Here is another of John Donald’s Old Greenock Characters, from the first volume of his collection, the story of Scutcher Dan…
His is a sad tale, the story of a young man gifted by nature with a fine physical appearance and endowed with gifts which, properly cultivated and directed, should have achieved popularity and success; but whose weak will, further weakened by self-indulgence; dram drinking (even in its earlier and not immoderate stages) and the flattery of his associates unfitted him to withstand a reversal of fortune, so that he fell an easy victim to the insidious imp which lurks within the cup of false cheer and inebriation.
Daniel McKinnon was a cooper to trade and reputed to be an excellent craftsman duly appreciated by his employers, Abram Lyle and Sons,
Thorne and Curtis, manse Lane; and others. He had receieved a fair education
and possessed musical ability both vocal and instrumental, so that being a
violinist of parts, able to sing a good song, good looking, good natured, and
rather gay, his appearance was welcomed whether on the concert hall platform at
the “Free and Easies” or in more select private gatherings.
Such a young man, handsome and open handed, was sure to find favour with the fair sex, and Dan set his affections upon a prepossessing young domestic, employed in the west end of the town. His love was apparently returned and the pair were betrothed,“Oh, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun
And by and by a cloud takes all away.”
The lady changed her mind and discarded the fervent lover for a richer suitor. From that day Daniel McKinnon was a broken man.
He sought forgetfulness, or at least relief, in an excess of careless pleasure and dram-drinking, neglected his work (to the sorrow of John Watters, his foreman at Thorne & Curtis’s, whose good advice fell on deaf ears), became the associate of degenerate companions and sank lower and lower in the social scale, until we find him as “Scutcher Dan”, a labelled waif, homeless and harmless, the butt of street gamins and fools barely wiser than himself, and an object of pity – generously tempered with sympathy, however, by people to whom his story was known.
The woman who jilted Dan became the wife of the then proprietor of an old-established and well known tavern in the east end (the Eagle Tavern, established 1815), and acquaintances of Scutcher, meeting him near the place, would, in a spirit of mischief, press him to have a drink therein. Fond as he was of liquor, that was an invitation which Dan stoutly declined.“No, no!” he would cry “not there, not there;’Push-up’s’ or any place but there. She jilted me, she jilted me. Anything I would drink in there wid pizen me. She jilted me, she jilted me.”
On one occasion two or three thoughtless young men actually dragged Scutcher within the premises and right up to the bar. His old sweetheart stood smiling behind the counter.
“Come away, Dan, come away,” she said, persuasively.
But Dan continued to struggle with his captors.
As soon as he was free, he threw his arms aloft and glared at his former fiancé.
“Curse ye, curse ye, you’re the cause o’ this,” he hissed, and fled from the shop.
For years before his death, Scutcher did little or no work; indeed he was said to have become heart-lazy, and would not even wash his face, while his garments were so torn and tattered that his skin showed here and there through the rents. The fact, too, that he, a jorneyman cooper of acknowledged ability, visited cooperages in which he worked, and there, in the sight of former fellow workmen, humbly gathered up spales to sell as firewood, showed only too plainly his complete loss of self-respect.
His musical taste and ability, however, enabled him to convert a corned beef tin into a crude kind of fiddle, from which he extracted weird music – strains from another sphere. In the lower streets of the town, where most he played, his queer instrument and strange sounds attracted many people and drew many coppers.
There are two accounts of his death – one, that he was drowned by falling between logs floating in the East India Harbour; the other, and probably correct version being that, after “dossing” on board of a tug-boat, which he often did, he was coming ashore in the darkness of an early morning when he missed his footing and fell from the gang-plank into the harbour. He died in, I believe, the late (eighteen) sixties.