Chapter Five: Ten Summers Fade – The Rutherfoords
Love can move the sun and the other stars,
Absolves the golden serpent. Is the true
Colour of being. Is the Finest chain.
Love’s the most piercing and inventive pain.
For love we suffer profound ignorant scars.
For love we soldier, and love honour too.
Iain Crichton Smith
Embosomed within the gentle curves of the river Allan a young couple, inhabitants of the neighbouring hamlets of Inverallan and Keirfield, embarked upon a journey of love. Never could they have imagined that within the fading glow of ten summers their walk of love would be brought to a sudden and tragic end.
Presented here for you is a family story of Bridge of Allan. In that it spans two centuries, it is like no other. Short of Ella McLean’s consummate Bridge of Allan: the rise of a village there suffers a dearth on the early history of this rather special village.
Two exceptional women hallmark the beginning and end of this tale; women who although separated by the long span of two centuries, are united in their Unfailing Devotion to their families. This account is unreservedly dedicated to them: Susannah Rutherfoord and Margaret Scott.
Love’s the most piercing and inventive pain.
For love we suffer profound ignorant scars.
For love we soldier, and love honour too
Let us then kaleidoscope back in time to those long gone days of Susannah Rutherfoord our first protagonist. Susannah’s story is rather wonderful and preserves in rich and evocative detail the life and heartaches of an embryonic village.
It was the middle Saturday of May 1833 when the Lecropt Bells rang out amongst the parish announcing the marriage of their dear Susannah. Her sweetheart, Adam Baird, a miller on the Allan, was of the neighbouring hamlet of Inverallan. Four years earlier, Susannah’s sister Mary had married James Baird, brother of Adam. Thus there was a truly deep bond of unification between two of the notable Lecropt families: the Rutherfoords of Keirfield and the Bairds of Inverallan.
But the unification of families was not simply symbolic, for the bonds brought together two hamlets into one, in this way, and beyond argument, the Rutherfoords and Bairds were the influential heart of early Bridge of Allan
It is no wonder then that Adam and Susannah’s tale has been so fondly rehearsed by so many over the two hundred years or so that have passed since their first blossom of love. Like others before it then, this narrative shall retrace Adam and Susannah’s footsteps, and through the fading glow of their ten summers of love, will attempt to revive their astonishing story.
Figure 1: Looking over the Lecropt wall: Margaret Scott and grandson.
This account will draw to a close with Margaret Scott, my mother, who was born in Bridge of Allan in 1943 one hundred years on from the death of Susannah Rutherfoord her great-great-grandmother. If anyone carries forward Susannah’s gift it is my mother.
Above is a picture of Margaret Scott, who is hoisting her grandson Andrew above the surrounding wall to peer over into the ancient churchyard of Lecropt. This churchyard has been cradled within the Keir policy for one hundred and seventy years, though its true history is far more ancient. It is here that we find the final resting place of Rutherford family.
Susannah Rutherfoord was, by all accounts, a dazzling and vivacious beauty. It is all the more sad then that she died before the era of photographic portraiture. However this need not be dwelt upon for too long as letters and manuscripts survive that recreate in prose the utter beauty of her being. These letters confirm that not only was she a beloved daughter and sister, but that she also had an aching stack of admirers. Adam Baird was a most lucky man to capture Susannah’s heart.
Adam Baird was the overseer of two mills: the Dunblane Corn Mill and The Corn Mill of Keir. At the former, in an attached house resplendently built from the stone architraves of the palace of Dunblane, Susannah Rutherfoord died. It was the last Sunday of March 1840 and cholera had reaped yet another helpless victim. She would have been attended by the rotund and brazenly bewhiskered Dr Cornelius Stewart of Dunblane (known locally as ‘Doctor Corney.’) Practicing in a time of all-consuming fear Dr Stewart must have felt utterly impotent in arresting the grim reapage of Dunblane’s latest cholera epidemic. In desperation, to prevent spread from Millrow and one side of the High street he ordered fires of tar to be lit on the other side of the street. I can do no better than let Alexander Barty finish the scene:
“The epidemic proved very fatal, and the custom of tolling the church bells for funerals was departed from. It is said that when Dr Corney was called to a case of cholera his first act was to take measurements of the patient for his coffin.”
Figure 2: Millrow and the Dunblane Corn Mill
Nestled on the left-hand-side of my mantle-piece is an ancient piece of needlework. The seamstress was young Susannah Rutherford and the period of its completion was the Napoleonic. The sampler is a beautiful piece of work, and despite the passing of two centuries, is remarkably well preserved. Viewing it, there is no hint of the sadness and turmoil that was to befall the Rutherford family.
Figure 3: The Mantelpiece
If you examine Susannah’s sampler in a little more detail, you will discover that its design is typical of the period – with symbols of love, health, prosperity and characteristic peacocks. The large initials at the top are of Susannah’s parents; D.R. for David Rutherfoord her father, and M.B. for Margaret Black her mother. Underneath are the initials of her brothers and sisters. At the time, arguably along with the McVicar family, the Rutherfoords were the key family of Keirfield.
Both David Rutherfoord and his wife Margaret Black are recalled in the annals of the ‘Bridge’s’ history, for David has been described as ‘one of the village’s most remarkable men,’ and his wife Margaret was in the counsel of the national Bard – Rabbie Burns. Indeed Margaret’s sister, Betty, was in the days of her glorious youth, one of Rabbie Burns very own Mauchline Belles.
As for Susannah’s siblings, her two brothers were to become key figures in the village: John Stewart Rutherfoord the beloved village doctor and Charles Neil Rutherfoord, apothecary, librarian and packet steam-boat agent.
Dr Charles T. Young found amongst the old Lecropt papers ‘a thin, faded, fragile double sheet of ordinary notepaper’, containing a list of young people, twenty‑eight in all, attending what was called Lecropt Monday Evening School, 15th April 1805. On the other half of the sheet of notepaper‑there was another list, ‘very meagre indeed, yet telling a tale of its own.’ It was the ‘lending out’ record of a school or church library. Sympathy must go out to these young people when you discover how dismal these books were, both in subject and presentation compared with present day books; and yet how admirable was their willingness to devote their scanty leisure to the task of self improvement. Susan Rutherfoord was in receipt of Fuller’s Gift
It seems then a time to share Susannah Rutherfoord’s family story, and give back the detail lost not in her tapestry.
Below you have Keirfield as it was in 1830, dominated by the central Bleach Works of which David Rutherfoord was the Manager and Overseer.
Figure 4: Keirfield layout as it was in 1830 (previously unpublished)
David Rutherford was a good Greek and Hebrew scholar, and amongst other things translated the whole of the Psalms of David from the Hebrew and set them to the tunes of Old Scotch Ballads. John Ross McVicar, Master of Keirfield, in the conclusion of a shimmering obituary to his great friend David Rutherfoord, said of him “he had indeed a touch of genius”.
Over a 23-year period, Margaret Black bore David eleven children. This sibship included seven girls and four boys, though at least two children, Margaret (born in 1794), and David (born in 1799), died in infancy. It is a sad coincidence that children who carried their parental names; David and Margaret, were not to survive beyond the earliest of years. However, as was so common in this period, the names were to be given again to a later son and daughter.
David and Margaret’s daughters all married local men; indeed Mary and Susannah, as previously stated, were to wed brothers of a family with a very long association with the Allan. In 1829 Mary married the older brother James Baird, and in 1833 Susannah married the younger one, Adam.
Figure 5: The Rutherfoord House in Keirfield
Pictured above is the home of the Rutherfoords. David and Margaret spent 50 happy years here, and within its walls, between 1790 and 1813 all eleven of their children were born. In this house David and Margaret celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary. The signature at the top is that of David Rutherfoord as it appeared in the 1819 census. David, like his son Charles preferred the spelling this way –foord. The rest of the family appeared to have modernised it to Rutheford.
David was very much a family man, and diverted much effort in expanding the horizons of his children.
Here follows a rather prosaic account of David given by Alexander Morrison, Town Clerk:
“Let me now say a few words about a remarkable man, David Rutherford, born as long ago as the year 1765. In my boyhood and youth I knew people who knew David Rutherford intimately, and I heard much of him from them, much that savoured of the apocryphal, but was literally true.
He was a man of most inflexible integrity, intimately acquainted with the principles and details of his business, and unremittingly attentive to his duties. Besides being a good business man, he was a kind husband, a wise father, and a good neighbour. David Rutherford was a man of regular and studious habits, and after he had done his duty by his employer, by his family, and by his friends, he devoted the remaining hours of the day – for he lived a full day – the cultivation of his own mind. And great indeed were his attainments both in science and literature. In chemistry, in particular, he was an expert, but his knowledge of English literature, also, was both extensive and accurate.
He possessed, moreover, a working knowledge of the classics, and took great pleasure in reading the gospel in the original Greek. He had a taste for poetical composition, and his powers of versification were very considerable. For twenty years he spent his leisure hours writing, and adapting to appropriate music, a new version of the Psalms in a, great variety of measures.”
On the 19th of September 1842 David Rutherfoord, grand-old-man of Keirfield returned to his maker. ‘Gentle John McVicar’ hand-delivered a letter of sympathy to Margaret, which contained this affectionate eulogy:
“Take him all in all, his piety and integrity, his manner of life, purity, and cheerfulness of conversation, his Christian principles and practice, we shall not see his like again”
The oldest of the Rutherfoord boys, John Stewart Rutherfoord went onto study medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh and after examination in Anatomy, Surgery and Pharmacy, received his Licentiateship to practice on the 24th March 1829. This was exactly one month before his 21st birthday.
I would urge you here to take heed of the date that John Stewart gained his Surgeon’s Licentiateship: the year 1829. You may be flabberghasted to learn why! Please read on.
Figure 6: Surgeons Square Edinburgh, where John Stewart Rutherfoord attended anatomy lectures
One of the stories that has come down through the family over the years is that Margaret Stewart Rutherford was a daughter of Dr John Stewart Rutherford of Bridge of Allan ‘a Doctor on a ship, who married a Spanish woman who died in childbirth and she was raised by her Grandmother and an uncle who was an apothecary in Bridge of Allan.’
This daughter was later traced in the 1841 census to Millrow Dunblane, a few doors down from her Aunt – dear Susannah Rutherfoord. In 1850 Margaret Stewart Rutherfoord and her husband left for Australia. It was their daughter who retold stories of her grandfather ‘the doctor.’ Easily the most fascinating of her recollections placed Dr John Stewart Rutherfoord amidst the gruesome and murky shenanigans of Burke and Hare. This placed extraordinary circumstance & Bridge of Allan in a bond hand-to-hand: for Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired by the true story of Burke and Hare to write The Body Snatcher. It was as a sickly youth, that Robert Louis Stevenson used to regularly visit the Strathallan Pharmacy in Bridge of Allan once served by the doctor and his apothecary brother.
The West Port murders were perpetrated between 1827 and 1828 by William Burke and William Hare who sold the corpses of their 16 victims to the Edinburgh Medical College for dissection. Their principal customer was Edinburgh doctor Robert Knox.
Before 1832, there was little legitimate supply of cadavers for the study and teaching of anatomy in British medical schools. As medical science began to flourish in the early 19th century, demand rose sharply and attracted criminal elements that were willing to obtain specimens by any means. The activities of body-snatchers gave rise to particular public fear and revulsion.
By 1827, Burke and his mistress, Helen MacDougal, were regular tenants at Hare’s lodging house in Edinburgh. It is not known whether the two knew each other from an earlier common employment on the Union Canal. When one of Hare’s tenant’s, an old army pensioner called Donald, suddenly died it left Hare feeling cheated, particularly as the old man still owed him £4 rent. So when the coffin came for the old man and his body was put inside, Hare reopened the coffin and they took out the body and filled it with bark from the local tannery and placed old Donald in a sack. Burke and Hare then proceeded to the College of Surgeons where a student directed them to 10 Surgeons Square and Professor Robert Knox the leading Edinburgh anatomist. Here they met three young gentlemen, associates of Dr Knox. Burke told them that they had a body for sale and the three men told them to come back when it was dark but ‘did not ask them any questions.’
Figure 6: William Burke and William Hare
Burke and Hare returned later that evening with the corpse and went to see the three young men, who instructed them to bring the body up the stairs and lay it on the dissecting table, which they did. At this point Dr Knox entered and told his assistant to settle with them and named a price of £7 10s; and he also did not ask where the body came from. They were bid farewell and told that they would be glad to see them again when they had other bodies to dispose of. So Burke and Hare returned to their partners to celebrate and tell the tale of their night’s endeavour.
This first meeting with Burke and Hare occurred at a time when Professor Knox was at the peak of his Anatomy career and he had over 500 students in his domain, including the young John Stewart Rutherfoord. At the time of the murders, John Stewart Rutherfoord was approaching the end of his training. Students, such as John Stewart, aspired to the distinguished and lofty Professor. They indeed stood in awe of him and oft sought his counsel.
Body snatching was not new and as early as 1738 there are recorded accounts of the recently departed being removed to be dissected on the slabs of the Edinburgh Medical Schools. But as the Study of Anatomy surged forward in Edinburgh in the early 1800’s, it was apparent that the allowed allocation of one executed criminal per year to each Anatomy School was insufficient for the growing amount of students.
St Cuthbert’s, west of Edinburgh Castle and one of Edinburgh oldest churches, became the hunting ground for body snatchers who by lantern light at the witching hour performed their grisly deeds. But these acts were not just done for profit; students of anatomy in their quest for knowledge also turned a hand to grave robbing. This became so common the locals ironically nicknamed the people who undertook these horrific deeds ‘Resurrectionists’.
I cannot help wondering if the young John Stewart Rutherfoord was part of that Resurrectionary fabric? All the more reason that after graduating in 1829 – and a year after the hoo-ha of the Body Snatchers – that he took off, positioning himself on a ship as it’s doctor. By this means he would have escaped the scandal, allowed memories to fade, and only then have returned to Bridge of Allan.
So rife was the Body Snatching in Edinburgh that certain graveyards had large walls, railings and watchtowers erected, such as St Cuthberts and that of the Canongate Kirk. Some graves had added protection against the exhumation of their occupants by having their own walls and railings. So horrified were the general public of Edinburgh. With the growing demand of the anatomy schools and the growing difficulty in obtaining freshly interred cadavers enter Burke and Hare, who devise their own and even more sinister methods of supplying the needs of the medical students.
William Burke and William Hare, two Irish immigrants from Ulster, came to Edinburgh to work as labourers on the then New Union Canal and took up lodgings with Maggie Laird and Nell MacDougall, women of low virtue, in the sleazy district of the West Port (near Tollcross). Although giving the appearance of two hard working men by day, at night they had taken up their more sinister and profitable trade of grave robbing and then of serial murder. Their victims of murder were the waifs and strays of the streets of Edinburgh’s Old Town, people no one would otherwise necessarily miss. By hanging out in Inns such as the White Hart in the Grassmarket they would try and spot their potential victims and lure them to their death by their own form of strangulation (in order not to damage the corpse).
Joseph Miller was the first to actually be murdered, he was known to Hare and had been lodging with him for some time and when he went down with a fever the Hares gave him a drink. They felt that he was clearly dying as the old man could not speak sometimes and there were rumours abroad of other fever cases. This worried the Hares as it might cause a loss in their business. So to show no sign of violence Burke took a small pillow and placed it over Joseph’s mouth and Hare lay across his body to pin down his arms and legs. His body was then transported to Dr Knox.
The next victim was possibly an Englishman from Cheshire who was staying a few nights with Hare and became ill with jaundice. His name was unknown to Burke but he said he was ‘about forty’. Burke and Hare held him down and murdered the victim by getting the thumb under the chin and pressing down on the nose hard with the first two fingers thus stopping the victim from breathing.
The third victim, an old lady from Gilmerton, was decoyed in by the Hares and eventually got drunk. Then Hare placed his hands on her mouth and Burke lay across her body. She never stirred. The pair went to Surgeons Square where they again met the three gentlemen and told them they ‘had another subject’. Dr Knox ‘approved of it being so fresh, but did not ask any questions’.
The next murder was not committed at Tanner’s Close, but in Gibbs Close in the Canongate at Constantine Burke’s house, William’s brother who by this time was also living and working in Edinburgh with his family.
Burke met Mary Patterson, a beautiful teenage prostitute and her friend Janet Brown in a drinking den and invited them back to his lodgings. Mary became stupefied with drink and lay helpless upon the bed, her friend on the other hand ‘kept her head’ and excused herself and went to a friend of hers Mrs. Lawrie. Mrs. Lawrie sent her back to the house with her maid to collect Mary, but on their arrival Burke and Mary were no longer present and instead they met Hare and his wife. They invited them for a dram to wait for Mary and Burke’s return. So they sat and drank but unknown to Janet, Mary lay a few feet away, dead and naked, covered with a sheet.
The maid returned home and explained the situation. Mrs. Lawrie sent the maid back and demanded Janet remove herself from the house immediately. This act probably saved Janet’s life because had not the maid returned she would also be dead and packed in an old tea chest ready to be delivered to Dr Knox.
When Burke and Hare arrived with the body, one of Dr Knox’s students remarked that he had seen a girl similar to her in the Canongate. Burke dealt with this by saying he had bought the body from an old hag in the Canongate and that Mary had drunk herself to death. Some of the students drew pictures of her and a local artist was brought in by Dr Knox to record her beauty and well shaped body. This special subject was not dissected immediately but was put in spirits for three months to preserve her.
Janet Brown loyally continued to ask and search after her friend Mary Patterson for many months to come.
Over the next three months Burke and Hare became even bolder, even taking the bodies to Dr Knox during the day. These ruthless murderers went on to kill a further 10 victims, including a grandmother and her 12 year old grandchild and even a distant relative of Helen MacDougal. At about this time Burke and his partner moved out to his own premises in his cousin’s house. These two houses became the killing grounds for these poor people, but now we come to their last two victims. These would ultimately lead to the end of their sinister partnership.
Jamie was a simple-minded 19 year old youth who was described as being big and strong but had the mind of a child. His adult tastes were confined to snuff, a habit for which he carried a brass snuff box and spoon; the latter he called ‘the days of the week’ due to it having seven holes in it.
Jamie fled his family home after a disagreement with his mother and went to live on the street and survived by doing odd jobs like unloading carts and getting charity from people who took pity on him, but then he met Burke and Hare.
Burke’s official confession states that Hare’s wife brought him off the street for a drink while Burke was at a local shop having a dram. Once he was in the house and in the company of Hare she came across the street to Burke and stamped on his foot. He immediately knew what she meant. He went back to the lodging house and they invited Jamie to the smallest room in the house and advised him to lie on the bed. Then Mrs. Hare left the house and locked the outside door. Hare lay next to Jamie on the bed for some time but then suddenly jumped on poor Jamie. They struggled and fell to the floor and at this point Burke caught hold of his arms and legs and they both held him until he was dead. Burke said Jamie was very anxious and kept asking for his mother, he was told she would come soon. Hare took Jamie’s snuffbox and Burke his spoon.
Apart from the child, this must have been the most horrific of the murders because Jamie was sober and must have known what was happening to him. When the body was unpacked, several students recognised Jamie. Dr Knox denied it was him, but later when Jamie’s presence was missed on the street, he quickly ordered his dissection.
On Hallowe’en, Burke was in a local tavern having a drink when an old lady came into the shop begging. Burke talked to her and discovered she was Mary Docherty and had come from Ireland in search of her lost son. Burke deceived her into thinking he was a distant relative and invited her back to his house.
Burke left her there in the company of MacDougal while he went out to buy whisky for the Hallowe’en party he had planned and to inform Hare of another likely victim.
They had a fine party that night, with lots of dancing and drinking. At the time Burke had an ex-soldier by the name of James Gray and his family staying with him. Burke asked if they could stay with Hare that night so the old woman could use their room, and they agreed.
Mrs. Gray returned in the morning to find Burke acting very suspiciously, and he stopped her going over to the bed to collect her child’s stockings. Later that day Burke went out to get more whisky. Soon after the house became empty Mrs. Gray went over to the bed and lifted a pile of straw and uncovered the naked corpse of Mrs. Docherty, bloodstained around the nose and mouth. MacDougal returned to the house and begged Mr. Gray who had entered the room not to inform on what he had seen and it would be worth £10 a week. Mrs. Gray, shocked by her discovery, said “God forbid that we should be worth money for dead people” and they went to inform the police.
Burke and Helen were taken to the police station and interviewed. At about the same time a tip led the police to Surgeons Square and the body of Mary Docherty. The Hares were also arrested and the four were questioned over the next month. The police decided, that there wasn’t any real physical evidence to convict the foursome, offered the Hares the chance to turn King’s evidence and avoid execution. The Hares eagerly agreed, so Burke and MacDougal were charged with Mrs. Docherty’s murder and Burke with the murders of Jamie Wilson and Mary Patterson.
On Christmas Eve 1828 the trial began with both of the Hares along with other witnesses testifying against the pair. The jury was shown items of clothing from the victims, and Jamie’s snuffbox. The jury took just 50 minutes to reach a verdict of guilty for William Burke and not proven in the case of Helen MacDougal who was set free. William Burke was sentenced to hang and his body to be publicly dissected.
Figure 7: The Execution of William Burke
On January 28th 1829 before a crowd of 25,000 people William Burke was hanged and his body was put on public display. This attracted enormous crowds with people queuing all day to get a glimpse of his body. He was then publicly dissected and his skeleton was put on display to remind people of his terrible crimes. W. Smith writing in 1829 described vividly the scene:
“After the execution, the body was cut down and given by the Town Council to Professor Munro, in the College, for dissection for the instruction of his students, to the knife, where he had sent many a poor victim before. Such is the Nemesis that follows crime. All the day (Wednesday) dense mobs crowded round the College Buildings, and knots of people went listlessly through the streets, as if justice was only half done. A universal discontent reigned for allowing Hare to get off scot-free.
It was thought by some that the mob might try to get hold of the body of Burke. So for safety it was removed from the Dead House to the dissecting-room, and early on Thursday morning many famous scientific men called to have a glimpse of the body previous to the students crushing in, such as Sir W. Hamilton, George Combe, the famous phrenologist; Mr. Linton, Dr. Christison, and others. Some made sketches of the body. Then the stream of students poured in, and the body became the subject of lecture, his head being sawed across to illustrate the lecture, which was on the brain.
All was decorum in the classroom; but outside the College Yard, there had gathered a lot of young students not belonging to the Anatomy Class, and other young men, who began to clamor for admittance. To quell the disturbance, the police were sent for, which only helped to make things worse. Students have always shown impatience of being forcibly put down by the police, and a regular melee took place in which some of the police were worsted, and used their batons freely. The mob then began to smash the windows of the dissecting-room. Some of the students were captured by the police, but were as quickly recaptured, amidst the shouts of their companions. At last, after the intervention of some of the Town Council and Dr. Christison (who had arranged that permission would be granted to them to see the body of Burke in companies of fifty at a time), the disturbance was quelled at once, and turned into cheers. But it did not end here; for the people outside the College Yard Gate were more inflamed to gaze on the corpse of Burke, and bearing of the success of the students only stirred up to fresh efforts to gain admittance. They also threatened that they would force in, and at last it was arranged that on the following day (Friday) the body would become a public exhibition.
The public came in at one door and, passing the corpse of the hanged man, passed out at another. A strange spectacle, ever to be remembered in the annals of crime! There Burke Lay on the black marble table of the dissecting-room: naked, horrible, exposed to the gaze of a living stream of his fellow men who passed at the rate, it was alleged, of sixty persons per minute After this unheard-of exhibition, the body was cut up for dissection.
Some of the students, it was alleged, slipped away pieces of the skin, and got them tanned. In 1882 we had in our possession a pocket-book which was of it. It was dark, and just like leather. It was sold to one of the professors, who, we understand, made a present of it to the Anatomical Museum, New University. It had stamped in gold on it ‘Burkes Skin, 1829’”.
The two women, Mrs. Hare and Helen MacDougal, eventually disappeared into obscurity but for a while were hounded wherever they went.
Dr Knox was never charged with a crime but the Edinburgh citizens were angry at his involvement and there was a riot outside his house shortly after the trial. He eventually left Edinburgh due to dwindling uptake of his classes and his general unpopularity and moved to Glasgow and later London where he eventually died in 1862.
William Hare, now a famous mass murderer who killed more people than Jack the Ripper, was set free and was last sighted in the English town of Carlisle. He was rumoured to have been seen up to forty years later as a blind beggar but this was never officially confirmed.
Helen MacDougal returned to her house but was almost lynched by an angry mob. She fled to England but her reputation preceded her. She was rumoured to have left for Australia where she died around 1868. Margaret Hare also escaped lynching and reputedly returned to Ireland. Nothing more is known about her.
The murders highlighted the crisis in medical education and led to the subsequent passing of the Anatomy Act 1832.
It was just two months after the public execution of Burke that John Stewart graduated as a surgeon. Then he set sail. Surely the two are linked in some form of shameful ideation? Dr John was at sea for somewhere in the region of 12 months, but by 1831 had returned to Bridge of Allan where ‘for twenty years’ was to be the surgeon for the village.
The doctor took his name from his uncle, John Stewart, who had married his mother’s sister Betty Black. Betty was one of Rabbie Burn’s six Mauchline Belle’s and it has been retold within the family that the flame Rabbie carried for her was never extinguished.
Betty Black, came to live in the hillfoots, and got married to John Stewart, their house being at Alva, on the Banks of the Devon. It has been recorded in the family that ‘Burn’s visited her repeatedly,’ and on his visits seemed to get ‘inspiration from the whole surroundings of the district’ as witnessed in the song “Allan Water”
Another of his songs actually refers to Betty Black, one of the Mauchline Belles:
ON THE BANKS OF THE DEVON:
“How pleasant the banks of the clear winding Devon,
With green spreading bushes and flowers blooming fair,
But the bonniest flower on the banks of the Devon
Was once a sweet Bud on the Braes of the Ayr.”
And then followed another, his farewell to Fair Eliza when he anticipated leaving to go to Jamaica:
“From thee Eliza I must go,
And from my native shore;
The Cruel Fates between us throw
A boundless ocean’s roar.”
Now family recollection can be biased, and one would guess no more so, than when it comes to our national bard – Rabbie Burns. It has been recorded in weighty tomes that these poems are attributed to others – there is simply no mention of Betty Black. However the parish records place the Black family at Rabbie’s door – of that there can be no doubt.
The January 1754 marriage of John Black and Margaret Fleming (parents of Betty) holds the torch to Rabbie Burns. In the parish entry, John Black is described as the servant to the Earl of Glencairn of Dean Castle.
Now in 2004, I took Sian, Andrew and Rachel to Kilmarnock – it was time to visit Dean Castle! There in the Dining Hall two large cabinets were devoted to Rabbie Burns, he was you must understand, the Earl of Glencairn’s closest of friends. In the photograph overleaf you see the attached Palace, next to the Keep. Look closely and you will see a bell and pulley to the door. Stop and imagine it was Rabbie at the door – and along to greet him John Black the butler.
Figure 8: John Black and the Earl of Glencairn
Dean Castle is well worth a visit – the old vaulted Keep has the best selection of armour I have yet seen – it shines gloriously amidst an array of broad swords and shields. Rachel loved the playpark and the estate grounds which even had its very own farm. Andrew savoured the macaroni – at the time the best he had eaten!
Figure 9: Dean Castle, Kilmarnock. Seat of the Earl of Glencairn
So there you have it: the Rutherfoord family had its counsel with the bard. That is a rich claim indeed, and Dr Rutherfoord must have been honoured to carry forward a family name in honour of the bard himself.
The Glasgow Constitutional published an article in 1843 praising the village’s amenities “the medical gentleman of the village, Dr. Rutherfoord has a high character in the place for attention and skill and we believe this is richly deserved.”
While he was diligent and conscientious in the work of his profession, he, like, his father, had intellectual interests’ far outwith the boundaries of that profession. He was a devoted Church member and an elder in the Lecropt Kirk Session. But more than that, he had his father’s love of literature and of literary expression, for he too, was a poet, following his father’s footsteps in taking the sacred volume for his groundwork and producing a metrical version of the Song of Solomon.
In 1846 a thunderbolt hit Bridge of Allan – a cholera epidemic which ravaged the village, and with grim persistence called on far too many doors. Dr Rutherfoord was kept very busy, but tragically he succumbed to the disease himself.
“Rutherfoord was characteristically assiduous in his attention to the sufferers, but contracted the terrible, disease himself. He recovered, but his health was so injured that he was never quite the same man again.”
Whilst still recovering, Dr Rutherford was very publicly declared bankrupt – with an advert to his creditors appearing on the front page of the Stirling Observer of summer 1846. Well regarded, the village and church responded to the ailing Dr Rutherford, and from 1846 he received £2.10s every six months from the Parochial Board of Lecropt for medical relief of the poor, and he was also instructed by them to give his orders to Mr. Charles Rutherford, his brother, for medicines.
Dr Rutherfoord died in Mauchline just three years later. It was June 1849, and the doctor was aged just 41 years. For some poor families tragedy has that unspeakable habit of revisiting the afflicted. The doctor’s only christened children, his son David Alexander, and his daughter Anne Isabella, took their final bow and curtsey around the same time. Anne died 12 months before her father (aged seven) and David died 12 months after his father. He was aged eight. So in the space of three short years, David Rutherfoord and his two children were dead. What sadness. Perhaps then it should be the poor doctor’s wife we should remember first, for it was she, Ann Isabella Fortune, who raised a tombstone in Old Lecropt in memory of her dear departed and infant family.
This monument is erected by his Widow
and the disconsolate mother
of his children.
A tragic irony then that she carried the family name Fortune, for she could not have had less.
The youngest child of David and Margaret Rutherford was born in 1813 and named Charles Neil. He was, as alluded to earlier, to become the first Apothecary of the Village, and no doubt some of his alchemy was derived from his father’s ingenuity in the world of chemistry and science. An advert of the 1840’s describes an undertaking of several ventures, all from the one venue – the Bridge of Allan Post Office:
Post Office, Bridge of Allan
Apothecary and Druggist
In addition to a constant supply of fresh and genuine medicines, C.N.R has always on hand a select stock of plain and fancy stationary, guide books, railway guides, fishing tackle of every description including reels, lines, rods, fishing baskets etc by the best makers. Physician’s prescriptions and family recipes carefully prepared. From the Circulating Library of the Village, which is kept in the establishment, Books are lent to visitors on reasonable terms.
It seems, from the 1851 census that Charles Neil Rutherfoord and his family lived in Maple House a few doors down from the Post Office. It is currently a shop next to the Westerton Inn.
The location of the shop however initially puzzled me until I came across the notes of Dr R. T. Young, which confirmed that it was located on the corner of Union Street with Henderson Street where the Penzance building now stands.
The Penzance Building was built by Oswald Robertson to replace the 1830’s post office and apothecary of Charles Neil Rutherfoord. However two original 18th century houses remain on Union Street, and their gable outlines match perfectly with the superimposed sketch of 1850.
Figure 10: A transposition of the old Post Office onto the modern scene
As recently as April 2002 a new twist in the Rutherfoord tale was to emerge. I had assumed that with the coming of Gilbert Farie and Oswald Robertson to the village, there could not possibly be the demand for three ‘druggists’ in one village. From the census returns I knew that Charles Rutherfoord left Bridge of Allan sometime after 1861. In January 1862 Charles Neil was served by a bond of caution by John Tentrel and a few days later he was declared bankrupt.
So there is the ghastly truth: both Rutherfoord brothers, doctor and apothecary, John and Charles, fell to the same fate – bankruptcy. If only we could really know the truth of such lost venture – for surely it would fascinate. However it could never mesmerize as much as that of the greatest of all Victorian Murder trials – that of Madeleine Smith, who was accused of poisoning her lover with arsenic. Bridge of Allan was pivotal in this case and Charles Neil Rutherfoord was witness number one on the very first day of the trial!
In the last few years historians have pieced together the fascinating events surrounding the Madeleine Smith Trial, and literally give the beating pulse of a mesmerized nation:
“Thursday, 9th July 1857 – The atmosphere outside the High Court in Edinburgh was charged to fever pitch as the crowd awaited the verdict at the end of the most sensational trial of the century. Hanging in the balance was the life of Madeleine Smith, attractive 22-year-old daughter of a prosperous Glasgow architect. Over the last few days, revelations of Madeleine’s secret romance had been making headlines in London, Paris and New York. By the end of the trial, in spite of widespread belief in her guilt, sympathy had swung towards Madeleine and the crowds cheered when news of the Not Proven verdict reached the street. Madeleine was free to leave the court but never was she free from suspicion.”
Figure 11: A packed court room
“On the 9th July 1857, a 22 year old girl left the High Court in Edinburgh by the side door and a myth was born. The charge had been murder, the verdict – not proven and, since that day, the case of the “enigmatic” Miss Madeleine Smith has provided an easy storyline for many a writer. Arsenic in the cocoa – the cold, callous girl who poisoned her French lover – all good stuff for the murder/mystery fans but it may be a far cry from the truth of a case which some legal experts have argued should never have gone to trial in the first place.“
Charles Neil Rutherfoord was called to stand as a witness for the prosecution, and testified regarding the presence of Pierre Emile L’Angier in Bridge of Allan just days before L’Angiers sudden illness and death….
“I was postmaster at Bridge of Allan in the beginning of this year. The envelope shown me is stamped at my office. It must have come on the 22nd of March. A gentleman of the name of L’Angelier left his card at my office about the 20th. I gave the letter to him when he called.”
Given that Charles was an Apothecary, it was disappointing to discover that no counsel was sought from him on the nature of the arsenic poisoning – be it accidental or deliberate – or an act of horrid vengeance by a spurned lover to frame an innocent girl.
In 1850 Charles Neil married Ann Spiers, an English girl who was nearly two decades his junior. They raised their first three children in Bridge of Allan, before relocating from Forth to Clyde, and finally settling in Paisley. The joy of seeing his son and namesake, Charles Neil marry in the summer of 1891 was quickly destroyed by the sudden and untimely death of C.N. junior. He was just 28 years when his poor wife found him, he had collapsed, with no warning it seems, and all the more tragic that his death marked exactly one year of matrimony. No wedding anniversary could have been sadder. A broken-man, C.N Rutherfoord senior died within two years of his son’s death
In the process of completing his article on Lecropt and Larger Scotland, Doctor R. T. Young said “I have before me as I write a bundle of letters which give us some indication of the life lived in David Rutherford’s home.”
No more enticing invitation could have been given to explore the intimate life of the Rutherfoord family. So sad then that after Dr Young’s review the letters completely vanished; and worse still, nobody knew if indeed they still survived. I thus embarked on a detective hunt that turned out to be blind-alleyed and ultimately fruitless. So it was that by the time that I gave my lecture to the Welsh Trust on the 7th of May 2002 I had given up hope that the “bundle of letters” was still extant.
A year passed by, when with great & unexpected delight the letters were to have their dust blown off. For indeed they had survived and were in the safe keeping of the Reverend Brian Holliday (cousin of Margaret Scott). The genial and kindly Brian passed the letters onto me to be their custodian. Twenty-six letters survive in beautiful copper-plate and it has been one of my greatest pleasures to have the opportunity to transcribe them. They survive as fresh as the day they were written – yet there should be no doubt – they are nearly two centuries old!
The letters date between 1820 and 1840. Mary was married, but the doctor and Charles and Susan would appear to have been at home. Susan had many friends, and had many invitations to visit them and possibly the fact that she had a bachelor brother, twenty-five years old, a rising doctor added to the interest in Susan, but, undoubtedly, Susan had charms of her own.
The letters paint Susan Rutherfoord as a vivacious girl of wonder and delight. She was adored by family, and her desperate suitors, longing for love, chased from afar. Susan’s family relied on her utterly; it would be no exaggeration to say that she was both the family lynch-pin and the portal of their communication.
Poor Susan for everybody wanted her. If she didn’t accept the invitations she got, her friends wrote and reproached her. On the other hand, if she did go from home, almost forthwith her father began to write to her, asking her if she wouldn’t shorten her visit and come home as soon as possible, as he and her mother were missing her terribly. If she didn’t come home quite soon the messages became more urgent, friends were coming, and they simply could not do without her; and home Susan had to go!
In the height of summer 1832 cholera was rife and its unstoppable spread along the Forth and Clyde was causing deadly alarm. A friend old David Rutherfoord, a bleachworks manager in Kilmarnock wrote:
“There has been a great deal of trouble for some time in this place: fever has been prevailing to a considerable degree indeed to a rather unprecedented extent and Cholera as you will likely have learned has been existing amongst us for about five weeks. There have been 163 cases by yesterdays report and 83 deaths and we cannot say that it is decreasing as yet: it has extended over the greater part of the town, though some districts have not been visited.”
Susan had many true and dear friends of that there can be no doubt. However of the correspondents that survive, it is Maggie Boag of Boness that truly shines. Any more genuine out-pouring of sentiment one will simply not find: for Maggie, poor Maggie, was smitten with Keirfield and longed for Susannah and that vital friendship – yet misfortune intervened in everyway – and her true wishes were it seems never fulfilled.
One can almost touch Maggie through all these years: her fears so real and so understandable, that they jump off the page like pounding beats of a fretful heart. The letter below is typical: the terror of cholera described so vividly and the self-modesty of Maggie hanging fresh on the many years that have passed since she put pen to paper.
To Miss Rutherfoord,
February 16th 1832
I dare say my Dear Friend will be thinking my letters rather troublesome. I did not intend writing quite so soon but my Father has been anxious to write the Doctor for some time and expecting some of our acquaintance to go to Stirling, put off, but will wait no longer, so as he was waiting I could not resist also writing a few lines to acknowledge the receipt of your letter and parcel which I received last Thursday.
I am happy to hear that you are all well; I was beginning to get uneasy before your Brother’s letter to my Father. Mrs Stewart would be much the better of living with you. I think as often as possible, you should go beside her, but you like the house so well there is no getting you out of it, if Nancy was at home I would have more hopes (turn to the 3rd page, it is like me, such an awkward mistake.)
Our Country is indeed in a most distressing state at present and has every appearance of getting worse instead of better, this fearful pestilence is approaching always the nearer, as and unless God is pleased to avert this dreadful disease by a wonderful inter position of his providence it will soon inevitably be here. It is highly praise worthy of those that are using every means which is best to stop its virulence. I am glad to hear of the liberality of the Stirlingshire Folks, but its what I expected, in hearing cleanliness, temperance as so often mentioned as a good preventive. I have often remarked the Bridge of Allan sun the most chance to be ——-. I wish my —— of this place could be so, it is so entirely done for want of trade, the most opulent families are continually dropping away to other towns, so that the poor families are very great and the most part of them has no means of subsistence, besides the temperate society met with no encouragement here.
A board of health is constituted and a subscription has been raised to erect a soup kitchen but the wants are so great that I am afraid unless more be done, the applications will become too numerous for them to continue long, however we must hope the best. Few comparatively that I have heard off seem to be afraid, none in the house but myself has much dread, I never felt so in hearing of trouble before the very preparations and the daily reports of the papers is enough to create melancholy feelings, and yet why it be so, what is this country more than others that plagues is so much in. And if we would only consider it —–, it is by frequently meditating on the uncertainty of everything here (except the certainty of death, that should enable our minds to be brought into the proper state for fully appreciating the comfort and friends allotted us, but when all goes well with us, we discard such reflections as if they tinged our thoughts with too dark a shade with the different pursuits of this life.
My Dear Susan, the repeated kind invitations that I have received from you all to visit Kierfield tempts me very much, my Mother has been saying this some time she thought I would be the better of it. Though my cough is almost better yet I have never felt altogether well since I wrote you, though seldom out, I scarcely ever —- getting more cold. I could have come away immediately on the receipt of your letter, but our Sacrament is on Sunday and owing to the distressing state of the country, I dare not flatter myself, though I have been doing it more this —– days past, but I will say or plan nothing, except if we keep well. I need not add Kierfield will be my first visiting place. I am afraid all mode of travelling will soon be stopped, David has just been sending his trunk with the carrier, the canal boat being stopped, he leaves us this week for Liverpool, he won’t be persuaded to stay longer, he has been with us two months which he says is long enough to be idle, we will miss him very much. Thomas sails next month we have heard nothing more of William, it is an unhappy life a sailor, so unsettled, while their friends are never free from anxiety.
I must pause giving you such a long screed the last time I intended to make this short, but I get always into the same fault of spinning it out. Do remember me very kindly to your parents, the Doctor and Charles also Mrs Baird and believe me in sincerity your truly attached Friend
There simply is not the scope in this manuscript to do justice to the Rutherfoord letters. They are the timepiece of a bygone village and place a family, long since gone, at its heart. One letter though stands out, though neither for its worldly wisdom nor for its historical relevance, simply it records the nature of love. That is something this Custodian tries to capture; for in my life, as with the Rutherfoords, the bonds of love go deeper than any other worldly matter. The following letter is from Mr Oliphant. In it are the cries of anguish of a young suitor – he fears the worst, that Susan Rutherfoord has become engaged to a Bridge of Allan boy.
10th January 1833.
My Dear Susan,
We were very happy to hear by the receipt of the Doctors letter that you were all well as we were getting anxious having been daily in the hopes for some time past to have news from Kierfield. I came home about ten days ago and fully intended writing a day or two after my arrival but I suffered so much from sea sickness that I have scarcely recovered from it, in general I was much the better of it but I never had such a severe attack, the wind against us made the steamer have more motion.
The newspapers you were so kind as send came and am daily spoke of returning a Liverpool one, the only excuse why it was not sent is putting off from day to day and the last that the Stirling journal came , the day before William sailed so that as I was to be home so soon made me put off. I examined it carefully in the hopes to sell all well or something but not a word, nay more Susan, I looked to the marriages expecting interesting news, but I suppose you are still Miss Rutherfoord, though something whispers not long.
The Doctor did not mention Mrs Carter but I trust from his silence that all friends are well in Aberdeen. I conclude also that David came for Mrs Stewart and is now also in Aberdeen with her two sons, may they be long spared for a comfort to her after the repeated bereavements she has met with. We are glad to hear Mrs Baird and little daughter is so well, as for you I fancy you are still living on little less than nothing.
My Dear Friend am I really to reply in the negative again to this kind invitation out of the many I have received. I am truly afraid my kind Friends at Kierfield will now be tired with my excuses which makes me feel at a loss to express myself so as to convince them that I cannot at present comply with their request next week. I hope you will credit me when you know so well how anxious I am to perform my long promised visit, indeed when I look back to the many times, especially this time twelve months the different days fixed for it, that I can’t help feeling at times a dread if ever I am to get my wish gratified being so often disappointed but I trust to be arguably mistaken.
My Mother has wearied so much this some weeks by herself, what she never was before, and none of my Brothers at home, which has not been the case for many years, makes her feel her loss more – that now I am at home she wont hear of me going away at present, you may very naturally say I might come, were it but for two days, to this Susan, were I to see yourself my reason would quite satisfy you.
My Mother is very anxious to come but could not at present the season of the year being her only reason. She thinks the water may do her some good, and I can’t express how anxious I am to get her up, since in Liverpool she has got so stout that when walking the least bit feels quite breathless and weak that makes me uneasy. Besides her rheumatisms troubles her more I think in the spring. If well, I am advising her to come, Mrs Boag is come down from Liverpool and she promised to wait for her, however before that, if I am well, I will be up though it shall only be one night
Now I think you will be tired by a string of excuses but I trust I am believed and the best evidence you can give is by fulfilling your half promised visit here. If on the event of your marriage which my Mother joins me heartily in I am not joking but serious unless you extend your jaunt to Aberdeen. What nonsense is this I have taken into my head, you will say I have no foundation for it, but I think you are intending to change your name soon remember my dear friend I write to you candidly don’t be offended at my free speaking, you might have wrote me to Liverpool and told me if Nebuchadnezzar was still in the Bridge of Allan.
I think in my last I mentioned William was still in Mr Henderson’s employ he left them and joined the Brig Matilda a regular trader up the Mediterranean to our view advantageous, though often the brightest prospects does not turn out the best, but if he keeps his health & does as well for his Honours as he did for the Hendersons I have no doubt he will have the pleasure of giving satisfaction, the way the latter has used him made the offer of this vessel more readily accepted we are now at law with Mr. H. for only a third of what they unjustly defrauded us off, my Mother is angry at our simplicity in not claiming the whole which would have been no more than they deserved after the way they treated my father for so many years.
I have got the root of the tiger-lily which you saw for your father and the first safe opportunity will send it be sure and write me as soon as you can spare time by the past and tell me particularly about the family how your father and mother is keeping their health I think if the Doctor has not been to Edinburgh. Since you were here that he will probably be going soon, if so, do tell him to come ashore and see us for we are wearying very much to see him I flatter myself if he had any time at all he would give us a call in passing, there is no friend my mother respects so much and as for myself you know too well my opinions “did you take his advice as I told you?”
Jennie desires me to remember her kindly to you and the Doctor, she has some notion she says of his now thinking seriously of marriage but I think her suppositions are not well grounded for I rather think it is your Ladyship
I need not say excuse this scrawl for I might have taken time and wrote it better, but I an beginning to think that is more than I am able for it puzzles me to form one letter, my hand is getting so cramped however if you can make it out that is enough burn it as soon as read and you will oblige me
I will expect to hear from you next week, my Mother joins with in kind regards to your Father, Mother the Doctor wishing you all many returns of the season believe me my Dear Friend to be
yours sincerely M. Oliphant
This from Mrs Oliphant nee Maggie Boag: Something whispered not long…..
Mrs Oliphant was uncannily correct, for Susan was married within a few short months of receipt of his letter of January 1833. So by the middle of May, Susan had accepted the hand of the upright and Christian, Mr Adam Baird.
A joyful marriage was followed by the joyful birth of three daughters; Margaret in 1834, Susan in 1837, and Janet in 1839. Yet that Nebuchadnezzar (Cholera) had never left the parish and it was determined to wreck the celebrations of the infant family.
Weakened after childbirth, in the spring of 1840, the far from ‘stout’ Susan Rutherfoord became Nebuchadnezzar’s latest commission. Susan clung to life just long enough to dictate to her father a testament which he scribed for her in long, beautiful and solemn copper-plate. She divided her possessions equally amongst her three infant daughters. To Susan, her middle child, she left her trunk. It was in this trunk that her letters were stored.
On the last Sunday of March 1840 Susan died.
Yes how quickly Ten Summers Fade.
Figure 13: Courtesy of the memorial to Hannah Ann Stirling in Old Lecropt Churchyard
Sister these woods have seen ten summer’s fade
Since thy dear dust in yonder church was laid;
A few more winters, and this heart, the shrine
Of thy fair memory shall he cold as thine.
Yet may some stranger lingering in these ways,
Bestow a tear on grief of other days:
For if he too, have wept o’er grace and youth
Goodness and wisdom, faith and love and truth,
Untinged with worldly guile or selfish stain,
And ne’er hath looked upon thy like again,
Then, imaged in his sorrow, he may see
All that I loved, and lost, and mourn in thee.