John Lapraik

John Lapraik was a friend of Robert Burns and a fellow poet. Allegedly descended from a Frenchman who had been part of the retinue of Queen Mary in 1561, he was born in 1727, just outside Muirkirk in Ayrshire. As the oldest of his brothers he eventually succeeded to his father's estate, and became a fairly wealthy farmer. He is remembered today though not as a gentleman farmer but as one of South West Scotland's greatest exponents of prose and the probable subject of Burns' poem 'A Mans a Man for a' That'.

In 1754 he married his first wife Margaret Rankin, who was the sister of John Rankin, another great friend of Burns. Coming as she did from a wealthy family Lapraik received one hundred pounds from her family as a dowry, a tidy sum in the mid-18th century. Margaret died just eight years later giving birth to the couple's fifth child. 

Lapraik remarried in 1766, this time to Janet Anderson who lived on a neighbouring farm and with whom he would go on to have another nine children. Together they lived a prosperous and contented life. 

Not everything went according to plan however; Lapraik had given guarantees to several friends in order for them to take out loans with a new bank, Douglas, Heron & Company in Ayr. The bank crashed in 1773, just four years after it opened.  All loans were called in, leaving Lapraik bankrupt. An honest man, he tried to repay the money by selling his land but still could not raise enough cash and he was prosecuted.  He was thrown in gaol until 1785. 

After his release he rented the mill of Muirsmill from the Earl of Loudoun and it was around this time that he began to correspond with one of his neighbours, an unknown poet by the name of Robert Burns, who had approached Lapraik after reading one of his poems. Burns wrote a total of three epistles to Lapraik which were published in 1786. Although Burns was the first of the two in print, after they met in 1788, Lapraik also published a book entitled 'Poems on Several Occasions'. Although very accomplished and much sought after today, it did not sell well at the time and as a result Lapraik's subscribers lost their money and very few copies of this book still survive. As Burns fame grew and he moved in increasingly higher circles within the Edinburgh gentry, Lapraik remained at Muirsmill until moving back to Muirkirk in 1798 where he opened a public house and post office (which still stands). He died in 1807 aged 80 and was buried in the Kirkyard at Kirkgreen. 

You must enable javascript to view this website