Saturday, 14 July 2018

The King's Cadger Road - A Fishy Tale

Forfar as a set of the perapetic Scottish court in the Middle Ages has definitely been under investigated.  Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret have a lingering remembrance in the area, in folklore, history and place-names, but otherwise there is relatively little known about royal associations here, and certainly their origins, partly because the castle (or castles, as there may have been two of them) was erased during the Wars of Independence.  One surprising survival about the logistics of the king's presence here is the memory - if not the actual physical survival - of the King's Cadger Road.  This route was recognised as the official pathway between the fishing village of Usan (Haven), south of Montrose and the king's residence at Forfar.

The approximate line of the Cadger's Path between Usan and the royal burgh of Forfar

   Quite when the King's Cadger Road was developed is unknown.  The author of the Old Roads of Scotland website points out that the Fyschergate mentioned in a charter of Arbroath Abbey is almost certainly identical to the King's Cadger Road.  The road stretched apparently from the market cross of Forfar to the coast.  The royal cadger would bring fish to the court each day it was in attendance and it was 'in breadth the width of a mill wand'.  This measure has been explained by the laborious process by which these round mil stones were transported before the advent of properly surfaced roads.  A  long piece of wood - the mill-wand - was put through the centre of the stone and used to roll it from the quarry to the actual mill. 

   The route passed through Montreathmont Moor and was marked by various subsiduary wayside names:  Cadger Slack, Cadger Burn, among them.  When the moor was divvied up between the adjacent estates in 1780 the laird of Usan asserted his right to the Cadger Road across the moorland, and received as his share an allocation of land in it equal to the superficial extent of the ancient road. According to David Adams:

Ainslie's map of Angus in 1794...may preserve the eastern part of the King's Cadger Road.  The most likely route seems to be from Usan in a straight line south of Dunninald as far as the A92 and then zig-zagging north of Upper Dysart, passing Gightyburn and Rossie Farm School to meet the track from craig and Ferryden tto Kinnell and then crossing Wuddy Law to pass north of Bolshan.  West of that the route is not traceable with any certainty...

   The residence of the cadger himself was called Strook Hill and stood just to the south-west of Usan.  The lands of the cadger were in the form of a strip, comprising 30 acres, reaching from the shore at Usan to the kirkyard of St Skeoch.

Reid summarises a legend which says that one of the king's cadgers was waylaid by the laird of Rossie, so he and his accomplice son were executed on the top of Kinnoull Hill:

It would appear they exhibited a natural reluctance to mouth the scaffold under the fatal tree.  The King himself attended the execution, and seeing their dilatoriness he called out to them 'Mount, boys!' to which circumstance is ascribed the derivation of the name of the farm of Mountboy, which lies on the south side of the Hill of Kinnoul, though Mon-bois (wooded moss) is the origin.
   There are various confusing named in the locality 'King's Seat' or 'Ginshot Hill' are applied to the artificial eminence locally said to be the place of the execution.  One source says that the 'crown of the hill' (possible meaning the artificial mound) was called Kinshie Hill.

   The family who supplied the sea fish to the king were named Tulloch and they held the lands of Bonnington or Bonnyton, through which the Cadger Road passes, under the tenure of supplying fish to the royal table. In 1399 the office of the keeper of the Moor of Monrommon was in the possession of this family.   The Tullochs' lands passed to the Wood family many centuries ago.  One of their number, John Wood, was created a baronet in 1666. There was a Castle of Bonnyton, though this has long since vanished also. 

   There is an old Scots saying which is probably not local to Angus (though it would be nice to think it was):

the king's errand may come in the cadger's gate (or the king will come in the cadger's road).

   The meaning is that even great events may come by unsuspected routes, or that great men may also have to walk humble paths at times. 


Some Works Consulted

Adams, David G., Usan, or Fishtown of Ullishaven (Brechin, 1989).
Carrie, John, Ancient Things in Angus (Arbroath, 1881).
Edwards, D. H., Around the Ancient City (Brechin, 1904).
Jervise, Andrew, Epitaphs and Inscriptions of the North-East of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1875).
Reid, Alan, The Royal Burgh of Forfar (Forfar, 1902).
Rxton Fraser, Rev. William, St Mary's of Old Montrose, or Parish or Maryton (Edinburgh, 1896).

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A Mixed Bag of Rhymes (Part Two)

As a modest celebration of this blog's 150th post, I give you a second selection of randomly gathered rhymes from around the county. (The previous post can be found here: A Mixed Bag of Rhymes).  One of the simplest rhymes in that first entry was a simple recitation of place-names in one part of north Angus, but there is music in the words and poignancy when one thinks that the places mentioned may no longer exist, or not as habitations, and the people who lived there are long vanished and forgotten:

Deuchar sits on Deuchar Hill,
looking doon on Birnie Mill,
the Whirrock an the Whoggle,
the Burnroot an Ogle,
Quiechstrath an Turnafachie,
Waterhaughs an Drumlieharrie.

which leads on nicely to another localised rhyme:

There's Blackha, Buckit Hill,
Lochtie an the Lint Mill,
Cowford, the Waulk Mill, 
The Millton an Balmadity,
The Bogie an Ba'quharn.

   Another northern Angus locality which has a rhyme attached to it is Ledbakie which, in the 19th century, was joined to the neighbouring farm of Blairno.  Its situation, at the foot of the imposing hill of Berrycairn, means that it is destitute of sunlight and gets hardly any light at all in winter time.  A local rhyme described it thus:

Nae wonder though the maidens of Ledbakie be dun
Atween Martinmas an’ Canlemas they never see the sun.

   According to the Rev. Henry Cruickshank, writing in 1899:

It is a drearie place even in summer...A story, probably untrue in actual traditionally given respecting the Cobbs of Ledbakie. In their evening worship they sang a Psalm, which, whether long or short, was gone through from beginning to end. A person passing by one night on the way to Nathro overheard the family singing as was their wont. When he returned next morning, they were engaged in the same pious exercise. He put forth a report that the Psalm was the 119th, and that they had been singing it the whole night.

   Alan Reid in The Royal Burgh of Forfar (1902) gives another localised rhyme, in this case featuring places and burns in the Tannadice area:

The Feerich and the Fogil,
The Burn root of Ogil,
Deuks-Dubs, Tirlywhangie,
Water o Saughs an Drumly Harry.

   Reid also gives another rhyme, from Forfar (which he thinks may be the work of mid-Victorian local poet Davie Herd), and here the focus is not lost and forgotten places, but the names of local characters:

The Steeple o Farfar's biggit on a knowe,
Gang and speir at Bailie Low;
Bailie Low's busy workin,
Gang and speir at Doctor Rankin;
Doctor Rankin's sellin sa,
Gang and speir at Doctor Law;
Dr Law's awa wi's wife,
Gang an speir at Bailie Fyfe;
Bailie Fyfe's awa wi's coo,
Gang and speir at Benjie Rew;
Benjie Rew's lickin Jock
Wi a muckle kail stock!

   Civil strife in 18th century Brechin occurred in the hurly-burly local political field of Brechin in the early 18th century, with fierce rivalry between competing and successive provosts.  The provost who took over the hot seat of provost in 1733 was David Doig of Cookston.  His father had been provost in 1715 and had the misfortune to be imprisoned by the Earl of Mar for being a staunch Hanoverian.  The second provost Doig was deposed by a previous incumbent, John Knox, in 1740, and it may have been fans of the latter who composed a scandalous epitaph about the second provost Doig when he died:

Provost Doig's deid - God be thankit;
Mony a better dog's deid, since he whelpit.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Punishment of Women - Flyters and Scolders

On the centenary of the granting of votes for women in the United Kingdom it is probably a good time to examined the treatment of women in the more remote past.  Fornication was one of the sins for which women were more blamed than men as a matter of course.  In the burgh records of Dundee one can almost taste the seething rage of the authorities when, in  October 1564, they wrote that:

'the women, quhilk are the principal occasions of fornication,' sometimes escape' unpunishit because they are with bairn the time of their apprehending,' devised an ingenious method both severe and safe for chastising delinquents, and enacted 'that the woman apprehendit, of quhat estate that ever she be, sail be brocht to the Merkat Croce openly, and there her hair sail be cuttit oft', and the samin naiht upon the cuck-stule, and [she shall besides] mak her public repentance in the kirk, and this for the first fault. And for the second fault, she sail be had to the Merkat Croce, her hair cuttit oft' and nailit up as said is, and her self carryit in ane cart throw all the pairts of the town, and twa shillings tane of her fee to pay the carter for his lawbours; and sail also forfeit the pain contenit in the auld acts.' The punishment awarded to the male offender, who, by the narrow reasoning of the time, was reckoned the least culpable, was administered with much laxity. During the two days of imprisonment, his companions appear to have had access to him, and there being no stint of food or drink, they would probably spend the time in carousing. Restrictions were, however, now imposed upon this, and it was decreed that the man 'sail remain forty-eight hours in the steeple upon bread and water, and nane to enter in the steeple to bear him company except the officer, under the pain of forty shillings, to be taken of ilk ane of them and distribute to the puir.' The man's friends were to be fined if they found their way in to him, which is a curious illustration of the system of prison discipline then observed. [Maxwell, History of Dundee, p. 83.]

   Again, in July 1580, it was:

'statute and ordained that gif it sail happen ony young woman to commit fornication, and efter she be conceivit with bairn sail be fund ganging with her bare hair as ane shameless [person], then incontinent she sail be had to the cuck-stule, and upon the skaffet thereof her hair sail be cut off, and there nailit, to the example of uthers.'  [Maxwell, History of Dundee, pp. 83-84.]

   In October 1580 the loose, scolding tongues of women were enacted against:

Gif it sail happen ony men's wyiffs or uther women to be heard openly in shameful flyting, reproaching, sclandering, cursing, banning, or making ony horrible imprecations or fearful blasphemies of the name of God betwix them and ony uther persons, then the offenders having money to pay sail stand in ward till they pay forty shillings to the reparation of the common warks, and also sail pass to the Market Croce, or to the place quhair they offendit their neighbours, and upon their knees ask forgiveness. And the person that hes na money to pay, sail be put in the cuckstule be the space of three hours in maist patent time of day, and theirefter satisfie the pairtie in manner foresaid.[Maxwell, History of Dundee, p. 233.]

   'Scolding' as a particularly female crime was targeted by church and burgh officials in all areas as a perennial menace to mankind.  In Arbroath in 1732 a woman was imprisoned for scolding two male neighbours, John Anderson and John Wilson.  Her husband and sister-in-law bailed her out on condition she led a more peaceable life thenceforth.

   Early the following year, also in Arbroath, there was a case of a woman offender sent by the kirk-session to the presbytery, who promptly sent her case back to the session:

The Session, considering that the said Agnes had appeared twelve times before the congregation without any visible signs of repentance, found also that she had been guilty four times of fornication, and had not give a true account of the father of her child, the person she had accused being exculpate by the Presbytery, and that more public appearances would tend to no edification, agreed to this sentence:  That she must lie under a scandal unabsolved, and remove out of town peremptorily at Whitsunday next [History of Arbroath, Hay, p. 241.]

   George Hay wonders that the woman had not received the usual punishment of being ordered to sit for twelve sabbaths before the congregation dressed in sackcloth.  But then again Agnes does not perhaps seem the type who would have countenanced such a sentence.


George Hay, The History of Arbroath to the Present Time (Arbroath, 1876).

Alexander Maxwell, The History of Old Dundee (Dundee, 1884).

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Pitalpin - An Actual Battle or A Dundee Myth?

Death in Angus or Slaughter in Galloway?

The very first post in this blog focused on a battle between Scots and Vikings - the Battle of Barry - which never in fact happened.  This post also details a battle which, very likely, is a fiction.  The place-name Pitalpin is now subsumed within the western part of Lochee, itself now engulfed within the city of Dundee.  The first part of the name is pit, a Pictish term for a piece of land or farm, and the second part seems to be the personal name Alpin.  The name has given rise to the legend that Alpin, father of the mid-9th century king Kenneth, or Cinaed, who supposedly united the Picts and Scots, was slain here in battle.

   The equation of the Pictish pit with an English word with quite a different meaning signals that the story is relatively modern.  Let's get the facts out of the way first.  All the early chronicles and annals agree that this Alpin was killed in Galloway.  One source (formerly known as the Chronicle of Dalriada) states Alpin was slain around the year 841 in that region after he had wholly destroyed and devastated it, 'And then the kingdom of the Scots was transferred to the kingdom of the Picts.' Another version adds the detail that he was ambushed by a single assassin in woodland beside a ford while he rode out with his men. This evidence, it must be said, is not accepted as irrefutable fact and questions remain about the race and identity of his opponent, for instance.  The actual place pinpointed as his burial spot was the Taxing Stone on the east side of Loch Ryan, known in the 13th century as Laight Alpin, 'Alpin's Grave', but latterly just Laight.  His death is supposed to have occurred just over the border at Glenapp, Ayrshire.  Despite the relatively meagre facts the traditions of Alpin's death in Galloway are altogether earlier and more convincing than rival stories that he died in Angus.

The Taxing Stone, or Alpin's Grave, Galloway

Disputed Identity

   Modern scholarship has determined that both Alpin and his son Cinaed - supposed destroyer of the Picts - both bore Pictish names.  Scholars point out that both kings were celebrated in elegaic poetry; Alpin's name was certainly remembered and Clan Gregor many centuries later adopted him as a supposed ancestor.  Alpin in cognate with the British Celtic name Elphin, which is recorded in royal pedigrees and may be identical with the Pictish form.*  This puts new light on his supposed battled against the Picts.  It is possible, maybe even likely, that the place-names Laight Alpin and Pitalpin at opposite sides of the country record two different men named Alpin.  In connection with the name near Dundee we should note the place-name Rathelpie near St Andrews, Fife, which was formerly Rathalpin, the'fort of Alpin'.  A connection with the man who may have owned an estate at Pitalpin is conceivable.

   * Irish scholar T. F. O' Rahilly postulated that this personal name may have had an exceptionally long pedigree and be derived in fact from the 2nd century Roman governor of Britain, Clodius Albinus.

   Moreover, there was another king named Alpin who is recorded in the early 8th century. He was apparently one of the participants in a contest for the Pictish throne, displacing and expelling a ruler named Drust in the year 726.  Two years later there was another battle, possibly at Moncrieff in Perthshire, and Alpin's son was killed.  Shortly afterwards he was defeated again by Nechtan. He is heard of no more.

A Confusion of Sources:  Earlier Writers

   Many later histories of Dundee, presumably through misguided local pride, make prominent space for the Battle of Pitalpin (sometimes called the Battle of Liff) fought to the west of the burgh.  The range of detail makes it difficult to determine where each author received his sources if he had not invented them himself.  Even the date of the encounter is disputed, with the years 831, 833, 834, and other years touted.

   One early national source was the History of John Lesley, Bishop of Ross, writing in the late 16th century.  According to him, a Pictish king named Brude (Brudie) defeated and captured Alpin in a battle at a place named Horestia.  There he commanded that Alpin be beheaded and 'stukne on a stake and borne to Camelodun his heid. As now in this days will testifie the place, qhauir alpin was heidet, takeng the name fra him; the place is neir Dundie, and from Alpin now namet Pasalpin.'  The stone where Alpin was beheaded, the King's Cross, is also known as the Standard Stone from the 'fact' that Alpin planted his flag here before the battle.  But the tale goes back at least to the work of (local and) national historian Hector Boece of Dundee, at least in the free translation published by John Bellenden in 1536.  According to this, Alpin had partial Pictish ancestry and tried to take over their kingdom.  He ravaged all Angus and was encamped in a hill near Dundee when Brude's army approached and the Scots were defeated, partly via a ruse from disguised women and carriage men among the Picts (which incident is similar to something which is supposed to have happened at Bannockburn):

In this battall was tane, King Alpine; and brocht, with his handis bound, to the nixt village, quhare he was heidit, with ane hewing ax, the iv yeir of his regne; fra the incarnation,DCCCXXXIV yeris. The place, quhare King Alpine was heidit, is callit yit Pasalpine, that is to say, the heid of Alpine. Efter this huge victory of Scottis, King Brudus returnit to Camelon with King Alpinis heid, and put it on ane staik on the hieast part of all thair wailis, to be ane signe of his victory. [The History and Chronicles of Scotland, vol. 2, reprinted Edinburgh, 1821, p. 149.]

    Boece's account of the battle, wherever it was derived, was followed and embroidered by later historians in the 16th century, including the Englishman Ralph Holinshed and eminent Scot George Buchanan.  The latter states that Alpin particpated in a battle at Restenneth, which is also probably a fiction.  He also gives an account of the name of the king's death site:

The king's head was fastened to a pole and carried up and down the army, till at last the set it up for a spectacle in the most eminent place of the greatest town they had (which then was Abernethy). The place were he was slain as yet retains his name, being called Bas Alpin, i. e., The Death of Alpin.

The King's Cross stone illustrated in the book Lochee As it Was and Is

Local  Excitable Writers

   One of the earliest written localised versions of the battle was contained in The History of the Picts,  a work probably  composed by the somewhat shadowy Henry Maule of Melgund Castle, in the late 17th century. (He was the last of his line, leaving only a daughter.)  While his account is confined to a short summary, later proud local writers gave minute accounts of the conflict.  Even the clerical writers of the New Statistical Account got carried away in their descriptions of the battle.  One minister insisted that Brude camped with his Pictish army on the Tothelbrow, in the parish of Strathmartine, while four miles to the south, on Dundee Law, the Scots and Alpin had their base.  The Scottish king is said to have raised his royal standard in the stone later called the King's Cross, 'in the centre of which a hole is hewn ten inches by eight, and ten inches deep'.  Here the unfortunate king also had his head cut off.

   The stone is still in situ, on the Camperdown estate of the Duncan family, now Camperdown Park, and it was probably the base for an upright cross
(as its name suggests) which has not survived.  Not far west of this position a souterrain was uncovered in the 18th century, showing evidence of settlement here in earlier Pictish times.  

   Even the eminent Alexander Warden, writing in volume 4 of Angus or Forfarshire (p. 177), gives a confused account of the encounter.  He states that it was the 8th century Alpin who was a participant in the battle, though he repeats the beheading story and says the corpse was buried at Pitalpin.  He adds:  

Some forty years ago a human skeleton was found there, which was for a time, shown in Dundee as the remains of Alpin.  Near the close of last century several graves or cists, constructed of rude slabs of stones, were found in the locality, and in 1732 a fine 'snake bracelet', now in the Museum of the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh, was found in the same vicinity.

   It is probably worth pointing out that the name Pitalpin originally attached to a small settlement on the Lochee/Dundee to Newtyle road, some distance north of the present Pitalpin street names to the west of Lochee (which would be to the south-east of Dryburgh marked on the map below.  King's Cross Road in Lochee is similarly some distance away from the King's Cross stone.). The CANMORE website shows the location  of the original Pitalpin near the current Telford Road in Dryburgh Industrial Estate, Dundee.

   As described by James Myles in Rambles in Forfarshire (1850), Pitalpin's location is described as:

immediately after...the three milestone from Dundee, and close to the edge of the turnpike road [where] there is a thickly planted grove; it is encircled by a well cultivated field...The little dark-looking grove is called Pitalpy [p. 191]

   Further information about the battle and its supposed site was discussed in the book Lochee As it Was and Is (pp. 216-224) by Alexander Elliot

Last century a mound quite close to Pitalpie had to be removed to make way for the opening up of that part of the estate of Dryburgh for agricultural use, the ground at that date being covered with gorse and timber. When the mound was opened it was ascertained to be an ancient sepulchre. Its contents consisted of several graves, and from the manner of their construction it was evident they had been the last resting-places of persons of distinction. Much care seems to have been bestowed upon the formation of these antique funereal repositories, each being built around internally witli flagstone slabs, and carefully covered with the same material. In ancient times it was only to the remains of the great and powerful that such elaborate sepulture was extended. Under the circumstances, and seen in the light of the legendary chronicle, it was only to be expected that the sepulchre would be regarded as having sheltered the remains of King Alpin and some of his distinguished generals who had shared his fate. A snake bracelet is also said to have been found amongst the debris [in 1732].'
In the Dundee Advertiser of date 16th September 1842 it is freely stated that the remains of the unfortunate King had been discovered at King's Cross. It is therein recorded that 'a skeleton was found in digging through the mound at Pitalpin on which the stone stands to commemorate the battle fought between the Scots and Picts in the year 834. This skeleton must be the remains of King Alpin, who was taken prisoner in the action and beheaded by the Picts, for though some historians state that his head and body were removed by the Scots to Icolmkill and there buried, yet the fact of now finding the head severed from the body, which was in the centre of the mound, and distant some fields from the mass of bones of those who fell in action, renders it certain that it must be the skeleton of some chieftain, and there is no record of anyone of note having fallen on that occasion except Alpin. . . . These royal remains have been carefully collected and placed in a shell, and are now deposited in the Watt Institution, where they may be seen by the public.'
   He also states that,

Pitalpie Village was situated on rising ground on the N side of the 3-mile stone on the Coupar Angus road. A solitary ash tree marks the spot. The village consisted of eight thatched cottages which were occupied till nearly 1830. About then, they were removed, but the foundations and approach road can still be traced.

   Elliot discusses James Thomson's History of Dundee (first published in 1847) as being one of the first local historians to seriously doubt the Battle of Pitalpin, based on accounts of his death in south-west Scotland.  Then he goes on:

Thomson's view coincides with the statement of a person advanced in years who was conversant with the incident. This person, when questioned upon the finding of the remains, declared in homely Scotch that they were 'juist those of a bit tinkler-buddy.' Returning to the historic stone and the place it is alleged to hold in our annals, another and more reasonable theory has been adduced. It is contended that, instead of being a useful adjunct to a battlefield, it fulfilled a higher and probably a more legitimate destiny. Research—hard, stern, analytic—in this and in innumerable instances ousts tradition from its place and declares it a usurper. The romantic story of the standard, dear as it has been to Dundonians, when subjected to the broad light of inquiry, is found to have had no foundation in fact. That is the opinion of those who have given much serious thought to the subject.
The King's Cross stone with Camperdown House in the background

The Damning Verdict?

   It has to be obvious that the so-called Battle of Pitalpin (a.k.a. The Battle of Liff) never in fact took place.  There was a misapprehension by later historians that there were Picts in Galloway and this may have contributed to the confusion between that region and Angus. If Pitalpin commemorates anyone it is unlikely probably to be the king generally supposed to have died there, though there is some possibility that it could be the earlier royal Alpin who participated and perished in the 'Pictish war' in the third decade of the eighth century.  Most of the conflicts in that confusing period seem to have been fought, as far as we can tell, in southern Pictland.  Local pride among Dundee writers seems to have perpetuated the legend, the origin of which shows a confusion in the derivation of the term 'pit'.  The king's death here may be connected, in a legendary sense, with the supposed murder of Pictish royals by his son Kenneth at Scone, who are supposed to have be murdered by being cast down into a pit while at a banquet - retrospective associated revenge for that equally suspect slaughter?

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Forgotten Sons of Angus - Sir Alexander Gray

This one is personal, in a funny sort of way.  I know of Sir Alexander Gray - as I suspect many Scots do - only through his most famous poem Scotland, a much anthologised poem which has rightly merited its place on the Canongate wall outside the Scottish parliament:

This is my country
The land that begat me,
These windy spaces
Are surely my own. 
And those who here toil 
In the sweat of their faces 
Are flesh of my flesh 
And bone of my bone

   It was not until I was well advanced into adulthood that I learned that its author was born in Marshall Street, Lochee, less than half a mile from my own childhood home.  Alexander Gray was so accomplished in many fields that his great talents had allowed him to slip beneath the radar in the fifty odd years since his death. The son of an art teacher, John Young Gray and his wife Mary Young, Alexander was born in 1882 and attended Dundee High School before going to Edinburgh University.  After studying abroad he became a civil servant (for seventeen years) and then an academic and economist.  But a major part of his life was poetry, which included translations of Danish and German works into Scots.  He produced his own work too and was included in the influential Northern Numbers.

   I know next to nothing about Gray's background.  But something tells me that his early interests were not to be found chiefly in the immediate, built up area of Lochee.  His poem called 'The Owl' tells us:

When I was young, my heart inclined
To eggs and fishes, moths and stamps, 
These were the lode-stones of my mind,
And to my feet succeeding lamps.

The Canongate Wall, Scottish parliament

   It is possibly because he moved so far beyond the orbit of Dundee that he is not at all known in his home town.  And yet he should be. Perhaps his diversity was his undoing.  His earliest book was The Scottish Staple at Veere (1909), and his later non-fiction encompassed biography (Adam Smith, 1948) and economic history and political theory. He was given a knighthood in 1947 and spent much of his latter career at Edinburgh University, and it was in Edinburgh where he died in 1948.  According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: 'Gray was very much a Scot and strongly rooted, with a profound understanding of his country.'  It was a wonder that he managed to publish as much as he did in between the participation in government committees and the demands of academia.

   His home county, and the glens in particular, stayed in the poet's mind.  The first part of his poem 'The Glen Road'  which appeared in Greta Mitchie's A Glen Anthology (1962)* runs:

As I gaed up by Cater Thun
God! the road was dreich and dreary;
And aye I banned the stour and sun;
Sirs! but I was wae and weary.
But I'm no the first that's been up there,
Pechin' hard and sweitin' sair...

   Part of his summers during a boyhood in the very early part of the 20th century were spent in the Angus countryside as he recalled in an article about the mansion named The Burn (published in Higher Education Quarterly in May 1953):

Doubtless I did not know [The Burn] by that name; more probably it was merely the 'big hoose' - an object of apprehension rather than of admiration.  For though we were not exactly near-neighbours, during the summer we lived within easy striking distance, by cycle or by that curious combination of a nondescript carriage and a nondescript horse which Victorian fathers at times hired to give their family an outing as a reward for good behaviour.  On such occasions when our itenary took us towards Glenesk, an inevitable stopping-place was the Gannochy Brig, where it was an act of piety to look up the river and down the river, and admire the tumbling, tawny waters of the North Esk.

   The Burn, built by the Gordon family, later passed into the hands of the Dominion Students' Hall Trust, now  Goodenough College.  Students can retreat there and it is also for hire as a private venue.

   Alexander Gray may be the only luminary from Lochee ever to earn a knighthood (other kenspeckle figures from Lochee such as myself or the feline loving George Galloway are unlikely to emulate him in this honour).  That aside, Gray kept his eye on the smaller details of life, as exemplified by this quote from his 'Epitaph on a Vagabond':

Careless I lived, accepting day by day
The lavish benison of sun and rain,
Watching the changing seasons pass away
And come again.

Past Posts about Other Forgotten Sons and Daughters of Angus

*Many thanks to Emily Prince at the excellent  Scottish Poetry Library for assistance with this information.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Battle of Dún Nechtain, A Rearguard Action in Defence of Dunnichen

The battle somewhere in Pictland, during which the Picts supposedly threw off the yoke of the over-reaching of the Northumbrians, is a puzzle on several levels.  At the simplest level, there is the name.  By the English it was called Nechtan’s Mere, by the Scots the Battle of Dún Nechtain, and by the Britons - who spoke a tongue which would have been intelligible with Pictish - the site of the battle was named Lyn Garan, the Crane’s (or Heron'sLake.  In modern times the place of this encounter has been questioned, a challenge to the assumption made in the early 19th century and broadly believed ever since that the fight occurred at Dunnichen in Angus.  The recent speculation that the battle actually happened north of the Grampians runs parallel the recent seismic identification of the powerful Pictish province of Fortriu in the same area, when previously it was believed to have encompassed Strathearn and surrounding areas.

My previous post on the subject constituted a brief summary of the event (together with a supposedly ghostly re-enactment) and there was also a related piece about the associations of King Nechtan with Angus and beyond (In Search of King Nechtan in Angus and Elsewhere).

The Bare Bones

We know that the Pictish and Northumbrian armies clashed on a Saturday afternoon, 20 May 685.  The respective armies were led by Bridei (or Brude) son of Beli and Ecgfrith son of Oswiu.  The forty-year-old English ruler was slain with the greater part of his war-band and the result was that the Pictish territories gained their freedom from foreign rule. Northumbria had been shown unremitting territorial aggression for decades, eliminating the British kingdoms of Elmet, Rheged and Gododdin, hemming in the Strathclyde Britons, plus battling their English rivals of Mercia.  

Some Original Sources

James Fraser helpfully brings together the early English, Welsh and Irish references to the battle in his book and they mostly also appear, in translation, in Early Sources of Scottish History

The Anonymous Life of Cuthbert has that saint foretelling the king’s death to his own sister, Aelfleda, a year before the event.  At the actual time of the battle Cuthbert was inspecting the Roman remains at Carlisle when he had a vision of the disaster.  Though it is proclaimed as a defeat, no details are given. Stephan’s Life of St Wilfrith, written around 720, gives a prelude to the battle, relating how, in the previous year, the Picts who had been in subjection to the English rose in revolt and a Northumbrian force was sent to quell them.  Ecgfirth and his commander Beornheth slew such a number of them that two rivers were clogged up with their corpses.

The Venerable Bede preludes his account of the battle by telling how the Northumbrian noble Berct went to Ireland and ravaged church lands there.  This was taken as not only an unwise attack on innocent people, but a fateful reason for the following year’s defeat.  Ecgfrith, says Bede, was warned by friends not to attack the Picts.  It is Bede who states that the battle occurred in a mountainous place, yet he also states that a major consequence of the defeat was the Picts regaining their freedom, as did some of the Irish living in Britain and a section of the Britons.  The English bishop at Abercorn was forced to abandon his base.  All of which arguably points to a series of political changes which primarily affected south and west Scotland and may point to the battle being in the area of Pictland adjacent to these other nations.  

Dunnichen Stone, currently in the Meffan Museum, Forfar

The Cousins, the Four Nations

The fact that Bridei and Ecgfrith were distantly related is a side-point in the discussion of the battle, albeit it shows the wider regional and inter-national concerns of families ruling in the north of England and in Scotland.  The Northumbrian prince Eanfrith had been exiled in Pictland in the early part of the century and became attached to a Pictish princess. Their son Talorcan became king of the Picts. Both British Strathclyde and English Northumbria both wanted to exercise controlling interest in the lands to the north of them, and at time in the English case, direct rule over the southern part of Pictland, and therefore we could be justified as seeing southern Pictland as the prize decisively claimed on the battlefield in 685, and another circumstantial piece of support that the encounter took place in the disputed area.

  In chapter 57 of the Welsh Historia Brittonum it is stated that Ecgfrith fought against his fratuelem (cousin) Bridei, ‘and there he fell with all the strength of his army, and the Picts and their king were victorious, and the English thugs never grew [strong enough] from that battle to extract tribute from the Picts. It was called the battle of Lyn Garan.’

Alex Woolf translates the text as:  ‘It is this Ecgfrith who fought a battle against his parallel cousin, who was king of the Picts, by name Bredei.’

A.O. Anderson states that:
Brude’s mother’s father must have been one of the sons of Æthelfrith.  But since we may assume that Brude claimed part of the kingdom through his mother, her father must have been a descendant of Eanfrith, who married a Pictish princess (617 x 633), and whose son Talorcan held the Pictish throne from 653 to 657.  The dates seem to decide that Brude must have been Eanfrith’s grandson, not Talorcan’s.’

Alfred Smyth, acting on the undisputed fact that the victor of the battle was son of the British king of Dumbarton, Bili, states that Bridei’s victory cemented Strathclyde’s overlordship of the southern part of Pictland.  A. O. Anderson tellingly suggested that Bridei inherited Pictland south of the Tay from his father and the lands to the north from his mother’s family.  Perhaps this should be amended to a situation where he claimed Pictland south of the Grampians from his father (or grandfather’s) territorial claims, and the lands to the north from his mother’s kin.

Even supposing that the northerly position of Fortriu is now accepted, this does not exclusively place Bridei in that area; his southern associations were indisputable as a son of the ruling house of Strathclyde. The wider campaign featured a sustained and, on the surface, surprising campaign by the Northumbrians against Ireland.  Smyth again points out that this was at least partly motivated by the undoubted presence of a displaced and extremely active British war band there, whom he suggests had originated in either Rheged or Gododdin, British territories which the Northumbrians were actively encompassing into their realm.  Leslie Alcock suggests that the English may have taken hostages while in Ireland to prevent Irish allies actively assisting Strathclyde and/or the Picts in military action in the north of Britain, though the theory that Northumbria would have launched a strike in foreign territory solely to subdue the possible intervention of Irish powers in northern Scotland seems rather weak.  Whatever the motivation for the expedition, it has to be admitted that Ecgfrith’s long-reach to Ireland supports a military capability to send a force into northern Pictland, albeit a naval raid is logistically easier than a long-range land campaign.

   The monks of Meath extended their enmity  (if not an actual formalised curse against the violence of the northern English monarch).  A poem ascribed to Riagual of Bangor preserves the hatred against the Northumbrian:

Iniu Feras Bruide Cath
Today Bruide gives battle

over his grandfather’s land [or, for his grandfather's heritage]

unless it is the command of God’s son

that it be restored.

Today Oswiu’s son was slain

in battle against iron [blue]swords 

even though he did penance,

it was penance too late.

Today Oswiu’s son was slain,

Who used to have dark drinks: [black draughts]

Christ has heard our prayer

That Bruide would save Brega [?]

Picts and Northumbrians after the Battle

It has frequently been claimed that the Picts regained their independence after the battle, which supposes they had lost it (at least partially) before 685.  Warfare between Picts and the northern English continued intermittently for some time, into the 8th century, though perhaps the scale was not so great as the encounter at Nechtansmere.  In the year 698 the dux Berctred (perhaps a royal leader) of the Northumbrians was slain by the Picts at a place unknown.  One sources calls him the consul of King Ecgfrith and interestingly states that he too fell victim of Irish curses, in retaliation for raids on churches in that land.  It states that he went into Pictish territory to avenge Ecgfrith and there too met his end.

   In the year 711 another high-ranking noble, Bertfrid (the ‘prefect’ of King Osred), also described as ‘second prince from the king’, was victorious against the Picts.  The similarity of his name to the official who died in 698 (and also the Northumbrian who ravaged Ireland in the 680s) may mean they were close relatives.  By the time Bede wrote his Historia Ecclesiastica in 731 there was a treaty of peace between Angles and Picts.  This had its roots in the actions of the Pictish king Nechtan mac Derile who, several years earlier, as Bede recounts, asked Ceolfrid the Abbot of Jarrow to send him writings concerning the correct date of Easter and also architects so he could build a church of stone in the Roman manner.  It is important to bear in mind F. T. Wainwright’s warning not to overestimate the importance of the battle.  The event was not a permanent turning point in the power struggles of the four northern nations, nor a proto Bannockburn.  The Picts may have regained independence, but further defeats were inflicted upon them by the English.  The Northumbrians held sway up to the Forth and the Britons may have temporarily gained the upper hand, but in the following century they suffered further military and territorial defeats by the English.  The Scots of Dalriada, in the wings meanwhile, had to wait a century for the beginning of their ascendancy. 

The Pros and Cons of the Place Claimants

   The following points regarding the pros and cons of Strathmore v Badenoch as the battle site are intended more for illustration of the issues rather than a fully weighed balancing of the respective merits of each place.

    The landscape of both Dunnichen in Angus and Dunnachton in Badenoch, Inverness-shire, have naturally changed a great deal in the centuries since 685 AD,  Arguably the change has been greater in the former, with unremitting human settlement, farming and drainage vastly altering the land.  Nechtan's Mere itself has been drained, and it is likely that it once formed a chain of lochs in this part of Strathmore.  Without going into detail there are disputes about the exact location of the battlefield, even if we accept that the battle was fought in this locality.  Fraser and Alcock have differing views, which we will not go into here.  Another interesting point is the location of possible local power bases which Bridei may have used.  The fort on Dunnichen seems to have been rather small, as far as we can judge, but the complex of duns and forts on Turin Hill, not far north at Rescobie (one of which was known as Kemp's Castle), looks more promising as the putative regional power base for the whole region. (Turin will be the subject of a future post.)

For Dunachton:  The mountainous terrain matches the brief description in one Northumbrian source.

Against Dunachton:  Considerable distance from the main territory of the Northumbrians. No supplementary evidence that there was either a battle in the area of that this was a conspicuous focus of Pictish power.  The symbol stone at Dunachton is an earlier example (formerly known as Class I) and does not have any representations of battle, fighting or armed men; nor do there seem to be any such stones (similar to the Aberlemno stone) within the vicinity of Dunachton.   There are no major  known Dark Age Pictish strongholds in the area.

For Dunnichen:  The Pictish stone at Aberlemno undoubtedly portrays a major battle and is the only surviving representation of battle on any Pictish stone, only 5km from Dunnichen.    The proximity of the probably hill fort on Dunnichen Hill, plus another several miles away on Turin Hill.

Against Dunnichen:  Geography does not seem to match description of mountainous terrain in the English description given by Bede.
It has to be stated that nowhere is it stated that the Battle of Dunnichen/Nechtansmere/ Dún Nechtain actually took place in the kingdom or district of Fortriu, so the consequence of Fortriu’s re-alignment is almost irrelevant to the placement of the battle. James Fraser wrote his Battle of Dunnichen before the publication of Alex Woolf’s article.  In From Caledonia to Pictland he acknowledges the merits of Dunachton as a possible alternative location for the battle, but still advises that Dunnichen should not be ruled out.  There is the powerful neighbouring presence of the Aberlemno stone and also, as he points out, this is the zone from which the Northumbrians were rulers and were now removed.

In terms of the viability of a large war band striking out from home territory (south of the Forth in this case) into hostile lands, it would have necessitated a short, decisive campaign and Badenoch may have been beyond its practical reach.  The Annals of Ulster seem to state that Ecgfrith burned a place called Tulla Aman, in Strathearn, as part of a campaign before the battle.  Following such slash and burn tactics with a strike into the deep, unknown north, with the enemy fully forewarned of his scorched earth actions, would surely have been unthinkable for an experienced campaigner, as it would have given the Picts time and opportunity to gather immense military reserves from a vast hinterland.

The Aberlemno battle stone.

The Battle Stone

   It would be churlish to deny that the Aberlemno stone shows a battle in progress.  Nine men are featured.  The top scene is construed (by Cruickshank) as a Pictish horseman pursuing a Northumbrian knight off the battlefield.  The middle scene shows - possibly - three Pictish foot soldiers fighting an enemy cavalry soldier. Two opposing horsemen face each other at the bottom of the stone, then there is the large, isolated figure at the bottom right, discussed below.

The Vagaries of Tradition, Angus and Badenoch

It would be impossible for anything to survive in tradition or folk memory which directly relates to the Battle of Dún Nechtain, though of course the Irish, English and Welsh written memorials of the event could arguably constitute early examples of this.  If we accept that the attribution of a battle at a place near the ‘fort/stronghold of Nechtan’ is legitimate and early, this can be explored further.  There was both a saint and several  Pictish kings who had the name Nechtan.  The battle could not have been named after the king Nechtan son of Derile who ruled in the early 8th century and was instrumental in intellectual and spiritual links with the kingdom of Northumbria. 

According to Affleck Gray, there were traditions of both a king named Nechtan and of warfare at Dunachton in Badenoch.  The present Dunachton House stands on the site of an earlier property and in close proximity to St Drostan’s Chapel, actually cited as Capella de Nachtan in the late 14th century.  This would seem to point to an association with the saint rather than the king, though at this remove in time it must remain unproven.  What remains in terms of folklore at Dunachton is a mixed bag of elements from various times, apparently.  To the west of the present Dunachton House is Tom a Mhòid, the Court of Justice Knoll, where local lairds dispensed justice from.  Close to this is another hill named Creag Righ Tharoild, supposedly named after a Viking chieftain.  The local tradition states that Nechtan defeated the Picts in this place.  It also states that the king was forced to abdicate by another royal Pict, who was then challenged by a second pretender in a bloody battle.  Following this, Nechtan resumed his rule in peace.  These seem to be references to the Pictish civil wars faced by Nechtan son of Derile in the early 8th century.  However, there was no Scandinavian element in these wars, as it was too early a date for Viking incursions. Based on this it could be surmised that the local traditions seem to be influenced by modern discussions of the reign of this latter Nechtan, perhaps superimposed on actual local associations with St Nechtan.

   At Dunnichen there is no recorded local tradition of warfare between Picts and Northumbrians, though in Angus  there are other supposed traditions of Picts fighting Scots (near Forfar and near Dundee) and at Barry (Picts fighting Vikings).  None of these ‘traditions’ mention Nechtan, and they are overwhelmingly literary and antiquarian in character, some of them invented by the locally born national historian Hector Boece.  Place-name and hagiographical material suggests that there was an association in Angus and the very northern part of Fife with a person of some importance named Nechtan at a very early date.  Dunnichen of course means ‘Fort of Nechtan’ and may tentatively be linked to a ruler of that name who held power in this vicinity.  A king named Nechtan is supposed to have been brought back to life at his fortress in Carbuddo in Angus by the 5th century Irish saint St Buitte son of Bronaig (founder of Mansterboice in County Louth.  The tale in present form is from the 12th century.)  This accords with the supposed propensity of saints to gain ownership of non-religious power bases, but there are problems identifying the exact location of this royal base in the area.

Postscript:  the King as Carrion

As stated above, one of the primary aims of armed conflict in the Dark Ages was to eliminate the leader of the opposing war-band.  That accomplished, would there have been any special treatment of the physical remains of the slain leader.  It is tempting to think that there would not have been, albeit of course that both Bridei and Ecgfrith were nominally Christians, and moreover actually distant relatives.  One later record (Symeon of Durham)states that the body of the slain Northumbrian was carried away to be buried in distant Iona.  The king's father Oswy and his uncle Oswald were exiled on the hold island and his own successor Aldfrith was also a monk among the Irish there, so the connection was strong and personal.  James Fraser however ingeniously hypothesises that the 'other' Island of St Columba was the actual place of burial, Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth.

   However that is, the undoubted fact is that Ecgfrith was slaughtered on the field.  There is a likelihood also, if we accept Cruickshank and others' support of the Aberlemno battle stone as a visual representation of the battle, that the figure on the bottom right represents the extremity or aftermath of that king.  The figure is proportionately larger than the others on the stone, signifying undoubted importance.  He is a helmeted warrior, with a shield either falling from his grasp or lying beside him.  This leads to an important point: is the stricken figure standing (and falling), or is he already prone on the ground?  It is really impossible to say, though I would guess that the man is caught in the act of falling down.  If this is the case he is being plainly attacked by a large bird which seems to be going for his face or throat.  Is it an eagle or other raptor symbolic of the other king, whose forces killed him, or a totem of Bridei's tribe?  On the other hand, if the body lies lifeless on the field of slaughter it may well be a not at all symbolic carrion bird which is helping itself to his flesh.

   There is another possibility, a shadowy adjunct to the theory of an attack on a live human. Is the bird in fact plucking out his eye?  Some birds were regarded as more than sinister or symbolic to various early Celtic and other peoples, and whatever species the bird here represents, it may be regarded as the shadow of a recently departed Pictish deity getting revenge on its tribal enemy.

   Nikolai Tolstoy pointed out the Welsh verse which hints at a lost legend featuring the north British  king Gwallawg:

Cursed be the white goose
Which tore the eye from the head
Of Gwallawg ab Llenawg, the chieftain.

Sources Consulted and Further Reading

Alcock, Kings and Warriors, Craftsmen and Priests in Northern Britain, AD 550-850, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2003.

Anderson, A. O., Early Sources of Scottish History, 1922, rep. Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1990.

Anderson, A. O., Scottish Annals from English Chroniclers, AD 500 to 1286, 1908, rep. Paul Watkins, Stamford, 1991.

Clancy, Thomas Owen, ed., The Triumph Tree, Scotland’s Earliest Poetry, AD 550-1350, Canongate Books, Edinburgh, 1998.

Coutts, Ancient Monuments in Tayside, Dundee Museum and Art Gallery, 1970.

Cruickshank, Graeme D. R., ‘The Battle of Dunnichen and the Aberlemno Battle-Scene,’ in Alba, Celtic Scotland and the Medieval Era, ed. E.j. Cowan and Andrew McDonald, Tuckwell Press, East Linton, 2000, 69-87.

Fraser, James E., From Caledonia to Pictland, Scotland to 795, Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Fraser, James E., The Battle of Dunnichen, 685, Stroud, Tempus, 2002.

Gray, Affleck, Legends of the Cairngorms, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1987.

          Marsden, John, The Tomb of the Kings: An Iona Book of the Dead, Llanerch, Felinfach,

Morris, John, ed., Nennius, British History and the Welsh Annals, Phillimore, London and Chichester, 1980.

Small, Alan and Thoms, Lisbeth M., The Picts in Tayside, Dundee Museum and Art Gallery, n.d.

Smyth, Alfred P., Warlords and Holy Men, Scotland AD 80-1000, 1984, rep. Edinburgh University Press, 1989.

          Tolstoy, Nikolai, The Quest for Merlin, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1985.

Wainwright, F. T., ‘The Picts and the Problem’, in The Problem of the Picts, ed. F.T. Wainwright, 1955, rep. The Melven Press, Perth, 1980, 1-53.

Woolf, Alex, ‘Dún Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts’, Scottish Historical Review, vol. LXXXV, no. 220, October 2006, 182-201.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Tales of the Whales (Part One)

One of the most extraordinary recent news items featured the finding of a Dundee whaling vessel near Disko Island in Greenland.  The story in the Dundee Courier (written by Stefan Morkis) came under the rather poetic heading of 'A Historic Gem Has Come from the Blue' and the piece details how a scuttled 19th century Dundee whaling vessel, the 'Wildfire', was identified via an image on Google Earth.

   The wreck was at first thought to be a viking ship, but in August 2017 Eric Habich-Traut and two other divers inspected the wreck in Quequtarsuaq Harbour and found that it was a relatively modern vessel.  Their research revealed that it was the 'Wildfire', a Canadian built vessel from the Tay Whale Fishing Company of Dundee which had been deliberately scuttled after its propeller was damaged by ice. The ship had been damaged 500 miles away, but managed to limp towards Greenland before being sunk on 18 July 1868.  As an aside, wouldn't it be marvellous if Dundee's redeveloped waterfront could feature an example of its old whaling fleet.  Sadly, no such ship survives and unless some very eccentric billionaire with local connections fancies raising the 'Wildfire' we are unlikely to see such a scheme come to fruition.

   This blog has been scandalously light in past posts concerning the whaling heritage of Dundee and Angus, but I am willing to make amends in this, the first post in hopefully many, about that particular hazardous industry, now long vanished.  As a start, the story of the traditional ballad of the 'Balaena' is given below in several version, in all their sea-shanty glory.

Oh the wind is on her quarter, her engines working free
There's not another whaler that sails out of Dundee
Can beat the old Balaena, she needs no trial run
We challenge all, both great and small, from Dundee to St. John
The noble fleet of whalers went sailing from Dundee
Well-manned by British sailors to work upon the sea
On the Western Ocean Passage none with them can compare
But the smartest ship to make the trip is Balaena, I declare
It happened on a Tuesday, three days out of Dundee
The gale took off her quarter-boat and a couple of men, you see
It battered at her bulwarks and her stanchions and her rails
And left the old Balaena, boys, a-frothing in the gale
Bold Jackman cut his canvas and fairly raised his steam
And Captain Guy with Erin Boy was ploughing through the stream
And the noble Terra Nova her boilers nearly burst
And still at the old whaling grounds, Balaena got there first
And now the season's over and the ship half-full of oil
Our flying jib-boom points for home towards our native soil
And when that we have landed, boys, where the rum is very cheap
We'll drink success to the skipper's health for getting us over the deep.

   There are several different versions of this traditional shanty which purports to tell of the maritime daring of the Norwegian built steam whaler named the 'Balaena', which spearheaded Dundee's arctic industry. As well as prowling the far northern waters the 'Balaena' also took part in the unsuccessful Dundee Antarctic Expedition to find new southern hunting grounds in 1892.  The old ship outlived all competitors and survived World War I as the last Dundee whaler.

  The ballad itself may originally have featured the earlier Dundee whaler named the 'Polynia',a 472-ton vessel owned by the Dundee Seal and Whale Fishing Company. Its skipper, William Guy, commanded the ship from 1883 until it was decimated by ice in 1891.
The noble fleet of whalers went sailing from Dundee,
Well-manned by British sailors to work upon the sea.
On the Western Ocean passage none with them can compare,
But the smartest ship to make the trip is Balaena, I declare.

Oh, the wind is on her quarter, her engines working free,
There's not another whaler that sails out of Dundee.
Can beat the old Balaena, she needs no trial run,
And we challenged all, both great and small, from Dundee to St John.
It happened on a Tuesday, three days out of Dundee,
The gale took off her quarter-boat and a couple of men, you see.
It battered at her bulwarks, and her stanchions and her rails,
And left the old Balaena, boys, a-frothing in the gale.
Bold Jackman cut his canvas and he fairly raised his steam,
And Captain Guy with Erin Boy was ploughing through the stream,
And the noble Terra Nova, her boilers nearly burst,
And still at the old whaling grounds, Balaena got there first.
And now the season's over and the ship half-full of oil,
Our flying jib boom points for home towards our native soil.
And when that we have landed, boys, where the rum is very cheap,
We'll drink success to the skipper’s health for getting us over the deep.

Oh, the noble fleet of whalers out sailing from Dundee,
Well-manned by Scottish sailors to work them on the sea;
On the Western Ocean passage none with them can compare,
For there's not a ship could make the trip as the Balaena, I declare.

Oh, the wind is on her quarter and her engine working free,
And there's not another whaler a-sailing from Dundee.
Can beat the aul' Balaena and you needna try her on,
For we challenged all, both large and small, from Dundee to St John's.

And it happened on a Tuesday, four days after we left Dundee,
Was carried off the quarter-boats all in a raging sea,
That took away our bulwark, our stanchions and our rails,
And left the whole concern, boys, a-floating in the gales.

 There's the new built Terra Nova, she's a model of no doubt,
 There's the Arctic and the Aurora, you've heard so much about,
 There's Jacklin's model mail boat, the terror of the sea
 Couldn't beat the aul' Baleana, boys, on the passage from Dundee.

Bold Jackman carries canvas and  fairly raises steam,
And Captain Guy's a daring boy, ploughing through the stream,
But Mallan says the Eskimo could beat the blooming lot,
But to beat the aul' Baleana, boys, they'd find it rather hot.

And now that we have landed, boys, where the rum is mighty cheap,
We'll drink success to Captain Burnett, lads, for getting us ower the deep,
And a health to all our sweethearts, an' to our wives so fair,
Not another ship could make that trip but the Balaena, I declare.