McGonagall’s Life

The Autobiography of Sir William Topaz McGonagall

A long and detailed account of McGonagall’s life and adventures which has been divided into more manageable sections…

Part 1

Early days, his inspiration to become a poet and his first appearance on the stage.

Part 2

The famous journey to Balmoral and the reception he got there.

Part 3

A concert in the village of Fowlis and his adventures on the way home.

Part 4

McGonagall’s trip to New York and the things he saw there.

Part 5

He leaves Dundee for Perth, and receives a hearty highland welcome in Inverness.

Part 6

A practical joke results in his visiting London.

Part 7

Perth proves too small for a member of the Order of the White Elephant.

Other Autobiographical Accounts

A Summary History of Poet McGonagall

What appears to be an early account by McGonagall which concentrates on his family and his childhood in the Orkney islands.

Brief Autobiography

A short account principally taken up with the epic trip to Balmoral.


A tirade against publicans – one of whom was “the first man to throw peas at me”, with some insights into the economics of being a working poet.

The Book of the Lamentations of the Poet Macgonagall

A false – almost libellous – autobiography, written by one John Willocks in 1885 that may nonetheless have some basis in truth.

Official Documents

Marriage Record

The record of William’s marriage in 1846.

McGonagall in the Census

Every ten years the population was recorded in an official census. The entries provide a fascinating series of snapshots of the changes in the poet’s life and circumstances.

McGonagall at Ellis Island

An official record of William’s transatlantic voyage in 1887.

Death Record

The record of William’s death on 26th September 1902.

Newspaper Accounts

News of the Poet’s doings in and around the city was a regular feature of the Dundee newspapers. Often focusing on the near riotous disorder that generally ensued when the Poet attempted to display his talents in public, the following articles offer a vivid picture of his career:

Recollections of “a Stage-Struck Hero” An eye-witness recalls McGonagall's early stage appearances. July 1872
Saturday Evening Concerts Thistle and Victoria Halls Pre-poetry McGonagall appears in a mixed concert and demonstrates "a style of acting peculiarly his own" October 1876
The First Poem McGonagall's first ever poem, as it appeared in the Weekly News. July 1877
An Offended Poet "Publish my poems or I'll stop sending them to you!" the offended poet threatens January 1878
Job’s Reflections on the “Great McGonagall” A rave review of his first publication, where the writer has "no hesitation in declaring that Shakespeare never wrote, poetry like Mr McGonagall's" May 1878
“Her Majesty’s Poet” and his Grocer Hard times for the poet, but his fame has spread as far as Leeds! June 1878
Rivals in Renown McGonagall's fortunes are compared to Tennyson's June 1878
Extraordinary Freak of a Dundee “Poet” A report of the famous trip to Balmoral June 1878
Rev. G Gilfillan and Poet McGonagall A thank-you letter for his book of poems July 1878
Correspondence McGonagall has written a drinking song! March 1879
Poet McGonagall at the Working Men’s Club McGonagall's "manner and method" throws the efforts of all the other performers into the shade. April 1879
To Correspondents A first glimpse of the Newport Railway June 1879
To Poet McGonagall Poetic advice published in the People's Journal June 1879
Poet McGonagall’s Holiday Tour An unsuccessful tramp out to Coupar Angus June 1879
Grand Entertainment by Mr McGonagall The poet is the subject of a poem, for once July 1879
Entertainment by Mr McGonagall at Lochee Another show, another riot July 1879
A Night with the “Poet” McGonagall A brief report of another performance October 1879
Poet McGonagall’s Tour Through Fife An account, written by the poet himself, of a typically frustrating reading tour. October 1879
Entertainment by “Poet” McGonagall "Mr McGonagall's vocal powers are only equalled his elocutionary ability" October 1879
Grand Entertainment by Poet McGonagall A few new poems are added to his usual repetoire December 1879
The Poet McGonagall Interviewed A few words with the poet, before his going on stage in Newport. April 1880
A Bogus Boucicault A meeting with a famous dramatist turns out to be a hoax June 1880
McGonagall’s Return from London The Poet's friends seek to cheer him up after his misadventures in the capital. July 1880
Accident to McGonagall McGonagall falls victim to the crowd's "enthusiasm" August 1880
McGonagall in the Thistle Hall A typically riotous and unprofitable stage appearance. October 1880
McGonagall in Excelsis A slightly more successful performance, financially if not artistically. November 1880
Hoaxing the Public A "working man" is unimpressed by a McGonagall performance December 1880
McGonagall at Arbroath For once it is the audience that is at risk of injury in this account. February 1881
A Dundee “Bard” at Brechin Guess which one. April 1881
Montrose Another venture into the surrounding towns for "The McGonagall". May 1881
McGonagall on the Tour This time he's in Coupar Angus June 1881
Assault on the Police – The “Poet’s” Son in Trouble Charles is in trouble after an affray at Step Row August 1881
“Poet” McGonagall at Lochee Missiles thrown at the poet include a bag of treacle September 1881
Sir Garnet Wolseley and the Poet McGonagall As if fighting off fourteen thousand Egyptians wasn't enough for Sir Garnet to deal with November 1882
Poet McGonagall’s Plaint Quoting Shakespeare in the Police Court February 1883
A Specimen “Poem” They're not impressed by McGonagall's gifts down in Liverpool June 1884
A Noisy Entertainment McGonagall's son gets into the act July 1884
School Board Prosecutions in Dundee William's granddaughter has been skipping school February 1885
The Domestic Troubles of a “Poet” Overindulgence in the demon drink gets William's daughter five days in prison May 1886
Local Jottings The first inkling of the trip to New York February 1887
Local Jottings More threats to "take himself out of the country" from the poet February 1887
Poet McGonagall on the Atlantic A poem-strewn diary of his journey to New York. He seems to spend most of the time eating! April 1887
Return of McGonagall, the Poet, to Scotland "Inspiration seems to have seized him very often, especially after dinner" May 1887
An Extraordinary Poet News of McGonagall's return from America May 1887
McGonagall’s Address to the New Tay Bridge A new "McGonagallian masterpiece" is hailed July 1887
The Lorgnette McGonagall "declines to be trammelled with the rules of poesy" December 1887
A Letter to the Editor An anonymous correspondent seeks to defend the great man from snowballs March 1888
The Poet McGonagall in Tribulation McGonagall ends up minus a tooth after a fracas in a shop May 1888
McGonagall Assaulted When the poet loses a tooth in a scuffle, it makes the news as far south as Sheffield May 1888
Magnificent Gift to Poet McGonagall McGonagall's American admirers send him some dubious shares. August 1888
The Great McGonagall A performance in Arbroath leads to the usual chaos December 1888
McGonagall at the Circus A plot among the city's publicans ruins his debut under the big top December 1888
McGonagal at the Nethergate Circus McGonagall appears in the big top in this hair-raising account. December 1888
McGonagall in the Circus Again A return visit to the big top is marginally more successful December 1888
The “Poet” McGonagall Denounces Football Apparently all footballers are addicted to drinking, including the poet's son December 1888
McGonagall as Macbeth The tragedian gets the same rough reception as the poet did from the circus crowd. January 1889
McGonagall at the Circus McGonagall shows his audience "how Macbeth should be played" February 1889
McGonagall’s New Reading of “Macbeth” If Henry Irving was there to pick up any tips, he was disappointed February 1889
McGonagall in Glasgow Where a local journalist compares him with Walt Whitman! April 1889
Licence for Cooke’s Circus McGonagall's removal from the bill was one of the conditions August 1889
McGonagall, Poet and Tragedian The Piper o'Dundee greets the publication of William's first book. May 1890
Welcome to Stanley A special prize is awarded to McGonagall June 1890
McGonagall in the Free Library McGonagall presents a free copy of his magnum opus September 1890
City Gossip An admirer from Zululand writes that McGonagall's poems "show a taste not to be met with in many of the writings of the present age." March 1891
A Night with McGonagall The gift of a giant sausage offends the poet March 1891
“Poetic Gems” by William McGonagall The Evening Telegraph greets the publication of the book March 1891
McGonagall in the Free Library A second volume of Gems is donated to the library March 1891
Dundee’s Laureate McGonagall A review of the second series of Poetic Gems March 1891
City Gossip The second volume of Poetic Gems is out, "the greatest work ever issued from the Dundee press". March 1891
The Poet of Dundee The latest gem sings the praises of Monikie May 1891
City Gossip An unsuccessful manuscript sale, and fan mail from Brazil June 1891
The McGonagall on Tour An interview with the poet as he passes through Brechin August 1891
City Gossip McGonagall petitions for a state pension September 1891
Music and The Drama A passing reference to the great man in a Manchester diary column February 1892
A Night with McGonagall A night of poetry, tragedy and even literary criticism from the great man February 1892
The Bold McGonagall Son John is in trouble with the law again February 1892
McGonagall Again With "addresses pouring in on every hand" things are looking up for the poet March 1892
Dramatic Recital by McGonagall A less successful return visit to the "Dundee, Lochee, and East of Scotland Poetical and Dramatical Society" April 1892
City Gossip The Troubles of Matthew Mahoney is hot off the press October 1892
City Gossip The Lifeboat Demonstration is described, even though the poet didn't see it. October 1892
All Sorts and Conditions He pays tribute to the late Lord Tennyson October 1892
City Gossip Tennyson is dead, but the English have the succession of the Laureateship sewn up. October 1892
Gossip from Truth He might have a chance at the Laureateship, if only he can keep writing like Walt Whitman! October 1892
City Gossip A rebuke from one nobleman is followed by an order from another October 1892
Gossip From Truth The Marquis of Lorne does not appreciate the Poet's gifts November 1892
Literary News and Notes, etc News of McGonagall's claims to the Laureateship reaches Australia December 1892
City Gossip One of many appearances in the Weekly News' diary column, here the Poet tells us why he may leave Dundee, and how he could be persuaded to stay. January 1893
All Sorts and Conditions News of the tweed suit, and the poets thanks for it January 1893
City Gossip A rival greets the news of McGonagall's threatened departure. January 1893
City Gossip McGonagall replies to his rival's poetic assault. January 1893
McGonagall and the Basket A case for CSI Dundee February 1893
All Sorts and Conditions The tweed suit is almost ready February 1893
All Sorts and Conditions The tweed suit arrives, but not at Step Row February 1893
McGonagall’s New Tweed Suit The much-awaited tweed suit arrives March 1893
A Correspondent Writes A fund is being got up to help McGonagall March 1893
Presentations to Poet McGonagall More backhanded gifts for the Poet, this time including a ridiculous hat. March 1893
Honour to McGonagall A piano almost becomes a casualty of the battle of Bannockburn April 1893
The McGonagall Family in Trouble The poet's son and daughter are accused of a serious assault April 1893
The Poet McGonagall In Court McGonagall comes to the defence of his children April 1893
Poet McGonagall Disgusted with Dundee McGonagall takes another step towards leaving Dundee May 1893
McGonagall in Arbroath He's there to present the prizes at a football match May 1893
Poet McGonagall Returns Thanks A kind reception from the Arbroath Oddfellows earns them an ode May 1893
All Sorts and Conditions The poet is advised to put in a claim for the Laureateship July 1894
All Sorts and Conditions McGonagall is introduced to Lord Grey. Next stop the Queen! August 1894
All Sorts and Conditions Tayport is honoured with a visit and a poem August 1894
McGonagall and the Laureateship McGonagall is ready, should Her Majesty require his services August 1894
Poet McGonagall’s “Modest Request” The poet tries to get free transport across the silvery Tay September 1894
“Too Deep for Music” The reason why there'll never be a McGonagall musical, apparently. September 1894
Poet McGonagall Evicted An ignominious end to McGonagall's long residence in Dundee October 1894
City Gossip McGonagall finally makes good his threat to leave Dundee. October 1894
All Sorts and Conditions Can Sir Henry Irving compete with McGonagall? The reporter thinks not November 1894
All Sorts and Conditions Four giants of nineteenth century literature and drama meet up in Edinburgh November 1894
Sons of the Great McGonagall Two of the poet's sons are in court for fighting each other December 1894
Small Talk A short review of the works of an "untutored genius" December 1894
A “Knighthood” for Poet McGonagall The first news of his Burmese knighthood February 1895
Honours to Poet McGonagall The poet is simultaneously honoured in Burma and Canada February 1895
McGonagall’s Departure from Perth Perth's loss is Edinburgh's gain May 1895
McGonagall on Blackie Posthumously, of course. June 1895
Poet McGonagall as Judge Colston’s Rival McGonagall shows a rival how it's done. October 1895
All Sorts and Conditions There's no chance of McGonagall coming back to Dundee October 1895
All Sorts and Conditions This time he's entertaining the Edinburgh Volunteers November 1895
All Sorts and Conditions Glasgow readies itself for an appearance by Sir William February 1896
All Sorts and Conditions The sole surviving fragment of a missing "gem" June 1896
All Sorts and Conditions A diary column entry admires his "Address to the Moon" April 1897
Here and There A London publisher produces a jubilee edition of his works June 1897
“Poet” McGonagall On Bennet And His Bauble An affront to Queen Victoria supposedly raises the poet's ire October 1897
Sir William Topaz McGonagall’s Poetic Recital The pianist doesn't show up, but the show must go on! December 1898
Poet McGonagall at Crieff Another boisterous McGonagall concert, but this time he's got police protection. May 1899
The One and Only Two new poems from a unique writer August 1900
“Truth” on McGonagall The things you have to deal with as a King. March 1901
Mixed Jute Yarns McGonagall is spurned in the Dundee market. August 1901
Poet McGonagall in Perth A return visit, for one night only, to the Fair City December 1901
McGonagall at Perth Perth gives the Poet a warm welcome December 1901
Perth’s “Hundred Consummate Asses” The Lyric Club is rebuked for their treatment of McGonagall December 1901
McGonagall in Perth – The Poet Kindly Treated A correspondent comes to the defence of the Lyric Club December 1901
Poet’s Son in Trouble One of William's sons gets 20 days in jail for theft. September 1902
Death of McGonagall, “The Poet” The Edinburgh Evening News carries the sad tidings September 1902
Day by Day A diary column carries news of the poet's death September 1902


The passing of the great Poet and tragedian was marked in the following Dundee newspapers after his death on the 29th September 1902: