Ettrick Shepherd’s NZ link

Visitors to the James Hogg exhibition at Ettrick found themselves unexpectedly mingling with the writer’s great-great-grandson recently.


Bruce Gilkison, from New Zealand, had walked over the hill from nearby St Mary’s Loch where he was camping for the night.

He was on a trip to Scotland to visit places and walk in the footsteps of his famous forebear.

Bruce’s connection with the writer, known as The Ettrick Shepherd, comes through Hogg’s daughter, Harriet, who married Robert Gilkison and then emigrated to New Zealand when their son, also called Robert Gilkison, (Bruce’s grandfather) was 17, taking him with them as a reluctant traveller.

James Hogg statue at St. Mary's Loch.

Bruce’s own father was called Walter Scott Gilkison, while his uncle was called James Hogg Gilkison, demonstrating that the Gilkison family’s interest in their Border family roots has remained strong even on the other side of the world.

Viewing the exhibition housed at Ettrick Primary School, Bruce was clearly very interested and also delighted to find out that he looks very like some of Ettrick’s older residents.

He was especially pleased to meet some of them over tea as his visit luckily coincided with an event in the Boston Hall.

Bruce intends to travel to Toronto next year for a major conference on Hogg and has said he will come back to the Borders the following year.

One of the volunteers helping staff the exhibition on the day was local Scottish Borders councillor, Vicky Davidson.

“It was a fantastic surprise to meet Bruce when he appeared over the hill and to hear about his family in New Zealand,” she told us.

“Also, he looked so familiar – it was quite strange to meet such a close descendant linking directly back to James Hogg who looked so at home in Ettrick.”

Now back in New Zealand, Bruce told us from his home this week: “I really enjoyed my visit to Ettrick, and I learnt a lot. And it’s really good to know that local history, including that of my ancestor, is alive and well there.”

The exhibition is now closed for the winter but will reopen next year. Visitors this summer came from all over the world and many had travelled long distances specifically to learn more about James Hogg or because they had studied his work.

In April, Bruce will travel to Toronto, where he will present a lecture on Hogg’s links with New Zealand. The conference will also hear a talk from Professor Peter Richardson, Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Toronto.

Professor Richardson is a 
direct descendant of Isabella Richardson (Tibby Shiels), Hogg’s close friend and possible paramour.