William Ross Wallace 1819-1891

Though his works are largely forgotten today, William Ross Wallace’s poetry and verse were popular and well-respected in the middle of the nineteenth century. He was a close friend of Edgar Allan Poe, and Poe praised Wallace’s poetry. The well-known poet William Cullen Bryant also thought highly of Wallace’s work.

Wallace was born in Paris, Kentucky, in 1819. Between 1833 and 1835, he attended Hanover College (Indiana), and after graduation returned to his native Kentucky, settling in Lexington. While at law school and until 1839, he was the editor of ‘The Louisville Literary Register’. In 1841, he passed the bar, and established his practice in New York City, where he seems to have been more occupied with literature than with legal affairs. His poems were intensely patriotic, and he had an almost mythical reverence for the American Revolution and for George Washington. Numerous catalogs of American literature describe Wallace as a very popular poet, which suggests that his thoughts on the Revolution were in tune with the beliefs of many contemporary Americans.

In Wallace’s poetry of the 1850’s, he treated the Revolution in symbolic and grandiose terms. In ‘The Liberty Bell’ he
describes the ringing of the Liberty Bell, which had been rung on 04 July 1776, as a reverberation of a unanimous belief
among Americans that their time for freedom had arrived. He even goes so far as to say that the revolution was an ‘era sublime’. He clearly idealizes the Revolution in his work; he almost never mentions the bloody, distasteful aspects of war. In fact, he barely sees the Revolution as a war at all; he seems to think of it as a pure, blessed period in America’s history. In the ‘Last Words of Washington’, Wallace explicitly calls Washington a ‘savior’ of his country. Even though the scene Wallace
describes in this poem is Washington’s death, Wallace does not seem to describe him as an ordinary man bowing to death. Washington appears in this poem as a transcendent being that is being welcomed into an elite legion of timeless, scarcely mortal ‘heroes’. Wallace’s poems portray the American Revolution as an unblemished age when true greatness graced American soil.

After the outbreak of the Civil War, Wallace continued to write patriotic poetry in support of the Union. Some of these works were well-known and well-liked by
Union soldiers. As the war intensified, his melodious verses enjoyed an extraordinary popularity. They were sung by many regiments that marched out from
New York, for they were not only rhythmical and adaptable to musical setting, but were filled with a sentiment of patriotism, especially in those uncertain times, had a tremendous popular appeal in the North. Among these songs was the well known “Keep Step to the Music of the Union.” His “God of the Free” was intended to be a national anthem, but was not met with popular acceptance. Wallace also attempted fiction, but his one story “Albin, the Pirate” did not sell well, and has long been out of print. He was a popular lecturer and possessed extraordinary oratorical gifts. For nearly twenty years he was a regular contributor to the “New York Ledger,” “Godey’s Lady’s Book,” “Harpers’ Magazine” and “Harpers’ Weekly,” the “Celtic Monthly,” and other publications.

According to Edgar Allen Poe biographer Kenneth Silverman, in June 1842 Poe visited New York City and while there drank himself into an alcoholic amnesia. Poe explained that others had induced or forced him to drink. He said that William Ross Wallace would ‘insist upon the juleps, and I knew not what I was either doing or saying’. In the autumn of 1844 Poe completed his poem ‘The Raven’ and recited it to William at Stryker’s Bay Tavern, located on the Hudson River near where 96th Street now ends. William’s expressions of appreciation, it appears, were not thought by the poet to be adequate to the occasion. Poe, on his part, assured his listener that he had just heard the greatest poem in the language.

Though largely forgotten today, William Ross Wallace was a literary giant of his time. After all, it was William Ross Wallace who wrote:

‘But a mightier power and stronger, Man from his throne has hurled, For the hand that rocks the cradle, Is the hand that rules the world


Originally published in the Guardian, Vol 37 No. 1

A Heroine for Scotland

The National Wallace Monument reveals the result of Scotland’s Heroine project

Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks were unveiled on April 19th, 2017 as the first women who will be commemorated in The Hall of Heroes at The National Wallace Monument in Stirling, following a campaign that has captured the hearts and minds of the public across the globe.

The historic announcement marks the start of the most significant development in The Hall of Heroes since the first busts of Robert Burns and King Robert the Bruce were installed in 1886, and is the culmination of a four-month project that began with a shortlist of 14 remarkable Scottish women followed by a public vote to choose the one woman to be inaugurated into the Hall of Heroes.

From the thousands of votes which were cast online and by visitors to the Monument, the two women emerged clearly as the frontrunners, and following scrutiny of all votes the Selection Panel took the momentous decision that both Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks should be welcomed into the Hall of Heroes.

Zillah Jamieson, Chair of Stirling District Tourism, explained: “This has been an incredible campaign, one which has ignited passions and has stimulated an amazing response. The level of enthusiasm for women to be given recognition has been truly inspirational – and the challenge for us as a self-funding charity has been to raise the funds required to embark on this project, and to now introduce these women into The Hall of Heroes. We are proud that we have been able to do this – with the help and the support of the visitors who come to the Monument”.

Missionary Mary Slessor, and co-founder of the Maggie’s Centres, Maggie Keswick Jencks, will join the gallery alongside the existing sixteen busts of famous men from Scotland’s history.

Both women exhibited selflessness and personal commitment to social improvement, and through their efforts to help others they achieved worldwide recognition.

Mary Slessor (1848-1915) has been described as the most celebrated Scottish missionary since David Livingstone, who inspired her to a life of service. Determined to overcome the challenges of her early years, and largely self-taught, she combined her missionary zeal with a practical approach to helping those in need, and she worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for the people of Calabar, in Nigeria – against a background of prejudice and opposition.

Described as “selfless” and “exceptionally unique”, the opportunity to see Mary Slessor recognised as a heroine prompted many voters to share their own stories of how she inspired them, with one writing how “I became a full time missionary at the age of 21, after reading her biography.”

Rev Ian Alexander, Secretary of the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, said: “We are thrilled and delighted that Mary Slessor has been chosen as one of the first women to be immortalised in the Hall of Heroes. She is an iconic figure in Scotland and her pioneering work in Calabar, Nigeria, remains an inspiration to this day.  Today, the Church of Scotland, internationally, nationally and locally, continues her legacy in its commitment to work with partners around the world in addressing justice, health issues, and opportunities for all people to live full and productive lives, whether male or female, whether young or old.”

A writer, gardener and designer from Dumfries, Maggie Keswick Jencks (1941-1995), with her husband Charles founded the Maggie’s Centres, which offer practical, emotional and social support to people with cancer, their family and friends. She designed the blueprint for the centres, the first of which opened in Edinburgh in 1996, while she herself was facing cancer.

Voters in their hundreds chose to show their support for the “amazing” Maggie Keswick Jencks, with many highlighting how the Maggie’s Centres positively impacted their lives. Emphasising just how much the services they provide are appreciated, and how much their founder is admired, one comment read – “Maggie’s Centre has been so vital to our family, an inspirational lady who made so many people’s lives a little easier at a terrible time.”

Maggie’s Chief Executive Laura Lee said: “It is quite incredible to think that Maggie has been chosen, by the public, to be the first Scottish woman alongside Mary Slessor to join the Hall of Heroes. All the women on the shortlisted would have been worthy of a place amongst the likes of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, but perhaps the result reflects how many people are affected by cancer. Maggie deserves to be honoured for her vision of a different type of cancer care, but I think she would be surprised to find herself in such illustrious company.”

Abby Richards, from Stirling District Tourism, unveils the winners – Mary Slessor and Maggie Keswick Jencks as the first women to be commemorated in the Hall of Heroes gallery at the iconic tourist attraction in Scotland



Courtesy of Katie Goodfellow at Represent and the Wallace National Monument 

Original architectural plans for the National Wallace Monument get new lease of life

One of the J.T. Rochead original plans when designing the National Wallace Monument between 1861 and 1869
One of the J.T. Rochead original plans when designing the National Wallace Monument between 1861 and 1869

Digitized versions of the original architect’s plans of the famous Scottish landmark, The National Wallace Monument in Stirling, will be unveiled in an outdoor display during a special weekend, from 24th – 26th June, to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design and to mark the 155th Anniversary of the Laying of the Foundation Stone.

Designed by the Edinburgh-born architect J. T. Rochead and built between 1861 and 1869, The National Wallace Monument, which now attracts over 100,000 visitors a year, is an iconic monument that has defined the landscape of Stirling and Central Scotland.

Demonstrating the exquisite work of J.T. Rochead, the original hand drawn plans, which date from 1859 to 1862 are held at Stirling Council Archives. The 18 plans which were previously cleaned and repaired in 2014, have now been digitised, by Townsweb Archiving. The availability of electronic images of the plans will provide visitors to the popular tourist attraction an insight in to the ambitious project surrounding the planning and building of the commemorative monument for William Wallace.

Private donations from all over the world funded the construction of J.T. Rochead’s design. An unprecedented number of donations were collected over a period of 8 years that allowed the project to come to fruition. The National Wallace Monument was officially unveiled in 1869.

Stirling District Tourism, the charity that manages the Stirling attraction, funded the digitisation project involving 16 of the original 18 plans, which reveal just how meticulously Rochead designed every part of the building. A selection of these plans will be on display at the Monument from 24th to 26th June, and members of the public can also request to see the original plans at Stirling Council Archives’ public search room, free of charge.

Pam McNicol, Council Archivist at Stirling Council Archives, commented: “It is fantastic to see these original plans come to life through digitisation. It will give a new generation a chance to see the plans and learn more about the Monument’s architect J.T Rochead. We can’t wait to see the display during the Victorian Masterpiece Weekend in June.”

About The National Wallace Monument

The National Wallace Monument is managed and operated by Stirling District Tourism Limited. The Monument was opened in 1869 to commemorate the life of the Scottish patriot and martyr Sir William Wallace and attracts over 100,000 visitors each year.

A registered charity, Stirling District Tourism receives no Government funding and is reliant on donations and admission fees. In 2014 the Monument underwent a £350,000 refurbishment programme that included new displays, interpretations and audio-visual systems for the three exhibition galleries. A further investment during 2015 included a refurbishment of Legends Coffee House.

In June the Monument will be open each day from 9.30am until 5.00pm. Visitor information is available from 01786 472140 and www.nationalwallacemonument.com

Victorian style celebration at The National Wallace Monument

From the 24th to the 26th of June The National Wallace Monument is set to mark Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design by celebrating the work of its architect John Thomas Rochead, with a weekend of special activities including a display of his original architectural designs for the building.

The three-day event entitled ‘A Victorian Masterpiece’ will commence on the 155th Anniversary of the Laying of the Foundation Stone for the Monument, and will allow visitors to experience the excitement of 1861 as work started on the building which would commemorate William Wallace.

Along with the displays of the original plans, there will be traditional building skills and craft demonstrations from stonemasonry specialists from Historic Environment Scotland, traditional Scottish music from a piper and a new exhibition of Monument memorabilia for visitors to enjoy across the weekend.

Live presentations by costumed actors telling the story of the Monument, will also form part of the weekend of activities. Performances each day will introduce visitors to the architect J. T. Rochead, and to the Monument’s first Caretaker, as well as the hero the building was designed to commemorate – William Wallace.

To add a modern twist, there will also be a fun photo area with Victorian props for visitors to take their own Victorian selfies! Children can also take part in face painting, and meet the Monument’s mascot – Braveheart Bear, who has designed some challenges for younger visitors in his special activity book.

As part of the celebration The National Wallace Monument is offering all visitors a reduction of 10% on admission tickets over the three days, and this is available with tickets purchased in advance online, or on arrival at the Monument.

Visit www.nationalwallacemonument.com for more information.