The Eaglesham Martyrs

The Covenanters’ Grave in Eaglesham © Kenneth Mallard and licensed for reuse.

The shooting of Robert Lockhart and Gabriel Thomson on Eaglesham Moor in Renfrewshire is a wonderfully obscure, but rewarding, incident from the Killing Times of 1685 to investigate.

The First Record in 1690.

The deaths of Gabriel Thomson and Robert Lockhart were first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘The Laird of Ironkeple commanding a party of Highlandmen, killed Robert Lochart and Gabriel Thomson, about that time also’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 38.)

The phrase ‘about that time also’ refers to the previous entry on Shields’ list, which described how Highland forces killed five Covenanters in Cumnock parish in ‘Anno 1685’. That does not narrow down the time frame for the deaths of Lockhart and Thomson by very much. However, those deaths all refer to events near New Cumnock which followed the Highlanders entry into the West on 1 May, 1685.

The Versions in Cloud of Witnesses

Later editions of Cloud of Witnesses followed Shields’ text, but it also added an exact date:

‘The Laird of Ardincaple, commanding a party of Highland-men, killed Robert Lockhart and Gabriel Thomson about that time also, May 1st, 1685’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 556.)

The addition of the date in later editions Cloud of Witnesses was almost certainly based on the inscription on their gravestone in Eaglesham parish churchyard. See below.

However, the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714 did not add the date of 1 May. It followed the 1690 text of Shields with minor corrections:

‘The Laird of Ardenkeple commanding a Party of Highlandmen, killed Robert Lockhart and Gabriel Thomson, about That time also’. (Cloud of Witnesses, 281.)

The Gravestone of Lockhart and Thomson

Their gravestone was erected between 1702 and 1714 by the “Continuing” Society people. It was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714 and did include the date for their deaths of ‘May 1’:

‘On a stone in the church-Yard of Eglesham, upon the bodies on Gabriel Thomson and Robert Lockhart, that by a Party of Highland Men and Dragoons under the Command of Ardencaple May 1, 1685:’ (Cloud of Witnesses, 286-7.)

That entry on the gravestone was the first to record that dragoons were also involved in their deaths alongside the ‘Highland Men’.

According to Thomson in the Nineteenth Century, the original flat stone was erected in the north-west corner of Eaglesham churchyard to mark the martyrs’ grave.

The 1838 Grave Monument

A century after the first gravestone was erected, weathering had taken its toll. In 1838, the present triangular grave monument was placed ‘close by’ the original stone and the inscription ‘transferred’ on to it.

By 1865, the flat stone was described as ‘mouldering away’, but it was still extant in the 1870s when Thomson noted that ‘the old monument’ was still ‘alongside of the new one’.

However, at some point after that, the original stone seems to have disappeared, although it may remain somewhere in the graveyard. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 556, 571-2; Thomson, ‘Travels’, 358.)

The original inscription was probably similar to the versions of it found on the present triangular monument and in Cloud of Witnesses. The following amended text excludes an initial reference to Psalms 112.6, which was the text for the sermon ‘preached on the occasion’ of the erection of the new monument:

‘Here lie Gabriel Thomson and Robert Lockhart, who were killed for ‘owning the Covenanted Testimony, by a party of Highlandmen and dragoons, under the command of Ardencaple, 1st May 1685

These men did search through moor and moss,
To find out all that had no pass.
These faithful witnesses were found
And murdered upon the ground.
Their bodies in this grave do lie,
Their blood for vengeance yet doth cry.
This may a standing witness be
For Presbytry ‘gainst Prelacy.’

There is an odd feature in the text of the 1838 monument. It curiously misses out the stock phrase used by the “Continuing” Society people on their early gravestones that they died for “Scotland’s Covenanted work of Reformation”. Why is the more disfuse claim that they owned ‘Covenanted Testimony’ found on the 1838 stone?

It is possible that the incription was altered in 1838 to a less contentious form, as Eaglesham was contested ground between different Presbyterian denominations in the Nineteenth Century. Thomson, who was a minister in Eaglesham at a different church, complained that the version given by Cloud of Witnesses was in an ‘incomplete form’ when he reproduced the inscription found on the 1838 triangular marker. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 571-2; Thomson, MGoS, 72-3; Thomson, ‘Travels’, 358.)

What do the early historical sources reveal about Lockhart and Thomson’s deaths?
The inscription on the gravestone as recorded in 1714 indicates that they were shot by Highlanders and Dragoons under the command of Ardincaple apparently on 1 May 1685.

The Ruins of Ardincaple Castle

Who was Ardincaple?

The man responsible for their executions was Archibald MacAulay, laird of Ardincaple, in Rhu parish, Dunbartonshire. His castle was demolished to make way for naval houses for Faslane where Britain’s nuclear submarines are based. Details about the original castle can be found on Canmore.

Street View of Ardincaple Castle

Ardincaple served the Restoration regime throughout the Killing Times. On 30 December 1684, he was one of those commissioned with justiciary power to press the Abjuration oath in Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire, and he held a court at Dumbarton on 19 February, 1685. However, that judicial commission did not stretch to Eaglesham in Renfrewshire.

On 27 March, he was commissioned to to serve Colonel James Douglas in his commission to suppress the Society people across the western and southern shires. That commission expired on 20 April, prior to the alleged date of their killings at Eaglesham. (Wodrow, History, IV, 164, 188, 207.)

The history of Ardincaple’s commissions leaves us with a puzzle. When was Ardincaple in Renfrewshire and what was he doing there?

Ardincaple was not an army officer, but did command militia forces. If he was in command of Highlanders, then they came from west Dunbartonshire, as he did. He was involved in the hanging of a Highland raider in Dumbarton in 1687.

Wodrow’s Omission

Perhaps the most fascinating omission from the list of sources which could have mentioned Eaglesham martyrs is the Reverend Robert Wodrow’s History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland. Wodrow was the minister of the neighbouring parish of Eastwood from 1703, yet he did not make any reference to these local martyrs.

That omission is even more puzzling when we consider that Wodrow used Cloud of Witnesses or Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial as a source, as they both mention their deaths.

Why did Wodrow neglect to mention Lockhart and Thomson’s martyrdom? One reason for Wodrow’s failure to mention them may be the role of the Laird of Ardincaple in their deaths.

In 1685, Ardincaple had apparently been a loyal supporter of King James VII and participated in the repression of militant presbyterians. However, at the Revolution in 1688 to 1689 he switched his support to William of Orange and joined the earl of Argyll’s forces for the ‘security of the Protestant religion’. For Wodrow, Ardincaple’s connections to the earl of Argyll and his “good” Revolution man credentials may have provided sufficient reasons to remain silent on the shooting of the Eaglesham martyrs. (Wodrow, History, IV, 475.)

Who were Lockhart and Thomson?
According to Thomson, the minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation in Eaglesham from 1857 and an editor of Cloud of Witnesses, ‘little’ was ‘known of them except that they were strangers passing through the parish’. (Thomson, ‘Travels’, 357; Thomson (ed.), CW, 556.)

Myres Threepland Munzie Well

Gabriel Thomson and the Thomsons ‘in Haremire’

Gabriel Thomson who was shot was probably one of the sons of Gabriel Thomson ‘in Haremire’ whose sons were declared fugitives for being at Bothwell and listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684: ‘——– Thomsons, sons of Gabriel Thomson in Haremire’ were listed under Kilbride parish in Lanarkshire. The sons apparently lived in Kilbride parish, but the father possibly lived in neighbouring Eaglesham parish. The Gabriel Thomson in Carmunock who was executed in 1684, who was eighteen when Patrick Walker met him in the tolbooth, was too young to have fought at Bothwell. He was probably close kin of Gabriel Thomson ‘in Haremire’, the name combination is unusual.

‘Haremire’ could be Hairmyres, which lies in Kilbride parish. However, it is also possible that it was the ‘Hairmyre’ in Eaglesham parish which appears on Roy’s map of 1750s beside ‘Myre’, the location of the United Societies’ seventh convention, and upstream on the Carrot Burn from Carrot. That location makes some degree of sense in relation to the Gabriel Thomson killed by Ardincaple, as he was killed near ‘Hairmyre’ in Eaglesham parish. Hairmyre also lies close to the Munzie Well where Richard Cameron is said to have field preached.

Map of Approximate location of Hairmyre

The Mystery of Robert Lockhart

The identity of Lockhart remains a mystery, as he does not appear to be any of the other Robert Lockharts mentioned by Wodrow, e.g., Robert Lockhart of Birkhill and Robert Lockhart of Bankhead, and his name does not appear on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. That suggests that he may have been a fugitive from the Abjuration courts held in January to February, 1685, as he was shot in the wilds. Given his association with Gabriel Thomson, it is likely that Lockhart was either from, or from near, Eaglesham/Kilbride parishes.

Later Traditions of the Burial of Lockhart and Thomson

Further information on Lockhart and Thomson emerged in the Nineteenth Century. According to John Henderson Thomson, when the original flat stone that marked their grave at Eaglesham kirk was lifted in 1838 and ‘the foundation dug out for the present monument, two skulls were found about the length of a man from each other, not far from the surface, lying “heads and thraws,” i.e., in opposite directions. No trace of a coffin was to be seen. The probability is that the bodies had been carried down under the cover of night to the churchyard by friends, a shallow grave had been hastily dug, and, through want of time to make it large enough, they had been put in “heads and thraws”.’ (Thomson, ‘Travels’, 358n.)

Street View of Eaglesham Kirk

The burial of Lockhart and Thomson may have taken place in a period when Eaglesham parish did not have a minister, as James Hamilton, an indulged moderate presbyterian minister, had died at the end of 1684 and the next minister, John Houston, an episcopal “curate”, is only recorded as being admitted to the charge at some point before 17 June 1685. (Fasti, III, 387.)

From Melowther towards Holehall © Steve woodward and licensed for reuse.

Thomson’s First Tradition of Where They Died

In 1865, the traditional location for their deaths on Eaglesham Moor was described by Thomson:

‘Tradition points out the foot of Melowther Hill, not far from Hole Hall farm, about a mile and a-half to the south-west of the village, as the place where they suffered martyrdom’. (Thomson, ‘Travels’, 357-8.)

The farm at Holehall, aka., ‘Holemuir’ on Roy’s map, lay below Melowther Hill near the Dunwan Burn. The ruins of the farm are still visible.

Map of Ruins of Holehall Farm

Dunwan Burn near Cowplaw © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

Thomson’s Second Set of Traditions

However, a few years later Thomson gave a longer version of the shooting in his editorial note in late-nineteenth-century editions of Cloud of Witnesses which claims that Lockhart and Thomson were killed in different locations, but not far from Holehall:

‘[They had been at a conventicle, and were on their way home, when they were overtaken by Ardincaple coming from the west. The one was shot at Cowplie, at the foot of Melowther Hill, about three miles to the south-west of Eaglesham village; the other got away, but the soldiers came up to him about a mile further on the road at Sparrow Hill, at a house now in ruins. With his back to the gable of the house, he defended himself, but he was soon overpowered and shot dead. […] —Ed.]’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 556.)

Blackwoodhill Ruin © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

The claim that they were returning from a field conventicle may be due to the fact that Lockhart and Thomson were shot on a Sunday, 1 May. The farm at Cowplie has vanished, but it appears on General Roy’s map as ‘Cowplaw’. It is difficult ot translate its location from Roy’s map, but it lay just a little to the west of Melowther by the Dunwan Burn and was ‘not far’ from the farm at Holehall to the north-east.

Today, the site probably lies close to the eastern bank of the Dunwan Reservoir.

Map of former location of Cowplaw/Cowplie        Aerial View of Cowplaw/Cowplie

The Mysterious ‘Sparrow Hill’

The other location, the ruin at Sparrow Hill, does not appear on any old maps.It may lie under the expanded Dunwan Loch, which was expanded to send water to mills at Busby before the OS name book recorded the dam (moved in 1939). However, Thomson wrote his account well after the dam was built.

The ruin at Blackwoodhill fits the description of it as a gable ruin, today, but probably did not when Thomson published his account.

An other posssibility is that ‘Sparrow Hill’ may be a typesetting error for the area around Carrot, as both names share the “arro” element.

Carrot does lie about a mile to the east of Melowther and Thomson reported that one of the those killed died ‘about a mile further on the road at Sparrow Hill’, allegedly from Ardincaple’s men coming from the west. It may be what is known as Loch Hill, if the name has changed. However, it is hard to understand how Thomson could have made such an error when he was the local Reformed Presbyterian minister. Wherever Sparrow Hill lay, it apparently lies within about a mile of Cowplie and Melowther.

Map of Carrot       Aerial View of Carrot

Street View of Carrot

Carrot Burn © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

For other locations and Covenanters connected with Eaglesham parish, see here. For Kilbride parish, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in full without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

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~ by drmarkjardine on November 18, 2010.

3 Responses to “The Eaglesham Martyrs”

  1. […] swept west, where forward elements of them are recorded on 1 May at the field shootings of Robert Lockhart and Gabriel Thomson in Eaglesham parish and in the shooting of John Brown and capture of John Brouning at Priesthill in […]

  2. […] For the Eaglesham martyrs who were killed earlier in the year, see here. […]

  3. […] last man on the assize was also involved the deaths of two Covenanters at Eaglesham in the Killing Times of […]

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