Picture of Robert Gammage

Robert Gammage

places mentioned

To Scotland in 1843

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It may seem to go a great way from Sutton-in-Ashfield to the borders of Scotland, but that is where I am now going. The simple fact is, I felt a strong desire to visit Scotland, and I arrived at Carlisle on Saturday, August 11 1843. There, to my surprise, I met George Julian Harney at the house of our friend Mr. Arthur. We all took tea together, and had a pleasant talk. I found that Mr. Harney had been announced to address an open air meeting. He did so to the great delight of the assembled hundreds. It was evident that that gentleman had a hold of the people of Carlisle. He left the city the same night for Scotland. I addressed a public meeting on the following evening at a village about two miles from Carlisle. Mr. Arthur introduced me, and all passed off well.

Now I was about to go to Scotland —

Land of brown heath and shaggy wood,
Land of the mountain and the flood.

I walked to Annan, a little town about half way between Carlisle and Dumfries, and addressed a well attended open air meeting, and I was congratulated at the close on my lecture and its reception. I stayed at an inn, at that time the principal inn in the town. I had but rarely seen such a 'spread' for supper as was set before me, brought on one of those old-fashioned mahogany trays which I had indeed seen in my boyhood, but never supped off. There was meat in abundance, bread and cheese, and a jug of 'good Scotch ale.' I slept well, a pretty good sign of a quiet conscience. Macbeth might murder sleep, but I did not, nor did sleep murder me, for I felt all alive on the following morning, and breakfasted on pre-served salmon and fresh egges [sic]. And what, it may be asked; did you pay for all this? I need not be ashamed to own it, seeing that I paid all that was charged, and that was the sum of 2s.! When I offered the servant a little gratuity for cleaning my boots, it was with evident reluctance that she received it. What think you of that, travellers of these faster days?

I walked on to Dumfries. On entering it I felt some amount of trepidation, for here I was in the very town where lived and died the unfortunate but ever to be revered Robert Burns. It was, as it were, treading on holy ground. There was a large meeting in the open marketplace, over which Andrew Wardrop presided. Andrew was no common man; he had battled for the Charter unflinchingly and he was evidently popular. I addressed the meeting with vigour, and met with such a reception as was well calculated to give me ample satisfaction. The chairman said to me, 'Ye spoke weel,' and congratulated me on the result of the meeting. Mr. Wardrop came to my lodgings, and we had a talk on the Corn Laws. There was a wide difference between us, but he was one of those men with whom it was a pleasure to talk, because he always preserved his good temper.

Early on the following morning, I made my way to the broad and beautiful river that flows swiftly on at the bottom of the town. I soon found myself at the burying ground, and in front of the monument erected in Burn's honour. I had not stood more than two or three minutes before I was accosted by a stonemason, who was at work on one of the monuments.

'I suppose you have come to see Burns's Monument?' 'I have sir.' 'You would no doubt like to see his sons. If you wait two or three minutes you can see them, for two of them are coming this way.' Up came colonel Burns and the one who was, I learned, connected with the East India Company. We exchanged the salutes of the morning pleasantly, but there it ended. I should have liked to enter into conversation with the venerable-looking gentlemen, but modesty prevented me from uttering another word. I bade farewell to the grave of Burns, which I have never seen since; but the scene of that delightful morning is as much impressed upon my memory as though it were now passing before me.

It was a blistering hot day. I had only twelve miles to walk to the little town of Lockerbie. I almost envied the gay young lasses who were coming with their sweethearts from the races, and who had doffed both shoes and stockings, which they carried in their hands, and walked barefooted, seeming as happy as queens — more happy, if history may be believed, than queens have often been. There was no small difficulty in getting a lodging that night; had it not been for a friend whom I met at Dumfries it is almost certain that I should have been without a bed. Indeed, as it was, I had not what one might call by that name. I had to put up with what is called a 'shake down.' laid on a cold hard floor, where to sleep even under fatigue was next to impossible, I arose before four o'clock but little refreshed, and proceeded on my way to Hawick, where I was to lecture that night in the open air. I intended to walk as far as Langholm, and then take the coach to my destination. But Dame Fortune was against me; for, despite my walk of 18 miles, and efforts to catch the coach, I lost it by about ten minutes. And now there were 23 miles between me and Hawick. That might not matter much to others, but it was no trifle to me, fatigued as I already was. I resolved to go on. I would not disappoint my friends, whatever the sacrifice to myself; but the heat and thirst, and the excessive hardness of that well-kept road were next to intolerable. Very glad I was when I got within sight of Hawick. Three friends came on the road to meet me. We had never met before, and I was a little cast down when they took matters so coolly; but perhaps they had read the story of Jacob Faithful, who had through life only three maxims. The first was, 'Take it coolly.' The second was, 'What's done can't be helped.' And the third was, 'Better luck another time.' And this he said, according to the novelist, when his wife blew up with spontaneous combustion through the excessive drinking of gin. But my friends were not so void of sympathy as might have been supposed; for they took me to an inn and asked me to take a glass of brandy. I took it and was glad of it, for it revived me for the time. I spoke for an hour to a large open-air meeting, and with a spirit which to this day surprises me.

I stayed over Sunday in Hawick. On that day I asked the good lady of the house to get me a glass of ale for dinner. 'Aye, but where am I to get it frae?"I suppose you will get it from a public house.' 'To tell ye the truth, I dinna like to gae for it; they look at a body sae.' 'Oh, well, never mind, I can do without it' But the good old lady gave in without compulsion of any kind, and soon fetched the beer. 'You see,' she said, 'after the kirk comes out, you can go and get as much as you like.' 'That appears to me to be a very curious kind of religion which frowns upon a man for getting a glass of beer with his dinner, and yet permits him to go in the evening to the public-house and drink himself drunk.' The Forbes Mackenzie Act was not then existing.. It came into existence soon after, and from all evidence I have seen it has had a beneficial effect.

I found the Chartists of Hawick a very intelligent body of men to converse with. If mesmerism was rife in England, it was still more so in Scotland. In the town I was in it was especially so, and my friend Mr. Haig was esteemed a good performer in that line. For the first time I saw a case of 'catalepsy.' He put his brother into a state of mesmerism, and he did it quickly, and then catalepsed his leg. He asked me to try if I could press it down, but with all my might I could not, which naturally raised my bump of wonder into a state of unusual activity.

I walked from Hawick to Galashiels, where I also had a good open-air meeting, and a spirited discussion afterwards with Mr. Sanderson, one of the Chartist celebrities of the town, who, like Mr. Wardrop, was 'a hard nut for an Englishman to crack.' He, like many other leading Chartists of the time, was a shoemaker. On the following morning I breakfasted with Mr. Johnston, a foreman in a factory. He held the political and social views of Bronterre O'Brien, and as I had by that time become somewhat acquainted with those views, we had an agreeable conversation over the breakfast table.

I walked on to Dalkeith, where I was under the shadow (not in the sunshine) of ducal influence. An open-air meeting was attempted in the Market Place. It was arranged that I should commence just as the men were leaving their work, but I soon found that a worse arrangement could hardly have been made, for although a large number stopped to listen, they soon went off, can under arm. The fact is the poor fellows were wearied with their work, and doubtless thought that a cup of tea would do them more good than any amount of Chartist speaking, and I have no doubt it did. I was left with half-a-dozen listeners, and I soon took my leave of the Marketplace of Dalkeith.

I visited Lasswade, a beautiful village—beautiful from its surroundings. There I met another old friend of Bronterre O'Brien's whose name was Hay. He was a man of a highly intelligent order. When he was talked to, he answered so sensibly that it set me wondering where he could have picked up all his knowledge.

I passed through Edinburgh. No meeting there, because I somewhat dreaded to confront the modern Athenians, who I had always heard were severe critics. I went up the beautiful Forth to Alloa, where I lectured, and then made for Tillicoultry, where I spoke in the church of the Revd. Archibald Browning, who, being discarded by the authorities of the church in which he had hitherto ministered on account of his Democratic preaching, had, with the assistance of his friends, commenced a church of his own. I heard him on the first Sunday I was there, and I thought his sermon one of the best I had ever heard. It was not so much the delivery, though that was good; it was the intense earnestness that accompanied it. Speaking of the rich and powerful, he said, 'They would not be saved by the same Jesus Christ as you if they could avoid it' I called on Mr. Browning the next morning by advice of my friends. He asked me in good Scotch fashion to partake of bread and jelly and a glass of water. I partook of it heartily, and we spent half an hour in pleasant conversation. I never saw Mr. Browning again. I read that he afterwards became a Unitarian.

I went to Alva, about two miles distant. Here I met with a family with whom I stayed. Never was there a more hospitable house. As far as Chartism was concerned, David was the leading man. He was a good Chartist speaker and a preacher as well. He was an enthusiast, but not an unreasoning one; he could give good account of all he thought. He showed me a copy of the poetical works of Shelley, in which was the poet's portrait. 'What do you think of that face?' 'It is beautiful.' 'It is a heavenly countenance.' And this was the face of an Atheist, a man who had declared in certain terms, 'There is no God'. But David did not believe there was no God. He had full faith in one, and taught it in all his preaching's. I never saw this family again, for before I next visited Alva they had emigrated.

Robert Gammage, 'Recollections of a Chartist', in the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle , Saturday, September 27 1884

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