Excerpt from Scotland's Magazine May 1974

This is your land, These are your People/99


THE BAIRDS
by HAMISH L. M. BAIRD

"BY STRENGTH AND VALOUR" is the motto surrounding a boar's head on the crest of the Bairds. It was granted to them by Ring William the Lion, who in the 13th century, while out hunting, was saved from a wild boar by one of his followers, to whom he gave the motto Vi et Virture, the Latin form of the motto.

The Bairds are an ancient Scottish line, prominent at different times in centres as far apart as Aberdeenshire, Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire. They are first noted historically in the 12th century, when the name was spelt Bard or Barde, one of the first recorded members of the family being one Henry de Barde, who in 1178 witnessed a charter of lands in Stirling assigned to the Bishop of Glasgow by William the Lion.

In the reign of Alexander III, Richard Baird received the lands of Meikle and Little Kyp in Lanarkshire, and also on record is a charter by Robert the Bruce to Robert Baird for the Barony of Carnbusnethan. It was from the Cambusnethan branch that one of the members of the family moved north at the invitation of the Earl of Huntly and was given certain lands in Aberdeenshire. This was about 1430, and from then onwards the family became numerous and spread throughout the counties of Banff and Aberdeen.

The most notable of the Bairds in the north-east were the Bairds of Auchmedden, in the parish of Aberdour, who retained the lands of Auchmedden for upwards of three centuries, from about 1430 until about 1750, when the estate was forfeited because of the involvernent of William Baird, Laird of Auchmedden of the time, on the Jacobite side in the Rising of 1745. William Baird had to go into hiding after Culloden, and his death ended one of the oldest of Scottish family lines.

Headed by the Auchmedden family motto Dominus Fecit ("God made"), a plaque in the crypt of the old kirk of New Aberdour commemorates him:
 

When the Bairds were in possession of Auchmedden it was Thomas the Rhymer who prophesied that "As long as eagles nested on the cliffs of Pennan, there would be Bairds in Auchmedden." The prophecy was fulfilled right up until 1750, when the estate passed out of the possession of the family. Up to that time eagles had nested regularly in the cliffs of Pennan. They did return to Pennan when Lord Haddo, whose family had obtained the lands, married a Miss Christian Baird, but when the estate was sold later the eagles departed. The old story was revived as recently as last century, when a member of the family of Baird of Gartsherrie, the Lanarkshire coal and iron masters, bought the Auchmedden estate. Once again the eagles reappeared on the cliffs of Pennan, but this time the coastguards in the area repeatedly shot at them, and eventually the eagles deserted Pennan for the last time.

Nothing visible now remains of the House of Auchmedden, but the tutelary eagle has its place in the family crest of the Bairds of Auchtnedden.

From the Bairds of Auchmedden were descended the Bairds of Newbyth and Saughton Hall. One of the branch John Baird of Saughton Hall, was created Lord Newbyth. He died in 1698 From him were descended Sir William Baird, who was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1695, and Sir John Baird also a Baronet of Nova Scotia, who died in 1746 without issue.

On his death the estate passed to his second cousin, William Baird, the father of the distinguished soldier, Sir David
Baird. Born in 1757, Sir David Baird was in command of the 73rd Regiment when it reached Madras in 1780. He was seriously wounded and captured by Hyder Ali, who had him chained to a fellow officer. "God help the chief that's chained to oar Davy," exclaimed his mother when the news reached her, knowing only too well that her son would not take kindly to such captivity. Nevertheless, Sir David had to endure captivity for four years, but he was at the capture of Pondicherry in 1793, and six years later he took Seringapatam. After a career crowned with many honours he died in 1829, and an exact copy of Cleopatra's Needle stands in the grounds of his home near Crieff as a memorial.

Another, if lesser known, branch of the Baird family are the Bairds of Posso, between five and six miles south-west of Peebles. They are of ancient lineage, the first on record being Thomas de Bard, who was sheriff of Peebles in 1296 and whose name, with those of other Bairds, appears on the Ragman Roll of that date, when the Scottish nobles had to swear fealty to Edward of England. Sir Gilbert Baird of Posso fell at Flodden in 1513, and in the absence of male descendants the representation of the family passed through a grand-daughter to the Nacsmiths, through whom the line of the Bairds of Posso is now traced.

Sir William Veitch, in his The Tweed and other Poems, wrote of the Bairds of Posso:
 

The lines seem to refer to a common belief that the Bairds were originally minstrels and poets or "bards".

Another famous member of the Baird family was the Rev. Dr. George Husband Baird, who was principal of Edinburgh University. He was a regular correspondent of Robert Burns and a subscriber to the first Kilmarnock edition of the poet's works. Born in 1761, he had a brilliant academic career, but his main concern was the improvement of education in the Highlands, a cause which he championed with vigour and for which few did more useful work. Dr. Baird died in 1840 at his home near Linlithgow.

The Bairds of Gartsherrie were among the pioneers in the development of the coal and iron industries in the 19th century, amassing what even now would rank as immense fortunes. Alexander Baird, born of very humble origins in 1765, became one of the wealthiest men in Scotland, and it was one of his descendants, James Baird of Auchmedden and Knoydart, who founded the Baird Trust by giving 500,000 to the Church of Scotland with the object of promoting "the mitigation of spiritual destitution amongst the population of Scotland, securing the godly upbringing of the young," etc., etc.

In our own time without question the most famous, internationally known, but sadly neglected genius of the Baird family was, of course, John Logie Baird, the inventor of television. He was born in Helensburgh, a son of the manse, and educated at Glasgow University, and much of his life was a continual struggle against indifferent health. As one writer has put it, the nearest comparison with Baird and television would be the tale of Bruce and the spider. Undaunted by setbacks and rejection, he persevered with his research and experiment, and in 1926, at the age of 38, he gave his first demonstration of television in an attic. Unlike his namesakes of Gartsherrie, he did not reap the material benefits of his effort, yet by the time he died all but penniless in 1946 much of the world was already, for good or ill, in his debt. Helensburgh erected a memorial to him in its public park, but his more pervasive memorial adorns countless millions of living-rooms all over the globe, and that is surely the fitting tribute to a great Scot.

MAY,  1974

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