y) John Goudie 1717

John Goudie  (1721–1809)

John Goudie, (aka Goldie,Goudy,Gowdie) an extraordinary man of many talents, was born to parents John Goudie and Anna Farquhar at Riccarton near Craigmill in the parish of Galston. Nearly every biographer and historian gives Goldie’s birth as 1717 but the birth records for the family suggest otherwise.

John Goudie’s parents John Goudie and Anna Farquhar were married at Craigie in Ayrshire on Nov.6th 1714. They had the following children:-

                 MARY GOUDIE, b. October 2, 1715.Riccarton

                 JOHN GOUDIE, b. August 6, 1717. Riccarton

                 MARY GOUDIE, b. May 24, 1719; Riccarton m. WILLIAM GALLOWAY, March 10, 1736, 

                   JOHN GOUDIE, b. October 24, 1721. Riccarton

              WILLIAM GOUDIE, b. November 19, 1724. Riccarton

From the foregoing it is presumed that the first two children Mary and John died in infancy. It is the author’s theory that the famous John Goudie is actually the fourth child of his parents and his birth date was 1721. I cannot see any other explanation for the birth date. Is it not possible that early researchers found the first son’s birth record and mistakenly took this as correct? It is possible that the above parents are incorrect but the area is correct, the mill is correct and the dates otherwise support early biographies. Until an alternative explanation surfaces I am holding to my theory.                                                                                                                            

Where John’s forebears had been flour millers near Cessnock Water since the middle ages, he grew up in a very rural environment. He had little schooling, but after his mother Anna had taught him to read he soon learnt how to write, and displayed a noticeable curiosity and early mechanical aptitude. At the age of fourteen (1735) and with very basic tools and materials he constructed a miniature corn mill, which could grind a bowl of peas (probably a bowl of corn kernels) in a day. His young skills were soon well known around the area. He developed many interests and an almost insatiable curiosity into everything As illustrative of his interest for architecture for example, it is told that he once travelled all the way to Glasgow on foot to purchase a small book on the subject, which cost him two shillings; and returning the same evening, a distance altogether of nearly forty odd miles, “he never closed his eyes in sleep until he had made himself fully master of its contents”.

After spending his early years at Craigmill, he apparently became bored of a country life; his curiosity and improving skills urging him to a more exciting occupation. Although he served no formal apprenticeship and with very basic tools, he set himself up as a cabinet maker and established a small enterprise in nearby Kilmarnock. He was successful, beyond the expectations of many, and greatly excelled in the ingenuity of his productions. On one occasion, he manufactured a beautiful mahogany clock-case, on which he carved himself, with the most technical accuracy, the whole five orders of architecture. The item was too pricey for the locality of Kilmarnock; and he failed in finding a customer for it, until the fame of the clock reached the ears of the then Duke of Hamilton, who purchased it for thirty pounds, (an enormous sum in those days) and placed it in Hamilton Palace. (Hamilton palace was the largest non-royal palace in Europe-was demolished in the 1920’s)

With some new personal wealth, ever restless, and looking for new challenges Goudie subsequently purchased premises and soon established a profitable wine and spirit business in Kilmarnock.

Goudie, books and the sciences he engaged with had a much greater share of his interest than mere business. He read with avidity, and he was daily teaching himself in some of those complex branches of knowledge which are usually to be attained only by long and structured academic instruction. In this way he became master of Euclid, and made considerable progress in astronomy. In the course of his mathematical studies, he hit on a process of mental calculation by which he could solve the most difficult arithmetical problem with the greatest speed. It is reported that “a gentleman of his acquaintance, when in Edinburgh on one occasion, entered into a wager with a celebrated arithmetician of the metropolis for a rump and dozen, that he would produce a person in the west of Scotland who could surpass him in calculation. To gratify his friend, Goudie proceeded to Edinburgh; and the question having been given, the arithmetician set eagerly to work with slate and pencil, while Goudie, merely leaning his head for a few moments on his staff, gave a correct answer ere his opponent had well begun !.”

Goudie had a great deal to say on many subjects. In religion his outlook gradually moved away from the strictly orthodox Calvinism of his youth, his views became moderated and he had become close to being a deist. (The belief that reason and observation of the natural world are sufficient to determine the existence of God) Of medium height and heavily build, Goudie was known locally as ‘the philosopher’ and admired for his good sense and openness. He was on friendly terms with most of the local clergy, and liked nothing better than to debate at length with them; in argument, wrote Archibald M'Kay, he was ‘calm, dignified and powerful’

However he was in his sixties before his controversial views first appeared in print. Essays on various subjects; moral and divine; being an attempt to distinguish true from false religion was published in Glasgow in 1779 and ranged him firmly on the side of the ‘New Lichts’. Originally written in three volumes. He argued strenuously, but not always coherently, against the ‘lying vanities’ of those who interpreted the Bible literally. While stopping short of attacking divine revelation, he repudiated almost all other fundamental tenets of Christian belief. He contended that all scriptural texts must be subjected to ‘the infallible test, the nature and perfection of the true God’. Depravity and immorality cannot be conveyed by heredity, he argued, because sin is ‘only an act of the creature’ a clear anticipation of liberal Protestantism. Much of Goudie’s writings were heavy reading even for these early times but his viewpoint was very popular with many churchgoers who disliked some of the severe Calvinistic tenets. The Essays, as a literary production, display convincing reasoning, but the prose is awkward and poorly laid out, such as might he expected from the hand of a person who had not been schooled in the art of writing and composition. A second edition appeared in 1785, with a London imprint, but emanating, it is thought from the local press of John Wilson. This edition was entitled "Essays on various Subjects, Moral and Divine, in one volume, by John Goldie; to which is added, the Gospel Recovered from a Captive State, in five volumes. By a Gentle Christian.''

To study the history of the Church of Scotland in the eighteenth century is to see an era of confusion, controversy, dissent, division and damage to the church. Those who adhered most tenaciously to strict Presbyterian principles were sometimes known as whigs; another term was ‘Old Lichts’, because they opposed those who claimed to have ‘new light’ or new outlook on the “solemn league and covenant.”To go against church doctrine was fraught with danger because the Church leaders of the time had enormous power and influence but Goldie remained unscathed by his viewpoint.

Although his works were barred from all orthodox libraries ,Goudie’s onslaught on the fixed dogma and theological bigotry of the day was widely read throughout the west of Scotland and became known as ‘Goudie's  Bible’. Goldie was exceedingly accessible; and Burns had seen him more than once at his house in Kilmarnock. One day, the author of the Essays had occasion to be in the neighbourhood of Mosgiel: he called in passing; and in the course of, his stay, Burns and he “sallied” out to the fields, where, sitting down behind a stalk of corn—for it was the reaping season— the Poet read over one or two of his manuscript poems. Goudie was moved and highly delighted with the pieces. Burns was spontaneous and prolific and was later moved to pen an admiring verse ”Epistle in honour of Goudie”.

                                                                  Gowdie, terror o' the whigs,

Dread o' blackcoats and rev'rend wigs!

Sour Bigotry, on her last legs,

Girns an' looks back,

Wishing the ten Egyptian plagues

May seize you quick.

Auld Orthodoxy lang did grapple,

For every hole to get a stapple;

But now she fetches at the thrapple,

An' fights for breath;     

Haste, gie her name up in the chapel,

Near unto death.

It's you an' Taylor are the chief

To blame for a' this black mischief;

But, could the Lord's ain folk get leave,

A toom tar barrel

An' twa red peats wad bring relief,

And end the quarrel.  

For me, my skill's but very sma',

An' skill in prose I've nane ava';

But quietlins-wise, between us twa,

Weel may you speed!

And tho' they sud your sair misca',

Ne'er fash your head.

E'en swinge the dogs, and thresh them sicker!

The mair they squeel aye chap the thicker;

And still 'mang hands a hearty bicker

O' something stout;

It gars an owthor's pulse beat quicker,

And helps his wit.  

There's naething like the honest nappy;

Whare'll ye e'er see men sae happy,

Or women sonsie, saft an' sappy,

'Tween morn and morn,

As them wha like to taste the drappie,

In glass or horn?

I've seen me dazed upon a time,

I scarce could wink or see a styme;

Just ae half-mutchkin does me prime, -

Ought less is little -

Then back I rattle on the rhyme,

As gleg's a whittle.

Goudie’s ideas of original sin were progressive and appealed to Burns, who was also taking a vocal interest in 'polemical divinity'. Along with debate, polemics are one of the most common forms of arguing. Similar to debate, a polemic is confined to a definite controversial thesis. But unlike debate, which may allow for common ground between the two debaters, a polemic is intended only to establish the truth of a point of view while totally refuting the opposing viewpoint. Burns had his own views on the teachings of the church since he and some of his friends had come in for criticism from them.

Burns begins this humorous epistle by describing Goldie as 'terror of the whigs, / dread o' black coats and reverend wigs!' The term 'Whig', after its application to the Covenanters in 1648 and the Exclusionists in 1679, became political in England but in Scotland it was applied to the Presbyterians. The extreme side to these arguments is once again re-kindled by the image of an empty tar barrel with two red peats, an image that would immediately call into mind the spectre of old witch trials and martyrdom at the stake in Scotland's not-so-distant past. The execution of witches was still being practised only a few decades earlier.

The bond of friendship and respect between the two men was established initially through Burn’s knowledge of the Goudie rather than the other way round.

Burns confided in Goudie of his personal plans—he was on the verge of setting out for the West Indies, and Wilson (of Kilmarnock) would not run the hazard of publication. “Robin," said Goldie,” I’ll tell you what to do. Come your wa's down to Killie (Kilmarnock)some day next week, and tak' pat-luck wi' me. I ha'e twa or three guid friends that'll be able to set the press a-going." Burns was of course true to his appointment; and after dinner at Goudies home they were joined in a bowl or two of toddy by the friends whom Goodie had invited. Amongst these were the Town-clerk, Mr Paterson of Braehead; Dr Hamilton, Kilmarnock Place; Major Parker of Assloss, then banker in Kilmarnock; Dr William Moore; Mr Robert Muir, wine-merchant, &c. In the course of the evening, Burns read several of his pieces; and so delighted were the company, that they at once promised security to Wilson for the printing of Burn’s work.

Thereby Goldie put his thumbprint on history, and provided the first opportunity to bring the Bard’s works into the public domain; moreover, Goldie had helped persuade Burns not to leave Scotland for the West Indies. Goldie has not been given sufficient credit for his initiative, in fact, he barely has mention in most biographies of the Bard.. Firstly he recognised the genius of the Bard, secondly he found credible backers to have Burns published and thirdly by organising the get-together of interested parties he brought about the speedy printing of Burn’s works. Without Goldie’s intervention it is somewhat doubtful that Burns would ever have been published.

During the preparation for printing of his first volume, Burns was almost a daily visitor at Goldie's house, where he edited and corrected the proof-sheets for his first publication, and also wrote many personal letters. Lieutenant Goldie, R.N., (son of Goldie) many years later recalled the general persona and demeanour of Burns. At this period the Poet was rather unassuming  in his habits, and his dress' was composed of hand woven ' hodden gray," then the universal  dress of those working on farms. When the Bard returned from Edinburgh, however, he had undergone a vast improvement. The hodden grays were doffed for a fine light-gray single-breasted coat, striped vest, breeches, and topped boots. Much has been said of the easy self-possession displayed by Burns in his popularity with a society to which he had never been accustomed. Lieutenant Goldie thought  that Burn’s  manner in the company of those whom he might consider his superiors in class, was reserved and bashful—pretty much like what might be expected from most individuals with a common  agricultural background. The subsequent “sojourn” of the Burns in Edinburgh, and the continued whirl of high society in which he was celebrated, effected a noticeable improvement in his social confidence and dress. In the summer of 1786, the little volume, but with the huge hopes and fortunes of the bard and his backers made its appearance: it was entitled simply, “Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect; by Robert Burns;”

On the dawn of a new industrial age there was a great deal of interest in developing the coal fields around Ayrshire.Goldie soon took a business interest  in coal exploration and mining, where he lost severely, and was ultimately cheated by his partner. Around the same time,he tried to initiate a scheme for connecting Kilmarnock with nearby Troon by a canal, and even made a survey of the line. Even though this scheme had merit, the cost proved to be prohibitive.

Goldie maintained a keen interest in astronomy and he continued to write, although his style did not become much clearer with the years. His last work, Conclusive Evidences Against Atheism; in Vindication of a First Cause, appeared in 1809; this contained a prospectus for a projected work entitled A Revise, or a Reform of the Present System of Astronomy.

On 7th March 1809 he caught cold by “sleeping in a damp bed” at Glasgow, and died three weeks afterwards in Kilmarnock at the age of eighty eight, upholding his own opinions and retaining most of his faculties to the last. He left many manuscripts and letters from Burns, Lord Kames, and other celebrated men; but they were unfortunately lost during his son's absence at sea.

His portrait,shown above  with a globe behind him, was painted by Whitehead. It is said to have been an admirable likeness, and may be seen engraved in the ‘Contemporaries of Burns.’
Bob Galloway


J. Paterson : The contemporaries of Burns and the more recent poets of Ayrshire (1840) ·

A. M'Kay : A history of Kilmarnock (1848)

 J. A. Mackay : Kilmarnock: a history of the Burgh of Kilmarnock and of Kilmarnock and London District (1992)  

 R. Chambers :The life and works of Robert Burns (1896) ·

 J. Kinsley  :The poems and songs of Robert Burns (1968) ·

 F. B. Snyder : The life of Robert Burns (1932) ·

 M. Lindsay : The Burns encyclopedia, (1980) ·
 LDS Family Search web site.
 Scotland's People