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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Fergusson, Alexander (1746? — 96)

A descendant of Annie Laurie, and the Laird of Craigdarroch. He was a lawyer, and a Justice of the Peace for Dumfries. A letter from Burns, written in the Globe Inn, October 1789, appeals to Fergusson to do something for 'poor Robie Gordon'. 'The hour is at hand when I must assume the execrable office of whipper-in to the blood hounds of Justice, and must, must let loose the ravenous rage of the carrion sons of b-tches on poor Robie. I think you can do something to save the unfortunate man, and I am sure, if you can, you will'. Burns's concern for Gordon contrasts with his attitude to Johnston of Mirecleugh under apparently similar circumstances. See Mitchell, John.

Fergusson married Deborah, daughter of Robert Cutlar, a merchant in Dumfries, through her inheriting the lands of Arroland, in Kirkcudbright. Fergusson was with the Grand Master Mason of Scotland on the occasion when the health of 'Caledonia, and Caledonia;s Bard, brother B---!' was toasted.

Fergusson, who was noted for his convivial habits was the winner of the contest which gave rise to Burns's racy ballad, 'The Whistle'.

This was a drinking contest that took place at Friar's Carse on 16th October 1789. 'the little ebony whistle' itself, according to Burns was supposed to have been brought over to Scotland by a 'matchless champion of Bacchus', who accompanied Anne, James VI's Danish queen. It was laid on the table before the start of a drinking orgy, and whoever was able to blow it after his companions were below the table, retained it as a trophy. The Dane lost it to Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton, the Member of Parliament for Dumfriesshire, who in turn lost it to a member of the Riddell family. The competitors during the bout at which Burns was present were Sir Robert Lawrie, Robert Riddell and Fergusson of Craigdarroch, who blew the winning blast. John M'Murdo of Drumlanrig was the judge. The poet describes how the first two contestants withdrew, then:

"Next uprose our Bard, like a prophet in drink —
Craigdarroch, thou'lt soar when creation shall sink!
But if thou would flourish immortal in rhyme,
Come — one bottle more — and have at the sublime!"
Craigdarroch drank 'upwards of five bottles of claret'.

William Hunter, one of the servants at Friar's Carse, later testified that: 'When the gentlemen were put to bed, Burns walked home, without any assistance, not beng the worse of drink': yet one more piece of evidence that Burns, in an age when excessive drinking was common, was not himself a heavy drinker. Chambers points out that in James VI's reign there was no Sir Robert Lawrie of Maxwelton. However, he says: 'The story had probably some such foundation as that described, though Burns's dates are wrong.'

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