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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
George Mealmaker, Author of the "Moral and Political Catechism of Man"


George was an extensive weaver in the Seagate of Dundee, at a period when the giant power of steam had not come into competition with the hand-loom. Unfortunately for himself, he became deeply infected with the political spirit of the times; and, in 1796, from his superior capacity, acquired the distinction of a leading member of one of those societies of "United Scotsmen," formed at that period in various parts of Scotland, "particularly in the counties of Fife, Forfar, and Perth."

The object of these associations was ostensibly the attainment of annual parliaments and universal suffrage; but they were conducted in a manner unwarrantable by law—by means of signs and oaths of secrecy. Mealmaker was charged not only with having taken the test of" secrecy himself, but with having administered the oath to others, and with being otherwise active in promoting the extension of what was then considered an illegal combination. He was also accused of having circulated various "seditious and inflammatory papers or pamphlets," particularly "The Moral and Political Catechism of Man; or, A Dialogue between a Citizen of the World and an Inhabitant of Britain," to which was added a narrative of his arrest, examination, and imprisonment, written by himself, and printed by T. M'Cleish. Edinburgh, 1797. 12mo.

The trial took place at the High Court of Justiciary, on the 10th January, 1798. The pleadings on the relevancy lasted nearly four hours. Mr. Clerk and Mr. White spoke for the prisoner; and the Solicitor-General and Mr. Burnett for the Crown. On proof being led, the existence of the societies—their dividing into other bodies, when the members became numerous—their signs, counter-signs, committees of secrecy, &c, as set forth in the indictment, were fully proven by the witnesses, one of whom was committed to prison for prevarication upon oath. After the Lord Advocate had addressed the jury on the part of the Crown, and Mr. Clerk for the prisoner, the evidence was summed up by Lord Eskgrove, when the jury were enclosed a little before four in the morning. Next day they unanimously returned a verdict of guilty; and the panel was sentenced to fourteen years' transportation. On receiving sentence the prisoner addressed the Court, and blamed the jury for precipitancy, having taken only half an hour to consider the verdict. He said "he was to be another victim to Parliamentary Reform; but he could easily submit, and go to that distant country where others had gone before him. With regard to his wife and children, they would still be provided for; and he who feeds the ravens would feed the young Mealmakers." He died in exile.

Mealmaker was the author of the "Address," for which Mr. Thomas Fyshe Palmer was transported in 1798; and appeared as a witness, although an involuntary one, at the trial.

In a parody on the well-known Scots song of "Fy, let us a' to the weddin' " (written, it is said, by Dr. Drennan), the author of the "Catechism of Man," as well as several of his contemporaries, are alluded to in a strain of tolerable humour. We only remember the following verses:—

"Fy, let us a' to the meetin',
For mony braw lads will be there,
Explaining the wrangs o' Great Britain,
And pointing them out to a hair.

"An' there will be grievances shown,
That ne'er was kent aught thing about;
An' there'll be things set a-going,
That'll end in the devil, I doubt.

"An' there will be Laing and George Innes,
The Reverend Neil Douglas I trow,
Wha rowed frae Dundee in a pinnace,
An' left the Seceders to rue.

"An' there will be Geordie Mealmaker,
An' twa three lads mair frae the north;
An' there will be Hustle, the baker,
An' Callander's son o' Craigforth.

"An' there will be Ross, cudgel teacher--
A fit man for fechtin' is he!
An' there'll be Donaldson the preacher,
A noble Berean frae Dundee."

"Callander's son o' Craigforth" was a person of considerable notoriety in his day. He left Scotland when young, and remained upwards of twenty years abroad. Upon his succession to the Ardkinglass estate, he dropped the name of Callander, and styled himself Sir James Campbell, Bart., although he had no right whatsoever to the title. While abroad he formed an acquaintance with a Madame Sassen, whom, in a power of attorney, he recognised as his wife ; and subsequently legal proceedings were adopted by her to establish a marriage, but without success. The lady, however, was found entitled to a considerable annuity in the Scotch Courts ; but her reputed husband having appealed to the Horise of Lords, the judgments in her favour were reversed. Nothing daunted by this discomfiture, Madame Sassen brought various other actions against Sir James, which were only terminated by the death of the parties, which, remarkable enough, occurred within a fortnight of each other. Latterly the lady became as well known in the Parliament House, by her personal superintendence of her cases, as Andrew Nicol, or the famed Peter Peebles. Sir James published memoirs of his own life—a work not remarkable for the accuracy of its facts.

Ross was a pugilist. He and a black man, named Rogerson, another teacher of the art of self-defence, fought in a large room in Blackfriar's Wynd, on the 6th August, 1791. After pummeling one another for an hour and a half, Ross save in, at the same time claiming the battle, in consequence of foul blows. The tickets of admission were three shillings each; and a large sum was collected. The parties were subsequently fined by the Magistrates, and bound over to keep the peace. A correspondent has favoured us with the following particulars relating to these two doughty heroes:—

"George Ross was originally bred a cloth merchant with the late Thomas Campbell, whose shop was in front of the Royal Exchange. I had the honour of being a pupil of Ross. We began to learn cudgelling with the yard-measures belonging to the shop.

"As a pitched fight was at that time quite a novelty in Edinburgh, and as I happened to be present at this famous battle, I shall here describe it more minutely. Ross was the first who came into the room; and, after showing his science to the assembled multitude, in came Blackie stripped to the skin. Ross, in an impertinent tone, asked Rogerson if he had remembered to bring his coffin along with him! Rogerson made no reply, but planted a most tremendous blow on his antagonist's head, which was returned by a heavy hit on Rogerson's body, which, however, made no impression. Every succeeding blow which Rogerson received just appeared as if it had been struck on a block of iron. Ross was by much the stoutest-looking man, but wanted wind. The windows of the room having been all nailed down, it was found necessary to break one of the panes, out of which Ross's head was more than once projected to give him breath. After this was found necessary, it was evident that it was all up with him. This was a terrible disappointment to him, as the two teachers, it was understood, had staked their professional success on the issue of the battle.

"I may add, that George Ross had a decided taste for poetry. I have seen many little pieces of his very prettily conceived.

"Rogerson, the black, was a sort of an original. He had got a boy into his service as footman; and, on being asked how the lad was coming on, said, 'He is a------clever boy—he and I sometimes drink a bottle of wliisTcy together.' Some time after, he got married; and he said to some of his acquaintances, ' My wife, thank God, is a great favourite. A gentleman, t'other day, gave her a present of a couple of guineas.' After the birth of a son, he never left his house in the morning without giving the following caution to his wife:— 'Now, remember, if anything happen to de leetle infant when I'm away, I will assuredly run you through de body.'' "


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