JOSEPH DEMPSTER, who for a number of years held the office of Town Crier, was at one time in a respectable business as a master boot and shoemaker in Edinburgh.
Afterwards he settled in Dundee in the same line ; but becoming unfortunate through other men's faults, he never got his head above water. When, by the death of 'Jamie Paterson' a Town Crier of 'ow-owing' notoriety, the 'bell' became vacant, Joseph was selected by the authorities from a host of applicants to be the custodier of it, much to the satisfaction of the public, and greatly to their enjoyment.
Everybody in Dundee knew Joseph Dempster—the inexhaustible in humour, the ever happy, constantly pleased and pleasing, the always migratory, laughter-exciting Bellman. Never did he appear, but the peculiar, emphatic—nay, euphonic—tones of his singular voice were sure to call about him crowds of fun-enjoying individuals—from the careless urchin of six to him of the hoary head ; and, wet or dry, hot or cold, storm or calm, Joseph was always ready, ever attentive to the interests of his employer, and not unmindful of his own 'peculiar.' The sunshine of the heart was his ; and it was something to hear and to enjoy the rich humour
of many of his 'proclamations.' A volume equal to the Laird of Logan might be filled with the quips and jokes of honest Joseph—his up-and-down turns in life, his short glimpses of prosperity, and his adversities, under which, however, his good spirits never forsook him—not even when a favourite porker he had fed and nourished for the support of his young family was poinded and carried oft by that king of terrors, a messenger-at-arms. ' Fare ye weel, Sandy,' was his parting salutation to Grumphy; 'ye'll no ha'e lang noo to mind yer auld maister. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away—blessed be His holy name ! ' —Upon an old shopmate, his remark was : ' M-- is a man of original genius, and of great invention. I once thought I was his equal. I could work as well as he, and even yet I could
eat with him, drink with him, sing with him, or pray with him ; but for telling lies he was a cut above me—I never could touch him. When once acting as a shopman, he was challenged by his clergyman for making lies—(supposed to be a besetting sin with poor shoemakers). He indignantly replied : " No, no, my master makes the lies—I only retail them.'"—Being brought before the Corporation, upon a Saturday in December, to pay up an instalment which he was to raise in Edinburgh, he was told by the Deacon that he could walk through Fife on Sunday. 'Your Honour' meekly replied Joseph, 'will not surely command me to transgress the Scriptures ? You know we are taught to pray that "our flight be not in winter, neither on the Sabbath Day."' This procured him a short respite. —Joseph was a stanch Seceder, and precentor to his church. Being challenged by the minister for not attending the evening sermon upon the Saturday before the Sacrament, he replied that he wished to have a share of the enjoyments of both worlds, and Saturday nights were busy ; but if his reverence would give an extra sermon upon Monday morning, starting at four o'clock, he would be in the desk, and no mistake !
—Passing a wealthy and haughty creditor, walking arm-in-arm with some respectables, Joseph, with hat in hand, made him a most profound bow. After passing, one of Joseph's acquaintances said he was very polite. ' There ,is nothing without a cause,' said Joe ; 'yon hat will maybe cost him twenty pounds yet.' —Taking a pair of boots to an officer in the army, for which he expected immediate payment, he overheard the captain order his servant to tell the fellow to call back, as he was not in. Joseph immediately popped in his bald head, with : ' Pray, sir, when will your Honour be in ?' —Though Joseph could sharply look after what was due to him at times, he never could succeed in accumulating money, and was frequently put to sad shifts for the needful. Having once an order for a pair of shoes, he found it extremely difficult to get the necessary materials with which to make them. He had leather for the soles, but not for the uppers, and he was nearly at his wits' end how to get it. Joseph, however, was fertile in expedients. Having a quarto Bible bound in calf, he took the leather from it, blacked it over, made the uppers with it, and thus completed . the job ! —On one occasion, Joseph had been required to make public proclamation that a black and white dog, with red spots upon his nose, had been lost. Joseph accordingly made due intimation of the loss of the animal, which had belonged to Sir John Monroe, who was in command of a detachment of the 71st Highland Regiment, then quartered in Dudhope Barracks. He experienced some difficulty, however, in receiving payment for his services, and at length, after waiting for his money until he could wait no longer, Joseph put on his black coat, and took his way to the Barracks. Having inquired at the soldier whom he found in charge at the gate, whether the worthy baronet was 'at home' and having received an affirmative reply, ' Tell him,' said Joseph, with an air of great authority, ' that one of the officials of Dundee wants to see him.' The officer was not long in making his appearance, and was a little disappointed to find who his visitor was. Joseph, however, seemed to think there was not the least cause for disappointment. ' What are you?' the baronet inquired at Joseph, to which the latter replied : 'You are the Right Hon. Sir John Monroe, and I am the Hon. the Bellman of Dundee ! ' After this intimation, and the purport of his visit, it is needless to say that half a crown was immediately given to Joseph, who, making a low obeisance, retired, saying : ' I thank the Most Hon. Sir John Monroe for his patronage and generosity'—The Dundee Advertiser, in Aug. 1838, recorded a curious proclamation which had just been made by Joseph, respecting a serious loss which had befallen a householder in Fish Street. It was nothing less than the loss of his wife and child. ' Lost,' said the eccentric Bellman, ' belonging to a man, his wife, and a child along with her. Whoever can give such information as may lead to the recovery of the child, will be handsomely rewarded; but ' —continued Joseph, with a swing round and great emphasis—'the wife is not wanted.' —Another of his intimations is said to have been made in something like the following terms : —' Lost, between the top of the Murraygate and the Wellgate, five five-pound notes. Whoever will return the same, will be handsomely rewarded. 'I dinna believe it—they were lost some ither gait.' —Upon the occurrence of some untoward circumstance, hearing the common remark made that such was the will of Providence, Joseph observed that that word ' Providence ' was a very handy one—it was a sort of japan blacking, to give a smooth skin to what otherwise would not bear a close inspection. —On one occasion, being bantered by the Rev. George Tod, of St David's Church, Joseph replied : 'Ou ay; I've heard you preachin' aboot Balaam's ass, but I'll wager, wi' a' yer Bible knowledge, ye coudna tell me what Awbraham's coo said when he gied it a poke wi' his staff.' ' No, I could not, Joseph' said Mr Tod ; 'and I don't think you could either, if it had to be told.' 'Hoot, awa', man,' said Joseph, it jist cried "Boo !" like ony ither coo.'—Joseph, having one day sprained his ankle on the High Street, Dr Crichton happened to pass, and was called on for his advice. The Doctor, knowing the Bellman's humour, and wishing to frighten him, said he feared the leg would require to be taken off. ' Weel, weel,' replied Joseph contentedly, 'in that case I'll rin, the iichter.' Joseph Dempster met with his death by an accident on Wednesday, July 29, 1840. He was succeeded in the office of Bellman by Alexander Ferguson, a man who also possessed many peculiarities of character.
Norrie, W. (1873) Dundee Celebrities of the Nineteenth Century. PP.65-68