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Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts adjoining the Ochils
Chapter III - Captain John M'Nab, and his splendid Bequest to Dollar

IN the year 1799 a message came one day to Mr. M'Arbrea, the parish teacher of Dollar, that a gentleman wished to see him in the village inn at Gateside; and on repairing thither he found an entire stranger awaiting him, who did not introduce himself, but who, in the course of a long conversation, asked all the information about Dollar that a parish teacher was so well qualified to give; and, after getting this, bade Mr. M'Arbrea goodbye, leaving him still in ignorance as to who his interrogator was. He gave him to understand, however, that the object of his inquiries was, that some one was going to benefit the parish in an educational point of view; and the inhabitants of Dollar are certainly very much indebted to the shrewd old schoolmaster for representing matters in such, a light, that what this stranger contemplated would be a very great boon and blessing to Dollar, and would be highly prized by the parishioners. This visit would no doubt give rise to a good deal of talk in Dollar at the time, and great curiosity would be excited as to who this inquisitive gentleman was; but it was fully two years before the mystery was cleared up, and after the visit had been almost entirely forgotten. The first light that was thrown on the incident was the intimation that came to Dollar in 1802, that a Captain John M'Nab had died in London, leaving a large sum of money for 'a charity or school for the poor of the parish,' and it was to be under the management of the parish minister and kirk-session. This gentleman, then, had no doubt been Mr. M'Arbrea's mysterious visitor, and it became a settled point in Dollar, about which there need not be the slightest doubt.

As is well known, this Mr. John M'Nab, whose noble gift has so entirely changed the quiet little country village into the important place of learning it now is, was a native of Dollar parish, having been born at Wellhall, and was baptized in the Parish Church of Dollar on the 14th of May 1732--one hundred and fifty years ago. He left Dollar, when a young lad, for a seafaring life, and was so poor he had to borrow the three-halfpence necessary to take him across the Queen's Ferry, when on his way to Leith. From this time till he appeared again in Dollar in 1799 (which must have been some fifty years at least), he was entirely lost sight of, and would be—but by a very few —entirely forgotten. Having been successful in amassing a large fortune, and remembering, no doubt, the disadvantages under which he had himself laboured when a poor boy in Dollar, be had bethought himself of doing something for his native village; and hence his splendid bequest.The Rev. John Watson appears to have treated the people of Dollar very cavalierly; for although the Rev. Noah Hill's letter to him, intimating Mr. M'Nab's bequest, was dated the 18th of January 1802, he appears not to have brought it before his session till the 2nd of March 1803, on which date it is taken notice of for the first time in the session records, and the will and Rev. Noah Hill's letter recorded.

On the 17th March 1803 a session meeting was held. Present with the Moderator, the Rev. John Watson, Messrs. James Gibson, James Christie, John Jack, Andrew Paton, and Robert Smith, elders.

On account of the doubtful wording of Mr. M'Nab's will, this meeting decided to take opinion of counsel regarding it, and the following letter was agreed to be sent to James Ferrier, W.S., Edinburgh, Commissioner to the Duke of Argyle :-

'DOLLAR, 17th March 1803.

'SIR,—Iner alia, the members of the kirk-session, on account of the doubtful wording of the will, wish to know whether they could advance the money requisite for managing the matter in the first instance out of the poor funds belonging to the parish, or if it is to be at their own risk, as none of them can afford it; and, besides, it is no benefit to themselves, being a public and parochial concern; or would you take the risk upon yourself, on being handsomely rewarded on obtaining a decision corroborating the will? Your opinion as to either of these is expected by, sir, etc.,


From this time till 1807 there appears to have been no session meetings held in connection with it, and both the heritors and inhabitants of Dollar were kept in entire ignorance of what Mr. Watson was doing in regard to the matter. Mr. M'Nab's executors having meanwhile raised a Chancery suit (the will being disputed by his cousin), the Court of Chancery ordered the kirk-session to exhibit a scheme of the mode in which they meant to dispose of the legacy. Mr. Watson, in compliance with this order, prepared one for erecting a large hospital or poor-house, and did so apparently without consulting his session, knowing that Mr. M'Arbrea, the session-clerk, and, indeed, all the inhabitants of the parish, and heritors, were quite opposed to this, and in favour of an educational seminary. (The Chancery suit terminated in favour of Dollar.) As soon as it got to be known that Mr. Watson had presented this scheme, a meeting of the heritors took place on the 27th of January 1808, and also one of the inhabitants of the parish on the same day, with the view of opposing it. Through the kindness of Mr. Haig of Dollarfield, I am enabled to give a copy of the minutes of both of those meetings, and the names of those who attended them, whih are as follow:-

'Minute of a meeting of the heritors of the parish of Dollar, called to consider a plan which the minister of the parish is stated to have presented, with the concurrence of the elders, to the Court of Chancery, for erecting an hospital for poor children with Captain M'Nab's legacy—held at Dollar the 27th day of January 1808.

'Present—Craufurd Tait, Esq. of Harviestoun, for himself, and Colonel Campbell, of Dollarbeg; John Duncanson, of Sheardale; William Fult, of Mains of Dollar; William Haig, of Dollarfield; Robert Marshall, of Mains of Dollar; Robert Pitcairn, in Dollar; John M'Cathie, in Dollar; Thomas Lamb, of Mains of Dollar; James Fergus, of Mains of Dollar; Walter Moir, for John Moir, of Hillfoot.—Mr. Tait appointed Preses; Mr. Moir appointed Clerk.

The meeting having very fully considered the subject, are unanimously of opinion that the. erection of an hospital for poor children in the parish would be a great misfortune, would discourage industry, and would tend to bring into the parish a number of poor people; and they resolve to oppose the erection of an hospital by every means in their power, and, if necessary, to appear in the Court of Chancery and state the misfortunes which they consider it will bring upon the parish. Mr. Tait, Mr. Moir, and Mr. Haig stated to the meeting that when they heard that the minister and elders had made an application to the Court of Chancery for the establishment of an hospital or poor-house, they had retained counsel, and employed a solicitor to oppose the plan of the minister and elders. All the heritors and proprietors present approved of this, and authorized their names to be used in opposing the erection of an hospital or poor-house. They further resolved, and they individually obliged themselves, not to feu, or let, or in any way to give possession of any part of their grounds to the minister and elders for the erection of an hospital or poor-house, or an establishment of any kind with Mr. M'Nab's legacy, except a free school, which they think would promote the industry and prosperity of the parish.'

'Minutes of a meeting of the inhabitants of Dollar, called to consider a plan which the minister of the parish is stated to have presented, with the concurrence of the elders, to the Court of Chancery, for erecting an hospital for poor children with Captain M'Nab's legacy—held at Dollar the 27th day of January 1808.

'Present - William Donaldson, quarrier in Dollar; William Fyfe, coalmaster in Dollar; Alexander Hamilton, baker in Dollar; Andrew Sharp, smith in Dollar; William Gibson, flesher in Dollar; Francis Sharp, flesher in Dollar; Alexander Paterson, farmer in Dollarbeg; James Millar, mason in Dollar; John Maitland, Excise officer in Dollar; Robert Malcolm, mason in Dollar; Robert Leslie, carrier in Dollar; James Scott, overseer at Mains of Dollar.

'The minutes of the heritors of this day regarding the application of Captain M'Nab's legacy having been read to the meeting, and the persons present having both now and formerly considered the subject with all the attention in their power, they are unanimously of opinion that the erection of a free school, at which the different useful branches of education would be taught, would be the greatest blessing that could be conferred on the parish. As to the establishment of an hospital for poor children, they are of opinion that it would be an improper mode of applying Captain M'Nab's legacy, —first, because the number of children that could be admitted into such an hospital would be so small that it would not be of extensive benefit to the inhabitants of the parish.

'Secondly, because they consider that the greatest comfort which parents can receive is the company and conversation of their children in their own families; and they would be obliged to remove this comfort before their children could get the benefit of being educated in the hospital. Besides, they consider it their duty as parents to watch over the health and morals of their children, and they think that these will be as well attended to under their own eyes, as when they are trusted to a hired housekeeper, or hired servants in an hospital.

'Thirdly, from their early prejudices and education, they have been accustomed to consider it as their pride to be able to feed and clothe their children without the assistance of charity; and the consequence of the erection of an hospital would be either that they, the present inhabitants, would feel themselves degraded if they suffered their children to go into the hospital, and the minister and elders would be obliged to invite families from neighbouring parishes, with different feelings, to furnish children for filling the hospital.


After those meetings were held the heritors employed counsel, and took steps to oppose Mr. Watson's plan in Chancery; and thus commenced the Chancery suit which continued for such a long series of years.

Four years after those meetings the inhabitants of Dollar were as much in the dark as ever as to when the parish was to reap the benefit of the legacy; and, getting very impatient at the silence maintained by Mr. Watson and the session, a petition was drawn up and presented to them, signed by fifty-nine names; and another meeting took place in the church on the 16th of June 1812, with the view of meeting the minister and session, and hearing what they had to say in regard to it. None of them, however, having put in an appearance, the meeting appointed the following committee to wait on Mr. Watson in the manse, viz. John Burns, David Smitton, Henry Murray, William M'Leish, Daniel M'Gregor, Andrew Paton, Robert Kirk, James Lawson, Andrew Sharp, Robert Malcolm, and Andrew Mallach.. They accordingly waited on him in the manse, and, in the course of a long interview, learned from him that he was determined that his scheme, and his alone, would be adopted, and told them that unless the parish agreed to it, they would never get the legacy. He wanted them to call another meeting of the inhabitants, and get them persuaded to adopt his views, and added: 'Although all the parish should leave me, and the session should leave me, who have acted along with me in the business, yet I stand alone for the poor of the parish;' which meant, of course, for having a poor-house or hospital built, although he knew that this was so generally condemned.

After dragging on for other three long years, the heritors (who were, unfortunately, not trustees under M'Nab's will) were just on the point of losing their suit in Chancery, when, fortunately for Dollar, Mr. Watson died, which put a stop to the proceedings for a time; and Dr. Mylne being appointed his successor, he at once took steps to get tha management of the fund transferred from the English Court of Chancery to the proper parties under the will—M'Nab's trustees—to be under the control of the Court of Session in Scotland, and, after nearly two years, succeeded in accomplishing his object. The announcement of Lord Eldon's (the Lord Chancellor) order to this effect, is recorded in the minutes of session on the 26th of June 1818. With the sixteen years' accumulations of interest that had accrued since the death of the testator in 1802, the legacy had now amounted to the handsome sum of £742,000.


Dr. Mylne being at one with the heritors and inhabitants of Dollar as to how the money should be applied, it was decided at once to have an educational seminary; and in 1818 the building of Dollar Academy was commenced.

Mr. M'Arbrea's declaration on oath, in 1808, before William Haig, Esq., of Dollarfield, J.P., that, in the conversation he had with Mr. M'Nab when be visited Dollar in 1799, he never mentioned an hospital for the support of the poor, but that the legacy that was to be left was to be for the education of the parish, would have great weight with Dr. Mylne in enabling him to make up his mind on the subject.

Could the worthy donor now return, and see the fine building which his noble generosity was the means of rearing, and learn all the good that had been done in Dollar in the way of education for the last sixty years, not only to the natives of it, but to young men from every part of the world, he would have no reason to regret the decision he came to, or find fault with the admirable way in which the people of Dollar had carried out his wishes.

Dr. Mylne having played such an important part in getting M'Nab's legacy applied to the purpose for which the donor solely intended it, it may not be uninteresting here to give Mr. Tait's letter, appointing him as the Rev. Mr. Watson's successor to the church of Dollar. Mr. Watson (who had been for twenty-three years minister of the parish) died 16th December 1815, and the inhabitants were very anxious to get, as his successor, a Mr. Peter Brydie (afterwards minister of Fossoway), who had for some time been acting as his assistant. With this object in view, a petition in his favour was drawn up for presentation to the patron, Craufurd Tait, Esq., of Harviestoun (the Archbishop of Canterbury's father), and intimation of this had been made to Mr. Tait by letter by my grandfather, James Gibson, one of the elders. This letter brought an answer from Mr. Tait, which I here give a copy of in full.

'EDINBURGH, 20th Dec. 1815.

'DEAR SIR,—I have just now received your letter dated the 18th current, mentioning that Mr. Moore, of Lecropt, had assisted the parishioners of Dollar in drawing up a petition to me, for presenting to the Church of Dollar Mr. Peter Brydie, who has been for some short time past assisting Mr. Watson, the late minister, and that you understand Mr. Brydie would be agreeable to the parish. I have no doubt of Mr. Brydie being a very good man, and it is a great mark of his ability having interested the parish so much in his favour upon so short an acquaintance. But there is a very excellent man, with whom I and all my family have been most intimately acquainted now for more than these twelve years, and I have granted a presentation of the Church of Dollar in his favour. He is a religious and good man, of kind and obliging manners, and of great knowledge and learning; and I am sure I do not venture too far, when I pledge myself that you and the other elders, and all the parish, will, upon experience, find him to be a good minister and a kind friend. His name is Mr. Andrew Mylne, and it is probable that you and many people in the parish have seen him, as he has been frequently at different times living with me and my family at Harviestoun. Many patrons keep the parish vacant for nearly six months; but I am sure that you and the elders will approve of my having granted the presentation without delay, since I know so thoroughly the worth and qualities of Mr. Mylne. —I am, with great regard, dear sir, yours faithfully,


'Mr. Gibson, merchant, Dollar.'

Notwithstanding the good account of Mr. Mylne (then pronounced 'Mill') contained in Mr. Tait's letter, there somehow came to Dollar a report about him, that as a teacher in Edinburgh he was considered rather severe in his discipline; and to distinguish him from another Mr. Mylne, also a teacher there, the good folks of Edinburgh 'dubbed' our worthy Doctor 'The Threshing Mill.' Be this as it may, he had no opportunity of using the tawse in Dollar; but from our after experience of him, I would be inclined to think there was some truth in the story. As soon as it was finally resolved on having an educational seminary, and the building of the Academy was commenced, a few teachers were at once appointed; and until the Academy was finished, they taught in the 'Big Toll-house.'

Mr. James Walker, from Dunbar, was appointed English master; Mr. Peter Steven, for writing and arithmetic; Mr. William Tennant, for Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; Mr. De-Joux (pronounced by the Dollar folks De-Zhue) and his son, for French; and, shortly after the Academy was opened, Mr. Bell was appointed for mathematics. These formed the teaching staff of Dollar Academy for many years. Mr. Steven didn't come for a few months after Mr. Walker, and Mr. George Taylor, of the old town, who lived opposite my father's house, was temporarily appointed to teach writing and arithmetic, and filled the situation very satisfactorily till the permanent teacher came. After a time, Mr. Patrick Gibson was appointed the first drawing-master in the Academy; and, on Mr. Bell resigning the situation of mathematical teacher, Mr. Thomas Mathieson was appointed to succeed him. Mr. Mathieson died on the 13th of June 1833, at the early age of twenty-nine. Mr. David Gray succeeded Mr. Mathieson, and Mr. Gibson's successor in the drawing class was Mr. Patrick Syme.

Mr. Walker's first residence, when he came to Dollar, was Easter Dollarbeg. Mr. De-Joux lived in Do1la Bank. This Frenchman, who had travelled, thought the Devon Valley so like the Vale of Tempë, that he styled his place of residence Tempë Bank; and the vale below, the Vale of Tempë; and in my young days his beautifully-situated residence was regularly called Tempe Bank.

Dollar Academy


It must not be thought that Dollar, previous to the inauguration of its now celebrated Academy, was entirely without the means of education; for, in addition to the parish school, it was possessed of a rather famous educational establishment I used to hear a good deal about in my young days, but which had ceased to exist long before my time, and to which I will now refer; this was 'Muckle Jean's School.'

Previous to the fine block of buildings, styled Brooklynn, being built (to the north side of the Academy garden), there stood on the same site three one-storied thatched houses, named Lowburn, the western one of which, during the end of last century and beginning of the present, was the domicile and seminary of this worthy old dame. Her name was Jean Christie; and, to distinguish her from another of the same name, but of smaller stature, she was styled 'Muckle Jean.'

Jean, it seems, didn't approve of a little pair of tawse for keeping order in her school, but used a long wand, with which she could reach the farthest-away scholar without the trouble of rising; and this wand got to be spoken of as a standard of measurement among her scholars—'as long as Muckle Jean's wand' being a common expression used about anything that was considered very long.

We can easily imagine that Jean was not only innocent of having any knowledge of the classics, but that her acquaintance with the King's English would be but very imperfect; and when any very tough word was reached, that was not only beyond the comprehension of her scholars, but of Jean herself, she got over the difficulty by telling them to 'hip it, daughtie' (pass it over).

I have got these particulars about 'Muckle Jean' from a worthy old friend of mine, who, when a child, lived next door to her.

In connection with Mr. M'Arbrea, the parish teacher (to whom I have already referred), this same old friend of mine told me a rather amusing story about the very reprehensible practice of giving every one a nickname in those days, and which, I am sorry to say, is still too common amongst boys at the present time.

The sexton having died, the Rev. Mr. Watson asked a weaver named John M'Donald to accept of the berth; but John didn't see how he could make his 'daily bread' at it, and wouldn't, therefore, accept of the post. From that time forward John was dubbed 'Daily Bread;' and not only did he get this name, but it descended to his family. One of his sons, Roberta silly sort of a lad--was much annoyed one day by his schoolfellows shouting 'Daily Bread' to him; when, exasperated beyond measure, he rushed in to Mr. M'Arbrea, and complained bitterly to him about the boys calling him names. Sympathizing with the poor afflicted lad, and wishing to put a stop to this very bad practice, Mr. M'Arbrea asked him who were the guilty parties, when Robert amusingly replied, 'It was Davie Halley, the "Buildoug," and the "Sparrow."' The spell was broken at once, and poor Bob was found just as guilty as the rest.

This Davie Halley I remember as a pretty old man, with a large family, who carried on a cooperage at the head of Craigie's Brae, and went always by the name of 'Cooper Halley.'


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