We are usually very charitable people and sympathise with people in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves.
They are always grouped into little modules, or big modules as the case may be. Refugees, immigrants, unemployed, undesirables, homeless and no matter what group they belong to, we have an opinion.
Sometimes that opinion is just an opinion, without feeling or sympathy.
We hear sad stories through all the media sources now, some genuine, some are not and some folks choose a way of life different to ours, some have a way of life by accident.
My daughter’s recent encounter with a homeless gent was enough to put a face on at least one problem ‘module’, homelessness and all we know is he didn’t start off that way. However through that, I was reminded of the story of someone who had lived not far from me and who was born in the latter half of the 18th century, Tommy Raeburn, also known as the Ayrshire Hermit. He was by no means homeless but for the sake of a fairly minor disagreement, he must have looked as if he was.
He was the only son in a family of four.
His father was known to be a quiet, honest, frugal man who eventually took possession of a farm in our area, a farm which Tommy inherited on his death, while his three sisters received nothing from the inheritance and had to go out and fend for themselves.
In the meantime Tommy, a bachelor and quite dour, kept the land tilled, he also retained a servant of his father’s to take care of household & dairy duties. Margaret or Meg, as she was known had been in the family for many years and it had been thought that with the dismissal of his sisters, this was to make way for Meg to become the ‘Laird’s’ new wife. This was not so, instead he did try courting the daughter of a neighbouring farmer but at the last minute, on approaching her home, instead of paying court to her, his nerves must have given way and he sheepishly asked directions to a neighbouring village.
He came to and agreement with his cousin, a neighbouring farmer about allowing his cousin to cut across his land as a shortcut to town, saving him an extra mile on the journey in exchange Tommy could have as much land as he needed.
Eventually a quarrel broke out regarding the arrangement and Tommy threatened to close off the right of way.
The case went to court but as the arrangement had been legally executed, Tommy lost the argument and vowed from that time on, he would never shave his beard, cut his hair, change his clothing, nor till the land until his ground was lawfully restored to him again.
After a while, his appearance is reported to have been ‘beyond description’.
His clothes were so patched that the original coat could not be distinguished.
His hair and beard described like sheep’s fleece ready for shearing and his shoes worn out and made into clogs.
He was a man of over 6 feet in stature and would have made quite an imposing figure.
He became a tourist attraction and many people visited him from the surrounding areas. He welcomed visitors and was most hospitable to them, offering lemonade and ginger beer.
He entertained them displaying his ability of taming wild birds and would have a robin peck crumbs from his beard.
He is reputed to have made good cheese and whisky although a substantial part of his income came from such tourism.
Although nicknamed the Ayrshire Hermit, he was not a recluse and a visit to his farm was considered a popular outing by young people. Tommy Raeburn died on June 1843, aged 73 years, leaving an estate of £2,400 which was divided amongst his relatives.
(£2400 in 1843 would probably be worth about £78,000 today)