On a sunny June
afternoon in 1842 a strange rumor reached the Gorbals district of Glasgow. A
creature mounted on a pair of wheels—the Devil himself, some were saying—was
traveling along the road that led to the city from the south side. The word had
been spread by breathless passengers dismounting from the Carlisle coach. The
apparition was going at a considerable speed and had come many miles already,
from the county of Dumfriesshire. As it had passed through roadside villages,
terrified mothers snatched their children indoors, and plowmen set off across
the fields, muttering hasty prayers.
The denizens of
the Gorbals were not so alarmed. They poured out of their dark, overcrowded
tenements, joined by hundreds of Irish immigrants from the Belfast boat that
had just docked at the Broomielaw pier.
yon corner," a shout went up, and in a few seconds the infernal machine was
in sight. The crowd surged across the street. Swerving, the devilish driver
mounted the pavement. A small child ran into his path and fell to the ground.
She picked herself up, in no way injured, but screaming in terror.
Gorbals constabulary were on the scene. Shouldering their way through the mob,
they arrested a broadly built, handsome and very embarrassed young man who
assured them that he was only the village blacksmith, like his father and
grandfather before him, from Courthill near Dumfries. His machine, which he
referred to as a velocipede, was his own property, his own handiwork, made in
the smithy where he was employed, on the Drumlanrig estate of the Duke of
Macmillan, or "Daft Pate" Macmillan, as his neighbors had been calling
him since he started work on his strange contraption, was, in fact, the
inventor of the world's first pedal bicycle. Never before had man been able to
move on two wheels without putting one foot on the ground, and this young man
had just covered 70 miles of rough, pot-holed roads on a machine weighing 60
pounds. Kirkpatrick had come to Glasgow to show his invention to his three
brothers, who unlike himself had all been a credit to their village
schoolmaster and now held respectable jobs in the city.
Daft Pate was
horrified to find himself involved with the law. To his intense relief,
however, it was only the velocipede that spent the night locked up in jail. He
was allowed bail and stayed with his eldest brother, assistant headmaster at
the Glasgow high school, until his appearance at the Barony Court in the
Gorbals in the morning.
were hard put to formulate the wording of their unique charge. Eventually the
offense was recorded as: "Riding along the pavement on a velocipede to the
obstruction of the passage and the danger of the lieges; and in so doing,
having thrown over a child."
The fine was five
shillings and the publicity the court case received in the Glasgow newspapers
the next day was the only acclaim the inventor of the bicycle was to know in
At the end of the
hearing the magistrates asked the accused if they could inspect the machine.
Proudly Daft Pate explained how the pedaling system worked: to the rear axle he
had fitted cranks which were connected by rods to the pedals suspended under
the upturned handlebars. He showed them the iron-rimmed wheels and a very fine
carving of a horse's head decorating the front of the machine.
observing Macmillan as he cycled away from the court laughed and cheered him
out of Glasgow. At the city boundary he met a stagecoach, and in an exuberant
mood he raced it all the way to Kilmarnock, 20 miles farther on. He had left
the astonished passengers far behind by the time he reached the village of Old
Cumnock in Ayrshire, where he stayed the night with a friend, for his bicycle
had no lamp.