Old Glassingall, Thomas Stewart Smith & RLS
- Super User
Old Glassingall has two connections to Kidnapped (information provided by Ailsa Gray, Glassingall):
1. Old Glassingall and Alan Breck Stewart and James Stewart of the Glen
Old Glassingall was one of the houses visited by James Stewart in May 1752 (and possibly Alan Breck). Within days of Alan Breck bringing him news from France, James Stewart travelled to Edinburgh visiting known Jacobite lairds. One of these lairds, Archibald Stewart, was laird of Glassingall. He was a known Jacobite and his father (Alexander Stewart) was an ‘agent’ or ‘fixer’ for the Stewart clan.
At James Stewart’s trial, the Jacobite lairds visited by Alan Breck and James Stewart were cited as defence witnesses. This included (Archibald Stewart, Glassingall, his cousin, John Stewart of Annat, Stewart of Ballochallan and Stewart of Glenbuckie). They were all deeply connected to the events in the run up to and after the murder. The Glenbuckie and Annat houses were raided by Government troops.
Stevenson, who holidayed in Bridge of Allan, Dunblane and Balquhidder, would have found out about the local Jacobite lairds who had supported Alan Breck and James Stewart. A circular walk along the Allan Water would have taken him from Dunblane to Kinbuck and then back through the Glassingall Estate to Dunblane. The Glassingall Estate would have had additional intrigue as it was the site of the Jacobite Camp prior to the Battle of Sheriffmuir. The (formerly Roman) road that Rob Roy Macgregor as scout led the army from Ardoch to Glassingall is still visible on the estate.
The Glenbuckie, Ballochallan and Annat houses are loosely on the route Stevenson had David Balfour and Alan Breck take as their escape route. Old Glassingall, on the other hand, is right on the route (See the probable course of David Balfour’s Wanderings map). The reason for this may be the second connection that Old Glassingall has to Kidnapped.
2. Old Glassingall and Thomas Stewart Smith as inspiration for David Balfour
The second connection arose in Stevenson’s lifetime. For a period of 8-years when Stevenson holidayed in the area, there was a court case over who would inherit the Glassingall estate involving 17 claimants. It involved many of the local Stewart gentry and Thomas Stewart Smith (Archibald Stewart’s great grandson).
Thomas Stewart Smith’s life story is very similar to that of David Balfour and I believe that Stevenson used this for the opening scene of Kidnapped and later in Catriona. Smith, like David Balfour, was orphaned as a boy and faced financial ruin. He also discovered from a kindly friend of his fathers that he had an uncle he knew nothing about who lived in a dilapidated family estate. His father and uncle had fallen out over a girl never to speak again. Smith and David Balfour would both struggle to inherit their Uncle’s estate.
Between 1858-63, Smith who knew nothing about his family, would discover his Royal Stewart heritage and bloodline to the Glassingall, Annat and Appin Stewarts. This information was included in the court petitions and family trees drawn up by the Stewart claimants. He would discover that they were prominent Jacobites and their involvement in the Appin affair which had occurred just over one hundred years before.
Later, after Stevenson’s father had bought him a copy of the James Stewart Trial papers, he would have discovered many familiar names from his childhood holidaying in Stirlingshire.
I believe that Stevenson based the character David Balfour on Thomas Stewart Smith, and by doing connected this young orphan with his Stewart family and the notorious murder case and trial of James Stewart of the Glen.
When Smith died he left the entire value of his estate and his collection of paintings to set up the Stirling Smith Museum and Gallery which was ‘to be free to the people of Kinbuck, Dunblane and Stirling’. Stevenson visited the Smith more than once and was drawn to a man who was in many ways very similar to himself. I also attach a copy of a speech I gave at the Stirling Guildry dinner that draws out some of these similarities and why, someone like Smith, would have stuck in Stevenson’s mind for years to come.
Old Glassingall was built in 1745 and still stands today. It is a local tradition that Stevenson and his mother visited Thomas Stuart Smith.
Speech given by Ailsa Gray to the Stirling Guildry dinner, 2018:
Thomas Stuart Smith – The man behind the museum
Thomas Stuart Smith’s gift of The Smith Museum and Gallery remains one of the largest bequests ever made to Stirling. Despite this, he receives little fanfare and as Alistair has mentioned is not remembered in Guildry’s toast - a wrong that I know Alistair wanted to make right this evening.
I became interested in Thomas when I discovered we’d bought his home in Dunblane. Wanting to find out more I visited the Church of the Holy Rude with Alistair to look at his memorial. Thomas’s stone was one of 7 commemorating Stirling’s benefactors. The last on the right, it was shrouded in darkness. According to the church volunteer the bulb that should have illuminated it had long since blown and not been replaced. Somehow apt for Stirling’s forgotten benefactor. The end of Thomas’s inscription reads “He was a man of genius, an artist of great ability, and an earnest lover of truth.”
Wanting to know what this meant, I decided to research Thomas Stuart Smith. He was born in either 1815 or 1816, and we can’t be more specific than that. He didn’t know when or where he was born; nor did he know the identity of his own mother. His only memory of her was shortly before she died when she implored, “please forgive your father.” These words would haunt Thomas, and it would be many years before he would discover their true meaning.
As a young boy living in London, Thomas was already showing promise as an artist. But he too became very ill following an attack of ‘brain fever’. This may have escalated his father’s decision to send him to boarding-school in rural France. London may well have been the first City of the British Empire, but poverty was rife, the Thames ran thick and black with raw sewage and disease lurked in the labyrinthine alleys.
After a couple of years at boarding school, Thomas stopped receiving his father’s letters and the school fees stopped being paid. Quite incredibly, the schoolmaster agreed to complete Thomas’s education if he stayed on as a junior master to re-pay his father’s debts.
By 1835, Thomas had done this and was living in London with the family of his school-friend John Trimnell. His father was indeed dead, but to his great surprise he discovered an uncle in Scotland he knew nothing about. Thomas also found out the devastating truth behind his mother’s last words – that he was illegitimate.
Within two years, Thomas was again in France working as a tutor for a French noble and play-mate of an exiled French-King. Thomas’s world became one of French Chateaus and Italian Palaces. It was in Naples that he found a master-painter – Marsigli – and began to pursue his passion for painting. Thomas’s compassion was evident when he took under his wing Giovanni, a poor but talented Neapolitan painter, who didn’t have the means to pursue his art.
By 1839, Thomas had stopped tutoring to paint full-time, and was now accepting his uncle Alexander’s support. In return, Thomas sends his uncle paintings which were hung on the walls of his Glassingall estate.
Over the next 10-years, Thomas paints in Naples, Rome, Venice and Sicily. But not everything goes to plan. Since childhood, he had suffered from depression – which had started around the time of his mother’s death. He had long periods where, he was unable to pick up a brush. Despite his depression, Thomas paints when he can, and it is by cruel coincidence that his Uncle Alexander dies just before Thomas’s career takes-off.
As his uncle’s Will could not be found, Thomas had to fight an 8-year court battle against 17 other claimants to inherit the Glassingall estate. This was no mean feat, the other claimants included the descendants of Stirling Provosts, Deans of the Guildry and the Royal Stewarts.
I find it sad, that Thomas struggled to even prove that he was his father’s son. This, as well as his illegitimacy, was used against him in court.
Thomas would not have succeeded in inheriting his uncle’s estates had it not been for the help of his father’s eminent friends. They gave evidence and bought Thomas’s paintings so he could pay his legal costs. Sir Richard Owen, who founded the Natural History Museum in London, bought a painting which Edwin Landseer would regularly take off his wall to exclaim at its brilliance. Thomas was indeed a man of genius and an artist of great ability.
Thomas only lived in Glassingall for 6-years before he sold up to move to London. He now had the means to collect the works of art that adorn the walls of the Smith.
It was in London that there was one last controversy, Thomas submitted a painting to the Royal Academy - called the Pipe of Freedom. Its subject was a former slave portrayed as independent and free. In the background is the Emancipation Proclamation pasted over a placard announcing a sale of slaves. The painting celebrated the abolition of slavery in the United States. Thomas was furious when this painting was rejected on political grounds. He was indeed an earnest lover of truth - not scared of staying true to his values and standing up for the rights of his fellow men and women.
In late 1869 Thomas took Mrs Smith to Avignon in the South of France and on the 31st of December whilst getting up from the dinner table, he suffered a massive heart-attack and died. When his friends travelled to Avignon to collect his belongings, they discovered propped up against the wall a painting called “The Signal” by the Scottish artist John Phillip. A painting of a Spanish senorita that Thomas loved so much he took her everywhere. A painting that his friends had jokingly referred to as Mrs Smith. Thomas had died the way he had spent most of his life – alone.
It is perhaps not surprising that when a young Robert Louis Stevenson visited the newly opened Smith Gallery that he was enthralled by its benefactor. He would have heard the gossip about Thomas and the court case through the many local characters that were involved.
We know that it was in Stirlingshire that Robert Louis Stevenson obtained the inspiration for the plots and characters for many of his books. After Stevenson’s father bought him the trial papers for James Stewart of the Glen, Stevenson ditched his idea of writing a history book and instead wrote a fictional novel about one of the most controversial political stories of his time.
The story of the brutal oppression of the Highland clans after the 1745 rebellion. The house burnings, the forfeited estates, the abject poverty, the evictions, the clearances of the people from their land, forced onto boats to be indentured in the colonies. He wrote about the framing of an innocent man – James Stewart - for the murder of a Government agent. The kangaroo court that convicted him, his execution at Ballachulish - thus ensuring that any chance of a future rebellion was snuffed out.
In his book “Robert Louis Stevenson and the Scottish Highlanders”, David Morris, made the connection between Thomas Smith and Robert Louis Stevenson’s greatest fictional character - David Balfour. Stevenson made David Balfour the hero of both Kidnapped and its sequel Catriona. Aspects of Thomas’s life were borrowed – the orphaned boy, the discovery of an uncle in a sprawling Scottish estate and the boy’s fight to inherit what was rightfully his.
But, the connection between Thomas and Robert Louis Stevenson goes beyond the fictional character of David Balfour. Thomas’s great-great grandfather, Alexander Stewart, who built Old Glassingall in 1745 was a descendant of the Royal Stewart’s and a fixer for the Stewart Clan - and certainly his Will reads like a Who’s Who of the 1715 rebellion.
Alexander Stewart’s son, Archibald, was one of the Stewart lairds that received James Stewart during his fateful journey to drum up support for the Appin tenants. He travelled from Appin through Balquidder, Dunblane and on to Stirlingshire and if this route sounds familiar, it was the route taken by the fictional David Balfour and Alan Breck when they were fleeing the “red coats”. Indeed, Archibald was cited as a witness for the defence at the Trial of James Stewart. His evidence was that James Stewart was garnering support for the tenants not preparing for rebellion. Not that it mattered - the government had already decided James Stewart would hang.
If Thomas Stuart Smith was an inspiration for the character David Balfour, then his Stewart relatives were the inspiration for the plots of both Kidnapped and Catriona.
I believe that Robert Louis Stevenson saw himself in Thomas. They were both only children, artistic and often lonely. Suffering serious illness at a young age and chronic ill-health in later life. Both seeking out warmer climes. Both deviating from their fathers’ profession, choosing art over commerce. Both writing beautiful, evocative prose. Seeking inspiration and solace in nature. Both championing the underdog. Stevenson - the plight of the Scottish Highlanders and Smith - the rights of former black slaves.
They were both sensitive and compassionate - refusing to accept the official narrative at face value. They were willing to take up the struggle of those who were less fortunate regardless of the political repercussions. Establishment they were not! Thomas insisted that his gallery be free ‘to the artisan and working classes’. At a time better known for elitism and inequality, he made sure everyone - regardless of their social status - had access to the beautiful paintings, artifacts and books in the Smith.
Our world today is not so different from the World that Stevenson wrote about and that Smith painted. We are living in a time of war, greed and inequality. It is astonishing that in the 21st century there is the need for a Modern Slavery Act to protect the vulnerable people of today from their predators. My how far we’ve progressed! If society is to move forward then we should try, like Stevenson, to tell the whole story and endeavour, like Smith, to see the whole picture.
Despite only living in the area 6-years, Thomas Stuart Smith gifted his entire wealth to the people of Stirling. When Stirling Council announced it was withdrawing its funding for the Smith, it was the people that fought back. 11,000 citizens - in a matter of weeks - signing the petition to keep it open. It is crucial that Stirling recognises and cherishes both Thomas Stuart Smith and his gallery - as they both form an important part of Stirling’s social history.
© Copyright, Ailsa Gray, 2018