John Nairne - Lieutenant Colonel

Personal data

Died November 07, 1782
Alias
Colonel Nairne
Biography

Lieutenant Colonel. Son of John Murray (d. 1770), 3rd Lord Nairne, and Catherine Murray (1692-1754).

Nairne married (abt. 1756) Brabazon (d. 1801), daughter of Richard Wheeler of Leyrath.

Life with Boswell

On August 20, 1773, Boswell and Johnson went with Professor Andrew Shaw to see Colonel Nairne's garden and grotto, a feature in St Andrews, now long since lost. Boswell described it as follows, in his Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides:

Here was a fine old plane tree. Unluckily the colonel said, there was but this and another large tree in the county. This assertion was an excellent cue for Dr Johnson, who laughed enormously, calling to me to hear it. He had expatiated to me on the nakedness of that part of Scotland which he had seen. His Journey has been violently abused, for what he has said upon this subject. But let it be considered, that, when Dr Johnson talks of trees, he means trees of good size, such as he was accustomed to see in England; and of these there are certainly very few upon the EASTERN COAST of Scotland. Besides, he said, that he meant to give only a map of the road; and let any traveller observe how many trees, which deserve the name, he can see from the road from Berwick to Aberdeen. Had Dr Johnson said, 'there are NO trees' upon this line, he would have said what is colloquially true; because, by no trees, in common speech, we mean few. When he is particular in counting, he may be attacked. I know not how Colonel Nairne came to say there were but TWO large trees in the county of Fife. I did not perceive that he smiled. There are certainly not a great many; but I could have shewn him more than two at Balmuto, from whence my ancestors came, and which now belongs to a branch of my family.

 

The grotto was ingeniously constructed. In the front of it were petrified stocks of fir, plane, and some other tree. Dr Johnson said, 'Scotland has no right to boast of this grotto: it is owing to personal merit. I never denied personal merit to many of you.' Professor Shaw said to me, as we walked, 'This is a wonderful man: he is master of every subject he handles.' Dr Watson allowed him a very strong understanding, but wondered at his total inattention to established manners, as he came from London.