Instead of going directly
back to his work, Edward went down to the harbor to ascertain whether
any of the captains would accept of his services as a sailor. He went
from ship to ship for three days. Some captains were willing to take him
with an indenture, which would have to be signed by his father. Others
were willing to take him without his father’s consent; but in that case
they required two sureties to sign the indenture. These were serious
obstacles—too serious to be got over—and on the third afternoon he left
the harbor with a sorrowful heart. There were several skippers of
coasting vessels, and of lime and coal hulks, who would have taken him
for four years; but these were not the kind of ships that he wished to
Being thus forced, though very reluctantly, to give up all thoughts of
going to sea, he now considered whether it might not be possible to
learn some other trade less hateful tor him than that of a shoe-maker.
But his parents would not hear of any change. They told him that his
former master was willing to take him back, and to give him a shilling a
week more during the ensuing year, and two shillings more during his
last, or fifth, year. But Edward strongly objected to return to the
master who had so cruelly used him.
Not wishing, however, to withstand his parents’ advice any longer, he at
last consented to go on with his trade. But, instead of serving out his
time with his former master, he found a pupil-master in Shoe Lane, who
was willing to employ him, and to improve him in his business. Edward
agreed to give the master, for his trouble, a percentage of his
earnings, besides his pupil-money, and a share of the fire and light.
Edward’s work at this place was mostly of the lighter and smaller sort.
His employer was of a much kindlier nature than the last, and he got on
very well with him. Edward was also, in a measure, his own master. He
could still look after his bird nesting. That was his strongest
attraction out-of-doors. He did not rob the birds of their eggs. His
principal pleasure was to search for their nests, and to visit them from
time to time. When the eggs were hatched, and the little birds were
grown and ready to fly, he would take one or two, if they were
singing-birds, and rear them for himself, or for other bird-fanciers.
It was about this time that Edward began what he called his Wild
Botanical Garden. His parents had left the Green, and removed to another
quarter of the town. Behind the house, and behind the adjoining houses,
was a piece of waste ground about ten feet wide. It was covered with
stones, bits of bricks, and broken tiles. Edward removed these from the
ground, and put them in a corner by themselves, covering them with
earth. He dug over the ground, manured it, and turned it over again.
Then he divided the space into compartments for the reception of plants
and flowers. These were brought from the fields, the woods, and the
banks adjoining the Dee and the Don. He watered and tended them daily;
but, alas! they would not flourish as they had done on their native
soil. He renewed them again and again. The rasp, the wild strawberry,
the fox-glove — or dead men’s bells, as it is there called — the
hemlock, some of the ferns, and many of the grasses, grew pretty well;
but the prettiest and most delicate field flowers died away one by one.
His mother, who delighted in flowers, advised him to turn the ground
into an ordinary garden. Now, although Edward loved garden flowers, lie
very much preferred those which he found in the woods or growing by the
way-side, and which he had known from his infancy. Nevertheless, he took
his mother’s advice; and knowing many of the places near the town where
the gardeners threw out their rubbish, he went and gathered from thence
a number of roots, flowers, and plants, which he brought home and
planted in his garden. The greater number of them grew very well, and in
course of time he had a pleasant little garden. He never planted more
than one specimen of each flower, so that his garden was various in its
beauty. The neighbors, who had at first sneered at him as a fool, on
seeing his pretty garden, began to whisper that the “loon” was surely a
genius, and that it was a pity that his father had not made him a
gardener, instead of a shoe-maker. Edward himself often wished that his
parents had been of the same mind as the neighbors.
Near the back of the house in which Edward lived was an old tannery,
with a number of disused tanning-pits, full of water. These, he thought,
would be a nice place for storing his powets and puddocks. He got a
large pail, went to a place where these creatures abounded, and brought
back a large cargo, heaving them into the pit. But they did not thrive.
They nearly all died. He next put about thirty newts there, but he never
saw them again, dead or alive. At last he gave up this undertaking.
About the same time he used to make a tour among the book-sellers of the
town, to inspect the pictures which they had in their windows. These
visits proved a source of great profit and pleasure to him. He learned
something from the pictures, and especially from the pictures of
animals. He found that there was more to be gained from a visit to the
picture-shops than from a visit to the public-house. When he saw a book
that he could buy, he bought it, though his means were still very small.
It was in this way that he became acquainted with the Penny Magazine. He
bought the first number, and liked it so well that he continued to take
it. He especially liked those parts of it which related to natural
history. Among the other publications which he bought was one called the
Weekly Visitor. It cost only a half-penny. It had good pictures, and
gave excellent stories, which were usually of a religious tendency. He
read this little publication over and over again. Nor did he ever lose
the opportunity of going to the Castlegate on Fridays, to see the
pictures and picture-books, which were usually exposed for sale on
The gun-makers’ windows
were also a source of attraction, for they often had stuffed birds
exhibited in them. There was also a window devoted entirely to stuffed
birds near tlie entrance to the police-office in Watch Lane, and another
in Meal Market Lane, both of which attracted a large share of his
attention. The sight of these things first gave Edward the idea of
preserving animals. The first beast he stuffed was a mole, and he was
very proud of it.
The shoe-making trade having become very flat, Edward left Shoe Lane,
after having been there for about twenty months. He then went to work at
a shop on the Lime Quay, near the harbor. He had steady work there for
some time, at set wages. Though he had less time to attend to his
natural-history pursuits, he still managed to attend to his garden and
his “family,” as his mother termed his maingie3 of beasts. Trade again
recovering, lie went back to work at the old place. But this did not
continue long. The men had to be paid off; and then Edward did not know
what to do.
At that time, emigration to America was the rage. Trade was very
depressed throughout the country. There were bread riots in many of the
manufacturing towns. Numbers of laborers were without work, and without
the means of living. Aberdeen shared in the general depression ; and
many persons emigrated to the United States, where there was a better
demand 'for labor. Edward wished to emigrate too, but he had no money.
He had only a few shillings to spare. But might he not contrive to
emigrate as a stowaway?
This course is frequently adopted at the ports from which ships sail for
America. A boy gets on board, conceals himself in the hold, and after
the ship has got out of sight of land he makes his appearance on deck,
usually half starved. Edward determined to try this method of escaping
from Aberdeen, and more especially from his shoe-making trade. He knew
one of the sailors on board the ship which he had selected; and although
the sailor was strongly opposed to the project, Edward prevailed upon
him to make an opening in the cargo, so as to admit him into a hole near
the bow of the ship. Here, amidst some boxes and coils of rope, Edward
deposited three dozen biscuits and two bottles of water.
He waited outside, hovering about the quay, until the day of sailing
arrived. But the ship did not sail until five days after the advertised
time. When the emigrants went on board, Edward went with them. For three
days and nights he lay among the coils of rope, feeding upon his
biscuits and water. On the forenoon of the fifth day he was in his
berth; and just as the vessel was about to be loosed from her moorings,
Edward’s friend came along the hold in breathless haste, and inquired
(for he was in the dark) “if he was there.” “Surely,” replied Edward.
“For the love of God,” said the sailor, “come out at once, and get on
shore. You have time yet. Simon Grant [the town’s officer] and a lot of
his sharks have come, and they are about to rummage the ship from stem
to stern for runaways. So make haste and come out; you have no chance
Edward still delayed. He did not like to leave his hole. But hearing an
unusual commotion going on, amidst a great deal of angry speaking, and
fearing the worst, he at last very unwillingly crept from his berth,
went on deck, and leaped on shore just as the ship was leaving the quay.
He afterward learned that the town’s officer was in search of another
class of stowaways, who, it seems, had been carried on board in boxes or
barrels. Edward found that he could not see the world after this method;
and he returned home, defeated and mortified.
The Aberdeenshire militia having been called out in 1831, Edward
enlisted in the regiment. He was only about eighteen years old at the
time. When the men assembled, they were found to be a very bad lot—mere
riffraff—the dregs of the neighborhood. They were regardless both of law
and order. Seldom a night passed without the patrol bring-mg in numbers
to the guard-house for being drunk and disorderly. Even during parade
many of the men were put under arrest for insubordination, chiefly
because of the insulting language they used toward their officers.
The militia were only embodied for four weeks. During the first
fortnight, the awkward squads were drilled without arms 'of any sort. It
was only during the last fortnight that they were provided with muskets
and bayonets. The company to which Edward belonged was drilling one day
on the links. It was a bright, sunny afternoon. The company was marching
along near the lower part of the links, when a large brown butterfly
flitted past. Edward saw it in an instant. He had never seen the like of
that butterfly before !4 Without thinking for a moment of what he was
doing, he flew after it—among the bents and sand hillocks, grasping
after it with his hand.
“A very hunter did he rush
Upon the prey: with leaps and springs
He followed on from brake to bush.”
The butterfly eluded him;
it flew away before him. Again he rushed after it, losing his bonnet in
the hunt. He was nearing the spot where it had alighted. He would catch
it now, when suddenly he was gripped by the neck! He looked round, and
saw it was the corporal of his company, with four militia-men behind
Looking Edward sternly in the face, the corporal said, “What’s up,
Edward?” “Nothing.” “'Flic deuce!” “ No, it wasn’t that—it was a
splendid butterfly.” “A butter-devil!” “No! it was a butter-fly!”
“Stuff!” said the corporal; “are you mad?” “No; I don’t think I am.”
“You look like a madman; and I’ll tell you what it is, you’ll have to
pay for this.” “For what?” “For breaking away from the ranks during
drill. I am sent to arrest you and take you to the guard - house: so
And away they marched—two militia-men before, two behind, and Edward and
the corporal in the centre. By this time a number of persons had
collected, the younger people calling out to their companions to come
and see the mad militia-man.
On crossing the links, the prisoner and his escort encountered one of
the officers of the regiment, accompanied by a group of ladies. “Where
are you going with that boy?” said the officer, addressing the corporal.
“ To the guardhouse!” “ What! more insubordination?” “Yes.” “This is
most dreadful; what has he done?” “ He broke the ranks during drill, and
although Sergeant Forbes called him back, he ran away after what he
calls a butterfly.” There was a short silence, after which the ladies
were observed tittering and laughing. “What did you say, corporal?” “He
ran out of the ranks after a butterfly.” “What! ran away from his
exercise for the sake of an insect! Most extraordinary. Is he mad,
corporal?” “Well, the sergeant thinks so; and that’s the reason why I
have got four men to help me to take him; but I don’t think that he’s
mad." "He must be drunk, then?” “No, I don’t think he’s drunk either.”
“He must be either mad or drunk: did he ever behave so before?” “No,'
not to my knowledge.”
The officer and the ladies retired, and talked together. After about
five minutes had elapsed, the officer returned, and said to the
corporal, “Are you quite sure that the prisoner behaved himself properly
before his ridiculous chase after the butterfly?” “I know of nothing
whatever against him, sir.” “Call him forward.” Edward advanced toward
the officer. “Well, sir, what have you to say about breaking the ranks
during drill, and running after the butterfly? Are you subject to fits
of insanity?” Edward did not reply. “Can’t you speak, sir?” cried the
officer, angrily. “Yes, sir,” replied Edward; “but you have asked
questions that I can not answer.” “What induced you to leave the ranks,
and run after a harmless insect?” “I really do not know, unless it was
from a desire to possess the butterfly.”
Looks were exchanged between the officer and corporal, when the former,
calling Edward aside, said to him, “I dare say, young man, you are not
aware that the crime which you have committed against military
discipline is a very severe one. This constant disobedience to orders
must be put a stop to. But as this is your first offense, and as these
ladies have interceded for you, I shall endeavor to obtain your
acquittal, in the hope that you will closely attend to your duty in
future.” Addressing the corporal, he added, “Take him back to the ranks,
and tell Sergeant Forbes that I will speak to him about this affair.”
This was Edward’s first and last military offense, and he served out the
rest of his time with attention and diligence.
Edward disliked returning to his trade. His aversion to it was greater
even than before. He disliked the wages, which were low; but he still
more disliked the manner in which the masters treated their men. They
sometimes kept them idle for days, and toward the end of the week they
would force them to work night and day in order to finish their jobs.
Edward liked his militia life much better ; and, in order to get rid of
the shoe-making, and continue his soldier’s life, he enlisted in the
60th Rifles. When his mother heard of the decision he had come to, she
expressed herself as strongly opposed to it; and, working-up on the
young man’s feelings, which were none of the hardest, he at last
promised not to go, and arrangements were made to get him off. Thus
ended Edward’s military career.
Before he left Aberdeen, he assisted his father as beadle (or
pew-opener) in the North Church, King Street. He continued in this
office for about two years. He liked the occupation very well, and was
sorry to leave it, when he finally left Aberdeen to settle at Banff.