Merkland and Andrew Gibson

Merkland Farm and the River Nith

Andrew Gibson was born in New Cumnock on 23rd December 1841, probably at Merkland farm overlooking the River Nith, where his father William Kennedy Gibson  worked as an agricultural labourer and had married Janet Black, the farmer’s daughter. The family later moved to Pathhead where Andrew and his younger brother Peter  worked as clerks at the nearby railway station. Andrew was 18 years old when his mother passed away in 1859 and five years later his father married Janet Lapraik, the granddaughter of John Lapraik, a good friend of Robert Burns.

Andrew eventually moved to Glasgow (although it is unclear if he did so before his father re-married ) to work as a shipping clerk for G. & J. Burns , pioneers in providing steamer  services between Scotland and Ireland, at their Jamaica Street office in the city. Andrew progressed in the company and in the late 1880’s he and his family moved to Belfast where he worked as a steamship agent for the G. & J. Burns.

Neal Garnham in ‘Association Football and Society in Pre-partition Ireland’ summed up Gibson’s impact in his new life in Belfast.

andrew_gibson‘Over the next three decades he established himself a secure place in the city’s commercial, intellectual and sporting elites. By 1910 Andrew Gibson was the Belfast agent for both the Burns and Cunard lines. He was also the Governor of the Belfast Library and Society for Promoting Knowledge, colloquially as the Linen Hall Library. In fact in 1901 he has been responsible for providing the library with a collection of works by and on Robert Burns that was unrivalled in the world. He was also regarded as an authority on the Irish poet Thomas Moore, and had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland. Under the auspices of the Linen Hall he also became involved in the 1903 Belfast Harp Festival, and joined the Irish Folk Song Society. On the sporting front Gibson served for three years as the president of the Belfast Bowling Club and as early as 1892 was both president of the Cliftonville Football Club and vice-president of the Irish Football Association.’

Andrew Gibson was a great (almost fanatical) collector of the works of Robert Burns as well as those of fellow Scot’s poet Allan Ramsay and the celebrated Irish poet Thomas Moore.

‘The Oxford History of the Irish Book, Volume IV, The Irish Book in English’ , 1800-1891. Edited by James H. Murphy’ captures Andrew Gibson’s aspirations as a collector –

“He particularly wished to acquire every edition of Burns he could accrue and went to great lengths to do is. His Burns collection received international attention when over 300 of his texts were lent to the Burns Exhibition in Glasgow in 1896. It was said that the Burns poetry books included 728 distinct editions, running to over 1,000 volumes with a further 1,000 volumes relating to materials dedicated to Burns.”

The Burns Exhibition was held in the Galleries of The Royal Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow from 15th July to 31st October, 1896 – the centenary year of the death of Robert Burns,


Two of the many Burns’ editions lent by Andrew Gibson – Glasgow (278) and Belfast (714)

  •  278. Poems ascribed to Robert Burns, the Ayrshire bard, not contained in any edition of his works hitherto published.Glasgow, printed by Chapman & Lang, for Thomas Stewart, bookseller and stationer. [8vo., fours.] 1801
  • 714 Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect. By Robert Burns.
    Belfast : printed and sold by James Magee, no. 9, Bridge-street. [i2mo.] mdcclxxxvii

In a remarkable twist of fate after marrying William Kennedy Gibson, Janet Lapraik the grand-daughter of John Lapraik, became step-mother to his seven children including Andrew Gibson who became renowned for his collections of the works of Robert Burns.