In Memory of Johnny

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In Memory of Johnny

Post by Currie » Tue Apr 07, 2020 9:52 am

In Memory of Johnny Farg.

This was intended to be a short post about how I had found a story about a lithograph of Johnny Farg, native of Markinch, but could find nothing else about him. It would be unusual, in the 1840s, for someone to get a lithograph made of them unless they had a degree of fame. Then I started to dig and found the full story of John Farg of Markinch.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Oct. 17, 1844
Our Bellman.—We are none of those who would forbear to do homage to the merits of an individual till after death. To do so exhibits an inordinate self-esteem, and looks as if men in general were unwilling to acknowledge any one greater or better than themselves. Away with this selfish feeling. Ours be the task to speak to the praise of all men when it can be done, and not to wait till the lapse of time has destroyed all that is mortal, and raised anew the individual in the shape of a divinity. Markinch, famous in the annals of newspaper literature for the liberality of its inhabitants, the salubrity of its air, the beauty of its belles, and the monstrosity of its vegetable productions, would yet add another “extraordinary” to the list of these in the shape of its bellman. Few things are of more public utility in a village than a good bellman—a desideratum in this place, until of late, when a new bell was subscribed for and placed in the hands of Master John Farg. In addition to a pair of good lungs—an indispensible pre-requisite in a bellman—John has a most distinct enunciation, and gives every syllable forth in a most emphatic tone, Master Farg has been, and still is, to a certain extent, engaged in a diversity of pursuits. He is known by the boys and girls in all the village fairs in Fife as proprietor of the “Prince Albert Hobby;” and there is not a hamlet in the county but where he has cried “Almanacs,” and sold storie of “Jack the Giant-killer,” &c. He is also a regular attendant at Perth Circuits, and has a pecuniary interest in the number of cases to be decided. In addition to his other vocations, Master Farg has applied himself to the histronic art, and occasionally held forth to crowded audiences. As a poet, he is not behind the “Markinch Minstrelsy,” as the following specimen, while lately crying his Almanacs through the village, will show:—

New Almanacs for forty-five—
It's just as true as I'm alive—
A penny each, they are not dear;
Come all in crowds and buy them here.

John is a universal favourite in the place, and we hope soon to be able to add another vocation to him in the shape of lamplighter.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Jan. 30, 1845
STAR.—The Markinch Stage-Struck Bellman—A “Great Gun!”—Master John Farge, “the Markinch bellman and bookseller,” gave a public night in the Schoolroom here, on the evening of Thursday last, before a crowded house. The entertainment was well received, and went off with several encores and deafening shouts of approbation. His rhetorical powers are highly admirable, being quite unique and true to nature. his gestures are well timed and graceful; his voice powerful and harmoniously beautiful; and his whole appearance truly fascinating and forcibly attractive! In the tragic, pathetic, humorous, and comic, he displays equal talent. In song he is equally at home. Indeed, it would puzzle the most experienced theatric critic to determine in which department John's forte lies, he sustains each with such uniform taste and ability. We were made aware of his superior acquirements by report; but could not, till we were present at his olio, form the least idea of his matchless attainments; and, like his own townsmen, we are now high in hopes of him. Ye stars of the metropolis! Tremble. We look for his equal but in vain. Need we say he had one in the Bard of Avon? for John is a bard, and one whose strains have been poured forth in the streets and lanes of his native city. Markinch may be proud of such a citizen; and all who have listened to his effusions, and witnessed his performances, seem proud that such “a flower” has not been left “to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Wherever he goes our good wishes follow him. We recommend all who have not heard him to embrace the first opportunity of becoming one of his auditors, and we are sure they will then become one of his admirers.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Mar. 6, 1845
FALKLAND.—The Markinch Star.-—On Wednesday and Thursday last we were favoured with a visit from Mr John Farge, bellman and bookseller, Markinch (as his bills announced him), accompanied by an individual styling himself the “Markinch Ventriloquist.” We may here remark, if Markinch has reason to be proud of the former, she has as much reason to be ashamed of the latter; for a more rude, uncivil, and unmannerly animal we never met with laying claim to public favour. John introduced himself on the first night by telling us, as we lay at the back of the Lomond Hill, and were a century behind our Markinch neighbours, he had come, not for the purpose of taking our money, but to enlighten us. John went through his budget of comic songs, recitations, and enigmas, &c. &c., with great eclat, which convinced us that he is possessed of extraordinary abilities. On the second night the performance commenced with the ventriloquist, who appeared in a state of intoxication, and totally unfit to perform the part he had undertaken; thereupon the respectable part of the audience left the room; the utmost confusion prevailed, and he was eventually driven off the stage amidst a volley of groans and hisses. At this critical moment the immortal John appeared, and was greeted with a hearty cheer.

He sang and tell‘d his queerest stories,
The audience’ laugh was ready chorus.

In reality, we must admit the Markinch star by far surpasses all others in magnitude and brilliancy that have a yet appeared in our dim horizon.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Mar. 27, 1845
That great star, Mr John Farge, bellman of Markineh, paid Strathmiglo a visit on Friday week, accompanied by a stage dancer, who called himself Mr Sibbald. John intimated by the bell that it was not for the selfish, sordid purpose of making money that he was travelling the country—nothing of the kind. He had a far more laudable end in view, viz., the enlightment of the natives. We went to see Jobn's exhibition, and were highly entertained; and we felt still more interested when we reflected that he came from that highly-favoured spot of earth, Markinch, where the immortal Robert Taylor lived and died.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Sept. 17, 1846
MARKINCH.— Death of a Character. —It is with regret that we have to record the death of John Farg, our town crier and street lamplighter, who died here on Thursday last after a short illness. The deceased was well known throughout the villages of Fife, where he has appeared in a variety of pursuits, such as bookseller, speech-crier, hobby-horse keeper, rhetorician, &c. In this place, he was a universal favourite, for though sometimes a little rude and unpolished in bis manners, especially when provoked, yet he was warm-hearted and honest; and however humble and apparently trifling were many of the offices he was called to perform, it will be difficult to find one so servicable in many respects as the deceased has been. John was very fond of newspaper reading, particularly the “accidents and offences,” and took great delight in poring over the details of a murder or execution. He was also much interested in the judicial proceedings of the Circuit Courts at Perth, whither he repaired periodically for a “full true, and particular account” of the trials, for sending to those interested in such details. Before closing this brief notice, we way mention one pleasing feature in the deceased’s history. Whether from the want of clothes, or the want of will, or probably from both, John was not a church-goer until, a few months before his death, some individuals offered to procure a decent suit of clothes for him if he would attend a church; and, in order that they might not restrict his personal liberty too much, allowed him one Sabbath in four to stay at home if he chose. John required time to think of the bargain, but ultimately agreed, on condition that he was allowed to go to the “church of his fathers”—meaning the Established Church. Freedom of conscience being freely granted, the deceased continued a regular church-goer up to the time of his death, never even availing himself of the leisure Sabbath allowed in the bargain. The deceased was about 34 years of age when he died, and has left his mother, who is a widow. and who depended upon him in some measure, to deplore his loss.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Thursday, Nov. 4, 1847
LITHOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT OF THE LATE JOHNNY FARG.—A full length portrait of this well known eccentric individual, has just been issued from the lithographic press of Mr Tullis, Cupar, and is a very striking and characteristic likeness. The lithograph is from a painting taken by our townsman, Mr Anderson, painter. Johnny is represented as pursuing his calling of bookselling, having his stick in one hand, and his bundle of ballads and old books bundled up in a towel in the other. Underneath the likeness are the following lines: —

On market days, whase voice sae loudly rang
As Johnny Farg’s, wi’ ballad, speech, or sang?
Through a’ the nooks o’ Fife, his weel kent name
Aye gain‘d him frien’s, though lang, lang miles frae hame.
His gleefu’ jokes he told in Scottish lallan’,
hat aye made mirth ring through the happy hallan;
His noodle fu’ o’ hamespun ready wit,
Made folk aye wae whan he rose up to flit.”

Nothing more is heard of Johnny until almost 40 years later when there’s a report of an Industrial Exhibition and Loan Collection which had opened in the Town Hall, Markinch. Among the exhibits was the painted portrait from which the lithograph had been taken.

Fife Herald, Cupar, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 1885
From Mr Alex. Anderson, painter, Markinch—A fall length portrait of “Johnny Farg.” a native of Markinch, painted by his father, Mr William Anderson —

“ On market days, whase voice sae loudly rang ………….etc

After Johnny’s death, many years ago, this portrait was lithographed in the Fife Herald works, and had a wide circulation. Many copies are still highly prized by inhabitants in Markinch as elsewhere. There was also a portrait of Sandy Page, another inhabitant of Markinch, painted by Mr William Munro in 1845. Sandy is represented in his happy mood, addressing the Markinch laddies—“I like the laddies!” Both are favourite gems.

And that’s the story of Johnny Farg, Bellringer and Lamplighter extraordinaire. A light that shone for just a few years and then was snuffed out.

Come back Johnny, we need someone to be ringing bells, and brightening the place up, in these troublesome times.

Hope that’s interesting,

Posts: 617
Joined: Wed Nov 02, 2005 2:42 pm
Location: Dorset, UK

Re: In Memory of Johnny

Post by garibaldired » Tue Apr 07, 2020 11:04 am

You're always interesting, Alan :D

Thanks for brightening up the day in these strange times!

Best wishes,


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