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Historical and Traditional Sketches of Highland Families and of the Highlands
Family of Chisholm, &c.


The Chisholm family is amongst the oldest and most respectable in the Highlands. Their chief residence is Erchless Castle, which is one of the few castles of the "olden time" now standing in its primitive grandeur. It is situated in a lovely valley, surrounded with the most picturesque and romantic scenery, and the silent but rapid stream of the Glass (which is joined by the Cannich and Farrar,) wends its way downwards close to the Castle, to join the sea in the Beauly Firth. The elevated and craggy mountains which rise as it were, towering to the skies on each side of the narrow glen, are truly imposing, and are the admiration of the numerous tourists that journey thither. Prior to the erection of the present ancient family residence, the original seat stood on an elevated spot some distance to the north of where the present one stands—and near to which place the remains of the late chief lie, in a beautiful tomb, which is surrounded with shrubbery and evergreens.

Glenconvinth is one of the most beautiful and picturesque spots in the Highlands of Scotland. Its name in the Gaelic language is "Glean-a-conn-fhioch," of which the literal translation is, the "Glen of the Wild Dog or Wolf." This little glen is surrounded and overtopped by the surrounding hills, and concealed from the view of the tourist until he just enters it, when a valley, "rich with the scents of nature’s laboratory," bursts upon his sight, with a fine clear stream meandering through the bottom of it, wending its way until it discharges itself into the Beauly Firth. About half way up the glen, at its northern base, may still be seen the ruins of a church, where people were wont to worship in the "olden time;" also a spacious burying-ground attached. The church, previous to the Reformation, was the parish church of Glenconvinth, but subsequent to that eventful period, was united to that of Kiltarlity, and is now denominated the united parishes oft Kiltarlity and Glenconvinth. The tales associated with Glenconvinth are not few; its church, bell, and burying-ground, being consecrated, were held in the highest veneration by the people of the place and surrounding country. Connected with this hallowed spot, is told the following anecdotes:—In the dusk of one fine evening, as the merry songsters of the grove were winging their airy way to leafy bowers, a poor widow, returning home from Belladrum Mill, leading by a halter a Highland garron with a bag of meal on his back, and when passing on the north side of the burying-ground, the bag dropped off, which, from its weights the poor woman was un-able to replace on the animal’s back. In this trying dilemma, and seeing none to assist, the disconsolate widow gave vent to her sorrow, augmented as it must have been by being beside the place where now in peace reposed the ashes of her departed husband. In the agony of her mind she exclaimed, "Well, well, if he that is lying with his head low here to-night was now living, he would soon put the bag on the horse’s back." Scarcely had she pronounced these words, and turning round, to her surprise found that the bag was actually replaced, and then proceeded on her way. The church bell also was an object of reverence, and whatever truth there may be in the words that "coming events cast their shadows before," it is nevertheless stated, that this bell has been known to toll when none was near it, giving a forwarning of the demise of some individual whose remains were soon to mix with the ashes of his kindred. A sturdy Highlander, from the confines of Strathglass, possessing a greater share of hardihood and daring than is generally to be met with among his countrymen, in interfering with any sacred thing—for we are safe in saying, that Highlanders in particular, are more tenacious of their religious observances, and are remarkable for the superstitious awe in which they hold anything connected with their religion or place of worship, much more so than in any quarter of the kingdom—was base enough to carry off the bell one night, and hang it up in an oak tree near his residence. At midnight the offender was alarmed at hearing the shrill tones of the bell, but could not summon up enough of courage to proceed to the oak tree and learn the cause. The following morning the bell had again disappeared, but was found in its former exalted position, in the west gable of the Glenconvinth chapel, and none could state how it got there. The distance to which it was conveyed is fully six miles, and is still known as "Craob-a-ghlac," or the Bell Tree. The bell was never more interfered with until the year 1745, when a party of Lord Loudon’s men, then stationed in Inverness, having taken a stroll through the Aird, hearing of the veneration in which it was held, and viewing it as a Popish relic, took its tongue away and otherwise destroyed it, to the no small sorrow of the surrounding peasantry. I well remember seeing this bell in its dilapidated state lying in a corner of the ruins of the church.

Glenconvinth, like other places at one period, was infested with wolves, and many an unwary huntsman got dreadfully wounded, or lost his life in an affray with these ferocious beasts; but by the frequent visits of the lovers of the chase to the locality, their numbers were gradually diminishing, till at last it was supposed the glen had been ridden of this pest, but the havoc made amongst the sheep in the neighhourhood, told but too plainly such was not the case. The glen was then, and for a long period thereafter, overgrown with alder trees and hazel bushes, affording an excellent cover to these denizens of the forest, and here it was discovered a wolf of extraordinary size and ferocity had his lair. This was the last one that could be seen—the terror of the place, and the dread of the wayfarer. To kill this formidable scourge, and extirpate thereby the race altogether, the neighbouring gentlemen assembled. Among those who met on this perilous adventure was the Master of Chisholm—a young man not yet arrived at manhood. The party were standing a little to the east of the burying-ground, sharpening their spears on a large stone, when the wolf was espied in the valley, a little below where they stood. One of the party volunteered to go down alone and despatch the animal, but he had not gone above half way, when perceiving the size of the enemy he was about to cope with, his courage failed and he turned back. The young Chisholm then requested to be allowed to go down, but although the gentlemen admired the valour of the stripling, they dissuaded him from such a rash step. The youth sharpened his spear, after wringing a reluctant consent from the party, and buckling himself, set off to meet his crouching antagonist, whose howlings and fiery eyeballs, flashing defiance, noways dismayed the brave youth. Our hero coming up, all the time watching closely the animal, and as he was in the act of springing, pierced the enraged beast a little below the neck. So great was the force of the blow, that his hand nearly followed the course of the spear. The party, who anxiously waited the result of the combat, were overjoyed, and loud in their praise of the gallant youth, when they discovered him unscathed standing on the carcase of the wolf. The stone on which they sharpened their spears, still stands as a lasting relic of the affray, and although frequent using has considerably defaced it, may still be pointed out to the traveller who visits this lovely spot, and among those whom kindred associations brought to view this renowned place, and see the stone, was the late lamented amiable and pious chief, brother to the present. Since the above affair, the wolf’s head forms part of the armorial bearings of the ancient and respectable family of Chisholm.

Of another chief of this family, there is the following amusing anecdote:—He had been for some years greatly afflicted with pains in his legs, so much so, that he was deprived of the power of walking, and had to be carried about. As was customary in those days with chiefs and lairds, every family kept a fool or jester. One fine summer evening, the worthy chief was carried to a couch prepared for him in the garden, and seeing his fool there too, called him, in order to keep the flies off his legs, which they were tormenting. The fool carried in his hand a large cudgel, and seeing a swarm of flies resting on his helpless master’s legs, aimed a blow at them; but instead of killing myriads, as he expected, he nearly broke the chief’s legs, and threw him into a swoon. Supposing he had terminated his master’s existence, the fool ran away as fast as he could, and betook himself to the neighbouring wood. Soon after the occurrence, some of the domestics entered the garden, and finding the chief in such a condition, were greatly alarmed; but shortly thereafter rallying, he told them what the fool had done—but he was nowhere to be seen. Conjecturing rightly where he had gone, a search was made; but when on the point of giving it up as fruitless, from the top of a thickly branched tree the fool bawled out—"Ye needna, Sirs, for mysel’ just got mysel’." Having decoyed him down, and on their way expostulating with him for the injury he had done his indulgent master, he replied—"It was the flies that did it, and not me." But in the end it turned out that the poor fool was the best physician his master ever saw, for the disease in his legs not long thereafter disappeared, and there was not a gentleman in the country had a sounder pair than the Chisholm. He lived to a good old age, and esteemed none of his domestics more than the fool.

The next anecdote of this family, relates to a time when the worthy chief was rather seriously indisposed, and an express was sent for his son, Mr William, who was then practising as a physician in Inverness. He lost no time in repairing to the bedside of his sick parent, and remained at Erchless for two or three days, by which time his amiable father was out of danger, and when about to depart for Inverness, his father said, "Now, William, since I am almost quite well, I do not wish to have your services for nothing, therefore you will tell me what is your charge?" The doctor replied, "Oh! father, I do not mean to charge anything." But on the chieftain again saying, "he would not take his trouble without being remunerated," answered, "Oh! then, since you are determined to pay, I will only charge what I do other gentlemen." "How much is that?" "Only £50." "Only £50" remarked the Chisholim, "do you charge other gentlemen that sum?" and being answered in the affirmative, said, "Oh Willie, Willie, it is I who put the estate into your hands, when I made a doctor of you," so rising, and going to a drawer, took therefrom the 50 pounds, which he placed in his son’s hand. Dr Chisholm was a gentleman highly esteemed by all classes in Inverness, and subsequently became chief magistrate, an office which he filled for years with honour and integrity. His lady was grand-aunt to Mr Baillie of Dochfour. In benevolence and sympathy she excelled, and wherever sickness or poverty prevailed, her helping hand was extended to alleviate it. This was beautifully exemplified in the year 1781, better known as "the year of the White Pease," in which, throughout the length and breadth of Scotia’s soil, its inhabitants experienced the distressing effects of a famine. Among others who sent to the continent for cargoes of pease, was this lady’s brother, Mr Alexander Baillie of Dochfour, who, on its arrival in Inverness, directed Mrs Chisholm to distribute a considerable portion of it to the most necessitous in the town—the rest to be disposed of to the best advantage, and it certainly would have brought a handsome profit then, as every one would give any price for it rather than starve, had not this amiable lady represented to him that the poor could not pay for it, and the rich would be provided for in some other way. He then told her to do with it as she thought best. Persons were now appointed to grant "lines" to the poor, some for a peck or a peck and a-half, and one of those who had the honour of granting lines was the narrator himself.

The present Chisholm’s father was one of those kind and liberal landlords who lived in the hearts of his tenantry and dependants, cherished a mutual and good understanding with them, and they in return, were directed by his superior counsel and advice. Illicit distillation was carried on then in Strathglass to a great extent, and although he was continually pressing on the people the danger and unlawfulness of smuggling, he could not suppress it. At Excise Courts he often presided, and when an unlucky smuggler was brought before the Justices, and in all probability amerciating the unfortunate man in a heavy fine, the Chisholm was known frequently to move the sympathy of his brethren on the bench, and set at large, for a mere trifle of a fine.

The great and godly Mr David Chisholm, minister of Kilmorack, was a descendant of the Chisholm family. He was a most powerful, impressing, and convincing divine, and an honoured instrument of doing much good in his day and generation. He was succeeded in the parish by his son, Mr David, also a celebrated divine.


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