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Romance of the Earldom of Kellie

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     It is not often that a coronet passes over sixteen or seventeen intervening heads to light upon that of a person eighteenth in remainder. Yet such an event happened in the middle of last century in the noble Scottish house of Erskine, which enjoys, among other honors, the earldom of Kellie. If anybody will be at the pains of turning to the pages of Sharpe's Peerage, he will see that, while Mr. Methven Erskine was married to Joanna, daughter of Gordon of Ardoch, in Rosshire, his brother Thomas was also married to that lady's sister Anne. He will also see that both of these gentlemen outlived their seniors, and became Earls of Kellie, and that their respective ladies also lived to become countesses. ‘Marriages,' they say, ‘are made in heaven,' but, as these two unions came about through a shipwreck, the truth of the statement may be doubted.
     The Castle of Ardoch stands perched on a rock high above the waves of the German Ocean, on a headland somewhere between Turbat and Fortrose. The owner of this domain (Mr. Adam Gordon) in one of the last years of the reign of George II, or soon after the accession of George III., was walking late one evening in his grounds, when he heard a gun fired as a signal of distress by a vessel in the offing. It was a very stormy night, and he knew that there was little chance for a good ship which got near the rocks of that headland when a strong east wind was blowing. He called his servants and tenants, however, and hastened down a cleft in the rocks to the beach; but no traces of the ill-fated vessel were to be found, except a few broken spars and some small fragments of timber floating hither and thither upon the waves. These they tried to collect as they came to the shore, and among other wreckage was a sort of tiny crib of wicker-work, inside of which was a female infant, alive, in spite of the cold and wet to which she had been exposed. It was the work of a few moments to rescue the little stranger, thrown, like a second Undine, upon a strange shore.
                                   ‘--The waves have hither brought
                                   The helpless little one.'
     From the clothes wrapped round its tiny body it was clear to Mr. Gordon that she was a child of parents of no low condition; but there was in her clothing no clue as to who or what her parents might be, nor was there anything to show the name of vessel thus lost and swallowed up by the waves.
                It was a matter of course to a hospitable .Scottish heart like that of  Mr. Gordon to take the little foundling home and have her wants attended to by his wife and daughters. He doubtless supposed, and at first probably hoped, that ere long the little waif of the sea foam would be claimed; and in the meantime the latter was reared with his own children, who were young and who came soon to regard her as a sister.
     Years passed by, and the little foundling was growing up to womanhood, and was endearing herself more and more to all the members of the Ardoch family, when one wintry and stormy evening another alarm gun was fired by a vessel in distress off the same cliffs. ' History,' they say, ‘repeats itself,' and it would seem occasionally in trifling as well as in important matters. Mr. Gordon hastened down to the beach, as he had done some sixteen years before, just in time to witness another shipwreck. The vessel went to pieces on the rocks, but some, at all events, of the crew and a single passenger were saved. These were invited to rest and dry themselves at the ‘great house,' where every hospitality and refreshment was offered them. The passenger was evidently a gentleman, and the next morning at breakfast he took particular notice of the daughters of his host, and of the other young lady whom I have already introduced to my readers. The stranger was evidently much struck with her appearance, and, finding that she was not like the other girls, he made some inquiries about her, when he heard the story of her having come to Ardoch as a ‘foundling,' and having been saved from the jaws of the ocean as by a miracle. The stranger listened with great interest and emotion and said that at the date corresponding with her infancy his own sister, with a little infant, was lost in a vessel off the eastern coast of Scotland, which foundered in a storm.
     As is often the case, the unexpected not only is probable, but often does happen in reality. And so it was here. The cot or cradle in which the foundling came ashore, on being shown to the new-comer, was pronounced to be singularly like that which his sister had made for her before she left India. The features of the young lady, too, corresponded with those of his own relatives. Further inquiries brought out other points of similarity, and a mark on the little lady's coverlet bore the initial letter of her father's and mother's name. The foundling orphan, there could be little doubt, was his own sister's child.
     The gentleman was a merchant, and the shipwreck which he had suffered had not ruined him. He bad a home at Gottenberg, in Sweden.  It was open for the reception of his niece, and there was a little fortune ready for the young lady there in case she should ever be found. Twenty years, however, had endeared her to her sisters, as she called the Misses Gordon, and she was unwilling to go to Sweden with her newly-discovered uncle, unless one of the Misses Gordon would accompany her, and the other promised to come and stay with her upon her sister's return to Scotland.
     Accordingly, Miss Anne Gordon sailed with her adopted sister from the port of Leith for Sweden, where, in 1771, only a few weeks after landing at Gotenberg, she became the wife of  Mr. Thomas Erskine, a younger brother of Sir William Erskine, of Cambo, in In Fifeshire, who had long been settled there as a merchant, and was a man of wealth. Not long afterwards the young lady, whom I can only describe as the foundling of Ardoch, followed her example; but I do not know the name of the man who offered her his hand and his heart, so I can only hope that , she lived happy ever afterwards.'
     But, whether this was the case or not, at all events the sea offered no obstacle to the intimacy which existed between the good people of Ardoch and those in Gottenberg. And so it came to pass that, some nine or ten years later, Miss Joanna Gordon was married to Mr. Methven Erskine, the younger brother of her sister's husband. Deaths followed in rapid succession in the family of Lord Kellie, and in 1797 the earldom devolved on Charles Erskine. He lived, however, to enjoy the title little more than two years, for in 1799 he followed his ancestors to the grave, and the earldom of Kellie passed to his uncle and heir, Thomas Erskine, who had been for some time a consul in Sweden. And so it came to pass that the incident of a shipwreck twenty or thirty years before resulted in bestowing the coronet of a countess first on one and then on the other of the two Misses Gordon of Ardoch.
     One kinsman of the last of these two noblemen is the present Earl of Kellie, the same to whom the House of Lords in 1875 adjudged an earldom of Mar, created, or supposed to have been created, in 1565, whilst the old historic earldom of Mar, whose origin, according to Lord Hailes, is ‘lost in the mists of antiquity,' is still borne by the heir of line of the house of Erskine, John Francis Erskine Goodeve-Erskine, as son of Lady Frances Jemima, sister of the last earl, and grandson of John Thomas, thirty-second holder of the ancient earldom of Mar, and also tenth Earl of Kellie.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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