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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Romantic Story of Governor MacRae, Donor of King William's Statue


JAMES MACRAE, Esq., Governor of the Presidency of Madras, in the year 1734 gifted the equestrian statue of King William, which still stands at the Cross, to the city of Glasgow, of which he was then a burgess.

The story of the donor, and of the recipients of his immense fortune, is a most romantic one. It appears that during the reign of Charles II. there lived in a small cottage in the town of Ayr a decent washerwoman, whose name was Widow Macrae, but was commonly called Bell Gardner, her own name. The widow had a little son Jamie, who, by and by, went to sea, and nothing more was heard of him in his native place for some forty long years. Meanwhile he became Governor of the Madras Presidency in 1725, and amassed a great fortune.

On his return home he sought out his relatives, namely, a cousin, Bell Gardner, wife of an itinerant fiddler, named Hugh M’Guire, in whose house his mother had latterly lived and died. M’Guire, the fiddler, and his wife had four daughters, who, as the prospective heiresses of their mother’s cousin, were educated and brought out in a style befitting their position. The eldest (Lizzie or Leezie) became the wife of William, thirteenth Earl of Glencairn, in 1744; and on the day of her marriage received as tocher the Barony of Ochiltree, which cost £25,000, as well as diamonds to the value of £45,000. Her second son, James, fourteenth Earl of Glencairn, was the patron and friend of Robert Burns.

The second daughter received the estate of Aila, and was married in 1749 to James Erskine, an advocate, who was raised to the bench as Lord Alva; the third daughter married James MacRae, a nephew (or, as some said, a natural son) of the Governor; her dowry being the estate of Houston in Dumfriesshire; the fourth daughter, who was the Governor’s favourite, received the estate of Orangefield in Ayrshire, and was married to Charles Dalrymple, nephew of Charles Dalrymple of Langlands, and brother of the Rev, Dr. William Dalrymple, formerly minister of Ayr.


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