Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA
Getting emails from Dr. Clark McGinn is like
getting presents from Santa Claus at Christmas. You know the time is
close and you think you know what his article will be about, but you
have no idea what his treatment of the subject will be when you open
Nine Men: The Soldier, The Gardener (And Not to Forget the Innkeeper)
fits perfectly into this category and brings us to the end of Clark’s
series on the men who participated in the first Burns Supper a few years
after the Bard’s untimely death.
I emailed Clark and asked him to send me a current picture of himself
and noted that if he did not have one then I would happily take one of
him and someone else together. He readily fired off a picture of a new
friend he had recently made in Norway to deliver an Immortal Memory. He
wrote he had made a new friend and a picture of them together was
enclosed. He did not give me his new friend’s name, but the picture is
one I’ll never forget and neither will you - it is outstanding!
Thank you, Clark, for this wonderful series of articles on the inaugural
Burns Supper. Our readers have certainly enjoyed getting to know each
man who participated. You have enlightened our lives with your scholarly
work, and I am deeply appreciative of all you have done on this
Dr. Clark McGinn and his new Norway friend
THE SOLDIER, THE GARDENER
(AND NOT TO FORGET THE INNKEPER)
By Dr Clark McGinn.
After seven biographies thus
far, we are coming to the end of the stories of the men who gathered
together in Burns Cottage in July 1801 to celebrate the very first Burns
Supper. I feel slightly guilty to my readers, for after reading (and I
sincerely hope, enjoying) the lives of the clubbable and witty cleric, the
Enlightment provost, the wily lawyer and fixer, the war hero friend of
Washington, the urbane doctor and slave owner, the industrious banker, and
the wise and liberal professor, the last two gentlemen have left little more
mark in the history books beyond their participation in Hamilton Paul’s
earliest Burnsfest. There is a famous entry in a Victorian book of the lives
of the Saints which ends ‘and that is all, or rather more than all, that we
know about the blessed Saint Neot,’ and I feel an equally inadequate
biographer of the last two gentlemen who helped inaugurate the Burns Supper:
Captain Hugh Fergusson and William Crawford of Doonside.
When we looked at the career
of Provost John Ballantine, we saw that his family with its interlinked
network with the Hunters and the Fergussons had ambitious mercantile plans
to expand trade in the Royal Burgh of Ayr (to the general good of the town
and to garner a good personal fortune therefrom). One less than successful
commercial venture was the building and furnishing of a sugar house or
refinery near the harbour. Messrs Hunters & Company petitioned the town
council in 1772 to lease some land on the site of the old citadel, near the
harbour and, upon a deal being struck, they built a seven story factory to
refine sugar in competition to the great manufacturers who were based in
Greenock and Port Glasgow, some 30 miles away. As Ayr’s harbour trade was
mainly fishing and the export of coal there were few of the major trading
firms interested in diverting their landings from the Glasgow conurbation,
but the Hunters thought that they could compete by offering a cheaper
service. Unfortunately, the cost in both time and money of transferring
cargoes from the wharves of Glasgow down to Ayr and back again outweighed
any benefit from the new machinery and its lower refining cost so before
long, the ‘sugar house’ became a bit of a white elephant. By 1790 it lay
empty and it looked as if the sagacious Hunters would be out of pocket on
their investment. Fortunately, the history of Europe was to intervene.
Before two years were up, 1792
saw the tumult of the French Revolution and the call to arms that would see
British ships and troops in active warfare against the French for over twenty
years. As part the surge in military manpower which underpinned Britain’s
defence policy, the old scheme of billeting individual soldiers in homes and
farms could not cope and Parliament voted money to build large barracks in
various town across the country. Billeting soldiers at inns or on the populace
was almost as unpopular in Scotland as it had been in the American Colonies
where Jefferson’s many ringing denunciations against George III included the
charge that the King ‘has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies
without the Consent of our Legislatures […] quartering large Bodies of Armed
Troops among us.’ More than that, billetting was not only unpopular as a policy,
it was inefficient in cost and egregious to military discipline. A report to the
House of Commons calculated that a network of barracks would not only remove the
men from the temptations of civilian life (basically drink, more drink and
prostitutes) but with an economy on war-footing, it would save three shillings-thruppence-three-farthings
per enlisted man and £4 7s 11 ¾d per horse (the disparity between those two
figures tells you about the relative values of each in the official mind of the
day.) This economy would generate something in the order of £40,000 in savings
each year. (Which would be around £9 million today – which wouldn’t make much of
a dent in today’s military budget!).[ii]
Having a barracks within any town
was ‘a wartime boost to ‘[the burgh] economy […] bringing not only additional
capital to the burgh but also increased demand for grain and other goods, and
adding regimental officers to its society and assemblies.’[iii]
Ayr was approached as one of the potential sites and the Town Council recognised
the boost it would provide to the burgh economy and so (no doubt through John
Ballantine’s quick eye) it offered to sell the defunct sugar house to the
Barracks Department. Thus in 1794, title changed hands, enriching the Council
and as they sold the buildings, Messrs Hunters also recovered their investments
in an unexpected coup. Thanks to the war, everyone came out financially better.
With its seven stories, the old
Sugar House had room to accommodate around 450 soldiers, plus their equipment,
making it the fourth largest military establishment in Scotland. The barracks in
time became the regimental headquarters of The Royal Highland Fusiliers
(Princess Margaret’s Own) and they remained in active use – latterly renamed
after a former commanding officer as the Churchill Barracks - until they were
demolished in 1967 and replaced by the town’s rather monstrous leisure centre.
Each of these establishments was commanded by an officer bearing the title of
barrack-master. These men were appointed by, and responsible to, the new
Barrack-master General and they remained on the Army List as serving officers.
For Ayr, the appointment fell on Captain Hugh Fergusson who entered his office
in 1794 and earned 10 shillings a day. In context, this salary is about double
what Burns hoped to earn in the Excise, so it was a relatively small piece of
patronage. But patronage it certainly was.
I know little about Captain Hugh,
(sometimes with his Christian name spelled ‘Hew’) other than his grandfather
Revd Thomas Ferguson owned the house and estate of Castlehill, leaving it to his
son Provost David Fergusson who had married John Ballantine’s sister Elizabeth.[iv]
The close family linkage can be further deduced from an entry in the Auld Kirk
of Ayr’s baptismal register. In 1812, ‘at the desire of Capt FERGUSSON late
Barrack-master,’ the records of his grandnephews Hugh Fergusson (born 1797 in
Kingston, Jamaica) and Patrick Ballantine Fergusson (born Marylebone, London in
1798) were recorded. The younger boy could easily have been named after Provost
John’s elder brother. This seems even more likely as Captain Hugh’s landlord was
that same Patrick Ballantine when he lived on South Harbour Street which was a
few minutes’ walk from the barracks and sits on one of the approaches to the New
Bridge of Ayr that was upgraded as part of that major burgher infrastructure
development that made John Ballantine’s reputation.[v]
The house still stands today.
Fergusson was a friend of
Primrose Kennedy, although I can find no record of them serving together under
the Colours so we must assume that their acquaintance was through Ayrshire
connections rather than the Army. They must have been relatively close and have
trusted one another, for Hugh acted as the guardian of the orphan children of a
mutual cousin David Fergusson Kennedy of Finnarts at Primrose’s request. In less
happy circumstances, he joined Primrose in being a character witness for the
Major Campbell who attended the Allowa’ Club once, but who was hanged for
duelling in 1807.[vi] From the entry
in the registers above, and the fact that he vacated his town lodgings, he must
have retired sometime in 1812 (or slightly earlier), and he died (‘much
respected’) on 19 November, 1820 in his home outside the burgh, called Midsands.[vii]
And that, dear readers, is the limited knowledge I have of the life story of
Captain Hugh Fergusson, Barrack-master of Ayr.
For the last gentleman who
attended that highly memorable day, I have even less historical data. Let us
look at the fragments we know about William Crawford Esquire of Doonside.
When the Burgh of Ayr sold the
lands around Alloway (to the South of the Burgh) by public auction just before
Burns’s birth, the part known as Upper Alloway Crofts and the ruined tower of an
ancient castle called Brigend, was acquired by a local man called John Crawford
who resolved to build a fine modern country seat overlooking the beautiful river
Doon and its famed Old Bridge.[viii]
He named his estate Doonside. To create the amenities that every gentleman of
quality in the county needed, he employed our Poet’s father,
William Burnes in 1754 for a period two or three years as his gardener. The
gardens of Doonside House showed Burnes’s skills, as the demesne was described
by a tourist at the time as ‘a pretty dwelling, surrounded with gardens,
orchards and parks.’[ix] Once the
Doonside project was completed, William Burnes jumped across the river Doon to
enjoy the employment by Provost William Fergusson of Doonholm, who would
subsequently rent the farm of Mount Oliphant to his gardener so he could become
a farmer the better to support his young family.
of Doonside died, childless, in 1776 and his second cousin William inherited the
handsome estate.[x] If you visit
Alloway’s Auld Kirk, you can still see the weathered stone marking the Crawford
vault bearing the inscription ‘John Crawford of Doonside, who died 2D Apr.
1776.’[xi] William married Jane
Campbell the daughter of an Ayr doctor and in their marriage they went on to
have three sons and three daughters.[xii]
In the mercenary politics of the day he was recorded as one of the county voters
for Ayrshire along with Kennedy and Douglas. The government agent who canvassed
votes in 1788 described him as having an ‘Estate small and entailed. A family.
Should be provided for [i.e. bribed through patronage]. Undecided [i.e. as to
which party to vote for].’ [xiii] I
have found no evidence of the famed patronage of Henry Dundas adding to the joys
of the Crawfords.
Like most of
the other guests that day, William was a prominent Freemason in the town,
serving as master of Ayr Kilwinning (the ‘Operative’) Lodge no 123 for a total
of five years (1785 to 1786, and 1800 to 1802). In fact, he would have been the
ranking mason present at the first two dinners in his capacity of Right
Worshipful Master, following in the footsteps of past-masters Ballantine, Aitken
In 1800 he
noticed the ill repair of the old Brig o’Doon and in respect for its history and
its poetical connections with Burns, he led a campaign in the county to raise
funds for its preservation and upkeep (just as Hamilton Paul would do around
twenty-five years later, and the Burns Federation in 1907.) This homage to the
poet, along with the linkage to William Burnes through the Doonside estate made
him an eminently suitable guest for the first Burns Supper.[xv]
Hamilton Paul’s minutes of the Allowa’ Club mention him attending the second
dinner as well, which was the first to be held on the poet’s birthday which they
erroneously thought was 29 January, 1802.[xvi]
on 22 March 1807 at the age of 48 (which would have been the same age as Rabbie,
had he lived) and was laid to rest beside his cousin in Alloway.[xvii]
He was commemorated at the next Allowa’ Club dinner (held that year in the
Cottage but in the rather more seasonable weather of July as being more
comfortable and appropriate to the elderly gentlemen.) They seemed to be in need
of looking after, for Robert Aiken had also died that year, as did Dr William
McGill the second minister of Ayr’s Auld Kirk (himself another Lodge 123
brother), in fact, all three (including Crawford) expired within a few weeks of
each other. Hamilton Paul’s Ode for that July, 1807 dinner was entitled
’Anniversary of Burns And Tribute To The Memory of Three Friends To Whom The
Poet Was Dear And Some Of Whom He Distinguished With Peculiar Marks Of Gratitude
And Esteem As His Writings Testify.’[xviii]
The passage relating to William Crawford follows:
prone, to melancholy slow,
The Muse long struggling gains the tide of grief,
Now bursts the floodgates of her oppressive woes,
And tries in utt’rance to obtain relief;
The while her fav’rites, mid unbroken gloom
Partake the dreamless slumber of the tomb.
Thy Banks, O
Doon shall long retain,
And echo back the plaintive strain
As near thy glassy wave,
We heave the sigh when Beauty weeps,
O’er the cold turf where CRAWFORD sleeps,
That turf that wraps his grave,
Ye trees that crown the wat’ry glade,
Ye birds that chaunt the boughs among,
Ye seem to wear a deeper shade,
Ye seem to pour a sadder song.
more solemn and more slow
Thou seems’t amid thy woods to flow
In mournful cadence to the sounding shore
For he who like the Summer beam
Gave life and beauty to thy stream
Shall tread the daisied turf no more.
No more with voice of welcome call
The stranger to his bounteous hall
No wore when social tribes convene
With wine & song & mirth
To pay homage due to the Poet’s birth
With his lov’d presence grace the joyous scene.[xix]
So there we have all
nine guests recorded – to the greater or lesser extent that we have available.
But it came to me that there was a tenth person present. Not a guest but the
landlord of the Cottage. When the Burns family moved from Alloway to Mount
Oliphant, William could not manage to sell ‘the auld clay biggin’, so for the
next fifteen years he let it out to various tenants. In 1781, the Incorporation
of Shoemakers in Ayr were looking for a safe investment in real estate for their
cash, and William agreed to sell it to them for £160. The Shoemakers were one of
nine ‘incorporated trades’ which had exclusive rights to make and sell their
wares within the Royal Burgh. On joining this livery company, members paid a fee
the company which was invested to provide benefits for fellow members who fell
ill, or out of trade or at the end of the day to support their widows. For the
next nineteen years the Shoemakers rented it to one of their members for £10 per
annum, but in 1801 the tenant, Matthew Dick appears to have decided to turn the
cottage into a public house.[xx]
It’s hard to tell if that decision was a factor in prompting John Ballantine to
think of holding the dinner in July. I think it probably was, for the inn sign –
a portrait of Burns – was reported in the press as having been,
‘done at the expence [sic], and at the direction of, several gentlemen of the
neighbourhood’ to be hung outside the cottage. It was this picture that was
brought into the first dinner where Hamilton Paul apostrophised it in his First
Ode, as he recorded in the first minute of the club:
A portrait of
the Poet, painted on wood, intended as a signpost to the cottage, which is a
rural tavern, was presented to the company, to which there is an allusion in the
‘When even his image in my burning breast,’ &c.
There is an
inn sign in the collection of the Burns Birth Place Museum. When I last saw it,
Amy Miller from BBPM told me that ‘according to local knowledge, this board is
much older than it looks - in the 20th century someone “spruced it up” and
painted over the original,’ so it is perfectly likely that is the board that was
toasted on that first dinner.[xxii]
Not all critics thought that this was either an appropriate or a well-executed
manner in which to commemorate the birth-place of the Bard. One ‘R.M.’ of
Glasgow visited the Cottage some weeks before the first Supper and was scathing
about the portrait:
in the whole
design there was exhibited such a poverty of intellect, such a deplorable
beggary of taste, and such a woeful display of ignorance and folly, that for a
moment, I was unable to decide whether it was most deserving of laughter,
ridicule, indignation, or contempt.[xxiii]
But on the
ancient commercial principle of ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ the
commentary and connection with the national poet ensured good trade and
financial success for the cottage in its new role, to the extent that before the
second dinner, John Maitland, a flesher (or butcher) in Ayr thought that
the new inn would be a money-spinner and so he struck a bargain with the
Incorporation to permit him to live in the cottage and carry on as a publican
for a significantly enhanced rent of £25/10/-. He took possession of the cottage
at Martinmas in November, 1801 and after two years he sublet his tenancy to the
infamous old drunk, John ‘Miller’ Goudie who held sway (quite literally) over
Burns Cottage for forty years entertaining and annoying many pilgrims to the
birthplace of Burns including John Keats in 1818 who memorably ‘drank
some toddy to Burns’s memory with an old man who knew Burns – damn him and damn
his Anecdotes – he was a great bore.’[xxiv]
I am running
ahead of the story.
success of the second dinner in 1802, the Allowa’ club continued to hold
anniversary dinners in the Cottage in January 1803 (when they determined that
the poet’s true birthday was 25th not 29th) and again in January 1804. As
mentioned above, the chill of the cottage in winter was uncongenial to the older
gentlemen, so they switched back to a Summer celebration between 1805 and 1808.
There was no dinner held in 1809 and in January 1810 the company met at the
King’s Arms Inn at the bottom of the High Street in Ayr when Hamilton Paul was
present in person as laureate for the ninth and last time before leaving for the
Borders and his new pulpit. His Ode that day celebrated his tenure and echoed
his departure through quoting the words of his poetic hero:
Nine times the annual lyre I’ve strung,
Nine times the Poet's praises sung;
Thus have the Muses all, by turns,
Paid homage to the shade of Burns,
While you, the Patrons of the Nine,
Delighted, charm'd, enraptur'd, fir’d,
By love of poesy and wine,
Politely listen'd and admir’d;
But should my day be overcast,
And this effusion prove my last,
In words that oft have met your ear,
‘This last request permit me here;
When yearly, ye assemble a',
One round, I ask it with a tear,
To him, the Bard, that's far awa’!’[xxv]
The Allowa’ Club continued to
meet annually in Ayr until January 1819, with their absent reverend friend
mailing an annual Ode to be read by one of the assembled guests. He returned to
Ayr to help preside over the laying of the foundation stone of the Burns
Monument on Burns’s Anniversary in 1820 and that evening there were several
(possibly two dozen!) competing Burns Suppers held in the town and so the Allowa’
Club did not meet that night, or as it transpired, ever again.[xxvi]
But by then, Hamilton Paul’s invention – the Burns Supper – had become a popular
national (and international) festival celebrating one of the greatest poets
ever. His convivial invention continues to grow today, and so we all owe a great
vote of thanks to him, and his eight friends who started this joyful and
So next January please raise a
glass in a toast to the first Nine Men and their happy legacy.
HERE’S, a bottle and an honest
What wad ye wish for mair, man?
Wha kens, before his life may end,
What his share may be of care, man.
Then catch the moments as they
And use them as ye ought, man: -
Believe me, happiness is shy,
And comes not ay when sought, man.[xxvii]
© Clark McGinn, MMXVI
[ii] The State Of The Nation
[...] Comprised In The Reports Of The Select Committee On Finance […]
Appointed By The House Of Commons [etc., etc.], (London: Printed by R
Shaw,1799), vol iii, pp.21-22.
Bob Harris and Charles McKean, The Scottish Town in the Age of
Enlightenment: 1740 – 1820, (Edinburgh: EUP, 2011), p.42.
Paterson, History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton, (Edinburgh: James
Stillie, 1864), vol ii, p.129.
[v] Joseph D Shearer, Ayr And
Its People From 1428 To The Time Of Burns, (Ayr: The Art of Joseph
[vi] McKie Collection, Dean
Castle, East Ayrshire: McKie, IX, 35 B, p.2, and [Anon], A Short
Vindication of the Memory of the Late Major Alexander Campbell of the
21st Regiment of Foot [Etc. Etc.], (Edinburgh: Constable, 1810), p.35.
Edinburgh Magazine & Literary Miscellany, (1820), p.94.
Paterson, op cit, vol I, p.201.
John Wilson, Robert Chambers and David Octavius Hill, The Land of Burns,
(Glasgow: Blackie, 1840), vol 1, pp.16-18, at p.18.The house was
extensively damaged by fire in 1852 but was remodelled. It was
demolished in 1961.
Paterson, op cit, vol ii, pp.368-9.
David Williams, Robert Burns and Ayrshire: A Guide to the People and
Places the Poet Knew,’ (Catrine: Alloway Publishing, 2013), p.98. The
Scots Magazine gives the date as 23 March.
Paterson, op cit, vol ii, pp.427-428.
Sir Charles Adam of Blair-Adam (ed.),
The Political State Of Scotland In The Last Century: A Confidential
Report: Political Opinions, Family Connections, Or Personal
Circumstances Of The 2662 County Voters In 1788, Edited With An
Introductory Account Of The Law Relating To County Elections. (Edinburgh:
David Douglas, 1887), p.38 (at paragraph 137).
Archibald Chalmers, ‘The First Ever Burns Supper, The Ashlar, issue 38
McKie IX, 35, A p.1.
McKie IX, 35, A, p.3.
The Athenaeum, 1807 p.541.
Air Advertiser, 30 July 1807.
Peter Westwood, ‘Burns Cottage,’
Burns Chronicle (Homecoming
2009), pp.i –
Personal email to author, 20 February 2013.
The Monthly Magazine, No. 73, 1 June 1801, pp.408-409, at p.408. See
also Aberdeen Journal, 15 June 1801 which called it a ‘posthumous
honour,’ see also the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette of 13 June
1801. By 1817, this had been brought indoors to act as an icon; see
Andrew Bigelow, Leaves From a Journal; or Sketches of Rambles in Some
Parts of North Britain and Ireland Chiefly in the Year 1817, (Boston:
Wells & Lilly, 1821), p.33.
Letter, John Keats to Thomas Keats, 17 July 1818,
Hyder Edward Rollins (ed.), Letters of John Keats 1814 – 1821, 2 vols.
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1958), vol.I, pp.331-332.
McKie IX, 35, F, G;
Air Advertiser, 1 February 1810;
3 February 1810.
[Anon], Auld Ayr, ‘Laying The Foundation Stone of Burns’ Monument,’
The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns, James Kinsley (ed.), 3 vols (Oxford:
OUP, 1968)., K.618 [Here’s a bottle and an honest friend.]