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John Home, Esq., of Ninewells


John Home, or Hume, of Ninewells (for they are truly the same name) was the elder and only brother of David Hume, the historian. They were the children of Joseph Hume of Ninewells and Catharine Falconer, who was a daughter of Sir David Falconer, Lord President of the College of Justice. The title of Lord Halkerton came by succession to her brother, as that of Earl of Kintore has since fallen to his descendants.

Catharine Falconer had the misfortune to lose her husband, when her two boys, John and David, and a daughter, Catharine, were still infants ; and on her, in consequence, the sole charge and tutelage of them devolved. But they suffered in these circumstances less disadvantage than might have been expected; for their mother was a woman of singular merit, who, though young and handsome, and but slenderly endowed as a widow, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her children.

The principal circumstances of the historian's life may be learned from his own narrative, published soon after his death. His elder brother, John, preferred the life of a country gentleman, and employed himself for many years, judiciously and successfully, in the improvement of his paternal estates of Ninewells, Hornden, etc., in Berwickshire, which had been in the possession of the family for several generations. In the latter part of his life, he gave up his more extensive farming concerns, and went to reside in Edinburgh during half of the year, for the education of his family.

In 1740, John Home built a mansion-house at Ninewells, in place of the old one, which had been partly burned. But this was done on a very limited scale, for he was singularly cautious and moderate in all his notions and wishes, even in matters of income—insomuch that, to the end of his life, he never could be induced to follow the example of other landlords, and accept the highest rent that might be got for his lands. In 1764, he acquired, by purchase from Sir James Home, the lands of Fairney-castle, in the adjoining parish of Coldinghame. He had an absolute abhorrence of the contracting of debt, of any sort or degree; and he thus missed the opportunity of at least one other advantageous purchase of land, on which his friends strongly advised him to venture.

In 1751, John Home married Agnes Carre, daughter of Robert Carre, Esq., of Caverse, in Roxburghshire, by Helen Riddell, sister of Sir Walter Riddell, of Riddell, an ancient and honourable family in the same shire. Mrs. Home's only brother had been in possession of Caverse; but died of consumption, unmarried, and in early youth. On that event, an old settlement of entail, in favour of heirs-male, carried off the estate (excepting only the patronage of the Kirk of Bedrule) from Mrs. Home, his only sister, to a more distant male relation, whose posterity have since held and now possess it.

John Home was highly esteemed by all who knew him, as an honourable, just, and most conscientious gentleman—a strict observer of truth and of his word—respectful to the ordinances of religion—and one who acquitted himself unexceptionally in all the relations of domestic life. His children, in particular, had reason to be grateful to him for the inestimable benefit of a thorough and liberal education, on which, economical as he was, he spared no expense ; as indeed he was throughout life uniformly, and even anxiously, provident for their welfare, in everything that might contribute to form their morals or advance their fortune. Possessed as he was of these recommendations, and being withal a man of strong sense, and of a frank and social humour—an easy landlord—a reasonable master—a skilful farmer— and very intelligent in country affairs, he was much liked and respected in his rural circle; and was often resorted to by his neighbours of all ranks, as a safe and a fair referee, for the settlement of such controversies as occasionally arose among them. He was, moreover, a correct and careful man of business—understood figures well—and seemed indeed to find a pleasure in arithmetical operations; insomuch, that he never engaged in any material undertaking, of which he had not previously calculated, as far as possible, the utmost cost and the ultimate result.

In allusion to this habit of his, his brother the historian expresses himself thus, in a letter (19th March, 1751) written to his relation, Mrs. Sandilands Dysert, on the eve of John's marriage—"Dear Madam,—Our friend, at last, plucked up a resolution, and has ventured on that dangerous encounter. He went off on Monday morning; and this is the first action in his life, wherein he has engaged himself, without being able to compute exactly the consequences. But what arithmetic can serve to fix the proportion between good and bad wives, and rate the different classes of each? Sir Isaac Newton himself, who could measure the courses of the planets, and weigh the earth as in a pair of scales, even he had not algebra enough to reduce that amiable part of our species to a just equation; and they are the only heavenly bodies whose orbits are as yet uncertain."

Though not to be termed a scholar (in the English sense of the word), John Home was, however, not without a fair tincture of literature, classic as well as modern, especially history and belles lettres; and ordinarily enjoyed the evening over a book, Latin or French, as often as English. He was above the middle stature—not much under six feet—and of a stout and muscular, but not a fleshy frame. To this he did not spare to give ample exercise on all occasions; by which means, joined to the most temperate habits, he maintained uniform good health till towards the close of a life of seventy-seven years. He never followed the hounds, or used the fowling-piece; but he was a keen and a deadly hand with the leister or salmon spear. The Whitadder runs along the lands of Ninewells; and the clear waters of that pleasant stream were often stained with the bloody tokens of his prowess in that joyous and manly sport. Occasionally, on an emergency, in the close of a wet and broken harvest, the old gentleman did not think it unsuitable to join his servants for some hours in their exertions to save the crop, and was seen to follow the loading wain along the ridge, and deliver the sheaves (which he did with much energy and rapidity) from the pitch-fork in his own hand into the wain. He was of a keen and animated countenance, with a florid complexion, a clear grey eye, and well formed features, which were set-off to some advantage in his old age, by his grey locks, which fell in full curls (though these are not given in the Print) on his neck. He had, however, contracted (which the Print does give) an inveterate habit of stooping, which was rather injurious to Ins general aspect. In convivial society, especially when at the head of his own hospitable table, he was much disposed to be jocular, and was liberal of his store of pithy sayings and droll stories. In particular, he highly enjoyed the meetings of the well known Poker Club, of which he was a member, along with his brother, and to which belonged at that time, Patrick Lord Elibank, Lord Ellioch, Dr. Adam Smith, Drs. Cullen, Black, and Gregory, Dr. Adam Ferguson, Old Ambassador Keith, Sir Gilbert Elliot, and many others; some of them men of letters, others, persons of high birth, or eminent in public life.

John Home died at Ninewells, on the 14th of November 1786, after a short illness, and in great composure of mind. He was interred in the family vault, under his parish kirk of Chirnside. He had always been on friendly terms with the good and worthy pastor of that parish, Dr. Walter Anderson, whom indeed no one could dislike, who valued simplicity and mildness of character, or felt the importance of the due discharge of all the duties of that holy office.

By his marriage to Agnes Carre, John Home, who survived her, had eight children, of whom three sons, Joseph, David, and John, and two daughters, Catharine and Agnes, survived him. The other three children, narnety, Robert, Helen, and Agatha, died in infancy or early youth. Joseph, when a young man, served as Captain in the Queen's Bays, or 2d Dragoon Guards. He afterwards resided, as a country gentleman, at Ninewells, where he died on the 14th of February, 1832, unmarried, and at the advanced age of eighty-one. David was an advocate at the Scottish bar, and held successively the offices of Sheriff-Depute of Berwickshire, Sheriff-Depute of West Lothian, Professor of the Law of Scotland in the University of Edinburgh, one of the Principal Clerks to the Court of Session, and one of the Barons of the Court of Exchequer for Scotland ; from which station he retired, on the statutory allowance, in February, 1834. John was a man of great worth and good parts; and nature had gifted him with no small share of genuine pleasantry and humour, which were combined with a generous and an affectionate disposition. In the earlier part of his life, he did business, with much credit, in Edinburgh, as a Writer to the Signet. In his latter j7ears, he gave up practice there, and took up his residence at Ninewells, with his eldest brother, the laird, who committed to him the chief or rather the entire management of his affairs, and the improvement of his estate. They carried into execution sundry judicious projects of draining, enclosure, and plantation, which added materially to the shelter and fertility of the land, as well as to the amenity of the place.

Catharine Home was married to a near Berwickshire neighbour, Robert Johnston, Esq., of Hilton, then a captain in the 39th regiment of infantry, who served in Gibraltar during the noted siege, and afterwards, with much credit, during the last war with France, as Lieut.-Colonel of the Berwickshire Light Dragoons—a well-disciplined provincial corps, raised towards our defence against French invasion and Irish insurrection. Of this marriage there survive two daughters, Margaret and Catharine Johnston. An elder daughter, Agnes, was married to the Eev. Alexander Scott, a cadet of the distinguished house of Scott of Harden, and rector of Egremont, and now of Bowtel, in Cumberland. She died, leaving issue two sons, Francis, a lieutenant in the royal navy, and the Rev. Robert Scott, Fellow of one of the Colleges, Cambridge.

Agnes Home was of a more delicate constitution than her sister, and died at her brother David's house in Edinburgh, unmarried, on the 9th March, 1808.


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