The Poet McGonagall In Court

Dundee’s “Poet” and his Sword

John McGonagall, son of “Poet” McGonagall, Dundee, was at Dundee Sheriff Court charged with assaulting William Harvey (59), ropemaker, Step Row. The accused admitted the charge, but stated that he acted in self-defence. The poet was called as a witness for the defence. He proceeded, in a loud voice and with tragic gestures, to give his version.—The Court Officer: Do not speak so loudly.—Witness: Granted. I am of a tragic disposition—(laughter)—and must speak out. This man has haunted me like an evil shadow, calling out to me— “Poet, poet, silvery Tay. silvery Tay, bring out your sword an’ ill fecht you.” What would be the consequence, my Lord, if brought out my sword? He could not stand the strokes of that sword for five minutes. With one stroke of my sword I declare I could sweep 50 of King Edward’s army into the Tay!” (Great laughter.) —The charge was found not proven.

Yorkshire Evening Post, 26th April 1893

A Tragic Defence

Before Sheriff Campbell Smith yesterday, John McGonagall, labourer, Step Row, was tried on the charge of having assaulted to the fracture of a couple of ribs William Harvey, ropemaker, in the house of his father, the Poet of Dundee and Magdalen Green, on 8th inst. Dr Templeman deposed that the man had had two of his ribs fractured, from what cause he could not say . Harvey in evidence gave a detailed account of his conflict with McGonagall. His daughter, he said, was married to the accused’s brother, who was at present an inmate in Westgreen Asylum, and on the occasion in question he called to inquire concerning him. Accused sister refused him admission, and accused himself subsequently followed him, tripped him and jumped on him with bis knees and feet. To this attack he attributed the fracture of his ribs which had necessitated his confinement in the Royal Infirmary. Margaret Steel, schoolgirl, and others who saw the meeting between parties spoke to the attack upon Harvey, and a police officer stated that he found accused hiding in the coal bunker, and protesting his innocence. William McGonagall, the Poet, was described by his son as worth the whole lot of the previous witnesses, appeared for the defence. Having taken the oath in a very imposing style, he entered into a graphic description of the disturbance with so much vigour that the Court Officer had to call him to order. Whereupon the poet exclaimed that, being of a tragic disposition, he had to speak out. On the question of who was the aggressor, he alleged that Harvey struck at the accused with a waist belt, and used signs signifying that he would knock off his head. This, he maintained, was quite right in defence of a house, which was his father’s house, from an attempt at the door, and this man was an enemy, who had haunted witness like an evil shadow, and called — “Poet, poet, silvery Tay, silvery Tay, bring out your sword and I will fight you.” What, said the poet in conclusion, would have been the result had he, who could sweep thirty of Edward’s army into the Tay, produced the sword? The Sheriff, in giving judgement, said that Harvey had no business to persist at McGonagall’s door, but on the other hand, it was a cruel thing to crush his fingers. As to the accused following up, the action was scarcely defensible, though not inexcusable. If his Lordship had been satisfied that McGonagall, jun., broke the man’s ribs by direct and overt violence, such as a kick, he would find him guilty, but, on the evidence, he was not convinced that had been done. In the whole circumstance he found the charge not proven, and dismissed the accused.

Dundee Courier, 25th April 1893

Comments (1) »

  1. Dan E
    In the year 2016, on the 11th day of April at 10:29 am

    Which son of Williams was in the Westgreen Asylum, how I wonder was the circumstances that got the poor lad there, could it be a rogue gene in the McGonagall family?
    As for Harvey using a waist belt as a weapon, that is if Williams story is to be believed, a leather belt in those days was often used by roughians; they being two to three inches wide with a heavy metal buckle.
    Somehow I feel the McGonagall household would not have been a pleasant environment to live in.

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