Little Jock Elliot

Date October 1953
Track ID 26916
Part 1

Track Information

Original Track ID


Original Tape ID



In this song, 'Little Jock Elliot' tells of his prowess (with a good deal of bravado) in vanquishing his enemies. After fending off attacks from redoubtable foes, he asks the rhetorical question: "Wha daur meddle wi' me [who dares meddle with me]?"

Item Notes

4 verses of 8 lines with a refrain of 4 lines. Jock Elliot of Park was an infamous reiver (outlaw, robber) in Liddesdale at a time when the Borders were largely lawless. In 1566, Mary Queen of Scots sent Bothwell (James Hepburn, 1st Duke of Orkney, c. 1534-1578) to deal with the situation. After some success, Bothwell encountered Elliot, who made to escape, only to be wounded by Bothwell's pistol. While moving in to take Elliot captive, Bothwell stumbled, allowing Elliot to turn and attack, seriously wounding his pursuer. 'Little Jock Elliot' made good his escape and supposedly recovered from his injury, as did Bothwell.

This song is the work of James Smail FSA (Scot.) (born 1828 Jedburgh, died 1905 Edinburgh), banker and then secretary of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. As well as a prolific writer, he was an active member of Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, producing many works on birds in particular. He was well-known as an authority on local history and took great interest in the antiquities of the Borders.

Published under the pen-name of 'Matthew Gotterson' in The Scotsman in 1872, his original work 'Little Jock Elliot' initially caused quite a stir. The nature of the submission was ambiguous, suggesting the song might even have been collected as a traditional folk-song; many people immediately began asking whether this might not be a surviving variant of the 'lost' ballad of the same name. Over the next year, public correspondence failed to resolve the issue and The Scotsman was compelled to settle the debate by contacting the author and establishing the originality of the work, which it confirmed to its readers. Almost twenty years later, 'Gotterson' again published in the same newspaper a continuation of his ballad, called simply 'Little Jock II'.

This performance includes verses from both publications, with the contributor's first and last verses from the second piece, his middle verses from the first. Smail's complete ballad (i.e. the publications combined) yields twelve verses.

Despite attempts to reconstruct the 'lost' ballad of Jock Elliot, the authenticity of these recovered verses remains somewhat doubtful. The Scots refrain "Wha daur meddle wi' me?", attributed to Elliot himself, is the most prominent fragment to have survived. The phrase is also the motto of the 'Order of the Thistle', the Scottish chivalrous order (Latin "Nemo me impune lacessit", Gaelic "Cha togar m' fhearg gun dìoladh").

Editorial, The Scotsman (23 December 1872) p. 6
'Little Jock Elliot' (M. Gotterson [pseud.], The Scotsman, 25 April 1872) p. 6
'Little Jock Elliot II' (M. Gotterson [pseud.], The Scotsman, 9 November 1892) p. 10
'The Illustrated Border Ballads: The Anglo-Scottish Frontier' (J. Marsden, N. Barlow, 1990) pp. 110-113, 187
'History of the Berwickshire Naturalists' Club, Instituted September 22, 1831' (1904) p. 297

Item Subject/Person

Elliot, Jock

Recording Location

County - Roxburghshire

Parish - Hobkirk

Village/Place - Bonchester Bridge

Item Location

County - Roxburghshire

Parish - Castleton







Source Type

Reel to reel

Audio Quality