This is not yesterday

Written spring 2006.

INTRODUCTION to ‘This is Not yesterday’

No family is ordinary.
Herewith follows a collection of extraordinary tales taken from our family annals. The stories combine to form a narrative that passes through principally the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and will pull together a rich tapestry of lost family characters. The wish is to entertain, to involve and to emotionally embody. The tales are historically accurate and drawn from a mountain of scraps and artefacts collected by me over many years.

You should not expect an account of glowing grandiosity but should rather be prepared for stories reaching in their sadness or glowing in their humanity which are absolutely none the less so for their ordinariness. It must be said that our forebears lived through hard times and surely had resilience not often seen in this our ‘modern’ world.

If at the end of this account you are left with a list of names then I have failed. This you see is about the true fabric of our being. Understand the past and we are better placed to shape the future.

We must remember that we live on as the flesh and bones of our ancestors; not constrained by them but embodied by their diversity and richness, and forming within us, truly a kaleidoscope of beings.

Thanks go to my darling daughter for giving the title of the manuscript ‘This is not Yesterday!

The poems are collected for my wife.


Tonight you are a hundred miles away
and I could read perhaps, or watch TV –
that serial of water, screen of fog.
I think I’d rather hold a dialogue
after the fading routine of day
in the midnight’s darkness, in the midnight’s mercy.

O’ what is love? philosophers have asked
and more than these, the poets, What is love?
Gather your roses while the weather’s good.
Love is perhaps a similar attitude
Struck by two people. Love is a gay mask.
Love is constructed from a coat or glove.

Love is a mirror lined by sweet bouquets.
It is the purest vanity we know.
It is a loss of self, as saints have taught.
Love is an article that can’t be bought
in a shop or supermarket. Love has days
that melt to rain after a trembling rainbow.

Love can move the sun and 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.

…. The night is quiet. There’s light upon the ice.
I hear your step a hundred miles away.
Accidents can happen to the soul.
Wherever we are our hearts are both at school
and suffer and enjoy not once but twice
in the blue constant weather, in the grey.

If you are Taurus and I Capricorn
astrologers and horoscopes commend
each to the other in a thrifty marriage
by the sharp rays of prudence and courage
and by each present we can truly earn –
to us the stars don’t prodigally bend.

Love is incessant climbing to far peaks,
ambitious haunting. That is why I hear
your steps so clearly, miles and miles away
as if they moved in jealous or envy –
you hack steps out with an uncertain axe
in a harsh and vast breathless atmosphere

where all is lost that isn’t gained each hour.
I think, quiet Midnight, that sun will rise
but do not know it. Therefore let my sight
not fade tonight but seem to bring the light –
and her – to my warm house, for your black air
is part of morning’s and her shaking guise.

Ian Crichton Smith (born 1928)

Chapter ONE of ‘This is Not yesterday’

It is right that ‘This is not Yesterday’ should embark with my Great Aunt Margaret.

Margaret Gordon’s story is of compelling and utter fortitude in the face of the most desperate of situations. Never once in her ninety years did she dwell upon her ordeal. A practical, engaging stalwart of a woman; here follows her story, which has been compiled from her personal chronicle, an obituary, and other papers left in the security of her nephew Stuart Gordon.

The following appeared in the Melbourne News shortly after Margaret’s death in May 1999:

“One night, at the height of World War II, a man and a woman sit in a small lifeboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and recite Gray’s Elegy. They are alone; the other 14 on the boat have perished from exposure and dehydration. They finish the timeless poem but are so weak the effort means they almost lose their voices.

Later the two are picked up by a Brazilian Corvette, ending a 52 day ordeal that is one of the most remarkable stories of survival of the entire war. It involved a partnership of two people overcoming the odds through great reserves of strength, mental toughness, improvisation and sheer will to live.”

The man was James ‘Knocker’ White, a Scottish ships officer; the woman was Margaret Gordon, from Melbourne. Using makeshift sails as crude as blankets attached to oars, they travelled more than 2000 miles, weathering storms, huge seas, a lack of food and water and the horror of observing fellow boat members die one-by-one in an epic struggle for survival at sea.

In her lifetime Margaret Gordon never talked publicly about her survival. That was her fortitude. She did write a 13 page account for her mother, but insisted it was not for publication.

Margaret was awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of her ‘exceptional qualities of fortitude and endurance’. But even in the days of empire fervour, this generated little Australian interest. One factor perhaps, was a widespread local assumption that women could not be among war’s real heroes, that their role was limited to nurturing support. Margaret Gordon’s story jarred with this wisdom. She displayed a bravery and grace that few – men or women – could even aspire to.

In 1936 Margaret Maberley Smith stopped off at Quetta, India, to stay with family and friends, en route to England to attend the Coronation of Edward VIII. There she met Crawford Gordon, a Scot and a deputy chief-engineer with the Bengal-Assam Railways in Baluchistan. They married in St Thomas Cathedral, Bombay, in October 1937, when she was 27 and he was 40.

According to Ralph Baker, in his Book Goodnight Sorry for Sinking You, Margaret’s features ‘were too strong for stereotyped feminine beauty’ but she was a ‘handsome woman’ while her husband had the ‘orthodox good looks of the ascetic Scot’.

After Japan forced the British out of Burma, Crawford Gordon fled to the Himalayan foothills by river boat. He was struck down with Dengue fever, an eruptive and infectious disease that caused excruciating pain in his joints accompanied by acute prostration and debility. Margaret also suffered the same condition while nursing her husband, but stamina and mental toughness inured her against the post-sickness depression that inflicted him. Crawford Gordon did not fare well and as a result of his Dengue suffered a nervous breakdown and was a victim to a persecution mania.

Crawford’s doctors advised him to leave India. The couple secured a passage on the SS City of Cairo, an 8000 tonne passenger boat that had seen better days but with cabins that retained traces of an Edwardian charm. There were 300 passengers and crew, a uniquely war-affected group of returning elderly Indian civil servants, judges, businessmen, young war widows and tradesmen returning from an ill-fated British war-time glider project in India.


Setting sail from Bombay, the Cairo crossed the Indian Ocean to Durban, rounded the South African coast to Cape Town, moved further up the west coast of Africa, and then headed across the Atlantic for South America. From there the plan was to hug the American coast as far as Halifax, Nova Scotia, then make the final crossing to England with a Royal Navy escort.

The Cairo’s lone trans-Atlantic voyage, with an average speed of barely 10 Knots, made it a sitting duck for a U-boat wolf pack. The German Navy had already ordered the Polar Bear Group, consisting of four submarines, to attack allied ships off Cape Town. In earlier forays, individual U-boat captains had gone to the rescue of the passengers of the boats they had sunk, but this piece of naval chivalry was made verboten by headquarters in Berlin.

The Cairo took evasive action, zig-zagging across the South Atlantic, making the journey more than 4000 miles.

Six days out of Cape Town, on the 6th November at 8.30pm, a German U-boat fired a single bow tube torpedo at the Cairo from a range of 500 metres. Twenty-nine seconds later it struck ‘with a sickening thud’, to use Margaret Gordon’s words. ‘There seemed to be no panic – we went quickly down to our own cabin on the sloon deck, collected our warm clothing, survival bags, and the torches we had placed ready and returned to the deck’

Margaret’s lifeboat was cast adrift from the ship before Crawford Gordon had time to enter it. Later he jumped on another lifeboat, but it took on water and its occupants were caught in the suction as the Cairo went down, and he drowned. Margaret’s boat capsized after the U-boat fired another torpedo and she was thrown into the sea. She was pulled into the same boat, which had righted itself, and later transferred to the smaller 21-feet long boat four, commandeered by the Cairo’s Third Officer, James ‘Knocker’ Whyte, then only 25.


Margaret & Crawford Gordon as newly-weds

The U-boat surfaced 2 hours after torpedoing the Cairo. Kapitan Karl-Fredrich Merten gave the survivors of his own torpedo-attack the position of St Helena, the nearest island, and the final resting place of the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte. It was 500 miles north-west. Then Merten bade them farewell:

‘Goodnight, sorry for sinking you’ he said, and his U-boat disappeared.


The U-boat Commander, Kapitan Karl-Fredrich Merten

The six surviving lifeboats headed for St Helena and tried to stick together. They managed to tie up every night for seven nights, but after that, the small lifeboat, boat four, which included Margaret Gordon, became separated from the main group.

On boat 4 they hoisted a makeshift sail and used the prevailing breezes to head for St Helena.

Rations were sparse, consisting of 2 kegs and 2 tanks of water, tins of dry biscuits, pemmican – a form of dried meat, once traditional fare at sea – chocolate and Horlicks milk tablets.

Each day rations for one person consisted of about 2 spoons of water, one biscuit, one teaspoon of pemmican, one piece of chocolate and a Horlicks tablet at noon; and in the evening one biscuit, chocolate and pemmican. ‘The chocolate was pleasant to eat, but the others were incredibly difficult to get down with such a small ration of water’, Margaret wrote. They also had six blankets and a few warm clothes.

At 32 Margaret Gordon was the oldest on boat four, one year older than ‘Solly’ Solomon, one of the returning glider men. On total there were 16 on board: 10 Lascars, or Indian Cabin Crew, and 6 European crew members and passengers.

Margaret trailed clothes over the side to clean and dry them. She made moccasins out of the canvas sail cover for men who had no shoes and massaged their legs with whale oil, and she made rakish, brigand-like hats out of the sail cover, sewing them with lengths of binder twine.

The apparently trivial made a big difference to morale. Clean mouths, for example, had felt ‘incredibly dry and felt horribly crumby after eating the dry tack.’ She worked out that rinsing mouths out with sea water immediately before the fresh water ration didn’t make them thirsty. She used her Elizabeth Arden cold cream to treat cases of sunburn, and, with the aid of a mirror, helped others – and herself – to improve appearances.

Those first nights were cold, although the days were warm. Whyte and two other Cairo crew members shared watches at the helm. ‘We were now adjusting ourselves to the routine of life in the boat.’ Margaret wrote. ‘A couple of the lads had been torpedoed before, but we were all young and had no idea really of what we should do to keep ourselves fit, except that we had instructions about massaging our feet and legs with fish oil … The only other thing we were certain of were that we must try to eat as much as possible, and never drink salt water’.


Ralph Barker says there was ‘no one stronger on the boat than Margaret. She wasn’t critical and didn’t complain.’

Knocker Whyte did not find her anymore approachable than he found most women, but he admired her for her composure and adaptability and he found her, in his own vernacular, ‘easy on the eye’.

By this stage, ‘the chief trouble was to find something to pass the time’ Margaret wrote. ‘One day they made a fish hook and spinner out of old tin, but the rope was nearly all rotten and the first fish just went off with the line and hook and all…. something to read would have been a godsend, but there was nothing except some papers which parkie (Humphries, the Cairo’s electrician) and I had in our bags’.

But there were up moments ‘One lovely warm day we really quite enjoyed ourselves swimming over the side, one at a time in our underclothes. It was wonderfully refreshing and did us all good’.

Eleven days after the sinking, the larger lifeboats from the Cairo arrived at St Helena. But boat four had few navigational aids. Whyte calculated that they must be near St Helena, but he believed they could spend precious days fruitlessly looking for the island. ‘It was a question of continuing to sail about looking for St Helena, which was like looking for a needle in a haystack, or turning west with the wind, and sailing for the coast of South America’About 2250 miles from the point of sinking.

They took the fateful decision to push on. ‘I’m going to sail this boat to South America’, Whyte swore to the rest of those on board, ‘if I die in the attempt.’ Margaret described this in her chronicle: ‘And when I think of the temerity with which we made this choice I don’t think anyone except Knocker realised what it entailed’.

At this point, a Lascar on their boat died from exposure and dehydration. Another died the next day, and a third the day after, ‘and by the end of the week they (the Lascars) had all gone, save one.’ Margaret wrote. But ‘he couldn’t stand being alone so one day he threw himself overboard’.

The faith of the Indians in the next world had never faltered, and nor did their comradeship. According to Ralph Barker, ‘Even when to the Europeans it seemed clear that life was extinct, the surviving Asians, many of them near death themselves, squandered their precious water ration in irrigating the mouths and nostrils of corpse in the vain hope of reviving them’.

Fearing she would die before the rest, Margaret collected all the names and addresses of those remaining and retained the information in a simple diary where she also crossed off the days.

‘Some of the lads began to lose heart and gave up hope’ Margaret wrote.

‘They would lie about all day and refused to make any effort to do anything or eat anything as it made their thirst worse.’ Bill McGregor (a Cairo passenger who had been shockingly burned in an earlier war time battle) gave up and lay most of the time in the bow. ‘I Liked Bill, we used to talk a bit and he would tell me about his wife and baby at home, but there was nothing I could do to help him, except massage his legs and ease the cramp in them’.

‘The men kept on asking for Brandy and sal volatile (a popular drink at the time) which Knocker and I felt was not very good for them.’ As the remaining men began to weaken quickly the water ration was doubled, and Knocker and Margaret tried to persuade the others to eat by mixing dry rations with water. But they could not keep down the ‘pemmican soup’ and Horlicks milk.

After eighteen days Freddie Powell, another Cairo crew member, died and ‘this cast a deep gloom over us all. No one knew the prayers for burial so we all said the Lord’s Prayer as they lifted him over the side. It was the best we could do’. Bill Pirrie, another crew member, began to lose his eyesight so, ‘Knocker taught me to steer by compass and I relieved him on watch in the day time’.

Then the makeshift sail gave out, but Knocker mended it with various pieces of cloth, made a new tiller and put up new halyards. To give them more speed he made another makeshift sail and attached it to the oar. It was ‘unwieldy and difficult to handle’, Margaret wrote, ‘but it was amazing to see the strength Knocker could still summon to do these things, when all the others were weak and helpless. He was just determined to sail the boat and get somewhere.’

After twenty days Bill McGregor became violent then jumped overboard, yelled for help, but quickly disappeared. Six days later Bill Solomon, another Cairo crew member, died, leaving four remaining. ‘Knocker and I did everything between us as the other two men were lying up under the cover and couldn’t be persuaded to eat at all.’ They kept the boat sailing day and night, with three hour watches at night. When she was on watch Margaret steered by the stars, like the old Viking sailors, although when there was cloud cover she operated by the moon. When not at the tiller she bailed. ‘We tried to sleep as much as possible to conserve our strength’.

‘Some of the clear tropical nights were beautiful. My first watch came when the stars were bright and twinkling and the boat seemed to scud along much faster in the darkness. Sirius, the dog star, shone brilliantly astern, and towards morning we sailed directly into the path of the moon.’

‘After the long night watch it was encouraging and rather wonderful as day dawned to see the light coming up behind the serried banks of clouds in the east. One felt very much alone – to be the only living creature awake on the dark surface of the waves and completely at their mercy in our frail craft, a meagre speck on the ocean, with the vast arch of the skies above streaked with the bright hope of the new day. And yet it seemed as if there must be some Power guiding and protecting us on our way.’

By mid-December, after 5 weeks adrift, Margaret was extremely weak, but she kept up her end of this remarkable partnership. Their vision had deteriorated, their nails had turned brown, and they were increasingly deaf and obliged to shout at each other, even in the close confines of the boat. To maintain morale, ‘we made a business of combing our hair and tidying up. Knocker was very proud of his beard which made him look like an Elizabethan sea dog.’

It was, as Margaret wrote, a ‘strange existence….. we were not really companionable in that we could not talk more than necessary ‘ – it was too exhausting – ‘and when one was at the tiller the other was usually trying to sleep.’ One night they recited all the words of Gray’s Elegy together, ‘but the effort left us parched with thirst.’

Six weeks after being torpedoed Sparkie died, and two days later Bill Pirie gave up the battle, leaving the two alone. By this stage the main sail was finished, but Knocker hoisted two blankets on another oar ‘to blow us along a bit faster.’

One night, while Margaret was steering, a black bosun bird perched on one of the oars. ‘I thought this might be a hopeful sign, but all knocker said was ‘we must be a hell of a way from land for a bird to come and perch there all night for a rest.’

On the 22nd of December they passed a wooden crate and a twig, raising hopes that they had entered the shipping lanes of the South American coast. On Christmas Day, after drinking the last of the Brandy, they saw a plane ‘flying towards us quite fast and low over the water.’ But before they could light a smoke flare the plane had passed over ‘in spite of our frantic waving and shouting, which of course was quite useless.’ At that stage they had less than a week’s supplies left.

A few days later they were deluged with rain – the first in seven weeks. They collected water in empty tins and ‘sat there in the early dawn, absolutely drenched, but happy to be able to drink our fill.’

Later that day Margaret was dozing, but woke to hear the cry ‘ships, ships, ships!’ They hastily dropped flares into the water. All failed until the last one sent a huge cloud of red smoke into the sky. They were taken on board by a Brazilian corvette, which was sailing about 80 miles off the South American coast. ‘The rail was lined with smiling, friendly faces and strong hands quickly lifted us up on deck, sat us down, and gave us huge mugs of coffee.’

For the next few days Margaret and Knocker Whyte shared a cabin on the Brazilian corvette as it sped to Recife. But even after the relief and sense of shared achievement the relationship remained ‘formal, physically distant.’

Margaret recovered at the Recife hospital, then stayed with the local English community. Refusing to travel by sea again in war-time, she flew to New York, where she was appointed a Librarian for the Australian information service. She later resigned to join the Womens Royal Navy Service in Washington, where she remained until the end of the war.

Knocker Whyte was in hospital for a short period then flew to New York, where he was feted as a war-time hero. He told United Press that Margaret Gordon ‘never complained and she was more help to me than the men before they died. She wasn’t a large woman but was of the athletic type. She was easy on the eye and blonde.’

Later, Whyte boarded the City of Pretoria, which was carrying munitions, and headed for England. However, she was torpedoed and blew up with no survivors.

In December 1943 in Washington, Margaret was awarded the British Empire Medal by the British Ambassador, Lord Halifax. Her award and her story received a short single column story in the Melbourne Herald. She returned to Australia after the war, and in 1947 married Roy Ingham. They farmed in Victoria at Officer then at Benalla, near Melbourne, until Roy Ingham’s early death in 1959 by suicide.

So at 50, Margaret went back into training and became a qualified Librarian. She began as childrens librarian at South Melbourne, and in 1965 was appointed to a new position, overseeing childrens library services in public libraries throughout the state. She was an enthusiastic innovator, travelled widely and held regular meetings of country and city librarians.

So there is the story of my Aunt Margaret, which is compelling, more so now that I realise what I did not in my childhood, that Aunt Margaret was one of the most remarkable heroines of World War II.

Margaret Maberley Gordon (1910-1999)

So, We’ll Go No More a Roving

So, We’ll Go No More a Roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Lord Byron (1788 – 1824)

Chart One


Chapter Two: Strychnine, Scarletina and a Gunshot – Baldardo Gibsons

Baldardo is a lonely hilltop farm in the heart of the parish or Rescobie and not half a dozen miles south of Forfar. When I first visited Baldardo a cold chill crept through me; at the time I thought nothing more of this . . . nothing more until I later discovered the utterly tragic story of the ‘Baldardo Gibsons.’

Baldardo,drawn 1895

Figure 1: Baldardo farmhouse

The protagonist is William Gibson ‘our’ Baldardo farmer, brother of James Gibson of Drumgley (chapter 4: God sent Angels to Guard Him.)

William Gibson made it to half-a-century, but only just. He died in utter extremis. The cause a burst ulcer inducing severe peritonitis and unstoppable vomiting of blood. Poor William he had little time for good-byes to his dear wife and young family, his youngest daughter, Elizabeth Farquhar being only two. His brother James arranged for the ‘Writer’, Patrick Meffam from Forfar, to visit the farm of Baldardo, and so, just hours before his death, on the last Sunday of April 1855, William completed his Last Will and Testament.

William was born in the original Haughs of Cossans Farmhouse that had been, in the 17th century, the home of the Lyons of Cossins following the destruction of their castle. Haughs is to be found on rich farmland, within the Strathmore Estate of Glamis, and is reached by a long tree-lined avenue, which once took the visitor, by the old clay-works. William was the youngest and fourth child of Alexander Gibson and Margaret Wyllie. The year of his birth 1804, was the date when Napoleon crowned himself ‘Emperor of Europe.’ This marked the start of the turbulent Napoleonic war that was to continue until his defeat at Waterloo in June 1815. William Gibson was then an emergent adolescent.

William’s parents certainly had their family late on in life. Indeed at the time of William’s birth, his father Alexander was already fifty, and his mother Margaret Wyllie 38 years old. One wonders whether they survived long enough to see him into adulthood.

Just short of his thirty-third birthday, in April of 1837, William married his sweetheart, a local girl from a well-to-do Glamis family. Her name was Elizabeth Fairweather, she was ten years his junior. Elizabeth was an attractive, tall, dark haired woman and had like her groom, been fortunate to receive a good education. What better start could they provide for the family that was to follow?

It was in Kinnettles, Forfarshire, the parish of their marriage, where William & Elizabeth raised their first four children; however by the birth of their fifth child, Alexander, they had relocated to Baldardo. There seems to have been a long family association with Baldardo, and it was here in 1730, that Alexander Gibson’s grandmother, Helen Williamson was born. In the old Parish Cemetery of Rescobie one of the oldest tombstones remembers this Williamson family.

William and Elizabeth Gibson undoubtedly built the house still standing at Baldardo today, and this dates it to the year of 1845. It is to modern eyes, a solid and somewhat opposing edifice. Quaint it is not. However it must have been a wonderful family home, strong, warm, spacious and most importantly given its exposed hill-top position, wind-tight! The current owners told me that when redecorating the public room they scraped back years of paint to find the original wall with farm murals, and pressed flowers and grain as decorations. One has to imagine this was the work of William and Elizabeth. My own grandmother, Constance Gibson, recalled one of her earliest memories as visiting Uncle James at Baldardo in 1910 or 1911.

The farm of Baldardo was a leased tenancy from Sir John Farquhar of Pitscandy. The lease was renewed on a twenty-year basis, reflecting a deep trust between patron and tenant. It was in honour of this patron, that William Gibson named his daughter Elizabeth Farquhar. William Gibson was clearly a most able farmer, and did well to make so much of the ‘220 acres of Baldardy,’ for the soil, terrain and climate, were not nearly as favourable as that of the Haughs in Glamis.

Baldardo map

Figure 2: Mid-Victorian map of Baldardo

Between 1847 and 1852 a further four children came along. In all a balance of four boys and four girls, that was sadly broken by the death of five year old William in 1845. The two oldest girls, Margaret Wyllie and Jane Ann married two brothers, John Guthrie Scott and Captain James Scott respectively. John Guthrie Scott was a grocer from Brechin and must have had strong connections with the Fairweathers who were also grocers in Angus. Captain James Scott was a shipmaster. Both Scott brothers hailed originally from Aberdeen.

On the second Saturday of September 1877 Jane Ann Gibson, the second daughter of William Gibson and Elizabeth Fairweather, was found dead by her brother-in-law John Guthrie Scott.  Poor Jane Ann for she had taken her own life; and a post-mortem was to confirm that she had suffered “Asphyxia from the action of some narcotico irritant poison such as Strychnia.” Jane Anne Gibson was just 35 years when she was found that Saturday lunchtime in her apartment on Brechin High Street.

It seems that gentle Jane, a young mother of three daughters died from a broken heart, for even at this tender age she was widowed. The full circumstances are not known, but her husband Captain James Scott was described on her death certificate as a Master Mariner, and one can only assume that he was ‘lost at sea.’ Those poor daughters for they were orphaned at such tender ages: the eldest Lizzy McHardy Scott was just thirteen years when her mother took her life, and the youngest just eight years.  Lizzie McHardy later became housekeeper at Baldardo.

Suicide of Jane Ann Scott

Figure 3: “A case of Suicide” Certified by Dr S. Thomson and Dr Anderson, Brechin, who made a Post Mortem examination of the body of the deceased”

In a cruel twist of fate, within a year of the suicide of Jane Ann, a third daughter, Isabella Gibson was to lose her life in the most heart-rending fashion. It seems that she developed Scarletina which induced premature labour, and within 3 days of the onset, oozing ‘diptheric exudation’, she died. She was only twenty-nine and her baby was lost with her. Like her sister Jane, she left three young children behind

Fate can cast the cruellest of shadow and some families need not have to seek their troubles; that was certainly the case with the ‘Baldardo Gibsons.’ Margaret Wyllie Gibson, the eldest daughter of William Gibson & Elizabeth Fairweather was to succumb to exactly the same fate as her father, though she had not reached fifty when she was quickly lost to widespread peritonitis. She died just six years after her sister’s death to strychnine. One just cannot bear the pain felt by her mother Elizabeth Fairweather, for in the space of six short years she had lost three of her dear daughters and all lost to their own tragedy.

It would have been welcome to reveal a kinder fate for the boys born to William and Elizabeth Gibson. Alas this was not so. David Gibson, their youngest son, born in 1850, enticed by the rich promise of emigration, left Scotland in the early spring of 1866. He sailed on the “Queen of the Nation” and arrived in Sydney, Australia in May of that year. Five weeks later he was dead. No riches, no fortune, no glory, but a sad lonely death as the result of a ‘raging fever.’

Not one of the Gibson boys was to marry: William was lost to a childhood illness, David in adolescence, and both the surviving boys, James and Alexander, remained life-long bachelors.

Nineteen-hundred-and-twelve is perhaps the saddest date in the telling of the Baldardo Gibson story, for it was that year that their two hundred year long association with the farm was to come to a sudden and brutal ending.

It was on the last Friday of May of 1912 that a neighbouring farmer, George Taylor, was to find the body of James Gibson. It seems he had taken himself up the hill of Baldardo and whilst crossing a gate had accidentally shot himself once in the chest with a shotgun. He had only days earlier celebrated his 68th birthday. One lonely man, one shot, and one very sad end to a family beset by tragedy. And who was left behind? – His niece Lizzie McHardy: the grown up girl who had lost her mother to suicide, and who now was to be the very last survivor of the terribly tragic Baldardo Gibsons.

James Gibson tragic

Figure 4: James Gibson

There is a post-script to this story, and it came with the chance finding of a large portrait photograph in the attic of my grandmother Constance Gibson. The portrait was the study of a lady dressed in black as if in mourning. The expression was of loss and pain. No words needed to convey such inner sadness. You will not then be surprised to learn that this was the portrait of Elizabeth Fairweather. We now understand her deepest of grief. For not only was Elizabeth rendered a widow for over forty years, and had to manage alone, but she also had to suffer the death of five of her eight children. No parent should see but one child die, but to be predeceased by five that is desperately sad.

Elizabeth fairweather

Watching You Walk

Watching you walk slowly across a stage,
Suddenly I am become aware of all the past;
Of all tragic maids and queens of every age,
Of Joan, whose love the flames could not arrest

Of those to whom always love was the first duty,
Who saw behind the crooked world the ugly and weak;
Whose kindliness was no gesture; no condescending pity
Could rule their actions; those whom Time broke,

But whom he could not totally destroy.
Hearing the truth you give to these dead words,
Whose writer feared the life they might enjoy,
I can recall the mating orchestra birds

Glad of my lonely walk beside the shrunken river,
Thinking of you whilst seeing the tufts of ash,
The chestnut candles and unreal magnolia’s wax flower;
Glad that in loving you, the whole world lives afresh.

Ruthven Todd (born 1914)

Baldardo Gibson tree


Chapter Three: The Jelly Maker – Robert Scott

I have always loved Bridge of Allan, a bond that has remained with me from my earliest childhood when I visited my grandfather at Drumdruils farm. The following account then is dedicated to my grandfather Robert ‘Rab’ Scott. The narrative will have at its beating heart Bob Scott the grandfather of Rab. The story will further describe how the Scotts brought Jam to Scotland and will walk through their keen & innovative role as fruit growers.

Robert ‘Bob’ Scott (1856-1940) was an extraordinary man – this superlative can be used without fear of exaggeration. As recently as this last summer, I was blessed to read letters written to and from Bob Scott of Orchard. They show a man of enormous benevolence, deep kind heartedness and an exceptional entrepreneur who still managed to put his family first.

The Scott family characteristic has always been garnered by two principal traits – an innate kindliness and a spontaneous, genuine humour. Margaret Scott, dear Granny to Andrew and Rachel, my mother, and daughter of Rab, has that true kindliness of being. In spades the Orchard Scotts had it: a beautiful, selfless generosity of being.

Bob Scott (1856-1940) was a Nurseryman, retaining and developing the skills of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He developed these skills in a time of great Victorian advancement, and was instrumental in the success of the Carluke Preserve Factory. He was a man highly regarded and liked by all.

Bob Scott
Figure 1: Bob Scott (1856-1940)

Bob Scott, the eldest child of Robert Scott and Agnes Tudhope, was born at Holmfoot, Carluke in October of 1856. He was to grow up at the helm of his five younger brothers and three younger sisters.

Sadly Bob’s mother, Agnes Tudhope, died when he was just 16 years old. He loved his mother dearly, and felt her loss ever so sorely. That grief was still palpable in the letters he wrote in much later life. Agnes, his mother, had succumbed quickly to death when her brain had swollen uncontrollably in the days after she had given birth to her last child Thomas. Shaken with his loss, dazed, and miserable, Bob left the family home of Totham Cottage, Uddingston and took sail for California. Poor Bob, he was adrift, his mother had died and within two years his father had remarried, taking as his bride the Housekeeper ‘Annie’ (Hamilton). Bob learned of his new stepmother on his first few days ashore in America. He was affected badly. He had had a terrible journey by sea, had no clothes and no money and his mental state was in a state of complete and utter unrest. This, in reflection now, was the breaking, and the making of the man.

Bob’s brother Alec was worried for Bob, and wrote with homesprung affection, offering to recall the good guidance of their dear mother:

“I am sure you will be wearying to see us all again, but I think it may be a while before you will manage that since you have no money. I’m sure you will be welcome home again. I hope that you will be kept from all toil while you are so far from home, remember your kind mother who is now in the happy Land. Oh Bob mind all her good advices. May God watch over you and protect you till you come home again.”

Within days of Alec’s letter, Bob received a letter from his father Robert. It betrays Bob’s dire circumstances:

“I received your welcome letter, and was glad to hear that you was well, although in poor circumstances. I heard from the Newspapers of your arrival out on the 24th of October, and it then knew of your long voyage. You speak of cold and hardship during the passage, I think it must have been enough for older hands than you were, and I am not in the least surprised at you getting enough of it, you say that you have run away from the ship, and you seem as you have got none of your Pay, and had left all your clothes, if that is the case you will find yourself very awkward amongst Strangers.”

The Scott family was of the ‘Auld Licht,’ presbyterian and strict. Bob’s father was guided in his faith to write and to offer such spiritual counsel:

“And Robert I am very glad to hear that you have taken my advice and never tasted Strong Drink, and I beseech you never do it, for there is always a curse attending the use of Strong Drink and my Prayer will always be that you may be kept from it and every other Sin and I am glad to hear that you wish an interest in all our Prayers, I think you will have had it every day since you left here, but you must also Pray for yourself, and I do hope you do it daily.”

These two letters, from Bob’s brother Alec, and his father Robert, are about all that survives to tell of Bob and his run-away venture. However a story has survived as told by John Gibson Scott, great-grandson of Bob. Whether there is truth in the story is another matter, yet it truly portrays the tortured nature of Bob in what were clearly most desperate of times. It was said that Bob had got involved in a ‘brawl’ with a ‘chineseman’ in a San Francisco bar after Bob had been upset with the way this man had used ‘the Lord’s name in vain.’ Worse still the brawl was to result in the death of the chineseman. Thereafter Bob took frantic and returned to Scotland, arriving back on Scotland’s shores in early 1874, after sailing & piloting himself around Cape Horn. How he undertook such a journey is hard to imagine, his mind must have been tortured and to survive physically he must have resorted upon every fibre of his athletic being. Perhaps not unsurprisingly Bob came ashore looking something like a pirate; bearded with a head-scarf and earring. His childhood sweetheart Margaret Marshall greeted him.

Less than a year later, in July of 1875, Bob Scott & Margaret Marshall were married. Bob was later to describe how Margaret tamed his wayward spirit. Fifty years later on the occasion of their Golden Wedding, Bob wrote a letter for his dear wife Margaret and left it under her pillow:

These last few days I have been looking back to that time fifty years ago, when in your glorious young womanhood you gave me your love and yourself. I have often thought it took a big courage on your part to plight your troth to such a harum scarum, unsettled chap as I then was, but perhaps, after all the confidence of your warm little heart was justified in some small measure, for have we not been loyal and true to one another through all those past years!

In the last decade of the century of his birth, Robert entered for Veterinary Medicine at Glasgow University. He was apparently a prize-winning graduate. His choice of study was not to change vocation, but to pursue in particular, his love for horses, and to share and develop, the ‘equestrian cause’ of his Uncle William.

In the early years of their marriage, Bob worked as a Market Gardener in Newton Dumbarton, and here, in a house called “Allan View” three of their children were born: John in 1878, Agnes in 1881 and Jessie ‘the blue-eyed Scott’ in 1883. Within a couple of years the family had returned to Carluke, living at first at Roseneath Cottage, and later a granite villa called Fairyknowe. Over a twenty-year period, from 1876 to 1896, Bob and Margaret had seven children, five boys and two girls (Robert, John, Moppie, Alec, Willie, James and Jessie). In 1905 the family moved to Auchenstueart in Station Road Carluke, a larger and more imposing sandstone villa.

Children of Bob and Margaret Scott, Fairyknowe

Figure 2: Children of Bob and Margaret Scott (Moppie, Robert, Agnes & John)

Generations of Bob’s family had worked the land of the Orchard Estate near Crossford. His great-grandfather (Robert Scott of Gowanglen born 1761) was the first of his family to learn the craft of fruit-bud grafting. Alec MacCallum Scott, MP, has described Gowanglen’s early enterprise:

“At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, a certain Robert Scott had a nursery garden at Gowanglen. He did a considerable business in supplying the orchards of the Clyde with fruit trees, and his fame was established as a grafter and pruner. As far away as Seggieden, in Perthshire, his descendants have gathered fruit from trees which came from Gowan Glen.”

It is interesting that Bob’s return to Carluke coincided with the early days of Jelly Works of R. & W. Scott, which was certainly up and running by 1880. This venture was started by Bob’s father Robert and his Uncle William (of Marnoch Mill, later Gillfoot, and finally Thornholm). It appears that Bob Scott redirected the agitation of his early years into the most energetic development of his father’s business.

Gowanglen, orchard

Figure 3: Gowanglen, Orchard, Crossford – the start of an enterprise.

Before the Scott family, commercial strawberry growing was not known in Scotland, and had Robert Scott not ‘induced his brother’ in the spring of 1873 ‘to plant half-an-acre of ground with strawberry plants as an experiment’ this fruit may never have graced the Scottish pudding bowl. At Mashockmill, Orchard, the sheltered situation and the suitability of the soil was found to yield ‘very satisfactory results,’ and strawberry culture became one of the main industries of the Clydesdale neighbourhood.

“The success of the works was undoubtedly due to the splendid managing abilities of the partners. Both were men of integrity and uprightness in all business dealings, which gained for them the esteem and confidence of customers and employees alike, and has given the firm name of R. & W. Scott a reputation and character excelled by no firm in Scotland.”

R & W Scott, Carluke

Figure 4: R & W Scott the “inventors of the Scottish Strawberry”

So next time you enjoy a juicy Scottish berry think of Robert and his chance suggestion to his brother William. For without the shared spirit of adventure of these two brothers, our palate might indeed have been sadly deprived.

Four generations of Robert Scott, Carluke

Figure 5: Bob Scott: four generations of Rob Scott with Robert of R & W seated right

By 1900, Bob’s father, who had been ill through tuberculosis, was retired. By now the Jelly works were flourishing, and a business contract in 1905, valued the company at £60 000! At this time Bob Scott was the Company Secretary, and his Uncle William was the Chairman. The wealth of the family was literally growing daily, and Bob and his family had by now several homes.

Secure with the success of the Jam works, Bob, backed by considerable fortune, started his search for the right location for a new orchard. It was a search that took him outwith his familiar upper Clyde Valley and that ultimately brought him to Bridge of Allan.

Bob Scott took tenancy of Drumdruils Farm from Martinmas 1892, and just two years later he adapted the agreement to share the tenancy with his son John (who was then just 16 years old).

R & J Scott, Drumdruils

Figure 6: Drumdruils carts the fruit

Bob Scott was keen to prove that he could be a successful fruit grower outside the vales of Clyde. Together, with his young son John, he set forth, grafting and stocking the farm. Detailed handwritten volumes describe the busy years of the late 19th century and contain thorough itineraries of the fruit trees planted by Bob and John. It was to be a successful venture. R & J Fruit Growers, Bridge of Allan was thus born, and John’s future secure.

During this time the family was hit by their first most sorrowful loss. Willie, aged just 11 years, died of Rheumatic fever at Drumdruils farm. He was buried in Carluke, where he spent most of his childhood.

Bob Scott was highly regarded in Carluke and respected for his strength in business and generosity of spirit. He was a deeply religious man, and raised his family in light of his beliefs. His children enjoyed a caring, warm family life and were to be well educated. Later this prosperity of youth was repaid with their own success: Robert became a doctor, surgeon and missionary; Alec, a doctor, advocate and politician; James, who was wounded in Gallipoli, succeeded his father’s role in the Jam Works; and Moppie married Dr George Prentice a pioneering African Missionary.

With his son settled at Drumdruills, Bob bought the Cornton Farmhouse and estate, which lay upon the vales of the river Forth. There he set about building a new home to retire to. During this time, the early 1900’s, there must have been much flitting between Carluke and Bridge of Allan.

Willie Scott
Figure 7: Poor wee Willie

Bob started work on his new Orchard House, and employed the architects James Salmon & John G. Gillespie to design a light and spacious family home into which he could embrace his family. Salmon was a close friend and contemporary of Charles Rennie McIntosh and introduced some lovely Arts and Crafts detail to the house. Early construction proved difficult. The first foundations were found to be unstable on the carse’s notorious shale banks, so the project had to be restarted using a new floating-foundation.

For Bob and Margaret the years at Bridge of Allan were to be largely happy ones, surrounded by children and grandchildren. It became a cherished haven for returning family from Africa. Peggy Moffat, daughter of Bob’s daughter Moppie, (pictured below with her sister Nancy) wrote some lovely memoirs of that time at Orchard House:

….”Robert was the owner of a jam factory which he had inherited from his father Robert and his uncle Willie, in Carluke – a little village set in the beautiful Clyde valley which was renowned for its fine fruit orchards. The jam factory of R & W Scott flourishes until today.

Bob’s mother Margaret (Marshall) was a handsome dark-haired woman with a beautiful complexion and the prettiest hands I think I have ever seen. She was a real personality in the village and had a good big family. Robert. Alec, John, James, Willie (who died when very young) Agnes and Jessie. Robert (or Bob) and Alec were both doctors, John had a large fruit farm called Drumdruills in Bridge-of-Allan, James was in the jam factory In Carluke. Agnes (or Nan) was having singing lessons in Glasgow and was quite exceptionally good-looking with a tall slim figure and her mother’s dark eyes, while Jessie who was my loved ‘Auntie’ was the youngest with fair hair and the Scott blue eyes. She never married. Later on she looked after my little sister Nancy and myself when her parents had moved to a super house which her father had specially built to retire to in Bridge-of-Allan in an orchard to grow apples, plums, pears and damsons on ‘good, heavy carse soil.’

Grannie was quite strict with us, but very fond of us we knew. Auntie Jessie who was ready for any game or ‘expeditions’- and Grandad who walked round all the hedgerows with us and through the orchards looking for bird’s nests and getting to know the various birds and their songs. Near the house there was an old orchard where we had a special apple tree with thick old gnarled branches where we sat, and which every spring we almost tiptoed past because the Blue Tits were back again in their special hole In the trunk. In the hall, at the Orchard, there was another of ‘our’ places. Under the stair there was an alcove with a fireplace, comfy chairs and tall narrow stained-glass windows on either side of the fireplace. Every spring Robins built their nest in one of these windowsills, which reached right through the thick walls of the house, and we could peep through the glass and watch the babies being fed.

Also in those days we had gorgeous place to go to, and that was Uncle John and Aunt Susie’s big fruit farm, Drumdruills. There we played with our cousins Susie, Madite, Rab and Mary; games like ‘kick the can’, out in the yard, hide-and-seek, or rounders. Often our other Scott cousins Bobby, Betty, Margaret and Marshall came for the school holidays to the Orchard – which definitely livened things up.”

John Scott marries Susan Rutherford McEwenFigure 8: October 1900, John Scott marries Susan Rutherford McEwen, and right seen just days before his death in 1912.

In May 1910 Robert officially retired from the Preserve-making business and the new Orchard House was complete. It was to be a wonderful family home.

Bob and Margaret had lost their young son Willie to Rheumatic Fever in 1898. Tragically Drumdruils was to deal them another shock in the early summer of 1912, when John Scott, their second son took suddenly ill. He succumbed quickly to a burst gastric ulcer, the same condition that had taunted Bob himself. John was just 34 years and had a young family, his only son Rab (my grandfather) was just 7 years old. This was a dreadfully sad time for the family, and was the first event to lead to the family’s’ eventual departure from fruit growing and preserve making.

“Always at Christmas time there was a real family party with Grandad carving the turkey, and Robbie muttering about getting hungrier and hungrier and that it was horrid being the youngest and served last! Then after the meal we children settled ourselves round the fire in the hall while the oldest – Susie, read us stories from Chatterbox, Little Folks, Chum, and so on. Then tea and some games in the hall – and Christmas was bye for another year.

After one such Christmas. Nancy who was 9 or 10 told me that she thought she must have been a ‘gutsy hound’ at the dinner a day or two before, because she had a very sore tummy. Our doctor was away on holiday, and his locum came to see what was wrong.

Orchard House, Bridge of AllanFigure 9: Orchard House Hall where Susie read Christmas stories

He said it was a case of having overeaten, and perhaps too many sweets and things, but when it became apparent that Nancy was really ill she was hurried into Edinburgh to be operated on by Dr. Caird, – but by that time It was too late as the appendix had perforated and she died a few days later. She was a specially gifted little girl, and somehow it seemed such a dreadful waste; and I really knew what it was like to have my heart broken. One of the last things she said to me was ‘My little body is aweary of this great world.’

Nancy & Peggy Prentice

The Orchard, Bridge of Allan. December 27th

My Dearest Uncle Alec,
Thank you so much for the five shillings it was very good of you to send it to us.

Thank you so much for the lovely big box of chocolates that Aunt Rita and you sent it was very kind of you both. I had to get a prize for my war poem but it has never come so I don’t expect it at all now.

Auntie is coming home today she is to be in Stirling about eight I think she is bringing Bobby and Marshall with her. Betty and Margaret go to Carluke.

How are you keeping?

Give much love to Aunt Rita next time you see her.
Love from your wee
Fat pogling ‘Nancy’

Bob was to watch with horror the unfolding of the Great war. Two of his three surviving sons, Alec and James (‘Jimmy’) were conscripted. With the early loss of two sons, Bob and Margaret deserved no more heartache. Yet they didn’t have to seek their troubles, as their youngest son James was shot at Gallipoli. He received a bullet to the head and was lucky to survive, though by all accounts was never quite the same.

Alec Scott, doctor and barrister retained many of the letters sent by his father during the war and the years of depression thereafter. It presents an emotional account of a man at the helm of his family: and exemplifies the unconditional loving of a dad. Reading the letters I was so moved that I felt transported to Orchard beside old Bob at his writing desk. Yes akin to gentle Bob.

20th May 1915

My Dear Alex,
Man! I wish the war was over and Jimmy was back in the old place again. Isn’t it a most terrible struggle month after month? I rather think compulsion is now in sight. One cannot see 300,000 fresh men otherwise.

I have just had afternoon tea and the sun is breaking out. Re-reading this letter I see I have been a bit dampish. Don’t let me discourage you. Things will mend. We see a Captain Gibson killed in action. From the little notice given this seems to be Jack’s friend of other days. Poor fellow he was a right good sort I understand.
Yours ever Dad

James Scott, FairyknoweFigure 10: Jimmy Scott

30th June 1915

My Dear Alec,
I had your letter today and note how things go. I think you are doing quite right to nibble away at blackcurrants even if dear. The Dutch (Harlayen) currants may come in. I rather think that Carluke folks have bought some at 30/- They may be good or they may be indifferent. It will hardly do to depend too much on English. I fear they are just not there in quantity. If very scarce, I never saw the year when black jam could not be sold. Some folks seem determined to have it no matter what the price is.

You are right to arrange for definite lots per day. Otherwise you would get swamped. Keep in mind that we must have somewhere about 1000 tons of stock this year if we are to have any profit out of the business. It will be a little worrying for you for the next few weeks but just keep plugging away. It is a pity Tanyer Press and the sifter are giving trouble.

I am glad you saw Jimmy, isn’t he a hardy looking young fellow? It is going to be an anxious time if he goes to the front. We could wish to keep our laddie at home if we could. What a slaughter it has been already!

I am glad Bob is still this side.
Yours ever Dad

We saw MacCallum-Scott at Thornhome, we were together there over the weekend.

Now no narrative on the Scott family could pass by without dropping in on MacCallum-Scott. Alexander MacCallum Scott (1874-1928) was Secretary of the League of Liberals against Aggression and Militarism, and Secretary of the New Reform Club before becoming Liberal M.P. for the Bridgeton constituency of Glasgow in 1910. During the First World War MacCallum Scott was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill and remained M.P. for Bridgeton until 1922; two years later he left the Liberals to join the Labour Party.

The MacCallum Scott papers present a fascinating archive of an extraordinary man. The papers are lodged with Glasgow University Special Collections on the top floor of their library and include correspondence with constituents and contemporaries (including materials on the Suffragette movement), drafts of speeches, political diaries and journals of visits abroad (the latter containing his impressions of the Soviet Union and the Baltic States in the 1920s).

Winston Churchill

In 1905, MacCallum-Scott completed the very first biography of his friend Winston Churchill in which he predicted greatness based on his ‘will, courage, originality and magnetis’:

Discerning men, wrote Scott, predicted that “he will make history for the nation. The youth of thirty is confidently spoken of by his admirers as a future Prime Minister … he is of the race of Giants. In the tempestuous gambols and soaring ambitions of his youth, we read the promise of a mighty manhood”
Sometime before 1910, it has been recalled that Bob and his son John were introduced to Winston Churchill by MacCallum-Scott.

In more recent times, Winston Churchill was voted by several million as the Greatest Britain of all time. Yes truly one can state that MacCallum-Scott was ahead of the game!

McCallum-Scott was prolific and wrote a wonderful account of his family ‘A Clydesdale Man’ which he dedicated to his father. It traced the budding enterprise of Gowanglen and its orchard right through to the flourishing years of the Jelly Works.

To complete his manuscript MacCallum-Scott arranged to visit his family widely and record all sorts of anecdotes. He was a frequent and welcome visitor of Bob Scott at Orchard House Bridge of Allan as well as his son John at Drumdruils.

MacCallum-Scott had beautiful handwriting and his collected notes burst forth richly evocative of a Clydesdale that was once the fruit field of the world. With Bob at helm the jams of R. and W. became world famous. There were even Parisian adverts, with one design, made by young Jimmy of the Eifel Tower made out of Scots Jam jars!

On the last Sunday of August 1928 MacCallum-Scott and his wife Jessie were tragically killed in a plane crash over Puget Sound, British Colombia.

MacCallum ScottFigure 11: MacCallum-Scott lost over Puget Sound when his plane crashed in August 1928

It was MacCallum-Scott who collected a lively collection of stories from Carluke which otherwise would be lost to time. When I was helping my Great-Aunt Sally write her memoirs I passed on some of his favourite MacCallum-Scott moments:

6th September 2005
Dear Sally,
Some years back I took a trip to Glasgow to visit the top floor of the University Library. It was here that the MacCallum-Scott papers were lodged. Alec was a prolific man and really very able. A true Victorian benefactor whose writings in a beautiful-hand’ paint the picture of someone special and genteel. Sad then that Alec and his wife were lost suddenly (in their prime) as the result of a tragic plane crash over Canada.

My trip to Glasgow was principally fuelled by my wish to find more about Dr Rankin – Carluke’s celebrated Doctor. You see I have collected stories relating to several 19th century doctors – Dr Rutherfoord of Bridge of Allan, Dr Rankin of Carluke and several from the North East of Scotland and Upper Deeside. It was one of my ideas to pull their stories together in some-sort of historical fabric. Yet another of my projects that never quite got going!

One visit to the collection could do no justice, however I did manage a search of one of MacCallum-Scott’s many boxes of handwritten notes. Between 1908 and 1925 he visited a number of our family, researching for his manuscript, which I know you have read, written in honour of his father “A Clydesdale Man.” It was amongst these notes that I found some wonderful family anecdotes and stories of a few of Carluke’s Worthies!

It has taken me till now to write up Alec MacCallum-Scott’s writings and still, they are but a snapshot! I cherry-picked the stories that appealed to me – mostly the humourous accounts! Lists of dry family names has never appealed – bringing them alive does – and that is why I love your style of writing so much.

More than that – to me the Scott family characteristic embodies two principal traits – an innate kindliness and a spontaneous, genuine humour. My grandfather Rab had these in spades which even years of drinking did not subvert!

During the early yrs of WWII my ‘Grumpa Rab’ had a favourite prank. He would wait until his visitors had enjoyed their dinner, slip out of the house and under early-nightfall wedge sand-bags under his visitors’ automobile. He would then sneak back into the house and bid his guests farewell – only to roar in laughter as they tried hopelessly to drive off!

As a youngster Rab used to visit the Dunblane Grocer and swap the ‘Lucky-dip penny-a-shot prizes’ with little wrapped presents of cow-dung!

Anyway enough of that. I thought you might like the story of Bob o’ Totham and his Latin! Also it looks as if your dad met with Alec MacCallum-Scott at Orchard House at the end of Nov 1913. Could that be right?

I thought you might like to see Punkie Willie! Quite a Carluke character! As a child I remember coming across his photograph in the old Drumdruills side-board – I had no idea it was Punkie – but he did make me wonder so!

Yours Aye,

Punkie Willie, Carluke

Bob’s father, the founder of R. & W. was a robust figure and embodied the sense of humour so keen to the Scotts, though at times, it has been recorded he could ‘nip’ a bit hard with this.

Archie Reid got a little Latin at school. John Scott ‘a Clydesdale Man’ (father of MacCallum-Scott) once offered old Reid a job at Boathouse:

“Whit John Scott” was the indignant reply: “Wud ye ask a Latin Scholar to cairt dung tae Glasgow. Na! Na!”

That same season Archie was employed pulling fruit with Bob Scott o’ Totham & Rob Caldwell:

“What dae ye call this in Latin” asked Bob, pointing to a ladder?

“Ledderibus” said Archie.

“Weel” said Bob, “tak that Ledderibus, an gan’ tak that treeibus an pull the pearibusses!!”

Archie was dumfounded and gasped “when did you learn Latin Bob?”

Robert Scott one of the founders of the firm R. & W. Scott, Preserve Makers, Carluke, had once in his early days to consult Doctor Rankin about some affection of his skin. The Doctor took his hand and examined it carefully while his face assumed a look of anxious solicitude.

‘Man, Robert’, he said slowly, ‘D’ye know if there’s any place round about here where they send lepers?’

‘I got a start’, Robert used to say afterwards, in telling the story. ‘It sent a kind o’ cauld shiver through me. D’ye think its Leprosy, Doctor’, I said.’

‘I don’t like it’, said the Doctor shaking his head, ‘but give me a bit o’ paper and I’ll write ye out a prescription. There, get a pennyworth o’ that and I think it’ll cure ye!”

Dr Rankin was born in Carluke in 1805. He began a career in Law but changed to Medicine and studied at the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. He chose to practice in Carluke despite other opportunities and became a much loved and well respected figure in the town. He never charged the poorer townspeople, who knew he could be relied upon for help and advice no matter what the problem. He was a lovable eccentric who took great pride in his long mane of hair and also boasted that his attire had come into fashion not once, not twice, but three times since he first graduated in sartorial splendour. It was one of Dr Rankin’s boasts that he never was on a train!

Mary Scott (grandmother of Bob Scott) once went to Dr Daniel Rankin of Carluke to get a bad tooth pulled. He climbed up on the back of the chair on which she was sitting and yelled in a fearsome voice “Open your mouth” She got such a fright she jumped up and the doctor fell all his length. As he expected, however, the fright put away the toothache!

Dr Daniel Rankin, Carluke

Dr Rankin did not ride a horse, it was said that ‘on the only two occasions he rode it, it unsaddled him, and it was sent back to the giver Mr Hamilton of Braidwood House.’

My favourite story however recalls one of the Gilchrists of Gillfoot, (the house next to Hill of Orchard and later home of William Scott of R. & W.) who travelled to Canada or Russia from where he sent home a ham of Bear Figure 12: Dr Rankin of Carluke

“You ken a Bear has foot awfu’ like a human being” said Robert Scott of Totham. The foot was “cut aff the ham an flung oot on tae the midden where some aff the folk found it” . . . “it caused an awfu’ commotion in oor church: They thocht it was a human foot an someone had been murdered!!”

That has been a wee diversion into the lives of some of Carluke’s old worthies, but it is time now to return to the letters between Bob Scott and his son Alec. One letter addressed to Alec was not from his father, but from a friend, Ella Crum, it is worth recording as it conveys the tidal emotions of the unfolding war:

Garth, Trentham, 19th December 1915

Dear Alex,
I love my country, simply because it is my country, but the Hun has taught us the ghastliness of the super-nation and the super-man. With this chastened view I can’t even thank God I am Scots! But I shall thank Him if we are given the grace to do well among our brothers.

And don’t feel the times a bit bitter in losing your friends. It’s a good cause, and a life so much better than the old ante-bellum life that they have now.
Ella Crum

Dr Alec ScottFigure 13: Alec Scott the soldier

On his retirement the Carluke Young Men’s Christian Association presented Bob a wonderful commemorative scroll:

“We take this opportunity of addressing you in prospect of your retiral from our Association owing to your removal from Carluke to reside at Bridge of Allan. We regret your departure from amongst us, but at the same time we desire to recall with gratitude the many services which you have rendered to our Association and to say how heartily we wish you God-speed in all your ways….”

Bob Scott invested wisely and owned a number of properties, including the Cornton & Forglen Farm; Orchard House; Kennetpans; 163 Gourlay Street, Glasgow; 26-32 Hotspur Street; 468-478 Dumbarton Road and 6 Trafalgar Street, Dalmuir

After Bob Scott’s retiral, his youngest brother John ran the Preserve Factory at Carluke. The company continued in its prosperity, and John and family moved into the Orchard Mansion House at Crossford. John’s sons opened preserve works further afield, at Hayes Middlesex and in Dublin Ireland.

I do hope that I am not losing the narrative, but I find that I cannot leave out the letters of Bob. He was a man underwritten by strength, a man who put the Jam Works on a worldwide stage, and a man who lived for his family.

10th June 1915
Mother is still in bed but feeling a bit better, although sickish at times. It is just possible she won’t venture down tomorrow, but we shall see. It is quite evident she cannot stand now what she was able to undertake in former years.

Man I am kind of sorry that you had that rumpus with Bob yesterday. It has worried me ever since I heard of it. Of course I know well you are anything but quarrelsome, but these quarrellings of relatives are so disagreeable and leave one so worried that they are best avoided if at all possible.

I hope to see you all tomorrow again. I am not lecturing you Sandy. I know you are a good sort and the last to treat anyone unjustly.

Yours ever

In July of 1928 Bob wrote to his son Alec telling him how his health had failed rapidly: he had no appetite and what he could eat was retched straight back up. Reading the letter below you can understand that Bob must have feared that he had cancer.

29th July 1928
I told you last week that I was going up with Dr Welsh to see Dr McLennan at Doune, well we went up on Tuesday last. Dr McL. examined me very thoroughly. He said he thought there had been an ulcer about the pyloric opening earlier in my life and that in healing up it had resulted in a thickening of the membrane and a consequent constricting of the opening into the bowel, with the further consequence that the contents of the stomach had a difficulty in passing out. Hence the vomiting and the eructations of gas so repeatedly. He said that it might be advisable to have a small operation performed, but first of all he wanted to have the contents of my stomach examined microscopically I suppose, before doing anything. Since a week past on Saturday there has not been any vomiting and no nausea. For the present I am taking my meals with some degree of appetite and relish. My stomach feels still a bit full and I have to take a dose of Rochelle salts every second day. On Tuesday morning – this is Sabbath – Dr Welsh is coming down to empty my stomach with the tube and to submit part of the contents to Dr McLennan. What the result may be I do not know. It was hinted that I might be put under the x-rays. You will understand better than I do. Dr McL. was surprised to learn of my age. He thought I was quite wonderful, but really I am a good bit thinner, the vomiting and loss of appetite two weeks ago pulled me down a bit.

Now, sonny mine, don’t think that I am whimpering as scared, I have had my three score years and ten and more, and that is all we are promised.
With fondest love,
Yours ever,

Although Bob was officially retired, one gets the sense that he never really stopped. In one letter to Alec he remarked “I don’t mean to stick so close here now that Rab has taken over the tenancy of this place. I must have some leisure time in my old age.” Rab, his grandson, was in turn, as you must realize, my own grandfather. That is how I am cast into the world of my grandfather and in turn my grandfather’s grandfather. It was Bob and Rab who made me the ‘Garden Maker.’ That is a tradition of which I am rightfully proud. Yes rightfully proud.

Bob Scott at Kennetpans

Of all the pictures this one (to the right) is a clear favourite of mine. In it Bob is so wonderfully tall and straight backed, standing proudly next to his granddaughter Peggy Prentice who holds up his darling wee great-grandaughter. In the background is Kennetpans. This was a home that Bob gave to the Prentice family. It had its own Orchard and tomato houses and had a glorious outlook over the river Forth towards Airth. The Kennetpans house, after the time of the Scotts, was later destroyed by an accidental fire, but Bob’s Orchard survives to this day.

22nd April 1934
Wire worms were bad in tomato houses at Kennetpans this spring and a lot of plants were spoiled, but we are hoping that the worst is over. We tried Valproate, Arsenals of Lead, Paris Gree & also Nicotine. It is an endless struggle with pests of one kind or another in these days and I don’t quite feel so vigorous to go ahead and get them stamped out as once I was. I am fully 78½ years now. Mother was fully 80 when she, the best wee wifie in the world for me went home to be with her Redeemer. I think of her every day with a great longing in my heart. I shall ever thank God that he gave her to me. She was a grand wee chum to me in my life’s journey. I shall see her by & by when the morning breaks over the Everlasting Hills.

Rab is busy planting straws at Spittalton these days. He put in quite a few acres of rasps during this last winter. He has now some 30 acres rasps and about 12 acres straws – part of the last planted last back-end. He and his wife and wee boy are well.

We expected your brother Jimmy through this weekend, but he did not come. He may have gone elsewhere. Preserve making is a much leaner business these days. There is less demand & yet more competition. The foregoing is about all the news this time.
Yours ever Dad. (Kiss wee John for me.)

The past came kaleidoscoping back to me when I read of Bob’s trip north with Rob Moffat. Indeed, as Bob described, Rob was a ‘thoroughly good fellow.’ Rob Moffat retired from Africa and settled with his wife Margaret in Peebles. As a young child, I was taken to see Rob Moffat. He had an endearingly gentle affect and I felt safe and nurtured in his presence. He was a man of honour, intellect and post-colonial splendour. Looking back, I could just tell that he was blood and kin of the Great Missionary.

27th July 1935
You spoke of Rob Moffat, and of his lending you his car, as yours had petered out owing to some breakage or other. Rob is a thoroughly good fellow. I was awfully glad that a year ago we were able to take him with us for a tour right up through Crieff, Dunkeld and so on to Inverness the first day, and then on the second day, on through Beauly, Dingwall, Invergairn, Tain, Dornoch, Golspie, Helmsdale, Lybster, Wick, John o’Groats.
My wee mother’s prayer, I make my prayer. She prayed “this morning I would throw myself, my dear husband & dear children on the mercy of the one God in Jesus Christ.” I make this my own prayer (as far as I am able) every day.

Warmest love to Ming, wee John and you sonny o mine.
Yours ever,

Time then to take a trip on the Tardis back to the present day. In May 2006 a book arrived in the post from Sally Scott, the daughter of Alec Scott (1885-1960) and Ming. It was entitled The Land of the Lost Content. Here was my response to Sally:

Wednesday 17th May 2006

Dear Sally,
You owe me an apology! I did not get to sleep till 2.15am, as I was of course reading your book. I then dreamt of Africa.

It is a singing, glowing, reaching and vitalizing account of your family – I could almost reach out and touch your Dad – so descriptive was the account skipping off your page. In the north-east, they would say he was a ‘man of many pairts’ and indeed he was. I have a touch of your father’s restlessness – it seems to be innate. I try to sit down and do something and then another idea comes into my head. It can be a very frustrating trait!

I think you were at your best when writing about your mother Ming. In a fair way you described the torrent of mixed-emotions that came with her ‘bolt.’ To me she floated around your book like an unseeing screen-idol.

I have said this before – but I do wish I had your descriptive flair, and ability to pull a situation into delightfully observed detail. I am quite envious! My writings are utterly plain in comparison! I am compiling an account of various family stories ‘This is not Yesterday’ – it is a borrowed phrase from Rachel when she was three. I don’t quite know what she meant but it did fit my purpose delightfully. I have collected Andrew and Rachel’s sayings in a little book: my favourite …. when Andrew offered to ‘buy me money’ after my wallet had been stolen!!

This is Not Yesterday is extraordinary tales of an ordinary family, but into it come Burke and Hare, Rabbie Burns, John Logie-Baird, the Madeleine Smith murder trial, the Lighthouse brothers, Florence Nightingale, Bonnie Prince Charlie and so forth….

As you have seen Bob Scott remained athletic into old age; in his seventies he challenged his grandson Robert to a race up orchard drive, and won!

On the 2nd July 1925, Bob and Margaret celebrated their Golden Wedding celebration. Bob wrote a touching note to his wife, which demonstrates both his true gentleness and also his deep faith:

Margaret Marshall, Bridge of Allan

My Dearest Margaret,
Congratulations to you, and I do congratulate myself. For it is not given to everyone to see the dawn of the ‘Golden Wedding’ year. But in God’s goodness and grace it has been gifted to you and me. Thanks be onto the Great Father of all, who has manifested his love so fully and freely onto us. He has been with us in our joys and sorrows, our cares and troubles; he has indeed been truly our friend. And thank you my sweetheart dear for your companionship through the long years. Your love and sympathy have cheered me and kept me going, when otherwise I might have lost heart.

These last few days I have been looking back to that time fifty years ago, when in your glorious young womanhood you gave me your love and yourself. I have often thought it took a big courage on your part to plight your troth to such a harum scarum, unsettled chap as I then was, but Perhaps, after all the confidence of your warm little heart was justified in some small measure, for have we not been loyal and true to one another through all those past years!

I thank you my dearest wife for all you have been to me, and for all your love and devotion. May God bless you and keep you all the days that may yet be left to us to go hand in hand down life’s journey. I feel it has been good to know and love each other and I often think, if by some strange throw back of the years to the time when you and I were young, as in 1875, we would just as fondly give ourselves again to each other for better and for worse as we did fifty years ago. Don’t you think so wifie dear? Back then I gave you a ring that was to be a pledge of love and union. It was a plain circlet of gold, but to you and me it meant much. I am now commissioning Bob, Chrissie and Jessie to get another ring for you in my name, which may be a further token, after half a century, of the love I bear to you, also as a mark of the deepest appreciation of that loving loyalty you have always given me. May you long be spared to wear the new ring.
Ever loving yours. Bob

Margaret in fact enjoyed seven more years of marriage before dying as the result of a stroke. The year was 1932, and she was in her 81st year. Bob was consoled by his daughter Jessy, who was unmarried and had never really left her father’s side.

Three years later Bob’s heart was broken once more. Poor gentle Bob for he lost his third and youngest son Jimmy, his dearest of boys. Jimmy succumbed to pneumonia which was indeed a nasty visitor upon the Scotts. The vividness of this loss is brought abruptly home to us by a letter sent to Alec from his sister Jessy.

Fairyknowe, Carluke. December 2nd 1935.

My dear old Alec,
I don’t know how to tell you and I wish I could soften the blow in some way. Jamie died on Sunday morning about six o’clock. We are all stunned & heartbroken. Dr McLean was called in on Wednesday after Jamie had had a bad rigor. He sounded him in the evening and found some rough sounds – not bad – but next morning pneumonia had developed definitely. Dr McLean brought down Robert Marshall to see Jamie and Robert phoned to us on Thursday evening. Father and I had just got home from the south the day before. We came through here on Friday morning and found Jamie much worse than we had been led to expect – Robert had tried not to alarm father. Jamie had a bad night on Friday, restless, vomiting frequently, and breathing quickly with difficulty. He couldn’t get rid of the mucus in his throat. About 6 o’clock he seemed rather better & seemed easier till the afternoon, asked to have his face and hands washed & looked at the pictures in the Bulletin. Later he wasn’t so well, and about 2 o’clock there was a decided change for the worse till about 6 o’clock he turned on his side and died. Bob and I were with him. Bob came up on Friday evening. Father went back to his own bed at the Orchard every night.

A specialist from Edinburgh Dr Hewitt saw him twice took a very gloomy view of him the first time but was more hopeful next day. All agree that it was a particularly vicious infection. The poor boy was felled by it. I can’t get his pathetic face out of my mind. He looked so boyish, eager to do anything that would make him better. He began to wander towards the end and about a few minutes before he died he begged me to get his shirt and socks. He was going to Bridge of Allan. I said it was much too early in the morning but he replied ‘no we’ll be there by half-past eight just a nice time and will go to our beds’ Poor boy he was tired to death. Will miss him terribly and it is painful to be in this house that he had made so comfortable and tasteful. He had had a few friends in on Tuesday evening for Bridge and as I write I can see the flowers which were put in for the party.Capt James Scott

Father is terribly cut-up. Nan says she has never seen him so grieved at any time. Though Jamie was so ill Father thought he would pull through and he couldn’t believe his youngest had gone – always a loveable boy. It has meant something to us to find his friends in Carluke have loved him. He was very popular (how horrible to need to use the past tense.) He was tolerant and kind and enthusiastic in his interests, indeed a lovable boy.

And now our wee brother is being buried in the Carluke Churchyard on Wednesday, beside wee Willie & our grandfather. It is fitting that he should lie in Carluke where he belongs. He was just a visitor to Bridge of Allan. How we are going to go on without him I don’t know. He brought so much —- into our lives and we were so proud of him. He was so ornamental

These are dark days and now that death has got him I am sorry I didn’t do more for him. Will you excuse this scrawl, father wanted me to write. He will write himself when he has more heart for it.

Much love Jessy


By this time Bob must have lived for his faith and with this he had a resolute, yet inner strength, as this account has so demonstrated.

In June 1940 the Orchard came to an end. Bob Scott died on the 13th of that month while his daughter Jessy, prostrate with the same the same grim chest infection, slept in the next bedroom. Jessy took a turn for the worse and the decision was made not to tell her of her father’s passing. Sawdust was put down on the wooden floors of Orchard House, so that the hearse would not alert poor Jessy. Just nine days after the death of her father Jessy died. Sadness drifted through Orchard House like never before and Jessy, one can only imagine, must have felt the unrehearsed loss, and simply a broken-hearted spirit, gave up. Bob and daughter were buried together, alongside their family, at Logie cemetery. A plain stone was to mark the quiet resting place of this special family, a family under-pinned by the strength of Bob Scott.

Simplify Me When I’m Dead

Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I’m dead.

As the processes of earth
strip off the colour and the skin
take the brown hair and blue eye

and leave me simpler than at birth,
when hairless I came howling in
as the moon came in the cold sky.

Of my skeleton perhaps
so stripped, a learned man will say
‘He was of such a type and intelligence,’ no more.

Thus when in a year collapse
particular memories, you may
deduce, from the long pain I bore

the opinions I held, who was my foe
and what I left, even my appearance
but incidents will be no guide.

Time’s wrong-way telescope will show
a minute man ten years hence
and by distance simplified.

Through that lens see if I seem
substance or nothing: of the world
deserving mention or charitable oblivion

not by momentary spleen
or love into decision hurled
leisurely arrive at an opinion.

Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I’m dead.

Keith Douglas

R & W Scott, Carluke, tree


Chapter Four: God sent Angels to Guard Him – James Gibson of Drumgley

In chapter two, the story of William Gibson and his Baldardo family was retold in what was surely a terribly sad Lament. The following chapter tells the more uplifting story of James Gibson of Drumgley, the older brother of William.

James Gibson, Drumgley, Glamis
Figure 1: James Gibson of Drumgley

James Gibson sat for two months in his Drumgley Farmhouse to have his portrait completed in oil. Apart from Isabella Musgrove, he was the only one in our family to have been wealthy enough to do so. The painter who did the work ‘lived in the house for 3 months previous just to get the proper angles.’ When James Gibson died in 1873 he was an extremely wealthy man, and certainly, by today’s standards, a millionaire. The origin of his riches has presented something of a mystery! That trail then must start here.

James Gibson was born in the Old Haughs of Cossans Farmhouse which was demolished in 1976 to make way for a new steading. The old Haughs house had some history and very probably was the home of the Lyons of Cossins, the former castle having been destroyed. On the front above the door and the right were stone panels, taken from the Castle of Cossins, bearing coats-of-arms and the initial letters in high relief of the names of Mr Thomas Lyon and Mrs Jean Young, with the date 1627

The following inscription in Latin also appeared:

“Commit to the protection of God
thy safety, thy substance, thy family, and thy house;
and neither violence, nor mischief shall come near thy dwelling,
for God sets angels to guard it.”

Only a few records of James Gibson exist, giving no more than a glimpse of his character. The family Bible outlines the families of James, his parents, and grandparents. We can therefore be certain that the Gibson connection with Glamis stems back well into the 17th century. There is also the Will and Testament of James, a 30 page colossus, in which the division of his capital wealth is described.

Drumgley was the Gibson seat of that there can be no doubt, with the earliest surviving artefact going back to 27th March 1641 and pertaining to the defunct James Gibsone. I have found this Testament Dative, but sadly it is bad condition, in Latin, and virtually impossible to read. It does however hang the Gibson family on the coat-tail of the Lyons of Cossins.  Furthermore, deposited with the National Archive, is the Receipt book for “victual and money rent paid by John Gibson, elder and younger in Drumglay, and William Gibson there” 1727-1773

James Gibsone, Glamis, 1641Figure 2: James Gibsone’s Testament Dative of 1641

James Gibson had three sibs, who like him, were all born in ‘the Haughs’. One of them, Helen, presumably died young, as no later references to her are made to her. His eldest sib, Isabell, had a long life (1797 – 1883), remained a spinster, and died in the house of her birth.

As described in chapter two, William, younger brother to James, was later to farm Baldardo at Rescobie, a farm which he appears to have inherited from his grandmother Helen Williamson. William Gibson and his wife Elizabeth Fairweather then built the ‘present’ house of Baldardo and raised their family of eight there.

It is very evident that James and his brother William were most able farmers. There clearly was a strong bond between them and it appears that they supported each other in difficult times. Initially I wondered if it was this partnership that accounted for their prosperity. I subsequently found that not to be the case. This brotherly-bond was broken by the early and sudden death of William at Baldardo in 1855.

Original Haughs of Cossins, GlamisFigure 3: The original Haughs of Cossins

It is clear that the Gibson brothers had a reputation in the district, and perhaps surprisingly, given their relative prosperity, not one in which they would be rightfully proud. Looking at the portrait of James he appears respectable & upright depicting serious gentrification. However, skip back some decades and open the Kirk Sessions and one discovers a rather different picture!

On the last Sunday of June 1830, James Gibson was called to appear before the Kirk Session, and ‘having confessed was found guilty of the sin of fornication with Elspet MacKay, and having professed his sorrow for it, he was rebuked and being seriously exhorted was absolved from church scandal.’ This liaison was to bring forth, what turned out to be, James only acknowledged child. It was recorded in a family letter that the son born was delivered safely at Mains of Glamis. Thereafter, mother and baby apparently disappear from Glamis to Alvie parish in Invernesshire. At some point David, the illegitimate boy, and only son of James Gibson is returned to Glamis for schooling and the safe custody of his father.

In 1832, two years on from the first scandal, James was at it again. This time he was summoned to the session for being ‘guilty of fornication’ with Margaret Robertson. She insisted that James Gibson was father of her child. He refused to accept this and on two separate occasions refused to appear before the Kirk Session, who resolved that if he did not appear on the third time of asking he should be declared ‘contumacious.’ This warning worked, James appeared at the next Kirk Session and acknowledged his guilt with the woman, and this ‘being a relapse in fornication, he was warned of her danger.’ I cannot help feeling that warning should have been reversed.

If James had suffered ill repute, it was to be nothing to that of his younger brother William. Here the date moves on five years to the date of 1837 the year that William Gibson married Elizabeth Fairweather. It is likely that the marriage, on the last Friday of April was spoiled by an emerging and woeful scandal. Reading between the lines, a young lass called Grace Tosh was still in love with William, and may well have been trying to block his marriage to Elizabeth Fairweather. Grace was to appear before the Glamis Kirk Session and declare that she was guilty of fornication with William Gibson seven years ‘back,’ and interestingly at exactly the same time that his brother James was caught rolling in the hay. Further Grace Tosh gave explicit detail ‘it happened the night before Martinmas and two weeks later in father’s byre.’  Two weeks after William married Elizabeth Fairweather, Grace appeared again before the Kirk Session. Although summoned, William refused to do likewise. Two further summons and William was finally declared contumacious. Grace would not let go, this forced the hand, and William, utterly shamed ‘paid Tosh her living in expenses and first quarter’s aliment.’ On Christmas Eve 1837, after two further summons to which he refused to attend, William finally appeared and ‘expressed sorrow for his sins.’ He was exhorted at last. What a terrible start to his marriage, and a sad postscript to the Baldardo story. You will recall from chapter two, that it was not as if that family deserved any more misery.

This burst of fornication may explain much in the life pathways of the Gibson boys. Firstly it may well have been why William Gibson was forced to leave Glamis, for as described, he took his bride to his grandmother’s farm of Baldardo – well outwith Glamis. Was he trying to run from shame – it does appear so? As for James, well he stayed in Glamis but did not marry until late in life. Scandal is after all, so slowly forgotten.

David Gibson, the only acknowledged child of James, does name does not appear on any of the Glamis census returns until 1861. It seems likely, though not proved, that he was raised by his mother in Alvie parish, Invernesshire, for on later census returns, David gave Alvie as parish of birth and not Glamis. Later David must have been returned to Glamis for family tradition recalls that David was sent away to Boarding School in Dundee, where he apparently was Dux of Harris Academy.

James Gibson was virtually in his sixtieth year when he married. His bride was Helen Rose Hendry, a widower and former Inn-keeper in Glamis. The venue was the Registers Office, Princes Street Edinburgh and the year 1859. Helen Rose Hendry was nearly twenty years junior to James, and together they were never to have a child. Helen Rose Hendry had already witnessed much tragedy. Her first husband Robert Adamson Ross, died aged 26 and by the time of his death two of their four boys were also gone. The two surviving boys, William and David, were to be regarded by James Gibson as his own, and ultimately they inherited a large portion of James estate (a ‘third’ plus the lease of Nether Drumglay).

James Gibson and H R hendryFigure 4: 1871 Portraits of James Gibson and H. R. Hendry

James was to live just long enough to see his ‘natural’ son David marry. Infact David married his cousin sanguine, Elizabeth Farquhar Gibson on the 6th April 1871 at Baldardo, Rescobie. The reader will realise that Elizabeth’s father was William Gibson.

James Gibson was obviously pleased with this union, despite the consanguinity, for he proudly arranged for a Portrait photographer to take pictures of both the married couple and the older generations. In the wedding photograph, David towers over his bride Elizabeth; he is a handsome and tall man but has an unsettling stare and slightly woe-begone attire.

At the time of his marriage David was 41 years old and Elizabeth a youthful eighteen.

Two years after the marriage of his son David, James drew his last breath. He died at Nether Drumgley Farmhouse aged 71 years. His cause of death, liver disease, may possibly indicate that he was fond of liquor; certainly this had been a predilection of his brother William

James was prepared for death and with a Writer from Forfar he completed a Last Will & Testament with an Inventory running to thirty pages. His estate was valued therein at a staggering £10,140 9s 10d. Ultimately there was a relatively even division of his estate between Helen Rose (his wife), Isabell (his sister), David (his ‘natural son’) and the Ross boys (William & David, his step-sons).

David Gibson and Elizabeth F GibsonFigure 5: David Gibson & Elizabeth F. Gibson

For years I have puzzled over the origins of James’ wealth. Certainly the farmland at Haughs & Drumgley was fertile, but it would be hard to imagine a tenant farmer managing to raise such a fortune from such an undertaking. James was buried along-side his brother William at Forfar cemetery. Two fine graves stand shoulder to shoulder where the brothers rest.

David Gibson (1830 – 1900) having inherited much of his father’s great wealth, was later to lose it all.

Together David and Elizabeth had eleven children; they named some of their children after the aristocratic Bowes-Lyons of Glamis Castle. Around 1876, three years after his father’s death, David and his family moved into a New House they had built on the Haughs of Cossans Farm. Less than 5 years later they were forced to move out due to rent-arrears on the farm. This seems a quite remarkable turn of events considering the rich legacy left to him by his father in 1873! His daughter Maud later explained:

“After he married mother and the family came along he decided to farm again on the farm called ‘The Haughs’ which father had built. However after a few years he gave it up as he had had bad luck for 3 years running with fearful thunderstorms simply flattening all the grain to the ground and so lost the expense of a years work.”

 “Our father was more of a student than a farmer so gave up farming altogether and then took ‘Woodbank’ where Nellie and also myself were born. At Woodbank we had a Shetland pony, and one day Nellie (not quite 5 years old) went into the stable and managed to get on its back and out of the door, she went hanging on the pony’s mane and down the road and met the older ones coming from school and cried when she was taken off. Our father then worked as a Commission Agent. He used to buy all kinds of seeds, implements etc and sold to farmers.”

I have been given by my mother, the tie-pin worn by David Gibson when he went out riding. It is, I assure you, a treasured possession. Sadly 1890 marked the end of the Gibsons’ long association with the Glamis estate. David and his family then moved to Broughty Ferry, where they lived up until the time of his death in 1900. It must have been much easier to conduct his business as a seed commission agent within Broughty. Aunt Maud expresses some of these sentiments:

“Afterwards we moved to West Ferry and lived in a house on the Dundee Rd, called ‘View Villa’. It had a lovely view of the Tay. When we went to Broughty Ferry it was a lovely quaint little town, but when I saw it last it was not like the old fashioned Broughty I knew 70 yrs ago. The terrace we lived in was Castle Terrace right on the prom. It had gardens in front for the ten children to play in and the sands were lovely as there were not the crowds then.”

Aged 70 years on the middle Saturday of December 1900 David died at Tay Terrace, Broughty Ferry. At the time of his death he was still working, though the cause of his death – mixed heart disease- suggests he had been unwell and likely breathlessly uncomfortable, for some time. A hundred years on I was to discover that David Gibson lies at rest in an unmarked grave at Barnhill Cemetery, Broughty Ferry. Naught but a faded blue hydrangea marks his resting place.

David Gibson, Broughty Ferry (no tombstone)

Figure 6: David & the Blue Hydrangea

I have still yet to reveal the origins of the Gibson fortune. Let us then return to our protagonist David Gibson, who God sent an Angel to Guard. The mystery was solved through the shadow cast by a rather large and arguably unbefitting obelisk.

David Lindsay, Kinnettles

Well it was a paternal Aunt that eventually brought a bountiful legacy to James. His father Alexander had a sister Elizabeth ‘Aunt Betty’ who married James Lindsay of Ingliston in 1785. It seems their son David Lindsay did rather well for himself. The principal Executor for David Lindsay’s estate and massive personal fortune was none other than James Gibson of Drumgley. As a condition of the legacy a large obelisk was to be placed central to Kinnettles Churchyard.

Yes fortune stood tall.

James Gibson, family tree



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.

Ten Summers fade, Keir, Lecropt, Stirling
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.”

Millrow, DunblaneFigure 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.

Mossgrove mantlepieceFigure 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.

Rutherford sampler

Below you have Keirfield as it was in 1830, dominated by the central Bleach Works of which David Rutherfoord was the Manager and Overseer.

Keirfield, Bridge of AllanFigure 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.

The Rutherfoord House, Bridge of AllanFigure 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.

Surgeons Square, Edinburgh

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.’

William Burke and William Hare

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.

The Execution of William Burke

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:


“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.

John Black and the Earl of GlencairnFigure 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!

Dean Castle, Kilmarnock. Seat of the Earl of GlencairnFigure 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
Established 1836.

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.

A transposition of the old Post Office onto the modern sceneFigure 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.”

A packed court roomFigure 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!

A letter to Susan RutherffordFigure 12: A letter to Susan

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.

The Stirlings of Keir (135)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.

Ten Summers fade, Rutherfords, Bridge of Allan, tree


Chapter Six: The Lighthouse Georgeson brothers

In the summer of 2005 little Andrew read a story – that story was The Lighthouse Boy by Craig Mair. A wonderful and evocative book about a boy who helped build the Bell Rock Lighthouse and his friendship under the tutelage of Robert Stevenson.

Andrew has a bond to the Stevensons. His Great Granny ‘G.G’ was a Stevenson daughter (on her mother’s side), though probably not of the same great family. Furthermore Andrew played in the very cave where Robert Louis Stevenson once hid, the one on the banks of the Allan water below Drumdruills. It is probable that the young Robert Louis Stevenson first visited the cave in 1859 when he was nine years old – the age Andrew is now. The cave was an old adit or horizontal tunnel for the copper mine. Stevenson was to write “I went for my favourite walk by the riverside among the pines and ash trees. There is a little cavern here, which has been a part of me anytime these last 12 years or more.”  It was almost certainly this cave that Stevenson transformed in Treasure Island to become Ben Gunn’s cave. That was another book Andrew and his whole family enjoyed. Yes a really great book.

Wally Mint was a visitor to Stevenson’s cave. If you have not read Wally Mint and the Wobblisks go out and grab a copy. It is a family tale of family appeal. It was written by Andrew and Rachel.

Robert Louis Stevenson was also a frequent visitor to Gilbert Farie’s the Chemist, still in business today as ‘Strathallan Pharmacy’. A visit to the chemist proved to be a traumatic experience for young Robert Louis, writing in 1880 that he was “a terror to me by day and haunted my dreams by night….” It is probable that Edward Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde was based on Farie.

When connections abound they overflow. Gilbert Farie that feared man was trained as an apothecary by none other than Charles Neil of the Rutherfoord family. Yes how one village – Bridge of Allan – can truly span the generations!

I have strayed – this chapter is not about Bridge of Allan – far from it. This is the story of two brothers who became Lighthouse Keepers. Andrew & Rachel’s Grandma, Eileen Georgeson recalls her own grandfather talking of the Lighthouse Keepers, and although much of the story is lost to the flimsy fabric of time, the bones survive to tell a tale.

The Georgeson family comes from Watten in Caithness. It is a land where Viking blood pervades with a hardy stock characterised by deep dark luxuriant hair that never seems to grey with time. That is the Georgeson hallmark. Eileen Georgeson, Andrew & Rachel’s ‘Grandma,’ has just turned seventy and her hair is still dark.

The two lighthouse brothers, Alexander and Donald, were the eldest and youngest sons respectively. Their father Alexander Georgeson was a son of a farm with a long tradition of Georgesons. That farm was Knapperfield lying in the open surrounds of Watten parish. It was the Georgeson equivalent to ‘The Camlet.’

It is interesting to note that two Georgesons from Watten, William and Donald Georgeson, served in the Napoleonic Campaign for the Black Watch. No doubt these were uncles of the Lighthouse brothers. The Black Watch Museum ended up in Perth, and how appropriate it was that Andrew’s Grandma took him there!

Knapperfield, WattenFigure 1: Knapperfield in Watten

Alexander Georgeson the older ‘Lighthouse brother’ was born in Wick in 1831, and aged 27 years married Elizabeth Murray in this his home town. It is recorded on his marriage certificate that by that tender age he was already a Lighthouse keeper based at Southend, Argyllshire.

Sanda Lighthouse on Southend was designed by Alan Stevenson and was completed in 1850. It was thus just eight years new when Alexander Georgeson became its Keeper and custodian.

Alexander’s first Light- Sanda, Southend of ArgyllshireFigure 2: Alexander’s first Light: Sanda, Southend of Argyllshire

The Sanda Lighthouse (also known as ‘The Ship Rock’) was situated off the south end of Kintyre. It was commissioned after the vessel Christina, sailing from Glasgow in 1825, was lost with all hands, after grounding on the nearby Pattersons Rocks. Indeed there had long been a demand for a light on this island which formed the turning into the Clyde after passing through the north Channel between Scotland and Ireland.

Sanda lighthouse was to be given a unique design by engineer Alan Stevenson with three sandstone towers climbing against the shoreside face of Ship Rock. Alexander Georgeson, newly married, must have been kept aerobically fit as the ascent up the three towers involved 210 steps up to the paraffin light! The keepers’ quarters were sited on the island at the foot of the towers nestling in a grassy hollow, but open nevertheless to the sea. So it was that the keepers could take their family with them to Sanda, and it was here that Alexander Georgeson took his new bride Elizabeth. They stayed on Sanda, with over 100 others most of whom survived simply on subsistence farming and fishing. The Northern Lighthouse Board later recorded that despite the building of the ‘Ship Rock’ Lighthouse in 1850 that wrecks still occurred even with the best efforts of the keepers. It was surely then a difficult and important job for Alexander to start out upon.

‘The Ship Rock’ Lighthouse on Sanda islandFigure 3: ‘The Ship Rock’ Lighthouse on Sanda island

It is quite exciting to follow Alexander’s route around the country, and a fantastic record that he managed to have six children, each born on a different island of Scotland! That is surely a matter of record that has never and will never, be repeated. From the birth of his children we get to the following Lights:

Alexander Georgeson (1831-1908) was Lighthouse keeper at:

  1. Southend, Sanda Island, Argyllshire, the ‘Ship Rock’ Lighthouse (1858)
  2. Davaar Lighthouse, Campbeltown (1865)
  3. Kilmory, Bute (1867)
  4. Jura (1869)
  5. Point of Ayre Lighthouse, Kirkbride, Isle of Man (1871)
  6. Whalsay, Shetland (1874)
  7. Start Point, Sanday, Orkney (1881)

Following more than five years at the ‘Ship Rock’ Lighthouse, Alexander and wife Elizabeth relocated around the coast, not ten miles away to Campbeltown. Conditions were arguably better than on Sanda and amenities withoutdoubt less basic. In 1865 their first child was born at Campbeltown light, a daughter who they named Ann Sutherland Georgeson in honour of Alexander’s mother who lived on in Wick. The picture below demonstrates the neat conical whitewashed tower of Campbeltown and the Keepers cottage behind. Through one of those windows little Ann was delivered into this world.

Campbeltown Light – a Victorian print by Firth.

Figure 4: Campbeltown Light – a Victorian print by Firth.

Davaar Lighthouse, near CampbeltownFigure 5: Another view of Davaar Lighthouse, near Campbeltown

David Georgeson was the next child to be born, this time at Kilmory in Bute. The year was 1867 and David was to flit with his family several times more in his scholastic years.

Elizabeth Georgeson was spaced an even two years on from David, but she was not born in Bute, rather on the island of Jura. It seems likely that her father Alexander was already on to his fourth light. There was much more movement of Keepers than one might ever have imagined. Principal Lightkeepers were not a commodity but had invaluable experience, particularly in the training of their Assistants. Disciplinary procedures also accounted for moves, but it does not appear that this was the case for Alexander: there is so much that is indicative that he was very much an upwardly mobile Keeper.

So it was that Alexander Georgeson was promoted and sometime circa 1870 took up post as Principal Keeper at Point of Ayre Lighthouse on the northern tip of the Isle of Man.  Alexander was now part of a Crown dependency which had its very own parliament (called Tynwald), laws, traditions and culture.

It was on the Isle of Man in 1871 that Alexander’s fourth child was born, a daughter, named Margaret Georgeson

Point of Ayre Lighthouse, Kirkbride, was established in 1818 by Engineer Robert Stevenson and formed a 90 foot circular white tower wrapped in two red bands. The light revolved on roller bearings driven by a clock-work mechanism operated by a weight lowered to the base of the tower. This has to be rewound manually, the diuturnity governed by the revolution of the optic and the height of the tower. This was 90 minutes at the Point of Ayre which had an eight minute revolution, alternately flashing a white then a red light. It was a revolving catoptric light, consisting of fourteen (2 ft. diameter) parabolic reflectors with Argand lamps.

Point of Ayre Lighthouse, Kirkbride parish, Isle of ManFigure 8: Point of Ayre Lighthouse, Kirkbride parish, Isle of Man

To the top of the light there were 124 steps and the uncompromising routine must have truly tested the alertness and professionalism of Alexander. He was after all protecting the west Coast Channel, vital in the prosperity of many a trading body. In one of the tied Keepers cottages pictured above, little Margaret was born: another Island for another child. One wonders if Margaret carried forward the self governing authority of the island of her birth – it was after all far removed from Caithness the home of her mother & father!

The fifth child of Alexander Georgeson was born on Whalsay island, Shetland in 1874: and so quite remarkably another child on another island! As yet it has been difficult to establish which of the Shetland Lights, Alexander kept, for the Whalsay Lighthouse was not apparently established until 1904.

By the time of the 1881 census, Alexander and family had moved yet again, this time southwards from the Shetland to the Orkney Isles. Alexander was appointed as Principal Lightkeeper for the newly built ‘Start Point Lighthouse’ which was designed by Robert Stevenson and Thomas Smith and erected in 1870. It consisted of a 75 foot tower and was decorated with unusual vertical black and white stripes.

To what a colourful array of Lights that Alexander had served, and in each, the light of a new birth, shone bright. Sanday in the Orkneys was no different, for it was here that Alexander’s last child was born – Alexander junior.

Start Point, Sanday, Orkney

Figure 9: Start Point, Sanday, Orkney

1881 census – Start Point, Lady, Orkney
Alexander GEORGESON, Head, married, age 49yrs, Principal Light Keeper, 20 Acres (8 Arable), born Wick
Elizabeth GEORGESON, wife, age 47yrs, born Wick
Ann S. GEORGESON, Lightkeepers Daughter, age 16yrs, born Campbeltown, Argyll
David GEORGESON, son, scholar, age 14yrs, born Kilmory, Bute
Elizabeth H. GEORGESON, daughter, scholar, age 12yrs, born Jura, Argyll
Margaret GEORGESON, daughter, scholar, age 10yrs, born Kirkbride, Isle of Man, England
Matthew H. GEORGESON, son, scholar, age 7yrs, born Whalsay, Shetland

Below is a simplified map identifying the Lights that Alexander served as Keeper. How many stories he must have had to tell – what a crying shame they are lost.

Alexander Georgeson, Principal Lighthouse Keeper and first of the ‘Lighthouse Brothers.’Figure 10: Alexander Georgeson, Principal Lighthouse Keeper and first of the ‘Lighthouse Brothers.’

Eileen Georgeson descends from Donald Georgeson, Alexander’s little brother.  Her grandfather William Watt Georgeson was born on North Rhonaldsay Lighthouse in October 1867. He was to be the first of Donald’s bairns.

William Watt Georgeson

Donald Georgeson had a voyage akin to his brother – and here was a man who also knew the seas. He was born in Wick in 1842. In 1867 Donald married Isabella Watt the daughter of a Sea Captain. Her father was Chief Officer of the ‘Pharos’ and was the Master Mariner who served the Scottish Lights. William Watt’s story has been lost to the family and that is a shame – for in captaining the Pharos he must have had many adventures.

Isabella Watt, Donald’s new wife was born on Tiree, like her father her story has been lost, though we know her father, the Captain, had for some years a base in Leith, Edinburgh. That makes perfect sense as he must have had to return to the port repeatedly to replenish his cargo & seek provisions for the Lights.

Donald Georgeson (1842-1908) was Lighthouse keeper at:

  1. North Ronaldsay – Assistant Light Keeper (1866–1870)
  2. Chanonry Lighthouse, Black Isle (1870–1880)
  3. North Unst Lighthouse ‘Muckle Flugga’ (1880–1884)
  4. Monach Lighthouse – Principal Keeper (1884–1886)
  5. Tobermory Lighthouse, Island of Mull (1886–1895)
  6. Rona Light (July 1895 – December 1895)
  7. Little Ross Light (December 1895 – June 1900)

I cannot help my fascination with the parallel careers of brothers Alexander and Donald. They both served on seven different Lights and they both raised their large families on bedrocks of remoteness. In fear of no understatement that could not have been easy.

North Ronaldsay Old and ‘New’ LighthousesFigure 11: North Ronaldsay: Old and ‘New’ Lighthouses

Donald Georgeson received his first Assistant Keeper’s commission due to a misdemeanour of the then Assistant to North Ronaldsay, James Hawthorn. James Hawthorn was moved to another station following ‘displays of ungoverned temper’ towards the Principal Keeper and had previously been moved for assaulting his wife and threatening other NorthernLighthouse Board staff. It could be that Alexander Georgeson aware of this unexpected vacancy in the Rhonaldsay Light, put forward his youngest brother Donald for the position. That is purely speculation but makes intuitive sense.

North Ronaldsay lighthouse, at Kirk Taing on Dennis Head, was the first in Orkney, and it was established in 1789. North Ronaldsay was the third lighthouse the Commissioners built, being preceded by Kinnaird Head and Mull of Kintyre. Thomas Smith, an Edinburgh lampmaker was the engineer with Ezekiel Walker, an English lighthouse designer, to advise in the initial stages. Smith was assisted by his step-son Robert Stevenson, founder of a famous family of lighthouse engineers, and grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Smith chose to build the first North Ronaldsay tower at Kirk Jaing, the most easterly point of Dennis Head. The transport of workmen and materials from Leith slowed down the work, but by the autumn of 1789 the masons, John White and James Sinclair, had constructed 70 ft tower of local undressed stone, along with the lightkeeper’s dwellings. The bill of the mason’s work came to £199-12-6d. This ‘old’ lighthouse had a short working life, though as a ruin it was to stand steadfast as a great unlit beacon – its sturdy walls a tribute to good masonwork.

As the years passed, it became obvious that this island, with its dangerous shoals, still required its own lighthouse. By this time, the sea around North Ronaldsay had been carefully surveyed, and the site for the new tower at Dennis Head chosen to give maximum warning of the Reef Duke and Seal Skerry.

“The necessity for giving an extensive range to the light at North Ronaldsay, which is to warn the mariner of his approach to the North Foreland of Orkney, combines with the lower level of land, to render a high tower unavoidable”.

On Alan Stevenson’s recommendation, the Commissioners accepted the lowest offer of £6,181-8s-7d for a brick tower from William Kinghorn, a “respectable builder” of Leith.

The ‘New’ lighthouse was first lit in 1853, and it was the last one in Orkney to be made automatic in 1999. Soaring to a height of 139ft, the gleaming red brick tower must have been a source of wonder to the inhabitants of the island. It dominated the low lying crofts, its revolving beam sweeping over the lighting up and the land as well as the sea, to the benefit of night visitors and decorated with two characteristic white bands. It was decorated externally with two characteristic white bands and internally to the top of the tower there were 176 steps.

This was an impressive Light on which Donald to embark on a lifetime’s career. North Ronaldsay was one of the tallest Lighthouses in Britain and it was just a decade old when he became its assistant chatelaine.

The Chanonry on Black IsleFigure 12: The Chanonry on Black Isle

Chanonry Lighthouse, originally a ‘one-man station’, was situated on the Black Isle, south of Rosemarkie, as the Moray Firth narrows between Chanonry Point and Fort George. The light was first exhibited on the night of the 15th May 1846. The lightkeeper, in addition to his normal lightkeeping duties, was the “observer” of Munlochy Shoal, Middle Bank East, Craigmee, Riff Bank East and Navitty Bank Lighted buoys.

Donald Georgeson was Assistant Keeper on the Chanonry Lighthouse for a full decade between 1870 and 1880 and it was here that four of his seven children were born. Recently I was with my family at Fort George from which a good view of the Black Isle and the Chanonry could be had. The day of the visit was sunny yet the wind penetrated cold to the bone. What conditions to raise a family: Donald, Isabella and bairns must then have been truly hardy.

The Chanonry LighthouseFigure 13: The Chanonry Lighthouse

Within the whitewashed walls, sealed top and bottom in red (Figure 13), four of Donald’s children were born:

  • Annie Sutherland Georgeson born the Chanonry 1869
  • Hugh Fitzimons Georgeson born the Chanonry 1871
  • Elizabeth Watt Georgeson born the Chanonry 1876
  • Isabella Watt Georgeson born the Chanonry 1880

From 1880 over a four year period, Donald was stationed at Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, North Unst, Shetland before being promoted to a Principal Lighthouse Keeper on the Monach. The rather quaint ‘Muckle Flugga’ is a rather recent folk introduction, in Donald’s day the Lighthouse was known rather plainly as ‘North Unst.’

The establishment of a lighthouse at Muckle Flugga, which is the most northerly rock in the British Isles, Latitude 60° 51.3’N Longitude 00° 53.0’W was considered by the Commissioners as far back as 1851, but due to difficulties in determining the exact site for the Lighthouse, no work had been undertaken by 1854. During the Crimean War the Commissioners were urged by the Government to erect a light at Muckle Flugga with a view to the protection of Her Majesty’s ships.

1881 census – North Unst Lighthouse, Shetland
Donald GEORGESON, married, head, age 39yrs Principal, Lightkeeper, born Wick, Caithness
James BROWN, married, boarder, age 29, Assistant Lightkeeper, born Inchkeith Lighthouse, Fife
Hugh BROWN, married, boarder, age 29, Assistant Lightkeeper, born Leith, Edinburgh.

Lighthouse Station, Shetland
Isabella GEORGESON, head, married, age 32yrs, Light Keepers Wife, born Tyree, Argyll
William W. GEORGESON, son, age 12yrs, born North Ronaldshay, Orkney
Annie S. GEORGESON, daughter, age 10yrs, born Chanonry, Ross and Cromarty
Hugh F. GEORGESON, son, age 7yrs, born Chanonry, Ross and Cromarty
Elisabeth W. GEORGESON, daughter, age 5yrs, born Chanonry, Ross and Cromarty
Isabella W. GEORGESON, daughter, age 1yr, born Chanonry, Ross and Cromarty

The light was sited on a jagged outcrop of Skerries a mile north of Unst and right in the path of the Atlantic storms. A 64 foot high brick tower was built, with foundations sunk ten feet into the rock, and a permanent light appeared at last on the 1st January 1858.

The Commissioners declined to reduce the thickness of the tower walls below 3½ft, or risk weakening the foundations by using local stone for rubble or reducing the depth of the foundations; but they agreed to have an iron pedestal in place of stone, and to reduce the size of the cornice. In spite of all possible economies, Muckle Flugga cost £32,000. That they built well, was proved over the succeeding years, when the seas broke over the rocks for 21 hours continuously, sweeping away one gate pillar and dislodging another, & blocks of stone 2ft square were rushed over the court as if they had been wood.

North Unst Lighthouse ‘Muckle Flugga’Figure 14: North Unst Lighthouse ‘Muckle Flugga’

There were three Lightkeepers on the rock at any one time; each of the six Lightkeepers manning the station spending one month on and one month ashore. Fresh water and any heavy stores were landed by the Attendant Boat.

It may be interesting to note that Robert Louis Stevenson, who was born in 1850, visited Muckle Flugga on 18 June 1869 with his father, Thomas Stevenson, Engineer to the Board and there is a school of thought that the Island of Unst influenced him in his writing of “Treasure Island”.

Muckle Flugga as it is todayFigure 15: Muckle Flugga as it is today

After reaching out to the most northern extremity of Scotland, Donald next cast his hand to span out west, this time taking the post of Principal Keeper of the Monach on the remote island of Shillay, west of the Outer Hebrides. This was the only ever Lighthouse on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides. Its role was vital and Donald its pivot for the two short years between 1884 and 1886.

The Monach light was first exhibited from 133ft high tower on the 1st of February 1864. The Lighthouse was built, at a cost of £14,673, by Messrs David and Thomas Stevenson.

Half a century on from Donald, a terrible tragedy occurred at the Monach. On the 15th November 1936 two lightkeepers were drowned. They had taken a rowing boat across the half mile stretch of water, as usual, to collect the mail from the post box, a journey which involved a walk of approximately two and three quarter miles and the crossing of two fords.

Monach door

Figure 16: Monach door

The weather deteriorated badly – sleet and gale force winds blew up – by the time they came to make the return journey and their rowing boat was driven off course. They disappeared from view and it was not until 7th and 8th December that their bodies were washed on Heisker Isle across the Sound.

The light, the only one on the west coast of the Hebrides, was closed down in 1942 during the war. At the end of hostilities in 1945 the light was not relit and in 1948, after extensive enquiries had been made from shipping, it was found that the light had ceased to be a value of general navigation. On the 22nd November 1948 the Monach Light was therefore discontinued permanently. Donald would surely have thought that a sad day indeed.

It should be noted before leaving the Monach, that Donald Georgeson’s last child was born there in 1886. He was given the name Alexander, surely in honour of Donald’s older brother Alexander. The fraternal Lighthouse loop was thus complete.

Monach Lighthouse on the Outer HebridesFigure 17: Monach Lighthouse on the Outer Hebrides

Between 1886 to 1895 Donald and his growing family were stationed on Mull; thus the bedrocks (literally) to Donald’s young family were to be the Black Isle (Chanonry Light) and Mull (Tobermory Light), with a decade spent on both respectively.

In the early autumn of 1891 Donald Georgeson was issued with a General Order by the Northern Lighthouse Board. General Orders were issued by the Secretary of the Northern Lighthouse Board on behalf of the Commissioners and were sent to each of the lighthouse stations in the Northern Lighthouse Service. They covered administrative matters general to the whole service such as changes in senior personnel, changes to operational routines, salary increases etc. General Orders were also used to commend

keepers for gallantry (for example in the event of shipwrecks), and to reprimand them for breaches of discipline or of the Lightkeepers Instructions (i.e. operational rules and regulations).

Northern Lighthouse BoardFigure 18: Northern Lighthouse Board


The Superintendent having reported that, when on a visit to the Sound of Mull Lighthouse on 12th September last, while the Station was under the charge of Mr Donald Georgeson, Principal Keeper, and the Occasional (the assistant being absent on leave), he found the Tower door open at 7 o’clock

in the morning, but no one in the Lightroom, when, in terms of Light-keepers Instructions, Chapter 3, Section 19,- both Lightkeepers ought to have been there cleaning the Lightroom and apparatus. 

After waiting 25 minutes, the Superintendent blew the’ whistles’ when the Principal and Occasional both appeared as if just out of their beds, and could give no satisfactory explanation of their absence.

For this neglect of duty, the Commissioners have directed that Mr.Georgeson, the Principal Keeper, be fined £2.

The Sound of Mull Light

Figure 19: The Sound of Mull Light

In intimating this to the Lightkeepers, the Commissioners have to impress upon all of the importance of Strict attention to, and regularity in, the discharge of their various duties, and that these be performed in all respects in terms of their instructions.    

By Order of the BOARD.


On the 12th September, at the Sound of Mull, the light would have been extinguished at 5.55am. Whichever keeper was on duty would have gone to bed not knowing that the Superintendent was on his way to the station. Poor Donald for he was simply unfortunate to be caught out on this occasion. Being caught still in bed at 7am was not a major offence although it contravened the directions given in an earlier General Order of 1853. However, if there had been a repeated offence or any other ‘neglect of duty’ it is likely that Donald Georgeson would have been demoted or even dismissed.

The General Orders, once received at the station, would be read out by the Principal Keeper to the Assistants and then filed into the General Order Book kept on each station. In this way keepers who were dismissed from the service or who were fined and/or demoted for other offences were made an example of.

It is ironic that Donald Georgeson should be disciplined for this particular offence as he was appointed to the Principal Keeper’s position at the Sound of Mull due to the demotion of William Mill for the same offence in October 1886. However, William Mill compounded his misdemeanour by telling his Assistant not to bother cleaning the lightroom and lens before 9am. In the Commissioners’ opinion not only did he disobey the Rules and Directions of the Board but he ‘improperly instructed a subordinate official to do so’.

The next flit for Donald was to South Rona (he was good at garnering remote beauties) but curiously he spent only six short months there (July to December 1895). This also raised the antennae of the Lighthouse Archivist Fiona Swallow:

“I was curious as to why Donald Georgeson was shifted to Rona in July 1895 and then to Little Ross in December the same year but could find no records to help explain this. It may be interesting to follow this up at the Scottish Record Office which holds the letter books and minutes of the Northern Lighthouse Board.”

The Rona Light had been established 38 years earlier under the supervision of the Engineer brothers David & Thomas Stevenson. Prior to that date, on Rona, north of Raasay, a widow named Janet Mackenzie had for many years shown a light in one of her windows which enabled fishing boats to clear the rocks at the harbour entrance, and for her selfless efforts she had been given a grant of £20 by the Commissioners

Rona Island stamps

Figure 20: Rona Island stamps

Sadly, there is no need to examine the Minute Books (as suggested by Fiona Swallow) for a recent finding disclosed a tragic reason behind Donald’s short stay on South Rona. On the evening of the 21st of October 1895, Rona Lighthouse saw a terrible accident. No storm, no shipwreck, but the plunge of a ten year old boy down the Lighthouse stairs. That boy was Alexander the youngest son of Donald the Lightkeeper. Brokenhearted Donald could face the Rona Light no more, and two months later was granted relocation by the Lighthouse Board to Little Ross.

Fell doon stairs

Like his brother Alexander, Donald did not stick fast to his northerly roots. In December 1895, for what we now know as the saddest of reasons, he relocated to his last Light. That Light was Little Ross facing out beyond Kirkcudbright. In 2003 on a visit to Kirkcudbright Museum, Sian came across the preserved Light Mechanism taken from the Lighthouse – her hands reached out to touch a mechanism wound over and over again by her great great grandfather. You could almost hear its crank turn and the cogs click.

Had he lived on, Donald might just have been compelled by a twentieth century murder – a murder that involved his Light of Little Ross. Herewith follows a newspaper account of the vile act:


Today Little Ross Lighthouse stands sentinel guarding the estuary of the river Dee. The light is unmanned except for the visits by the boatman/attendant, to change the gas bottles, which now fuel the light. It was not always so.

Back in August 1960, two lighthouse relief keepers were stationed on the island, Mr Hugh Clark, a former postman from Main Street, Dalry, a relief keeper who was on duty during the principal keeper’s holiday, and Robert Dickson, assistant keeper, a 24 year-old ex-sailor. Here is the story, reconstructed from contemporary newspaper accounts. (Willie McKenzie was the first journalist to report the story.)

Mr T.R. Collin, a local bank manager and secretary of the local branch of the RNLI, was out sailing in a dinghy with his 19 year-old son David, and went ashore at Little Ross to have lunch, and go for a walk. As he approached the lighthouse buildings he heard the telephone ringing. Since the lighthouse keeper did not seem to be answering the call Mr Collin knocked on the cottage door, thinking Mr Clark was asleep. When he got no reply he entered the house and found Mr Clark lying in a blood-stained bed, with injuries to his head.

Mr Collin rang the Kirkcudbright police and after several hours Inspector William Garroch and Constable George Thomson, accompanied by Dr RN Rutherfurd, arrived at the island in a launch piloted by George Poland, a local fisherman.

Chief Constable Berry stated that Mr Clark’s body was found in circumstances which might suggest homicide. (Expert medical examinations later revealed that death was due to rifle wounds.)

The police said: “A main line of enquiry is being followed up and we are anxious to trace a motor car, GV 4534, believed to be a fairly old 10 h.p. grey Wolseley, and to interview the driver.” The car, which belonged to Mr Clark, was discovered by the police to be missing from where he always parked it, at Ross Farm, on the nearest convenient mainland point to the lighthouse. The Wolseley was later found abandoned in Dumfries with no trace of the driver.

A nation-wide hunt began centred on Selby in Yorkshire, where police took up positions on the northern side of the town at the toll bridge and watched all vehicles heading south. When at 8.25 am a car answering to the description stopped to pay the 9d toll, the policemen moved out of their positions. After speaking to the police, the man in the Wolseley was arrested and later detained.

Robert McKenna Cribbes Dickson was charged in Dumfries High Court with the murder of Hugh Clark. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang – four days before Christmas. He heard the demanding, accusing voice of a prosecution counsel: This was a black-hearted crime… this man plotted a mystery of the sea.

Little is known of the fate of the children of Donald Georgeson & his wife Isabella Watt. William Watt Georgeson became an Apothecary and later Vintner before settling in Perth. Hugh Fitzimons Georgeson who was born at the Chanonry was found drowned in Princes Dock, Glasgow on the last Monday of March 1940. Of the other children nothing is recorded.

Sometime dates just fall into patterns and meanings can be drawn from such, but at other times one is left to contemplate coincidence. It is exactly this matter that one ponders with the ‘Georgeson Lighthouse brothers’ for Alexander Georgeson died on the 21st September 1908, and just ten days later in Saltcoats his younger brother Donald passed onto his maker. Somehow that seems fitting.

It is my true wish that Alexander & Donald had left their own story to tell, for truly, and arguably like no other, it would have fascinated.

Shine on Lighthouse boys. Shine on.

Donald Georgeson, Lighthose keeper Georgeson tree lighthouses


Gorgon in greed, but not effect, it glares
a thing to life and back again.
A hill jumps forward, then it isn’t there.
A tree explodes in tree shape. Flashes devour
this house’s natural death – it has more than twenty
punctual resurrections every hour.
Bad Christians think that one is more than plenty.

Bad disbelievers, too, are troubled by
their disbelief – how weak it is;
And in the dark look for that whirling eye
whose magical rigidity might swing
them into high relief. . . The sea, too busy
inventing its own forms, bucks by, leaving
the mind to spin, the dark brain to grow dizzy.

Norman MacCaig


Chapter Seven: Oh Ragin’ wind an’ Cruel Sea – Captain Alexander Morrison

The story of the life of Captain Alexander Morrison (1794-1856), Harbour Master for Aberdeen, is both compelling and harrowing.

Alexander was born two days before Christmas 1794 in Foveran, near Newburgh, Aberdeenshire. He was to be the first of five children born to William (Junior) Morrison, a Shipmaster in Newburgh and Jane Thomson.

Alexander was born into a family of Sea-farers. Both his father and grandfather were Masters of Shipping Vessels. This clearly provided Alexander with the best possible opportunity to learn the skilled demands of commercial sea-faring.

It is very likely that Alexander’s parents were cousins. If you go back to his grandfather’s generation one discovers a fusion of the Morrison and Thomson families of Foveran. It would take more than a little work to clarify this consanguinity, for the entanglement of the families appears fairly deep!

At some point in his early adult years Alexander moved from Foveran to the ‘New Fish Toun’ of Footdee. Here he was to become one of Fitties most respected Pilots.

Footdee and the harbour – early nineteenth centuryFigure 1: Footdee and the harbour – early nineteenth century

On Monday the 15th January 1821 in Aberdeen, Captain Alexander Morrison married his sweetheart Isabella Allan. In less than a decade their marriage was to be turned on its head – but more of that later.

In the autumn of 1829, Jane Thomson Morrison was born at Footdee, the busy fishing village adjacent to Aberdeen’s harbour. Jane, the youngest of the three children born to Alexander Morrison and Isabella Allan, was named after her paternal grandmother Jane Thomson (1771-1848).

Jane must have had a fairly torrid childhood, with both her parents suffering catastrophes of very different sorts. Her mother, Isabella Allan, was to endure for most of her adult-life, mental illness. Her father Captain Alexander Morrison, Harbour Master had an arduous and dangerous job, which would have left him little time for his family.

Jane never really had the chance to know, love or enjoy her mother; she was indeed, barely a year old when her mother was admitted to Aberdeen Asylum in a state of florid madness. Her mother was never to recover. The insanity seemed to have developed only months on from the birth of Jane, perhaps indicating a form of puerperal psychosis (mania in the period following childbirth). The admission notes describe Jane’s mother as

“…noisy and turbulent and inclined to injure herself and others. Her aspect is wild…..she is naturally of a very irritable and passionate disposition.”

The admission note is an incredible document and remarkably comprehensive for such an early date. The hand is in beautiful script and the prose generally flowing. The doctor rules out both a hereditary cause and General Paralysis of the Insane. The latter resulted from syphilis which was certainly not uncommon amongst seafarers!

Isabella was at a prime age for insanity and was to be its insidious victim. Apparently she had been upset at a Christmas party when she felt ‘black-affrontit’ at a comment made by one of the party. Isabella believed that she had been accused of fraternising with a criminal element. Incoherency generally meant loss of ordered speech with looseness of ideas and inconsequentiality, often combined with paranoia. In Isabella’s case she is described as having a most ‘passionate’ disposition rendering her, in the eyes of the doctor, ever more susceptible to mania.

You might be interested to realise the treatment – purging and bleeding. Victims like Isabella had blood withdrawn for its ‘restorative powers’ and bowels were purged as routine. Bodily waste was felt to be retained in a malignant way by those exhibiting insanity or ‘maniacal excitement.’

Mrs Isabella Morrison

Age 35yrs. Married, the wife of the Master of a trader from Aberdeen. Admitted 25th April 1831. The mother of three children, the youngest a year and a half old. Not nursing.

Labours under symptoms of acute Maniacal excitement with general incoherency and confusion of ideas.

She is noisy and turbulent and inclined to injure herself and others. Her affect is wild and she exhibits other symptoms characteristic of insanity. She is much reduced in strength and unable to give any account of herself. Seems confused and languid – countenance pale; tongue pale, furred; Pulse – weak and small. Seems to labour under considerable exhaustion. Has not passed urine during 24 hours.

The present attack appeared suddenly a week ago, but she has been restless, dull and of variable disposition since last Christmas when she received an affront from someone at a party who accused her of criminal attachment to a certain person. This has generally been the theme of her conversation when irritated by the recollection of the affront. No other cause is known. But she is naturally of a very irritable and passionate disposition and a highly nervous and susceptible temperament and of delicate formation and body. She is subject to Hysteria. No hereditary disposition unless we accept a cousin who was insane from paralysis.

Has been bled and purged before admission

Isabella Morrison (nee Alan) – admitted to Aberdeen Asylum 25th April 1831Figure 2: The admission notes of Isabella Morrison (nee Alan) – admitted to Aberdeen Asylum 25th April 1831

So poor little Jane, and her older brother William and sister Isabella, for in the realest of terms, they never knew their mother. It is likely that at this stage, that their grandmother, Jane Thomson, moved in to help Alexander raise his children. Jane Thomson certainly appears on the 1841 census. So until her death in 1848, “Jane the grandmother”, was to be Jane and her siblings, ‘mother’.

Royal Lunatic Asylum, Aberdeen where Isabella spent nearly all her adult life.Figure 3: Royal Lunatic Asylum, Aberdeen where Isabella spent nearly all her adult life.

I trained in psychiatry in the very building in which poor Isabella Morrison was detained. I walked its eary corridors which sprang creakily with age. I served its people and was proud to do so. With a doctors eyes I could see the person – the true Isabella, and how she came to my mind on long nights on call. The hospital carries fond memories of ‘community spirit’ for me and just perhaps that camaraderie of person might just have spanned the previous century. Certainly Isabella’s notes depict that her doctor at least, understood and cared.

It was at the end of the long flower-corridor, lined with pelargoniums, in the old Asylum, that I found my favourite picture hanging on the wall by reception. It was a simple screen-print by Francis Walker of a north-east pebble beach. It mesmerised me and became the fabric of my dreams. Peaceful and reassuring, under each pebble Peter dreamt the word ‘Love’ written to his dear family. This was the origin of ‘This is not yesterday.’

The comfort is in the pebblesFigure 4: The comfort is in the pebbles

Jane was seven years old when, on the 4th May 1836, her father, Captain Morrison was appointed as Captain Pilot for Aberdeen Harbour. This was the most honoured and responsible of all positions elected by the Harbour Board. With his employment Captain Morrison was issued with a series of regulations by which he was sworn to abide. He was to continue in this role for fully two decades. Although Alexander’s employment brought financial rewards, prosperity did not follow, as much of his income was consumed by the costs of private Asylum care for his wife. This would have amounted to something in the region of £15 a year, which in 1836 was nearly half of Alexander Morrison’s annual salary.

As said, Jane was the youngest child. Her brother William was five years her senior. He was to become a Grocer, running a shop, first in Portobello and later, in Leith, Edinburgh. He married late on in life, an Aberdeen lass, called Margaret Birnie. They called their only son, William Birnie Morrison.

Jane’s only other sibling was her beloved sister Isabella, who appears never to have left her side. Isabella remained a spinster, and when Jane later married and moved to Edinburgh, Isabella went with her. One is left to wonder if she had been emotionally scarred by her mother’s illness during her early years. At any rate, she died in her sister’s house in Leith in October 1879.

It is worth recording that Jane and her sibs would have spent most of their childhood in one of Aberdeen’s oldest and most historic houses – the Round House of the North Pier. It was the privilege of the Harbour Master, also known as the Captain Pilot, to live on the middle floor of this building. Accommodation was rent free, and the Morrisons’ lived there from 1836 to 1856.

The Round House (it is actually octagonal) has stood at the junction of the Pocra quay and the North Pier, since the late 18th century. Indeed it is scrupulously drawn in Colin Innes’s Plan of Footdee of 1803; and in William Daniell’s engraving of Aberdeen in 1822, its red roof can be seen surmounted by a turret that commands harbour and bay.

The Round HouseFigure 5: The Round House

Examination of the Shoremaster’s Accounts for 1797, reveal that the Round House was built at a cost of £225 5s. It was at the Round House in August 1986 that the Queen unveiled one of Pocra’s famous plaques. This one commemorates Aberdeen harbour’s 850 years as a going concern.

Captain Morrison must have agonised when three separate disasters – the harbour shipwrecks of the Brilliant (1839), the Velocity (1848) and the Duke of Sutherland (1853) – resulted in unprecedented loss of human life.

Footdee pilots on a rescueFigure 6: Footdee pilots on a rescue

Although the first steamer had entered Captain Morrison’s Aberdeen harbour as early as July 1820, the wooden paddle ship Brilliant was the first to be lost on the coast of North East Scotland when she went ashore on the harbour entrance on the 12th of December 1839. At 159 tons gross she was relatively modest in size (at least by today’s standards) but had considerable historical interest having been built at Greenock in 1821, with Bell undertaking his pioneering work on the Comet only nine years previously.

The Brilliant had sailed from Leith the previous afternoon. Captain Morrison had been woken during the night with a raging south-easterly gale – this overtook the Brilliant, and early the next morning off Girdle Ness, her master, Captain Wade, standing on the quarter deck was thrown overboard when the ship rolled violently in a particularly heavy sea. As it was well before dawn there was not the slightest chance of the unfortunate man being saved and those on deck had no chance but to run for the harbour entrance.

In the beam seas the steamer was carried too far to leeward and struck the North Pier just inside the seaward end. Captain Morrison was at this stage unaware of the unfolding drama as succeeding seas drove the Brilliant further onto the root of his pier. It was at this point that the chief engineer abandoned the engine-room and rushed on deck. The unfortunate passengers were left more or less to their own devices in the pitch darkness with the accompanying thunder of breakers and the roar of escaping steam.

The Brilliant – shipwrecked on the North Pier on the 12th December 1839Figure 7: The Brilliant – shipwrecked on the North Pier on the 12th December 1839

When the Brilliant finally came to rest she had been driven hard against the pier and those on board were able to scramble ashore without too much difficulty, one of the passengers breaking his leg in the rush to leave the ship. Poor Captain Morrison, it was at this stage he awoke with the cries of the survivors to a ship wreck on his very own pier. Surely he must have felt he had failed them and perhaps he had. That detail is just unknown. What can be said for sure was that he continued in his job with neither reprimand nor commendation. It was simply that, a terrible tragedy in the middle of the night; without an alert system what else could have been done?

Captain Morrison did not miss all the action: as one of the female passengers was handing her children ashore the wreck rolled away from the pier and she was left stranded aboard along with the second engineer and the cook. With considerable presence of mind the cook made fast a length of rope around the woman’s waist and threw one end to those on the pier. With the cook and engineer holding the other end to prevent her from being flung against the pier she was pulled ashore to be quickly followed by the two remaining survivors.

As the paddle steamer had been abandoned in such a rush there had been no time to draw the furnace fires with the result that the boilers, now empty of water, rapidly over-heated, setting alight to the wooden hull. The stern was soon burning fiercely and even though a fire-engine was brought out along the pier (assumedly under Captain Morrison’s instructions) it proved impossible to extinguish the flames. Efforts were then concentrated on saving the cargo all of which was transferred ashore before the steamer burned out and broke up. Only two days after the wreck, several lots of shawls from the cargo were advertised for sale by a local firm in the same issue of the Aberdeen Journal that carried an account of the Brilliant’s loss. It being close to Christmas and the firm run by good Aberdonians they were presumably anxious to catch the seasonal trade and turn a little extra profit!

Anniversaries sometimes occur with blinding glare, at least it must have seemed like that for Captain Morrison, for nearly a decade on from the loss of the Brilliant, another wooden paddle-steamer the Velocity, was lost in almost identical circumstances. The day of deed was the 25th of October 1848. Was this to be the final blow for the beleaguered Captain Pilot? Well for that you must wait. However you can picture the domestic scene in the Round House: Alexander, the Captain & patriarch was 54 years and coming towards the end of his long stewardship of Aberdeen’s maritime gateway; his wife, Isabella, had been in private Asylum care for the best part of 17 years; his three children were growing fast and now no longer even teenagers. Yes Captain Morrison’s life was on the cusp of retirement and here he was beset by another disaster. Yet disaster to a man of long family tradition of seafarers must have been accepted as part of a dangerous trade which was at the mercy of the seas.

When the Velocity arrived in the bay of the Dee it was low water and she lay off for about an hour and a half until the leading lights were lit at dusk. It is clear that her master, Captain Stewart, did not appreciate the fact that the lights were lit regardless of the tide and steered straight for the harbour.

The North Pier struck twice.Figure 8: The North Pier struck twice.

The wind, blowing strongly from the south-east combined with a strong fresh in the Dee to produce a heavy sea off the harbour mouth and it was here that the paddle steamer was struck on the starboard quarter by a large wave. Her head was driven to the north and before she could be brought back on course she struck the extreme south-east end of the North Pier.

The North pier – home of Captain Morrison – had struck again. It had a horrid vengeance. The Velocity struck with such force that her back was broken and she remained lodged fast on the toe of the pier. Although the lifeboat was called out almost as soon as the steamer struck, a great deal of time was lost in gathering a volunteer crew. Captain Morrison was doing his best– but he had neither the means nor the established organisation to garner Pilots quickly from Fittie.

By the time the pilots rescue boat was launched, the steamer’s long boat carrying five of the crew, had managed to get away from the wreck and reach the safety of the harbour. The Velocity broke up with the poop deck carrying the master, mate eight passengers and the remaining five crewmen out into the main channel. They were rescued just in time by the pilots lifeboat which had finally been manned and launched by fishermen who ‘conducted the boat nobly, and took the men off the wreck and brought them to land in the most dextrous and sealike manner.’ We do not know if Captain Morrison was aboard, but I am inclined to think not as it was later claimed that no one had ‘full authority to take charge’ during the rescue operation and even so the pilots were ‘unwilling’ to volunteer for crew claiming they seldom received anything for their efforts.

It had been impossible to salvage anything from the stranded steamer which broke up and disappeared in less than an hour. Wreckage and cargo were strewn along the Torry side of the river and in spite of guards being set a great deal was stolen under the cover of darkness. In a search the following morning police made several ‘painful’ discoveries.

Captain Morrison must have been rearing sick. The following morning he made his own ‘painful discovery’ for his mother, who had stood by him all the years, and acted as mother to his own children, was found dead in her bed. Poor Alexander – what a terrible night he had had.

On the wall of our‘Family Room’ there is a print – it came from an antique shop in Aberdeen and was bought in the autumn of 1998. It depicts the sinking of the Duke of Sutherland at entrance of Aberdeen’s port.  Whilst in the shop, I explained that my great-great-great grandfather had been the harbour master on the day of the tragedy – the 1st April 1853. The antique dealer than procured a treasure – a china dish that had survived intact from that very shipwreck. I had no money (isn’t that always the case!) so the sale could not eventuate, but one thing led to another, and the dealer related how he had planned to take that china piece to a new home: the home he had planned for it, was none other than Hallhead castle. Had he heard correctly – ‘Hallhead castle’ – the seat of the Bovagli Gordons! I explained that if ever there was a castle to which I aspired it was the endearingly domestic and utterly quaint Hallhead. The world is full of funny coincidences. By way of comment, the antique dealer explained how his offer to buy Hallhead castle was withdrawn by the farmer at last minute. He was, he assured, bitterly disappointed.

The Duke of Sutherland – lost 1st April 1853 at the port entranceFigure 9: The Duke of Sutherland – lost 1st April 1853 at the port entrance

The paddle steamer the Duke of Sutherland belonging to the Aberdeen Steam Navigation Company had sailed from London on Wednesday the 30th March 1853 with a general cargo and twenty-five passengers. At first the weather remained pleasant but deteriorated steadily and by the time the steamer arrived off Aberdeen it was blowing a full south-easterly gale with heavy rain. As it was low water she had to anchor off during the afternoon until the tide flag was raised shortly after five o’clock. A strong spate coming down the Dee combined with the tide to raise a heavy confused sea on the bar, exactly similar conditions to those which had led to the losses of the Brilliant and Velocity. In a fatal repeat of these tragic events the Duke of Sutherland was driven completely off course after being struck on the starboard quarter by a very heavy sea. In spite of five or six men struggling with the helm and the engines being put astern she was completely swept by a second sea which drove her onto the seaward end of the North Pier and extinguished the furnace fires.

The Duke of Sutherland was holed in the vicinity of the boiler room which flooded rapidly with the engineers and stokers having no choice but to abandon their positions. The steamer was then flung broadside on to the end of the pier before settling on the rocks and starting to break up with the fore-mast soon going over the side. Captain Howling, directing operations with great coolness from the bridge, succeeded in having one of the lifeboats launched just as the bow section broke off and the stern settled further in the water. One of the lady passengers was seriously injured when she jumped into the lifeboat while another apparently fainted in the increasing confusion and was swept away with her body being washed up on the beach later.

In the very severe swell the lifeboat, in charge of the mate and only containing seven men and a woman, was driven from the side of the stranded steamer before it could be filled and drifted safely through the surf to the beach. The harbour lifeboat had been launched under Captain Morrison’s instruction within twenty minutes of the steamer going aground but having been driven against the wreck and damaged; she had to make for the safety of the beach carrying only fifteen survivors.

The Pilot House as it is found todayFigure 10: The Pilot House as it is found today

This still left some thirty people on the rapidly disintegrating wreck sheltering around the starboard paddle-box. Captain Morrison commanded volunteers to help him retrieve lifelines from his Round House, he knew that they could be fired to the stranded using Dennett’s Rockets. However the plan was initially a miserable failure, the frantic Captain Morrison must have been cursing as the damp fuses refused to light. It took twenty attempts before even one Rocket fired and several more attempts before a lifeline actually fell across the wreck. After that a pier hawser was successfully drawn aboard but with no proper cradle available one had to be improvised from a box that had floated free from the wreck. It became obvious however after the first person (one of the female passengers) had been brought ashore that this was unsatisfactory and large rope slings were substituted instead. At this point the whip became entangled and Captain Howling, having just been knocked down by a wildly swinging quarter boat while saving one of the female passengers entangled in the stern netting, tried to free it but fell off the warp into the sea and drowned in full view of his brother who was on the pier.

Simultaneously a salmon coble manned by some seaman and the steamer’s second mate, Peter Ligterwood, who had been brought ashore in the harbour lifeboat managed to put off from the beach and pick up several people who had been washed off the poop of the wrecked steamer. On the way back to the beach the coble fouled some nearby salmon nets and capsized, only one of the crew of six men reaching the shore alive. It was then that the hero of the disaster emerged. The Chief Steward, Duncan Christie, took charge of directing rescue operations on the stranded paddle-steamer and with a mixture of extraordinary effort, encouragement and the occasional threat succeeded in safely sending ashore the twenty or so people who were still aboard the midships section. Finally, having ensured that all of the survivors had reached the pier safely Christie left the wreck with a knife clenched between his teeth in case the rope pulling him ashore became entangled. In fact this is exactly what did happen and he had to cut himself free just as he reached the pier.

Because of the heavy loss of life Aberdeen Harbour Commissioners immediately appointed a full-time paid crew for the lifeboat and ordered an inquiry into the state and availability of the rescue equipment held at the harbour. It emerged that the lifeboat had arrived alongside the casualty only half an hour after she had struck but had been so badly damaged by floating debris during the rescue that she was unable to return to the stranded steamer. Severe problems were caused by nearby salmon stake-nets which entangled some of those swept off the steamer and fouled the coble while it was alongside the steamer. The delay in the use of the Dennett Rockets was found to be due to a combination of inexperience, heavy spray soaking the rocket fuses and misguided interference from the huge crowd of onlookers. On a happier note the Chief Steward’s bravery was awarded with £5 and a gold medal by the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Royal Benevolent Fund.

Captain Morrison must have felt utterly beleaguered. Certainly history had served him poorly with three shipwrecks in one career. The loss of the Duke of Sutherland was more than just sore it was harrowing. It marked the dropped flag to Captain Morrison’s long service to Aberdeen and its gateway to the sea. The dismal failure of the Dennett Rockets in particular, must have left the Captain with a feeling of failed duty.

Andrew on a Footdee Pilot boatFigure 11: Andrew on a Footdee Pilot boat

Captain Morrison was in his sixtieth year when the morning dawned on the wreck of the Sutherland. He was never to recover and developed, in the year following that frightful night, a chronic chest condition. It may be that the drenching that he received the night of the disaster was the very precipitant. What can be of no doubt was that he must have been left mentally drained. We do know that his two daughters, Isabella and Jane – his beautiful quines – stayed at home to care for him as they appear together on the 1851 census with their father:

31st March 1851 – Pilot House, Footdee
Alexander Morrison, 56yrs, Head, Captain Pilot, born Newburgh
Isabella Morrison, 54yrs, Wife
Isabella Morrison, 24yrs, Single
Jean Morrison, 21yrs, Single

Three months after the Duke of Sutherland was shipwrecked, Captain Morrison was served with newly issued regulations made after an emergency meeting of the Harbour Board. The regulations leave no doubt that this was in effect a reprimand, but more than that, a realisation that safety of the harbour was the Captain Pilots over-riding duty. Reading the list I was left to feel sorrowfully sick for my great-great-great grandfather. The Captain had in so many ways failed and yet he had paid for it with his bodily health as it oozed any lingering strength. In another life, no doubt the Captain would have done differently.


  1. The Captain Pilot shall have the superintendence of all other Pilots & do his utmost that the regulations for their government be strictly complied with.
  2. He shall not engage in any other employment.
  3. The Captain Pilot & Assistant Pilot shall attend the North pier & adjacent quays every tide, at least 3 hours before high water, and at least 2 hours after high water, & shall remain as long as it shall be considered safe for vessels to enter or leave the harbour.
  4. The Captain Pilot must take care that the reflecting & lighting apparatus at the North pier end is kept in the very best order & the light hoisted every night at half-flood & taken down at high water.
  5. During daylight the flag is to be hoisted at half-flood & kept up as long as the Captain Pilot may deem advisable. Should there however be a heavy fresh in the river Dee with a rough sea at the harbour entrance, the Captain Pilot is not to allow a light or flag to be hoisted until one hour after the flood, but the pier light & flag respectively shall be exhibited only when in the opinion of the Captain Pilot vessels can enter the harbour safely.
  6. He shall cause the shipping be supplied with Pilots according to their order & to the best of his judgement without partiality or favour.
  7. He shall make out and certify the accounts for pilotage and berthing as according to the annexed table of rates.
  8. He is empowered, where there may be great difficulty & danger in the Pilots getting out to the assistance of vessels in the bay to offer them such moderate premiums for their services.
  9. In case he shall be called upon to furnish boats or men to the assistance of any vessel in want thereof, or in distress and shall either refuse, absent himself or neglect to comply with such request he shall (on proof), for the first offence pay a fine of £5, for the second £10, and for the 3rd offence discharged from office.
  10. He shall keep a book in which he shall regularly enter a list of arrivals and departures of all vessels to the harbour.
  11. Should any special circumstances occur with reference to the improper conduct of the Pilots, the Captain Pilot is immediately to investigate the case and if he shall consider it necessary, report to the commissioner.
  12. The Captain Pilot shall have special charge of berthing all ships & vessels at the lower quays & sasins.
  13. The Captain Pilot & assistant Captain Pilot shall take the depth of water from the entrance of the Harbour along the whole navigation channel and dock to the upper end thereof.
  14. The Captain Pilot must collect all the harbour DUES leviable from all vessels not belonging to the port.
  15. The Captain Pilot must take care that vessels are at all times kept clear of works carrying on for the improvement of the harbour.
  16. The Captain Pilot shall have the care & control of the life boats and crew, and the life preserving apparatus.
  17. He shall direct that at the commencement of the months of Sept, Oct, Nov & Dec, the keeper of the leading lights, assistant Captain Pilot, the Dock Masters, the Dockgate men & the Harbour Police, shall be taken out at such times as not materially to interfere with their other duties for the purpose of practising the use of Rockets, Manbys and other life-preserving apparatus. Also that the Captain, mate & crew of the life boats take one of the life boats afloat for exercise fully manned, at least once a quarter, giving preference to blowy weather & taking the boats to the North Pier & Broad Hill alternatively.
  18. The Captain Pilot & assistant Captain Pilot shall immediately give the alarm when they are informed or discover a vessel in distress, within or near the harbour & shall without delay despatch a messenger to the Dock Masters, Harbour Police, Harbours Office & Harbour Superintendant to attend.
  19. Immediately after the life boats & life preserving apparatus have been used for saving life the Captain Pilot shall with the aid of the crew of the life boat, get the life boats & life preserving apparatus returned in as good order, and as speedily as possible to their respective houses.
  20. The Captain Pilot will also see that the book containing the Reports by the assistant Captain Pilot, as to the state of the life boats & life preserving apparatus is kept & examined by himself.
  21. In the event of a shipwreck occurring the Captain Pilot is, in not less than two days thereafter to make a written report of the same to the clerk of the commissioners.

Surely the Captain was both stoical and hardy, for even if it had crossed his mind, he did not and would not retire. He worked on till his very last breath. Captain Morrison died at 9.30pm on Sunday the 20th July 1856 – his chest had heaved gaspless for at least the previous 10 months. He was buried three days later at St Clements Churchyard, Footdee, and in a mark of respect the ‘vessels in the harbour universally hoisted a flag half-mast high, as evincing respect.’

The obituary to Captain Alexander Morrison – died 20th July 1856Figure 12: The obituary to Captain Alexander Morrison – died 20th July 1856

The obituary (above) to Captain Morrison printed in the Aberdeen Journal stated that ‘Captain Morrison filled the above important offices for about twenty years, and was esteemed for his kind disposition.’

No picture survives to depict the Captain and whatever the truths, his life had certainly been hard yet he had demonstrated true fortitude in being retained as Captain Pilot for twenty years. Despite the utter lows of the ‘Duke of Sutherland,’ Captain Morrison must have been well thought off or that record would not have stood.

Captain Alexander Morrison was buried in Lair II 84 under this tree (below) in St Clements Churchyard. He was given no tombstone. That is surely sad as he had served Fittie through good and bad and he had certainly survived from one disaster to another, and all without the support of a ‘guid’ wife by his side.

A year on from the death of her father, Jane married. It can be but speculation, but one wonders if either her father disapproved of her love for George Duncan, or that simply the circumstances prevented her (caring for her father in his sickness). George Duncan, her new husband, appears to have been offered (by one of his siblings), a job in Edinburgh as a ‘Provision Agent’, and within months of their marriage, they had moved to Leith.

The resting place in St Clements

Figure 13: The resting place in St Clements

In 1868, Jane’s mother, Isabella Morrison (nee Allan) died in the Asylum. She was demented, riddled with tuberculosis, and recorded as a ‘pauper patient’. At some point between 1856 (the year of Alexander Morrison’s death) and 1868, her children had stopped to provide payment for her care. Perhaps they were not able. Perhaps they could not bear to witness her illness. Whatever the reasons, they were certainly not present at the time of her death, as her death-bed informant was recorded as Robert Jamieson, a ‘husband of the deceased’s niece’. Poor Isabella Allan, what a sad life she must have had. To the credit of the Asylum however, she was not to be buried in a pauper’s grave, but beside her husband in St Clement’s Churchyard, Footdee.

Jane Thomson MorrisonJane T. Morrison and her husband George Duncan, lived in several properties in Leith during the mid years of the nineteenth century. They were not destitute, but money was clearly tight. Together they had five children, although one, Martha Jane, died in infancy. Their youngest child, James Morrison, born in 1865, was the grandfather of the Stuart Gordon (my father).

Jane, it appears, did not have to seek her troubles, for in 1878 her husband George died after a most sudden illness. Age 48 years he developed meningitis and lasted just five days. A year later, her sister Isabella Morrison (who was living with them) also died. Jane was then left entirely alone to raise her children.

By 1881, Jane and her family had moved away from Leith, and Figure 14: Jane Thomson Morrison     were renting a flat next to the Meadows.

In August of 1912, in the home of her son James Morrison Duncan, Jane peacefully passed-on. She took with her the compelling but sad story of her family…


O ragin’ wind
An’ cruel sea,
Ye put the fear
O’daith on me.
I canna sleep,
I canna pray,
But prowl aboot
The dock’s a’ day,
An’ pu’ my plaid
Aboot me ticht,
‘Nae news yet, mistress!’
Ae mair nicht!

Helen B. Cruickshank

Captain Alexander Morrison Footdee, tree


Chapter Eight: Florence Nightingale and an Envelope– Jessie Lennox

When I was just a scrap-of-a-boy my dear grandfather ‘Grumpa’ – Rab Scott of Drumdruills gave me an envelope. Well Grumpa was very good at getting first-day-covers (the latest issue of stamps – each with a fresh design), typing up the envelope, and posting them on to little Peter. For a year or two I got a first-day-cover every other month. Inside were handwritten notes saying how he missed his little grandson and how he felt he was getting older. These were special notes, which I now wish, that as a child, I had taken better care of. I guess you know just how that is!

First day cover

Anyway back to that Envelope, for it was rather curious. It had no letter inside just a hand scribed address to a Miss Jessie Lennox, a Matron at the Children’s Hospital in Belfast

The Envelope of 1887 Florence NightingaleFigure 1: The Envelope of 1887

Scribbled at the top of the envelope in pen was the following “This envelope received from Miss Lennox July 4th 1925 and the handwriting is Florence Nightingales. S.R. Scott.” So it was that I started to wonder why-on-earth an envelope from Florence Nightingale had come to the Scotts; who-on-earth Miss Lennox was; and where-on-earth was the missing later. The key was starting to glow (like Biff and Chip) and another mystery was on the way?!

Well that key was a slow burner for it took thirty years to open that door. The envelope, was it seems, keen to preserve its mystery. The clue to Miss Lennox came with the Rutherford letters passed on by the genial & kindly Brian Holliday. For in the bundle of 19th century letters was something rather different.

Amidst the letters was a notelet written in large, bold yet flowing pen. The note was dated the 9th February 1917. It was from Miss Lennox and addressed to her ‘dear cousin Janet.’ Miss Lennox gave her address as Morningside Edinburgh. The letter was one of sympathy to ‘cousin Janet’ expressing sorrow at the loss of her sister Margaret. This was all that I needed. Margaret was Margaret Baird who died in January 1917, the wife of Daniel McNeil Watson of Sunnylaw, who not so long before had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. That meant that ‘dear cousin Janet’ was also a Baird, the Postmistress from Blairlogie who had married a Dawson of Drumdruills.

Inverallan Mill

So Miss Lennox had to be a Baird also – at least on her mother’s side. It was not too difficult to find her parents in the parish registers. Malcolm Lennox married Janet Baird at Lecropt on the 21st February 1824. They had at least two children, Jessie (whose birth has not yet been found in the parish register) and her brother William Lennox, who according to his census return was born in ‘Bridge of Allan circa 1824.

So let us recap. We have Jessie Lennox born (probably) in Bridge of Allan circa 1830. Her mother was Janet Baird. This Janet Baird was second daughter of William Baird and Margaret cairns. The old tombstone to William, Miller at Inverallan, can still be found in Old Lecropt. It is one of the oldest stones there.

to ‘dear Cousin Janet’Figure 2: to ‘dear Cousin Janet’

Miss Lennox and the Bairds of DrumdruillsFigure 3: Miss Lennox and the Bairds of Drumdruills

So Miss Lennox was a Baird, but why did she receive a letter from Florence Nightingale and where might that missing letter have gone? These were the questions that of course were next brought to my mind.

Miss Jessie Lennox was found to have died at 9 Chamberlain Road, Holy Corner, Edinburgh on the 9th of January 1933. Her death certificate records her as aged 103 years. This immediately brought the my mind to Aunt Ena my favourite Aunt and a ‘lady of letters’ who like Miss Lennox lived to a great age and was just a day short of entering her hundredth year.

Miss Lennox left a will and Stuart, my father, went to Register House to look it up. It was to answer as well as ask further questions, for Jessie instructed her Lawyer, Robert Nevill Dundas (Writer to the Signet) to be her sole Executor. She also made two unusual requests:

  • 1) that ‘all the letters from Miss Florence Nightingale to me, which are in my dispatch box at 9 Chamberlain Road, Edinburgh to be left to Doctor LILIAS MACLAY, daughter of Lord MacLay, Duchal, Kilmalcolm.’
  • 2) that a marble cross be placed in the garden of 9 Chamberlain Road as a memorial to her life

So the envelope was part of a collection of letters and these letters were left in 1933 to Doctor Lilias Maclay, daughter of Lord Maclay of Duchal. The trail was getting exciting and that key red-hot!

Duchal was an old castellated estate near Kilmalcolm and not far from Paisley. Recently I established that the Maclay family still lives in the Georgian Mansion house there and so I wrote to Lord Maclay as follows:

Duchal House – home of Lord Maclay

Figure 4: Duchal House – home of Lord Maclay

Lord Maclay
Duchal House
Near Paisley

Dear Lord Maclay,
I do hope you do not mind me writing it relates to an envelope I have on my wall from Florence Nightingale. This letter led me to you. Can I explain?

My name is Peter Gordon and I am a doctor in Elderly Medicine in Stirling. I am married with two small children.

My grandfather, when I was small, gave me a letter from Florence Nightingale. For years it has been framed on my wall. With a bit of research I found that it was left to my grandfather by his great aunt. This Aunt was a nurse in Belfast she lived to be 103 years and was called Jessie Lennox (1830-1933). I found this out from further letters sent to my grandfather.

I then found Jessie Lennox died at Holy corner, Edinburgh which is near where my parents live. We looked up her Will and found that she bequeathed “all the letters from Miss Florence Nightingale to me, which are in my dispatch box at 9 Chamberlain Road, Edinburgh to Doctor LILIAS MACLAY, daughter of Lord MacLay, Duchal, Kilmalcolm.”

I wonder if Lilias Maclay is of your family? Please Know I do not want the letters – far from it – I would just be interested in what they say. I hope I am not too over-familiar. This has been an exciting trail for me.

Thank you for your help.

Yours aye,
Dr Peter J. Gordon

It was at this stage that I paid a visit to the Newspaper Archives where I was delighted to find the following:

Knew Livingstone and Florence Nightingale.
From the Edinburgh Evening News – September 1924

Not a great number of people living today have had the unique privilege of knowing both of those two outstanding personalities -Dr Livingstone, the great missionary and explorer, and Florence Nightingale, the pioneer nurse and exemplar to all who have devoted themselves to the noble profession.

Edinburgh has one resident who had the rare dual distinction of friendship with each of those heroic souls. This is Miss Lennox, a lady who has spent practically all her life in service to the suffering.

Link with the ‘Sixties.
As early as 1856, when still a girl, Miss Lennox was in Natal, South Africa, engaged in missionary work under the direction of Bishop Mackenzie, of Portmore, Eddleston, near Peebles. On the death of the Bishop, three or four years later, she came home with a party of other ladies, and in 1862 she went to the Florence Nightingale School in St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. The school, which is permanently incorporated with the Hospital, and is to this day a real, live institution, was established by the great heroine herself. A grateful public subscribed £45,000 as a thank-offering, which Miss Nightingale was to use as she wished, and this was the purpose for which she utilised the money.

A Treasured Remembrance.
Miss Lennox came a great deal into touch with Florence Nightingale, who was then an invalid, as she had been ever after her self-sacrificing devotion in the Crimea. Notwithstanding the state of her health Florence Nightingale made it her duty to know all the probationers and to be informed of all that was going on in the nursing world. She was unable to leave her couch when receiving the visitors, many of whom were inspired by her kindness and love. Miss Lennox was frequently in her house, and on one occasion stayed overnight. One treasured remembrance, both of Florence Nightingale and Dr Livingstone in the possession of Miss Lennox is “Livingstone’s Last Journals,” in two volumes, on which is inscribed by the hand of the great nurse.

 “Offered to Miss Lennox in memory of her old friend, Dr Livingstone, with the earnest prayer that we may each of us be enabled to do our duty as he did, each in our own work to which we are called – Florence Nightingale, London, July 1st 1876.”

Thanks the Scottish Lassie.
Miss Lennox’s association with Dr Livingstone is also an interesting story. It began in connection with the Universities’ Mission, as a member of which she went out to Central Africa. She was with Mrs Livingstone and a party of other missionaries. They expected to meet Dr Livingstone at the mouth of the Zambesi. In accordance with a prearranged plan they sent up rockets to call the attention of the doctor or of those who were with him, but they got no response. Pursuing their search, they continued on a small steamer to Mozambique and were cheered to see a British man-o’-war. What a great joy and relief it was to see the British flag! Not one of the party but would wonder to hear of it being lightly regarded by anyone to-day! The commander of the warship offered to take them back to Chendi, and it was there they saw Dr Livingstone. Miss Lennox was brought into close contact during this time with Mrs Livingstone, and the gracious thanks of the doctor to ‘the Scottish lassie who had been kind to his wife’  was something to remember, as well as the gracious personality which has left a fragrant memory amongst the natives of Central Africa.”

Lord Maclay wrote back to me confirming that his cousin Martha Steedman of Mains of Blebo, Cupar, was the daughter of Dr Lilias MacLay. Later Martha telephoned to say that she recalled her mother giving the Florence Nightingale letters to her brother Patrick who was a Professor in Community Medicine. Unfortunately Patrick died suddenly whilst lecturing on River Blindness in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso. Martha wondered if her brother had left the letters to a museum, but to try and help further, contacted the widow of Patrick.

Burkina Faso has, at the time of completing this manuscript, not answered, yet hope still shines as the Curator of the Florence Nightingale Museum recently was to write to me. It seems, whatever the route, some of Jessie’s letters had made it their way to the archives. Perhaps the most moving of the letters was one dated the 23rd December 1885 held by the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – In this letter Florence Nightingale enquires after Miss Lennox’s ‘family’ (at The Children’s Hospital, Belfast) and offers them all Christmas and New Year Greetings; encloses a donation to help with the children, and enquires especially after the ‘boy who bought a pig for his family with the money given him for his wooden leg.’

The End of an Age

The chestnut they said had stood for seventy years.
Its whiteness in May, redness in September,
thin scrolls of long fingery twigs,
were things expected of it.
The tree was an obvious landmark like a hill.

The little people hurrying about the place,
their heads packed with intricacies,
their feet not in the habit of standing still,
slightly envied the tree
for adding such tiny cubits to itself.

At last, for safety’s sake it had to come
and, falling, for the first time became heavy.
A man with an axe sorting it all out
but making slow work
said, ‘A tree’s complicated when it’s down.’

Robin Fulton


Chapter Nine: The Minister of ‘The Camlet’

Glen Girnoc has none of the celebrity of its neighbour Glen Muick; indeed it is quite possible that you may not even have heard of it. Yet the Girnoc carries us back in time, in a way that Glen Muick never could; for it has no tarmacadam running through it, just a rough, stony and twisting path. Follow that path and listen closely for the whispering voices on the braes; carry on further towards Lochnagar, and you will come across one abandoned farm-toun after another.

The Girnoc ’little rushing’ burnFigure 1: The Girnoc ’little rushing’ burn

At one time the Girnoc bustled like no other. The occupants, almost without exception, were kin and clan Gordons. These families were yeoman farmers who tenanted and worked for the Laird of Abergeldie. Indeed the Girnoc was once the very heart of Abergeldie. Yet that heart was in faltering syncope as early as the mid-17th century.

By the time of the reign of John Gordon the 9th Laird of Abergeldie the estate was in absolute ruins, ravished by war; its ancient castle burned and plundered; its crofts and farm-land laid to waste; and its cattle scattered. In November, 1689 General Mackay’s troops had over-run the area around Abergeldie burning the land for twelve miles around. It was General Mackay who garrisoned seventy two of his soldiers in Abergeldie Castle to keep watch on the activities of the Farquharsons.

When the 9th Laird died suddenly in 1698, after a short reign and without an heir, Abergeldie passed to his sister Rachel Gordon. Within two years Rachel was married and the Gordon name restored, as she married into the Gordon of Minmore family. This was an extraordinary turn of events, for her new husband, Captain Charles Gordon, had served, not so many years before, as one of General Mackay’s commanders!

Captain Charles Gordon has been likened to a knight in shining armour, who rode into a district in utter havoc and despair. Here was a man who was now given an opportunity to put it all back in order. So it was, that on the threshold of a new the century, a whole new community was started once again upon Abergeldie’s braes. To implement such Deeside regeneration Captain Charles needed new blood; artisans, stone-masons and journeymen and loyal tenants who would be rewarded eventually, with grants of land and crofts.

There can be no doubt that Captain Charles brought with him to Deeside a Magic Porridge Pot: “cook little pot, cook!” and it did just that.

Captain Charles GordonFigure 2: Captain Charles Gordon

So much so that by the mid-to-late 18th century yeoman Gordon families were to be found absolutely everywhere in the district! Of all the glens the Girnoc was the most notorious – and from it, that porridge flowed stolidly thick. So much so that Deesiders of the day were to remark for any puzzle “that’s as inextricable as the sibness o’ the Gordons o’ Girnoc!”

‘The Camlet’ fae the SkylichFigure 3: ‘The Camlet’ fae the Skylich

Our family came from ‘The Camlet’ a farm secure in the heart of the estate, yet hidden within the Girnoc’s elbow. Bovagli’, the neighbouring cotter-toun was the forearm to Camlet’s elbow and literally reached out wide and far to embrace high Lochnagar.

At the other end of Glen, a small community developed around Girnoc Bridge, yet back in the time of the Gordons, the gate to the Girnoc was through Mill of Cosh. Halfway between the Cosh and the Camlet, sat Loinveg, the last of the main Girnoc farms to be abandoned. Its other neighbours Newton of Girnoc and Linquoich had lost their folk more than a century before.

There were many reasons why the Girnoc emptied like a quaich: the land was poor and badly drained, cattle droving was (by the 18th century) on the decline and the inclement and harsh conditions often ruined what grain was grown. The land was really better suited to sheep than to cattle, but in the early days small black cattle were raised and sold at southern trysts. Glen folk clung on as best they could but many were driven to desperate measures particularly to the smuggling of whisky. The Girnoc was truly notorious for its black bothies.

There were at one time ‘thirteen smuggling brothers’ in the Glen, but that was put to a stop by the summer of 1826. By then the Excisemen had got clout! A new Act of Parliament saw to that. It was a shameful end to many of our glen folk

The Dumfoonert Loon
There’s Naebody noo in the glen – lang since dwine’t awa.
Dwine’t awa an deid.

Littlins lachter, sing-sang, chirm and diddle
As sailent noo as the shuttered plaid o’ Bovagli’.
An the reevin win
nae langer cairit the waxin’ lyrical
o’ Camlet’s auld Minaister.

Aye noo the furtive brow belongs tae this dumfoonert loon:
raikin roond folk gan ah so lang –
an caa’d a’ the same as ane anither!

The Girnoc in 1806Figure 4: The Girnoc in 1806

The Camlet goes back to Abergeldie’s earliest days with a tied history stretching back to at least 1635, when it was itinerated, along with the other Girnoc fairm-touns, in a list of Abergeldie teinds. At one time the Camlet had as many as twenty ‘thakkit-clay biggins’ each with heather thatched roofs. By 1760 these rough built ‘long-houses’ were the sole preserve of the Gordons.

The Camlet and the CoylesFigure 5: The Camlet and the Coyles

Camlet John, a man of intrigue, died in 1834. He was born into Deeside inclemency, for just a year or two after his birth, upper Deeside suffered its severest winter ever. That year was 1747, and in the October of which the glens were buried two feet deep in snow. This freeze did not abate and as a result crops were ruined. What little did survive could not be carted in until December and after threshing was ‘but dark, acid and disagreeable.’

The Camlet sits cradled in a sweeping track, which climbs high above the main glen track before cutting back to it in a loop. Camlet was the stomping ground of a notorious old-worthy known as the ‘Minister of ‘The Camlet.’ His influence spilled well beyond the Girnoc and with his “sanctified mien and semi-clerical get-up” the Minister saw himself as a true prophet. Apparently the Minister “waxed fiercely eloquent” and liked to set “the mark of the beast” and allocated it with considerable abandon to his fellow glen-folk!

Camlet John could have done with some of the prophet’s self-appointed powers, for not only was he born into a mercilessly severe winter, but was later to marry in a year that was recorded to be equally as foul. That year was 1782, in the February of which, ‘Camlet John’ married his sweetheart Euphemia McAndrew from the neighbouring farm of Loinveg. 1782 saw a late harvest, on the back of an extremely cold and wet summer. Early frost in September and October finished off everything and by mid December there was famine.

Marriage of ‘Camlet John’

Figure 6: Marriage of ‘Camlet John’

So it was that Camlet John was born, and married into, Girnoc’s most miserable. Remarkable then that it did not stop his progress; for he went on to farm the Camlet for more than half-a-century, to marry twice and to raise twelve children!

At least one of the son’s of Camlet John became involved in the smuggling of illicit whisky. The deep shame of this pervaded the moral sensibilities of his many descendents, and in search of promise some of the family emigrated to New Zealand and the United States. One grandson, James Gordon, ended up on the sub-Antarctic Campbell Island – and was its first and last lessee. Having farmed the Girnoc, young James must have felt he could cope with whatever Campbell Island could throw at him. He was wrong. He did not survive, but his lost story was recovered by an expedition to the island in 1991. By utter chance, in an old ruined shack a rusty tin-box fell down from a hanging rafter. The tin-box contained a farm journal and a small portrait of James. A hermetically sealed time-capsule, with more than a little touch of far-off Camlet!

The tin-box tracked James back to the Girnoc, and described how, at the age of just six years, he was set free from Camlet on the family stallion in order to flee the Excisemen. That was how young James escaped and saved his family from disgrace. I have often wondered if this stallion was the gift of ‘Abergeldy’; certainly many decades before the Abergeldy laird, on his death bed, added a codicil to take special care of his favoured ‘yellow Stallion.’                                                                                              

James Gordon seated top leftFigure 7: James Gordon seated top left

Others were not as lucky as young James. His cousin Alexander Gordon had infamy akin to the auld Minister but for starkly contrasting reasons. Yes young Alexander surely had that ‘mark of the beast’ for he was the most notorious Deeside smuggler ever and was as equally brazen in both his illicit trade and in his utter disregard of the law! Alexander Gordon was found guilty on several occasions, and imprisoned in Perth Jail, only to break free, and return to his Deeside black-bothies! Finally he was committed for the brutal attack of old Donald Coutts of the Burnside Inn.

Advocate W. Simpson’s letter on Alexander Gordon the SmugglerFigure 8: Advocate W. Simpson’s letter on Alexander Gordon the Smuggler

A daughter of the Camlet married into the family of Deeside’s celebrated Sennachie. Hearts ached when Bab’s the ‘flower’ of Deeside,’ the daughter, was drowned in a terrible accident when the bogy rope snapped at the Abergeldie crossing.

Several sons of The Camlet trailed a blaze south. Over the Mounth, Joseph Gordon became butler for Clementina Countess of Airlie. Whilst serving at Cortachycastle Joseph dedicated a ‘volume of poems’ to the Countess. A genteel poet from Camlet – how about that! I find it hard to imagine such literacy and beautiful prose coming from the remotest farm in Deeside! ‘Abergeldy’ seems to have come to the aid of old Camlet in times of need – this supports family lore that Camlet was ‘off the wrong side of Abergeldie’s the Blanket!’

Babs and the bogleFigure 9: Babs and the bogle

Another son of Camlet, James Gordon, became the Gardener for Airlie castle. Taste abounds in this most picturesque of estates; with the clipped yew majesty of the walled garden, the sweeping beech approach, and the floral abundance of the Laburnum walk. I would consider myself as a plantsman yet I was left only to marvel at James’ wonderful creation.

Camlet Joseph’ and his Incredible BairnsFigure 10: ‘Camlet Joseph’ and his Incredible Bairns

Eric Auld once painted ‘The Camlet.’ His brush strokes fashioned no sweeping panorama as I wouldprefer, but the scene recreated was none the less astounding, for pictured abandoned in the decaying rickles of Camlet was an old car. A car at The Camlet – surely that was impossible! That car, an old Austin Seven, was surely the unstoppable force that met the immovable object! The challenge might be better understood when you realize that the ‘postie’ Georgie Crawford had in the ‘close-season’ to use skis to deliver mail to the Camlet! The Austin Seven was purchased in Aberdeen in the year 1912 by Peter Gordon Kennedy.

A car at ‘The Camlet’Figure 11: A car at ‘The Camlet’

Geordie Crawford the postie from Loinveg also had a car an old Ford Prefect.  According to Geordie, it remained as good as new with “two new engines and one new body!

The very last Camlet occupants were a Miss Roberton and her friend Fiona; they only used Camlet as a weekend and holiday home.  Miss Roberton worked as a warden in the Aberdeen Halls of Residence. Her path almost certainly crossed with mine: both in Camlet and in Aberdeen city.

Loinveg ‘hame of the cherry blossom’ was the last of the Girnoc farms to empty. Ancient folklore tells the story of how a Loinveg loon was raised by a pack of wolves. This lupine history was said to explain the dark swarthy beard growth of his many descendents.

Loinveg, GirnocFigure 12: Loinveg farm

In the last decade of the 19th century, Loinveg housed three tenants under the servitude of ‘the old Gordon brothers.’ Somewhat remarkably these three tenants were all umbrella makers. What took them to the Girnoc is an utter mystery! I penned a dedication to them:

Ceevil folk wi brollies!? Fit in the Girnoc-
fit mair eesless cud there be!!
Not even the dumfoonert loon wid tak, a brolly, tae the Girnoc!

The brolly makers got caught in a storm at Aultdrachty in Glen Muick and never made it back to Loinveg.

The Loinveg ‘Brolly Makkers’Figure 13: The Loinveg ‘Brolly Makkers’

Loinveg is fast becoming another ‘stane rickle.’ In its old threshing shed, there survive old scribbles from the last years of the nineteenth century. A jester among them teased a young lass called ‘Emma’ about her exodus from Loinveg in her lover’s clothes!

Loinveg scribbles on its thresherFigure 14: Loinveg scribbles on its thresher

“Lost last night, Emma Gordon, last seen going down the road with Fred Duncan’s
clothes on. A’body givin information on her whur-aboots will be rewarded.”

Loinveg soon no more than stane rickles

Figure 15: Loinveg soon no more than stane rickles

Bovaglia is a wonderful place it oozes sadness and spirituality in equal measure. Its glimmer may have faded yet it still remains as Girnoc’s secret gem. It was in its time a singular community, a township. It even had its own water supply in the form of a Dew-pond.

Bovagli’ – once grandest in the glenFigure 16: Bovagli’ – once grandest in the glen

This was the farm of Donald Gordon (1811-1897) coined by me as ‘auld Prodeegous’! There can be little doubt that Donald was a hardened rascal, but nevertheless became a favourite of Queen Victoria. Donald displaced his brother from his rightful share of Bovaglia. That led to the writing of the Bovagli Manuscript in 1870, which traced the Bovagli’ Gordons back to Hallhead

“But brother Donald had that selfishness about him that shows what he was and has been to me all along”

‘Auld Prodeegous’ had a fondness for Liquor. He used to rely upon his horse to get him back from the Inver Inn, up the skylich to Bovagli. One day two boys were waiting for him and they unhitched the cart from the horse with Donald still sleeping soundly and then hitched it back together but not before first passing the shafts of the cart through the spars of the gate! They then hid and waited eagerly. A dazed Donald Gordon studied his predicament before he was heard to say himself…

“I doobt the diel himsel has been at work here the day!”

The great Strathspey musician, J. Scott Skinner, wrote a tune called Bovaglie’s Plaid, inspired by a local saying that the wood “haps, shelters, Bovaglie ferm like a plaid.”  Today the wood is a shadow of its former glory with evergreen aforestation replacing the mixed hardwoods of ancient copses. Isolated pockets of wind-stunted Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and lichenous pollards of aged Mountain Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) stand guard as the stalwart sentinels of this ancient wood.

‘Auld Prodeegous’Figure 17: ‘Auld Prodeegous’

Bovagli’ Kailyards The Ash and Rowan lament

Figure 18: Bovagli’ Kailyards: The Ash and Rowan lament

These days Bovagli is shuttered and silent, yet not so long ago it was a busy working farm with a holding of about 2000 acres of hill pasture. The old Victorian Bovagli’ farmhouse was far grander than any other in the glen. It was the only Girnoc farm to have electricity yet today nature has reclaimed even that! Deer with the summertime rubbing of velvet from their antlers have cored bare the telephone and power supply poles; wind has done the rest. The replacement cost would run to tens of thousands.

Joseph Gordon was the tenant who brought the very first cart to the Girnoc in 1813. Before that time everything was carried by horse-back only.

“We used tae think it was great getting a lift in the cart. Fan we were kids we used to open the gate for the folk that used tae come up and doon fae Bovaglie and sometimes they would throw ye a penny”

One doesn’t have to stretch the imagination to see children playing at Bovaglia; weaving in and out the dykes; hiding in the wood; carting up and down the track. I would certainly throw a penny to any of these kids

Wollie Merchant of Bovaglie brought the first tractor into the Girnoc and alongside general farm work used it also as Girnoc’s taxi!

A beautiful, peaceful, sweeping sadness permeates Bovaglia; a sorrow for the forgotten bustling generations of the farm and days of that “inextricable sibness.” At Bovagli’ ‘auld Prodeegous’ felt this sadness like no other, with the loss of his three of his young children to Scarletina. Not surprising then that Donald Gordon bought a granite townhouse in Aberdeen for his family to live in during the winter months.

It was just beyond Bovagli and towards the Coyles that a Gamekeeper died in a sitting position with his flask at his side and pipe and matches in his hand. Once again Bovagli’ and Nature had reclaimed their own. Bovagli was good at that!

Alistair Repper is the latest hearty young friend of the Girnoc. Aged just 15 years he chose to study the glen for his Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award. Some of the material for this account was provided by Alistair and he has joined a compatriot of friends coined informally as ‘The Deeside Detectives.’ While ever young ones like this still have an interest, the Girnoc and the other Deeside glens will never be empty!


There’s a wee, wee glen in the Hielan’s,
Where I fain, fain would be;
There’s an auld kirk there on the hillside
I weary sair to see.
In a low lythe nook in the graveyard
Drearily stands alane,
Marking the last lair of a’ I lo’ed,
A wee moss-covered stane.

There’s an auld hoose sits in a hollow
Half happit by a tree;
At the door the untended lilac
Still blossom for the bee;
But the auld roof is sairly seggit,
There’s nane now left to care;
And the thatch ance sae neatly stobbit
Has lang been scant and bare.

Aft as I lie’ neath a foreign sky
In dreams I see them a’ –
The auld dear kirk, the dear auld hames,
The glen sae far awa’.
Dreams flee at dawn, and the tropic sun
Nae ray o’ hope can gie;
I wander on o’er the desert lone,
There’s nae mair hame for me.

Charles Murray


Chapter Ten: Hitler’s Autobahn – Wilfrid Lawson Gibson

A chapter from ‘This is Not yesterday’ by Dr Peter J. Gordon

I met Major Wilfrid Lawson Gibson many times but not in life. You see a large framed photograph of him in uniform mounted upon a horse greeted the visitor to my Granny’s Edinburgh home. I always wondered about the horseman but I was young and had not yet realised how important narrative was to me. So it was that I never once asked granny about her father.


Wilfrid Lawson Gibson was born in the cottage in Glamis in 1874. I have been in the room he was born as it is now the Estate Office for the Bowes-Lyon family of Glamis castle. Nearly all of Wilfrid’s siblings were named after the Queen Mother’s family but Wilfrid was named after the Liberal politician whose life cause was for the temperance campaign and total abstinence. As a radical he campaigned for the abolition of the House of Lords.


Wilfrid Lawson Gibson was a lifelong athelete and a superb gymnast and was captain of the Dundee team that won the 1893 National Sheild. Glimmers of this past stay with me in a curious way as his son, also Wilfrid, in his seventies used to perform ‘head stands’ upon wooden chairs to entertain his nieces and nephews. This taught me that sometimes a new wordly understanding can be made if it is viewed upside down! It was necessary for Wilfrid Lawson Gibson to be athletic as he to get to school he had to walk the 12 miles from Glamis to Harris Academy in Dundee. This journey made on a Monday and returned on a Friday. Wilfrid was 16 years old when his family left Glamis for Broughty Ferry.


Wilfrid was to practice as a Civil Engineer, and early in his career moved to Morpeth, Northumberland, where he learnt surveying. On his return to Scotland he was to gain employment as Civil Engineer for West Perthshire, which was a huge area, and clearly a massive undertaking. One must remember that this was the early part of the last century, a time when the need for quality, consolidated, tarmacadam roads was vital for the flourishing automobile industry. Wilfrid ran offices in both Perth and Dunblane, and presided over a large workforce.

Wilfrid met Ellen Callander (Nelly) Stevenson at a picnic in Dollar, an outing for the Falkirk Operatic Society, in the Summer haze of 1906. Nelly came from a prosperous family in Falkirk, where her father worked as a Wine Importer. After this first meeting, another 4 months passed by before Wilfrid asked Nelly out (she later recalled how she was not impressed by the delay!) Meantime she kept in her purse a small poem he had given her called ‘Constant Love’. Nelly chose to call her first child, a daughter, Constance. This baby being my future Granny was born in the very room of Balhaddie house where Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the night of 11th September 1745


One of Wilfrid Lawson Gibson’s proudest achievements was the Duke’s Road, Trossachs. His winding road through the mountainous Dukes Pass survives to this day. Indeed, nearly a century on from its construction, the tortuous bends were to induce nausea and vomit of that projectile kind in his great great grandson Andrew Gordon! For his achievement, Wilfrid was presented a momento in the form of a bowl made from the last toll of Brig o’ Turk.

Wilfrid Lawson Gibson died suddenly of pneumonia in April 1942 whilst on a seaside holiday in Dunoon. That was a year before his grand-daughter Margaret Scott was born, thus she has no memories of him.

Fortunately however, being the first born grandson, John Gibson Scott remembers his grandfather well and indeed with great affection. Indeed mention his grandfather Wilfrid today and John Scott’s eyes glint and he will say: “oh yes, he was a real charmer.” Just this spring I had the fortune to read out the war letters of Wilfrid Lawson Gibson to John his grandson. What follows here then is a synopsis of his time as a Major in the Scottish Horse and his role in the Great War of 1914-1918.

Birnam Hotel Outhouse, Friday 7th August 1914

To Mrs W. L. Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk

My dearest Nellie,
I arrived here safe this afternoon.

Captain Rundle, Lieutenant Alistair McLaren, Sergeant Smith of Barty’s office and myself were sent on by car to make preparations for the squadron which will arrive here about 5.30. So far as I can learn part of the 1st Scottish Horse Regiment is to be attached along with the Division of Cavalry to the ‘Highland Division.’

This Division will be many thousands strong which I understand is to mobilise in the big park in front of Scone Palace.

Captain Stirling of Keir is to be in this Division also with his Lovat Scouts (this hearsay but I think it is pretty reliable.)

I trust you and the Little Ones arrived safe at Falkirk today and that you found your mother well – no doubt she will be like most of people just now a little excited.

Fancy mother coming up this morning to see me arrive. Poor lady she did look anxious when saying good bye. I assured her I would soon be back. We must all have patience meantime and hope for the best. I know I will have to ‘rough it’ a bit but I have my mind made up for that.

Now dearest I hope you and the Little Ones will keep as happy as you can until Daddy returns. Will write you possibly tomorrow again.

Love to all, and kisses to you and my Dear Ones,

Your affectionate hubby, Wilfrid

P.S. excuse scrawl I am writing this on my knee. I expect a busy time after another Squadron (103 horses and men) arrive. There are 4 or 5 other squadrons coming here though as well.

Xmas 1914

Birnam Hotel Outhouse, Sunday 9th August 1914

To Mrs W. L. Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk

Dearest Nellie,
We have had another big day’s work getting prepared. I am principally assisting with clerical work at Headquarters but I expect by Monday I will be getting to know what my permanent duties will be. I think we won’t be moving until Monday.

We were all Medically examined this morning and of course I passed. Don’t say a word at Dunblane but I hear

that Bill Dugan and your Milkman (Lairdie) have been rejected on account of age. It is hard luck on them both

as they were both looking forward to getting at the German Emperor’s throat.

We are all happy although we have had very wet weather since we came. There is now a talk of us going to York

but no one seems to know our programme yet. Tullibardine was called to London this morning to see Lord

Kitchener. We may get a line at any moment. We won’t be sorry when we get on the move as it is getting a littletiresome waiting here.

I hope the Little Ones are well and that you are call cheery during this crisis. There is no use sending me a letter

just yet although I am so anxious to hear from you.

Immediately I know where my days will be a little more permanent I will advise you.

Love to all and kisses to all my Dear ones.


Scottish Horse

21st August 1914 Postcard: The Square and Monument, Dunkeld

Just a note to say we are now under canvas. I am keeping very fit although my feet are inclined to blister but I must not grumble.

Scottish Horse Depot, Dunkeld, 7th September 1914

The 4th Regiment (or 1st Reserve) (450 men) went off to Scone on Saturday; they were a splendid body of men.

We are now planning a 5th Regiment or 2nd Reserve and already we have about 260 men forward; this

Regiment should be at strength by the end of the week. Men continue to roll in.

Lord Tullibardine is in the best of form. I have a chat with him every second day – he is very proud of his men! Major and Mrs Randall are still here; I had a talk with Mrs R. the other night, she is in a happy state! They have taken a house for the children.

Your affectionate Hubby, Wilfrid

9 Sept Dunkeld

9th September 1914, Dunkeld, Tuesday

Postcard to Miss Constance Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk

My dear Little Constance,
This is the street that Daddy lives in – the white house immediately in front of the horse; my bedroom is on the top flat. I have put a dot on it. Mummy would give you all my loving messages. I am coming to see you all next week. I believe you had a grand time in Stirling. Granny says she was sorry when you left. I hope you and Lexy have been looking after Wilfrid and not allowing him to get into mischief.

Kisses to Mummy, Wilfrid and self and don’t forget to give Lexy one.

Your affectionate, Daddy

I have been transferred back to the Office at Dunkeld. My kit is being brought back this afternoon from my tent to my old bedroom at old address – Perth Arms Hotel – so my sleeping accommodation for the time will be a little more comfortable although I liked camp life very much.

A 4th Regiment is now being formed and I am to assist with its formation. We are getting plenty of recruits and I assume will have the 4th Regiment at full strength in about another 7 or 8 days. It is difficult to get equipment as there is such a demand at the Army Stores about 300 of the 3rd Regiment have not got their uniforms yet – it is rather sickening to the men as they are all keen to get to the front. We have some splendid fellows here of all stations in life – the bloom of British manhood. It has been rather wet in camp during the past 2 days although the temperature is warm.

I could do with two pairs of thin socks; the thick ones are too heavy. I have written for my cycle to the section; I will find it useful to cycle up to camp. Mrs Welsh sent me a pot of Bovril and a sultana cake last week – the cake has vanished but the Bovril is still in my kit. I wrote and thanked her for her kindness.

Well dearest my feet are hardening up although they blistered very badly for a time. I have been bathing them with salt and water and I find this treatment very good.

I find everyone here exceptionally kind and am quietly happy with my lot although find the work hard at times, but again I must not grumble. We had a fine concert on Saturday evening; Lady Tullibardine got it up and played the accompaniments. She made a very stirring speech to the men and at the conclusion the cheering was deafening and caps flying in the air. She is a very hard worker and a great favourite with the men. Lord Tullibardine has been in London this week-end and returned this afternoon; he is like an eel just now; you never know the minute he is to make his appearance.

I am glad to know the little Man is growing so well and that he still remembers his Daddy.

Remember me to all at Ella House. I often wish to be with you all but I am afraid that cannot be meantime.

Your affectionate Hubby, Wilfrid.


It was whilst living in Dunblane that Wilfrid became involved with The Scottish Horse, known familiarly as the “Private army of the Duke of Atholl”. Wilfrid was a skilled horseman, sharing the love of horses that his father David had once had.

It was during the 1914-18 War that Wilfrid was involved in the training of a young Edward VIII then Prince of Wales, and later briefly King (given his scandalous abdication of December 1936). Major Wilfrid Lawson Gibson was later to recall how he was not impressed by the Royal Edward.This was an opinion shared by writers of the time:

“When Edward VIII was good, he was very, very good, but when his interest was not caught, he could be horrid: bored, selfish, unpunctual and petulant. Duty for him tended to be a personal affair”

Leaving Birnam

11th February 1917, Sunday evening

Addressed to Miss Constance & Master Wilfrid Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk, Ecosse

My Dear Little Ones,
This is Sunday evening and I can imagine you all at Ella House singing your Sunday evening Hymns before going to bed. There are no Little Boys or Girls here to sing to us, but we sometimes get a visit from a minister – usually called a Padre by the soldiers – who holds a Service for the men in one of the Huts. At these services we get a lot of singing of Psalms and Hymns and some of my men have got splendid voices and it is fine to hear them all joining in and singing praises to the Lord. As I am in charge of these men I have to sit beside the Padre, and I feel so proud and happy at these services and I am sure my men feel the same. It makes us all think of our Dear Ones at Home and of course most of my men have Little Boys and Girls just like yourselves. I am sure their thoughts are like Daddies and wishing they were all back beside their Dear Little Ones again.

These Good Padres do lots of other work than hold services – they write letters for the men who are too uneducated to write for themselves; attend the wounded soldiers in the battle-fields and assist to bandage their wounds; and when a soldier dies he conducts a service at the grave. He also visits the Hospitals and reads stories to the poor soldiers lying in bed and tries to comfort them in many ways. When the soldier is too ill to sit up and write, the Good Padre writes his letters. He always tries to make the men feel bright and cheery and to recognise that although they are away from Dear Ones at Home that God is looking after them. The soldiers love their Padre as they know that not only is he a good and kind Christian but he is a Brave soldier as well.

The frost is very hard here and the whole country is white with snow – there is no skating and curling here as we have no time for any of these sports but I have seen some good snow ball fights. Mother said you were skating on the canal – I feel I will be having rivals when I come back! However I will be very pleased if you can beat Daddy on the ice!

There are no cats here but many of the soldiers keep a dog – the dogs are nothing nice as they are of a very mixed breed. Some of the Regiments keep a mascot which is sometimes a donkey, a bear, a goat and sometimes a monkey. I saw an old pony as a mascot. The soldiers love their mascot as they think that so long as they are with them they will have luck.

my dear little ones

There are very few birds here – only the sparrow, magpie and crow. I suppose there will be a lot of others where the houses are.

I am so glad you gave Daddy the muffer Constance; I think I have never been a day without it since I left: it is so warm and comfy. I think Mother would tell you that I would like another. I am glad to know that you are getting on well at school – I am sure you have made many nice friends by this time. You will soon be getting your Easter Holidays; it will be nice to get a rest after your lessons. I am to try and get some leave during the spring but I have a long way to go before I see you all.

I hope you are being good children and not annoying your Dear Granny in any way and that you assist in many ways. Mind and don’t pull Uncle Billy’s whiskers when he is sleeping!

I had a nice letter from Uncle Jim the other day – he said he was to visit you at Falkirk soon. Remember me to Maggie and say she must write a letter for Wilfrid sometimes – I hope you don’t annoy her and that you are good children when she takes you to her mother’s for tea.

Now Dear Ones I must conclude with many warm and loving x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x ‘s. Give my warmest love to Mummy and Granny and say that Daddy is very well. Also tell Uncle Billy that Daddy sends his love. Sincerely hope this finds you all enjoying the best of health.

Your loving and affectionate Daddy.

de la somme

Postcard: Le Bois dit des Fermes, pres Fay (Battles in the Somme)

This gives a fair idea of some of the woods near here. Many of the woods now are studded with wooden crosses. 25th August 1917


Postcard: PERONNE – Place de l’Eglise.

I usually go to this place for lunch on Sundays. There is a very good Officers Club here. The streets are under my charge.

Postcard: Bataille de la Somme: Etat de la Route de Saint-Quentin dans le Bois des Satyrs pres d’Estrees. 25th August 1917

My Billet is not far from here. This road is now reconstructed with a beautiful tar-macadam surface. French aerial torpedo bombs are seen on the road in the foreground. My Company was living in Dug Outs in this wood for 3 months this spring. I was over this road almost every day.

clover for his weans

19th September 1917

My Dear Little Man,
This village is about 2 miles from where I live. All vehicles (French) here have got hoods, you can see one in this photo. The hoods are a protection from the sun. Unfortunately this pretty village is now very much destroyed by the war.


Wilfs men

C.R.O. Royal Engineers, XIV Corps. 8th October 1917

Addressed to Mrs W.L Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk, Ecosse

Dearest Nellie,
It is just possible the War Office will be advising you that your Hubby was slightly wounded yesterday so I am hastening to let you know that there is nothing serious and please don’t get alarmed in any way as I am quite all right!

A shell splinter got me in the forehead and made a fairly deep cut – it caught me ‘sideways on’ – which was rather fortunate – hence the wound was slight. I immediately applied field dressing and afterwards was taken to a CCS (curiously enough Sister Schofield’s) where I got an injection of anti-tetanus to prevent blood-poisoning and lockjaw.

I was rather seedy last night but I feel much better this morning and am able to be in the office. It was at the CCS that all particulars were taken regarding me so hence me warning you of a letter addressed from the W.O.

Everything is in a state of flutter hence I have now 5 R.C. C’s and something like 2 to 3000 other labour units so I don’t get much time to be weary. The weather has been bad during the past 2 days – a lot of rain – making movement and work very difficult. Thanks dearest for the shortbread it was splendid.

picks & shovel

Tell Constance I enjoyed her loving letter and that I think her writing is an improvement on the last. The little chap is getting on well with his printing but tell him he has spelt Wilfrid with an e instead of an I; say to him that ‘WILFRED’ is too common and not so swanky as WILFRID.

I saw Chapman the other day – he is quite fit again and like myself getting plenty to do. Forbes wrote to me last week – he is likely to be transferred further north soon.

Major L.G. is gaining further west so you see how a household gets broken up here. I think I told you that 301 RCC was a short way south of us here.

Now Dearest I hope this finds you all well at Ella House and that our dear Mother is keeping bright and well.Tell her that I am afraid I won’t be able to keep my promise and come back and see her before the end of October but that I hope to be soon after.

Give the Little Ones Daddy’s best love and kisses and say that I hope they are not giving Annie too much trouble at times.

From your loving and affectionate, Wilfrid

P.S. I would never have written to you re my mishap but I know you would get alarmed if you heard from the War Office.

wooden crosses Somme

Postcard: Battle of the Somme.
The woods now are studded with wooden crosses. 25th August 1917.

hope & love

Springpark, Dunblane,10th February 1918

My Dear and Valued Major Gibson,
I received your welcome letter and am delighted to know you are well and fit and although in that ungodly Country, Be thankful you are still an Honourable member of this world. As you know many Honourable and Dishonourable members have left sooner than they expected since this Bloody War. I would play second fiddle to no one in rejoicing to know your prosperity in Life, and in fact it is, and always has been with Little effort on your part, only your “Gentlemanly” and “Soldierly” “bearing,” with the help of God who has carried you out for the position you now Hold. And I doubt not there is still in store for you further favours, and may the Lords face shine upon you having that end in view.

I am happy to say I and mine are in the Best of Health. Hoping you the same.

And with many kind memories, I am ever your Charlie


3rd May 1918: Postcard: PONT-REMY (Somme) – Le Chateau, Cote est.
Where Daddy is staying (swanking) at present. This chateau was built in 1500. There is a beautiful river immediately in front of the Chateau. The walls of my office are about 5 feet in thickness.

Pont Remy

Postcard: ALBERT (Somme) La Cathedrale bombardee at incendiee par les allemands.
This was once a beautiful town. I often pass here.

I often pass here

16th November 1918

Addressed to Miss Constance & Master Wilfrid Gibson, Ella House, Falkirk, Ecosse

My Dear Constance & Wilfrid,
Daddy is sorry he has been so long in writing but he hasn’t been so well lately. I am glad to say I am almost all right again and getting out quite a lot. The sands are very nice here but there are no boys and girls about, it being the winter season.

The weather keeps beautiful and sunny and it is just like being at Ayr only you are not here. I don’t know yet when I will be coming home but I don’t think it will be long. It is just about 2 years since I came to France so I have been lucky keeping out of Hospital all that time.

I am sending you photos of this Hospital and also of the Sands; my bedroom is marked with a ‘X’. I haven’t had my letters for nearly 2 weeks now so I am longing to hear how you are all keeping. My Clerk has been very careless in not sending them to me. However I will get all the news in the beginning of the week when I go back to my Corps. I have a long train journey back – it will take 14 to 16 hours. I hope to take lots of sandwiches with me. The officer who is in the same bedroom with me will be going with me so I won’t find it so wearisome.

You will soon be getting your Xmas holidays. Hope Mummy and Granny keep well, also that Annie hasn’t had the flu.

Give my love to all,

And with all loving thoughts of you and with lots of x’s,

Your affectionate, Daddy

You will see from the above letter, written from his bed in the British Red Cross hospital, that it was influenza not enemy fire that nearly killed off Major Wilfrid Lawson Gibson. He was in hospital for several more months and not demobbed until 1919. He had served more than two years in France with the Royal Engineers on the Western Front in his role as Deputy Assistant Director of roads. His main contributions were to bridge building and the safe dealing of explosives.

Returning to civilian life was eased slightly for Wilfrid in that in his role as Chief Engineer for West Perthshire he had many projects on the go with the construction of five bridges, the 25 mile road between Loch Tay and Loch Lomond and his proudest task the Trossachs road.

In 1935, with a group of British surveyors, Wilfrid Gibson travelled to Bertesgarten where he met Hitler (Führer) of Germany. The previous year Hitler had assumed total power as the leader and one of the first new laws he established was to regulate autobahn planning and construction. Wilfrid, and the visiting surveyors were quite taken with the autobahn programme, and when he returned home Wilfrid told his four year old grandson that he wanted to build an autobahn between Dunblane and Braco! This will explain to you why, along with the three-moustache tree in disguise (at Keir roundabout) that I now refer to this stretch of the A9 as ‘Hitler’s autobahn!

Hitler's autobahn


Chapter Eleven: The Drumdrullian Calendar

The following chapter is taken from my talk to the Welsh Trust, Bridge of Allan on the 1st of April 2003. It may be quite dry for some tastes, as it covers one thousand years of the farm of the my grandfather. The second section of the chapter is more recent history and arguably of greater interest to the casual reader.

I am a Doctor, but I do hope that I am not really a “Doctor of the Drastic School,” though perhaps maybe by the end of this lecture you may think I ought to be! Yes, this is April the 1st!

The Drastic School referred to links through to Drumdruills most obliquely via the Wrights of Loss. A contemporary of Loss, the Apothecary, Thomas Gillespie, had a universal 18th century remedy. It was thus:

“Ipecac,” “Elect Purg,” “Laxant,” “Decoct linguce pectoral,” innumerable “boluses repetted,” “emplastrum epispast mag” and “Sal glauber.”

Loss having sampled the wares, said of Thomas:

“To give him his due, however, I must he honest enough to own that what he left of me was quite cured.”

So for any one with minor complaints, please consult the speaker after. The fee, he assures you will be negligible, but the after effects may be quite spectacular!

So tonight, let us get back on theme and dispel the usual constraints of the Gregorian calendar for here, the speaker will set before you the far more startling Drumdrullian one.

Peter and Sian Gordon
Saturday the 8th of March 2003

Dear Florence,
I really wanted to thank you for helping me so much in the research of your farm Drumdruills. It is amazing how the place occupies a fondness in the memories of so many. Amazing yes, yet not at all surprising.

I still get a pang of sentimental excitement when crossing the Cocksburn and coming up the drive. The scene is so wonderfully unchanged.

Drumdruills carse and castleFigure One: Drumdruills during the war years

The list of past tenants is growing all the time – yet it is the family stories and the past life of the farm that should really occupy our interest. The ‘two lives’ of the farm: pre- and post-orchard were, as you can imagine, really quite different. I find it is hard to imagine Drumdruills without trees, yet that is how it was for centuries!

The oldest reference that I have come across talks of an Old Bond circa 1210, which links Drumdruills with the Bishop of Dunblane, and perhaps yet more excitingly with one of the first teachers of the day: MacBeth Rex (now that name conjures up all sorts does it not!)

“In a bond circa 1210 the name is given as ‘Drumend du felis,’ which may be rendered as Droman da folais, the little ridge between the two burns, i.e., the Wharry and the Cocksburn. In the bond named, Abraham Bishop of Dunblane undertakes to pay MacBeth Rex of the Schools and Scholastics of Dunblane two silver shillings yearly out of the revenue of Drumdruils. MacBeth is our first recorded headmaster (Dunblane).”

Two of the leading local historians of recent times (Ella MacLean and J.J. MacKay) have talked of Drumdruills as once the site of an ancient village – all trace of which has long since gone.

“There was a clachan at the foot of Cocksburn with a farmhouse Drumdruills closeby”

It was from this village that a headmaster ‘dominie’ drowned himself in a pool in the Cocksburn. The ‘Dominie Hole’ thus became folklore, and J. J. McKay’s father would, on walks through the glen, point it out to his son, rehearsing it’s truly awfully story. I find myself wondering if this dominie was indeed the eponymous MacBeth Rex?

In terms of the ancient village of Drumdruills, its past seems utterly unrecorded, which of course makes its disappearance all the more mysterious. Whatever, as a village, it must have vanished before the early maps of the 16th and 17th century. It is not on Stobies map of 1734. My view is that this ancient village was more likely to be found on or very near to the site of the present house and it is possible then that when Archibald Wright and Marion Row built it in 1652 they recycled the stones of the old village. However one has to say that is simply my conjecture!

Although there has been a long tussle between three parishes; Logie, Lecropt and Dunblane, it was the latter that carried, at least up until the late 17th century, jurisdiction over Drumdruills. Indeed the running of Drumdruills was it seems very much the personal preserve of the Bishop of Dunblane:

“In 1442 The King, with consent of the Council of Bishops, Abbots, Priors, Earls and Barons confirmed to Michael, Bishop of Dunblane, and his successors, all and whole the lands, annual rents and possessions after specified, viz: Civitatem, Dunblanen, Brigend, Cascaplymore…Drumdowlis etc….”

“The lands of Drumdruils and Haugheads were held by the Bishop of Dunblane until 1690. They were afterwards held of the Crown for a yearly payment of 16 merks at Whitsunday and Martinmas and the services of a third part of a man and a horse.”

Drumdruills carse and castleFigure Two: Drumdruills reigns supreme over carse and castle

So for at least 250 years life at Drumdruills, its tenants, and productivity were dictated by the Bishop from his splendid palace in Dunblane. It is my belief that it was during this ‘reign’ that Drumdruills was first planted as an orchard – the distant and long since forgotten predecessor to the Scott Orchard of 1892! There is documentary proof that this orchard survived up until the early 18th century, indeed in 1723 it was said to be the finest in the shire!

This early orchard has been a revelation to me (see my opening remarks), only unearthed through research made for my forthcoming talk to the Welsh Trust. I am inclined to believe that my great-great grandfather Bob Scott (1856-1940) had some inkling of it – for he searched long and hard for favourable fruit-growing conditions outside the Clyde Valley. An ancient yet successful orchard, even if long since gone, would have supported his strong feel for Drumdruills.

The only reference that I have come across to this ancient orchard relates to Sir James Campbell, the Second Laird of Aberuchill and Kilbryde. Sir James, a barrister, was a member of the highest society in Edinburgh, but was apparently of extravagant habits, and dispersed a considerable portion of the wealth accumulated by his father Sir Colin Campbell (1637-1704.)

In 1723 Sir James’s son and brother jointly urged him to purchase the property of Drumdroulls on the ground that it had:

“One of the best fruit orchards in the shire, both as to kinds and quantities, and also contained a lime quarry of as good lime as ever they had seen.”

The purchase was NOT made, probably because Sir James was in constant need of money, and had not the means to purchase additional lands. In his hands Drumdruills might have suffered a rather different fate, for it seems Sir James Campbell was an inveterate gambler, and although he far preferred the country to the city, he was also a notoriously unreliable figure!

It is fitting that this year the Welsh Trust lecture relates to Drumdruills – for the farmhouse is now celebrating its 350th year. Remarkable, and next to Blawlowan, it is the oldest (to my knowledge) continuously occupied domicile in the district – except perhaps that of Balhaddie house in Dunblane.

Now Balhaddie brings me to one of Drumdruills many and varied and rather wonderful links with the district, and indeed with Dunblane in particular.

Balhaddie connects us to the Sinclair family. In 1649 Henrie Sinclair paid a rental of “three hundredth and threttie pounds” for the estates of Glassingall and Drumdulles. Henrie Sinclair also owned a house in Sinclair’s Wynd, Dunblane, which adjoined Balhaddie. Indeed the Sinclair family was a notable one in the Dunblane parish with Baillie Richard Sinclair being the outstanding citizen of the Fifteenth century town.

From the above it might seem that the Sinclair family was but a brief chatelaine of Drumdulles. In fact this was not so, for they Sinclairs tenanted the farm from 1546 until 1650, a time span nearly equal to that of the Wright Family, who were, as rehearsed, to immediately follow them.

The Drumdruills-Balhaddie connection is of more than academic interest tome, for my grandfather Rab Scott was born at Drumdruills in 1905, and my grandmother Constance Gibson was born at Balhaddie in 1908. In 1932 they married, and in doing so (whilst almost certainly unknowingly) they united once again two of the ancient domiciles of the district. Silly sentiment sometimes overtakes one, for in my mind I imagine my grandparents, Rab and Con, walking hand in hand along the ancient darn road between Drumdruills and Balhaddie.

Balhaddie DunblaneFigure Three: Balhaddie House, Dunblane

Leaving these ponderous thoughts aside, there is a question how to spell Drumdruills: one ‘l’ or two? I have always preferred the latter and indeed looking back at centuries of etymological variations, two ‘l’s seems to carry through. Perhaps of more interest is that originally there was no secondary ‘r’ and as you can see from the above the farm was originally known as Drumdowlis (1442) or later as Drumdulles (1650) In the last years of the Wrights occupancy (the early years of the 18th century) it somehow acquired a second ‘r’

Personally I like the coinage of the Wrights: Drumdrulls with “two r’s and two l’s!”

So here we come to the WRIGHT family, arguably the most notable family of the Drumdrullian calendar! The Wright family purchased Drumdrulls estate from the Bishop of Dunblane and armed with considerable fortune “for they married well” they set about the revitalisation of the policy.

The mystical DrumdruillsFigure Four: The mystical appeal of Drumdruills

By 1652, just two short years on from Henrie Sinclair’s occupancy, a new farmhouse (appears to) have been completed. The proud new owners would have marveled to know that the house they built would still stand strong three and a half centuries on! Proud, oh yes, that is right for they set a stone above their door recording the date 1652 flanked either side with their initials.

By the time the Scott family occupied the farm, this keystone was already badly eroded, and the inscription faded to the point where it was hardly decipherable. Now, a further hundred years on, all traces of the inscription have gone.

Here we have the first piece of fortune, for John Scott and his three pals, in the early summer of 1900, were sitting on the lawn outside Drumdruills when conversation got round to the “mystery of the faded keystone” The year 1652 could be made out, but the initials were far less clear: it seemed there was an ”A” and possibly an “M” followed by “R.”

Why then was this fortunate, well the answer is simple, sitting with John Scott was Archibald MacLean (Archie) and Charles Thorpe McInnes (Thorpe), both of whom were not only Bridge of Allan boys, but also budding historians. Many years later Thorpe, who was by then Curator of Records at Register House, wrote to Archie after stumbling across ancient Wright manuscripts “that which made the faded keystone a lamp shining into a dark space.” Sadly by then, their good friend, John Scott (1878-1912), my great grandfather, was dead.

The Wright family was of noble descent and carried much power in the district, indeed the ingenuity of one of the family forebears, John the ‘Pin’ Wright, helped serve William Wallace victory in battle over the English on September 13th 1297. This was described by Dr Peter Wright in his manuscript on the Wright family prepared in 1800 (Dr Peter Wright’s grandfather was brother of Archibald Wright ‘of the faded keystone’)

The name of Wright seems to very ancient, as we find from history, that John Wright a famous architect, constructed a bridge at Kildean over the Forth by Stirling which upon drawing a pin separated in the middle; this stratagem being put in execution gave Sir William Wallace a decided victory in a battle fought 13th September 1297 over the English when part of their army had passed and part upon the Bridge, the Pin was drawn out by Wright himself who was suspended in a basket under the Arch and escaped unhurt. The English Army being thus divided and surprised, many were killed and drowned and suffered in the pursuit through Stirling, St. Ninians, and the Forwood. Wright was ever after that known by the Name of the Pin.

On a pin – that could be a metaphor for Drumdruills, tugged as it always was, between two baronies. The pivotal point in the Drumdrullian calendar was the split of the 17th century when the Wrights, feudal Baronets of Airthrey, purchased Drumdruills and swung the balance away from Dunblane and its Bishopdom.

Indeed Drumdruills remained under Airthrey’s power and jurisdiction up until May 1935 when it was sold by Donald Graham of Airthrey to my great grandmother, Susan Scott for the sum of £2300.

It was James Wright a ‘very accomplished and handsome man’ that is said to have purchased Drumdruills for the Wright family. The exact date of the purchase is still not clear to me, but one assumes 1652. Like others to follow him, his route to Drumdruills was through his sweetheart and wife to be, Elizabeth Linton of the neighbouring estate of Pendreich. James Wright married Elizabeth in 1639

“…and received 4,000 merks portion with her a great sum in those days.”

Indeed they did marry well!

James and Elizabeth Wright had a large family five sons, Alexander, Archibald, James, Robert and Patrick and two daughters, Janet and Marion. These children could not have been born at Drumdruills, for we know that Henrie Sinclair was tenanting the farm up until 1649.

I do try not to drift away from historical fact, yet the temptation to “read into” the often fragmentary glimpses of our past, and to pull this together as a readable story sometimes overwhelms. For any historical researcher this is a dangerous pitfall. It should not be excusable. One could not levy this charge against Dr Thorpe McInnes, who as Curator of our Scottish Records reached the highest position in the land. Dr McInnes adored Lecropt the parish of his birth. When he moved to Edinburgh (as the Curator) he renamed his house Lecropt!

It was Dr Thorpe McInnes who first highlighted an old document amidst the Wright of Loss papers which apparently confirmed that “Archibald the second son ‘tricked’ his father out of the lands of Drumdruills.” Thorpe’s good friend Dr R. T. Young picked up this apparent aside, and fleshed it out in somewhat more prosaic fashion:

“The old parchment which I have referred to, written by a Wright of a later day, says that Archibald Wright, though a younger son, “tricked” his father out of Drumdroulls. But this Jacob the Supplanter, like the Biblical Jacob, must have prospered, for he too made a good marriage, uniting himself to no less a person than Marion Row, a young lady of the notable Inverallan Family, and a descendant of John Row the Reformer. Then in the joy of his heart, and in the pride of good ancestry on the side of both husband and wife, he built him a house, and set in its walls his stone of remembrance, A.W. 1652 M.R.”

Lecture to The Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society “The Wrights of Loss: an Ochil Family” February 1932

It seems then that Archibald was desperate for his father to give him Drumdruills in preference to any of his sibs. As it turned out James Wright was very fair minded: he did give Archibald Drumdruills but balanced this by divvying out amongst his growing family the numerous estates that he had acquired in his lifetime and recompensed others with substantial financial bonds.

‘Tricked’ now that is not to mince ones words! It certainly leaves me wondering who this ‘Wright of a later day’ was and why after all this time was he still rehearsing an old family divide? Whatever, one of Archibald’s sibs must have carried a grudge? I find myself wondering if it was Archibald’s older brother Alexander Wright – the Wright of Loss. After all, the ‘tricked’ document is apparently held with the Loss papers. Also in a general sense, it was usually the eldest son that expected to inherit his father’s estate. So it seems plausible, but entirely hypothetical, that Alexander Wright begrudged his displacement from Drumdruills by his younger brother Archibald.

“James Wright soon afterwards purchased the Estate of Drumdrouls & Haughhead in the Parish of Dunblane & Shire of Perth and by his wife had 5 sons Alexander, Archibald, James, Robert and Patrick and two daughters, Janet & Marion; to Alexander he gave the estate and the lands of Loss, Ashentre, Caldhame, Ploverburn & Callendar in the Parish of Logie, & to Archibald the 2nd son, the lands of Drumdrouls & Haughead burthened with the Payment of 2,000 marks to his brother James, as Alexander was with the same sum to his brother, Robert, these disposition are dated at Drumdrouls, March 3rd  1671.”

Loss Hill andAshentroolFigure Five: Loss Hill: Ashentrool is on the far left, and Loss, by the central solitary tree

I had initially assumed that the date 1652 on the faded keystone symbolised more than just the date of building. Given that the date was flanked by the initials of Archibald and Marion I assumed this was also year of their marriage. However it is now clear this could not be so. In 1652, Archibald was but a bairn. His parents married in 1639 and we know that Archibald was the second born son. It can be assumed therefore he was born in the mid 1640’s and that by 1652 he was probably not even ten!

Two possibilities come to me but there may of course be others.

Firstly did 1652 simply commemorate the date that James Wright (Archibald’s father) purchased Drumdruills, and this was retrospectively incorporated into the building when the newly weds Archibald and Marion moved into their house later that century.

The other possibility is simply that the faded keystone was so weathered that Archie and Thorpe (in 1900) read 1652 rather than 1662 or perhaps even 1682. That would then mean that the date could well reflect the year that Archibald married his sweetheart Marion (which probably was indeed around 1680.) Perhaps then it is not too far fetched to assume that 1682 became weathered to read as 1652? Short of fine tooth-combing the Wright records one may never be sure, and now that is a job for someone more earnest than me!

James Wright the “very accomplished and handsome man” and the FIRST of “Drumdoully” died there in 1689. A handsome man, he died a handsome age, in his seventy-fifth year: well and truly beyond the usual life-span of the era.

After his father’s death, Archibald Wright and Marion Row raised their four children in the present house. They had two boys, Archibald and Shem; and two girls, Elizabeth and Margaret.

Of the two sons, Shem, Lieutenant in a Foot Regiment, was to be killed in battle at Preston in 1715. He was a young man. Archibald junior married Jane Stuart, by whom he had a son who died very young.

Of the two daughters, Elizabeth married David Ogilvie of Peel in Angus by whom she had issue an only son, David, who in right of his mother succeeded to one half of Drumdrouls. Margaret, the other daughter of Archibald and Marion, inherited the other half of Drumdrouls where she resided and died unmarried.

Thorpe, our genial Curator of Scotland’s Historic Records, wrote in the 1930’s a splendid little piece about the Wrights of Drumdruills. It is wonderfully evocative and truly brings them to life. It is difficult not to chuckle at the simple theatrical and flamboyant hysteria of it all. For Thorpe narrates a truly over-played storm-in-a-teacup!

The centre of the piece is James Wright, father of Archibald. The date is summer 1667. Archibald himself is not involved in the skirmish, but his two brothers, Robert and James are.

A sketch of somewhat serious import at the time for the characters delineated but now affording us some mild amusement follows. (The families concerned – at least the Wrights and his wife, a Linton of Pendreich, were substantial lairds in the district – a kind of gentry of the time.)

Before the bailie of the Regality Court of Dunblane on the 12th of June 1667, a complaint was made by William Ker, beltmaker in Dunblane, against James Wrycht of Drumdroules, Elizabeth Lintoune, his spouse, and James and Robert, their sons.

William Ker states that they entered his house the day before in a turbulent manner and struck his wife Magdalen Graham and Agnes Ker, his servant, and also abused them with their tongues.

Ker’s witnesses deponed that Elizabeth Lintoune laid violent hands on Magdalen Graham, drew her through the house and did ’ryve her waistcoat’; that James Wrycht, younger, struck at her; and that the others abused her with their tongues. It was also alleged that James Wrycht, elder, was heard to command his two sons James and Robert to go into the complainer’s house and take forth said a kist and bedclothes (which was said to belong to Robert Wrycht); that accordingly they went, and being interrupted Robert took hold of Magdalen by the throat and ‘did ding her almost to the ground’ and that he likewise dealt with Agnes Ker the servant.

The verdict went against James Wrycht, elder, he was fined £10 Scots and to lie in the Tolbooth until payment.

But look at the background and what do we see? On 19th June 1667, James Wrycht of Drumdroules and his two sons, evidently smarting under the fine, bring an accusation against William Ker to whom his son Robert had been apprenticed. Ker, it is alleged, had on the 5th of the month threatened the apprentice lad with a knife, threatened ‘to put ‘his fuit upon his neck’; and had taken the lad by the hair of the head and threw him ‘most pitifully’ to the ground striking him repeatedly so that he had become ‘lame of his arme’;  and abused the said prentice with many base expressions such as ‘the hangman would draw doun his feet,’

Ker’s wife (Magdalane Graham) and the servant (Agnes Ker) apparently wreaked their ill-will on the lad by ‘ryving his hair’ and ‘beating him to the ground!’ Magdalen Graham had also struck James Wrycht, the apprentice’s brother ‘on the mouth to the effusion of his blood’

The bailie fines William Ker £5 Scots for ‘beating the said Robert his prentice,’ and another £5 for ‘his said spous hitting the said James Wrycht, younger, on the mouth.’

Thus by judicious touches we find a balance. Can anyone imagine a better display of judicial sense? We can see the judge with a twinkle in his eye – the bailie of the Regality Court – dealing out justice first on the one hand and then on the other, no doubt with satisfaction to both sides, until it dawned on them that each side had lost £10 in fines.

Archibald Wright, he of the ‘faded tombstone’ died in the same year as his older brother Alexander (Wright the First of Loss). That year was 1708. More than ever, this flimsy irony leaves me wondering if indeed Drumdroulls had divided them. Had that word ‘tricked’ not raised its ugly head this ‘inclination’ would indeed be just that. So let us forget such constructs and rehearse what facts can be verified.

Further mystery surrounds the tombstones to the brothers. To Alexander Wright of Loss there are (most unusually) two stones: One in Old Lecropt with the Latin inscription “Surgite Venite” and another in Old Logie with the initials A.W. and M.F. and dated 1691. Both stones have been authenticated as those of the Wrights of Loss.

I now believe I have found the stone to Archibald Wright. It is in Old Logie, in the same row as brother Alexander. The