Sir Alexander Gibson, Lord Durie
By Dr Bruce Durie
Gibson was not in any sense a true Durie. He took his judicial title when he became President of the Court of Session (the equivalent of the top High Court judge) in 1621, and from his acquisition of lands from the Durie family around 1614, including the Durie lands at Scoonie, near Leven,. There were sold to Gibson to defray legal costs incurred by the Duries. See Henry Kemp-Durie and Scoonie for more detail.
If we are to believe a traditional story, retold by Sir Walter Scott and taken from a ballad published in his 'Border Minstrelsy,' Gibson was once kidnapped by the Earl of Traquair when he was Lord Treasurer of Scotland. He was engaged in a lawsuit of great importance to him, to be decided in the Court of Session, and probably depended on the casting-vote of the President, Sir Alexander Gibson, Lord Durie, who was not of the same opinion as Traquair. Durie was a very fine lawyer and also a scrupulous judge in the days when such men were not common in Scotland. There was a saying at the time: 'Show me the man and I'll show you the law'. Gibson was immune to persuasion, bribes and intimidation, so Traquair decided he should be got rid of. A fellow Borderer of Traquair's, William Armstrong (known as 'Christie's Will' and a descendant of the famous Johnnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, who had been imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Jedburgh for his marauding), was in debt to Traquair for his liberty and probably his life. The Earl asked the bold moss-trooper for his help and he agreed to kidnap Gibson and keep him secure until the case was decided. It was well known that Lord Durie often rode his horse at Leith sands without any attendants. When Gibson was taking his constitutional one day, Armstrong engaged him in diverting conversation and led him to a quiet, secluded common, called the Figgit Whins. Suddenly, Armstrong pulled the judge from his horse, blindfolded and trussed him up, then carried him by unfrequented roads south to the Tower of Graham, a castle in Annandale, near Moffat.
Tradition says that one George Meldrum, the younger of Dumbreck, and three Borders thieves, actually did the kidnapping and transporting of Gibson Lord Durie, at the instigation of Traquair. Alternatively, he may have been carried off again on another occasion, poor man.
Meanwhile, Gibson's horse was found wandering on the beach. It was assumed that the judge had been thrown into the Forth and drowned. His friends and family mourned his "death" and a successor was appointed to his office by the Lord Treasurer - someone more likely to find in his favour. The Lord President spent three dismal months in the dungeon of Graham Tower, getting food through a hole in the wall and seeing no one, " never hearing the sound of a human voice, save when a shepherd called upon his dog".
The Ballad goes:
'For nineteen days and nineteen nights
Of sun, or moon, or midnight stars,
Auld Durie never saw a blink,
The lodging was sae dark and dour.
He thought the warlocks o' the rosy cross
Had fang'd him in their nets sae fast,
Or that the gipsies' glamoured gang
Had lair'd his learning at the last.
"Hey Bawty lad far yond far yond"
These were the morning sounds heard he;
And een "alack" Auld Durie cried,
"The Deil is hounding his tykes on me"
And whiles a voice on Baudrons cried,
With sound uncouth, and sharp, and hie;
"I have tar-barrell'd mony a witch,
And now I think they'll clear scores wi' me"'
AUTHOR of the article: Dr Bruce Durie - Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org