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Braemar Highlands
Part the Fourth - Chapter VI


Priest Farquharson—Last Chief of the Invereys, etc.

ONE of those who left Braemar in ‘45 to return no more, was Alexander Gordon, priest at Gairnside. ' His successor was Charles Farquharson; and some account of  Father Charles ’ and his brother Maighistir Jan, i.e. Master John, also a priest, brings down the traditional history of Braemar to 1799.

John and Charles Farquharson were the sons of Lewis of Auchindryne, younger brother of John the Black Colonel. He was at first intended for a minister of the recently established Protestant Church; but while pursuing his studies for that purpose, he became a convert to the Roman faith.

After that event Lewis seems to have been more inclined to a soldier’s life than a clerical one; but his two sons, John and Charles, supplied his lack of service, as both became priests and Jesuits.

Alastair, the eldest son of Lewis, was killed at Falkirk. His son, a youth, succeeded to the estates; and William, the youngest son of Lewis, became tutor to the young laird his nephew.

John Farquharson, the elder of the two brother priests, was a missionary at Strathglass. He had not gone to the wars in ’45 like priest Gordon; for about that period his spare time seems to have been occupied in making a collection of Gaelic poetry—the first ever made—but which unfortunately was lost at Douay, where John lived for a number of years. He had hard times of it while he was in Strathglass. But his history, though interesting, is not connected with my subject; so I merely notice concerning him, that he spent the last years of his life as chaplain to his nephew Alexander Farquharson of Inverey, Auchindryne, etc., and died at Balmoral, 22d August 1782.

‘Both the fathers, John and Charles,’ says one of their own persuasion, ‘were held to be saints. Many persons possessed by devils were brought to them from far and near, and by them restored and cured. They had also, we are told, the gift of prophecy. Their piety gained them the veneration, their learning the esteem, and their urbanity the love of all who knew them.’

My old friend in Braemar, who remembers him very well, says of Father Charles : ‘He was a great big man, with long white hair curling down his back, and a bonnie man as ye would have seen. A clever man too; for he had learned philosophee and astro-nomee, and understood things so weel that fouk thought he had the second sight: he could have told them even when a storm was coming, etc.

‘He had great fame, too, for casting out spirits. There is a case that I min’ weel, for I saw it wi’ my ain een; an’ that was three stout men that brought their brither from Athole, possessed wi’ an evil spirit, as they thought. They had a rope about him, an’ ane o’ them gaed at the back wi’ a great stout cudgel to belabour him, for he broke out sometimes terrible.

‘Weel, they took him to the priest’s door, and he came out to them, an’ they telt him what was the matter. “Pit him into my room,” says he. “They couldna dee that,” they said, “ for he was so outrageous.”  it ye him in,” said he, “an’ leave him to me; I’ll manage him.” So they pat him in, and gaed awa owre to the inn, for the priest said they would need to leave him twa or three days. An’ in little mair than that time, I min’ as weel as ony-thing o’ seeing him gang doon the road hame, as weel as ony o’ them.

‘That was a great case wi’ the fouk, o’ casting out the deevel. But his housekeeper telt me after hoo he did. He examined a’ his head, an’ then he pat a blister on the back o’ his neck. Then he mixed up some herbs and gae him to drink ; and that was the way that the evil spirit was cast oot.’

As the laws against the priests were very stringent, and pretty well enforced about Braemar, Charles had not a few difficulties at the beginning of his ministry. One escape from capture is thus related :—

As Invercauld and his coachman were coming along the banks of the Dee one day, they saw on the opposite side Father Charles sitting among the trees at the foot of Craig Choinnich. The coachman proposed to arrest him, and gain the Government reward. Invercauld durst not oppose. So the man crossed the water at some little distance; and going up stealthily behind the priest, took him by the collar, saying at the same time,

“You are my prisoner in the king’s name.”

“Stop a minute, then,” said he, “till I finish my prayers.” So he went on quite leisurely, until he came to the end; then shutting the book with a slap, he stared the man hard in the face as he repeated very sonorously, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen? Then he rose up to go with his capturer. But he would not enter the river, to cross over to the other side, but at one particular place. So the coachman gave in to that, and they plunged into the water together.

‘It was not the shallowest part of the river certainly, for they were soon up to the arm-pits; then in a moment Father Charles seized the man by the collar and nether garments, dipped his head into the water, allowing him to kick and struggle at full scope. Then, letting him breathe for a minute, he dipped him in again, and continued the process until he was within an inch of his life ; and carrying him in that state through the water, laid him down beside his master, who sat on the bank witnessing the whole transaction in an agony of laughter.’

Many of the sayings and doings of Father Charles go far to prove that he had a considerable spice of humour in his character. His mode of giving reproof also was often very original. One example will make this evident:—

‘One of his own people, a Mrs. Gordon, had a terrible fashion of prigging wi’ fouk that gaed to see her, to eat, eat, till they couldna even get eaten for her. Weel, the priest was at her house ae day, an’ she was just, as usual, tormenting him about eating. So he turned to one of the servant lads that was sitting at the fireside, and said, “Gang out, Alastair, an’ see if my pony is taking onything.” In a minute the lad comes back, an’ says, “The pony has plenty o’ hay, and it’s eating fine.”

‘“Ay, you see,” said the priest, looking to Mrs. Gordon, the pony has mair sense than its master: it can eat without a. bidding.”

‘Oh! mony a mony a time has she telt me that story, and loughin’ owre it; but it didna cure her,’ said the old man who told me this quaint account.

As a physician, Charles was little behind his relative Fear na Bruach. His mode of treatment was original; but detail would not be very pleasant. Cancer he could cure without any operation, simply by applying a lotion prepared from herbs by himself. A gamekeeper of Lord Fife’s, Munro by name, is said to have been cured by him, after he had been treated by the most skilful doctors without effect. Pity he has not left the prescription.

The end of Priest Farquharson’s life was more settled than the early part of it, as he got a‘little croft at Ardearg, where he was permitted to live without molestation.

The Bible of Father Charles—the Douay version of course, with lengthy notes—is still in the possession of some relatives in Auchindryne, and bears evidence of careful perusal. At length he died at Ardearg, on Nov. 30, 1799, and was buried in the churchyard at Castleton.

After the death of Farquharson laird of Balmoral, and of Finla the imbecile laird of Inverey, the estates pertaining to both passed to the laird of Auchindryne, the son of Alastair Farquharson, who fell at Falkirk. Under the tutorship of his uncle William, he had grown up as strongly Jacobite as any of his ancestors. There was, however, no way of showing this now, but by resisting the innovations introduced after ’45. This he did not do in his own person, but by encouraging his tenants to resist as far as possible the stringent enactments against poaching, fishing, etc.

Alexander seems to have been what the people say of him—‘a real old Highland chief, a man according to the peoples hearts ;’ the last one also, occupying as it were the transition point between the genuine feudal system and that regular state of matters which after his death was induced. And under his auspices, the broken remnants of the past, sullen and sore, wearied themselves in fruitless efforts to break the toils which held the old system in death-grasp.

From many stories relating to this point, one example may not be tedious:—

‘Alexander of Auchindryne by no means agreed with Duff of Braco; neither did the Braemar people generally. In olden time they were welcome to go out and bring home a bird, hare, or even deer, “to keep the pottie bilin.” But it was changed times now ; for any of Braco’s own tenants caught poaching were at once expelled the estate, and those of other landowners fined or imprisoned. Alexander of Inverey and Auchindryne was greatly disgusted at such proceedings.

“Never mind, billies,” he would say, “poach, poach away on Duff’s lands as much as you like ; but oh, boys, have clever feet. Only get to the middle of the Dee when his keepers are after you, and I’ll stand good for you.”

‘The tenants were not slow to take such advice, and poach on Duff’s moors and forests they did with a vengeance. Some of them were caught from time to time, and sent into Aberdeen; but Alexander, true to his word, was there to pay the fines, and take them home with him again.

“Just try yourself, Duff,” he would say; “you may put them in, but I’ll take them out as fast as Braco.” And so he did.’

One laughable little episode occurred during one of these rencounters. A number of young men were out one evening, doing the laird’s bidding; and Lord Fife’s head gamekeeper came upon their track, gave chase, and finally fired upon them. One of the young men narrowly escaped death. The rest of them resolved to give the keeper a fright, as he had no right to fireupon them. He had taken his stand upon a “fell dyke,” possibly to reconnoitre. Observing this, one or more of them fired, aiming at the wall, exactly below where he stood. A perfect cloud of dust was raised, and part of the wall displaced. Losing his balance, he tumbled over, shouting at the same time.

“Murder! murder! I’m shot, I’m shot!” etc.’ ‘You may be sure,’ said the octogenarian who gave me this account, ‘we didna wait to help him up. They tried sair to fin’ out wha had deen’t, but we keepit gey quiet. But mony’s the guid lauch we took to oursels on the heads o’ it.’

But though Alexander was thus unscrupulous in regard to the property of others, he did not like to be encroached on himself, as the following letter of his will show. I copied it from the original letter a few months ago :—

Balmoral, 14th May 1777.

‘DEAR Uncle,—The bearer James Lamont in Dalagowan, tells me that Margrat Gordon in Dalvoror, and her son John Farquharson, are, in Difiance of all the orders I have given to the contrary, keeping their sheep in my fforrest of Conyvron, by which means I am like to lose my glen rent, as nobody will send cattle to graze when it is eaten with their sheep. I have wrote to John Gordon, my ground-officer there, to seize on them and poind them ; but I am afraid that perhaps he may not execute my orders right. I hear his wife is very bauld. I must therefore beg of you, that when the bearer requires it, that you’ll take with you three or four of the Auchindryne tennents, as I can trust in them, having you at their head, and seize upon their sheep, or upon the sheep of any other person you shall find within the bounds of my fforrest, and bring them down directly here, and I shall take care of them till they are relieved. I desire that they be brought here, as I’ll be sure they won’t steal them away till they relieve them by paying for them as the law directs. You may tell the men you bring with you, that I’ll mind them for their trouble, besides being obliged to them. I was at first thinking of going up myself to take them ; but on second thoughts I reckoned it would be better to send you in my place, as perhaps, if they saw me and a few men with me going to the glen, they might take them out of the fforest before I reached. But they won’t suspect you ; only it is necessary to keep this order secret till you have execute it. I beg you’ll behave yourselves like men, and not let me be affronted.—I am, dear Uncle,

‘ our most affect, nevew,

‘Alexr. farquharson.’

The finale of the Anchindryne history is thus given :—

‘James, the laird’s son, was, alas, not of the same stamp as his father. He associated with the Duffs; and their son, a James also, taught him expensive habits. . . .

‘This did not at all please the old man, who foresaw a dark future; but he could not change his lad’s heart. But what he could do, he tried. He offered every one of his tenants leases of their holdings while grass grew or water ran, at the same rents they then paid. But they little understood his generosity or true motives. They thought the laird must see that land was to get cheaper, and they feared they might be ruined. Only one of them, the farmer of Dalbreckachy, Alastair Lamont, could be prevailed on to accept a lease of the kind. Having prevailed with one, he did not give up with the others. So every time they came to pay their rents he renewed his offer, but in vain ; and even Dalbreckachy, who had accepted, often begged the laird to cancel his lease, and put him on the same footing as the others.

‘“Na, na, keep it, laddie,” the laird would reply; “it will do you and your family good when I am in the mools. Keep ye it, laddie.”

‘He had sore misgivings; but he kept it on, just not to displease the good old man. By and by word reached Braemar that the laird was dying. Lamont took alarm, and hurried off to Balmoral with the obnoxious lease. He was ushered into a room where the old man sat alone in his chair, very “ wae ” and sad.

“O laird!” cried the farmer, “as ye hope to meet God in mercy, tak’ this lease off my hands, for it will be the ruin of me and of my family.”

“ Well, well,” said the poor laird, with a sigh of resignation, “God’s will be done.” And he threw it into the fire. “But, Alastair,” he continued, “the day will come when the men of the Braes of Mar would dig me out of the grave with their teeth, could they get such leases as you all refuse. God protect ye, my bairns, for I’ll soon be away.”

‘Too soon that day came, alas! James succeeded in his place. He had before his accession contracted a debt of eight thousand pounds, due the greater part to the Duffs. They came for a time to a kind of settlement, by James letting the Earl have part of his hill Craig an Fehithich, opposite Mar Lodge, which the Earl planted to beautify the view from his windows.’

The sum which the Earl allowed for it was then considered extravagant; and when some one expostulated with the Earl on his prodigality, he is reported to have said very jocularly, ‘ That he knew what he was about, as that hill would serve as a key to the rest.’

‘The evil day came at length. Pressing demands were made by the Earl of Fife, and James determined to sell off the estate and clear away his debts. The tenants, on learning this, came forward in a body and offered themselves to clear off the debt to the Duffs, provided James would not sell his lands. But it would not do. In spite of all their devotion, the estates were sold to the Earl of Fife, and Inverey left Braemar. He gave Ballater and Tidlich to Monaltrie for his estate of Bruxie, whither he himself retired.

‘Afterwards we read in the newspapers: “Died at Jock's Lodge (near Edinburgh:), James Farquharson, the last of the Invereys.”

‘Lewis Farquharson, his brother, who had married the heiress of Ballogie, was once present at the Braemar gathering, and he was made very welcome for auld langsyne. The hearts of the people yearned to him ; and they felt sad and wae when the memory of old times came over them. But it was Mr. Innes with them ; Mr. Innes this, and Mr. Innes that.

“Not Innes,” replied he; “I am that at Ballogie; but I am Farquharson in Braemar.”

‘That went to the people’s hearts; there was a tear in every eye. But they cheered him ; yes, they did it heartily, though their cheers were like to choke them ; and then he went away.    .

‘The next thing—ay, there it is, as I picked it from the blank leaf of a missal belonging to the family:—“27th September 1830. — Obiit Dominus Ludovicus Innes (quondam Farquharson deInverey), novissime autem de Balnacraig et Ballogie, anno aetatis suo 67.” Lewis had a son, who died young and unmarried ; and so the race is nearly extinct.’


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