Caerlaverock Manse and Dr John Hutton

Meeting date

Neale Lawson

Members' Night
Meeting report

Neale Lawson presented an illustrated, erudite and well-researched paper on Dr John Hutton and the Manse of Caerlaverock to Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on Members' Night.

Neale lived for a number of years at Caerlaverock manse where he discovered a stone in the garden wall, commemorating Hutton's construction of the manse of 1708, though he was not a minister. The current building is to a design by Walter Newall of 1837. His gift to the Parish of £1,000 prompted the research.

The earliest record of the land on which the manse stands is in the Book of Caerlaverock where on 4 May 1483 Robert, Lord Maxwell, and John, his son, granted land for the support of a chaplainry in the Kirk of Caerlaverock. Kirkblane was even older. There were others, such as the Castle chapel, St Columba’s chapel, the chapel at Glencaple and at Conheath.

Neale then gave a brief biography of several of the ministers of Caerlaverock, including William (Major) George (minister 1615–1669), John Menzies (6 months in 1670) and John Birnie of Broomhill.

Hutton is reputed to have been a herd boy to John Birnie, the Episcopalian minister of Caerlaverock in Dumfriesshire, but Neale raised some doubt about that as the dates do not correlate. Birnie provided the means to educate Hutton, who studied 'physic' in Edinburgh, going on to acquire his MD in Padua. Hutton was a Founder Member of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh in 1681. He was not invited along with other Members of the Royal College, who were being knighted at Holyrood by James VII because of his Presbyterian sympathies. For a time Hutton lived in Paris where he bought wood block prints and books for the Scottish gentry. Clearly he was fluent in several European languages.

When Princess Mary of Orange suffered a riding accident in 1686 Hutton was the nearest physician and the incident resulted in his appointment as Princess Mary’s physician. Hutton was also appointed physician to William's confidante the Hon. Henry Sidney. He then became the first royal physician.

Hutton accompanied William III on his campaigns in Ireland and Flanders and was present at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Hutton was perhaps present at the king's death because he was one of the four signatories of the autopsy on the king in 1702. Subsequently he found little favour with the court due to the influence of the Duchess of Marlborough on Queen Anne.

He was in London and Hanover for the next few years. He then became involved with the Hanoverian court and was a confidential agent for the Earl of Rochester, who was seeking information about the intentions of the Electress Sophia and her son, Prince George. He was elected as a member of a Committee of the Royal Society, whose chairman was Sir Isaac Newton; another member was Sir Christopher Wren.

Hutton approved of the Union with Scotland, which presented him with new political opportunities and, though defeated in 1708, he eventually served as a Member of Parliament for Dumfries Burgh 1710 to 1712. He set up trusts and founded the Hutton School in Bankend. He tried to establish a Public Postal Service between Dumfries and Carlisle. He established a library for the Presbytery of Dumfries.

A bachelor, Hutton died in December 1712 and was buried in Somerset House chapel. Remaining faithful to his origins, he bequeathed £1,000 for a charitable trust for the poor of Caerlaverock. The bulk of his fortune was granted to relations and friends, comprising four annuities of £10 per annum and individual bequests totalling over £1,800. The unspecified remainder went to his cousin and sole executor, Thomas Hutton, keeper of Somerset House, who had continued to provide grace and favour lodgings there for him.

Hutton had a coat of arms, probably due to his Scottish antecedents. There are Hutton graves in Caerlaverock Churchyard.

This fascinating talk was concluded with mention of some local legends, including the ghost of Caerlaverock Manse, Burns' visit to the manse, and Sir Walter Scott's Mount Sharon in Redgauntlet is reputed to have been based on the manse.