« AnteriorContinuar »
In Aberdeenshire I consider that a large bullock ought to pay 25s. to 30s. a-month for keep, if he is properly treated. We often get less, and sometimes a little more, owing in some measure to the way in which the cattle are bought, the price of beef at the time, the season of the year the cattle are bought, and the time they are sold. Before we were threatened with the cattle plague, I always made a point of buying my beasts early in the season, beginning in January and buying monthly up to May. I had thus a chance of the best lots, whereas, if I deferred making iny selections, these went into other hands.
Before cattle are boof
Fifty years ago, and for many a long year thereafter, there were no shorthorns in the north. There were few turnips grown, and few cattle fed. The great firm of the Williamsons, who rented St John's Wells, Bethelnie, and Easter Crichie ; James Allardyce of Boyndsmill; the Harveys of Beidlestone and Danestone, and a few others, were almost the only parties who attempted the feeding of cattle. Mr Harvey of Ardo, who was then tenant of Danestone, died only the other year, aged ninety. Messrs Williamson and Reid were the great Aberdeen butchers at that period, and the feeders had either to sell to them or send their cattle on to Barnet Fair on their own account, or in the hands of the jobber. The journey occupied a month, and bay was their food. The cattle stood the road best upon hay, and it was surprising how fresh and sound their drovers took them up. Disease was unknown; the lung disease and the foot-and-mouth disease are comparatively recent importations.
I was in the lean-cattle trade when foot-and-mouth disease first broke out, and got a sad fright when I came up to Falkirk and found my drove affected. When it got into a drove on their transit, the loss was heavy. At that time the cattle were not made more than half fat, else they could never have performed their journeys.
I was well acquainted with the Messrs Williamson, and, when a boy, was the guest of the late George Williamson, St John's Wells; of the late James Williamson, Bethelnie; and of William Williamson, Easter Crichie. George Williamson was a great wit, and many are the anecdotes I have heard him tell. One of these I recollect. He was passing through Perth with a large drove of cattle, the bells were ringing a merry peal for the peace-St John's Wells said it was a sorrowful peal to him, for it cost him £4000. He told that the Messrs Williamson and Reid came to buy a lot of cattle at Bethelnie, and they were not like to agree, when Bethelnie's grieve volunteered the statementmuch to the chagrin of James Williamson, but to the delight of Messrs Williamson and Reid — that there were turnips to put over tomorrow, and no longer. Messrs Williamson and Reid did not advance their offer under these circumstances.
James Williamson was a smarter man in some respects than George; he had great taste as a farmer, but lacked the wit of his brother; while William of Easter Crichie, St John's Wells' eldest son, and a member of the great firm, took matters more coolly than either, but was a capital judge, and a good buyer of drove and store cattle. They have all gone to their rest, but have left a name behind them which will not soon be forgotten in Aberdeenshire. As a firm they were the largest cattledealers in Scotland of their day.* William Williamson was most hospitable, and many were the happy evenings I have spent at Easter Crichie. It was a great treat to hear hiin when he became eloquent upon the Haycocks, the great Leicestershire graziers, and the bullock he bought from Mr Harvey and sold to Mr Haycock that gained the prize against all comers at Smithfield. The Williamsons were the largest buyers in spring, not only in Aberdeenshire and the north, but in Forfar and Fife shires. At one time they had little
* A monument has been erected in the churchyard of Fyvie, in memory of George Williamson, by the gentlemen of the county.
opposition in the spring trade, and old St John's Wells' advice to the members of the firm, when they went to Forfar and Fife, was to “bid little and lie far back.” The Williamsons generally brought down from Fifeshire on their spring visits a lot of the best Fife cows, and no doubt their blood are in many of the Aberdeen cattle to this day. The Williamsons also bought largely at the Falkirk Trysts. Although they had the spring trade mostly to themselves, it must not be supposed that the summer trade was equally in their hands. For a time, however, it was doubtful if they would not concentrate the whole business in their own firm; as when they had heavy stocks on hand, and prices showed a downward tendency, they adopted the daring expedient of buying up almost all the cattle for sale, that they might become the exclusive owners. This might have succeeded so far, but it was a dangerous expedient, and could not continue; and other energetic men, both in the north and south, began to oppose them. My own father became their greatest opponent, and, though single-handed, for years conducted as large a business in summer as themselves.
Mr James Anderson, Pitcarry, who died in 1873 at the advanced age of ninety-three, was also an extensive dealer, and sent large droves to England—a man who through life has enjoyed the respect of all classes, of great coolness, and proverbial for his rectitude. The writer was sleeping with him at Huntly the night of an Old Keith market; and in the morning Mr Anderson was in the middle of a deep discussion, when his topsman knocked at the door. On being asked what he wanted, he said he had lost four cattle. “Go and find them,” was Mr Anderson's answer, and he immediately resumed the discussion. My father often told how Mr Anderson and he were at a dinner at Haddington, given by the East Lothian Farmers' Club, on the day of the cattle market, when Mr Rennie of Phantassie was chairman, and where, after dinner, a discussion arose about
the Acts of low Fair 4011
an Act of Parliament. Mr Anderson told them they were all wrong, and that the contents of the Act were 80 and so. The books were brought from the Council Chainbers, when Mr Anderson was found right, and all the East Lothian gentlemen wrong. He was a very well-informed man, and had all the Acts of Parliament at his finger-ends. I was present at a Hallow Fair when a cross toll-bar was erected, and many paid the toll demanded. At last Mr Anderson came up with his drove, and having the Act of Parliament in his pocket at the time, he broke down the toll-bar and sent the keeper home to his honest calling.
But James Milner, Tillyriach, was perhaps the most remarkable among all the cattle-dealers of the time. He was a very large tall man, with tremendously big feet, —a great man for dress—wore top-boots, white neckcloth, long blue coat, with all the et-ceteras, and used hair-powder. He was, withal, very clever, and had an immensity of mother-wit. He rode the best horse in the country, kept greyhounds, and galloped a horse he called the “Rattler.” The rides he took with this animal are the talk of the country to this day. The Rattler was very fast, and would jump over anything. There was no end to the hares Milner killed. He was tenant not only of Tillyriach, which was at that time the property of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar, but he rented Carnaveron and other farms in the Vale of Alford. His position was good: he dined with the gentlemen of the neighbourhood. On one occasion he had Sir William Forbes to dine with him at Tillyriach, and collected all the horses, cattle, and servants from his other farms, and had them all coming as if from the yoke when Sir William arrived. Milner wanted allowances for several improvements from his landlord, and, among the rest, allowance to build, and payment for, a large dwelling-house; but he outwitted himself for once, as Sir William was afraid of the man, and refused to give any allowance whatsoever, remarking