Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Glen Albyne
Chapter V.—Saint and Sinner - Cummin and Curnberland


THE little village of Fort-Augustus from its natural position has, since the earliest times, been connected with all the important movements, military, social and religious of the North. It is situated exactly in the centre of Glen Mor, the Great Glen of Albyn which cuts the Highlands in two from coast to coast, cleaving the huge mountain ramparts down almost to the level of the sea. This depression running right across Scotland from Loch Linnhe to the Moray Firth has exercised a great influence on the nature, history and development of the country, whilst geologically it forms one of the most interesting features of the Highlands.

Glen Mor has, from the earliest times, formed the highway of communication between east and west. Whether the Romans actually made use of it when passing from one sea-board to another is still a moot point, though it seems likely that they did. In support of this we may mention that in A.D. 1767, whilst digging a trench in connection with the old Fort, some workmen turned up a blue earthenware urn containing three hundred Roman coins of mixed metal. Some of these were a little larger than our halfpenny, and others about the size of a farthing piece. They all dated from the time of Diocletian.

The flocks of migratory birds also, sweeping up the coast, naturally turn up or down the valley, where the wooded slopes and the deep recesses of the smaller glens and corries opening off Glen Mor afford admirable facilities for nesting and for the supply of their other numerous requirements. Thus the country around Fort-Augustus, which lies half-way from coast to coast, rising as it does from a few feet above sea-level to the summit of hills more than three thousand feet in height, teems with animal life of every sort, which, in variety and abundance, offers almost unrivalled opportunities for the study of ornithology and the other branches of natural history.

The spot was familiar to St. Columba and the early Celtic missionaries who followed in his wake, and they seem to have made it their headquarters when passing from Iona, to evangelise the east coast. They have left their mark deeply impressed upon the district, and their memory still survives in a rich crop of place-names, churches, wells, hills, cemeteries and "tilleadhs." The Gaelic name Cille-Chumein which the village of Fort-Augustus has borne for thirteen hundred years, and by which alone it is still known to the Gaelic- speaking population, is derived from Cummein a successor of St. Columba in the abbatial dignity at Iona. The site of the church he built, his burying-ground, the hill from which he preached, and the mountain of his "tilleadh " or return, all still exist in the neighbourhood.

A most interesting relic of St. Cummin in the shape of an ancient Celtic bell long survived after the chapel built by him had perished. It was unfortunately lost through the superstition of some members of the Fraser clan.

In A.D. 1559, the Dowager Lady Lovat, whose son and husband had been slain shortly before in the "Battle of the Shirts," made a pilgrimage to the battlefield along with some of her retainers. On the return through Cille-Chumein they took the ancient chapel bell intending to place it in their own church in GIen Conventh near Beauly. Passing down Loch Ness a sudden storm arose and the boat was in danger of being swamped. The intelligent oarsmen recommended that the bell should be sacrificed as a peace-offering to the spirit of the lake. Accordingly it was consigned to the waves, and in spite of this act of vandalism the boat safely won its way to shore. "From that time," as the chronicler says, "the water below where the bell was cast became medicinal. Superstitious people call it wine, and send it from a great distance to their cattle when they are sick." The zealous antiquarian will find himself but feebly recompensed by the healing waters of Loch Ness for the loss of this genuine relic of Celtic antiquity.

In later times the village formed the extreme outpost of the Fraser lands and was the scene of endless fights and bloodshed. A fort was early built as a defence against the inroads of the hostile clans, and stood just at the back of what is now the Lovat Arms Hotel.

After the battle of Killiecrankie in 1715 the English Government took possession of, and garrisoned this post in hopes of reducing the turbulent Highlanders to order. Ten years later when General Wade was spreading his network of roads across the country, a fortification on a much larger scale was begun by the`borders of the loch. The walls of this later fort, after passing through many vicissitudes in the stirring times of the Jacobite risings. have finally been incorporated with the present Abbey buildings, and little remains save the dungeons and ancient bastions to tell of their departed glory.

It was originally intended to connect the two forts by a covered way and to use the old one at the summit of the brae as a governor's house, but this plan was abandoned, and now the interesting ruins of this prehistoric stronghold form a portion of the garden wall at the back of the Lovat Arms Hotel. Some years ago an ancient underground passage was accidentally discovered in this garden, but its nature and extent still remain to be explored by the enterprising antiquarian.

In these days when so much attention has been directed to the ravages of tuberculosis, and when through the whole-hearted zeal and untiring energy of Hon. Miss Margaret Fraser, a sanatorium for the cure of this disease has just been erected by the confines of the Invergarry estate about four miles from Fort-Augustus, it is interesting to note one of the earliest and most authentic testimonies to the healthiness of the climate.

Captain Burt who visited Scotland in the years 1728-30 was sorely tried by the Highlanders and their ways. He complains bitterly of the squalor, dirt and misery of their houses, of the hairy butter and poverty of their table, of the terrors of their climate, the ice that never thawed (sic), the summer showers that lasted six weeks without intermission, and of the flies; yet, when speaking of Fort-Augustus, he renders eloquent tribute to the healthiness of the climate. "If the inhabitants of the new settlement," he says, "could have lived upon air I verily believe they would have been fed with better diet than at Montpellier. The officers and soldiers garrisoned in the barracks for many successions have found it to be so; and several of them who had fallen into a valetudinary state in other parts have there recovered their health in a short time. Among other instances I shall give you only one that I thought almost a miracle." He then goes on to relate the case of an English officer in the last stages of consumption, who, feeling his end approaching, resolved to meet death with his regiment, which was then quartered at Fort Augustus. The journey was made in easy stages, his companions daily expecting to see him die by the way. On reaching the Fort he began at once to pick up strength, and after some time was not only completely cured but obtained leave to return to England, where he shortly after married a woman of considerable fortune.

Whether Fort-Augustus still exercises a salutary influence on those prospecting matrimony we are unable :o say, but assuredly the salubrious nature of the climate remains unchanged as it was in the days of Captain Burt.

If the mission of St. Cummin diffused an odour of sanctity throughout the district, the same cannot be said of the mission of his military successor some ten centuries later. After the battle of Culloden, Cumberland, the "Bloody Butcher," established his headquarters it the garrison, and has left a reputation that stinks in the nostrils of Highlanders even to this day.

The atrocities perpetrated by the English army after Culloden seem almost incredible, were it not that they ire vouched for by authors of unimpeachable veracity. We read that nine days after the battle, "the misery and distress of the fugitive rebels was inexpressible, hundreds being found dead of their wounds and of hunger at a distance of twelve, fourteen, and even twenty miles from the field." A few weeks later, an officer writing from Fort-Augustus says, "The people are deservedly in a most deplorable way, and must perish either by sword or famine—a just reward for traitors. His Royal Highness has carried fire and sword through their country and drove off their cattle which we bring into our camp in great quantities, sometimes 2000 in a Drove." More than 8000 head of cattle were collected at Fort-Augustus in a few days, whilst horses were so plentiful that half-a-crown was considered an exorbitant price for a pony, and excellent animals changed hands for eighteen pence. To such an extent was this carried, that almost every soldier had his horse, on which he used to ride about, to the detriment of military discipline, till finally an order was issued commanding all the horses to be immediately disposed of. But brutality did not stop here. Long after the battle of Culloden, an officer at Fort-Augustus writes, "We hang and shoot everyone that is known to conceal the Pretender; burn their houses and take their cattle.' Nor was this slaughter confined to those known to conceal the Pretender. Many peaceful men who hac never been out in the rising were stripped, tortured and shot whilst labouring in the fields.

The foremost example in these outrages was set b) the Duke of Cumberland himself. Passing over the field of Culloden he saw a wounded Highlander lying on the ground staring at him. He at once called on Majoi Wolfe to "shoot that insolent scoundrel." The major replied that his commission was at the disposal of His Royal Highness, but he could never consent to become an executioner. The Duke then asked several officers in succession to pistol the wounded man, but with a like result. Finally he called upon a common soldier who blew the poor fellow's brains out with his musket.

On the day following the battle, Cumberland sent a body of soldiers to kill the wounded who were still alive upon the battlefield. Some seventy unfortunate Highlanders were thus found, and were all shot or stabbed to death.

Later on, it was reported that some of the wounded had taken refuge in the neighbouring houses. A diligent search was instituted, and they were at once dragged out and put to death. One officer boasted that on a single day, he had seen as many as seventy-two persons thus massacred in cold blood. Nineteen officers who had found refuge in the court-yard of Culloden House were set up against a wall and platooned; those who showed any signs of life were afterwards clubbed to death with the butt ends of the soldiers' muskets, one young officer survived even this ordeal. He received e shot, then a soldier struck him with the butt end his musket breaking the upper part of his nose and eye, and dashing out one of his eyes; but he recovered, and for many a long year his disfigured countenance bore witness to the dismal horrors of Culloden.

Not content with this, we find the Duke issuing an order from Fort-Augustus on the 8th of July, that no venision of any kind was to be sold or supplied to the Irving people of the neighbourhood. If any of the soldiers' wives were found contravening this command, they were to be flogged for the first offence; and in case any repetition of the fault, still graver penalties were to be inflicted. In consequence of this measure, the wives died in large numbers of sheer starvation. Was it from a sense of disgust at these atrocities that Dr Johnson, on his famous tour, avoided Culloden? Possibly he may have shunned it on the ground, he said on another occasion, that when you have seen green fields, you have seen all green fields; at any event he had a low opinion of the English soldiery.

In this connection, we may mention that the appreciation of the beauty of scenery and nature's charms seem be the outgrowth of a comparatively modern civilisation which Sir Walter Scott did so much to popularise. certainly it in no way appealed to the garrison at Fort Augutus. One of the volunteers writes, "The sight of the black barren mountains covered with snow, and the strams of water rolling down them was enough to give well-bred dogs the vapours, and cause many to be sick daily as well in their minds as in their bodies." There reasons besides the much-abused scenery are far to seek as a more reliable cause of these diserters. In any case, by way of reviving the drooping grits of the garrison, the City of London sent 4000 —worth nearly four times that amount in our day—for distribution among the men. The Duke of Cumberland also encouraged debauch. We read of the "wimmen of the line " contending in foot races for prizes offered by the Duke, whilst in the General Order Book under the date 17th of June we have the following entry. "H.R.H. gives six plates to be run for this afternoon at 5 o'clock by the sheltys belonging to the army, viz., four the line, one to be run for by the women, all to ride without saddles. Everybody has a right to run, they are to be at H.R.H. quarters a half-an-hour after four."

These exhibitions seem to have been accompanied by circumstances of the grossest indecency, the clothing of the women being of the slenderest description, and it is not without reason that we read of the "Old Buff Ladies" being successful in the contest. Wolfe, the hero of Quebec, expresses his horror of these orgies in no measured terms. "If I stay here much longer with the regiment, I shall be perfectly corrupt: the officers are loose and profligate, and the soldiers are very devils." But enough of the grotesque savagery of an uncivilised German. Let us pass on to another figure closely connected with Cumberland and Culloden, and who perished on the scaffold for the part he had played in the rising of 1745.

Simon Lord Lovat was one of the most extraordinary characters the Highlands ever produced, and was by far the ablest man in Scotland of his day. His Iot was cast in troublous times, but by his own unaided genius and a skilful use of the elements by which he was surrounded, he generally managed to ride forth on the crest of the wave. Born with scarcely a rood of land, by freely breaking all the laws of God and man, he raised himself to the headship of one of the most powerful of all the Highland clans; and, had he survived a few years longer, would probably have succeeded in passing to his descendants a dukedom, the one cherished dream of all his ambitions. Many existing memorials link Fort-Augustus with his life, and his name is still a living memory in the district. The clansmen of Stratherrick were ever the chosen heroes of his heart; the famous old Fort Well supplied drinking-water for his table; the dungeon is still shown in which he was confined, whilst during the happiest moments of his life his oft repeated prayer was, that the women of this district should cry the coronach over his remains ; and by his will he left a sum of money that every piper from John o' Groats to Edinburgh might play his funeral lament.

Most people merely think of Simon -as the "ugly old Scotch dog" of Hogarth's painting, who received on Tower Hill the well-merited reward of a life-long deceit and treachery. Few remember the tall strong handsome man of his youth, with iron will and stony heart, intellectual powers amounting to genius, and a perfectly boundless energy which lasted even to the day when his ancient frame, knotted with gout and cramped up with rheumatism, had to be assisted up the scaffold steps.

He knew not what fear was, while his ready wit and resourceful daring time after time freed him from dangers and saved his life. He early exercised a perfect self-control, and never lost his temper save when sonic-thing was to be gained thereby. Then it was as a veritable mountain torrent sweeping all before it.

Two men alone have raised the. Highlanders from wild and lawless banditti into a thoroughly efficient army and irresistible fighting force--Montrose anti Claverhouse. Simon Lovat might have been a third. He had all the necessary gifts of head and heart assisted by the fullest sympathy with Celtic racial prejudice. Few men or women could resist his advances when he seriously set himself to work to win them to his cause. The diplomatists of England and of France found in the untutored Celtic Chief a masterly grasp of politics equal to the best, whilst under the rugged exterior and apparent hearty simplicity of the Highlander lurked a natural cunning and astuteness that oftentimes far outmatched their own.

Unfortunately these qualities were marred by an overmastering selfishness and almost unfathomable duplicity and deceit. To use his own words, he "did not stick to take a cart-load of perjured oaths" to compass a desired end, and he did not hesitate to deceive his own bosom friends as well as the ablest statesmen of the day. In one thing alone was he uniformly consistent, in unscrupulous endeavour to aggrandise himself.

It was characteristic of the age in which he lived, that before he was sixteen Simon Fraser had been three times imprisoned for being a Jacobite. Time and again he met a similar fate for one cause or the other, now in France, then in England, and then again in the Highlands, in the very territory almost of the Fraser clan. He was several times outlawed with a price upon his head, and more than once solemnly condemned in open court for treason, but he adroitly extricated himself from every entanglement; and one cannot help feeling that had the wily chieftain been but a few years younger he would have successfully weathered the storm that finally brought his head to th-, block in A.D. 1746.

As a young man we find him rendering his name notorious by the abduction and forcible marriage, in the presence of minister and witnesses, of the Dowager Lady Lovat. The refinement of brutality in this act will not admit description, but it bears eloquent testimony to his persuasive powers that the outraged lady seems later to have genuinely fallen in love with him, only to find herself unhesitatingly cast aside when forming an obstacle to the advancement of her husband's fortunes.

In the evening of his long life we find him marrying once more, for the third time, in truly characteristic fashion. A letter was written to Miss Primrose Campbell purporting to come from her dying mother, and requesting her immediate presence at a certain house in Edinburgh. On her arrival she found not her mother but Lovat, who explained that the nature of the house was such that she could not leave it without the stain of ignominy and disgrace unless she married him. Later they were separated. but not before he had obtained his end—an alliance with the powerful family of Argyle.

In 1715 the idea of gathering the clans to a hunting-party and then raising the standard on the Braes of Mar was due to Lovat's fertile brain, whilst, when the expedition failed, he received the chief credit for having brought the disturbance to an end. So throughout his long life, he made both parties serve his own personal advancement.

The following is an example of his readiness in dangerous emergency. Travelling through England while under ban of the government, the incautious tongue of a follower aroused suspicion. The Justice of Northallerton was summoned and the inn surrounded. On the arrival of the official, Lovat welcomed him most warmly as a friend he had not seen for two years; the last time they had met was, if he remembered aright, when he was attending a horse-race in the neighbourhood with his brother the Duke of Argyle. The unhappy justice completely outwitted, mumbled apologies as best he might. A royal night was spent in pledging loyal toasts, and the justice was carried off to bed.

While lying in the tower awaiting his trial, Lovat used to say that he had never in his life been the worse of drink. The above anecdote would point to this not being entirely due to the merit of abstemiousness. Large quantities of rum and brandy seem to have been consumed during the captivity, but it is said that they were used for bathing his gouty feet. Possibly the warders felt with the Highland innkeeper's lady of a later day, who did not charge for the whisky with which she bathed the sprained ankle of a guest, on the ground that it was "nane the waur."

This sobriety was certainly not inherited by Lovat's son who used to indulge so freely as to bring on fits of mental aberration. On one occasion, when visiting Cluny Castle, he imagined himself a hen hatching a clutch of eggs, and would only leave his carriage twice a day to snatch a hasty meal. The illusion was finally dispelled by the hen-wife scattering broken egg-shells on the floor and placing a brood of chickens on the seat, when the deluded chieftain strutted about crowing and cackling till he chuckled himself into his sane mind again.

After the fatal battle of Culloden Lovat, now an old man of eighty and unable to walk a step, was carried by his devoted followers to the head of Loch Arkaig, and alone, of all Prince Charlie's leaders, he was ready with an ingenious and masterful plan. He suggested raising a standing army of 3000 men to defend the mountain fastnesses, each clan supplying its quota, and changing the men in rotation. He pressed upon all to sign a band, but true to his character, refused to put his own name to it. He very nearly escaped capture by hiding in a hollow tree on an island in Loch Morar, but was finally taken and carried to London in a litter. On the journey, a young officer with more curiosity than good breeding, determined to have a look at the monster of whom all England was talking. The captive divining his intention pretended to be asleep, snoring loudly. The gallant officer cautiously drew aside the curtains of the litter and peeped in, when suddenly the inmate started up and seized him by the nose, very nearly removing that prominent feature from his face.

The old man conducted his trial with courage and dignity, seasoning his defence with witticisms at the expense of the judges. After receiving the sentence, he proceeded to prepare himself for death without trace of nervousness or anxiety.

As the condemned nobleman was stepping into his carriage, a woman shrieked through the window, "You will have your head chopped off you ugly old Scotch dog." This admitted of a simple and intensified retort. As Lovat sank back on the seat he replied, "I verily believe I shall, you ugly old — —," and for the rest he altered the adjective and gender to suit the nationality and sex of his fair assailant.

His last conquest in the paths of love was the daughter of General Williamson, governor of the tower. This damsel was so much overcome with grief at his fate, that she was unable to support an interview to bid him farewell. "God bless the dear child," quoth the condemned Lord, "and make her eternally happy for she is a good lass."

Some fifteen years earlier, writing to his friend John Forbes of Culloden, he saw in his increasing infirmities, a trumpet-call to another world; "but I have," he added, "a sort of advantage over you, for if I can but die with a little of my old French belief, I'll get the legions of saints to pray for me, while you will only get a number of drunken fellows, innkeepers and tapster lasses of Inverness." Before his death he professed himself a Catholic, and was attended in his last hours by Fr. Baker, a Franciscan, attached to the Sardinian Chapel.

The crush at his execution was so great that the scaffold fell and a number of people were killed. With a flash of his own fierceness, Lovat exclaimed "The more mischief the better sport."

On mounting the scaffold he felt the edge of the axe, examined the inscription on his coffin, give a handsome donation to the executioner, then true to his colours to the last, quoted the lines of Horace, "Duke et decorum est Pro patria son."

His head was severed at a blow. Thus perished the chief who did more than any of his predecessors to consolidate the power of his house and clan, and whose one regret on leaving Fort-Augustus for the last time was that his bones would be laid to rest in a distant land and that the women of this district—the only one he ever really loved—would be unable to wail the coronach over his grave.

The present Lord, XVII Baron Lovat, who while still a young man has accomplished so much, traces his descent to a more ancient branch, and bids fair to eclipse in loyal service to the Crown, his clan and country, all the brilliant deeds of the chiefs who have gone before him. Fac sit Deus.

One other famous figure connected with Kilcumein and the old Fort calls for a word in passing. Roualeyn George Gordon-Cumming, the famous lion-hunter of sixty years ago, was closely connected with the place. Here it was that he finally erected his museum of magnificent African trophies; when "wanted by the law" the mountain fastnesses by Loch Ness offered him a shelter and a refuge; the last decade of his life was spent beneath the shadow of the Fort, and he died within its walls.

The second son of the Baronet of Altyre, he successively entered the service of the East India Company, the Royal Veteran Newfoundland Company and the Cape Mounted Rifles, but all were given up in turn to satisfy his craving for "the life of the wild hunter." Collecting a few followers he plunged into the heart of Africa and spent five years in the pursuit of every kind of big game. On his return to England he published a book and exhibited his unique collection of skins and trophies at the great Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. As an immediate result he became famous and was everywhere feted as the "Lion-hunter." Finally he settled at Fort-Augustus in 1858. A contemporary writer says of him: "In appearance he was remarkable for his great height and his massive symmetry of build. With handsome Highland features and the eye of an eagle, he was verily a king of men." He delighted in marked eccentricities of dress and might be seen parading Princes Street in Edinburgh in top-boots, a Gordon tartan kilt with plaid to match fastened by a large brooch, huge shirt frills, surmounted with a brass helmet as a head-piece and quantities of jewels, with silver fish-hooks in his ears. On wet days the whole was secured with a ponderous umberella. At Fort-Augustus he used to meet the tourist steamers with a number of retainers similarly attired in grotesque costume, and, preceded by a magnificent goat, would lead the way to his museum. In warm weather he discarded this gorgeous raiment and went about clad only in a shirt and stockings. Sometimes his hair was allowed to hang in long ringlets down over his shoulders, and at other times was caught up in a lady's net and fastened with numberless hairpins. Many are the anecdotes still current of his sayings and doings in the district which cannot be related here, but which remain a rich harvest and easily to be obtained for the humorist and the antiquarian. His museum stood at the south-eastern corner of the canal bridge on the piece of ground lying between the road and the Catholic school.

When the Established Church was rebuilt some years ago, the roof of Roualeyn Gordon-Cumming's museum was used to cover it, and the timbers that once enhanced the charms of the lion-hunter and his wild-beast show, now serve as a framework to an honest Presbyterian congregation, and form a setting to the Geneva gown.

We can scarcely close a chapter which has dealt so largely with the horrors of Culloden without mentioning an interesting item that may compensate in some degree to the scientist for the outrages committed by English forces in the name of peace.

The army of engineers, draughtsmen, engravers and others who, at Southampton, are to-day occupied on the Ordnance Survey, owe their origin to Fort-Augustus and the '45. The difficulty of operating in a strange land devoid of roads caused the Duke of Cumberland to set about mapping out the country. The task was committed to General Watson, the Duke's Quartermaster General, with William Roy as understudy. The first maps were never published, but Roy later expanded and perfected the work until it included the whole of the Highlands. Subsequent labours completed the scheme, and now it embraces every country in Britain. The first base line for triangulation was Iaid down at Hounslow Heath in 1783. This triangulation was connected with the French survey at Dover, and has been of inestimable value in regard both to land surveying and astronomy, and has resulted in that series of maps which is the envy of every civilised country in the World.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast