Page images


[ocr errors]

A HANDY and useful addition was made to local literature by the issue of a new or fourth edition of the late Archibald M'Kay's well-known "History of Kilmarnock." It was somewhat over thirty years since the first appeared, and two have been issued in the interim. Admirably arranged as the book is, and full of information, it is yet hardly full enough, and not quite so fresh in details as the year on the title-page would lead one to infer. The new preface is dated last June, yet among the worthies who figured in "Auld Killie,” of whom brief-too brief-notice is given, no mention is made of the fact that John Kelso Hunter died so far back as February, 1873. It is just between seven and eight years since J. K., "John Kobbler," otherwise "The Cobbler Artist," was taken away from his "last" as well as his easel, to the regret of many friends, aged a little over seventy. Neither the "Retrospect " nor "Life Studies of Character," nor "Memorials of West Country Men and Manners," is so much as mentioned, and yet it is not to be disputed that Hunter's writings have fully more to do with such fame as he enjoys than any labour he ever undertook in connection with the "Kilmarnock Drawing Academy," important as that institution might be in the history of art. Hunter's portraits were in the main looked upon as wonders, the feeling generally being, not that they should be done so well, but that in the circumstances they could be done at all. His books, on the other hand, were the man all over, surrounded by portraits of another kind, coloured like those on canvas, with the airy imagination of the artist. These must long continue to be enjoyed by all who esteem graphic accuracy with a strong dash of Doric tincture. James Paterson, too, another Kilmarnock worthy by residence, thoroughly Ayrshire also by birth and work, receives only a brief mention, suggested apparently by his experiences on the local "Chronicle." And yet

James Paterson wrote the "History of Ayr," and transcribed "The Obit Book of St. John the Baptist," not to speak of much miscellaneous work in the way of compilation. Neither is it indicated in any way that such an industrious labourer in the literary vineyard has been dead for two or three years. Nobody can grudge the ample space devoted to Sir James Shaw, an exceptionally prominent and worthy native of the town; but one pre-eminent duty of a local historian, and one on which even readers beyond the bounds of the locality look to him as an authority, is to give a reasonably complete account of those who in the world of enterprise or thought did some good work in their day, but probably not sufficient to merit any reminder in the way of a public monument. The prominent can easily be held in remembrance; but local history, to be properly written, must be made up of many people not reaching a very high standard of effort, just as on the other it must deal with many events having only a parochial significance. The general historian requires so often to be indebted to the special or local that disappointment is experienced when details are found to be less full than might be reasonably expected, especially when opportunity has been afforded for increased care by four editions. As slips occur in the way of omitting to mention death, so on the other hand persons still living might have been described. An otherwise excellent notice of Mr. Templeton, vocalist, is slightly marred by an absence of any information that he is still (1880) living, and must be about, if not over, eighty years of age. The date of birth, instead of being only an inference from certain other facts, should have been stated with distinctness. In the mere arrangement of his matter no less than in simple directness of expression, Mr. M'Kay must be judged to merit very high praise. There is some mention of the earliest notices of the burgh, though, from the absence of ecclesiastical or municipal records, these cannot be expected in very great detail, nor might they be considered as adding to the usefulness of the book for popular purposes. The town books extend no further back than 1686, and the earliest entry in the register of baptism is of date 1644. For its erection as a parish, for the date

of its first church, or even for the period of the reputed St. Marnock, only stray references of second or third rate value, so far as age is concerned, can now be had. For the "Locartt" vassals of the great De Morville, who are presumed to have placed the parish under the protection of Kilwinning, that ancient mother of many fraternities, Time has preserved but little until a period is reached so recent as hardly to be history when judged of in connection with the event itself. Early in the seventeenth century-probably 500 years after a village had begun to cluster round the church-Pont wrote of Kilmarnock as having a weekly market, and "a faire stone bridge over the river which glides past by the toune till it falls into the river Irvine. It hath a pretty church, from which the village castle and lordship takes its name. The Lord Boyd is now lord of it, to whose predecessors it hath belonged for many generations." It was only a few years before this date, or in 1591, that Kilmarnock received its first charter, being erected into a burgh of barony by Thomas, fifth Lord Boyd. In 1672 a second charter, conferring additional rights and privileges on the town, was granted by Charles II. in favour of William, ninth Lord Boyd, and first Earl of Kilmarnock, great-grandfather of the unfortunate William, fourth Earl, executed on Tower Hill for his share in the Rebellion of 1745. From the third Earl Kilmarnock received a grant of the common greens of the town, certain shops under the Tolbooth, the tron and weights, with the customs of the burgh, including all connected with the fairs and weekly markets. When this grant was made the Magistrates were elected by the Lord of the manor from a list presented to him annually. So far as Parliamentary representation or municipal government was concerned, Kilmarnock continued in this condition till 1832, when under the Reform Bill of that year it was included among the fifteen towns in Scotland, not royal burghs, which were to join with others in sending a member to the Commons. Gradually increasing in enterprise and population, Kilmarnock came to be a place of considerable importance in the West Country, and throughout the perilous times of the Covenant and Rebellion lent a consistent and substantial support to the cause of religious and civil

liberty. Whig by conviction no less than by tradition, several sons of Kilmarnock occupy an honourable place in the roll of Covenant martyrs, while several barbarous executions took place within the burgh for the avowed purpose of overawing its inhabitants. The moorlands of Ayrshire were too near, as they were too well known, to the dragoons for Kilmarnock to be kept free from their unwelcome presence. In January, 1682, Captain Inglis complains that the countrymen will neither sell corn nor straw to the troops, but shut up their doors on seeing the soldiers. So far as the last rising in favour of the House of Stuart was concerned, although its titular chief, through some personal resentment of his own, it has been said, cast in his lot with the young Pretender, the townsfolk were prominently active in support of the House of Hanover. In his petition to the King, the Earl of Kilmarnock affirmed that he influenced neither tenant nor follower to assist or abet the rebellion, but that, on the contrary, between the time of the battle of Preston and his own unhappy junction with the rebels, he went to the town of Kilmarnock, and pleaded the cause of His Majesty with such effect, that 200 men were soon in arms, and remained most of the winter in Glasgow or elsewhere. As might have been expected from his long familiarity with local men and events, Mr. M'Kay furnishes much interesting information concerning Burns and his Kilmarnock friends, many of his "howfs" being minutely described, and the men whom he mixed with or satirised noticed in a pleasant informing manner. As indicating the extension of the town caused by carpet weaving, engineering, and other industries, the population, it may be mentioned, has increased within the present century from 8,079 in 1801 to 24,071 in 1871. At present the total valuation of the burgh proper, including railways, is £83,722, and of the landward portion, also including railways, is £22,392. Mr. M'Kay's "Kilmarnock" is not a book of events only-although all the more important are given, including fires and floods-but he very properly deals with the pastimes of the people, their churches and schools, and all the recent improvements for which the burgh has been so worthily distinguished in recent years. Regarding all these points, and many more, on which space

will not permit us to dilate, Mr. M'Kay's book may be confidently taken in hand as a trustworthy guide and authority, subject to such small exceptions as are mentioned above.


SINCE even the memory of the just "smell sweet and blossom in the dust," what high consideration should be meted out to those Old Mortality's who so far defy "Decay's effacing fingers" as to keep the departed in green remembrance by gathering together their memorials for wide and permanent respect? The quaint old Knight of Norwich, Sir Thomas Browne, writes of unsatisfied affection as receiving some pleasure from being neighbours in the grave, "to lie urn by urn, and touch but in their names." In his "Memorials of St. Michael's," the historian of Dumfries, following up, and indeed partly completing, his previous labours, brought whole generations side by side, enabling survivors at home, or it may be in distant parts, to recall old associations and renew forgotten friendships. He has discharged his somewhat mournful task with feeling and judgment. Grave without being gloomy, informing but never dull, minute and yet discriminating, the reader will find in M'Dowall's meditations among the tombs much that will enlarge the understanding as well as touch the heart. Names, he says, that appear of little note to strangers may be precious to some humble household, as having belonged to those who, in happier days for the survivors, were its chief prop or pride. All burial grounds-even the unconsecrated -are counted sacred; but as a rule each bereaved mourner counts that spot the dearest and most hallowed of all which contains the gem of his own circle. Of some graves, half-neglected as obscure, noticed in the volume, the observation

« PreviousContinue »