PETER BORTHWICK, M.P.
About the beginning of the
present century the father of the subject of this sketch was for a time
employed as a workman on the well-known farm of Cornbank, then tenanted by
the Messrs. Cowan.
The future member of
Parliament himself attended the village school, then taught by Mr. Muir,
better known as Dominie Muir. Little is known of his early career; but it is
evident that lie had been an apt pupil. for when a comparatively young man
he opened an adventure school in Auchendinny, anal during vacation periods
attended the United Associate Ball as a student. This scholastic adventure
not proving a financial success, he next secured a situation as tutor to a
young lady who lived with her uncle near to Coldstream. This was not the
least interesting period of his somewhat romantic life, for while instilling
into his pupil's brain a knowledge of the humanities, he at the same time
successfully managed to obtain in return the love of her heart. They were
married in opposition, it is said, to the will of her guardian, who refused
to pay over her small fortune until site could legally claim it. For some
time afterwards the voting couple had in consequence a hard battle to make
ends meet. Mr. Borthwick made shift to continue his classes at the Hall ;
and during the same period engaged in various ventures in Dalkeith and
Edinburgh to enable hint to provide for the wants of his household and pay
his college expenses.
For some reason or other, and much to his disappointment, he was prevented
by the Presbytery of Edinburgh from finishing his theological course.
Shortly afterwards his wife obtained possession of her modest fortune, and
they migrated to Oxford, at which famous university Mr. Borthwick studied
for some time with a view to taking holy orders. This project was not
successful, and for some time afterwards he obtained occupation in one or
other of the London theatres. Possessed of great gifts as an orator, he was
subsequently engaged by the West India interest as lecturer on slavery in
opposition to George Thompson, the `immediate emancipation' advocate. He
came down to Scotland, and addressed many large audiences in the principal
cities. The fact that before recrossing the Border he was presented with a
handsome service of silver-plate by those in whose interest he lectured is a
sufficient evidence that his efforts were highly appreciated by them.
For some time after this Mr. Borthwick devoted
his attention to politics, and he ultimately obtained a seat in Parliament
as member for the pocket burgh of Evesham, County Worcester. He was twice
elected for this constituency; but he never made any great impression in the
House. Mr. Borthwick having been defeated on his final effort to retain the
representation of Evesham, he thereafter turned his attention to journalism,
obtaining, I believe, the editorship of the Morning Post, which he conducted
with remarkable ability. This paper was the recognised organ of the upper
circles of society, and took under its special protection the members of the
Young England party, of whom Mr. Disraeli was one of the most 1prominellt.
Mr. Borthwick died at a comparatively early age in the year 1852, and was
succeeded in the control of the Morning Post by his son, Sir Algernon
Borthwick, Bart., M. P., a prominent member of London society, Who has by
his admirable management extended the influence and maintained the high
reputation of that journal.
The career of Mr. Borthwick was in many ways a
remarkable one. It affords an example of indomitable perseverance, and as
such may encourage others in our parish to press on and emulate those
qualities which ultimately led in his case to wealth and fame.
GEORGE MEIKLE KEMP
Architect of Sir Walter Scott`s Monument
George Kemp was the son of a shepherd employed
upon the Newhall estate, whose home was at Ninemileburn. In his tenth year
(1806) George was sent by Mr. Brown of Newhall on some message to Roslin,
where he obtained a sight of the beautiful chapel. So deep an impression did
this make upon his mind that it was the means of ultimately deciding him in
his choice of a trade. As soon as he was able for work he was apprenticed to
a joiner in the vicinity of Peebles. After finishing his period of probation
he obtained employment in Galashiels, and there had frequent opportunities
of visiting Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso, and Jedburgh, where are to be seen
some of the richest specimens of ancient ecclesiastical architecture in
afterwards proceeded to England, where he sought every opportunity of
increasing his knowledge of Gothic designs. Returning to Edinburgh, he
worked for a time at his trade as a .joiner; and it was during this period,
I believe, that he had an interesting interview with the great man whose
memory the beautiful creation of his brain so nobly perpetuates. Kemp
quitted his bench for a week's holiday amongst the old cathedrals of the
Borders. Starting upon his journey on foot he passed through Dalkeith, and
while ascending an eminence to the south of that town, he was overtaken by a
carriage whose occupants beckoned him to join them. He found himself in the
company of an amiable elderly gentleman and lady. With the former he soon
got upon such excellent terms that he displayed to him some of his recent
sketches. The gentleman talked of the ecclesiastical antiquities of the
Borders in a manner that fired the enthusiastic bosom of the young
architect, who deeply regretted when the town of Galashiels was reached,
where he had to part from his agreeable companions. As the carriage rolled
away he learned from a bystander that he had been travelling with Sir Walter
and Lady Scott. In 1804 Kemp went to London, and during that year crossed
over to the Continent, and there, working at his trade for support,
travelled from place to place wherever fine architecture was to be seen. On
his return to Scotland he started in business on his own account; but he was
unsuccessful, and finally returned to work at the bench, to which occupation
he added that of architectural draughtsman. In 1835, when the movement for a
Monument to Sir Walter Scott was set on foot, the Committee advertised for
designs, offering fifty guineas to each of three plans which should possess
the greatest merit. Fifty-four designs were received in answer to this, and
one of the three which secured the above premium was from Mr. Kemp, under
the pseudonym of John Morvo, whom of course nobody knew. This, however, was
only the 'first idea'—in 1838 he sent in the Competition Drawing for the
Monument which was adopted in connection with the statue of Mr. John Steell.
Several other drawings were made by Mr. Kemp, and he was employed by the
committee to make the Model from which the masons were to work, and this may
still be seen in the Industrial Museum of Edinburgh. [See the Scott
Centenary Exhibition Catalogue (1871), p. 5.]
Kemp, however, did not live to see the
completion of the beautiful fabric which his genius had created, for on the
6th March 1844 the inhabitants of Edinburgh were startled by the
announcement that his dead body had been found in the canal. The previous
night had been unusually foggy and dark, and, instead of passing up the
street leading to his home, he wandered on to the wharf, fell into the
canal, and was drowned. He was buried in St. Cuthbert's Churchyard. The
Magistrates of Edinburgh and several other public bodies, along with the
general and auxiliary committees of the monument, and members of the
Scottish Academy, accompanied the procession.
And thus passed away one of whom our parish may
well be proud. He loved our district well, and often spoke of the green
braes beside the Ninemileburn where his youth was spent. He was a genial and
lovable man, and was fired with a genius of a high order, which, had he
lived, might have lifted him to a high niche in the temple of fame, and the
possession of as much of this world's goods as his heart could have desired.
ALEXANDER KEITH JOHNSTON, LL.D.
Alexander Keith Johnston was born at the little
village of Kirkhill, in the parish of Penicuik, on 28th December 1804. His
parents shortly afterwards removed to Edinburgh, and when of school age,
Alexander and his elder brother, William, were sent to the high School of
that city. Alexander was intended to study medicine. But it was not in that
connection that the physical sciences had for him their irresistible
fascination; and with a view to aid him in the practical working out of his
favourite geographicaI studies, he was apprenticed to a skilful copperplate
engraver, and by this means he became an expert in delineating the outlines
of maps. In 1826 Mr. Johnston became a partner in business with his brother,
William. The latter, an able and far-seeing business man, became in 1848
Chief Magistrate of the city, and was knighted for his distinguished
services. He also was born at Kirkhill in Penicuik, and purchased an estate
of the same name in East Lothian.
The first large work of Mr. Keith Johnston was
the National Atlas, which was published in folio in 1843; it involved
immense labour for several years, as foreign authorities—specially French
and German—had to be consulted, and numerous errors even of the best
previous atlases had to be corrected. The merits of this work were at once
recognised, and its author was appointed Royal Geographer for Scotland. It
went through many editions, and was considered the best of its time.
The firm rapidly rose to a front rank as map
publishers, and this was accompanied with corresponding financial success.
While prosecuting his researches in foreign fields of geographical
knowledge, Mr. Johnston was much impressed with the new and improved methods
adopted by the Germans in the preparation of their maps, and he determined
to construct a Physical Atlas in a manner suited to the tastes of the
British people, and on a scale sufficient to admit of entering fully into
the details of physical phenomena. Once fairly entered upon this gigantic
task, he devoted every hour of the day to the most exhaustive researches and
calculations, often obliterating the labour of weeks, and beginning afresh
upon another and improved plan. He visited the Continent in 1842, and
purchased the copyright of some of Berghaus's maps. He also entered into an
extensive correspondence with the leading geographers of the day in all
lands. After five years of unremitting toil this splendid work was published
in 1848, each of its thirty maps being accompanied with elaborate
letterpress descriptions, written either by himself or by some one versed in
the subject. It received the most flattering recognition both at home and
abroad, and brought to its author the presentation of honorary and
corresponding fellowship of most of the Geographical Societies both in
Europe and America. A second edition of the Physical Atlas was published in
1836, and this was followed in 1861 by his last great work, the Royal Atlas
of Geography. In 1865 the University of Edinburgh conferred upon him the
honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. In 1871 Dr. Johnston was presented with
the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society for his long-continued
and successful services in advancing the knowledge of geography.
While his career was one of unremitting
intellectual labour, Dr. Johnston was not unmindful of higher interests.
While diligent in business he was truly fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
An office-bearer in the Free Church of Scotland, he exerted by his gentle,
unassuming, and genuinely Christian character, a good influence upon all
with whom he carne in contact. He died on the 10th of .July 1871, regretted
by a large circle of devoted friends.
PROFESSOR DAVID SCOTT
This excellent man, author of a Key to the
Pentatcuch, Key to the Psalms, a Hebrew Grammar, and other learned works,
was born in the parish of Penicuik. He was educated at the University of
Edinburgh for the Ministry, and was licensed to preach the Gospel, but,
failing speedily to get a charge, he studied medicine and obtained the
degree of M.D. While thus fitted to adorn two of the learned professions,
lie yet continued to devote much of his time to the study of Oriental
literature. Having acquired a knowledge of most of the Eastern languages,
both ancient and modern, he applied himself to the teaching and preparation
of young men about to go to India—a work in which he was eminently
successful. In 1814 he was presented to the church of Corstorphine, in which
he continued to labour faithfully for nineteen years. About 1833 he was
elected Professor of Hebrew in St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, but his
career there only lasted two sessions. He had visited Edinburgh to be
present at the meeting of the British Association, but was seized with a
dropsical complaint, and, after a few days illness, died in the month of
COWAN, OF LOGANHOUSE
the 29th March 1889 there was removed by death from our midst one whose name
was a household word in Penicuik parish, and whose stately presence was
familiar to all within its borders.
Charles Cowan, the subject of this sketch, was
the eldest son of Alexander Cowan of Valleyfield, and was born in South
Charlotte Street, Edinburgh, on 7th June 1801. He received his elementary
education at the Penicuik parish school. After the purchase of the
Paper-mills by Government in 1811, his father removed with his family to
Edinburgh, and there its future representative in Parliament entered the
High School, which he continued to attend until 1814. In that year he was
enrolled as a student of the University of Edinburgh, and he attended its
-various classes for three or four complete sessions. his time of study at
the University was followed by a year's sojourn in Geneva, under the charge
of .Mr. Daniel Ellis, F.R.S.E., an intimate friend of the family. Before
returning home .Mr. Cowan made a tour of the principal cities of the
Netherlands, including Brussels and the field of Waterloo, which latter
place had become historic as the scene of the final downfall of Napoleon
In 1819 he
went to St. Mary Cray, Kent, to learn the business of paper-making. After
continuing there for some time, he returned to take his share in the
management of the extensive establishment at Valleyfield, with which his
name has been so long and honourably connected.
There is no need for dwelling at any length here
on Mr. Cowan's success as a business man. The chapter recording the
operations of his firm at Valleyfield will sufficiently indicate the ability
with which he, along with his brothers—Mr. John Cowan of Beeslack, and Mr.
James Cowan, ex-M.P. for Edinburgh—managed its affairs. Mr. Cowan's name
soon became known, not only as one who had attained to the first rank as a
paper manufacturer, but also because of the prominent part which he took in
the political and ecclesiastical questions which in his early manhood began
to stir the heart of the nation. He took his full share in the agitation for
reform, which finally ended in the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832. At
the election in that year Mr. Cowan did yeoman service in behoof of Sir John
Dalrymple, the Liberal candidate for Midlothian, who defeated Sir George
Clerk, the sitting member, by sixty-five votes. A great dinner was given in
the Salle in Valleyfield mills—the new member and most of the leading
Liberals of the county being present—at which Mr. Cowan's prominent share in
the contest was fully recognised. It required no little courage on his part,
considering the friendship which existed between his near neighbour, Sir
George Clerk, and himself, thus actively to oppose him, but it proved the
depth of convictions which would not allow him longer to tolerate
legislation which had occupied itself with the creation of special
advantages to the rich, and overlooked the wrongs which had pressed so
heavily on the poor.
The agitation within the Church, which culminated in the Disruption, also
obtained Mr. Cowan's warm support. He was active in initiating and preparing
the protest sent by the elders of the Dalkeith Presbytery against the
subversion of the constitution of the Church of Scotland by the civil power.
In his Reminiscences, printed in 1878, for private circulation, Mr. Cowan
gives many interesting particulars of these exciting times. A curious story
is there told by him of a certain country minister who, in his unbelief of
the seriousness of the crisis, had expressed his willingness to eat all who
seceded from the Church. This statement Mr. Cowan told to his relative Dr.
Chalmers, who sent a message by him to the worthy clergyman, congratulating
him on the prospect of such a plentiful meal. On the day of the Disruption
Mr. Cowan met the reverend gentleman and delivered the great doctor's
message. His reply was, 'Did I really say that? I dinna mind; but it`s very
like me. But I hope I'm no bund to eat them a' at aince!' In the sketch of
the rise and progress of the Free Church in Penicuik, contained on another
page, it will also be seen how generous was the aid afforded to that
congregation by Mr. Cowan in its time of difficulty and trial.
Hardly had the Free Church come into existence
when the attention of public-spirited men in Scotland was directed to the
galling and oppressive administration of the excise laws. In 1845 an
association was formed in Edinburgh to obtain redress of grievances; and
when two years later a general election came round, Mr. Cowan was pressed to
offer himself as a candidate to represent the city in opposition to the
Right Hon. Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose views on the subject were not
considered satisfactory. This prominent position was unsought by Mr. Cowan,
for no one entertained a higher opinion of his great opponent than lie did.
Convinced, however, of the righteousness of the cause which he espoused, and
his mind once made up as to his duty in the matter, he entered into the
contest with the greatest spirit, and on July 30th, 1847, he was returned at
the top of the poll by 2063 votes as against 1854 recorded for Mr. Macaulay.
This event was the cause of great rejoicing in
Penicuik. Messages from Edinburgh giving at frequent intervals the state of
the poll, were conveyed by relays of horsemen, the figures being posted up
at the head of the Delve Brae. When tidings of victory reached the village,
the citizens went out en masse to meet and welcome the newly elected M.P. on
his return journey from Edinburgh. At Cuicken Bridge the horses were taken
from his carriage, and he was pulled home in triumph amid the cheers of the
people. Bonfires were lit in the streets, refreshments were provided, and
the evening was spent in general rejoicing. Mr. Cowan's parliamentary life
was a busy one. Although he did not attain to prominence as a speaker, few
men were more useful in the Committees of the house, and his services were
much sought after.
Parliament of 1847 lasted five years, and in 1852 he was re-elected for
Edinburgh after a contest in which Mr. Duncan M`Laren and Mr. Macaulay also
stood as candidate. The latter topped the poll with 1846 votes, and it said
much for the appreciation of Mr. Cowan's services that his constituents
again returned him—this time as the colleague of his great opponent—by 1753
votes. At the next election Mr. Cowan retired from the representation of the
metropolis, and he did not again actively participate in politics until
1880, a year memorable in the history of Mid-Lothian because of Mr.
Gladstone's successful effort in wresting the county from the Earl of
Dalkeith, who had, with a short interval, represented it for so many years
in the Conservative interest.
In the absence abroad of his brother, Mr. John
Cowan of Beeslack, chairman of the Mid-Lothian Liberal Association, Mr.
Cowan, though burdened with the weight of years, presided at a large and
enthusiastic meeting held by Mr. Gladstone in the United Presbyterian
Church, Penicuik, in the course of his famous campaign. Upon that occasion
the great statesman made several kindly and appreciative allusions to the
past services rendered to the Liberal cause by the chairman. This was Mr.
Cowan's last appearance upon a political platform, and it practically marked
his retirement from all participation in public affairs.
I shall conclude this imperfect sketch of this
excellent gentleman's public career by a short allusion to his domestic
life. Mr. Cowan was married on Tuesday, 19th October 1824, to Miss Catherine
Menzies, second daughter of the Rev. William Menzies of Lanark. This lady is
remembered with a kindly affection by many in Penicuik. Her gracious
demeanour and unceasing interest in the welfare of the people, and her ready
help and sympathy in times of trouble, endeared her to all. After a happy
wedded life of forty-seven years Mr. Cowan had the unspeakable affliction of
losing this dear and faithful partner of his home. Eight of her thirteen
children survived to mourn with him in his bereavement.
In the year 1852 Mr. Cowan purchased the estate
of Logan-house from Mr. William Robertson, Deputy Keeper of Records,
Register House. At a subsequent period he also acquired the smaller
adjoining property of Fairliehope, now in the possession of his son, Mr.
John James Cowan.
1878 there occurred the ever memorable failure of the City of Glasgow Bank.
Mr. Cowan was one of the heaviest sufferers by the disaster. This hard
fortune he bore with becoming equanimity--an equanimity the more remarkable
in consideration of the fact that at his already advanced age he could not
hope to retrieve by his own exertions any portion of that which he had lost.
In the year of the Bank failure Mr. Cowan
printed for private circulation the Reminiscences of his life. These memoirs
contain much of interest, and reveal a good deal of the inner character of
their author. It will be seen from them that Mr. Cowan, in the course of his
long life, met many prominent men, and formed warm and lasting friendships
with not a few of them.
Although ever diligent in business, he yet could
spare the time for an occasional visit to the Continents of Europe and
America, and was an appreciative student of the manners and customs of their
peoples. So long as his physical strength permitted, Mr. Cowan was an
enthusiastic sportsman, and his own Pentland hills resounded year after year
with the crack of his ready gun. He was also a keen curler, and was indeed
the oldest surviving member of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. For some
years before his death, as is the case with many old people, Mr. Cowan's
memory seemed to fail him; present events made little impression upon him,
although he delighted to speak of old times and the people and places he
then knew. He died at Wester Lea, Murrayfield, near Edinburgh, on 29th March
1889, and the newspapers which chronicled the sad fact also contained
notices of the death of his distinguished contemporary, John Bright.
Touching tributes were paid to the life-work of each. The great tribune,
endowed beyond his fellows with a noble eloquence, had manfully used this
gift during his long life in helping to redress the wrongs which bore
heavily upon the nation. Mr. Cowan, though not possessing great powers as an
orator, yet used his talents as faithfully as did Mr. Bright, and like him,
loth in the affairs of Church and State, was ever found on the side of the
oppressed, and with those who truly desired the weal of the people.
Mr. Cowan was buried in Penicuik Churchyard. The
funeral was the largest that had been seen for many years. The shops were
all closed, and every token of respect manifested. The beautiful hymn
`I heard the
voice of Jesus say,
Come unto me and rest,'
was sung over his open grave, and must assuredly
have been joined in by many who felt that a good man had bone to his rest,
full of years and honours, and that, his travelling days being done, he was
now walking in the 'light of life.'
PROMINENT LIVING MEN CONNECTED WITH PENICUIK.
The fact that there have gone out from our
parish in days past men who have been a credit to it cannot but be
gratifying to present-day parishioners. It must also be equally satisfactory
to know that we have contemporaries, claiming Penicuik as their birthplace,
who have in different spheres attained to positions of eminence. It is, of
course, impossible to write as fully and freely of the career of such men as
of those who are no longer present with us; but it would not be right to
close this chapter without a passing allusion to one or two of the more
prominent of them.
First of these may be mentioned Mr. JAMES COWAN, formerly Member of
Parliament for the city of Edinburgh. Mr. Cowan is a son of the late Mr.
Alexander Cowan of Valleyfield, and brother of the late Mr. Charles Cowan,
Mr. John Cowan of Beeslack, and Mr. George Cowan. He has all along been
actively connected with the management of the extensive business of
Alexander Cowan & Sons, more especially, however, in the department carried
on in 1tegister Street, Edinburgh. Notwithstanding Mr. Cowan's busy
commercial life, he has for long been identified with many good works in the
appreciation of these labours by his fellow-citizens resulted in Mr. Cowan's
election to the office of Chief Magistrate in the year 1872. His tact and
business ability were conspicuously manifest while discharging the duties of
this honourable and important position. Some time after his appointment, and
before the termination of his term of office, a vacancy occurred in the
representation of the city. Mr. Cowan, at the call of his fellow-electors,
demitted office, and was thereafter returned as one of the Members of
Parliament for the metropolis in the Liberal interest.
PROFESSOR JAMES COSSAR EWART.
Next may be mentioned Dr. JAMES COSSAR EWART,
Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh. This
distinguished man is a native of Penicuik, and received his elementary
education at Kirkhill School. Dr. Ewart graduated at Edinburgh as Bachelor
of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1874, and four years later received the
higher degree of Doctor of Medicine. On the latter occasion he received the
University gold medal for his thesis containing the results of original
investigations into the life-history of some of the lower organisms. In 1875
Dr. Ewart was appointed Conservator of the Zoological and Anatomical Museum
in University College, London. While filling this post he enriched the
first-mentioned department with a valuable and typical teaching collection
of vertebrate and invertebrate forms, and the latter with numerous
During the temporary absence
of the Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Zoology, Dr. Ewart had entire
charge of the class of practical zoology during a whole summer session, and
gave unmistakable proofs of his powers as a teacher. At the close of the
year 1878 he secured the appointment of Professor of Natural History in the
University of Aberdeen, and his work there was marked by conspicuous
In the year
1882, and while under thirty years of age, Professor Ewart was appointed to
succeed the late Sir Charles Wyville Thomson in the chair of Natural History
in the University of Edinburgh. In this capacity Professor Ewart has
rendered valuable aid towards scientific research, while, as a member of the
Fishery Board, he has, by his practical suggestions. as to the care and
development of the supply of our food fishes, put the great fishing industry
under a deep debt of obligation to him.
BAILIE ANDREW M'DONALD.
Another native of Penicuik parish who has
attained to a prominent position in the metropolis is BAILIE. ANDREW
M'DONALD, ex-Master of the Merchant Company. Born in Kirkhill—the birthplace
also of Alexander Keith Johnston and his brother, Sir William Johnston—Mr.
M`Donald, at an early age, began the battle of life in the Scottish
metropolis, and in the midst of a successful business career has been able
to devote himself to the interests of his adopted town in a manner which few
have equalled or excelled. His first public efforts were in connection with
the City Parochial Board, to which he was elected in 1879.
A year afterwards Mr. M`Donald formed his first
connection with the Merchant Company, and for eleven years he has been one
of the leading and guiding spirits in connection with that important trust.
He has been twice honoured in being elected to the highest position the
Assistants have to bestow, that of Master of the Company. As a further
evidence of the appreciation of his invaluable services it may be mentioned,
that at the close of the last term of office, Mr. M'Donald's portrait,
painted by Mr. W. L. Lockhart, R.S.A., was presented by a large number of
subscribers to the Merchant Company. It now occupies a prominent position on
the walls of their large hall in Hanover Street. It is a splendid work of
art, and reveals to the onlooker not only a correct representation of the
lineaments of the original, but also much of that force of character, yet
withal kindly bearing, which so distinguishes Bailie M'Donald.
In 1851 Mr. M'Donald was induced to enter the
Town Council for George Square Ward, and he was three times returned without
opposition to represent that constituency. By the unanimous desire of his
fellow-councillors he was, during his last term of office, elevated to the
Bench of Magistrates. In 1889 the gift of the freedom of the city was
bestowed upon Charles S. Parnell, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary
party. Bailie M'Donald did not favour the action of the majority of the
Council in this matter, and this attitude cost him his seat at the election
which took place in the same year. The general feeling of regret by his many
friends and supporters at temporarily losing Mr. M'Donald's services in the
parliament of the city, and their appreciation of the spirit and ability
which he had shown in many departments of city life, resulted in a
presentation to him of a costly piece of silver plate and other valuable
articles. Bailie M'Donald did not, however, get long time to rest from his
vacancy occurred in Newington Ward in the same year, and a plebiscite of the
constituency resulted in his being again returned to the Town Council as its
interim representative. At the election on 4th November, this appointment
was confirmed by his return at. the top of the poll. Three days afterwards,
at the meeting of Council, he was again invested with the chains of office;
and the friends of Bailie M`Donald believe that still further civic Honours
await him in the future.
Having thus described the career of some of
those who, though born in the parish, yet left it to attain elsewhere to
positions of prominence and affluence, it may not be unprofitable to give
some accounts of other men of great ability and force of character whose
association with Penicuik was of a closer and more permanent nature.
First of these may be mentioned JAMES NIVEN,
who, before the end of last century, distinguished himself as a traveller
and botanist. The careful and painstaking researches of this intelligent
citizen into the history of the flora and fauna of his native land attracted
the attention of several eminent specialists; and in 1796 he was sent out
under the patronage of one of them, Mr. George Hibbert, of Clapham, to the
Cape of Good Hope. He continued there for about five years, travelling and
exploring —often at considerable risk to life and limb—in search of new
plants. Nor was his work in vain, for he sent home during that time various
consignments of rare and unknown species.
Mr. Niven returned to Penicuik in the year 1803;
but after a short stay of three months his services were again engaged by a
party of eminent scientific amateurs—amongst whom was the accomplished
though unfortunate Empress Josephine of France—to return to South Africa and
pursue his researches. On this mission he was successfully engaged for about
nine years, after which time he finally returned to Penicnik, and entered
into business with his brother John in the corner premises now occupied by
Mr. James Russell. Mr. Niven thereafter married a daughter of Mr. Abernethy
of Westside, who bore him a family. his son, Dr. Niven, attained to eminence
as a physician in Edinburgh while two of his daughters were married to
wealthy citizens of that town. The subject of our sketch died, I think, in
1827; and appreciative notices of his services to botanical research
appeared in the papers and magazines of the time.
Another well-known citizen of a past generation
was Mr. JAMES .JACKSON, whose much-esteemed daughter, Miss Jackson, still
resides in our village. This excellent and learned man was educated at the
parish school, and at a very early age showed signs of literary tastes and
abilities. His father, as may be seen in the chapter dealing with the
political history of the parish, was a prominent and somewhat extreme
Radical; but the son was all his life closely identified with the landed and
Conservative interests in the parish. His business was that of a market
gardener, and in connection with his strong political views the story is
told of him that on returning from Edinburgh upon the occasion of Earl Greys
banquet, at which he had been delivering a cargo of strawberries, he was
chaffed by a friend about providing luxuries to his political opponents.
'Yes,' replied Mr. Jackson; but I accompanied them with the prayer "that the
biggest berry might stick in the biggest rogue's throat."' In comparatively
early life Mr. Jackson, though not a farmer, devoted himself to the study of
the science and practice of agriculture; and, as the nature of his
employment permitted of leisure to continue his researches on this subject,
the result was that in the year 1822 `he wrote the first of a series of
valuable essays which brought him both fame and reward. In Blackwood's
Magazine for the year 1833, we are told that these essays—seven in number,
each of which gained a medal—owed their appearance to the liberality of the
Highland Society. 'In each of the subjects,' says the reviewer, 'Mr. Jackson
has contrived to collect a fund of useful practical knowledge, while the
shrewdness of his remarks and comments on the relative merits of the
different systems show him to be a man, of strong and sagacious
understanding.' Other two essays, written in 1839 and 1843, on the subjects
of `The Effects of Plantation on Climate' and `The Action and Use of Lime in
Agriculture,' likewise won medals from the Society.
In 1839 Messrs. W. & R. Chambers applied to Mr.
Jackson to write a complete treatise on Agriculture and Dairy Husbandry.
This he did, and it was published in that firm's popular people's editions.
Many commendatory notices of the work appeared in various literary journals,
both at home and abroad. It was translated into Welsh at the instance of
Earl Powis, Sir W. W. Wynn, Bart., and Sir R. W. Vaughan, Bart.; a highly
complimentary letter was also sent to the author by the last-mentioned
gentleman. Nor were Mr. Jackson's literary efforts confined to one subject.
At least two novels were the work of his prolific pen. These were entitled
The Royal Hunt of Roslin and Tales of Roslin Castle. Each showed
considerable historical research and a ready gift of weaving together truth
and romance in a singularly attractive form.
After the passing of the Scottish Poor Law Act
of 1845, Mr. Jackson was appointed Inspector of Poor, and a very kindly
guardian of their interests he subsequently proved. As mentioned elsewhere,
he was also custodier of the village library, and he acted in the capacity
of secretary for every society or association in the parish which required
such services. For twenty-four years he served the Curling Club in this
capacity, and their appreciation of his labours was evidenced in the
presentation to him by its members, on February 23d, 1838, of a beautiful
solid silver ink-stand modelled in the shape of a curling stone, after a
design by Mr. Charles Cowan of Valley-field.
Mr. Jackson died at a good old age, much mourned
by a large circle of friends and admirers.
Amongst other men of light
and leading who more than fifty years ago largely controlled our village
affairs, the name of Dr. John Renton cannot be overlooked.
This worthy citizen was the
son of Mr. Robert Renton, who settled in Penicuik as a medical practitioner
in 1790. He was a popular physician, and most successful in the practice of
his profession. He took an active part in all the social and political
movements of the time, and was a leading opponent of his landlord and
patron, Sir George Clerk. Dr. Renton's public spirit was further evidenced
by his keen interest and participation in all matters relating to the good
of the village and the welfare of its people; in fact, no important movement
ever took place without the 'Good Doctor' having some hand in its
development. Socially, he was treated as the equal of all the best families
of the district, and was their frequent guest; and in those days his
practice extended to Castle Craig, and included a large portion of
Peeblesshire. Dr. Renton was a keen curler, and it is universally admitted
that he composed and issued the advertisement in 1838 calling together the
knights of the broom who originated the Royal Caledonian Curling Club on the
25th day of July of that year. Having made a competency, the doctor retired
from the practice of his profession in the month of May 1839, and went to
reside in Edinburgh, ultimately becoming an active member of its Town
Council. Before leaving Penicuik a banquet was given him by his friends and
admirers. It was held in the Gardeners' Hall, and old residenters still
speak of the enthusiastic terms in which his life and work in Penicuik was
then referred to. Dr. Renton died in Edinburgh on 19th April 1865, aged 68
years, and is buried in Penicuik Churchyard.
A very different type of character from either
James Jackson or John Renton was their contemporary JOHN LAWSON, portioner
in Penicuik. This worthy man was, in his youth, bound apprentice to a
tailor, but finding this occupation did not agree with his health, he left
it and became a travelling packman or chapman.
Developing a wonderfully successful knack of
getting quit of his wares at a good profit, John was enabled in a few years
to retire with a modest competency. Thereafter he occupied his mind for a
considerable period in studying social and political problems, and spent no
little time in advocating his views upon these matters throughout the
he was a thin, spare man; and while possessed of remarkable shrewdness and
sagacity, he had a strong vein of eccentricity in his character. His dress
was usually of a light blue serge or woollen cloth, with a pointed cap and
knee breeches; and when he wore stockings, they were usually of a striking
colour. He frequently carried a horn, fastened by a belt round his
shoulders, which he blew lustily when desiring an audience; and also a red
umbrella. Many amusing stories illustrating his quickness of wit and
readiness in repartee are still current in the parish, but these have a
tendency to make people forget that he was a man of earnest religious
convictions, and one whose mind was much occupied with matters of the
deepest public interest. Some events of his life may, however, fittingly be
recorded. It is told by those who knew him well that after accumulating his
little fortune he made several unsuccessful efforts to obtain a wife. One of
the ladies at Penicuik House was amongst the first objects of his adoration,
and, to her amusement, he paid a visit to the mansion-house one fine
morning, and duly offered her his hand and heart. On her expressing to him
in a becoming way her refusal to entertain his proposal, John, putting his
own interpretation upon the motive for his rejection, calmly turning upon
his heel remarked, as he left her presence, 'Aweel, miss, if ye 'ye got the
pride I've got the siller, so there's nae harm done.'
His plan of testing the temper of the lady who
eventually became his wife is also well known in the parish. One day, when
she was bleaching linen at the burn-side, John offered to help her to
stretch the sheets. When doing this, he suddenly and with purpose let go his
hold, the result being, that his companion fell into the water. Her quiet
rebuke, administered without any display of anger, proved to him most
satisfactory, and their subsequent marriage was the result of his somewhat
rough though effectual test. Their wedding took place in church before a
large audience, and without the services of a clergyman. The bridegroom
himself read the marriage service, and conducted the whole ceremony in a
decorous and becoming manner. He had previously secured the services of four
of his weaver friends to act as witnesses and sign the necessary documents.
Mrs. Lawson was a member of the U.P. Church at Bridgend, while her husband
attended the Established Church. The Sunday after the wedding they each went
their respective ways as usual, both, however, making an extra donation of
one guinea to the collection in the plate. I believe that John ultimately
became a member of the church to which his wife belonged. Mrs. Lawson was a
pious and excellent woman, and proved a helpmate in every sense of the word
to her somewhat erratic spouse. At the time of her death their eldest
daughter, Janet, was residing in Edinburgh, and she was surprised, on the
morning following that sad event, to see her father drive a horse and cart
to the door of her lodgings. This unusual occurrence prepared her for bad
news, and her fears were confirmed by the following question which he put to
her, 'I've come for ye, Janet woman. Can ye repeat the second petition? This
was the only remark he made, but it was sufficient to make known to her the
loss she had sustained.
Like others of his neighbours John used to go
out with his barrow to gather horse-droppings for the benefit of his `yaird.'
The proper course is to begin at the first opportunity that presents itself
on leaving home, and so onwards. One day that he was thus engaged he was met
about the far end of the `Loan' by Sir George Clerk, who thus accosted him,
`Johnnie, if I were you, I would begin with the empty barrow at the other
end, and gather homeward.' 'Na, na,' replied John, 'that wadna dae ava'; ye
see, Sir George, there's Opposition here as weel as in Parliament, an' if I
began at the ither end, there wad be naething left for me to gather.'
In pursuance of his designs for the people's
welfare, John frequently sought interviews with high authorities. He was an
advanced Liberal in politics, and was a familiar figure at all the
processions and demonstrations of the Reform year of 1832. At that time,
indeed, he offered himself by advertisement in the Edinburgh newspapers as a
candidate for the representation of Peeblesshire; but although he put in an
appearance upon the nomination day, it is not on record that he secured
either a proposer or seconder.
In his early days he was a stout opponent of
Roman Catholic emancipation, and determined to interview King George III.
upon the subject. He sailed accordingly in a smack from Leith in the month
of July 1806, and on arrival in London took a room with a Scotchwoman at
Hermitage Bride. After visiting some of the sights of the city, he proceeded
on foot to Windsor, and, after ascertaining particulars about his Majesty's
movements, put up at an inn for the night. Next morning he made his way to
the royal residence, saluting the guards as he passed in becoming form, and,
disregarding the astonished looks of a number of magnificently dressed
gentlemen who, with bared heads, were awaiting outside the advent of the
King for his morning ride, he passed into the Castle. Accosted then by a
porter, who demanded his business, John expressed his desire to see the
King; but he was informed this was impossible, and that any communication
must be addressed through Lord Spencer, his Secretary of State.
On the following day, accordingly, our worthy
citizen waited upon his lordship in London, and made known the views he had
so deeply at heart. Made anxious, no doubt because of previous attempts
against the King's life, and believing John to be a person of unsound mind,
Lord Spencer made immediate arrangements for his incarceration in the House
of Correction. He was kindly treated there for some time, and when it was
evident that he was a harmless and respectable man, overtures were made to
him through a messenger to see if he would consent to depart for Scotland
immediately. John's reply was: `Sir, your offer is good; but I have been put
in here in a treacherous manner without the smallest charge against me, and
as I have a room in London, and my trunk there, I cannot go until it suits
my convenience.' The final result was that John, his trunk, and all his
belongings were put on board ship and sent home to Leith free of charge. He
arrived safely in Penicuik, satisfied with the reflection that his trip to
London was the longest and cheapest journey he had ever made.
This worthy man died in October 1849, but his
sayings and doings have been handed down from that time, and even the young
folks of the village are familiar with the naive and fame of .Johnnie
It would be
pleasant to record in these pages the memories of many other good and useful
men who, in times past, have set bright examples to their successors in the
performance of their private and public duties. The record of the pure,
though lowly life of a man like John Tod, foreman at Bankmill; the
public-spirited and active career of a prominent agriculturist like James
M`Lean of Braidwood; the faithful and intelligent service of men like the
Ramages of Valleyfield or the Cranstons and Robertsons of Esk Mills; the
upright demeanour and honourable business dealings of many of our merchants
and tradesmen; but space forbids more than this passing allusion to them.