With I Hope a New Face
Characters in this segment:
- James: James McCowan (1773-1834)
- John: John McCowan, James' brother (b. 1777)
- David: David McCowan, James' brother (b. 1775)
- Margaret: James wife, Margaret Porteous
Auchanbeg, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire
Jammie, why don't you join David's building
business in Trinidad? You know all about boring stones. Your situation here is not
good. You should emigrate before it's too late.
I have plans here, John. You know I'm trying to renew my lease on the Auchanbeg Coalworks.
The lease is up this year.
Do you really think you'll get the lease? I hear you're up against three other bidders who
all have more capital than you. You know, if you don't have lots of capital these days,
it's almost impossible to secure a lease on a farm -- let alone a coalmine.
You know, you're partly right. (As if giving a lecture) Just before we were born -- and
for centuries before that -- farm leases were renewed automatically at the same rent. So,
there was really no risk if a farmer didn't make improvements
or take chances. Everyone had their small plots of land all
mixed up with those of others. People didn't try anything new because the neighbours'
cattle would likely wreck it anyway. At least today, we all have the opportunity to be individuals -- to farm within our own fences and to take personal
risks. Of course, some of us still refuse to take any chances at all (motioning to someone
standing across the stage). There is competition today and that is good. I say that where
there is no risk, there should be no reward. And where there is risk, there very likely
will be reward.
So, are you afraid of the risk in emigrating?
Of course not! It's just that I still have opportunity right here in the Lanarkshire
coalfield. You know, I was one of the pioneers in the modern coal industry here. The steam
engine that I put in was one of the first in this part of the County. And I've been
installing an underground railway in one of my pits.
There aren't many of those around here yet.
I know, and I respect you for those accomplishments. But a coalmine is getting to be more
of a gamble all the time. Labourers are forming unions. There is a coal cartel in Glasgow
squeezing you small operators out of the market. And look at it another way. The
landowners themselves are afraid to run their own mines - - they'd rather make bloaks like
you take the risk. (voice rises) Pretty soon, the ambitious tenant class will rise up and
take over from the gentry in their big country houses!
That's enough! I believe in law and order. The radicals in this County will get a surprise
if they ever try anything drastic. I for one won't sit still for treason. Our parliament
does have its faults and only the wealthy have a real influence, but it's still the best
system of government in the world.
John, rather taken aback:
So, just suppose you don't get the renewal of the lease on the Coalworks? Then what? The
land on East Auchanbeg farm isn't very good -- it certainly won't support your family
without the coal and lime income from Auchanbeg. I still say you're best to emigrate to
America or to Canada. At least, I would if I were you.
James, looking down and pondering:
If David would ever repay the money he owes me, I'd
have a fighting chance of getting the coalworks renewal or of getting the lease of a
Like I said, brother David has stepped on a few toes -- including his own brother's. Your
creditors are really his creditors. Your debts are really his debts.
I'm sure he'll pay me back -- I just hope it's soon.
John says that we should go to Canada or America because our debts don't give us much
chance to get the leases we want. What do you think about emigrating?
I would go wherever you go. But I think we should wait until the boys are finished school. The best
education system in the world is right here in the Lowlands. I don't think America or Canada have schools nearly as good as ours. Some places
don't even have schools.
That's a good point. Anyway, I don't have time to even think about emigrating -- my main
goal right now is to keep my lease on the coalworks. Say, what were those biddies onto you
Same old thing. Robert is a good boy
and I will always love him as my own. Let's get going.
James, pacing the room furiously:
I was sure I had that lease on Auchanbeg! But Muir Johnston must have been able to show lots of capital -- or maybe he came up with some financial
backers. I've worked with Johnson for over twenty years -- and side by side when we were
both bound to the Earl's pits. I just don't know
how he could do this to me!
Calm down James. He is only trying to earn a living, just like you. You still have your
Coal and Lime Works at Blackwood and Neuk.
But we live here in East Auchanbeg. I'll have to drive the coal cart to the other pits
every day -- Blackwood is five miles from here! I had my coal grieves looking after daily
operations there before. And I'm not sure that I want to stay here at Auchanbeg with Muir
Johnston running my old Coalworks just a stone's throw from our house!
You'll manage -- and you'll get over your little problem with Muir Johnston!
I have cousins working as wrights in the new power mills in Neilston. I wonder if they can
train me. I know so many who went from Old Cumnock Parish to Neilston near Paisley. We could maybe start again there.
Oh James, that's enough! You're not taking us anywhere near those filthy unhealthy power
mills. We're staying right here in East Auchanbeg and you're going to be yourself again.
You're a coal and lime master -- and a good one too. (Mumbling) They can have their
Of course, you're right and I'm upset. I'm just over-reacting now. But, mind you -- we're
very much a part of this "industrial" revolution too. (Defiantly) And it's just
beginning. Once I can start working the ironstone as well as my coal, then we'll really be
That's my James! (kisses him)