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History of Montrose
Chapter XIV. - Distinguished Natives


MONTROSE can boast of two Reformers, each of them great in his own way—Andrew Melville, Reformer of the Church, and Joseph Hume, Reformer of the State. The latter was a native of the town, and the former was born at Baldovie, an estate in the neighbourhood, and received his early education in Montrose. It has been justly said of Mr Hume, that he conferred more honour on Montrose, than ever he received from it. He was a man eminently fitted by natural gifts, both of mind and body, to act the part he did in the great council of the nation. He brought to the task sound sense, and powers of reflection, which enabled him to draw from observation and experience, those practical lessons which the times required— indeed as was said of Sir Robert Peel, at the time of the Com Bill “ he was the man for the times”—a man, in short, of “facts and figures." As the mainspring of all, he had the welfare of his native town, and of the country at large, as his ruling principle; and what motive can be stronger 1 and his hardy and robust constitution made labour sit light upon him, so that he could weary out all opposition. The pear was ripe, too, and fell into his hand; for at the time he was first made member for the burgh, there was a noble band of Reformers in Montrose, who prepared his way. These were Provost Charles Barclay, James Burns, Esq., Dean of Guild, Dr. Gibson, Alex. Thomson, Esq., Mr James Bisset, and Mr George Beattie. The Town Council at that time, like all the other Municipal Corporations of Scotland, since the act 1469, were self-elected—the old councillors electing the new; and although power may be conferred upon any set of men who know how to use it, yet human nature is' such that the best become arbitrary in its exercise and sometimes tyrannical in the extreme. How few are like the present Emperor of France, who seems to know the exact measure of liberty to mete out to his subjects, and how much they can rightly use; and how well may the epithet, applied to his uncle’s prowess in the field, be ascribed to him, “acer et indomitus” as a ruler of his people. But such was not exactly the complexion of the rulers of the burgh of Montrose, when Joseph Hume was elected in 1818. They had not the discretion to see that the Burgesses required to know more of the affairs of the town, than came to their knowledge. They refused to satisfy their reasonable desire to know the state of the funds, and tried to prohibit a public meeting, called by advertisement, to look into them, but had afterwards to submit to an opinion of counsel requiring them to do so. Then they held out the olive branch, and in their confusion resolved to appoint their successors in the council by ballot—a mode of election not known to the constitution, by which step the burgh was disfranchised, and a warrant obtained from the Prince Begent for a new set of the burgh, by which the Burgesses were empowered to elect 12 councillors. This warrant was obtained through a recommendation of the Lord Advocate and the Law-officers of the crown, the latter of whom afterwards, when they saw to what it would lead, sought to have it withdrawn, but it would not do; and Lord Gifford, the vice-chancellor, expressed surprise when these law-officers wished to repudiate their own act and deed. So the other towns were set on edge* and wished to have the same privileges, which however, were not granted, till the time of the Reform Bill, and then not to the extent granted to Montrose. But they in admiration of the example set them by this town, and of Mr Hume as a public man, united in returning him to parliament; and ever after the character given of him in the speeches delivered at that meeting, especially in that of Dr. Gibson, was thoroughly sustained by Mr Hume in after life.

Mr James Bisset acted a most important part in carrying out the views of the Reformers by the counsel which he gave, as well as by his writings in the Review, and his appeals to the patriotism and public spirit of his townsmen; but none drew the attention of public men, or fastened the eyes of all upon him, so much as Provost Bumes, for in the appearances that he made in Edinburgh before the convention of royal burghs, he astonished the lawyers, whom he is said to have equalled in forensic powers. He was one who possessed in an eminent degree suavity of manner, with persuasive force; and if it had not been for him, the convention itself might have retraced its steps. A writer in the Montrose Review, for 1818, with the signature of “Meg Merilees” labours to prove that the Prince Regent was not the channel by which the right of corporations should have been regulated, but parliament. Sir A. Hamilton, though fully acknowledging and bewailing the corrupt state of the burghs, took the same line of argument in his plaoe in parliament; but the Prince Regent, acting for the king, and by the advice of his constitutional advisers, the Lord Advocate and the law officers of crown, granted a warrant for a new set of the burgh, and as the kings at firfet granted these charters, they had certainly a right to see that their intentions were given effect to, and as law is the science which teaches justice, Lord Gifford took the same view. If law is a science, it has fixed principles, which are deeply imbedded in the mind of every lawyer; and if it were not so, and we had nothing but party to guide us, there would be nothing sure, for whatever party was most powerful would dictate the laws, to maintain its own ascendancy. The Montrose Review for the year 1818, particularly is full of compliments to Montrose, for the part she took in opening up the Scotch Burghs; for we find in the London, Edinburgh, and provincial papers, many notices to that effect; and as a proof that the Prince Regent acted wisely, we have parliament at last following up tardily years afterwards in the same direction, though not to the same extent in the general Reform Bill. And the people of Montrose well deserved all the praise they got, for they went prudently to work, and all concerned, , it may be said, were satisfied. The three Commissioners also, appointed by the Prince, viz., the Sheriffs of Forfar, Perth, and Kincardine-shires (Mr Duff, Mr Forbes, and Mr Douglas), in very eloquent addresses, complimented the electors and elected on the propriety of their conduct during the whole election, and explained to the magistrates and citizens their duties. The names of the councillors were:—Charles Barclay, John Dorward, William Anderson, William Ross, William Caird, Thomas Dougal, James Clark, George Shepherd, David Whyte, Alexander Smart, James Burnes, James Crawford, John M'Gregor, Dr. Gibson, James Birnie. James Burnes, Esq., Dean of Guild, gained his election by a majority of 5. His assessors werePatrick Mason, Robert Smith, William Anderson, David Buchan, George Shand, William Smart. The Commissioners met again on Thursday, at Two o’clock when the New Council appeared before them, and elected the following Magistrates and Office-Bearers, Charles Barclay, Esq., Provost; James Clark, Esq., George Shepherd, Esq., William Caird, Esq., Bailies; William Anderson, Esq,, Treasurer; Alexander Smart, Esq., Hospital Master.

The Trades appeared before the Commissioners, and elected the following gentlemen: —Alexander Keith, Convener; Alexander Stewart, James Watt, James Will. The word “Reform” is sometimes taken in an unworthy sense, as what tends to the breaking down of time-honoured institutions; but this cannot be said of Mr Hume. He, like a wise and prudent partner in a mercantile house, wished only to restore what had gone into disorder, and to place every thing on a sound footing—to carry on the business of the state with prudence and foresight, and in an economical way. None can object to such reforms.

After his death, there was a statue erected in the middle of the High Street, to his memory. In digging the fund-ation, about 20 silver coins were picked up, of the reign of Edward I., which are to be seen in the Museum.

The following Poem, on the Inauguration of the Statue, is taken from Smart’s “Songs of Labour and Domestic Life”:—

Unveil the form, the face unveil,
That never quailed to mortal man ;
In sculptured stone the Tribune hail,—
The Patriot's manly features scan.
Fit tribute to his honoured name,
The first Reformer of the age;
The heir to an enduring fame
In truthful history’s brightest page.
His advent into public life,
Girt in his patriot coat of mail,
Brought courage to the gathering strife,
A voice that turned corruption pale:
He placed his back against a rock,
While hostile ranks enclosed him -round,
And bore unmoved the fiercest shock,
Nor bated once an inch of ground.
Assailed by many a venal scribe,
By slander coarse, by scornful jeer,
To every worthless taunt and jibe
He turned a deaf and dauntless ear.
The ridicule that few can stand,
When polished satire aims the dart,
And malice seeks a name to brand,
Fell pointless from his noble heart.
With facts and figures doubly armed,
Strong in its cause the brave man stood 
No labours tried, no fears alarmed,
No frown of power his soul subdued.
From licensed plunderers bent to guard
The public purse, the public weal,
Chief of a little band he warred,
With words more strong than pointed steel.
He lived all hostile clamour down,—
The few- became a phalanx strong,
And round the chief of gray renown
Reform rung forth—a chuckoo song;
And he, the pioneer of old,
Through good and ill report the same,
Saw quondam foes, converted, hold
His early faith—his triumph claim.
The friend of universal man,
Whate’er his creed, whate’er his clime,
His mind o’erleapt the narrow span
Of party, for a field sublime.
The heat and burden of the day
With steadfast will the patriot bore
Then sunk to rest with evening gray,—
His task fulfilled, his warfare o’er.
While senates owned his matchless worth,
Integrity no power could bend,
The joy of the domestic hearth,
He lived the husband, father, friend.
Robed in simplicity and truth,
A Spartan virtue round him shone,
And mingled with the fires of youth
The wisdom that with years had grown.
Home of his early dreams, Montrose
Scenes where his joyous boyhood ran!
His name reflected lustre throws
O’er wood, and stream, and flowery lawn:
The Esk runs sparkling to the sea,
The billows lave thy lovely shore,—
An anthem to the brave and free,
Still blending with the ooean’s roar.

SIR ALEXANDER BtJRNES.

Among the many distinguished men that Montrose has produced, none has been invested with greater interest, in my estimation, than the late lamented Sir Alexander Bumes. Having known him so well as a school-companion and playmate, his brilliant career in India struck me with surprise. There is no telling how much home recollections had to do with his success, as these indeed have at all times given a stimulus to heroic exploits, and have no doubt often decided the fate of a battle, on which depended the liberties of a nation. In this view it is wise to surround the homes of our. youth with every attraction, since

“All pleasing memories spring from homes of men.”

Accordingly, I remember that at Pasch the Buraeses had always the best dyed eggs to throw in the Links—they were of every possible variety of colour. He was a rough boy at school, often running with his boot laces untied, and falling over in the chase, as well as the foremost in bold adventures; yet one so trained in youth was just the man to go through with such an arduous work as the exploration of the course of the Indus, the perilous journey in Affghanistan, and his visit to the inhospitable Caucasus. His pleasurable feelings in writing home are faithfully recorded in Good Words, as also in Chapter VI. of this book.

SIR JAMES (Dr.) BURNES.

Sir James Bumes was Sir Alexander’s eldest brother, apd also distinguished himself in India, having been Provincial Grand Master (Westem Province) of the Free Masons there, under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. He resided at Bombay, received the Guelphio honour of knighthood from King William the Fourth, and before leaving was honoured by a public banquet by the Scotch and English residents at that Presidency. He gave a silver medal to the Academy. He was author of A Visit to the Court of Scinde, the Ameers of which country were then in their glory, now, alas! departed. He is favourably mentioned in the Encyclopedia Britannica as a high authority in reference to the history of Cutch. Of Sir Alexander's third brother, Adam, it may be said that he might make a book of his own witty sayings.

SIR JAMES DUKE, BART.

Sir James, son of Mr. John Duke, merchant, was bom at Montrose on the 31st January, 1792. He entered the Civil Department of the Royal Navy at an early age, under Captain Sir Peter Parker, baronet—was with the late Lord Exmouth when Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean, and was secretary to the late Admiral Sir John Gore at the close of the war. He commenced hia commercial career in London, in 1819 ; was chosen Sheriff of London and Middlesex in 1836; and knighted 7th April following, having the previous year been appointed a Magistrate for Middlesex. He was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1848-9; a Deputy-Lieutenant for Lincolnshire and for Middlesex; an Alderman of London (elected in 1840 for Farringdon-without); a Magistrate for Sussex ; and a Commissioner of the Lieutenancy of London. On his visit to Scotland when Lord Mayor, he was honoured with the freedom of the City of Edinburgh. He was elected to present to the Emperor of the French the address of tHe merchants and bankers of the City of London, upon the occasion-of his election as Emperor; and subsequently the Emperor honoured him with the cross of “Chevalier of the Legion of Honour;” and at the recent general election, the electors of the City of London passed a unanimous vote of thanks to him for his long and consistent service in Parliament. In politics4ie >as a liberal, favourable to the ballot, and to the shorter duration of Parliaments. He Bat for Boston from 1837 till July, 1849, when he was returned for London without opposition, and was created a Baronet on 30th October of the latter year. He retired from public life a few years ago, after marrying a young wife, by whom he has a son and heir. He gives a silver medal to the dux of the Academy at the annual examinations. His brother, Dr. John Duke, served his apprenticeship to Dr. W. Gibson, and afterwards accompanied the first expedition of Sir John Boss to the Arctic Seas. He died at an age comparatively early, and was a man much respected.

DR. ROBERT BROWN

Robert Brown—Illustrissimus Brown—as the first botanists in Europe by common consent called him, was a native of Montrose, his father having been Episcopal Incumbent, or Missionary at Glenesk. This gentleman accompanied Captain Flinders on his voyage to Australia, and was afterwards the personal and much trusted friend of the late Sir Joseph Banks, and was by him appointed, by will, librarian and curator of his museum, which was left to the British Museum, of which Dr. Brown was curator to the day of his death. Mr. B. was styled by Humboldt as the “ facile princeps Britannicorum ” as regarded the botanists of his day ; and it was commonly said that there was not in any herbarium a plant which he failed to recognize, or to remember something of. He was of a disposition peculiarly retiring and modest. His good offices were always at the service of his young countrymen who visited the south in search of scientific employment or distinction. The writer of these lines—Dr. Alexander Gibson, of Auchinrioch—who had the honour of Dr. Brown’s personal acquaintance, most gratefully vouches for this fact. His father’s name may be seen in a window of Mrs. Erskine’s house, where he preached. Bonaparte wanted to make him a Count —he brought him into notice; and he was much in favour with, and received marks of distinction from all the crowned heads of Europe. His system of botany will, it is thought, supersede the Linnsean, and is just coming into vogue.

DR. ALEX. GIBSON, OF AUCHINRIOCH

Was a native of Montrose, served his apprenticeship with his half-brother, Dr. William Gibson. He was long in India in the practice of his profession, and was appointed Conservator of Woods and Forests there. He used to act plays in his mother’s house, No. 33, Castle Street—his favourite, “Thrum-my Cap" being one of them. He performed a feat in which few would follow him, going through all the shops in disguise, and begging for a poor woman. His conduct in this beggars description.

SIR WILLIAM BURNETT

Long Inspector-General of Hospitals in H. Navy, was born and educated in Montrose. His father was a baker, and lived in that house, No. 40 High Street, and brought up a large family. Sir William’s name is also famous as having been the inventor of the method (afterwards patented) for the prevention of dry rot. The process has for many years been applied with advantage, in preparing the timber used in H.M. Navy, and doubtless the saving to the country from the use of his process has been great.

Sir William was all along a kind friend and adviser, and protector to young men from Montrose and its vicinity; and many Medical Officers still in H.M. service, owe their introduction into public life to Sir W. The Navy Doctors presented him with his portrait.


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