Corporal John Dhu had served in the regular army as the right-hand man of the grenadiers. In this capacity he played a gallant part in the battle of Ticonderago, in North America. He became a well known member of the city guard who appears three times in Kay’s engravings. Scott describes him in Heart of Midlothian as ‘the fiercest-looking fellow I ever saw’[i], but Kay’s Portraits states that ‘Although he….was a terror of the mobocracy of Edinburgh, he was altogether a man of kind feelings and by no means overstepped the limits of his duty, unless very much provoked’. [ii] When delinquent boys were brought to the guardhouse he would detain them for a while, administering ‘a little wholesome terror’ by way of caution and then liberate them with a gentle slap on the breech. The fearsome ‘Lochaber axe’[iii] shown in the illustration was more for show than for use. Scott writes that ‘the tempers of the poor old fellows were soured by the indignities with which the mob distinguished them on many occasions, and frequently might have required the soothing strains of the poet’ (Fergusson):
O soldiers! For your ain dear sakes, For Scotland’s love, the Land o’ Cakes, Gie not her bairns sic deadly paiks, Nor be sae rude, Wi’ firelock or Lochaber axe As spill their bluid!
[i] Heart of Midlothian Collins 1952 Edition p37
[ii] Kays Portraits 1 p216
[iii] The Lochaber axe was the traditional weapon of the City guard. It consisted of a long handled axe which incorporated a hook.