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

History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XXVII


WHEN King James VI. had been fourteen years settled in the southern portion of his dominions, he, according to his own statement, felt “a salmon-like instinct” attracting him to the land of his birth; but, as events proved, there was something also of a shark-like design against Presbyterianism that drew him thither – the chief object of his journey being, says Miss Aiden, “the establishment of the ecclesiastical system of England on the ruins of that haughty Presbytery which continued to hold out an example of such encouragement to the pretensions of the English Puritans. [Memoirs of the Court of King James the First (of England), by Lucy Aiken, vol. ii., p. 59.] Wishing to dazzle the eyes of his Caledonian subjects, he set out for the North, accompanied by a splendid train of courtiers, headed by Buckingham, the dashing and handsome Duke, whom he doated on, and used to address familiarly as “Steenie.” Afterwards, however, a large proportion of the King’s lavish expenses had to be defrayed by a tax of 200,000 pounds Scots, levied in equal proportion on “the Spiritual Estates, the Barons, and the Burghs” of his poor ancient kingdom. [Acts of the Scot. Parl., vol. iv., p. 558.] James travelled by the east coast to Edinburgh, reaching it on the 18th of May, 1617; and in returning by the west, he passed down Nithsdale with his retinue, in the closing week of next July. His Majesty was at Sanquhar on the 31st of that month, and passed the following day in the old Tower of Drumlanrig, as the guest of Sir William Douglas, first Earl of Queensberry [Sir William Douglas was the eldest son of Sir James Douglas of Drumlanrig, grandson of the baron of the same name who actively promoted the cause of the Reformation. Sir William had three brother; Sir James Douglas of Mouswald, David Douglas of Airdoch, and George Douglas of Penziere.], the nobleman who, some years afterwards, built the present magnificent Castle of Drumlanrig. It is said that, when in the neighbourhood, James paid a visit to John, sixth Lord Herries, the grandson of his mother’s friend, at the house which gave her temporary shelter after her flight from Langside. His Majesty spent the night of the 2nd of August in Lincluden College, which at that time, as we have seen, belonged to the Laird of Drumlanrig; and he would no doubt occupy rooms in the high, secular part of the building that stands nearest the river Cluden. Next day, the 3rd, the lieges of his good town of Dumfries were honoured by his presence, and he was attended thither by the gentry of the district; the probability being also that Duke “Steenie” – “the glass of fashion, and the mould of form” – gave a crowning lustre to the royal train. On the King’s last previous visit to the County, it was distracted by civil war: he now found it at peace, occupied with the pursuits of industry. Then he appeared in the Shire town brandishing the sword of Justice – figuratively, we mean, for his Majesty shrank instinctively from the sight of bare steel [In the Fortunes of Nigel, chapter fifth, James is made to say of himself, “I am accounted as brave as maist folks, and yet I profess to ye I could never look on a bare blade without blinking and winking.”]; now he had no controversy to settle with its leading men, and he wore the gracious smiles of a paternal monarch. So recently as 1608, he had complained to his Privy Council of the audacious way in which the proscribed traitor, Lord Maxwell, had been countenanced in the Burgh, and he had ordered its bailies to be taken to task on that account; but in 1617 he has no faults to find with, and nothing but favours to confer on, the magistrates and people.

How to give a fitting reception to the grand party, must have been rather perplexing to the local authorities. The gentleman then at the head of the Burgh – Provost Weir [So says tradition; but we have not been able to learn from any document the name of the Provost in 1617.], conferred on the subject not only with his Council and the town-clerk – Cuthbert Cunningham – but also with the Burgh’s Parliamentary representative, Francis Irving, and the Commissary, James Halliday; all of whom, after “laying their heads together,” adopted a programme for the occasion, which included a presentation from the ladies of the district, and a festive entertainment from the gentlemen of the town.

The first part of the proceedings must have made an effective scene, performed, as it was, in the open air. King James, though now venerable with age, and though rather odd-looking in his bulky dagger-proof coat of green velvet and scarlet braguette to match, would, of course, be the principal figure; but the Duke of Buckingham, stately and graceful in the pricturesque attire that will ever live in the canvas of Vandyke, would receive a large share of notice, and be beyond the reach of rivalry from any of the local magnates that were present. So popular, however, was the member for the Burgh, that he would be sure, on making his appearance, to receive an ovation from the assembled crowd; and when, following him and introduced by him, a bevy of fair matrons graced the scene, hooded, ruffed, and farthingaled, as became ladies of their condition, the excitement would reach its highest pitch, and be expressed in such cheers as might sound rather boisterously in the sensitive ears of the King. The preliminary greetings over, out stepped Dame Irving (the fair daughter of ex-Provost Raining, and wife of the member) to perform the leading part assigned to her in the ceremony. Making due obeisance to his Majesty, she prayed him to accept a broad, massive gold coin, from an Italian mint, as a token of love and welcome from his leal subjects, the ladies of the Burgh. [Manuscript Account of the Irvings of Gribton.] How James demeaned himself is not recorded; but it may easily be supposed, that with all his natural warmth, and all awkward gallantry of which he was capable, he would accept the offering, and tender his grateful thanks in the expressive Doric, which – Latin perhaps excepted – came most readily to his tongue.

After this out-of-doors display, the King was banqueted in great style. The dinner given to him by the Council and the Trades, took place, as our readers already know, in the Painted Chamber of the town-clerk’s mansion – the only room probably in the Burgh adapted for it, the halls of the Castle being still in bad repair. The Provost would, of course, preside; and if he had the good-natured but exactive King on his right, and the fastidious royal favourite on his left, his social powers, whatever they were, would be severely taxed; but the jovial cheer on the table would by and by soften the starch of etiquette, harmonize all ranks, and make the convener of the Incorporated Seven feel that he was somebody, even when sacred majesty was present, and keep the dean and the deacons from being quite annihilated by Buckingham the magnificent. Indeed, the men of the Trades had good reason to be proud that day. It had been whispered beforehand that his Majesty meant to bestow upon them a tangible mark of his regard. They were to be presented with a miniature piece of cannon, all made of silver – a metal far more relatively precious in those times than it is now, seeing that three ounces of it were equal in value to one ounce of gold; and the token, besides its intrinsic worth, would let the civilized world see how the puissant King of the British Isles delighted to honour his faithful craftsmen of Dumfries. If there were present at the banquet any true-blue Presbyterians, who detested the system of chants and surplices, of liturgies and genuflexiouns, which his Majesty had thrust upon the Kirk, they would be prudently silent on the subject, and allow the praise of royalty to flow round as freely as the wines in which the King’s health was toasted.

It is said, on what authority we know not, that the harmony of the party was sadly broken in upon by James himself. Some strange little fishes – vendaces, from Lochmaben [The vendace is a beautiful fish, slightly resembling the parr. It is usually five or six inches in length, and when taken out of the water it has a bright silvery appearance, with a faint shade of blue along the back and part of the sides. It is nowhere found in Scotland except in the Castle Loch of Lochmaben.] – were set before him, with the intimation that they were a delicacy peculiar to the neighbourhood, which it was hoped would prove acceptable to the royal palate. James, thinking they emitted a peculiar smell, and that they had a suspicious appearance, viewed them with as much horror as was felt by his ancestor Macbeth when the ghost of Banquo glided in to disturb the feast at Glammis. Starting to his feet, he shouted “Treason!” and it was not till the offending dish was removed that he resumed his seat and his equanimity. The story is an improbable one; and we must conclude, in spite of it, that the Dumfries dinner to King James passed off not only without disturbance, but with complete success.

That greater effect might be given to the presentation of the gun, the ceremony was performed on the outside stair or balcony of the hall, in sight of the general community. The crowd below would, we may be sure, include all the journeymen and apprentices specially interested in the proceedings, as well as such of the freemen as were not at the feast; making altogether, perhaps, not fewer than four hundred persons connected with the crafts. We wonder if worthy Mr. Thomas Ramsay, minister of St. Michael’s, was there to invoke a blessing on the ceremony. He was, we suspect, too little of a courtier, and too fierce an anti-Prelatist to be honoured with a commission to that effect; and it is more likely that time-serving William Cowper, Bishop of Galloway, would officiate. We can easily fancy the sort of oration made by our British Solomon before handing his gift – the now far-famed SILVER GUN – to the convener. In a speech rich with pithy, vernacular sentences, racy of the Scottish soil – which would be relished by the populace, and elicit from them ringing acclamations- and well garnished with Latin phrases to astonish the burgesses with his learning, he would express his regard for the good Burgh, and his interest in its industrial welfare. He would descant upon the Trades as the bone and sinew of the State, speak of the Dumfries incorporations as a portion of the body politic which well merited his paternal favour; and ask them to accept his present as a proof that they were highly prized by the King; he telling them, at the same time, that whilst pursuing the arts of peace, it was necessary that they should be prepared for war; and that for this purpose he desired them to keep up their wappenschaws, and to improve their skill as marksmen by shooting for the token at a target yearly with harquebuse or culverin. Alas! that the precise words of the royal oration, and those of the eloquent or any other speeches made by the chief of the Trades and the Provost of the Burgh in acknowledging the gift, have proved as transitory as the cheers that greeted them. It is to be regretted also that another address of which tradition speaks – a doggerel effusion in which the common people sang the wisdom, virtue, and liberality of King James, and expressed their own devotedness to his sacred person – has also perished, all save a small scrap which makes us wish for more, the symphonious chorus of the poem: -

“Leal and true subjects we ever will be,
Hal-il-lu-ah! hal-il-lu-ee!”

King James spent part of two days in the Burgh. Before bidding a final farewell to it, he attended religious services in St. Michael’s Church, on the 4th of August, which were conducted in the piebald transition from which then prevailed. No liturgy was used; but Bishop Cowper, who had recently received consecration at the hands of an English prelate, officiated as the preacher; and, says Spottiswoode, his discourse, that it “made the hearers burst into tears.” His Majesty arrived at Carlisle on the same day, and thence proceeded by easy stages to the English metropolis.

The little “war engine” presented by King James to the Trades was about ten inches in length, and mounted on a wheeled carriage, also of silver. In some unaccountable way, the accompaniments of the tube disappeared at a remote period; and about fifty years since a butt was added to the tube, which altered the piece from a cannon to a musket – a change which improved its appearance, but lessened its archæological value. [On the gun is engraved the following modern inscription: - “Presented by King James VI. of Scotland to the Seven Incorporated Trades of Dumfries, MDXCVIII.” It was not till long after that period that James entertained a friendly feeling towards the Burgh or the Trades. The date is evidently incorrect. James would rather have bombarded Dumfries with real cannon, than have presented it with a mimic one, in 1598. There is every reason to suppose that Dr. Burnside and other chroniclers whom we have followed, were right in giving 1617 as the date of the presentation.] Parliament had some years before enacted “that wappenschawings be kepit throw all the realme at twa tymes in the yeir – that is to say, the XX. of July and the tent of October” [Acts of Scot. Parl., vol. iii., p. 91.]; and the gift of the Silver Gun was accompanied by the condition that it was to be competed for in connection with or as a sequel to these military musters.

A piece of meadow land skirted by the river, situated about half a mile below the town, called Kingholm, was the customary arena for the competition. [It has been supposed that King James gave not only the Silver Gun, but the ground on which it was to be competed for; but we have seen no evidence to that effect. The Holm was probably granted to the town by one of his ancestors, and took its name of Kingholm from that circumstance.] Could the scene when the shooting was first inaugurated – probably on the 20th of July, 1618 – be reproduced, it would be richly illustrative of a time when the usages of war and peace were strangely intermingled. The little trinket was an emblem of both, having been presented to men who lived by the labour of their hands, in order that they might become more qualified to defend their homes and country, if endangered by foreign enemy or internecine assailant. Each fair banner displayed by the freeman – as, numbering two hundred or more, and officered by their deacons and convener, they marched down to the verdant arena – spoke, in plain or heraldic terms, of peaceful industry; but the craftsmen wore weapons of war, offensive and defensive, according to an Act which required that all persons not noble, and having less than three hundred merks yearly, should be provided with brigandines, jacks, steel bonnets, sleeves of plate, pikes six ells long, culverins, halberds, or two-handed swords: provosts and bailies within burghs to see the Act carried into effect. On this occasion that most primitive of fire-arms – the clumsy culverin – would, to the exclusion of all other weapons, be shouldered by the freemen; but following them, like so many feudal retainers, would come “a plump of spears,” consisting of their journeymen, partially harnessed, but wearing only pikes or swords, none but members of the master class being permitted to compete with guns for the trophy. The Provost, bailies, and merchant burgesses would take a prominent, but still only secondary part in the procession, as the Trades were rather jealous of them, and especially careful that their convener should reign unrivalled “cock of the walk,” whenever it was graced by the Silver Gun, or when the blue banner of the United Incorporations led the way.

The locality of the contest and its surroundings were sufficiently picturesque. The Nith took a bolder sweep westward at Kingholm that it does now; and, overlooking the broad meadow, there rose from its rocky basement “a stern old tower of other days” – Comyn’s Castle – confronting which stood, as it yet stands, a still more ancient object, the mote of Troqueer. Both of them would probably be occupied by spectators of the competition; and we may be sure that it would attract to the Holm itself crowds of people from town and country. The Stewartry hills curving from the west, with huge Criffel on the south, would form a fitting framework for the pleasant low-ground picture; and if the sun shone auspiciously from an azure sky during the notable summer day, and if, at the same time, the “White Horses of the Solway” – as the crested tide from the Frith is poetically termed – hurried past Kingholm, their cool breath would refresh the rival marksmen, and they would give additional animation and beauty to the scene. Refreshing influences of a more substantial kind would be drawn upon. Many a bicker of ale and cup of claret would be drained, both by competitors and onlookers, in order to fortify the inner man, and to toast the royal donor of the prize, and the champion shot who bore it away from the first time. A proud man he would be; but his name remains unrecorded, just the same as the names of the awkward rank and file who never so much as hit the target.

A truce to such vague conceptions. Instead of pursuing them further, let us pass over an intermediate period of a hundred and sixty years, and obtain from an eye-witness of the martial pastime all its salient features, as depicted in expressive verse. [The Silver Gun, a poem by John Mayne.] At the comparatively modern date of 1776, the shooting for the Silver Gun had become less warlike and utilitarian, and more thoroughly recreative in its character. Those engaged in it knew about defensive armour only by tradition, and the fire-arms they bore had never figured in actual warfare. The contest, divested of all its sterner features, had become a festive carnival, that was enjoyed by people of every rank; and the period of its occurrence was therefore a red-letter day in the Dumfriesian calendar. Here is the arousing opening stanza of the poem:

“For loyal feats and trophies won,
Dumfries shall live till time be done.
Ae simmer’s morning, wi’ the sun,
The Seven Trades there
Forgathered, for their Siller Gun
To shoot ance mair.”

The smiths or hammermen headed the procession; then came the squaremen, the weavers, the tailors, the cordwainers or sons of Crispin, and the tanners; the fleshers or butchers bringing up the rear. After the muster, “the different bands file off in parties to the Sands,” where they are reviewed; and then we are humorously told:

“But ne’er for uniform or air
Was sic a group reviewed elsewhere!
The short, the tall; fat gouk and spare;
Syde coats and dockit;
Wigs, queues, and clubs, and curly hair;
Round hats and cockit!”

And, as the aspect of the men is grotesquely diversified, so is that of their arms, which are of all sorts and sizes, while

“Maist feck, though oiled to mak them glimmer,
Hadna been shot for mony a simmer;
And Fame, the story-telling kimmer,
Jocosely hints
That some o’ them had bits o’ timmer
Instead o’ flints!”

As the motley but imposing army moves on,

“Frae the Friars’ Vennel, through and through,
Care seemed to have bid Dumfries adieu.”


“As through the town the banners fly,
Frae windows low, frae windows high,
A’ that could find a neuk to spy
Were leaning o’er;
The streets, stair-heads, and cars forbye
Were a’ uproar!

“Frae rank to rank, while thousands hustle,
In front, like waving corn, they rustle;
Where, dangling like a baby’s whistle,
The Siller Gun,
The royal cause of a’ this bustle,
Gleamed in the sun!”

The place of meeting is, on this occasion, not Kingholm, but a field overlooked by the Maiden-bower Craigs, situated about a mile southward of Dumfries, where the competition was occasionally held. Here a gay scene is presented – tents tastefully bedecked occupying a portion of the ground, and merry groups standing around waiting the appearance of the procession, whose approach is announced long before by the music of its band, and the cheers of the accompanying populace:

“ ‘Out owre the hills and far awa,’
The pipers played;
And, roaring like a water-fa’,
The crowd huzzaed.”

Soon the sports of the day begin, and then,

“Wi’ mony a dunder,
Auld guns were brattling aff like thunder.
“Wide o’ the mark, as if to scare us,
The bullets ripped the swaird like harrows;
And, frightening a’ the craws and sparrows
About the place,
Ranrods were fleeding as thick as arrows
At Chevy Chase!

“Yet still, as through the tents we steer,
Unmoved the festive groups appear:
Lads oxter lasses without fear,
Or dance like wud;
Blithe, when the guns gaed aff sae queer,
To hear the thud!”

The poet, after noticing the crowd of charmed spectators, and signalizing the men of mark amongst them, thus proceeds: -

“Hail! kindred spirits, ane and a’,
Men of account, without a flaw,
Pushing your fortunes far awa,
Or, fu’ o’ glee,
Rejoicing at our wappenschaw,
Dumfries, with thee!

“How beautiful, on yonder green,
The tents wi’ dancing pairs between!
In front, though banners intervene,
And guns are rattling,
There’s nought but happiness, I ween,
In a’ this battling!

“For miles, by people overrun,
The air resounds wi’ mirth and fun,
Frae grave to gay, frae sire to son,
And great to sma’,
The shooting for the Siller Gun
Delights them a’!”

At length one of the competitors – “a tailor slee” – puts a bullet through the centre of the target, gains the prize, and soon,

“Wi’ loud applause frae men and women,
His fame spread like a spate wide foaming.”

The homeward march is then made:

“And as the troops drew near the town,
With a’ the ensigns o’ renown,
The magistrates paraded down,
And a’ the gentry;
And love and friendship vied to crown
Their joyous entry!

“Like roses on a castle wa’,
The leddies smiled upon them a’;
Frae the Auld Kirk to the Trades’ Ha’
And New Kirk Steeple,
Ye might have walked a mile or twa
On heads o’ people!”

As darkness comes on, the indoor festivities are proceeded with, and the streets sparkle with fire-works: -

“Ding, ding, ding, dong, the bells ring in;
The minstrels screw their merriest pin;
The magistrates, wi’ loyal din,
Tak aff their caukers;
And boys their annual pranks begin
Wi’ squibs and crackers!”

The toasts in the Trades’ Hall almost trip each other, they follow so rapidly in honour of the King,

“And names of whilk the country boasts,
And may be proud:

“The Johnstones, Lords of Annandale;
The Douglasses and Murrays hale;
The Maxwells, famed through Nith’s sweet vale;
Kilpatricks too;
And him of a’ that’s gude the wale,
The great Buccleugh!”

We take leave of the “Siller Gun” and its laureate, John Mayne, by quoting and echoing part of his concluding address: -

“Our closing strain shall be:
May Scotland, happy, brave, and free,
Aye flourish like the green bay tree!
And may Dumfries,
In a’ her revelry and glee,
Blend love and peace!”

This was the chief pastime of the Dumfriesians after the suppression of the Robin Hood pageant on saints’ days at the Reformation, which was “the darling May-game both in England and Scotland” for centuries; and for keeping up of which, as we have already noticed, every person, when made a burgess or freeman of Dumfries, was required to pay a trifling sum.

In the seventeenth century, the custom of Riding the Marches ranked next to the Silver Gun competition, as a popular recreation. Every first of October, the magistrates, Town Council, incorporated Trades, and other burgesses, assembled at the Market Cross or White Sands, and, having been duly marshalled, proceeded with banners and music along the far-stretching line which enclosed the property of the Burgh. Their course was first to the Castle, then down Friars’ Vennel, and along the Green Sands to the Moat at the head of the town. As a matter of course, the cavalcade was accompanied by a crowd of juveniles, who at this stage were treated to a scramble for apples, the town-officers throwing among them the tempting fruit. [In the accounts for 1641, the following entries occur: - “To Patrick Crawfurd and Jon Jonstown, for paper and writing the Town-roll at the mertches ryding, 12s.; for ane pek of apples that day, £1 4s.”] The marchers then passed through the grounds of Langlands and Lochend to the north side of St Christopher’s Chapel, and thence to the village of Stoop, at the race-ground, near which a race was engaged in for a saddle and pair of spurs. Thence they went eastwards and southwards, betwixt the town’s property and the estates of Craigs and Netherwood, stopping at Kelton-well, at which point the superiority of the Burgh terminates. Here, after being refreshed with something stronger than the produce of the said well, the officials heard the roll of heritors read over by the town-clerk, a note being taken of all absentees, who were liable to a fine for not being present at the ceremony. This over, the procession returned to town. The Riding of the Marches is a usage of the past, though it has been performed several times during the present century.

Horse-racing was an established sport at Dumfries from a remote period. When Regent Morton, toward the close of 1575, held a criminal court in the Burgh, for the trial of some offending Borderers, he, according to an old chronicle [Historie of King James the Sext, quoted in Chambers’ Domestic Annals.], judiciously relieved his grave duties by lighter pursuits. “Many gentlemen of England,” we are told, “came thither to behold the Regent’s Court, where there was great provocation made for the running of horses. By chance my Lord Hamilton had there a horse sae weel bridled, and sae speedy, that, although he was of meaner stature than other horses that essayit their speed, he overran them all a great way upon Solway Sands, whereby he obtained praise both of England and Scotland at that time.”

In a Town Council minute dated the 15th of April, 1662, the treasurer is ordered by the magistrates to provide a silver bell, four ounces in weight, as a prize to be run for, every second Tuesday of May, by the work-horses of the Burgh, “according to the auncient custome;” the regulations being, that whenever the bell was borne away by one rider and one horse three consecutive years, it was “to appertain unto the wooner thereof for evir.” About two years afterwards the Council offered “a Silver Cup of ffourty unce weght or therby,” to be run for at the ordinary course within the Burgh, by the horses of such noblemen and gentlemen in the County as were duly entered for the race. Then it was the custom, every first Monday in May, for the day-labourers and servants of heritors to parade the town on horseback, armed with swords and dirks, and bedizened with sashes and ribbons; next to proceed to Dalskairth, or other neighbouring wood; and, each furnished with boughs of the sacred birch, to return to the race-ground, and run for the silver “muck-bell” belonging to the Burgh, the winner receiving five merks by way of substantial reward, in addition to the honour of being the nominal owner of the prize for a year.

Even as the Trades had their convener and the Councillors their provost, so this more humble fraternity had a chief entitled the Lord of Muckmen, who was annually appointed to that dignity by popular suffrage. In 1688, John Maxwell, the person who then occupied that high office, conceiving himself ill supported by his vassals, complained to the Council on the subject. “It is verie weel knoun unto your honours,” said his lordship, “that it is the ancient custome for your petitioner, or any being in the office for the tyme, to ryde with his men accompanying him with their best apparel everie first Monday of May yeirlie, and that the Council grant them power and warrand to poynd such of the inhabitants who meanlie refuse, and are found to be deficient, at that solemnitie.” After this pompous prologue, Lord Maxwell descends to absolute bathos when he reminds the authorities “that it is the use and custome to grant precept upon their treasurer for as much money as will drink their honours’ good health.” The prayer of his petition is a sweeping one, as he asks that each defaulter shall “poynded to the value of six shillings Scots,” and that a trifle for the indispensable toast may be duly forthcoming. The Council, with mingled liberality and prudence, ordained the treasurer to give the supplicant half-a-crown, and to redeem the muck-bell for five merks, that it might be run for that year, but declined to punish offenders in the mode proposed by the petitioner. Even at that early date, the pageant was beginning to lose its hold on the populace; and in May, 1716, the Council passed an Act to abolish it altogether. The preamble states that the sport had been accompanied by “severall irregularities and misdeamours, to the scandal of the place and dishonour of God.” They therefore, “by a plurality of votes, prohibit the riding of the muckmen in all time coming; and, in order to the entire extinguishing of this custom, they appoint the treasurer to sell the muck-bell for the best advantage.” Horse-racing has fallen into dispute, there having been none in the town or neighbourhood – that is to say, on a large scale – during the last five-and-twenty years; and though the work-horse competition, which was old two hundred years ago, was brought down by the Burgh carters till our own day, it too has disappeared.

So much for the pastimes of the seventeenth century. Let us now say something on quite a different subject, the administration of the criminal law. In the early part of the seventeenth century, the periodical justiciary courts held at Dumfries had a very extensive jurisdiction – cases coming before them for the sheriffdoms of Berwick, Roxburgh, Selkirk, Peebles, and Dumfries, and the stewartries of Annandale and Kirkcudbright. A glance at the proceedings during part of a single session will show the kind of crimes most prevalent at that time in these districts, and how they were dealt with by the court. On the 21st of May, 1622, the justiciary court was opened at the Burgh by “Walter, Erle of Buccleuche; Lord Scott of Whitchesters and Eskdaill; Sir Andrew Ker of Oxnam, knight, Master of Jebrut; Sir Williame Setoune of Killismure, knyt; and Sir John Murray of Philliphaugh, kt., commissioners appoyntit by our Souvrane Lord, under his Majesties Greit Seale for that effect; Gilbert Watt, notar-public clark; Wm. Cornwath; Robert Scott; Messrs. Steven Young, officer, and John Douglas, dempster.”

A good deal of time is taken up with the fencing of the court, and other preliminary forms, after which sundry men of substance step forward, and give bond for the good behaviour of certain law-breakers, or their surrender for trial if called upon: for example, John Jardine of Applegarth becomes surety for William Carruthers, brother of Holmends, that “he, his wyf, bairnes, their tennents, nor servands,” shall not trouble, molest, nor injure John Gask in Kirkstyle of Rewell, “his wyf, bairnes, servands, men, tennents, cornes, cattle, guidis, nor geir uther wayes,” and that he shall keep the peace, under the pain of five hundred merks; while, on the other hand, Launcelot Murray, in Arbigland, bailie to the Laird of Cockpule, gives security to the same amount that Carruthers, his family and property, will receive no harm at the hands of Gask. Next day the serious business begins – George Riddick, in Dumfries, as Procurator-Fiscal, bringing before the court no fewer than seventeen panels, or prisoners, “remitted to the tryell of ane assye” consisting of the following gentlemen: - “John Lindsay of Auchinskeoche; Gawine Johnstoune in Midlegill; Robert Herris of Killilour; Thomas Dunbar, brother to Harbart Huntar in Halywood; John Thomsoune in Kirkland of Tarregillis; Thomas Wricht in Carruquhane; William Veitch of Skar; Robert Scott, laitt bailie of Harwick; Robert Scott, Westport in Hawick; John Dickiesoune, provest of Peiblis; William Eliott, laitt provest of Peiblie; James Keine, late bailie of Selkirk, and William Scott, callit of the Pillaris, late bailie ther.” This jury, it will be observed, is composed in equal proportions of landed proprietors, tenant farmers, and Burghal gentry; and curiously enough, as showing the prevalence of “cattle-lifting,” the chronic offence of the period, nearly all the cases brought before them are of that character. The stealing of “ane kow” from Blacketrig; of “twa fatt scheip fra Andro Little in Rig;” of “twa yows from Newland;” of “four rouch unclippit scheip fra Jon Makgill in Kirkconnell;’ of “fyftein wedderis pertaining to Balie Nicolsounce in Parkburne;” of “ane meir of four yeir auld furth of the lands of Hershaw;” of “seven ky and oxen furth of Tarrow-heid;” of “threttene cheises, ilk ane ten pounds wecht;” of “ane sack of fustiane fra James Lyndsay and his brother, pedleris and merchands, furth of their packs;” of “certane claithes perteneing to Jon Lytle, callit the King, furth of his house in Annane:” such are the kind of cases that come up. In each instance the accused are “clengit,” or cleansed – that is to say, acquitted – by the jury; and a similar verdict is returned in the subjoined case, which is given in greater detail, as a fair specimen of the rest. George Colthart, servitor to Jaffray Irwing, “is accusit for airt and pairt of the steilling of ane stott of thrie yeir auld, perteneing to Jon Bell, in Butter-daillis; and for airt and pairt of the steilling of six ky and oxen fra Robert Mundell, in Tinwald, and William Makmorrane, the first therof, in October, 1620 years; and for steilling of twa ky perteneing to umqule Adam Corsane, merchant burgess of Cumfreis, furth of the landes of Cocklekis; anf for the recting, manteneing, and intercommoning with Ritchie Irwine, in Wodhous, and Jaffray Irwine of Rabgill, fugitives and outlawes.” Witnesses are examined; the evidence is considered by the assize; the chancellor, Mr. John Lindsay, pronounces words pleasant to the ear of the panel – “Clengit and acquit of the haill;” and away he goes out of court rejoicing. A small proportion of the trials terminate differently. Two brothers, named Irwing, acquitted on one of the proceeding charges, are again brought to the bar, accused of having, so far back as 1616, stolen forty pounds Scots from a chest belonging to David Irwin, at Stapleton. One of them, Gilbert, gets “clean” off; the other, George, if “fylitt” – stained, convicted: and the dempster begins to realize the fact – pleasant or otherwise – that he will yet have something to do; something very serious for the “stouthrief” fo twelve sheep belonging to James Irwing of Wysbie, are “fylitt thairof.”

Other capital convictions follow, providing work, not simply for the dempster, but the executioner: - Adam Henrie, who had made too free with the cattle of Tarrow-heid; Walter Lytle, who had harried a hirsel at Elven Water “perteneing to the Ladye Johnstoune,” and “burned Andro Lytle his house in Bombie;” “Bauld Jok Armestrang,” who had tithed the flocks of Hairlawmill; and Thomas Moffat, in Hightae, who had borrowed without leave four hundred merks from the coffers of Bailie Wilsonne, Lochmaben – are all found guilty; and, together with the two Irwings, are “ilk of thame adjudgit and condampnit to be taken to the place of execution in Dumfreis, and ther to be hangit be the heid, ay and quhill thay be deid, as was pronouncit in judgement by the mouth of the said Jon Douglas, dempstar” – all except Bauld Jok, who, as his offence (stealing five sheep) was of a lighter hue than the crimes of his fellow-convicts, is sentenced to the less ignominious doom of drowning till “he be deid in the wattir of Nith.” [The record of these cases was first published in a supplement to the Annals of Hawick, in which work it is stated that the original manuscript had “slumbered apparently unnoticed for more than two centuries amongst the archives of the burgh of Hawick,” having probably found its way thither “in consequence of Mr. Gibbert Watt, town-clerk of Hawick for at least twenty years prior to 1658, having also been clerk of circuit.” It is further explained “that no similar record of so early a date has been preserved in the General Register House at Edinburgh.”]

Return to Book Index


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