The Mary McLellan Memorial in Kirkpatrick-Durham Churchyard

Feature Article by  Sally Bijl

The memorial dates to around 1697, with the following relief carving on the tabletop portion of the structure:

“HERE LYES THE EMI-  
NENTLY GODLY MARY  
Mc LELLAN LADY OF                                
CORSOCK WHO DIED
SEP 28 1697 WHOS
HUSBAND JOHN NEIL-
SONE LAIRD OF COR-  
SOCK FOR APPEARING
FOR THE COVENANTS

A
T PENTLAND SUF-
FERED MARTYRDOM
AT EDR* DECR* 14 1666
AND IS BURIED THERE
IN GRAYFRIERS  

AND JOHN NEILSONE OF CORSOCK
SPOUSE TO ANNA GORDOUN WHO

DIED THE 24 DCMR
* 1706 WHO WAS  

PIOUSLY DEVOTED WITH HER-
OICK COURAGE TO MANTINE* THE
WORK OF REFORMATION AS

WAS HIS PROGENITOR’
         

* Edinburgh ,                 * December.                  * Maintain.

The top of the tabletop gravestone and surrounding carvings are shown on the images below for reference.

 

John Neilsone, as an active member of the Covenanters in the Stewartry has no registered memorial.  He died without renouncing his beliefs.

The historical significance of this memorial is unique, since it provides a link between the McLellan/Neilsone family and the Act of Indemnity 1662.  John Neilsone, Laird of Corsock, was one of the leaders in the 1662-1666 Covenanter uprising in the Galloway .  His deeds included, in 1662 giving shelter to the evicted Presbyter ian minister of Kirkpatrick-Durham, Reverend Gabriel Semple. Gabriel Semple failed to attend the Anglican appointed bishop and be formally appointed by him instead of elected by the local congregation.  He also attended Gabriel Semple’s first, and subsequent, ‘Conventicles’ (outside preaching) in Corsock Wood and neighbouring fields.  This led to the planned capture of Sir James Turner (sent to defeat the rebellion) in 1666, and the subsequent march on Edinburgh to appeal to the Privy Council for amends.  The Covenanters only got as far as Colinton, near the foot of the Pentland Hills, where they were confronted and defeated by government troops.  The leaders of the uprising were tried, including John Neilsone, and convicted for treason culminating in their hangings in Edinburgh between 7th and 22nd of December 1666.  Since there is no burial site of John Neilsone, Laird of Corsock, in his home parish the inscription on his wife’s, Mary McLellan, gravestone is a local memorial to his beliefs.

 The structure shows the close link Kirkpatrick-Durham and the Stewartry had to national events in the 17th century.  There are plenty of contemporary and later documents on the overall history but not much research on the local area. 

Nationally 17th century gravestones are a rarity, which makes close investigation and preservation of unusually carved structures essential.  This gravestone has clear relief carving on the top and sides of the tabletop:  a skull on the west end, crossed bones on the east end, both “…emblems of mortality or death” (Guide To Gravestone Carvings, website, see bibliography);  and a winged angel’s head symbolising “…resurrection and the metamorphosis of the soul…” (The Church Monuments Society website, see bibliography) plus a heart pierced by Death’s arrow on the southern side.  These carvings are in excellent condition, and were used on gravestones predominantly in the 17th century.  The common inscriptions of this period were concerned with mortality, and warning the observer of their inevitable fate, not in memory of the deeds of the Neilsone family.  Again, the text sets the tabletop grave significantly apart from the rest of the churchyard burials. Unfortunately, there is one area of deterioration on the relief carvings on top due to weathering.  The lower part of the inscription from: “…AND JOHN NEILSONE OF CORSOCK…” until the end of the inscription (lines 15 – 21 of the inscription), but the care and work of the inscription is still very clear.

Finally, the social value of this memorial is exceptional.  In using of the phrase:  “… JOHN NEILSONE LAIRD OF CORSOCK FOR APPEARING FOR THE COVENANTS…” (lines 6 – 9 of the inscription) a connection to a historical document was made.  One of the beliefs of the Presbyter ian Church was the right of the congregation to choose their own church minister, not to have them chosen by outside bishops.  This could be shown as touching on both religious and political ideas.  Democratic and social freedoms are some of the main principles in any democratic state.

Bibliography:

C.H. Dick (1924),       Highways & Byways in Galloway & Carrick                     Macmillan & Company, pp 444, 482, 484.

M. Kaye (12/06/1995),  The Covenanters

http://www.theglenkens.org.uk/the-covenanters

Corsock & Kirkpatrick-Durham Church ,

  http://www.ckpd.org.uk

Post 14 Curriculum,   The Scottish Government http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/curriculum/post14/Q/forceupdate/on

  The Church Monuments Society,   http://www.churchmonumentssociety.org/newfile21.htm#SCALES

W.E. Wolsey       Guide To Gravestone Carvings

        www.rocinante.demon.co.uk/klhg/tullkirk/tull2.htm

Australia ICOMOS      (1988)      Guidelines to the Burra Charter: