Peter Mackenzie.

Old reminiscences of Glasgow and the west of Scotland : containing the trial of Thomas Muir ... (Volume 1) online

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that morning, Mr. Morgan, messenger-at-arins in Glasgow,


looking out for these things, or scenting them from afar
which was just his business to do, for they brought "good
grist," as the saying is, " to his mill," or messenger's shop
went himself to the Mail Coach Office, in Nelson Street,
and got possession of the above parcel. He, therefore,
with his two concurrents, or legal limbs of the law
always in attendance at his heels when any apprehensions
were to be made proceeded at once to the shop of Mr.
Taylor in the Gallowgate, and demanded payment of the
debt, or the seizure of his person for jail. Poor Mr.
Taylor was thrown into a sad state of excitement at this
not altogether unexpected, but cruel visit the first, cer-
tainly, of its kind he had ever met with. He conceived
that Messrs. Chatto & Co. would have been a little moro
merciful to him, considering the many transactions he
had with them, and the large sums of money he had fre-
quently paid over to them ; or that their legal agents in
Edinburgh or Glasgow might extend a few days' additional
indulgence to him, to enable him to realise the whole sum
contained in the caption, which he had really been striv-
ing honestly to do. He had 40 or 50 ready in his
desk, which he offered at once to give to Mr. Morgan ;
but that stern officer would accept nothing short of the
whole debt, with the expenses ; and therein we will do
him the justice to say that he only acted in strict dis-
charge of his legal duty. It was now a very distressing
thing for poor old Mr. Taylor, the unfortunate, honest-
hearted man, to be dragged away from his respectable
and once independent shop, and to be collared by
a messenger, through the Gallowgate, down to the jail,
at the foot of the Saltmarket, in broad day-light. It was
vexing, indeed, as the poor man thought, to be thus made
an open and "notour bankrupt." He shed his artless


tears to no purpose. At last, in a fit of perfect agony or
despair, the happy thought seems to have come into his
head little imagining that it would lead to the mar-

o o

vellous results which soon took place of beseeching the
messenger and his two concurrents to step over with him,
in the first instance, to the house of Mrs. Ealph Erskine,
who kept an excellent tavern of her day, in the Gallow-
gate, and to get some " refreshments " ere going to the
jail ; and perhaps he would have an opportunity of send-
ing for some friends, who would make up the balance of
the debt, and extricate him from his almost heart-rending

Now, Mr. Morgan, inflexible in all other respects, was,
we may explain, exceedingly fond of " refreshments " in
any tavern, especially if they took nothing out of his own
pocket ; and his "concurrents" were pretty much embued
with the same sort of feeling. So they cordially agreed
to go to Mrs. Erskine's tavern a clean, decent, tidy
woman she was. Mr. Morgan relished much his beer and
his ale at all times of the day, but this was just the very
best time for his " meridian.'' He relished, at that par-
ticular period, the gill stoup or the half-mutchkin one, nor
had he the least aversion to Hollands, rum, or brandy
anything, as he said, in the shape of liquor, if it only came
out of a good bottle ; but as he stood in considerable awe
of his senior partner, Eailton who was of the sour milk,
temperance class, and pretended to be a sort of "Philan-
thropist " of his kind Morgan contrived (as some of our
ancient friends we were lately writing about did) to resort
to the peppermint lozenge dodge, or crunch the sugar-
auley and the carvie-seeds in his mouth, whenever he
came in direct contact with Kailton, his brother chief-in-
arms. On the present occasion it being a nice warm


autumn day our engaged messenger, when he entered
Mrs. Ralph Erskine's tavern, would have a pint of her best
ale from the tap, which he swigged off without the least
palaver. It was so fine, he would just take another pint;
and he asked Mrs. Erskine, in pliant tones, to be so good
as bring him a nice spelding, or a rizard haddie or two,
of which he was particularly fond, and relished as an
accompaniment to his ale. His concurrents preferred a
mutchkin of the real Glenlivet, which they got ; and poor
Mr. Taylor himself, in order to cheer up his own spirits,,
asked, for the first time in his life in any tavern, for a glass
of brandy and a little cold water. Tis a sad thing, some
will say, to pour spirits down to keep spirits up, but some-
times, under very peculiar or distressing circumstances, a
glass of brandy as we have often heard the first
physicians say is not to be sneered at nor despised. In
this situation of matters, Mr. "Walter Peat, junr,, tanner
in the G-allowgate a kind-hearted fellow, and a well-
known character of his day in Glasgow was sent for by
Mr. Taylor, and soon made his appearance in Mrs.
Erskine's tavern. Now " Watty,''' generally so called, was
a rattling member of the Coul and Masonic Clubs (noticed
by Dr. Strang), and had been left a considerable sum of
money by his worthy old father Deacon James Peat, of
the ancient Spoutmouth, the most extensive tanner by
far at one time in Glasgow, or probably in Scotland ; but
Watty was running through the money very fast ; for in
place of attending to the old man's business, he en^a^ed

1 O ' o O

in horse-racing, cock-fighting, and dog-fighting, with all
manner of frivolities within his reach. He Avas, more-
over, the greatest adept at card-playing in Glasgow ; for
he could play tricks of legerdemain, and other things equal
to the famous German, viz., Monsieur Hermann Boaz, who


had recently visited the city long before the Wizard of
the North was heard of, or even born. Yet Watty, with
all his faults, had something like a warm, generous, and
honourable heart, very different, indeed, from characters
of another stamp, who neither respect the laws of God or
man. Watty was touched with genuine sympathy for old
Mr. Taylor, who had really been his father's friend through

We now come to place Mr. Peat himself in a most
singular attitude before our readers. He civilly asked
Mr. Morgan for a sight of the diligence, viz., the writ of
caption, in virtue of which he had seized Mr. Taylor, and
this the messenger readily enough took out of his pocket,
and showed to Mr. Peat, in order, as the latter alleged, that
he might note down the amount of the legal debt, and
endeavour to raise it for the relief of the poor afflicted
debtor. The caption thus exhibited was duly restored
by the messenger to his outer coat pocket ; and Mr. Peat,
in return for this civility, now asked him to take another
caulker of brandy, which the messenger all the more
readily did, on the assurance, and in the belief that Mr.
Peat was going out, or was sending out, for his head-clerk
to fetch the necessary money to liquidate the debt.
Another glass still, on the head of this agreeable prospect
another rizard haddie another pint of Mrs. Erskine's
delicious ale from the tap, and another mutchkin of
whisky for the contented and abiding concurrents. Mr.
Morgan, we should now add, was getting into the best
flow of spirits ; wonderfully well-pleased, indeed, with the
" refreshments " he was getting gratis. Watty perceived
how the barm was working, whether he could raise the
money or not. Mr. Morgan now called for some snuff,
and twopenny worth of black rappee the very thing


Watty wanted was soon brought from a neighbouring
shop, in a u paper poke," and the sneezing soon began at
one part of the table. Watty and Morgan commenced to
tell humorous stories to each other, with a thread of blue
in them, to wile away the time till Watty's clerk or
cashier arrived with "the needful/' viz., the funds to
cover the caption. He in fact arrived, with " a rueful
countenance/' and whispered into the ear of his master
that he could only raise 30 of Thistle Bank Notes
in all his peregrinations. This, with Mr. Taylor's 40,
only made 70, while the debt, exclusive of expenses,
amounted to <l35. Mr. Peat, on this disappointment
which was a real disappointment to him, but a
sorer one to Mr. Taylor wrote a hurried note in
pencil to one of his cronies, of the name of Mitchell,
begging him to come immediately to Mrs. Erskine's tavern,
with all the cash he could muster, but to be sure to bring
alongst with him a pack of cards, whether he brought any
cash or not. The game on which we are now entering
entirely new and original to our readers was soon to be
played out in a most extraordinary manner. Never, we
venture to say, was any game played like it in Glasgow,
or in Scotland either ; for it came, as we shall show,
under the notice of the Lords of Council and Session in
Edinburgh, and astonished some of their lordships not a
little. Mr. Walter Peat, in the first instance, began to
play some simple tricks, per the cards, with his friend
Mr. Mitchell. The messenger, expert though he was at
his own profession, had never seen anything of the kind ;
he was perfectly enchanted with the performances. But
all this was exceedingly simple to what followed. Watty
offered to bet a board of oysters and a noggin of brandy
to the company round, if he would not put a silver half-


crown into the messenger's own pocket-handkerchief,
and challenge the messenger to hold it firm and fast in
his grip, namely, in his the messenger's own hands
while, by a knock upon the table, he (Watty) would make
it leap and fly away. The messenger was perfectly dumb-
foundered with this ; for the feat was instantaneously
accomplished by Watty, as he said he would do. Next,
he could tell the messenger now gaping and glowering
with much amazement, and hiccuping, and staggering to
examine the cards, and the table itself that if he, the
messenger, would just but shut his blinkers (eyes) for a
moment or so, and then open them, and look at any card
in the presented pack, and be sure to think well of it,
and on no other but to that particular card in that pack,
that he (Watty), at the next shuffle of the cards, would
detect, and positively show to the messenger the very
card he was thinking about. Another glass of brandy on
this trick; they were getting now rather numerous, and
began to tell quite visibly on the optics of the messenger.
But the grand climax was yet to come, and Watty
had a more wonderful trick in reserve still, respecting the
desperate scheme he was now meditating unto himself.
The two concurrents had just stepped out for a little to
the back door of the premises, and in their absence the
messenger began to grumble and growl, as well he might,
for the shades of evening were beginning to manifest
themselves in the Gallowgate ; but Watty, who was really
possessed of the most winning and gentlemanly manners,
contrived yet to pacify the crusty messenger in the most
agreeable manner imaginable. One of the last and final,
and by far the most desperate of his many tricks, was
now, as we have hinted, to be played off. He smilingly
told the messenger that if he would just rise up from his



chair, and steady himself in the middle of Mrs. Erskine'a
parlour, and look directly to the top of the roof, he would
there discover six half-crowns sticking together on the very
plaster of the roof (which half-crowns Watty showed the
messenger he had just taken out of his pocket), and that
he (Watty) had only to whistle, and down they would
come right merrily, ringing on the mahogany table.
While thus engaged, and intently looking up to the roof
at this last singular feat, which eclipsed all the others,
Watty slipped his hand into the wallets of the messen-
ger's pocket, took out the caption, and gently slipped it
into Mrs. Erskine's parlour fire, where it was speedily
consumed he standing with his back to the fire to con-
ceal the conflagration, and whistling and bidding the mes-
senger to watch the queer movements at the roof. Now
says Watty, please look once more at the table, and see
how the half-crowns are reeling and dancing. The
messenger, if amused before, was perfectly astonished
now. He shook Watty's hand in token of the pleasure
and admiration he had enjoyed from his exploits, and
Watty kindly offered to give him a snuff out of his own
mill, which produced some further effects in the sneez-
ing style. Poor Taylor, all this time was silent as a "inowdi-
wart" under the earth. But the messenger could no longer
be wheedled or put off in this manner. He at last broke
out into an awful fit of cursing and swearing. . He heard 5
staggering, with surprise, the evening six o'clock bells of the
city ringing, and conveying to his ears their well-known
symbols. He was fuddled enough, yet sober enough to
know and to do his legal duty. He therefore now shouted
for his concurrents they instantly obeyed his call. "Is
the money now ready?" said he, steadying himself and
addressing his poor, lately amused, but still sober and un-


easy prisoner. " If not ready instanter, by Jupiter Judianus
(a famous expression of his), to jail, to jail, without more
delay!" "Ah," said Watty, in his mild and soothing strain,
" I've been really very much disappointed, you see, Mr.
Morgan, for the want of the cash ; my clerk has done all he
could to raise it, and so have I ; but disappointments and
crosses will even happen in the best skinning tan-pits, as
I've heard my worthy father say, and sometimes also the
very best of friends must part under the most trying cir-
cumstances. I'm very much obliged to you, Mr Morgan,
for the opportunities you have given me of settling the
caption ; but since fate has so ordered it, let us please
now just have the parting glass, and I will call in the bill,
pay the reckoning to Mrs. Erskine, ere we go since go
we must down to limbo in the jail. I will have/' says
he, "at least the melancholy satisfaction of seeing my
poor, old, worthy friend Mr. Taylor agreeably attended to,
when he reaches that deplorable place. Here's to you,"
said Watty to Mr. Taylor, "keep up your heart, old boy;"
and they saluted each other most affectionately. Indeed,
the very tears of the two stoic concurrents, albeit seldom
used to the melting mood, began to start at this generous
and manly speech, delivered in the above few words, but
with the most pathetic eloquence, for which, in truth,
Watty, in his earlier and better days, was famed in the
College of Glasgow. The aroused messenger, with his wand
of office which was a little mahogany rod, with silver
bars and the King's crown in silver indented at the end
of it tapped Mr. Taylor at last on the shoulder, as much
as to say, " Sir, you are now my prisoner; come away to
Jail ; " and away they all went in quiet order, shaded by
the evening moon, which was just beginning to peep
directly above the Old Wooden Bridge flanking the jail


at the foot of the Saltmarket, and which bridge some of
our elder citizens may remember to this day. On arriv-
ing at the outer door of the old jail, and knocking loudly
enough at its huge iron casements for admission, as it be-
came the duty of the messenger-at-arms to do, he began,
naturally enough, to put his hands into his pockets for the
neoessary writ of caption, in virtue of which alone the
prisoner could be received and detained within the prison
walls. Old Mr. John M'Gregor, the respected jailor, was
quietly sitting at his desk, on the evening of the gloomy
entrance, reading the Glasgow Courier of that morning
a paper, we take leave to say, differing as we often did
from its politics, which ought to have commanded the
patronage of the Conservatives of Glasgow to a much
greater degree than has been accorded to others of a less
consistent description connected with that school. But
we have seen enough to know that in politics, as other
things, the most artful dodgers frequently succeed best.
We have, by-the-bye, a chapter in hand of all the varied
newspapers in Glasgow, with their proprietors, &c., for the
last forty years, but in the meanwhile we must dispose of
Mr. Messenger Morgan and his caption ; the interest of
which, if there be any interest about it, is just beginning
to be developed.

The old jailor, Mr. John M'Gregor, though he had
booked hundreds, yea thousands of prisoners in his day,
was very much surprised indeed, when he beheld his old,
respected friend Mr. Taylor, brought into his department
by Messenger Morgan. Mr. M'Gregor circumspectly arose
from his seat, and recovering himself from surprise, with
a deep sigh, shook Mr. Taylor most affectionately by the
hand, and spontaneously declared that he would endeavour
to give him the very best accommodation the jail afforded,


This was some comfort at the outset. Mr. Taylor was
touched with this, and expressed his very grateful
acknowledgments. "Sae hand me the diligence," said

O *^2 '

the good jailor to Mr. Morgan, " in order that I may regu-
larly book it in terms of law/' The messenger began now
to rumble and fumble in his pockets for the essential
caption. He turned all his pockets inside out he
stripped his vest he threw open his flannel semmit, and
other places, for the necessary and important document,
but it came not to his hands. The perspiration began to
break upon his head. He became sober and perfectly
sedate, at the very search he was making on his own
person for the lost caption. Casting a stern glance at
Mr. Peat, and recollecting how he had bamboozled him
with the cards, he boldly and directly challenged him for
the production of the missing document. "Me your
caption," said Mr Peat, " take care what you say, sir ;
ripe me, if you like, from the head to the bottom;'' and,
suiting the action to the word, Watty himself instantly
turned the whole of his pockets, as the messenger himself
had done, inside out, to the entire satisfaction of the
jailor, who pronounced him to be guiltless of that caption,
and, consequently, of the messenger's imputation against
him. His companion, Mr Mitchell, went through the
same process of examination rifled from head to foot.
Mr. Taylor himself, the afflicted prisoner, went likewise
calmly through the same ordeal; but nothing, in the
shape of a caption, was found upon him except the forty
pound notes which the messenger had disdained to accept
from him in the morning. The old, surprised jailor, now
took the pen from the outside of his ear, where he gene-
rally kept it, and clasped his hands and twirled his
fingers round and round with amazement! "Mr. Morgan,


yes indeed, Mr. Morgan! I call upon you, and insist
Where's your caption, sir? Produce it momentarily."

The messenger, now greatly agitated for it was time
for him to be so searched again and again in his pockets ;
he even took off his shoes and stockings, thinking that
he might have hidden the caption there for preservation
during some of the frolics in Mrs. Erskine's house ; but
no caption, nor the vestige of one, was there to be found.
Mr. Taylor, of course, stood mute, apparently reconciled
to his fate. "Mr. Morgan" said the jailor "Mr William
Morgan, messenger-at-arms, I here say to you and your
concurrents, How dare you to take this decent, honest
gentleman to this Jail of Glasgow, at this hour of the
evening, on a pretended caption, when you cannot show
such in this lawful and abiding place?"

The messenger was here struck dumb ; he fumbled and
again fumbled, and tore open the very lining of his hat,
but of course to no purpose. " Then, Mr. Morgan," said
the jailor, " how, in all the world, have you really brought
Mr. Taylor here without ony warrant ? It's an illegal
apprehension ; it's a manifest invasion of the liberty of
the subject, for which Kings have even been deposed
oftener than once ; and, Mr. Morgan (looking at him now
with great solemnity), the Lord Lyon King of Scotland, the
Year! of Errol, who commissions all messengers-at-arms,
and you among the lave, may soon look after you, Mr.
Morgan, and suspend or depose you, for this unlawful
authority. Nae warrant ; nae caption ! My certes, Mr.
Morgan, you have much to answer for/'

Mr. Morgan could not parry these thrusts by any
means whatever. Indeed, without the caption, he became
sensible that he was, to say the least of it, in a most awk-
ward scrape. The jailor acted like a sensible and judicious


man, without knowing anything of what had previously
taken place in Mrs. Ealph Erskine's tavern that day. " I
now require you, Mr. Win. Morgan," said the jailor with
great dignity, "in His Majesty's name, and by His
Majesty's authority, and also by the authority of the
Lord Provost and Magistrates of Glasgow, whose servant
I am, that you instantly produce to me your alleged cap-
tion, otherwise I shall order the turnkeys to open the
doors, and liberate Mr. Taylor from prison. I shall not
keep him here for another minute longer; for, you see,
Mr. Morgan and you must be sensible of it the Magis-
trates and the Town-Clerks would soon punish and dis-
miss me, the keeper of this Tolbooth, from office, for
daring to detain any decent citizen without the semblance
of any lawful warrant ; and you know, Mr. Morgan,
besides, that you may be liable in damages and solatium,
under the Wrongous Imprisonment Act, 1701, c. 6
which Act, praise be blest, is the palladium of all the rights
and liberties of Scotchmen (the Hcebious and the Corpius
Act so he pronounced it) for which, we learn from Eng-
land, that Hampden bled on the field, and Sydney died on
the scaffold. But WQ," said the jailor, rising with the dig-
nity and importance of his patriotic subject, "we have
our own Bannockburn and our Flodden field! Yes,
and in later times we had the battle of the Sheriff-
Muir ; and do you think our own noble Bailies of
Glasgow can forget the battle of FalTdrk ?" The worthy
jailor was getting grandiloquent on this last theme ; but
the caption the want of the legal caption necessarily
terminated the thread of his oration. Before leaving
Mr. M'Gregor, we take the opportunity of saying that he
was one of the most stately and dignified jailors we ever
saw of the past generation ; and it is but civility on


our part here to add that his successors have oil ureen
honourable and correct men.

No caption being forthcoming, for the obvious reason
already indicated to our readers, the old, respected jailor
finaly acquitted himself in this wise : " Ha' turnkey, draw
the bolts, open the jail doors, and let Mr. Taylor and his
decent friends out. Gang awa' hame, Mr. Taylor, as fast
as possible, and see and get your affairs adjusted. My
best blessings be with you and yours."

The now dismantled, overthrown, and perplexed mes-
senger, beginning to be really terrified at the predica-
ment in which he found himself placed and adverting
to the serious admonitions of the jailor, and the fear of
the Lord Lyon King-at-Arms, to whom he was amenable
(as all messengers-at-arms in Scotland are to this day)
stood at the wicket-door of the jail, with his eyes rolling
like furies, at beholding the marvellous and unprecedented
escape of Mr. Taylor and his friends, now gliding smartly
before him; and Watty, almost rubbing shoulders with
him, and laughing outright in his face. But the mes-
senger shook his clenched fists at them, and threatened
that he would soon do for them yet. Suffice it to say,
at this part of the case, that Mr. Taylor proceeded to
Edinburgh that night, with the Mail Coach, to take shelter
within the precincts of Holyrood House, a sanctuary
where no messenger-at-arms, with any caption, ever dared
to enter, since the days of Lord Darnley, the ill-fated
husband of the lovely Queen Mary.

Mr. Morgan and his concurrents were now, as our
readers may perceive, completely outwitted. They did not
really very well know what next to do under the peculiar
circumstances. But conceiving that the escape of Mr.
Taylor, after his apprehension, involved serious conse-


quences to the messenger himself, besides his cautioners
and partner in business, they, strange to say, hatched and
agreed on the following story, more reprehensible in fact,
and less worthy by far, than any of the tricks which
"Watty had been playing in Mrs. Erskine's tavern. They
saw that it would never do for them to let Mr. Railton,

Online LibraryPeter MackenzieOld reminiscences of Glasgow and the west of Scotland : containing the trial of Thomas Muir ... (Volume 1) → online text (page 38 of 48)