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The Scottish Nation

CLERK, a surname, as already stated, derived from the word Clericus, the designation given in the dark ages to those of the clergy and the few other persons who acquired the arts of reading and writing, for the purpose of being able to transcribe the orders of the sovereign, the sentences of courts, and the acts of the legislature; kings and nobles, in those remote times, confining their attention almost exclusively to martial exercises and deeds of arms. Blackstone observes “that the Judges were usually created out of the sacred order; and all the inferior offices were supplied by the lower clergy, which has occasioned their successors to be denominated clerks to this day.” – Comm. i. 17. “Adam the clerk, son of Philip the scribe, occurs as the designation of a person mentioned in an ancient record at Newcastle.” [Lower on English Surnames.] The name of Clericus was assumed both by those who held such offices, and by their descendants. Clark and Clarke, the English method of spelling it, are but variations of the same name. Though the spelling may be different, the pronunciation is invariable Clark.

      The family from which the Clerks of Pennycuik are descended can be traced as far back as the year 1180, and the reign of William the Lion.

      In the charter of a donation by King William to the Abbacy of Holyrood-house, Hugo Clericus regis, Hugo Clericus cancellarii, Johannes Clericus, and several others, append their names as witnesses.

      The witnesses to such deeds were always of high rank, and, from different sources it appears that, in early times, there were many Scottish barons, and proprietors of estates, of this name.

      In 1296 Richard Clerk, a considerable freeholder, was compelled to submit to Edward the First of England, after his invasion of Scotland; while another baron of the same name, a strenuous defender of the liberties of his country, scorning to comply with the demands of the usurper, was carried prisoner to London.

      William Clerk, descended from a branch of this family settled in Perthshire. He was an eminent merchant and patriot, and attended David the Second in his unfortunate expedition into England, in 1346. He was taken prisoner at the battle of Neville’s Cross, near Durham, on the 17th October of that year, carried to London and retained in captivity there, until liberated, along with his sovereign, eleven years afterwards.

      John Clerk, merchant-burgess and chief magistrate of Montrose, became one of the hostages for the ransom of King David, in 1357.

      His family continued in the direction of the affairs of that ancient burgh for several centuries, the provost of Montrose, as appears from the books of council, being of his name and descent down to the reign of Queen Mary.

      The grandfather of the first proprietor of Pennyeuik, of the name of Clerk, was possessor of the lands of Kilhuntly, in Badenoch, Inverness-shire, but having attached himself to the party of Mary, queen of Scots, in opposition to his superior, the earl of Huntly, he was obliged to leave that part of the country in 1568.

      His son William became a merchant in Montrose, and died in 1620.

      John Clerk, his son, was born at Montrose in 1611, and was baptized by the bishop of Caithness, at Fettercairn, 22d December of that year. Being also bred a merchant, he removed to France in 1634, and settled in Paris. In 1647 he returned to Scotland, with a considerable fortune, and purchased the lands and barony of Pennycuik [from the Gaelic words Bein na Cuachaig, the ‘Hill of the Cuckoo,’] in the county of Edinburgh, which have ever since remained in possession of his descendants. He married a daughter of Sir William Gray of Pittendrum, ancestor of Lord Gray, by whom he had five sons and five daughters.

      He was succeeded in 1674 by his son John, who was created the first baronet of Pennycuik, by a royal patent from Charles the Second, dated 24th March 1679. In 1700 he acquired the lands of Lasswade, in the same county. He died in 1722. He was twice married; first, to Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Henderson, Esq. of Elvington, by whom he had three sons and three daughters, and secondly to Christian, daughter of the Rev. James Kirkpatrick, and had four other sons and four daughters. Of his eldest son, John, second baronet, a notice follows.

      Sir James Clerk, the third baronet, son of the second, married Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. John Cleghorn, but dying in 1782 without issue, was succeeded by his brother Sir George Clerk-Maxwell, fourth baronet, of whom also a notice is subsequently given. He married Dorothea, daughter of his uncle William Clerk-Maxwell, Esq., by his wife Agnes Maxwell, heiress of Middleby in Dumfries-shire, and had five sons and four daughters. He died in 1784, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir John Clerk, who died in 1798. He married Mary, daughter of Mr. Dacre of Kirlington in Cumberland, but had no issue.

      His nephew, the Right Hon. Sir George Clerk, sixth baronet, succeeded. He was the son of James Clerk, third son of the fourth baronet, by Janet, daughter of George Irving, Esq. of Newton. He was born in 1787, and married in 1810, the daughter of Ewan Law, Esq., and niece of the first Lord Ellenborough. He was a lord of the admiralty from 1819 to 1830, except for a short interval; secretary of the treasury from November 1834 to April 1835, and again from September 1841 to February 1845. In the latter year he was sworn a member of the privy council. He became master of the mint, and vice-president of the board of trade in February 1845, and continued so till July 1846. He represented the county of Edinburgh in several parliaments previous to 1832, but had no seat from that time till 1835, when he was again returned for that county. He sat for Stamford from 1838 to 1847, when he was elected for Dover. He is a deputy lieutenant of the county of Edinburgh.

      On the entry of Charles the First into Edinburgh, 15th June, 1633, Sir Alexander Clerk, lord provost, was by his majesty dubbed a knight in honour of the occasion. A descendant of his, Mr. Robert Clerk, who died in 1810, was for many years a bookseller and publisher in the Parliament Square, Edinburgh, an account of whom is given in the second volume of Kay’s Edinburgh Portraits, page 29.

      The Clerks of Brae-Letham were free barons, and had considerable possessions in Argyleshire, as far back as the reign of James the Second. There were also several families of this name in the county of Fife, who had large possessions, such as the Clerks of Balbirnie, of Pittzoucher, and of Luthrie, &c. The clan Chattan and some other Highland families also claim a connection with the Clerks as descended from them.

      The family of Listonshiels in Mid Lothian was a branch of the Pennycuik family. Robert Clerk, born in 1664, a physician in Edinburgh, and an intimate froend of the celebrated Dr. Pitcairn, was the fifth and youngest son of John Clerk, the first proprietor of Pennycuik. His eldest son John, born in 1689, also studied medicine, and for above thirty years was the first physician in Scotland. At the institution of the Philosophical Society in Edinburgh in 1739, he was chosen one of their two vice-presidents, an office which he enjoyed as long as he lived. In 1740 he was elected president of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, and continued president for four years. He purchased the lands of Listonshiels and Spittal in Mid Lothian, and got a charter under the great seal. He died in 1757. He had married in 1720, Margaret, eldest daughter of Thomas Rattray, Esq. of Craighall Rattray in Perthshire, by whom he had several children. Robert, the second son, was a colonel in the army. David, the third, was physician to the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. He died in 1768. By his wife Helen, daughter of James Duff, Esq. of Craigston, Aberdeenshire, he had two sons, James and Robert. James Clerk, the eldest son, became, in right of his grandmother, proprietor of Craighall Rattray, and assumed the surname of Rattray in addition to his own. He distinguished himself at the Scottish bar as an advocate, and was constituted a baron of the Exchequer in Scotland. He married in January 1791, Jane, daughter of Admiral Duff of Fetteresso, and dying 29th August 1831, left, with one daughter, Jane, a son and successor, Robert Clerk-Rattray, Esq. of Craighall Rattray. {See RATTRAY, surname of.]

CLERK, SIR JOHN, second baronet of Pennycuik, author of the humorous Scotch song, ‘O merry may the maid be that marries the Miller,’ (with the exception of the first stanza, which belongs to an older song,) and one of the barons of exchequer in Scotland for nearly half a century, was the son of the first baronet, by his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Henderson, Esq. of Elvington, and was born about 1684. He was one of the commissioners for the Union, and was appointed a baron on the constitution of the exchequer court 13th May 1708. He succeeded his father in his title and estates in 1722. He possessed great learning and accomplishments, and was generally acknowledged to be one of the most enlightened men of his time. Along with Baron Scrope, in 1726, he drew up an ‘Historical View of the Forms and Powers of the Court of Exchequer in Scotland,’ which was printed at the expense of the barons of Exchequer for private circulation; Edinburgh 1820, large quarto. Besides two papers in the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ (one an ‘Account of the Stylus of the Ancients and their different sorts of Paper,’ printed in 1731, and the other ‘On eht effects of Thunder on Trees,’ and ‘Of a large Deer’s Horns found in the heart of an Oak,’ printed in 1739,) he was the author of a tract entitled ‘Dissertatio de quibusdam Monumentis Romanis,’ &c., written in 1730 and printed in 1750, quarto. For upwards of twenty years he also carried on a learned correspondence with Roger Gale, the English antiquary, which forms a portion of the ‘Reliquiae Galeanae,’ in Nichols’ ‘Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica,’ 1782.

      Sir John Clerk was one of the friends and patrons of Allan Ramsay. He “admired his genius and knew his worth.” During his latter years much of the poet’s time was spent at Pennycuik-house, and at his death, Sir John erected at his family seat an obelisk to Ramsay’s memory.

      To Sir John Clerk are ascribed some amatory lines sent to Susanna, daughter of Sir Archibald Kennedy of Culzean, baronet (ancestor of the marquis of Ailsa) whom he courted unsuccessfully, as she became the third wife of Alexander, ninth earl of Eglinton. They were thus entitled: – :Verses sent anonymously, with a flute, to Miss Susanna Kennedy, afterwards Countess of Eglintoune, by Sir John Clerk of Pennycook, Baronet.” On attempting to blow the flute it would not sound, and, on unscrewing it, the lady found the following: –

                        “Harmonious pipe, how I envye thy bliss,
                        When press’d to Sylphia’s lips with gentle kiss!
                        And when her tender fingers round thee move
                        In soft embrace, I listen and approve
                        Those melting notes, which soothe my soul to love.
                        Embalm’d with odours from her breath that flow,
                        You yield your music when she’s pleased to blow;
                        And thus at once the charming lovely fair
                        Delights with sounds, with sweets perfumes the air.
                        Go happy pipe, and ever mindful be
                        To court the charming Sylphia for me;
                        Tell all I feel – you cannot tell too much –
                        Repeat my love at each soft melting touch;
                        Since I to her my liberty resign,
                        Take then the care to tune her heart to mine.”

It was to this lady that Allan Ramsay, in 1726, dedicated his ‘Gentle Shepherd.’

      Sir John Clerk held the office of one of the barons of exchequer till his death, which took place at Pennycuik on the 4th of October 1755. He was twice married; first, February 23, 1701, to Lady Margaret Stewart, eldest daughter of Alexander, third earl of Galloway. She died December 26th, the same year, in childbed of a son, John, who died unmarried in 1722. ON the death of ths young man Allan Ramsay addressed some elegiac verses to his father, Sir John, which are preserved in his works. He married, secondly, Janet, daughter of Sir John Inglis, of Cramond, by whom he had seven sons and six daughters.

CLERK-MAXWELL, SIR GEORGE, of Pennycuik, baronet, distinguished for his spirited efforts to advance the commercial interests of his native country, second son of the preceding, was born at Edinburgh in October 1715, and studied at the universities of Edinburgh and Leyden. He established, at considerable expense, a linen manufactory at Dumfries, and set on foot many different projects for working lead and copper mines. In 1755 he addressed two letters to the trustees for fisheries, manufactories, and improvements in Scotland, containing observations on the common mode of treating wook in this country, and suggesting a more judicious scheme of management. These were published by direction of that board in 1756. He likewise wrote a paper on the advantages of shallow ploughing, which was read to the Philosophical Society, and is published in the third volume of their Essays. In 1761 he was appointed king’s remembrancer in the exchequer, and, in 1763, commissioner of the customs in Scotland. He was likewise a trustee for the improvement of the fisheries and manufactures of Scotland. In 1782 he succeeded his elder brother, Sir James Clerk, in the baronetcy. As already stated, on marrying his cousin, he assumed his wife’s name of Maxwell, in addition to his own. He died in January 1784.

CLERK, JOHN, of Eldin, inventor of the modern British system of naval tactics, was the sixth son of Sir John Clerk of Pennycuik, baronet, and a younger brother of the preceding. In early life he inherited from his father the estate of Eldin, in the county of Edinburgh, and married Susannah Adam, the sister of the two celebrated architects of that name. Although the longest sail he ever enjoyed was no farther than to the island of Arran, in the firth of Clyde, he had from his boyhood a strong passion for nautical affairs, and devoted much of his attention to the theory and practice of naval tactics. In 1779 he communicated to some of his friends his new system of breaking the enemy’s line. In 1780 he visited London, and had some conferences with men connected with the navy, among whom have been mentioned Mr. Richard Atkinson, the particular friend of Sir George, afterwards Lord, Rodney, and Sir Charles Douglas. The latter was Rodney’s “captain of the fleet,” in the memorable action of April 12, 1782, when the experiment was tried for the first time, and Rodney gained a decisive victory over the French, under De Grasse, between Dominica and Les Saintes, in the West Indies. Since that time the principle has been adopted by all the British admirals, and Howe, St. Vincent, Duncan, and Nelson, owe to Clerk’s manoeuvre their most signal victories. IN the beginning of 1782, Mr. Clerk, who was a Fellow of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, and also of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, printed fifty copies of his ‘Essay on Naval Tactics.’ which were privately distributed among his friends. This valuable essay was reprinted and published in 1790; the second, third, and fourth parts were added in 1797, and the work was republished entire in 1804, with a preface explaining the origin of his discoveries. Although Lord Rodney, as appears by a fragmentary life of Clerk, written by Professor Playfair, published in the Transactions of the “royal Society of Edinburgh, never concealed in conversation his obligations to Mr. Clerk as the author of the system, yet the family of that distinguished admiral, in his memoirs, maintain that no communication of Mr. Clerk’s plan was ever made to their relative. Sir Howard Douglas, too, has come forward in various publications to claim the merit of the manoeuvre for his father, the late Admiral Sir Charles Douglas. The honour of the suggestion, however, appears to rest indisputably with Mr. Clerk, who died May 10,. 1812, at an advanced age.

CLERK, JOHN, LORD ELDIN, a distinguished lawyer, the son of the preceding, was born in April 1757, and in 1775 was bound apprentice to a writer to the signet. His original destination had been the civil service in India, and an appointment in that department had been promised him; but, some political changes occurring before it was completed, the views of his friends were disappointed, and he turned his attention to the law. At first he intended to practise as a writer and accountant; but he soon abandoned that branch of the profession, and in 1785 was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates. As a lawyer, Mr. Clerk was remarkable for great clearness of perception, never-failing readiness and fertility of resource, admirable powers of reasoning, and a quaint sarcastic humour that gave a zest and flavour to all he uttered. For many years he had the largest practice at the Scottish bar. In private life he was distinguished for his social qualities, his varied accomplishments, his exquisite taste in the fine arts, and his eccentric manners. He had a large collection of paintings, and at one period he published a volume of etchings by himself. He was raised to the bench in 1823, when he assumed the title of Lord Eldin, and died at Edinburgh in June 1832, aged 74.

Memoirs of the Life of Sir John Clerk of Penicuik
Baronet Baron of the Exchequer extracted by himself from his own journals 1676-1755. Edited from the Manuscript in Penicuik House with an Introduction and Notes, by John M. Gray FSA Scot. (1892) (pdf)

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