An enormous natural boulder, situated on an upland farm at the head of Dunscore parish, marks the last resting place of a truly remarkable man.
When retired Army General and Diplomat, Major General Tweedie was buried at sunrise in a quiet secluded glen, mourners carried out an unusual ritual to comply with instructions he left for his funeral arrangements and interment. Not many people know that the General who puchased the estate of Nether Cragenputtock, and revived its former name of Lettrick, lies in this quiet dell not far from Lettrick House which was built to his own specification. The General unfortunately died in 1914 before its completion. The house reflected his Oriental way of life, having served for many years in India and Afghanistan. A leading authority on Arabic, Indian customs and literature, he was a keen follower of the Muslim religion.
The strange documents setting out orders for his burial, was given personally to his trusted coachman David McVittie of Moniaive, who was to ensure that the proceedings took place as the General had wished. This document was eventually handed over to David’s son, the late William Tweedie McVittie (who as the custom often prevalent in those days, was named after the General).
There now follows the strange document, setting out in detail his wishes concerning the funeral arrangements and interment:-” In the event of my death, occurring in London or Edinburgh, or at some other spot, where coffining and a railway journey are necessary, my Executors i.e. either Mr John Henderson senior or his son Mr James Henderson, must be applied to immediately, and they will give the requisite instructions and assistance, according to a writing of mine which is deposited with them. In the event of my death occurring at Lettrick, or on the road to it, the burial is to take place the same day, without the remains being brought to Dumfries. It will in this case be unnecessary to apply to my Executors for their instructions or assistance. The Arab clothes, the basket beir, and its spoked handles will have to be fetched from Dumfries to Lettrick. In the event of my death occurring in Dunbar Terrace, Dumfries, the first thing to do is to send off a telegram to the shepherd at Lettrick, asking him to bring down “Blossom”, and the cart, after putting plenty of clean straw or hay, and branches of trees with the leaves on them, into the cart. He is not to put on “Blacks”, but his ordinary market suit. While he is waiting, the body is to be laid out dressed in Arab clothes, by the women of the house and placed in the basket beir, ready to be removed. No undertaker to be called in. When the cart arrives, the corpse and the beir are to be placed in the bottom of the cart, among the straw. the face is not to be hidden, but placed with the eyes looking upwards. The leafy branches of trees are to be strewn lightly over the corpse. The start is to be made for Lettrick soon after midnight, so that there shall be no traffic on the road. The road past Irongray church is the proper one to take. No spectators are to be permitted to follow the cart. The grave will be easily opened. To be thickly lined with heather. No application need be made to my Executors till all is over. The basket beir, but not the hand spokes, must be buried with the body. When the grave has been filled in, and the heather sods replaced, all the stuff that has been taken out of the ground, will be thrown into the burn so as to make the spot tidy. Some bog-myrtle and bracken should be put in the grave along with the heather. No more trees are to be planted on the spot. Instead of “refreshments” every man and woman who on being invited to do so, shall help either in preparing the remains, or in the act of interment will receive from my Executors one guinea as a friendly keepsake. On no account is the cart containing the remains to go near the villages of Dunscore or Auldgirth. I wish the act of interment to be performed as nearly as possible at sunrise. And I particularly desire that the interval between the death and burial be made as brief as it is possible to arrange”.
The following are a few extracts from “Who’s Who” giving an outline of this remarkable man:-
“General Tweedie was a son of the Rev. W. Tweedie, Minister of the Tolbooth Free Church in Edinburgh. Married in 1857 to Emily, daughter of Thomas and Lady Louise Whitmore of Apley Park, Salop in England. He chose an Army Career, entering the Indian Army in 1857, at the age of 21. Was present at the Battle for Lucknow during the Sepoy wars”.
After a distinguished career in the Army, he was appointed H.M. Consul General in Baghdad. During his service in India, he became an ardent follower of the religion and literature of the Orient, a keen disciple of the Muslim faith, and after his retirement to Dunbar Terrace in Dumfries was much sought after for his knowledge of Oriental languages. He wrote a book “The Arab Horse and its Country” which was recognised at that time as a standard work.
He then decided to build a mansion house at Lettrick, but altered the plans frequently, often writing on the plaster walls, indicating changes to the existing layout. This resulted in delaying its completion until after his death. It is believed he spent £23,000, on Lettrick. A considerable fortune in those days.
A strange ambition of the General was to be “first and last Laird of Lettrick”. So that no Laird would succeed him, he left the house to Edinburgh University to provide scholarships, thereby enabling students to study Eastern Customs, and their languages. Unfortunately there were no endowments forthcoming, and the University appealed to the Court of Session to sell the property. This was granted and it was sold in 1925. Since then, there have been three lairds of Lettrick including the present one, Mr J W McConnel. The General died at Dunbar Terrace, Dumfries on the 18th September 1914, and was buried at sunrise near Lettrick. His faithful retainer David McVittie ensuring the General’s wishes were dutifully carried out.
In conclusion, several stories have been told of this strange burial. A shepherd passing the site after the interment, noticed a lone corbie ( Scots word for the carrion crow) perched on top of the boulder. Since then there have been many sightings of corbies in the vicinity. A coincidence perhaps. This quiet Glen abounds with them, much detested by shepherds at lambing time.
A tale which is still prevalent, relates that the General was buried standing in an upright position thereby ensuring that on resurrection day, he could proceed down the Glen to meet his Maker. There is, as far as the writer knows, no written evidence to substantiate this story. A similarity to the anecdotes which grew around Johnnie Turner’s burial.
This unique place (depicted below) has, with the passing of time changed considerably. More trees have been planted obscuring the site to the casual passer by. There are no inscriptions on the boulder, which with time and encroaching undergrowth, will eventually pass into obscurity. The last resting place of a remarkable man (or perhaps an eccentric).
Jonhn Crocket 1989