Papers of and relating to Peter Buchan (1790 - 1854), and his family

Scope and Content

Personal papers of and relating to Peter Buchan and his family, 1811 - 1915. The collection was assembled by William Walker (1840 - 1931), who drew extensively upon it for his work, Peter Buchan and Other Papers on Scottish and English Ballads and Songs (Aberdeen: Wyllie, 1915). It comprises 251 letters addressed to Peter Buchan and others, relating mainly to his literary activities, 1816 - 1854 (with index, compiled by William Walker); a further series of 27 letters from members of Peter Buchan's family, especially his son, James Buchan, relating mainly to domestic matters and to trading ventures by James and his brother John Buchan, in Antigua, St Thomas and Tobago in the West Indies, 1845 - 1847; volume containing autobiographical account of Peter Buchan, lyrics written and collected by him, miscellaneous illustrations, verses, papers and correspondence, 1812 - 1854; volume containing poems, notes on Scottish song and notes on voyage from Peterhead to Greenland by Patrick Buchan, together with cuttings of printed poems of Rev. C.F. Buchan (alias Presbuteros), and comments on same, by William Walker, 1831 - 1841; volume containing miscellaneous letters and papers relating to Peter Buchan, many being annotated copies made by William Walker, 1816 - 1912; volume containing extracts of the Peter Buchan manuscript in the British Museum (Add. MSS 29408 - 9: see Related Units of Description for further details), made for William Walker and annotated by him, n.d., c 1912; papers relating to the composition of 2 poems by Patrick Buchan, later published anonymously as The Guidman o' Inglismill and The Fairy Bride, in the series Legends of the North (Edinburgh and Peterhead, 1873), n.d., pre-1873; folder of miscellaneous and ephemeral material relating to Patrick Buchan and his sons, Peter Buchan and David Buchan, 1811 - 1853.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Buchan Peter Buchan was born in Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, on 4 August 1790. He began life as a jobbing printer and tradesman but later devoted himself mainly to the collection of old songs and ballads of the north of Scotland, and the printing and publishing of these, together with verses, tracts, and other works of his own. His main claim to fame rests on his Gleanings of Scotch, English, and Irish scarce old ballads (1825) and Ancient Ballads and songs of the north of Scotland, hitherto unpublished (1828).

He married Margaret Mathew (d 1860) in 1813, by whom he had 10 children: Patrick, John, Charles Forbes, David Stuart, James, Janet, Margaret Irvine, Gordon (a daughter), Alexander Forbes, and William Gordon. Patrick shared his father's interest in Scottish balladry and folklore, and like Charles and David, also wrote poetry. Examples of their work are contained in this collection. Other relatives of Buchan frequently mentioned in the records listed here are his sister Anne, her husband Alexander Scott, and their children, William and David.

The family moved to Aberdeen in 1831, then south to Glasgow, in 1838, and in 1845 to a property which they named Buchanstown, near Dennyloanhead, Stirling. Buchan's various unsuccessful attempts to obtain employment in Edinburgh and London to supplement his literary career are well documented in this collection and elsewhere. He was eventually compelled to dispose of his property and manuscripts, after protracted litigation with his creditors, and retired in 1852 to live with one of his sons in Drumkerrin, Ireland. He died during a visit to London on 19 Sept 1854.

William Walker William Walker was born in Aberdeen in 1840. He began running errands for his father, one of the last handloom weavers in the city of Aberdeen and leader of the local Chartist movement, when he was 8 years old, but by 1860 had entered the service of the Equitable Loan Company, Aberdeen, in whose service he remained until retirement c 1912 - 1913. By dint of hard work and part time study at the Mechanics' Institute in the city, he rose, by 1909, to the position of managing director. In his retirement he devoted himself to his shared passions of book collecting, research and publishing works on Scottish ballads and local history. He also served on the committee of Aberdeen Public Library, and was for a time, editor of the magazine of the Aberdeen Buchan Association. His library, which excelled in song and ballad collections, Burnsiana, local history and literature, was bequeathed to the University of Aberdeen after his death in 1931, along with several manuscript collections. Some local history material, including a compilation of press cuttings and manuscripts of local interest collected by James Rettie, was also left to the Aberdeen Public Library. Throughout his life he had offered help and encouragement to many local writers, including James Ogg, William McKisseck, Thomas P. Nicoll and Alexander Gibson, testimony to which is acknowledged in their various works.

Walker is best known for The Bards of Bon-Accord (Aberdeen,1887), a landmark study and now standard text on the poets and poetry of Aberdeenshire from the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries. He was an authority on the life and work of Peter Buchan, the Peterhead ballad collector, and his other principal work, Peter Buchan and Other Papers on Scottish and English Ballads and Songs was published in Aberdeen in 1915. In 1890 he had entered into a series of correspondence on Buchan's work with Francis James Child, the American ballad collector, and author of English and Scottish Popular Ballads (orig. pub. 1857 - 1859; 2nd edn., 5 vols Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1882-98), offering guidance on local dialect words and points of historical and geographical information, pertinent to his work on Buchan's manuscripts. He also acted as an intermediary for Child in his enquiries to Gavin Greig (1856 - 1914), schoolmaster at Whitehill, New Deer, Aberdeenshire, who, from 1876 until his death, worked with James Bruce Duncan (1848 - 1917), minister of the United Free Church at Lynturk, Aberdeenshire, gathering and recording surviving songs of the ancient ballad tradition of the North East of Scotland. After Child's death, he continued this association, compiling an index for the 19th edition of Greig's Folk-Song of the North-East, 2 vols (Peterhead, Scrogie, 1909-14), and when Greig and Duncan died leaving their work unfinished, he added introductory notices to the texts of the ballads they had not been able to deal with, and prepared a report on the collection for the New Spalding Club. Greig and Duncan's manuscripts were subsequently deposited by him in Aberdeen University (GB 231 MS 0701 - 0790 and GB 231 MS 0998). They have been prepared for publication, in 8 volumes, by the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh (1981-2002).

As well as his work on the Scottish ballad tradition, Walker was a keen local historian, and from 1886 until his death in 1931, published numerous pamphlets on wide-ranging topics of local history interest. Like The Bards of Bob-Accord, which had been published in newspaper articles prior to 1887, most of his pamphlets had first appeared in local periodicals and magazines such as Scottish Notes and Queries, The Aberdeen Book-lover and Brown's Bookstall.

For further details see Flora Ross, William Walker (1841 - 1931), in Aberdeen University Review, 39 (1961 - 1962), 317-322, ill., and obituary in the Press and Journal, 28 Dec 1931.


Correspondence arranged chronologically, by series; contents of volumes listed by page; miscellaneous papers are bundle-listed

Access Information

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Bequeathed to the University by William Walker, c 1931

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail:

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

Buchan's original manuscripts were acquired by William Walker from the widow of David Buchan's nephew, David Scott, and others, some time before 1915. Other papers were added to the collection in 1916. Walker was also permitted to copy papers in the possession of John A. Fairley and to incorporate information relating to Buchan's manuscript in the British Museum Library and in Harvard University Library. Sales of Buchan's papers in the late nineteenth century had led them to become dispersed amongst various individuals and institutions in Britain and North America.


No accruals expected

Related Material

List of books of James Hay Beattie (1768-90) with inscription by Peter Buchan (1790-1854) (GB 231 MS 2122)

Other material relating to Peter Buchan is held by the British Library; Glasgow University; and Harvard University.

Several further collections of and relating to William Walker are deposited in the University. For details, see the University Library Catalogue


Correspondence appearing in this collection is printed in full in William Walker's Peter Buchan and Other Papers on Scottish and English Ballads and Songs (Aberdeen, Wyllie, 1915).

Additional Information

1 volume in the collection contains extracts of the Peter Buchan manuscript in the British Museum (Add. MSS 29408 - 9: see Related Units of Description for further details), made for William Walker and annotated by him, n.d., c 1912. All other material in the collection is original.