MAUCHLINE KIRKYARD & ROBERT BURNS
Many and varied are the places in Scotland that are of interest to Burnsians. The one place that is a must for those who desire to feel the atmosphere of Robert burns is Mauchline. Here the Bard wooed his “Bonnie Jean” and the house that he took her to as his wife in 1788. Here is the graveyard where some of his children lie buried and here also lie many of his friends whose graves can be seen. Possie Nancy’s ale house the scene of that masterpiece “The Jolly Beggars” can be visited. The village of Mauchline still holds the aura of Burns just as it did when he walked its narrow streets.
The following pages will explain the connections between some of the people and those who lie at rest in the Kirk yard.
When entering the Kirk Yard from Loudon Street you will see an inscribed stone with the name Hamilton. This is the grave of James Hamilton, who was only a boy when Burns was alive, and who aged eighty four died. His parents were good friends of the Burns family, and James was a frequent visitor at Mossgiel farm. He often recalled that he “Ca’d the plough to Robin”, and on one occasion he delivered a letter from Burns to Jean Armour which the bard admonished him to give the letter to no one but Jean. Local history informs us that James was a hard working and well living man and that he was employed at Netherplace Estate near Mauchline for Sixty Four years.
Robert a was reputed sweetheart of Jean Armour, he was a native of Mauchline and moved to Paisley where he worked as a weaver, he is said to have had a flirtation with Jean Armour, when Jean was sent to Paisley by her parents during her estrangement from Burns. Robert is the “Gallant Weaver” in the song of the same name.
This head stone was raised in 1825, and it claims to be the grave of Burns’s Mary Morrison. The identity of Marry Morrison has never been established and the researches of Robert Chambers prompted him to write “Although Burns is not supposed to have had particular person in mind”, many believe that the heroine of the song is Peggy Elison of the song “And I’ll kiss thee yet,yet”.
When Burns was making friends in the village of Mauchline, one of the first was John Richmond. This young man worked in the office of Gavin Hamilton as a clerk, and was one of the early organisers of the “Bachelors Club” in Tarbolton. In 1785 he went to Edinburgh as an apprentice to William Wilson, Writer to the Signet. Burns lodged with John in 1786 when he visited Edinburgh, and paid something towards the 3 shilling a week rent. There are at least 5 existing letters that Burns wrote to John Richmond, but for no apparent reason Burns ignored him after 1787. Richmond returned to Mauchline about 1789 and set up as a Solicitor. He died in 1846.
Local tradition connects Andrew Noble with Burns’s humorous Epitaph beginning “lament him Mauchline husbands a’ “. He was the school master in Mauchline during the time Burns was there, and was Session Clerk of Mauchline Parish Church. A headstone to the memory of his three children marks his grave. translation of the Greek inscription is “The best things are laid up in heaven for us”
The Kirk yard is the last resting place of a man very dear to Robert Burns. Gavin Hamilton was the friend and advisor to the Bard on many occasions, and it was to him that the bard dedicated his first volume of poems. Gavin was a writer or as we say today, a lawyer in Mauchline, and was Burn’s landlord when he was resident at Mossgiel farm. Both Burns and Hamilton belonged to the “New Lichts” or in today’s language “Liberal Thinkers” and both were ardent Freemasons. In his work the Bard mentions or alludes to Gavin Hamilton in “The Epistle to John McMath”, “The Farewell”, “Holy Willies Prayer” and “The Epistle to Gavin Hamilton”. The marker stone was raised over his grave in 1919 by “Partick Burns Club” a member of the Glasgow and District Burns Association.
The stone bears a quotation from the poem “A Dedication” and reads
“That he’s the poor man’s friend in need
The gentleman in word and deed”
Nance Tinnock was keeper of the alehouse in the “Back Causeway”, now Castle Street, Mauchline, and was a well known to Robert Burns. He wrote of her “A worthy old hostess of the author’s in Mauchline, where he sometimes studied politics over a glass of guid auld Scotch drink”. She is mentioned by the Bard in “The author’s earnest cry and prayer”, and will be remembered as “a true ale-wife in the proverbial sense of the word, close, discreet, civil and no story teller”. She died on the 22nd of December 1858.
James was a jobbing mason in the vicinity of Mauchline and Tarbolton, and local tradition tells us that he was well known for his tendency to get into arguments on Church doctrine. Burns satirised him in his “Epitaph on a noisy Polemic”. And it is said that in later years he boasted to anyone who would listen that he was “The Bletherin’ Bitch” in the hope that the listener would give him what he called a trifle. He became an inmate of Faile Poorhouse and died in 1844.
William was hired as “Herd boy and general outdoor servant” at Mossgiel farm for four years. He was very proud of his connection with the Burns family and openly praised each of its members. He wrote his memoirs of these Mossgiel days in a little booklet “Robert Burns at Mossgiel” and until he died in 1864 he was one of the Bards ardent admirers.
REVERAND WILLIAM AULD
Burns’s “Daddy Auld” was Minister of Mauchline Parish Church for fifty years. It was he who rebuked Burns and Jean Armour before the congregation in 1786 for “irregularity in conduct”. He was educated in Edinburgh and Glasgow universities, and Burns portrays him as “Daddy Auld” in “The Kirk’s alarm”, “Apostle Auld” of “The Twa Herds”, and “Father Auld in the argument to “Holy Willie’s Prayer” he died on the 12th December 1791, aged 81 years.
John, or as Burns called him, “Clockie Brown”, was a clock maker in Mauchline. Burns mentions him in his “Court of Equity”.
In the Kirk yard lie the remains of one of the men who would have been long forgotten but for the fact that he is part of the works of Robert Burns. Willie Fisher, or as Burns so aptly named him”Holly Willie”, was born in1737. He was ordained an elder of the Parish Church in Mauchline in July 1772; under the charge of the Rev William Auld or as Burns called him “Daddy Auld” Fisher was a bachelor and womaniser, a man well known in the village for his drinking and a profligate who tried to hide his sins under the cloak of religion. Burns sums him up when he wrote “Holy Willie was a rather oddish bachelor Elder in the Parish Church of Mauchline, and much and justly famed for that polemical chattering which ends in tippling orthodoxy, and for that spiritualised bawdry which refines to liquorish devotion” He was found dead in a ditch by the road side near Mauchline, in 1809 aged 72 years.
Agnes Gibson or “Possie Nancy” was the landlady of the licensed alehouse that can still be seen standing on the opposite side of the street from the graveyard. This alehouse was used as a lodging house for all kinds of travellers passing through Mauchline. Burns passed by one evening and looked into the hostelry where some gangrel bodies were engaged in a carousel, and this encounter resulted in Burns writing his magnificent “Jolly Beggars”. This grave also holds the remains of Janet Gibson, the mentally impeded daughter of Possie Nancy’s, whom Burns called “Racer Jesse” in his “Holy Fair” and as “Jenny” in “Adam Armours Prayer”. She got her nickname for having won a number of long distance races for bets.
James was a resident of Mauchline for many years and was a farmer at Welton, nearby. Burns mentions him in his last letter to Joh Richmond, dated July 1786, in connection with the poem “The Court of Equity”.
THE MINISTERS CORNER
Several former Ministers of Mauchline Parish Church are buried in the the corner to the left of “Possie Nancy’s” grave.
THE BALLOCHMYLE GRAVE
The railed enclosure beside the Church Vestry contains the remains of some of the Alexanders of Ballochmyle. Wilhelmina Alexander, the heroine of Burns’s “The Lass o Ballochmyle” is not buried here, she died in Glasgow, unmarried, and in old age. Her grave is unknown.
Burns mentions him in the poem addressed to Gavin Hamilton recommending a boy. He was a “Knavish cattle dealer” in Mauchline, according to Cromek.
He was the infant son of Sir John Whitefoord and Lady Whitefoord of Ballochmyle Estate. Sir John was an early supporter of Robert Burns, and an ardent Freemason. The failure of the Ayr Bank compelled him to sell Ballochmyle Estate and he went to Edinburgh. At this time Burns wrote his “Farewell to Ballochmyle” and said of the family “I composed the verses on the amiable family of the Whitefoords leaving Ballochmyle”. Another poem by the Bard is “Lines to Sir John Whitefoord” and it is Sir Johns eldest daughter who is “Maria” in Burns’s above named lyric “Farewell to Ballochmyle”.
ARMOUR BURIAL GROUND
There are four of Robert Burns’s children buried in this grave. Three died in infancy and the fourth Elizabeth Riddell Burns, who was born on the 21st of November 1792 at Dumfries, died at Mossgile Farm in 1795.