JAMES LOWE, a Dundee celebrity of some notoriety in his day, was a remarkably well informed man, of an acute turn of mind, severely sarcastic, and occasionally very humorous, and gifted with no mean powers of oratory ; while his acquaintance with dramatic literature enabled him at all times to ornament his discourses with the cleverest things the drama so fully supplies.
He was about six feet in height, and of strong make ; and sometimes, when denouncing on the platform, casting his random shafts about him, his figure seemed to assume the proportion or appearance of the gigantic. His ordinary appearance was striking and peculiar, and would have been commanding, had it not been for the habits of intemperance to which he had become addicted at an early period of his life, and which had the effect of giving him a slouching and disagreeable look, which appeared to court the ground.
Mr Lowe was a native of Coupar-Angus, and came to Dundee in the year 1824, where he learned the business of a draper. Subsequently he became an auctioneer, for some time he was a broker, and latterly he kept a shoe shop. A violent democrat, he took a prominent and, in some instances, a rather notorious part in the agitation for obtaining a Reform Bill, and in the Chartist, Corn Law, and other political movements. He was Secretary of the Dundee Political Union in 1837 ; and at the Parliamentary election which took place in that year, when Mr Gladstone and Sir Henry Parnell were the candidates, he was appointed to catechise them as to their political principles. In 1839 and 1840, when Chartism was the popular political doctrine of the day, he appeared as one of the principal leaders in that movement, and, along with some others, assisted in establishing a rival association, the doings of which gave rise to acrimonious feelings, which only ended with the close of that movement. Lowe, however, lost all weight and character from his habitually intemperate habits. Feeling himself aggrieved in being abandoned by all but debauchees, in revenge, he adopted the extraordinary course of starting a small trashy publication, of the most scurrilous character, which he named the Police Gazette, which he published 'at the low price of one penny,' and in which, while professing to give reports of the various cases that came for adjudication before the Magistrates at the Police Court, he highly caricatured the unfortunate prisoners at the bar, and also took occasion to introduce bitter, sarcastic, and envenomed remarks against all his former associates, and every person else who had in any way offended him. As an illustration of the manner in which , this publication was conducted, the following, which appeared in the issue of Aug. 10, 1850, may be quoted—suppressing the name of the person implicated : —
A Case. —A notorious fool called ____ _____ was brought up for, we suppose, the hundredth time, accused of being drunk, swearing, bawling out, and making a loud noise, and collecting a crowd in Overgate. This notorious character is to profession a tailor—to practice a fool. His head is little ; his eyes rather sharp (being perhaps acquainted with the needle); arms mere drumsticks. He is the hero of a hundred thefts, if the stealing of tailors' wives can be termed so, which Brechin can testify. No jail or judge can frighten him. He is, in fact, a pest to the tap-room, a pest to the Police Office, and a pest to all connected with him.
The tailor alluded to in this case felt so indignant at such an unusual style of reporting, that he took the first opportunity of giving Lowe a sound castigation. For this, Lowe summoned him before the Magistrates, on a charge of assault ; but after hearing all the circumstances, the knight of the thimble was dismissed with a caution. From the unscrupulous use which he made of his 'organ,' Lowe became quite an object of terror in the town—his hand was against every one, and every man's hand was against him. This state of things continued until the publication was summarily discontinued, upon the interference of the authorities of the Stamp Office. The Police Gazette being published at the period prior to the abolition of the compulsory stamp upon newspapers, when the officials of the Stamp Office had their attention drawn to it, they very speedily effected what all Lowe's enemies could not accomplish.
At this period, his forlorn, abject, and unhappy appearance was most pitiable. His mother removed from him, and, otherwise deserted, he lived as an outcast. His very heart sank within him, and his countenance exhibited the mingled feelings of wasted sorrow, and passions boiling at fever heat. He went deeper and
deeper into the stream of intemperance ; and such was the wretched, jaded, and dilapidated state of his clothing, and especially his almost shapeless hat, that every passer-by remarked it, and experienced a thrill of horror at the utter wreck of the inner man which such a deplorable exterior indicated. Rumour gave it out one day—and instantly it was currently reported through the town —that Lowe, in passing a potato field, where two cross sticks covered with old, cast-off clothes, were doing duty in frightening away the black depredators, stood wistfully looking at the ' tattie bogle,' and envied its superior suit, and determined on an exchange. He went over into the field, stepping among the drills, till he stood side by side with the envied and helpless bogle, which he instantly stripped of all it had, and put them on himself, and left his own cast-offs upon the cross sticks flapping in the wind. During the last two years of his life, a great change for the ; better came over Lowe. He was induced to take the temperance pledge, and to keep it. From the moment that this resolution was acted upon, he became like a new and another man. The first to experience the benefits of the change was his mother, who was brought back to Dundee, and treated with filial tenderness, and kept comfortable to the last. He began to carry his head erect, the rosy oxygen came back to his pale cheeks, light to his eyes, and pleasure to his heart. He became a warm advocate of temperance, and laboured zealously in the cause. He did not, however, escape : his share of calumny ; and one debased poetaster, who had been I touched off in the Gazette, wrote a song on the 'Tattie Bogle' which became very popular in the former haunts of the subject. Still, during the short period that remained to him, after turning over a new leaf, he strove hard to make amends for his previous short-comings. In the midst of his new labours, however, he was seized with cholera, to which he fell a victim on Friday, Nov. 11, 1853, in the 44th year of his age.
Norrie, W. (1873) Dundee Celebrities of the nineteenth Century. P.P. 153-155.