How it grates upon our feelings to hear evil spoken of the dead, especially of those who have just gone from us! They have passed the bourne; they are beyond our ken; let us leave them in higher and gentler and juster hands. They have lived out their little fever of life, they have pierced the veil, they have entered into the mystery; let us not, still outside the gate, with impious finger point scornfully at their memory; it is not ours to judge. Imperfections drop as a garment from the holy dead. All that was little and unworthy in their lives is forgotten. We picture them in our minds with grand and flowing lines- all gracious! So it is that on tombstones we seldom read other than a eulogy of those who have gone before. The characters portrayed are not untrue- only the truth told lovingly.
On the outside wall of the church of Sorn are placed tablets, one or two of them with some pretensions to beauty of sculpture, in memory of various ministers, and others, of the parish. Perhaps the most interesting, as well as the oldest, is that to the memory of a young lad who was killed in the times of the Persecution by one of the dragoons stationed in Sorn Castle. The tablet is placed very near the ground, and the style of lettering is uncouth, although the wording has all the strength of righteous indignation. The inscription is as follows :-
Here lyes Georg
Wood, who was shot
at Tinkhornhill by
Bloody John Reid, trvper,
for his adherence to
the word of God and
the covenanted vork
of Reformation, 1688.
The stone has been carefully preserved, and the old lettering has recently been restored and painted to keep it from further decay; but the action of the weather has told upon it, and, probably in fear that this memorial of a brave young martyr of the Covenant might be lost to posterity, a later stone has been placed above it, bearing the following lines :-
To preserve from oblivion
the fate of
Who was shot at Tinkhornhill, 1688,
"For his adherence to the word of God,
And the covenanted work of Reformation,"
And to manifest gratitude
For the invaluable religious
privileges now enjoyed,
This stone was erected by subscription, 1828.
(Photo Ian Mason)
The later monument was erected by the liberal aid of Miss Ranken, of Glenlogan, sixty years ago, but unfortunately it is of a soft splint stone and is already in need of restoration. The former stone, though exceedingly rude like others of its kind, is of a very hard nature. A few years ago, through the ravages of time, the lettering had become very indistinct, and Mr. George Cameron, mason, Sorn, acted the part of Old Mortality and restored it to its original crude form. Mr. Cameron is an expert with the chisel, and it is said that the stone, as restored by him, should last for two hundred years.
George Wood was only sixteen years of age when he became a martyr of the Covenant. Little is known about the event except that he was shot in cold blood by a common trooper, who gave as an excuse that "he knew him to be a Whig and the country was better rid of such." The trooper was acting quite within his powers, bestowed by an Act passed in 1685 against Conventicles. Whether his own conscience would excuse him for such a dastardly deed is quite another matter. Tinkhornhill was at one time a farm, and there is still a hill called by that name, on Blackside Farm, a little to the south-east of Blacksidend. The principal part of the Farm of Tinkhornhill, however, is now included in West Town. The grey, ruined walls of the farmsteading were standing a few years ago.
Another very old stone is to the
memory of the first minister of the parish, the Rev. Mungo Lyndesay. We have
already had occasion to mention this man, whose high personal character and
strong Presbyterian principles eminently fitted him for his position in a district
in which such qualities were held in the greatest esteem. He was young, only
twenty-six, when he entered upon his labours and he remained minister of Sorn
until his death, forty-six years afterwards. He came with all the enthusiasm
of youth, and he was received with the enthusiasm of men who had battled and
fought for their principles and had at last reached the desired result. One
of Mr Lyndesay's manuscript sermons is still preserved. From the church records,
written in Mr. Lyndesay's own beautiful handwriting, a little of the integrity
of the man may be gathered-his methodical habits, the zeal he felt for his church,
the integrity with which he discharged his duties, his firm faith and unfaltering
courage. He was especially helpful to the poor, indeed his work for them seemed
unending. He was also anxious for the intellectual enlightenment of his people,
and desired to have a school in the parish, but in this, unfortunately, he failed.
His widow, Christian Beg, placed a little tablet to his memory on the church
wall and its inscription is clear and distinct to this day. Indeed, it is a
feature of the church and churchyard that the stones are so fresh and in such
remarkably good preservation. Very few, if any, are covered with the grey lichen,
which defaces so many interesting monuments in almost every country churchyard.
It may be partly due to the clear, pure air, and still more, no doubt, in consequence
of care and attention. The inscription is as follows:-
Mr Mungo Lyndesay, born anno. 1666, and placed 1692, deceased March, 1736.
So long he lived in this secure retreat,
Neather affecting to be known nor great-
Humble and painful taught the great concern,
Which yet he thought he never enough could learn;
Skil'd in the tongues of heavenly truth,
The only language of Jehovah's month,
He led his flock through the delicious fields
(Heaven's gentle deus and rain it yields).
Shuning law suits by deeds he used to write,
He sav'd their purse and cleared their doubtful rights,
And with rare bounty gratify'd the poor
From the rich treasure of his blessed store,
Which, by the laws of God and mail, descends
To his long, dear, and valuable friends.
Christian Beg, his relic, caused erect this tomb.
It seems a pity that noone placed Christian's name beside that of her husband when the time came that she too laid down the burden of life. Perhaps it was she who wrote the lines; if not, certainly it was her heart, as well as her will, that dictated them. The Lyndesays had no children, and of their money, 200 merks were left to the poor of tile parish.
Another tablet is to the memory of the
Rev. James Connell, who died in 1789; and another to the memory of two
sons of the Rev. Lewis Balfour, who died respectively in 1816 and 1821.
Those lads were brothers of the mother of Robert Louis Stevenson, and thus
uncles of the novelist. Is it not possible (we may say in passing) that
R. L. Stevenson got the idea of the name of one of his heroes- David Balfour
from the surname of his grandfather of Sorn? Under the motto "Spero Meliora,"
(I hope for better things) is an inscription to still two other sons of
Sorn manse, sons of the Rev. John Stewart; one born in 1825, the other
in 1827; one was drowned in the China seas in 1854, and the other died
at Liberton manse in 1858. The graves of the two are far apart, but to
the home of their youth their thoughts would return in fancy many a time,
and together their names are written on the walls of the church they knew
so well. There is still another mural monument to the memory of a minister
and his family. It is
Sacred to the memory of
Rev. George Gordon, D. D.,
Minister of Sorn,
who died 25th December, 1805.
his widow, daughter of
Rev. George Lawrie, D.D.,
Minister of Loudoun,
who died at Liverpool, 12th November, 1834;
and of their sons.
Captain George Lawrie Gordon,
8th Regt. Bengal, N. I.,
Political Agent, Mannipore,
where he died 30th December, 1844.
Archibald Campbell Gordon, M.D.,
Surgeon, H. E. I. C. S., Bengal,
who died at Jallundur, 30th November,
1849, aged 49.
Both of those sons of Dr. Gordon, and grandsons of Dr. Lawrie, died while comparatively young. It is interesting to notice to what prominent positions many of the sons of the ministers of this quiet place have risen. But "sons of the manse " all over the country have distinguished themselves in life's battle. In the list of the Glasgow Society of the Sons of the Clergy, we see how many have risen to distinction, not only in the various services but also in the professions and other departments of life. Ministers' sons have gained a reputation for themselves as stirring lads, but their experience in many a country parish seems to stand them in good stead when they go out to seek fame and fortune in all parts of the world.
The churchyard is neat and orderly and well-cared-for; very different in that important respect from many country burying-places. There is a stone with the following epitaph, which tells a life story of rather an unusual kind:
To the memory of
John Nicholson Brown,
a self-taught man.
He supported himself from the age of eight;
Attended Sorn School only 18 months;
Devoted his leisure hours from daily toil
To the pursuit of self.acquired knowledge.
Became (in Paris) at 2l years of age
Teacher of English
In some of the first families of France,
and was appointed
Professor in the College
of St. Barbe, Paris.
He died at 34 years of age.
Erected in 1861 by his friends.
The career is a most extraordinary one for a poor boy born to such hardships in a remote Scottish village. Probably his early death was caused by the privations or overwork of his early life. He must have been both ambitious and courageous, and it is good that he reaped a little of the harvest of his toils and hopes before he found his premature grave.
There are tombstones of beautiful design, and many of the ordinary description of upright slab. There are not many very old stones, such as one sees sometimes in churchyards of older parishes, but still there are several with the old, deeply-cut style of pictorial sculpture. One of those represents, in a very life-like way, a shepherd with a crook and with his dog behind him, and another has a representation of a face surrounded by a great wig. It may be meant for a judge, or for a portrait of the deceased, if it was the fashion in his day for men to wear such wigs. The inscription on the other side shows it to be a blacksmith's tomb. The names most frequently occurring in connection with Sorn in old days were Thomson and Kirkland. A rather curious place-name on one stone is "Wealth 0' Waters." It was at one time a smithy on the Galston Road, and took its name from a tributary of the Ayr, which, rising on Sorn Moor, joins the main river near Catrine.
In the part of the churchyard allocated to the heritors, a tablet on the wall denotes a space belonging to the Duke of Portland, who was formerly an heritor of Sorn parish to a considerable extent, but the estate passed ultimately to the Dowager Lady Howard de Walden. All the ground allocated in this fashion is not used. The Campbells of Auchmannoch, a very ancient family, carried their dead to Mauchline, which was the original parish. The Farquhars of Gilmilnscroft also buried there, but the right to burial was not claimed when the churchyard was closed some years ago. Miss Farquhar lies in Sorn Churchyard. Mr. Graham Somervell, the last patron of the church, is buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard. A beautiful white marble cross is placed over his grave, bearing the high and well-deserved eulogium, "After he served his own generation, by the grace of God he fell on sleep." There is a beautiful unique monument to the Rankens of Glenlogan, erected quite recently. It was designed in Australia and executed in Ayr.
There is a vault belonging to the Buchanans, formerly of Catrine Bank. Catrine Bank is now part of Sorn estate. There is a monument to the Rev. John Rankine, D.D., who is buried there. He was minister of the parish from 1843 until his death in 1880, aged 68 years.
Until about forty years ago the ancient jougs hung from the kirk wall. They were removed, no one knows by whom. About fifty years ago the parish school and schoolhouse stood nearly opposite the mill at the east end of the old bridge, and the little corner where the school stood now forms part of this quietest of country churchyards. A tall tree grows on the very spot where stood the desk of good old dominie Smith, who was master there for forty years.
Quietly the dead folks lie, surrounding the little church. The waters murmur their requiem and "the solemn pine trees like a funeral crowd" whisper their virtues. Not many great, not many noble, as the world counts such, lie there, but to all life is dear and death its inevitable shadow.
Through the clear silence of the moonless
dark, Leaving no footprint of the road it trod,
Straight as an arrow to its mark,
The soul went home to God.
"Alas I" they cried, "he never saw the morn,
But fell asleep, outwearied with the strife;"
Nay, rather he arose and met the dawn
Of everlasting life.
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