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Wilson's Border Tales
A Tale of Glenco


On the first day of February 1692, the family of M’Kian M’Donald, laird of Glenco, received notice that a strong detachment of soldiers was approaching the glen. Alarmed by this intelligence, from the circumstance of M’Kian’s having been engaged in the rebellion excited and led by Viscount Dundee, and therefore obnoxious to the government, John M’Donald, the elder of two sons of M’Kian, accompanied by about twenty men, went out to meet the approaching detachment, to ascertain for what purpose they came-whether hostile or friendly. This detachment they found to consist of one hundred and twenty men, of the Earl of Argyl’s regiment, commanded by Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, and a lieutenant and ensign, both of the name of Lindsay. On demanding the intention of their coming, they were assured by Lieutenant Lindsay, that it was merely to quarter for a time, in consequence of the over-crowded state of the neighbouring garrison of Inverlochy, and that their intentions towards the inhabitants of the glen were perfectly harmless. Having received this assurance, young M’Donald and his men welcomed the officers and soldiers with the greatest cordiality, and returned with them to the glen, where the latter were distributed through the different houses, in numbers varying from three to five, as the accommodation would admit of it.

On being settled in their quarters, a footing of perfect intimacy, familiarity, and kindness was established between the soldiers and the inhabitants, the latter doing everything in their power to make the situation of the former as agreeable and comfortable as possible—entertaining them daily with the best they could produce, and otherwise exerting themselves to gratify their guests. While the accommodation and wants of the private soldiers were thus cared for, those of their officers were looked to by Glenco, and his sons, John and Alexander. By these persons, Campbell, and his brother officers, the Lindsays, were hospitably entertained—the house of M’Kian being open to them at all times, and his table free to them, whenever they chose to avail themselves of the privilege.

In the house of M’Kian, however, Campbell was a more frequent and more familiar guest than either of the Lindsays, from the circumstance of his being uncle to the wife of the Laird of Glenco’s youngest son, Alexander—a circumstance which frightfully aggravates the atrocity of the part which he subsequently acted. Owing to this connection, Campbell was constantly in M’Kian’s house, where he was looked upon almost as one of the family—dining, drinking, and playing cards with the laird and his sons.

Before proceeding with our tale beyond this point, we will advert for a moment to the position in which M’Kian stood with the Government at the period of the arrival of Campbell with his detachment at Glenco. The laird, as already said, had been engaged in the rebellion under Dundee, afterwards headed by Major-General Buchan. A proclamation, however, of King William’s, at a period shortly subsequent, offered indemnity for this offence to all who would take oaths of allegiance to his Government previously to the 1st of January 1692. Amongst those who were willing to avail themselves of this offer, was the laird of Glenco, who went, a day or two before the expiry of the time specified, with several of the most considerable men of his clan, to Fort William, and requested that the governor, Colonel Hill, would administer to him and his people the necessary oaths. Colonel Hill received M’Donald kindly, but informed him that he had no power to administer the oaths—that duty belonging to sheriffs, bailifs of regalities, and magistrates of burghs. On this, M’Kian instantly set out for Inverary, where he should find the sheriff of Argyle-shire, Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinlass; and under such anxiety lest the time specified in the proclamation should elapse before he got there, that he did not call at his own house, although his road lay within half a mile of it. Notwithstanding all the haste he could make, however, it was the 2d or 3d of January before he reached Inverary, having been retarded by boisterous weather. The same cause detained the sheriff out of town three days more; so that it was the sixth day of January before they met, or a week after the last day allowed by the proclamation. On M’Donald’s presenting himself before the sheriff to take the oaths, the latter declined administering them, saying the time had elapsed, and that Glenco’s submission could now be of no use to him. With tears in his eyes, Glenco besought the sheriff to take his oaths; urging that he had done all he could to be in time, and that it was owing, in the first place, to a mere mistake on his part, in going to Colonel Hill, and latterly to the boisterousness of the weather, that he had been thrown late. Prevailed on by the old man’s urgency, and extreme anxiety to make the submission required, Sir Colin administered the oaths, and transmitted the document attesting the circumstance to the privy council at Edinburgh, together with a detail of the facts of the case, and recommending that M’Donald’s submission, though late, should be received.

Having gone through the forms required, before the sheriff, M’Donald returned to Glenco, called the principal persons of his clan around him, told them he had taken the oaths, and enjoined them all to live in peace under the government of King William. All this done, M’Kian set himself down peaceably at his residence, not doubting that his submission would be accepted, although rendered a little past the time appointed by the proclamation; and in this mistaken security was he reposing, when the military visit was made to the glen, of which we have already spoken. To return to the proceedings there:—The friendly intercourse between the soldiers, their officers, and the inhabitants of the glen, continued uninterrupted for twelve days, during all which time there was no abatement in the kindness and hospitality shown them, and no occurrence, of even the most trifling kind, to interrupt the good-will and harmony that prevailed between the people and their military guests. Campbell, who lodged at a place in the glen called Innerriggin, was still a frequent inmate of the laird’s house, and the associate and companion of his sons; while his brother officers were also frequent sharers in the hospitality of the laird’s table. Thus matters continued for twelve days, the twelfth day happening to be a Friday. On the evening of this day, Campbell dined with the laird, and played cards till six or seven in the evening, when he returned to his own lodgings—he, with his two brother officers, the Lindsays, having been previously invited to dine with Glenco on the following day (Saturday.) But a dreadful tragedy was to be enacted ere then. Campbell was now in possession—it is not known, however, whether before he left the laird’s house or after—of the following letter from his superior in command, Major Duncanson, then quartered, with a large body of men, at Ballachulish, a place at some distance from Glenco. It is dated from the place just named, 12th February 1692, and ran thus:—

"Sir,—You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the M’Donalds of Glenco, and put all to the sword under seventy years of age. You are to have especial care that the old fox (M’Kian) and his sons do upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues, that no man escape. This you are to put in execution at five o’clock in the morning, (Saturday morning, 13th February,) precisely; and by that time, or very shortly after it, I’ll strive to be at you with a stronger party. If I do not come to you at five, you are not to tarry for me, but to fall on. This is by the King’s special command, for the good and safety of the country, that these miscreants may be cut off, root and branch. See that this be put in execution without fear or favour, else you may expect to be treated as not true to the King or Government, nor a man fit to carry a commission in the King’s service. Expecting you will not fail in the fulfilling hereof as you love yourself, I subscribe these with my hand, "ROBERT DUNCANS0N."

To the atrocious duty here assigned him, and which would only have cost him his commission to have refused, Campbell did not for a moment demur, but proposed to execute it in all points, and to the letter. Having secretly communicated his orders to his men, he, and the party who were quartered in the same house with him, immediately commenced, and spent part of the evening in putting their arms in order for the butchery of the following morning.

Amongst the relatives and friends of the intended victims of this unparalleled treachery, however, there was one who, all along, suspected that mischief was intended, and who put no faith in Campbell’s oft repeated protestations of friendship, and as oft repeated disavowals of all evil intentions. This was Eliza M’Donald, the only daughter of Campbell’s landlord at Innerriggin—a young and beautiful girl of about nineteen; who, with all the gentleness and modesty that distinguish the most amiable of her sex, possessed a heroism of spirit, and presence of mind, that had only to be appealed to to be seen. John M’Donald, a person already referred to, the elder son of M’Kian of Glenco, had won her affections, and he was every way worthy of his fair namesake, for he was generous, brave, and warm-hearted. The desired consummation in such cases was about to take place in this. At the period of the military visit to Glenco their marriage day was fixed. It was to have taken place early in the week following that in which the events just related occurred. The old laird had already apportioned a piece of land to the young couple, had stocked it with cattle, and was himself at this moment busily employed in seeing to the proper fitting up of the house in which he intended the young people should live.

We have here mentioned that this young woman was not deceived by the fair, but, as it proved, false bearing of Campbell. She was not. Her strong good sense and shrewd penetration had enabled her to discover several suspicious circumstances in his manner and conduct; and having every opportunity, by residing in the same house with him, of watching his motions, she applied herself vigilantly to the task, and the result was, a conviction that he had some evil mission to execute, although she could not conceive what shape the intended mischief would assume. She had frequently mentioned, both to her father and lover, the suspicions she entertained of Campbell’s intentions; but neither of them could be brought to entertain any doubt of the latter’s good faith. Their refusal to do so, however, did not for a moment shake her faith in the correctness of the opinion she had formed, nor abate her vigilance in watching the motions of Campbell. In the uneasiness of mind which a constant dread of impending danger caused— "John," she said to M’Donald, one day, "I wish I could inspire you and my father with sufficient alarm to induce you to be on your guard against Glenlyon. I don’t like that dark, stern-looking man, John; neither do I like the expression with which he speaks what he desires to be taken as words of kindness."

"You were not wont to entertain an ill opinion of any one;" replied M’Donald; "and why now, then, of so civil and soldier-like a fellow as Glenlyon?"

"I have reasons, John," said she. "I have marked a thousand little circumstances, in his conduct and general bearing, that I do not like, and that seem to me to indicate some latent design of a dark and dangerous character; but what it can be, I know not."

"Your fears deceive you, Eliza," said he. "You have taken an alarm, and you construe everything you mark in Campbell’s conduct into a confirmation of the justness of your fears."

"Pray it may be so, John," said she, and dropping the conversation, in despair of prevailing on her lover to believe that danger was at hand.

Although, however, the young woman could not succeed in communicating to either her father or brother any share of her own feelings of doubt and alarm, this circumstance did not, as already said, weaken her belief that mischief was intended; neither did it lessen her vigilance in watching the motions of those at whose hands that mischief was expected. On the night previous to the dreadful tragedy so wellknown by the fearfully significant title of the Massacre of Glenco, some appearances, together with certain movements amongst the soldiery, so strongly confirmed her in her suspicions, that she resolved on going out and secretly marking what was passing in the guard-house of the detachment, they having established a temporary place of this kind.

It was now past midnight; yet, undeterred either by this circumstance, or by the danger to which her surveillance would expose her, she wrapped herself in her plaid, and stole, unperceived, out of the house. Her first direction was towards the guard-house, a small untenanted cottage, which had been apportioned to this purpose; and here she noted the alarming circumstance, that the main guard had been doubled. Struck with this discovery, she now cautiously approached what she knew to be the appointed post of a sentinel, without being seen; but what was her alarm to find the position occupied by eight or ten men instead of one only, as was usual. This circumstance, rendering her still more inquisitive, she crept nearer and nearer, until she came so close that she could distinctly overhear the conversation that passed between the men; and what of this conversation she did overhear, at once removed all doubt of what was intended. She heard one of the soldiers say to his comrade; that he did not like this work, and that, had he known of it, he would have been very unwilling to have come there; but that none, except their commanders, knew of it till within a quarter of an hour. The soldier added, that he was willing to fight against the men of the glen; but that it was base to murder them. On obtaining this dreadful confirmation of all her fears, the heroic girl, pale with horror, and trembling in every limb, but still resolute in spirit, withdrew, silently, but quickly, from her concealment, and flew to the residence of her lover, for the purpose of giving him the alarm, and urging him to save his life by instant flight. Pale and breathless, she rushed into the house; and, having found Macdonald— "Fly, John!—fly instantly, for your life! What I dreaded is about to come to pass. Campbell has played us false. Your guests are to be your murderers; and, from what I have seen and heard, the foul deed is to be done this night. Fly, fly, for God’s sake, John, ere it be too late!"

"Fly, and leave you, Eliza!—never!" said M’Donald, taking her affectionately by the hand. "Let what may betide, I remain with you, Eliza."

"John, John," exclaimed she, with distracted earnestness, "I beseech of you—I entreat you, by the love you have often said you bear me, to fly and save yourself. The wretches will not surely war on women; and, if they do, you cannot protect me."

"But my father, Eliza!" said M’Donald.

"I will warn him," exclaimed she, eagerly; and again she implored M’Donald to make his escape.

Urged by her entreaties, he affected compliance, by quitting the house by a back door; but it was not his intention to go far. He meant to hover in the neighbourhood, determined, if he could not arrest, at least to share in the fate of those who were so dear to him. Faithful to her promise, the young woman hurried to the apartment in which M’Kian slept, and, awaking the old man, told him briefly of the threatened danger. This done, she left the house, and hastened to her father’s at Innerriggin, in order to warn him also of the mischief that was preparing. In less than ten minutes after her departure, the house of the unfortunate laird of Glenco was surrounded by a party of soldiers, and, in the next instant, the rapid discharge of musketry announced that the dismal tragedy had commenced. A few minutes more, and the work of death was going on remorselessly throughout the whole extent of the glen—it having been arranged, amongst the murderers, that each party should assassinate the male persons in the houses in which they were quartered; and thus, many were butchered in their sleep, by the men from whom they had parted, but a few hours before, in terms of the greatest friendship, and on whom they had lavished every kindness in their power. The party, consisting of about twenty men with fixed bayonets, that surrounded the house of M’Kian, was commanded by Lieutenant Lindsay, who, calling, in a friendly way, for admittance, was at once allowed to enter, when, proceeding, with three or four men with loaded muskets, straight to M’Kian’s bed-room, they fired on the latter while in the act of rising, and shot him dead—one bullet passing through his head, and another through his body. His wife, springing from the bed, was seized on by the ruffians, who tore the rings off her fingers with their teeth. On the following day, the unfortunate woman died from excessive terror and grief of heart. Having perpetrated this diabolical murder, the ruffians proceeded to search the house for his sons, and any other male persons who might be in it. They found three, two of whom they killed outright, and the third they left for dead. Such was the work Lindsay was putting through his hands on this dreadful morning. Campbell was equally busy at his own quarters. His first proceeding here, was to murder his own landlord, whom he caused to be dragged from his bed, and shot—an order which was instantly obeyed. Several other men who were in the house were treated precisely in the same way; being all roused from their sleep, and pulled violently to the ground, and there butchered with shot and bayonet. While these frightful murders were being perpetrated at Glenlyon’s quarters, a miserable boy of twelve years of age, distracted with the horrors he saw around him, flew towards Campbell, flung himself on his knees, and grasping him round his legs, implored him to save his life—saying that he would be his humble slave, and would go anywhere with him, if he would only spare his life. It is said that Campbell showed some disposition to listen to the heart-rending appeal of the poor boy; but whether this was so or not, it was made in vain. While Campbell was hesitating, one Captain Drummond came up, and shot him through the head. Similar circumstances marked the fate of another young man of twenty years of age. At Innerriggin, Campbell’s quarters, there were nine men altogether killed, several of whom were first bound hand and foot, and then deliberately shot one after the other. Another extensive butchery occurred at a place in the glen called Achnacon, where were the laird of Auchentriater—a gentleman remarkable for great good sense, and for the strength and soundness of his judgment--his brother, in whose house he was, and eight other men. These were all sitting peaceably round a fire, when a volley of shot was suddenly discharged upon them, whereby the laird and four others were killed outright, and the remainder severely wounded. The latter, with singular presence of mind, deceived their murderers by dropping down as if dead. While in this position, a sergeant of the name of Barber came in amongst the dead and wounded men; and, seizing by the arm Achtrichtan’s brother, a person at whose hands he had met with much hospitality, asked him if he were still alive. The latter replied that he was, and that he had rather die without than within. Barber replied that "for his meat he had eaten," he would do him that favour!—the favour of killing him without. He was accordingly led out, and a party of three or four men brought close up to him, to shoot him, when, just as they were going to fire, he dexterously flung his plaid, which he had previously lowered for the purpose, over their faces; and, in the momentary confusion created by this incident, made his escape—those who had feigned dead in the house also making theirs, in the meantime, by a back door.

To return to Eliza M’Donald. Having warned the inmates of M’Kian’s house of their impending danger, although, with regard to some of them, as we have shown, the warning came too late, she hastened to her father’s house at Innerriggin; but here also she came too late. The work of butchery was already completed. She made an appeal to the soldiers.

"Peace, peace, ye whining idiot!" said a ferocious-looking fellow—coming up to her, and thrusting her rudely away with the butt-end of his musket. "It would be but right to serve you as the rest;" and the ruffian clubbed his firelook, seemingly with the intention of perpetrating the deed he alluded to, when he was suddenly struck to the earth by the blow of a broadsword which nearly divided his head in twain. The stroke was inflicted by M’Donald, who, on felling the villain, threw himself between Eliza and the party to which he belonged, and, brandishing his claymore, stood prepared to defend her at the cost of his own life. Bootless gallantry!—vain devotion! A dozen muskets were instantly pointed at his breast. She, in turn, flew between her lover and the levelled weapons of the soldiers. In the next moment, the threatened volley was discharged. Both she and Macdonald fell side by side, stretched in death.

Such was one of the dismal incidents that marked one of the most extraordinary episodes that occur in Scottish story—the Massacre of Glenco.

The whole number of persons slain on this dreadful occasion, was thirty-eight; but this number was, by no means, the intended limits of the slaughter. It was meant to have been much more extensive, and to have included the entire male population of the glen, amounting to upwards of two hundred. This was to have been accomplished by the aid of four hundred additional soldiers, under Major Duncanson, who were to have arrived at Glenco (see Duncanson’s letter) at five o’clock in the morning, and to have secured the whole of the inhabitants, by guarding all the outlets. It providentially happened, however, that these additional troops, owing to the extreme boisterousness of the weather, could not leave their quarters at Ballachulish, where they were stationed, till nine o’clock, and were thus too late to accomplish the wholesale butchery they meditated.

The cruel visitation with which the miserable inhabitants of Glenco had been afflicted, was not, however, confined to the murdering of its fathers, sons, and brothers. It was carried further. It was carried as far as human vengeance could be carried. When there remained none to kill, the murderers commenced setting fire to the houses, all of which were consumed. This done, they marched off, driving before them the entire bestial property of the unfortunate inhabitants of the glen, consisting of 900 cows, 200 horses, and an immense number of sheep and goats. These were driven to the neighbouring garrison of Inverlochy, and there divided amongst the captors, officers, and men. Dreadful as was the scene of the morning, when the death-shots of the murderers were seen blazing, and heard rattling, in all quarters of the glen, it was scarcely more heart-rending than that which now presented itself. Wretched women and children—the former were widowed, the latter fatherless—houseless and naked, were seen cowering under the storm, which was at this moment raging wildly, with neither food to eat nor a place of shelter to fly to.

There was no human habitation within six miles of the glen, and the nearest could only be reached by traversing a savage mountain track, covered with snow.

Many of these unfortunate women, however—some with infants at their breasts, others leading scarcely less helpless beings by the hand—attempted to take this wild path, and perished by the way, buried in the snow-wreaths of the hills.

Such, then, was the Massacre of Glenco, one of the most atrocious acts recorded in the annals of human turpitude. Keenly alive, even at this distance of time, to the atrocity of the enormous crime, the reader eagerly and indignantly inquires, who were the chief movers in the diabolical deed?—with whom did it originate? These are natural questions, but they are not easily answered. The whole affair, as to who were the devisers of the butchery, underwent, subsequently, a process of mystification that renders it impossible that this should ever be distinctly ascertained. Much, however, of the guilt unquestionably falls on the King himself, who certainly issued violent orders regarding M’Kian and his clan; although it is pled for him, and is, perhaps, true, that these orders were greatly exceeded by those to whom their execution was intrusted. Unfortunately for M’Kian, too, there were several of the men in power in Scotland, at that time, who held him in feud, and who had, either directly or indirectly, an influence in directing the engines of the royal displeasure, and of regulating their force; and between these two, the King and the personal enemies of Macdonald, rests the chief guilt of Glenco. To appease the universal indignation of the country, a Parliamentary inquiry was set on foot to trace out the really guilty in this frightful transaction; but it led to no result. Several were denounced, but none were punished.


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