The last Rosslyn

Photo 1

The last Rosslyn was noted for his expertise as a golfer and archer.This painting by Sir George Chalmers hangs in the hall of the Royal Company of Archers in Edinburgh. Courtesy of Nicholas Goodyer, London.

Photo 2

Dr William St Clare of Preston, the 'Bustard Grandson' of the last Rosslyn.Courtesy of Keith Johnson, Secret Preston (2015).

William St Clair, the last Rosslyn, ‘was a man considerably above six feet, with dark grey locks, a form upright, but gracefully so, thin-flanked and broad shouldered’ according to Sir Walter Scott. On 24 November 1736, he resigned the Hereditary Protectorate of Operative Masonry in Scotland, which had been vested in his ancestors by the earlier charters, and in Edinburgh on 30 November was chosen as the first Grand Master of the Scottish Grand Lodge of Speculative Masons for the following year.

William married Cordelia, the daughter of Sir George Wishart of Cliftonhall. They had three sons and five daughters, but all died young except Sarah. He sold what remained of the family estates to General Saint Clair, second son of Henry Lord Sinclair, the heir of William St Clair, the last earl of Orkney, which are now in the possession of the St Clair-Erskines, earls of Rosslyn.

At the end of his life William lived in a house near the bottom of Libberton Wynd, opposite Cowgate, in Edinburgh. He died at the age of 78 years on 4 January 1778. A Funeral Grand Lodge was held in his honour, which was attended by almost 400 ‘masters, officers, and brethren of all the lodges in Edinburgh’.


Frail man, how like the meteor’s blaze!
How evanescent are thy days!
Protracted to its longest date,
How short the time indulged by Fate!
Nor force Death’s potent arm can brave,
Nor Wisdom’s self elude the grave.
Where e’er our various journies tend,
To this we soon or late descend.
Thither from mortal eye retired,
Though oft beheld and still admired.
St Clair to dust its claim resigns,
And in sublimer regions shines.
Let us, whom ties fraternal bind,
Beyond the rest of human kind,
Like St Clair live, like St Clair die,
Then join the Eternal Lodge on high.


His daughter Sarah married Sir Peter Wedderburn of Chester Hall and they had two children. Alexander (1733–1805) married twice but his only child died young. He was created the 1st earl of Rosslyn on 21 April 1801 and was succeeded by his nephew Sir James St Clair-Erskine, the son of his sister Janet and Sir Henry Erskine, 5th baronet of Alva.

According to Sarah’s will of 9 May 1789, her father also had ‘natural’ daughter. She was Jean St Clair and then living in Artichoke Lane, Wapping in London. Sarah provided her with an annuity of £20 and bequeathed £50 to a ‘Bustard Grandson’, Mr William St Clair, a surgeon in Clithero. He was Jean’s son, who was born in 1752. Jane St Clare, as she was referred to in William’s will, was living in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, in 1812. She died and was buried at the church of St Ambrose, Grindleton, Yorkshire, on 8 December 1816.

Jane’s son William obtained his medical degree at Edinburgh on 24 June 1780, and set up a very successful practice in Preston, Lancashire. He married firstly Ann Lawson, by whom he had Francis (1782–1827), William (1784–1847), Charles James (1787–1865) and Alexander (1789–1860), and secondly Betty Gardener. William died in 1822 and was also buried at St Ambrose, Grindleton. His many friends subscribed £258 11s to erect a tablet to his memory in the parish church of St John, Preston.