This is my blog, intended to provide information relevant to the history of Edinburgh in the Georgian period. I would love to hear any comments you may have.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Three Edinburgh Bucks

John Kay (1742-1826) was a Scottish caricaturist and engraver of striking originality whose quirky observations offer insights into the culture of Edinburgh in the Georgian period. The city certainly seems to have had no shortage of eccentric characters, and this blog has already featured a few. Pictured below is his engraving 'Three Edinburgh Bucks' showing three well-known Edinburgh 'worthies', The Daft Highland Laird, John Dhu, and Jamie Duff.

The figure on the left holding a walking stick topped by a carving of his own head is James Robertson of Kincraigie, better known locally as The Daft Highland Laird. This gentleman was said to have gone mad whilst incarcerated in the Tolbooth as a supporter of the Jacobite cause, and he was released when the authorities decided he was harmless. Supported by a grant from his family, he lived on in Edinburgh until 1790. One of this man's eccentricities was to carve a series of walking sticks featuring the heads of well-known local people. In the caricature below Kay portrays him showing a stick with two such heads, those of James Graham (a quack doctor) and Edinburgh University's Principal Robertson, to one Dr Glen, who seems little impressed, it has to be said.

In the 'Three Edinburgh Bucks' engraving (top image) the figure in the centre is John Dow or Dhu, Corporal of the Edinburgh Town Guard. This organisation was the only means of policing in the city during the eighteenth century and was comprised mainly of veteran highlanders retired from the military. They were equipped with muskets by day and halberds (see another Kay depiction of John Dhu below) by night. Sir Walter Scott described John Dhu as one of the fiercest-looking fellows he had ever seen. Despite their ferocious aspect and formidable weaponry, apparently the Town Guard were the object of widespread ridicule. It cannot have helped their effectiveness that many of the Town Guard could speak only Gaelic. The formation of a city police force in 1805 rendered the Town Guard obsolete, and they were disbanded.

In the 'Three Edinburgh Bucks' engraving the figure on the right is that of Jamie Duff, another local eccentric and street-dweller. Known far and wide as Daft Jamie, the most conspicuously unusual aspect of this character was his obssessive habit of 'crashing' funerals. Scottish funerals were very often occasions when, after the deceased was laid to rest, whisky was imbibed, and it may be surmised that Jamie was perhaps not quite as daft as many believed. According to one contemporary "no solemnity of that kind could take place in the city without being graced by his presence... by keeping a sharp look-out for prospective funerals, Jamie succeeded in securing almost all the enjoyment which the mortality of the city was capable of affording."  ¹ Another nickname Jamie enjoyed was Baillie Duff, referring to the mock chain of office he sometimes wore on the streets; a baillie was a civic officer in Scottish burghs, and perhaps Jamie felt that his brass chain elevated his lowly status. Below is another Kay engraving of this man, who died in 1788.


1. Kay's Originals (1838),

1 comment:

  1. I believe I may have an original lithograph titled three edin bucks my print shows captions for each buck the first says were a fool folk,the second says good day sir,the third says dodi.dod my chain.can you help me with this ,Are all of the prints captioned?How many Exist? Please email me at vaughjo8@yahoo.com