George Malcolm – Father of the Four Knights of Eskdale


George Malcolm was born the son of a Minister.

His father was Robert Malcolm the Minister of Ewes Kirk near Langholm. Robert had been given the farm of Burnfoot by the local laird. George should have followed his father into the ministry but a speech impediment made this impossible.

Across the river from Burnfoot lay the farm of Craig, belonging to the Pasley family, whose eldest son was the same age as Robert’s son George (1729-1803). There was no bridge across the river, but it was easily fordable at most times of the year. The children of the two families would have swum and frolicked on the sandbank where the river bends from north to east opposite Burnfoot. George would have had plenty of opportunities to meet Margaret Pasley (1742-1811) – “Bonnie Peggy Pasley” – the second youngest of the Pasley children. And shortly after his father’s death in 1761, he married her.

They began their married life at Douglen. He had been included in the ‘tack’ of Burnfoot in 1758, and must have fancied himself as a sheep farmer, for he wrote a treatise on the subject which was included in Thomas Tennant’s ‘Tour of Scotland’, published in 1762.

But George and Margaret’s main claim to enduring fame was their astonishing fecundity. Over the next twenty years they produced 17 children – ten sons and seven daughters, all but one of them surviving to maturity.

Unfortunately George’s farming income did not increase with the number of his progeny, and his financial straits were exacerbated by an unsuccessful foray into the wine trade, which bankrupted him in 1780, and left him in debt for the rest of his life.

He was forced to “place” his sons in careers when they were still very young. Fortunately he had plenty of influential patrons.

Chief among these were the Johnstone family, who owned the neighbouring property of Westerhall. Sir William Johnstone, the 5th baronet, a long serving MP and later a director of the East India Company, had the good sense to marry Frances Pulteney, the niece of Lord Bath, who was said to have inherited over one million pounds.

Through them and through the good offices of Margaret’s brother John Pasley, a London merchant, the sons were well “placed”. Four of them went into the Navy, two into the East India Company, two became independent merchants in India, one an Anglican priest in England, and only one took up local employment in Scotland. Four of them, furthermore, achieved knighthoods, but that is another story. Only one of the Knights, Pulteney Malcolm, concerns us at this time.

A letter which recently came into the possession of the Langholm Library Trust contains a section which tells of an, until now, incident in the early naval career of Lt Pulteney.