‘Bacca B’ : John Beveridge and his Two Careers

by Dr Jean Barclay

John Beveridge (1796-1864) was a remarkable man who made a success of two totally different careers. He was born in Inverkeithing on March 1st 1796, the second of the 10 children of James Beveridge and his wife Catherine Walls (1). In about 1803 the family moved to Dunfermline, where James set himself up in the High Street as a grocer and wine merchant.  Of James and Catherine`s children, three sons died young, but two sons, John and Finlay, and their five daughters lived to adulthood (2).  John Beveridge, their second son, was apprenticed to a tobacconist and while still young started his own business on the corner of the High Street and Bruce Street.  In 1819, John married Agnes Brown of Glasgow and between 1820 and 1833 the couple had a family of four boys and two girls (3). By `attention to his business and scrupulous attention to the quality of his stock` as well as careful investments, John Beveridge became a wealthy man and, as `Bacca B`, a well-known figure in Dunfermline (4).

Tobacco was a growing and prosperous trade in Scotland, the finished product being chewed, snuffed or smoked in pipes (5).  Raw tobacco would arrive at the Glasgow docks mainly from Virginia and was transported to licensed manufacturers all over the country.  It arrived in huge bales or hogsheads and would be sorted, cut, treated, wrapped and sold on the premises   

With his business well-established, John Beveridge, an enthusiastic, sociable man, and a keen orator, threw himself into local affairs.  He became a member of the Town Council in 1831 and was Town Treasurer for many years. A liberal of the radical type he took the part of working people in times of stress. He supported the repeal of the Corn Laws and took a prominent role in local elections and in the Voluntary agitation of the 1830s and 1840s about whether support of the poor should be voluntary or official. He was active in the quarrel at Queen Anne Street Church about the introduction of an unpopular minister and, when the congregation split in two, he and his family were among those who left and founded St. Margaret (Presbyterian) Church, East Port Street (later the site of the Dunfermline Building Society).

Early in life, Beveridge developed an interest in things of a medical nature.  He took up the new `science` of phrenology or judging a person`s character by the bumps on the skull, and was president of the local Phrenological Society, which was founded in 1826 by a group of weavers (6). More importantly, he found that, like the old bone-setters, he had a natural skill in the manipulation of displaced joints and the cure of other conditions by `medical rubbing`.  He began to accept patients and passed on simple procedures to his son, John, who by the age of 12 had become a dab hand at correcting sprains and would later become a medical rubber like his father (7).

 In the spring of 1850, John Beveridge senior, now in his early fifties, made a major change in his life.  He handed over his tobacco business to his eldest son, James, and moved to Edinburgh to set up as a `synovial manipulator`. He soon made his name as a `rubbing Doctor` by curing Onesiphorus Tyndall Bruce, laird of Falkland, of a growth which two or three Edinburgh professors had pronounced incurable (8).  This encouraged other wealthy patients to consult him and he did so well that he soon built up his practice and took on assistants. One of these was briefly his son John, who in 1859 wrote a pamphlet about his father`s theories and methods (see note 7).

 John senior believed that many ailments were due to old untreated sprains which had caused disturbance of the body fluids – serous, cartilaginous and synovial – causing them to solidify into clumps.  He dissipated these clumps by manipulating them with just his thumbs and fingers, not the whole hand as others did.  His son wrote that his father took great pleasure in his work and `soon rendered it an art`, adding that `I could get dozens to tell they have come to my father unable to put their foot to the ground and after an hour`s treatment walk home quite well`. Beveridge cured headaches by removing the deposits from muscles overlying the veins which return blood from the head and cured a wealthy young man of epilepsy by `rubbing away a crop of deposits` after eminent physicians in London and Edinburgh had failed him.  Many physicians and surgeons disparaged unqualified manipulators like Beveridge but the more broad-mined recognised their skill (9)

By hard work and wise investments John Beveridge increased his fortune and bought property in Dunfermline and Edinburgh. He continued to take an interest in the people of his old home town – he was a lifelong member of the Dunfermline Guildry and supported local causes such as fund raising for the Public Park.  He was an early patron of young Noel Paton, who was making his way as an artist (10).  A portrait of Beveridge himself was painted by a well-known painter, George Harvey, who would later become a trustee of his will.

Painting of John Beveridge Esq. by George Harvey
John Beveridge Esq. by George Harvey (14)

At 30 London Road, Edinburgh, Beveridge was able to support his wife and children in some comfort but, sadly, that did not prevent tuberculosis striking the family.  In 1857 Finlay, aged 24, died of phthisis and in 1860 the younger John Beveridge, who had moved to Malvern to set up as a manipulator, died aged 34, possibly of the same complaint (11).  In January 1864 the second son, William, aged 39, died of phthisis during a sea voyage from London to New Zealand (12).

John Beveridge senior died at home in September 1864 and was survived by his wife, Agnes Brown, James his eldest son, tobacconist in Dunfermline, and Catherine, his daughter.  He died a wealthy man, leaving more than £20,000 (about two million pounds today) from which sum, property and a handsome annuity were to go to his wife (13). John Beveridge was buried in the Abbey Churchyard of Dunfermline and a monument erected there in 1896 after the death of his widow Agnes is a fine memorial to an interesting local figure and his family.

Notes and Sources:

Family details – included for the benefit of family historians – have mainly been obtained from the Scotlandspeople website.

1. John Beveridge`s year of birth presents problems.  It is often given as 1798 (the year of his sister Christian`s birth) but parish records show that he was born in 1796, although his father`s name has been misread as Francis and not James.

2. The children of James Beveridge (1766-1836) and Catherine (or Catharine) Walls (1773-1832) were: (born in Inverkeithing): William (1793-1828), Janet (b.1794, m. 1818 Robert Shaw, smith Castleblair), John (1796-1864), Christian (b.1798, m. 1828, James Walls, vintner, Charlestown), Elizabeth or Betty (b.1802), and (born in Dunfermline): Margaret (b.1804), James (1806-1829), Catherine (b.1809), Finlay (b.1811) and Thomas (1814-1815).

3. The children of John Beveridge and Agnes Brown were: Sarah Keith (1820-1823), James (1822-1893), William (1824-1864), John (1826-1860), Catharine (1829-1915), and Finlay (1833-1857). John Beveridge`s widow, Agnes Brown, died in Falkirk in 1885; his daughter Catharine married in 1865 James Henderson, banker in Falkirk and later Leith.

4. Dunfermline Saturday Press, Sept. 10 1864; `Anent Dunfermline`, Vol. 1, 43, 370-1; Vol. 3, 07, (available at Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries, DCLG).

5. Cigars had been manufactured for some decades but cigarettes did not become common until the later 19th century after foreign soldiers in the Crimea had been seen smoking them.

6. `Anent Dunfermline`, Vol. 1, 579½; Vol. 2, 506; Vol. 6, 203.

7. The Cure of Disease by Manipulation, commonly called Medical Rubbing, a pamphlet by John Beveridge of Great Malvern, son of Mr. Beveridge of Edinburgh, London, 1859, quoted in Walter Johnson, The Anatriptic Art, London 1866.

8. `Anent Dunfermline`, 1, 43.  Mr. Tyndall Bruce died five years later in 1855.

9. Dr. Walter Johnson (see note 7), in describing Beveridge`s work, noted that, `If any surgeon or physician will manipulate the flesh of his patients, he will be surprised in how many cases he will detect thickenings, hardenings, and swellings in various parts`.

10. Letter from Noel Paton to John Beveridge 1851 (DCLG)

11. In 1859, an advertisement headed `Medical Rubbing – Foley House, Great Malvern` states that `Mr. John Beveridge from Edinburgh begs most respectfully to intimate that he has removed to Malvern and has made arrangements for receiving Patients requiring Medical Rubbing. The same treatment is employed as prescribed in his Father`s Establishment in Edinburgh`.  The death of William on the ship Ullcoats is mentioned in The Southern Cross, Jan. 23 1864.

12. John Beveridge death certificate: Sept. 4 1864, aged 66, cause of death: Dilatation of the Heart.

13. In Beveridge`s original will of 1859, substantial sums were left to his sons James and William (then in Valparaiso), and his daughter Catherine, but only £1000 to John who had `always received advances from me to a very considerable extent`. A later codicil took account of the recent deaths of his sons John and William and increased the annuity to his widow.

14. The painting was donated to Dunfermline Corporation by the Beveridge family in 1915 and now hangs in Dunfermline City Chambers.