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The Scottish Nation

SELKIRK, earl of, a title in the peerage of Scotland, conferred in 1646, on Lord William Douglas, eldest son of the first marquis of Douglas, by his 2d wife. Born Dec. 24, 1634, he was created earl of Selkirk, Lord Daer and Shortcleugh, by patent dated Aug. 4, 1646, to him and his heirs male whatsoever. He married Anne, duchess of Hamilton, in her won right, and, on a petition from her grace, was created duke of Hamilton for life, 12th October 1660. He had seven sons and four daughters, who all took the name of Hamilton. Having resigned the earldom of Selkirk, he obtained from James VII. a new patent, dated 6th October 1688, conferring it, with the original precedence, upon his third son, Lord Charles Hamilton. This nobleman was baptized at Hamilton, 5th February 1664, and was appointed colonel of the first regiment of horse, 20th November 1688, in room of his eldest brother, the earl of Arran, afterwards fourth duke of Hamilton and first duke of Brandon. The earl of Selkirk entered early into the Revolution, and by King William, whom he attended in most of his campaigns, was appointed one of the lords of the bedchamber. He held the same office under Queen Anne and Kings George I. and II. In 1696 he was appointed lord-clerk-register of Scotland, and held that office till the death of King William, but in 1733 was restored to it by George II. He strenuously opposed the Union. At the general election of 1713, chosen one of the sixteen representatives of the Scottish peerage, he was afterwards three times rechosen. He was sheriff principal of Lanarkshire, and, dying, unmarried, at London, 13th March 1739, was succeeded by his brother, Lord John Hamilton, earl of Ruglen, who was thenceforth styled earl of Selkirk and Ruglen. (See RUGLEN, earl of.) The latter died without male issue, 3d December, 1744, when the titles of earl of Selkirk, Lord Daer and Shortcleugh, with the estates of Crawford-Douglas and Crawford-john, devolved upon his nearest male heir, his grand-nephew, Dunbar Hamilton, grandson of his brother, Lord Basil, sixth son of William and Anne, duke and duchess of Hamilton.

Of Lord Basil Hamilton an account is given in Douglas’ Peerage (Wood’s edition, vol. ii. p. 488), where he is described as a young man of distinguished abilities, great spirit, and an amiable disposition. Several of his letters to his father are printed in Dalrymple’s Memoirs of Scotland. In consequence of King William having withheld his protection from the Scotch settlers at the isthmus of Darien, the ruin of the colony followed, and many of the colonists were thrown into prison by the Spaniards. In behalf of these unfortunate persons, Lord Basil Hamilton was, in November 1699, deputed by the Darien company to present an address at London to the king. His majesty desired the Scottish secretaries to intimate to the Company that he would attend to their request, and would endeavour to promote the trade of Scotland, but refused to see Lord Basil Hamilton, because he had not appeared at court when last in London. Thereupon the directors of the Company requested the lord-chancellor of Scotland, then in London, to urge his majesty to receive his lordship. An audience was accordingly fixed to be in the council chamber, after a council meeting. The king forgot the appointment, and was passing into another room, when Lord Basil placed himself in the passage, and said that he was commissioned by a great body of his subjects to lay their misfortunes at his feet – that he had a right to be heard, and would be heard. The king returned to the council room, listened with patience, gave instant order to apply to Spain for redress, then turning to those near him, said, “This young man is too bold, if any man can be too bold in his country’s cause.” In the autumn on 1701, his lordship, then in his 30th year, was drowned in the Minnock, a small river in Dumfries-shire, then swelled by a sudden rain, in sight of his brother, the earl of Selkirk, and several gentlemen, who could render him no assistance. His servant had ridden forward, in order to try the ford, and was dismounted in it. Lord Basin rushed in, and caught the man, but his horse falling at that moment, they were both carried down by the torrent. His untimely death was deplored as a national loss. He married Mary, grand-daughter and heiress of Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon, Wigtonshire, baronet, and had two sons, who both inherited Baldoon, and two daughters, Mrs. Murray of Philiphaugh, and the countess of Dundonald. Basil Hamilton, the second son, succeeded his brother in Baldoon in 1803. He engaged in the rebellion of 1715; had the command of a troop of horse under Viscount Kenmure, and was among the number of those who surrendered at Preston, where he had displayed great courage. When the prisoners were marched into London, his youth, interesting figure, and unconcerned demeanour, attracted the attention and commiseration of the spectators. He was tried the 31st May 1716, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed, 13th July, but reprieved and pardoned. In 1732, an act of parliament was passed for restoring Basil Hamilton in blood. At the general election 1741 he was elected M.P. for the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and died in November 1742. An epitaph was written upon him by Hamilton of Bangour. By his wife, Isabella, daughter of the Hon. Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, M.P., second son of the fourth earl of Seaforth, he had Dunbar, fourth earl of Selkirk, another son, and two daughters.

Dunbar Hamilton of Baldoon, succeeded the earl of Selkirk and Ruglen, in 1744, as fourth earl of Selkirk, on which occasion he resumed the paternal name of Douglas. He studied at the university of Glasgow, and on the breaking out of the rebellion of 1745, exerted himself strenuously and successfully in support of the government. In 1787, and again in 1793, he was chosen one of the sixteen Scottish representative peers. He died at Edinburgh, 24th May 1799, in his 77th year. By his countess, Helen, fifth daughter of the Hon. John Hamilton, second son of Thomas, sixth earl of Haddington, he had, with six daughters, seven sons, who all predeceased him except the youngest, Thomas, who became fifth earl of Selkirk.

The second son, Basil William, Lord Daer, born 16th March 1763, early displayed great abilities and uncommon activity of mind. On the completion of his education he traveled on the continent for a short time in 1783. Three years afterwards his father transferred to him the management of all his landed property in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright and county of Wigton. During the meeting of the constituent assembly in 1789, he went to Paris. Being a warm admirer of the Revolution, he lived much in the society of some of the first distinguished actors in it, particularly the duc de la Rochefoucauld, the marquis de Condorcet, and M. Lavoisier. On his return to Scotland, he became a member of the Society of the Friends of the People, and was a zealous advocate for parliamentary reform. Conceiving that the article in the treaty of Union on which was founded the exclusion of the elder sons of Scottish peers from being members of parliament, and from possessing the elective franchise, was erroneously interpreted, his lordship, with a view of trying the question, claimed to be put on the roll of freeholders for the stewartry of Kirkcudbright. His claim was sustained by a majority of the freeholders, but some of the minority brought the claim before the court of session. A decision was given against his lordship in 1792. Supported by a number of Scottish peers, he appealed to the house of lords, but the judgment of the court of session was affirmed (Douglas’ Peerage). The elder sons of Scottish peers have, however, long been eligible both for parliament and the franchise. He died of consumption 5th November 1794, unmarried, at the age of thirty. It was this Lord Daer who invited Burns the poet to dinner, as commemorated in his “Lines on an Interview with Lord Daer.”

Thomas, fifth earl of Selkirk, the only surviving son of the fourth earl, was born in 1771, and when the Hon. Thomas Douglas, was an associate of Sir Walter Scott, and a member of “the Club,” mentioned in Lockhart’s Life of Scott. In 1797, on the death of his brother, formerly the Hon. John Douglas, advocate, he became Lord Daer, and in May 1799 succeeded his father in his title and estates. This nobleman visited America in 1803, and settled a British colony on Prince Edward’s Island. On his return in 1805, he published ‘Observations on the present State of the Highlands of Scotland, with a View of the causes and probably consequences of Emigration,’ London, 1805, 8vo, in which he advocates liberal views in regard to emigration, and gives an interesting account of the settlement formed by him on Prince Edward’s Island. At the general election in 1806, he was chosen one of the sixteen representative peers, and rechosen the following year. On 28th March 1807, he was appointed lord-lieutenant of the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and in July 1808 was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society. In the previous year he addressed ‘Al Letter to the Scots Peers,’ in which he proposed that their sixteen representatives should be chosen for life, and in case of death, their places should be filled up by the election of a new peer. He also thought that Scots peers should be eligible to become members of the house of commons, and, in short, should enjoy the same rights, privileges, and functions, as the peers of Ireland. In 1808 his lordship published a pamphlet entitled ‘The Necessity of a more effectual System of National Defence, and the means of establishing the permanent security of the Kingdom,’ and in 1809, ‘A Letter to John Cartwright, Esq.’ (generally known as Major Cartwright), on parliamentary reform, in which he retracted some of the opinions which he had previously entertained on that subject. He died, 8th April 1820, at Pau, in the south of France, whither he had gone for the recovery of his health. By his countess, Jean, only daughter of James Wedderburn-Colville, Esq. of Ochiltree, he had 1 son, Dunbar-James, 6th earl, and 2 daughters.

Dunbar-James, 6th earl of Selkirk, born at London, April 22, 1809, graduated at Christ church, Oxford, where he was first class in mathematics, B.A. 1830. In 1831 he was elected one of the 16 representative peers, in 1845 appointed lord-lieutenant of the stewartry of Kirkcudbright; keeper of the great seal of Scotland from August to December 1852, and reappointed in February 1858; unmarried.

SELKIRK, or SELCRAIG, ALEXANDER, a sailor, who passed some years alone on the island of Juan Fernandez, was the seventh son of a shoemaker and tanner in good circumstances, at Largo, in Fifeshire, where he was born in 1676. In his youth he displayed a restless and quarrelsome disposition. From the session books of his native parish it appears that on August 25, 1695, “Alex. Selchraig, son to John Selchraig, elder, in Nether Largo, was dilated for his undecent beaiviar in ye church,” and the church officer was ordered to summon him for the 27th. On the session meeting that day he was “called, but did not compeer, being gone away to the seas.” He went to sea about his twentieth year. In November 1701, when at home, he was again cited before the kirk session, for committing an assault on his brother, Andrew. The latter, having brought into the house a canfull of salt water, Alexander “did take a drink through mistake, and he laughing at him for it, his brother, Alexander, came and beat him, upon which he ran out of the house, and called his brother,” ‘John Selchraig, younger.’” The session books contain the examinations of the two Johns, father and son, as well as that of Margaret Bell, the wife of the latter, and of Andrew the other brother. The father being asked “what made him to sit on the floor with his back at the door, he said it was to keep down his son, Alexander, who was seeking to go up to get his pystole.” Margaret Bell deponed that when she came to the house she found Alexander “gripping both her father and her husband, and she labouring to loose Alexander’s hands from her husband’s head and breast, her husband fled out of doors.” The culprit himself ‘compeared’ on the 29th, and “confest that he did beat his brother twice with a staff; he confest also that he had spoken very ill words concerning his brothers, and particularly he challenged his eldest brother John, to a combat, as he called it, of neiffels;” and the next day, according to the session’s appointment, “Alex. Selcraige compeared before the pulpit, and made acknowledgment of his sin in disagreeing with his brothers, and was rebuked in face of the congregation for it, and promised amendment in the strength of the Lord, and so was dismissed.”

He seems to have early engaged in the buccaneer expeditions to the South Seas; and in 1703 he joined the Cinque Ports galley, in the capacity of sailing master. While lying off the coast of Brazil, Selkirk had a remarkable dream, in which he was forewarned of the total failure of the expedition, and the wreck of his ship; and having soon after had a quarrel with his commander, Captain Stradling, he was, in October 1704, with his own consent, put ashore on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, with his sea chest, a few books, including his Bible, his nautical instruments, some tobacco, a gun, with a pound of gunpowder, and some balls, a knife, a kettle, an axe, a flip-can, &c. Before the boat quitted the beach he changed his mind, but the captain would not allow him to return on board, and after four years and four months’ solitary residence, he was discovered and taken off the island by Captain Woodes Rogers, in January 1709. Rogers made him his mate, and a few weeks thereafter appointed him to the command of a prize, which was fitted out as a privateer, in which situation he conducted himself with great vigour, steadiness, and prudence. After going on a privateering expedition across the Pacific, in October 1711, they returned to England, from which Selkirk had been absent upwards of eight years. Of the sum of £107,000 which Rogers had realized by plundering the enemy, Selkirk seems to have shared to the amount of about £800.

In the spring of 1712 he once more set foot in Largo, bringing home with him his gun, sea chest, and drinking cup, which he had with him on the island. They were long preserved, in t he house in which he was born, by the descendant of one of his brothers, but in 1862 they were sold. Having formed an attachment to a country girl, named Sophia Bruce, whom he met in his solitary walks, he eloped with her, and never returned. He went to sea again in 1717, and died in the situation of lieutenant on board his majesty’s ship Weymouth, in 1723. His widow, a second wife, named Frances Candis, claimed and received his property in his native village. His history is supposed to have suggested to Defoe the groundwork of his matchless narrative of Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk’s Life and Adventures, written by John Howell, author of an ‘Essay on the War Galleys of the Ancients,’ was published by Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, in 1829.

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