Sir Robert Grierson, 5th Bart – Obituary, The Gentleman, October 1839
The age of this truly venerable and remarkable man has long been variously computed ; parish registers were badly kept a century ago and, fond as ancients usually are of reverting to the days of other years, the deceased was so modestly peculiar in this and some other matters, that he shunned rather than obtruded the subject. At the death of his near relative and intimate friend, the late Marquis of Queensberry, he remarked to the family surgeon, “He was an old man, sir;” and, when the doctor demurred to his opinion, added, “he was the same age as my eldest son” (now Sir Alexander Grierson), without making any nearer allusion to his own partriarchal standing.
In 1807, that is thirty-two years ago, his name headed the freeholders of Dumfriesshire, a circumstance in itself very remarkable, and which in the opinion of the sheriff clerk of the county is altogether unprecedented. That he was above a hundred may be considered certain, and popular opinion is obstinate in asserting that he had entered his 106th year. Although very temperate himself, he dispensed a generous hospitality, was fond of excercise in the open air, excelled in all sporting and athletic arts, and perhaps trod the moors consecutively for a longer period than any other man of rank and fortune that ever existed. His constitution was remarkably sound and vigorous; to sickness he was a stranger; never was confined to bed a single day, and only a few hours preceding his death talked of taking his usual carriage drive.
Singularly gifted in regard to health, he appeared equally exempt from the pangs of dissolution, “dropping like a pear grown fully ripe,” and slept rather than struggled away. His contemporaries in “life’s morning march” had all gone down to the grave before him ; and hundreds who had emigrated to all parts of the world were astonished on their return some at the distance of an ordinary life time to find Sir Robert Grierson not merely alive, but mentally and bodily firm and erect, as one who had discovered the elixir vitae.
In 1766 the deceased entered to the entailed estate of Rockhall, on the demise of his father, Sir Gilbert, a younger son of the well-known Grierson of Lag, (the first Baronet who married Lady Henrietta Douglas, daughter of James second Earl of Queensberry). Previous to this event he had become a soldier, served a year as ensign in the 6th, or Blackcuffs, and five years in the 11th. His commission in the latter regiment is dated 10th October, 1761, and he actually drew half-pay for the extraordinary period of 76 years. Part of his military life was spent abroad, and he was present at Gibraltar when a feu de joie was fired in honour of the birth of George IV. With other parts of the continent of Europe he was also acquainted, and the writer of this imperfect sketch once heard him talk of ascending Mount Vesuvius, the apex of which he described as so steep that the guides found it necessary to go a little way before, and assist strangers up by means of ropes.
During the troubles of 1794, government resolving to name lords-lieutenant of counties, and raise over the country fencible regiments, William, the last Duke of Queensberry, as Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries-shire, enrolled a cavalry corps, the command of which was offered to Sir Robert Grierson ; and although he declined that honour, he accepted the office of senior captain. Volunteer corps came next into fashion, and the deceased again evinced his zeal for the public service by recruiting and excellent company from the ranks of his own tenants and neighbours, in Mousewald and Torthorwald ; and when these merged into local militia, he accepted the rank of major, an office he held until the force was disembodied. He was thus much of a military man drew half pay, as has been stated, for more than twice the average term of human life, and was the oldest officer in the service a good many years previous to his death.
In other respects he mingled little in public business, took no prominnent share in politics, avoided revelry and ostentation, managed with discretion the affairs of his estate, was of easy access, and lived beloved and respected by all, near or at a distance, whether of his own or inferior rank, down to the humblest of his tradesmen and servants.
The remains of this “good old country gentleman” were interred in Mousewald churchyard on the 15th August, in presence of about 300 mourners. The tenantry having specially requested that a hearse might be dispensed with, the coffin was borne by willing arms the distance of more than two miles. The procession, consisting of more than 150 pedestrians, about 30 carriages, and a good many horsemen, covered a half a mile of road, and was witnessed by hundreds on its passage. Matrons and maids, grandsires and children, were seem stationed on sunny knolls – the old to obtain a last lingering look of the remains of one they had respected so long, and seen so often – and the young that they might epoch in their several lives that they had gazed on the funeral of old Sir Robert Grierson.
Prayers were said at the Mansion House by the minister of the parish, and the Rev. Dr. Wallace ; and the beautiful funeral service of the church of England was impressively read in the grave yard and famly aile by the Rev. Charles Babington. The company then slowly dispersed, and the sentiment was general –”take him for all in all, we ne’er shall look upon his like again.” About 200 beggars attended at the office-houses, and it was understood that some of them had travelled distances of 10 or 15 miles to obtain the customary dole when a baron dies. Nearly 100 females of all ages clustured under a huge beech tree, and their appearance, which was not a little singular, must have reminded many of Sir Walter Scott’s description of a similar scene in the “Bride of Lammermoor.”
Sir Robert Grierson married, in 1778, Lady Margaret Dalzell, daughter of Alexander, who, but for the attainder, would have been 7th Earl of Carnwath, and cousin to the late Earl. His good lady died many years ago, having had issue four sons and six daughters ; of whom the eldest, now Sir Alexander Grierson, married his cousin-german Elizabeth, daughter of Richard (styled) Lord Dalzell.
Tags: 7th Earl of Carnwath, Baronet of Lag, Blackcuffs, Earl of Queensberry, Gibraltar, Lady Henrietta Douglas, Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries-shire, Marquis of Queensberry, Mount Vesuvius, Rev. Charles Babington, Rockhall, Sir Alexander Grierson, Sir Robert Grierson 5th Baronet of Lag