Jean Smith: Burns’ Mauchline Belle

A woman of excellence and force of character… would appear to have heeded Burns’ advice,

“Beware a tongue that’s smoothly hung…”

Robert Burns
Burns window Glasgow University copyright Press Association

The Belles of Mauchline (1784)

The pride of the place and its neighbourhood a'; 
Their carriage and dress, a stranger would guess, In Lon'on or Paris, they'd gotten it a'.
Miss Miller is fine, Miss Markland's divine,
Miss Smith she has wit, and Miss Betty is braw:
There's beauty and fortune to get wi' Miss Morton,
But Armour's the jewel for me o' them a'.
 O Leave Novels ye Mauchline Belles (late 1784)
O leave novels, ye Mauchline belles, Ye're safer at your spinning-wheel;
Such witching books are baited hooks
For rakish rooks, like Rob Mossgiel;
Your fine Tom Jones and Grandisons, They make your youthful fancies reel; They heat your brains, and fire your veins, And then you're prey for Rob Mossgiel.
Beware a tongue that's smoothly hung, A heart that warmly seems to feel; That feeling heart but acts a part-
'Tis rakish art in Rob Mossgiel.
The frank address, the soft caress,
Are worse than poisoned darts of steel; The frank address, and politesse, Are all finesse in Rob Mossgiel.

Burns is offering a cautionary tale to his ‘wantoness’. But scrape below the surface and he’s telling us something else. Burns is acknowledging the impact of the written word, (and of education, that mainly male domain of the 1700s) on the female population of Mauchline.

Burns married Miss Jean Armour (1765 – 1834). Jean bore Burns 9 children, the last on the day of her husband’s funeral. Only three of them survived her. Officially, their marriage occurred 5 Aug 1788. “Burns, Robert in Mossgiel and Jean Armour in Machlin came before the (Kirk) Session upon 5 Aug and Acknowledged that they were ‘irregularly married’ (up the duff) some years ago.”

The prim & proper belle, the smart one with ‘wit’ was ‘Jean Smith’.

Miss Jean Smith (1767 – 20 Jan 1854)

The sister of Burns youthful friend James Smith(b1765). Her father Robert died in a riding accident in 1775 when she was eight year old. Her mother remarried James Lamie in 1877 a man with a reputation for pious and austere behaviour, a strict ‘Auld Licht’ Mauchline Kirk elder.

James Smith her brother, as recorded by the Kirk Session, had an illegitimate son with Christina Wilson, one of his mother’s servants, fifteen years his senior. Ironically she had been employed specifically to help mend his wayward behaviour. Smith always denied being the father of the boy although locally it was taken for granted. He was one of the ‘ram-stam’ boys.

“I always think of her as I knew her in my college days in Glasgow. I think of her as the grandest old lady I have ever seen. Most wondrously tenacious of well-ascertained facts, and singularly indifferent to hypothetical speculations, her intellectual perceptions were always clear, and her practical logic indomitable. Most conservative of all established proprieties, she was at once dignified and motherly, courteous and kind; and her manner carried with it an authority which, in the quietest conceivable way, was absolute, decisive, and indisputable.

‘she has wit’, by which Burns meant, doubtless, that she was possessed of strong common sense and sagacity. As I remember her, she was a lady of stately and somewhat majestic presence, grave and reserved in manner, although always kindly and courteous. She had bright eyes, and a face beaming with intelligence. “

Rev. Andrew Urquhart writing of Jean Smith in MEMORIALS OF ROBERT SMITH CANDLISH, D.D. Pg8

For many years after her husband’s death Mrs. Candlish struggled financially with the ‘res angusta domi’ in Glasgow, and would tend her son’s clothes with her own hands, even during the years of his college course.

Hers was a severe school of discipline; but she abhorred a child being punished by corporal punishment. She immediately removed her eldest son James from an English school he had been sent to in Glasgow on account of his describing being caned with some fellow pupils. After that a tutor was found—Mr. Clark, who was afterwards minister of Canongate Church, Edinburgh. There was another English master (Sheridan Knowles), quite famous at the time for his elocution. He was responsible for teaching the boys to read well, and to recite from memory.

“The great amusement of a Saturday afternoon, or any other holiday, was to get Mrs. Candlish to invite the aunts and cousins to tea, and then the large school room was made into a kind of theatre, the company arranged on forms at the one end, and a large screen towards the other, formed of a green crumb cloth hung over a string. The three boys (Robert Candlish, John & Adam Bogle) were behind the screen, and when it was pulled aside the acting began, that is to say, the boys came forward and repeated in a theatrical way long pieces from Shakespeare’s historical plays. Hamlet’s address to the players was a great favourite, and Cato. Robert Candlish had a great defect in his articulation ; but every pains was taken to correct it. When any celebrated actor came to Glasgow the boys were taken to the theatre ; and always after that there was an imitation of it at home the first opportunity.”

“Mrs. Candlish (senior), when I first became acquainted with her, must have been about sixty-six years of age and at once impressed me with the conviction that she was a very superior woman… and eyes which seemed to see one through and through.”

Mr Bell

A favourite maxim through life with her was

” Out of debt out of danger.”

Jean married James Candlish, Mauchline, 8th September 1794. Source (OPS FR387 604/ 20 261).

Jean & James had from what I can establish 7 possibly 8 children. Only 4 made it to adulthood, two dying before thirty.

  • Janet Candlish 1797-1797 Mar (12th, buried 19th) Leith South?
  • Eliza Lambie Candlish 26 Jan 1799 – 1867 Jan 1st St Andrews Edinburgh
  • James Smith Candlish 28 Dec 1800 – 18 Sept 1829 Glasgow
  • Janet Smith 1801 – 1803 Feb (12th, buried 15th) Edinburgh
  • Jessie Smith Candlish 21 Aug 1802 (OPS) birth
  • Jane Smith Candlish died 23 May 1827 Glasgow (Gravestone Calton Edinburgh) aged 30yrs. Is this Jessie?
  • Henry (Harry) Candlish 1804-1805 April (24th, buried 27th)

James Candlish Snr (1759 – 29 Apr 1806)

(Glasgow University MA, 1781)

In Burns’ published letters there are two addressed to James Candlish. The first of them is dated “Edinburgh, March 21st, 1787,” and Mr. Candlish is there addressed as “Student in Physic, Glasgow,” and called “My ever dear old acquaintance.”

Later, Burns sought his help in getting a song they had sung together at school, ‘Pompey’s Ghost’ for the Museum. Candlish, in due course, did as he was asked, saying: ‘Being myself unskilled in music as a science, I made an attempt to get the song you mentioned set by some other hand; but, as I could not accomplish this, I must send you the words without the music.’

In a letter to a friend James Candlish wrote about pursuing a ministerial calling:

“By nature I hate hypocrisy, and consequently feel great reluctance to preach doctrines I do not believe.”

Thus Candlish turned his attention to the study of medicine, lecturing as a ‘Teacher of Medicine’. And, accordingly, he is found resident in Edinburgh 1800 (some records state as early as 1788 but I have been unable to corroborate that date).

In his profession he was eminently successful, and is referred to as an authority twenty years after his death, as appears from evidence given before the University Commissioners 11th December 1826.

” He was a gentleman of short stature, full flabby habit, and sallow complexion, at least latterly. He was in the act of making a speech in the Royal Medical Society on the evening of April 28th, 1806, when he was seized with an uneasy sensation in his head ‘ as if his head would have burst,’ or ‘ as if the brain had been too big for the skull.’ This feeling soon went off; and he continued his speech. When he had finished it he left the room, and felt extremely ill. After some time he was able to walk home.”

Dr. Abercrombie, who knew him, and attended him in his last illness.

He saw him about an hour after the attack. Candlish was sensible for two hours, but answered questions very slowly. Everything was done for him, but by eleven o’clock he was incoherent and his condition deteriorated. He died the following day. His youngest son Robert was 5 weeks old. He was buried in the old Calton burial ground.

It’s interesting to note that the story passed down is that Jean Smith only moved through to Glasgow when her husband died and by extension that is the point which she set up the school. However, the Glasgow PO Directory dates show that the school was established several years prior to her husband’s premature death in 1806. She and the family were clearly still living in Edinburgh (Where her husband was teaching medicine) when it seems she chose to set the school up in Glasgow. The school taught all the main subjects of the day except Latin, Greek & Mathematics.

The wiki entry for her son Robert Smith Candlish states his mother survived running a ‘boarding house’ at 49 Virginia Street. And that the building was ‘then a new building’. But looking closer at the citation it references the Glasgow directory of 1816. Possibly taking a (false) lead from the blue plaque on The Jacobean of circa1817.

However ‘boarding house’ seems at odds with the Glasgow Directory describing the occupation as a ‘boarding school’. Indeed other sources reference this ‘Mauchline Belle’ as running a school. Given she taught her youngest son who went on to achieve prominence in the ministry her running a school seems the more likely. In addition the location (geography) at both Virginia Street & Charlotte Street supports the premiss of it being a school rather than simply a boarding house. Most significantly, there is a contemporary account in her sons biography that confirm the establishment as being a school. The school is also listed in Cleland’s ‘Annals’.

Alexander Stevenson (surgeon) who lived at No.8 later 53 Virginia Street for 25+ years also worked in Edinburgh. He was one of the main correspondents of Edinburgh physician Dr William Cullen. (For more fascinating detail visit the Cullen Project) Glasgow must have had appeal if you chose to make that commute for so many years. It would suggest Jean Smith was able & willing to make the same commute in reverse to set up her school.

It seems the grind of a Glasgow – Edinburgh commute is nothing new.

Mrs Candlish’s Glasgow School (Jean Smith) was located at the following addresses:

  • 1803 Boarding School 49 Virginia Street*
  • 1804 –
  • 1805 –
  • 1806 Boarding School 21 Charlotte Street
  • 1807 Boarding School 21 Charlotte Street
  • 1808 –
  • 1809 Boarding School 21 Charlotte Street
  • 1810 Boarding School 21 Charlotte Street
  • 1811 –
  • 1812 Boarding School 49 Virginia Street
  • 1825 Boarding School 49 Virginia St
  • 1826 Boarding School 52 Virginia St **
  • 1827 Boarding School 52 Virginia St **
  • 1828 Boarding School 52 Virginia St **
  • 1829 Boarding School 52 Virginia St **
  • 1830 Boarding School 52 Virginia St **

* 1803 is earliest directory School may be older. ** Change in number is due to street numbering convention changing in 1826.

  • 1826 JS Candlish Surgeon 23 Maxwell St
  • 1827 JS Candlish Surgeon 86 Hutcheson St
  • 1828 JS Candlish Surgeon 86 Hutcheson St. ho 52 Virginia St
  • 1829 JS Candlish Surgeon 86 Hutcheson St. ho 52 Virginia St
  • 1830 JS Candlish Surgeon 86 Hutcheson St. ho 52 Virginia St

One address sticks out: 49 (later 52) Virginia Street. Indeed contemporary press reports 2020 claim the Jacobean was a school at one point in its history. The street number would appear to support the premiss. However, street numbering then was not as it is today. It was sporadic up until 1804, at which point it formalised then changed again in 1826 to the order currently in the street.

In Candlish’s time, street numbers in Glasgow rose sequentially from LHS crossed over and then headed back down RHS to the foot of the street. As such I have been able to establish that the school run by Mrs Candlish was not at the current site of The Jacobean but actually across the street. The move to Charlotte Street at exactly the same time as the Virginia Buildings were being built threw me off track. A lucky accident as I never would have made the Burns connection otherwise. I thought this was evidence to support the Jacobean being the school in question. But I was neglecting the development of Spiers’ & Bowman’s gardens across the street.

The gatepost that is still in situ may date from circa1799. John Bowman of Ashgrove died in 1796 and his property passed into the hands of trustees who later sold to John Lang, writer, in 1798. The Merchant City Inn is possibly from circa1798-99 but require feu detail to confirm conclusively.

A 1799 Post Office Directory description for Henry Hardie & Co. Linen Warehouse west Wilson Street, south side with crucially Henry Hardie lodging given as Virginia Street leaving us in no doubt as to how far west the warehouse was located. The Merchant City Inn is present on Fleming’s map of 1807 giving a latest date of build in the absence of feu records.

Copyright- Cicerone: Merchantcityglasgow

The Merchant City Inn on the east side of Virginia Street built by Henry Hardie & Co. I believe was also home to Candlish’s school. Have you ever wondered why the gap site still exists? The gap was twice the width it is today, about 40 feet wide. Was a previous townhouse garden used as a school yard? The yard certainly was leveraged later for a paper warehouse next door. The gap would have facilitated an off-street loading bay. At some point between 1830-1853 the neighbouring Glasgow Gas Light Company expanded their plot north and built into the ‘yard’. This was prior to Melvin and Leiper’s late Italian Renaissance palazzo style remodel in 1868 that exists today at No 42 Virginia Street.

‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ Image:
Fleming 1807 v Goad 1940s

In addition, 21 Charlotte Street for those few years between 1806 – 1810 was also the address of Walter Ewing (later Maclae of Cathkin) who was a partner in Henry Hardie & Co. He made a fortune in the West India Trade. He married Margaret Fisher, daughter of Rev James Fisher later one of the ‘fathers of the Secession’. Was there a link between her stepfather Rev Lamie and Rev Fisher that prompted Jean Candlish’s move west?

Also it’s a twist of fate that one of Burns’ six Belles should end up not far from The Black Bull Inn where Burns penned work to another of his loves, ’Clarinda’.

Curiously, after moving through to Glasgow from 11 West Richmond Street in Edinburgh a portrait painter called T Laurence (sp) 1820 moved into 6 Virginia Street Glasgow. He appears to have been resident in Glasgow from 1817. (Not the Sir Thomas Lawrence although he did paint monied Glasgow & Scottish citizens) On examining the Edinburgh directory there is a Mrs Lawrence on Richmond Street then later circa1810 Stephen Lawrence drawing teacher at 6 Richmond Court. Were these Lawrences related, did Jean Smith know them?

Below are short biographies of her two sons whom she raised single handedly along with her daughters. (more research is needed on her daughters)

James Smith Candlish (28 Dec 1800 – 15 Sept 1829)

Glasgow University MA, 1819

James Candlish the elder brother was born in Edinburgh in 1800. At the age of six he moved with his mother & siblings to Glasgow. He studied at the University of Glasgow graduating MA in 1819.

It would appear he travelled to the continent to further his medical education in Paris. By the autumn of 1825, he was back in the UK (London boarding house), ready to begin his career.

He is described as being, “Exempt from prejudice of every kind, yet restrained by natural sobriety of judgment from all extravagance of speculation; with a power of clear exposition and a readiness of expression that made him subsequently one of the most popular of lecturers.”

Rev. Andrew Urquhart says of him (pg8):
“And when he had just begun to practise as a doctor of medicine, he had delivered a course of lectures in the Mechanics’ Institution, and his most lucid expositions had attracted the notice of some of the most distinguished men of literature and science in the city, much hope was entertained of his future eminence, both as a physician and as a professor.”

This rise in social standing and eminence as a man of science is evidenced by the fact that he was called to attend to the mother of the Duke of Argyll.

On August 6th 1829 he was appointed Professor of Surgery in Anderson’s University, Glasgow. He won the vote 29/10 against Dr William Auchincloss who was also applying for the position. Tragically he would die 6 weeks later of typhus fever (spread by lice, fleas & mites) before he could take up the post.

At the next managers’ meeting of the University on 22 September James Smith Candlish death as their newly elected Professor of Surgery is noted. The minutes record:

’their very sincere regret for the loss sustained to this University… whose literary accomplishments and professional acquirements promised to augment the rising reputation of this medical school’.

Anderson University minutes 22 September 1829

He was buried in Glasgow aged 28yrs September 1829.

(source OPS 644/1 530 113).

Robert Smith Candlish (23 March 1806 – 19 Oct 1873)

Glasgow University MA, 1823.

He was never sent to school. This may have been due to the financial constraints on his mother, or it may have been because, of ill health in his early childhood, being described as “somewhat delicate, and rather timid”. The numerous deaths among his siblings possibly made his mother cautious.

His home schooling was not a hindrance. He had very competent teachers in his mother and elder sister and brother, and it would appear he was a very able pupil.

There is a note from Miss Duncan, a fellow pupil of his at his mother’s school in Virginia Street, which gives us a vivid picture of Robert Candlish in his earlier years:

” When I first came to be associated with Dr. Candlish he was a little boy of about eight years of age. We were at that time very much together, both at lessons and play. While the girls were engaged at needlework little Robert always sat on a low stool beside his mother, doing sums of arithmetic, of which occupation he never seemed to tire. He never was sent to a public school.

His mother and eldest sister gave him all the instruction he required until he was too far advanced for them to carry on. His eldest sister’s love for her little brother was very tender. She watched over and took an interest in everything he did and said. I remember her often saying how much she felt hurt at the remarks people made about him, when she went out with him and an old nurse, Jenny, who came with his mother and young family to Glasgow. He was a peculiar but interesting-looking child. His delicate fair complexion, his large forehead, and eyes with very long eye-lashes, and the rest of his body being so small, made him so peculiar-looking that people often stopped and asked whose child he was.

One day a lady gave him a penny, which he carried home and showed to his mother, and asked if she thought the lady took him for a beggar he was so early trained to abhor everything that was mean and selfish. His brother James, who was, I think, about four or five years older than Robert, took his education entirely on himself after his mother’s training.”

Robert S. Candlish was sent to the University of Glasgow at 12 years old, on the 10th October 1818. His undergraduate course took five years, graduating in the spring of 1823, when he obtained. the degree of M.A.

He was possibly bullied — ‘He had many young friends always tearing at him. His scarlet college gown was so torn by them, that when the day came for the prizes to be given, there was scarcely a bit left; and ‘ as an advanced student could not put on a new gown, one had to be borrowed for the occasion. He was such a funny merry wee fellow, it was no wonder.’

During the years 1823-1826 he went through the prescribed course at the divinity hall, then presided over by Dr Stevenson MacGill. A large part of his college course was largely employed in private teaching, sometimes as much as eight or ten hours a day, in addition to his studies.

Contemporary photograph, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

As a result of this in 1826, he travelled as private tutor to Eton College (for Sir Hugh Hume-Campbell of Parchment after a request to some of the professors for ‘the most able young man they could recommend.’) where he remained till 1829. While at Eton he was licensed as a preacher of the gospel by the Presbytery of Glasgow, August 6, 1828. On returning to reside in Glasgow in 1829 he was engaged as assistant by Dr. Gavin Gibb, the minister of St Andrew’s. Thereafter engaged at Bonhill Parish before taking up his post at St Georges Edinburgh.

James Barr in his ‘Disruption Memories’ comments on the relationship between Gregor and his young assistant Candlish.  He describes Candlish as ‘a fidgety, galvanised piece of humanity.’ Never had Barr seen other adult human legs in such nimble motion when under no other excitement than the sober act of walking.  Gregor’s opinion of Candlish was invariably positive and he conveyed his admiration of “Candy’s” abilities to Barr, adding, “You know, we always called him Candy.”  He had selected him in opposition to letters from Glasgow advising that he should have nothing whatever to do with Candlish, as he had preached a church in Glasgow vacant, and the probability was that he would soon do as much for Bonhill.  “Notwithstanding that,” said the parson, “As I was to pay the piper, I would choose the tune.  I saw that the right stuff was in him, and by the help of God I’d try to bring it out of him.  I never yet knew a young man that could match Candy in the speed with which he could compose a sermon; and always capital matter in it too.”

“But he was ambitious though.  He was not long with me till I saw that he would not be satisfied till he should become the Pope of the Church.  I was in the habit of sometimes calling him Pope Candlish.”

“A man hardly needs anything beyond Candlish. He is devout, candid, prudent and forcible”



Candlish took a special interest in education and the old tradition of the Scottish church respecting the connection of church and school, as well as the desire to see education improved.

For many years he strove tirelessly to promote an education system for the Church, and was successful in raising the status and improving the infrastructure of the normal colleges. On the passing of the School Act, he advocated the abandonment of the Free Church schools, and generously recommended the transference of the buildings as free gifts to the school boards of the parishes where they were situated.

Assembly 1843: Abolition

He submitted a report on American Slavery, the report stated, ” consider it the duty of Christian Churches, as such, to set themselves against the manifold abuses of slavery, and to aim decidedly at its abolition.”

Robert Smith Candlish was recognised as one of Scotland’s most gifted preachers, employing eloquence and careful research. Mostly loved by all who knew him as minister – and opposed by some whose ‘little minds could not comprehend the length and breadth and height of his learning’.

His influence in bringing about the Disruption of 1843 was second only to that of Thomas Chalmers.

He was buried, on Friday the 24th October 1873, in the Old Calton burying-ground, Edinburgh. The funeral was a public one, and the cortege formed a long procession,—the Magistrates and Town Council ; the Professors of the New College. The Free Church and United Presbyterian Presbyteries of Edinburgh; the Kirk-Session and Congregation of St. George’s; and many ministers and others from far and near. All the way from his house in Melville Street to the place of interment, the streets were lined with silent and weeping onlookers.

Robert Smith Candlish

by Elliott & Fry
albumen carte-de-visite, early 1870s
NPG x5615© National Portrait Gallery, London

Given Robert Smith ended his days in Edinburgh with his extended family (sister) it’s easy to see how the Glasgow history of Burns’ Mauchline Belle was lost to time. The Clyde played its own part. Swollen and in spate in February of 1831 it flooded William Reid’s house at 56 St Andrew’s Square with the loss of Burns letters and documents that captured some of Burns many associations with Glasgow.

(Reid would later become a partner in the book selling business of ‘Brash & Reid’)

© Cicerone: MerchantCityGlasgow.  All Rights Reserved. 2021 

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