Select Douglas Miscellany

Here are some Douglas stories and accounts over the years:

Origin of the Douglas Name

The traditional account, probably just a family fable, is that, around the year 770 during the reign of Solvathius, Donald Bane of the Western Isles, made a raid into Scottish territory and put to the rout the forces collected to repel his invasion.  

An unknown warrior - with his friends and followers - came to their aid and in the conflict which ensued Donald was defeated and slain.  When the king inquired as to whom he owed his deliverance, the stranger was pointed out to him by one of them, with the Gaelic words, Sholto Dhu-glas, – “behold the dark man.” The king was said to have rewarded him with a large tract of land in Lanarkshire, which with the river by which it is traversed was called Douglas after him.

Another source derives the origin of the name from Douglas water, tracing it to the Celtic words Dhuglas, the “darm stream.”  The story here, also unsubstantiated, was that the founder of the family was a Fleming named Theobald who came to Scotland about 1150 and received a grant of some lands on Douglas Water.

James the Black or the Good

James Douglas was called “The Black Douglas” by the English for his dark deeds in English eyes, becoming the bogeyman of a northern English lullaby:

“Hush ye, hush ye,
little pet ye.
Hush ye, hush ye,
do not fret ye.
The Black Douglas shall not get ye.”

There are also unsubstantiated theories that this was because of his coloring and complexion.  This is tenuous.  Douglas only appeared in English records as “the Black;” in Scots’ chronicles he was almost always referred to as “the Guid” or “the Good.”

"Good Sir James" died taking Robert the Bruce's heart on a crusade to the Holy Land.  Later Douglas lords took the moniker of their revered forebear in the same way that they attached Bruce’s heart to their coat of arms, to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies and exhibit the prowess of their race.

Douglas at Drumlanrig

A charter of 1356 showed that the barony of Drumlanrig was originally a property of the Earl of Mar.  In 1388, when James 2nd Earl of Douglas and Mar died at the Battle of Otterburn, the Barony of Drumlanrig passed to his son William Douglas who then became the 1st Laird of Drumlanrig.  

These Douglases played their part in Scottish affairs.  James Douglas was appointed guardian of the Western Marches in 1533 but then got involved in the conspiracies against Mary, Queen of Scots.  She included him in her list of "hell hounds and bloody tyrants without souls or fear of God."  

His great grandson entertained King James VI at Drumlanrig in 1617 in what was probably the second of the three castles which have stood on the site.  He thereby fulfilled the old prophecy:

 "He who stands on the Hassock hill
  Shall rule all Nithsdale at his will."  

William, the 3rd Earl of Queensberry, was born in 1637 and built the present Drumlanrig castle.  A member of the Privy Council in 1667, he was made Justice General in 1680 and then in rapid succession Lord High Treasurer of Scotland and Governor of Edinburgh Castle.  William died in 1695 and was succeeded by his son, James, remembered as "The Union Duke" for his role in the drawing up of the Act of Union between England and Scotland in 1707.

Today Drumlanrig castle is the Dumfriesshire home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry.

The Queensberry Curse

In 1858 the 8th Marquess of Queensberry, who was an MP and Lord Lieutenant for Dumfriesshire, shot himself dead with his own gun while out hunting rabbits.  Whether or not it was accidental is not known.In 1865 his second son Lord Francis was killed while climbing the Matterhorn.  In 1891 his third son Lord James Edward Sholto Douglas committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor in a London ­hotel.  A month earlier he had been summoned to appear in court on charges of defacing his census return.  He had described his wife as a “cross sweep” and “lunatic.”

The 9th Marquess, who had given his name to the Queensberry rules of boxing, was instrumental in the disgrace and ruination of the playwright Oscar Wilde.  Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s lover, was Queensberry’s son and it was Wilde’s ill-advised decision to sue the Marquess for libel that led to his exposure, trial and conviction for the then illegal offence of homosexuality. 

However, despite winning in court, 1895 was a terrible year for Queensberry. As well as losing Bosie, who was driven abroad by the disgrace of the trial, he lost his eldest son Francis in a shooting accident and another son, Sholto, was arrested in California for insanity.  Bosie married in 1902 but his only child died insane.

The Queensberry curse continued into the 20th century.  The most recent generation has included a former bank robber, the owner of a private investigation firm, and a brother of the world’s most wanted man Osama Bin Laden.  In 2009 Lord Milo Douglas, a young man who had been troubled by manic depression, threw himself to his death from a London tower block.

Henry Kyd Douglas in the Civil War

With the advent of the Civil War in 1861, Henry Kyd Douglas - a recently graduated lawyer – enlisted in the Confederate army.  Rising rapidly through the ranks he became in early 1862 the youngest member of the staff of Stonewall Jackson.  Henry kept a diary that would be published eighty years later as a book entitled I Rode with Stonewall.  

The Douglas family bore direct witness to the challenges of war and life in the border state of Maryland. Following the Battle of Antietam, the house and outbuildings of their plantation home at Ferry Hill were used by both armies in turn as a hospital and as housing for officersThe Rev. Robert Douglas, Henry’s  father, was taken prisoner and held at Fortress Monroe.  He was suspected of signaling to the Confederate soldiers across the Potomac river in Virginia via candlelight from an un-shuttered window.

Frederick Douglass and Daniel O'Connell

In 1845, as Ireland was descending into the great famine, Frederick Douglass arrived for a four-month lecture tour of the island. Douglass had escaped slavery in Maryland seven years earlier and had recently published his autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave.

Douglass was greeted in Dublin, Belfast, and Cork by enthusiastic crowds and formed many friendships on his trip, most significantly with Daniel O'Connell, a figure revered in Ireland for his role in Catholic emancipation and for his fierce opposition to slavery. O'Connell and Douglass shared the stage just once, in September 1845 at a rally in Dublin, but retained a mutual respect and affection until O'Connell's death less than two years later.  Douglass acknowledged O'Connell's influence on his philosophy for the rest of his life.

The Death of Robert Douglas in St. Kitts

Robert Douglas, who was in charge of the fortifications on the island of St. Kitts, died there in the most unfortunate way in early 1780.  He was leaning against the palisades which enclosed his courtyard; but being rather corpulent and heavy, the wood gave way.  He fell with great violence.  This occasioned a contusion of the spine and he died within twenty four hours, laboring under the most excruciating torture although he remained perfectly placid and resigned during this time. 

He left the bulk of his considerable fortune to his brother, Captain John Douglas of his Majesty's ship the Terrible.

James and Amelia Douglas in British Columbia

When Amelia was living with her family at Fort St. James she met an enterprising young Scottish clerk who was working for her father.  In the spring of 1828 sixteen-year-old Amelia married James Douglas, who was twenty-five.  Douglas was a competent man who rose quickly in the fur trade, becoming a chief factor by 1839. The couple settled at Fort Vancouver and Douglas later became chief factor and Governor of Vancouver Island and later of British Columbia. 

James was born of a native woman in the Caribbean and Amelia was part Cree.  Early in their married life Amelia risked her life trying to rescue Douglas from an attack by some angry natives.  Douglas had not understood the customs of the Carriers and Amelia had saved her husband by throwing bales of trade goods to their chief to restore his honor.  The warriors then released Douglas.

The Douglas family became the most prominent in British Columbia, and also the wealthiest.  Amelia lived in Victoria for forty years, but she often avoided its social life - perhaps because she was sometimes shunned because of her mixed-blood heritage and she had problems communicating in English.  When James Douglas was knighted in 1863, the shy and modest Amelia became Lady Douglas. 

Sir James died in 1877 and Lady Douglas lived a quiet life until she passed away in 1890 at the age of 78.  The remaining Douglas family then consisted of her four daughters, 16 grandchildren and five great-

Charlie Douglas, New Zealand Explorer

Charlie Douglas came to New Zealand in 1862 and for forty years explored and surveyed its West Coast region.  Described as heavily bearded and with a slight frame, he was accompanied throughout his years of exploration by a dog, first "Topsy," then "Betsey Jane," and then others.

While exploring, Douglas carried little in the way of equipment beyond some basic provisions (including tobacco for his beloved pipe). He supplemented his food stocks by hunting native birds and living off the land.  Although Douglas lived simply he supported himself by occasional work plus some infrequent funds sent by his family in Scotland.

He was a quiet, shy man, who was noted for his keen, accurate and entertaining observationsin his journals, sketches, watercolors and survey reports (to be found in John Pascoe’s 1957 book on Douglas).

When he was not exploring he was known to be a heavy drinker.   Later in his life he grew increasingly intolerant of tourists who were unwilling or unable to endure the hardships he had experienced.

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