John Seaton Goes Motoring

John Seaton, a retired shepherd, did not go motoring until he was 98 years old, but when he did go, he found it very exhilarating.

John was born 10 months after the battle of Waterloo, on 10 April 1816, when his parents William Seaton and Marion, née Fergusson, were living at Burnfoot at Marbrack. He first went to school in 1822 in Dalmellington when his father was shepherding at Mossdale.

When William got a job at Craigengillan in 1825, he joined with John McMillan at Strahanna to get a young man to teach their children during the winter. One of these teachers was John Inglis from Moniaive, who would live with each family for alternate weeks.

A newspaper recorded of John Seaton that: “He remembers well the dry summer of 1826, when the burns were all dried up and the trout died in the small pools. He has also a vivid recollection of the big snowstorm which commenced on March 3, 1827. Another snowstorm commenced on March 23rd of the same year, and the snow was still lying on the ground when the lambing commenced… He has a clear recollection of the farmers riding away to Edinburgh to see George IV. His father knitted overalls – rig and fur – for his master John McMillan for that journey.”

John Seaton’s “first place on entering the shepherd’s career was at Bush o’ Kells, where he was for four years." This was followed by a year at the Gelt, near Cumnock, "and afterwards he was twelve years at Lorg, in the employment of the late Mr McTurk. Among his early experiences was droving sheep to a great fair in Westmoreland, long before the railway invaded the pastoral solitudes of the south-west.”

John Seaton married Sarah Menzies in Dunscore and in 1852 they moved to Cornharrow to work for Mr Thomas Ramsay.

John Seaton’s first ride in a motor car was in 1914, during the first week in August. "On that occasion he said. ‘If anybody asks me where I am going I will say “I’m off to the war”. He was driven from Dalry “to Carsphairn, stopping in passing, at the spot where he was born nearly a hundred years ago… his words to the chauffeur were – ‘Gang as hard as ever ye like’. Where the road was straight and clear he did just get a taste of what it is to go at 35 miles an hour.”

A year later he was off again.

“His motor run on Saturday was along roads and amongst hills which he had tramped constantly the greater part of last century… a ride in a well-cushioned and easy-springed motor car was a great treat to him… He was no sooner on the road to Carsphairn than the exhilaration of the open air and swift motion had its effect upon him, and he broke out into song…

“The run was along the high road to Carsphairn as far as the Ken: then up that river as far as Smeaton Bridge where his grandmother, Jean McCall lived at the beginning of last century: thence along the road to Moniaive. Every road and hill and house he knew, and he told what would come into view at each turn. Amongst dwellings that have disappeared except their ruined walls there were Mary Bell’s old house, the back house of Fingland, and the old toll bar. At one part of that road Cornharrow, where he was shepherd for 39 years, is visible, and, as we stopped for a minute, he gazed eagerly at his old home. As some recognition of his long service at Cornharrow a certificate and medal from the Highland and Agricultural Society were presented to him, and now hang upon the wall of his cottage. He looked with renewed interest at the woods and houses once so familiar to him along Craigdarroch Water right on to Moniaive. From Moniaive he went on to Penpont to see his daughter: the two places on the wayside which appealed to him most being Scaur Bridge Church, of which he was once a member, and the Barr, where he put up the horse when he went to the kirk… On his way home he called to see his son at Moniaive, and was soon surrounded by a group of old friends. He returned to Dalry up the Castlefern Water and derived real pleasure from the run of 15 miles.”

Regrettably John Seaton never made his third motor journey, as he had hoped, as he died on 1 February 1916. He was buried in the churchyard at Carsphairn a few weeks before his hundredth birthday – the oldest shepherd and perhaps the oldest inhabitant of the Stewartry.

Sources: Dumfries & Galloway Standard: 12 August 1914; 14 August 1915; 4 February 1916

Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser: 4 February 1916

Note: Thanks to Colin Watret for a print-out of the Seaton family tree.
© A.B. Hall