Robert Semple, 5th Laird of Beltrees, was born in 1656. He married Mary Pollock, eldest daughter of Robert Pollock of that Ilk in 1678. Robert and Mary lived at Thirdpart and attended the Parish Church in Kilbarchan. Their three daughters, Jean (1679), Elizabeth (1680) and Grizel (1682) were christened in Kilbarchan. Their son and heir, Robert, was born in 1687.
Robert Semple had securely inherited Thirdpart in 1682 on the death of his father, Francis. Unfortunately, he also inherited his father’s debts. On 13th of June, when his son was only five months old, Robert, as heritor of Thirdpart resigned the feu to his infant son, presumably in an attempt to ensure the ownership of the estate for the family.
Robert’s main interest in life appears to have been addressing the legacy of debt left to him by his father. A list of debts, signed by Robert Semple, was compiled on 13th April, 1686, to be paid off by his factor, James Semple. The list included thirty items, totalling what appears a considerable sum in 1687. The largest debts were £300 to be paid to Robert Chapman, a merchant in Glasgow and one hundred pounds Scots to Mr John Stirling, a former Kilbarchan Parish minister. Many smaller amounts were to be paid in merks.
Robert also attempted to restore to family the lands at Carberry in Ireland. These lands had been granted to his great-grandfather, Sir James Semple, by James VI in 1606, and were later violently appropriated by Cromwell’s forces. Due to rebellions in Ireland, neither Robert the 3rd Laird of Beltrees nor Francis the 4th Laird had pursued the recovery of these lands. In dire straits, Robert Semple, the 5th Laird, did go to Ireland around 1703 in an attempt to regain the lands, but no subsequently legal claim took place.
In 1697 the family were staying at Pollock House, the residence of Mary’s brother. Whether this was a temporary or a semi-permanent arrangement is unknown. In 1704 Robert Semple of Beltrees was listed as a Commissioner of Supply for Renfrewshire45. Commissioners of supply were responsible for the upkeep of roads and bridges.
In his lifetime Robert saw the return of a Stewart monarch to the throne, the Church of Scotland firmly returned to Presbyterianism, and the Union of the Parliaments in 1707. Perhaps surprisingly, after the numerous shifts in monarchy, government, religion and politics, this situation survived in its entirety for more than two hundred years.
Robert was still alive in 1710, when he and his wife received a letter from his son, Robert, but is known to have died before 1717, when his wife married her second husband, John Cochrane. Hopefully, for Mary, this marriage was less financially troubled than her first one must have been!
© 2018, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum