Apr 172019
2019 is the 200th anniversary of the death of a number of contributors to the Old Statistical Accounts. This provides a perfect opportunity to discover those who wrote the actual parish reports at the end of the 18th century and so learn about the people behind this great resource.

Below is a guest blog post written by John Moore, an independent researcher, focusing on the writer of the parish report of Borthwick, County of Edinburgh (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 622-639), the Reverend John Clunie.


This month sees the bi-centenary of the death of the Reverend John Clunie (1757-1819), minister of Borthwick from 1791 until his death and author of the parish entry in the Old Statistical Account. Clunie was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in December 1784 and was a schoolteacher in Markinch for a while. His first charge was at Ewes parish before he moved to Midlothian. He had a reputation as a fine singer and led his congregation as precentor in his church at a time before organ music accompanied services. He wrote a version of the Scots song ‘I lo’e na a laddie but ane’ and his reputation as a song-writer led to an acquaintance with Robert Burns, who described him as ‘a worthy little fellow of a clergyman’. During his time of office, Clunie served as Chaplain to the Eastern Regiment of the Midlothian Volunteer Infantry. He married Mary Oliphant, daughter of the minister of Bower in 1790 and his son, James, subsequently became commandant of Moreton Bay Penal Settlement in Australia between 1830 and 1835.

Published in 1794, his extensive description of Borthwick states that ‘the air is pure; the inhabitants in general are healthy, and subject to no particular local distempers.’ (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 623) He notes that the six leading proprietors, who would have been the parish heritors, owned nearly half of the property. In discussing agricultural improvement, Clunie mentions James Small of Ford, the best plough-maker in Scotland who produced up to 500 ploughs in a year and introduced a superior cast-iron version of this important farming tool. Like many other accounts, the author mentions ale-houses ‘which are by no means favourable either to the health or morals of the inhabitants.’ (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 627) Having been a teacher, Clunie also provides much detail about the parish education and the ‘sort of genteel starving’ faced by the local schoolmaster. (OSA, Vol. XIII, 1794, p. 628) The Account estimated the parish population at 858.

A photograph of Borthwick Church

Borthwick Church

Borthwick Church stands in a dominating site close to Borthwick Castle, which Clunie describes in his account. The east part of the building is substantially medieval with a 12th century apse and the 15th century Arniston Aisle. Medieval fabric survives inside, notably the magnificent Borthwick tomb and pre-Reformation piscina. Clunie’s account relates that the old church suffered a serious fire in May 1775 and was rebuilt three years later. The church continues to serve Middleton, Borthwick and the surrounding area.


We would like to thank John for this guest post. Look out for the next installment in May!

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