Birnie, Alexander (DNB00)

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BIRNIE, ALEXANDER (1826–1862), poet and journalist, was born in the north of Scotland, it is believed in Morayshire. The place and exact date of his birth are unknown; but he has himself left it on record that he was born in 1826. His life was erratic. At an early age he came to England, and was at one time a baptist minister in Preston. He was in that town when it passed through its great labour strikes, and he wrote letters to the local journals on the events of the day. In 1860 he arrived in Falkirk, footsore and penniless, having walked all the way from Lancashire. He obtained some employment, but, being dismissed from it, entered the Carron works, Falkirk, as a painter. He appears to have struck all with whom he came in contact by his brilliant powers. Birnie was ultimately dismissed from the Carron works for intemperance. While in Carron he began his journalistic notes under the signature of ‘Cock of the Steeple,' He was ultimately taken upon the regular staff of the ‘Falkirk Advertiser;’ but several weeks before that journal ceased publication, be begun the ‘Falkirk Liberal,' which was published at one halfpenny copy, and printed in Stirling. Although this journal was the recognised organ of the feuars of Falkirk, it speedily began to be apparent that it could’ not succeed. The printers lost by the speculation, and Birnie, ‘sorrowing and penitent for his sins, went to his death, crushed in spirit that he could only raise 3l. 10s. to pay an account of 27l.' It is stated that his party promised to support him, but failed to do so.

Birnie’s death was melancholy. One morning in March 1862. he was found in a straw stack near Stobhill brick works, Morpeth, where he had been concealed without food or drink for a fortnight. His statement to this effect was corroborated by a diary which he had carefully kept for some weeks. He was removed to the workhouse hospital; mortification of both feet set in, and he succumbed at the age of thirty-six years. It appears that Birnie made his way to Edinburgh, hoping to meet with employment there. In one of the dens of that city he was robbed of the whole of his little stock of money, and resolved to commit suicide. He obtained a large quantity of laudanum, which he swallowed; but his stomach being unable to retain the quantity of poison, which was far too large, his life was saved. He now started on foot for Newcastle, and made daily entries in a little journal which has been printed. Reaching Morpeth late in the evening, he spent his last penny on a roll. Misting his road, fatigue overpowered him, and he crept into a stack, with the intention of sleeping or starving to death, as the last entry in his diary testified. He requested in it that some kind hand might make a selection of his articles and speeches in this and in another diary at Chester-le-Street, as well as from the ‘Chester-le-Street Liberal,’ and ‘Falkirk Advertiser and Liberal,' and publish them on behalf of his widow and family. A subscription was raised on behalf of Mrs. Birnie and her children, but it does not appear that the request for a collection from the deceased’s writings was carried out.

[Gent Mag. 1882; Falkirk Herald, March 1862; Newcastle Chronicle, March 1862; and other journals of the time]

G. B. S.