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The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra
Chapter XI. — The Blackhalls of Finnersie


IT remains to say a few words concerning other members of the partially and temporarily resuscitated Blackballs of Barra. It will be remembered that the mother of Alexander Blackhall of Barra, later of that Ilk, whose estate was forfeited, was Agnes Burnet, the daughter of Alexander Burnet of Leys (p. 34). It will also be remembered that it was the laird of Leys of the time who became cautioner for Alexander Blackhall and his brother James, against their co-portioners the Kings, during the period of enmity between these families, which followed the threat and the accomplishment of the forfeiture. It is not, therefore, surprising to find that the forfeited Blackhalls of Barra appear to have taken refuge for a time on Leys’ estate apparently as tenant farmers, or in any case as residents, when the long-suffering Alexander Burnet again became surety in 300 merks each for Alexander, William and Adam Blackhall all in Leys, that they should not invade the interests of a salmon fishery (p. 56). This occurred in 1592, and the above Alexander was in all probability the late portioner of Barra, who had recently acquired Blackhall, but was not yet acknowledged as of that Ilk, while William and Adam were his brothers. With Alexander I have dealt fully in the preceding chapter. Of Adam we learn no more. William, the tenant of Leys, appears to have been a man of energy like his nephew, namesake and fellow in family misfortune, William Blackhall of that Ilk. At the time of his death, in 1623, William Blackhall of that Ilk owed this William Blackhall “ in the Leyes,” one thousand pounds “ borrowit money.” (James Mill’s Register.) After the Blackhalls had relinquished Barra, part of Finnersie appears to have belonged for a time to Gilbert Keyth, the eldest son of Magnus Keyth, who had a charter under the Great Seal in 160*5 of the third part of Meikle and Little Finnersie and Monecht.

With the mill of Finnersie and of the mill-lands astrieted and multured, and the sucken and knaveship of the same, in the parish of Echt. They are stated to have been held “per servitum warde” by Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk (formerly of Barra) and James Keith of Kinnadie, and resigned by them in favour of Gilbert Keith. (Reg. Mag. Sig.) The William Blackhall, whom we are now considering, acquired Finnersie, which had formed part of the forfeited Barra estates, and deserves separate mention as the first of three generations of lairds of Finnersie, who did something to repair the fortunes of their family.

I. William Blackhall of Finnersie.

It was not till 1622 that William Blackhall himself had sasine of a fraction of the old home of his family. Before that date, however, he had acquired land in other parts of the country. He had sasine on June 11th, as has already been stated (p. 59), on a charter of alienation by James Gordon, apparent of Lesmoir in life-rent, and to his sons, Alexander and Thomas, and their heirs and assigns whatsoever, of the lands of Meikle Cults, Overtown of Cults, Nethertown, Auldtown of Cults, Milntown, Tullichardo, &c., lying in the barony of Cults and parish of Tarland. On June 29th, 1605, he also had sasine of the town and lands of Easter Eschintullis with the woods and salmon fishing on the water of Dee, &c., in the barony of Maryeulter and Sheriffdom of Kincardine. Alexander Blackhall, son of John Blackhall in Drum-schelock, and probably a cadet of Barra, is witness. On November 12th, 1606, he had sasine on a charter of alienation by Alexander Burnet of Leys of the Mains of Culter, called Culter Cuming, and of the lands of Over Cantley, in the barony of Culter Cuming and parish of Peter-culter. On the 18th of February, 1622, however, he had sasine of the sunny third of the lands of Meikle and Little Finnersie, the sunny third of the lands of Monecht, and third part of the mill of Meikle Finnersie or Finrasies, as it is spelt in the deed, which formerly pertained to William Wood of Colpnay (Aberdeenshire Sasines), who was one of those present at the baptism of John Blackhall of that Ilk (James Mill’s Register). Ilis son, Alexander, appears to have been a co-portioner with his father of Finnersie. as he is a witness to this deed, and is designed portioner of Meikle Finnersie. Saline was given to

Thomas Blackhall as his father’s attorney. I have not discovered the name of the wife of William Blackhall of Finnersie, but he certainly had three sons :—

1. Alexander of Finnersie.
2. James, who witnessed a charter of his father of Little and

Meikle Finnersie, &c., in 1621, to his eldest brother, Alexander. William Blackhall is designed in this document, “late in Ley, now in .Lochtown ” (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. V., fol. 408). He appears to be the same person as “ James Blackhall, burgess in Aberdeen, who witnessed a charter of Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie, with consent of Francis Fraser of Kinmundic, to Robert Blackhall at Mill of Cruden.” Of his subsequent history nothing is known.

3. Thomas. He appears to have had an interest, as already stated,

in the lands his father acquired from Gordon of Lesmoir (p. 59). He is the Mr. Thomas Blackhall, burgess of Aberdeen, of whom I have already given some particulars (p. 48). He was married, as already stated (p. 49), and had issue, apparently two daughters, as also already mentioned.

I have not discovered the date of William Blackhall’s death, but he was succeeded by his son.

II. Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie.

Like his brother Thomas, he had an interest in his father’s property in the parish of Tarland, and was a Master of Arts of King’s College in 1616 (loc. cit.). He seems to have been portioner of Finnersie in 16.22 (loc. cit.). He had sasine on a charter from his father of Finnersie, &c., in 1626, the original grant being dated 1621 (loc. cit.), but his own most considerable transaction in land appears to have been in 1636, when for 10,500 merks, Francis Fraser of Kynmundy, with consent of Marion Elphinstone, his spouse, and Andrew, Master of Fraser, his brother, infefted Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie in the lands of Tarduff, and others in the parish of Longside, the lands being redeemable by the said Francis on the repayment of the said sum. This is that “ cousin ” of Father Blakhal’s, to whom the priest betook himself as a substantial person when he needed a loan for the widow of Lord Melgum, who perished at the burning of Frendraught House. The narrative of the whole of this transaction is so characteristic of the shrewd kindliness of the worthy priest, and apparently of his cousin’s also, that one is tempted to quote it at length, but it is too long for this purpose, and the reader must be referred to the original ('op. cit., pp. 71-75). In short, Father Blakhal not only received the money he required from his well-to-do cousin, Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie, but paid it back with ten per cent, interest when it had served his purpose. “ And this is the ground,” he adds, “whereupon she did found my chamberlanshippe ” (op. cit., p. 75). Robert Blackhall of Cruden did not contribute to this loan, as he stated he had no spare cash in consequence of having to give 2000 livres to Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie. These two cousins seem, indeed, at this time to have had considerable financial transactions, for the charter on which Alexander Blackhall had sasine on May 18th, 1636, was transferred on July 5th in the same year, with consent of Francis Fraser of Kinmundie, to Robert Blackhall of Cruden (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. X., fol. 199). Whom Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie married does not transpire. He appears to have had three children :—

1. William, who is designed portioner of Finnersie in 1638.
2. James, tenant of “ Ley.”
3. Margaret, who, as his third wife, married John Farquharson

of Tulliecairne, who, together with Donald Farquharson, the son of “ his first spouse,” Elspet McIntosh, granted a charter to her and the lawful heirs of the marriage, of “ two ploughgates and four oxgaits of the town and lands of Tulliecairne with the lands, &c., lying in the parish of Glentanner. The deed was signed at Kincardine O’Neil on June 4th, 1641, with sasine on June 13th in the same year. It is witnessed by “ William Blackhall, lawful son of Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie” (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XII., fol. 27). There appears to have been a son of this marriage, who was retoured heir to his father in 1692. In the retour (General Retours), Margaret is designed the third wife of John Farquharson.

Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie was succeedcd by :—

III. William Blackhall of Finnersie.

In July, 1638, he had sasine on a charter granted to him and his wife, Margaret Burnet, and the survivor of them in conjunct fee and life-rent of the shadow third part of the town and lands of Monecht, in the parish of Echt and barony thereof. The grantors of the charter were Mr. Robert Forbes, portioner of Finnersie and Monecht, minister of the Kirk of Echt, and Mr. Alexander Forbes, W.S., his son, with the consent of their respective wives, Elizabeth Arbuthnot and Janet Simpson (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XI., fol. 141). The lands given to the grandfather of this William Blackhall were incorporated into the free tenandry of Meikle Finnersie, the chief mansion house on the portion of Finnersie thus incorporated being ordained as the chief messuage (Reg. Mag. Sig., 1619). These lands were inherited by Alexander Blackhall, and then by William Blackhall now under consideration. In 1649, Finnersie appears finally to have left the possession of the Blackhalls. In that year Hugh Irving of Beilsyde had a charter under the Great Seal of the sunny third of the town and lands of Meikle and Little Finnersie and of the sunny and shadow thirds of Monecht with the mills and fishings. They are stated in this charter to have belonged previously to Alexander Blackhall, some time of Lochton of Dores and then of Finnersie, and “ cum aliis terri.-> et juribus decimarum ” are stated to have been worth “970 lib. 13 sol. 8 den.”, and “48 lib. 10 sol. 8 den.”, on 17th of October, 1646. After this date there is no mention of the possession of Finnersie by the Blackhalls, or of their possessing other lands, and it may therefore be assumed that it records their final appearance as a landed family in the county. Of their descendants, with the exception of the retour of Farquharson of Tillicairne in 1692 already mentioned, I have failed tc learn anything positive. Mr. Munro indicates William Blackhall, Armorer in Aberdeen, as a descendant either of William Blackhall of Finnersie or of his brother, the tenant of Leys. He became a burgess of Old Aberdeen on December 4th, 1683, and a burgess of trade of Aberdeen 011 November 25 th, 1685. As in the case of the head of the house, so in that of these cadets of Barra, the recovery from the forfeiture and its consequences was but transient.

This short account of the Barra Blackhalls of that Ilk and of the Blackhalls of Finnersie, imperfect as it is, would, however, be still more so, did we not deal at a little greater length with the personality and relationship to this branch of the family, of Father Gilbert Blakhal or Blackhall, whose short but lucid and interesting work already mentioned, has done more to perpetuate the memory of the name he bore, than any accidental connection with acres, possessed by genealogical succession. Not that the continuous possession of acres, undisturbed by extraordinary circumstances, such as the forfeitures we have been considering, is without value as an indication of the moral and physical stability of a family. A small estate long preserved in the same race, is direct evidence of a long line of ancestors of more than average prudence, whose collective virtues have been strong enough to counteract the hairbrained escapades of an occasional heritor, whose malign little day is to be found chronicled in the annals of most old families. It must be admitted, however, that the law of entail came at times to the aid of virtue, or even helped to obviate the natural consequences of improvidence.

Mr. John Stuart, the Editor for the Spalding Club of Father Blackhall’s Brieffe Narration, had evidently little material to hand concerning the origin of the writer of the story. He makes some reference to the Blackhalls of that Ilk in his preface, states that Father Blackhall nowhere mentions that he was connected with this family, but that he claimed kin with Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie and Robert Blackhall in Cruden (p. vii.) He claims descent likewise from the Leslies of Balquhain and the Ogilvies of Findlater. The silence of the priest as to his relationship with the Barra Blackhalls of that Ilk, to whom he must have been related if a cousin of Finnersie’s, may perhaps be regarded as corroboration, rather of the Protestant heresy of that family, than as evidence of Father Blackhal’s not being of the same stock.

The Blackhalls of Finnersie were, we have learned, cadets of the partially resuscitated Blackhalls of Barra, and we know that several members of that family, as well as of the original Blackhalls of that Ilk, were Roman Catholics. In 1589, Alexander Seton of Meldrum became surety in 1000 merks for Alexander Blackhall, portioner of Barra, that he, among others, would “attempt not) mg in hurte or prejudice of his Majestie, his authoritie, the present estate, realme and legis, nor the religion presentiy professit within the same, &c.” (Register of the Privy Council, Vol. IV., p. 378). We cannot, however, infer from this reference that Alexander Blackhall of Barra was an obdurate Papist. Indeed, as has already been stated, he, in all probability, it was, who three years later as Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk, signed a Protestant Agreement in Aberdeen (p. 63). The refractoriness to which this injunction refers was, much more probably, connected with the troubles between the King and the first Marquess of Huntly, as a very large number of persons had to find security for peaceful allegiance at the same time. This is pointed out by the editor of the Privy Council Register. But an extract taken from the Book of Bon-Accord (p. 229) is also published by the editor of the Narration in his prcface (xix.-xx.) to the effect that “Even in the reign of Charles I., the ancient faith was held by the Marquis of Huntly and the chief men of his name, such as the Lord Aboyne, the Lairds of Craig, Gight, Abergeldie, Lesmore and Letterfourie ; by the Earl of Errol and his kinsmen of Delgaty and Fetterletter ; and by many other ancient or powerful houses, such as the Leslies, the Bissets and the Blackhalls in the Garioch; the Irvings and Couttses in Mar; the Cheynes, the Cons and the Turings in Buchan.” The Blackhalls here referred to must be the Barra Blackhalls of Finnersie, for we know that the Barra Blackhalls of that Ilk were Protestants certainly from the date on which Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk signed the Band anent the Religion and afterwards. His son, it will be remembered, was a parishioner and friend of Mr. James Mill of Inverurie, and was buried in the kirk there. There can be little doubt, however, that Father Blackhall belonged to the Barra branch of the family. The question then is, what was his precise position on that tree. The only other Gilbert Blackhall with whose name I have met was tenant of Colohorsie, and witness to a charter of Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk (who was also the head of the house of Barra) to Alexander Irvine and his daughter, Margaret Blackhall, in 1605 (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. V., fol. 46). He may or may not have been related to Father Gilbert Blackhall, for Gilbert was not commonly in use among the Blackhalls as a Christian name. If the priest was a “cousin german” of Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie, he was probably descended from Adam or James Blackhall, brothers of the forfeited laird of Barra. If he was not, there were, as we have learned, several younger sons in the immediately preceding generations, from one or other of whom he must have been descended, and used the term “cousin german” in its more elastic sense as a paternal cousin.

As his narrative was written in Paris in 1666-67, when he was over seventy years of age, and he became a student at the Scotch College in Rome in 1625, it may be inferred that he was born towards the end of the 16th century. He continued to study in Rome for four years, and “was ordained sub-deacon on the 23rd of February, deacon on the 16th, and priest on the 30th March, Easter Eve, 1630” (loc. cit., ix.). In the following year he became confessor to Lady Isabella Hay, in Paris, on the recommendation of his cousin, Mr. James Forbes, who soon afterwards, for quite sufficient reasons, became his avowed enemy.

His narrative commences with a dramatic explanation of the causcs of this quarrel, and proceeds to recount his adventures in the service of the three noble Ladies Isabella Hay, Lady Aboyne and the daughter of the latter. From the first and the last of these the worthy priest had little thanks. Lady Aboyne, however, appears to have been much attached to him, and he to her, and the narrative which is dedicated to her daughter is a pathetic and indignant justification of his services to her relatives, and a dignified upbraiding of her insulting ingratitude. The whole work is regarded, by those capable of forming an opinion, as a very valuable contribution, by an observant eye-witness and trenchant writer, to the knowledge of some interesting bye-paths in the history of his time. It also shows Gilbert Blackhall in his various relations as priest, chamberlain and soldier or “captain,” as he terms it, to have been, what he set much store by, an honourable and brave “gentleman.” When the relations between Lady Aboyne’s daughter and himself had grown strained, he appears to have called at her house to ask for an explanation, and to have been kept waiting at the door in a manner which offended his self-respect. He bade her "laquay” inform her that her mother was as great a lady as herself, “who, notwithstanding, never did hold me, nor no other, aither priest or gentleman, at her dore, and you know I was both, whom you did hold at yours.” He was now “passed threescore and tenne,” and repelled with indignation some unworthy insinuations made by Madame de Gordon—adding “But, Horn soil qui mal y pens'

The narrative is full of graphically told dangers on land and sea— by field and flood, and is not devoid of a sense of grim humour on the part of the much tried traveller, but ever shows a duty kept steadily in view as a lode star, which led through many difficulties to the desired end. Those who have not read the “Brieffe Narration of Services rendered to Three Noble Ladyes by Gilbert Blakhal, Priest of the Scots Mission in France in the Low Countries and in Scotland,” have a pleasure in store for them.

Where or when Father Blackhall died is unknown, but that he had lived man’s allotted time may be gathered from what has been stated, and like many another agent of the Great Organisation of which he was, in his own sphere, an active and intelligent member, he doubtless fell asleep in peace, knowing that his task would be continued by younger and more active hands, until they too laid down the cheerfully borne burden, to be assumed by yet others.


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