Welcome to
Burns Country - Home
Search This Site

Everything you wanted to know about Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard (and lots more besides). Please let us know if anything's missing, wrong, or just plain wonderful

Burns Country Collage

Words | Karaoke!

Burns Shop
Poems and Songs
Burns Encyclopaedia
Burns Suppers
Burns Cottage and Park
Burns in English
Burns Chess Set
Burns Links
Scotweb Mall
robert burns store
View our exclusive range of distinctive Robert Burns related products.

Register with our Shopping Club for further offers and unique member offers.

Contact us:

The Burns Encyclopedia
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Mitchell, John (1731 — 1806)

Mitchell was born in Aberdeenshire, probably the son of a farmer. He studied for the Ministry, but entered the Excise. He worked in the service at Fraserburgh, Kilmarnock and elsewhere, and was appointed Collector at Dumfries in 1788. In 1802, Mitchell became Collector at Haddington, where his name appears in the almanac lists of Excise Officers, until 1804.

Burns presented himself to Mitchell with a letter of introduction from Robert Graham of Fintry. Writing to Graham from Ellisland on 13th May 1789, Burns said: 'I waited on Collector Mitchel with your letter. It happened to be Collection-day, so he was very throng, but he received me with the utmost politeness, and made me promise to call on him soon'. On 31st July Burns told Graham: 'Mr Mitchel did not wait my calling on him, but sent me a kind letter giving me a hint of the business, and on my waiting on him yesterday, he entered with the most friendly ardour into my views and interests.' Just over a fortnight later, Burns seems to have heard of his Excise appointment, though he did not begin work until the beginning of September. By 9th December, Burns was able to tell Graham: 'I have found the Excise business go on a great deal smoother with me than I apprehended; owing a good deal to the generous friendship of Mr Mitchel my Collector, and the kind assistance and instruction of Mr Findlater, my Supervisor.'

A glimpse of Burns's zeal for his duties and of his difficulties in carrying out the law without fear or favour, is to be got from the letter to Mr Mitchell dated September 1790. Burns had reported a farmer, Thomas Johnston of Mirecleugh, for carrying out illicit maltings. The man had been tried and fined five pounds, but petitioned the justices of the peace for Dumfriesshire to give him back his fine, on the grounds that it had been unjust. Ferguson of Craigdarroch and Captain Riddell, both J P's, thereupon ordered Collector Mitchell to stop proceedings until an investigation could be carried through. Burns thereupon submitted an 'an answer to the Petition of Thomas Johnston' (published in full by Chambers), detailing the whole fraud case fully. Unfortunately, we do not know how Johnson's case ended, but from Burns's letter to Mitchell, we may guess how we feared it would end: 'I wish and pray that the Goddess of Justice herself would appear tomorrow among our Honourable Gentlemen, merely to give them a word intheir ear that "Mercy to the Thief, is injustice to the Honest man"... I may find that every Offender has so many Great Men to espouse his cause, that I shall nt be surprised if I am committed to the strong hold of the law tomorrow for insolence to the dear friends of the Gentlemen of the Country.'

Writing to Graham from the Globe Inn, Dumfries, on 4th September, Burns told Graham: 'It was in the view of trying for a Port, that I asked Collector Mitchel to get me appointed, which he has done, to a vacant footwalk in Dumfries'. It was to Mitchel that Burns applied on 16th June for three days leave of absence to attend his brother Gilbert's wedding: and from Mitchell that Burns heard of the Head of the Excise Board's decision to inquire into his loyalties, folowing a complaint in December 1792. It was no doubt in part due to Mitchell's testimony to other members of the Board of Inquiry, Corbet and Findlater, that Burns got off with a friendly warning to be more discreet in his political utterances.

Towards the close of 1795, Burns sent a short rhymed epistle 'To Collector Mitchel' asking the return or possibly even the loan of a pound, and adding: 'farewell, Folly, hide and hair o't. For ance and aye.'

The relationship between Burns and his immediate Superior seems to have been a warm and friendly one. In a letter addressed to John Leven, General Supervisor, Excise Office, Edinburgh, in March 1792, Burns, after discussing some possibly siezable tea, aid; 'Mr Mitchel mentioned to you a ballad, which I composed and sung at one of his Excise Court dinners; here it is.' 'It' was 'The Deil's awa wi' the Excisemen'.

After Mitchell's death, there was found among his papers a sheaf of first copies of poems and songs which Burns had apparently sent him for criticism. Mitchell's family subsequently lost he manuscripts!

Buy the Burns Encyclopedia online
Home | Introduction | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Robert Burns Store

NEW!! robert burns store View our exclusive range of distinctive Robert Burns related products. Register with our Shopping Club for further offers and unique member offers.Click here...

Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...

Burns Music & Recordings
Search our huge CD and music store for any Burns-related phrase!
Hint: Type "lang syne" or "peck maut" etc. into the Search box there for all artists, titles, descriptions or track listings with the words entered.
Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

ScotwebThe finest Scottish shopping site in the world, with the world's largest choice of kilts and tartans, exclusive jewelry, Highland Dress, Bagpipes and piping supplies, cashmere, and much more. Buying from these sites helps pay for the upkeep of Burns Country! Click here...