Poor Jack

14 Aug

The paintings in my grandparents’ drawing room did not hang quite right. This wasn’t because they had been badly hung but because the drawing room was oval (even the doors were curved), which meant they didn’t sit flat against the walls.

Some of the portraits were huge, like the one by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Lady Taylor behind the grand piano; others were much smaller, like the portrait (also by Reynolds) of my 6 x great-grandfather, Robert Graham of Gartmore (known as Doughty Deeds), which hung over the fireplace. His portrait was flanked by two much larger ones (both by Robert Edge Pine). To the left of the fireplace was a portrait of his brother-in-law, Simon Taylor (at the time of his death reputedly the richest man in Jamaica) holding an ornate cane in his right hand and a plumed bonnet in his left. To the right was a portrait of Doughty Deeds’ younger brother, John, wearing a red coat and holding his grey horse. It was the latter that attracted my attention most.

We were told that it was a portrait of Colonel John Graham of Kippen, who had supposedly fought with Wellington at the Battle of Assaye (September, 1803) and had been mentioned in despatches. He certainly looked very martial in his fine red coat with its gold tasselled epaulettes and the button holes all laced in gold thread, worn over a similarly decorated buff waistcoat, his long black hair loosely tied back, left hand resting on a basket hilt sword while he held his horse’s reins his right.

Robert+Edge+Pine-Colonel+John+Graham+Of+Kippen,+Third+Son+Of+Nicol+Graham+Of+GartmoreColonel (sic) John Graham of Kippen by R. E. Pine

This was the family myth and we all accepted it; though on reflection, his “uniform” does seem somewhat theatrical.

Years later I was to discover the truth about “Poor Jack” as his family called him. A wastrel and a gambler, he ran up huge debts wherever he went and his strict father, who despaired of him, finally washed his hands of him, leaving his older brother to bail him out. Perhaps there was a message in laird Nicol granting his third son use of Kippen, which lies on the very edge of the estate, as the old local expression, “beyond Kippen” means “at the end of the world”.

Poor Jack was born in 1741 (making very unlikely that he would have taken part in the Battle of Assaye as he would have been 63 years old) and, like his siblings, he was christened in the parish church at the Port of Menteith. He did see military service but only as a Lieutenant in the Honourable East India Company from which he was dismissed for insubordination in 1771– hardly an advertisement for a regular army commission! He died sometime before 26th May 1772, which makes it impossible for him to be the Major (later Colonel) John Graham the family myth proclaimed him to be.

Don Roberto claims that John had a son Jack, who was also a worry to his family, though, if true, nothing is known of his mother. However, I have been unable to find any reputable source to validate the claim. The most reliable source, The Red Book of Perthshire (Gordon MacGregor, 2008), states that Jack died without issue. I suppose it is possible that he had an illegitimate son that was kept out of the official records but who is mentioned in one of the letters on which Don Roberto based his biography of Doughty Deeds. Some day when I am in Edinburgh and have the time, I shall have to look.

As with so many family myths, two people who just happen to share the same – and in this case, very common – name, have been compounded through a descendant’s wild leap of imagination.

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