Lines in Protest to the Dundee Magistrates

Fellow citizens of Bonnie Dundee
Are ye aware how the magistrates have treated me?
Nay, do not stare or make a fuss
When I tell ye they have boycotted me from appearing in Royal Circus,
Which in my opinion is a great shame,
And a dishonour to the city’s name.

Fellow citizens, I consider such treatment to be very hard;
’Tis proof for me they have little regard;
Or else in the circumstances they would have seen to my protection;
Then that would have been a proof of their affection,
And how Genius ought to be rewarded,
But instead my Genius has been disregarded
Why should the magistrates try and punish me in such a cruel form?
I never heard the like since I was born.
Fellow citizens, they have taken from me a part of my living
And as Christians they should have been giving;
But instead of that they have prevented Baron Ziegler from engaging me,
Which certainly is a disgrace to Bonnie Dundee

Who was’t that immortalised the old and the new railway bridges of the Silvery Tay?
Also the inauguration of the Hill of Balgay?
Likewise the Silvery Tay rolling on its way?
And the Newport Railway?
Besides the Dundee Volunteers?
Which met with their approbation and hearty cheers.
And has it come to this in Bonnie Dundee?
But, fellow-citizens, I will not submit to such an indignity
For I am resolved to leave the city
And bid the city a long farewell,
For I cannot get protection in it to dwell,
Therefore I’m resolved from it to flee
For a prophet has no honour in his own country,
And try to live in some other town
Where the magistrates won’t boycott me or try to keep me down

No more shall the roughs of Bonnie Dundee
Get the chance of insulting or throwing missiles at me
For I’m going off to the beautiful west
To the fair city of Glasgow that I like the best,
Where the River Clyde rolls on to the sea,
And the lark and the blackbird whistles with glee.
And your beautiful bridges across the River Clyde,
And on your bonnie banks I’m going to reside

Licence for Cooke’s Circus

Mr Burlington Brumell, variety entertainer, appeared at the Dundee Police-court, on Tuesday last, in support of an application for a licence to give entertainments in Cooke’s Circus, Nethergate. Bailies Craig and Perrie, Messrs Willsher and Tulloch were on the bench. Mr W. B. Dickie, solicitor, spoke on behalf of the applicant, who asked that a licence for a year should be granted.

A report was read from Chief Constable Dewar which stated that the entertainments given by Mr Brumell in the same place last year were not always of a high-class character. They included sparring, and several appearances of William McGonagall, a local “character,” who was received with showers of rotten eggs and other missiles. In one competition the singers had to ride on a donkey’s back, while a bottle of Scotch whisky was offered to the person who could eat a hot dumpling quickest! Mr Dewar also informed the Court that the lease held by Mr Brumell expired on Jan. 26th next, and after that time he had no right or title to the premises.

Mr Dickie explained that the applicant had the privilege of renewing his lease in January, and he practically had the premises for three years. Mr Brumell had conducted such entertainments throughout the kingdom, and had never had any complaints, either in Dundee or elsewhere. The whisky had been offered at a benefit entertainment when Mr Brumell was absent, otherwise he would not have allowed it to be given. He would also promise that McGonagall would not be exhibited this season.

In the course of some conversation, the magistrates expressed a feeling that the distribution of prizes should be stopped altogether. Bailie Craig – who presided – said the work of that court had increased on account of the entertainments, and Mr Dewar stated that one of the “artistes” who gave a sparring performance had been frequently before them. That man had a “history” in Glasgow. He thought sparring a most objectionable kind of entertainment. Bailie Perrie said the whole thing had had a degrading effect. Bailie Craig suggested that Mr Dewar should have the right to object to any items on the playbills. Bailie Perrie – That would make Mr Dewar a kind of partner.

After some further conversation, Mr Brumell agreed to discontinue the prize system, dispense with “Poet” M’Gonagall, and make the entertainment of a kind that would meet with the approval of the Chief Constable. The licence was then granted till 26th January.

The Era, 24th August 1889


This poem was written in response to the Dundee magistrates’ decision to ban McGonagall’s riot-inducing circus performances in 1889. His attempt to move to Glasgow was aborted within the month – the climate didn’t agree with him – but it was the beginning of the end of his time in Dundee.

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Comments (3) »

  1. Steven Armour
    In the year 2013, on the 19th day of August at 1:05 am

    This is actually quite sad.

  2. Dan E
    In the year 2016, on the 15th day of February at 9:18 am

    I am not sure whether the the Magistrates were trying to protect William from being humiliated or were just flexing their muscles, it seems that William badly needed the money to support his family and self. William was trying to make some sort of living in those hard time, he was willing to humiliate himself to do that.
    Who today can know what his circumstances were then, how on Earth can anyone know what it was like in those times. People today have a very easy life in comparison to those time, the other option was to place yourself and family in the hands of the authorities or in other words the dreaded Workhouse. As a small child in the thirties forties my Grandmother and older people used to fear the shame and degradation of the workhouse, I can well understand William doing anything to avoid that.
    The softer life that that we experience today would be pure luxury to folk of those times, in fact people today have absolutely no understanding of those times.

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