EX LIBRIS

The following coat of arms is to be found on a column in the Lower Church near and to the North of the Tapestry.  Although I had been aware of it for some time, it was only when I was asked by Margaret Sainte Claire that I took the trouble to find out more about it.

It is, in fact, the Coat of Arms of the family of the Hopkirks of Dalbeth.  It’s colouring is a silver cross on a red background with gold fleur-de-lis.

Thomas Hopkirk, born in 1785, was the eldest son of James Hopkirk and Christian Glassford daughter of the famous tobacco merchant, John Glassford. In 1835 Glasgow University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his scientific attainments.

Thomas Hopkirk was married to Agnes Parlane and had eight children.  She died in 1836 the same year as his father. They had lived at Dalbeth but after this he and his children moved for a time to Helensburgh and then to the Isle of Bute.  While there, in 1837, he published a book anonymously entitled “The Juvenile Calendar or Natural History of the Year”. Unfortunately no copy of this work appears to exist today.  Reference is made to it by Robert Turner in “Thomas Hopkirk of Dalbeth: Life and Botanical Work”, a paper read in 1885 to the Natural History Society of Glasgow.  This gives an account of the work describing it as, “… a pleasant little treatise … written in a racy easy style.  In it we perceive the work of one to whom all Nature was a delight.”

He subsequently moved with his children to Belfast to work with the Ordnance Survey.  His appointment was to survey the flora of the Irish counties and to collect specimens.  However, he had to resign after two weeks due to ill health.  He became a friend of his successor, David Moore, who was later to take charge of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland at Glasnevin, Dublin. Thomas Hopkirk’s descendants live to this day in Northern Ireland, and family stories have been passed down. It is said that he used to go out for a ride on horseback every day into the country, and that he continued to receive regular communications from Glasgow. His continuing interest and involvement in botany is made clear in a letter, dated 6 August 1840, to Sir William Hooker, Professor of Botany in Glasgow, shortly before he left to become Director of’ Kew Gardens.  It is still held in the archives there. Noting that, “… it looks very like presumption in me to aspire to a situation that had been filled by you”, he explains that, “I have no thought of succeeding on this occasion and more especially as I have a competitor I believe whose botanical knowledge must cast any little I possess entirely into the shade”.  (Professor John Hutton Balfour, Hooker’s successor). He then asks for a ‘Certificate’ from Hooker which, “may lead to some other similar situation”. Thomas Hopkirk died in 1841.  The following year; the year the Botanic Garden was moving to its present site in Kelvinside.

Why then is the Hopkirk’s Coat of Arms carved on a column in the Lower Church?  It appears that James Hopkirk was a member of the Barony Congregation which met in the Lower Church from 1595 until 1801, and that he was largely responsible for the new church they moved into which stood roughly wheree the present block of flats now is beside the gates to the Necropolis.

Iain Macnair
Librarian and Archivist.