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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter LI


EDUCATION IN THE BURGH-ERECTION OF AN ACADEMY-SALARIES OF THE TEACHERS-THE ARMSTRONG BURSARIES-NOTICES OF THE SEVEN TRADES -THE CONTESTS FOR THE SILVER GUN-A NEW TRADES' HALL BUILTPRESENTATION OF A PUNCH-BOWL TO THE CRAFTSMEN, AND OF A GOLD CHAIN FOR THE CONVENER-INSECURITY OF THE PRISON-A NEW JAIL BUILT IN BUCCLEUCH STREET-THE TURNKEY MURDERED BY A PRISONER -GASTOWN FOUNDED-A NEW NAVIGATION ACT OBTAINED-THE NITH DEEPENED AND EMBANKED-ERECTION OF BRIDGEND INTO A BURGH OF BARONY, UNDER THE DESIGNATION OF MAXWELLTOWN.

THE poet's sojourn at Dumfries constitutes a marked era in its history; and to speak of an event occurring in or about "Burns's time" is still customary in the Burgh. Adopting that familiar phraseology, let us briefly notice how educational matters stood with the Dumfriesians in Burns's time. Of established schools for teaching English there were three, the masters of which had amongst them a salary of 20 per annum, and 2s. 6d. per quarter from each pupil. There was one established grammar school (Latin) the teacher of which had a salary of 20, he receiving no wages from the children of burgesses, but 5s. per quarter from others, and Candlemas offerings from all-the scholars numbering about a hundred. Other two schools were endowed by the town: namely, one for arithmetic, book-keeping, and mathematics; salary, 28; wages, 5s. per annum from children of burgesses; 7s. 6d. from other children, with no offering at Candlemas; number of pupils about 60: and one for writing; salary, 22; wages the same as the preceding; scholars, 70. The grammar school teacher, in addition to his higher salary, had a dwelling-house assigned to him; an advantage possessed by none of the other masters. By this time the Town Council had cancelled their illiberal edict against adventure schools: so that several of these existed in the Burgh, at some of which French, drawing, and dancing were taught; and there were, besides, two or three boarding schools for girls.

The endowed schools had no local connection till 1802, when, by means of a general subscription, they were all embraced under one roof, in a neat, substantial structure erected near Townhead. At first the new Academy was managed by a committee of the subscribers; but in 1814 it was handed over to the paymasters of the teachers, the Town Council, who continue to act as its directors. The education taught in the Academy at present consists of four departments. Over one of these, including Latin, Greek, French, and German, Mr. W. H. Cairns, an accomplished scholar, presides, with the title of rector; though, strictly speaking, there are few, if any, rectorial duties attached to his office. The salary is 37 11s. 10d.; interest of mortified money, 26 8s. 2d.: in all, 64. Another, the English department, with numerous collateral branches, is under the able management of Mr. Duncan Forbes: salary, 20 8s.; interest, 9 12s.: in all, 30. A third department, mathematics and arithmetic, was taught, up till the present summer, by Mr. David Munn, distinguished for his mathematical attainments; but he having been appointed to a mastership in the High School of Edinburgh, Mr. Neilson, from the same city, was elected as his successor, on the 16th of August last. The salary is 16 16s. 6d.; interest, 8 3s. 6d.: in all, 25. Lastly, penmanship and drawing are efficiently taught by Mr. David Dunbar, whose salary is the same as that of the mathematical master. Mr. Dunbar is the author of a meritorious volume of poems, published in 1859. The salaries of the masters are supplemented by the interest of 3,000, bequeathed for this purpose by Mr. Crichton of Friars' Carse, and which became payable on the death of Mrs. Crichton, in 1862. At present the interest amounts to 120, of which the English, writing, and mathematical teachers receive 15 each, the remainder going to the rector; but on condition that he shall keep a well-qualified assistant, and educate ten poor boys gratuitously. The pupils at the Academy have, during the last thirty-four years, been all on the same footing as respects fees; the exemption in favour of burgesses' children having been withdrawn soon after the adoption of the Burgh Reform Act; and Candlemas offerings having long since gone out of use.

A number of valuable bursaries are attached to the Academy, for which it is indebted to one of its teachers - Mr. William Armstrong, of the mathematical department, who died in 1859. By a trust deed dated 1852, Mr. Armstrong conveyed his whole estate to five private friends, as trustees, for payment of his debts, and for behoof of two relatives who were to receive the interest of the same, but who predeceased the testator; and lastly, were to convey the remainder of his estate "to the provost, bailies, and town clerk of the Burgh of Dumfries, and the rector of the grammar school, and the masters of the mathematical, English, and writing departments of the Academy, and their successors in office, as trustees for the following purposes : namely, to invest the remainder, and apply the annual rent of the whole, in order to establish bursaries in connection with the said Academy, to be called the "Armstrong Bursaries:" one of the value of 18, another 15, and others 12 each; and to be awarded to such scholars competing for them as shall, in the opinion of the trustees, rank first, second, third, and so on, in point of regular attendance, general scholarship, and good conduct," at the annual examination of the Academy by its patrons, and who shall have attended its classical and mathematical departments for two years previous to such examinations. Also, that the successful competitors shall not be entitled to receive the bursaries unless they bona , fide intend to prosecute their studies in the universities of Edinburgh or Glasgow, and attend the mathematical and any other class, during the session immediately subsequent to the award of the said bursaries; that the bursaries shall be enjoyed for one year only, unsuccessful competitors being permitted to join in any after competitions, if not more than eighteen years of age. The benevolent testator's free estate is worth upwards of 2,000; so that, besides the fixed bursaries of 18 and 15, enough of interest is left for four or five others of 12 each.

Several men of note, in addition to those named in a previous chapter, have been connected as teachers with the Burgh schools, both before and since they were joined into one academy; these including Dr. Dinwoodie, who acted as astronomer to Lord Macartney's Chinese expedition; the Rev. James Gray (Burns's intimate friend); Dr. Alexander Ross Corson; and the Rev. John Wightman of Kirkmahoe. The Academy has long enjoyed the reputation of being a first-class educational establishment.

Our latest direct reference to the Trades bore the date of 1673. How have they fared during the interval between that year and the period we have now reached? Each of the corporations has increased numerically; but as respects their internal economy, scarcely any change is noticeable. A minute of 1st September, 1720, reveals the fact that some ordinary shoemakers had dared to "usurp the science of bootmaking," without having first been duly initiated into its mysteries; and of course these aspiring cordwainers were heavily fined by the rulers of the craft. "Weave truth with trust," was the favourite motto of the websters; but in March, 1764, some of them proved so far false to their vows of freemanship, as to lend "sundry utensils" to unfree weavers, thereby causing "great loss and damage to the incorporation:" fined 3s. 4d. sterling each. But what was their offence compared with that of John Taylor, who, "though no ways connected with the trade" of habit-making, was actually detected "turning an old coat" for William Crow, silversmith, Dumfries, in that artizan's own house? The box-master and officer of the tailors caught him "red-handed" in the act, and seizing the ancient garment, they brought it before a meeting of the body, in proof of his audacity and their courage. An action of "spulzie and damages" was raised against the trade by Taylor; but as the case is not further noticed in the minute-book, we may assume that it was dismissed. Stay-making in these days was a branch of tailoring, and guarded with as much jealousy as any other part of it ; yet Elizabeth Knox, residenter, who was "noways free with the trade, or had no title to exercise that kind of business," was detected in the very act of patching up an old pair of stays, and fined 6s. 8d. sterling for "the transgression" -the stays being detained till the money was forthcoming.

On the 17th of December, 1792, the master tailors met, and "having taken into consideration that the prices charged by them for work done to their customers has been nearly the same for a hundred years past, although all other mechanics have increased their wages," they resolved to form their ,log according to the following rate of charges, English money:-Making a gentleman's suit of clothes, 10s.; making a gentleman's greatcoat, 5s. 6d.; mechanics' and livery servants' clothes, 8s.; boy's first suit, 3s.; mending clothes, per hour, 2d.; ladies' habits, 10s. 6d.; ladies' greatcoats, 5s.: any one charging a lower figure, to be fined 10s. 6d. for each offence. The first workmen's "strike," perhaps, that ever took place in the Burgh, is traceable in a minute of the same trade, dated the 4th of January, 1796. We thus learn that all the journeymen tailors, stimulated by the example of their masters, declined to work further, unless their wages were raised front six pence per day with victuals to ten pence; and that the employers offered eight pence a day with victuals-a compromise which was accepted by the men after they had stood out for a week or more.

Our information respecting the craftsmen has hitherto been chiefly drawn from the records belonging to each; but the Seven Trades had books in which their transactions as a united incorporation were minuted, and to these, so far as they exist, let us turn for a little. The oldest ones are a book of accounts beginning in 1714, and a minute-book dating from 1767. [In the possession of Mr. James Dinwiddie, Irish Street.] The accounts relate chiefly to rents drawn from the letting of their hall and lodgings connected with it, amounting to some 40 sterling at the first of these periods; to sales of meal and barley, which the deacons laid in in large quantities and sold out to the brotherhood with a profit; to charges for repairs on the property, and the expenses incurred when Riding the Marches, Shooting for the Silver Gun, or at convivial meetings. A few specimens will suffice.

Under date 9th November, 1722, it is stated that the deacons and others discussed six bottles of wine "that day we rod the marches," the price being 9s. sterling. The Marquis of Annandale having received a ticket of freemanship on the 29th of July, 1723, four bottles of claret were drunk by the fathers of the freemen on the head of it-the rate of charge the same, 1s. 6d. per bottle. A goodly donation of fifty pounds from the Duke of Queensberry having replenished the box-master's exchequer in November, 1722, his Grace's almoner, " Waterside," was treated to " thrie bottels of whit win" in a changehouse-charge, 4s. On the 7th of May, 1727, the following entry occurs:-" Spent at a meeting of the Deacons in the hall anent the Silver Gune shoting, for 5 pynts and half mutchkin brandie, 19s." The chief carousal of the year was on Michaelmas night, when sometimes the Trades spent a ninth part of their entire rental in toasting the health of the newly-elected magistrates: the bill for 1760 running thus:- "4 pints of spirits [whisky at this date having become a common drink], 16s.; 2 lib. sugar, Is. 8d.; 6 lemons [to flavour the inevitable punch], 9s.; 8 bottles of wine, 16s.; 12 lib. cheese, 3s.; 7 doz. baikes, and 3 sixpenny loaves." The Trades were not selfish in their sociality; money votes to the poor of the town being sometimes given at these festivities, and frequent entries occurring in their books of small sums paid away to poor strangers at the instance of the Convener. The magnitude of their transactions in " victual" may be inferred from the payments made in 1775 - 540 10s. for oatmeal; 97 3s. for barley; and 107 2s. 8d. for herrings. Most of the minutes are too dry or detailed for quotation. They record in brief terms the annual elections; notice still more briefly the Silver Gun competitions; and become more communicative after the tide of the Trades has begun to ebb, and their history has lost its early charm.

In 1785 it was resolved that the Silver Gun should be shot for only once in five years ; and ultimately the contest came to be only once in seven. The following are the dates of this great carnival of the Trades, so far as they can be ascertained:28th March, 1742, Thomas Dickson, glover, convener; 4th June, 1746, James Aiken, glover, convener; 4th June, 1762, Thomas Gibson, flesher, convener; 4th June, 1766, William Crosbie, tailor, convener; 5th June, 1777, John Paterson, hammerman, convener; 4th June, 1779, William M'Ghie, squareman, convener; 4th June, 1781, John Blackstock, shoemaker, convener; 5th June, 1783, Robert Maxwell, hammerman, convener; 4th June, 1785, John Ogilvie, shoemaker, convener; 4th June, 1791, Robert Thomson, hammerman, convener; 4th June, 1796, William Hayland, hammerman, convener; 4th June, 1802, Kinloch Winlaw, squareman, convener; 4th June, 1808, John Fergusson, squareman, convener; 4th June, 1813, John M'Craken, squareman, convener; 5th June, 1817, Alexander Lookup, skinner, convener; 23rd April, 1824, Robert M`Kinnell, hammerman, convener; 24th April, 1828, Alexander Howat, flesher, convener; 8th September, 1831, James Thomson, squareman, convener. The Gun has not been competed for since 1831, when it was won by Deacon Alexander Johnston of the tailors, who on that account had the honour of carrying the trophy in a great procession that took place in the Burgh at the celebration of Burns's centenary.

During "Burns's time" the Trades were a very powerful body. Taking in master freemen, journeymen, and apprentices, they formed an operative force fully 700 strong, or about a ninth part of the whole population. Those who love precise details will not be displeased with the subjoined statistics, applicable to the year 1790. Hammermen: 40 freemen, 16 journeymen, 14 apprentices; total, 70. Squaremen (masons, joiners, cabinetmakers, painters, and glaziers): 86 freemen, 84 journeymen, 50 apprentices; total, 220. Tailors: 45 freemen, 20 journeymen, 20 apprentices; total, 85. Weavers : 42 freemen, 15 journeymen, 2 apprentices; total, 59. Shoemakers : 110 freemen, 84 journeymen, 42 apprentices; total, 236. Skinners and glovers: 14 freemen, 5 journeymen, 4 apprentices; total, 23. Fleshers, 23-all the journeymen free, and, like Harry of the Wynd, killing for their own hand; apprentices, 10; total, 33.

Some time in 1703, the Trades, wishing to get rid of the inconveniences arising from their open-air gatherings, acquired the hall to which reference has been already made. It was a large room above the Meal Market, for which they paid 900 merks. Thirty years afterwards we find them located in a second hall, near the New Church; and before the expiry of other thirty years, their Blue Blanket is seen displayed from another building opposite the Mid-Steeple; which in its turn was superseded by a new hall erected on the same site in 1804. This, the fourth and last building possessed by the craftsmen of the Burgh, cost for mason work 368 5s. 6d., less 58, the value of the old materials; for joiner, plaster, slater, glazier, and plumber work, 838 17s. 5d.; a few other items increasing the aggregate to 1,167 2s. 11d. sterling.

On the 4th of June, 1806 (the anniversary of George the Third's birth-day), the new Hall was publicly taken possession of by its owners. At twelve o'clock the colours of the Trades were displayed from the windows ; and in the evening the Blue Blanket, or grand banner of the united Incorporations, was hung from the high front of the building; while the interior was crowded with a festive company, including the deacons, the magistrates, the officers of the Royal Artillery Company, and of the Dumfriesshire and Troqueer Volunteers, the whole presided over by Convener Samuel Primrose. This was the first of many jovial meetings held in the same hall. At the time of its erection, the Trades were in full force. Those who took part in the "house-heating" ceremony that signalized its opening, never fancied that theirs was the last generation in which the freeman's monopoly would be maintained, or that the day was at hand when their convivial gatherings, shooting competitions, and grand Rood-fair processions, would cease; that their property would for the most part be disposed of, and all their goodly paraphernalia, including the convener's gold chain, the gigantic punch-bowl, and the far-famed Silver Gun, would pass into other hands.

The bacchanalian vessel here referred to was a present from Convener Grainger, and is really a magnificent product of the potter's art. As the meeting at which the bowl was presented was a characteristic one, illustrative in some degree of the Trades and the town when in holiday attire, we copy the account given of it by the local journalist:- "On Tuesday evening last [Hogmanay, 1806], the Convener and Deacons of the Incorporations of this town gave an elegant entertainment in their new Hall to upwards of a hundred gentlemen of the town and County. Convener Ferguson, in name of the Incorporations, presented the freedom of the Trades to John Murray, Esq. of Murraythwaite, vice-lieutenant of the County; to John Forrest, Esq., provost of Annan; and to Colonel John Murray, nephew of the vice-lieutenant, with appropriate addresses to each, to which they made suitable replies. Mr. Robert Grainger, merchant, in a very handsome manner presented to the Incorporations a most elegant china punch-bowl and silver spoon. The bowl, we understand, will contain ten gallons. On the upper ring in the inside are the words, 'Success to the Wooden Walls of Great Britain!' on the second ring, `Success to the Incorporations of Dumfries!' on the outside the lion rampant, with the words, 'God keep the King and the Craft!' being the arms and motto of the Incorporations; and many other emblematical devices. After the bowl was filled by the convener ["with good rum punch," says the minute-book], a great number of constitutional and patriotic toasts were given. The evening was spent with the greatest conviviality and harmony; and, indeed, the manner in which the whole was conducted reflected the highest honour upon the Incorporations of this town." In the same year, the Trades were presented with a gilt silver chain and medal, by Deacon Fergusson, "to be worn by the convener, only on particular occasions;" and by Mr. Thomas Boyd, the architect of the new Hall, with an elegant chair for the convener, which piece of furniture was decorated with the arms of the Incorporation, at the expense of another burgess, Mr. William Grierson, junior, merchant. The "plenishing" of the hall was further enriched by a beautifully-executed model of a frigate in full sail, placed above the entrance-the gift of Captain Affleck, Aberdeen ; and by a capacious snuffmull, ingeniously constructed out of a ram's head, a present from Captain M`Dowall.

In 1825, when the system, though still seemingly vigorous, was nodding to its fall, the public of Dumfries showed their appreciation of it by subscribing for a magnificent badge of office, to be worn by its chief. On the evening of the 9th of September, that year, the subscribers met with the Trades' officials in the Coffee House, High Street, for the purpose of presenting their gift, which consisted of a massive chain and medal. Provost Thomson officiated as speaker on this occasion. He pointed out the way in which James VI. had recognized the importance of the Dumfries craftsmen, and then said:-" The representative of the Trades is justly entitled to such a badge of office as has now been presented to him, not less as a mark of honour and respect than from a consideration that it is proper that one holding so important a situation should be publicly distinguished. Should days of difficulty and confusion at any time arise, no man is able to lend so material aid to the civil authorities as the Convener of the Incorporations; and round him, with their well-known feelings of loyalty, they will not, in such an event fail to range themselves, to support the peace of the town, and the laws and religion of the country." After a personal compliment to the recipient of the chain, Convener Allan Anderson, and his immediate predecessor, Mr. M'Kinnell, the Provost closed by investing the former with the badge, and begging him to accept it for the Trades, as a token of the esteem in which they were held by their fellow-citizens. [Seven Trades' Minutes] The worthy convener returned thanks in suitable terms. The chain, a double one, is made up of four hundred and nineteen links; the medal attached to it is surrounded with beautiful embossed work, and has this inscription engraved on the centre:- "Presented to the Seven Incorporated Trades, by a few of the inhabitants of Dumfries."

On the 5th September, 1812, an institution was founded which was well fitted to exercise a refining influence on the community, we mean the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Horticultural Society. The meeting called for that purpose consisted chiefly of gardeners, and was presided over by Mr. William Hood; Mr. William Grierson of Boatford and Mr. John Learmont of Dumfries taking a leading part in the proceedings. The society grew at a rapid rate; and so strong had it become in 1823, that a great anniversary meeting was held that year, followed by a dinner, at which Colonel Dirom of Mount Annan (distinguished in his day as a great agricultural improver) took the chair, and at which the members presented Mr. Grierson with a handsome silver cup, by way of recognizing the interest he had taken in the success of the society, and their appreciation of his services in "bringing it to that perfect state at which it had now arrived."

The old jail, which stood on the east side of High Street, was never at its best a very strong building. When, in 1682, two brothers, George and Richard Storie, were consigned to it, charged with murdering Francis Armstrong at Alisonbank, on the Border, the former speedily effected his escape; and the magistrates fearing that the latter would do the same, were fain to send him under the sheriff's authority to the "Heart of Midlothian." [Privy Council Records] In the following year a complaint was made to the Privy Council by Sir Patrick Maxwell of Springkell, that Ludovick Irving, a notorious highwayman, whom he had caused to be followed to Ireland, captured there, and lodged in Dumfries prison, at an expense of 1200 sterling, had been allowed to break ward and disappear. The criminal was first put into "a, sure vault" - a place that belied its name; and then consigned "to ane outer room which had no sure posts or doors" - a circumstance which the prisoner soon took advantage of. Sir Patrick claimed his expenses and demanded the punishment of the magistrates for allowing Irving to get his liberty; with what success does not appear. [Privy Council Records] On the 30th of April, 1684, the Privy Council resolved that as "by the throng of prisoners in the Tolbooth of Dumfries, the same has been already broken and is yet in the same hazard," the strong vaults below the Castle should be prepared for the reception of prisoners; and the likelihood is that the vaults would be used for that purpose till the jail was made a little less vulnerable.

"At a much more recent period," says M'Diarmid, "the sister of the celebrated Jeanie Deans, alias Helen Walker, was confined in one of the cells of the Dumfries jail, while awaiting her trial for child murder; and a female still alive [in 1832], who knew both sisters intimately, stated lately in the presence of her master, Mr. Scott, optician, that the individual who wronged `Effie,' and afterwards became her husband, frequently visited Dumfries in the evenings, and conversed and condoled with her `through the grating." [Picture of Dumfries, p. 72. ]

In the autumn of 1742, a vagrant woman from the North, named M'Donald, was sent to prison for pilfering a pair of stockings. As she was being consigned to a dark cell, she prayed the jailor to allow her a small bit of candle with which to light up its gloom. The wish was complied with; and an hour afterwards, just as the ten o'clock bell had ceased to ring, the whole upper part of the prison was in a blaze. With some difficulty the flames were subdued, but not till after the third story of the building had been consumed, and, what was infinitely more pitiful, till the poor miserable prisoner from the Highlands, whose candle had caused the conflagration, had been burned to death. A large portion of the jail had in consequence to be rebuilt, according to the plan of a committee who recommended that a part of the arch above "the thief's hole," the whole of the upper story, and the south gable, should be reconstructed, with an addition to the latter of an outer staircase. [Town Council Minutes.] So increasingly insecure had the prison become with the lapse of years, and so defective was it in other respects, that the County and Burgh authorities resolved in 1801 to erect a new one. It was commenced in the following year, and completed in 1807. The site selected was objectionable on account of its being low and damp, and in a genteel part of the town - Buccleuch Street-to which the prison was no ornament. It contained eight cells for criminals, four small rooms for debtors, and several apartments fronting the street, in what was called the Bridewell division of the building.

With this prison is associated the blackest incident in the life of David Haggart, notorious as the smartest thief and most daring burglar and jail-breaker of his day. Though, when occupying the "stone jug" of Dumfries (to borrow a term from his own jargon), he was but a slim youth of twenty-two, no fewer than fifteen charges of house-breaking and theft hung over his head. He had escaped from far stronger bastiles than that of Dumfries, and reckoned with confidence on getting outside of it also, by means of false keys which he had managed to fabricate. A fellow-captive named Laurie induced him to throw aside this plan, and adopt the bolder one of knocking down Hunter, the head-jailor, with a stone in a wipe (piece of cloth), and getting hold of his keys with which to set themselves free. Two other prisoners, Dunbar and M'Grory - the latter lying heavily ironed under sentence of death for the cruel murder of a pedlar boy on Eskdale-muir - were made confederates in the plot; and the four felons only waited for a favourable opportunity to put it into execution. Dunbar, when in the cage (an erection in the court where prisoners got the benefit of fresh air), had a stone handed up to him by a sympathizer from below; several iron-cutting implements were conveyed by Haggart to M'Grory; and when the scheme of the conspirators was quite ripe, they heard with exultation one morning that Mr. Hunter had gone to attend the annual races then taking place at Tinwald-Downs. The jail-governor absent, they had none left to cope with but Morine the turnkey. A little sharp work with the "chive;" a well-delivered blow to stun the keykeeper - merely to stupify, not by any means to kill him; and the jail-birds, so they fancied, would bid farewell to their "cage" - with what peculiar joy in the case of the murderer, who would flee not for liberty merely, but life!

In the literal cage three of them were placed on that eventful day; the fourth, M'Grory, being confined in a separate cell. Haggart, it would seem, could pass out of the cage as easily as if he had had a magic word to open it, like that used by the thieves in the Oriental tale; and when twelve o'clock struck, he was lying crouching in a closet at the top of a stair that led to the condemned cell - derned there with deadly weapon-the stone tied in part of a blanket-and ready to assail the turnkey when he passed that way. Morine required to do so: two clergymen were on a visit to the convict; Laurie, according to the cue given him, called on Morine to come up and let out the ministers; and whilst the poor man was obeying the treacherous summons, a murderous blow from Haggart made him stagger and fall. In a trice afterwards, Haggart was outside the prison; and, heedless of all his confederates, off he set along Irish Street, round by Shakspeare Street into the King's Arms yard, across High Street, down the Vennel to the Nith, and then away by the left bank of the river to Comlongan wood. The bloodstained fugitive, though pressed hard by Mr. John Richardson, an active criminal officer, reached Carlisle in safety; hearing, by the way, to his horror, the true tidings that Morine had died that night at ten o'clock. Several months afterwards, however, he was apprehended in the north of Ireland by Mr. Richardson; and ere many more weeks elapsed, he was executed in Edinburgh for the murder of the unfortunate Dumfries turnkey. The jail which was the scene of this memorable tragedy, was superseded, in 1851, by a huge ungainly structure; possessing, however, excellent interior arrangements, with accommodation for sixty inmates.

At a meeting of the Council in 1804, the magistrates were authorized "to lay out the tonnage money now on hand, in building the new quay at Kingholm; and, if necessary, to borrow money for the object." The revenue from tonnage was at this time about 165 a year, which left but a small surplus; and, as usual, the bank had to be drawn upon for the completion of the works, which was effected in 1806, the first foreign vessel arriving at Kingholm Quay being the "Clementina," with sugar, on the 16th of September of that year. [Town Council Minutes] We have already seen how, by the liberality of Mr. Maxwell of Nithsdale, the town became possessed of the ground on which Glencaple village was built; and we must now notice how it acquired the lordship of another hamlet erected nearer home.

At a meeting of Council held on the 23rd of March, 1812, the important subject of the moss lands belonging to the Burgh was introduced by Provost Staig. He stated that a few days ago he and the other magistrates had visited certain of these mosses situated within the royalty, over which sundry individuals had enjoyed the liberty of casting turf; and that as their servitudes had expired, or would soon cease, the property might now be feued or otherwise disposed of as might seem best. They had also, he said, gone to Whinnyhill, where a considerable number of feus had been taken and several houses built, by which the locality had been greatly improved, and the revenue of the town increased. As Mr. Joseph Gass had originated the village, and done much to foster its growth, he proposed that it should be called Gastown, in compliment to its founder. Provost Staig's propositions were cordially approved of. On the 5th of the following September, charters were granted to various persons for twenty-three allotments, at a ground rent of from 10s. to 1 13s. 4d. yearly, each; the entire feus amounting to 26 12s. per annum. In this manner the infant village of Gastown acquired a goodly addition to its size. On the same day fifteen additional feus at Glencaple were let at an aggregate of 13 10s. Thus from these two sources a sum of fully 40 a year was at once added to the revenue of the Burgh; and that in course of time came to be further benefited by the condition imposed on the feuars of "doubling the duty the first year of the entry of every heir or singular successor." [Ibid]

On the 16th of January, 1810, the Council received from the County Commissioners copies of a bill prepared by them and the Commissioners of the Stewartry, for improving the navigation of the river, and the police regulations of the Burgh. Hitherto the Council bad been the Neptunes of the Nith; and now these other bodies desired, by means of a new legislative trident, to acquire dominion over its waters, and also sought to intermeddle with the internal affairs of the town. The Provost, Mr. Robert Jackson, was not of a temper to tolerate such assumptions; and in resisting them he was backed by nearly all the councillors. A conference was brought about between a committee of the latter and the chief promoters of the measure, with the view of coming to a common understanding respecting it; but as the County authorities stood out for "the bill and the whole bill," those of the town declared war against them, and prepared a bill of their own, based on their existing Tonnage, Ale-duty, and Police Act, passed in 1787, and which had almost run its course.

Both parties made preparations for a Parliamentary campaign, but no real battle ensued. A technical flaw in the burghal measure having endangered its success, its promoters were induced to withdraw it, on condition of receiving payment of their expenses from the other side, amounting to 926 5s. 4d. When, in the following year (1811), the rival bill was introduced, the Council made strenuous exertions to get it modified, in the belief that it was wiser for them to act thus, than to bring up their own measure anew. Mr. Maitland of Eccles, who was sent to London to look after the town's interests in the matter, met with considerable success. In reporting the results, he stated that a new arrangement for the first year had been made, which assigned to the magistrates their due place in the commission; that the original clause in the Act which conferred power to deepen the river as far up as the Caul, and which in its operation would have endangered the mills and injured the cattle market, had been so altered as to make the foot of Assembly Street the boundary of the trust; and that he had obtained the insertion of a clause to provide for the improvement of the river before any of the promoters who had subscribed money towards accomplishing the purposes of the Act, should be allowed to finger a shilling of their shares. [Town Council Minutes.]

It was further reported by Mr. Maitland, that though he had not got the police clause cancelled which "proposed to attach 100 sterling annually during the currency of the bill from the common funds of the Burgh," the town would be virtually relieved from it; "seeing that he had obtained a bond from Mr. Maxwell of Terraughty, a leading promoter of the bill, to free and relieve them from "this most oppressive and unjust assessment." Finally, Mr. Maxwell had come under an obligation to reimburse the town for the expenses-estimated at upwards of 450-incurred in opposing the Act. [Town Council Minutes] With some reluctance, the Council acquiesced in the measure as thus modified, and it was brought into operation in 1812. It was provided that the commissioners till the first of November that year, should consist of the Dumfries magistrates, the deacon-convener, and certain merchants and County gentlemen who had each subscribed 100 or more to the fund raised for carrying the Act; that in future the Commissioners of Supply for Dumfriesshire and the Stewartry should at their annual Michaelmas meetings nominate ten of their number each, and the merchants and shipowners of Dumfries should, three weeks prior to the 1st of November each year, nominate six of their number each to administer the Act.

As important operations were contemplated on the river, the rates were made much higher than before. A duty of Is. 2d. was imposed on every ton of goods or merchandise imported or exported, except coals and lime, on which six pence per ton was levied. A duty of six pence per ton register was charged on vessels from foreign ports entering the river, and of two pence on vessels arriving from the coasts of the United Kingdom ; and it was provided that one penny per ton should be paid by all vessels anchoring at or near Carsethorn, except such as were chartered to the port of Dumfries; the limits of the port being from the Nith, opposite the bottom of Assembly Street, to Southerness, and a point opposite to it on the other side of the Solway.

Though considerable sums of money had been expended in improving the river whilst it was under the management of the Town Council, it had altered little since the time when the Scoto-Irish ploughed its waters in their curraghs. The new Commissioners of the Nith aimed at making it navigable up to Dockfoot by large vessels; and with this laudable end in view, operations were commenced on a great scale, according to plans furnished by a distinguished civil engineer, Mr. Hollingsworth. The works were of a varied nature. In the first instance the course of the stream was rendered less circuitous than before, by an extensive cutting on the Dumfries or Kingholm side, and another corresponding incision on the Galloway side at Nethertown; secondly, an embankment was formed on both sides for the double purpose of fixing the new channel, and of rendering the adjacent lands less liable to be flooded; thirdly, the river was deepened by excavations, dredgings, and the reduction by blasting of the annoying stratum of rock that lay right across its bed a little below Castledykes. The proprietor of Nethertown, Major M'Murdo, received no less a sum than 1,548 15s. as the price of the land given up by him for this undertaking; and about 800 was paid for the ground taken on the Dumfries side-the town receiving as its share of this sum, 246 16s. 6d. For the cuttings upwards of 1,000 was paid; and the embankments must have cost at least as much. If to all these sums be added the cost of obtaining the Act of Parliament, 974; of survey, 51; of levelling, 20; of buoys fixed farther down the channel, 90; and of other works bearing on the great object they were all intended to subserve; the improvements begun in 1812 must, when finished, have cost fully 7,000. [Minutes of the Nith Navigation commissioners ] The operations were superintended by a committee, of which Mr. James M'Whir, merchant, was convener; and such a high sense was entertained by the Commissioners of that gentleman's services in the matter, that, by way of acknowledgment, they voted him a sum of 250 guineas. When the works were nearly completed, in 1823, Mr. M'Whir reported upon them to the Commissioners, and proposed a scheme for liquidating the debt that had been incurred. Mr. Hollingsworth, he said, had engaged to secure for them seven feet of water at the Dock for two or three days during the time of spring tides; which promise had been more than realized, as at such seasons the depth of water at Dockhead was now for four or five days eight feet, and at Dockfoot ten feet. He further explained, that by the erection of a small stone jetty at Laghall, opposite Kingholm Quay, the channel there, which could formerly be forded ankle-deep, was now eight feet deep at low water. The sum originally subscribed for the works was 9,800, of which 7,225 had been drawn by the treasurer; and adding interest for eleven years, and the floating liabilities, about 2,000, the total debt on the trust would amount to 13,000. The revenue since 1811 had been 11,367 9s. 5d., or an average of 950 a year; and there was every reason to expect that the annual income would soon reach 1,000 or guineas. Mr. M'Whir proceeded in his report to show that the best mode of repaying the loan was by borrowing 7,000 on the credit of the revenue -a proposal which was adopted and acted upon. [Minutes of Nith Commission.] He further stated that, "by the kind exertions of the magistrates," the sum of 400 would be placed at their disposal for the purpose of erecting a commodious harbour in the immediate vicinity of the town; a vote to that amount having been obtained by ex-Provost Kerr from the Convention of Royal Burghs. Remembering the conflict between the promoters of the new Act and the Town Council, Mr. M'Whir rather keenly contrasted the "liberal policy of our present local governors" with what he called "the persecutions formerly experienced" by their predecessors in office. In due time the money granted by the Convention was spent in the erection of a massive harbour wall at Dockheadwhich, however, has been of little service to the shipping.

At a more recent date, other embankments were erected between Kingholm Quay and Kelton. The latest work of an extensive kind undertaken by the Nith Commissioners was the construction of a huge sea-dyke below Glencaple Quay, which cost no less a sum than 6,000; and though it has had the desired effects of deepening and straightening the channel at that place, it is a matter of question whether these advantages have not been secured at too great an expense, considering how much the revenue has been reduced by the railways, and the difficulty which the shipping of the port have in competing with "the steeds of steam," which carry on the traffic of the district with a speed and regularity that cannot otherwise be rivalled. All the money hitherto spent in improving the Nith has failed to make it a good navigable river. Capacious vessels, drawing seven feet of water or so, can easily come up the estuary to within a few miles of Dumfries; but after that, in spite of what Mr. Hollingsworth and other engineers have done, difficulties commence which are only fairly overcome for the time being when the tidal flux is at least sixteen feet high. For these reasons the shipowners and merchants are beginning to think that, instead of trying to subdue the all but impracticable channel between the town and Glencaple Quay, they ought to connect them, or otherwise reach a deep sea harbour by a railway; and thus (to use a nautical phrase) splice the perfect mode of land transit on the defective river transit, and secure for the Burgh the full benefits of both. Mr. M'Whir, in his report (already quoted from), anticipated that the revenue of the Nith, which had yielded an average of 950 annually from 1811 to 1823, would soon increase to 1,000 and upwards. In 1831 it amounted to 1,072 17s. 4d.: it has been occasionally a few pounds higher since; but as soon as the railway system of the district came into full play, the commerce of the river declined, and it is now in a state of great depression.

Long before "Burns's time," Bridgend had become a populous town; but even after the beginning of the current century, when it numbered nearly two thousand inhabitants, it had little business and no local government, save what was exercised by the County justices and the superior of the soil. On account of the latter circumstance, the town became tenanted by more than its fair share of lawless characters: wandering tinklers, who, wearied with camp life in Galloway or Annandale, found readily within it welcome rest and refuge; runners of contraband goods from the Isle of Man, who could usually count on safe lodgings in Bridgend; while of native poachers and other roughs it reckoned not a few. Being located in a different county, the Dumfries magistrates had no jurisdiction over it whatever. Tam o' Shanter eluded the Alloway witches by putting a running stream between him and them, and Burgh delinquents in the same way often effected their escape by wading the Nith at its fords, or crossing it by the bridge, well assured that the officers of justice durst not pursue them into Galloway. When criminals were actually followed into Bridgend by those having the requisite authority, they frequently baffled the beagles of the law by diving into a labyrinth of underground buildings which lay near the river's brink, where whisky was distilled in defiance of the gauger, and where a gipsy gang held rule under their chief, Ryes Aitken, who was nearly as great a local celebrity in his day as Jock Johnstone, or even Big Will Bailie. There was much of exaggeration in the statement attributed to a London magistrate-Sir John Fieldingthat the metropolitan detectives could trace a thief over the entire kingdom if he did not get to the Gorbals of Glasgow or Bridgend of Dumfries; for in that case they had to give up the chase. But it was unquestionably a somewhat lawless town, till, by its erection, in 1810, into a burgh of barony, under the name of Maxwelltown, it acquired a magistracy of its own. The charter was obtained greatly through the exertions of the late Mr. Philip Forsyth of Nithside; and in recognition of his services in this and other respects, he had the honour of being elected first provost of the burgh. [The town, which was long without any proper local government, has now police authorities under Rutherford's Act, as well as a baronial magistracy and council.] Maxwelltown has long been as peaceable a place as any in the British dominions ; and, with its extensive iron foundries and woollen manufactures (of which we shall afterwards speak), and its large timber works and saw-mill (the latter the property of Messrs. Gillies & Son), it possesses no inconsiderable extent of trade. Its inhabitants have rapidly increased during the present century, and it is now the most populous town of Kirkcudbrightshire: population in 1861, 3,600.


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