Fame and Fortune
The Dumfriesshire Companion
Haig Gordon



Some Historical Background

The Border

From Westerkirk to Westminster Abbey -
Thomas Telford

Robert Burns - Doonhamer

The Sage of Ecclefechan - Thomas Carlyle

Hugh MacDiarmid and the Muckle Toon

Other Literary Figures

The Artists

Fame and Fortune

Other Pairs of Eyes

Fame and Fortune

While the likes of Telford, Carlyle and MacDiarmid rose to international prominence through the work they did within the British Isles, many of the county's high achievers made their names by venturing well beyond their homeland. Dumfriesshire has produced a prodigious number of famous explorers, soldiers and sailors, for many of whom the British empire was the opportunity for distinction. The globe-trotters of Dumfriesshire as well as its stay-at-homers have been motivated by a great variety of considerations: the search for wealth, the pursuit of knowledge, the urge to evangelise. For some, thank goodness, it was just the fun of it all.

Sanquhar's boy wonder

The sixteenth-century Dumfriesshire man who came to be known as the Admirable Crichton (not to be confused with J M Barrie's play of that name) should perhaps be looked upon as the county's first international celebrity. As with the achievement of such status in our own times, hype and self-promotion played a part as much as intrinsic talent.

James Crichton (1560-1582) came of an aristocratic family long connected with upper Nithsdale and, though his upbringing took place largely elsewhere in Scotland, he is claimed as a son of Sanquhar on the grounds of his having been born probably at the Eliock estate south-east of the town. As a youngster, he appears to have been some kind of wunderkind, enrolling as a student at St Andrews when still only ten and graduating with a couple of degrees at the age of fifteen. It seems that he was possessed of a kind of multilingual gift of the gab.

In 1577 he left Scotland to try his luck in the intellectual centres of continental Europe. He was probably in Paris for a while before heading for Italy, where he quickly made his mark as a public orator, what used to be known as a rhetorician. His first success came in Genoa where in 1579 he delivered a ceremonial speech at the election of the city's magistrates.

Like a superstar on tour Crichton moved on to Venice, where he published a handbill advertising his skills: Le Scozzese, detto Giacomo Critonio was extolled as being fluent in ten languages; learned in philosophy, theology, astrology, mathematics and statecraft; and a master of horsemanship and jousting. The publicity worked: soon after arriving in the city he was invited to perform before the Council of Ten, the Doge's official advisers, and more engagements followed. By now he had been dubbed Il Ammirabile Critonio.

His reputation spread among the city-states of Italy and by 1582 he was carrying out a number of commissions for the Duke of Mantua. But it was in Mantua that his brief, dazzling career came to a brutal end. The Duke's son and heir was jealous of the foreigner's success. The two of them got involved in a street brawl and shortly afterwards Crichton died from his injuries. He had not quite reached his twenty-second birthday.

The money men

William Paterson (1658-1719), who was born at Skipmyre farm in the parish of Tinwald, is usually labelled as 'founder of the Bank of England'. The description makes him sound like a pillar of the British establishment but in reality he was more of a pushy wheeler-dealer, perhaps even a bit of a wideboy. He was indeed one of those who in 1694 set up a bank of credit, based on the Dutch model, to provide finance for King William III's military exploits but within less than a year he had fallen out with his fellow directors and was forced to resign.

Little is known about Paterson's early life. One near-contemporary source claimed that he was 'bred in England from his infancy'. As a young man he was engaged in various commercial ventures in continental Europe, above all in the Netherlands. After his short-lived involvement with the Bank of England, he set about promoting another of his pet schemes, in this case with disastrous results for the economy of Scotland. Paterson persuaded the Scottish parliament to authorise the founding of a colony on the isthmus of Darien in central America near what is now the Panama Canal. The first contingent of 3000 prospective settlers set sail in 1698. Paterson had hoped to be their leader. Denied this role, he went with them as a private citizen. Through a combination of hostile climate, sabotage by rival merchants and mismanagement, the whole venture collapsed with substantial loss of life and financial wipe-out for hundreds of investors back home. Paterson's wife and child were among the fatalities and he himself became mentally deranged for a while.

But there was no putting this man down. He soon bounced back onto the Edinburgh scene, becoming a prominent champion of the parliamentary union of Scotland and England which eventually came to pass in 1707. The following year he returned to his native Dumfriesshire to stand for election to the new House of Commons. He appears to have won the contest only to be subsequently disqualified on a technicality.

Paterson had a sister living at New Abbey in Kirkcudbrightshire and he must have been visiting her when he died, as he was buried there in the cemetery at Sweetheart Abbey. The exact location of his interment is not known. His gravestone is said to have been later broken up for paving.

A recent historian summarised him thus: 'Paterson was a classic example of the late seventeenth-century projector, more skilful at promoting his plans than at executing his projects, and more interested in his own self-advancement than in carrying through the consequences of his ideas. He was hardly the economic visionary hailed by his Victorian admirers.'

Rev Henry Duncan (1774-1846) was a very different kind of money man, dedicating much of his life to helping the poor save it. He is regarded as the father of the savings bank movement. It was in Ruthwell, where he was kirk minister, that in 1810 he set up a bank for his parishioners. It was the first of its type. There had been savings banks before but the Ruthwell model, which became the norm, was novel in being run on a sound business footing. It was structured in such a way as to encourage long-term saving. Interest rates were generous but only for regular savers who rarely withdrew.

Duncan was appalled by the poverty he found when he took up his ministerial post in 1799. He was unusual in being more concerned with improving his parishioners' living conditions than with preparing their souls for the afterlife. He alleviated the effects of a bad harvest by arranging the import of corn from Liverpool, and he encouraged households to supplement their incomes through spinning. But above all he sought to promote thrift and self-reliance, believing that charitable handouts were degrading to the recipients. This was the approach underlying his savings initiative. Implementing his ideas was eased by having had a brief pre-ordination career as a banker in Liverpool (where, incidentally, he lodged with Dr James Currie, the first biographer of Robert Burns).

Duncan was a remarkable man with a broad range of interests and abilities. As a writer and publisher he started a local newspaper, the Dumfries and Galloway Courier. As a geologist he identified the marks of quadrupeds in sandstone deposits at Corncockle quarry near Templand. As an archaeologist he understood the significance of the Ruthwell Cross and it was he who supervised its restoration.

On certain public matters Duncan was animated by a strong sense of principle. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery and an active promoter of religious tolerance (in 1829 he published A Letter to the Parishioners of Ruthwell on Catholic Emancipation). Inevitably he became a player in the politics of the Church of Scotland. Having become Moderator of the General Assembly (the Kirk's top position), he then joined the breakaway Free Kirk in the row over parochial patronage of the landowners. He transferred his ministry to Mouswald, where there is a memorial.

The China syndrome

It was a Dumfriesshire farmer's son who put the Jardine into the fabulously successful Asian trading conglomerate Jardine Matheson & Co. From the start there was a policy of recruiting management as much as possible from within a circle of family and friends, and the continuation of this approach has meant that the original Dumfriesshire connection is as strong today.

William Jardine (1784-1843) was brought up at Broadholm farm to the east of Lochmaben. After a medical training in Edinburgh he got his first experience of commerce as a ship surgeon's mate with the East India Company. Once promoted to full surgeon, he became eligible for the officer's perk known as 'privilege tonnage'. Jardine fully exploited this personal cargo space for trading purposes and it was not long before medicine was abandoned in favour of merchandising.

Resident in China from 1820, he formed the eponymous partnership with fellow Scot James Matheson. Their most significant commodity was opium. When the Chinese authorities tried to stop their drugs business, Jardine persuaded the British government to engage in what came to be known as the First Opium War (1839-42). On his return to Britain, he took up politics and became an MP for the Whigs. Benjamin Disraeli, the Conservative politician (and several times Prime Minister) who had another life as a popular novelist, caricatured Jardine as McDruggy in Sybil (1845):

"You had a formidable opponent, Lord Marney told me," said Sir Vavasour. "Who was he?"
"Oh! a dreadful man! A Scotchman, richer than Croesus, one McDruggy, fresh from Canton, with a million of opium in each pocket, denouncing corruption, and bellowing free trade."

When bachelor Jardine was looking around in Scotland for a grand country residence on which to lavish his money, he appears to have had his eye on the Castlemilk estate at Kettleholm but in the end he acquired instead Lanrick Castle in Perthshire. Death finally brought him home: he was buried in Lochmaben.

Jardine ensured continuity by bringing several nephews into the firm: Andrew, Joseph, David and Robert. They too eventually returned home with their wealth and bought property. Joseph fulfilled his uncle's wish to have a Jardine in Castemilk and when he died he left the estate to Robert, who built a grand Baronial mansion. Robert also followed his uncle William into politics, winning in 1865 the same Devon seat. Robert spent 21 years in the House of Commons, latterly for Dumfriesshire. He was described by a journalist as 'a Liberal Unionist who sets a good example in an age of talk by not troubling the House with much speaking.'

Robert's son was not active in the firm and the Buchanan-Jardines of Castlemilk, as they became, dropped off the Hong Kong scene. But there were plenty more Dumfriesshire relatives to fill the seats in the boardroom. William Keswick, a great-nephew of William Jardine, went to China in 1855 and five more generations of Keswicks followed in his footsteps. Portrack House at Holywood became a Keswick home and there Maggie Keswick, along with her American husband, created the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. She also edited the Jardine Matheson history marking its 150th anniversary. But she is best known as the Maggie of the cancer care organisation Maggie's Centres, which she began before her own death from breast cancer in 1995.

Maggie's uncle William Keswick (died 1990) created the sculpture park at Glenkiln in Kirkcudbrightshire.

In 2012 Jardine Matheson Holdings listed as directors four people by the name of Keswick.

There are two further names continuing the China/Dumfriesshire connection. In 1919 David Landale, a Dumfriesshire minister's son who made a fortune with Jardine Matheson, bought the Dalswinton estate and his descendents run it to this day. In 2006 Percy Weatherall retired as managing director of Jardine Matheson and came to live at Cowhill Tower near Holywood. The original William Keswick was his great-great-grandfather. For the firm's 175th anniversary his wife Clara Weatherall updated the company history first edited by Maggie Keswick.

All the Czarina's Men

A single eighteenth-century Dumfriesshire physician entering the service of the Russian court in St Petersburg would be an interesting enough story by itself. That three of them - all from the Lochmaben area - did so is amazing. Even more amazing is the way in which securing such a royal post at that time seemed be a pathway to immense enrichment, for at least two of these three eventually returned home as extremely wealthy men.

The first was James Mouncey (1709/10-1773), born at Skipmyre west of Lochmaben. He studied medicine at Edinburgh University, though there is no evidence that he actually graduated. In 1736 he went to work at the admiralty hospital in St Petersburg and rose rapidly through the military medical hierarchy. He gained a reputation for scholarship and in 1750 was elected to the Royal Society in London, his citation stating: 'Physician-in-Chief to the Czarina's Army which marched through Bohemia and Poland to the assistance of the Allies and a gentleman of learning, curiosity and knowledge in Natural History which he seems industrious to improve and communicate. Residing in a country where it is very difficult to obtain any satisfactory information, he is likely to prove a desirable and useful member.'

In 1760 Mouncey was appointed personal physician to the Empress Elizabeth. When she died the following year, he continued in the service of her successor Peter the Great, but when Catherine the Great took charge following her husband's death from poisoning and strangulation, the Dumfriesshire man's employment was terminated. Returning to Scotland in 1762, he bought the Rammerscales estate near Hightae, where he had a mansion built. In the garden there he pioneered the cultivation of medicinal rhubarb, seeds for which he had brought back from Russia. He knew all the secrets of the Russian court and it was said that he lived the rest of his days in fear of Catherine's agents catching up with him.

The next Dumfriesshire man to take up medical practice in St Petersburg, four years after Mouncey's departure, was John Rogerson (1741-1823) from Lochbrow near Lochmaben. He went there on the recommendation of Mouncey, to whom he was distantly related. From 1769 he was employed at the court of Catherine the Great. His duties included participation in the management of Catherine's voracious libido. Her prospective lovers underwent extensive trials. First, the ladies-in-waiting tried them out for technique. If found to be satisfactory, they were then passed on to Rogerson, whose responsibility was to ensure that they were free of venereal disease. He was well rewarded for services rendered. Like Mouncey, he was able to turn himself into a major Dumfriesshire landowner. His first purchase was the mansion of Dumcrieff near Moffat, and in 1810, six years before he finally retired from his Russian career, he acquired the estate of Wamphray.

The third of the Dumfriesshire physicians to work for the Russian royal family was Matthew Halliday (1732-1801), but hardly anything is now known about his life and career.

For God's sake

The Annan-born Christian preacher Edward Irving (1792-1834) gets the full public statue treatment in his home town, a surprising accolade for someone who was clearly bonkers. After an initial period as a schoolmaster Irving trained for the Kirk ministry and was ordained by the Annan presbytery in 1822. He moved to London, where his zealous oratory, combined with a commanding theatrical presence, transformed him, for a time, into a celebrity.

But his popularity waned after he went weird. His London congregation started to desert him when he turned to increasingly eccentric prophecy. He argued, for example, that the French Revolution was a sign of the impending end of the world and he predicted that Christ would return to Earth in 1868. In 1828, while he was preaching in Kirkcaldy (home town of his wife), the gallery of the kirk collapsed, killing thirty-five people. Some of the locals, suspecting Satanic possession, blamed Irving for the tragedy.

The Church of Scotland authorities became disturbed by the theological direction he had taken. They did not like his insistence on the ordinary 'sinfulness' of Christ's incarnation. In 1833, on the instructions of the Kirk's General Assembly, he was put on trial by the Annan presbytery, convicted of heresy and expelled from the ministry. Back in London, he became 'angel' of a breakaway sect known as the Irvingites, the beginnings of what would later become the Catholic Apostolic Church. By now, however, his health was in decline and he died in Glasgow during a visit to inaugurate a Scottish branch of his movement.

Despite having become estranged from the orthodox Kirk, he was given an honoured burial in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral. As the mourners departed, a group of acolytes, young women dressed in white, hung back in the expectation that Irving would rise again. Another Dumfriesshire cleric, Rev Walter Dunlop, gave his verdict on the Irving phenomenon. Asked what he thought of him, Dunlop replied: 'The man's cracked; you'll often see a licht peepin' through a crack.'

Irving became a close friend of another famous alumnus of Annan Academy, the writer Thomas Carlyle. When they met up again, they were both teaching in Kirkcaldy and, despite the fact that they were working for rival establishments, Irving insisted that 'two Annandale people must not be strangers in Fife'. Irving had previously taught at Haddington in East Lothian, where he became infatuated for a while with a former pupil, Jane Welsh. He introduced Carlyle to Miss Welsh. This was a notable success for Irving as a matchmaker: Jane Welsh became Mrs Thomas Carlyle.

William McCaw (1818-1902) was a simple shepherd at Cormilligan north-west of Tynron but his Truth Frae 'Mang the Heather (1855) turned him into a celebrity theologian. The book began as the prizewinning entry in an essay competition run by the Thornhill Institute on the theme 'the evidences of Christianity'. It was published by the Institute and at first nothing more than local interest was anticipated. But word got around and journalists started noticing. The book was taken up by a London publisher and such was its popularity that it went through numerous subsequent editions.

The London editions were romantically illustrated with an etching of a plaided peasant outside his but-and-ben. As with Robert Burns, there was an urban fascination with the author's apparently untutored rusticity. Actually, McCaw was well educated, albeit entirely by means of self-improvement. Despite having a wife and thirteen children, he managed to find space in his tiny two-roomed cottage for a scholar's library. James Shaw, the local schoolmaster, described a visit to the McCaws at Cormilligan:

While we looked at the books, his hospitable better-half piled on the fuel, and many a dark-eyed little cherub was quizzing us from every conceivable cranny and opening, for in this respect M's quiver is full of arrows. A stout lass, with a fine round Scotch face and regular features, helped to pile on the table the material for such a tea as promised to tax all the active and latent powers of our digestive organs. It was what is called a 'rough tea': lots of everything, flesh of all sorts, scones of all sorts and shapes, jellies, etc. The hospitality of shepherds is proverbial. When taking the census in Upper Penpont, a friend of ours encountered three breakfasts, four dinners, and two teas.

In his religious tract McCaw writes of his work with sheep:

The writer knows little of nature but what he sees in his daily walks, and while pursuing his ordinary avocation; yet he sees enough which would bid defiance to unbelief. Every animal has its peculiar instinct, enabling it to occupy its place in the order of nature. Our occupation has taught us the use of sheep to man, and of the instinctive habits of these animals; and all their uses, powers, and instincts, reveal a wise and good Creator. When we think of the wholesome food, and comfortable clothing which they afford to man, we cannot think that these things are the results of accident.

And the sheepdog too is seen as another clever component in the divine design:

...the sheep on a thousand hills would have been of little use, had not He, who made them, made also another animal e very way suitable for enabling man to command them at pleasure. Had the shepherd's dog been less nimble than he is, with all his sagacity he would have been of little use for his present purpose; or, with all his speed, had his nature been like the greyhound or lurcher, all the arts of man would have failed to train him to collect a flock of sheep.

The judge for the Thornhill essay competition had been the Dumfries journalist and historian William McDowall. He too seemed to like the idea of the author's bucolic innocence but his praise was a little patronising:

The handwriting was evidently that of a son of toil, and though the spelling was generally correct, there was not much respect paid to the recognised rules of punctuation...The husk was somewhat rough, but the kernel was sound and well-flavoured; the casket was plain, but its contents were not meretricious gauds, but real jewels; and now we find that its author is a shepherd, and that the precious truths of his Essay were thought out and concocted by him while tending his flocks on the heathered hills of Tynron.

Twenty years after his sudden fame McCaw's life was turned upside down. He lost his shepherding job and, at an age when he should have been settling into being the grand old sage of Tynron glen, he decided to emigrate to New Zealand. The whole family, apart from one daughter, joined him in starting all over again. They settled at Otago on South Island. Before they left, the village gave them a testimonial dinner at which McCaw expressed his confidence in Providence:

Cormilligan is not Heaven. Scotland is not perfection. The kind hearts here are not the only kind hearts on earth. I have had much enjoyment in the land of my nativity, but it is not necessarily at an end even though we take our departure even to the end of the earth. There is an all-wise, all-powerful and Gracious Ruler presiding over all things, and will bring all things to a glorious issue for everyone of us if only we make His precepts the men of our counsel.

Friends back in Tynron were able to keep in touch with the family's progress through McCaw's regular 'Notes from New Zealand' in the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.

In 1899 William and Isabella celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a family get-together. Marion, the daughter who had been left behind in Dumfriesshire, sailed to New Zealand to be at the party.

McCaw's name lives on in the New Zealand of today. A study of his life and faith by his great-great-granddaughter Mary Stewart was published in 2006.

John Gibson Paton (1824-1907), born at Kirkmahoe but reared mainly in Torthorwald, was a Presbyterian zealot whose career was devoted to trying to persuade the peoples of far-flung cultures to worship the god of Christianity. His family were pious members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, whose tenets were those of the seventeenth-century Covenanters.

At first Paton worked in his father's trade of weaving but went to Glasgow in 1847 to be trained as a teacher and later as a preacher. His first targets as a missionary were the heathens of Glasgow, where he encountered 'considerable opposition from Romanists and Infidels'.

Paton and his wife set sail for the New Hebrides [now the independent Republic of Vanuata] in 1858. The following year his wife and their one-month-old son both died. There were further challenges for Paton when the natives blamed the missionaries and their god for the introduction of measles and for a series of hurricanes. He had to flee.

Paton ended up in Australia, preaching, public-speaking and raising funds for the continuation of his work in the New Hebrides, to which he and his second wife returned in 1865. At this point the proselytising turned nasty. Paton was instrumental in having the natives punished for killing British subjects and destroying mission property. A British warship bombarded villages and followed up the shelling with an armed landing.

Back in Australia Paton's role was controversial and in Sydney he found himself to be 'probably the best-abused man in all Australia'. Paton spent the rest of his career masterminding the missionary campaign from Melbourne. His projects included trying to stop the South Pacific islanders getting access to alcohol. His killjoy Covenanter predecessors would have been proud of him. He travelled extensively for the raising of funds. The John G Paton Mission Fund was founded in Britain in 1890 and in the following year the University of Edinburgh made him an honorary doctor of divinity.

Dunscore was the birthplace of Jane Haining (1897-1944), a Church of Scotland missionary murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War and now regarded by many as a Christian martyr.

In 1932 she went to Hungary as matron of the girls' home at the Kirk's Jewish Mission in Budapest. She was back in Britain, on holiday in Cornwall, when war was declared in 1939. Disregarding all advice to the contrary, she immediately returned to Budapest: 'if these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness?'

When the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944 she was arrested and detained. In May of that year she was taken to Auschwitz, where she died two months later.

A communication from the Germans, a month after her death, stated that 'Miss Haining, who was arrested on account of justified suspicion of espionage against Germany, died in hospital, July 17th, of cachexia following intestinal catarrh'. She is more likely to have been gassed.

From Dumfriesshire, I presume?

Sir John Richardson (1787-1865), son of a Dumfries brewer who befriended Robert Burns, was both a naval surgeon and a naturalist, and it was for this combination of skills that he was recruited into Arctic exploration. He accompanied Sir John Franklin on his first and second overland expeditions (1819-22 and 1824-27) in search of the North-West Passage. During the first journey Richardson had to execute a native helper whose menacing behaviour was felt to be a threat to the party's safety. Other commitments prevented him from joining the third venture in 1845, but when Franklin and his colleagues went missing Richardson enlisted on the unsuccessful rescue mission, saying he had a sacred duty' to go to the aid of his friend.

During his travels Richardson surveyed many hundreds of miles of unmapped coastline. This work is commemorated by Richardson's Mountain, Richardson's River and Richardson's Point. Through bringing back specimens and subsequent study, he became in his time the leading authority on the natural history of the Arctic. This too is reflected in the naming of plants and animals, from Richardson's Gentian to Richardson's Grouse.

Annan-born Hugh Clapperton (1788-1827) is remembered for the new information he gathered from two challenging African journeys in search of the course of the Niger river. The first expedition approached its destination from the north, setting off from Tripoli in 1822. This was not entirely successful, so Clapperton immediately arranged to go on a second attempt, starting this time from the west. This one cost him his life. He lay for weeks suffering from dysentery, cared for by his Cornish servant Richard Lander, who kept a journal: 'Almost the whole of his conversation turned upon his country and friends, but I never heard him regret his leaving them; indeed he was patient and resigned to the last, and a murmur of disappointment never escaped his lips.' When Clapperton died Lander placed a Union Jack over the body:

I then opened a prayer-book, and, amid showers of tears, read the funeral service over the remains of my valued master. Not a single person listened to this peculiarly distressing ceremony, the slaves [who had dug the grave] being at some distance, quarrelling and making a most indecent noise the whole of the time it lasted.I then returned, disconsolate and oppressed, to my solitary habitation, and leaning my head on my hand, could not help being deeply affected with my lonesome and dangerous situation; a hundred and fifteen days' journey from the sea-coast, surrounded by a selfish and cruel race of strangers, my only friend and protector mouldering in his grave, and myself suffering dreadfully from fever.

Clapperton's efforts were not in vain. His Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the Years 1822-3, and 1824 was published the year after his death; and his servant, inspired by his master's example, returned later to Africa and completed the Niger survey.

Clapperton became an explorer by accident. He had been a naval officer but was retired early on half-pay. Boredom left him open to any adventure coming his way and when he heard about the first Niger mission he jumped at the opportunity. Otherwise, as the nineteenth-century Dumfries journalist John McDiarmid pointed out, we might never have heard of him:

Had he stuck to the American or coasting trade, he might have become first a mate, then a master, then the ship's husband and part owner; and finally, retired to his native burgh, with a fortune of a few thousand pounds, and vegetated tranquilly for ten or twenty years, reading the newspapers, or playing billiards in the forenoon, and smoking cigars and drinking whisky-punch or negus in the evening. But where would have been his laurels - where his glory - where his zeal in the cause of science - where his defiance of death and danger - where his niche in the annals of Britain?

As a boy in Penpont and later Thornhill, Joseph Thomson (1858-1895) read about African explorers like Mungo Park and David Livingstone and set it as his ambition to follow in their footsteps. He did just that but ruined his health in the process and died horrifyingly young.

When he left school at the age of fifteen he began an apprenticeship in his father's stone quarry at Gatelawbridge. He was already passionate about geology and was talent-spotted by an Edinburgh professor who met him while collecting rock specimens in the Nithsdale hills. Thomson was persuaded to enrol at the university and he graduated in 1878 with medals in geology and natural history.

He was recruited that same year as geologist and naturalist to the Royal Geographical Society expedition from Dar es Salaam to lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika. Within weeks the expedition leader died of dysentery and malaria, and young Thomson was now in charge. 'I felt I must go forward, whatever might be my destiny.' He and his party arrived back safely after trekking 3000 miles in fourteen months and collecting new information about hundreds of species among the flora and fauna. Thomson was greeted on his return to Britain at the age of 22 as a hero, a national celebrity.

Around this time the writer J M Barrie, then a student at Edinburgh University, met Thomson at the debating society. He was 'lately arrived, very red, from Africa.I remember how we gathered round him as if we were an African tribe, and how openly pleased he was at our pride in him, and how modest and bashful when called upon to speak about himself. At that time he had the high spirits of a boy.'

During 1883-4 Thomson led another Royal Geographical Society expedition, this time from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. There were some awkward encounters with natives but Thomson always got his own way through charm and humour. 'He seems to have been tolerant and conciliatory beyond almost all who have headed caravans,' said Barrie, 'and to have left a sweet name behind him among all the tribes with whom he had sojourned.' On one occasion, having to convince his hosts that he had magical powers, he achieved his end by taking out his false teeth and by creating a fizzy froth with Eno's fruit salts.

There were just three more relatively minor expeditions before chronic pain from all the diseases he had picked up brought his career to a pitiful end. He travelled Europe in search of a kindly climate but it was to no avail. During his last days his eldest brother, a kirk minister in Greenock, was summoned to Cromer in Norfolk, from where he took him painfully back to his lodgings in London. 'And so the arms that had so often carried the little brother in childhood's days once more bore him - alas, too light a burden and feebler than an infant - into carriage and train, and through the strident bustle of a London station, till at last, after an anxious journey, they laid him to rest in the hospitable home at York Gate.'

Thomson's last words to his brother were 'I have been face to face with death for years, and I need not be alarmed at it now...I am quite prepared, and quite satisfied.'

His body was brought back for burial at Morton cemetery in Thornhill, where - in the words of Rev J B Thomson - 'stands sentinel the Burn Hill, up whose rough sides his boyish feet have so often clambered, and on whose heathery heights he dreamed his youthful day dreams, while he surveyed the glorious panorama spreading beneath him, and through it saw with the mind's eye the wonders of the great unsearched world beyond.'

Two years later the Thomson monument was erected at East Morton Street in Thornhill. The Kirkconnel poet Alexander Anderson celebrated the fact that he had not had to be buried in Africa but was back 'among the hills he knew':

O better thus than he should lie
To mingle with no kindred earth,
In the lone desert where the sky
Burns all things into fiery dearth,
And where not even one kindly eye
Could note the grave wherein he slept;
The dusky savage passing by
Would mark it not as on he swept.

The Four Knights of Eskdale

This liveried quartet, much vaunted in Langholm but more properly belonging to Bentpath, were all Malcolm brothers brought up at the farm of Burnfoot. Though relatively well connected, they became Sirs not through an accident of birth but by dint of distinguished service in the armed forces and in the administering of the British empire during the nineteenth century.

The least well known was the eldest of them: Sir James Malcolm (1767-1849), whose career was with the Royal Marines.

Next came Sir Pulteney Malcolm (1768-1838), a naval commander perhaps best remembered for something he did not do: he arrived on the scene of the Battle of Trafalgar just after it had taken place. During 1816-17 he was in charge of the naval blockade of St Helena aimed at preventing the escape of Napoleon. The deposed French emperor loathed the man in charge of his incarceration, the island's governor Sir Hudson Lowe, and relations between the two men soon broke down. But he enjoyed periodic visits by Sir Pulteney and his wife Clementina. The couple kept notes on the encounters and an edited version of these was published as A Diary of St. Helena (1899).

Though written artlessly, the journal is a vivid account of Napoleon's wounded pride, erudition, humour and social charm. Their first meeting: 'Bonaparte said something to each, and then addressed himself to Lady Malcolm, saying he had heard that she had been sick on the passage - was it her first voyage? - how did she amuse herself? - did she embroider?'

Napoleon turned out to be greatly fascinated by Scotland and its culture:
On asking Lady Malcolm how she liked St. Helena, she replied she was a Scotch woman, and admired hills.
"If you are Scotch," said he, "you must know Ossian's poems."
She answered, yes, but, like him, she only knew them in their translation.
He said he admired them very much.and inquired if the controversy about their authenticity was decided; and whether Macpherson had really written them.
He laughed on her replying with quickness, that Macpherson was not capable of writing them.
She said that they had been more admired on the Continent than in England.
He exclaimed with energy: "It was I - I made them the fashion. I have been even accused of having my head filled with Ossian's clouds."

The great man himself proved in their conversations to be adept at mildly taking the mickey out of the Malcolms:
[He] asked if she was a Christian.
She replied, she was an Episcopalian, viz. Church of England, that the Admiral was Presbyterian.
"Then," said he, "do you think" (pointing to the Admiral) "his soul will be damned?"
"No," she replied, "that was not our tenet, our religion only differed in civil forms."

Sir Pulteney Malcolm is commemorated by a statue outside Langholm Library. [See below for another Dumfriesshire man who had intimate contact with Napoleon.]

A year younger was Sir John Malcolm (1769-1833), today the best known of the four thanks to his landmark monument on Whita Hill to the east of Langholm. He was a soldier who played a prominent part in the imperial governance of India. His career began with the East India Company soon after leaving school at the age of twelve. The precocious lad is said to have got the job on the strength of his reply to the question 'what would you do, my little man, if you met Hyder Ali [a south Indian native leader]?': he said he would take out his sword and 'cut off his heid!'

By the close of his career Malcolm was governor of Bombay. He also became useful to the British diplomatic service through having taught himself Persian. He developed into quite a formidable writer, with books on various aspects of India, and a History of Persia (1815) which remained for many years the standard work and brought him an honorary doctorate from Oxford.

In 1835 the laying of the foundation stone for Sir John's obelisk was reported by the Times as a great Masonic turn-out: 'The ceremony was attended by a numerous deputation from the Masonic Lodges, and by a large assemblage of persons of all classes, gentlemen in their carriages, yeomen on horseback, visitors in gigs, and visitors in carts.decent feuars in dozens, pedestrians in hundreds, collected together at a very short notice, by their reverential recollection of this great and good man, who was not less beloved for his virtues at home than admired for his abilities abroad.'

Malcolm also got the full Westminster Abbey treatment with a statue by Sir Francis Chantrey sharing the north transept with the likes of Wilberforce, Disraeli, Peel and Gladstone.

The Langholm-born poet C M Grieve had a swipe at Sir John's Whita Hill monument (long before his own was placed near the same spot):

Few ken to whom this muckle monument stands,
Some general or admiral I've nae doot,
On the hill-top whaur weather lang syne
Has blotted its inscribed palaver oot.

The 'babe' of the four knights was Sir Charles Malcolm (1782-1851), another naval officer. His career began with service under his brother Pulteney. As a commander in his own right, according to Hyslop's Langholm As It Was (1912), 'he took no fewer than 20 Spanish privateers, carrying 168 guns and 1,059 men, and also captured many merchantmen.' In peacetime he commanded a royal yacht for Lord Wellesley, lord lieutenant of Ireland, from whom he received his knighthood.

Not tonight, Dr Arnott

Archibald Arnott (1772-1855) of Ecclefechan would have remained an obscure military surgeon had he not happened to be stationed on St Helena when the imprisoned Napoleon Bonaparte was on his last legs in 1821. According to Arnott's own account, the deposed emperor would allow 'only Professor Antomarchi and myself' to attend him.

Arnott's first meeting with his famous patient was almost farcical: at Napoleon's insistence, it took place without illumination. The doctor was led...

...through a labyrinth of passages and rooms dimly lighted. When we reached NB's bedroom there was no light whatever in it - it was perfectly dark...I could not see him, as he would not permit a light to be brought into the room, but felt him...Not being able to see him, to judge rightly of his complaint, we did not prescribe anything that night.

Napoleon quickly succumbed to stomach cancer and almost immediately after his death Arnott wrote an account of what he had witnessed, which was published soon afterwards. 'The scene of sorrow Longwood House presented on the evening that great and extraordinary man breathed his last, will never be erased from my memory.'

Arnott's memoir - blessedly short for the squeamish - is largely taken up with the state of the imperial bowels ('very obstinate costiveness'). He also describes in unsparing detail the post-mortem:

On a superficial view the body appeared very fat, which state was confirmed by the first incision down its centre, where the fat was upwards of one inch thick over the sternum, and one and a half over the abdomen. The internal surface of the stomach, to nearly its whole extent, was a mass of cancerous disease, or schirrous portions, advancing to cancer...The stomach was found nearly filled with a large quantity of fluid, resembling coffee grounds.

Since Napoleon had been known not to abuse his body, Arnott concluded that there must have been a hereditary factor in the disease that killed him:

It will no doubt appear singular that a person of NB's habits should have been affected with schirrus and cancer of the stomach; - a man who was noted for temperance, and never in his life indulged in any excess which could tend to produce such an affection...I have seen the disease before, but it was in men addicted to ardent spirits, - decided dram drinkers.

Not that Dr Arnott was resistant to a dram or two himself. Fellow Ecclefechanite Thomas Carlyle used to see him during visits back home. On one occasion he found him 'sitting with a face like the setting Sun; quite private over a tumbler of Glenlivet'. The whisky seems to have done him no harm: he lived to the age of 83.

His gravestone states: 'At St. Helena he was the medical attendant of Napoleon Bonaparte whose esteem he won and whose last moments he soothed.'

A story about Napoleon's heart was passed down through the Arnott family. The organ was removed during the autopsy and placed in a silver container. Arnott was given the job of looking after it. During the night he was woken by the sound of a rat knocking the container over. Arnott was so concerned about the safety of Napoleon's heart that he took it back to bed with him.

On your bike

Dumfriesshire proudly lays claim to the invention in 1839 of the pedal bicycle. Its creator, a blacksmith (and unofficial vet and dentist!) from Keir Mill south-east of Penpont, was known locally as 'Daft Pate'. But evidently Kirkpatrick Macmillan (1812?-1878) was not as daft as they thought.

It all began with a hobby-horse. Macmillan had seen one being ridden in the locality and determined to make his own. Then he was seized by the notion of how much more efficient it would be if he could propel it without having to put his feet on the ground. The solution was to transmit the pedal movement via connecting rods to cranks on the rear wheel. The contraption, made of wood and iron, was prodigiously heavy but this did not stop Macmillan regularly biking fourteen miles into Dumfries.

In 1842 he embarked on an altogether bolder journey to Glasgow. It took him two days to complete the seventy miles. The arrival of this 'devil on wheels' attracted large crowds and in the confusion he knocked over a young girl. She was not badly injured but the authorities were summoned and Macmillan ended up in court. The magistrate, fining him five shillings, declared: 'The modern craving for speed is something to be deplored. A man riding a machine of two wheels and making it progress without having to touch the ground, I just can't believe it. The highways and byways of this country will soon not be safe to travel on.' When the case was over, however, the magistrate was intrigued enough to demand a demonstration and was so impressed that he reimbursed Macmillan with five shillings from his own pocket.

It seems never to have occurred to the unworldly Macmillan that he might have exploited his invention and made a fortune. That was taken up by others. The prototype was ruthlessly plagiarised, particularly by one Gavin Dalzell of Lesmahagow in Lanarkshire, who for many years to come was believed to have been the inventor. It was only in the 1890s, a couple of decades after Macmillan's death, that a cycling aficionado conducted an investigation and was able to restore the credit to 'Daft Pate' of Keir Mill.

Moffat tofu

Hugh Dowding (1882-1970), son of a Moffat schoolmaster, was a revered air force officer who became a believer in flying saucers. After being honoured for his professional skill in exterminating human opponents, he then turned his attention to promoting the right to life of God's smaller creatures.

During the build-up to the Second World War Dowding was closely involved with the development of radar and, as Air Chief Marshal in charge of Fighter Command, he masterminded the UK's air defences during the Battle of Britain in 1940. When a movie was made about the battle, Dowding was played by Laurence Olivier. He retired in 1942 and was made 1st Baron Dowding, a hereditary title.

Dowding was also an adherent of spiritualism (radar of the soul?). He increasingly devoted his energies to promoting a panoply of potty beliefs, including the existence of fairies.

His second wife Muriel, whom he married in 1951, was also a spiritualist. But her greatest passion was for animal welfare and she recruited her husband into the anti-vivisection movement. Under his wife's influence he gave up shooting and converted to vegetarianism. In the late 1950s Muriel co-founded Beauty Without Cruelty, the campaign to end the abuse of animals by the clothing and cosmetics industries; her husband acted as president. Whenever he spoke in the House of Lords, his theme was almost invariably animal rights.

Dowding wrote a number of books on his obsessions. He propounded his spiritualist philosophy in Many Mansions, published soon after he stood down from Fighter Command. The book details the earthly pleasures expected to be absent from the after-life:

We must obviously be prepared to jettison all those gratifications arising solely from success in the struggle for existence and the perpetuation of the race.
    These include, of course, the pleasures of the table, financial success through industry and gambling, and the attainment of a position of power in the community. They also include those pleasures deriving ultimately from the savage joy of killing one's enemy. In this category must be included the 'manly sports' which train and toughen the young men of the country and the ridiculous competitive games in which so much of our adult energy is frittered away. Huntin', shootin' and fishin' also can have no rational appeal beyond the grave.     Then there are other pleasures, morally questionable, which may perhaps remain to be overcome in the after-life. One of these is vainglory...
    There is also the deep mystery of sex, which will apparently persist beyond the grave although in a radically altered form.

Bodiless sex? Well, well, well!

'We're all doomed!'

The Dumfries-bred actor John Laurie (1897-1980) was already into his seventies when he finally became a household name through playing Private Fraser in the BBC television sitcom Dad's Army. Laurie scoffed at the irony of this late fame: he had spent half a century as a respected classical stage actor and had appeared in one hundred or so movies, but general recognition came only with a piece of mass-market entertainment through which his character's lugubrious prognostication, the oft-repeated 'We're all doomed!', turned into a tiresome national catchphrase.

When Laurie left Dumfries Academy in 1914 he found employment first of all in an architectural practice. But he had an urge to act and in the early 1920s enrolled at a drama college in London.

It was in his home town that he made his stage debut - appropriately enough in What Every Woman Knows by fellow Doonhamer J M Barrie (see Other Literary Figures). His stage career was based largely in the south of England, however. By the late 1920s he was a stalwart of the Shakespearean repertoire in Stratford and at the Old Vic in London. His roles included the big ones like Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth.

His cinematic career began in 1935 with Alfred Hitchcock's version of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Just before Dad's Army began in 1968, Laurie had been on the point of retiring.

Though resident in England, he kept in touch with Dumfries through having a Nithside cottage, shared with his sister. Homecomings, he claimed, kept his Private Fraser-based celebrity from going to his head. 'You will find no honour for the prophet there. Occasionally one of my old friends will say "I saw you on television the other day, John." There will be a long pause and then maybe he'll say "Ye were all right." That's the highest praise I can ever expect up there. And that's the way I like it.'


Kirkpatrick Fleming
Newton Wamphray

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