7] These three characters were well known in Parliament Square as vexatious litigants. The figure on the left is Andrew Nicol, a simple individual known as Muck Andrew, was a native of Kinross, a linen weaver and owner of a house and kail-yard. He fell into dispute with a neighbour over the boundary of a dunghill and was determined to settle the dispute in a court of law. Andrew won his case in the lower court but the neighbour having ‘a longer purse’, took the case to the Court of Session. This process continued over several years and Andrew used to travel 27 miles from Kinross each week to inquire about the progress. He was encouraged in this obsessive activity by roguish clerks of the law court. As a result his business suffered and Andrew was jailed for debt by his creditors. He died in jail in 1817. Kay’s drawing shows him carrying the plan of his ‘midden stead’ (dunghill). Nicol is thought to be the model for the character Peter Peebles, the obsessed plaintiff in Scott’s novel Red Gauntlet, whose ambition was to hear his name thundered out along the long-arched roof of the Outer House of Parliament Hall.
Andrew Nicol must have been quite a character for Kay did two portraits of him and his alter ego Peter Peebles was commemorated by having his statue by W G Stevenson placed on the Scott Monument
8] Mary Walker is described in Kay as a considerable pest about the Parliament House. The object of her legal solicitude was the recovery of a sum of money which she conceived to be due her by the Magistrates of Edinburgh. Her vacant expression is said to indicate her insanity.[i]
9] The man on the right is John Skene whose brain was considered ‘conglomerated’. He was a flax-dresser or Heckler by which nickname he was known. He imagined that he was Superintendent of the Court of Session and of the General Assembly of the Church and used to appear in Parliament House in clerical garb. He believed that his presence was necessary for the proper conduct of the business of the House. Likewise he attended the sittings of the Ecclesiastical court where he wielded the same imaginary control. The author in Kay’s Portraits describes the following incident:[ii]
For a madman, the Heckler wore an air of remarkable sedateness, and counterfeited the clerical character to such perfection, that Dr Blair is said to have been on one occasion nearly placed in an awkward predicament by the deception. He…made offer of his services for a day in the pulpit, which were accepted. He accordingly proceeded to the High Church the succeeding Sunday, where he was fortunately detected just in time to prevent the ridiculous exhibition.
The Heckler tired of providing all his services to the courts and church without reward, at length applied to the Exchequer Office for remuneration. His visits were for some time tolerated till at last, getting tired of his importunities, he was ordered not to trouble them in future. The next day he returned armed with a loaded pistol, and threatened to shoot one of the officers of that court. This was carrying the joke too far and the Heckler was instantly disarmed, and confined as a lunatic.
[i] Kay’s Portraits 1 p291.
[ii] Ibid 1 p292