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,
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
"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.'' "