Death in Dailly: The Shooting of John Semple, Covenanter, in the Killing Times of 1685

Cornet James Dundas was also involved in the shooting of John Semple in Dailly parish in Carrick, Ayrshire…

Old Dailly Churchyard © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The Shooting of John Semple
As noted in the post on Edward McKean, some of the sources mistakenly attributed Semple’s death to the fictional Cornet James Douglas. The cornet involved in the killing was undoubtedly Cornet James Dundas of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons.

Semple’s death was first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘James Dowglass [i.e., Dundas] Coronet of Dragoons, commanded to shot John Semple, Essaying to escape out of his Window, in the Paroch of Dellie, Anno 1685. Kilkerron shot him.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

As usual, Cloud of Witnesses reproduced Shields’ text with minor corrections. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 544-5.)

Nearly thirty years after Shields’ account, Wodrow published a more-detailed version of Semple’s death:

‘[April, 1685.] A signed and attested account of the murder of John Semple, in the parish of Dally [i.e., Dailly], in the shire of Ayr, in his own house at Eldington, is come to my hand lately, and I shall insert it in the words of the attested narrative.’

Eldington, or Eldinton, lay on the edge of what is now New Dailly in Carrick, Ayrshire. Today, its approximate location is probably marked by Eldinton Terrace.

Map of Eldington            Street View Near Eldington

According to Wodrow:

‘John Semple was a person who lived a very quiet and innocent life with his wife, and three or four children; he never carried arms, nor gave the least disturbance to the government, only from a principle of conscience came not to the church to hear the episcopal ministers; and being given to hospitality, and of a compassionate temper, he did sometimes harbour those poor people who were then hunted for their lives.’

Semple’s refusal to attend church and reset of fugitives would have been enough to draw the ire of the authorities in early 1685, however, ‘John Semple in Eldingston’ was also listed under Dailly parish on the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 213.)

Wodrow continues:

‘Upon these accounts, April this year [1685], Alexander Fergusson of Kilkerran, living at Moorston, a country house about a mile from Eldington, went to Blawhan garrison, commanded by [Cornet James] Dundas, and informed against John Semple.’

On 11 February, 1685, ‘Alexander Fergusone of Kilkerin, maryed, aged 70 yeirs or therby’ gave a deposition in Edinburgh before Lieutenant-General Drummond regarding the young Ardmillan’s refusal to accept prisoners sent to Maybole by John Hamilton, Lord Bargany (d.1693). Ferguson’s deposition was favourable to Lord Bargany, who opposed to the Covenanters. (RPCS, X, 513.)

Ferguson was Semple’s neighbour and lived at Moorston, which lay between Eldington and Dundas’s garrison at Blairquhan.

Map of Moorston          Street View of Moorston

Map of Blairquhan

Wodrow’s account dates the action at Eldington to a Saturday in April, i.e., either on 4, 11, 18 or 25 April, 1685:

‘The commander [Dundas] detached a party about sunset [i.e., around 8 to 9pm], Alexander Fergusson [of Kilkerran] being their guide, who conducted them first to his own house at Moorston, where they supped. And about midnight, when they reckoned he would be at home, and all ready for their purpose, they came straight towards Eldington, and surrounded the house.’

As in the earlier case of Edward McKean, Dundas sent his dragoons on an intelligence-led raid of a farm where fugitives were suspected to be present at night.

Wodrow details Semple’s end:

‘John Semple hearing the sound of their feet about the house, and a confused noise of whispering, dreaded what was the matter, and having a right thought of their design, considered with himself what to do in that extremity, and at length concluded to venture his escape out at a narrow window, which while he was endeavouring, and half out and half in, five or six of the party espied him, and discharged their pieces at him, and killed him dead on the spot.’

Bargany © James Allan and licensed for reuse.

‘After they had perpetrate this murder, as if they had done some worthy exploit, they and the said Fergusson went to the barns of Bargeny, and drank and caroused till next night.’

As noted above, Ferguson was a known associate of Lord Bargany. Bargany’s new house was under construction in Dailly parish from at least 1681.

‘An honest woman near that place, in a little time meeting with Fergusson, challenged him, how his conscience suffered him to be thus accessary to the death of that innocent man, who left a wife and four or five small shiftless children behind him. He scornfully replied, that it was a piece of kindness done to her and them, since her husband, with those he entertained, would have eaten up all they had.” This is attested by several honest people yet in that parish, from their particular knowledge of all its circumstances, Gilbert M’Lurkin [M’Larchan/Maclachan?], Thomas Alexander, and others.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 244.)

Semple’s Grave at Old Dailly © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Semple is buried with Thomas/John Mclorgan in Old Dailly churchyard. Old Dailly churchyard, which is not situated at New Dailly.

Map of Old Dailly Churchyard           Street View of Old Dailly Churchyard

The inscription on the gravestone is as follows:

the Corpse of JOHN
SEMPLE who was
Shot by Kilkerran
at command of
Cornet James Douglas
Also Here lies
who was shot
uncertain by whom
for their adherence
to the Word of GOD
And the Covenanted
Reformation 1685.’

[on reverse]

A.D. MDCCCXXV [1825]
By a public
to the memory of those
who for their
Devoted attachment
To the cause of
Truth fell victims to
Despotic power.’

According to Thomson in the late nineteenth century, ‘lying flat on the ground, in front of the obelisk, is the old monument. Its inscription can still be read.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 325.)

Dundas was also responsible for the shooting of Edward McKean in Barr parish.

For an account of the death of the mysterious Mclorgan, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on April 22, 2012.

5 Responses to “Death in Dailly: The Shooting of John Semple, Covenanter, in the Killing Times of 1685”

  1. […] two martyrs, Mowat and McWhae, and the responsibility of Cornet James Dundas for the killings of John Semple and Edward McKean, I argued that historical errors had been made in the transmission of the […]

  2. […] Wedderburn’s troop were garrisoned in different areas. At least some of the troop under Cornet James Dundas were garrisoned at Blairquhan in Straiton parish in Carrick. Dundas executed Edward McKean in February, 1685 and John Semple. […]

  3. […] by Bargany in February, 1685. Bargany was also indirectly involved in the circumstances surrounding the summary execution of John Semple in Dailly parish in the April of the same year. His house may also have been connected to the […]

  4. […] at Old Dailly, which lies beside the Penwhapple Burn, are the gravestones of John Semple, who was shot by Cornet Dundas when escaping out of a window, and Thomas Mclorgan, who was shot at Drummellane and was probably the son of an officer at Bargany […]

  5. […] For the story of the killing of John Semple, see here. […]

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