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History of Moffat
Chapter XI


Eminent Men connected with the Town and Parish.—Sir Archibald Johntone, Lard Warriston, John London Macadam—John Finlay—William Morrison—Rev. John Walker, F.R.S.E.

A MORE pleasing portion of the study of history, or one more apt to remunerate the diligence of the student, can scarcely be conceived than that which gives us a definite idea of the lives, characters, and literary undertakings of those who, from their vast intellectual qualifications, have rendered our country more famous. There is scarcely a district in any country which has not given birth to some subsequently famous man; and there is scarcely any place destitute of some memento of their former greatness or of their fallen glory. Where men of genius have lived or died we generally find in some secluded spot of the sequestrated village churchyard, some tangible evidence of respect and appreciation of talent In others, however, we sometimes find nothing but a simple rudely-lettered superscription on a rough-hewn stone, which surmounts the resting-places of those who, in the field of science or of art, were when in life duly reverenced and esteemed. Moffat does not lack importance as regards eminent men who, from birth, residence, or similar ties and associations, are intimately connected with it, and are in a work such as this worthy of our notice. It has produced men whom the world has regarded with no common interest and appreciation. It has sheltered others when the winter of years was making sad havoc of the once sprightly, blooming, and vigorous frame; and who had hastened, as to their last refuge, to gain an envied prolongation of life. And its church-yard contains the remains of some eminent men, of whom we are desirous to speak in the present chapter. It cannot but be a matter of delight to consider that Moffat was the birth-place of one of the greatest men who ever raised a voice for religious reform during the agitations which took place in the seventeenth century. Moffat can claim as a native that man who, independent of the calumnies of numerous writers in prose and verse, is worthy of universal admiration, for he it was who framed the most important document connected with liberty of action and freedom of opinion in relation to ecclesiastical matters, which displayed the indignant resentment of the Scottish people to the machinations of a prelatical government. In the succeeding biographical sketches, we must of necessity be brief, even at the expense of neglecting information received from various sources. We cannot now do better than sketch the life and character of the man to whom we have indirectly referred.

Sir ARCHIBALD JOHNSTONE, Lord Warristoun, was born at Beerholm, two miles below Moffat. The exact date of his birth has not as yet been determined, but he was created an advocate in 1633. About 1637 he is prominently seen in the capacity of an advocate in behalf of the Presbyterians, the public denouncer of their persecutors; and being one of the few legal advisers of the time favourable to covenanting principles, and from his professional powers, he was their chief confidant, and was cognisant of all their movements. Most of the documents connected with the Covenant, and considered to be the most important relating to the history of our National Church as the firm foundation for all subsequent religious reformations, were prepared by him and presented to the Privy Council. The interest which he manifested in them caused them to repose much confidence in him, and appoint him to superintend the administration of affairs in Scotland. We have already noticed in the chapter bearing on the history of the Covenant [chap. VI.] that when, in 1641, Charles I. visited Edinburgh he conferred honours and rewards on the Presbyterian leaders, as a means of winning their affection and support, and Johnstone was not exempted from the favoured few; for we find he was knighted, created a Lord of Session, with 4200 per annum as a pension. To shew the numerous and responsible positions which he filled with efficiency during this period of religious trouble and dispute, would occupy too much space, therefore we trust the following abridgement may suffice. It is but natural to expect that one who had so long exerted himself on behalf of the Presbyterians, and who had made strenuous efforts to make their principles more fully acknowledged and supported, should, in 1643, be sent to represent in the estates of Parliament the capital of his native country. Having had no reason to fear his departure from the cause, he was further honoured by his being in the succeeding year ordained a Parliamentary Commissioner to attend the Assembly of Divines and the English Parliament, in the former of which he acted a prominent part. And now having been imposed with the fulfilment of so many arduous duties of a religious character, he was destined to be elevated in his profession—succeeding, in 1646, Sir Thomas Hope as Lord Advocate--a position which, from his complete knowledge of Scots law, he was well fitted, and in every respect he "magnified the office." But, in 1660, the first glance of the dark side of the picture of his life is gained. His undisguised predilections in favour of Presbyterianism had not been disregarded by the zealous opponents of the cause which he advocated, and consequently they took harsh measures effectually to stop the practical development of plans which he had originated, which resulted in his being outlawed in the year above mentioned, on the grounds of his supporting the Covenanters. He fled to the Continent, trusting that the storm of wrath would soon blow over, but that action proved a true verification of the old saying, "out of the frying pan into the fire." The conduct of the physicians who ministered to him in his afflictions during his stay on the Continent, cannot be too strongly reprobated. They gradually reduced him to the condition of an imbecile. In 1661 he was condemned to death, and in 1663, executed at the Cross of Edinburgh. Thus ended the career of one which centuries seldom produce; but the confident declaration emitted prior to his execution, indicated his strict adherence to the principles of the Covenant, and assurance of the victory being gained by those whom in every respect he had so long and 80 ably supported.

JOHN LOUDON MACADAM was born at Ayr on the 21st September, 1756. He was educated at the School of Maybole, and on his father's death, in 1770, he was sent to New York, where he subsequently amassed a considerable fortune in the capacity of agent for the sale of prizes, but which in a series of barren speculations he unfortunately lost. Immediately on his return to his native country he settled down for some time at Dumcrieff, near Moffat, of which place we have already spoken. On his appointment as deputy-lieutenant for Ayrshire he removed to Sauchrie, and afterwards to Falmouth, when he was by Government appointment created agent for superintending the proper victualling of the British Navy in the western ports. * During his tenure of office as a trustee for the Ayrshire Roads, the idea of inventing an economical system for the preservation of highways first entered his mind, and in some secluded spot in England the project was matured, having then studied in a methodical manner the complete process of roadmaking in its most minute and least recognised details. By his accepting the office oJ Surveyor-General of the Bristol Roads in 1815, he wa enabled practically to illustrate the magnitude of his scheme, which led, in 1823, to his being summoned before the House of Commons for examination regarding the supposed benefit which would accrue from the converting of the ruble granite causeways in the chiel streets of towns and cities into a smooth surface similar to that already formed by him on the public roads; which resulted in most of the streets of London, Edinburgh, and Dublin being Macadamised. It is but natural to expect that in the projecting and carrying into effect of a scheme of such vast dimensions, in addition to the time and labour, a considerable sum of money must have been expended. And such was the case, for, in 1825, he proved to the satisfaction of a Select Committee of the House of Commons that he had advanced several thousand pounds for the effectual completion of his plan, which Committee ordained that 10,000, in two separate grants, should be given him as a sufficient acknowledgement for the service he had done the country. In 1834 he was offered a knighthood, which he respectfully refused on account of his age and increasing infirmities, but the title was conferred upon his son, Sir James Nicoll Macadam, who had materially assisted him as a road engineer. Mr. Macadam died at the advanced age of eighty at Moffat, a place which he particularly loved, on the 26th November, 1836, and an unpretentious headstone marks his resting place in the pretty churchyard.

JOHN FINLAY was born at Glasgow in the year 1782. After leaving the academy of Mr. Hall, then recognised as one of the best in the city, he attended the University, and had a career of unusual brilliance, particularly in the classes of Philosophy, Latin, and Greek, where, for the excellence of his prose compositions and the beauty of his poetical pieces, chiefly written on classical subjects, he merited the honours which were liberally showered upon him: gained the favour of his professors, and was held in the general estimation of his fellow-students. But as a scholar he was not destined alone to shine. He had previously given indications of originality of thought and expression, seldom evinced in parties of such youthful years; and those in the form of a work, since much appreciated and admired, were soon to stand the test of public criticism, and receive the share of approbation which they merited. He was one who could compose at the most inopportune moments, amidst the bustle of his classmates, or with case and calmness during examinations, while those surrounding him were terrified at the Examiners

"Denouncing dire reproach to luckless fools,
Uosklll'd to plod in mathematic rules."

He was not like Young, who could alone compose when every fair streak of day-light was precluded from his sanctum, but anywhere or everywhere he startled his contemporaries with the purity of his imaginings. While living within the walls of our ancient Alma Mater (now tenanted by the unscrupulous railway officials, whose din destroys the sanctity of the place), as was wont in those days when the figure of the venerable Zachary Boyd might frequently have been seen strutting down its shaded courts, whose finn and massive walls echoed back his fast-retreating footsteps, or while wandering 'noath the verdant arcades of the once sturdy oaks, which were the beauty and the pride of our College Green, close to the classic Molendinar, which then in its purity wimpled by, John Finlay published, at the early age of nineteen, his "Wallace; or, the Vale of Ellerslie," which immediately established his reputation as a poet. Similar work proceeded from his pen, and, in 180, lie repaired to London in the hope of obtaining a permanent appointment in one of the public offices, but he was disappointed and left for Glasgow in 1808, not however before he had been recognised as a poet of no mean merit by an English public, chiefly through the periodical literature of the day; and had given himself up to antiquarian research and inquiry, which was subsequently productive of much good fruit, and rendered himself worthy of being classed with Sir 'Walter Scott and Robert Jamieson as an antiquarian and writer of romantic and historical poetry in imitation of the ancient. In 1808 he published two volumes of "Historical and Romantic Ballads," containing one or two of his own poems, said by some learned critics of the time to be almost the most successful representations of the life and character of the people in the early period, as given by the poetical chroniclers, such as Wyntoun, Rymer, and others, that have ever been produced. About this period Finlay received an offer from Professor Richardson to the effect that he would advance for a share in a printing business the necessary money, and this Finlay thought first of accepting. But not altogether understanding the modu8 operandi of the business, and fancying there would scarcely be sufficient pecuniary remuneration for the time and labour bestowed in the project, he humbly declined the acceptance of the generous offer of the worthy professor; and his hopes of gaining an appointment in London having been strengthened and increased from reliable sources, towards the end of 1810 be left Glasgow for the purpose of having a consultation on the subject with friends then resident in England. At Moffat he was seized with what has since been considered apoplexy. Having no apprehensions of danger, with his customary carelessness regarding himself, he did not acquaint either friend or relative with his state and condition. This unselfish interest to the last he manifested. A little before his death he penned a letter to a dear friend, full of humour and cheerfulness; and, says a writer, "he seems to have slipt at last out of life without struggle and without pain." John Finlay was buried in Moffat churchyard-a fact sufficient of itself to hallow the lovely spot independent of its other glorious associations.

WILLIAM MORRISON was born at Moffat in 1796. In 1821, after having devoted himself assiduously to mercantile business, he visited New York, again applied himself to work, and by close attention to his various duties he was, like Macadam, destined to reap the fruits of his industry, which by his unaided efforts ho had gained. Having, in 1830, repaired to the East Indies he was universally respected, but in Calcutta particularly so, where, recognising the truth of the saying "honesty is the best policy," he merited the enviable appellation of an "upright merchant," the rarity of such increasing the value of the title. On the 27th September, 1837, he died on board ship while on his homeward voyage, and was buried at sea. The subject of this sketch is related to Moffat in a twofold aspect; prima, the matter of birth; 8ecundo, the money which, by his last will, he left for the erection and endowment of a school in his native town, his primary object being that the children of the less wealthy natives should, at an almost nominal fee, be provided with a complete and suitable English education, his pet idea having been to reduce the ignorance, irreligion, and pauperism in the country.

JOHN WALKER, who from his eccentricities was denominated by the least reverential of the inhabitants "the mad minister of Moffat," was presented by the curator of the Marquis of Annandale to Moffat parish, (being translated from Glencross), on the 4th March, and on the 15th July, 1762, was duly admitted. In 1764, the General Assembly of the Church placed him in various onerous and responsible positions, which he filled to their entire satisfaction, two of which may here be cited—to make a general survey of the Western Highlands, and report their moral and physical condition, so that the Church, in conjunction with the commissioners of annexed estates, might., if need be, form plans for their improvement; and by the Society for the Propagation of Religious Knowledge, to visit and report the progress of the various schools. On the 28th February, 1765, he obtained from the University of Glasgow, his M.D., and on the 22nd March of the same year, the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the title of D.D. In 1779 he received an offer from the latter University, the acceptance of which caused much angry debate and dissension in the Church Courts. He was created Regius Professor of Natural History, and keeper of the Museum of the University. This was first considered by the Presbytery, "who found the said office incompatible with his continuing minister at Moffat." He was translated to Colinton, 7th Januaiy, 1783, and died in 1804, upwards of seventy years of age. He was the author of numerous works, chiefly on Natural History, held in their day in considerable repute, and, in 1757, there appeared in the "Philosophical Transactions," an article on Hartfell Spa.

These are but a few of Moffat's men of distinction. A Dickson and a Welsh from their titles and literary attainments; a Boyd, from his acts of benevolence and truly philanthropic character; and a Rogerson, as a successful physician, a scientific discoverer in his career, and a elebrated scholar, might worthily claim consideration at our hands, and be cited as proofs of its former glory. How sweet to rehearse the scenes of their early life. Thoughts of their daily actions, the most simple or profound of their lives, stir up the beautiful lines of Shelley—

"Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken."


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