When I was researching my book “No Fair City” (available in Waterstones in Perth and online at Tibbermore Books), I found many tragic accounts of people being drowned in the River Tay at Perth. There would be even more lost to the river if it had not been for the bravery of an amazingly fearless woman called Jane Begg who saved at least nine, possibly as many as twelve, people from a watery grave. Jane was born in Kinnoul in 1842 to George Begg, a Cowfeeder from Kincardineshire, and Cecilia Hood from Abernethy. The family lived in the George Inn Lane in an area of Perth known as ‘Deadlands’. This was a strip of land that ran from just below the Old Perth Bridge, now Tay Street, so named because a cemetery was situated on this site.
Jane Begg came to the rescue of those who found themselves in difficulty in the River at Perth on quite a few occasions. The newspaper accounts of Jane’s heroics make stirring reading, for example the Dundee Courier on the 30th of October 1862 states that she rescued a boy called William Robertson who had got into difficulties on the 27th of October. The boy had rowed up the river after casting off at the bottom of the High Street, but as he approached Perth Bridge one of his oars got stuck in mud and it was pulled from his grasp. With only the one oar the boat was spun around by the rapid current and capsized. Jane heard the terrified boy’s cries for help so, along with her mother, ran to her father’s boat moored opposite the George Inn Lane and rowed to William who was clinging to the bottom of his overturned boat. She grabbed him and pulled him onboard, they then landed their boat at the bottom of the High Street and the unfortunate lad was taken to the Gowrie Inn where he recovered. No doubt after a wee nip of the good stuff! The paper says, “Miss Begg is about twenty years of age and is an expert and fearless rower” it also states that her mother Cecilia was nearly sixty years old and that Jane had already at that time rescued six* people from the Tay. For this act of courage Jane was presented with an award from the Royal Humane Society. The Perthshire Courier on the 20th of January 1863 quotes a member of the society who stated, “We regret that the committee overlooked the fact that the boy Robertson was the fifth that she had been the means of saving. Had this been taken into account we have little doubt she would have received the society’s medal.
Jane sprang into action again on the 15th of April 1863 when three boys who had hired a boat were rowing under third arch of the Bridge when they were swamped by the current. Not only did she save them she returned to bring their boat ashore. Jane Begg was something of a local hero with many newspapers at the time referring to her as the “Grace Darling of Perth”, after Grace Darling who along with her father rescued the survivors of the SS Forfarshire when it was driven onto rocks during a violent storm of the coast of Northumberland in 1838. I think Jane died in Perth in 1911 but more research needs to be done on this remarkably brave young woman. I also think that the deeds of Jane Begg should not be forgotten and it would be fitting to see a plaque recording her bravery down by the riverside, possibly near the foot of the George Inn Lane. *The papers have conflicting accounts of the number of people saved by Jane. Gary Knight is the author of ‘No Fair City; Dark stories of Perth’s Past’ , available now from Waterstones in Perth or at Tibbermore Books priced at £9.99.