John Napier of Merchiston

A distinguished person connected with this parish, is the Inventor of Logarithms, Napier of Edinbelly and of Merchiston ; to whom, in the opinion of Hume the historian, the title of a great man is more justly due than to any other which his country ever produced.

He was born in the year 1550, and in the year 1617 he died, at Merchiston Castle, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Of this latter fact there is, we believe, little doubt; but as to the place of his birth, this is involved in some obscurity, there being little else to guide us on this point than the tradition of the country; and upon this Balfron, in common with some other parishes, lays claim to having been the birth-place of this great man. It is quite certain that Edinbelly, in this parish, did belong to the Napiers, for many years; that the same family became the proprietors of Culcreuch; and that Sir William Napier of Milliken, as the representative of the Napiers of Culcreuch, was, in Edinburgh, in 1818, served heir and lineal representative of John Napier, the Inventor of the Logarithms.

Thus the two families are identified, namely, the Culcreuch Napiers, and the Edinbelly Napiers. Now, we believe that John Napier was born in Edinbelly, and not at Drumbeg, as is occasionally alleged; because, though the Napiers had property in Drymen parish, still there was no house on the property which could be supposed a mansion suitable to the consequence of the family. Drumbeg, the spot which local tradition assigns, is mentioned by authors as ” an obscure spot.”

In point of fact, it is a very common thatched farmhouse, whereas the remains of the mansion-house of Edinbelly, in Balfron parish, are still in existence; and the arms of the family are yet to be seen on the wall of what was part of the original house. This of itself is a circumstance which marks the character of the mansion, and assigns the status of the owner. But there is another circumstance in connection with this matter, that ought not to be forgotten.

In the year 1593, we find Napier publishing his Exposition on the Revelations; and in his preface addressed to the King, he shows very strongly his adherence to the strict Presbyterian principles of the time, his preference to which may be traced very naturally to his intimacy with the fifth Earl of Glencairn, whose seat, Ballindalloch, was within a mile and a-half of Edinbelly, the residence of his boyhood, if not his birth-place.

Otherwise, it is difficult to account for Napier’s predilection for these principles, seeing that the bias of his mind might naturally have been to the other side, when it is remembered that his father was Master of the Mint, to one who had no great partiality to the Presbyterian party. When it is stated besides, that, upon the Edinbelly property, not many years ago, there was a monument standing, raised to the memory of this great man in accordance with the tradition, which assigned this property as his birth-place, we are inclined to believe that, though at Gartness (In 1571, Napier, aged 21, returned to Scotland, and bought a castle at Gartness in 1574.) and Drumbeg he may have resided, yet at Edinbelly the Inventor of the Logarithms first saw the light.

Edinbelly, the place in question, is, at present (1845), the property of the much respected and deservedly esteemed Robert Dunmore Napier, Esq. of Ballikinrain.

Extracted from: 
The New Statistical Account of Scotland: Dunbarton, Stirling, Clackmannan