the colleague of Dr. John Taylor and of Mr. George Julian Harney in the first Chartist Convention as representative of Newcastle-on-Tyne. He occupied a similar position to that of Mr. Arran at Dundee, being minister of the Christian Chartist Church. There were good meetings both nights, and Mr. Lowery was chairman. I thought him somewhat captious in some remarks he made at the close of my first lecture. He referred to the disruption of the Scotch Church, from which, as readers of the history of that period know, several hundreds of ministers broke off. Mr. Lowery appeared to be opposed to the seceders, which, I confess, I did not understand; but my lecture had nothing to do with that subject.

I met on these occasions Mr. J. McPherson, the principal Chartist of the city. A more kindly and benevolent man I never saw. It was not all smooth water for Mr. Lowery. He had differed on some points, like many others, from the policy of Feargus O'Connor , and there was one little rough outspoken man in the company assembled after my lecture, who, being a devoted admirer of the Chartist chief, kept hitting right and left, but he was, with all his impetuosity, too prudent to allude to Mr. Lowery by name.

Among other towns which I visited I must not omit to mention Greenock, for it is associated with the name of Burns. I had an excellent meeting there, and my friends were pleased to find all pass off well. I had previously been at the grave of Burns, and now I resolved to go to that of the girl he had loved so well— Highland Mary. She had been laid in the old burying ground. On the first morning I was there, I directed my solitary steps to the spot, and was admitted on the payment of a small fee. The object of my search was easily found, for just at the top of the modest ground, very unlike the spacious, beautiful, and sanitary cemeteries of these days, was the grave of the young girl to whom the poet was all in all. There was no ostentatious monument erected, such as we have sometimes seen over the graves of many, no doubt less deserving.

I remember addressing a meeting at Campsie. I had understood that it was an intelligent town. Generally, if I had time and opportunity, I inquired of the leaders the mental status of the inhabitants, for a lecturer has not only to speak but to study the peculiarities of his audience. I found that much would be expected of me. Without any chance of getting an hour to myself I did my best, and, as in nearly every other Scottish town, I succeeded in winning the applause of my hearers. This might be in some measure owing to the tact of the lecturer, and also to the sympathy of the meeting for a young man; but I attributed it most of all to the earnestness which I threw into my speech, at all meetings which I addressed. Be that as it might, the audience was satisfied with me, and I with it.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, November 8 1884

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