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Aberdeen University
Studies : No




Old Aberdeen

University of Aberdeen.

Convener : riofessor James W. IL Trail, F.R.S., Curator of the Library.

General Editor: V. J. Anderson, LL.B., Librarian to the University.

-Roll of Alumni in Arts of King's College, 1596-1860. P. J. Anderion.

-Records of Old Aberdeen, 1157-1891. A. M. Muiiro, F.S-.A. Scot. Vol. I.

-Place Names 0/ West Aberdeenshire. J.inies iMacdonald, F.S..^. Scot.

-The Family 0/ Burnett 0/ Leys. George Burnett, LL.D., Lyon King of Arms.

-Records 0/ Invercautd, 1547-1828. Rev. J. G. Michie, M.A.

-Rectorial Addresses in the Uniz'ersilies 0/ Aberdeen, 1835-1900. P. J. Anderson

-The Albemarle Papers, 1746-48. Professor C. S. Terrj', M.A.

-The House 0/ Gordon. J. M. Bulloch, M.A. Vol. I.

-Records 0/ Elgin. William Cramond, LL.D. Vol. L

-Avogadro and Dalton. A. N. Meldrum, D.Sc.

-Records of the Sheriff Court of Aberdeenshire. D.ivid Littlejohn, LL.D. Vol. L

-Proceedings of the Anatomical and .Anthropological Society, 1902-04.

-Report on Alcyonaria. Professor J. Arthur Thomson, M..\., and others.

-Researches in Organic Chemistry. Prof. F. R. Japp, F.R.S., and others.

-Meminisse Juvat : with Appendix of Alakeia. Alexander Shewan, M..\.

-The Blackballs of that Ilk and Barra. Alcvander Morrison, ^^D.

-Records of the Scots Colleges. Vol. L P. J. Anderson.

-Roll of the Graduates, i86o.j9oo. Colonel William Johnston, C.B., LL.D.

-Studies in the History of the University. P. J. Anderson and others.

-Studies in the Histoiy and Art of the Eastern Proi'inccs of the Roman Empire.

Professor Sir W. M. Ramsay, D.C.L., and pupils.
-Studies in Pathology, William Bulloch, M.D., and others.
-Proceedings 0/ the Anatomical and Anthropological Society, 1904-06.
-Subject Catalogues of the Science Libraty and the Law Library. P. J. Anderson.
-Records of the Slierif^ Court of Aberdeenshire. David Lilllejohn, LL.D. Vol. U.
-Studies on Alcyonarians and Antipatharians. Prof. Thomson, M.A., and others.
-Surgical Instruments in Greek and Roman Times. ]. S. Milne, M.-A., ^LD.
-Records of the Sheriff Court of Aberdeenshire. David Littlejohn, LL.D. Vol. lU.
-Flosculi Graeci Boreales. Ser. IL Professor J. Harrower, M.A.
-Record of the Quatercentenaty, 1906. P. J. Anderson.
-The House of Cordon. J. M. Bulloch, M..\. Vol. IL
-The miscellany of the Ncv Spalding Club. Vol. II.

-The Religious Teachers of Greece. James Adam, Litt.D. (Gifford Lectures, 1904-06.)
-The Science and Philosophy of the Organism. Hans Driesch, Ph.D. (Gifford

Lectures, 1907.)
-Proceedings of the Anatomical and Anthropological Society, 1906-08.
-Records of Elgin. Vol.11. Rev. S. Ree, B.U.
-Pigmentation Survey of School Children. J. F. Tocher, B.Sc.
-The Science and Philosophy of the Organism. Hans Driesch, Ph.D. Vol. 11.

(Ciiffbrd Lectures, 1908.)
-Studies on Alcyonarians and Hydroids. Prof. Thomson, M.A., and others.
-I'ublications of Scottish Clubs. Professor C. S. Terry, M.A.
-Aberdeen Friars: Red, Black, White, Grey. P. J. Anderson.
-Studies in Alcyonarians (Fourth Scries). Prof. Thomson and others.
-Records of Old Aberdeen, 1498-1903. A. M. .Munro. Vol. II.


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Old Aberdeen

1498 — 1903

Edited by

Alexander Macdonald Munro, F.S.A., Scot.

Volume II.


Printed for the University



The extracts printed in this volume have been taken mainly
from records dealing with the ecclesiastical side of affairs in
Old Aberdeen, as those in the first volume were taken from
records dealing with the civic life.

It was the original intention to preface this volume
with a history of Old Aberdeen based on Orem, and supple-
mented by the additional information made available by those
records. The scheme, however, presented considerable diffi-
culties in carrying it into execution, and in the circumstances it
has been thought best to let the extracts speak for themselves.

The records from which the extracts have been taken
are: —

I. The Minutes of the Kirk Session. The minutes of the
kirk session of Old Machar are complete from 1621 to 1763,
and are in a good state of preservation. In the earlier volumes
the entries are sometimes detailed very fully, especially in
discipline cases, when the session sat as a court and took
evidence often at considerable length. Many of these cases it
is needless to say are far from edifying. It has been the en-
deavour in making the selection to extract those entries which
tend to throw light on the habits of the people, their mode of
living, the survival of ancient customs and superstitions, and the
events of national history as they affected the community of the
Aulton. Many notable local events, it is curious to observe, are
not referred to at all, although in some instances the session
minutes, if anywhere, would naturally be looked to as the place
of record. Such an example is found in the fall of the great
central tower of the Cathedral in May, 1688, of which event no



direct mention is to be found in the minutes. Indirect refer-
ences are only to be obtained in the charge made against the
sexton for sifting the ashes of the dead for rings and valuables
in the graves that had been disturbed by the falling tower.
Other minutes from time to time deal with the accumulation of
dressed stones lying in the churchyard which were given for the
repair of Powis bridge, the building of the new Council house,
and for the repair of the buildings of King's College. The
stirring incidents of 171 5 are only incidentally referred to by the
intrusion of the Cathedral by a mob, and the subsequent de-
position of several Episcopal incumbents ; while the events of
1745 are mentioned in a little more detail by reference to the
interruption of a service, the indemnifying of the kirk treasurer
for money taken by the rebels, and the thanksgiving for the
victory of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden.

The pulpit in early days, as one gathers from the entries in
the minute books, took the place of the modern newspaper,
for by the proclamations of Parliament and the Privy Council,
and by the holding of numerous fasts and days of thanksgiving
the people were kept in touch with the great outstanding events
that took place both at home and abroad. Some of these
occurrences seem to take undue prominence over others, such as
when we learn that a day of thanksgiving was ordered in 1682
for the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot some seventy-seven
years after the event had became a historical fact.

Local environment was responsible for many offences not
found in similar records, as for example the persistent breaking
of the Sabbath by the fishers on Dee and Don. Members of
the session were for long regularly appointed as "watchers" to
visit the rivers and report those found fishing, and many times
and often the prospect of a successful fishing overcame all dread
of ecclesiastical censure and fine. The kirk session of St.
Nicholas, Aberdeen, had the same difficulty to deal with, some


of the fishers, as they remark, "preferring, as apperis. their greid
and avarice to the glorie and worschip of God, have contineuit
and persistit hitherto in working and fisching of thair watteris
on the Saboth day, to the heich dishonour of God, the manifest
contempt of his law, and sclander of the gospell." Sunday
golfing also troubled the worthy elders now and again, while the
games of bowls, pennystone, and playing of "kits" were offences
dealt with by the session.

Unseemly gatherings at baptisms, marriages, and the
contracting of parties with a view to marriage, were also the
occasion of many admonitions from the pulpit, the disregard
of which was the means often of supplying the church treasurer
with needed funds.

A large number of the entries deal with the difficulty
experienced by the session in obtaining regular attendance at
public worship, and in particular with those who are described
as "common outlyers " from public ordinances. The elder
taking the collection at the church door was often commissioned
to keep a strict outlook and note the attendance or non-
attendance of particular parties and report to the session.
But if non-attendance was a fault, there were other offences of
as heinous a character in the eyes of the session committed by
those who did attend. An early minute deals with those who
left the church before the blessing was pronounced, and this
custom seems to have continued, as intimation is made against
the practice more than once. Having passed the watchful elder
at the door, some when the service was commenced came out
and lay about the churchyard or " vaiged " the streets, while a
threat of being summoned before the session was made in 1650
against those who " mack a custome of sleeping and does not
amend." Among those who remained in church the best
behaviour was not sometimes maintained, for more than one
minute deals with the presence of dogs, walking about during



service, and many other acts which the session in one minute
designs as conduct neither christian nor sober in the house of

The punishments invoked by the session, in addition to
imposing fines, were imprisonment by calling in the civil power,
the branks, the stocks, the goves, the garment of sackcloth, and
the penitential stool. Sometimes the ordinary forms of
punishment were not considered sufficient to purge the defaulter
of his sin, and reference may be made to the dreadful oath of
purgation required in some cases before the innocence of the
suspected person could be said to be fully established. A form
of this oath of purgation is given in the case of Andrew Bardat
in 1700.

The minutes contain numerous references to the varying
forms of conducting public worship both on Sabbath and week
days. At one time, while the congregation were assembling the
precentor read certain portions of scripture, while at another
time the scholars of the public school, under the guidance of the
master, would repeat the catechism for the instruction of the
older people. The old method of reading each line of the
psalm before it was sung was abolished in 1757, and the former
usage of having week-day services was discontinued in 1753.

After the Restoration the session was much exercised in
the suppression of popery, and as there were a goodly number
of that persuasion in the parish, there are numerous minutes
dealing with them. From time to time their names were
publicly read from the pulpit, and the congregation suitably
warned against dealings with them as excommunicated persons.
As a preliminary to a person settling in the parish, it was
necessary to produce a satisfactory certificate from the minister
of the parish in which they had previously resided, and the
following testimonial, although not in the usual form, betokens a


relaxation of the strict measures at one time extended to
papists : —


The Bearer James Nicoll periwigmaker sometime in the
toune of Old Meldrum desiring ane Testificate from our
Session, and seeing wee cannot give him ane formall testificate
subscribed under the Sessions hands, because he is not of our
communion, being a Roman Catholicke, att his desire, I have
wrote this Hne to }-ou, to shew you, that he has satisfied our
session, as to anything wee had to say to him, and has done,
what is usually required of any of his profession, in these cir-
cumstances he has been under, and which I believe you know,
I have spoke often with him my selfe anent this matter, and he
has seemed to take in very good part, what advice and counsell
I offered him, so that I know of noe other thing here to say
against him, or that our session have to say, and for my oune
part, I must say, that he has carried towards mee alwise with
very much discretion, civility, and respect, so that I have noe
more to say, but my humble service and respects to your
bedfellow, your Minister, and yo'' honest neighbour Baillie
Thomson, and my very good friend Ale-V Molyson, and all my
old acquaintances and kinde friends with you, and continues

Your most affectionate, most humble
"Old Meldrum and much obliged servant

February 25"' Jo: Mulligine"


One of tlie important duties of the session v^^as the provision
of education within the parish, and in carrying this out they
seem to have been very zealous, both in the appointment of
suitable teachers, and in seeing that the schools were well
attended by the children. Considerable trouble was experienced
in suppressing private schools which were taken up in various
places throughout the parish, as being detrimental to the
English and music schools under the care of the session. The
large extent of the parish may have had something to do with
the starting of these schools, and also for the toleration extended
to Bodie in 1673, when it was agreed to allow him to continue


SO long as he confined himself to teaching the young children
to spell and read the psalm book.

Many other interesting side lights on the old life might be
referred to, but sufficient has been said to show the nature of
the entries extracted from the minutes.

2. Session Accounts. The extracts from these accounts
from 1639 onwards, although far from complete, are a natural
complement to the extracts from the minutes, as they in many
cases supplement the information given in them.

Kirk sessions, as is well known, were the guardians of the
poor within their own bounds, and they also exercised an un-
bounded charity within the means at their disposal towards all in
trouble and distress. The expenditure, as exhibited by these
accounts, shows most clearly that the session of Old Machar was
not behind others in their liberal dealings.

In the earlier accounts considerable payments were made
to distressed persons from Ireland, who, it seems, were recom-
mended by the General Assembly, and went from parish to
parish soliciting relief. A class who seem to have received the
bounty of the session in overflowing measure were shipwrecked
and distressed seamen, without distinction of nationality, as the
frequency of the entries testify. Thus John Middleton, " ane
sie man" cast away at " Saltcotts " gets £2 13s. 4d. for his
relief, while " two frenshe men ship brokin" get £\ 6s. 8d. On
other occasions help is extended to "sex men ship brokin," and
again to twenty-three English seamen. Sometimes special
circumstances appealed to the session, as in the case of three
shipbroken men belonging to Shetland who had been robbed by
pirates, and to nine Frenchmen robbed by pirates at sea.
Towards the close of the seventeenth century considerable sums
were raised for the ransom money of seamen who had fallen
into the hands of pirates in Algiers and elsewhere.


The kindliness of the session is further evinced by the help
they extended to persons outside the parish in cases of distress
or unexpected calamity. Some of the cases relieved are quaintly
narrated in the accounts as the following instances will illustrate;
to a poor woman with twins on her back ; to a cripple lad with a
swelled leg, and to a poor man in a barrow. In former days fire
seems to have been the cause of much suffering and loss, and the
session were not backward in giving a helping hand as the
following payments, taken at random, prove; to David Frieman
at Nigg who had four horses burned with fire; to a man whose
house was burned; to Forbes whose house, stacks and corn were
burned at Echt; and to Leask whose house was burned with fire.
Events of local importance are also dealt with in the accounts.
We learn that the session contributed towards the losses sus-
tained at the hands of the Irish regiments of Montrose in 1644
when they sacked both Aberdeens, and the relief given in respect
of being "herryit be the Irishes" occurs more than once. The
plague of 1646-47 caused great distress, and the ordinary services
were discontinued at the Cathedral and special diets for worship
were held throughout the parish, at the Corshill (Scotstown
Moor), the cairn of Dilspro (Grandholm), Sclattie, Carngullie,
cairn of Scotstown, &c., while relief was granted to the inmates of
the huts, erected for persons attacked by the disease, at Ferry hill
and Scotstown. It is interesting also to note that some of the fine
old trees that still stand in the churchyard may be the remnants
of the planting that took place in 1701 of trees purchased from
Monymusk. The accounts also indicate that after the fall of
the steeple in 1688 the open east end of the nave of the
Cathedral was at first only temporarily closed, and that it was
not till I 705 that a stone partition was erected. Although the
church treasurer had so many pressing claims upon his resources,
he must have regretted time and again the quantity of "evil
money" which found its way into the collections, and which


repeated exhortations from the pulpit did not succeed in putting

3. Minutes of the Heritors and Kirk Session dealing with
the poor. The care of the poor under statute was committed to
the session from 1597 to 1692, and they alone during this period
intromitted with the funds set aside for the poor, and framed
regulations for their relief, besides taking measures for the re-
pression of stranger beggars. By proclamation of William and
Mary in 1692, afterwards confirmed by the Act of 1695, the duty
devolved on the session and the heritors jointly. No great
change appears to have taken place in the parish of Old Machar
as the result of the new order of things, except that a minute of
28th August, 16S7, foreshadows the change by a recommendation
that the town, college bounds, and the heritors, should maintain
the poor and indigent persons within their several precincts with
the help of the quarterly collections at the church, and these
proposals seem to have received the assent of the parties con-
cerned. This arrangement was confirmed in 1693 and appears
to have worked without much trouble till 1751, when it was
deemed necessary to put the Act in force, and levy a rate for
the maintenance of the poor in place of the voluntary contri-
butions hitherto made by the heritors. A stent roll was prepared,
and by order of a meeting of heritors and the session, a tax was,
in terms of the statute, imposed for the first time. This pro-
ceeding was strongly opposed by a considerable number of the
heritors on various grounds as unnecessary, and actions were
raised before the Sheriff, to compel payment of the assessment,
who granted decree in favour of the collector. The memorial
and proposals given in by the objecting heritors to the meeting
of 4th February, 1 752, is a very interesting document, and clearly
sets forth the abuses that had crept into the administration of
relief to the poor, and the proposals for remedying these in the


One of the complaints made by the heritors was that the
laws and regulations against stranger beggars had not been
vigorously pressed in the past, and that the position of market
and populous towns had drawn many undesirables to obtain a
settlement in the parish to the detriment of the native poor and
the pockets of the heritors. The objections seem to have been
in a measure well founded, and the ultimate result was that the
former method of voluntary contributions by the heritors in
supplement of the church funds was resorted to, and apparently
proved sufficient till the provisions of the Poor Law Act of
1845 superseded the old order of things.

4. Bishops of Aberdeen. Under this heading a continuation
of Boece's list of bishops has been given down to the abolition
of Episcopacy at the Revolution. Nothing new has been
attempted in the account given of the various bishops, but an
endeavour has been made to collect together the scattered items
of interest relating to those who during this period occupied the
See of Aberdeen. Little or nothing regarding the personality
of those men can be gathered from the session records, which
continue to deal with the regular business of the session with
scarcely a reference to those who held the highest position in
the diocese. This is not a little strange, in view of the fact that
evidences are not wanting to show that the bishop was often
regarded by the authorities with considerable favour, and that in
cases of need he was willing to e.xert his influence in high places
for the good of the city. These remarks may be better illus-
trated by two letters received by the Town Council. The first
is a letter from Bishop David Mitchell prior to his taking up
residence in Old Aberdeen : —

"Leeth 26 May 1662

" Gentle-men KaiUies and Counsellers of Old Aberdeene, my
verie goode friends, I received at my first arrivall here, from
your Comissioner James Gordon your Baillie, your kinde and


courteous letter, whereby yee do expresse your contentment and
satisfaction with his Mat'i^^ election and designation of me for
that office and charge among you : for which your good opinion
of me, and good affection to me, I render )-ou most hertie
thanks, and shall endeavour by the grace of God, to give you
such a meeting and correspondence, as )-ou shall not think j'our
kinde affection lost or misplaced. I thank )-ou also for j-our
care for my accomodation for Lodging. And you may assure
yoi'selves, if I can be any wise conveniently accomodate with
you, I will seeke no where else nor be perswaded by any, who-
soewer, to leave or de.sert you. I am a stranger to the place,
and can not name to you any particular house, which I could
desire, and therefore must remitt it to your own wisdomc and
discretion to take for me that which you shall think most
convenient, till God and time provide better. Concerning the
time of my coming I can say nothing, not being as yet con-
secrated, nor knowing how long I shall be detained here to
waite vpon the parlament : but thus much I can say, yee cannot
more long for my presence with }-ou, then I do to see you.
Thus with the tender of my best respects to you all, and my
best wishes for a comfortable meeting, I rest

Your affectionate friend

to serve you Da. Michell "

The second letter is from Bishop Patrick Scougal, and

relates to a dispute, as to the right of market, which had arisen

between the merchants of Old Aberdeen and the magistrates of

Aberdeen : —

"Edr Noveb'' 13 1672

" Beloved freindes

I receaved youres wheirin ye acquaint me
that your towne is still molested by the magistrates of Abd. in
apprehending imprisoning and fining your freemen merchantes
as forestallers and that they had of late apprehendit and in-
carcerate one of your merchantes lately incorporate untill he
payed a piece of money threatening to doe the lyke w' the rest
and heerwpon you desyre my concurrence that advice may be
takin and a petition given in to the lords of Councel for your
protectione and redresse.

" Ye ma_\' assure yourselves I shall not be wanting so farre as
I am able according to my place to concurre for )'our protection
in the enjoyment of your priviledges, onely I could have wisht
that the late case ye hinte at had been particularly circum-
stantiate as to the person wronged and the name of the


Magistrate by whom he was incarcerate and what his fyne was
also what was the fault wherwith he was chairged and by what
proofes thes particulares can be maide out when I shall have
advertisment of thes I shall take advice whither it will sustaine
as a riot before the Councel, and if it will, after I have fairly
dischairged w' the toun of Abd. in case they refuse to give
reparation I shall sie that a complaint be raised against them

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