This is an account of the grafitti of John Gordon, the last of the ‘Third Family’ of Cluny and  the “richest commoner in Scotland”. Through John Gordon’s graffiti it is possible to reconstruct his voyage up the Nile.

[My family would seem to stem from the first family of Cluny. DNA may prove this conclusion wrong!]

(In search of John Gordon 1804)

By Roger O. De Keersmaecker

Researches made into 19th century copies of The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle, concluded a long, and at times difficult, investigation (1). It all started in 1965, when I noted down and also photographed, a graffito of a certain John Gordon who had visited the location in 1804. Over the years several other graffiti, made by the same person, were to be found.

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Born in 1776 (2), as the eldest of three brothers. John Gordon was well-descended and educated. He was above the middle-size, of stout athletic build and possessed a hardy constitution (3). His parents were Charles Gordon of Braid and Cluny, Aberdeenshire, who died on 13 May 1814, and Johanna, maiden-name Trotter, who had passed away on 7 September 1798 (4).

John Gordon was successively appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Aberdeenshire Light Infantry on 2 December 1800, Lieutenant in the 7th Company of the 55th Aberdeenshire Militia on 25 April 1804; Major on 11 August 1808; Lieutenant-Colonel on 6 June 1820 and a Honorary Colonel in 1836 (5).

In addition to his military career, he also was M.P. for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis from 27 June 1826 until 24 July 1830 (6).

After the death of his father, and his uncle Alexander, John became the proprietor of large estates in Cluny, Braid, Slains and Kinsteary, along with other properties in the West Indies. He also purchased the islands of Benbecula, South Uist and Barra in the Hebrides and amongst others, the estates of Shiels, Kebbaty and Midmar. This made him the richest commoner in Scotland, leaving between two and three millions pounds at the time of his death (7).

He built a magnificent addition to the old Cluny Castle, transforming it into a completely new castellated front. Today the exterior represents one of the finest pieces of architecture in the north, making it one of the three most famous castles in Cluny (8).

John Gordon of Cluny made a Grand Tour “avant la lettere”, travelling through Europe, the Near East and Egypt and returned home from his voyage, by the way of Gibraltar. There he boarded H. M. S. Victory, which also brought home the mortal remains of Admiral Horatio Nelson, and arrived back in England around 4 December 1805 (9).

With regard to his voyage, John didn’t leave behind any form of information like a diary or letters (10). But through the diaries of the Fourth Earl of Aberdeen (11), we can from ourselves a clear picture of his travels in the Near East. Both men met March 1803 in Naples, where John Gordon was in the company of William Drummond of Logie Almond (12), who was to succeed Lord Elgin (13), as British Ambassador to Turkey, and Messrs. Fenwick and Findlay. They embarked on the Medusa which sail from Naples on 15 March (14), reaching Malta five days later where the ship remained until the 28th. On the first day of April they reached the island Melos, where they were detained for several days due to adverse winds. Weather permitting, they continued their journey, arrived at Piraeus on 17 April, and stayed in Athens until 28 April (15). On 1 May they arrived off the Dardanelles, where they had to wait a few days for favourable winds.

Everything went well and they finally arrived at Constantinople on 13 May (16). On 21 May, Drummond had his formal audience of the Sultan, together with the Earl of Aberdeen who was permitted to accompany him. According to the present author, John Gordon was also invited because “Drummond and the Vizier ate at one table, Drummond’s friends at another” (17). A few days later, they received letters of introduction to enable them to visit Jerusalem (18).

The Earl of Aberdeen, John Gordon and the artist Preux, embarked on the Hannah on 2 July, to visit Try. They spent some time at Bournabashi and Bayramic, and stayed at the residence of Osman Bey, the Turkish Governor of the region (19). On 15 July they sailed for Alexander Troas, and Mytilene and on the 20th of the same month, they were lying at anchor in Smyrna harbour (20). Again they continued their journey, arriving on 13 August at the nearest port to Ephesus, after which came Samos an a visit to Patmos. It was from Patmos that Johon Gordon and the artist Preux departed for Jerusalem, on Saturday 20 August 103, the Earl of Aberdeen went back to Athens (21).

Through John Gordon’s graffiti, we have been able to reconstruct his voyage up the Nile.

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