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THE MASTER OF SINCLAIR 1750

[Sir Walter Scott]

John St.Clair, Master [heir apparent] of Sinclair, born 5th December 1683, was the eldest son of Henry, Lord Sinclair, first baron of the Herdmanston line. He served as lieutenant in Marlborough’s army with good reputation, but in vindication of his honour slew two oflicers, brothers to Sir John Shaw of Greenock. Tried by court-martial, 11th October 1708, he was sentenced to death, but in consideration of the great provocation given, recommended to the royal mercy, and meantime, with the connivance of Marlborough, escaped in to Prussia. On the advent of the Tory administration in 1714 a pardon was accorded him.

NOTE - The Master [heir apparent] of Sinclair was, in 1708, chosen member of Parliament for the county of Fife.

In 1715 he reluctantly espoused the Jacobite cause. A vessel loaded at Leith with fire locks and other weapons intended for Sutherland got wind bound at Burntisland. The Master being apprised of the circumstance, "suggested the seizure of these arms by a scheme which argued talent and activity, and was the first symptom the loyalists had given of either one or the other. This gallant young nobleman with about fourscore troopers, and carrying with him a number of baggage horses, left Perth about nightfall on the 2nd October and to baffle observation took a circuitous road to Burntisland. His arrival in that little seaport town had all the effect of a complete surprise, and though the bark had hauled out of the harbour into the roadstead, he boarded her by means of boats, and secured possession of all the arms, amounting to 300 stand". At Sheriffmuir the Master led the Fifeshire squadron and two squadrons of Huntly's cavalry, forming the advance of the whole army, but remained inactive on the field, being, it seems, held in check by the dragoons of Argyll's second line. After the defeat the Master proceeded north to Strathbogie, and thence to Orkney, where, after viewing the ruins of the ancestral stronghold at Kirkwall, and moralising thereupon, he seized a vessel and escaped with some of his companions in misfortune to the Continent, where he remained until 1726, in which year he received a pardon for life. He then returned to Scotland, and resided at Dysart till his death, 20th November 1750. He seldom ventured to Edinburgh, and always travelled armed and well attended, prepared for attack by the Schaws or other enemies. He married, first, Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter of James, fifth Earl of Galloway, and secondly, Emilia, daughter of Lord George Murray, and sister of the third Duke of Atholl, but had no issue by either wife. In 1735 he had bought the Rosslyn estate, and was succeeded by his brother, General James St.Clair.

A DISTINGUISHED DIPLOMATIST

The Hon. James St.Clair, de jure [rightful] Lord Sinclair, was brother of the Master [heir apparent] of Sinclair. He was a General in the British Army and a distinguished diplomatist. Hume, the celebrated historian, was at one time a member of his staff. The estate of Ravenscraig had, about 1715, been settled by Henry, Lord Sinclair, on the General and his brother, Major William, nominally in supersession of the Master of Sinclair, but virtually in conservation of his interests, as they were to account for the income to trustees appointed on his behalf. General St.Clair died without issue in 1762, when the estates became alienated from the St.Clair lineage and passed into possession of the Erskines.

NOTE - The Hon. James St.Clair became Colonel in 1722, Major-General in 1741, and on 4th June 1745, Lieut.-General with command of British forces in Flanders. In 1746 he was appointed to the command of a force of 6,000 men originally intended to act against Quebec, but eventually sent against Port L'Orient with all additional 2,000 men. Large reinforcements having been thrown into the town, he resolved to abandon the siege, and after destroying the forts in Quiberon Bay, re-embarked for England on 17th October 1746. The historian Hume was his secretary during this expedition. General St.Clair afterwards acted as ambassador to the courts of Vienna and Turin. On 10th March 1761, he was promoted to the rank of General. He sat in the House of Commons for many years, being chosen for the Dysart burghs in 1722, 1727, and 1747; for the county of Sutherland in 1736 and I741; and in 1761 for the county of Fife. He died at Dysart. 30th November 1762, being then Governor of Cork and Major-General on the staff in Ireland. By his wife, Janet, youngest daughter of Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, and widow of Sir John Baird of Newbyth, he left no issue.

AN UNFORTUNATE ENVOY

MALCOLM, BARON SINCLAIR, SVENSK MAJOR (1691-1739)

[Scottish Soldiers of Fortune, by James Grant]

Few events created a greater sensation in Sweden than the tragic fate of Major Malcolm Sinclair in 1739. He had previously been captured by the Muscovites at the decisive battle of Pultowa in 1709, and sent to Siberia for thirteen years. One of the most favourite officers of King Frederic, he was basely assassinated by Russian emissaries on his way to Constantinople bearing important despatches with reference to a treaty between Sweden and the Porte. The infamous Russian Court, having examined the despatches, coolly sent them, via Hamburg, to that of Sweden. Then the excitement became great. At Stockholm the population rose and wrecked the houses of Catherine's ambassador, crying out "that they were inspired by the soul of Sinclair". The remains of the latter were placed in a magnificent tomb, inscribed thus, by order of King Frederic: "Here lies Major Malcolm Sinclair, a good and faithful subject of the kingdom of Sweden, born in 1691, son of the worthy Major-General Sinclair and Madame Hamilton. Prisoner of war in Siberia from 1709 to 1722. Charged with affairs of State, he was assassinated at Naumberg, in Silesia, 17th June 1739. Reader ! drop some tears upon this tomb, and consider with thyself how incomprehensible are the destinies of poor mortals."

[Scots' Magazine, 1740]

His fate is feelingly alluded to in verse by Arders Odel, a noted poet, in the well-known lines of "Malcolm Sinclair's Visa".

SENATORS OF THE COLLEGE OF JUSTICE

Several Sinclairs have been Senators of the College of Justice. Mention has already been made of Henry St.Clair of the Roslin family, who in 1537 was appointed a Lord of Session, and in 1558 became Lord President. On his death in 1565 his brother John St.Clair, then Dean of Restalrig, was advanced to the Presidentship, having been previously admitted as a Lord of Council and Session under the title of Rector of Snaw, 27th April 1540. Both these brothers were learned in the law, and held in the highest estimation for their judicial qualities. At an interval of two centuries the qens again supplied two contemporary Lords of Session in the persons of John Sinclair, Lord Murkle, and George Sinclair, Lord Woodhall:

JOHN, LORD MURKLE (died without issue 1755)

was the second son of John Sinclair, 46th Earl of Caithness. He married Jean, daughter of the first Earl of Cromarty, by Anne, his wife, daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Mey. He died in 1755 without issue. He was appointed Solicitor-General on 18th January 1721.

GEORGE, LORD WOODHALL (1761-5)

from "The St.Clair Papers":

George Lockhart Sinclair was the second son of Sir John Sinclair of Stevenson, Baronet, by Martha, daughter of Sir John Lockhart of Castlehill. He became one of the Senators of the College of Justice by the title of Lord Woodhall. Alexander Sinclair, Earl of Caithness (brother to Lord Murkle), in l761 executed an entail of Murkle and his other lands in favour of Lord Woodhall and his heirs-male of line. On the Earl's death in 1765, under this destination, the succession was taken up by Sir John Sinclair of Stevenson, nephew of Lord Woodhall, the latter having died without issue.

THE PASTOR OF KEISS

SIR WILLIAM SINCLAIR OF DUNBEATH, BARONET 1767

from "The St.Clair Papers":

Sir William Sinclair of Keiss was the eldest son of Sir James Sinclair, first baronet of Dunbeath, by Isabel, daughter of Sir Archibald Muir of Thornton, Provost of Edinburgh.

Keiss was founder of the Baptists in Caithness, who cherish his memory with affectionate regard. On embracing Baptist views Sir William went to London, where he was formally baptised, and admitted a member of his adopted church. He commenced preaching in Caithness about the year l750, and continued to do so with great zeal for the space of fourteen years. In 1750 he formed the church at Keiss - the earliest Baptist church in Scotland - over which he regularly presided as pastor. In 1765 he removed to Edinburgh, where he died in 1767. His hymnal - containing some sixty songs of his own composition - was published in his lifetime, and is still in occasional use in his Keiss church. It is styled "A Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs", by Sir William Sinclair, Minister of the Gospel of God and servant of Jesus Christ. In his younger days it is stated that he was a short time in the army, where he learned to become an expert swordsman. He rendered a service to the Earldom by capturing a noted high wayman, one Marshall, the "Robber of Backlas", who had long levied blackmail on all and sundry, and terrorised the neighbourhood, having twice broken into the castle of Keiss and once into that of Dunbeath.

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