Arguably one of the finest poets the Borders has ever produced, William Henry Ogilvie (born 21st August 1869 – died 30th January 1963) holds his own against the more recognisable names of other literary Borderers, such as Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg, ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’.
Born at Holefield Farm, near Kelso, Ogilvie’s father was a reasonably well-off tenant farmer, three previous generations of the family having served as Chamberlains to the Duke of Buccleuch. Will, as he was known, was the eldest in a family of eight, educated first at Kelso Grammar School, and later at the esteemed Fettes College. At twenty-years-old, Ogilvie emigrated to Australia, working as a drover and breaker of wild horses in the outback of Queensland and South Australia. His poems, regarding life in the outback, and pining for his native Borderlands, were then, and are now held in high-esteem throughout Australia.
In 1905, Ogilvie returned to Britain, later working as a journalist in Edinburgh, before finally returning home, to the Borders, where upon he married Madge Scott-Anderson of Ettrickshaws in 1908. They raised their son and daughter at Bowden, before moving to Kirklea in Ashkirk, where he spent the rest of his life. Will visited Hawick often in his remaining sixty-one years, for example as Callants’ Club guest in 1910. He was also at one time Justice of the Peace for Roxburghshire.
Over the course of his life, Will H. Ogilvie published sixteen books of verse and four books of prose; they contained some of his best-loved poems, including: ‘The Road to Roberton’, ‘The Raiders’, ‘Ho! For the Blades of Harden’, ‘The Barefoot Maid’, and ‘A Scotch Night’. When he died in 1969, Will’s ashes were scattered by the setting of his beloved “Road to Roberton”. The Ogilvie memorial was erected beside this road in 1993, the work of Hawick sculptor William Landles. It evokes elements from both his Border and Australian lives. There is a replica of the statue in Bourke, Australia. An oration is held at Ogilvie’s cairn in the August of every tenth anniversary year of his birth and death.
‘The hill road to Roberton’s a steep road to climb,
But where your foot has crushed it you can smell the scented thyme,
And if your heart’s a Border heart, look down to Harden Glen,
And hear the blue hills ringing with the restless hoofs again.’
- The Road to Roberton, Will H. Ogilvie
‘Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee
“Come forth. Come forth, my Borderer, and ride the March with me!”
I said “Oh! Wind of Lammermoor, the night’s too dark to ride,
And all the men that fill the glen are ghosts of men that died!
The floods are down in the Bowmont Burn, the moss is fetlock-deep
Go back, wild Wind of Lammermoor, to Lauderdale¬—and sleep!”
Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, “We know the road right well,
The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell.
There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine
But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne!”
The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,
The riders swung them to the South full-faced to their desire
“Come!” said the Wind from Lammermoor, and spoke full scornfully,
“Have ye no pride to mount and ride your fathers’ road with me”
A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far,
A snorting roan that tossed his head and flashed his forehead star
There came the sound of clashing steel and hoof-tramp up the glen.
…And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men!
I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet!
I know not if the stirks grew tired before the stars were set!
I only know that late last night when Northern winds blew free,
A troop of men rode up the glen and brought a horse for me!’
- The Raiders, Will H. Ogilvie evoking the Borders’ reiving history