Four-foot rabble rouser is brought to life

Despite being less than four feet tall and suffering from severe rickets, Joseph Smith once ruled supreme in Edinburgh's Old Town.
Despite being less than four feet tall and suffering from severe rickets, Joseph Smith once ruled supreme in Edinburgh's Old Town.
0
Have your say

Despite being less than four feet tall and suffering from severe rickets, Joseph Smith once ruled supreme in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The cobbler was a feared rabble rouser who could whip up a mob with a few beats of his drum until he fell to his death from a stagecoach during a drunken return from Leith races in 1780.

‘Bowed Joseph’ could be set for a return to the city after a student at the University of Dundee produced a life-size model from his skeleton.

Smith’s bones were preserved in the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh to honour his service to the city. The city council often relied on him to sort out citizens’ grievances and control ‘The Beast’ – Edinburgh’s notoriously unruly mob.

Lynn Morrison, who studies forensic art, was able to scan his remains and use 3D modelling software to decide on a realistic pose. The resulting model is now on display at the University of Dundee’s degree show.

Ms Morrison said: “The Anatomical Museum put forward possible projects for the forensic arts students to work on. I heard the name Bowed Joseph and I said to my lecturer ‘who’s that?’”

She describes becoming “totally hooked” on the “feisty character” while conducting her research, looking mostly to Robert Chambers’ writings. Even 50 years after Smith’s untimely death, Chambers still held him in high regard.

Ms Morrison decided to depict Smith as described by Chambers “marching with his drum and shouting”. She also sourced clothes and a tabor drum suitable for the period, as the larger military drums were too large for the “tiny” figure.

She said: “I hope that it will bring him back to life and make people aware of him.”

It is likely Ms Morrison’s model will be brought to the Anatomy Museum to sit alongside Smith’s skeleton.

Curator Malcolm MacCallum said: “We are delighted with Lynn’s reconstruction of Bowed Joseph. Lynn spent time with us examining, measuring and scanning the skeleton before applying her reconstruction techniques. The outcome is a ‘human’ and contemporary appreciation of an 18th century character.”

After working closely on his skull and spotting “his teeth were all missing and the bone had reabsorbed”, Ms Morrison believes that Smith’s rickets may have been caused by a lack of calcium.

She said: “I did really feel that I got to know him. I really wanted to do him justice because I felt he did an awful lot for the poor. He was quite significant in those days. It’s so important that he’s depicted properly.”

Bringing people back to life is a role reversal for Ms Morrison, who has worked behind the scenes in television for 28 years doing post-production for detective shows such as Taggart and Rebus.

She studied sculpture and video at Dundee 30 years ago, but said she had now found her true calling.

Ms Morrison said: “This is me now doing what actually I always wanted when I was a sculpture student, but there were no courses. I didn’t know what it was called or how to go about it and it was in the days before the internet, so it’s taken me until now to do it.”

Forensic art can be applied to police forensics, used for historic purposes, or for special effects in film and television.