Around the World in a graveyard: Dunbennan Kirkyard by Huntly

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a fascination with cemeteries or more accurately for the many stories that emerge from them which not only provide a local narrative but often a global one as well, as we’ll see.

Dunbennan Graveyard near Huntly

Dunbennan graveyard

It was sheer chance that we found ourselves at Dunbennan graveyard recently on an unfamiliar road just a short hop beyond Huntly, off the Inverness end of the cattle track that is the A96. Spotting a signpost to this graveyard too late to turn in we found a safe place to turn around and drove back to the narrow track (marginally worse than the A96)  past a farm to an open space where the cemetery lies, well-tended.

 

 

It was a bonnie and bright day and half the graveyard was in bright sunshine while the other half lay under the dappled shade of trees the cemetery’s trees.

 

P1080254

 

Memorial stones indicated that Huntly Legges were well travelled including to the Far East:

The second British protestant missionary who journeyed to China was Kennethmont man William Milne (Kennethmont – pron KE-NETHmont) a wee place near Huntly. Milne is quoted as saying:

Learning the Chinese language requires bodies of iron, lungs of brass, heads of oak, hands of spring steel, eyes of eagles, hearts of apostles, memories of angels, and lives of Methuselah.” 

I can’t offer you William’s descriptive turn of phrase – I can’t even offer you William Milne for he doesn’t belong in this cemetery but he sets the context for the Legges.

Milne helped found and was the first headteacher of the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca in Malaysia in 1818 and this school was transferred to Hong Kong by Huntly man James Legge in 1843 where it was renamed the Theological Seminary of the London Missionary Society in China and stood at the junction of Staunton and Aberdeen Streets. In addition to providing western education the school printed and disseminated Bibles and religious tracts as might be expected of missionaries and the first Chinese newspaper, The Chinese Serial, was printed there in 1853.

chinese serial

The Chinese Serial

P1080295

The Legge family stone commemorates missionary and sinologist Dr James Legge’s toddler Emma Foulger Legge born in Hong Kong on the 23rd August 1850 and died on 19th November 1853.

 “So it seemed good in Thy sicht”

James Legge was a writer and translator of China’s most famous books including The Four Books and Five Classics. He was born in 1815, the youngest of four brothers, sons of Elspet Cruickshank and Ebenezer Legge, a prosperous Huntly merchant. As a boy James became an enthusiastic bird watcher and would search out bird nests (not to destroy them we are assured.) The story goes he was first taught to read by a blind woman in Huntly and from her he learnt to develop his phenomenal memory. James’ early education was at Huntly Parish School and then at the age of 13 he went away to Aberdeen Grammar School where be became very proficient in Latin. The youngster took part in a large demonstration on Aberdeen’s Broad Hill when the House of Lords rejected the Reform Bill and during the meeting a heavy shower or rain drove him and others to seek shelter under the wooden platform set up for speakers. As crowds packed in the platform collapsed and Legge was knocked momentarily unconscious and when the boy came round, dazed and confused, he ran down the hill across the beach and straight into the sea where the cold water brought him to his senses enough to make a grab onto nets laid out by salmon fishers and pulling on them he worked his way back onto the sands where he was discovered still stupefied by boys from the Grammar School who helped him back home.

five classics

The accident did not stop James Legge from coming first in a contest for bursaries to the University where he was enrolled at 15 and where he proved himself one of King’s College, Aberdeen’s highest ever achievers. He won the illustrious Huttonian Prize, Aberdeen’s highest reward worth £15; half in cash and half in books in an examination in Greek, Latin, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy and Moral Philosophy which lasted till midnight over four days. The students were fortunately fortified by regular glasses of a good old port. At 19 James left the university and eventually underwent training as a missionary.

It was as a boy in Huntly he first encountered a Chinese tract by William Milne and who knows how much this might have influenced his decision to follow in his footsteps to the Far East. Such a journey would have been a huge undertaking for himself and his wife, Mary Isabella Morison, not only the long journey across unfamiliar lands but the strange and difficult language and customs they would find there. Both made great efforts to learn the language and Mary was as enthusiastic as James, it seems, for she started up a school there for Chinese girls.

;egge's first wife Mary Isabella Morison

Legge’s first wife Mary Isabella Morison

Life did not prove easy for the couple and soon they lost two babies then Mary, too, became very ill and the Legges returned home – along with three young Chinese men working with James. They were back in Hong Kong in 1848 where Mary died in childbirth. At this point the Legge’s three surviving daughters were sent home to Scotland to be educated and here 3-year old Emma died and Legge took a second wife, Hannah Mary.

 

 

 

James and daughter Helen

James Legge with daughter Helen

Legge’s world was filled with sorrow and tests of faith. The slaughter of thousands of civilians by British troops at Guangzhou during the Opium Wars when trade was opened up to foreign merchants with the British forcing their influence on import duties appalled him. He despaired at the barbarity of British forces in Guangzhou when Lord Elgin ordered the town be captured at any cost resulting in thousands of deaths and the destruction of many Chinese boats in the port as well as the payment of reparations to Britain.

The Chinese were as hostile towards foreigners as the British and when in 1871 Legge tried to buy property to set up a missionary base in the village of Poklo, home of one of his closest Chinese associates and a Protestant convert, Che Kam Kong, local fury was unleashed and Che Kam Kong was kidnapped, tortured and killed and his body cut up and thrown into a river. So affected by his friend’s death was James Legge he wrote the first personal testimony to a Chinese Christian by a foreigner.  

He returned to Scotland several times including in 1867 when he set up home in Dollar in Clackmannanshire from where he wrote inviting the Chinese writer Wang Tao to follow him there to help in the translation of Chinese works. Wang Tao did so, travelling first around Europe before settling in Dollar for a time where he compiled the first travel book on Europe by a Chinese writer. When in Britain he gave the first speech in Chinese to Oxford University – on the subject of the importance of east/west cultural dialogue. Wang Tao and Legge, sometimes accompanied by Legge’s daughter Mary, toured around Scotland to Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Huntly, of course, Stirling Castle, Glasgow, Alva, Tillycoutrie and other places in between. He and Legge also collaborated on The Sacred Books of China. The Text of Confucianism, The Book of Change; Shu Ching Book of History and many more.

Legge and chinese

James Legge and his three best pupils

Another  prominent Chinese who collaborated with Legge was Hong Rengan. A leader of the Taiping Rebellion who had also converted to Christianity and worked with Legge on translations of several Chinese classics. Both of them wrote and published the Chinese Serial – first Chinese language newspaper in Hong Kong.   

When Legge was in Britain Hong Rengan, against Legge’s instructions, returned to Nanjing from Hong Kong, in the guise of a pedlar – not one of the leaders of the rebellion, along with his cousin, Hong Xiuquan. Hong Rengan encouraged the adoption of Protestantism in China and was keen to open up his country, its infrastructure including railways and banking.  Sometimes referred to as the first Chinese nationalist he is mentioned in the writings of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. In 1864 Hong Rengan fled Taiping during a continuing power struggle but was caught and sentenced to death.

Legge’s time in China drew criticism from both the Chinese and British. He was accused of being too compromising towards Chinese religions specially his conviction that Mencius’ doctrine of human nature was compatible with the Bible and was condemned for the translations he did of Chinese texts so attributing to them a significance they did not deserve in the eyes of many British and that his time would have been better promoting Protestantism. James’ appreciation of Chinese ideas and literature earned its own pejorative term of Leggism among the multitudes of racists of the time.

James Legge is regarded as the most important sinologist of the 19thc century and apart from British royalty he was the first person to be depicted on a Hong Kong postage stamp – in 1894.

He was not universally popular including among his fellow missionaries for the respect he had for the Chinese people, its literature and culture over his 33 years as a missionary in Malacca and China but I’m glad I stumbled across his name for he sounds like a great man.

 P1080293

And to Australia…

Other Legges migrated from Strathbogie (Huntly) to Australia. In 1817 James Legge’s mother, Elspet Cruickshank was buried at just 36 years of age and a tablet stone was provided by her sons George, John, William and James to commemorate her and three of their siblings who died as young children, Elspet, Ebenezer and Isabella.

 

Dunbenn’s gravestones reveal a high level of education among the people of Strathbogie including several medical students who died while studying and medicine was a profession with its own risks, mixing with people carrying all kinds of infections.

Seventeen year old student George Sellar died in February of 1879 while surely carrying the hopes of his blacksmith father who made agricultural machinery and tools not only for sale locally but for export to Australia.

Several Sellars lie in Dunbennan including Barbara Ingram (Scots women retained their maiden names after marriage and I’ve long abhorred that English practice of addressing married women as Mrs – husband’s full name as if she was a mere chattel) who died in August 1812 (recorded on her stone as Agast – an excellent example of the phonetic Doric creeping into memorials – wish there were more like it.)

George Andrew

George Andrew MA, MD, Brigade Surgeon, Lieut. Colonel, Army Medical Staff survived his time as a medical student to enjoy an illustrious career as a doctor. He spent most of his life abroad but returned to Scotland when he became ill and died at the age of 59 years at his brother’s home at 37 Westburn Road, Aberdeen on the 19th of October 1899.

Born at Huntly in 1840 he attended the parish school and then, like James Legge, he also was sent to the Grammar School in Aberdeen supported by a bursary for four years. Again like James Legge he proved to be a very capable scholar at Aberdeen University, gaining prizes in most of his classes. After graduating in medicine he joined the army as a surgeon with the 6th Regiment which took him to Ireland, Afghanistan, Gibraltar, India and Africa – to the Gold Coast where the regiment fought in the Ashanti wars in which the Ashanti people attempted to hold back the determined and ruthless steamroller that was the British Empire, unsuccessfully.

Teuton-Sinking

SS Teunion sinking at the Cape of Good Hope

 To South Africa with a wink to Hong Kong.

When the Royal Mail ship SS Teuton foundered on rocks on the 30th August 1881 while steaming towards Port Elizabeth in South Africa from Plymouth in England many of the over 200 passengers and crew were drowned, including 21-year old William Fraser a wright from Huntly.

Elder berries

Elder berries

The ship went down off Quion Point at the Cape of Good Hope disappearing beneath the water at lightning speed with children, women and men dragged down – 16 year old Lizzie Ross was the sole survivor of the ship’s 95 women and children passengers.  

SS Teunion had been built at Denny & Bros at Dumbarton in 1869 and launched as the Glenartney for, here’s the Hong Kong connection, Jardine Matheson the British trading house set up in China in the 1830s in Guangzhou (Canton) where decades later James Legge was appalled at the brutal determination of the British to impose trade on its terms with the Chinese. Jardine Matheson was established by Scotsmen William Jardine and James Matheson and became notorious for trading in smuggled tea, cotton and opium. A branch of Jardine Matheson opened in Japan as Glover and Co., by another Scot the entrepreneur, Fraserburgh man Thomas Blake Glover. The Glenartney was sold on and renamed Teuton as a passenger ship used by Britain’s thousands of 19th century economic migrants.

Geddes

To America

We all know that countless thousands of Scots were among the British migrants flooding abroad in pursuit of a better life, some under duress and others willingly. From their adopted home in New Orleans John and Magdalene Geddes sent back money to pay for the erection of a memorial to their brother James who died at just 14 years of age in April 1838 and for their parents, Alexander a stone mason in Strathbogie and Isabella their mother.

P1080257

“They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their deaths”

As for Magdalene she died in New Orleans of yellow fever on 31 August 1855 aged 41 years during a time when deadly infections such as cholera, smallpox, malaria and yellow fever were rife there with as high as sixty percent mortality. The 1850s proved a dangerous time to live in New Orleans and it was said people were dying faster than graves could be dug. New Orleans’ swamp areas were home to disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, carriers of yellow fever and the density of housing and gutters running with sewage meant highly contagious diseases spread rapidly. So many dead were packed into every available space, side by side and on top of one another, it was not unusual to see some swollen corpses uncovered by heavy rains rotting under hot sun. Immigrants such as Magdalene were among the worst affected by epidemics having little resistance to infection. And in an echo of our times, perhaps, there were those who regarded that as benefit – stemming the tide of immigration. John Geddes survived into his 70th year, dying in 1883.

Still in America –

Alexander Gordon was a crofter at Thristliford (what a wonderful name) who passed away in 1865 at Inchtammach. His wife Isabella Tevendale survived him dying in 1888 at Suifoot, Clatt, near Alford. Their son Alexander died the same year as his mother in March, aged 66 years, at Montezuma, Poweshiek County, Iowa in the USA (on the stone it’s recorded as Mountezuma. Younger Alexander was an infantry volunteer with the 28th Iowa Vol. Inf. in the American Civil War and was captured on 3rd April 1864 at Sabine Cross Roads at the Battle of Mansfield, Louisiana – part of the Red River Campaign when Union forces attempted to occupy the state capital of Shreveport and kept a prisoner for 13 months. He is buried at Iowa.

 

Lingering in America for a moment 18th century Bishop Petrie the son of a Forgue farmer he was born in 1730 is buried at Dunbennan. From his first charge was at Wartle he moved to Meikle-Folla – where the chapel adopted his name as the Bishop Petrie’s Cathedral. This itinerant bishop turned up in Ross and Argyll and in 1784 he was one of the Scottish bishops who consecrated Dr Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop.

P1080297

A lovely old memorial dappled by lichen beautifully inscribed by mason James Cameron from Huntly. It commemorated his eldest son Theodore who died at just five years and 2 months on 25th November 1777. James’ daughter Mary died in 1805 at 24 years and other children are recorded here but it is impossible to decipher details given the state of the stone. A son, also Theodore, fought with the West India Regiment and died at the age of 30 on 6 October 1808. James’ wife, Espet died at 42 while James lived on till 70yrs

Samuel Seabury was consecrated bishop on 14th November 1784 by Robert Kilgour, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus of Scotland; Arthur Petrie then Bishop of Ross and Moray; John Skinner, coadjustor bishop of Aberdeen at his house in Longacre in Aberdeen. The chair used in Seabury’s consecration is preserved in Keith’s Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

P1080282

The Scottish consecration of the American bishop caused jitters in Britain’s government in London fearing a resurrection of the Jacobite movement but Seabury wasn’t of that persuasion.

“Gentle reader, mourn for Arthur Petrie, whom this stone, erected by the piety of his brethren, covers. As Bishop of Moray he was learned, devout, and faithful. After fifty-five years of life, bearing a much-loved and highly-honoured name, and ten of sacred labour as a bishop, alas! too soon not to return – he departed. Yet spare your tears—he always cherished the joys of a better life. Now has he the rewards of peace. He died on April 19th, 1787, in the fifty-sixth year of his age and the eleventh of his episcopate of Ross and Moray.

“May he rest in peace.”

P1080316

 

2 Responses to “Around the World in a graveyard: Dunbennan Kirkyard by Huntly”

  1. Excellent piece, a fine blending of local history, genealogy and larger struggles.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: