Robert Semple, 6th Laird of Beltrees, born in 1687, was the eldest son of Robert Semple and Mary Pollock. We are indebted to him for preserving a number of the poems and impromptu verses written by his grandfather, Francis Semple. Robert, too, is thought to have dabbled in verse. Among his manuscripts is a poem, Ramillies. This amusing poem, written in the Scots vernacular, is the story of a young girl who ran off with a sailor, after being forced by her father to marry a much older man. Its authorship is attributed to Robert.
Robert had a long healthy life, living to the age of one hundred and two! In 1722 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Cochrane of Mainshill. Elizabeth, who predeceased him, was said to have been a very elegant lady. The couple lived in Thirdpart in Kilbarchan Parish and had eight children between 1726 and 1737.
In his home village of Kilbarchan Robert Semple was well-remembered and renowned, not only for his longevity, but also for an incident in his childhood. At the age of ten, he was staying with his parents in Pollock Castle, the home of his uncle Sir William Pollock. The hanging and the burning of the Bargarran Witches was scheduled to take place on Gallow Green in Paisley on the 10th of June, 1697, and young Robert was keen to witness the spectacle. To prevent him from going, his parents hid his shoes. However, this didn’t stop him. He managed to leave the house, and walk barefoot to Paisley where he joined the immense crowd who had gathered to watch the spectacle. The memory of this eventful day stayed with him all his life and was a tale often recounted in his old age. In the last decade of 19th century an old weaver in Kilbarchan was proudly heard to say ‘I knew a man who knew a man who saw the last witch burnt in Paisley’. The man was Robert Semple!
As a young man Robert, 6th Laird, went to sea. In his old age he recounted an unusual event in his adventures. On one of his sea voyages he went ashore at Archangel in Russia. Robert was watching sea animals in a pond where, apparently by chance, he witnessed a sea animal snapping at the Czar, Peter the Great, and biting the cock of his hat. Destinations of his other sea voyages are unknown.
Before the age of thirty, Robert was back in Renfrewshire where he was appointed as a burgher of Renfrew in 1716. He was regarded as a man of integrity and good judgement and was well respected in the community He later became Collector of Cess for Renfrewshire and a long-serving Justice of Peace. In 1724, when Kilbarchan Parish Church was rebuilt, Robert was a subscriber and one of the five heritors who organised the rebuilding of the church. In recognition of his work, a door (now long blocked up) on the south side of church was named the Beltrees Door.
In 1758, Robert sold Thirdpart and its farms to William McDowall of Castle Semple. He still retained the title, Semple of Beltrees. Where he lived after the sale of Thirdpart is uncertain. In 1777, at the age of ninety, Robert feued land on what was then part of Milliken Estate in Kilbarchan and built Belltrees Cottage, naming it after his family’s former estate. According to his daughter, Arabella, not long before his death he was still able walk twenty miles a day. Robert Semple died in Beltrees Cottage in 1789 at the ripe old age of one hundred and two!
© 2019, Helen Calcluth, Renfrewshire Local History Forum