Hamilton, Gavin (1753-1805) (DNB00)

HAMILTON, GAVIN (1753–1805), friend of Burns, was the son of John Hamilton, a native of Kype, Lanarkshire, who settled in Mauchline, Ayrshire, as a writer or solicitor, in the first half of the eighteenth century. Gavin was one of a family of three sons and two daughters, their mother's name being Jacobina Young. By his second wife, said to be a daughter of Mr. Murdoch, Auldhouse, John Hamilton had a son and a daughter, the latter afterwards being Mrs. Adair, Burns's ‘Sweet flower of Devon.’ Hamilton, following his father's profession, became one of the leading men in Mauchline, and, siding with the ‘New Light’ clergy in the great ecclesiastical dispute of his time, was the object of a bitter attack by the kirk session of Mauchline, who belonged to the whig or ‘Auld Light’ party. They found him contumacious regarding a ‘stent’ or tax for the poor, the collection and distribution of which, under his management, were marked by inexplicable irregularities; and they further charged him with breaking the Sabbath, and neglecting church ordinances and family worship. Above all, in his own defence, Hamilton had written an ‘abusive letter’ to the session.

The farm of Mossgiel, in the neighbourhood of Mauchline, was rented from the owner by Hamilton, and farmed under him on a sub-lease by Burns and his brother. This interested Burns in his case, and gave additional point to the powerful ecclesiastical satires which he wrote between 1785 and 1789. Hamilton is specially banned by ‘Holy Willie’ as one that ‘drinks, and swears, and plays at cartes.’ He was apparently a man in advance of his time, whom persecution urged into a more pronounced attitude of revolt than he would spontaneously have adopted. Ayr presbytery, to which Hamilton appealed, after a long and wearisome contest, decided in his favour (July 1785), and the session gave him a certificate clearing him from ‘all ground of church censure’ (Chambers, Burns, i. 135). Burns remained his steadfast friend; wrote to him some of his most interesting letters; honoured him with a vigorous and clever ‘Dedication;’ and composed for him an epitaph, the spirit of which tradition endorses, to the effect that he was a poor man's friend unworthily persecuted. Hamilton's wife was Helen Kennedy, daughter of Kennedy of Daljarroch, Ayrshire—hence the ‘Kennedy's far-honoured name’ of the ‘Dedication’—and he had a family of seven children, to several of whom Burns makes affectionate reference in his letters. Hamilton died on 8 Feb. 1805.

[Cromek's Reliques of Burns; Lockhart's Life of Burns; Burns's Works, especially the editions of Chambers and W. Scott Douglas; Dr. Edgar's Old Church Life in Scotland; special information communicated by the Rev. Dr. Edgar, Mauchline.]

T. B.