Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Peter Goldman and The Desolation of Dundee

Death in Dundee:  A Different Plague



    Peter Goldman, a 17th century citizen of Dundee, is hardly well known among Dundonians today, though he should be for two reasons:  the prominence of his own life and achievements and the unique record he left of the burgh ravaged by pestilence.  Peter's brother  John died in 1607, carried off not by the bubonic plague which was raging at the time, but the equally deadly typhus.  Dr Buist of Dundee translated Peter Goldman's Latin poem about the event, in the early 20th century, giving a vivid description of the effect on his beloved brother, as well as many other Dundonians.  The work was published in Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum (2 volumes, 1637), a collection of Latin poetry by Scots which also contains a description by Hercules Rollock about the plague in Edinburgh in 1585.  Here is a totally unique record of a stark moment in time,  Goldman's first description of the effect of epidemic on Dundee:

                   A plague, by fault of air or sprung from earth,
                   Lay on the walls to which Tay gives its name.
                   Here for two years the loathsome thing ran wild,
                   Wasting the homes, scanting the town of folk:
                   Promiscuous funerals crowded, old and young:
                   All round were grief and signs of horrid death.
                   Youth breathed its soul before the parent's eye,
                   And at Life's threshold childhood laid its life.
                   Medicine gave way beneath the weight of ill;
                   Apollo-taught Kinloch could only sit
                   And pray the Fates bring the better time.
                   Vain, flame to purge the house, water the frame;
                   Vain to use wine against disease's bane;
                   Vain to drum prayers upon unhearing air,
                   Contagion spread still more on spreading more.
                   Now Ramsay died, now just and ever true
                   Lovell and Lindsay fell, whose care was aye
                   To make the people's weal their highest law.
                   Now tombs ran short, the cemet'ry o'erflowed;
                   Handbell unrung, the funeral order failed
                   To keep the customed way's sad company.
                   One way alone seemed counsel in despair,
                   Abandoning home to flee the baleful air:
                   Dwellers were few, rare guardian at the gate,
                   Thistles were found at crosses once foot-smoothed
                   And thorny burdocks mid in paved streets.
                   A piteous crowd, staking in neighbouring fields,
                   Fixed roofs or peltclad fled the painful shower.
                   Some villas sought or widespread neighbour towns,
                   And John of ours fled to Winton's castled tower;
                   But weird of pressing ill and future grief
                   Its door gaped blue with gold all bordered round
                   And, wound itself, foreshowed wound to its lord.
                   What profits man to leave his sweet abode;
                   Fate follows faster than the wind or cloud.
                   Spots stain his breast, the giddy senses slip,
                   His mind grows weak, the face all red with heat.
                   Quick came his wife, delight of life unstayed
                   By prayer or friend or her protesting kin;
                   Embracing still the racked frame of her spouse,
                   She, raising eyes, cried 'Fate will try in vain
                   To take me from my love.  With him I'll die;
                   Without him I'ld not live; Nor fire nor flood,
                   Nor tyrant Jove shall part us now.' 

Grave in the Howff.

Peter Goldman the Poet, Scholar, Doctor


   Peter Goldman's name and reputation remained fairly buoyant locally at least until the end of the 17th century. He is mentioned along with Boethius (Hector Boece) and fellow medicine man David Kinloch (c. 1559-1617), who also appears in Goldman's own poetry, in the Latin account of the county of Angus published in 1678 by the Rev Robert Edward of Murroes:

That Dundee is a favourite to the muses is sufficiently attested by the three following witnesses, BOETIUS, the most famous historian of his country, Dr KINLOCH, a celebrated physican to James VI...And Dr GOLDMAN, who in the above mentioned choir of poets, very skilfully performs the part of Melpomene.
   Melpomene became the Muse of Tragedy in ancient Greek tradition.  Peter Goldman survived until early 1628, but there are few surviving works by him which have survived:  the welcome to the king, the six poems in Delitiae Poetarum Scotorum and the 'Lachrymae'.



   There are a few facts known about the Dundonian Peter Goldman.  He was the youngest of seven sons of a merchant named James Goldman, whose epitaph in 1605 designates Peter, alone of his offspring, as Mr, signifying that he had graduated.  Peter was born in 1587 and entered St Salvador's College, St Andrews, on 26 January 1601.  On 7 December 1609 he went to Leiden University (the first Scot to study medicine there) and graduated as a doctor on 26 July 1610. One wonders whether he went abroad partly to escape the pestilence in his native country. Following his studies in Europe, William Poole next traces Goldman in Oxford in 1613, where he participated in the full intellectual life of the time and notably supported his own Hebrew teacher,  a Jew who was imprisoned after deciding against his promised conversion to Christainity.  Following a spell in Paris, he returned to Scotland. Poetry was a pastime for him and he wrote Latin verse celebrating the visit of the king to Dundee in 1617.  A snippet of his lift was found by R. C. Buist buried in the Compt Buik of David Wedderburn, under 7 November 1621:

Lent Doctor Goldman 4 buikis Iliades Homeri ane uther Greik buik.

   In his later years in Dundee, Peter described his circumstances in a letter to a friend:  'not so rich that I might dissipate myself in luxury; nor so poor that I must beg off others'.  There are allusions to wine and drinking in his correspondence and one late letter was composed 'at the wine-house'.  Maybe it was in north Fife that he ended his lonely days, for he complains about not going out because of the lack of intellectual company in the locality, which was peopled mainly by 'hucksters and fishermen'.

   During his final decade he was closely involved with fellow Fife resident Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit (1585-1670), the major force behind the publication of the Scottish Latin compilation, giving him advice and assistance with his own poetry included in the collection.

The Goldman Brothers' Tragedy and Origin of the Family


 Four of the Goldman brothers perished within eight years of their father:  John, of course, died of the pest (1607); Patrick was drowned in the sea off Batavia (Holland) during a storm; Robert fell from his horse and was fatally wounded by his sword; William died at 43 of apoplexy.  The latter was a prominent figure within the town and apparently a great benefactor, as his brother describes him as 'the beloved of the common people, and the guardian of the welfare of Dundee'.  Peter wrote in his poem that no part of him can be happy until the sea gives up its dead.
   

Monogram from James Goldman's tomb in Dundee Howff.




   Of these brothers, Robert is recorded as Collector of the Crafts in Dundee, 1601-3, and a member of the Glover Trade.  William Goldman became a councillor in the burgh in 1590 and a bailie in 1606.  In his will he left the town's hospital 800 merks.


Monogram from John Goldman's tombstone in Dundee Howff.


   These family tragedies are recorded by another poem Peter wrote for inclusion in the Delitatiae Poetarum Scotorum, a tribute to his suffering mother titled Margaretae Iacchae matris suae super tristi et immatura morte quatuor filiorum Lachrymae, 'The tears of Margaret Jack, his mother, over the sad and immature deaths of her four sons.'  In the midst of her sorrow, Margaret was comforted by Dundee's three pastors:  David Lindsay, James Wedderburn, and James Robertson.  The poem concludes with a thanks that another son, Charles Goldman, still survived - 'the greatest care, the hope of my affliction, and the solace of his mother'. He was Boxmaster of the Weaver Incorporation of Dundee in 1624.  Of the two sisters, Mary married James Wedderburn.   

   The origins of the family are not certain: an early spelling of the surname is Goldmann and it is reckoned that the family originated in Flanders.  William Poole states:  'Goldman is not a Scottish surname.  Its sudden appearance in the records in Dundee in the 1560s bespeaks immigration, and the immediate success of the mercantile Goldmans in mercantile Dundee suggests that they had come from a similar trading town across the North Sea.'  They may have been Jewish Poles or Silesians from Gdansk.  Another suggestion, remarked on by the Nine Trades of Dundee website is that it is a corruption of 'Guildman', a kind of corruption brought about via the family's trading connections with Europe.  The family did have a hand in negotiating the free port in Zealand (Camphier) on behalf of the Scots.  William Goldman was chosen as commissioner representing Dundee at the Convention of Royal Burghs and he was sent in that role to Campvere in order to 're-establish the Stapill of the natioun of the said toun' along with David Aitkenheid of Edinburgh.

   James Goldman became a burgess of Dundee on 15 April 1562 and it is recorded that he owned several properties in the burgh (including to the south of Argyllsgait).  Across the Tay, John Goldman also owned part of the north Fife lands of Sandfurd or St Fort, plus Sandill, near present day Newport.

   Inscriptions in the Howff


   According to Millar, the family tombs of the Goldmans in the Howff were in the second recess to the north of the principal western gate.  In the 19th century the following fragmentary inscription could still be made out there:

                                     Family . . . . Goldman . . . . Laird . . . . 
                                 W.G. . . . . I. G. . . . . R.G. . . . . 
                                        Revised in 1797 by WILLIAM GOLDMAN LAIRD . . . .

   The initials may possibly refer to the three brothers of Peter Goldman commemorated in his poem.  On the flat stones (numbers 66 and 67) beside the recess, is the following inscription:

  Here lyis iohn goldman, mairechand, and elisabeth Traill his spous, quha both depairtit in september 1607, of his age 34, hirs 29.

   There was an elder John Goldman, uncle to the former, whose monument reads:

   Here lyis ane honest aged father called JOHN GOLDMAN Merchand and Bvrges in Dundie quha depairtit this present lyf ye 3 of Apryle, 1nno 1605, of aige 74.  And Christiane Man his spovs quha depairtit this lyf ye 8 of September, anno 1603, of aige 36.                                                          Death is lyf to ye faithful.

    Also in the Howff is the monument of another James Goldman, possibly the youngest son of  James (Buist states that there were seven brothers in total).

   Heir lyis ane honest man namit JAMES GOLDMAN, Merchant Bvrges of Dundie, who decessit in September 1632, of the aige of 42.  This is done be MARGARET OGILVY, his spovs, for his memorie.


   Another reading, given in translation from the Latin by W. H. Smith in the 19th century, reads:

   Here lies an honourable man, formerly citizen and.....................of the city of Dundee, William Goldman of St Fort, who died in the 44th year of his age, on the first of the nones of April, in the year from the parturition [accouchemont or lying in]of the Virgin 1613.  Remember to die.

   Millar again gives another reading of a stone, which he believes relates to Robert and William Goldman, though the passage of time again made the inscription doubtful:

          Here lyis....rt ....idm ... ane ... fein .... 26 May of his age ....                    My soyle praises God.  My soyle praises God.                           Death is lyfe to the Godlie.                                                                      M  LI  Z                                                               D      G                                                                        I F                    Thy glasse runnes.  Mynne is runne.                                              1617

   Between the initials I and Z is the  escutcheon bearing the arms of the Yeaman (Zeaman) family.  Millar also traced some later Goldmans, though there was uncertainty around what relations some of them were to the original family.  These included William Goldman of Sandfurd, Fife, recorded in 1648-9, Rev James Goldman, son of Alexander Goldman (1652), grandson of John Goldman (1623).  This minister was still active around 1731 and had two sisters, but no traceable descendants.  Andrew Jervise noted that, in his time, 'the Goldmans have long since passed away, and even their name has become extinct in the district, the last of them, a female, having died many years ago, so reduced in circumstances as to be dependent on the charity of a neighbouring kirk-session'.








Selected Sources


Buist, R. C., 'Peter Goldman's Description of the Desolation of Dundee,' The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 3453 (March 12, 1927), p. 478.

Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and Mearns (revised edition, 2 volumes, Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 271-2.

Millar, A. H., Roll of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee,1513-1886 (Dundee, 1887), pp. 35-39. 

Poole, William, 'Peter Goldman:  A Dundee Poet and Physician in the Republic of Letters,' in Neo-Latin Literature and Literary Culture in Early Modern Scotland (Leiden, 2016), pp. 100-125.

Smith, W. H., A History of Dundee (Dundee, 1873, reprinted 1973), p. 153.










Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Gold in the Glens? Don't Get Your Hopes Up!


Some time ago I stated, not entirely seriously, that there was an infestation of elephants in Glen Esk.  Okay, that was a little far fetched:  there are no evident pachyderms in the glen, but is there gold in (them thar) hills?  It is a matter of dispute about whether or no there are any valuable metal deposits in the Angus glens.  The English antiquarian and topographer William Camden (1551-1623), mentions the activity of mining in the county, or rather it occurs in later editions of his descriptive work Britannia: 'Near the Castle of Innermarkie, there are Lead-mines; and they find great plentie of Iron-ore near the wood of Dalboge.'

William Camden by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6373383)

   If in doubt about the existence of any tradition about Angus (and especially then northern part of Angus), then it is always worth turning to the dependable Andrew Jervise.  There was various entries in his Land of the Lindsays, such as his passing observation on the River Tarf: 'Tarf is quite a mountain stream...and it is believed , from the frequency of the floods, that much, if not all, the precious metal, for which it is said to have been so famous at one time, has been swept away.' (1853 edn., p. 96).  A more complete description of the possible mineral riches in Glen Esk is contained in the second edition (p.99):

Both Sir David [Lindsay] and his brother, Lord Menmuir, were anxious to ascertain the extent of these mineral treasures, and entered so eagerly upon the work, that miners were brought from Germany and other places with the view of working them.  Smelting-houses were erected in various parts of the district, and the work was carried on with much spirit by a German of the pugilistic name of  [Bernard] Fechtenburg...This happened in 1593-4, and it would appear that the work had been remunerative, for on the 12th of October 1602, Sir David let to Hans Ziegler and his companions "all and sundry the mines of gold, silver, quicksilver, copper, tin, and lead, and all other minerals (except iron and marmor) within all the bounds of the barony of Edzell and Glenesk" for the space of twenty-five years, for which they were "thankfully to pay and deliver the fifth part of all and sundry the saide metals of gold, silver, etc., whilk the said Hans and his partners shall happen to dig, holk, work, and win out of the said mines."  From that period down to the close of the seventeenth century the mines were steadily wrought with at least partial success, some portions being found after the lead was extracted, and the metal properly refined, to yield a sixty-fourth part of silver.


   Lord Menmuir had high hopes that the German experts would also uncover alabaster rocks to produce lime, and a large sum of money was expended on speculation and building furnaces.  The German, was highly commended by Menmuir in his letter of 9th March 1593-4 to Sir David:

He can mak charcoal of peats, and will desire na other fuel, either to burn lime or melt copper.  He is perfyt in kenning of ground, and discovering of metals.  He...will learn Andrew Daw and all your folks...He will promise to tarry a year with you, providing he be thankfully payit of three pounds, twelve shillings in the ouk [week]...
 
   The Lindsay family however did not earn any fortune from the prospecting.  As the author of Lives of the Lindsays wryly comments:  'I cannot say how these speculations turned out, but papers and plans without end relating to them survive in the family repositories.  I suspect, the trees planted by Sir David and Lord Menmuir were more profitable to their descendants than the fruits they sought for under the earth.' 

   The Rev Robert Edwards of Murroes gave further detail about mining in his 'Description of of Angus' in 1678:

As to the metals contained in the bowels of this county, it is affirmed that different kinds of them are to be found in the valley of North Esk.  The great-grandfather of the present proprietor of Edzell [Sir David Lindsay] discovered a mine of iron at the wood of Dalbog, and built a smelting-housing for preparing the metal.  This gentleman's grandson [John Lindsay of Edzell] found some lead ore, near Innermark, which he refined.  The son of this latter [David Lindsay, the penultimate laird] found a very rich mine of lead on the banks of the Mark, about a mile up the valley from the castle of Innermark.  In a mountain of hard rock, where eighteen miners are digging deeper every day, they have come to a large vein of ore, which, when the lead is extracted and properly refined, yields a sixty-fourth part of silver. The vein seems to be inexhaustible. 

   Returning to Jervise, he adds (revised edition, p. 99) that mining fell into abeyance in the time of the last Lindsay Laird of Edzell and no further exploration was made until 1728, when the South Sea Company tried to find silver in the mine at Craig Soales:

but the overseer of the work being bribed, as the common tradition runs, the speculation was abandoned as unremunerative, and neither gold, silver, nor mineral of any other sort, save lime, has since been tried for.  According to some accounts, silver is also to be found near the castle of Invermark; and the still more precious metal of gold is said to abound in the Tarf, particularly at Gracie's Linn...where it is reported to have been so plentiful at one time , that a lucky lad, in passing the ford, gathered and filled his pockets with it!

   Remains of the silver and lead workings can still be located on Craig Soales, but the entrance of the mine is now hard to find because it has been disguised by fallen debris.  There are the traces of sixteen surface quarry pits here.  There has been little modern interest in the mine here, until an article by W. Lauder Lindsay raised speculation about the presence of valuable minerals in northern Angus.  He quotes Jervise, but seems to base the possibility of gold in Glen Esk on the basis on minor finds in neighbouring Perthshire, plus the tradition that General Wade found gold while surveying in Glenshee.

   Nineteenth century maps indicate additional possible mines in the following places:  Glen Clova (gold/silver?), Dalbrack near Tarfside (copper), Glamis (lead), and Glen Mark (lead), but there has been no bonanza as yet.

   So, gold there may be in Glen Esk, but good luck finding it!
 





Some Sources


Camden, William, Britannia (2nd edition, 2 vols., London, 1722).

Jervise, Andrew, The History and Traditions of the Land of the Lindsays (1st edn., Edinburgh, 1853; 2nd. edn., 1883.).

Lauder Lindsay, W., 'On The Gold Fields of Forfarshire,' Transactions of the Edinburgh Geological Society, (1874, 27).

Lindsay, A. W. C. (Lord Lindsay), Lives of the Lindsays (1st vol., London, 1849).

Scotland's Places, Ordnance Survey Name Books












Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sir John Kirk and the Resonance of Slavery

Angus Slave Ownership - A Sampler


Slavery as a tangible fact is not something one would particularly associate with Angus, more than any other part of the British Isles, though the county of course had its connections with that trade. Interesting and little-known material about the decent and doubtless God-fearing lairds who quietly owned slaves far away, back in the day, can be unearthed through web sites like Legacies of British Slave Ownership, and though it may seem churlish to name and shame those associated with that business after all these years (people who in themselves doubtless led complex and rich lives), it can still be instructive as an eye-opener.

   Among the interesting data is that concerning former slave owners who claimed compensation from the British government when slavery in the British Empire was abolished and they were financially disadvantaged. A cursory search through the records reveals the follows Angus folk as former slave owners:  David Langlands of Balkemmock, Tealing, Alexander Erskine of Balhall, David Lyon of Balintore Castle, George Ogilvie of Langley Park, James Alexander Pierson of The Guynd, Thomas Renny Strachan of Seaton House, St VigeansMary Russell of Bellevue Cottage, David McEwan and James Gray of Dundee, the 7th Earl of Airlie.


Slave Memorial, island of Zanzibar, Tanzania.

   There is more information surrounding the Cruickshank family, who lived at Keithock House, Stracathro House and Langley ParkAlexander Cruickshank of Keithock was born in 1800 and married his cousin, Mary Cruickshank of Langley Park (formerly Egilsjohn or - colloquially - Edzell's John).  In the middle of the 19th century Alexander unsuccessfully attempted to claim compensation for the loss of slaves owned on the Langley Park estate on the island of St Vincent.  The whole family's fortunes were inextricably linked with slavery.  Patrick jointly owned the estates of Richmond, Greenhill and Mirton in St Vincent with his brother James who was compensated £23,000 by the government following slavery abolition in 1833. The St Vincent estates had more than 800 slaves.  Originally from Wartle in Aberdeenshire, the money to buy the Egilsjohn estate in Angus came from a fortune made in the Caribbean; its name was even changed to commemorate the St Vincent estate name of Langley.  The Angus estates of Stracathro and Keithock followed.  But we are told (Baronage of Angus and Mearns, p. 64) that Alexander Cruickshank's 'affairs eventually got embarrassed - and he returned to Demerara, where he shortly afterwards made his demise, leaving a son and daughter.'

   Emigration to the colonies was by no means a passport of quick riches to those who went there with slender means to begin with.  John Landlands, son of a tenant farmer from Haughs of Finavon, went to Jamaica in 1749 and found that his promised employment did not exist, though he was helped to secure another post at the vividly named Treadways Maggoty estate.  In time he acquired his own coffee plantation, complete with valuable slaves.  On his death he provided for his mistress/housekeeper and his natural son born to her, but the estate of Roseberry was burdened by debt and had to be disposed of by his cousin back home in Angus.

   There was less known commercial speculation in the slave trade in Angus ports than in other places, though there are records held in Montrose Museum of a business deal from 1751 concerning the ship Potomack, whose master Thomas Gibson struck a deal with merchants Thomas Douglas and Co to travel with cargo to Holland and thence to west Africa and there pick up slaves for the North American market. Researchers reckon that some 31 Montrose vessels were engaged in human slave trafficking, though records survive for only four ships (the other three being the Success, the Delight, and the St George).

   One Montrose family of the 18th century who went on to great things financially were the Coutts family, ancestors of the private banking dynasty which migrated to London later and dealt with the fortunes of royals and the nobility.  John Coutts (born 1643) was Lord Provost of the Angus burgh five times between 1677 and 1688 (having been made a councillor in 1661).  the family were involved in the Virginia tobacco trade and doubtless incidentally involved to some extent in slave ownership.  John's third son Thomas went to London and was one of the promoters of the 'Company of Scotland, trading to Africa and the Indies', better known as the company who initiated the doomed Darien Scheme.  A grandson of the first John Coutts was another John (son of Patrick), among those in the family who left Montrose for business opportunities further south.



John Kirk - Doctor! Botanist! Knight! Our Man in Zanzibar!


   There were few places as strange to the intrepid foreigner in the mid 19th century as Zanzibar, even in an age when the whole continent of Africa held a jewel-like fascination for Europeans.  The island was just off the continental coast but was truly a place apart.  It had in effect been colonised and annexed before any Western interest in the place by an Arab dynasty from the north. The ruler of Oman, Seyyid Said, made the African island his capital in 1838 and brilliantly maintained his power through diplomacy with the British East India Company and a cannily managed business acumen.  The Arab management of African slaves more than matched the newer European-sponsored slave trade operating in west Africa.  Throughout Seyyid Said's rule it continued unabated and Zanzibar was its unashamed fulcrum, dispatching human cargo and attendant misery across the Indian Ocean.  Alastair Hazell states that the mid-19th century population of the island was possibly 100,000, or which around half were slaves.  Said had personally transformed his new centre of operations 'from a mere backwater, a slave market with a fort, to the largest and most prosperous trading city of the western Indian Ocean'.

   Gold, ivory and gum copal were other products which flowed out of the continent via the island, but it was the process of the oldest institution on Zanzibar, the slave market outside the Customs House, which was the most outstanding element of that market place to outsiders; here described by the English traveller Sir Richard Burton.  It was a place, he said:

where millions of dollars annually change hands under the foulest of sheds, a long, low mat-roof, supported by two dozen tree-stems... It is conspicuous as the centre of circulation, the heart from and to which twin streams of blacks are ever ebbing and flowing, whilst the beach and waters opposite it are crowded with shore boats.

   The slave market was in the centre of town and here every year many thousands of bagham, untrained slaves, were tethered and publicly auctioned.  In the mid-1850s, Hazell tells us, able-bodied young men could be bought for $4-$12 - 'about the prince of a donkey'.  Girls and women were sold for sex, passed on many times  via different owner/abusers.  A premium was paid for 'exotics' from India or fair haired unfortunates from as far afield as the Caucasus.
 

                  The Boy from Barry


 Step up John Kirk.  The latest biographer of John Kirk - Alastair Hazell - makes the fundamental mistake of stating that Kirk was born in Barry, in Fife!  This is a shame because his book, The Last Slave Market, is a well-researched account of this important figure who did much personally to end the intolerable anomaly of Zanzibar's slaving in a time when many cynically turned a blind eye to it. John was the third of his name in succession, following his grandfather (a baker) and father, who was born in St Andrews in 1795 (which perhaps explains Hazell's error).  The Rev. Kirk was appointed minister of Barry in June 1824 and transferred to nearby Arbirlot in 1837.  In the religious turmoil of the times he joined the Free Church and was minister of the Free Church in Barry from 1843 until his death in 1858.  The minister was 'a man of cultivated mind, of a deportment becoming his high calling, and of a conversation that savoured of the things of Christ'.  His wife was Christian Guthrie, daughter of the Rev. Alexander Carnegie, minister of Inverkeilor.


John Kirk as a young doctor.

   The youngest  John was he second of four children, born  19 December 1832  and must have inherited much of his iron-clad morality from his parents. The only other sibling who seems to have attained any prominence was his elder brother, Alexander Carnegie Kirk, born in 1830.  He became a noted naval engineer, but unlike John did not take part in any kind of public life, dying in Glasgow in 1892.

The explorer's eldest brother.

Early Career and Into Africa


   Kirk qualified as a doctor and went on to serve in the Crimea War in 1855.  (His interest in botany was  evident in Edinburgh, where he studied in the faculty of arts at first before switching to medicine.)  Learning Turkish, he travelled widely in the Middle East, mainly pursuing botanical interests. His most significant appointment was that of a naturalist accompanying the famous David Livingstone on an expedition to east Africa in 1858.  This second expedition of Livingstone's, exploring the Zambesi region, did not go entirely smoothly.  Livingstone was no great communicator and preferred either his own company or that of native Africans.  His brother Charles was also part of the party and was a more petty character than David, arguing with colleagues and dismissing some of them.  Kirk generally got on tolerably well with Livingstone - both were doctors and of course Scots - and also accepted his plans and decisions even when these looked ill-judged and even foolhardy.  But Livingstone, driven by instinct and his own demons, was at times looked upon as a madman by his younger colleague.  On 18 April 1874 he was one of the pall-bearers who carried Livingstone's coffin into a funeral ceremony in Westminster Abbey.  (This was despite the fact that Livingstone's chief mythologiser, Henry Morton Stanley, tried his damnedest to blacken's Kirk's name on the false basis that the doctor had not done all he could to assist the great man in his last expedition.)

   John Kirk returned to Britain in 1863, but three years later he was back in a different part of Africa, appointed as a medical officer in Zanzibar.  He soon became Assistant Consul and then Resident.  He had been appointed Consul in 1873, succeeding Henry Adrian Churchill, who had been actively working towards the abolition of the slave market on the island.  Churchill's health broke down to such an extent that Kirk advised him to return to the U.K. in 1870.


   The final defeat of the slave trade in the island was accomplished by Kirk's astonishing guile and nerve. While the years in which he served primarily as a doctor in the consulate were quiet and he took no active part in public life or against slavery, there was one incident which marked him out as a risk taker.  This was in 1866 when he joined in the successful attempt to smuggle the sultan's sister out of the territory.  Seyidda Salme had become pregnant by a German and was at risk of death if she had remained in Zanzibar.  For much of the time, Kirk pursued his own interests in Africa, collecting information about botany, trade, slavery, in an even handed and non-judgemental fashion.  More of a pragmatist than the strange visionary Livinstone, he was caught between the rock and hard place of the British government and the East India Company, which often had differing ideas about slavery and much else.  In 1873 he was put in an invidious position of receiving two contradictory instructions from London.  The first ordered him in no uncertain terms to give the Sultan the ultimatum that he should close the slave market and cease all trade in slaves, or else the British government would blockade the island.  The second order warned Kirk that no blockade was to be enforced, for fear that it would drive the territory to crave the protection of the French.  Kirk only showed the first communication to the Sultan, with the result that Barghash caved in within two weeks and the slave market was closed forever.

   Despite the best efforts of Kirk and his successors, slavery actually surreptitiously survived the closure of Zanzibar's public slave market. Special Commissioner Donald Mackenzie visited the island and its neighbour Pemba in the last decade of the 19th century and found that slavery was still flourishing in the agricultural estates:

In Zanzibar a good many people had been telling me how happy and
contented the Slaves were in the hands of the Arabs; in fact, they would
not desire their freedom. At Chaki Chaki I walked into a tumble-down
old prison. Here I found a number of prisoners, male and female,
heavily chained and fettered. I thought surely these men and women
must be dreadful criminals, or murderers, or they must have committed
similar crimes and are now awaiting their doom. I inquired of them all
why they were there. The only real criminal was one who had stolen a
little rice from his master. All the others I found were wearing those
ponderous chains and fetters because they had attempted to run away
from their cruel masters and gain their freedom— a very eloquent commentary on the happiness of the Slaves!


The British Consulate, Zanzibar.

Kirk's Later Years and Legacy


Kirk returned to Britain finally in 1886, settling in Kent. His awards included the K.C.M.G., G.C.M.G., K.C.B., plus the Patron's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. The welfare of Africa still concerned him and in 1889-90 he attended the Brussels Africa Conference as British Plenipotentiary.    In later years John Kirk grew progressively blind but he maintained his interest in the natural world. He died at the age of 89 and was buried in St Nicholas's Churchyard in Sevenoaks.  Among the tributes paid to him was one by Frederick Lugard, Governor General of Nigeria:  'For Kirk I had a deep affection which I know was reciprocated.  He was to me the ideal of a wise and sympathetic administrator on whom I endeavoured to model my own actions and to whose inexhaustible fund of knowledge I constantly appealed.'

   Substantial records survive concerning Kirk, including the journals he kept on the expedition with Livingstone,  Apart from that there are his contributions and discoveries in zoology, biology, a substantial corpus of photographs(over 250).  He maintained close connection with Kew Gardens until his death.  The Kirk Papers have been secured for the future in the National Library of Scotland.  As far as I know, there is no memorial to Sir John Kirk at Barry, but if not,  there definitely should be.
 Sultan of Zanzibar, Sayyid Sir Barghash bin Sa'id (ruled 1870-1888).

Selected Sources


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kirk_(explorer)

John Langlands: An Aberlemno Slave Owner

C. F. H., 'Obituary:  'Sir John Kirk,' Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygeine, volume 15, issue 5-6 (15 December 1921), p. 202.

Hazell, Alastair, The Last Slave Market:  Dr John Kirk and the Struggle to End the African Slave Trade (London, 2011).

Low, James L., Notes On The Coutts Family (Montrose, 1892).

MacGregor Peter, David, The Baronage of Angus and Mearns (Edinburgh, 1856).

Mackenzie, Donald, A Report on Slavery and the Slave Trade in Zanzibar, Pemba, and the Mainland Protectorates of East Africa (London, 1895).

McBain, J. M., Eminent Arbroathians (Arbroath, 1897).

Scott, Hew, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (volume 5, new edition, Edinburgh, 1925).

Wild, H., 'Sir John Kirk,' Kirkia, volume 1 (1960-61), pp. 5-10.






Saturday, 13 January 2018

Posing As A Ghost in the 19th Century

   Newspaper reports from the Victorian era sometimes throw up peculiar side-lights on the pastimes of the inhabitants of that age.  I've posted before about the strange habit of some individuals to pose as ghosts in their communities and scare hapless members of their own communities (see links at the bottom of the article).  The fashion for this went away for decades, until it was bizarrely resurrected in recent times by the hilarious trend of Scary Clowns chasing people with axes, etc.  Luckily, this social past-time has also now receded.
 



   It was rare for supernatural pranksters in that bygone age to be actually caught and prosecuted for their hilarious japes, but such was the fate of one such person, reported by the 'Courier' on 23 September 1879:

A Forfar Ghost Story.

At Forfar Police Court yesterday - before Bailie Ferguson - Alexander James Harrison Robertson, from Edinburgh, was charged with disorderly conduct by having, between the hours of 8 and 9.30 p.m. on Thursday last at the Junction of Brechin and Prison roads... wantonly and unlawfully disguised himself by wearing a white shirt, and woman's petticoat or skirt over his clothing, also by wearing a slouched hat, for the purpose of annoying, frightening, and alarming the lieges, and by time and place foresaid annoying, frightening and alarming and putting in great fear Jane Caldwell, dressmaker, and others named in the complaint and others of the lieges unknown to the complainer. From the evidence it appeared that a company in two brakes were driving from the east...when at the junction...they observed an "object" dressed in white, and the cry at once got up of "Springheels" and "a ghost".  The most of the lady part of the company said...that they were a little startled at first, but being all together they were not at all afraid...Mr Watson, draper, seemed to have taken the first words with the peace disturber, for he went up to him (he was at this time inside the avenue leading to the prison with the gate closed), and through the bars asked "What's up," when accused said it was a bit of fun. When witness saw he was speaking with flesh and blood he went away...[Some other gentlemen caught the accused.] The "Ghost" was stripped of his ghostly apparel...[but the man] commenced to blubber and whinge, and did not behave like a respectable ghost at all...
   Apparently the joker was staying inside Forfar Prison as a (non-convict) guest and a warden had seen the man and a friend go out into the street.  Yet the magistrate solemnly stated he had no doubt that it was a bit of fun, 'but from fun often proceeded danger.  He had no right to go outside unless properly clothed in male attire'.  The sentence was a fine of £1 or ten days' imprisonment.  The wording of the article is fully as entertaining as the story; love the mention of 'most of the lady part of the company'.


   Ten years earlier the same newspaper reported another, possibly more intriguing incident in Dundee (the 'Courier', 17 May 1869).  Not long before dawn a policeman patrolling the Hilltown saw a tall, thin figure gliding before him, rapidly approaching.  It was certainly gliding and did not seem to possess any feet.  The policeman stood his ground - for a while - then issued a dreadful yell and bolted.  His scream summoned several other bobbies, who all saw the same thing.  Yet they all took the shelter as the apparition sped down the Hilltown towards the town.  It passed down the Murraygate, Reform Street, and 'Some say that it vanished in a ... flame in the Howff burial ground', while others maintained it entered a nearby establishment.  The reporter was more convinced the figure was either a 'velocipedestrian somnabulist' or a certain 'Dashing Young Flesher' who had been seen in a certain part of Dundee days earlier, and whose occult disguise was a ruse to cover his attempted elopement with his neighbour's wife.

Terminus for the Ghost? The Howff.

   The third and final selection from the 'Courier' comes from 8 February 1883 and is entitled 'Ghosts at Lochee':

Our Lochee correspondent writes:-  For more than a week past there have been whisperings that a "ghost" had made its appearance in certain quarters of Lochee.  For a time the ordinary residenter was inclined to pooh-pooh the idea that such a pretended ethereal personality was actually making Lochee the theatre of his nefarious and despicable foolery.  However whispers have now developed into articulate language, and the air is full of the "doings" of the "ghost".  That there is an individual going about during two or three of the hours preceding midnight is widely asserted, and generally believed in.  the haunted localities appear to be the eastern and western extremities of the village, and many stories are afloat of persons having seen the "ghost" in these parts.  A boy delivering milk the other night at the west end was almost frightened out of his wits by a ghostly-looking figure coming across his path.  On Monday night two ladies, while proceeding through a pretty thickly-wooded part of the north-east of Lochee, were terror-struck to behold suddenly emerge from behind a tree a tall individual wearing a loose-hanging garment and slouched hat.  The pretended apparition stood in front of the parties.  The elder lady, however, though in a state of great trepidation, managed to express his detestation of such dastardly conduct, at which the "ghost" speedily disappeared behind a tree near by.  The following night a working man belonging Lochee was returning home from seeing a friend at Butterburn, and when nearing Lochee by the road to the north of Law Hill he was brought to a sudden stop by a figure appearing in an instant in front of him.  It stood for a few seconds, and then disappeared as suddenly as it came.  The man was momentarily stunned by the suddenness of the strange visitant's approach, but from the short glance he got he could state that the "ghost" was attired in a light waterproof overcoat, while over his shoulders was a white muffler.  An ordinary cap covered his head, and the appearance of the face was frightsome in the extreme...Feelings of thorough indignation against the rascally dastards who are the perpetrators of this heinous offence against the peace and comfort of society have been aroused among the sterner portion of the Lochee community, and unless they speedily take end we believe bands will be organised for their capture and punishment.  The matter is certainly a serious one, and ought to be put down immediately, for the amount of excitement and fear in the minds of young people, and women folk especially, is undoubtedly great, many being afraid to go out alone after nightfall.


Previous Related Posts





Monday, 1 January 2018

Plague and Pestilence Down the Centuries

   Early Records 


One of the most iconic moments in the folk memory of Dundee is the image of the Protestant preacher George Wishart preaching in 1544 from the walls of the burgh to the unfortunate victims of plague shut outside.  Though represented as fact (by John Knox), nobody is sure that the event actually happened and if it did , that it was from the particular place – the Wishart Arch in the East (Cowgate) Port – which has been uniquely saved from the  whole-scale demolition of Dundee’s early architecture because of its association with Wishart.  Some have suggested the arch in fact was built in the 17th century. (This portion of the city wall has been extensively rebuilt and remodelled, but is likely to sit on the original place where the Cowgate Port stood.)




   The historian Richard Oram notes the charitable awarding of two bolls of meal on 8 November 1545 by the Graniter of St Andrews to 'certain poor dwellers in the town of Portincraig' (Broughty Ferry) who could not sustain themselves and were suspected of having plague. Three years after Wishart's iconic act, Dundee was again hit by the 'pest', though whether this was bubonic or pneumonic plague is unknown.

   It is not known exactly when the first victims fell to the Black Death in Angus, any more than it can be known the numbers and names of the victims over the centuries.  The first mentions- such as an outbreak in 1348 - are scanty.  But more is recorded in the Early Modern era, when authorities tried their best to prevent the rampant spread of the contagion.  Typical is the regulations enacted in Arbroath on 26 August 1565/6, which recognise the potential risk of infection from strangers:

Anent the ordour tayn for eschewyng the pest, it is statut and ordanit that na maner of parson within this broich resauve ane stranger or out man within thair hous day nor nycht without lecens askit and optenit of the bailyeis, onder the payn of tynsall of his fredom and comon landis; and the brekeris heirof to be haldyn as suspect; and the quarter maisters to pass nychtly and wesy thairefter gyf ony beis strykyn with infirmitie or rasaue strangers, and schaw the samin to the bailyeis. [Arbroath and its Abbey, Miller, p. 283.]

   In 1585 there appears to had been a significant occurrence of the plague in Dundee.  The royal cunyiehous (mint) had been been moved in June from Edinburgh to Dundee (and the set up costs of getting it operational in the city was a significant sum of £551), but disease in October necessitated its further removal to Perth.  On 30 November 1585 the council minutes state that a section of that body met in the open air to the west of the burgh, at Magdalen Green, as a precaution against infection. But, on 30 July 1588, the burgh authorities had reports of the plague breaking out in the south of the realm and were desperate to prevent an outbreak in the town:

It is statute that, in respect of the last infectioun of the plague or pest within the toun of Leyth, that this burgh sall be substantiouslie attendit to and watchit, as far as is possabill, for preservatioun of the sam, and first, that thair be four quarter-maisters electit for visiting daylie, in the morning betwix  fyve and sex, of all personis within thair quarteris quha  sall immediatlie report gif thair be ony seik or diseasit personis, to the baillie of thair quarteris. [History of Dundee, Thompson, pp. 278-9.]
   The division of the town into quarters to aid administration had come into effect several years earlier.  During the winter of 1587-8 the plague had erupted at Leith and was blamed on 'the opening up of some old kists'.  Instances of the disease followed in Edinburgh and other places, but Dundee was apparently spared.  The only reference of it found by local historian Alexander Maxwell was the payment of £20 the following winter to a man named George Robertson for 'the laubours and pains tane be him in the time of the visitation of the burgh with the plague of pest'.


   Other records of plague from this time are less official, but no less affecting.  The Rev Buxton Fraser recorded a tradition of the Wood family of Bonniton (associated with Maryton parish from 1493 to the 18th century):
...there is a tradition, deserving of notice... It is that during one of the visitations of plague two members of the family (it is said by some, the laird and his wife) were seized when walking on the hill of Bonniton and died in a very short time.  Their bodies were buried on the spot where they had died, and the place is still known as the "Pesty's Grave". [St Mary's of Old Montrose, p. 89.]

The Seventeenth Century


   In the year 1600 the town of Elgin authorised the employment of a expert from the south to manage the pestilence in their own town.  A message was sent 'to bring Bell the cleinger out of Dundey'.  That Dundee at this date employed a professional to manage sanitation and thus, hopefully, control the plague, was a measure of the dangers that Dundee recognised itself to be in.  An act was passed in Elgin to levy a tax to pay the considerable fee's of Dundee's cleanser.  The plague reappeared in the south of Scotland in the spring of 1602 and spread up the coast of Fife, forcing the council of Dundee to take security measures again to prevent the deadly incursion.  On 2 March 1602 it was enacted that:
during the continuance of the pest, the inhabitants dwelling in the south quarters sall bear the chairge for keeping the water side, and those in the other pairts, that for the three ordinary ports;  and that none sall receive ony person at back yetts or ony other entry nor the ordinary ports,under the pain of dead; and forder, that na neighbour sall reset ony stranger in lodging efter seven hours at nicht, without he first signify the same to the Bailie, under the pain foresaid. [The History of Old Dundee, Maxwell, p. 372.]

   This time the disease did not enter Dundee.  King James VI took the precaution to flee the south and reside for a time in Brechin. (Parliament fled for a time to Perth in 1604.) On 18 October 1602 the following year John Lovell was ordered by Dundee council to 'attend upon the keeping of the south side of the water [the Tay], and to suffer nane to have passage except sic as sall present ane sufficient testimonial fra ane unsuspectit place'.There is the following mention from the records of Aberdeen in 1603:  'To Caddell the post to gang to Brechin at command of the Provost for inquisition of the pest at Killimuir, 1 lb 10s.' In 1604, only three ferry boats at a time were allowed into Dundee's harbour.  But plague still came again in 1606.  In 1607, those infected with the plague were housed in makeshift riverside huts in the Sickmen's Yards to the east of the burgh (see below) and cleansers were appointed to separate infected goods.  Orders were given to prevent people visiting those suspected of being infected and who were confined to their homes, but this regulation was flouted, sometimes violently.  William Strathauchine, a Dundee cordiner:
abused ane of the quarter-masters appointit to attend upon persons infected, by saying that he had usurpit the office, and be giving him of the lie; and theirefter provoked him to the combat, and passed to his awn house and returnit seeking him with ane drawn sword. [The History of Old Dundee, Maxwell, p. 376.]

   William was made to crave forgiveness on his knees at the town Cross and another cordiner who had assisted him was also punished.

   In July 1608 many houses in Dundee were touched and so many magistrates had succumbed to death that the Privy Council had to appoint replacements. The notary Robert Wedderburne noted that:' the pest come from St Bartillis market in Franchland to Dundie at the first fair thairof in anno 1605 and zit continueis to this present day, the first of November 1608.  In the quhilk thair depairtit 4000 personis'.  It did not just originate overseas apparently, as in August it was spotted in Strachan on Deeside.  Dundee's  two expert clengers again went north and charged the sum of 500 merks.  Dundee, Perth and other places suffered a fresh plague outbreak in 1607 and 1608.

( *** The fascinating and unique record of Peter Goldman who wrote a personal account of the plague in Dundee at this time will be considered in a forthcoming post.)

   Another large outbreak swept across the whole nation in 1644-1648, with entry in Edinburgh in autumn 1644 possibly caused by the return of infected soldiers returning from a plague-hit area in north-east England. The illness spreading through the eastern Borders, then northwards. Menmuir parish was badly affected (by fear if not actual outbreak), so that there was no public worship in the parish kirk for several months in 1647 (as reported by the Rev. William Cron in the New Statistical Account in the 19th century). Menmuir's Session records report on 11 April that 'because of the forthbreaking of the plague in Brechin, the minister preached in the fields, therefore no collection'.  The entry is repeated every week until 26 September.

   The plague entered Montrose in May 1648 and raged until the following February.  Crowds fled from the infected into the countryside.  In the Links north-east of the town there was a large tumulus pointed out for many years as the place where many victims were interred.  On 15 October that year the burgh of Montrose was the thankful recipient of £42, 14s 2d collected by the people of Brechin 'for the distressed people of Montrose'.  Brechin itself was suffering the tail end of a fearful outbreak (see below).

   It appears that the 1640s outbreak did not substantially affect Dundee.  Towards the end of 1645 the disease had been noted in Fife and in the Carse of Gowrie, but for some reason - providence perhaps - there was no immediate outbreak in Dundee.  Fear and watchfulness continued.  In June or July 1645 it was recorded:

The Counsall takand consideratioun that the plague is now spotting in Meigle, as also how it is daily increasing in Leith, Edinburgh, and other places... it is ordained that thair sall only be two portis keiped oppen, and those gairded be the inhabitantis of this burgh... and for securing the passage be water they have ordained Robert Stirline and Walket Rankine to goe to ffyffe, and thair to cause transport hither all boatis and yollis in ffyffe.

Alexander Maxwell believes that the following prophetic rhyme was coined at the time as a result of this respite:
                      Between Sidlaw and the sea, pest or plague shall never be.

   But there was an alarm on 22 August 1648 when:
The Counsall, being convened to tak som course anent the death of a foottman, laitly come from Aberdeen, who being visite be the peysitiones is found to be suspected to be dead in the plague, [and] hes resolved that Andro Nicol, stabler, in whose house he died, shall be put furth, with his familie, in the fields to abyde ane tryall, and the thesaurer ordained to cause put up the lodge for him.
   Another panic occurred in October 1653 when a Queenburgh vessel entered the Tay and was suspected of harbouring plague; it was quarantineed 'quhill the change of the moon be past'.  A watch by two townsfolk was kept at the Craig in Dundee for incomers two years later with signs of the plague, following news of its outbreak in England, but Dundee luckily escaped.


A Place for The Dying:  The Plague Huts of Murlingden


   Murlingden, near Brechin, is a place I have never visited, and I'm not sure what my reaction to it would be if I ever did.  For if ever a place deserved to be haunted on the basis of a concentration of misery there, this spot would surely be.  When the plague came to Brechin in 1647, it disrupted the entire civil and religious life of the ancient city, as the records show:  25 July, at Buttergill hill.  No meeting [of the Presbytery] since the first of Aprill till this tym becaus of the pestilence in Brechin.'  The Presbytery took the same precaution of convening at the same place on 9 August. On 9 September it was recorded:
The Lord visiting this burgh with the Infecting seikness, thair was no session holden from the seventh of Aprill till the day and moneth wnderwritten, but when it pleased the Lord that the seikness began to relent thair wer som persones contracted and maried.
    So life, as ever, continued, but so did the fear of contamination.  On 23 and 30 November there was 'No session be reason the moderator and remenanent sessiones feared to convene vnder one roof.'   Cleansers were imported into the town from Edinburgh to carry away the dead and fumigate the streets by dragging blazing tar barrels up and down them.  A stone built into the churchyard wall at Brechin sombrely records the fact that 600 souls were taken by the disease.  

   The disease continued into 1648, perhaps after going into abeyance for a time.  On 2 and 23 August it was recorded that there was 'No session be reason the infection was begun again in the toun.'   The strange fate of some of the town's people is recorded in a Session-book note written on 2 January:  'Given to William Ros lying in the seikness in ane hutt, xxxs'. William and other unfortunates known to be infected were transported several miles outside the town and made to survive, as best they could, in makeshift dwellings in a deserted landscape (now part of the gardens  to the east of the Georgian mansion of Murlingden House,  just north of Brechin). A second individual who received charity but evidently escaped infection herself is named in the Brechin records on 1 March (recorded by Jervise in Memorials of Angus and the Mearns, 2, p. 310): 'Given to ane poore woman in the Craigend of Auldbar, who lost all hir gear by cleansing thairof the tym of the infection, called Janet Mitchell, xx lib.'

   Provisions for those living (and dying) in the Murlingden huts continued to be made:
Oct. 6.  Payit for meall for the people in the hwtts, 59s.
Oct 22.  Given to buy malt and meall to those in the hutts, 3 lib. 12s. 

   William Marshall, in Historic Scenes in Forfarshire (p. 227) tells us:
The infected were separated from others, and put into huts erected on the common moor; and these were in many instances pulled down over their corpses, which was all the sepulture they got.  The knolls thus raised might be traced till recently, when they were effaced by laying out the garden of Murlingden... Those of its victims, whose dust was carried to the churchyard, were buried in a plot by itself, which received no new tenant till as lately as 1809; not for fear of the dead being infected, but for fear of the plague, which was thought to be buried in the graves of its victims, escaping if these were touched, "in the form of a bluish mist or vapour," and overspreading the country!

Murlingden House.  The plague huts were to the east of the present day house.


   Jervise (Memorials of Angus and the Mearns, p. 202) further informs us that the market at Brechin was also removed outside the burgh:
... instead of the weekly markets being held in the town at the time, they stood upon the estate of Kintrockat, about two miles to the westward, also that a cauldron was used for purifying the money which was exchanged on these occasions.  In commemoration of that event, a late proprietor is said to have had a mound raised upon the site of the reputed market place.
   More recent opinion, however,  believes that the mound, to the north west of Kintrockat House, is an ancient burial cairn.  At one time, many stone bows were evident here, supposedly receptacles for payment for goods left on the mound.  It has been said - and it is not improbable - that the source of the entry of the plague into Aberdeen in April 1647 was a woman visiting from Brechin who crossed the Dee surreptitiously at night and doomed a good population of the city.


Kitntrockat mound: memory of the plague or more ancient?


Dundee's Sick-men's Yards and Other Sites


   As noted above, Dundee's plague stricken were, for a period, made to live beyond the eastern boundary of the burgh.  In this area, near the Dens Burn and comprising part of the lands of Wallace-Craigie, was situated St Roque's Chapel.  Probably the plague victims who died here were buried in this kirkyard.  Not co-incidentally this saint was the patron of those afflicted with the plague.  To the east of this, even further outside the town, was the Holy Rood Chapel, also called the Chapel of St John (the Evangelist) 'of the sklait heuchs', so named because it stood on a grey slate outcrop adjacent to a slate quarry. (The rock was anciently called Kilcraig, church on the rock, suggesting a very ancient foundation, and stood near the Tay shore, just east of Carolina Port.  The successor to this church and kirkyard is to the south of the current Broughty Ferry Road.)  As early as 1442 there was a hospital for the afflicted here and later plague victims were also put to rest in the kirkyard. The burgh actually rented out the kirk lands to a man named James Black and again for agricultural use in 1561, which, suggests historian Elizabeth Torrie, that the kirk itself was in dereliction. A few years earlier than this official re-usage, someone had illegally occupied these lands were were properly to be used for drying of fishing nets, common pasturage and 'for the lodges to sick folks in time of pest, as they were of before past memorie of man'.  The illegal crops were trampled down.  But by the start of the 17th century a new wave of plague sufferers were living in the Roodyards.  According to James Thompson's History of Dundee:
In the course of the 19th century, and perhaps earlier, the churchyard, open and neglected, was used as a place of interment for seafaring people not belonging to the town, for strangers, and for those whom accident or violence brought to a premature end. It was also the family burial place of the Kyds, formerly designed of Craigie, who acquired that estate about or before 1660; and as a place of interment it was still used, particularly by that family of Craigie (who erected a vault in 1829, at nearly the centre of the ground), and by several other families possessing a right of sepulchre within its precincts, either as feuars of parcels of the lands of Craigie, or by purchase. The area is limited, a large part of the south side having been quarried away many years ago; but what remains is substantially enclosed, and tastefully planted with ornamental trees and shrubs. [History of Dundee, p. 228.]

     While the bubonic or pneumonic plague were periodic visitors to the scene, there was an ever present risk of leposy in town and country, plus other diseases such as cholera to contend with (which may account for some 'plague records').  Dundee's leper house, first recorded in the 15th century, stood on the banks of the Den's Burn and was well recorded in the 16th century.  It was one of four hospitals which served various illnesses in the medieval burgh.

   There is an elusive tradition that there was a plague pit situated beyond the western boundary of Dundee, near present Tay Street, in an area called The Devil's Green.  This has never been satisfactorily explained or investigated, though it may be connected in some way with the Witches' Knowe nearby.

A view which would have been familiar, a century earlier, to afflicted plague sufferers shut outside the east side of the burgh.

Selected Sources


Black, David G., The History of Brechin to 1864 (Brechin, 1867).

Coutts, Walter, Historical Guide, Brechin and Neighbourhood (Brechin, 1889).

Edwards, D. H., Around the Ancient City (Brechin, 1904).

Hume Brown, P. (ed.), The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland (Second series, vol. 3, Edinburgh, 1901).

Inglis, Rev. W. M., Annals of An Angus Parish (Dundee, 1888).

Jervise, Andrew, Memorials of Angus and the Mearns (revised edition, 2 volumes, Edinburgh, 1885).

Lythe, S. G. E., Life and Labour in Dundee from the Reformation to the Civil War (Abertay Historical Publication No. 5, Dundee, 1958).

Marshall, William, Historic Scenes in Forfarshire (Edinburgh, 1875).

Maxwell, Alexander, The History of Old Dundee (Edinburgh and Dundee, 1884).

Miller, A. H., Haunted Dundee (Dundee, 1923).

Miller, David, Arbroath and its Abbey (Edinburgh, 1860).

Montrose Basin Heritage Society, Ebb and Flow, Aspects of the History of Montrose Basin (Balgavies, 2004).

Oram,  Richard , "It cannot be decernit quha are clean and quha are foulle." Responses to Epidemic Disease in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century Scotland, Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Reforme, 30 (4) (2006).

Ruxton Fraser, Rev. W., St Mary’s of Old Montrose, or Parish of Maryton (Edinburgh and London, 1896).

The Municipal History of Dundee (Dundee, 1878).

Thompson, James, The History of Dundee (new edition, Dundee, 1874).

Torrie, Elizabeth P. D., Medieval Dundee, A Town and its People (Abertay Historical Society, Publication No. 30, Dundee, 1990).

Warden, Alexander, Angus, or Forfarshire (volume 1, Dundee, 1880).