Melville monument, Comrie


It is obviously monument season again, because having gone to Comrie to climb another hill, I made a short (but very steep) detour to visit Lord Melville’s monument there, having been to see the one in Edinburgh a while ago.

The monument sits on a little hill looking down on Comrie – you can see it from the edge of the village, although not from in among the houses.

Melville monument

Melville had local connections of a kind – he had a house at Dunira a few miles away, although his roots were in Midlothian, and he was made Baron Dunira as well as Viscount Melville (a title which had really come from his wife’s family). There just have been a fairly keen local campaign to get the monument built, as it was erected only a year after his death – maybe all the keener because his reputation had been tarnished in London.

Monument inscription

Almost every town in Scotland has a Dundas Street, so it’s no surprise that Comrie does, leading up to the road to the monument – but it goes one better by also having a Dunira Street.

Dundas Street



Nelson monument, Taynuilt


Having been chased off the Argyll hills a couple of weeks ago by thunder storms clattering around the sky, I ended up in Taynuilt, which claims the distinction of having the earliest monument to Nelson to be erected after Trafalgar, beating the monument on Glasgow Green.

The monument is easy to get to, but not easy to find – you go up a lane beside the village shop, and up a path ahead of you and follow it round and you’re there, but you have to know where you’re going. It can be seen from the main street, but only just.

Monument from the road

The reason they could get it done so quickly, of course, is that there was nothing to build – the monument is a single standing stone, which had fallen locally and was taken to the small hill and lifted again. It was apparently done on Christmas Day 1805 – about 6 weeks after the news would have arrived, and two weeks before the funeral (and three weeks after Nelson’s body arrived in England, despite what the newspaper report says).

Nelson monument

The lettering – going by gravestones, at least – looks more Victorian than Georgian, although it would be hard to do the usual Georgian carving on that kind of stone – a plaque seems to have been attached at some point, which might have been the original.

Monument inscription

The reason for the early monument in such an apparently odd place is the ironworks at the edge of the village, founded in 1753, and based there because there was such a good supply of wood for charcoal locally. Most of the iron produced there was just sent on as ingots to be worked elsewhere, but a large number of cannon balls for the navy were also cast at the site, so the workers would have felt a link to the battle.

Bonawe Iron Furnace

Explorers’ Garden, Pitlochry


Earlier in the month I got round to making the trip to Pitlochry to visit the Explorers’ Garden there, and the David Douglas pavilion.

The entrance is based around the ships which would have carried the early explorers to their destinations – masts and sails, and a star-shaped platform marked out with compass points, and metal waves on the gate itself.

Compass points

Inside, the garden is arranged geographically, with information boards about the collectors who were active in that area as you go round – many more than my few special friends, and a couple I hadn’t come across before.

It had been a cold spring, and sometimes there didn’t seem to be much more in bloom than rhododendrons – not many really recognisable discoveries.

South America comes early on, with Archibald Menzies, who also went to western North America with Vancouver, and the smallest monkey puzzle tree I’ve ever seen, although I suppose they have to start somewhere.

Archibald Menzies
Tiny monkey puzzle tree

Beyond Australia and New Zealand – the south seemed to be sticking together – was South Africa, with Francis Masson, who travelled there with Cook. No red hot pokers – presumably it was too early in the year.

Francis Masson

Beyond this is North America and David Douglas (among others) – one of the few really recognisable flowers here, the lupins which famously ended up washed down the Spey, and a lovely carved pine cone (although I don’t think it’s Douglas fir – it doesn’t have the little tongues!)

Fir cone and lupins

The pavilion itself I found a bit of a disappointment – it’s a nice building to put a little exhibition in – photos from a recent trip to China at the moment – but as a monument I much preferred the little pavilion at Scone.

David Douglas pavilion

The focus here is mostly on forestry – the place is built from different woods grown in Scotland, mainly Douglas fir, larch and oak, and the information on Douglas is mostly about trees.

Douglas map

I did like that the pavilion appeared to have produced a cub – which was the toilet!

Pavilion and cub

Beyond that the focus moves to the Himalayas and Japan – some of the more interesting parts of the garden, with a lovely round stone ‘moon gate’, and the meconopis which is a speciality of the garden, but based mainly on 20th century exploration, rather than looking back to the true Age of Sail. I did like the George Forest pavilion, which was far more striking as a memorial.

George Forrest pavilion

Collingwood Society – Old Sunderland


The Collingwood society is beginning to believe that its ‘summer’ outing is cursed – the only time we’ve ever had good weather for it was when we spent the day indoors at the Northumberland Archives. Still, a reasonable number gathered in a very wet Sunderland, where the only question was whether you had come in your waterproof trousers or come with your umbrella.

Waiting in the rain

We met first at Trafalgar Square – much smaller than its namesake elsewhere, but still an attractive place. This is a square of early Victorian almshouses, built originally for retired seamen and their families, and still occupied by people who have worked at sea. (Some of them on ferries, apparently.)

The monument in the square records all the Sunderland men who were present at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was erected as part of the Collingwood festival in 2010, and we heard about the research which went into it, making a more accurate list than had existed before by comparing muster lists with other records which showed where they were out of date, still including men who had left the ship or even the navy.

Trafalgar monument

The imposing plaque and crests over the central doorway produced two questions:
– what does INo mean? (John, we think)
– and what on earth are those coats of arms? (approximately Nelson’s)

Trafalgar Square plaque

Very close by is Holy Trinity, the original parish church of Sunderland when it split from Bishopwearmouth (whose parish church is now back in the centre of Sunderland, the town having moved towards the sea and back again!)

It’s an impressive building which looks quite unusual to me, because although I’m used to Georgian architecture, I’m not very used to brick.

Holy Trinity church

We stopped in the churchyard to hear a bit about the early history of Sunderland (and the rivalry with Newcastle which goes back to the Civil Wars, if not before).

Most of the churchyard has been cleared, but one of the remaining monuments is to a local naval hero, Jack Crawford, famous for nailing the colours of HMS Venerable to the mast during the Battle of Camperdown. He eventually died in poverty, one of the victims of a cholera epidemic in 1831, and was buried in an unmarked grave, but a minument was put up nearby in 1888.

Jack Crawford monument

We then went to visit Sunderland Maritime Heritage, who have built a model of the Venerable, so large that it is almost a small boat in its own right.

Model Venerable

They’re not exactly sure that Bede was the original figurehead, but it would be a very appropriate local link!


Venerable was the flagship of Admiral Duncan at the time of the battle, and so the centre has made a link with the modern HMS Duncan, which they are very proud of.

HMS Duncan

They have a variety of things on display from different periods of Sunderland’s history – my favourite was a large copy of a Georgian map of the town, but there is also quite a lot from the 20th century, and another of their prized possessions is one of the ‘small ships’ which went to Dunkirk, kept in the harbour. At the moment she is inside the security gates, and we had to be taken down by people with passes, but they’re working on finding a better place for her.


Like Admiral Duncan, Willdora was originally Scottish, which pleased me!

Jack Crawford is obviously the local hero – there’s another monument to him up in the newer part of town, which I meant to visit but ended up going for lunch instead, and while walking back from lunch we passed this mural.

Jack Crawford mural


David Douglas monument, Scone


Finding myself back in Perthshire, I went to have a look for the David Douglas monument that I didn’t find the last time. I got off the bus too early because I was worried about getting off too late, but it turned out that I should have waited for the road sign – it was obviously a more famous thing than I expected.


The monument stands in the grounds of Scone Old parish church, which was originally built in the old village beside Scone Palace in the 1780s, and moved to the site of the new village in 1806, rebuilt from the stones of the original.

The monument is up behind the church, towards the back of the churchyard.

Old Scone churchyard

It’s an imposing monument, if very much in the Victorian tradition! The inscription is also very Victorian – and very presbyterian – a whole essay on not only his professional but his personal characteristics.

Monument inscription

But affectionate, I think – under the formality, there’s a sense that this is someone who will be missed.

There’s also a much more modern commemoration of his life, at the foot of the monument.

Douglas information board

The back of the monument also has an inscription, this time giving a lost of some of his famous plant introductions.

Reverse inscription

The Dean Bridge


Back to Telford this week, and a local site. The Dean Bridge was one of Telford’s last major projects, completed in 1831 when he was 73.

It’s been a place that interests me for far longer than I’ve really been chasing Telford – I used to work nearby, and wander down to eat my lunch in the valley below.

One if the most striking things about it is the contrast – from above you would hardly know you were on a bridge, because the land on both sides is level, and the bridge itself flat. Only the treetop and the lack of buildings give it away, and since the parapets were raised in the early 20th century it’s not easy to look over to the river.

Bridge from above

Down below it is completely different – the arches tower above at a dizzying height.

Bridge from below

A plaque on the bridge celebrates Telford’s involvement, put there to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth.

Dean Bridge plaque

The settlement at the Dean Village – a famous site of mills on the Water of Leith – long predates the bridge, and there are still odd old buildings there, although mixed in with a strange combination of Victorian recreations and modern creations.

Dean village

Until the building of the New Town the village was well outside the city, although I think this old picture exaggerates the distance – it’s only about half a mile to the castle rock. But by the 1820s the city had spread out as far as Moray place, and the very steep river valley was standing in the way of further expansion – the old crossing is a bit further west, and means a steep ascent and descent. The bridge was funded mainly by the owner of the land on the far side, who hoped to make a lot of money from opening it up, although the local road trustees were also involved.

It’s not easy to get a clear view of the bridge as a whole – if the twisting valley doesn’t get in the way, the trees do.

The bridge

One of the most distinctive features of the bridge is the double arches – large central arches carrying the road, and narrower arches carrying the footpaths. (The other really distinctive feature is that the piers are hollow, but you can’t see that from the outside.)

Double arches


Telford in Eskdale


I set out on Saturday to come up on the ‘back’ of the Ettrick hills from north of Eskdalemuir, but when I got there I found my route blocked by forestry works.

Fortunately that wasn’t the only thing I meant to come to the area for, so I set off on the trail of Thomas Telford instead. Of course, if I had planned to do this, I would have checked more carefully on what I meant to see, but I knew that I had to start at Bentpath where there was a memorial to Telford, and could then go on to Langholm.

(The place names have confused me before when reading about Telford. Westerkirk is the area and the parish, taking in the valley where Telford was born and other places round about, and once including what is now the parish of Eskdalemuir. Bentpath is the tiny village which holds the parish church and the library and the former school, and where Telford went to school, and Glendinning is the farm up at the head of the valley where he was born.)

The memorial is now outside the little Westerkirk library.

Telford memorial and Westerkirk library

The inscription on the left hand panel reads:

This seat was erected in 1928 to perpetuate the memory of Thomas Telford son of the ‘unblameable shepherd’ and to record his fame as an engineer and his untiring benevolence. Apprenticed to a stonemason in Langholm. His creative genius gave to the nation many works of inestimable benefit. He was the first President of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

‘Unblameable shepherd’ is a quotation from Telford’s own carving on his father’s gravestone, but I was unsure about where he was buried, and when I could only find the new graveyard in Bentpath I thought that the older graves must be in Langholm or Eskdalemuir – it turns out that the old graveyard is hidden up beyond the church.

Telford description

The right hand side has a quotation from a poem written by Telford himself as a young man, on the death of a childhood friend.

There ‘mongst those rocks I’ll form a rural seat,
And plant some ivy with its moss compleat;
I’ll benches form of fragments from the stone,
Which, nicely pois’d, was by our hands o’erthrown

Telford poem

The centre has a carved portrait of Telford, and a brief inscription about his life:

Thomas Telford FRS. Born at Glendinning 9 August 1757 President Institution of Civil Engineers from 21 March 1820 to the time of his death 2 September 1834

The monument was put up in 1928 on the centenary of the founding of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was originally a bit further up the road, near where the Esk and the Meggat Water join.

Telford portrait

The Westerkirk library is the oldest library in Scotland still lending out books, and was originally founded by the miners of the Jamestown mine, right by Glendinning. The mine opened in 1793, about 35 years after Telford’s birth, and closed in 1799, and the library moved to the Westerkirk school in Bentpath in 1800, and to its own building when the school was rebuilt around 1840.

Telford left money in his will to be used for buying books for the library, which eventually added up to quite a proportion of it.

Westerkirk library

I had vaguely planned to walk down to Langholm and get the bus back, but the notice at the library reminded me about Glendinning itself – I could go directly to Langholm easily enough another day, but I wasn’t likely to head back up that long valley, and I figured out that I should be able to go on over the hill to Eskdalemuir, which was more appealing than walking all the way back out again.

The junction of the little road has a sign saying ‘Telford cairn’, although it doesn’t say anything about it still being 3 and a half miles away.

Telford cairn sign

The walk in just follows the road, but it was a lovely valley, little rounded hills and clear burn, until eventually the hills at the head of the valley came into view – Glendinning and Jamestown are just at the end of the main valley, before it splits into two branches.

The end of the valley

There’s a little carpark at Glendinning, mostly for the Greensykes bothy, and a board giving information about Telford’s life and a rather dramatic picture of his birthplace.

Glendinning information board

The cairn itself is a little bit up the hillside, with a wall behind it.

Memorial cairn

The inscription is very simple:

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of THOMAS TELFORD at Glendinning on 9th August 1757

Cairn inscription

I kept on up the hill to head back towards Eskdalemuir, which gave me a good view of the valley below – Telford’s father’s cottage would have been somewhere this side of the farmhouse, I think, and the mine was up the side valley opposite.

Looking down on Glendinning

Will the real George Heneage Dundas please stand up

(Also mostly a repost from elsewhere.)

I’ve mentioned George Heneage Dundas, the real life counterpart of Jack Aubrey’s friend, here before, but I haven’t posted my attempt to gather together both life stories. The character of the books is fairly classic O’Brian – based on history, but not quite, taken from his own family to become a son of one first Lord of the Admiralty and brother of another, in the shape of the first and second Lord Melville, Henry and Robert Dundas. (Which I think is a shame, because I find his real family far more interesting!)

In real life he was the fourth son of Thomas Dundas, son of Sir Lawrence Dundas. It doesn’t seem to have been a naval family – two of his brothers were in the army and another in the church, so it was presumably just something for a fourth son to do – but in those days it must have been difficult not to be involved somehow with ships, and his grandfather invested heavily in East India company ships and seems to have helped relatives to be appointed to posts on them, while his father was involved with steamship trials on the Forth and Clyde canal, so that the early paddle steamer Charlotte Dundas is named after his sister.

Two Dundas families

The two families involved, descending from Sir Lawrence Dundas, the ‘Nabob of the North’, and Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville, ‘The Uncrowned King of Scotland’ were distantly related in some fashion, but certainly weren’t friends.

Both were Scottish families originally – Lawrence Dundas was probably born in Edinburgh, where his father was a merchant, and is buried at Falkirk, but he bought various properties across the country, so that by the time his grandson was born the family was based at Aske Hall in Yorkshire.

There’s a wonderful case study of Aske Hall and Lawrence Dundas, carried out as part of a research project on The East India Company at home, which is well worth a look, either to find out more about the family or for pretty pictures of houses and interiors of the time.

Henry Dundas was born at Arniston in Midlothian and is buried at Lasswade reasonably nearby, and although both of them must have lived most of their lives in London, his son also died in Midlothian and was buried at Lasswade. I don’t know nearly enough about the politics of Scotland between the Union and the Reform Acts to understand the power that the Melvilles had, only that they did – one legacy being the fact that almost every town in Scotland appears to have a Dundas Street!

Edinburgh monuments

The two families meet in St Andrew Square in the New Town of Edinburgh, where a monument to the first Lord Melville dominates the square, and towers over half of George Street.

Lawrence Dundas is represented by Dundas House, now the head office of the Royal Bank of Scotland,on one side of the square – the site was meant to be used for a church, but it was such a commanding site – looking right down the central street of the New Town development – that he just decided to keep it for himself.

The house is built on the point from which the New Town was measured and laid out, and there’s a plaque in the floor of the bank to commemorate it.

I’ve read a story somewhere that the statue on Lord Melville’s monument was deliberately built with its back to Dundas House, but this does seem to be only a story.

The second Lord Melville had to be content with a much smaller monument at the other end of the New Town, which now acts as a kind of roundabout.




Two naval careers

Dundas’s first appearance in the books, as commander of Calpe at the battle of Algeciras, fits with the historical record, and seems to be the historical character – it’s not until Post Captain that he becomes the son of the First Lord of the Admiralty. (Which can only be true if M+C really does run from April 1800 to an Algeciras in the autumn of 1801, but that’s a whole other story.)

Before the story starts the fictional Hen seems to have spent most of his time in the West Indies, where he was with Jack in both Surprise and Bellephoron, while the real GHLD spent time in the Mediterranean, at least once he became a lieutenant, ending up on Queen Charlotte, where he would have served with Cochrane had Cochrane not been away in charge of a prize.

It was on Queen Charlotte that he became known for his efforts when she went on fire, which led to him being appointed to Calpe.

After Algeciras the stories split again, with the real GHLD mostly in the North Sea and the Baltic in Euryalus, and the fictional one first in the Leeward Islands, and then in England on half pay.

By late 1812 and The Ionian Mission, the real and fictional characters meet up again in the Mediterranean, although with Hen in Excellent rather than his actual Edinburgh – since this is the book where everyone is based on Lord Collingwood, this may be a nod to him – although the time spent on blockade seems to belong more to Euryalus, which spent some time with Collingwood’s fleet in the Mediterranean and later off Toulon, than to the real Edinburgh, which was ‘very actively engaged on the coasts of Italy’.

By Treason’s Harbour Hen has caught up with his real counterpart by moving into Edinburgh, which suggests that O’Brian did still have history in mind. The real GHLD then stayed with Edinburgh and the Mediterranean until the end of the war, but the fictional Hen dots about sometimes as required by the plot and sometimes for no particular reason – heading for the North American station in Eurydice in The Reverse of the Medal, back again in The Letter of Marque, in the ship of the line Orion in the Thirteen Gun Salute, the older and smaller Berenice from The Wine Dark Sea to The Yellow Admiral (apparently because he has upset his brother, now in charge of the Admiralty), Hamadryad in The Hundred Days, and Lion in Blue at the Mizzen.

We’ll never know what the fictional character would have done later on – the real one left the navy at the end of the war and stood on and off as a Member of Parliament, eventually becoming Second Naval Lord and briefly First Sea Lord – the highest naval posts in the Admiralty, as opposed to the First Lord of the Admiralty, who by that time was always a civilian.

(I’m not sure which name he actually used – he was christened George Heneage Lawrence Dundas, and signs his letters to the Gazette with all his initials – G.H.L. Dundas – rather than the Geo. Dundas I was half expecting. I still suspect that he used George, but O’Brian, who does his research even if he then muddles it up so much that no one can unmuddle it, did get that Heneage from somewhere before he had started playing about with history – he’s Heneage in Master and Commander.

I haven’t (yet) found another George in the immediate family for him to be confused with, or named after for that matter – it’s possible that he was named after e.g. a godfather – there seems to have been a line of George Heneages in Lincolnshire – but that’s only a wild guess.)

Hidden horticulturalists

Quite a while ago now – back in the Glasgow book festival – I went to a talk about horticulturalists – two parts, of which the one that really interested me was about the early gardening trainees of the Royal Horticultural Society.

The story of the book began with the discovery in the RHS archives of a book of handwritten records by the young men who were the original trainees in their garden at Chiswick, dating back to the early 1820s. This was essentially the start of modern gardening – the first time that you would expect to have plants gathered from around the world in a garden, and would need to know how to look after them.

I ended up with the impression that the RHS don’t seem to have valued anyone who worked for them particularly highly – the trainees were so poorly paid that it was a requirement that they weren’t married, as they wouldn’t be able to support a wife! But hopefully they went on to better things.

The only one of the trainees who everyone has heard of, apparently, is Joseph Paxton, who went on to build the Crystal Palace – I hadn’t heard of him, but I have now, and it was while he was working at Chiswick that he first came to the attention of the Duke of Devonshire, who owned the land where the garden was.

I enjoyed the talk, and I liked the festival, but the one thing I do prefer about the Edinburgh book festival is the format of talks based around readings, as well as around discussion – I think it gives you a better idea of the book, as well as the topic.

Anyway, the library has the book on order, and I have a preemptive reservation on the currently non-existent book, so hopefully I will know more about it all soon.

The other half of the talk, although the wrong period, was about a man with the wonderfully Northumberland name of Collingwood Ingram, so I feel that he deserves a mention, although there was nothing Georgian or even northern about him – his great project was saving all the different varieties of cherry tree which had once been popular in Japan, and were vanishing in favour of only one or two kinds.

Two Bridges on the Tay


The day I went up to Scone, I also visited Dunkeld – mostly to go walking, but also to have a look at Telford’s great bridge over the Tay, an important link in his work on the Highland road system. However, before I got there my attention was attracted by another old bridge, built between 1766 and 1771 to cross the river at Perth.

There had been various bridges nearby in medieval times, all eventually destroyed by floods, and for about 150 years before this bridge was built only ferries had crossed the river. But with travel increasing and trade expanding a new bridge was proposed, and designed by John Smeaton, best known for the Eddystone lighthouse – this was before the main work on the Highland roads, but it must have been in mind, because the bridge was partly paid for from the forfeited Jacobite estates.

Smeaton’s Bridge

A century or so later the bridge was made wider, but it has been done quite neatly, leaving the basic arch of the bridge alone and adding walkways on either side.

It’s a beautiful thing, but one of my favourite things about it is that it’s made of something just a little bit like puddingstone, so where the stone is wearing, tiny pebbles are showing through.


Floods on the Tay were fairly common, and the new bridge had to stand up to one only three years after it was finished, which it did well. Several have happened since then, and there is a record of flood heights on the back of the first pillar.

Flood records

Plaques on the bridge record its building and the later widening.

Smeaton bridge plaque

I did finally make it up to Dunkeld, although I didn’t have much time for looking at the bridge. This was one of the first achievements of Telford’s work for the Commission for Highland Roads and bridges, built in 1809, and an essential link in the main route north to Inverness. Wade’s military road had taken a different route north, crossing the Tay at Aberfeldy where his bridge still stands, but otherwise there was no bridge over the Tay north of Perth.

Dunkeld bridge

It’s a beautiful bridge but a very plain one, with only this tiny bit of decoration at the ends, and apparently it only got that because a local landowner paid for it – the government funding only paid for substance, not for decoration.

Subtle decoration