15. Thomas Hunter

Thomas Hunter Esquire of (East) Polquhirter

Residence: East Polquhirter

The lands of Polquhirter in the parish of New Cumnock in 1833 were held by two heritors namely Thomas Hunter (East Polquhirter & High Polquhirter) and William McTurk (West Polquhirter).

West Polquhirter, East Polquhirter and High Polquhirter

 East Polquhirter and High Polquhirter

These lands were originally known as Nether and Over Polquhirter and in the early 18th century formed part of the Barony of Afton created  in 1706 for Sir William Gordon ( now 1st Baronet of Afton), son of Sir William Gordon of Earlston ( See Heritor 6 : Misses Stewart). In the same year the Reverend  Thomas Hunter was ordained as Minister of the parish of New Cumnock and served that parish for over 50 years before passing away in 1760 aged 95 years old.  The minister acquired the property of Nether Polquhirter and so began the Hunter family’s connection with the property for four and more probably five generations.  He also owned Over or High Polquhirter but sold these off to William Farquhar of the Hall of Auchencross in the parish.

Auld Kirk and Kirkyard, New Cumnock

In the Deed of Settlement of Thomas Hunter Esquire of Polquhirter, the heritor in 1833,   is said to have succeeded to the lands of Nether Polquhirter ‘as heir to Mr Thomas Hunter, sometime Minister of the Gospel at New Cumnock, my grandfather’. However, closer scrutiny of the genealogical records of the Hunter family suggest that Thomas was more likely to be the great-grandson of the Reverend Hunter (b.1665- d. 1760) and the grandson of the minister’s only son Joseph Hunter (b.1696-d.1762).

Unfortunately the baptismal record of Thomas Hunter has not survived and there is no definite record to confirm his parentage. However from the inscription on his tombstone it can be estimated that he was born in 1758 or thereabouts. In the Old Parish records of this period the names of the four daughters of another Thomas Hunter and his wife Mary Henry all born at Polquhirter are found; namely Jean (b.1749), Mary (b. 1751), Isabell (b.1753) and Marjory (b.1755). It is likely that Thomas is their brother and as the eldest son fell heir to the lands of Nether Polquhirter.

Thomas Hunter, Laird of Polquhirter (1758-1836)

Thomas Hunter married Jean Kay at Old Cumnock on 12th December 1794 at which time he was referred to as the Laird of Polquhirter, suggesting his father had passed away.  Jean was the daughter of William Kay of Garlaff, Old Cumnock. Together they had four children, William (b.1795), Thomas (b.1801), Margaret (b.1805) and Jean (b.1812) and the name East Polquhirter now appeared on the baptismal records.

East Polquhirter

As well as holding the lands of Nether Polquhirter , Thomas Hunter also reacquired the lands of High Polquhirter that the Reverend Thomas Hunter had sold off to  William Farquhar of the Hall of Auchencross. These were later held by Thomas Campbell and his creditors and thereafter by William Howatson in Derntaggrat (Ochiltree) before being purchased  by Thomas Hunter.

West Polquhirter with High Polquhirter in the background

Thomas Hunter passed away in 1836, aged 78 years and in his Deed and Settlement he left the lands of Nether Polquhirter to his eldest son William and Over Polquhirter to his second son Thomas Hunter. Provisions were also made for his widow Jean Key .

  • ‘that William and Thomas shall be bound to give Jean Key possession of an acre of good land during all the days of her life
  • that William shall give her the liferent use and possession of the low room in the west end of the house of Polquhirter with the closet in the lobby and also to build her a kitchen adjoining to the said room if she shall desire it, and she also have the use of suitable furniture for the said apartments together with the half the garden’
  • ‘and she shall also have one of the best cows  which the said William and Thomas shall be bound to graze and fodder summer and winter along with the other cows and they shall also be bound to lead to her ten carts of coals and to cast and lead six carts of peat annually

Thomas also left money for his daughter Jean and his granddaughter Jean Steel, daughter of his deceased daughter Margaret.

Sadly, his wife Jean Key died the within the year and their son Thomas Hunter M.D. erected a headstone in their memory adjacent to that of the Reverend Thomas Hunter, Joseph and Hunter and their families in the Auld Kirkyard.

  • William Hunter

Eldest son William Hunter and his wife Janet Key (possibly a relative of his mother Jean Key, although the couple were married at Dalmellington)  had five children during the period 1829-1836 while living at East Polquhirter. Having inherited the property from his father  William decided that life as the Laird of Polquhirter was not for him . He and his family emigrated to the USA in 1837 , sailing from Liverpool to New York and settling in Little Rock, Kendall County, Illinois.

William Hunter & Janet Key (Courtesy Anne Sears, FindMyGrave)
  • Jean Hunter

Daughter Jean Hunter married Dundonald born William Orr a tenant farmer on the estate of the 13th Earl of Eglinton. He  was the herald for the famous 1839 Eglinton Tournament, then spent a few years managing farms in Peebleshire and at Monmouth. They sailed to Adelaide, South Australia in the “Gloucester” arriving 13th August 1852. This was gold rush time in Australia and William spent some time at the Mount Alexander fields in Victoria but eventually took his family to Queensland and building on his Scottish farming experience he took up land and followed various agricultural pursuits but specialised in dairy cattle and was famed locally for his butter and cheese. (Thank you to Alan Telford, the great great grandson of Jean Hunter for allowing me to share his family information and please visit his web-site  Telford

  • Thomas Hunter M.D

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With his eldest brother William off to the USA, Thomas Hunter moved into East Polquhirter with his wife Kirkconnel-born Mary Kerr, the daughter of Robert Kerr , shoemaker and Margaret Lammie. In the baptism record of their first-born child, Mary (1838) her father is referred to as Thomas Hunter Esq. M.D. and now the ‘Laird of Polquhirter’. Together the couple had three more children – Thomas (b.1839), Jane (b.1841 d. 1842) and Jane (b.1845).

In 1854 Dr Thomas Hunter sold off the estate of East  Polquhirter, including High Polquhirter, for the sum of £8000 to Miss Guthrie of the Mount, Kilmarnock  who had purchased the lands of West Polquhirter the previous year.  The family continued to live at East Polquhirter but now as tenants and it was here in 1870 the last of the Hunter ‘Lairds of Polquhirter’ passed away. He and his family lie in the family lair in the Auld Kirkyard against the walls of the Auld Kirk.

Hunter family plot Auld Kirkyard

Right: Tombstone of Rev Thomas Hunter (d. 1760), his first wife Christian Ker (d. 1745) his son Joseph Hunter (d.1762) and no doubt his spouse Mary Kirkwood

Left: Erected by Thomas Hunter M.D in memory of his father Thomas Hunter (d.1836), his mother Jane Key (d. 1837), daughter Jane (d. 1842), niece Jane (d.1834). It is here too that Dr Thomas Hunter and his wife Mary Kerr probably lie.

The Hunter Tree

  1. Reverend Thomas Hunter  (b.1665 d.1760) m1. Christian Ker m2. Jean Welsh
  2. Joseph Hunter (b.1696 d. 1762) m. Mary Kirkwood
  3. Thomas Hunter (b.1721 d. <1794) m. Mary Henry
  4. Thomas Hunter (b.1758 d.1838) m. Jean Key
  5. Dr. Thomas Hunter (b.1801 d. 1870) m. Mary Kerr

Proprietor Thomas Hunter / Land Tax Rolls 1803: Nether Polquhirter