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Kelvinhead now forms part of the Banton estate, and is held by the present representative of the Cadell family. One hundred years ago, it was tenanted by the Bairds, whose names are so closely associated with the construction of the most important work in the neighbourhood of Kilsyth, the Great Canal joining the Forth and Clyde. No part of the canal proper is in the parish of Kilsyth, but it closely skirts its southern boundary, and, roughly speaking, follows the line of the Great Roman Wall. Sometimes it runs parallel to the wall, and sometimes it intersects it. But although no part of the canal is in the parish, it is still from the Kilsyth hills its water supply is obtained. In Kilsyth loch, an artificial reservoir, into which are drained a portion of the waters of the Garrel and the Banton burn, the canal company, at a trifling outlay for embankments, have provided themselves with water storage. The reservoir is a work which reflects the greatest credit on the skill and ingenuity of the engineers.
The idea of establishing a water communication between the Forth and Clyde is as old as the time of Charles II. It was not, however, till the time of Smeaton the work began to take practical shape. That celebrated engineer made a survey of the district, and estimated the cost of the construction of a 5 ft. canal at ^80,000. The necessary Parliamentary sanction having been obtained, the work was begun in 1768, under Smeaton's superintendence. The first sod was cut by Sir Laurence Dundas on the 16th July. In the summer of 1775, the canal was completed as far as Stockingfield. By this time the capital and the ^50,000 which the company had borrowed had both run done. The prospects were gloomy. The shares dropped to half their original price. When matters had come to a standstill, the Government came to the rescue and advanced ^50,000. It is said that this sum was the revenue which the Government derived from the forfeited estates. On this matter there seems to be some confusion, for the sale of the possessions of the Jacobites only brought the smallest return to the Government. Be this as it may, the sum was not a gift, but a loan, on which the company were to pay the ordinary dividend. In 1786 the cutting was resumed under Robert Whitworth, and on the 28th July, 1790. it was opened from sea to sea. The ceremony of opening was performed by pouring a hogshead of water from the Forth into the Clyde, in the presence of the magistrates of Glasgow and a vast concourse of people.
Hugh Baird, so intimately associated with Whitworth in the undertaking, was the son of Nicol Baird of Kelvinhead. Hugh was born at Westerton, in the parish of Bothkennar, on the ioth September, 1770. Nicol Baird was in the employment of the Canal Company in the year 1772. On the nth November, 1779, he was appointed surveyor or inspector of the canal. During ten years of Nicol Baird's lifetime, his son Hugh assisted his father, who had been specially appointed to see to the construction of the canal through that difficult reach which intersected Dullatur Bog. Nicol Baird died in January, 1807. The son greatly profited by his father's training and practical knowledge. He was an authority on the construction of locks. The canal locks were all designed and formed by him, and at the time, they were looked upon as a great engineering feat. He filled the office of resident-engineer, which was created in 1812. He was present at the trial of Symington's paddle-wheeled vessel on the canal. The vessel was named the Charlotte Dundas, and was the first practical steamship in the world. Her powers were tested in the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1803. When Hugh Baird saw how the surge raised by the paddles washed away the canal banks, he declared if Symington could only get something which would work after the manner of a fish's tail, and propel the vessel from behind, he would be certain of success. It would consequently seem as if on that occasion, so memorable in the annals of steam navigation, there existed in some nebulous, ill-defined form in the brain of Hugh Baird, an idea which, if he had been careful to follow out, might have established him as the inventor of the screw propeller.
The Union Canal was opened in 1822, and Mr. Baird was the engineer who superintended its construction. He had two sons and one daughter. The sons went to America, and one was an engineer and the other a farmer. Hugh Baird died at Kelvinhead on the 24th September, 1827. The firm who now carry on the Glasgow Great Canal Brewery and Maltings, are the lineal descendants of the Bairds of Kelvinhead.
1843 and After—Rev. Henry Douglas —His Amiability— "Rabbi Duncan "—Work at Saline and Alexandria—Douglas and M'Cheyne engaged to Sisters—Inducted to Kilsyth—Reception—William Henry—Douglas's Personal Appearance— Delicate Health and Death—Rev. Alex. Hill—Preaching and Urbanity—A Distinguished Family—A. K. H. Boyd—Church Membership—Galloway Bequest—Translation to St. Andrews —Dr. Park—"In like manner I shall go"—St. Andrews Session Minute.
In 1843 the Church in many places received a double blow. The resignation of ministers beloved and trusted was an injury in itself of a serious kind. On the other hand, it was often the case that the ministers called to fill the numerous vacancies were by no means possessed of the talents of those who had seceded. In the emergency, men of mediocre power were promoted to parishes which, otherwise, they never would have had the least chance of obtaining. Such appointments were, without doubt, greatly hurtful. But there was no one to blame. The Church had to work with such tools as she found at the crisis lying to her hand. In the circumstances, picking and choosing were out of the question, and so the vacant pulpits were replenished and the work went on. And it was attended with a success which far surpassed the most sanguine expectations of the Church's best friends. The sowing in tears was succeeded by a reaping time of joy. From the ground the Church rose rapidly to be a power and influence for good in the land she had never been before.
In Kilsyth the Church had only one of these sufferings to bear. Dr. Burns, but coldly welcomed at the first, had in the course of his ministry established himself in the respect and esteem of the parishioners. When he seceded, consequently a considerable number seceded with him. Although on the Sunday after his return from Edinburgh there were not a dozen worshippers who gathered in the parish church, there was still a much larger number that remained faithful. And these had no occasion to hang their heads because of any short-coming in his successor. Than Henry Douglas a better appointment could hardly have been made. He was a man of singular loving-kindness, of gentle and urbane manners, and of agreeable and friendly disposition. He was deeply read in Scripture, a man full of the Holy Ghost, and a minister who knew nothing amongst his parishioners saving Jesus Christ and Him crucified. He fed the flock with the finest of the wheat. Certainly he led them by the still waters. I have looked over all his sermons, and not one have I found dealing with the prevailing controversies, or openly expressed malice of the times and circumstances amidst which his lot had been cast. He received from many in the parish indignities andjnsults, but he walked straight onward in the footsteps of his Master. He did not return railing for railing, and being reviled he reviled not again. And the result of his beautiful patience and tenderness is a memory that is sacred, a name that is fragrant like an ointment poured out, and a lingering regret in the place of his ministry that as a faithful ambassador of Christ he was neither honoured nor appreciated as he ought to have been. In the place where he worked as