The Eaglesham Martyrs

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

Robert Lockhart and Gabriel Thomson (d.1 May, 1685)

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

The Version in Shields, 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, this deaths all refer to events near New Cumnock wich followed the Highlanders entry into the West on 1 May, 1685.

The Version in Cloud of Witnesses

Cloud of Witnesses followed Shields’ text, but 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 Cloud of Witnesses was almost certainly based on the inscription on their gravestone in Eaglesham parish churchyard. 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:

‘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’. It also reaffirms that the date for their deaths was 1 May.

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 later, weathering had taken its toll on the stone. 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 on the “Continuing” Society people stones that they died for Scotlands Covenanted work of Reformation. Why is the more disfuse claim that they owned ‘Covenanted Testimony’ found on the 1838 stone?

Thomson complained that the version given by Cloud was in an ‘incomplete form’ and reproduced a form of the inscription which was similar to, but slightly different from, that found on the 1838 triangular marker. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 571-2; Thomson, MGoS, 72-3; Thomson, ‘Travels’, 358.)

What do the early sources reveal about Lockhart and Thomson’s deaths?
The inscription on the gravestone indicates that they were shot by Ardincaple, apparently on 1 May 1685.

The Ruins of Ardincaple Castle

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 from the RCAHMS can be found here.

Street View of Ardincaple Castle

Ardinacaple 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 for the Abjuration Oath at Dumbarton on 19 February, 1685.

On 27 March, he was commissioned to serve Colonel James Douglas in his commission to suppress the Society people across the western and southern shires. It was possibly in the conduct of the latter, that Ardincaple encountered Lockhart and Thomson. (Wodrow, History, IV, 164, 188, 207.)

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.)

Robert Lockhart

The identity of Lockhart remains a mystery, as he does not appear to be any of the Robert Lockharts mentioned by Wodrow. It is possible that he was a fugitive, as he was shot in the wilds. Given his association with Thomson, it is likely that Lockhart was either from, or from near, Kilbride parish in Lanarkshire.

Hairmyres Station © Gordon McKinlay and licensed for reuse.

Gabriel Thomson

Thomson was almost certainly the Gabriel Thomson ‘in Haremire’ who was declared a fugitive at the circuit court at Glasgow on 12 June 1683 and was listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684.

‘Haremire’ or Hairmyres, which lies in Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire, has now vanished, but it lay near the railway station of the same name on the edge of East Kilbride. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 198.)

Map of Hairmyres            Street View of Hairmyres

The Executed Son of Gabriel Thomson

His sons were also listed under Kilbride parish in the published Fugitive Roll of May 1684.

One of them, also named Gabriel, was executed at the Gallowlee in Edinburgh on 14 November 1684.

The Gallowlee lay between the burghs of Edinburgh and Leith near what is now Shrub Place Lane.

Street View of the Gallowlee

He was Gabriel Thomson in Carmunnock, Lanarkshire, who was ordered along with ‘William Campbell at Muirkirk, Robert Thom in Carmunnock, … John Ure maltman in Glasgow, John M’Levy shoemaker in Kilmarnock, James Nicol in Peebles and William Young tailor in Evandale, [to] be processed and indicted before the justices, that they may be proceeded against according to law’ on 19 August 1684. (Wodrow, History, IV, 34-5.)

According to the papers relating to his treason trial with Semple and Watt, he was ‘Gabriel Thomson in Gallowhill’ (NAS  JC 39/49.)

Gallowhill was a farm in Carmmunnock parish that lay just to the north of the village of Carmunnock. Today, Gallowhill farm has vanished, but it lay by the side of Gallowhill Road at Fair Oaks in Carmunnock.

Map of Gallowhill

Street View of Gallowhill

According to Patrick Walker, who knew Thomson when he was imprisoned with him in the Canongate Tolbooth in Edinburgh, Gabriel was ‘aged 18 years’.

In his account, Walker mistakenly refers to him as ‘Gabriel Semple’, but it is clear from the names of the others that Walker states were executed with ‘Gabriel Semple’ that Walker was referring to Gabriel Thomson.

The Canongate Tolbooth

Walker also provided brief glimpses into the younger Thomson’s last few months.

At some point, probably after the Fugitive Roll was published in May 1684, Thomson was apprehended and taken to Edinburgh. He was brought before the Privy Council, as discussed above, but he then escaped out of the Canongate Tolbooth, as Walker stated that he had witnessed Thomson’s escape on 19 August 1684.

Although Walker may have slightly misdated the escape, it is reasonably clear that Gabriel Thomson was one of the prisoners who escaped with John Campbell in Upper Wellwood out of the Canongate Tolbooth on 21 August 1684.

However, Thomson was recaptured, returned to Edinburgh and executed with two other Lanarkshire men, John Watt, also of Kilbride parish, and John Semple, of Glassford parish, on 14 November, 1684.

The fact that Watt was brought before the Justiciary with Thomson may indicate that Thomson had been recaptured either in, or near, his home parish of Kilbride.

Thomson was one of wave of suspected Society people brought before the Council immediately after the Societies’ ‘Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers’ was published on church doors on the night of Saturday 8 November 1684.

John Semple, who was before the justiciary court at the same time as Thomson, was plainly suspected of direct involvement in the posting of the treasonable Apologetical Declaration, as he was tortured in the boots and thumbikins before he was sentenced.

The Boots and Thumbikins

The fact that Thomson was not tortured probably indicates that he was not directly involved in the posting of the Apologetical Declaration, but suspected of being a member of the United Societies. Thomson was condemned for refusing to disown the Declaration.

The rapid nature of their trial and execution probably prevented him from leaving a martyrs’ testimony. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 415-18; Wodrow, History, IV, 152, 489n.; Walker, BP, II, 84-7; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 198.)

Having dealt with Thomson’s son, it is time to return to the killing of Gabriel Thomson, senior.

A Possible Context for the Shooting of Lockhart and Thomson.
The date, location and the cause of their shooting are remarkably similar to the date, location and cause of John Barrie’s summary execution in nearby Evandale parish.

The shooting of Barrie has not been linked to that of Thomson and Lockhart, however, there is circumstantial evidence that they were connected.

Barrie was probably shot in the fields in April 1685 when his pass was challenged by Cornet Inglis. His death probably occurred either shortly before, or at around the same time, as those of Lockhart and Thomson, i.e. in late April or 1 May, 1685.

It also took place in the same area as that of Lockhart and Thomson, i.e. in the moorland and hills where Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Renfrewshire meet.

Barrie’s home at Newlands also lay close to Thomson’s farm at Hairmyres. (See General Roy’s map) In other words, Thomson and Barrie were neighbours in Kilbride parish and would have known each other.

Map of Hairmyres

Map of Newlands           Street View of Newlands

Like Barrie, Thomson and Lockhart appear to have been shot in the aftermath of the attack on Newmilns Tower to rescue prisoners on c.25 April.

After the attack the rescuers and those rescued had fled into the surrounding hills, and government forces descended on the area to find the perpetrators. Several Society people were killed as a result, including John Brown of Priesthill (1 May), John Smith in Cronan (late April or early May?), John Brounen or Browning (6 May) and perhaps James Smith in East Threepwood (early May?, or 1684). Two others died, James White, who was killed in the action that led to the rescue, and John Law. who were killed in the attack.

It is possible that the capture of William Campbell in Upper Wellwood and John Campbell of Mid Wellwood in early May was related to the attack, as John Brounen appear to have informed against them.

Newmilns Tower

There is no evidence that Lockhart and Thomson (or Barrie) took part in the attack on Newmilns Tower, although all of them may have been caught up in the dragnet operation which followed.

In the wake of the attack, it is a reasonable assumption that any “travellers” discovered by government forces in the surrounding area would have been regarded with extreme suspicion. The inscription on their grave clearly implies that Lockhart and Thomson were shot after they were discovered in the moss and failed to produce valid passes.

From Barrie’s case, we know that the Abjuration oath was administered in Kilbride parish in early 1685. That raises the obvious question: Did Thomson have a pass?

The answer is almost certainly no for two reasons. First, as a fugitive since 1683, Thomson was extremely unlikely to have attended the public swearing of the oath in Kilbride parish. Second, the fact that his son was executed for refusing to disown the ‘Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers’ probably indicates that Thomson would not have taken the Abjuration oath which disowned that declaration to obtain a pass.

After the early sources for their deaths, no further information on the two Eaglesham martyrs emerged for well over a century.

Wodrow’s Omission

Perhaps the most fascinating omission from the list of sources which could have mentioned them 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 Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial, which mentions their deaths, as a source.

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.)

Later Traditions 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.

In 1865, the traditional location for their deaths out on Eaglehsma 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 lay below Melowther Hill near the Dunwan Burn. The ruins of the farm are still visible.

Map of Holehall Farm           Aerial View of Holehall Farm

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

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:

‘[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 other location, the ruin at Sparrow Hill, does not appear on any maps I have examined. It could be a recording error for the area around Carrot, as both names share the “arro” element.

Carrot lies about a mile to the east of Melowther. However, it is hard to understand how Thomson could have made such an error when he was the local Reformed Presbyterian minister.

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.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.


~ 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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