Robert Burns and Elspeth Buchan both lived near Closeburn while Daniel Defoe wrote about a journey he made to Upper Nithsdale.


Please use the links below.


References (for all documents)


1          Robert Burns - Ch V by Principal Shairp

2          The Burns Encyclopaedia in

3          Dictionary of National Biography - Elspeth Buchan entry

4          Daniel Defoe - Letter XII, 1725


The Buchanites


An entry in the Dictionary of National Biography says that Mrs Elspeth Buchan (1738-1791) was the daughter of an innkeeper near Banff.  During a visit to Greenock she met and married Robert Buchan, a potter.  They separated and in 1781 she moved with his children to Glasgow, where she heard the Revd. Hugh White preach.  She was so impressed that she moved to Irvine and persuaded Mr White that she was a saint specially privileged by Heaven.  She claimed to be immortal and able to give immortality to her followers by breathing on them.  Mr White declared from the pulpit that she was the woman mentioned in Revelations while she declared the Minister to be the child the woman brought forth.  In Irvine the sect was reputed to practise behaviour including "a community of wives" and "orgies in the woods" that contravened social norms as they prepared to ascend en bloc at short notice to Heaven.


Robert Burns heard her preach in Irvine and reported that "their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon; among others she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them which she does by with postures and gestures which are scandalously indecent.  They have likewise a community of goods and live nearly an idle life in barns and woods where they lodge and lie together and hold likewise a community of women as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no mortal sin."


On expulsion from Irvine, they settled in Dumfriesshire and as they did not believe in marriage led a holy life like brothers and sisters. Elspeth Buchan and her followers the Buchanites moved to New Cample Farm in Nithsdale.  They lived temporarily in an old barn whilst they built a rough community house known as 'Buchan Ha'.  Here they suffered further persecution, but managed to stay on, growing to 60 members, until local magistrates forced them out.

They lodged in the New Cample house from April 1784 to March 1787.  Once she was assailed as a witch, but protected by the sheriff, who afterwards tried 42 of the rioters.  They also did not believe in regular paid employment.  They eventually moved to Newhouse, Crocketford where she died.  The cottage still survives south of Thornhill in a field east of the A76.


The society came to an end when Mrs Buchan shattered the illusions of her followers in 1791 by dying a natural death.  The end of the Buchanite saga came in 1846, when the last Buchanite, Andrew Innes, died.  Innes, who lived at Crocketford, had expected a resurrection of the mummified body of Mother Buchan on March 29th 1841 - the 50th anniversary of her death.  He was disappointed and died at Newhouse in 1846, which coincided with the discovery of Mother Buchan's hidden, mummified body.

It has been said that Robert Burns had a secret lover who was a member of the Buchanites and some people think he may actually have been involved with the sect but there is no evidence of this.