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Published by , 2018-12-20 01:52:44

Dougal Graham

Dougal Graham

DOUGAL GRAHAM—“The Peoples Laureate”

Multifarious persons abound in Jacobite history, heroes, villains,
brave men and cowards and everything in-between.
Occasionally, however, an unexpected character emerges that surprises
and delights us all. Such a man was Dougal Graham, not a soldier or
great lord, but an itinerant tinker.

For several centuries the common people of Scotland relied on “chap
books”, literally meaning cheap books, for their news and reading
matter, which travelling “pack-men” or tinkers brought to the towns,
cities and hamlets. These visits only occurred once or twice a year so
were eagerly looked forward too. These “chap books” dealt with many
subjects, history, legends, songs, poetry even dreams and witchcraft.
Dougal Graham was perhaps one of the best known purveyors of these

Born in Raploch, Sterling in about 1724, Dougal’s appearance did
not exactly please the eye. He was just less than five feet tall with a
crooked spine and bony appendages on both back and chest; he relied
on his scintillating wit and repartee to survive the age in which he lived.

Around twenty-one years old at the outbreak of the 1745 rising, it is
likely that Dougal saw an opportunity to make a little money and
enhance his name “at the writing”. He joined the Jacobite Army, not as
a soldier, but as a, “follower of the army with a pack of wares.” These he
replenished along the way and being something of a salesman made a
comfortable living. His observation of both people and his
surroundings whilst traversing the country with the army was greatly
enhanced as a result.

Dougal Graham maintained that he saw all the major actions and
events of 1745/46 from High Bridge to Derby and back, ending up at
Culloden, as well as witnessing the execution of Jacobites from as far
afield as Carlisle and London, either this or his network of agents was

exceptionally good! Whatever one may believe, he certainly used his
experience to great effect by writing in “doggerel” [comic verse
composed in irregular rhythm or badly written verse or words] A
History of the Rebellion, in 1746, the first published account of the
campaign. Literally thousands were sold, although no first editions
have survived (Update: The Association recently found both the first
and second editions at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow). Dougal went
on to publish nine editions.

While the “educated” classes frowned on these books, the common
people really appreciated the coarseness and indeed the down- right
vulgarity within these journals [the quotation from “History of the
Haveral Wives,” describing girls ear-rings was not very delicate but
certainly graphic!]and either read them themselves or found some-one
who could do it for them, usually a friend or other family member, for
contrary to popular belief the “working classes” were not entirely
devoid of education. These prose tales are just about all that remains of
Scots as it was spoken among the country folk of the eighteenth

In 1770, Dougal applied for and was given the post of Skellat
Bellman of Glasgow; perhaps this is what the majority of people
remember him for. The Skellat Bell was used for ordinary
announcements by the Town Crier, unlike the Mort Bell used to tell of
deaths .It is said that there were many applicants for the post so it was
decided all should be given a practical test. The magistrates were the
arbiters of the contest and Dougal entered into the spirit of the
occasion using his appearance to great effect ringing the bell with great
vigour and calling out:

Caller herring,

At the Broomielaw,

Three a penny, three a penny,

But it’s a blewflum,

For the herrings no catch’d,

And the boat’s no come.

Nae b****r else stood a chance! (Editorial comment)

Long after Culloden, Dougal continued to write numerous works
including, Jocky and Maggie’s Courtship, The Ancient and Modern
History of Buckhaven and the Comical Sayings of Paddy from Cork.
He has been much appreciated by many writers and poets since,
including Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns who both enjoyed the
bawdy humour within his writings, also modern Historians have found
them a fountain of knowledge when researching a way of life long since

Dougal Graham died in about 1779 in perhaps his mid-fifties for as
with most things at that time birth and death records were not
meticulously maintained.

He left a plethora of writings in the Scots language before it declined
in use and it can be well worth trying to find and read. It should be
stated that the bawdiness of his tales, that so shocked the Victorians
[prudish lot!] should be of no concern to this generation that can accept
people like Billy Connolly, among others. Truly Dougal Graham was the
Peoples Laureate.

Brian A. Whiting

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