of the Sheep From the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness
Some time ago a Highland
friend favoured me with an account of Bliadhna nan Caorach; or “The Year
of the Sheep,” which I wished him to give to the Gaelic Society. From
native modesty or some other cause he however declined even to allow his
name to be mentioned in connection with Bliadhna nan Caorach; hut at the
same time suggested that I should use the information. Of this
suggestion I gladly availed myself, and at once began to collect further
information on the subject. "When I had finished my researches, I was
very dubious as to how I should proceed—whether to narrate briefly the
event, or to quote at length the different documents which came into my
possession. Believing that it would be of value to have all the
information available on the subject preserved in such a record as the
Transactions of our Society, I resolved to give most of the documents,
&c., which came into my hands at considerable length.
The year known as
Bliadhna nan Caorach is 1792, and, as the name suggests, it is an era in
the social and political history of the Highlands; for at that period
the native population was being driven to barren shores, in order that
sheep might graze in the fertile inland valleys formerly peopled by the
Gael. Sir George Mackenzie, in his Survey of Rossshire, gives an
interesting history of the early attempts at sheep farming in
Ross-shire; and in one or two instances briefly alludes to Bliadhna nan
Caorach. Throughout his narrative he shows a “warm side” to the woolly
quadruped, and contempt for and hostility to the sturdy Celtic biped;
yet his “Survey” on the whole, is a work that contains a vast amount of
valuable information about the County of Ross. Interesting as the
subject of sheep farming is however, it is not my business at present to
narrate its history in the north, except so far as it has to do with
Bliadhna nan Caorach. In the first place I will give a description of
the place where the “sheep affair” began, with a short account of the
beginning of this “rising,” and that in the words of my “Highland
“In the upper part of the
parish of Alness,” he says, “there lies between two steep hills a
beautiful loch, about three miles long by one mile broad. At the west
end of this loch are the ruins, of a Roman Catholic Chapel, surrounded
by a graveyard, still used occasionally as a place of sepulture. The
chapel was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Between the cliapel and the
loch is a well, called St. Mary’s Well, the streamlet from which flows
into the loch. From the chapel being situated there, the glen has been
named ‘Cille-Mhoire ’—now corrupted into Kildermorie ’—and from the
streamlet flowing into the loch it has been named ‘ Loch-Moire.’
“A stranger visiting
Kildermorie, naturally enquiries where were the people for whom the
place of worship there was erected. Only two or three habitations are
now to be seen, and few remains can be traced of the al odes of former
occupants. But tradition brings down to us that this glen, as well as
the neighbouring glens, were, a century or two ago, very populous. Near
the end of the last century the number of tenants in Kildermorie was
reduced to six, and in 1790 or ’91, these were dispossessed in order to
convert the whole glen into one farm. Sir Hector Munro of Novar was at
that time the proprietor. He let the whole of the lands to two brothers,
Captain Allan and Alexander Cameron, natives of Lochaber, as joint
tenants. By the former occupants the lands were grazed by Highland
cattle. The new tenants introduced sheep. This was considered by the
natives an innovation not to be tolerated; and the best terms did not
exist between the inhabitants of the surrounding glens and the new
comers. Previously the marches of the respective grazings were not
scrupulously observed, but the Abraich determined upon putting a stop to
this, and accordingly poinded their neighbours’ cattle, when these
trespassed their bounds, and insisted upon payment or pledges ere they
would allow the poinded animals at liberty.
“Matters went on in this
manner till May, 1792, when it happened that all the cattle belonging to
the tenants of Strathrusdale—the glen lying immediately north of
Kildermorie—crossed the march. They were collected by Cameron’s
shepherds and driven to a fank at the west end of the loch. The owners
of the cattle, exasperated by frequent poinding, resolved to pay
poinding money no longer, and roused themselves up to the determination
of releasing their cattle by force. Finding themselves too few in number
for this purpose, they despatched a messenger to the tenants of Ardross,
farther down the valley, for assistance. The messenger found the people
engaged at cutting peats in their moss, and immediately on delivering
his message, all the men threw down their tools, and headed by Alexander
Wallace, or ‘ Big "Wallace,’ as he was better knuwu, the champion of the
district, rushed to the rescue. On arriving at Kildermorie, they found
the cattle in the fank guarded by the Camerons and all their men. The
Camerons were powerful men, but being too few in number for the array
against them, they soon had to yield. One of the Camerons was armed with
a loaded gun and a dirk a foot long. ‘Poig Wallace’ grappled with him,
and in a few minutes disarmed him. It is said that in the struggle they
twisted the barrels of the gun like a ‘woddie,’ and the dirk is now in
the possession of Wallace’s grandson. The cattle were set at liberty,
and though the best friendship did not exist between the parties, the
fight put an end to poinding.” The Camerons, however, appear to have
taken other measures (which turned out equally unsuccessful) to punish
“the natives.” In the Scots Magazine for September 1792, I find the
following account of a Circuit Court Trial at Inverness, which, in the
light of the above narrative, may be read with interest:—
“The Circuit Court of
Justiciary was opened at Inverness on Wednesday, September 12, by Lord
Stonefuld. John Ross, alias Davidson, Alexander and John Ross, his sons,
Donald Munro, alias M'Adie, William Munro, alias M‘Adie, Robert Munro,
alias M‘Intyre, Alexander Wallace, and Finlay Bain Munro, all of
Strathrusdale, in Ross-shire, were accused of the crimes of riot,
assault, and battery, by assembling with a number of other persons, and
forcibly relieving from a poind-fold certain cattle confined there, and,
at the same time, assaulting and beating the gentleman and his servants
who had poinded the cattle. The jury, by a plurality of voices, found
the panels not guilty, whereupon they were assoilzied and dismissed from
The Edinburgh Evening
Gourant of September 20, reports the case in almost the same words.
Don’t suppose, however, that this is the incident from which Bliadhna
nan Caorach derives its distinctive name. No; it was only the prelude to
“On Friday, July 27,
1792,” says my Highland friend, “at a wedding in Strathrusdale, when the
home-brewed ale and mountain dew overcame the sober senses of the
guests, they devised the bold step of collecting all the sheep in the
counties of Ross .and Sutherland, and driving them across the Beauly
river, there to wander at pleasure. Elated by the victory achieved at
Kildermorie in May previous, they had no doubt of success on this
occasion, and next day they despatched men to make.public proclamation
on the following Sunday at the parish churches of the counties of Ross
and Sutherland, to invite and encourage the inhabitants of these
parishes to meet upon Tuesday thereafter, and forcibly drive the sheep
out of these counties ! Proclamations were made as proposed,
particularly at the churches of Alness, Urquhart, Resolis, and
Kincardine, in the county of Ross. In the churches of Creich and Lairg,
in the county of Sutherland, to which parties were despatched, there
happened to be no Divine service on that day, but proclamations were
made at all the public houses in these parishes!
“The mustering place was
to be Strath-Oykel, in the parish of Kincardine, and there, on Tuesday
the 31st day of July, about 200 people assembled to carry the purpose
into effect. They proceeded in a body to the furthest off part of the
parish of Lairg on which sheep were grazea, and, pressing the shepherds
to assist, drove before them every sheep they could find in the parishes
of Lairg, Creich, and Kincardine, except a flock in Strath-Oykel, which
belonged to Donald Macleod of Geanies, the Sheriff of Ross (his were
left undisturbed on account of respect for him and fear of punishment),
and on the following Saturday they reached Eoath, at the east end of
Kildermorie, with a flock numbering several thousands.
“The Sheriff of Ross
having been apprised of these proceedings, accompanied by Sir Hector
Munro, of Novar, and aided by a party of soldiers he had been obliged to
call from Fort George to his assistance, early on Sunday morning made
his appearance at Boath, just as the rioters were despatching a party to
collect Cameron’s flocks. This unexpected rescue created an alarm among
them, and they immediately fled. A few, however, were caught by the
soldiers, brought bound as prisoners to Novar, and subsequently lodged
in jail to await trial.”
A “rising” of this kind
naturally created feelings of uneasiness among those who were
dispossessing the Highlanders, and it gave ample evidence that
notwithstanding the “disarming* and ‘un-kilting’ Act, passed to break
the Highland spirit, there was still a latent current wliich could at
any time find expression in such acts as these. It is interesting to
note contemporary records of the affair. In the Scots Magazine for
August 1792, we find a short paragraph about Bliadhna nan Caorach, from
which we learn that “ Some time ago a great number of poor tenants on
estates in Ross-shire, having got notice to quit their farms, which are
turned by the proprietors into sheep walks, assembled in a disorderly
manner and drove off the sheep,” &c. The Edinburgh Evening Courant has
several notices of the “ rising.” On the 9th August, 1792, a short
paragraph appears, of which I give the following :—
“Accounts of a serious
nature have been received from Ross-shire. The people there, exasperated
at their being turned out of theii farms by the present prevalent custom
of the landlords letting out their grounds for extensive sheep walks,
and rendered desperate by poverty, had assembled in great numbers and
proceeded to several unjustifiable acts of violence, particularly in
destroying the sheep, no less than 3000 of them belonging to one
gentleman having been drowned. Some woods are also said to have been
In the Courant of August
11, 1792, a more detailed account appears, which I give in full. It is
as follows :—
“The disturbances in Boss
and Sutherland, mentioned in our last, we are sorry to say, still
continue. By letters received this day we learn that there had been a
meeting of the Ross-shire gentlemen on the 31st ult., when they came to
a variety of resolutions to support each other. The Inverness-shire
landholders met on the 6th inst., and resolved to raise their tenants
and servants, and to march at their head to suppress the insurgents.
They have sent to Fort George for arms. Three companies of the 42nd
Regiment, as stated in our last, had marched on this service, and a
number of the ringleaders were apprehended and committed to Dingwall
Gaol. But, in the course of the night the mob had assembled, broke open
the prison, and taken out their companions in the facc of the Regiment!
All the gunpowder in Tain and Dingwall had been previously bought up by
“While we condemn in the
strongest terms the mode of obtaining redress adopted by these
unfortunate people, we cannot but lament the cause of the disturbance.
Every gentleman has doubtless a right to make the most of his property,
but surely in the exercise of that right much is due to humanity—we may
add, to justice. The lower class of people in this country, particularly
in the northern parts, have hitherto been remarkable for the regularity
of their deportment, and a respectful submission to the laws of their
country. Some measures, therefore, more than commonly oppressive, have,
we apprehend, given rise to this outrage ; and we trust it will excite
the immediate attention of the Legislature. While we are commiserating
and giving assistance to the distressed inhabitants of Poland, let it
not be said that we suffer oppression to stalk uncontrolled at home! It
has been suggested that if the poor inhabitants of Ross-shire could be
conveyed to this part of the country, they would find immediate
employment at the different cotton mills!”
You will observe in the
above paragraph a statement relative to the doings of the county
gentlemen. I referred to the Ross-shire County Minutes, but
unfortunately the minutes of this meeting were never completed. So far
as they are -written, they record the unanimous resolution of the
Commissioners to present the King and the Prince of Wales with addresses
in thankfulness for the Royal Proclamation against seditious writings,
&c., issued on May 21, 1792. 1'hey also expressed their approval of the
“conduct of the Right Honourable William Pitt, and that of His Majesty’s
other confidential servants, in advising him to issue ” the said
Proclamation. The fact of their being so zealous in the cause of
suppressing sedition is doubtless a safe index to the state of feeling
prevailing among themselves in Ross-shire at the time. The
Inverness-shire Minutes are, however, fortunately preserved and well
kept, and I cannot do better than quote the following one in full.
At Inverness, the sixth
day of August, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two years.
In a meeting of the
Freeholders, Commissioners of Supply, and Justices of Peace of the
County of Inverness, met here this day in consequence of circular letter
from the Sheriff-Depute of the County : Present—The Honourable Archibald
Fraser of Lovat; Arthur Forbes, Esq., of Culloden; Alexr. Baillie, Esq.,
of Dochfour; Arthur Robertson, Esq., of Inshes; Simon Fraser, Esq., of
Farraline, Sheriff-Depute; John Baillie, Esq., of Dunean ; James Grant,
Esq., of Corrymoney, advocate; James M‘Intosh, Esq., of Farr; Phineas
M‘Intosh, Esq., of Drummond; James Fraser, Esq., of Culduthel; Major
James Fraser, of Bellaclrum ; Captain Thomas Fraser, of Newton; Angus
M‘Intosh, Esq., of Holme; Simon Fraser, of Dal-tullich ; Farquliar
M'Gillivray, of Dalcrombie ; Colin Shaw, of Cul-blair; William M‘Intosh,
of Elrigg; Lieut John Fraser, of Errogy; Captain Gregor Grant, of
Lakefield; Baillie Alex. M‘Intosli, of Inverness ; Duncan Grant, of
Buglit; David Davidson, Esq., of Can-tray; James M'Pherson, Esq., of
Ardersier; Lieut. Evan McPherson, 'of Strathnoon; Capt. Thomas Walcoal,
at Inverness; John Falconer, of Draikies; Alex. Fraser, Esq., of
Torbreack; Colonel Duncan MacPherson, of Bleaton; Lewis Cuthbert, Esq.,
of Castle-hill; Captain Thomas ffraser, of Ness Castle; Edward Satchwell
Fraser, Esq. of Reelick ; Simon Fraser, of Foyers; Alex. Fraser, of
Dell; William Fraser, of Garthmore ; William Fraser, of Kirk-town;
Master Robertson, yr., of lushes; James Grant, yr., of Bught; Baillie
Robt. Warrand, of Inverness; Ludovick MvBeau, of Tomatin; Mr. Hugh
Fraser, of Erchite.
The said Simon Fraser,
Esq., Sheriff-Depute, being unanimously chosen Preses, and he having
laid before the meeting an official letter which he had received from
Donald MacLood, Esq., of Geanies, Sheriff-depute of Eoss-shire, dated
the third day of August current, whereof the following is the tenor,
viz.:—“Dear Sir, Dingwall, 3rd August, 1792. You can be no stranger to
the tumults, commotions, and actual seditious acts that are going on in
this county at this time. The flame is spreading; what is our case
to-day, if matters are permitted to proceed, will be yours tomorrow. I
understand a mob of about 400 strong are now actually employed in
collecting the sheep over all this and the neighbouring county of
Sutherland. I intend to oppose them with what force I can collect—the
gentlemen of the county, armed, with such of their servants and
dependants as they can confide in, backod by three companies of the 42nd
Eegiment. If you suppose you can raise any volunteers hearty in the
cause of good and subordination to join us, we shall feel much obliged
to you, and request you may inform me here by express to-morrow whether
I may have any reliance on your assistance, and if so, I shall send you
notice when we wish you to move and to what place. I have the Lord
Advocate’s orders to proceed against the insurgents, should it be
necessary, to the last extremity.—I am, Dear Sir,
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) Donald M‘Leod.”
The meeting having
considered the above letter, they unanimously came to the following
resolutions, viz :—
Kesolved, Primo, That
upon notice given by the Sheriff of this county, the landed proprietors
and others here present, and all other landed proprietors of this
county, with all the adherents who may join them, shall attend the
Sheriff at any place of rendezvous to be named by him for the purpose of
their giving their assistance to the Sheriff of Eoss and the landed
proprietors of that county, for suppressing the seditious commotions
mentioned in the letter above recited, and bringing the offenders to
justice, and for these purposes,
Eesolved, Secundo, That
this county shall be assessed in eight months’ cess, to defray the
expense that may be requisite for accomplishing a measure which good
order of society and the preservation of property absolutely require,
and that the said assessment, or as much thereof as may be necessary,
shall be levied by the Collector of Supply along with the Land Tax of
the present year.
In the meantime thi3
meeting authorize and require the Collector of Supply or his Depute to
answer such draughts as may be made by the Sheriff to defray the expense
that may be incurred in carrying these resolutions into execution.
Resolved, Tertio, That
the Sheriff shall, in name of the county, apply to the
Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Forces in Scotland to furnish such
additional troops, arms, and ammunition as may be requisite to carry
these resolutions into immediate effect, and in respect the jails of
this county, or those in the county of Eoss, may not bo sufficient to
contain the number of offenders who may be apprehended as guilty of the
seditious tumults which it is the object of these resolutions to
Eesolved, Quarto, that
the Sheriff shall, in like manner, apply to the Commander-in-Chief to
give directions for receiving such prisoners into any of His Majesty’s
forts in the county, for securing their persons until they shall be
liberate in due course of law.
Quinto, This meeting
authorise the Sheriff-Depute or his Substitute to contract with proper
persons to furnish the necessary provisions and transport them wherever
the Sheriff or his Substitute shall appoint, and also to give such
proper encouragement to the persons who shall aid in carrying these
resolutions into execution as they may appear to deserve.
Eesolved, Sexto, That
these resolutions shall be printed and distributed through this county
with all convenient speed, and that a copy thereof shall be transmitted
to the Sheriff-Depute of Eoss, and that copies shall be distributed in
this county for the signature of such gentlemen as are necessarily
absent from this meeting; and, Lmtly, In case of sudden emergency, to
apply to the Deputy-Governor of Fort-George to furnish such arms and
ammunition as may be applied for by the Sheriff.
SIMON FFEASEE, Preses.
General Stewart of Garth
gives us a brief account of Bliadhna nan Caorach in his “Sketches.” The
Eegiment that was asked to stop the Highlanders in their endeavours to
drive the sheep out of the county, was the 42nd; and from the tenor of
the following extract General Stewart appears to have been present. He
“In Autumn, the whole
were ordered into Ross-shire on account of some disturbances among the
inhabitants, great numbers of whom had been dispossessed of their farms
in consequence of the new system of converting vast tracts of country
into pasture. The manner in which the people gave vent to their grief
and rage when driven from their ancient homes, showed that they did not
merit this treatment, and that an improper estimate had been formed of
their character. A few months after these ejectments, those who were
permitted to remain as cottagers rose in a body, and, collecting all the
sheep which had been placed by the great stock farmers on the
possessions which they themselves had formerly held, they drove the
whole before them with an intention of sending them beyond the
boundaries of the county; thinking, in their simplicity and despair that
if they got quit of the sheep, they would be again re-instated in their
farms. In this state of insurrection they continued for some time; but
no act of violence or outrage occurred, nor did the sheep suffer in the
smallest degree beyond what resulted from the fatigues of the journey
and the temporary loss of their pasture. Though pressed with hunger,
these conscientious peasants did not take a single animal for their own
use, contenting themselves with the occasional supplies of meal or
victuals which they obtained in the course of their journey. To quell
these tumults, which occasioned little less alarm among some of the
gentlemen of Ross than the Rebellion of 1745, the 42nd Regiment were
ordered to proceed, by forced marches and by the shortest routes, to
Ross-shire. When they reached the expected scene of action, there was,
fortunately, no enemy, for the people had separated and disappeared of
their own accord. Happy, indeed, it was that the affair was concluded in
this manner, as the necessity of turning their arms against" their
fathers, their brothers, and their friends, must have been in the last
degree painful to the feelings of the soldiers and dangerous to their
discipline—setting their duty to their king and country in opposition to
filial affection and brotherly love and friendship. I was a very young
soldier at the time, but on no subsequent occasion were my feelings so
powerfully excited as on this. To a military man it could not but be
gratifying to see the men, in so delicate and trying a situation,
manifesting a full determination to do their duty against whomsoever
their efforts should be directed ; while to their feelings of humanity,
the necessity of turning their arms against their friends and relations
presented a severe alternative.”
A Dingwall correspondent
of the Edinburgh Courant also sends an account of the proceedings. He
says that the 42nd Highlanders, as usual, conducted themselves with
great propriety, taking several prisoners without shedding blood. “The
insurgents themselves have behaved in a very uncommon manner. Though
almost starving, not a sheep had they killed for their own use; and when
made sensible of their error, several troops of 30 or 40 came and
delivered themselves up to the Sheriff, who selected the most guilty and
dismissed the rest.” The same correspondent, alluding to their
prospective trial, says :—“If ever judgment was tempered with mercy, the
present occasion surely calls loudly for it.”
proprietors were wroth at the comments on their conduct which appeared
in the Evening Courant, and they accordingly took steps to justify
themselves. This was done at a meeting held in Tain, in October, 1792,
and as the official record of that meeting throws much light on the
feelings then prevalent in regard to the “rising,” I will give it in
“At Tain, the ninth day
of October, 1792, In a Meeting of the . Gentlemen, Freeholders, and
Commissioners of Supply of the Shire of Ross, with the Factors of such
Gentlemen as could not attend, called by the Sheriff Depute by
Advertisements in the Edinburgh Newspapers,
Ross of Balnagown, Baronet; Sir Hector Mackenzie of Gerloch, Baronet;
Sir Hector Munro of Novar, K.B.; Duncan Davidson of Tulloch; Kenneth
Mackenzie of Cro-mertie ; Eobert Bruce iEneas Macleod of Cadboll; John
Mackenzie of Allangrange; William Eobertson of Kindeace; Charles Monro
of Allan ; John Mackenzie of Kincraig; Eoderick Mackenzie of Scotsburn;
Duncan Munro of Culcairn; Donald Macleod of Geanies, Sheriff-Depute; Mr.
Kenneth Mackenzie, writer to the signet; James Grant, writer in
Inverness, factor for Redcastle; Captain David lioss, in Tain, for
himself, and as Factor for Mr. Coekburn Ross of Shandwick; Mr. Walter
Ross, factor for Mr. Ross of Cromarty ; George Mackenzie, younger, of
Pitlundie; and George Miller, eldest bailie of Tain, who unanimously
made choice of the said Sir Charles Ross of Balnagown, Baronet, to be
their Preses, and of the said George Mackenzie, younger, of Pitlundie,
to be their Clerk, when the Sheriff-Depute presented to the Meeting a
letter from William Adam, Esq., member for the county, addressed to Sir
Hugh Monro of Fowlis, Baronet, Preses of the last Meeting, acknowledging
to have received the Addresses from the county to the King and the
Prince of Wales, which he had presented in the most proper manner.
“Afterwards, the Sheriff
having presented a copy of the accompt of the expenses incurred in
consequence of the late Insurrection, amounting to two hundred and
twenty pounds, ten shillings, and five-pence sterling, and the Meeting
finding that he was authorised by the Meeting held at Dingwall, on the
thirty-first day of July last, to layout such expense as he might find
necessary for suppressing them, and that the accompts are reasonable and
just, They determine that the. same shall be paid by the County at
large; and that the Collector shall make out a calculation of the
proportion which effeirs to each proprietor according to their
respective valuations, and transmit a note thereof to each of them, with
a request that the same be immediately paid.
“Thereafter, Mr. Munro of
Culcairn presented a letter from Mr. Cameron, stating the losses which
he and his brother were likely to sustain from driving their sheep, as
the letter which is delivered to the Clerk more particularly specifies,
and asking for their opinion how they were to proceed in recovering the
losses so sustained. The gentlemen present were of opinion that they
ought to prosecute the individuals who were guilty of driving their
sheep, or such of them as they shall discover are best able to indemnify
“Thereafter the Sheriff
read to the meeting a letter he meant to publish in the “Edinburgh
Evening Courant,” contradicting the paragraphs which had lately appeared
so derogatory to the credit and character of the Gentlemen Highland
Proprietors in the county, which was unanimously approved of, and was
directed to be published in each of the Edinburgh newspapers, and in the
“Morning Chronicle,”—an English paper, where similar paragraphs
appeared, and authorised their Preses to state in a memorandum to be
subjoined to the letter that it met with their approbation unanimously.
Mackenzie of Cromertie proposed that the thanks of the Meeting should be
given to Donald Macleod, Esq., of Geanies, the Sheriff-Depute of Ross,
for his very spirited exertions through the whole of the late
disturbances in the county, which has produced the happiest effects in
restoring tranquility, which was unanimously approved of.
“Afterwards, Sir Hector
Munro proposed that the thanks of the County should be returned to the
gentlemen of the county of Inverness, for their patriotic and spirited
exertions and resolutions, entered into by them in support and defence
of this county, which they unanimously approved of, and authorised their
Preses to write a letter expressive of their sentiments to Mr. Eraser of
Farraline, who was Preses of their Meeting on that occasion. And
thereafter they ordered that the votes of thanks to the Sheriff of this
county, and to the county of Inverness, should be inserted in the
(Sic subscribitur) CH.
Macleod’s letter appeared
in the Courant of 18th October, 1792. I procured a copy of it, but it is
unfortunately too long to be given in full. Throughout the whole letter
it is too clear that Macleod has assumed the roll of the special pleader
rather than that of the unbiased historian. The virtues of the landlords
are extolled— the conduct of the people is condemned in unqualified
language. We cannot approve of the means adopted by the peasantry to
remove their grievances, but great allowance should be made for the
feelings of a people exasperated by being deprived of their immemorial
possessions, and that, as they believed, in an illegal manner. The
comments of the Courant in its issue of August 11 (as given above),
appear to be thoroughly correct. They form a striking contrast to the
"words of Macleod of Geanies; and so does the language of General
Stewart. The Courant writer and the General had hearts.
After narrating the
Cameron affair, Macleod says:—“Thus the tumults commenced; and from the
exertions and activity of those concerned in this riot a general spirit
of disorder spread; some circumstances which had occurred in the
neighbouring county of Sutherland, that showed a repugnance among the
people there to admit of any additional sheep farms being established
amongst them, were industriously propagated, and highly exaggerated,
resistance to civil authority was effectually preached up ; and mobs of
hundreds of persons did convene in a species of military array to
prevent the citations of the civil magistrate being obeyed. A regular
plan for - a general insurrection was formed, aud actually carried in
some degree into execution. The spirit of violence was carried so far as
to set the civil power at defiance; the laws were trampled upon; there
appeared no safety for property; and the gentlemen of the county seemed
to be subjected to the power and control of an unruly and ungovernable
mob. When I, as Sheriff, first attempted to investigate the original
riot, I found they were linked to each other by the most solemn ties and
engagements, and that it might be attended with fresh tumults and
disorders to attempt apprehending those who were supposed ringleaders. A
few of those least guilty were pitched upon to give evidence, and were,
by the exertions of the factor on the estate to which they belonged,
prevailed upon to agree to come forward for that purpose, under promise
of personal protection from imprisonment. Although they were only served
with their citations on the day preceding that to which they were cited
to appear, a mob of ’twixt three and four hundred persons collected to
obstruct them from going to deliver their evidence. The persons who
succeeded in this exploit thought they might with the same impunity
proceed a step further; it served to show their strength, they found the
lower class of the people were ready to embark in any desperate attempt;
and their being no military force nearer than Stirling, they saw that
the gentlemen, however much they might be united together, could make no
resistance to the numbers they had the prospects of collecting. To
banish and drive off all the sheep from the hills of Sutherland arid
Ross, was to be the first object of their united exertions; and for this
purpose they caused proclamations to be made at nineteen different-
preaching places in Ross-shire, and at severals in Sutherland, on the
same Sunday, for the people to convene as one the following Tuesday for
this desirable purpose, and added various inducements, without the least
regard to truth, to incline the people to embark in the extraordinary
attempt. Many of them talked of other improvements they would bring on
as soon as they had succeeded in banishing this noxious animal. Rents
were too high and seemed to be rising. Gentlemen laid too much of their
lands under grass, which ought to be employed in raising bread for the
poor. Too much of what had been common pasturage was enclosed for
planting. In short, many grievances were stated which were all to be
redressed. Previous to the publication of the seditious proclamation,
the Gentlemen of the county were awakened to a sense of their danger,
and saw the necessity of making an exertion to subdue this turbulent
spirit of anarchy, which seemed to pervade the greatest number of the
lowest class. They made exertions individually and collectively, which
did the highest honour to their spirit, their prudence, and moderation,
and had the happiest effect in detaching hundreds, if not thousands,
from joining the insurgents, which had the doubly fortunate effect of
weakening their numbers, and lessening their confidence in each other.
At a public and full meeting on the 31st of July, they caused print and
disperse a paper which contained a declaration of their sentiments of
the disorders which subsisted, and resolutions to exert themselves at
every risk of their lives and fortunes to suppress them. . . .
Fortunately for this county
and for these deluded
people, a detachment of the 42nd Regiment arrived at Dingwall on the
forenoon of the 4th of August, and, intelligence having arrived tovvards
the afternoon of the approach of the insurgents, they marched by eight
o’clock that night, accompanied by a number of the gentlemen of the
county, the Sheriff and his substitute, with peace officers, and about
200 of the gentlemen’s tenants and dependents, to meet and oppose them.
It since appears that the insurgents had no idea that a military force
would be opposed to them, and had no intelligence of any having arrived
in the country; and having come so far without the show of resistance,
they expected to meet with none. Being fatigued, many of them went to
the houses of the neighbouring villages for a night’s quarters, and left
a very slight guard with the sheep and their shepherds, so that the
business was easily settled. Such as were found were made prisoners, and
the rest, concealing themselves with the utmost care, returned to their
respective homes as secretly and expeditiously as they could.
“It is but justice to
these poor deluded people to state that after they found that the
Government of the country had taken up the case, and had shown a
determination of resisting, and, if necessary, of subduing them by a
military force, they showed every symptom of contrition and regret. . .
. By the persuasion of their landlords they almost all came in
voluntarily and submitted themselves to the justice of their country,
acknowledged their errors, and stated the delusions which were practised
upon them. .
“It has been a generally
received opinion that depopulation is a necessary consequence of the
introduction of sheep into a country, and this has naturally occasioned
a popular prejudice against that system of improvement of waste grounds.
Without well considering whether that effect necessarily flowed from the
cause, or whether the improvement might not be carried into execution
without any such effect following as a consequence, I am confident that
the opinion is ill founded, and that sheep may be introduced with great
advantage to the lower class of inhabitants, as well as to the
proprietors of Highland estates. . . .
“Upon the whole, though
there appears no good reason why the Highland proprietors of Ross-shire
should not have the same liberty of improving or managing their
properties as seems to them most conducive to their interest, even
should that plan tend to thin the country of its inhabitants, it is
certain they have not taken any steps as yet, further than what may be
barely termed experimental; and they expect to be able to show that the
improvements of their hills by the introduction of sheep on an extensive
scale can be carried on with advantage to themselves, to their tenants
and dependants, without producing the dreaded consequence of
depopulation; but on the contrary, by introducing a source of wealth and
a staple of manufacture hitherto unknown amongst them, increase their
numbers and their happiness!” .
Sir George Mackenzie, who
appears to have caught the spirit of Geanies, begins his narrative
thus:—“When the spirit of revolution and revolt was fast gaining ground
over the whole kingdom, an open insurrection broke out in Ross-shire in
1792. As the first step towards the reform of pretended abuses, a large
mob met at an appointed place, which was fixed by open proclamation at
the church doors, &c.”
The Rev. Mr. Carment, who
was minister of Rosskeen, made enquiry into the matter some forty-two
years ago, and gave a short account of it in the New Statistical Account
for Ross-shire. Mr. Carment questioned some who had witnessed the scene,
the result being that he came to view the deed in a much more friendly
spirit than did Sir George Mackenzie or the Sheriff-Depute of Ross. One
of those he questioned on the subject was “Big Wallace,” alluded to
above. Wallace was then well advanced in years, yet he had a very vivid
recollection of the affair of ’92. The resolution. “To extirpate the
vipers” was come to at a wedding in Strathrusdale ; and Mr. Carment
began his examination of Wallace by saying—“Bha sibh-se air d' bhanais?”
Wallace, whose recollections of the events which followed on the
marriage were not altogether of a pleasant character, promptly replied
in Easter Ross Gaelic, laying strong emphasis on each syllable—“Ban-ais
an Dan-uis.” Mr. Carment’s account is very short, and seemingly
impartial, and I may give his closing sentence:—“There is one striking
feature in this case, characteristic of a Highland mob, which strongly
exemplifies their high moral principles, even when excited and roused by
oppression to an illegal act : no sheep was injured, no lamb was hurt,
The proprietors and
others were doubtless “in great tribulation, and likely to come to mair.”
To avert any further danger, steps were immediately taken for the
punishment of the ringleaders. The result was that several of them were
tried at Inverness on 14th September, 1792, at a Circuit Court of
Justiciary. The Rev. Gustavus Aird, F.C. minister of Creich, is in
possession of the indictment served upon William Cunningham, and he has
favoured me with the same. It is in every way an interesting document,
and as the principal statements therein made have been found, proven by
the verdict of a jury, there need be less hesitation in accepting them
as facts. The following is a full copy of the document in Mr. Aird’s
George, by the grace of
God, &c.: Whereas it is humbly meant and complained to us by our right
trusty Robert Dundas, Esq. of Arniston, our advocate for our interest,
upon Hugh Breack Mackenzie, tenant in Acbarn, parish of Alness, and
county of Ross; John Aird, tenant in Strathrusdale, in the parish of
Eosskeen, and county of Ross; Malcolm Ross, alias MacEob, in Alladale,
parish of Kincardine, and county of Ross; Donald Munro, alias Roy,
servant to Angus Ross Roy, tenant in Drumvaich, parish of Kincardine,
and county of Cromarty; Alexander McKay, son to Donald Mackay, in
Langwell, in the parish of Kincardine, and county of Eoss; William
Cunningham, in Aulangnish, parish of Kincardine, and county of Ross; and
Thomas Urquhart, at Easter Greenyards, parish of Kincardine, and county
of Ross: That, albeit, by the laws of this and every other well governed
realm the advising, exciting, and instigating of persons riotuously and
feloniously to Invade, seize upon, and drive away the property of any of
our lieges, especially by lawless and seditious proclamations made at
any churches or places of worship where the inhabitants are conveened
upon a Sunday for the purpose of attending divine ordinances : As also
the riotuous assembly and convocation of a number of persons armed with
guns, bludgeons, and other offensive weapons for whatever purpose, and
more particularly when that riotuous assembly and convocation is the
effect of a preconcerted plan and of a lawless and seditious
proclamation made at any parish church or place of worship for the
purpose of exciting and instigating persons violently and feloniously to
invade, seize upon, and drive away sheep or other property of any of our
lieges, as also riotuously, forcibly and feloniously seizing upon, or
driving away from of the lands or estates of any of our peacible
Subjects Sheep belonging in property to them are all and each of them
crimes of an henious nature of a seditious and alarming tendency,
subversive of law, order, and good goverment, and severely punishable:
Yet true it is and of verity,
that the forsaid persons
above complained upon are all and each or one or other guilty, actors or
art and part of all and each or one or other of the forsnid crimes,
aggravated as aforesaid—In so far as at the wedding of John Ross
Davidson, tenant in Strathrusdale, to Hellen Munro, daughter to Donald
Munro M'Cadie, also tenant in Strathrusdale, held at Strathrusdale in
the parish of Rosskeen, and county of Ross, on Friday the twenty-seventh
day of July, jm vij° and ninety and two, or some one or other of the
days of that month, or of June preceding, or August following, when
there were a number of persons assembled on that occasion, the said Hugh
Breack Mackenzie and John Aird complained upon did both and each or one
or other of them in an open and public manner feloniously and
seditiously advise, excite, and instigate the persons assembled at the
forsaid wedding violently to seize upon and drive away all the sheep in
that part of the country, useing the following or words to the
purpose—“That the. curse of the children not yet born and their
generations, would [be on] such as would not cheerfully go and banish
the sheep out of the country; and did also purpose and insist that on
the Sunday thereafter proclamation should be made at the parish churches
of the shires of Ross and Sutherland, inviting and encouraging the
inhabitants of these parishes to meet and conveen upon Tuesday
thereafter, and forcibly drive all the sheep out of these counties : And
in consequence of these seditious and illegal instigations and
proceedings, and by the directions of the said Hugh Breack Mackenzie and
John Aird, are one or either of them, various proclamations having been
made upon Sunday, the twenty-ninth day of July and year forsaid, at
different parish churches in the counties of Eoss and Sutherland,
particularly at the parish church of Alness, Urquhart, and the united
parishes of Kirk-michael, Cullycudden: As also by the said John Aird at
the missionary meeting-house at Amat, in the parish of Kincardine, all
in the county of Ross and by, the said Hugh Breack Mackenzie at sundry
public-houses, and in the parish of Creech and Lairg, and county of
Sutherland, as there happened to be no devine service in the said parish
of that day all tending to excite and instigate a number of persons to
assemble and convocate on the Tuesday thereafter, for the purpose of
violently seizing and driving away the flocks of sheep belonging to
various proprietors in the counties of Ross and Sutherland The foresaid
persons, viz., Hugh Breack Mackenzie, John Aird, Malcolm Ross, alias
M‘Rob, Donald Munro, alias Roy, Alex. Mackay, William Cunningham, and
Thomas Urquhart, above complained upon in consequence of the said
preconcerted plan, did on Tuesday, the 31st day of July, and upon the
first, second, and third days of August, one thousand seven hundred and
ninety-two, or upon one or other of the days or nights of the said
months of July or August, riotuously assemble "with others, their
accomplices, to the number of a hundred and upwards, at or near to Brea,
in Strathoykel, in the parish of Kincardine and county of Ross, for the
purpose of violently seizing upon and driving away different flocks of
sheep from the lands and pastures of different proprietors and tacksmen
in that part of the country; and did thereafter, upon one or other of
the days or nights aforesaid, in prosecution of the forsaid purpose,
violently seize upon and drive away a flock of sheep amounting to
severall hundreds, belonging to Duncan M‘Greggor, in Tutimtarvach, in
the parish of Crecch, and county of Sutherland; and, further, they did
time above mentioned violently seize upon and drive away the sheep
belonging to John Campbell, of Lagwine, in the parish of Creech, and
county of Sutherland ; and of Mrs. Margaret Geddes residing at
Cappilloch, parish of Creech, and county of Sutherland, and of other
persons, proprietors or tacksmen in that neighbourhood. All which flocks
of sheep amounting together to several thousands they continued to drive
away off the grounds of the proprietors, and keep in their possessions
for the space of several days, untill the said disorderly persons so
assembled were dispersed by our Sherriff of the county of Ross, aided by
a party of the military that he had been obliged to call to his
assistance, and the said Malcolm Ross, alias MacRob; Donald Munro, alias
Roy; and Alexander Mackay, above complained upon, were all and each of
them at times and places foresaid armed with guus, and the other persons
complained upon were armed with clubs, bludgeons, and other offensive
weapons, by all which outrageous and lawless proceedings, a daring
insult offered to the law, the publick peace was disturbed, and the
private property of the lieges greatly damaged, and at the mercy of a
lawless and seditious mob : At least times and places above-mentioned,
the forsaid wicked and felonious instigation and proclamation were used
and made, the forsaid riotuous convocation took place, and the forsaid
acts of violence and outrage were comitted in manner forsaid, and the
whole persons above complained are all and each or one or other of them
guilty actors or art and part of all and or one or other of the forsaid
crimes, all which or part thereof being found proven by the verdict of
an Assize before our Lord Justice General, Lord Justice Clerk, and Lords
Commissioners of Justicary, in a Circuit Court of Justicary, to be
holden by them, or any one or more of their number, within the Tolbooth
or Criminal Court-house of Inverness, upon the fourteenth day of
September, in this present year, One thousand seven hundred and
ninety-two, the said Hugh Breack Mackenzie, John Aird, Malcolm Ross,
alias McRob, Donald Munro, alias Roy, Alexander Mackay, William
Cunningham, and Thomas Urquhart, ought to be punished with the pains of
law to deter others from committing the like crimes in all time comeing:
Our will is herefore, &c., Principal Criminal
Letters, dated and signet
the twenty-third day of August, in the thirty-second year of our reign,
1792. Ex delibcratione Domin-orum Commissionariorum justiciary. .
(Signed) HUGH WARRANDER,
Eollows the list of the
Assize that are to pass upon the trial of Hugh Breack Mackenzie and
others above mentioned.
1 John Baillie, Dimean,
2 Alex. Baillie, Esq., of Dochfour.
3 Geo. Cameron, Esq., of Letter Finlay.
4 John Falconer, Esq., of Drakies.
5 Colonel Duncan McPherson of Bleaton.
6 Allan Cameron, merchant, Fortwilliam.
7 Evan Cameron of Muick.
8 Lieutenant Angus McDonald of Tulloch.
9 Lieutenant John Cameron of Glenevas.
10 Charles Jamieson, silversmith in Inverness.
11 Lieutenant John Fraser of Errogy.
12 Alex. Fraser, Esq., of Torbreack.
13 Simon Fraser, wright in Inverness.
14 James McPherson of Ardersier.
15 Alex. Macgillvray of Daviot.
16 Ludovick McBean of Tomatin.
17 Bailie Robt. Warrand, merchant in Inverness.
18 Bailie Alex. McIntosh, merchant there.
19 Bailie William Scott, of Seabank, Esq.
20 David Dean, merchant in Inverness.
Ross and Cromarty.
21 Col. Alex. Ross of
22 Captain John Ross of Castlecraig.
23 George Mackenzie, factor of Cromarty.
24 Andrew Munro of Lealdie.
25 Colin Mackenzie of Achilty.
26 John Mackenzie of Kindeace.
27 David Ross, writer in Tain.
28 John Ross, writer there.
29 Robert M'Kidd, writer in Fortrose.
30 John Simson, sen., writer in Dingwall, Elgin, and Nairn.
31 John Brander, Esq., of Pitgavany.
32 Alex. Innes, Esq., of Garmouth.
33 Alex. Lesslie, Esq., of Belnageith.
34 William Young, tacksman, of Aikenhead.
35 John Ritchie, jun., merchant in Elgin.
36 James Dalmahoy, Tanner in Forres. - ,
37 William MacRae, merchant in Nairn.
38 John Nicolson, tanner there.
39 Charles M‘Arthur, vintener at Calder.\
40 Robert Falconer, merchant in Nairn.
41 Robert Dempster, merchant there.
42 Alexander Alexander, merchant there.
43 George Spark, watchmaker in Elgin.
44 Alexander Smith, merchant in Forres.
45 Alexander Mitehall, merchant in Garmoutli.
The above is the list of
Assize for the trial of Hugh Breaek "Mackenzie and others above
(Signed) ROB. MAC QUEEN.
JOHN SWINTON.„ DAY. RAE.
Follows the list of
Witnesses to be adduced against Hugh Breaek Mackenzie and others above
1 Donald Ross, alias Gow,
residenter in Drumvaieli, in the county of Cromarty.
2 William Ross, tacksman of Letters, in the county of Ross.
3 William Munro, alias Taylor, tenant in Balvraid in Strathrusdale, in
the county of Ross.
4 J William Home, kirk officer of the united parishes of Kirk-michael
and Cullieudden, in the county of Ross.
5 John Fraser, kirk officer of the parish of Urquhart, in the county of
6 William Ross, residenter in Achlaieh, on the estate of Fowlis and
county of Ross.
7 William Ross, alias Doun, tenant in Gladfield, in the county of Ross.
8 Donald Ross, alias Doun, son to John Ross, alias Doun, tenant in
Dounie of Strathcarron, in the county of Ross.
9 Walter Ross, alias Seir, tenant in Croick, in the parish of Kincardine,
and the county of Ross.
10 William Ross, alias Bain, tenant in Wester Greenard in the county of
11 Duncan MeGrigor, in Tutimtarvaeh, in the county of Sutherland.
12 Dnncan Kennedy, shepherd to Mrs. Margaret Geddes, residing at
Keanloehalsh, in the county of Sutherland.
13 Robert Murray, shepherd to said Mrs. Geddes.
14 William M‘Gregor, sheep-farmer at In verchaslv.
15 Donald Munro, alias Michapl, tenant in Achnacloich, on the estate of
Ardross, in the county of Ross.
16 William Munro, alias Michael, tenant in Achnacloich, afore said.
17 Mr. Hugh Scohie, tacksman of Ardmore.
18 Hugh Munro, alias Macintyre, tenant in Strathrusdale.
19 James M'Gregor, sheep farmer, Strathcasly, and county of Sutherland.
20 Alex. Chisholm, in Cormuilie and county of Ross.
21 John Eoss, son to William Eoss, in Letters.
22 Day id Eoss, alias Bain, tenant in Croick.
23 William Eoss, alias M‘Eob, tenant in Alladale.
24 John Holm, tenant in Tolly of Strathrusdale, parish of Rosskeen.
25 Robert Eoss, alias Macandrew, tenant there.
26 William Ross, tacksman of Brea, parish of Kincardine and county of
27 Donald Rankin, shepherd to Mr. Campbell of Lagwine.
28 John Macallum, shepherd to do.
The above is the List of
Witnesses to be adduced against Hugh Breack Mackenzie, and others
(Signed) JOHN BUERETT,
I, Donald Cameron,
Messenger, by virtue of Criminal Letter's of the foregoing date and
signetting, raised at the instance of the above designed Eobert Dundas,
Esq., of Arniston, and whereof, and of the List of Assize, to pass on
your Trial, and of the List of Witnesses to be adduced against you for
proving the same, What is contained on the eleven preceding pages is a
full double to the Will: In His Majesty’s name and authority, lawfully
command, warn, and charge you, the before designed William Cunningham,
to compear and to come and find sufficient caution and surety acted in
the books of adjournal that you shall compear before the said Lords in a
Circuit Court of Justiciary, to be liolden by them, or any one or more
of their number, within the Tolbooth or Criminal Court house of
Inverness, upon the fourteenth day of September next to come, in the
hour of cause, there to underlye the law, and that under the pains
contained in the Acts of Parliament. This I do upon this Twenty seventh
day of August. jm vijc and ninety-two years, before these witnesses,
Donald Maclean, Writer in Dingwall, and Donald Ross, Indweller in Tain.
(Signed) DONALD CAMEEON.
Accounts do not agree as
to the verdict. My anonymous correspondent says that Donald Munro, Alex.
Mackay, William Cunningham, and Thomas Urquhart were acquitted ; that
Malcolm Ross was fined in a large sum (which however in a few days was
collected among his acquaintances, and paid); and that Hugh Breac
Mackenzie and John Aird were sentenced for seven years to Botany Bay.
Another traditional version is that one by one of the accused were
acquitted, and seeing this, one of the Camerons rose up in court, and
exclaimed that if the proceedings were to go on in this way no man’s
life would be safe in the country. “The last three, Mackenzie, Aird, and
Ross,” says my informant, “were then condemned!” This story is probably
of little value in so far as this case is concerned, but it is
exceedingly likely that Cameron may have expressed the opinion ascribed
to him when the eight men who were tried for relieving their own cattle
from his fold were all acquitted.
General Stewart of Garth
says, the accused “were eloquently defended by Mr. Charles Ross,
advocate, one of their own countrymen; but as their conduct was illegal,
and the offence clearly proved, they were found guilty and condemned to
be transported to "Botany Bay.” Probably the account of the case given
in the Scots Magazine for September, 1792, may be accepted as correct.
After giving the names and the nature of the charge, the account in the
Scots Magazine goes on :—“The prosecutor deserted the diet against
Thomas Urquhart, who was thereupon dismissed. The trial proceeded
against the other persons above mentioned, and the jury found the libel
proven. The sentence of the court is that Hugh Breack Mackenzie and John
Aird be transported beyond the seas for seven years; Malcolm Ross, alias
M'Rob, to be fined in £50 sterling, and imprisoned for a month and till
payment; Alexander Mackay and Donald Munro, alias Roy, to be banished
from Scotland for life; and William Cunningham to be imprisoned for
three months, and then dismissed. The Edinburgh Evening Courant also
reports the trial to the same effect.
The prisoners, however,
escaped from prison, and it does not appear that any active steps were
taken for their apprehension. Mr. Aird writes me:—“I heard that the
feeling in the country as to the unrighteousness of the sentence passed
by the judge was so strong that the prison door was opened so that the
prisoners escaped.” Sir George Mackenzie, who looks at the sentence from
his own point of view, says:—“The firmness with which it [i.e., the
“rising” of 1792] was met, completely quelled the spirit of rebellion
amongst the people in general, who soon discovered that they had been
misled by artful and designing men to accomplish their own purposes.”
Concerning the same affair, General Stewart says :—“It would appear,
however, that though the legality of the verdict and sentence could not
be questioned, these did not carry along with them the public opinion,
which was probably the cause that the escape of the prisoners was in a
manner connived at; for they disappeared out of prison no one knew how,
and were never inquired after or molested.” My “Highland friend”
narrates the escape as follows:—“In the same cell with them was a
notorious character—An gille maol dubh—who was sentenced to a long term
of imprisonment, and he, it is said, planned a means of escape. With no
other instrument than a large nail, of which he got possession, he
managed unobserved to dig into the sill of the window of their cell so
deeply as to enable him with ease to wrench out one of the iron bars
when a favourable opportunity for doing so would occur. But fortune
favoured them in another manner. In the gloaming of the night on which
they determined to make their escape, the jail door was for a few
minutes left open by the keeper, and while he was occupied in another
part of the building, the three prisoners slipped out singly—first the
gille maol dubh, next Hugh Breac Mackenzie, and lastly John Aird—and
made for the’ country by way of the old wooden bridge. The approaching
darkness, and the streets being almost deserted, prevented detection. As
John Aird, who was last, was crossing the bridge, their escape was
discovered by the keeper of the jail, who raised an alarm by ringing the
jail bell. The ringing of the bell made his heart to bump against his
sides, and added wings to his feet. At the break of day, Aird found
himself among crofters’ houses west of Beauly ; and seeing a woman
coming out of a house near him, he implored her assistance to accomplish
his escape. She, with tender pity, gave him food, and hid him, unknown
to any other occupant of the house, in a large chest till next night. On
the third night he reached his own house in Strathrusdale, but never
slept in it. During the day he hid himself among the hills, and during
night begged for food at houses whose occupants he knew would not betray
him. Before winter set in he crossed over to Morayshire, where he
remained till his death. Hugh Breac Mackenzie also reached his own house
in two or three days, and for some time kept himself hid in a small
dungeon he dug underneath the floor of his house. He also sought safety
in Morayshire. Xo search was ever made for them. It was enough for the
authorities of the day to understand that they left their native
district, never again to return to disturb the peace.”
The Courant, which
supplied us with much of the information above given, has an interesting
notice relative to the. escape in its issue of 3rd November, 1792; and
as it may be considered authoritative, I will give it in full :—
“The following prisoners
made their escape from prison upon the night of Wednesday, the 24th
October last, from the Tolbooth of Inverness—viz., Hugh Breck Mackenzie,
late tenant in Auckuns, and John Aird, late tenant in Strathrusdale,
both of the shire of Ross, and under sentence of transportation, and
Allan Macdonald, alias Ouer, lately residing in the neighbourhood of
Fort Augustus, in the shire of Inverness, and who was found insane by
the verdict of a jury.
“The said Hugh Ereck
Mackenzie is about 40 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, black short
hair, dark complexion, much pox-marked, his left eye much blemished, has
a down look and walks lightly; had on when he made his escape a short
dark dussle striped coat, a striped vest, corduroy breeches, white
stockings, and 'a bonnet.
“John Aird is about 45
years of age, 5 feet 8 inches high, broad shoulders, black eyes, a very
dark complexion, straight and well-made; had on when he made his escape
a black short coat, and breeches of coarse country-made cloth, a striped
vest of country-made cloth (black, red and white) with blue stockings,
and a bonnet.
“Allan Macdonald is about
28 years of age, 5 feet 5 inches high, short black hair, brown
complexion, and full faced ; had on when he made his escape a black
short coat of coarse country cloth, a striped vest, red and blue, and
tartan hose, red, black, and blue stripes.
“A reward of 5 guineas is
hereby offered for apprehending each of the persons of the said Hugh
Bieck Mackenzie, and John Aird, and to be paid by the Treasurer of
Inverness, upon their being secured in any legal jail in Scotland.”
Macleod of Geanies, in
the letter which I have already partly quoted, says that certain parties
interfered when he was precognoscing witnesses in the case. Three of
these alleged offenders were brought up at the same circuit court as the
others, and relative to them I find the following in the Courant report
of the trial:— “James Munro, William Campbell, and Alex. Fraser were
accused of obstructing and hindering persons from appearing before the
Sheriff of Ross, to be precognosced. James Munro, failing to appear, was
outlawed, and the Advocate-depute deserted the diet against the others,
so they were dismissed.”
After all, one cannot
help thinking there must have been some justification for the doings of
the people. The first eight tried were acquitted by the verdict of a
jury. Six were convicted ; but those of them who were sentenced to
suffer the heaviest penalties escaped from prison without difficulty.
The humanity of the country was with them, and not even the vigilance of
the Sheriff-depute of Ross was sufficient to secure their
re-apprehension. Then, with regard to the other three. One, who failed
to appear, was outlawed; and the remaining two were allowed to go their
way in peace! If the doings of these people were as criminal and
unjustifiable as they were painted by Macleod of Geanies, would the
offenders have been allowed to escape practically unpunished ] That is a
question which I will allow the facts I have endeavoured to place
impartially before you to answer. But in whatever light we view the
doings of that time, it is of value to record the facts ; and the above
will, I hope, be not considered an uninteresting contribution to the
history of the last Highland raid, which has given to the year 1792 the
name of Bucidhna nan Caorach.
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