This worthy of the old school—long known as the Tron
Church bellman —served his apprenticeship as a brassfounder with Mr.
Robert Brown, Lawnmarket, and became a member of the Incorporation of
Hammermen in 1774. He carried on business in a small way on his own
account in Libberton's Wyn'd ; but he was never remarkable for activity
or enterprise. In 1788, he obtained the appointment of ringer of the
Tron Kirk bell, with a salary of ten pounds a-year. This small sum, with
a trifling pension from the Hammermen, was latterly his chief support.
At one period, when far "down in the wind," Eben petitioned the
Incorporation for a little money, saying he had neither work nor metal.
Some of the waggish members observed, what was he going to do with metal
if he had no work!
Eben was well known to the "Hie Schule laddies," by
whom he was much annoyed. They used to call him "Ninepence," in allusion
to his old-fashioned three-cornered hat. Almost every night a band of
them assembled at the door of the Church, waiting his arrival; and
although they had probably tormented him to the utmost during the day,
they seldom failed to gain admission to assist in tolling the bell, and
to amuse themselves by swinging on the rope. The laddies knew well the
"weak side" of the bellman. It was no longer Ninepence, or even Eben,
but Mr. Wilson will ye let us in to bow the bell? "O yes," Eben
would say, quite gratified with the respect shown him; "but see that ye
behave yoursels." Mr. Wilson was in this way commonly saved the trouble
joiving the bell himself.
Although in general very regular, Eben committed a
sad mistake on one occasion, by tolling the curfew at seven o'clock in
place of eight. The shops were shut up, and the streets consigned to
comparative darkness, when the clerks and shopboys discovered with
delight that they had gained an hour by his miscalculation. This
occurrence afterwards proved a source of great vexation to him.—"It's
seven o'clock, Eben, ring the bell!" being a frequent and irritating
salutation on the part of the laddies. It had the effect, however, of
making Eben more circumspect in future. Every night as he came down the
High Street, he was careful to look into the shop of Mr. Eamage (at the
west end of the Old Tolbooth), in order, by a peep at the watch-maker's
timepiece, to satisfy himself that he was right.
Eben was a humble but pretty constant frequenter of
Johnnie Dowie's tavern, which he used regularly to pass in going from
his own house to the Tron Kirk. When the Print of "honest John" appeared
in the artist's window, it is said that Eben was the first to acquaint
him with the fact. In order to be convinced with his own eyes, John was
prevailed on to accompany him to Kay's shop, where. the brassfounder
began to indulge in much merriment at the vintner's mortification. It so
happened that Ebenezer's own likeness had been finished some days prior,
and a few impressions taken. The artist, watching the progress of the
scene outside, at last exhibited the Print of Eben beside that of honest
John ; who in turn enjoyed a hearty laugh at the chopfallen countenance
of the bell-ringer.