The Capture and Banishment of Two Galloway Covenanters: Or A “Clothes Rail” for the Killing Times #History #Scotland



One of the problems that bedevils the history of the Killing Times is that several of the known field deaths do not have a date attached to them beyond the year 1685. One way round that problem in the historical evidence is the knowledge that, on occasion, Wodrow’s stories about different groups of Covenanters intersect with each other. A classic example of that is the capture and transportation of Gilbert McIlroy and William McIlroy in Kirkcalla from Wigtownshire to Edinburgh.

Map of Kirkcalla

At one point in the narrative of their journey, they were brought to the parish church at Barr in Ayrshire, where they were interviewed by Lieutenant-General William Drummond. The General’s presence in Barr parish almost certainly coincides with the killing of the Barrhill martyrs at some point in 1685, as Drummond was said to be responsible for their deaths. We know from other evidence that the killings of the Barrhill martyrs and Alexander Linn took place at some point in the summer of 1685. If we can establish roughly when the McIlroy brothers were at Barr parish church, we can further narrow down the time frame for the Barrhill martyrs.

The “Clothes Rail”
The chronology of the journey of the McIlroy brothers is not only of utility in the Barrhill case and that of Linn, as it also begins to unravel other apparently mysterious events in Wigtownshire during the Killing Times of 1685. In that respect, the McIlroy brothers’ journey is like a “clothes rail” from which we can hang other events in order once we understand the chronology of how the Killing Times unfolded in that area. The task of this post is to establish that “clothes rail”. Later posts will hang events from it.

Let’s begin …
From Wodrow’s account of the McIlroys’ journey, it is clear that they were captured at Kirkcalla in Penninghame parish, Wigtownshire, in ‘June or July’. From there they were rapidly transported to neighbouring Minnigaff parish in Kirkcudbrightshire where they were interrogated by the Earl of Hume. From there they were taken to Barr Kirk in Carrick and, after a second interrogation, on to Hamilton and then Edinburgh. (Wodrow, History, IV, 185.)

Wodrow does not give a detailed chronology of their journey, but he does indicate they were taken in June or July and where they stayed and how many days they were there. The three places he mentions on their route to Edinburgh are Minnigaff, Barr Kirk and Hamilton [tolbooth?). That information indicates their route to Edinburgh if we follow the seventeenth-century road system. It was a journey of around 125 miles.

Journey’s End
One problem with narrowing down a time frame for the McIlroys’ journey was that there does not appear to be an obvious date for when the McIlroy’s arrived in Edinburgh. We know that the Privy Council ordered their banishment on 24 July, 1685. However, Wodrow is very vague about when they arrived in Edinburgh. Without a date for their arrival in Edinburgh, the McIlroys’ journey could have taken place at any point in the month or two before 24 July. (Wodrow calls them ‘Milroy’. Wodrow History, IV, 185-6.)

However, we do have an exact date for when Gilbert McIlroy and William McIlroy were imprisoned in Edinburgh Tolbooth. Both men arrived in Edinburgh before 23 July, 1685, as that was when they were warded into Edinburgh Tolbooth.

The Edinburgh Tolbooth Record of 23 July, 1685
The records of Edinburgh Tolbooth under 23 July, 1685, list the following prisoners as being warded. Eight of those prisoners were banished:

1. James Gavin [in Douglas parish. He was banished in Edinburgh on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August.]

2. Andrew McLean [aka. Mcclellan/Maitland. He was banished on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

3. John Mundell [aka. Mudlie, who was possibly the fugitive ‘at the Runnerfoot’ in Tinwald parish. He was banished 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

4. William Drenon [aka. John. He was banished on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was given to Barclay of Urie on 7 August, but delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

5. Gilbert McIlroy [aka. ‘John McIlvie’, in Kirkcalla, Penninghame parish. He was banished on 24 July. He was due to have his ear cropped on 4 August, but he evaded that punishment as he was very sick. He was delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

6. John Cunningham [He was banished on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

7. William McIlroy [in Kirkcalla, Penninghame parish. He was banished on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was given to Barclay of Urie on 7 August, but delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

8. Quintin Dun [in Benquhat, Dalmellington parish. He was banished on 24 July and had his ear cropped on 4 August. He was delivered to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August.]

9. John Beattie [aka. Peattie. Banished on 24 July. Liberated on 30 July.]
10. John McBride [Banished 24 July. Liberated 29 July as old and infirm.]
11. John McLean [Banished 24 July. Liberated 29 July.]
12. William McLean [Banished 24 July. Liberated 29 July.]
13. John McCully [aka. Mcwatter. Banished 24 July. Liberated 29 July.]
14. Adam Muir [Banished 24 July. Liberated 29 July.]

Brought in by order of his Ma[jes]ties privie Councill by Serjant Muire’. (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, XII, 164, 165, 167.)

Remarkably, the same list of names in the same order also appears in Wodrow when he quotes from the registers of the privy council under 24 July, i.e., the day after the tolbooth record above. (Wodrow, History, IV, 217.)

At least we know when they entered Edinburgh Tolbooth. However, that is only a small step forward in resolving a chronology for their journey to Edinburgh, as it leaves another problem in its wake. It is clear that the McIlroy brothers had been held in the ‘guard house’ of Holyrood before they were moved to Edinburgh Tolbooth on 23 July.

Guard House Holyrood

How long they had been in the ‘guard house’?
The answer to that question is not immediately clear. We know they were held in the gate house constructed by James IV for his palace in 1502, which was extended in 1647 and 1663. A remarkable and spectacular structure, as we can see above, it was demolished in 1753. It was not a regular place of imprisonment and they were put in there as an emergency measure because ‘all the rest of the prisons’ were ‘fully packed’.

Map of Former Guard House

That indicates that they were brought to Holyrood’s guard house after the collapse of the Argyll Rising on 18 June, as a couple of hundred prisoners from it flooded the tolbooths and other buildings in Edinburgh in the weeks that followed.

While the McIlroys were in the guard house, they were interrogated and refused to take oaths. It is alleged that the minister in Penninghame parish wrote a letter which Gilbert’s wife brought to the judges in their case to Edinburgh. That letter is said to have secretly denounced them.

The overall impression is that they were not in the guard house at Holyrood for too long, perhaps as little as a week or so, and probably no more that three weeks as it is clear that they were brought there after the Argyll Rising prisoners.

Let us go back to the beginning. When were they captured in the fields?

The Raids on the McIlroys at Kirkcalla
We do not know the exact date of the raid on Kirkcalla, but we do know that the Merse Militia of the Earl of Hume were involved in capturing them.

We know that Hume’s militia left New Galloway and Minnigaff on c.3 July. A Presbyterian source records that on ‘June 13 [1685] two regiments came to Newgallaway, and thereafter went to Minigaffe. They stayed twentie days [i.e., until 3 July], and killed a number of nolt [i.e., cows] and sheep, belonging to suffering men’.

Map of New Galloway

On 3 July, John Graham of Claverhouse wrote that Hume’s militia regiment was still in the field, clearly in Galloway, even though the Highland militia to the north at Wanlockhead had already gone home. The campaign to suppress support for the Argyll and Monmouth risings was drawing to a close in Scotland. Argyll had already been defeated and captured on 18 June. On 6 July, Monmouth’s army was defeated in England. The militia was dismissed as soon as news reached Edinburgh that Monmouth was defeated. One can assume that Hume’s militia left soon after the Highlanders, as there was no reason for them to remain in the field as the rebellion was over and they were dismissed.

When did Hume’s Militia arrive at Minnigaff?
The Earl of Hume’s militia arrived at New Galloway in Kirkcudbrightshire on 13 June before moving on to Minnigaff, a distance of 18 miles, which is on the boundary of both Penninghame parish and Wigtownshire. From there they could easily reach Kirkcalla, which lies about 11 miles north-west of Minnigaff.

Map of Minnigaff

The militia regiments are said to have remained in the area for twenty days, i.e., until c.3 July. Hume’s militia could not have been at Minnigaff before 14 June at the earliest and were probably not operational to the west of it, i.e., in the area around Kirkcalla in Wigtownshire where the McIlroys lived, until 15 June at the earliest. Events in nearby Wigtown, Peden’s preaching on 16 June, and when Kersland was raising men there and Peden had second sight of Argyll’s capture on 18 June, the day the Argyll Rising collapsed, possibly indicate that Hume’s militia did not reach Minnigaff and Wigtown until after 18 June.

The foot of the Earl of Hume’s militia raided Kirkcalla taking the McIlroys’ nolt or cattle.

Two days later at night, seventy ‘horsemen’ raided Kirkcalla taking clothes from the house and committing great severities on the women.

On the following morning, they seized William McIlroy at Kirkcalla and took him to Minnigaff along with the remaining stock and household goods.

The McIlroys were possibly held at the garrison at Machermore Castle, which lies just outside of Minnigaff. (The garrison was established in January, 1685, and Margaret McLachlan was held there in the spring of 1685.)

It is clear that the McIlroys were captured at some point after 15–18 June and before Hume’s militia left Galloway in early July.

We also know that they probably arrived in Edinburgh in about the first two weeks of July.

This is where the details of their journey from capture to Edinburgh become important. If we can determine how long their journey was, we can start to further narrow down when they were captured and when they reached Edinburgh.

The McIlroy Brothers’ Journey to Edinburgh
As long as we assume that Gilbert McIlroy was not wildly in error over the few details he gave about his journey to Edinburgh to Wodrow, we can begin to provide time frames for when the events of their journey took place.

After their capture, the McIlroys from Kirkcalla were held at Minnigaff for six days. They were interrogated by the earl of Hume there. Assuming that the six days that the McIlroys were held in Minnigaff took place before the Earl of Hume’s militia withdrew from the area on, or a little after, c.3 July, it appears that the raids on Kirkcalla took place between 19 and 27 June. As the capture of William McIlroy took place on the morning of the third day of the raids, he was probably taken between 22 and 27 June or a tad later.


125 Miles
The account of their journey in Wodrow does not mention the number of days that they spent marching the 125-mile-long route that their guards took them from Minnigaff to Edinburgh, but does record that they spent three days at Barr Kirk and one night at Hamilton.

Map of Barr Kirk

As McIlroy and his fellow prisoners were not high-value targets who needed to be rushed to Edinburgh, they were probably guarded on the march by small detachments of foot and perhaps some horse. It is improbable that the vital resource of mounted horse or dragoons, the government’s rapid-reaction force, were deployed in their transport, as Monmouth’s rebellion was still taking place in England.

Here we hit the problem of how far a detachment featuring at least some people on foot, some of them bound to prevent escape, could march in a day.

They may have covered around 16 miles a day at a push, including stops to rest, eat, camp or shelter for the night. That total per day may be generous, but a useful comparison is that the Galloway Covenanters covered around 16 miles a day on their march from near Wigtown to Bothwell in the summer of 1679. They were keen to get to the rebellion. They took a different route north, but they also followed the seventeenth-century road system.

As for the McIlroys, their march from Minnigaff to Barr Kirk was about 26 miles, Barr to Hamilton around 60 miles and Hamilton to Edinburgh about 38 miles. That probably indicates that they marched for about nine days, which with the addition of the three days that they spent at Barr kirk, indicates a journey time of about twelve days from Minnigaff to Edinburgh.

If William McIlroy was captured on the earliest probable date of 22 June, then he was in Minnigaff until 28 June and did not reach Edinburgh until 10 July. If he was taken on a later date of capture, say 27 June, then he was in Minnigaff until 3 July and did not reach Edinburgh until 15 July.

Let us return to the McIlroys in Edinburgh

The McIlroys in Edinburgh
It appears that the McIlroy brothers were held in Holyrood’s guard house for between eight and thirteen days, before they were warded into Edinburgh Tolbooth on 23 July. That time frame accords well with Gilbert McIlroy’s claim that they were held in the guard house because Edinburgh’s tolbooths were full of rebels captured in the failed Argyll Rising.

Let us put all that information into chronological order.

The “Clothes Rail”
In summary:
The Earl of Hume’s militia regiment probably reached Minnigaff on 15–18 June or a few days later. The raids on Kirkcalla took place after that.

William McIlroy was captured at Kirkcalla between 22 to 27 June or a tad later.

They were held at Minnigaff for six days between 22 June to c.3 July.

28 June is about the earliest date they departed Minnigaff. The Earl of Hume’s militia regiment departed New Galloway and Minnigaff on c.3 July.

The McIlroys were sent about 26 miles to Barr Kirk in Ayrshire, arriving around 30 June to c.5 July.

The McIlroys were held Barr Kirk for three days leaving their between c.3 July to c.8 July.

The journey from Barr Kirk to Edinburgh (via an overnight stop at Hamilton) covered close to 100 miles. It probably took about seven days.

They arrived in Edinburgh and were placed in Holyrood’s guard house between 10 to 15 July, as all other prisons were full of Argyll Rising prisoners.

An unhelpful letter from the minister in Penninghame was delivered to Edinburgh. Details of their interrogations at Minnigaff and Barr Kirk would also have been sent.

The McIlroys were warded into Edinburgh Tolbooth on 23 July for trial. They were ordered banished by the privy council on 24 July.

William MacIlroy’s sentence of banishment was confirmed on 29 July.

Gilbert McIlroy had his banished delayed due to sickness on 29 July.

William McIlroy had his ear cropped by the hangman on 4 August. Gilbert was sick.

They were both given to John Ewing for banishment on 11 August, 1685, and moved to the Jamaica-bound ship.

The time line for McIlroy’s capture and journey is important because it creates time frames that can be connected to locations. Those time frames intersect with the historical evidence for at least two other sets of martyrs for whom we do not have a date for their deaths.

To unravel that evidence will have to await further posts.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free 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

~ by drmarkjardine on July 27, 2019.

2 Responses to “The Capture and Banishment of Two Galloway Covenanters: Or A “Clothes Rail” for the Killing Times #History #Scotland”

  1. […] Transporting prisoners took much longer. For example, Gilbert McIlroy who was captured near Wigtown two months later took about seven days to reach Edinbu… under guard from nearby Minnigaff, even when we exclude a three day stop at Barr kirk. It is 110 […]

  2. […] had nine days to make it to Edinburgh for the riding of Parliament. We know from the prisoner transportation of Gilbert McIlroy a couple of months later, that it took at about six days (excluding three extra days he spent at Barr Kirk) for a mixed […]

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