• Agnes Higgins (author)


Blue Gum Tree



Publication Date



Written by Agnes Mathie Higgins.

Digitised by [name witheld].

William Murdoch (1759-1830)

At Bellamill a babe was born

In seventeen fifty-nine;

Well pleased his parents were to see

The boy was “doing fine”;

Right from the moment of his birth

Will's destiny was clear;

His childish games and cast of mind

Foretold the Engineer.

And so he found the joy of Sight;

In watching wheels go round;

The joy of Touch meant handling Tools;

Sweet music was their Sound;

His mill-wright father brought him up

In fear of God and man

And when the hours of school were o'er

His evening's work began.

He herded cows upon the hill,

He learned his father's trade;

And praise was given when praise was due,

For things that he had made.

And oft in Covenanters' cave

With coal from surface seam

He tiny bonfires made, and watched

Their glowing embers gleam.

Twas thus the use of gas he found,

In Ayrshire hillside cave

Young Murdoch was the first to see

That light and heat it gave.

And as he grew to man's estate,

His mind began to fill

With thoughts of all that he might learn

Were he to leave the Mill.

Two names held him in their thrall

Were Boulton and James Watt —

Heads of a famous English firm

That metal triumphs wrought.

To visit them he made resolve

To seek for their emply —

And straightaway preparation made

With unabated joy.

Till all at once his face did cloud —

His hat was soiled and torn,

And would not stand the journey South,

So badly was it worn.

“To be deterred for want of hat?

This shall not be my fate!”

So saying, Bill seized block of wood

A hat to imitate.

And as he worked, he thought the while

Of pride and pennies saved;

In fashion too, the thing was right!

Will's taste was not depraved!

When after careful hours of toil

He judged the task complete,

He bade farewell to those at home,

And stood up on his feet.

He tramped the road to Birmingham

To see the James Watt,

All dressed up in his Sunday best

Complete with wooden hat.

Twas Boulton gave the interviews,

And spoke so stern and cold,

Poor Will was flustered and distressed —

He'd meant to be more bold.

He sadly turned to leave the room;

But as he faced the door,

His hat slipped from his hand and fell

With crash upon the floor!

The great man eyed the noisy hat

With look of sharp amaze;

Non-plussed he studied Will again

With wide astonished gaze.

“Young man,” said he, “that hat of yours,

I pray you be so good

Am I awake — or do I dream?

Is it made of wood?”

Young Will agreed, and told the take;

That as his means were poor,

A model he could not afford

Of beaver or velours.

Of timber then he'd fashioned one,

Of sound well-seasoned wood;

“Upon a lathe!” the great man stared,

“I don't see how you could!”

“I made a lathe to make the hat,”

Will modestly replied.

“The brim I wrought, then with my lathe

An oval crown contrived.”

Boulton spoke without delay

“Young man, your place is here!

For fifteen shillings a week you'll work,

And learn to engineer.”

Thus quickly was the bargain sealed,

And Will retired with glee;

O'erjoyed that he had dropped his hat

In such good company.

In Birmingham he laboured hard

To earn his daily bread;

His own ideas he carried out,

'sides those in James Watt's head.

Then further south he was despatched,

To Cornwall village sent;

Where old machines he made like new,

And new ones did invent.

He longed to see an engine run

On wheels upon the road;

He planned, then built, his own design

First locomotive showed.

By power of steam the piston moved,

The tall black funnel smoked,

The water boiled, the wheels went round,

When Will the furnace stoked.

One evening late he took it out,

To start it, did succeed,

And walked in step beside it, till

It 'gan to gather speed.

Down Redruth village road it ran,

And fast and faster sped!

It disappeared from sight at last

The funnel belching red!

Then suddenly Will spies a form

—His reverence 'tis in truth!

—With frantic wildly waving arms

—The Vicar of Redruth

“The Devil himself I've seen,” he cries,

“Our sins have found us out!

'Twas horny shape with glittering eye,

And reeking fiery snout!”

By firm discouraged, Will did not

Improve his new device;

They doubtless thought, 'twere wiser not

To copy Satan twice!

He rose to fame in later days

But modesty retained

Renown and wealth meant nought to him,

He still unspoilt remained.

He laboured with steadfast zeal

Till eighty years of age,

And left us all his fruits of toil

—A splendid heritage.

He died in sight of Birmingham,

His earthly Paradise;

His rest well-earned, his life well spent

A goodly man and wise.

Ballad of the Girvan Family — 1941

Uncle William had a farm,

Glenfalloch was its name;

Four mountains stood within its bounds —

Who else could make such claim?

On rugged slopes he grazed his flock

A small and hardy breed;

Good prices at the mart he sought,

Small mouths at home to feed.

For what is man without a wife?

Aunt Hannah proved a worthy spouse,

And reared a family numbering nine —

In truth, a well-filled house!

Two-thirds were boys; six sturdy sons

Were William, John and James,

Then David, Thomas nex, and George;

Good plain but honest names.

They learned to work with hand and brain

To plough and tend the sheep,

To engineer and carpenter,

And how to sow and reap.

The daughters all were pretty maids

Nancy's cheeks were rosy,

Nettie's pale and Hannah's bright

Three flowers make a posy!

Their mother taught them all she knew,

Nancy laid the table,

Nettie cooked and Hannah helped,

So far as she was able.

But Uncle Bill was not content;

He had a great ambition

To spread the Girvan name and fame

According to tradition.

His first step then was down the Glen

To Inverarnan House;

Where once had lodged a Royal Queen,

Now dwelt a humble mouse.

Many a traveller there refreshed

Its praises used to sing;

The Inn was now a haunted real

“Dry-rot” its demon King!

The Girvan clan then set to work

With hammer, saw and nail,

They chiselled, planed and followed up

With paper, paint and pail.

They manufactured walls and doors

And filled up all the holes,

To make the dwelling-place of mice

Fit for human souls.

When summer came they welcomed in

Guests from far and near,

And each on his departure said;

“I will come back next year.”

Those who came gazed round an quoth

“What wizard has been here?

Electric light, hard tennis court,

And garage standing near!”

But the Girvans play as well as work;

They're fond of dance and song,

And games that range from “Catch the ten”

To “Murder” and “Ping-pong”.

While in that place of mysteries,

Behind the cook-house door,

Aunt Hannah bakes for hungry guests

Who joyfully short for more!

Her scones and pancakes merit praise,

Her shortbread's rich confection

Her cunning hands contrive meringues

Her plum tarts are perfection!

Once more the Girvan chief set forth

This time he faced the East

And found a goodly farm, well-stocked

With every kind of beast.

On hill and dale grazed sheep and cow

Pigs and poultry too,

While in the fields, tall waving wheat

And thriving root-crops grew.

There William Junior went across

To take the farm in hand;

With brothers' help, from morn he wrought

Till evening, on the land.

Despite success, Bill often thought

His but a wasted life;

Then fell in love, right violently

And took himself a wife!

Now Peggy's the lady of Ellemford Farm

To nobody's great surprise,

And Baby Helen's their pride and joy

The apple of their eyes!

They jointly kept the house and farm

In perfect law and order

So Uncle Bill took leave of both

And went and crossed the Border.

My tale is not quite ended yet,

For Uncle he did roam,

Till he came to rest in Lincolnshire

300 miles from home.

Otby Farm is planted fair

In good old English soil

With orchard, gardens, manor-house

And ample scope for toil.

There natives are of Welsh descent,

Some Norman, Dane or Saxon,

But one and all they found this Scot

A curious attraction!

They watched him while he tilled his land,

They listened to his speech,

They hearkened to his every word,

To learn what he could teach.

His right-hand man in this great plan

Was his second son named Johnnie,

Who loved the farm life and took to wife

A damsel wonderous bonnie.

They dwelt in farm in cottage on the hill

(twas two farms joined in one)

And their second year of marriage brought

The birth of an infant son.

With joyful news thus ends the tale,

Exhausted are my rhymes;

But the clan goes on from strength to strength

Today, as in olden times.

W.G.H.1 Develops Diptheria

Thursday evening:

There is a throbbing in my head,

My throat is tender, swollen, red;

My back and limbs are heavy, sore;

I don't feel hungry any more;

First I'm cold and then I'm hot,

Now what the mischief have I got?

I'll try a good hot cup of tea,

With asprins two, then wait and see.

I'll go to bed, 'neath blankets creep,

And lose my aches and pains in sleep;

And when it's time to rise next day

Perhaps I'll feel more bright and gay.

Next morning:

O Joy! My head feels cool and clear,

But monstrous throat! Thou still are here!

To gargle thee will do no good;

I simply cannot look at food.

I try to speak but only croak,

And when I swallow, all but choke.

'Tis plain a doctor I must seek

To gain relief before next week.

Friday 10.30am. ————————

“I'll take a swab” the doctor said,

“Here's powders three; Now back to bed!”

———————— Next morning (Sat.) in bed.

I try to sleep, and must have dozed;

—Was that the bell? A door now closed—

To lie in bed — oh what a bore!

Ah! There's a knock upon my door!

———————— Message recieved.

Good gracious! Am I in a trance?

Outside there wails an ambulance?

Off to hospital I'm whisked,

For dangerous dip. Can't here be risked;

Severe or mild, 'tis all the same—

Diptheria is an ugly name;

To isolation this I go;

What's that? —Yes, truly, 'tis a blow!

Four whole weeks there — till next new moon—

Good-bye just now! See you soon!

———————— Ambulance departs.

The Corrimony Goose

An unco' bird ae nicht was brocht

Tae Inverarnan Hoose

Where Hannah viewed wi' een dismayed

The Corrimony Goose.

She'd trussed afore baith turkey, duck

An' chickens — in the pook!—

An' blackcock, pheasant, pigeon, grouse,

She weel kent hoo tae cook,

But ne'er a goose had come her way,

Quo' she: “I maun tak sense!”

An' boldly pu'd the feathers aff—

Whiles tremblin' wi' suspense.

An' soon upon the table bare

It lay 'mong feathers white;

The air was filled wi' drifting' down

—A cloud o'snowflakes light.

She singed, an' cleaned an' stuffed the bird

An' put it in the pot,

An' set it on the stove awhile

An' syne in oven hot.

An' when the goose at last was carved

Behold! On ilka plate

Wi' tatties roastit an' bread sauce

It lay in lordly state!

An' there aroun' the table sat

A goodly company

That buckled to an' wired in

Wi' muckle mirth an' glee.

They praised the cook an' praised the dish

—Sic tender tasty fare—

Three stalwarts vowed each had a leg

Dissected wi' due care

An' when they'd emptied all the plates

An' naught but bones was seen

They walked an' cracked an' nibbled nuts

For it was Hallowe'en.

An' some may conjure visions up

O' wine an' Ne'erday Bun

But we'll aye min' the goose we ate

In Nineteen Forty One.

The Tale of the Golden Wonders

There was a young fellow called George

Who loved on potatoes to gorge;

And when they were new

He ate not a few—

That sturdy young fellow called George.

Then one day at dinner-time George

On too many platefuls did gorge;

With dull aching head

He retired to bed—

Full of pains and potatoes was George!

As he lay sick and sorrowful, George

Vowed that never again would he gorge;

“That enough is at least

As good as a feast

Is the lesson I've learned,” said George

Source Notes


Bill Higgins




Date Known

10 March 1940

A child is born to William Murdoch Girvan and Margaret Lynn Russell in Duns, Scotland. Sources: 1