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The Speech Of A Ploughman (1867)
On the 9th November a social meeting of ploughmen, to which their wives and sweethearts were invited, and in
large numbers attended, was held in the Phoenix Hall, Edinburgh, which was crowded to excess. Addresses were
delivered by several ploughmen, and in the course of the evening Mr. Thomson, president of the Ploughman's
Association, and a man named Tam Ewing were each presented, at the hands of the chairman, with a purse
containing eight sovereigns, in recognition of their services to the Ploughman's Association.
Tam Ewing made a characteristic speech in acknowledging the present, in the course of which he said : "We must
paddle oor ain canoe. (Laughter.) It's an auld proverb, ' a ganging fit's eye getting ;' and Tam's gane money
a weary fit through wind and rain since the commencement of the ploughman's agitation, an' he's no jist killed yet,
but wonderfu' fresh, as you see, and in gay guid fettle for another year's campaign. (Laughter and cheers.)
He had suffered mair frae the iron hand o' oppression than frae the blasts o' natur'. At the commencement of this
agitation I was led to lift my feeble voice, and to pourtray the hardships and privations o' the ploughman's lot ;
and, along with some mair o' my brethren in toil, to expose the poor accommodation of the houses we had to live in,
the hamely fare we had to work on, and the miserable pay we got for our hard labor. (Cheers.)
Take a ploughman with his wife and six bairns, as one of the speakers has spoken of--which is gie near oor average
--(laughter)--as we are a gie productive class--on water brose and muslin kail though it be--(laughter and cheers)--
divide our average wages--12s. 6d.--among the eight for seven days in the week. I'm no great arithmetician, but I
think it just comes to 2½d. and five sevenths of a farthing. A heavy sum, indeed ! Jist the price for two sma'
penny baps wi' a halfpenny's worth o' milk to satisfy the craving appetites of each individual for twenty-four
hours. Puir criminal allowance indeed, not one mite loft to pay oor tailors, oor shoemakers, oor teachers, or oor
We are puir sons of oppression, wanderin, from no place to anither, thinkin' we might get a blink o' the star o'
freedom and comfort for oorsels an' oor puir wives and bairns ; but instead of getting that blink we often launch
oorsels worse into the gulf of misery an' nakedness. The press o' the country reported what I said, and the name o'
Tam Ewing struck terror into the hearts of evil doers, (Laughter and cheers,) The farmers were heard saying, ' Be
sure and gie the men guid meel and tatties, or that body Tam Ewing will expose us through the whole country.'
(Laughter and cheers.) And when the hiring markets of last spring cam round I found I was a doun man. They held up
their hands at me, and said--' We canna hire that man, he is a limb o' the diel.' (Laughter.) If the farmers are fu'
o' vital Christianity, I pity puir Tam's humanity. In fact, I was beginning to think in my ain mind that there was
naething before him but the road and the meal pock, but its no jist come to that yet (Cheers.) Burns said--
The last, o't, the warst o't
its only but to beg.
And I would sooner beg than I would beck or boo to the rich or great. I have ever given a fair return of labor for my
humble wages. The spirit that is within me rebels at insult and injury done tae oor class, aud I shall not cease to
labor until I have the ploughman's class elevated to a higher and better position among the working classes of the
country--(cheers) and if you are prepared to go along wi', an'join hand in hand thegether, then there are nae fear but
we will gain the day over sma' pay an' low diet." (Cheers.) After thanking the meeting for the present made him, he
continued--" I hope to see this mark of your kindness to me repaid in some measure by all oor ploughmen getting naething
less than £20 a year, wi their rations. That is the text marked for the year 1867. (Loud, cheers.) Be true to ane anither, an'
Let us pray that come it may
As come it will for a' that.
(Cheers.) Tam had aye mair faith in working than in praying a' his days--(laughter)--tho' maybe faith's best. (Cheers.)
The farmers needna' think they will crush him oot o' existance in 1867--for he's a sturdy little tyke, and ane that'll
raither be led than be driven ony day." (Laughter and cheers.)
From the Queensland newspaper the Brisbane Courier Saturday 2 March 1867 p. 7.
australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory