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Westerkirk, Dumfriesshire: designs for a family mausoleum for Sir James Johnstone, 1790, as executed (4)


Sir James Johnstone, 4th Baronet (1726-94), was a Scottish officer in the British army and a politician. He was the eldest son of Barbara and Sir James Johnstone, 3rd baronet and Barbara Murray, daughter of Alexander Murray, 4th Lord Elibank. Of his several brothers, John and William (later William Pulteney) had schemes made by the Adam office for their respective estates. In 1759, James married Louisa Coclough, widow of the Reverend John Meyrick.

James stood unsuccessfully in the 1774 election, but succeeded in 1784 sitting for Dumfries Burghs until 1790, followed by Weymouth and Melcombe Regis 1791-94. As a politician, he was unpredictable and often an individualist. He advocated for complete uniformity between England and Scotland in law and taxes; objected to the extension of penal laws; supported the abolition of the slave trade; and protested against the tax burden on the poor. His brothers, John and George, were both involved in the East India Company. James supported the Opposition, and supported the impeachment of Warren Hastings and Elijah Impey. His brother, Alexander Johnstone, had purchased a large sugar plantation on the West Indian island of Grenada, together with 178 enslaved people in 1766, which James inherited upon Alexander’s death in 1783. He died in 1794 and was succeeded by his brother William Pulteney.

In 1790, Robert Adam made designs for a mausoleum or burying place in the graveyard of Westerkirk Parish Church. The mausoleum was commissioned at the same time as another mausoleum in Alva for Johnstone’s brother, John. Letters between Adam and his Edinburgh Clerk of Works, John Paterson, suggest that both schemes were being managed by just one brother. This was probably James’s brother John, whose work extended beyond a mausoleum, and included alterations to Alva House, with new offices. In 1791, John had asked if Adam would travel via Carlisle and meet at Westerhall, Dumfrieshire, to discuss houses for himself and his brother.

The designs comprised a single-storey building adorned with niches, ox skulls and a pedimented entrance with quasi-Greek Doric columns, with a large domed roof. King states that these columns were first used in the Alva mausoleum and are one of the first uses of this order in Britain and Europe. Paterson’s letters discuss a model having been made of the roof to send to the carpenters and the hiring of a suitable plumber for the lead. The building was constructed to Adam's designs, over the graves of Johnstone’s parents, with the addition of a finial on top of the roof.

See also: Alva House, Clackmannanshire and Johnstone Mausoleum, Alva Churchyard, Clackmannanshire.

Literary references: National Library Scotland: MSS.19992-19993, Letters from John Paterson to Robert Adam, 1790-91; A.T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index, p. 30, 77; M. Sanderson, Robert Adam’s Last Visit to Scotland 1791, Architectural History, Volume 25, 1982, pp. 35-46; D. King, The Complete Works of Robert & James Adam and Unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume 1, pp. 359-362; E. Lady Haden-Guest, ‘JOHNSTONE, Sir James, 4th Bt. (1726-94), of Westerhall, Dumfries.’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-90, 1964, online [accessed 5 December 2023]; UCL, Legacies of British Slavery database, online [accessed 5 December 2023]

With thanks to the Arts Society Fund and the Art Fund’s Jonathan Ruffer Curatorial Grant which enabled archival visits in Edinburgh to support research for this scheme.

Louisa Catt, 2023



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Contents of Westerkirk, Dumfriesshire: designs for a family mausoleum for Sir James Johnstone, 1790, as executed (4)