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 Cromar and Canada
Chapter IX - The Stewart-Maitland Families

MOST closely associated with the Farquharsons of Coldstone—as neighbours, in school, in the Free Church, in friendship, by double marriage and by settling together in a new land—were the Stewarts of Newkirk, who were also neighbours and friends of the Fletchers, both in the old land and the new.

David Stewart, the father of the Newkirk Stewarts, and Margaret Maitland his capable wife, were married in 1835, and immediately settled down as tenants of a little croft which they farmed in connection with a small shop which provided their chief occupation and income.

David Stewart was the youngest son of James Stewart, who seems to have been tenant of a small farm in Corgarf, near the source of the river Don in Aberdeenshire. The father was twice married. Of the first family ;here were two sons, John and Donald, both of whom had children who lived to maturity. One of Donald's sons whose name was also Donald, was a shepherd who devoted much of his spare time to the study of geology and kindred subjects, while his sister married a Mr. Raffan, a painter, who attained some fame in his profession in Edinburgh.

By the second marriage there were three sons, Robert, James and David and one daughter 'Margaret, who afterwards became Mrs. McDonald. Their father died while they were yet young, and these children of the second family were early cast upon their own resources. For some time Robert the eldest took some charge of the three younger ones, but he soon left the district to make a living for himself in another part of the country, and the two younger brothers and their sister, from that time on had to provide for themselves. James became a weaver, his only machinery being the old hand loom, which, in country districts was still able, as for years after, to maintain its existence in custom work for the farming community.

A letter which has somehow been preserved, written in June 1828 by James (afterwards known as "Old Uncle") to his brother David, shows the hard conditions of life for the family at that time.

°I am very sory to tell you that your mother is in verry Bad health she is thrown out of her house and she has no where to go but to stop with her sister and all her things lying in wrak about Dunnandon and she has been Bed fast ever since the time she was put out so She ordrc me to write you to com and see hir for she told me that she could find no peace on earth till she would see you so I hop ye will com presently altho ye hire a man in your place I told hir that I would take hir down to my house but she would not win till she sec you. There is no doubt whatever that David went.

David found employment as a farm hand or ploughman, and from all that I can leant devoted himself to his humble work with faithfulness, diligence and efficiency. While a young man, he met Margaret Maitland, daughter of Widow Maitland of Inverurie, with whom it is said he fell in love at first sight. "No wonder," those would say who have seen her portrait painted a few years later.


Margaret Maitland's mother is beautifully and sympathetically pictured for us by Canon Low in his "Vignettes," as "Auld Widow Maitland," in the chapter entitled "O Sweet Content!' Mr. Maitland who was considerably older than his wife, had at one time been a farmer in comfortable circumstances, but unwisely became security for a neighbour for the payment of a debt, which proved his ruin, financially, and so discouraged him that he gradually became helpless, and soon died. Left alone, the young widow bravely struggled on, and brought up to manhood and womanhood her three sons and three daughters, Margaret the youngest being ten years younger than the member of her family next older than herself. One of the widow's sons fell at Waterloo, and another, also a soldier, died of wounds received on the same fateful field. The third boy learned the trade of tailor, and finally died, as had also his two soldier brothers, unmarried.

Canon Low explains that Widow Maitland's home was distant but a few hundred yards from his own, near Manar, Aberdeenshire, and I cannot do better than allow him to describe her as he knew her in the humble dwelling which she called her home:—"The dwelling was of the humblest—in fact too humble to survive her very long. The roods of masonry in the wall were few, and the quantity of thatch on the roof was great, and wore a look of age, while there was 'grass growing on the house-top,' and here and there a yellow patch of stone-crop. The chimney consisted of a small barrel, whipped round with straw rope, and, of course, minus the two ends. The windows were very small, and a moderately tall person would have to stoop to get safely in through the door. Looking ben, he would see no grate, but the peat fire on the hearth-stone against the gable wall, from which the light-coloured smoke wavered and curled upwards towards a white-washed wooden hood, connected, like the wide end of a funnel, with the chimney above. Through this funnel, at the corner of which the auld eelie lamp or crusie hung on a nail, the smoke passed out, unless the wind was in `the reeky airt.' In that unlucky case there would be a `flan', or `blow-down, and the atmosphere would become so thick with smoke and motes as to cause almost any visitor's eyes to smart. But on such days the visitors would be rare, and Auld Widow Maitland would suffer it with no companions but her daughter Jean (who might, with truth have been called auld too), and the cat, whose nose and eyes being near the floor enabled her to get off with least suffering of the three.

"But the one of the three who was sure to rivet the visitors' attention was Auld Widow Maitland herself. She sat on a big chair on the north side of the fire-place, with a small window in the gable at her right hand, in the recess of which, being three-fourths of the thickness of the wall in depth, lay her spectacles, her Bible, one or two other books, a thimble, a pin-cushion, a reel of sewing cotton and some other little things, all within the reach of her hand. Behind her, in the angle between the gable and the north wall, was fixed an `aumbry' of triangular ground plan, coloured a rich dark brown by the smoke. There she sat diligently knitting stockings of a bluish colour, the proceeds of which, with those of her daughter Jean's work, formed no unimportant portion of their living. She wore the old-fashioned `close mutch' on her venerable grey head; a grey knitted 'shawlie' on her bent shoulders; a very broad apron, almost covering her vincev gown in front; and an immense pocket hung outside her dress on the right-hand side by means of a string tied round her waist. Old age had written its sign manual all over her longish, once oval, now slightly angular face. She had been a long sojourner in this world, and was in touch with it still. She was interested in all her neighbours—in their joys and sorrows alike, entering into both, being as capable of quiet mirth as of gentle, tearful sympathy. In her neighbours' children particularly she had a most kindly and sympathetic interest, felt both by children and parents. And what the children instinctively felt was that she comprehended them, and could see things from their point of view and understand their ideas. Her intercourse with them was consequently delightful to them, and, I have no doubt extremely diverting to herself."

Thus living in touch with and like her fellows, the Canon goes on to say that all both old and young felt that she was no less in living touch with an unseen world. Not that the other world was obtruded by her, but you could no more miss it than you could miss the expression of her face. "That expression might have been the model from which Lady Elizabeth Carew's picture was drawn. It was 'cheerful, pleasant, happy and content.' The merest glance round would show that she had reached content, not through ease, hut in the midst of diligent work; not by obtaining her desires, but by restraining them."

Sometimes the Canon would hear from neighbours things about her,—gathered, he supposes, from her daughter Jean. For instance, when in the night sleep would avoid her pillow, her remedy was to repeat the 110th Psalm which, with many others of the Psalms, she hail committed to memory, and before this longest of the Psalms was completed she would be always fast asleep. Her calm, the Canon said, was felt, though not having yet arrived at the analytical or critical age, her young admirers did not trouble themselves about its foundations. Now, looking hack over the years, he realizes what that foundation was:— "To her, God was the reality of realities, supreme in majesty and holiness, but supreme also in love." He feels sure she had no doubt that, "humble and unworthy as she was, He numbered the very hairs of her head," and that "He who careth for the sparrows and feedeth the young ravens when they cry, had the loving protecting arms of His providence around her; therefore no calamity disturbed her quiet content."

Throughout her life calamity had indeed, seemed lo dog her steps. Early in her married life her earthly possessions had taken wing. To poverty was added widowhood, and the loss in little of two of her sons. So deep had now become her poverty and so meagre her resources that no further mark seemed left for the suspended arrow of adversity. But it soon found a mark in her cow, the last vestige of her former affluence. The cow, (and the Canon says she had for it a positive affection), sickened and died. But "She was still cheerful, pleasant, happy and content." Can we doubt that the Canon is right when he says, "I think now that it was her absolute trust in God that was the foundation of her "sweet content." "She was an illustration of the fine Scotch proverb "Hae God, hae a'."

Such was Old Grandmother Maitland, such her humble habitation, such her circumstances in life and such, through faith in God. her sweet content. It is pleasant to know that, largely through the devotion of her youngest daughter, her earthly wants during the closing years of life were abundantly supplied, and that she finally and unexpectedly passed away without anxiety as to her earthly provision, and without prior sickness or suffering, into the presence of her Lord.


In her girlhood days Margaret, the youngest child of the widow seems to have been unfit for hard manual labour, and therefore at an early age set about fitting herself for such employment as better suited her. After an extremely short course of instruction in the city of Aberdeen, she returned to her native village and undertook the duties of instructress in a sewing school, in which she also taught her pupils to read and write. In this work she prospered, and conditions at home, as we have seen, began to improve.

Meantime David Stewart had gained her affections, but was determined that he would not undertake the responsibility of wedded life until assured of a way of living better than that of a common labourer. He succeeded in obtaining the position of foreman on the home farm of the estate of Blelack, under the superintendence of Mr. Thompson who then held the position of "grieve," or farm manager. In this employment he was able to save from year to year a considerable portion of his slender earnings. Like another Jacob, he served thus for seven years for his `Rachel,' counting the years and months until he and his sweetheart, who was also earning and saving money, could venture to establish a home of their own.

A remarkably interesting letter of this period, from "Your affectionate sweetheart Margt Maitland" to "My Dear Friend," David Stewart, in September 1834, is worth quoting from. That was before the days of penny postage, and a letter cost perhaps the savings of several days. So it is his letter of July second that she is replying to on September fifteenth. He is given the news, a birth, the crops, a death, Mr. G. "dropped in an instant in the middle of making a bargain." There is a little banter. "I must thank you for the liberty you have given me of courting Willy Clark, but alas for me I lost my season for Willy is almost crazy about one of the maids of Manar and I entirely turned old state."

But the letter is mainly about the new home. "I went to Aberdeen after I saw you and have bought a chest of drawers. Every one thinks I have a good bargain of them, they cost five pounds." The very important questions about the new home, where it was to be, and what, the relative advantages of small and large farms, or farm and shop, are discussed. The importance of good buildings, good land, respectable neighborhood and a good Gospel preacher are stressed with the pith and wisdom all found in the Mother and Grandmother Stewart of the days to come. Occasional periods, missed by the writer, in the flow of her ready pen, are all the changes made in following: "I see you have been looking about you with respect to a farm and you do me the honour to ask my advice upon the subject. There are many things to consider before one settle in life. Big farms are attended with a great deal of care. For my part I would rather prefer the small farm for the sake of the shop only you would have the business to learn. And seeing we are upon no hurry I think you should try to get a place with sufficient houses as that is a great expense for beginners, and in a respectable neighborhood. But above all see whether the minister be a clear Gospel preacher and not a cold dry Moralist. O it would be a shocking thing for us to be settled in a place where we had not wholesome food for our souls, our hearts are so corrupted that we are always needing line upon line precept upon precept here a little and there a little, and all little enough to break the chain of Satan and to set us in to the glorious liberty of the children of God. With respect to rent I could not say only for a pound or two back or fore if the place is commodious and exactly to your mind do not Hand out. We would be as much for a single house and shop in a town with taxes and coals and such like. But if you think the land very bad do not take it as bad land is worse than want. You think your money would have much to do to set you up and I do not doubt it for it takes more to till a shop than one would imagine and between us we could not muster above one hundred pounds. But even this might set us a-going and it would be our wisdom to walk on as narrow a scale as possible. But I will say no more of this subject only I hope you will write me as soon as you are on or off with it as I will be most anxious to know the result. I see you are not intending to stop past the term but I could not read the word which you assigned as your reason. May the Lord direct every step that we take for in all our ways may we acknowledge him and he has promised to direct our steps. How safe are they whom Jesus leads may we ever follow the calls of providence."

That letter was written in September 1834. Next June they were married. David had written suggesting the eighteenth, Margaret told her mother, but of course that wouldn't do. For twenty years since 1815 the Battle of Waterloo had been observed in Widow Maitland's house, and with good reason, as a day of fasting and sorrow. "Deed an' it will dee" replied her mother, "that day has been a day n' sorrow and fasting in oor hoose lang eneuch. We'll mak it limi, an' for a' time to come, a day o' rejoicing."

So it was on Waterloo day, June the eighteenth that David Stewart and Margeret Maitland set out upon their great adventure. What was the amount of his savings I have not learned, but I understand that the young wife's contribution to the new enterprise was fifty pounds sterling, which, considering the times, and her limited opportunity, was surely a wonderful achievement. So the lease was signed, entry made and the marriage solemnized.


The choice so carefully made, had been the Newkirk, a small farm, with a small "shoppie" also. There is no doubt from the letter quoted above that the lady was advising the shop. At the time of the union of the parishes of Logie and Coldstone in 1618, a small corner of the said croft was chosen and detached as a site for the one new church which was designed to replace the two separate ones theretofore in use but thenceforth not required. On that site the new church, or Kirk, was eventually built, and naturally was known as "The New Kirk." This designation continued in use long after it had ceased to be descriptive of the building, and ultimately became merely a place-name, applicable to the little hamlet around the church, and more particularly in modern times to the premises in which the Stewart business was carried on.

From the first, the business was a success, the husband working the little farm, making weekly journeys to Aberdeen, 38 miles distant, for supplies, and putting in spare time aiding his brave and capable wife in service in the shop.

At first the surrounding country was poor, ready money exceedingly scarce, and purchases largely confined to goods absolutely necessary and it is wonderful how poverty contrives to dispense with many things, today deemed absolutely essential. Most of the business with farmers would no doubt be transacted by way of barter, dairy produce being taken in exchange for goods. The parish school was just beside the shop, and every morning, just before ten o'clock the school-opening hour, a score or more of children would come trooping in, one with a basket of eggs or a few pounds of butter, another with a pail for a pound of molasses or syrup, and most with orders for merchandise in varying materials and quantities according to the varying requirements of the several homes represented. In no case would a written order be given, vet, at the dismissal of the school at three o'clock to each child, without hesitation or mistake would he delivered the goods ordered in the morning. Indeed, even in my own day when the business and complexity of requirements had become much increased, I do not remember of a mistake ever having been made.

After some years, dress-making and tailoring departments were added, and the establishment assumed an appearance more befitting a village or small town than a country hamlet.

Whatever credit may have been due to the native caution and business astuteness of the ostensible head, the popular estimate was that Mrs. Stewart was "the bee that made the

honey." On her chiefly devolved, notwithstanding the care of her family, contact with the numerous customers and the meeting of their needs. Hers it was not only to consult the taster and preferences of her various patrons, but where needed to give counsel and instruction to the young and inexperienced, and not only to give hints as to what in dress was becoming in appearance and economical in use, but also to give advice or wise prescription toward recovery or maintenance of health. She was wonderful in resource, quick in decision and action, as also in repartee. From old times comes a story of "All Fool's day," when some one, the dupe of another more cunning than himself, asked of an assistant less cunning than "the mistress," for a pound of some mythical or impossible kind of seed. From the mistress, on appeal to her, came the instant reply, "Aye, if he bring a soo's horn to haud it."

That godfearing and outstandingly conscientious people such as David Stewart and Margaret Maitland should have kept alcoholic liquor on sale with all the other commodities in demand in their community, and that as a matter of ordinary course, without question or comment, simply shows the customs of the day. But that they should have been among the first merchants in all the countryside to give up its sale, while their family lent their influence strongly to the rising tide of the temperance movement, shows the kind of people they were.


The views and customs at the end of the first third of the nineteenth century were very different from those of a third of a century later even in Scotland. At that time no voice had been raised denouncing the temperate use of intoxicating liquors. On the contrary, ministers and leaders of what was best in the community accepted them as gifts from God to be used as their daily bread, in moderation, for the Divine Glory. Over their cups they would in all reverence ask the Divine blessing, never suspecting that they were indulging a habit destined of virtue, hard to control and leading toward consequences too horrible to contemplate.

At that time, and even to the time of my own recollection, there was not a single dwelling in the whole community in which liquor was not kept, and that not alone for medical purposes for which, in public estimation, it held an exalted place, but also for use as a beverage. It is true that it was not generally in daily use in every household, but in every house it was offered to almost every caller. In social life it was the token and seal of friendship, and in business transactions the pledge of good-will, if not the procuring cause of good luck and prosperity.

Not only among the laity was the u^e of liquor universal, but the clergy, while denouncing drunkenness, never recommended total abstinence, except perhaps where the appetite had already got beyond control. The poor drunkard was first pitied, then blamed, and finally, with character if not possessions also gone, condemned and ostracised. Minister and people alike would deplore over their cups the sad and hopeless condition of the inebriate, never realizing that the source of all the drunkenness, with its bitter trail of misery and sorrow, was the very practice in which they themselves were indulging.

As the years went on, denunciation of the use of intoxicants as a beverage began to be heard in different parts of the kingdom. "Tee-total societies," as they were called, began to be formed, and amidst much ridicule and occasional abuse began to make their influence felt. At last the movement reached Cromar, and its first convert was one of the Stewarts of Newkirk. Frank Beattie, the third member of that family, when a young man left the parental roof temporarily for training in a shop in Banchory, and while there became a member of a society of pledged abstainers. Immediately on his return home, and while taking his place as assistant to his father, he set about the formation of a "tee-total" temperance society in his native parish. It was then and thus that the present writer heard of a total abstinence or temperance society of any kind, for the first time.

Soon we had public lectures, for which the use of the parish school-building and also of the parish and Free churches was readily obtained. The crusade was conducted with commendable energy in spite of a good deal of ridicule, but its success as to securing pledged adherents was not very conspicuous. Its influence as a moral force, however, is undoubted. One of the first visible effects was the erasure from the Newkirk sign-board of the words, "Beer and spirits." Soon thereafter the practice of serving ardent spirits at funerals ceased or became more controlled, and before our family left in 1866, it had become a question whether it was quite right to encourage bidders at auction sales by unduly liberal libations of intoxicating liquors.

After some experience as a salesman in London, John Grassick, the eldest of the family, vent into the dry goods business in Glasgow on his own account, in which lie had, for some time the assistance of his brother Frank. While there Frank employed some of his spare time in teaching to read some of the neglected children of the streets, using, as an introduction to that art, phonetic literature in the style and type introduced by Sir Isaac Pitman which he found admirably adapted for that purpose, the transition from the phonetic to the ordinary English letters and orthography proving less difficult than had been anticipated. An opportunity of demonstrating this system to the famous Dr. Thomas Guthrie of Edinburgh who thought it might be of use in his Ragged Schools was to the end of his days one of his happiest recollections.

His stay in (;lasgow was not very long, and at its close, he returned to take an active part in the business of the shop at Newkirk. That business, commenced in 1835, continued to prosper until 1870, in which year, on the 28th day of April, passed from her labours here, the wife and mother who had done so much to bring comfort and 1prosl,rrity to her husband and family, and whose guiding hand had so faithfully and so long been employed for the leading of her household into the ways of honour and of righteousness. On her would seem to have fallen the mantle of her sainted mother. Neither to the schools of her day, nor to the environment outside her home was due the symmetrical character or the mental efficiency by which she became eventually characterized. To the moulding of all character that is really excellent, are brought by the Great Architect, forces unseen and incalculable. Sometimes the means employed is a spoken word. Sometimes it is a vision of nobility manifested in some fellow bring, who humbly walks before his God; and, sometimes it would seem as if descent from a worthy ancestor, gone to their place in the great cloud of witnesses, has an impelling influence for good. But, behind all influences, seen and unseen, is the wind that bloweth where it listeth—the working of the mighty Spirit of the Living God.


Of Grandmother Stewart's maternal ancestry I have no information but in that of her mother she would seem to have been most fortunate. The maiden name of her mother, the "Widow Maitland," was Murker and her brother was the father of Rev. John Murker, long Minister of the Independent or Congregational church in the town of Banff, Scotland. From the biography of this worthy man who was an intimate friend of George Macdonald, it is learned that his parents were members of the Secession church of Craigdam, of which, by the way, the devoted but eccentric Mr. Robertson, grandfather of Mrs. John Stewart, late of Fletcher, Ontario, as then minister. The home of the Murkers was less than a mile distant from the church at Craigdam, and some of the members, living at a greater distance would make that their stopping place. Even as a boy, says his biographer, the future minister appreciated the eminent character of these excellent people, but could not help thinking that they imperilled their influence and warred their usefulness by protracting their religious exercises unduly. If true, as stated, that one worthv man when conducting family worship on a Monday morning of a sacramental occasion, continued in prayer for upwards of three hours, one can sympathise with the youthful John, nothwithstanding that he was free to say that he did not expect to see so much of vital religion until he got to Heaven as he had witnessed in his father's house.

Of him in his mature years his biographer tells a story that illustrates very well a man's inability to estimate truly another's faults and failings, as compared with his own. It seems that Mr. Murker had a particular antipathy to tobacco whether smoked or chewed, while he was himself exceedingly fond of snuff. At a meeting in a neighbouring town, he had denounced unmercifully the filthy habits of smokers and chewers, at the same time, as he spoke, helping himself most liberally to snuff. On the way home, he overtook an old woman of his acquaintance who was known to indulge occasionally in the use of tobacco. "A fine meeting," said the Reverend John. "Ou aye, nae that ill," she replied, "but, Mr. Murker, would you allow me tae pit a question tae ye'" "Certainly," was his reply. "Weel, when the Almichty made man what pairt o' him did He put maist honour on it" The Minister had no ready answer, so the old lady ventured her own, "I dinna like to be impident wi' the clergy," she said, "but dinna ye think it was his nose? We read that when He had made man, He breathed into's nostrils the breath o' life and man became 'a living sowl. Noo Mr. Murker, if ye thought as muckle o' yours ye widna mak an ais (ashes) backet o't."

If at the balance Mr. Murker failed in this instance, he was nevertheless, a most worthy man, and would seem to have been a most earnest and successful minister of the gospel.

Such were the nearest relatives of Grandmother Stewart, and from an ancestry truly represented by her mother and her uncle was doubtless in part derived the beauty and flavor of her unusual character.

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