The Word on the Street
home | background | illustrations | distribution | highlights | search & browse | resources | contact us

Broadside ballad entitled 'James M'Mourtrie'


This elegy begins: 'Right sorry were we all to hear of James M'Mourtrie's death, / Few cleverer, worthier, gude old chaps has death deprived of breath: / well known as 'Old Mortality' through all the country side, / He kept old gravestones in repair within a district wide.' The author's initials are given as 'D.S.' The sheet carries no publication details, but handwritten annotation above the title reads 'Kirkcudbright?'.

This is a ballad commemorating James M'Mourtrie, an old man who cleaned and repaired gravestones, and who was known as 'Old Mortality'. This nickname was almost certainly taken from the eponymous character in the first chapter of Sir Walter Scott's novel 'Old Mortality'. This character was an elderly native of Dumfries or Galloway who wandered southern Scotland, cleaning and repairing the graves of Covenanters who had been martyred during the reigns of Charles II and James VII and II.

The National Covenant was drawn up and signed by members of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1638. The Covenant denounced Roman Catholicism and asserted the Church's independence from the Episcopalianism practised by King Charles I and many of the nobles who supported him. The Covenanters were drawn into a civil war with the Royalists, and many suffered during the 'killing times' of the 1670s and 1680s.

previous pageprevious          
Probable date published: 1885   shelfmark: APS.3.82.6
Broadside ballad entitled 'James M'Mourtrie'
View larger image

NLS home page   |   Digital gallery   |   Credits

National Library of Scotland © 2004

National Library of Scotland