55] John Morrison is first recorded as being a valet to Lord Charles Douglas. He was with him in Lisbon at the time of a great earthquake which occurred on 1 November 1755, which caused much damage and death from which the Douglas party escaped. Later he obtained a job as clerk in the Excise Office and was placed on the roll of the Poor Knights of Windsor[i] which accounted for his assumption of the title ‘Sir’. The family supplemented their small income by taking boarders, one of whom acquired notoriety by claiming to be the son of the Lord Mayor of London. He adopted an extravagant life style and became so heavily in debt that he had to retire to the Abbey precinct to avoid his debtors.[ii]
[i] The Poor Knights of Windsor was an order consisting of retired soldiers in poor circumstances, who were required to pray daily for the Monarch and the Members of the |Order of the Garter, for which they were paid a pension of a few pence.
[ii] The Holyrood Sanctuary was an area in the vicinity of Holyrood Abbey where debtors could live without fear of arrest. It dated from a charter granted by King David I in the 12th Century and continued until 1880 when imprisonment for debt was abolished. Fergusson in his poem Auld Reekie described this sanctuary.
Our palace and our ancient state,
Blest place whare debtors daily run,
To rid themsels frae jail and dun;
Here, tho’ sequester’d frae the din
That rings Auld Reikie’s wa’s within,
Yet they may tread the sunny braes,
And brook Apollo’s cheary rays;
Glowr frae St. Anthon’s graffy height,
O’er vales in simmer claise bedight,
Nor ever hing their head, I ween,
Wi’ jealous fear o’ being seen.
May I, whanever duns come nigh,
And shake my garret wi’ their cry,
Scour here wi’ haste, protection get,
To screen mysel’ frae them and debt;
To breathe the bliss o’ open sky,