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The History of Sanquhar
Chapter V.—The Elliock Family


MINOR branches of the Crichton family owned several properties in the district. Chief among these was the Elliock family, of whom sprang the first Lord Elliock and his renowned son, The Admirable Crichton.

Of Robert Crichton of Elliock, Lord Advocate, we have the following notice in Brunton’s Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice —

“1581, February 1.—Robert Crichton of Elliock, Lord Advocate, supposed to have been son of another Robert Crichton, and father of the Admirable Crichton. He was appointed Lord Advocate, jointly with John Spens of Condie, on the 8th of February, 1560. He appears to have been favourable to the Queen’s cause in the beginning of her son’s reign, and was sent for by that princess into England after the death of the Regent Murray. Lennox, however, prevented this, having made Elliock find caution to the extent of 4000 Scots that he should not leave the city of Edinburgh. This feeling was probably the reason why, on the death of Spens in 1573, he was not appointed to his place on the bench, which was given to David Borthwick of Lochhill, who was at the same time appointed joint Advocate. On the 6th January, 1580, he obtained a letter from the King, declaring it to be the royal pleasure that he should, upon Borthwick’s decease, succeed to his place in the Session, and continue sole Advocate; and he procured a similar letter on the 7th December preceding, requiring them to admit him during Borthwick’s sickness, but it does not appear that he took his seat until the 1st of February, 1581, after the decease of his colleague. He was, in 1581, appointed one of the Parliamentary Commissioners for Reformation of Hospitals. He died between the 18th June, 1582, when he made his testament, and the 27th of that month.”

He was probably a brother of Lord Sanquhar. He was married three times. His first wife was Elizabeth Stewart, a descendant of Robert, Duke of Albany, son of Robert II. King of Scotland, by whom he had two sons, James (the Admirable Crichton) and Robert. James died in the same year as his father. 1582, and probably it was his brother Robert who sold the estate to Dalyell (afterwards Earl of Carnwath).

The Admirable Crichton was, in some respects, the most distinguished of the whole family, shedding, by the splendour of his talents and accomplishments, a lustre upon the name which he bore. Were it not that the extraordinary powers of this intellectual prodigy are fairly well authenticated, we might be disposed to reject tlie story of his brief and brilliant career as a gross exaggeration. It reads more like a tale of romance than the sober truth. The title which he earned was bestowed upon him by his contemporaries on account of the great brilliancy of his mental gifts and the versatility of his other accomplishments. He flashed like a splendid meteor across the literary firmament of Europe. The following account of his career is given by Chambers:—“He was educated at St. Andrews University. Before he reached his 20th year, he had, it seems, run through the whole circle of the sciences, mastered ten different languages, and perfected himself in every knightly accomplishment. Thus panoplied in a suit of intellectual armour, Crichton rode out into the world of letters, and challenged all and sundry to a learned encounter. If we can believe his biographers, the stripling left every adversary who entered the lists against him hors-de-combat. At Paris, Rome, Venice, Padua, Mantua, he achieved the most extraordinary victories in disputation on all branches of human knowledge, and excited universal admiration and applause. The beauty of his person and elegance of his manners also made him a great favourite with the fair; while, as if to leave no excellence unattained, he vanquished in a duel the most famous gladiator in Europe. The Duke of Mantua, in whose city this perilous feat was performed, appointed him preceptor to his son, Vincentio de Gonzago, a dissolute and profligate youth. One night during the carnival, Crichton was attacked in the streets of Mantua by half-a-dozen people in masks. He pushed them so hard that their leader pulled off his mask and disclosed the features of the prince. With an excess of loyalty, which proved his death, Crichton threw himself upon his knees, and begged Vincentio’s pardon, at the same time presenting him with his sword. The heartless wretch plunged it into the body of his tutor. Thus perished in the 22nd year of his age ‘The Admirable Crichton.’ ”His birthplace has been disputed, owing to the fact that his father was also owner of the estate of Clunie, in Perthshire, where, one account has it, he was born. It is, however, affirmed that he was born at Elliock, and the chamber is still shewn where he first saw the light. That Elliock House is really entitled to the honour is proved by the fact that the purchase of Clunie by his father did not take place till two years after his birth.

The estate of Elliock was sold to the Dalyells in 1592, and continued in the hands of that family down to the year 1725. These Dalyells were typical specimens of Scottish barons, fierce, turbulent, and lawless. Sir Robert lived on bad terms with Lord Sanquhar, his next neighbour. In the chapter on the Crichtons will be found an account of his appearance with his son to answer along with Lord Creichtoun to a charge of threatening. The Dalyells, father and sons, indeed, appear to have been a terror to the neighbourhood, Thus, in 1598, Dalyell himself is bound over on a surety of 1000, and his two sons, Robert and Gawin, in sureties of 1000 merks and 300 merks respectively “not to harm Mr Robert Hunter, minister at Sanquhar.” Further, in the year 1602, it is charged against another son, Archibald, that he “having lately with his accomplices come at night to the part of the lands of Sauchtounhall, belonging to Johnnie Morrisoun, and reft from him certain kye and oxen, and having come since then to the dwelling-house of Nicoll Dalyell, his father-in-law, and most cruelly assaulted him, so that he is yet ‘lyand bedfast ’ in great hazard of his life, charge had been given to his said father, and to Robert Dalyell, younger of that Ilk, his brother, by whom he is at all times resetted to enter him conform to the general bond. And, now, the said Robert, elder, appearing for himself and for the said Robert, younger, and producing a testimonial subscribed by the baillies of the town of Sanquhar and elders thereof, certifying that the said Robert, younger, is ‘ heavelie diseasit with sickness, and unable to travell,’ the Lords excuse the absence of the said Robert, younger, but as the said Archibald has not been entered by the said Robert, elder, his father, ordain said Robert, elder, to enter in ward in the Castle of Edinburgh.”

The minister of Sanquhar, Mr Robert Hunter, above referred to, seems to have had a hard time of it at the hands of these masterful lords and barons. He received a rough and unceremonious handling in another part of the county, which is thus described in a complaint to the Council in 1609, at the instance of Sir Thomas Hammiltoun, for the King’s interest, and by Mr Robert Hunter, minister at Sanquhar, as follows:—

“On Sunday, 3rd instant, Mr Robert having, at the command Archbishop of Glasgow, repaired to the Kirk of Kirkpatrick-Fleming, in Annanderdaill, to the ministers to the parishioners thereof according as it sould have pleasit God at his mercie to have movit him. As soon as he had enterit the Kirkyard of the said Kirk, George Irvine of Woodhous, violent possessor of the tcinds of the said Kirk, fearing to be removed from further melling with the said teinds, came armed with certain weapons, and straitly forbade complainer to ‘ teitch ’ the said day, or sould let him see a siclit that sould gar a cold sweitgo over his hairt. Accordinglie in the verie tyme of the sermon, defender gathered the under-named persons in some demit spots close to the Kirk, and as soon as Mr Robert came out of the Kirk, Irvine again accosted him, saying he had done him wrong afoir in slaying of Johne of Lockerbie, and now he was come to reve him of his teyndis, bot he sould at this tyme pay for all. Then he gave a shout, and he and said persons convocated with others to the number of 100, all armed with certain weapons, including hagbuts and pistolets, chased him and them a mile from the Kirk, wounding some.”

For this outrageous conduct Irving was committed to the ward in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and other two, who did not appear, were denounced rebels.

Conduct of this sort was, however, not unusual in these times, nor was it any permanent bar to the favour of the sovereign, and so we find that Dalyell was, in 16*28, created Baron Dalyell, and, in 1639, Earl of Carnwath. The family had a town house in Sanquhar, which was called Lord Carnwath’s house, the site of which is now covered by the property owned and occupied by the author of this history.

In Symson’s “Description of Galloway,” published in 1684, it is said that “the Duke of Queensberry is superior to the lands of Elliock. It belongs to the Earl of Carnwath in property, having the mansion-house Elliock situate in the bounds of it, a goodly fabrick formerly the dwelling place of the Baron of Dalyell, of which the Earles of Carnwath are descended. This part of the parish is exceedingly well stored with wood, but now of late, by the cutting down of a great part of it, for the lead mines of Hopetoun in Clidesdale, and not parking of it afterwards, it is much decayed, and probably will decay more if, after the cutting of it, it be not more carefully enclosed for the futtire.”

The estate was purchased from Lord Carnwath by William Veitch in 1725. He was of the family of that name which had flourished in Peeblesshire from a very early period. In Chambers’ “History of Peebles ” we have the following account of the family origin :—“ The mythic legend of the

Veitches explanatory of their name must not be omitted. The original of our name, says Robert Veitch of Campflat, was Gailard, a native of France, who came over to Scotland in the reign of Robert Bruce. He became a favourite of that king from being an alert hunter. Happening to distinguish himself at a time when Robert was pent up in an encampment near Warkworth Castle, and his army in great want of provisions, Gailard bravely ventured his life by driving a herd of cattle in the night, by which means Robert’s men so much revived that they made so vigorous a sally as next day secured them a safe retreat. Robert soon after coming to Peebles, where he had a hunting seat (the vestiges of which are now to be seen adjoining the Church of Peebles), it was then he thought proper to reward Gailard for his bravery by giving him the lands of Dawick upon the Tweed, and for his coat-of-arms three cows’ heads, with the motto, ‘Famam Extendimus Factis’ (we extend our fame by our deeds). At the same time he took the surname of Vache (French for a cow) by reason of its corresponding with the crest. It came to be different spelled afterwards through ignorance.”—Papers of Veitch of Campflats.

“The originator of this story,” Chambers remarks, “does not appear to have been aware that William La Vache, of the County of Peebles, figures in the Ragman Roll considerably before the date of the alleged exploit of Warkworth.”— Chambers’ Hist. Peebles.

In all probability, the first Veitch was one of the Normans who found their way into the southern part of Scotland in the reign of David. The headquarters of the family were at Dauwic (Dawyck), and we read that “at a later period, at the Union of the Crowns, they, as was the custom with barons whose estates lay near a town, had a town residence in Peebles, known latterly as “The Pillars,” and situated on the north east of the site of the town cross.”—Veitch's Hist, and Poetry of the Border.

The Veitches were strong of arm and stout of heart, as it behoved all to be who had possessions on the border in those stirring days. Of one of them, Bishop Lesly relates the following tradition:—“Veitch of Dawyk, a man of great strength and bravery, who flourished in the 16th century, is said to have been on bad terms with a neighbouring proprietor, Tweedie of Drummelzier. By some accident, a flock of Dawyk’s sheep strayed over into Drummelzier’s grounds, at the time when Dickie of the Den, a Liddesdate outlaw, was making his rounds in Tweeddale. Seeing this flock he drove them off without ceremony. Next morning Veitch, perceiving his loss, summoned his servants and retainers, laid a bloodhound on the traces of the robber, by whom they were guided for many miles, till, on the banks of Liddel, the dog staid upon a very large hay-stack. The pursuers were a good deal surprised at the obstinate pause of the bloodhound, till Dawyk pulled down some of the hay, and discovered a large excavation, containing the robbers and their spoil. He instantly flew upon Dickie, and was about to poniard him, when the marauder, with the address noticed by Lesley, protested that he would never have touched a cloot (hoof) of them had he not taken them for Drummelzier’s property. This dexterous appeal to Veitch’s passion saved the life of the freebooter.”

Professor Veitch, in his “History and Poetory of the Scottish Border,” records that—“This deadly feud between the Veitches and the Tweedies had been kept up for generations, for one of the last acts of James VI., before he left for England, was to visit the district of Upper Tweeddale, with a view to staunch the bloody feud between the two lairds of Dawyck and Drummelzier, and imagined that he had succeeded, but no. At his Court at Greenwich, in 1611, he was disturbed by rumours of continued broils between these two families. He was old enough to remember people speak of the shuddering sensation which the news of a fatal hand-to-hand encounter between Dawyck and Drummelzier had created at the Scottish Court even in those times of atrocious deeds. On a morning in early summer the two lairds had met by chance on the Laugh of the Tweed. They were alone when they confronted each other. The memories of centuries of mutual violence and mutual deeds of blood were quickened in their hearts, and that strange, savage feeling of blood-atonement seemed to thrill in both. They agreed to settle the strife of centuries then and there. And tradition tells us that, as the birds waked the June morn, Drummelzier was found dead beside a bush, and the blood had stained the white blossoms of the hawthorn spray. Still the feud was carried on, and the King, in March 3, 611, in a proclamation, calls upon Lord Dunfermline and the other lords of the Privy Council to take steps to suppress this strife.” This, then, would appear to have been one of the very last of those family quarrels, by which, for generations, the whole of the Scottish Border had been kept in a state of perpetual disturbance and bloodshed. It is of this doughtjr race that the Veitches of Elliock are descended, of whom, as we shall see, some were distinguished in the arts of peace, as their forbears had been in the art of war.

It would be erroneous to suppose that the William Veitch, who purchased from Lord Carnwath, was the first Veitch to figure in the history of Sanquhar, for in the ballad, “The Gallant Grahams” (Sir Walter Scott’s Border Minstrelsy), one of the family is thus described—

“And gallant Veitch upon the field,
A braver face was never seen.”

This gallant Veitch, Sir Walter takes to be David, brother to Veitch of Dawyk, who, with many others of the Peeblesshire gentry, was taken at Philiphaugh. The following curious incident took place some years afterwards on the high street of Sanquhar, in consequence of his loyal zeal. It is related in Symson’s “Description of Galloway” (1684): —“In the year 1653, when the loyal party did arise in arms against the English in the West and North Highlands, some noblemen and loyall gentlemen, with others, came forward to repair to them with such parties as they could make, which the English, with marvellous diligence night and day, did bestir themselves to impede by making their troups of horse and dragoons to pursue the loyal party in all places, that they might not come to such a considerable number as was designed. It happened one night that one Captain Mason, commander of a troup of dragoons that came from Carlisle in England, marching through the town of Sanquhar in the night, was in the town of Sanquhar encountered by one Captain Palmer, commander of a troup of horse that came from Air, marching eastward and meeting at the townhouse or tolbooth, one David Yeitch, brother of the Laird of Dawick in Tweddale, and one of the loyall party, being prisoner in irons by the English, did arise and came to the window at their meeting, and cryed out that they should fight valiantly for K. Charles, wherethrough they, taking each other for the loyall party, did begin a brisk fight, which continued for a while, till the dragoons having spent their shot, and finding the horsemen to be too strong for them, did give ground, but yet retired in some order toward the Castle of Sanquhar, being hotly pursued by the troup through the whole town, above a quarter of a mile, till they came to the castle, where both parties did, to their mutual grief, become sensible of their mistake. In this skirmish there were several killed on both sides, and Captain Palmer himself dangerously wounded, with many more wounded in each troup, who did peaceably dwell together afterwards for a time, until their wounds were cured in Sanquhar Castle.”

Carnwath’s expenditure would appear to have been greatly beyond his means, and he had recourse to Veitch for loans of money, and, it is supposed, that in the end he had become so seriously embarrassed in his finances that he lost hope of redeeming the property, and so parted with it to the man to whom he was so heavily indebted.

William Veitch’s son, James, was the second Lord Elliock, of whom we have the following account in Brunton’s “Historical Account.”

“1761, March 6th.—James Veitch of Elliock, son of William Yeitch of Elliock, was admitted advocate 15th February, 1738, having previously served an apprenticeship with his father, who was a writer to the signet. Shortly after his admission to the bar, he visited the continent, and, when in Germany, was introduced to Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and became so great a favourite with that illustrious monarch, that he remained a considerable time at his court, and after his return to Scotland, kept up a correspondence with him. He was constituted Sheriff-Depute of the county of Peebles, 13th July, 1747, elected representative for the county of Dumfries to Parliament in 1755, and continued member for that county till 1760, when he was elevated to the bench, in the room of Andrew M'Dowal of Bankton, and took his seat on the 6th March by the title of Lord Elliock. He died at Edinburgh on the 1st of July, 1793. His Lordship was endowed with mental abilities of the first order, and was generally allowed to be one of the most accomplished scholars of his time.”

Lord Elliock was a tall, handsome man, and. during his residence at Frederick’s Court, was urged to join the regiment of gigantic men which the king was forming. On his leaving the Prussian Court, Frederick presented him with a gold snuff-box as a token of his regard.

By Lord Elliock the estate of Elliock was entailed, the succession being confined strictly to the heirs male. The first heir of entail was in India at the time of Lord Elliock’s death, but he died on his way home. The estate then passed to Colonel Henry Veitch, Commissioner of Customs, a nephew of Lord Elliock, who died in April, 1838. He was suceeded by his son, James, who was Sheriff at Hamilton for many years. The Sheriff was a tall man, but of slender and wiry figure. He was a great walker, and thought nothing of walking on foot in one day from Edinburgh, enjoying a day’s shooting at Elliock, and returning on foot on the third day to the Metropolis. He was much respected in the district, and the Town Council of Sanquhar, in 1846, appointed him, unsolicited, to be their commissioner to the General Assembly of -the Church of Scotland, which appointment he held undisturbed for 21 years.

On his death, in 1873, lie was succeeded by his younger brother, the Rev. William Douglas Veitch, who died at Elliock in 1884, and was succeeded by his son, the Rev. Henry George John Veitch, the present laird, who is related by marriage to the Buccleuch family, his deceased wife having been a sister of Cameron of Lochiel, who is married to a daughter of the late, and sister of the present Duke. He has a son, George Douglas Veitch, who is heir to the estate. It is gratifying to know that Elliock House has been more regularly occupied by the present owner and his father than during their predecessors’ time.

Elliock House is a plain, country mansion. The older portion of it would indicate that it had been erected not later than the sixteenth century, if not earlier than that time. The room in which the Admirable Crichton was born has a window facing the north-east. The house was enlarged by Lord Elliock, the second, by the erection of a wing at each end. Orders were given by his lordship that a room should be fitted up as a library. The workmen’s conception of a library that would be suitable for Lord Elliock was that its greatness should correspond with the greatness of the man who was to occupy it, and so they constructed an enormous room with a gallery on all four sides, guarded with a plain railing, and reached by a spiral stone stair at he corner of the room. At Lord Elliock’s next visit he was taken in to be shewn his new library. He no sooner entered, and saw this huge, cold, draughty room, with its over-hanging gallery, the whole destitute of the slightest attempt at architectural decoration, and conveying not the slightest suggestion of comfort, than he threw up his hands and exclaimed, in a scornful tone, “Good Heavens,” and fled, never to enter it again,

The house is mantled over with ivy, and stands beautifully situated on an elevated bank close to the Garple Burn, which flows through the woods.

The talented Miss Sophia F. F. Veitch, the authoress of “A Lone Life,” “Angus Graeme,” “James Hepburn,” “The Dean’s Daughter,” and other works, which reveal powers of no common order, is a sister of the present proprietor of Elliock.


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