Select Armstrong Miscellany

Here are some Armstrong stories and accounts over the years:

Johnnie Armstrong

The Armstrong relationship with the Scottish kings was turbulent to say the least.  The most notorious event in this uneasy relationship occurred in 1530.  Johnnie Armstrong, known in history as "Gilnockie," was persuaded to attend a meeting at Carlinrigg with King James V who, unknown to Gilnockie, had the malicious intent of silencing the rebellious borderers.  The ruse succeeeded as Gilnockie and fifty followers were captured.  The royal order to hang them was issued and, despite several pleas for the king to be lenient in exchange for obedience, it was carried out.

Defiant to the last, Gilnockie was said to have uttered these words directly to the king.

"I am but a fool to seek grace at a graceless face.  But had I known you would have taken me this day, I would have lived in the borders despite King Harry and you both."

His defiance is commemmorated and echoed in the soulful popular border ballad, "Johnnie Armstrong."

"Fairwell! my bonny Gilnock Hall
Where on Esk side thou standest stout!
Gif I had lived but seven years mair
I wad a gilt thee round about John
Murdered was at Carlinrigg
And all his gallant companie;
But Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae
To see sae many brave men die."

The Ghost of Archie Armstrong

Haughton castle by the north Tyne in Northumberland dates from the 14th century and was reputed to be haunted by Archie, a notorious clan chief of the Armstrong family who was imprisoned there during the reign of Henry VIII.

Thomas Swinburne had captured Armstrong and imprisoned him in the dungeon, but forgot to leave instructions for the provision of food and water.  He returned some days later only to find Armstrong dead on the floor.  It was a horrifying sight.  Armstrong had gnawed at the flesh in his own arm in his desperation.

For many years the ghost of Armstrong had haunted the castle until it was exorcised by a local vicar, using a black lettered Bible.   The ghost did return for a short time when the Bible was taken to London for binding.  But on its return the ghost was rarely seen again.

Thomas Armstrong the Customs Officer

Cullercoats is a hamlet on the northeast coastline of England, near Newcastle, where the residents in the 18th century made their living from the sea.  Some of them took up smuggling.  And Thomas Armstrong was the commander of the Bridlington, the customs vessel that was used to intercept these smugglers.

This Thomas was a slippery cat, as a dig through the public records of the time has revealed.  He first fell foul of the authorities in 1771 when he was charged and convicted of permitting smugglers to escape and then giving a false account of the goods that he had allegedly seized.  Inspection of the books showed at least five previous occasions when he was under investigation or complaint.  One alluded also to fraud.  This time family influence in the area seems to have saved Thomas's neck.

The final straw came in 1776 when Thomas and his associates deliberately allowed two notorious smugglers to escape from their care.  The incident was recorded with great clarity in the customs book.  After a recital of the crime, a letter from London concluded that Thomas should be dismissed from the service.

He was evidently wealthy beyond his customs pay, being able to purchase land at Cullercoats and build a house, the Cliff House, overlooking the sea.  His secret life of crime helped to explain some of the unique architectural features of this house - iron cages in the cellar and a secret passage accessed by a trapdoor in his study that led down through the cliff onto a small beach.  Much of his wealth must have come from a protection racket he operated with the smugglers.

After his dismissal, Thomas had accumulated enough money to start trading as a goldsmith.  Yet his love of the sea remained and he bequeathed shares in the ship he was building to his sons.    

John McIntyre Armstrong and the Founding of Kansas City

The settlement of Wyandot City was not at first like new settlements are usually, one or two individuals making improvements which serve as a nucleus for a future town.  A nation of about seven hundred people, the Wyandots, came from the Sandusky river in Ohio and, not finding the lands promised to them by the US Government in lieu of lands they had ceded, they then purchased thirty six sections of land of the Delawares, lying between the Kansas and Missouri rivers. 

John McIntyre Armstrong is said to have been the first of the Wyandots to erect a dwelling, although he was only a few days in advance of others in completing it.  Built of logs, it was occupied by the Armstrong family until 1847.  A more imposing residence was then built among forest trees on the sloping hillside and for many years this house served as the center of culture and religious influence in the community.

While John McIntyre Armstrong was a man of education, his wife Lucy Armstrong - the daughter of the Rev. Russell Biglow, an early methodist missionary preacher in Ohio - was a Christian woman of refinement and influence.

Alexander Armstrong and the NW Passage

Alexander Armstrong sailed the Arctic on HMS Investigator in search of the lost explorer Sir John Franklin. Armstrong's account of the voyage, Personal Narrative of the Discovery of the NW Passage, was published in London in 1857.

A reviewer commented:

"Armstrong's personal narrative holds first place in interest and value for a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea.  The prosaic methodical Irish surgeon has given us a Canadian odyssey almost as grotesque as the original and possessing the dignity and authority of history.  Restrained though his langauge may be, he is unmatched in depicting travel through turbulent seas, in cold and hunger, on a barren desolate shore."

The Armstrong Hotel in Fort Collins, Colorado

Like many of Old Town Fort Collins' buildings, the Armstrong Hotel has a long and curious history.  Of the dozens of historic hotels that graced downtown, it was the last to open; and the only one still operating today.  In 1923, Charles and Carolyn Mantz opened the original Armstrong Hotel and named it after Carolyn's deceased father, Andrew Armstrong, whose house had once stood on the property.

When it opened, the hotel was the tallest building in town, boasting two elegant dining halls, 41 guest rooms, and various retail shops.  The hotel was advertised as the ideal location from which to tour the Poudre Canyon and the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Reader Feedback - Adam Armstrong in Western Australia

Adam Armstrong and his children arrived at Clarence in Western Australia on the Gilmour on December 15, 1829. Adam was born in Dalkeith in Scotland and hence named the area of land allotted to him on the shores of the Swan river as the suburb of Dalkeith in Perth.  Today this area is renowned as one of the richest suburbs of Perth.  I am a descendant of Adam Armstrong.

Joy Harding (

Warwick Armstrong and the 1921 Australian Cricket Team

When international cricket resumed after World War 1, Warwick Armstrong, then over forty years of age, was appointed captain of the strong Australian cricket team to tour England in 1921.

Armstrong was a massive man (his tent-like shirt and huge boots can be found in the Melbourne cricket museum).  On the voyage to England, he attempted to lose weight by spending time each day in the stokehold of the ship.  On arrival, he weighed in four pounds heavier!

Throughout the tour, he fought a series of running battles against the Australian Board manager, Syd Smith, on behalf of his men.  Smith, looking to cut overheads, had suggested boarding with wealthy cricket devotees.  Armstrong refused.

The Australians dominated the cricket series against England.  They soon led 3-0 in the five match rubber, thanks in large part to the fast bowling by Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald.  The series was thus won. Towards the end of the last match, Armstrong decided to rest his key bowlers and allowed his part-time bowlers to rotate as they pleased.  He went to the outfield, sat down, picked up a newspaper that had been blown across the field, and began to read.  When asked about the matter later, he was said to have replied, "I just wanted to see who we were playing."  

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