Author of "The Gallovidian Encyclopedia"  John was born in Borgue parish, went to Canada as an engineer, and was an author and poet.. This biographical note is taken from the book Modern Scottish Poets, published in 1888, which contains some of his poetry. Links to this book and to John's works are at the foot of this page.

John Mactaggart, Author, Poet and Engineer.

Author of "The Gallovidian Encyclopedia" (London, 1824), was born in the parish of Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire, in 1800. The title-page of his famous work reads thus "The Scottish Gallovidia, or the original, antiquated, and natural curiosities of the South of Scotland, containing sketches of eccentric characters and curious places, with explanations of singular words, terms, and phrases, interspersed with poems, tales, anecdotes, &c., and various other strange matters; the whole illustrative of the ways of the peasantry and manners of Caledonia, drawn out and alphabetically arranged, by John Mactaggart." Never was such a medley published by any author. To avoid prosecution for the personal nature of one of the sketches, the work was suppressed, and consequently it became scarce. A limited reprint was issued in 1876 by Mr Paterson, Edinburgh, which soon after being published brought from £1 to £3 a copy. It is said that Mactaggart's father first became aware of the existence of the volume through seeing it in a bookseller's shop in Kirkcudbright, and when he reached home he thus accosted his son "John, yer ain family kent ye were a fule, but noo the hale warld 'ill ken."

John, however, was no fool, as his after career showed. In the work referred to he thus alludes to his early history: "My father is a farmer, and throughout my pilgrimage on earth, from the cradle till this moment, I have never met with any whom I considered had so much native strength of intellect. Let no man say of me that I am a creature of ability, for such would be wrong; but that my worthy parent is, and to a great degree, is right; his father was also a farmer, and my grandfather's grandfather got his head cloven at the brack o' Dunbar fighting in the Highland army against Oliver Cromwell. My father rented the farm of Plunton from Murray of Broughton, and this being at the outskirt of the parish my lot was cast three miles from the parish school. A half-grown boy was therefore brought into the house to teach my sisters and me the A, B, C, for I had then two sisters older than myself, though I was the oldest of the boys. This boy taught and lashed us occasionally. I mind of being happy when the harrowing came on, as my father required him to harrow the ploughed land in the sowing season, and not us. A neighbouring farmer became partner with my father in this dominie, so one part of the year my sisters and me went to the farmer's house, and were taught along with his family, and they came to us in return. While at this work coming home one night I tumbled into a peat hole, and should have been drowned had not my sisters been with me; they haurl'd me out, and so saved a valuable life from perishing in glaur. At length my sisters were thought strong enough to go to Borgue Academy; the teaching boy was set adrift, and I being only six years of age was allowed to remain happy at home, as not thought capable to accompany them. After a time," he continues, "I was thought fit to go with my sisters to school, and then again began my woes. Nothing could I learn. I was looked upon as a careless boy, spoiled heuchs for gull eggs, and trees for young craws, went a-fishing frequently, attended all raffles and fairs." He was afterwards sent to Kirkcudbright Academy, and walked four miles going and coming each way. He learned Latin and French in a short time, and obtained the head prize for mathematics. When thirteen years of age he took a dislike to the school, and went to work on the farm, at which employment he continued until he was twenty-one years of age, with the exception of intervals, during which he attended two winter sessions at Edinburgh University.

From "Sketches of Galloway Worthies," by Dr Alex. Trotter, we learn that soon after the publication of the "Encyclopedia" John Mactaggart removed to London. He had become familiar with the business of a millwright, and even before setting out for that city had in some degree learned engineering, which profession he eventually chose as a means of livelihood. He was befriended by Allan Cunningham and John Mayne (author of the "Siller Gun"), then resident in London, and under their patronage engaged in a literary speculation, which, however, was unsuccessful. He also became a frequent contributor to the magazines and journals of the period. In London he became acquainted with the celebrated engineer, Mr Rennie, and through him received the Government appointment of Clerk of Works and resident engineer to the Rideau Canal in Upper Canada, then about to be commenced, and proposed to extend between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario, a distance of 160 miles through an uncleared wilderness. On his arrival in Canada his first work was to survey the proposed route, and offer suggestions as to the best method of proceeding. In this work his engineering abilities came into play, and it is considered that in an undertaking calculated to cost about £500,000 a fifth part of that sum was saved by his skill and exertions.

When in Canada Mactaggart was a frequent writer to the provincial newspapers, and was a member of various learned societies. One of his personal friends was John Gait, author of "The Provost," "Annals of the Parish," "The Entail, or Lairds of Gruppy," and other works celebrated for their pawky Scotch humour. In the summer of 1828 Mactaggart was seized with a dangerous fever, and although he passed through the crisis in safety, his constitution was so much shattered that it was thought advisable he should return to his native country to recruit. On his arrival in Britain he prepared for publication a work in two volumes, small octavo, entitled "Three Years in Canada an account of the actual state of the country in 1826-7-8, comprehending its resources, productions, improvements, and capabilities, and including sketches of the state of society, advice to emigrants, &c." The work, which is mainly a descriptive one, is interspersed with anecdotes and accounts of queer characters he met with in Canada. Mactaggart did not live to enjoy the fame he had merited. In the number of Weekly Visitor for 15th January, 1830 (only a fortnight after the publication of the work), occurs the following obituary notice:- “Died at Torrs of Kirkcudbright, on the 7th instant, Mr John Mactaggary.”

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