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The Dalmellington Volunteers

On Thursday, 12th June 1800, James Hodgkinson left his father-in-law Mr Cannon’s farm of Little Barskeoch, about four miles from New Galloway. He was on horseback and accompanied by his wife’s half-brother Samuel Cannon.(1) At "Cas-fern" he spent a couple of hours visiting a young lady who was his wife’s cousin, and then continued in the company of another of his wife’s relatives, Mr Grearson, to Dalmellington, where he intended to have lunch. In his journal he recorded his arrival in Dalmellington thus:

When we arrived at the Inn the Landlord had scarcely time to put up our horses. The Drum was beating the Volunteers to Arms & he could not be absent at the Roll-call.

He reflected that, although "Damellenton is the most contemptible Town, Village (or whatever you choose to call it)", it could produce 40 to 50 "stout active Volunteers". It seemed to him that this was the case with every mean little place in the wilds, where you would think that the problem would not be in repelling an enemy, but rather in persuading anyone who happened to come upon it to remain there.

He was ignoring, for comic effect, the very real fears of invasion that prevailed during the wars with revolutionary and Napoleonic France. This can be seen in the meetings called by Hugh Montgomerie, Earl of Eglinton as the newly-appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ayrshire.(2) On 27th January 1797 the matters discussed included the establishment of a military camp in the vicinity of Ayr for the protection of the coast, and "raising the Quota of men apportioned upon this County, for the service of his Majestys [sic] Army and Navy". Regular meetings were called by the Lord Lieutenant to deal with matters of internal defence: 6th February 1797 (furnishing horses and carts for conveying troops in case of emergency); 7th March 1797 (moving livestock from within ten miles of the coast; restrictions on banks); 1st May 1797 (the Militia Bill). On 16th June 1802 a meeting was called to compliment the Lord Lieutenant on his conduct in a period of "unparralelled [sic] difficulty and danger". So however ineffectual or comic the Dalmellington Volunteers might have seemed, the threat of invasion was taken very seriously indeed.

All able-bodied men were required to serve as volunteers under the various ‘Defence of the Realm’ Acts of Parliament in force. At the time of Hodgkinson’s visit, the most recent and prevailing Act was 38 Geo. III c. 27 (1797, Defence of the Realm). Records of enrolment in the parish of Dalmellington under a subsequent, similar Act have survived, and are transcribed below. The terms of engagement were printed, and followed by the signatures of the subscribers.(3)

We the SUBSCRIBERS, Considering that it is the bounden duty of every loyal and patriotic Subject, at all times to come forward in time of danger, in defence of our KING, our COUNTRY, and GLORIOUS CONSTITUTION; but more especially when called upon at a crisis, when the KINGDOM is threatened with INVASION, by an inveterate Enemy, who aims at nothing less than the total annihilation of the BRITISH EMPIRE, and a complete subjugation of the BRITISH NATION, to French Despotism. And Considering, that by an Act of the 43d of George III. Cap. 96. [1803, Defence of the Realm etc.] enabling His Majesty more effectually to provide for the defence and security of the Realm during the present War, all persons, from the age of 17 to 55, are ordered to be called out, for the purpose of being trained to the exercise, and to learn the use of Arms, in the manner particularly directed by the said Act of Parliament; and that by the 53d Section of said Act it is provided, that where a sufficient number of Persons, between the age of 17 and 55, shall engage to serve as VOLUNTEERS, upon certain conditions, His Majesty may suspend the Enrolment of Men under that Act, for any County or Parish: THEREFORE, WE hereby engage, in terms of the 53d and 54th Sections of the Act of Parliament above-mentioned, to serve as VOLUNTEERS under that Act, and to be trained, exercised, drawn out, and embodied, under the conditions therein mentioned; and to March to any part of Great Britain for the defence thereof, on any Invasion, or on the appearance of an Enemy in any force on the Coast; or to suppress any Rebellion or Insurrection arising, or existing, during such Invasion, whenever we shall be called out by the LORD LIEUTENANT of the County of AIR, in which County we are formed: His Majesty having been pleased, for our encouragement, to order that each VOLUNTEER shall receive Twenty Shillings in three years, for clothing, and One Shilling per day for 20 days in the year, besides the sums specified in the Act. And we Agree to furnish ourselves with Arms and Accoutrements, or the same shall be furnished to us by Government, as is particularly specified and annexed to our respective names, in the Columns in which we subscribe.

[In the first column:] Names of persons engaging to Serve, and who furnish their own Arms and Accoutrements. [None.]

[In the second column:] Names of Persons engaging to Serve to whom Arms and Accoutrements are to be furnished. D.Woodburn, George Ramsay, James Sloss, William Key, Hugh Thomson, John Caldwell, Gilbert McKinlay, Peter Stewart, William McKay Junior, William McKay [senior], James McCullie, John Guthrie, John Kennedy, William Watt, John Mackinlay, Wm. Hettrick*, Hugh McKissock*, John Howat, Hugh MClyment, Thomas Wallace, John McLoud, John McMillan*, Will Richmond, Gilb McIlvein Minr.of Dalmellington, James Wight, John Calbreath, James Cowan, John Gregg, James MacKay, Robert Hetrick, William Howat, David McGill, Andw.McClymont, William Stevenstone*, David Crighton*, Barrie Hamil*, Georg Baird*, Robert Ferguson*, Robert Brown*, William Smith*, James Stevenstone*, Andw. Claih*, Ivy Greg, William Limond, Alexr. Jamieson, Alexr. Gemmill, Thomas Gemmill Junr., Henry Rowan, James McCleannant, James McMickan, James McWhirter, David Sampson, David Kerr, John Murray His mark, Alexr. McWhorter, John McGaun, James Rae, John Limont, Quinten Limond, Hugh Murray, Thomas Gemmill Senr., David Welsh, James Haddard, James Howatson, James Orr, Martin McGill, John McWhirter, Duncan McMurtrie, David Wallace, Duncan McDiarmid, John Camron, James Bone, Ebenezer Bone, John McCullie, Andrew McCrae. 5 June 1805.
[* "signed by his desire by D Woodburn" or by John Heron.]

David McClure

This article was first published in Ayrshire Notes No.19 (2000).


1 L15/1-4, Hodgkinson and Jackson Family Papers, Manchester Central Library Archives Department; includes [L15/2/1-12] the Journals of Richard Hodgkinson of Atherton, Lancs., estate agent. Florence and Kenneth Wood (eds.), A Lancashire Gentleman: The Letters and Journals of Richard Hodgkinson 1763-1847, (Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1992).

2 The proceedings were recorded in the minute books of the Ayrshire Commissioners of Supply. This period is covered by CO3/1/4 and CO3/1/5. [Ayrshire Archives.]

3 Cathcartston Interpretation Centre, Dalmellington (with thanks to Stanley Sarsfield). The volunteer subscription roll has museum no. E026. With it is an earlier roll, dated 1803, in which the terms of engagement were hand-written, and in shorter form than in the 1805 roll.

Appendix 1:  Innkeeper Gilbert McKinlay at the sign of the Cross Keys.

Hodgkinson records that his expenses at "Damellentown" amounted to four shillings and sixpence.  He lunched on ham, eggs and "the universal Scotch beverage, Whiskey", and had his horse "taken care of".  Perhaps he treated his companion, Grearson.  He does not tell us the name of the inn, but it was probably that of Gilbert McKinlay, whose name appears on the 1805 roll, above.  McKinlay is mentioned in an advertisement in the Air Advertiser, 15th May 1806, 4b:

"By authority of the Trustees.  The Toll Duties to be levied at the Bar at Kirn Bridge near Dalmellington for one Year, from the 26th current, will be Set by Public Roup, on the 21st current, at the House of Gilbert McKinlay, Sign of the Cross Keys, in Dalmellington, between the hours of twelve and two o'clock."

David McClure

This appendix was published on the Ayrshire History web site on 12th March 2001.


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