August 1902: Death of Tom Maclagan, at the Age of 75

Tom Maclagan died on Thursday the 7th of August, 1902. Known as “The Great Maclagan”,

“Scotland’s Oldest Favourite”, “Great Scottish Artiste”, “The World-Famous Comedian and

Vocalist”, “The Great Versatile Entertainer”, “Scotland’s Greatest Artiste”, “Original” and

“Scotland’s Premier Entertainer”, he was, for many years, a regular attraction in Glasgow



Please note before reading the article below, that it contains words and terms, in common use

in the twentieth century, which may offend the reader.


An obituary on page eighteen of The Era, on Saturday the 16th of August, 1902, reads:




With the death of Tom Maclagan passes away nearly the last of the old-time comic singers and

entertainers. Tom was an Edinburgh laddie, brought up in the Canongate of that city, and at an

early age took to teaching dancing, and by hard study learned to play the flute, violin, piano, and

concertina. Being musically inclined, he enlisted and joined the band of the gallant 93d. He

remained for a year or so in the regiment, where he was a prime favourite, and his talents as an

amateur vocalist were in great demand. He was bought off while the regiment lay in Stirling Castle.

Young Maclagan opened a dancing class in Edinburgh, but still this brought no settlement for Tom.

Breaking up his class, he set sail from Leith to London. There he managed to get into the band of one

of the minor theatres—fifteen shillings a week for the wee Scotsman for playing the flute. It so

happened that one week they put on the drama of Black-Ey’d Susan, and the manager was in a fix,

for none of the company could dance a hornpipe. Someone told the manager that the wee Scottish

flute-player could dance, so Tom got an extra five shillings a week on condition that he would leave

the band and dance a hornpipe. It was thus that Tom came upon the stage. A flag hornpipe now

followed this with ‘The Bold Soldier Boy,’ and a kettledrum accompaniment by himself made a hit.

Maclagan went back to his native town in Scotland. Here the Saturday evening concerts were starting,

and it was in Edinburgh and in Glasgow in 1857 that Tom got a good look in. After this the name and

fame of the great Maclagan became a household word. Tours took place round Scotland, but latterly

Tom found his way back to London. The American War was on, and Negro songs were in demand. He

scored a great success in ‘Uncle Sam.’ The great Mackney and Maclagan were the stars of that day. G. W.

Hunt and George Ware wrote songs for them, such as ‘Jeems Bass’s Bitter Beer,’ ‘Captain Jinks,’ and

many others. His impersonation of Sims Reeves at the Alhambra brought all London to see him give his

life-like imitation; it was really an excellent show. The great tenor came to see his double, and a friend

asked him what he thought of it. ‘Well,’ replied Reeves,’ it is painfully realistic.’ Maclagan’s greatest

success was his engagement to appear at the Lyceum as Faust in the burlesque, La [sic] Petite [sic] Faust.

Here Maclagan, with Madame Soldene as Marguerite, scored an immense success. A long and prosperous

engagement at the halls followed his visit to the Lyceum. He returned to Scotland, where engagement

followed engagement, no concert or festival being complete without his services. The writer has known

him to appear at the City Hall, Queen’s Rooms, and the Merchants’ Hall, Glasgow. That was £15 for

the one night, a tidy sum in those days for an artist. Lengthened engagements followed at Whitebait’s,

David Brown’s, and Moss’s, Edinburgh. At length Maclagan took the field in new rôle, that of public

entertainer. No doubt many will remember the night he engaged the City Hall, Glasgow, and took

the city by storm with his brilliant entertainment. He gave songs, dances, violin, flute, piano, and

concertina solos, impersonations of Sims Reeves, Henry Russell, and Mackney. From that time till

within the last few years he kept to the front. Then he fell a victim to rheumatism; the sinews of the

hand became affected, so he had to hang up his fiddle and bow. He also followed landscape painting,

but this also he had to give up, owing to the same complaint. Paralysis of the legs brought Tom down,

and for the last twelve months he suffered much. But, thanks to many of his old friends and the

assistance of the Music Hall Benevolent Fund, London, he wanted for nothing. A fortnight ago it was

deemed advisable to remove the old man to the hospital at Edinburgh, where he died on Thursday,

the 7th inst., at the age of seventy-five. His funeral took place on Tuesday, when, in the presence of a

number of his old friends, he was laid in his last resting place.”




The British Newspaper Archive.



George Fairfull-Smith, September 2023.