CHURCH--A NEPHEW OF ROBERT BURNS--THE GRAVEYARD AND ITS
MEMORIALS--GOVERNOR MACRAE'S GRAVE --THE STORY OF HIS LIFE--A FORTUNTE
FAMILY--"CAPTAIN MACRAE"--MUSINGS--THE MANSE--"LANG, LANG SYNE."
MONKTON is eight miles from
Kilmarnock and four from Ayr, and the weather-beaten thatch-covered
buildings which constitute the village line both sides of the highway.
Upon entering its street, I was struck by its quaint appearance, and more
so by the picturesque, ivy-clad, ruined church which stands in a
grass-covered burying place by the wayside. After availing myself of the
hospitality which a village inn affords, I turned my attention to it; but
although I rugged and tugged at the rusty iron gate guarding the entrance,
it refused to yield, and in a quandary I began to look around. The next
best apparent means of entering the sacred enclosure was by scaling the
wall, and this I was in the act of doing when a villager drew my attention
to an avenue a little farther down the road in which she stated a wicket
would be found which would open to the touch. Following her directions it
was soon discovered, and also the fact that the residence of the parish
minister nestled in a secluded nook at the end of the shady path. Passing
through the wicket, I reverently trod on the resting place of "the rude
forefathers of the hamlet," and approached the ruined sanctuary adorning
the centre of the little Golgotha. The polished ivy clung to the tottering
walls, and clasped the stones with its sinewy-like tendrils, as if
desirous of binding them together and warding off the assaults of time and
The modest building appears
to have been dedicated to Saint Cuthbert, but when or by whom it was
erected is unknown. Blind Harry mentions it in his metrical biography of
Wallace as the building in which the hero had a wonderful vision, which he
narrates with considerable minuteness.
In making mention of
Monkton church, Chalmers, the celebrated antiquary, says: "In 1227 Walter,
the Bishop of Glasgow, made an ordinance respecting all the churches
belonging to the monks of Paisley, within his diocese, whereby it was
settled that the vicar of the Church of Saint Cuthbert should have, in the
name of vicarage, six chalers of meal yearly, with the alterages…..In
Bagimont's roll, as it stood in the reign of James V., the vicarage of
Monkton was taxed £4, being a tenth of the estimated value." At the
Reformation, when church property was very liberally sliced up and
divided, Lord Claud Hamilton, the commendator of Paisley, obtained a grant
of the patronage of Monkton Church and its tithes, along with other
property which belonged to the monks. The old bell hanging in the western
gable of the ruin is not only a curiosity, but evidences the Romish origin
of the structure. It bears the following in raised letters:--"SANCTE
CUTHBERTI ORA PRO NOBIS" (Saint Cutherbert pray for us), but no date.
Although this relic has done duty for many centuries, it has not rested
from its labours, but may be heard any Lord's day summoning the villagers
to the house of prayer.
After the parished of
Monkton and Prestwick were united, Monkton church was looked upon as the
parish church proper, but the clergyman of the united parishes preached
every third Sabbath in that of Prestwick. In 1834 both churches were
suppressed by the Court of Tiends, and authority granted for the erection
of a new church equally distant from both places. When this was done the
structures were gutted and unroofed, and left to the mercy of the
The Rev. Thomas Burns, son
of Gilbert, the poet's brother, was the last clergyman who officiated in
the old church at Monkton. He was tutor to Sir Hew Dalrymple of North
Berwick, and afterwards minister of Ballantrae. For a series of years he
so ably discharged the ministerial duties of Monkton that the parishioners
still remember and speak of him with the outmost respect. He came out at
the Dispuption, and was for some time minister of Protobello Free Church.
In conjunction with Captain Cargill and others, he projected a Free Church
settlement in Otago, New Zealand, and sailed from Greenock in the end of
1847 as minister of the first body of settlers. He afterwards became
minister of the Scottish Church in Dunedin, and died there in the 75th
year of his age, on the 23rd January, 1871, leaving a widow with one son
and six daughters.
From the ruin I turned my
attention to the heaving turf around it, and while wandering among the
long grass here and there
"Read auld names on auld
Grown grey in the auld Kirk yard."
The majority of the
unassuming memorials are comparatively modern, and merely record the fact
that the sleeper lived and died--but what of that?
"Can storied urn or
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can honor's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or flattery soothe the dull cold ear of death?"
Two stones with
semi-obliterated inscriptions bear date 1608, but the most ancient has the
following in yet legible characters:--"HERE LYS YIN VARY HONRIBLE MON,
DAVIT BLAIR OF ADMONTOUN, SPOUS TO MARGET HAMILTON, QUO DECESIT, SETP.,
1577." This relic was discovered buried several feet beneath the sward. It
is now reared against the back gable of the old church, and forms not the
least of the many curious objects to be met with in is vicinity.
When strolling through the
tangled grass I stood on the hard turf which covers the dust of once
affluent and somewhat famous James Macrae, a favourite of fortune, who,
from a state of the most abject poverty, rose to the high position of
Governor of the Presidency of Madras. No stone marks his resting place,
nor was there at any time anything to protect his grave from desecration.
It is situated close to a tombstone to the memory of an individual named
Bryden and within a dozen paces of the manse offices, and about the same
distance from the wicket which serves as a back entrance to the obscure
place of sepulture. Some years ago a sexton met with the defunct
Governor's coffin when scooping out agrave, and plundered it of its leaden
casing, but in justice to the callous individual it may be stated that the
silver plate on the lid was delivered up and handed to the Sheriff of Ayr,
who, in his turn, handed it to the representatives of the deceased.
In the previous chapter a
monument to the memory of this remarkable personage is referred to; but
now that mention of his grave is being made, a brief sketch of his life
may be appropriately introduced, for its incidents are not only singular,
but go a great way to prove that truth in many instances is stranger than
fiction. The date of his birth is unknown, but it is generally supposed
that he was born about the close of the reign of merry King Charles, and
that he was the son of a poor widow who resided in a thatched cottage in
the vicinity of Ayr, and earned for herself and boy a miserable
subsistence by washing and doing other odd work for her well-to-do
neighbors. The pittance thus earned was occasionally increased by odd
coppers which her son picked up by looking after cattle, running errands,
and such like. While thus employed, and while knocking about in an
Arab-like condition, he became acquainted with a Hugh M'Quire, [Next to
nothing is know of this individual. Mr. John Shaw, attorney of the High
Court of Justiciary, Madras, considers him to have been the husband of
Isabella Gairdner, a daughter of Macrae's mother's brother; while Mr J.
Talboys Wheeler, Professor of Moral Philosophy in the College of Madras,
distinctly states, in his "Annals of James Macrae," that he was the
husband of Macrae's sister. Another writer--the late Dr. Norman M'Leod--states
that he was his stepfather; but the popular opinion is that he was no
relation whatever. However, it is a matter of little importance.] a
jobbing carpenter, and an accomplished player on the fiddle, whose musical
talent was highly appreciated by the "hones men and bonnie lasses" of the
district, for to the strains of his instrument they delighted to whirl on
the light fantastic toe. This man took a fancy to the boy, and, although
poor, put him to school and acted the part of a father towards him for
some considerable time. This guardianship would have continued had the
protégé not been caught in the pardonable offence of pilfering apples from
an orchard and severley punished by the authorities. The disgrace being
more than his proud spirit could bear, he no sooner obtained liberty than
he stowed himself away on board an outward bound ship, and for forty years
never set foot in "the auld toon," nor, it is believed, held any
communication with his friends. The events of his seafaring life must for
ever remain unknown, for nothing can be ascertained about him until thirty
years after he had so suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from his
native place. Then he is referred to in the records of the Madras
Government as Captain Macrae, and from this it is surmised that he had
risen to be master of a vessel engaged in the trade of that country and
had sailed between China, Sumatra, and Pegu. However, by some means he got
into the good graces of the government of his adopted country and was sent
to the West Coast of Sumatra to reform abuses which prevailed in an
English settlement. This he did to such good purpose that he effected in
saving of £25,000 a year, and rendered services by executing reforms which
promised to greatly increase the amount. For this display of business tact
he was appointed Governor of Port St David, and shortly afterwards (1724)
second member of Council at Fort George. On the 18th January, 1725, the
washer-woman's fatherless boy took his seat as Governor of the Madras
Presidency, which was at that time, and for half a century afterwards, the
chief British settlement in India. The proceeding is thus recorded:--
"Monday, 18th January,
1725.--The President, James Macrae, Esq., opened this consultation by
telling the board that as this was the first time of their meeting since
his taking the chair, he thought it would not be improper to acquaint them
with his resolutions, of which the principal was that he would prosecute
the Company's interest to the utmost, and endeavour to remove the abuses
that had crept into the management of their affairs. He added that he was
determined not to interrupt in any manner the commerce of the place; but
that all the inhabitants, both whites and blacks, the free merchants as
well as the Company's servants, should have free liberty of trade, and
that he should expect the same freedom from interruption in whatever he
should undertake; that he would endeavour to be as agreeable to the
gentlemen as any of his predecessors, but that he was determined to
maintain the privileges and immunities belonging to the President; and he
concluded by saying that he expected a ready assistance from them in the
pursuit of the above resolutions, which was accordingly promised."
During his tenure of office
the trade of the place prospered beyond all precedence, nothing being too
insignificant or too arduous for his attention. In 1731, having amassed a
vast fortune, Governor Nacrae sailed for England, and upon his arrival in
Ayr sought out his benefactor, "Fiddler M'Quire," and from him learned
that his mother had been dead for a considerable time. [I am inclined to
think, from the time Macrae had been away, that the individual on whom he
showered his wealth was a son of the violinist, for it is probable that
his old friend had paid the debt of nature before his return, or he must
have married a young woman very late in life.] The fiddler and his family
were in very poor circumstances, and to relieve his immediate necessities
his old protégé gave him £100. The joy of the musician and his better half
was unbounded, and to celebrate the event she purchased many delicacies,
amongst which was a loaf of sugar and a bottle of brandy. When the banquet
was spread, the solid mass of sugar was scooped out and the hollow filled
with the generous liquor, which they supped with spoons until they became
"owre a' the ills o' life victorious," and soothingly sank on the floor
into the arms of Morpheus.
Having no heirs, and being
grateful for the kindness bestowed upon him when a boy, Macrae resolved to
elevate the fiddler and his family. With this object in view he purchased
Drumdow, a small estate in the parish of Stair, and presented it to his
early benefactor, and afterwards sent his family--a son and three
daughters--to the best boarding school he could find. In 1733 he was
admitted a burgess of Ayr, and is styled in the records--"James Macrae,
late Governor of Madras." In 1734 he presented the city of Glasgow with
the handsome equestrian statue of King William which still adorns its
Cross. It is well worth the attention of the visitor, for on its pedestal
a long Latin inscription will be found which concludes thus--"PSUIT CIVIS
STENNUUS ET FIDUS JACOBUS MACRAE, COLLONLE MADARASSIAN AE EXPRAEFECTUS.
M.D. CCXXXV." This statue cost £3000, which says much for the Governor's
admiration of "William of Immortal Memory." It may be also stated that the
two old guns which protrude their rusty muzzles out of the causeway at its
base blazed at the Battle of Boyne, and were handled with deadly effect by
the "Protestant Boys." In 1736 the old veteran purchased the estate of
Orangefield, and in 1739 that of Ochiltree. The latter cost £25,000. The
same year he purchased and conveyed to James M'Quire, the fiddler's son,
the barony of Houlston, on the condition that he ever afterwards assumed
the name Macrae. The fiddler's three daughters were considered handsome.
Elizabeth, the eldest, was married to William, thirteenth Earl of
Glencairn, and received from the Governor as dowry the estate of Ochiltree
and £45,000. The old gentleman took a deep interest in this match, but
being seized with a severe illness before its consummation he sent for his
medical adviser and inquired if he could keep him alive until the nuptials
were performed. The doctor replying that he could not promise, Macrae
raised himself in bed and exclaimed passionately--"Then d--- you and all
your drugs!" He did live, however, for the marriage took place in
1744, and he did not die until 1750.
This marriage did not prove
happy, for it turned out that the Earl admired his wife's wealth more than
her person, and it is supposed that the twittings he received from his
equals about her humble birth heightened the dislike. Upon one occasion
Lord Cassillis made some taunting allusions to his wife's origin, and
concluded by remarking that he wondered that he so far forgot himself and
his rank as to marry a fiddler's daughter. Without the least show of anger
at the insult, the Earl coolly said--"Yes, my lord; and one of my
father-in-laws's favourite tunes was 'The Gipsies cam' to Lord Cassillis'
yett.'" The repartee was pointed, for it will be observed that it referred
to a frail but famous Countess of Cassillis who eloped with a gipsy named
Johnny Faa. It is said that the Earl purchased the estate of Kilmarnock
with his wife's dowry, and formed the fine street bearing his name.
James, the second son of
the above marriage, became fourteenth Earl of Glencairn in 1775, and died
unmarried in 1791. It was he who befriended the poet Burns, and it was on
his death that the bard wrote the celebrated lament which concludes with
the pathetic lines:--
"Thou found'st me, like
the morning sun,
That melts the fogs in limpid air;
The friendless bard and rustic song
Became alike thy fostering care.
"Oh! why has worth so short a date?
While villains ripen grey with time;
Must thou, the noble, generous, great,
Fall in bold manhood's hardy prime!
Why did I live to see that day?
A day to me so full of woe;
Oh! had I met the mortal shaft
Which laid my benefactor low!
"The bridegroom may forget the bride
Was made his wedded wife yestreen;
The monarch may forget the crown
That on his head an hour has been;
The mother may forget the child
That smiles sae sweetly on her knee;
But I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
And a' that thou hast done for me!"
Margaret, the second
daughter of "Fiddler M'Quire," married in 1749 James Erskine of Barjarg,
advocate. He was elevated to the bench as one of the Lords of Session in
1761, and took the title of Lord Tinwald. His wife's dowry was expended in
the purchase of the estate of Alva. Macrae M'Quire, the third daughter,
was married to Charles Dalrymple, Sheriff-Clerk of Ayrshire, and received
from the Governor as dowry the estate of Orangefield and a handsome sum of
At the death of the
fiddler's son, the estate of Houlston devolved upon his son, "Captain"
John Macrae. He walked not in the footsteps of his father, for he was know
in fashionable circles as a libertine, bully, and professional duellist;
and he ultimately to fly the country for the killing of Sir George Ramsay
of Edinburgh in the settlement of an affair of honour. A story is told
which aptly illustrates the character of the man. A servant having
committed a mistake, in an outburst of passion he struck him a violent
blow in the face. "Were you my equal," said the menial indignantly, "I'd
make you smart for that." "Would you?" replied Macrae with a scornful
sneer. "I would," answered the man. "Oh, very well, if it's boxing you
mean I'll give it to you to your heart's content; but remember, you
mustn't hit me on the face." This was agreed to, and both retired to a
secluded part of the garden, where they fought with much bitterness; but
the bully, finding that he had for once met his match, and was likely to
get himself severely punished, cried "Hold!" and declared himself
satisfied with what he had received. "There," said Macrae, as he handed
the servant five guineas, "take that; you are a piece of capital stuff."
"Thank you," replied the man, quite astonished at the result of the
combat, "and if it please your honour I'll take a thrashing every day for
the same amount."
As I closed the wicket of
Monkton Churchyard, and stepped into the avenue, I felt sad, sad--for
beneath the turf which my feet had pressed innumerable beings moulder and
silently fulfil the immutable decree which pronounces man to be dust, and
declares that to dust he must return. What wisdom, valuable
experience, misery, injustice, wrong, and misfortune lie buried in the
bosom of mother earth! But we are comforted by the ennobling faith in
immortality--the knowledge that the thinking something in man survives the
silence of the grave--and this ray of hope illumes the dark hours of
Thoughts like these
occupied my mind as I strolled towards the manse-a plain two-storied
building, delightfully situated in a tastefully laid out plot of ground.
At present (1878) it is the residence of the Rev. W.F. Lorraine, minister
of the united parishes of Monkton and Prestwick, but was for thirty-four
years that of his predecessor, the Rev. George James Lawrie, D.D., a
grandson of the worthy minister of Loudoun, who was the means of
introducing Burns to the literati of Edinburgh, and whose intercourse with
the bard is noticed at length in another chapter. Being long in delicate
health, he resigned his charge and removed to Elm House, Hythe, Kent, the
residence of a very near and dear relative, and there "fell asleep" on the
morning of the 14th February, 1878, in the 82nd year of his age. Like
"To relieve the wretched
was his pride,
and e'en his failings leaned to virtue's side;
But in his duty, prompt at every call,
He watched and wept, he prayed and felt for all;
And, as a bird each fond endearment tries
To temp its new-fledged offspring to the skies,
He tried each art, reproved each dull delay,
Allured to brighter worlds, and led the way."
He was not only sensible,
upright, and kind-hearted, but possessed a highly-cultured mind, as his
Songs and Miscel laneous Pieces (which, undoubtedly, will perpetuate his
name) amply testify. The following popular lines by the worthy Doctor will
awaken an echo in every heart:--
LANG, LANG, SYNE.
Hae ye mind o'lang, lang syne,
When the simmer days were fine,
And the sun shone brighter far
Than he's ever dune syn syne?
Do you mind the Hag Brig turn,
Whaur we guddled in the burn,
And were late for the schule in the morning'?
Do ye mind the sunny braes,
Whaur we gathered hips and slaes,
And fell among the bramble busses,
Tearin' a' our claes;
And for fear they would be seen
We gaed slippin; hame at e'en,
But were licket for our pains in the morning'
Do ye mind the miller's dam,
When the frosty Winter cam'.
How we slade upon the curlers' rink
And made their game a sham;
When they chased us through the snaw
We took leg-bail ane and a',
But we did it o'er again in the morning'?
What famous fun was there,
Wi' our games at houn' and hare,
When we played the truant frae the schule
Because it was the fair;
And we ran fraw Patie's mill
Through the woods on Winny Hill,
And were feart for the tawse in the morning'.
Where are those bright hearts noo
That were then so leal and true?
Oh! some hae left life's troubled scene,
Some still are struggling thro',
And some hae risen high
In life's changeful destiny,
For they rose wi' the lark in the morning'.
Now life's sweet Spring is past,
And our Autumn's come at last,
Our Simmer day has passed,
And Life's Winter;s coming fast;
But though Iang its nights may seem
We shall sleep without a dream
Till we wauken on yon bright Sabbath morning'.