MY EARLY recollections
centre round my father. I have no very clear memories of my mother, for
she died when I was only four years old. My brother Robert was then but
Father was thus left with
two small boys to bring up, but he bravely shouldered his
He had the Spartan method
of training: no coddling; be hardy. His word was law, but his law was
dictated by a kind heart. Kindness was his very essence.
With the training he thus
gave me I was well equipped for the part I was, in after years, destined
to play in the pioneer life of Western Canada. I cannot therefore give a
more fitting introduction to my reminiscences than by here paying him this
well merited tribute.
Father was tenant-farmer of
the farm of Turnberry Lodge, which forms part of the estate of the Marquis
of Ailsa, in the Parish of Kirkoswald, Ayrshire, Scotland. The farmhouse,
which was our home, is on the road between Maybole and Girvan, 7 miles
from Maybole and 5 from Girvan.
The farm bordered on the
seashore, and close by, to the north, was the fishing village of the
Maidens. At a short distance from the house, to the south, on the Girvan
road, was the tiny hamlet of Milton, which consisted of a smithy and a
joiner's shop, and the homes of the smith and the joiner. To the east,
quite near, was a grist-mill with an overshot water-wheel; and along the
eastern border of the farm was a glen through which ran a burn, known as
the Milton burn. From this burn, water was diverted through a small
artificial channel — known as the mill-race — to a dam above the mill,
from which it was let out when required, to turn the water-wheel. To the
west lay the expanse of the Firth of Clyde, with Ailsa Craig and the
Argyll and Arran hills in full view. On a very clear day one might also
So, apart from the farm,
with its many interests, we had other sights to divert us. At times we
would go to the smithy and see the blacksmith shoe horses; look in on the
joiner and watch him send forth great billows of shavings from his plane.
At other times it might be the mill with its water-wheel which was the
object of our curiosity. The mill-race with water apparently running
up-hill particularly intrigued us.
On the farm we had the
domestic animals; the horses and the cattle; the sheep and the pigs; the
ducks and the hens; the cats and the dogs.
Of wild life we had hares
and rabbits; mice and rats; moles and bats; pheasants and partridges;
crows and pigeons; robins and wrens; larks and linnets; blackbirds and
thrushes; swallows and starlings; jackdaws and sparrows; and many others.
We had everything to make a boy's life happy, and to give him a sound
knowledge of the fauna of the district, and their habits.
Of the women relatives who
were a help to father in his care of us in our early childhood, I have a
clear recollection of our grandmother Turner — Mother's mother. She was
with us when Mother died, and stayed with us for a few weeks after.
Preparatory to our going to
Kirkoswald school, Father gave us our first lessons in reading. He also
prepared us to walk to school by having us first walk with him to
Kirkoswald Parish Church on Sundays. So, by the time we went to school we
were quite fit for the 3-mile walk. My brother Robert was then eight years
old and I was seven. One hour was the time allowed for going to school,
but we generally took more than that coming home. At times we would come
home by a roundabout road, spending our time on the way exploring the
neighbourhood. We thus got a thorough knowledge of the local geography.
The schoolmaster, Mr. James
Hutchison, was an energetic and able teacher. He did not despise the use
of the tawse. He grounded us well in the three R's, and taught us some
Latin. Like father, he was a keen curler, and when he had to play in some
important competition, this led sometimes to our getting a half-holiday.
Two events of more than
local interest took place during the time I attended the Parish School.
The first was the General Election in 1868 in which the Whigs swept the
Tories from power and Gladstone became Prime Minister. This was the last
election in Britain in which open voting was the method of voting used.
We knew nothing of all this
at the time — I was then only nine years old — nor anything whatever about
politics. But we heard the names Whig and Tory during the election
campaign; and knew there was some sort of fight going on between them.
This gave us a brilliant idea: in our rough-and-tumble games at school, we
took sides as Whigs and Tories. But whether the Whigs, or the Tories,
finally won in these mimic contests, I cannot now say.
The second event was the
Franco-Prussian War which broke out in 1870. We knew no more about the
rights and wrongs of this than we did about the General Election; and so,
played French and Prussians in our games in the same spirit as we had
played Whigs and Tories during the election campaign.
One incident in connection
with that war, I clearly remember: William Gordon, the foreman, came to
see Father one Saturday night, bringing with him a leaflet which read:
"Napoleon surrendered to
The army at Sedan are prisoners."
Gordon's son Johnny, who
worked in Maybole as a joiner, had come home to spend Sunday with his
parents, and had brought with him this latest bulletin. Little did any of
us foresee then the world tragedy which that defeat of France by Prussia
was ultimately to lead to.