John “Earl Lindsay” Crawfurd
Hugh Miller gave the only account to have come down to us about what the claimant, one John Crawford was actually like, in his autobiography, My Schools and Schoolmasters. The Crawfurd claim was only one of nearly four hundred claims lodged between 1830 and 1840. By then, John Crawfurd had been pursuing his peerage with grim determination for twenty years. The landed family Crawfurd of Kilbirnie was founded in 1470. The family seat moved in 1757 to Crawfurd Priory in Fife. John Crawford (subsequently “John Lindsay Crawfurd”) came from Dungannon in the North of Ireland to Ayrshire in 1809, knowing of the Crawfurd of Kilbirnie line. He immediately set about looking in local parish records for a likely “forbear.” He then took his claim to be an heir of the first Viscount Crawfurd to court, only to have his documentary evidence shown to consist entirely of forgeries. In 1812, he and his forger accomplice were sentenced to 14 years’ transportation to Australia. He managed to get his sentence remitted and “bobbed up in Britain again” in 1820. He had ruined one Ayrshire landed family foolish enough to support him in his first venture. He now worked his way through another £5000 of other people’s money between 1820 and 1824, in legal action which repeatedly failed. John Crawford (or Crawfurd) was not only a genealogical fraud. Towards the end of his second inheritance attempt in the courts, he is found, in Kilbirnie Parish Church records in November 1824, to have been the father of a child in adultery. Crawford was 53 years old at this point, an advanced age for the time. The Kirk Session called the deed a “scandal of an atrocious nature.” The Session thought he had left the country, but he had in fact simply escaped any consequences by flitting to Edinburgh. Here Hugh Miller enters the story, for while working as a stonemason at Niddrie House south of Edinburgh, in the winter of 1824/5, he encountered Crawford, employed as a stonemason’s labourer. Hugh’s account of Crawford is contained in Chapter XV of his autobiography, My Schools and Schoolmasters. No more was heard of Crawford until 1829, when a book renewing his claim, “The Crawfurd Peerage”, made its appearance, repeating all the old lies and complaints of corruption in high places. Crawford, now in his sixties, died soon after. His story has the strangest of endings, supplied by Lady Mary Lindsay Crawfurd, who seems to have taken pity on him, although he had been attempting to deprive her of her inheritance for nearly twenty years, and who was herself over seventy by then. Apparently, she authorised his remains to be interred in the Crawfurd family vault, under the Crawfurd Gallery in the Auld Kirk of Kilbirnie.