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Francis Douglas


Francis Douglas (bap. 1719, d. c.1790), writer, was baptized on 6 February 1719 in the parish of Logie Coldstone, near Aberdeen, the third son of Robert Douglas of Blackmiln. He was apprenticed to a baker in Aberdeen and after the completion of his training in the late 1730s he went to London to practise his trade. During this time he wrote Rural Love, a Tale in the Scotish Dialect that he printed in Aberdeen in 1759. From 1743 he was back in Aberdeen and became a baker in the Netherkirkgate. From 1744 to 1747 he was a juror for the fixing of the fiars' prices. He married Elizabeth Ochterloney of Pitforthey on 22 April 1745 in the church of St Nicholas in Aberdeen. They had seven children: Robert (b. 1746), Mary (b. 1747), Elizabeth (b. 1748), Mary (b. 1750), Ann (b. 1754), Bathia (b. 1756), and Margaret (b. 1759). The family became Episcopalian in the late 1740s and joined St Paul's in Aberdeen.

In 1748 Douglas started book selling and advertised that ‘catalogues … may be had at his house in the Nether Kirkgate’ (Aberdeen Journal, 31 May 1748). Two years later he had now ‘taken himself entirely to the trade’ (ibid., 8 May 1750). He was importing new and second-hand books from London as well as selling maps, prints, and stationery. With William Murray, a druggist, he set up a printing house and published books and a weekly Jacobite newspaper called the Aberdeen Intelligencer, in opposition to the Aberdeen Journal. The Intelligencer existed from 1752 to 1757. In 1755 Douglas published the first of his own works, The History of the Rebellion in 1745 and 1746, extracted from the Scots Magazine. Murray would appear to have withdrawn from an unprofitable partnership in 1757.

In 1759, produced his poetical essay, which could now boast of having had twice the benefit of the Horatian precept; for it had lain fully eighteen years in his hands. A modest advertisement was prefixed, in which the author apologizes for publishing the poem, by saying, “He thinks it contains nothing indecent or immoral; and if, in common with many others, it be found dull, let it be also considered, that it is short.” The piece is one which would not have discredited much higher pretensions. In the first lines, we recognize the hand of no mere poetaster.

When merry Charles the sceptre sway'd,
And none through force or fear obey'd,
There liv'd a man in Watercairn,
A widower, with ae lass bairn:
Twa hunder marks he had to gie her,
Brought men and lads, a fouth to see her. &c.  

Douglas continued until at least 1768, and published more of his own works, A Pastoral Elegy to the Memory of Miss Mary Urquhart (1758) and Life of James Crichton of Clunie, Commonly Called the Admirable Crichton (1760).

In the early 1760s Douglas moved to a farm near Drumoak belonging to Mr Irvine of Drum. Here he was moderately successful and in 1763 won a £10 prize for planting the most trees (Aberdeen Journal, 1 Aug 1763), although Chalmers writes that his mutton was of such poor quality and so badly butchered that it never sold (N&Q, 1861, 222–3).

When the Douglas peerage case came before the House of Lords, he advocated in the Scots Magazine the claim of the successful litigant, Archibald, son of Lady Jane Douglas. A pamphlet by him entitled Observations on the Douglas Cause (1768) was printed by James Chalmers and published by Dilly, neither of whom was aware that they had committed a breach of privilege. The House of Lords ordered them to be carried to London, but Dilly induced Lord Lyttelton and some other peers to interfere, and the printer and publisher were excused on account of ignorance.

When Archibald Douglas succeeded to the estate of his uncle the duke, Francis Douglas was gifted with the life-rent of Abbotsinch, a farm near Paisley, for his services. He continued to write and publish such works as Reflections on Celibacy and Marriage (1771), Familiar letters, on a variety of important and interesting subjects, from Lady Harriet Morley and others (1773), The Birthday; with a Few Strictures on the Times; a Poem in Three Cantos (1782), and his most reprinted book, A General Description of the East Coast of Scotland from Edinburgh to Cullen (1782).

Douglas died at Abbotsinch about 1790 and was buried in the churchyard of Paisley Abbey. He was survived by two married daughters living in the Paisley area.

Francis married Elizabeth, one of the eight children of David and Mary (Forbes) Ochterlonie of Tillyfroskie.


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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024