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conjecture. James was obviously a man of character, industrious, well-living, possessed of a goodly share of the Scots instinct to 'get on,” keeping his eye steadily fixed upon the upward path, and coming before us in many ways as the type of the “
men o' the Mearns." He clearly meant to make a home in his new surroundings, and began by “settling down.” It seems natural and appropriate to sketch him in homely words and phrases. Esteemed a man of solid worth in the community to which he attached himself, he almost reconciles one to the Scots virtue of respectability too frequently the cloak and disguise of selfconcealment and hypocrisy.
That there was something good about James is placed beyond doubt by his having induced one Margaret Grub to look upon him with loving favour, and in 1745—when we are asked to believe that his father and brothers were doing battle for Prince Charlie--they were wed. Of their family, the second son, James, is the only one concerning the present inquiry, and the other may be briefly disposed of. A son and two daughters passed early, leaving James with only two sons and one daughter. The latter was named Elizabeth, and on 8th January, 1768, she married George Hudson of Bervie, who came in time to be Provost of that burgh. Dr Burnes says (" Notes on his Name and Family”) that Hudson was of English descent, his father and grandfather having accompanied Lord Robert Manners' regiment to Monțrose
He adds that the father married Elizabeth, daughter of William Carnegie, convener of the incorporated trades at Montrose. Of James Burnes's eldest son, David, born 30th July, 1749, there is nothing to record except that he married and had children.
After six years of married life, James Burnes somewhat suddenly emerges into public view. In the Minutes of the KirkSession of Montrose appears the following relic of an extinct usage :
May 6th, 1751. “There was given in to the session by James Burness a petition ye tenor whereof follows: “That as your petitioner cannot procure a convenient shop in the Town he yrfore earnestly begs yt you would be pleased to grant him ye
privilege to build a shop at ye foot of ye Kirkyard betwixt ye Kirk style & Brothertone's Barn & yt upon ye whole of ye dyke if need require it excepting what must necessarily be reserved at ye end of Brothertone's Barn & yt you would let him know upon what conditions he may have ye grant.
««• And your petitioner shall ever pray.'
“The Session referr giving him an answer to ys petition to next session day.”
Two pro re nata meetings intervene, and then the entry :
“Referrs James Burness's petition till next meeting.”
There is no further mention of James and his petition, which was, nevertheless, certainly granted. He built his workshop on the site indicated, and there for many a day-nearly a century and a half—it stood, to the disfigurement of both the street in front and the kirkyard behind. It occupied the eastern or lower end of the northern division of the Parish Church Cemetery. Anyone going from High Street eastwards down the Church Wynd to the Links or shore, passes close by the spot upon his left, as he descends the broad steps leading into Baltic Street. When, a few years ago, it was decided to lay out that part of the burial ground in more ornamental fashion, by planting it with shrubs and finishing it off with a low wall of dressed stone and an iron railing, it was necessary to remove the painfully prosaic, if not unsightly, workshop of James Burnes (or Burness), the eighteenth century wright. It is doubtful if any of the workmen who took part in the demolition of the building ever associated it with an uncle of Robert Burns.
The next that is heard of James is that he was admitted a burgess of Montrose upon sith September, 1751. That he stood well in the opinion of the burghers may be inferred from their having on 26th September, 1753, elected him a Town Councillor. That in that capacity he did his duty in an unobtrusive way may well be believed; but a comparatively early death probably prevented him from making any mark in the annals of the Burgh. In the same year he received a yet more emphatic token of his fellow-townsien's respect, by being ordained an elder of the Kirk. According to the Kirk-Session Minutes, on 29th January, 1753, “James Burness, wright," was proposed as a proper person to be ordained elder." In the ensuing December he was ordained accordingly, and his name appears amongst those attending a sederunt upon the 25th of that month, at which his ordination on the previous Sunday was announced by the Moderator. Thereafter his name occurs frequently and, if the entries have no other value, they at least give an insight into the opportunities and duties of an eighteenth century elder, which is not uninteresting. In these days of many sects and sharply divided functions and obligations, the following extract from a minute of 26th August, 1754, is likely to prove curious to many readers :
“There having been laid before the Session this day an account of £2 35 10%2d, signed by John Young and James Burness wrights, for necessary works about the stiple, as particularly specified in the account ; which the Session cousidering were of opinion that the support and maintainance of the stiple was rather a charge on the town than the Session, and therefore appointed an extract of this their minute to be laid before the Council at their next meeting, that they may take the same under their consideration, especially as it has been further represented, by workmen, that the spire of the stiple is in a bad and dangerous condition, and if not speedily repared is likely soon to fall."
On the fourth of the following November it was reported " that the representation concerning the reparation of the stiple was laid before the Council,” and that a committee had been appointed to meet a committee of the Session to come to an arrangement. There is no record of their having met, either in the minute of 23rd December, 1754, or down to that of 24th February, 1755 ; and nothing more is heard of the account and the adjustment of the respective responsibilities of the Town Council and the Kirk Session anent the “stiple.” It may be explained that the steeple here referred to is not that most graceful example of Presbyterian architecture which now confers distinction upon Montrose, but a comparatively graceless and dwarfed square tower with an hexagonal spire. The latter was removed, some şeventy years ago, to make way for the present shapely and majestic structure. It is perhaps characteristic of burgh life that the charge levelled at the old steeple of being in a dangerous
condition and “likely son to fall ” should have been perfetuated and be periodically brought against its successor.
The name of James Burness is occasionally met in connection with accounts for work done by him as wright, but a more important matter is his discharge of the duties of eldership. He does not seem to have been very exemplary in his attendance at Session meetings. From 25th December, 1753—the day when his ordination was announced-down to the 23rd December, 1754, of sixteen meetings he was only present at eight ; in 1755 he attended nine and missed eight meetings; 1756 was an un. usually busy year for the session, and out of twenty-four meetings he only attended twelve; in 1757 he shows an improvement, appearing at eight meetings out of eleven; in 1758 he was present twelve times and absent nine; in 1759 his absences numbered eleven out of twenty one meetings; 1760 was his most regular year, he being absent only five times and present fifteen ; the next year was his last, and of eleven meetings between 12th January and 6th April, when he made his final appearance, he attended seven, and was thus only absent from four.
One of his duties as elder is defined under date of 8th December, 1755. He was then appointed visiting elder for the district “all about the Fisher-gate and up to John Dun's house on the west side of the street.” The special function he was thereby called upon to perform was, according to the minute, “to use all diligence to see what strangers come to their several quarters; who have certificates and who not,” etc. James had, in all likelihood, to take a share of the detective work it was the custom in his day to impose upon elders, such as perambulating the town to take note of Sabbath-breakers, to report barbers who plied their trade on the Sabbath, drinkers in taverns and the like; but his name does not occur in any connection with any discovered laxity or mis. demeanour. On 19th April, 1756, he made a declaration that he had complied with the above order of the previous December, and nothing more is related of him in that particular connection.
Another odd custom of the period comes out in an entry in the minutes of 21st April, 1756, when he became purchaser by
public roup of “2 seats in the 5th pew distant from the pulpit on the south side of the body of the Church," at a price of £26 8s. On 28th June the sale was formally confirmed, and he was warranted to peaceably possess and enjoy the two seats for all time coming for himself his wife and lawfull successors, with the proviso that neither he nor they shall either sell or dispone the said seats, with leave asked of & granted by ye Session.” Here the use of the words " with leave" instead of without leave,” by a clerical error, makes James's title rather stringent.
Of minor matters one or two only need be mentioned, as showing that his eldership did not disqualify him as wright. In 1758 he was paid a joint account for mending the kirk-stiles. He was next appointed a member of one committee to measure the plumber-work on the roof, and of another to examine one of the stairs in the Kirk which it subsequently fell to him to repair. On 11th December, 1758–
“James Burness reports that he has mended the stair leading to Bailie Morison, Mrs Ramsay, the Bakers, and Mr Hutcheon their lofts, the charge whereof amounts to twenty shillings sterling.”
Thereupon the methodical and prudent Session appointed a committee to calculate the share of the twenty shillings due by each proprietor. James, as we have seen, was present at the Kirk Session meeting on 6th April, 1761, but was soon after laid aside by his last illness. His name is not recorded in connection with the meetings of 25th May and 4th July, and on roth August occurs this entry :
“The Session allow James Burness relict to sell the two seats that belong to her in the fifth pew distant from the pulpit on the south side of the body of the Church."
More than a year elapsed, and on 15th November, 1762, Katharine Greig produced to the Session a disposition of the two seats from Margaret Grub, widow of James Burnes, and asking an act of Session to confirm the deed. This was granted on 24th January, 1763. James had died on 17th July, 1761, at the age of forty four, and Mrs Burnes seems to have at once set about making preparations to leave Montrose. As she is stated to have