11 October 2013, Presidential Adddress
Dr Francis Toolis — James Clerk Maxwell: the man who
changed everything and was then forgotten
Cumberland Street Centre was packed with an audience of 70 people for the AGM and inaugural meeting of the 2013–2014 season of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Dr Francis Toolis, retiring President, conducted the AGM and then introduced Liam Murray as his successor
Liam thanked Dr Toolis for his outstanding contribution to his three years as President, most notably steering the Society through its 150th anniversary year and for his management of excavations at Trusty's Hill, towards which he had acquired £35,000 of grants for advancement of the cause. He then announced the main attraction of the evening and invited the speaker, Dr Francis Toolis, to deliver his Presidential Address. The subject was James Clerk Maxwell.
Four faces of eminent scientists of the world came up on the screen: Galileo (1564–1662), Newton (1642–1727), Maxwell (1831–1879) and Einstein (1879–1955). Three of these men are world-famous. Only James Clerk Maxwell, whom Einstein rated very highly, is not so well-known, not even in his native land. Maxwell died at the age of 48 years. To quote Einstein: "The special theory of relativity owes its origins to Maxwell's equations of the electromagnetic field."
Though born at his parents' house at 14 India Street in Edinburgh, Glenlair the family property in Galloway was where he grew up. His mother encouraged his enquiring mind but, sadly, she died when he was aged eight. The extended family took him under their wing and he moved to 31 Heriot Row, Edinburgh. This enabled him to enrol at Edinburgh Academy in 1841. Initially he was scorned for his rural speech, which he retained lifelong, and he was even considered to be backward. By the third of his six years there he began to shine at Mathematics, especially Geometry. He formed a close friendship with like-minded Lewis Campbell, who wrote the biography of Maxwell three years after his death.
Such was the advanced nature of Maxwell's thinking that when he was fourteen years old a paper on ovals, written by him, was read (not by him) to the Royal Society in Edinburgh. He became a student at Edinburgh University in 1847 and thence to Cambridge in 1850. There he obtained a fellowship and graduated with a degree in Mathematics from Trinity College in 1854.
In 1856 the failing health of his father, resulting in death in April, had caused him to apply and be appointed to the chair of Natural Philosophy at Marischal College, Aberdeen. He married Katherine Dewar, the daughter of the Principal, in 1859, but this did not help him to retain his post when Marischal and King's Colleges combined. Maxwell also suffered rejection for the chair of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University and later at St Andrews.
It was said of him that he "had too much learning and too much originality to be at his best in elementary teaching. For those, however who could follow him his teaching was a delight."
He succeeded in gaining the taxing appointment in 1860 to the chair at King's College, London, where he remained for six years. Subsequently he worked from Glenlair and made periodic trips to Cambridge, where he was appointed the first Cavendish Professor of Physics in 1871. He designed the Cavendish Laboratory, which opened officially in 1874.
By 1879 his health was obviously failing, advanced abdominal cancer was diagnosed and on 5th November he died. He is buried at Parton, where his wife was laid beside him seven years later.
His contribution to science is immense. As a youth he worked on polarised light and created a camera lucida. He studied colour: our colour television sets have arisen from his experimentation. His essay on The Motion of Saturn's Rings was entered for the Adam's prize at St John's College Cambridge, and won: his explanation was confirmed by the Voyager spacecraft in recent times. In photography, another of his fields of interest, he created the first colour photograph in 1861 but it was 100 years before his research was applied. His work in electricity and magnetism was revolutionary. In formulating the first ever statistical law in Physics he would have been declared great, even if he had never made another contribution to science.
In summing up Dr Toolis said of James Clerk Maxwell: "He changed everything and was promptly forgotten."
Late in the day a handsome statue of him was unveiled in George Street, Edinburgh, on 11th June 2008. It incorporates relevant symbolism and portrays a figure with an untied shoe lace.
Dr Toolis' treatment of a very complex subject was outstanding. His PowerPoint presentation was masterly and punctuated with humour. On concluding, he received a well-deserved and rapturous round of applause.
25 October 2013
Patrick Laurie (The Heather Trust) — Black grouse and the ever-changing uplands
Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society were given a talk by Patrick Laurie, a member of staff of The Heather Trust, the independent charity which represents the interests of moorland and upland areas. He is based at Holywood.
He has a particular interest in black grouse and his talk concentrated on the plight of the species in Dumfries and Galloway.
The speaker contrasted the extent of black grouse distribution in 1970, when Dumfries and Galloway held the highest concentration of black grouse in Scotland, with that today, when there is a decimated population in a widely fragmented distribution.
Mr Laurie identified the major cause of population decline as the later stages of afforestation. In the early years of planting black grouse benefit from the cessation of intensive farming. In addition the bare peat provides a favourable habitat for the young chicks and affords them exposure to grit. By the time plantations are ten years old, however, the benefits of open ground are gone and the dense plantations harbour predators, both mammal and raptor. There is a danger of collision with fences and, in the past, there was some persecution as black grouse were considered to damage young trees by browsing on buds or by sheer weight of perching on saplings.
Lek size in Dumfries and Galloway has fallen from averaging over 70 cocks in 1970 to less than 10 today when perhaps only 200 cocks remain. Young birds will disperse up to 20 miles. It is important that they come into contact with lekking birds during the period of behavioural latency so that they 'learn' the appropriate breeding behaviour. This would normally be fulfilled by encountering the autumn pseudo leks. Mr Laurie postulated that in the past there was a series of large lek hubs spread over the whole region which enabled dispersing birds to encounter large leks. Now birds of both sexes are tending to display aberrant behaviour which may in the long term affect the viability of the population.
Mr Laurie is an advocate of locally informed conservation measures. As an example he noted food preferences in different parts of Britain: birch in Perthshire; hawthorn in Northumberland; willow and rowan in Dumfries and Galloway. He feels that the standard generalist conservation pattern with a wide range of shrub species, based on Scandinavian methods, was, perhaps diluting effort for British races of the birds.
Patrick Laurie’s book Black Grouse is published by Merlin Unwin Books, ISBN: 978 1 906122 43 0.
8 November 2013
Revd Dr Ann Shukman — Bishops and covenanters: a Galloway perspective
Rev Dr Ann Shukman came to live in Scotland twelve years ago. As a member of St John’s Episcopal Church in Dumfries she began to question how the split arose with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland and why one has bishops while the other one does not. How does it happen that the head of the church in England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is appointed by the Prime Minister, while in Scotland Church and State are separate? The course of study on which she embarked was the topic of a well-presented, detailed talk to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society: Bishops and Covenanters — The Church in Scotland 1688–91, which is the title of her book on the subject.
At the time of the Reformation Scotland did have bishops. The Bishop of Galloway from 1559 to 1575, Alexander Gordon, was a friend of John Knox and he renounced papistry at the Reformation Parliament of 1560, which meant that he could acknowledge his wife and have his children legitimised!
In 1610 James VI (of Scotland) and I (of England) restored episcopacy in Scotland, thereby asserting his belief in 'divine right'. It was a time of intense debate but there was no persecution. He invited Andrew Melville and other divines to London to discuss the doctrine of the 'two kingdoms', the kingdom of Christ and the secular kingdom of the State. These differing ideas dogged Scottish history from that time. Melville adhered to the belief that the church in Scotland should be 'pure'.
Dr Shukman proceeded to cover the misrule of Charles I; the National Covenant of 1638; the outbreak of the Civil War during which Cromwell opposed both episcopalianism and presbyterianism; the restoration of Charles II who executed leading Covenanters and who restored episcopacy, but retained presbyterian structures. The fact that all ministers were obliged to accept episcopalian oversight and lay patronage was anathema to the protesters, who proved to be more violent than any others. They were totally against bishops. They were prepared to take up arms against the civil authorities and cited the Old Testament Book of Numbers as justifying violence, instead of the more tolerant New Testament.
The opposition of the Cameronians in the South-West was the fiercest where the idealogues were Samuel Rutherford, minister at Anwoth, and James Stuart of Goodtrees. James Graham of Claverhouse came to Dumfries and Galloway to wield royal authority and to have the military judge prisoners harshly. The 1680s ushered in the harsh 'Killing Times'. Yet the religious fervour continued unabated. The great revivalist movement found expression in open-air conventicles: 10,000 massed at Maybole and 7,000 at Durisdeer.
Charles II died in 1685. His Catholic brother James was tolerated until his second wife, also a Catholic, had a son who became the heir to the British throne. The outcome of the so-called 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688–91 was that William of Orange, the Protestant hero of Europe and husband of Mary, the Protestant daughter of the deposed James, sat on the throne along with Mary as joint rulers. Strangely enough William had quite a close relationship with the Vatican, one of many anomalies that permeate the religious turmoil of the period.
In July 1689 the new Scottish Parliament abolished bishops and in July 1690 the Presbyterian Church of Scotland was established. In October 1690 the new Protester General Assembly ordered the purge of the universities and the removal of all the remaining episcopally-ordained parish clergy.
Thus the situation arose whereby the Scottish Episcopal Church is ruled by bishops, while the Presbyterian Church of Scotland is ruled by elders.
22 November 2013
Dr Dermot Kennedy — The prehistoric peopling of Scotland: origins, genes, cultures, environments
Dr Dermot Kennedy gave a wide-ranging, well-presented talk to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on the subject of The Prehistoric Peopling of Scotland. Aspects covered were Origins, Genes, Cultures and Environments. Retirement from the medical scene in the field of infectious diseases permits him to pursue this self-same field in prehistoric times. There are no easy answers in this new emerging science of population genetics, still in a formative period.
In pre-history five classic eras are recognised: Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age. In the stone ages females had greater equality. Subjugation came later under Indo-European influences.
In Palaeolithic times, until 12,000–13,000 years ago, Scotland was in the grip of an Ice Age and therefore unpopulated. Only the Rhinns of Islay was free of ice.
Once free of glaciation in Mesolithic times, the longest era, the land was exposed. People in southern Europe in the Franco-Cantabrian parts had only just survived the Ice Age. They were black-skinned. It then became possible for humans to spread out and eventually reach the north of Scotland. This was the origin of the first Scots, who were hunter-gatherers, moving around by boat. Pastoralism suited them better than farming.
The Neolithic era, 10,000–12,000 years ago, produced the greatest revolution in human terms when a dramatic increase in population took place. Successful coupling with Neanderthals brought about a change in the genome by mutation, not reproduction; white-skinned, red-haired people emerged; 1–49% of our DNA is acquired from Neanderthals. Thus 13% of Scots still have red hair; the Irish 11%. New diseases like measles and smallpox, caught from domesticated animals, were transmitted to humans in this period.
It has become possible to track our ancestry by studying mitochondrial DNA. Between 10 and 30% of our DNA is of Middle Eastern origin. The Welsh, Scots and Irish are not of Celtic origin. Unlike in males, female mitrochondrial DNA remains unchanged. In humans, mitochondrial DNA spans about 16,500 building blocks, representing a small fraction of the total DNA in cells. Mitochondrial genes are among the estimated 29,000 to 25,000 total genes in the human genome. Conditions like cancers are related to changes in the structure of mitochondrial DNA.
Some cave men were geniuses. Paintings in Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of France are circa 32,000 years old and are the earliest examples so far found. These artists understood perspective, a skill that then became lost until the Renaissance. There are over 300 Ice Age art caves in the Dordogne and Cantabria, but entry is forbidden to about 90% of them.
Geophysical and climatic change was brought about in the Holocene period of warmer air 18,000 years ago. Melt Water, estimated at 135 trillion tons, entered the Atlantic causing progressive loss of land. Ireland became an island. A tsunami flooded the East of Scotland. Many Mesolithic sites were lost.
On Oronsay studies of shell middens have afforded information on Mesolithic diet which appears to have been healthy, in that 90% was composed of fish, (hazel)nuts and shellfish. The Gaelic word for hazel is ‘Coll’, as in the name of the island of Coll.
In Neolithic times, 4,000–2,500 BC, there was a 20-fold increase in population in the first 1,000 of those years and 50-fold within 2,000 years. People advanced sporadically. Was it farmers or farming that caused the movement? Farming led to clearance of woodland, settlement and spare food. Some remarkable stone structures, the best in Europe, survive in Britain.
Migration up the Atlantic route from Basque lands involved conflict. Fortified structures for defence proved to be necessary. The metal smith provided military superiority. His status in society from the Bronze Age (2,500–700 BC) and the Iron Age (700BC–400 AD) was unrivalled.
About 3 billion people speak an Indo-European language but its origins are still unknown. Anatolean farmers invaded Europe about 7,000 BC. Many languages have spun off from that source. By contrast the Celtic language, which developed in Spain, is spoken by few. The Celts spread their culture but not their genes. The genetic lineage of the Celts has died out — not necessarily through conflict: it was maybe bred out. Celticism is cultural not genetic. Further information may be gleaned from Barry Cunliffe’s book, Celtic from the West.
13 December 2013, James Williams Lecture
Professor Stuart K Munro, OBE, DUniv, FRSE (Scientific Director, Dynamic Earth) — Life on the rocks
Professor Stuart K. Monro OBE, DUniv, FRSE, Scientific Director of Dynamic Earth, was invited by Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society to deliver the James Williams Memorial Lecture of 2013. Fittingly, in view of James' lifelong interest in Geology, the subject chosen was Life on the Rocks.
From the outset the huge audience was spellbound. Humour permeated the talk presented in a lucid, authoritative style and delivering a body of knowledge which demonstrated how the subject has changed dramatically over the years. David Attenborough, a man who inspires, motivates, excites and stimulates people about the natural world, was and is Professor Monro's role model.
James Hutton (1726–1797) is regarded as the father of modern Geology. He believed that "the present was the key to the past and that the past is the key to the future". Siccar Point near Cockburnspath is world famous as the most important site described by Hutton in formulating his ideas on the origin and age of the earth. It remains much as it was when Hutton visited in 1788. Vertical rocks are caused by squeezing of the horizontal ones and at this site Devonian red sandstone 400 million years old, washed by the sea, reveals strata of the structure of the rocks with Silurian sediments below.
Hutton was not a good communicator but Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology set out the observations made by Hutton. A copy was sent to Charles Darwin and shaped the way that biological thinking was going.
The mesosaurus, early aquatic relative of reptiles, is found in both Asia and Africa: this information was revealed when the ocean floors were examined and their secrets unlocked in their magnetic properties. This fact suggested that the two continents were once joined and provides some of the earliest proof of continental drift.
Plate Tectonics is one of the big ideas in science. In the Himalayas on the riverbed of the Kali Gandaki there is a rock and in it is an ammonite fossil from the sea, which has been thrown up thousands of metres by earthquake. Rocks behave like champagne and deliver pyroclastic flows such as wiped out Pompeii. Such happenings are still taking place: witness the devastating destruction in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2010; the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull glacier in Iceland also in 2010 which catapulted fine-grained ash into the air and grounded aircraft in Europe; the earthquake in S.W. Pakistan on 24th September 2013, to name but a few.
Remembering the statement that "the past is the key to the future", there is a sleeping giant, namely Yellowstone, which erupts every 600,000 years. Another eruption is overdue by 30 thousand years. The magma chamber's pressure is building up by 5 metres every year.
Continental drift continues almost imperceptibly. What does the future hold? At Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland where America and Europe came together a bridge was built. Europe is drifting away from America at the rate our fingernails grow. The Atlantic is widening. Australia is moving northwards and will collide with S.E. Asia. In 250 million years time Scotland will be further north and cooler.
It is a dynamic earth, a small blue ball hanging in the infinity of space; but it is home, a home we are still learning about and need to know more about…
The talk ended with David Attenborough reciting the words of the Louis Armstrong song, "What a wonderful world!"
17 January 2014
Peter Norman (Biodiversity Officer, Dumfries and Galloway Council) —
The origins, archaeology, history and wildlife of the Lochar Moss
A large audience enjoyed the first talk of 2014, given to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. The speaker was Peter Norman, the Biodiversity Officer for Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council. His subject was The origins, archaeology, history and wildlife of the Lochar Moss, sometimes referred to as 'The Great Moss'.
Peter described the huge extent of the original Lochar Moss and its impact on the development of Dumfries and its environs throughout the centuries.
Utilising excellent diagrams and photographs, the speaker explained how peat mosses are formed and he described the detailed development and archaeology of the moss, demonstrating how the two were closely inter-related. Particular attention was paid to artefacts which are available to view in Dumfries Museum. Peter showed how the moss might well have been utilised for ritual deposits using evidence, such as the Lochar torque, which is a find of world importance. He suggested that the discovery of 'bog-bodies' might indicate that human sacrifices once took place.
The earliest written evidence is from a warrant dated 1524 which concerned a dispute over the rights to extract peat. Attention was then drawn to the commercial development of the moss, commencing with work carried out by the Duke of Queensberry to drain parts of it in the mid 1750s. Photographs and plans were used to show these works and their resultant effects today.
Local folk lore is associated with the moss. In September 1837 The Royal Highland Agricultural Society held their annual show in Dumfries. They paid £250 to bring an enormous steam plough to the event. For two days the demonstration was successful, but on the third day a combination of heavy rain and the attendance of over 2,000 visitors meant that the plough failed to operate. That the plough is still buried in the moss is a tale that persists: but Peter was able to inform the meeting that the engine was salvaged and transported to Egypt. Parts of the plough may well still lie in the moss despite the fact that several attempts to locate them have proved abortive.
Commercial peat extraction and forestry have had an effect on the wildlife and ecology of the moss. Some species recorded in the 1850s are no longer present, but the picture is not a totally gloomy one. The schemes to rescue parts of the moss, to clear commercial forestry and to manage the peat moss have proved successful. It is hoped that these schemes can be extended. Several extremely rare plants are present, notably Baltic Bog Moss. Bog rosemary is prevalent. The large heath butterfly is still on Longbridgemuir land, Ruthwell. Some of the key plants essential for peat formation, such as Sphagnum cuspidatum, are thriving.
Why is this moss so important? Wild life, ecological and archaeological issues may be obvious, but what may not be appreciated is that the equivalent of all the carbon emissions Dumfries produces in a year are stored in the moss. Its absence would cause carbon to be released into the atmosphere, a factor which would significantly add to our global warming problems.
The talk ended on the optimistic note that it was still possible to save parts of the moss and that over a period of many years they could be re-instated to their former glory.
31 January 2014
David Dutton — A nasty, deplorable little incident in our political
life: the sacking of the editor of the Dumfries Standard, 1957
A nasty, deplorable, little incident in our political life: the sacking of the editor of The Dumfries Standard in 1957.
This was the arresting and surprising title of the talk showing on the screen for the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society meeting at the end of January. It emerged that the speaker, booked for that evening, had called off because of illness. Old Icelandic Literature might be a topic for the future.
David Dutton, a Society member, who taught history in Liverpool for many years before moving to Dumfries, was sufficiently well-organised to be able at short notice to present his Members' Night talk a fortnight early. The audience was not disappointed: the well-researched topic had local interest and related to a period in the lives of many in the audience.
The introduction cited several instances of press barons influencing political thinking and policy from Victorian times to the present day. Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook, and successive Harmsworths, headed by Lord Northcliffe, built up newspaper empires and reaped their rewards from Conservative and Labour Prime Ministers. Churchill in opposition in 1949 spent five weeks writing his memoirs at Beaverbrook's luxurious holiday villa near Monte Carlo. The activities of the Rupert Murdoch empire in recent times look moderate by comparison. However, with dwindling newspaper circulations the influence of the press has inevitably waned.
By the middle of the 20th Century only about twenty small newspapers from Greenock to Aberystwyth gave their support to the Liberal Party, which had once commanded a big following throughout the country. A haemorrhaging of support in the 1930s had been caused by a split in the party over Free Trade. A new party, known as the Liberal Nationals and led by Sir John Simon, was formed. The name of the party changed to National Liberals in 1948, by which time they were virtually indistinguishable from the Conservatives.
The Dumfries and Galloway Standard and Advertiser remained loyal to Liberalism — superficially. Founded in 1843 and based in Queensberry Square near the Midsteeple, The Standard, as it was generally named, had long given support to Liberalism. James Reid, editor since 1919, was also chairman of the Dumfriesshire Liberal Association; but when Dr Joseph Hunter, MP for Dumfriesshire since 1929, joined the Liberal Nationals, the Standard gave its full support. Only Langholm out of the constituency branch associations remained loyal to genuine Liberalism. Hunter's death in 1935 caused a by-election, the victor of which was Sir Henry Fildes, another Liberal National.
Major Niall Macpherson (1908–1987) won the Dumfriesshire seat in the 1945 general election. So close was his association with the newspaper that he held his surgeries in the Standard's offices. Genuine Liberals did not contest the seat between 1950 and 1963 for fear of splitting the Liberal vote and letting in the Labour candidate. Yet at the 1950 general election The Standard declared to Liberal voters that a good Liberal was standing in a straight fight against Labour. Macpherson, who styled himself a 'National-Liberal-Unionist' (as he continued to do), won the seat and was later appointed Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland by Sir Anthony Eden.
In 1954 the octogenarian Reid stood down as editor. A.G. Williamson succeeded despite being a committed orthodox Liberal. The Standard's proprietors perhaps thought they could induce a change of mind. They were wrong! Williamson stuck to his Liberal principles. A marked change in editorial tone received a warm reception from the readership. When an orthodox Liberal performed well in a by-election in Inverness, The Standard declared that the National Liberals were now mere henchmen of the Conservatives. Personal criticism of Macpherson was, however, muted because he was a conscientious constituency MP.
The Suez crisis changed matters. Liberals like Jo Grimond denounced the military action against the Egyptian occupation of the canal whereby Eden tried to topple Nasser. Macpherson as a junior Minister had to support the Prime Minister or resign. His backing of the Government to the hilt incurred resentment from Williamson. Britain was castigated at the United Nations where it used its veto for the first time. This elicited a harsher tone towards the MP in The Standard: the fact that 60 nations voted against Britain in the Security Council showed the extent of world condemnation. The newspaper argued that no true Liberal could support the British government.
Macpherson was clearly annoyed by the newspaper's stance and he and Williamson were invited by the directors to a meeting in the editor's Standard office. The chairman asked Williamson to leave the room, his own office. The eventual outcome was that Williamson was dismissed on 19th June 1957 and replaced by R. Fergusson.
The idea that the MP had been responsible for the editor's removal was raised in the House of Commons. Labour MP for Hamilton, Tom Fraser, told the Commons that the minutes of the meeting had been deleted and new ones, which did not record Macpherson's presence, inserted. Claim and counter-claim circulated. The matter was even reported in the United States.
Harold Macmillan who became Prime Minister in 1957 noted in his diary that this 'ridiculous row' had become a national scandal. Labour forced a heated debate in the House of Commons in which the words in the title of this talk were used. Parliament divided along party lines, giving victory to the Conservatives by 293 to 233.
Macpherson survived to serve under future Prime Ministers, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath, until 1974. In 1963 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Drumalbyn. Only then, in the resulting by-election, did the Unionist candidate drop his 'National Liberal' designation. The true Liberal party could now re-emerge.
14 February 2014
Elaine Kennedy — Maria Riddell — the Friend of Burns
Elaine Kennedy, former curator of Dumfries Museum and current editor of the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, undertook at short notice to fill a gap in the programme, brought about through illness. Her talk was much appreciated.
Her subject, 'Maria Riddell — The Friend of Burns', relied largely for source material on Sir Hugh Gladstone's Presidential Address to the Society in 1914. Burns' biographical details are familiar to most Dumfries audiences; Maria's are less well-known.
Maria Banks Woodley Riddell (1772–1808), born and educated in England, was one of seven children of William Woodley, owner of plantations in the West Indies and Captain-General of the Leeward Islands. It was in the West Indies that she met and married Lieutenant Walter Riddell, a widower and brother of Robert Riddell of Friars' Carse, Dumfries. Their first daughter, Anna Maria, was born in London in 1791. Walter made part-purchase of Goldielea estate, near Dumfries, which he renamed Woodley Park in his wife's honour. A second daughter, Sophia, was born in 1792.
While in the Leeward Islands in 1790 she had collected material for a book that was published in 1792 entitled: Voyages to the Madeira, and Leeward Caribbean Isles; with Sketches of the Natural History of these Islands by Maria R. She is now acknowledged as one of the earliest women writers to publish such a study in English.
Late in 1791 Maria Riddell met Robert Burns, farmer turned exciseman, who had moved from Ellisland and was now living in Bank Street, Dumfries. Burns was already a celebrity and through their friendship she became a more famous personage in history. For instance, Burns supplied her with a letter of introduction to William Smellie, first editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, when she visited Edinburgh in 1792. Burns warned his friend not to dismiss lightly this "lively West-Indian girl".
Burns went on to list her achievements. She wrote poetry; she played the harp and piano; she sang and wrote songs. She was a keen student of Natural History and a linguist. Like the two Roberts, Riddell and Burns, she was a political radical, a supporter of the French Revolution and of parliamentary reform in Britain. Having much in common, she and Burns corresponded in 1792 and 1793.
Late in 1793 a quarrel arose between the Riddells and Burns, about which there has been much speculation and controversy. Initially Burns tried to heal the breach with Maria. On finding "cold neglect", he vented his anger in ill-natured poems. Sir Hugh Gladstone commented: "Whatever may have been low and despicable in Burns' nature is nowhere more clearly seen than in his attacks on Maria Riddell". In less than a year they were again exchanging poems and songs, sharing books and discussing current affairs.
In the interim life had become difficult for Maria. Her husband had financial difficulties and was mostly away from home. She was reduced to living at Tinwald House, which she described as "a crazy, rambling, worm-eaten, cobweb-hunting chateau of the Duke of Queensberry."
She moved from there to Halleaths near Lochmaben where she and Burns met for the last time. She sent her carriage for him to come and dine with her in July 1796. Close to death, he met her with the memorable words: "Well, Madam, have you any command for the other world?"
The appreciation of Burns, which Maria was invited to prepare for the Dumfries Weekly Journal, is generally accepted as one of the most informative first-hand descriptions of Burns as a writer and as a man. Possibly harking back to their estrangement she wrote: "He was candid and manly in the avowal of his errors, and his avowal was reparation." (Elaine urged her audience to seek out this article of about 6,000 words in order to gain a true picture of him.)
Maria facilitated the acquisition of material for Dr James Currie's biography of Burns. Furthermore, she maintained her interest in his widow, Jean and the family.
In 1797 she left Dumfriesshire for good and went to live in Dorset and later London. That year her daughter Sophia died of whooping cough. Her husband, who had deserted her, died in the West Indies in 1802. In that same year she edited The Metrical Miscellany of songs by herself and eminent people of the day. She began to move in the highest society, including royal circles. Sir Walter Scott was enchanted by her.
She married a landowner from Flintshire, Colonel Phillips Lloyd Fletcher, in 1808. Sadly she died in December of that year at the age of 36 years, one year short of the lifespan of Robert Burns.
28 February 2014
Brian Morrell (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Caerlaverock) — The life
and times of Sir John Richardson, our forgotten local hero: doctor, explorer,
The Life and Times of Sir John Richardson, our forgotten local hero was the topic of the talk given by Brian Morrell of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Caerlaverock, to the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society.
Spitzbergen Barnacle Geese, having come close to extinction at 300 in the 1940s and now numbering 300,000, winter at Caerlaverock. Brian has paid four visits to their summer breeding grounds, which lie farther north than Alaska and Siberia. In modern times it was possible to fly straight to his destinations. Nowadays accoutrements for such expeditions include an electric fence, tepee and portable stove, plus of course a rifle because of the threat of encounter with a polar bear. Compare that with the conditions later in the talk experienced by Sir John Richardson in the course of the three expeditions he joined in the 1800s.
John Richardson (1787–1865), the eldest of 12 children, was born at Nith Place, Dumfries, on 5th November. His father, Gabriel (1759–1820), hailed from Kirkpatrick Juxta and his mother, Anne Mundell, came from Mouswald. The family settled at No 11 Nith Place. Gabriel, a brewer, produced a fine porter. The business, now demolished, survived until 1910/11. Gabriel was Provost of Dumfries. Anne lived to the age of 80 years. The family gravestone is in St Michael's Churchyard.
John, who was taught at home, began to read at the age of four. Robert Burns, resident nearby, visited the Richardson home regularly. He loaned John a copy of Spenser's Faerie Queene. Burns' son, Robert, was a friend and contemporary at Dumfries Grammar School.
Two days short of his thirteenth birthday John became an apprentice to his uncle, a surgeon, Dr James Mundell, at his High Street practice. Attached also to Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, John would write up the Minutes of meetings and perform junior doctor services. He qualified as a surgeon at 19 years of age.
He joined the Navy as assistant surgeon and served on six ships; he rose to full surgeon on 'The Blossom'. He returned in 1812 to complete his M.D. at Edinburgh University. He married Mary Stiven in 1818.
The British Government offered £20,000 to the man who succeeded in finding the North-West Passage. Having no previous experience, Sir John Franklin decided to lead an expedition (1819–1822), which Richardson joined as a surgeon and naturalist. Landing in Hudson's Bay, the expedition set off on foot. Having run out of food, they were reduced to scraping lichen off rocks. While crossing a river Richardson lost the feeling down one side of his body. Hood and Richardson were on their own when they met up with Michel Terohaute, who appeared to have a supply of fresh meat. The suspicion was that he had turned cannibal. Michel shot Hood and Richardson thereafter shot Michel. Having traversed some 5,500 miles, Richardson returned to Chatham for a couple of years.
The second expedition (1825–1827), with Franklin was safer. As a naturalist Richardson was in his element identifying new species of insects, birds and plants: thus, for instance, Richardson's cackling goose (a sub-species of Canada goose), Richardson's ground squirrel, skunk, owl and Franklin's Gull, etc., found their way into Fauna Boreali-Americana, published in 1828.
In 1831 his closest brother and his wife died. He met and married Franklin's niece, Mary Booth. She died in 1845. He had four sons and two daughters. His third wife was Mary Fletcher.
His name had become established in the naturalist world; and also in the medical world through his ground-breaking work, promoting hygiene and fresh air at Haslar Hospital, Portsmouth. He corresponded with Darwin, Florence Nightingale and David Livingstone.
Richardson did not join Franklin's third expedition because of the need to stay behind and care for his family. However, he set out in 1845 to find his friend, who was reported lost. He was joined by a doctor-surgeon, John Rae from Orkney. The overland treks were tough for Richardson, now in his sixties. He had a heart attack. John Rae stayed with the expedition and four years later he found the remains of Franklin's expedition. Again cannibalism was suspected. Exactly who found the North-West Passage has been the subject of controversy.
On returning home Richardson continued medical work at Haslar. He moved in retirement to Grasmere where he lived at Lancrigg, now a hotel (which Brian visited). In 1846 he was knighted by Queen Victoria; Dublin University awarded him an Hon. LL.D. Sir John Richardson died at the age of 72 and was buried in St. Oswald’s Churchyard, Grasmere.
Various Richardsons were in the audience and Mrs Balmer, in particular, had interesting information to add to an excellent talk. A biography of 1868 was written by J McIlwraith.Sir John Richardson deserves to have more honours conferred on him by his home town. There is a plaque in Nith Place; late in the day, a street, Sir John Richardson Place, has been named on the former Cresswell Hospital site; and moves are afoot to have him listed on the plaque at Dumfries Academy commemorating famous former pupils.
14 March 2014
Jim Johnson (Former Director of the Old Town Committee for Conservation and
Renewal) — By leaves we live: some thoughts about the continuing
relevance of Patrick Geddes
New and Old Edinburgh: the enduring legacy of Patrick Geddes was the subject chosen by Jim Johnson, architect and former director of the Old Town Committee for conservation and renewal, when he spoke to the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society in March.
Patrick Geddes (1854–1932), a polymath and man of action, was the youngest child of a very intelligent father who educated and guided his son, especially in practical mathematics. Geddes' views on city planning were formed by his home setting from Kinnoull Hill, Perth, where he spent his early childhood and from which the rural hinterland could be viewed.
Geddes gave up studying Botany at Edinburgh University after one week. He did not believe in exams, as a result of which his career advancement maybe suffered later in life. He went to London to work under Huxley, a follower of Darwin. In 1879 he became a demonstrator in Botany at Edinburgh University. His interest extended from the microscope to planning, where he learned to classify information according to a triad of place, work and folk. In the 1860s and 1870s he occupied a flat in James Court in the Lawnmarket, which had become a place for the poor living in poor conditions, since wealthier people had moved to the New Town. He did not want to demolish the whole area as Haussmann did in Paris and as had been done in Chambers Street, Edinburgh. Be gentle and don't lose the historical context were his guiding principles. Thus he practised 'conservative surgery' in the Lawnmarket. "The task of town planning is not to coerce people:" they must be given care as tender as for flowers.
In 1880 he married Anna, a remarkable lady, who accepted the slum conditions. They were always short of money. They had two sons and a daughter.
Geddes applied unsuccessfully for the chair of Botany in Edinburgh, despite having secured Darwin's support. In that capacity he would have been in charge of the Botanical Gardens.
One of his supporters set up a funded chair for him as professor of Botany at University College, Dundee, in 1883, where he worked only in the summer term. He and (Sir) John Arthur Thomson published five or six collaborative studies over the ensuing 30 years.
When working in India in the 1890s he started summer schools, for which he engaged good speakers from Europe where he had travelled widely. They were popular with women teachers and helped him reach a wider public.
In mid-career, he had a fundamental disagreement with Darwin and Huxley. Instead of the "survival of the fittest" he believed that "individual cells become diminishingly competitive and contribute to the whole."
At Ramsay Garden, Edinburgh, now a National Trust property near Edinburgh Castle he had a seven-bedroomed flat on the third and fourth floors. He could not afford to occupy it and let it to his son-in-law, Frank Mears, who in turn let it. Gradually people were attracted back into the Old Town. He began to buy up properties for use as student halls, at Riddle's Court for example, which extends three or four floors below ground level. It is now used as an education building; the hope is that it will become a Geddes Centre. He set up several of these hostels as self-governing co-operative settlements. Sadly for him students did not share his strong moral outlook.
He used the Camera Obscura on the roof of Observatory Tower in High Street as a teaching aid: the views far and wide helped to inculcate the principles of surveying which he had gained from Kinnoull Hill. The first ever Town and Country Planning Exhibition was staged in Edinburgh in 1911. He and Frank Mears planned it. During the subsequent voyage to India the exhibition sank and had to be re-done.
From 1915 he was regularly in India for the next 20 years. Instead of wholesale clearing of towns, he relieved congestion by opening up alleyways to let air in and he planted trees. The reservoirs were thought to attract mosquitoes. He cleaned them up by introducing fish and ducks. In India he was remunerated for his work.
The year 1917 brought personal distress: his elder son, who had served alongside his father, was killed by shrapnel; and his wife died.
In his later years his energies and enthusiasms continued unabated. He was invited to plan a Zionist University in Jerusalem. In 1923 on his last voyage back from India, he landed at Montpelier to set up a Collège des Écossais, a project which he continued until his death and which involved his love of building, creating gardens and planning the environment. He was in great demand as a lecturer in the USA and he was still engaged in his annual summer commitment in Dundee.
In 1931 he accepted the offer of a knighthood, an honour, which he had rejected 20 years previously. He believed it would prove to be more rewarding financially, although he was not a mercenary man. Unfortunately it entailed spending the winter in London — to the detriment of his health.
He was always fond of pageants and his funeral was his best pageant ever. "By leaves we live … and we live not by the jingling of coins but by the fullness of our harvests." Patrick Geddes.
Two years ago his statue was erected in the public garden of Sandeman House, off High Street, Edinburgh. His sculpted head sits atop a beehive on which the occasional bee crawls. Jim Johnson's book, Renewing Old Edinburgh: the enduring legacy of Patrick Geddes, will give further insight into a fascinating subject and an in-depth appraisal of 'The Father of Town Planning'.
12 April 2014
Warren Bailie (GUARD Archaeology Limited) — Dunragit: the prehistoric heart of Galloway
The last meeting of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society for the season 2013–2014 was held in Castle Douglas Church Hall in Queen Street. Warren Baillie from Guard Archaeology Limited addressed a large audience on the subject of Dunragit, the Prehistoric Heart of Galloway.
He had been involved in the excavations at Dunragit for 20 months and, having just scrubbed up for the presentation, arrived almost hotfoot from the archaeological site. The Society was treated to one of the earliest reports of what has been considered to be a most successful and exciting period of study, brought about thanks to a vital re-routing of transport: hence the avowed claim that Dunragit was the prehistoric 'heart' of Galloway, though it is still not clear why this particular stretch of land holds such rich archaeological material.
Warren presented a series of excellent slides to accompany a very informative talk, thus making it difficult, in the absence of the pictorial material, to give as colourful a report.
The opportunity to conduct this important project was offered by the decision to create the Dunragit bypass on the A75 to avoid the Challoch railway bridge, the scene of innumerable collisions and cause of frequent disruption of traffic. Transport Scotland, Historic Scotland, Mouchel, Amey and R.J. McLeod were all involved in the scheme.
Previous archaeological site studies had been conducted by Manchester University using Royal Commission and Ancient Monuments of Scotland aerial photographs in the period 1999–2002 at Dunragit and Drumflower. A third site, Droughduil Mound, was excavated by Julian Thomas in 2002.
Guard Archaeology during the recent exploration found evidence from multiple periods dating back 9,000 years in an area of about 7.4 kilometres, straddling both sides of the A75: remarkably these included a Mesolithic occupied site; a Neolithic Bronze Age presence; a Bronze Age Cemetery complex extending over multiple phases; and an Iron Age settlement. Ten listed buildings were found and 62 archaeological sites were recorded.
The mode of the search comprised digging 252 separate trenches, 40 metres long, and creating a central trench from which 20-metre offsets branched. Archaeology was present almost throughout the whole site.
Immediately the topsoil was removed it was surprising to find quite large post holes, 6 metres deep: clear-cut features are not expected on a Mesolithic site. Multi-element sampling was conducted at two-metre intervals. Worked pitstone lined the pit from its stone base. Approximately 20,000 flint pieces and various tools came to light. (R.J. McLeod employed Hawkeye Aerial Photography to monitor what we were doing, said Warren.)
At the scene of Neolithic/Early Bronze Age activity beads, beakers, an arrow head, two jet necklaces, both associated with pots, were found but no bodies or bones came to light. Jet from Whitby was involved in creating the precious necklaces, such as had never been found in the area before and which required most careful handling.
The Bronze Age Cemetery Complex threw up quite a few burnt mounds. It will be interesting to see how they tie in when dated. Ring ditches and post hole lines show up on the overview. The posts must have been major features at the time. A serrated flint artefact, a small pot with lots of decoration and a human bone were found. There was evidence of aceramic and ceramic cremations on site. Burned wooden planks were in situ, causing specialist archaeobotanist, Susan Ramsay, to be called in but, although various theories were considered, the experts remain baffled. An inverted urn with a perforation gave testimony to an adult cremation but nothing had been placed beneath to prevent the contents from escaping.
The Iron Age settlement, revealed by a crop-mark, presented a different environment. Several structures, each one unique and each one within a ten-metre diameter showed up. Hearths and a possible furnace were revealed for about 10 days, but no waste site was found. A hammer, rubbing stones, a perforated stone disc, and a quern stone fragment were unearthed. Thereafter very wet weather and heavy snow disrupted the scene in the spring of 2013.
There is more to be found on the edge of the new A75. Only four out of eleven sites have been worked. A much bigger settlement awaits detection. Clarification is confidently expected once samples are inspected and dating has taken place.