When the Cholera Epidemic appeared at Dundee in 1832 the recollections of the "Burke and Hare" atrocities in
Edinburgh were still fresh ; and the sacrilegious deeds of the Resurrectionists led many innocent men to be regarded with suspicion. Burke was executed in 1829, and it was thought that there were secret compacts with sextons in many parts of Scotland to carry on the supplying of dead bodies to the anatomists in the various Universities. At this time a certain Geordie Mill was the Sexton of Dundee; and, rightly or wrongly, it was supposed that he had dealings with the Professors at Edinburgh. Parties of watchers were appointed to guard in rotation the "Auld Howff " or public cemetery. Among these was a certain William M'Nab, a weaver, born at Forfar in 1789, who had settled in Dundee, and for twenty five years was Precentor in St. Mary's Church. Among his other accomplishments he had the gift of rhyming, and wrote many songs and short poems. As he lived next door to Geordie Mill, his suspicions were aroused, but he failed to detect him in the nefarious work ascribed to him. Nevertheless, he wrote the following song, which was sung in Dundee as a street ballad. M'Nab was suspected as the author; was brought before the Magistrates, and examined; but as nothing could be proved against him, he was discharged without even an admonition. The "spaiks" referred to in the song were the spokes then used for carrying the coffins to the grave-sides:—
" THE ROOND-MOO'ED SPADE."
Geordie Mill, wi' his roond-moo'ed spade,
Is wishin' aye for mair fouk deid
For the sake o' the donnal an' the bit short-bread
When he gans wi' the spaiks i' the mornin'.
An' if the tale that's tauld be true,
A greater gain he has in view,
Which mak's his fryin'-pan richt foo
To skirl baith nicht and mornin'.
A porter cam' to Geordie's door,
A hairy trunk on his back he bore,
Which the Quentin Durward frae Leith shore
Brocht roond that very mornin'.
This trunk, I'm tauld, contained a line
Wi' sovereigns to the amount o' nine.
The price o' a well-fed, sonsie quine
They had sent to Monro ae mornin'.
But Geordie, to conceal their plan,
A story tauld as fause as lang,
Sayin' the trunk belanged to a travellin' man
That wad call for it next mornin'.
Noo Geordie doon to Robbie goes.
The doctor's line to him he shows,
Which wished frae them a double doze
By the coach on Wednesday mornin'.
Says Robbie, " Is the box come back ? "
"Oh, yes," says Geordie, giein' the purse a shak',
"An' we maun gae an' no' be slack
To flirt again ere mornin'."
Quo' Robbie's wife, " Oh, sirs, tak' tent,
For sure a warnin' I've been sent,
Which tells me ye will yet repent,
Yer conduct on some mornin'."
" Ye fule," quo' Robbie, " Hush yer fears,
While I've the keys fat deil can steer's ?
We've been weel paid for't ten past years,
Think o' auchteen pounds i' the mornin'."
Sae aff they set to Tarn an' Jock,
The lads that used the spade an' pock,
An' wi' Glenarf their throats did soak
To keep them brisk till mornin'.
The hour grew late, the tryst was lain
Amang these Resurrection men,
When each his glass did freely drain,
Sayin', " Here's success to the mornin'."
But Robbie noo does sair repent
His slightin' o' the warnin' sent,
For the noise o' a second coffin's rent
Caused in Dundee a deil o' a mornin'.
Geordie Mill was at length suspended for some unexplained
reason—probably because of the popularity of the ballad—
and was succeeded by a " Tattie-monger Loon," which gave
M'Nab another theme for a song lamenting the loss of the
"Roond Moo'ed Spade." This was also sung for years in the
streets of Dundee, but need not here be quoted.