James Mortrie

James Mortrie

Entitled “A Galloway Character”, this piece was written by R. J. Shennan, and published in the Gallovidian Annual of 1930.



Born at Cainleys, in the parish in which he spent his life, 22nd March 1809, and died 24th September, 1855.

The above was a “character” well known in Crossmichael and the neighbouring parishes. The older people of that district will remember him – a somewhat short, squat man, with a bleary look on his face and tobacco juice showing at the wicks of his mouth (for he was an inveterate chewer of tobacco).

In his latter years his brain was addled with drink, but in his earlier days it showed promise of great capabilities. A love affair was supposed to have changed the current of his life, and, if such was the case,

The woman that slighted his amours,

A devil certain let loose.”

He served no apprenticeship to his trade, but was certainly an able exponent of his own calls of work. Many a tombstone in the country “kirkyairds” was lettered by “Mortrie” and the tap of his mallet and chisel was a well-known sound.

He was also of an inventive disposition. He made a reaping machine; also a machine for making wooden pegs, at that time used by bootmakers. He did not court money or recognition for this, as he destroyed each machine when he saw it could do the work he made it for.

He was adept at cleaning “wag-at-the-wa’” clocks. “Clocks cleaned here and elsewhere”. Such was his sign to the public foe this class of work.

He now sleeps peacefully in a corner of his native “Parish Kirkyaird,” and although he was the butt of the old boys they were fond of him. To keep his memory green they have marked his resting place with a simple cross of freestone.