Robert Burns’ links to Catrine came at the time when the village was about to be transformed drastically from a small hamlet to a thriving mill town with a population on a par with other industrial areas in Ayrshire. On a date made famous by his poem ‘Lines On Meeting With Lord Daer’ – October 23, 1786 – Burns and his friend Dr Mackenzie paid a visit to the home of Professor Dugald Stewart. This building still exists, albeit in an internally altered state, as Nether Catrine House. It’s worth noting at this point that a surprising number of the biographers of Burns get the location wrong and put it outwith the heart of the village such as Catrine Bank (now Daldorch) built 1801 and Catrine House (demolished 1940s) built 1820.
An unexpected guest on this occasion was Lord Daer, a young member of the aristocracy no doubt seeking to draw on the vast wealth of knowledge possessed by his host, a notable professor of mathematics and philosophy at Edinburgh University – a man who was later honoured with one of the capital city’s most prominent monuments.
It was almost certainly the first time Burns met a lord face to face, but typical of Scotland’s national bard he ends the poem with the words ‘For he but meets a brother’. The future path of both showed there are few certainties in life. Burns soon after this visit travelled through to Edinburgh to negotiate a second edition of his poems which gave him a reasonable degree of wealth. Sadly he would only live for a further 10 years dying at the age of 37. Who knows what further works he could have written. Lord Daer actually fared worse departing the world at the age of 28 with the same disease that Burns’ father died of – tuberculosis or ‘consumption’ as it was known in those days of limited medical knowledge. The village of Catrine, of course, although no longer a mill town and greatly changed, still soldiers on!
Photos courtesy of ayrshirehistory.com