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Borrowstounness and District
Chapter XVII. Local Societies and Lodges

1. Origin of the Seabox: The Bond of Erection: Early Management: Boxmasters and Key-keepers—2. A Sailor Community Indeed: Their Virtues and Business Qualities : The Volume of Extracts Regarding Erection of First Chnrch: Some Quaint Entries—3. Examples of Entries from the Early Cash Books of Seabox : Some of the Box-masters—4. The Landsmen's or Maltmen's Box: Shipmasters Society Formed: Boxmasters Henderson and Ritchie : The Friendly Society of Shipmasters— 5. New Society Avoids Law and Lawyers : The Exodus from the Seaport and Depletion of Societies—6. The United General Seabox: First Office-Bearers: The 250th Anniversary —7. Privileges of Society: The Bellman and James Bennie: Old Custom at Funerals of Poor People—8. Carriden or Grangepans' Seabox : Names of Members : Its Decline and End—9. The Bo'ness Seabox and the Representatives : Issue of Anonymous Pamphlets and Letters—10. An Exciting Meeting of Representatives—11. Origin of the Beneficent Society: An Interesting "Jumal" of 20 years' Transactions—12. How an Audit was Conducted: Society Passes Resolutions in Favour of Abolition of Slave Traffic—13. Local Freemasons : Lodge Pythagorie and its Old Minute Book.


The local friendly society now known as The United General Seabox of Borrowstounness had its origin in 1634. Among its designations in olden days were "The Ancient Society of Seafaring Men," "The Sea Poor's Box of the Burgh of Borrowstounness," "The Sailors' Society," and "The Sailors' Box Society." Its records are the oldest in the town. Twenty-three years ago a small volume1 descriptive of the history of the society was issued. It is long out of print. Some of its members claim that the Borrowstounness Seabox is entitled to rank as Scotland's oldest friendly society, but there is at least one older. We refer to the Shipmasters' Society or Seamen's Box of Aberdeen, whose history was recently published.2 Their bond of erection is dated 1598, and they, in addition, got a Royal Charter from King James VI., of date 19th February, 1600. This society flourishes at the present day, is still what it originally was, and has for president, vice-president, and treasurer three sea captains. In much of its history it greatly resembles ours, or, perhaps we should say, ours resembles it. It has its "schip," "lockit box," seal, church loft, headquarters, pension roll, and (crowning touch) its flag.

Our bond of erection is dated 3rd January, 1640, but six years before that, the masters and seamen of the port formed themselves into a society for benevolent purposes, and for mutual help in times of need. Indeed, from 1628 money had been contributed by them for such objects. The bond of erection, or, at least, a copy of it, still hangs in the hall of the society, Main Street. In the leisurely and quaint style of the Scots legal documents of the period it fully describes the objects of the society, and brings its subscribers under specific obligations and penalties. It was prepared by John Ronnald, "Notar Public Clerk in Borrowistounnes," and is signed by John Langlands, Geo. Allan, John Gibb, Richard Falconer, and over one hundred and twenty others. That in itself shows how well-off we were for skippers and mariners in those days.

The revenue, according to the bond, was to be derived from contributions out of wages on their return from each voyage. Contribution was to be made also for each vessel belonging to or taking its name from the town. A visitation of the box was to be made every quarter in the year by the masters who happened to be at home, with consent of as many sailors as the masters thought expedient to take with them on these occasions. At every visitation the box and two keys thereof were to be delivered to such men and for such a term as the master-visitors should think most suitable. The money collected was to be distributed for the relief of distressed persons, but primarily of such mariners as were sufferers through age, infirmity, or accident. Such relief was only to be given with the consent of two or three masters who should happen to be at home, and in no other way. And it was lastly stipulated that, whatever person or persons thereafter whom it should "pleas the Lord to bles and plaice as maisteris of ane Schippe within the towne," that master should be obliged to subscribe and consent to and obey the terms of the bond in all points.

The Seabox was carried on for the succeeding hundred years with great success. As it owed its origin to the enterprise of the local skippers, they naturally had the chief share in its management. This was very simple, yet thorough. During its early years there is no reference to a Boxmaster, operations being apparently left to the two key-keepers and such masters as were available. In time, however, mention is made of the Boxmaster, who is clearly esteemed the chief official, his principal colleagues being the two key-keepers. There is nothing at first in the nature of a minute book, the cash book serving the double purpose of keeping a record of the intromissions and the appointment of the Boxmaster and two key-keepers from time to time. Docquets setting forth the quarterly and other examinations of the books also appear. Their " depursements," as they were called, were kept in a separate volume, and were few for a long time. In fact, the idea seems first of all to have been to collect a substantial fund. When they got this— and, as the contributions were substantial, they soon succeeded —they commenced to lend out sums on bills to local merchants, to the Duke, and to the trustees for the town and harbour. They at the same time made up the pension rolls regularly, paid goodly sums, chiefly to widows of mariners, and gave relief of various kinds. Towards the end of the seventeenth century we find an annual docquet certifying the examination of the book, a second appointing or re-appointing the Boxmaster, and a third and larger one giving the changes made in the pension roll and amount of the pensions, along with an instruction tox the Boxmaster to- give effect to the changes' during the ensuing year. These things were done at the annual general meeting', aftd the docquet's were signed by all the skippers and mariners' present. The box is still in existence, though now unused. It is in truth' a "strong box," and has locks of a very peculiar and' complicated kind.


A glance over the earlier books and papers of the society shows that, two centuries ago, the' town was practically given over to shipping in a quiet, leisurely way. Many of the shipmasters were owners of their own craft, and most of tlie crews were' composed of local men, whose outstanding qualities were'godliness, thrift, and broad human sympathy Our skippers and sailors, as has been fitly said, were a really superior and meritorious body of men; they displayed great intelligence, zeal, and discretion in the management of their affairs; they looked at life and all its responsibilities from an earnest point of view, and were deeply and conscientiously imbued with the national religious' spirit of the time. We were then a sailor community indeed, with all the picturesque romance, all the quiet tragedy of the sea in and around us. Much, nay, nearly all, of this has during the intervening years given place' to a more materialistic atmosphere. Yea, the port has greatly changed its features, and the people their characteristics.

One of the most interesting records belonging to the Seabox is a volume of extracts from its books from 1633 to 1652, compiled by the late John Anderson, regarding the voluntary erection of the Church at Corbiehall. These not only contain "Ane Declaration of the names of those individuals who contributed to the building and what they did bestow," but also a declaration of the names of those who "payed to the plantation of the Minister and what they gave, which did begin the 10 January, 1648." The society itself contributed handsomely towards the building of the church and the provision of the minister's stipend, as will be found in the chapter on the

Representatives. Two things were, very close to the hearts of these old seafarers—religion and education:—and we must ever gratefully remember their generosity in the furtherance of these causes.

Every item, in the volume just referred to is entered with conscientious detail. Among those dealing with the " depursing "'of the voluntary contributions we find—

1636.—To William Anderson to go to Leith. to buy the Jeasts to the Kirk Laft.

To Patrick Glen in compleat payt. for the ground of the Church and yard.

To Peter Steven for an corball of oak to be the cross-tree in the Bell-house for the hanging of the Bell. For upbearing of some timber from the seaside to the Church.

To John Anderson, Slater, in earnest when he agreed for slating of the Church.

To William Anderson, who concludes his account for binding of the roof.

To the Skipper who brought up the last thousand sklaits, upon the 7 July, for the freight thereof.

1638.—To John Anderson for thigging of the porch and laying on the rigging stone, which concludes him of all his wants that ever he can crave of the said work.

It was the custom in Scotland in these days to allow workmen drink money or drink itself, apparently as a part of their wages. Accordingly, we find entries such as these—

In drink silver to the skipper's men for bringing west the timber from the. pier to the Church in a " flott."

For an free lunch to the Wrights and others when the roof was set up.

In drink silver to the slater's men.

For the Slater's> ale, which was every Saturday night allowed to them a quart.

To the Slaters when they closed the porch, and that In closing silver.

After the building of the church the loft and stair leading thereto were erected for the accommodation of the "skipperis and marineris." Here are one or two more entries: —

To Alex Scott and his wife for serving the masons the time they were building the stair, for the space of 26 days.

To John Anderson's man in drink money.

To Janet Russel for Ale to the Masons the time they

wrought the stair. To William Reding three days "shooling," at lyme. To bread and drink to the gentlemen's men for lime carrying.

In 1653 a good deal of legal work was entailed by the foreclosing of Balderston's Bond over Muirhouse, and we find these entries: —

Spent with the Writers in Linlithgow. Sum spent in Linlithgow when we received Comprisement. Sum for home bringing the papers out of Edinburgh. Sum for the charges of the Minister, two days in my house. Sum for a boy to go twice to Edinburgh. Sum for horse hire, horse meat, and boy's meat. Sum of charges spent with Writers in Linlithgow. Sum for a boy to go to Linlithgow with a letter for some papers.


Let us now take a few examples of the wording of entries from the earlier cash-books of the Seabox itself: —


July 28.—Putt in by James Wilsone for a Holland voyage. Oct. 14.—In the name of God putt in be Richard Falkoner for ane Rotterdam voyage.


April 16.—Paid in to the Box and that for a London voyage by John Gibb.

July 25.—Paid in to the Box for ane Ostend voyage by Alex. Hardie.

Here are further entries in later years: — 1755.

July 29.—Reed, from Capt. James Crawford as a compliment to the poor. He was Commander of the "Thistle" to Greenland.

July 30.—Paid in by Alex. Hardie, a voyage with James Glasfurd.

Aug. 16.—Received from Robt. Nicole, a Greenland voyage with the " Peggy."

Received from James Hardie, a Greenland voyage with the "Peggy."

Paid in by James Hutton, a Greenland voyage with the "Thistle."

The following are examples of the "depursements" : — 1635.

June 20.—Given out of Box to ane distressed person be consent of George Allan.

1643.—Paid to several distressed persons at sundry and divers times.

Paid to the Clerk John Ronald for the writing ane Band.

Depursit to pay Ministers stipand.

Nov. 19.—Lent for Band to My Ladie Marquis Hammiltonne (£1666 13s. 4d.).

Sent to Holland with Alex. Allan in venture of licht money to doe according to his best power.

1647.—Given to 5 poore Frenchmen of St. Maloos taken by the Ostenders.

1648.—Item for mending the glass of ye Sailors' Laft in the Ness Kirk ye 6 of February 1648.

1649.—Given to a distressed Seninan robbed by Irish Menrof Warre to help him to his friends.

Payit to Margot Speiris four and half Boll of Maill.

Payit for Jeane Ritchie's maill.

1658.—To John Hardie to buy him his bannit and shune be order.


April 4.—Given to Allan Robertsone for mending the Seamen's Laft door.


Sept. 11.—To James Kidd, mariner in this place, in great distress by order.

Oct. 5.—To William Gray, prisoner from Dunkirk, being a seaman belonging to Dublin by order.

Oct. 13.—To a distressed gentlewoman by order.


Jan. 11.—To ane poor Seaman wanting ane hand by order.

March 16.—Spent at putting in March stones at the land.

July 29.—Payd to Andrew Wilson for getting out horning & caption upon George Gib's Band <fe inhibition against John Gib.

Sept. 20.—Payd ane shipbroken Sailor by order.

Oct. 2.'—Payd a shipbroken man of Pettenweein by order.

Oct. 12.—For answering the Head Court for Meldrum's house.

Nov. 8:—To a distressed man and his wife by order.

Dec. 6.—To John Burns a broken seaman by order.


Feb. 7.—To shipbroken Dutchman by order.

Debursed by Richard Durie for the Mort Cloathes.

Aug. 5.—(For ridling and souring of two bags of lyme.

Sept. 2.—Paid workmen their drink money and 4 hours in Hugh Moriteiths.

Dec. 3.—John Young and his wyff for ane year's feu deutie from Martinmas 1703 till Martinmas 1704 for the Meeting house.


April 21.—To tuo shipbroken men who had come from

Rotterdam both belonging to Dublin by order. May 8.—For answering at the Head Court jfor Meldrum's house.

Nov. 7.—To 3 Seamen taken by the French.

Nov. 19.—To John Saxum a broken seaman by order.


Jan. .4.—Payd for a new Register Book. Jan. 5.—Payd to Clerk Wilson for Bonds and other writings.


April 7.—Given to James Cambell taken by the Algerians in a vessel called the " Swallow"; after three years' slavery was re-taken by a .Maltese -ship ,of war.


April 11.—To William M'Phearson and two others whose tongues were cut out by the Turks of Algiers; all three in melancholy case.


Sept. 20.—By cash given to a dumb sailor having his tongue cut out by the Algerines; attested by the Consul of .Leghorn.

There are hundreds upon hundreds ,of entries throughout the books similar in nature ,to those just .instanced. The credit entries are interesting _as showing the names pf ..the various skipper s and mariners'belonging to the port, and the different places, home and foreign, with which .they traded. As for the debit entries, they show the extent and variety of the society's benefactions.

It has been impossible to trace the .names of the ,various Boxmasters of the society, but those whose najnes occur most frequently are Richard Dawling, James Falconer, James Cassils, and in later years John Henderson and John Ritchie.

The books, especially between the years 1660 and 1678, were written with great care. Each page was headed with the year "anno," and at the end of each year the writer finished up with a benediction of his own, to this effect, " And so much for the year

Among the numerous docquets in the book we find the following: —

"All being comptit & reckoned togidder the 24 of Jan., 1646, the money being putt in ane Pourse and sealled with wax, it did extend to the soume of £479 lis. 2d. (Scots)." This is then signed by James Gibb, Richard Falconer, and five others.


By the middle of the seventeenth century Borrowstounness contained quite a thriving community of brewers, maltsters, and traders, and in August, 1659, they, in emulation of their seafaring friends, started a Landsmen's Box or Maltmen's Box. For two hundred years this society continued to exist, and did much benevolent work. Ultimately, as we shall see, it was incorporated with the old Seabox. The cash and sederunt books of the Landsmen's Box are now in the possession of the Seabox Society. There is nothing in them calling for special comment. To return to the affairs of the Seabox, we find that evidences are to be found in the year 1733 of a general slackness in the management, which gave rise to dissatisfaction and discontent. New and more exacting rules were therefore adopted, and as the original bond of erection could not be found, a fresh bond was prepared, and signed. Evidently the old bond was discovered later, as there is now no trace of the new one. Doubtless it would be promptly destroyed on the recovery of the original. Dissatisfaction still remained, and in 1738 there occurred the first secession from the ranks by the establishment of the Shipmasters' Society. It is said to have been successful, but all its books and papers, save a sederunt book commencing in August, 1775, are amissing.

The Seabox still continued to have trouble over the enforcement of its rules, and a hypercritical spirit became very manifest. From November, 1755, onwards we discover frequent references in the minutes to the Ritchie litigation. Dissension was rife, because the shipmasters and the sailors formed themselves into two distinct parties. The critical point waB reached over the annual election of the Boxmaster. This office had for long been held by John Henderson, who was of a quiet and non-contentious disposition, yet a sagacious and capable officer. The go-ahead Ritchie, however, had designs on the office. There was the Ritchie party, composed chiefly of sailors, and the anti-Ritchie party of shipmasters and some others. Feeling ran high, contests were keen, and ultimately the fighting captain achieved his purpose, and supplanted Mr. Henderson as Boxmaster. We are not much surprised therefore to find that a second secession from the ranks took place in 1756. The new and rival organisation was called "The Friendly Society of Shipmasters," and was established by a large number of the anti-Ritchie shipmasters. The new body flourished for more than a century, and acquired considerable property. It was, along with the older Shipmasters' Society, finally amalgamated with the General Seabox in 1863. Few of its records have been preserved, but we learn that James Main was its first treasurer, and that its management was in the hands of a committee of ten shipmasters.

to prevent the burdening the public fund or stock with fruitlesb and unnecessary expense, it is hereby specially provided, covenanted, and agreed to, that if any differences shall hereafter at any time arise amongst any of the members in relation to any part of the whole premises, the same shall .be referred to the final determination of two neutral men to -be mutually chosen, and in case of variance to an oversman to be .named by the said arbiters, and that the expense of the said submission and decreet to pass thereon shall :not be paid out of the public fund, but by the disputants themselves, as the arbiters shall think fit; and if, notwithstanding of this special provision, any member or number of members shall hereafter take upon them to commence any law suit contrary to the plain meaning and intention of this clause such member or members shall forfeit all right, .title, and .interest that he or they might otherwise have as members of this friendly society."

Among those who were called in as arbiters were the Rev. Patrick Bennett, minister of Polmont, and the Rev. Patrick Baillie, minister of Bo'ness, and the rule seems to have operated very smoothly and successfully.

All three .societies flourished for years, and particularly so between 1750 and 1790, when the port attained to the height of its prosperity. But a great change was in store for them. This occurred in the earlier part of the nineteenth century through the opening of the Forth and Clyde Canal, and the consequent depression of trade in Bo'ness. A native who died nearly fifty years ago has left on record that he remembered seeing the sailors of the port walking in procession to the number of four hundred. With the falling fortunes of the place, ;however, came .the exodus of the principal shipowners, shipmasters, and sailors, and the membership of the local friendly societies was very greatly reduced. .About 1820 we find Mr. John Anderson .appointed treasurer of the Seabox, and by this time its membership consisted of .three. He prepared a new set of rules, but Mr. James Grandison, one of the remaining members, complained to the county justices. They, in March, 1823, cancelled Mr. Anderson's rules, and {appointed Mr. Grandison, "the only member of the society at present resident in Bo'ness, along with James Heggie, the officer, now a pensioner on the funds thereof," and the Rev. Dr. .Rennie, and other local gentlemen to meet and make choice of proper officers in terms of the original articles. These met on 10th July, when James Grandison was appointed preses; Walter Grinlay, treasurer; Ilay Burns, notary public, clerk; and James Heggie, officer. The meeting recommended these officers to frame new rules, and submit them to the justices for approval. This was done, and in 1824 Mr. Anderson became clerk, and a few years later treasurer.


In 1857 an agreement was arrived at whereby the Seabox Society and the Landsmen's Society amalgamated under the common title of "The United General Seabox." To the new concern the Landsmen's Society transferred stock to the amount of £1051 7s. 4d., consisting mostly of bonds and Gas Company shares. The office-bearers then appointed were .Alexander ;Blair, preses; James 'Paterson, clerk'; John .Anderson, treasurer; ^Peter Liston, first key-keeper; Robert Campbell, second key-keeper; Alexander Wallace, first trustee; David Paterson, second trustee'; ;F. Mackie, third trustee; John Johnston, jun., officer. Rules were prepared, and the society duly registered. Six years after,.the Shipmasters' Society and the Friendly Society of 'Shipmasters were also incorporated with ithe Seabox. At that time the membership of the Seabox was twenty-seven; that of the .Shipmasters' Society eight:; and of the Friendly Society of Shipmasters ten. Several of the latter were also members of the Seabox. The funds now, as the result of the amalgamations, amounted to £6000, and 'once more new rules were necessitated. The chief of these provided members with an allowance in sickness and infirmity until sixty years of age; a payment to shipwrecked members; funeral money at the death of. a member or his wife or widow; an annuity to 'members above sixty years of age and to widows and children. Another important regulation was that not until the expiry of twenty years were the members of the three other societies to be put on a complete equality with those of the original Seabox. Since 1857 the following have occupied the office of preses:—Captain Alexander Blair, 1857-1864; Mr. Alexander Wallace, 1864-1870; Mr. William Miller, 1870-1872; and Mr. William Thomson, 1872-1911. On 31st December, 1884, the members celebrated the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the society.

While the charm and romance of the old seaport no longer encircle the Seabox Society, the present body is quite a thriving institution. Its capital has now reached nearly £10,000, and the annual income £700. A large part of this capital consists of house property, new and old, yielding a fair return. Its three oldest members are Messrs. John White, William Thomson, and William Miller.


In times past the Seabox had several important privileges. They had the right of charging dues for planks and barrows used for loading and discharging vessels; and for every boat which came into the harbour with fish. They had also the right of appointing the town bellman, and of supplying him with a bell, but how the right originated there is nothing to show. The former of these rights was given up about forty-five years ago; but the latter was only relinquished in 1897, when the Town Council took over the duty. The Seabox possess a model frigate named the "Muirhouse," which hangs in the sailors' loft in the parish Church. It was on view at the Scottish Exhibition of National History, Art, and Industry in Glasgow, 1911. The bronze handbell belonging to the society was also exhibited at same time. It has a ship stamped upon it, and the motto of the society, "Verbum Domini Manet Aeternum." Around the outer edge is the inscription, "This bell belongs to the Seamen's Box of Borrowstounness, 1647." In connection with the offioe of bellman, Mr. Grandison, while occupying the position of treasurer, had to deal strictly with an infringement of the society's rights in this respect. One James Bennie, "a stout, young man, residing in Bo'ness," had commenced business on his own account as a public crier, using a horn when making his public intimations. This was resented by the Seabox, who maintained that they had the sole privilege of appointing a bellman. It had been the invariable practice of the society to appoint its own officer, generally an old seaman unable to go to sea, but quite fitted for the duties. Bennie's opposition considerably affected the perquisites of the officer, and Mr. Grandison put the whole facts and circumstances before the county justices. Bennie was notified to lodge answers, but evidently gave up his opposition, as nothing further appears in the records.

Another aspect of this bell-ringing falls to be noted.3 At the burials of the poor people here a custom almost obsolete in other parts of Scotland was, we believe, continued into the nineteenth century. The beadle perambulated the streets with a bell and intimated the death of the individual in the following language:—"All brethren and sisters I let ye to wit there is a brother departed at the pleasure of the Almighty" (here he lifts his hat) " called ... All those that come to the burial come at . . . o'clock. The corpse is at . . ." He also walked before the corpse to the churchyard ringing his bell.


The seafarers belonging to Carriden—and there were a goodly number one hundred and fifty years ago—also had a Seabox Society. Its designation as disclosed in their articles was " The Society of Mariners or Seabox of Carriden or Grangepans." Instituted about the end of the eighteenth century, it was similar in objects to that of Bo'ness, although it never really reached a very flourishing state. Progress from the first was very slow, and to induce an increased membership its articles and rules of government were revised by a Quarter Sessions of the Peace held at Linlithgow on 5th May, 1807. The society came to an end ten years after this, owing to the diminishing number of masters and seamen in Carriden.

One of its interesting relics is a model ship, which hun» for long years in the west loft of the old Church of Carriden' at Cuffabouts, and is now to be found in the new church there. The United General Seabox possess one of its minute books (1777-1818). Admissions were few and far between. Here are the names of some of its members:—David Cumming, Charles Wood, John Graham, John Chapman, William Bruce, Robert Taylor, William Hodge, George Ritchie, John Duncan, James Boyd, Patrick Boyd, William Smith, Alexander Ritchie, John Nelson, George Boage, William Thomson, David Cumming, jun., James Drummond, James Campbell, John Hamilton, William Campbell, James Henderson, and Duncan Corbett. Lists of the widow pensioners also appear. In 1768 James Boyd was its master and William Smith its treasurer. That year the "stock" of the Box consisted of a tenement of houses in Grangepans possessed by three tenants; cash in the hands of James Hutton & Co., Leith; certain acres of ground called Peasehill; and cash in the hands of William Baxter, merchant in Grangepans. In February, 1804, George Boag was elected preses and Alexander Bisset, "schoolmaster of Carriden," was appointed clerk "to manage the business of the society according to their rules, and to have £1 yearly for his trouble." Their late Boxmaster, James Boyd, having died, and things not having been left to their satisfaction, it was agreed to peacewarn his widow "from her house in the Boxland, and to let the same to Alex. Bissett, present clerk, for the term of fifteen years at the yearly rental of £6 sterling."

In the course of a few years Mr. Bisset, at his own special request, was relieved of the tenancy, and recompensed for the improvements he had effected on the ground. Little else is to be gleaned from the books, except that when a small bond was: repaid the money was- ordered to be disposed of in the "national stocks;"

The Seabox likewise possess the: old Carriden Box itself,, and the mortcloth used at the funerals of its members. The. box is constructed of strong wood' securely bound with iron. Inside the lid Mr. John Anderson affixed a coffin lid bearing the following inscription:—" This box is presented by John. Anderson, merchant, Bo'ness (for near 40 years past treasurer of the General Sea Box, Bo'ness), to the General Sea Box, Borrowstounness. It is all that remains of the Sea Box of Carriden, a very old institution, which, when it fell into few hands, was plundered, and it is a singular fact that few of the plunderers died a natural death—a warning to others to avoid such conduct. Bo'ness, 4th Feb., 1856." •

We* have a feeling that this story of the plundering and the fate' of the plunderers is exaggerated. No doubt it would be handed1 down to Mr. Anderson, and in its frequent tellings had come to be looked upon as the incontrovertible truth. In any event, it afforded Mr. Anderson an excellent opportunity to "wag a moraleesin heid."


The Bo'ness Seabox were long involved in disputes with the Representatives. We have dealt with these at length in another chapter; but we desire to refer briefly to three important public manifestos bearing on its closing stages, copies of which are preserved among the papers of the society. They take us back exactly a century, when one of the many bitter controversies over the management of the church funds raged in the town. There was then no local press, and the controversialists resorted to the issue of pamphlets and anonymous letters printed in Falkirk.

The first of the prints emanated from a public meeting held at the Hamilton Arms Inn on 18th December, 1812. It was in the nature of a summons to the inhabitants to attend the annual meeting on the first Wednesday of 1813 "for the purpose of choosing their Representatives." There had evidently crept into the management a distinct church element bent on securing the greatest possible surplus for the minister even at the cost of allowing the church to fall into disrepair.

Very pertinently the public were reminded of the decision of the Court in the Ritchie litigation. The minister and Kirk Session, it was then held, had only a voice, along with others, in the choice of Representatives, and that, when chosen, these had the sole management. It was stated that the interest of the minister was directly opposed to that of the town, and the inhabitants were exhorted to continue to themselves their right of management by securing an independence on the part of their Representatives; to disappoint the underhand and interested designs of any who would oppose a just election; and to hold out to censure and scorn any who to serve their own sinister motives would wantonly distract the peace of the community by depriving its members of their lawful rights.

The reply took the form of an eight-page pamphlet, signed by "An Independent Inhabitant and Friend of the Town." It alleged maladministration on the part of the representatives of the previous year, and sought to justify the action of driving them from the helm of affairs. As a result of this removal, the writer stated that the church, which had been neglected previously, had been put in order without any dispute or interference on the part of the minister and session. Further improvements were still in view, and the minister had at his own expense instituted a free school. The assurance is then given that there was not the remotest intention on the part of the minister and session to wrest the administration of the funds from the town, far less to allow the church to go into decay. Finally, an invitation was extended to "the heritors, portioners, householders, and heads of families" to exercise their lawful rights at the ensuing election.

As a counterblast to the above, "A Townsman," on 30th January, 1813, issued a fly-leaf circular, in course of which the following passage occurs:—"Since the decision in the House of Peers, no objection can be made to the destination

Captain Donald Potter, R.N,
(Photograph by Eric Jamieson, Bo'ness, taken by permission from an oil fainting in the possession of Mr. Alex. Galbraith, Upper Kinneil.)

of the surplus; it is the law of the country. But the right of the inhabitants to the management of these funds is equally well-established; and the primary purpose of the trust is the maintenance of the house of worship in proper order."


Answering an allegation of extravagance levelled against the former Representatives, the writer says, " Men acting for the public to the best of their judgment and without remuneration are at least entitled to decent treatment; but if their conduct be indeed wanton and unprincipled and their proceedings-unwarrantable and malicious, can they not be made amenable to ' a Court of justice ?' But no—nothing could in this case be done, but by a highly reprehensible mode of procedure, and a formidable muster of colliers to drive these maladministrators from the helm of affairs. A bold stroke, truly worthy of those who projected and executed it! And setting decency and all regard to character aside, a free school is to become subservient to the management of church funds, and the continuance of it is stated to depend entirely on this new management being supported by the public II! It is no disgrace to a man to be poor or to stand in need of such a benefit to his children, but is he therefore to sacrifice his conscientious ideas of right and wrong, and tempted and allured by a charitable institution to debase his mind by giving his vote, to what he may secretly consider a bad cause! 1 When a solemn appeal is reflected upon, who would have expected such an exposition? Is this charity on a proper principle? Is it not hateful to God? Refer to the fate of Ananias and Sapphira, and reflect on the fatal consequences of an appearance of giving all to the Lord while a part is retained to be appropriated to selfish, interested purposes."

Such, then, are a few specimens of public letter writing-in Bo'ness a hundred years ago. There was great bitterness on both sides, and much personal abuse, but we have refrained! from reproducing many lurid paragraphs.

There was one other time of excitement fifty years later, judging from a minute of meeting of the Representatives, dated 5th January, 1853—"A very great number of the inhabitants attended, and likewise assembled along with them several members of the Kirk Session, all for the purpose of electing their Representatives. A considerable number of parties from neighbouring parishes and minors and others not liable to be stented, and having no votes, also attended the meeting. Mr. James Dunlop, teacher, was clerk. Mr. John Marshall, corn merchant, and Mr. Robert Steele, of the Borrowstounness Iron Foundry, were both nominated and seconded for the chair." Mr. Steele's election appeared to have been the more regular, in respect that his supporters were mostly qualified electors. However, " Mr. Marshall and Mr. Steele both took the chair, and sat for a time together." Mr. Marshall's supporters then sought to go into the question of who really had the support of the qualified electors, when " a tremendous uproar and tumult arose in the church, in the midst of which Mr. James Meikle, an heritor and elector present, expired. Mr. Anderson here itnplored for peace, and protested that the church should be cleared of parties not entitled to vote, and that the business should not be farther proceeded with till quiet was restored. During the uproar Mr. Marshall several times went out and in to the precentor's desk, the place appointed for the chairman, and at last finally abandoned it to its occupant, Mr. Robert Steele, the duly elected chairman of the meeting."

What a contrast to the mechanical regularity which now prevails at these meetings!


The societies above described were not the only local organisations for assisting the necessitous in sickness and distress. During the latter part of the eighteenth century there had been a benefit society called the Trades Society, but for some reason unknown it was not successful. On the 18th of May, 1781, certain late members of this body met in the house of Mr. James Scotland, merchant, for the purpose of uniting together in a new society, under the title of "The Beneficent Society in Borrowstounness." The proposal, as recorded in the first minute, reads thus—

"And for that purpose each of us should lay into one common stock or fund the proportion each of us received at the dissolution of the foresaid Trades Society, which, with a small triffle added to it, makes two pounds sterling for each person to pay in order to rease a fund for the supply of ourselves or others well-disposed persons in distress that may choose to join with us in said scheme, as also for the supply of the widows and children of such: which proposals being unanimously agreed to, and the said monie paid, a copie of Articles prepaired by John Jack was then read as rules proposed for the regulation thereof." The rules are not engrossed in the minute book or "Jurnal book," as it is headed, but copies were immediately printed. Those present were John Black, John Jack, Hendry Simmers, William Reid, Arthur Melvil, James O'Concher, James Scotland, William Miller, James Matthew, Alexander Shaw, William Cunning, Walter Anderson, and Alexander Wilson, all residenters in Bo'ness. John Black was elected president and John Jack secretary, and both held office for many years.

A perusal of the first minute book, with which alone it is possible for us to deal, and that very briefly, makes interesting reading. It extends from May, 1781 to 1800, and contains 407 sederunt®, all most methodically written and rubriced. At the first meeting it was mentioned that the Box of the Trades Society had been sold at its dissolution for 10s. 6d., and it was agreed to purchase same at said money, "which was done accordingly, and paid out of the entry money, and the remainder lodged in the Box." The funds then amounted to £25 9s. 6d. Thirty-nine appeared to be the age-limit for admission. All the members of the original society, however, on paying £2, were admitted as free members, independent of age. The entry money was 10s., but as several persons over age wished to enter they were admitted on condition either of paying £2, or 10s., together with weekly dues for every week over thirty-nine years of age from the time of application. At the third sederunt we find the meeting "orders John Jack to provide two books, with three quairs of good, clean paper in each, the one for a waste minute book and the other for a correct Jurnall Book of the minutes of this society, and to be each half-bound in folio." In the early stages, meetings were held fortnightly to collect dues; then after a time every four weeks. These dues seem to have varied from Is. to 3s. per week. The society was very strict about exacting them, and when any member failed to pay he was fined unless he could give a reason satisfactory to the committee. Such fines went into the general fund, but not so those imposed for any dereliction of duty, such as contumacy of the clerk and unsatisfactory absence of the Boxmaster or key-keepers. These officers were fined 2d., and in some cases 4d., which was always spent for the "good of the house" in which the meeting was held.4 Here is an example from a minute—" It being found that our clerk was not only absent last meeting, but had the key along with him, and business being thereby stoped throu want of both box and books, therefor its agreed the clerk pay a fine of fourpence, and said fine spent for the benefite of the house we meet in, which fine was paid and spent accordingly."


The society was very successful from the first, and the minutes disclose the frequent admission of members. In addition to those present at the first meeting, we find the following names among its early members:—George Wills, Robert Drysdell, James Foot, James Baird, John Foot, fiesher; David Brown, barber; Geo. Dick, shoemaker; and James Adam, tide waiter. The clerk at this time writes the name of the town thus—"Borrowness." For long, numbers of the members refused the benefit to which they were entitled, as seeing that by the goodness of Providence they were not in necessitous circumstances it should be left for those who were so."Here is a specific case—"Mairon Pibbles, spouse to Henry Simmers, having died, the officer handed the husband £1 for funeral expenses." Simmers appeared at next meeting, and "returned thanks to this society for their beneficent rememberance of him in the late dispensation of Providence he was vizeted with by sending on that ocation one pound str., and although he aknolodges said money to be his due according to the rules of this society, yett as he is convinced this fund was errected and desined for the relife only of such members or there concerns as are realy in straitened circumstances; and, as he has reason to acknowledge the kindness of Providence that this is not at present the case with him, he thankfully returns the said one pound in order that it may be applyed where real necessity calls for it."

When the society was small the members depended upon ordinary report as to sickness or death moneys to be paid. Afterwards two inspectors were appointed at the annual meeting, whose duty it was to report upon any necessitous cases.

The surplus funds were invested locally at 5 per cent., mainly on personal bond backed by cautioners. As these accumulated and the local demand for money was small, we find the clerk intimating that he "had wrote" to Messrs. Ramsay & Co. and to Sir William Forbes & Co., bankers, Edinburgh, for their terms for money deposited. After receiving the replies the society decided to accept the terms offered by Ramsay & Co.

We would call special attention to the methods of the Auditing Committee, which were nothing if not thorough. Sederunt No. 407, 4th February, 1800, Thomas Collins preses, reads—

"At a Meeting of Committee of Examinators and the Council, inspected the books of the Society by adding the columns of monthly dues in a perpendicular and horizontal direction, and found them right; then compared their totals with the sums in the waste book and journal, and found them to agree; again compared every article of income and expenditure in the journal with the sums in the cash account; and lastly inspected and approved the balance proof sheet."

There is one other matter which we cannot omit. About 1792 Great Britain, as we know, was roused to indignation by the revelations of William Wilberforce and others as to the cruelties connected with the slave traffic in America and the British West Indian possessions. Following the example of other similar societies throughout the kingdom, the members of the Beneficent Society held a special general meeting on the subject in the Mason Lodge, under the presidency of Robert Drysdell. While not presuming to petition the Legislature, the members considered it right to declare and publish in the leading newspapers in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London their denunciation of the slave traffic. They objected to it as cruel, immoral, and unjust. Cruel in separating husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters; immoral in exposing them promiscuously for sale like cattle; and as rendering callous and hardened the mariners who were employed in capturing and transporting them. They finally approved of the conduct of all those members of Parliament who had so long and steadily laboured for the abolition of slavery in the British Dominions. The local meeting was large and enthusiastic; the resolutions, which were six in number, were, after a full discussion, voted on one by one, and unanimously carried.

The Beneficent Society, like the Seabox, has a worthy history, but a much less chequered career. It still exists, owns several valuable properties, has a capital of £4600, and a yearly income of over £300. Members in sickness and infirmity get an allowance until sixty-five years of age. A payment in name of funeral money is also made on the deaths of members or their wives. Annuities to widows and children and to members above sixty-five years of age are likewise provided. The present membership stands at fifty.


There is in the possession of Masonic Lodge Douglas (409), Bo'ness, an old minute book which gives us one or two peeps into the social life of the town during the latter half of the eighteenth century. This minute book belonged to the local lodge of Freemasons which existed here at that time, but which became extinct. It was known as the "Pythagoric," evidently named after Pythagoras, the celebrated Greek philosopher, who in his day formed, among other things, a select and secret brotherhood. Unfortunately, the minute book is not very complete, a great many of the earlier pages being awanting. Lodge Douglas, however, is to be congratulated on having it even as it is, for it was at one time, We believe, in possession of Grand Lodge. The "Pythagoric" stood as No. 90 on the roll of Grand Lodge.

The first minute appearing in the volume is dated 27th December, 1768, and the last 21st December, 1789. Glancing over the names appearing from time to time, we find many old friends—names that frequently appear in the minutes of the Town Trustees and other local bodies, i.e., Charles Addison, James Addison, Dr. J. Short, Dr. John Roebuck and his brother Benjamin, and others. The membership does not seem to have been very large. The minute just referred to bears a record of the Festival of St. John and the election of office-bearers. There was a good attendance of brethren. A great number of visiting brethren also attended. Convened at Brother Bain's, they marched in procession to the lodge with "flamboys," and to the music of a French horn. That evening Charles Addison was elected R.W.M. for the year.

The work of the lodge was carried on very thoroughly and with great credit. The fortnightly meetings usually ended in harmony. On one occasion, in May, 1770, Brothers Buck, Stable, and Wilkinson, comedians, honoured the lodge with a visit. That evening the brethren, out of courtesy to their visitors, appointed a night when they should assemble in the Town Hall, in regalia, to see the performances by their friends of two farces called " The Citizen " and " Miss in Her Teens."

The brethren resolved in one case to have a ball, "in order to entertain our fair, lovely, and amiable sisters, who are always willing and ready to oblige the brethren and to compensate in some measure for their being debarred the knowledge of our mysteries." And afterwards this entertainment seems to have occurred almost annually. The minutes are carefully written, even to always taking due note of the closing harmony. The accounts of the harmony, however, are by no means stereotyped, the secretary apparently taking a pride in varying his phraseology. The following are a few •examples:—

"The brethren enjoyed themselves with as great pleasure and satisfaction that a summer night could admit."

"Assumed an agreeable cheerfulness without the least mixture of reserve."

The hilarity was kept up with the singing of songs and expression of sentiments of brotherly love."

"Much friendship was displayed on every countenance."

"They enjoyed themselves with every pleasure peculiar to the craft."

"With great joy for the welfare of Masonry."

"Peace and harmony concluded the evening."

"Brothers Macdonald and Hardy entertained the brethren with the violin and bagpipe"!

We find one motion so popular that the brethren "expressed their approbation with innumerable shouts of joy," and to another their assent was signified by "an universal clap." Truly the Pythagoreans were a jovial and hearty set.

But they could be stern and strict, for we find them assembled on the 9th April, 1771, under the mastership of James Addison, " on account of a Brother, who, on the morning of the 7th inst., was guilty of attempting to murder Henry Ballnevis, a Tidesman, by stabbing him with a knife as he lay sleeping in bed on board the ' Elizabeth and Jean' at Borrowstounness." The master, we read, in a very suitable speech on the occasion, observed that the expulsion of the Brother was the only means in their power for maintaining the honour of Masonry and preserving the peace and concord of the lodge. The offender's expulsion was thereupon unanimously agreed to. The meeting thereafter ordered him to be divested of all (lodge) clothing and banished from the sacred walls of the lodge; and the secretary was instructed to send a note of the resolution to Grand Lodge for their attention, which was done.

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