Menzies, John (1756-1843) (DNB00)


MENZIES, JOHN (1756–1843), founder of Blairs College, Kincardineshire, was the last member of an ancient family long settled at Pitfodels, Aberdeenshire, which had always adhered to the Roman catholic faith. He was born on 15 Aug. 1756, a few months after his father's death. The care of his education devolved on his mother, a daughter of the house of Kirkconnel. She resided for some time at Dinant in Belgium, where her son was educated, and, on the breaking up of the Jesuit College there, she applied in 1774 to Bishop Hay, vicar-apostolic of the lowland district of Scotland, for permission to employ the services of Sir Alexander Strachan, the ex-jesuit missionary at Kirkconnel, in completing the education of her son. Hay was compelled, however, to decline the request. It has been said of Menzies that for thirty-seven years he never became aware of distress or difficulty without exerting himself to relieve it. Sir Walter Scott, writing on 30 Jan. 1827, says: ‘About three, Pitfoddels called. A bauld crack that auld papist body, and well informed. We got on religion. He is very angry with the Irish demagogues, and a sound well-thinking man’ (Journal, 1890, i. 349). In the course of that year Menzies conveyed to Bishop Paterson his beautiful estate, with the large mansion-house of Blairs, Kincardineshire, about six miles from Aberdeen. There the college dedicated to St. Mary, for the education of secular priests, was opened 2 June 1829, and the students from the two seminaries of Aquhorties and Lismore were removed to the new institution. Menzies was also a munificent benefactor to the convent of St. Margaret, Edinburgh, opened in 1835. For many years he discharged the duties of convener of Aberdeenshire, and he was a member of the Abbotsford Club, to which he presented ‘Extracta e variis Cronicis Scocie,’ 1842 (Lowndes, Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn, App. p. 38). He died at Greenhill Cottage, near Edinburgh, 11 Oct. 1843.

[Catholic Mag. new ser. (July–December 1843), ii. 295; Catholic Mag. and Review (Birmingham, 1831–2), i. 281 n.; Irving's Eminent Scotsmen, p. 348; Hist. of St. Margaret's Convent, Edinburgh, pp. 104–8; Sir W. Scott's Journal, i. 347, ii. 168; Stothert's Catholic Mission in Scotland, p. 129.]

T. C.