Obelisk for Major Ness, 1909

Back in October 2021, I took this photo at High Blantyre Cemetery. I’ve written a lot about the obelisk in the middle, the memorial to the miners who died in the Pit Disaster. However, around the obelisk are smaller ones, remembering prominent figures of Blantyre community life gone by. One such obelisk in the tall one on the right, in memory of Major Ness, the Low Blantyre School Headmaster.

Wanting to know more about the obelisk, I’ve been researching how it came about.

This rather splendid stone obelisk was unveiled on Saturday 13th November 1909 and was of course in memory of Major John Ness. The memorial was erected over the grave of Major Ness, who had died the previous year.

The memorial came about from the Masonic Lodge “Major Ness” No 948, Burnbank, Hamilton and several friends to perpetuate the memory of their friend and honoured patron, who for more than 50 years assisted community life in all areas of Blantyre.

That day, the Brethren of Lodge “Major Ness” of Burnbank met at their premises around 2 o’clock and were joined by colleagues from other Masonic lodges in the District. Headed by Blantyre and Burnbank bands, the Brethren wearing their regalia, marched to High Blantyre and gathered in front of the memorial.

Brother John McCallum RWM presided at the unveiling ceremony and was accompanied on a temporary platform by the Rev. James Mackie B.D Bothwell and Rev James Campbell, Blantyre. Also there was County Councillor John Jackson JP of Bardykes and several officials of Lodge “Major Ness’, Lodge “Livingstone” and others. Led by the bands, they company joined in singing the 100th psalm after which the Rev Mackie engaged in prayer.

Introduced by the Chairman, County Councillor Jackson who unveiled the memorial said the following words “I thank you for the honour you have conferred upon me in asking me to unveil this splendid monument, which has been erected to perpetuate the memory and to mark the spot where lies the remains of our departed friend. He was one of the most distinguished and one of the best liked and best known men in this Parish for well nigh on 60 years. During that time many of us have closely identified with him in several ways. He was foremost in every good work connected with the Parish. He was small of stature, but he had a big, big heart and it was in the right place. He had a lion’s heart and knew no fear. I will now unveil this memorial and when people who are yet unborn wander through this graveyard and ask, who and what was John Ness?, I am satisfied and I think all who are here today also satisfied that they will hear nothing but praise of his name and memory.”

The inscription on the obelisk was then unveiled and Mr Jackson read it out carefully:

To the Glory of God and the Memory of Major John Ness V.D F.E.I.S for Fifty Two years headmaster in this Parish who died at the schoolhouse, Blantyre on 23rd May 1908, aged 75 years. In him all social virtues joined, his judgement sound, his sense refined, his actions ever just. Also lies here, Mary Reid his wife who died at the Schoolhouse, Blantyre on 15th January 1894, aged 57 years.”

A small plaque on the front of the wooden stage read, “This stage is erected in loving memory by the members and friends of the Lodge “Major Ness”, 948 Burnbank, Hamilton.”

The hymn, “When Peace like a river attendeth my way” was sung by the company immediately after the unveiling, then Rev James Mackie minister of Woodean Church, Bothwell said the following tribute to the late Major Ness:

“It is permitted to me to add a few words to those already said by Mr Jackson in his unveiling of this monument. I consider it a great honour indeed to open my lips on this day. This is what he called a commemoration day and I think the chief note should be one of praise and thanksgiving. I consider in coming here today we should come with joyful hearts. Hearts full of gratitude to God for lives of strenuous labour and devotion which was lived among us.

If you were to enter that great building in London, St Pauls [Cathedral] by the northern door, you would read on the slab of marble an inscription with these words in Latin. “If you seek his monument, look around you.” That was said of Sir Christopher Wren, the great Architect of St Pauls. Now, here we are erecting a monument in honour of one who was distinguished in our midst. But i wish to say that he himself built a far more beautiful one that which has been erected. And that memorial is one which is written in the hearts and minds of his scholars, his friends, his fellow townsmen, his fellow Christians and all indeed whom he came into contact with. ‘The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance’ and I’m sure the memory of John Ness shall remain in the minds of this community as a great inspiration to us. If I were to speak of the secret of his life, I would say that he saw one clue to life and followed it. He was one who was most absorbed in his profession. He magnified his office and was eminently successful in it because of the devotion which he pursued it.

1890s Major John Ness, Blantyre

But dear friends, his was a great soul. As Mr Jackson has said, he had a big heart. He was a Christian man and he grace of God was in his heart. On that account, he lived a full and many sided life. He took a warm, deep interest in the people of this place and in the coming of the Kingdom of God. Is it not true that we might call him a great lover of his home, as well as of his School, a great lover of his Church, his Nation and a great lover of his Saviour. I don’t know anybody whose heart was closer to the Saviour than his and on that account, his interest, i can assure you, at least in the congregation to which he belonged, was very deep and true. Is it not the case dear friends that he will live among you just because of the deep interest he took in all the schemes and agencies which were launched in your midst for the good of fellows and for their elevation.

I can tell you that he spent not only days but evenings thinking on the welfare of those who were round about him. He had a very broad idea of his office as a schoolmaster. His aim was to make good men and women out of the boys and girls he had to educate. His aim was to make them good citizens of this realm and best of all good Christians and good servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is one feature of his character, which I would like to direct your attention and then I will close because I think our ceremony today should not be unduly prolonged. I am glad there are so many hymns to sing in order to make this a joyful service. The one outstanding feature of his character was his optimism. Was he not an optimist? Was he not a great hopeful man? Why can we not recall today, just his look and his very smile? Was there not something like inspiration in these? Can we not even think of him today with his voice calling to you in trumpet tones to go and do your duty and to be noble men and women fighting on the side of righteousness and truth. Yes, he was one how never doubted clouds would break. He was one who never turned backward but looked right forward. Ay, and I can tell you as his minister that he even greeted the unseen with a cheer and on that account he was a noble example to us of simple Christian faith. Yet, he was great in head, in heart and soul. I would ask chiefly to these young people, when they do come here and when they are told in whose memory this stone is erected, I would ask them to take this memory with them as an inspiration, so that they may follow in his footsteps. I again thank those who have asked me here for this honour of opening my lips on this occasion. Probably, in certain respects, I knew him better than anybody as we were so long associated with the work of the Master in the congregation. Let us then in the spirit of this day go forward in thanksgiving and in consecration and in the spirit of hopefulness”

The hymn, “the sands of time are sinking” was afterwards sung, following which Mr. J. P Ness on behalf of the members of the family, returned thanks to members of “Major Ness” Lodge and other friends, who had erected this handsome memorial over the grave of his father and mother. Mr Ness, also thanked the members of the public who stood nearby who had turned out to see the ceremony that day.

After the singing of the hymn, “Nearer my God to thee”, the R.W.M called upon Mr William Jolly, the former chief inspector of schools, to say a few words. Mr Jolly who was the lifelong friend of Mr Ness, delivered a brief but brilliant oration in honour of the deceased brother. The solemn and interesting ceremony concluded with the sounding of “the last post” after which the Lodge members marched in procession back to the lodge room in Burnbank.

The monument it may be mentioned was erected by the well known sculptors of Glasgow, “Scott & Rae” who also would later have the honour of creating the cenotaph in George Square.

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