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MacKenzie, Selkirk, Simpson
Lord Selkirk


VERY rarely has a benefactor made his return voyage across the Atlantic Ocean so utterly cast down as Lord Selkirk was in 1818. Full of hope and determination he had, in 1815, sent out his military governor, Semple, in whom he confided much. Though full of anxiety Selkirk had nevertheless come to Montreal full of determination and resource. But now the condition of his remote and helpless colonists, the opposition of the governing powers in Canada, his expensive and discouraging lawsuits, and the mental suffering that comes to a proud spirit when it is beaten and broken—all these combined to make his return to his native land a most melancholy one.

Soon after His Lordship's return his friend, Sir James Montgomery, brought the serious features of Lord Selkirk's treatment in Canada before the British House of Commons, moving for all the official papers in the case. The motion was carried and the Bluebook known as that of 1819—contains a storehouse of material, where the patient student may find recorded the chief facts of this long and heart-breaking struggle.

The mental condition of Lord Selkirk soon began to prey upon his body—never very strong at the best. He sought in his overstrained state the assistance of his friends, and his self-vindication seemed to be the only topic on which his active mind spent itself.

In the year following his return from Canada, and when all about him became fearful for his health, his friend, Lady Katherine Halkett, in order to give his mind occupation and comfort, appealed to his old college friend—now become the most influential elan in many ways in Scotland—Sir Walter Scott, requesting his aid in placing fairly before the world the misrepresentations of Lord Selkirk's enemies. The chivalrous Sir Walter was suffering acutely at the time, and was unable to comply with Her Ladyship's wish. The writer was fortunate in obtaining from Lord Selkirk's family (1881) a copy of the letter which Sir Walter Scott wrote in reply, and it may be well to give as much of it as bears upon the subject :-

"MY DEAR LADY KATHERINE,—I was most exceedingly indisposed when Your Ladyship's very kind letter reached me. . . The bad news your favour conveyed with respect to my dear and esteemed friends, Lord and Lady Selkirk, did not greatly tend to raise my spirits, lowered as they were by complete exhaustion. . . . I am afraid I have already said enough to satisfy Your Ladyship how ill-qualified I am, especially at this moment, to undertake a thing of such consequence to Lord Selkirk as a publication of his case. . . . It is most painful to me in these circumstances, my dear Lady Katherine, to feel that I should be attempting an impossibility in the wish to make myself master of the very unpleasant train of difficulties and embarrassments in which Lord Selkirk has been engaged. . . . Most devoutly do I hope that these unpleasant transactions will terminate as favourably as Lord Selkirk's ardent wish to do good, and the sound policy of his colonizing deserve ; for, as I never knew in my life a man of a more generous and disinterested disposition, or one whose talents and perseverance were better qualified to bring great and national schemes to conclusion, I have only to regret in common with his other friends the impediments that have been thrown in his way by the rapacious avarice of this great company.

"I have been three days in writing this scrawl. I cannot tell Your Ladyship how anxious I am about Lord and Lady Selkirk.

"I beg my best compliments to Mr. Halkett, and am always, with most sincere regard, Your Ladyship's most obedient and faithful servant,


"Edinburgh, 10th June, 1819."

To see a man thus prostrate whose years—forty-eight—had scarcely brought him to his prime is sad, but kind and loving hearts supplied their sympathy and care to the sinking earl. The countess and her young family accompanied him to the continent, and in the south of France sought the rest and pleasant surroundings that they hoped would restore him. The months dragged on without any improvement, and on April 8th, 1820, at Pau, in the department of Basses Pyrenees, in the south of France, Lord Selkirk died surrounded by his family. His bones lie in the Protestant cemetery at Orthes, in the same department.

The Gentleman's Magazine of 1820 gives a sketch of his life, evidently penned by a loving hand.

"Few men were possessed of higher powers of mind, or were more capable of applying them with more indefatigable perseverance. His treatise on 'Emigration' has long been considered a standard work, and as having exhausted one of the most difficult subjects in the science of political economy. His Lordship is also advantageously known to the public as the author of some other literary productions, all of them remarkable for the enlargement and liberality of their views, the luminous perspicacity of their statements, and that severe and patient spirit of induction which delights in the pursuit and is generally successful in the discovery of truth.

"To his friends the death of this beloved and eminent person is a loss which nothing can repair. His gentle and condescending manners wound themselves round the hearts of those admitted to his society, and conciliated an attachment which every fresh interview served to confirm. With those connected with him by the ties of kindred and the sweet relations of domestic society, His Lordship lived on terms of the most affectionate endearment; indeed, seldom has there existed a family the members of which were more tenderly attached to each other than that of which His Lordship was the head, and few families have experienced a more severe succession of those trials by which the Almighty chastens the heart and disciplines the virtues of His creatures. His Lordship was eminently exemplary in the discharge of every social and private duty. He was a considerate and indulgent landlord, a kind and gracious master; to the poor a generous benefactor, and of every public improvement a judicious and liberal patron.

"The latter years of the life of this lamented nobleman were employed in the establishment of an extensive colony in the western parts of British America. In the prosecution of this favourite object he had encountered obstacles of the most unexpected and formidable character. With these, however, he was admirably qualified to contend; to the counsels of an enlightened philosophy and an immovable firmness of purpose, he added the most complete habits of business and a perfect knowledge of affairs. The obstructions he met with served only to stimulate him to increased exertion; and after an arduous struggle with a powerful confederacy, which had arrayed itself against him, and which would, long ere now, have subdued any other adversary, he had the satisfaction to know that he had finally succeeded in founding an industrious and thriving community. It has now struck deep root in the soil, and is competent, from its own internal resources, to perpetuate itself and to extend the blessings of civilization to those remote and boundless regions."

We add nothing. These are fitting words with which tenderly to leave the foreign grave of the founder of the Red River colony.

Lady Selkirk survived the fated earl. Their son Dunbar .Tames Douglas succeeded his father in 1820 and died in 1885, when the title became extinct. Lady Isabella Helen, eldest daughter, married the Hon. Charles I-lope, who was at one time governor of the Isle of Wight. Their son, Captain ,John Hope, R.N., now occupies the Selkirk family seat of St. Mary's Isle, Kircudbrightshire, Scotland. Lady Catherine Jane, second daughter, married Loftus Tottenham Wigram. The family of Earl Thomas are now all dead.

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