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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XII.—Families of Belsches, Stuart and Forbes

IT is interesting to note that, two hundred years before Emilia Belsches bought the estate of Fettercairn, an ancestor of hers resided and brought up a family in the village. His name was John Clerk, whom Sir John Clerk, the first baronet of Penicuik, in the Memoirs of his Journals (1676-1755), recently published, calls his grandfather's grandfather. Sir John relates that his ancestors were merchant burgesses in Montrose, that one of them, a John Clerk, was one of the hostages of King David's ransom in 1357, that the Clerks were for many years chief magistrates of Montrose. And coming down to the middle of the sixteenth century, John Clerk had a feu of lands in Badenoch from the Duke of Gordon ; and taking part with Queen Mary against his superior, he had on that account to flee the country. "He took shelter in a little town called Fettercairn. Here he lived with his family many years; how he traded I never could learn; but he lived creditably, and was sufficiently able to breed up his son William a merchant, and to provide him with a good stock." This William Clerk had a son John, who, according to a Kirk-Session Record now lost, was baptized on 22nd December, 1611, by Alexander Forbes, minister of Fettercairn and Bishop of Caithness. This son was bred a merchant, went to France in 1634, and having settled in Paris, made a fortune. Returning to Scotland in 1646 with 10,000 he bought Penicuik, and married Mary, daughter of Sir William Gray, ancestor of Lord Gray.

His eldest son was Sir John Clerk, created a baronet by King Charles II. in 1679. On the maternal side, Sir John was a great-grandson of Drummond of Hawthornden, the poet. He was twice married, and had large families-Margaret Clerk, the third daughter of the second family,. became the wife of Alexander Belsches of Invermay, by whom she had seven sons and one daughter. Their eldest son, John Belsches, married Mary, daughter of Daniel Stewart (a man of wealth) and his wife Margaret Wishart of the family of Pittarrow. Their daughter Emilia Belsches married her cousin William Belsches of Tofts near Crieff. He died in 1753, leaving his widow with an infant son whom she brought up and educated for the Edinburgh Bar. In 1775 at the age of twenty-two, he married Lady Jane Leslie, eldest daughter of David, Earl of Leven and Melville. The issue of this marriage was an only child, a daughter Williamina, born in October, 1776. An ancestor of Emilia Belsches had served in the army under William III., and in 1706 received a baronetcy; which title was inherited by John Belsches. His mother, on the death of her uncle, Sir William Stuart of Castlemilk, in 1777, acquired the property of her grandfather Daniel Stuart. Being thus possessed of ample means, she bought the estate of Fettercairn. In 1797 she executed a settlement for her son to assume the name of his great-grandfather Daniel Stuart, and the royal license ran as follows:—"His Majesty has-been pleased to allow Mrs Emilia Belsches, and her son and heir Sir John Wishart Belsches of Fettercairn, Baronet, to use the name of Stuart." In 1801 Sir John was elected M.P. for Kincardineshire, and continued to serve till 1807, when he was made a Baron of Exchequer with a salary of 2000 a year. He fulfilled the duties of this office till hi& death in 1821. He was name-father of the late John Stuart Mill, politician and economist, whose father was James Mill, author of the History of India—a work pronounced by Macau lay to be the greatest that had appeared since that of Gibbon. He was the son of a shoemaker and crofter at the North Water Bridge, Logie Pert; and in his student days he acted as tutor to Miss Stuart, and in grateful acknowledgment of the assistance and kindness of Sir John and Lady Jane, he named his son John Stuart. Professor Bain of Aberdeen, in his Biography of James Mill, writes as follows:—

"Sir John Stuart's steady attachment to James Mill entitles him to honourable remembrance. But it is not easy to find out what kind of man Sir John was. Few people can give an account of him. He was not even honoured with a newspaper paragraph on his death. The popular tradition makes him out haughty and ill-tempered; but, after hearing all that could be said in his own locality, I was led to the conclusion, that he was a just-minded and really generous man, though somewhat imperious; he could not bear to be thwarted. Lady Jane was revered for every virtue."

Her deeds of piety and generosity are recorded by the late Rev. Robert Foote in his account of the parish; and the old people of Fettercairn held her memory in grateful remembrance. The portraits of Sir John and Lady Jane are carefully preserved in Fettercairn House; and that of their daughter, taken at a later period, is specially and deservedly venerated. Her hand was sought by men of rank, and notably Sir Walter Scott, who narrates, in the introduction of the Antiquary, the intended journey by coach of a young man—no other than himself—on a love expedition to the Mearns. In canto iv. of Rokeby, Miss Stuart, it is believed, stands in beauty and grace as the prototype of Matilda, and here a line or two of sect. 5 may be quoted :—

"Wreathed in its dark-brown rings, her hair
Half hid Matilda's forehead fair,
Half hid and half reveal'd to view
Her full dark eye of hazel hue."

She married William Forbes, younger of Pitsligo, who thereupon took the name and arms of the Stuart family; and at his father's death became Sir William Stuart Forbes of Pitsligo and Fettercaim. He was descended from Duncan Forbes of Corsindae, the second son of the second Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. His father, Sir William Forbes, sixth baronet of Pitsligo, the celebrated Edinburgh banker, and the biographer of Dr. Beattie, "the minstrel," was one of the most estimable and eminent men of his day. He recovered the Pitsligo estates, forfeited for the share which Alexander, the fourth Lord Pitsligo, had taken in the rebellion of 1745. In the words of a recent historian:—

"Sir William was a public-spirited and benevolent gentleman who, by great activity and spotless integrity, had been eminently prosperous in life; devoting, in the true spirit of christian charity, a large portion of his ample means and valuable time to the relief of his fellow-creatures, or to works of public utility and improvement. He was also a gentleman of the highest breeding and most dignified manners, the life of every scene of innocent amusement or recreation; a leader of the cultivated and elegant society of the Capital, and a link between the old Scottish aristocracy, to which by birth he belonged, and the rising commercial opulence with which he was connected by profession ; as well as the literary circle with which he was intimate from his requirements."

His second son was John Hay Forbes, advocate, who rose to the Bench as Lord Medwyn, and died in 1854. A daughter, Jane, became the wife of James Skene of Kubislaw (1791-1864). Their second son was the famous Celtic scholar and writer, William Forbes Skene, D.C.L. and LL.D., and H.M. Historiographer for Scotland. Sir Walter Scott, in the introduction of canto iv. of Marmion, addresses his friend James Skene in reference to his marriage, and the death thereafter of Sir William Forbes. A portion of the address runs:—

"Then happy those, beloved of heaven,
To whom the mingled cup is given;
Whose lenient sorrows find relief,
Whose joys are chasten'd by their grief.
And such a lot, my Skene, was thine,
When thou of late, wert doom'd to twine,—
Just when thy bridal hour was by,—
The cypress with the myrtle tie.
Just on thy bride her Sire had smiled,
And bless'd the union of his child,
When love must change its joyous cheer,
And wipe affection's filial tear.
Nor did the actions next his end,
Speak more the father than the friend,
Scarce had lamented Forbes paid
The tribute to his Minstrel's shade,
The tale of friendship scarce was told,
Ere the narrator's heart was cold-
Far may we search before we find
A heart so manly and so kind!"

William, the seventh baronet, had, by his wife Williamina Stewart, four sons: William, the eldest, who predeceased his father ; John, the eighth baronet; Charles, who became a partner in, and manager of the bank; and James-David, a highly-distinguished son of science, who became Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Edinburgh University, and afterwards Principal of the United College of St. Salvator and St. Leonard of St. Andrews.

Sir William Stuart Forbes died in 1828, and John, his eldest surviving son, succeeded to the estates and titles. On the death of his cousin, Alexander Hepburn-Murray Belsches of Invermay and Balmanno, he succeeded, in 1864, as heir of entail to these estates, and assumed the additional surname and arms of Hepburn. He had been educated for the bar, and that training served him in good stead throughout his career, in the conduct of affairs, as a public-spirited and philanthropic county gentleman. It may be truly said that upon him fell the mantle of his grandfather, and that, by those who knew him, his like may not again be seen. He spared neither time, trouble, nor expense in promoting the welfare of his fellow-creatures; and in many instances, known to the writer of these pages, he worked late and early, both in and out, regardless of bodily case and comfort, for the sake of doing good. He held a prominent place among agriculturists, and in their councils he was regarded as an authority. He was long an active and leading member of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, a patron and promoter of the Fettercairn Farmers' Club, taking, in connection with these bodies, a deep and humane interest in the state of the agricultural labourer, and making praiseworthy efforts to elevate his condition. As an enlightened and advanced educationist he had few equals. The schools on his extensive estates, and the parochial schools with which he had to do as an heritor, were the objects of his constant care; with a hand ever open to supply their wants, and with wise counsels ever ready to guide the teachers. In 1857 the evening entertainments known as Penny Readings, and which for a time became so common all over the country, were begun by him in Fettercairn, as the first of the kind in Scotland. In 1856, along with the Marquis of Tweedale, he founded the Scottish Meteorological Society; and continued to use his influence and lend his aid for the promotion of its objects. As a deputy-lieutenant and the convener of Kincardineshire, he took a leading part in the business of the county. In 1834 he married Lady Harriet Kerr, third daughter of William sixth Marquis of Lothian, who survived him. She died at London in 1884, truly and sincerely regretted by all, and specially by the people of Fettercairn, who had so long experienced her kindly acts of benevolence and charity.


Sir John died in London in May, 1866, and was interred in the family tomb in Edinburgh Greyfriars' Churchyard. Their only child and daughter, Harriet-Williamina, married, in July, 1858, her cousin, the Efbn. Charles Henry Rolle Trefusis, now twentieth Baron Clinton. At her father's death, then Lady Clinton, she was duly served heiress by the Sheriff of Chancery, under the deed of entail made in 1811 by Baron Sir John Stuart, and, in accordance therewith, she entered into possession. Shortly afterwards her cousin, now Sir William Forbes, Bart., in New Zealand, as the eldest son of Charles Hay Forbes, deceased, raised in the Court of Session an action in which he sought to have Lady Clinton's title set aside, on the ground that, under the destination of the entail, he was entitled to succeed to the estates in preference to her ladyship. The Court of Session, and afterwards the House of Lords, decided that the title of Lady Clinton, under the deed of entail, was unchallengeable. This amiable lady, who had endeared herself to the people of Fettercairn, died at the family mansion of Heanton-Satchville, North Devon, in July, 1869, leaving a family of two sons, Charles-John-Robert and Henry-Walter; and three daughters, Ada-Harriet, Mary-Elizabeth and Margaret-Adela. The Hon. Charles-Forbes-Trefusis attained his majority in January, 1884, and has since taken an active part in county and local affairs. The Hon. Henry-Walter is a Captain in the Scots Guards, and has lately been appointed aide-de-camp to General Gascoigne, Commander of the Forces in Hong Kong. The Hon. Margaret-Adela, in 1897, married the Rev. Leonard White-Thomson, second son of Colonel White-Thomson of Broomford, County Devon. During the years of Mr Trefusis's minority, his father, Lord Clinton, as administrator at law, ably and efficiently managed and improved the property. Mr Trefusis married, in 1886, Lady Jane-Grey McDonnell, fourth daughter of Mark fifth Earl of Antrim, and they have two daughters, 0 Harriet and Fenella.

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