Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Reminiscences of a Scottish Gentleman
Commencing in 1787

“I have considered the days of old, and the years that are past.”

I was born in St. Andrew's Square, Edinburgh, at eleven o'clock a.m., on the 13th of March, 1785. The bells of St. Andrew's Church were calling douce folk to worship, and charivaried my entrance on the great stage of life. There is an old saying, “that those born on Sunday pass through life with good fortune and happiness." Thank God I cannot gainsay it; for, although the sunshine of my course has been sometimes obscured with clouds of affliction and ingratitude, yet 1 am thankful to say that now, in the seventy-fifth year of my age, I am enabled to skim o'er the days of my earthly pilgrimage with a grateful heart to the Almighty Creator of all. My father was the descendant of an ancient race, and chief of his family; my mother the daughter of a noble baron, the twelfth in direct descent inheriting the peerage and title of Gray : thus were their children nearly related to many families of ancient lineage and high station. I had several brothers and sisters, which death diminished to the number of six, of whom I was the Benjamin. My mother died in 1787; my father remained a widower during the remainder of his life.

My maternal grandmother was Lady Gray, heiress of the estate of Kinfauns. She possessed great firmness of mind and insight into character, with unvarying fixedness of purpose, to accomplish whatever appeared conducive to the happiness of those in whose welfare she was interested. During the troubles in Scotland in 1745, my grandfather was lord-lieutenant of Angusshire, and a friend to the Hanoverian dynasty. On the advance of the Duke of Cumberland into Scotland, to assume the command of the royal army, he halted at Dundee, remaining there two days. My grandfather immediately proceeded to pay his devoirs to the prince, attended by several of the deputv-lieutenants, and by many of the most influential gentlemen of the county of Angus. Their reception by the prince was haughty and most offensive, treating Lord Gray and the other gentlemen, both in language and manner, as if they were rebels and friends of Prince Charles. My grandfather, in consequence of this treatment, returned to his residence of Gray in a towering passion, and, in relating to Lady Gray the reception he had met with from the prince, exclaimed, “I will let that Hanoverian know I have as ancient blood in my veins as he can boast of, and that Scottish noblemen and gentlemen are not to be treated as if they were a pack of German hind lowpers. I will to-morrow stick a white cockade in my bonnet and join Prince Charles, who, papist or no papist, is of the old legitimate Stuart line of Scottish kings.” My grandmother remained quiescent, wisely considering it was scant wisdom “to blow the coal to burn one's self;” so she let her lord stamp up and down the room, uttering every amount of anathema against the duke, intermixing such with scraps of Jacobite songs, amongst which the one apparently most comforting to his amour propre, and which he sang with great vehemence, was—

“Wha hae they gotten to be their king,
But a puir hit German lairdy,
Wha, when they gaed to bring him over,
Was delving in his kail yardie?”

In the evening Lord Gray wished to bathe his feet, as he felt symptoms of a eold from having got very wet in riding to Dundee, he therefore gave orders to his valet to that effect. It was then my grandmother showed her strength of mind and farsightedness. She informed the servant that she would herself attend to his lordship; accordingly, when he retired to his dressing-room she accompanied him, having previously desired the valet to place hot water at the door of the room. When all was prepared, and Lord Gray had placed his feet in the foot-tub, her ladyship brought in the almost boiling water, and poured the whole contents of the pitcher in one avalanche upon his legs and feet. A tremendous yell proved that her end was gained; the limbs were severely scalded, assistance was obtained, the sufferer was plaeed in bed, and the surgeon sent for, who, after administering palliatives to soothe the pain, gave positive orders that his lordship was to remain in bed until all symptoms of inflammation were redueed. Of course the intention to join Prinee Charlie was abandoned for the time, and ere the incensed nobleman was again able “to boot and saddle/’ his ire against the duke had cooled down, and the white cockade remained perdu. Thus, by a bold stroke (not for a husband, but for a husband’s welfare), the estates and title of Gray were preserved from forfeiture, and Lord Gray himself from Tower Hill. My uncle, his son and successor, who I have often heard relate the story, used to add, “that whether or not his father ever became cognizant of the warm proof of his lady’s care for his worldly interests, such never diminished the warm affection subsisting between the noble pair.”

My paternal grandfather died in 1773, possessed of an estate in the county of Mid Lothian, which my father, as his eldest son, inherited. The mother of my father was the daughter of Sir Philip Anstruther, a baronet of ancient creation, in the county of Fife. Her eldest sister was married to the Earl of Trftquair; her second sister to Mr. Loch, of Dry Law. My father was born in 1729, and at an early age was sent to Westminster School, and boarded with one of the Dames (as they were termed); a lady of the name of Douglas, who took a motherly charge of him. He always spoke of her with affection and gratitude. He had no inclination for Latinity, but yearned for a sword and red coat; so, after passing through the usual routine of Westminster scholastic studies, and having also acquired the accomplishments requisite in those days for a young gentleman of birth and station, he entered the army in 1754, as lieutenant in the second troop of Horse Grenadier Guards, commanded by the Earl of Harrington. Of this description of force there were only four troops, each commanded by a nobleman. The privates were principally the sons of yeomen of small landed estate, and paid each the sum of L100 for admission to this force. At the coronation of George III. my father carried the standard of the troop in which he served. In 1762 he was appointed head of the staff of Prince Charles of Mecklenburg (brother of Queen Charlotte), and accompanied his royal highness to Portugal, on the prince assuming a command in the Portuguese army (then commanded by the Count de Lipe), during the administration of that most ahle, but tyrannical minister, the Marquis de Pombal. At the termination of two years, Prince Charles resigned his eommand in the Portuguese army, and returned to England.

My father accompanied his royal highness, and soon after rejoined the British army in Germany. In 1768 he was promoted to the rank of major. The Horse Grenadier Guards were reduced in consequence of the heavy expense of their appointments and pay. When this took effect he was promoted to the rank of colonel, and was appointed to the command of the 4th regiment of Irish Horse; and as a mark of the estimation in which his services and character as a soldier were held, his majesty George III., on my father retiring from the army, conferred on him the honour of knighthood, which at that period was held in high consideration, and equal to the K.C.B. of the present period. During the Seven Years’ war he was on the staff of Prince Ferdinand, then commander-in-chief of the allied army, and afterwards aide-de-camp to General, afterwards Marquis of Townsend; he saw much service, and was present at the battles of Minden and Kirk Dinkerden.

My father had two brothers; the eldest entered the army, and was distinguished for his bravery at the battle of Emsdorff, when major of the 15th Light Dragoons, under the command of Sir William Erskine. This regiment was the first which was embodied as light dragoons, and were known under the soubriquet of "Elliot’s Tailors.” This gave rise to the following anecdote. At an entertainment given to the officers on the return of the regiment from Germany, one of the guests inquired of Sir William Erskine the particulars of the desperate charge made by the 15th on a body of French cavalry who were drawn up within a field surrounded by high banks and hedges. Sir William, who was brave as he was joyous, and withal spoke broad Scotch, replied, “ Weel ye see, when I received the order to charge, I gathered up my reins and roar’d out, ‘Now, lads, there’s the Mounseers! dinna spare them at them, ye deevils—charge!’ I rammed my horse Clutic at the hedge; he louped clean ow’r, and landed me in the thick o’ the melee, whar my tailors were laying about them like mad, and that brave fallow Ainslie had just clove a Frenchman’s head down to his stock-buckle. The Mounseers soon found they had enough, and as mony as were able made clean heels of it.”

After serving throughout the war, my uncle was made king’s aide-de-camp, and appointed Governor of Ostend; and in course of time acquired the rank of lieutenant-general, became Governor of the Scillv Islands, and colonel of the 13th regiment of foot. He died at the age of eighty-two. His brother Robert, after passing through different diplomatic grades, received the distinguished appointment of ambassador extraordinary to the Sublime Porte in 1790, the duties of which he fulfilled with great ability during a period of seven years. On being recalled, he was created a baronet, and, with Lord Paget (afterwards Marquis of Anglesey), sat in Parliament for Melbourne Port. Whilst ambassador at Constantinople, he effected a most important service for the East India Company, which they acknowledged by presenting to Sir Robert a superb service of plate. He was a man of determined courage and great coolness, of which I shall now relate an instance. On a certain occasion, while writing a letter in the coffee-room of the Thatched House Tavern, in St. Jameses Street (at that period a fashionable resort for the members of the hauteton), Sir Robert observed a person in the adjoining box (coffee-rooms being then divided into separate boxes) leaning over, and coolly perusing that which Sir Robert was writing; upon which, without appearing to notice this impertinence, Sir Robert continued his letter in the following terms:—

“I would have written further were it not for an impudent scoundrel who is reading from behind me that which I write.” This brought from the Paul Pry the exclamation of, “How dare you, sir, call me a scoundrel?” Sir Robert replied, “You are a scoundrel. If you are offended, follow me.” Upon which they retired into an adjoining room, drew their swords, and after a sharp rencontre Sir Robert wounded his impertinent opponent severely. Sir Robert lived to the great age of eiglity-four, and was succeeded by his nephew, a son of the general. On the death of my mother my father sold his house in Edinburgh, and retired to his country seat.

I have stated that I was the Benjamin of my family, with the exception of my younger sister Annie. I was strong, healthy, and precocious, and gave much anxiety and trouble to my kind nurse Peggy, an instance of which I will relate. The roof of the stables was under repair, a ladder was raised up to enable the slater to reach a portion of it. The slater had gone to dinner, Peggy was engaged in a flirtation with Peter Neileiis, the gardener, and had only eyes for Pete. Unobserved I began to mount, or rather crawl up the ladder, and had attained such a height as would have caused broken bones had I tumbled. When Peggy observed my dangerous position, Pate and herself were much alarmed and puzzled how to get me in safety from my perilous perch. Pate quietly ascended the ladder, while Peggy stood under with her apron spread out to receive me, in the event of my falling. Pate placed me within Peggy’s grips, when she exclaimed, "Was there ever seen sic a ventersome bairn!” accompanied by a hearty shake and bullet as she carried me off to the nursery. Another instance. There was a sagacious honest tyke of a Newfoundland dog, named Terror, between whom and myself the closest friendship existed, and on whose care of me, and vigilance, Peggy placed much reliance. She frequently left me in Terror’s charge while she went to dinner. On one occasion, when in the garden, I wandered away into an adjoining field accompanied by Terror: the day was sunny and warm, after toddling about I became tired, lay down and slept. When Peggy returned to the garden and did not find me, she ran to the servants’ hall for aid to assist in searching for me. There was a general alarm, as there were ponds in the fields adjoining the gardens. After a very anxious search I was found fast asleep with Terror lying by me, and one of his large paws on my breast as a shield of protection. Peggy, who was in great alarm and grief, lifted me up, exclaiming, “ Oh laddie, laddie, ye’ll be the death o’ me!” while tears ran down her sonsy cheeks. Many other anecdotes of my childish daring I could relate, but I refrain, although the recollection and narration of them renews in intense vividness some of the happiest portions of my early days.

In after life, when reflecting on the generally asserted opinion, that the awakening of the minds of children to certain feelings and impulses is denied by nature to a more remote period than I humbly think is the case., my own experience and the recollections of my childhood lead me to the different conclusion, that nature is not niggardly in this respect, and that the minds of children even at three years of age are sufficiently opened to estimate both acts and consequences, which either protect from pain or confer pleasure.

For example, when I scrambled up the ladder I anticipated pleasure; the same feeling which impelled me to expect such, would have prevented me from putting my finger into the fire, from an undefinablc idea or warning that doing so would give me pain. When I toddled with Terror into the field I felt the anticipation of pleasure; I would not have done so under the anticipation of danger. I therefore think that if my mind had not been awakened to distinct and active feelings and impulsive calculations, I neither would have scrambled up the ladder or gone into the field.

On the recovery of George III., in 1789, Edinburgh was illuminated. I remember, as yesterday, the preparation in my fathers house to join in this manifestation of loyalty: the fixing of the tin holders for the candles in the window frames; the discussion on these points between the housekeeper and butler; and my nurse, Peggy, lifting up her voice with, “It’s a grand thing for the candel makers whan the king’s sick, honest man.” I recollect the pleasure I felt on looking at the illumination. If my mind and feelings had been (as many assert) yet unwakened in this my early childhood, such would have remained dormant.

At this time an occurrence took place which, as the newspapers express it, occasioned by a prodigious sensation. A person named Brodie, a member of the Town Council of Edinburgh and deacon of a Guild, and considered affluent and of considerable influence with his fellow citizens, was brought to trial before the Court of Justiciary, and found guilty of breaking into the Excise Office in Edinburgh and stealing a large sum of money. He was condemned to be hanged on a certain day in October, on the scaffold at the west end of the Tolbooth, famed by Sir Walter Scott as "The Heart of Midlothian.” The fatal day was stamped in my memory by the unusual gloom and silence of the maidens who attended upon my little sister and myself; even Peggy’s lively, cheery song of “Jenny Nettles” was unheard. My sister and myself became impatient under this state of matters; we were fractious, and whmyed and yammered to the great annoyance of our attendants. At length Peggy broke out with, “Oh bairns, bairns, ye little ken what’s gaan on at the west end o’ the lncken booths on this blessed day! To think that a responsible man like Deacon Brodie is to be in the grips o’ that dour deevil Jock Heeli, the hangman, is awfu’! but we’r aa sinfu’ craters, may the Lord be about liiz!” Peggy’s moralising was beyond us, and by no means calmed down our peevishness, until we were amongst the flowers in the garden. Brodie was a dissipated, reckless fellow, a gambler, and cockfighter, which was quite unknown except to his associates, who were of the lowest grades of blackguardism. A man of the name of Smith suffered with him as criminis.

Jock the hangman was in early days a continual cause of dread and awe to my schoolfellows and myself. Jock was a cadaverous, down-looking fellow, with a most satanic scowl, as if he were ever thinking of the last looks of his victims as he adjusted the rope and covered their anguished countenances with the white nightcap, ere lie withdrew the fatal holt. He was by trade a cobbler, and followed his calling in a house in the Fish Market Close. Many a time as a boy I looked with fear and horror at Jock as he sat at his door cobbling shoes. He escaped being hanged for robbery, by agreeing to fill the situation of public executioner. His wife was a huge, hard-featured woman, of whom we schoolboys stood in great dread. Jock made use of her as a bull-dog, to slip at us when we chaffed him in passing his stall; and certes we had to make a clean pair of heels when she was after us. Jock lived to a great age, but I scarcely think the usual legend of “He died beloved and respected,” graced his headstone.

My brothers had now attained an age when it became requisite that they should choose a profession. Both declared for the army. My father immediately purchased for George (the eldest) an ensigncy in the 19th regiment of foot, and for Charles a cornetey in the 4th regiment of Dragoons, commanded by Lieutcnant-Colonel Hugonin, and quartered at Musselburgh, Perth, and Hamilton. An intimate companion of my eldest brother was Colin Halket, who, for his gallantry and distinguished conduct during the Peninsular war and at the battle of Waterloo, was promoted to the highest grades of his profession; he died, at a very advanced age, governor of Chelsea Hospital. His only brother, Hugh (but much his
junior in years), was my constant playmate and friend. He entered the army at an early age, as ensign in the Scotch Brigade, which he accompanied to India. On his return from that service he was appointed to a lieutenancy in the Hanoverian Legion, and eventually attained the command of the light infantry battalion of that distinguished force, at the head of which he served through the Peninsular campaigns, under the Duke of Wellington. At the battle of Waterloo, he led his battalion into the thickest of the fight, and in the most gallant manner made a French officer prisoner, after a determined personal hand to hand encounter. On the peace of 1815 he returned to Hanover (on the Hanoverian Legion being disbanded), where he still resides, and is now commander-in-chief of the army of that kingdom: thus has the playmate of my boyhood risen by his gallantry to the most distinguished rank of his profession, and has also received the decoration of G.C.B. from the Queen of England.

The father of these meritorious soldiers was of an ancient Scottish family, who had
settled in Holland. He entered as lieutenant one of the Scotch regiments in the pay of that country, and in process of time attained the command of a battalion of that force. On the French republican army, under the command of Piehegreu, advancing to take possession of Holland, the British government recalled these regiments to Scotland, where they were re-formed under the designation of the Scotch Brigade, and the command in chief was conferred upon General Francis Dundas, a cousin-german of the Right Hon. Henri Dundas, the de facto secretary of state for Scotland. This measure was considered very harsh and unjust towards Colonel Halket and the other officers of these regiments; but “might overcame right” in this instance, and the weak suffered. Colonel Halket, with his family, took up his residence at Drumsheugh (at that time nearly a mile from the new town of Edinburgh), in one of two small houses opposite to the grounds of the Earl of Moray. It was there that, with Unglue Halket, I frequently passed my Saturday lioliday. His father was the beau ideal of a soldier; tall in person, with a countenance which expressed great firmness and intelligence, tempered with much kindness and urbanity. He was advanced in years, and possessed a most gentlemanly hearing, with the unmistakable air of one who had mixed with the best society. To his dying day he always wore his cocked hat; and, as he passed along, his erect carriage and military air at once marked the soldier.

At the period of which I now treat, the extent of the new town of Edinburgh westward was very limited; there were then only five houses west of Castle Street, beyond which all was open ground as far as the Kirk Brae-Head Toll, the entrance to the road leading to the Queen’s Ferry. This open ground went under the term of Braefoot’s Parks, and through which the Lang Gate, leading from the Calton Hill on the east and westward to the Queen’s-ferry Road, passed. It was along this Lang Gate that Clavers (Viscount Dundee) retreated with his dragoons, and halted them, while he climbed up the rock to the sally-port, on the west side of the castle, to have an interview with the Duke of Gordon, at that period governor of the Castle of Edinburgh, then besieged by the troops of the Scottish Parliament.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus