The History of Leith

March 23, 2012


On the last Sunday of April, some of the congregation
may have observed on the green turf behind a large
upright tombstone, in South Leith churchyard, a number
of wreaths of white flowers—the pathetic memorial of a
recent burial. These fast-fading tributes of affection and
regard indicated the spot where was laid to rest, in the
preceding week, one of the members of South Leith
Parish Church, Mrs Catherine Gilfillan Brown. She was
a descendant of him to whose memory the large tombstone
As a poet he was not one of the great masters ” whose
distant footsteps echo through the corridors of time ;”
but he was one of the humbler poets, who, even amidst
the cares and toils of business, and the bustle and turmoi
of our busy town, still heard in his soul the far-off music
of wonderful melodies, and strove, as God had given him
power to reproduce in words some few notes of these, for
the eyes and ears of his less gifted fellow-men. This is
one of his poems :
Oh, why left I my hame ?
Why did I cross the deep ?
Oh, Why left I the land
Where my forefathers sleep ?
I sigh for Scotia’s shore,
And I gaze across the sea,
But I canna get a blink
O’ my ain countrie !
The palm-tree waveth high
And fair the myrtle springs ;
And, to the Indian maid,
The bulbul sweetly sings ;
But I dinna see the broom
Wr its tassels on the lea,
Nor hear the lintie’s sang
O’ my ain countrie !
Oh here no Sabbath bell
Awakes the Sabbath morn,
Nor song of reapers heard
Amang the yellow corn :
For the tyrant’s voice is here,
And the wail of slaverie ;
But the sun of freedom shines
In my ain countrie.
There’s a hope for every woe,
And a balm for every pain,
But the first joys o’ our heart
Come never back again.
There’s a track upon the deep,
And a path across the sea ;
But the weary ne’er return
To their ain countrie.
Sweet minstrel, lying beneath the cold ground, thou
art indeed exiled from the song of the birds, from sound
of the Sabbath bell, from the low-breathing winds of
summer, and the light of the sun ; but may thine be the
awakening in a land where God shall wipe away all tears,
and where there shall be no more sorrow, nor crying ; for
the former things are passed away ; and where the city of
thy habitation shall need neither sun nor moon to shine
in it, for the glory of God shall be the light thereof.
W. M. L.

Source-South Leith Church Magazine 1911
was raised. He was a poet of some little fame, and it is
therefore not inappropriate that, under the circumstances,
his name should be brought before the readers of this
magazine. He was named Robert Gilfillan. By birth a
native of Dunfermline, he yet appeared to have spent
the greater part of his life in Leith. Here he occupied,
successively, two positions, . He was clerk to a Leith wine
merchant, and afterwards he became collector of the poor
rates in this town. His death took place in the year
1850 ; at which time he was fifty-two years of age.
As one reads the inscription on the grave-stone, one
is pleased to note that the people of Leith were not
inappreciative of the poetical merits of their fellowtownsman,
for these are the words^engraved upon this
monument: ” Erected as a tribute to his worth as a man,
and his genius as a writer of Scottish Song.”

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