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Highland Gatherings
Chapter V - The Gallant Marquis


THE Northern Meeting in the first years of the nineteenth century was the culminatory point of the Highland season. And so it is to-day. "The famous Lady Jane, Duchess of Gordon," says Mr. James Barron, "was a prominent patron of this assembly, supported by her son, the Marquis of Huntly, and by one or other of those daughters who had made such brilliant marriages. Her Grace delighted to spend the autumn at Kinrara, enjoying the simple Arcadian life after the toils of London Society. Miss Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus, afterwards Mrs. Smith of Baltiboys, describes the unpretending accommodation and the frank enjoyment of hostess and visitors. "Half the London world of fashion, all the clever people that could be hunted out from all parts, all the north country, all the neighbourhood from far and near, without regard to wealth and station, and all the kith and kin of both Gordons and Maxwells, flocked to this encampment in the wilderness during the fine autumns, to enjoy the free life, the pure air, and the wit and fun the Duchess brought with her to the mountains." She also says Lord Huntly was the life of social gatherings. "He was gay, young, handsome, fond of his mother, and often with her; and so general a favourite that all the people seemed to wake up when he came amongst them." The Duchess died in London in April, 1812, and her remains were brought north by her son, and interred in a sequestered spot chosen by herself, not far from Kinrara House. The Marquis was the last of his line. He married in 1813 Elizabeth Brodie, daughter of Brodie of Arnhall, but had no issue. In 1827, on the death of his father, he succeeded to the Dukedom, and to an encumbered property. Before his death in 1836, he had to part with Lochaber and a portion of his Badenoch estates. The late Dr. Carruthers, in his Highland Notebook, gives the following interesting reminiscences of the closing days of the "gay and gallant Marquis," after he had become Duke of Gordon:-

"There certainly never was a better chairman of a festive party. He could not make a set speech ; and on one occasion, when Lord Liverpool asked him to move or second an address at the opening of a session of Parliament, he gaily replied that he would undertake to please all their lordships if they adjourned to the City of London Tavern, but he could not undertake to do the same in the House of Lords. He excelled in short, unpremeditated addresses, which were always lively and to the point. We heard him once on an occasion which would have been a melancholy one in any other hands. He had been compelled to sell the greater part of his property in the district of Badenoch, lessen the pressure of his difficulties, and emancipate himself in some measure from legal trustees. The gentlemen of the district, before parting with their noble landlord, resolved to invite him to a public dinner in Kingussie. A piece of plate, or some other mark of regard, would have been more apropos and less painful in its associations ; but the dinner was given and received. Champagne flowed like water ; the Highlanders were in the full costume of the mountains, and great excitement prevailed. When the Duke stood up, his tall, graceful form slightly stooping with age, and his grey hairs shading his smooth, bald forehead, with a general's broad riband across his breast, the thunders of applause were like a warring cataract or mountain torrent in flood. Tears sparkled in his eyes, and he broke with a hearty acknowledgment of the honours paid to him; he alluded to the time when he roamed their hills in youth, gathering recruits among their mountains for the service of his country-to the strong attachment which his departed mother entertained for every cottage and family among them-and to his own affection for the Highlands, which he said was as firm and lasting as the rock of Cairngorm which he was still proud to possess. The latter was a statement of fact; in the sale of the property the Duke had stipulated for retaining that wild mountain range called the Cairngorm Rocks. The effect of this short and feeling speech-so powerful is the language of nature and genuine emotion-was as strong as the most finished oration could produce."

On the death of the nobleman who figures in this pathetic scene, the entailed estates-still a splendid patrimony-went to the Duke of Richmond, grandson of Duchess Jane, by her eldest daughter. The ancient title was revived in 1876, and the present venerable peer holds the honours of the Duke of Richmond and Gordon.

This is really not an account of the Highlands as a whole, but only of those associated with the games at Inverness, which began in 1840, and therefore we only continue these personal details as being of those connected with them. To quote again from Mr. James Barron, there were three other great local proprietors who occupied prominent places, also experiencing their share of human troubles. The last Earl of Seaforth was of marked ability, triumphing from mental endowments over deafness and imperfect speech. Living in a lavish period, he was, at least for a time, a member of the extravagant circle round the Prince Regent. He was also involved in West Indian Plantations, which proved unprofitable, causing the sale of part of his property. After the death of his four sons, he died himself in 1815, a widowed daughter succeeding a brokenhearted father.

The Hon. Archibald Fraser of Lovat, last surviving son of Lord Simon, careful to business, was successful in his affairs. Proud of his Highland descent, he helped the Duke of Montrose to abolish the law forbidding the wear of Highland dress. Here again, his five sons predeceased him, and the succession proved to the Strichen branch of the family. Archibald died in 1815, eleven months after Lord Seaforth.

Then comes Macdonell of Glengarry, succeeding to and squandering a fine inheritance. His ambition was to be a Highland chief of the olden time, so far as possible. He moved about with a body of retainers, constituting his "tail." Always eager for the limelight, he possessed talent and many kindly qualities, but he could keep neither his temper under control, nor his expenditure under his income. He died in 1828, his estates passing from his family for financial reasons.

"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in Nature that is ours."
-Wordsworth.


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