William Smeaton

A Crieff Worthy of Yesteryear 
( Macara 1881)

William Smeaton was well known in his day as a keen angler, and his narrative powers were of a high order. This latter was generally used to recount the deeds of the former, which were at times extraordinary. He lived in North Bridgend near the River Earn, and had ample scope to improve his talents. He could dress a good fly hook, and while at work, with a good listener beside him, his hands and eloquence would work at high pressure. He assured his hearers that he best way to make sure of having the proper fly  for a particular stream was to go to the stream , catch a specimen  of the water flies  in the locality , dress a hook to the pattern, and , to make an assurance doubly sure, fix the newly made  hook to the line   and hang it so as to touch the water, strip yourself , and after plunging into the water , look up through the liquid element  and judge of your  handiwork . He had now and again presentiments of fish being at particular places, and one instance he occasionally told as follows: - One day while working at his loom, and happening to look down to his treadles, he imagined he observed a number of large salmon. Om looking more closely it appeared as if the place was at the Isle of Dargill. He immediately rose off his loom, seized his spear or leister, and hurried to the place indicated. On reaching it, he saw the fish exactly as in the vision, and with a little caution and expertness he soon secured the lot. He sometimes “skied “the water when it was in flood. This  consisted in holding a piece of red  cloth above the pools .which, he affirmed , shaded the water  so that he could see the bottom  and discover if any fish  were about; for, he said, there was no use in fishing if there were  no fish . He had a belief that the finny tribe had more sense than was generally believed. As an instance, he said that one summer there was a pike in the pool above the ford in the Earn at Forr, and he had tried it frequently when passing up and down, but to no purpose. One time when passing he bethought himself to a little scheming. At some distance  from the haunted  pool he got his tackle all right , and crawled through the furze and broom  to the proper  spot , and lying on his belly , he cautiously threw the line across the stream which ran into the eddy . As the current carried it down, he felt sure that a fair chance of success was approaching; but judge of his astonishment. The pike put its head above water, and on looking round saw discovered William moving the rod. The creature turned its eye full upon him, and with a knowing wink, hinted, “Oh, it’s you Smeaton; you needn’t try’t! “

His exploits were not all connected with fishing. He was for a time a member   of a local militia or volunteer company in the early years of the century, and when at the annual training of his Regiment at Perth many were the doings he reported of his prowess. One Saturday he got  leave of absence to come to Crieff  to see his aged mother , and to show  his filial respect he purchased for her a large bundle  of fish , and was  proceeding  along the road to Crieff at a quick march  with the bundle on his shoulder . When about a mile out of Perth a returned post chaise  or noddy  came up to him , and he asked  for  a lift  from the driver . This was  declined , and William , feeling annoyed , said that it would be seen who would  be first home .The coachman gave his horse rein , and William smartly  slipped  up to the  back of the chaise  , and tied his fish  on the luggage board , and in a trice was tripping along the road in gallant style . A little further on he left the high  turnpike road , and turning to the left brushed along what is called  the mid-road , and in a credibly short space of time he finished his  17 ½ miles journey , and turned up round the east toll gate  of Crieff, and walked leisurely  east wards along the high turnpike . In a little , he observed  the chaise clearing Callum’s Hill , and as it  neared he observed the coachman taking observations , and when they met , William asked , “ Who was the first  in Crieff ? “ The coachman looked bewildered, and William, to show that he was actually the individual passed near Perth, darted to the back of the chaise, and, unloosing his fish, held them up to the astonished gaze of the driver.

He often told of a daring encounter with a large dog which attacked him one time when he was fishing at Lochearn. Seeing that  there was  no escape  from it , he quickly rolled his handkerchief round his right hand , and when the infuriated animal  had its mouth wide  for attack , William  with a tremendous effort sent his hand down its throat  and through its body , and catching  its tail firmly, drew back his hand  and tuned the animal inside out . William was a quiet, hardworking man, and seemed capable of filling a station much higher than that in which his lot was cast. He had a large family, several of whom emmigrated to America. He died many years ago.


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