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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
An Inverness Merchant of the Olden Time


Bailie John Stewart was of the family of Kinchardine. He was the son of Alexander, son of Robert Oig, who married a daughter of Angus Williamson, as noted in chapter XIX. Alexander settled in Inverness, and his son, John, continued his business there as a merchant. The following notes are from a paper read by Mr William Mackay, solicitor, Inverness, to the Gaelic Society (1898):—

The Bailie’s business book, so far as preserved, begins 1715, when he is carrying on business in Inverness on a large scale, and in correspondence with London and the other principal cities in Great Britain, as well as with the principal ports on the Continent. On 8th Sept., 1740, he writes that he is 73 years of age; he was therefore born probably in 1676. In 1715 he was married to his second wife—Christian, daughter of Macleod of Drynoch, and a niece of Macleod of Macleod—and had a large family. He began business before the close of the 17th century, for in June, 1718, he refers to a bill transaction entered into by him 20 years ago, or at least 18. He was first elected a Town Councillor on 20th Sept., 1703, and was made a Bailie on 22nd Sept., 1713, and Dean of Guild in September, 1715. He appears on the Town's records for the last time on 6th September, 1716. His letter-bbok is imperfect. The business he conducted was, as has been said, very extensive: nothing in fact, seems to have come amiss. He bought corn and sent it to London, Newcastle and the Continent: meal to the West Coast, from Sutherland to Ardnamurchan: salmon, herring, codfish, and pickled beef to London, Cork, the Baltic ports, Belgiom, Holland, France, Spain, and to the Mediterranean ports as far as Leghorn: Ballachulish slates he sent to England, and lead from Glenelg to the Continent. He imported wines, spices, iron, salt, clothes, timber, barel staves, onions, sugar, tea, brandy, tobacco, indigo, household goods of all kinds, bricks from London, coals from Newcastle. He was also an extensive shipowner. The names of some of the vessels of which he was owner or part owner were:- The Good Success, the Alexander, after his father: the john, after himself; the Christian, after his second wife; the Helen, the Margaret, he Marjorie, and the Janet. The Christian, the ship of his old age, having been seized for debt at Leith, he terms 'The poor Christian.'

"There was then no bank in Inverness, consequently we find that bills - bills by Highland and Lowland merchants, and Highland chiefs and lairds - went to all parts of the kingdom in payment of the Bailie's obligations, and even to the Continent. Each merchant was a kind of bill discounter. Among the Bailie's correspondents was Provost Coutts of Edinburgh, whose son started banking in London as Coutts & Co., and his brother's firm, Marjoribanks & Coutts, merchants, Dantzick. It was in the form of bills that money was generally remitted, but it was sometimes forwarded in notes and specie. For example, on 18th February, 1718, he sends an express, i.e. special messenger, to Banff with the following in payment of balance of price of a cargo of meal sent to the West Coast:- 'A bank note for £5 ster., 67 guineas [gold], 5 shillings in silver, and 22-3d in copper, sealed in a little purse, all sterling money £75 12s 22-3d.' In June of the same year he sends the following money to Lord Moray in Edinburgh by express, i.e. special messenger:- In gold, £157 stg., all in guineas and half guineas except 5 Luidores.' His remittances were sometimes sent in carefully sealed bags by the posts, who then walked all the way to Edinburgh.

"Stewart acted for many years as factor for Lord Moray, and in that capacity collected the rent, which was, as a rule, paid in grain; sold the grain, and sent the proceeds south. This have him much trouble, and considering that the salary was only 200 merks - about £11 2s 3d - one is not surprised to find him complaining of the duties, and the remuneration therefor. The Earl was a man of mercantile instincts, and somewhat exacting and it was sometimes difficult to recover the rents and dues, especially after the troubles of 1715. On 21st April, 1716, Stewart wrote his cousin, John Stuart, Commissary of Inverness, and the Earl's agent in Edinburgh, thus:- 'I think the Earle should give down to his tennants of Pettie a year's custom money, which is no great matter, in consideration of their losses which they will not recover on heast, and I wish you'd advise this. I long for the return of our express to know further of our Porteus roll affair.' Part of his duty as representing one of the heritors was to see the law carried out as to planint of churches, and as a loyal Episcopalian he did not like this. Mr. Alexander Denoon, the Episopalian minister of Petty at the Revolution, continued after that event until 1706, when he was deposed for swearing, drunkenness, and other faults. He ignored the sentance and stuck to his church until he died of cough, asthma, and heartache, in 1719. Between 1706 and his death, there was much litigation - and the sympathies of John Stewart, the factor, and John Stewart, the Commissary, were evidently with him. In 1716 the Bailie complains of the 'verie small wages' he has from the Earl, and on 26th July, 1717, he threatens to resign if he does not get 'better conditions - having just spent 8 days at Castle Stewart on the Earl's affairs.' He, however, continued to act as factor, and I connot trace when he resigned.

"Stewart's letters show that the chiefs and lairds of the north were not at all above business. On the contrary, they were much engaged in buying and selling, and Stewart did much business with them. He bought corn and meal from the Earl of Moray, the Earl of Findlater, Lord Banff, Lord Deskford, the Earl of Caithness, and others, and sold the corn in London and the Continent, and sent the meal as a rule to Gairloch, the Isle of Skye, Glenelg, Strontian, and Fort-William. In the Highlands he did business with Sir Robert Pollock, Governor of Fort-William, and his son, Walter Pollock, who carried on business as a merchant at the Fort, with the Laird of Gairloch, the Laird of Cadboll, Macleod of Macleod, Macloed of Drynoch, Sir - Macdonald of Sleat, Macdonald of Kinlochmoydart; Barisdale; The Mackintosh, Lord Reay, Lord Strathnaver, Lord Seaforth, and others. These paid always by bill, and frequently they floated about among Stewart's creditors, unpaid for many years. As a rule, bills by Highland Lairds were made payable at Crieff market, whither they went with great droves of cattle. Sometimes the Bailie attended the market for the purpose of collecting his debt. A bill by The Mackintosh to him for £15 was protested in 1716 for non-payment, and the obligation was unpaid as late as 1738 - after The Mackintosh's death. We also find long standing onbligations by the Laird of Culloden; the Lady Lochiel; Macloed of Drynoch; the Laird of Mackinnon; Lord Stathnaver; the Laird of Cadboll; Macgillivray of Dalcrombie; and the Bailie's good cousin, Colonel John Roy Stuart. John Roy's bill was for £17 14s, and was granted probably in 1736, when he escaped from Inverness prison. It was still unpaid when that hero was fighting for Prince Charlie in 1745-46. In November, 1743, Roy was living at Buloigne, and Baillie wrote him two letters asking him so send him brandy in part payment. The brandy never came, and the probability is that the bill was still unpaid when on 4th November, 1749, a reference to 'his cousin, John Roy's widow, at Buloigne,' shows that the soldier bard was no more.

"The salmon which he sent abroad was purchased from Lord Newry, Lord Lovat, Lord Seaforth (Loch DUich), and various proprietors on the West Coast. As a rule the fish was cured by the lairds. On one occasion the Bailie, in company with his brother-in-law, leased the salmon fishings of Loch Duich, and lost by the adventure. He granted bills to Seaforth for the rent, which were for years unpaid, and at last Seaforth arrested a large quantity of cured salmon in Kintail, which ensured a settlement. The herrings were principally purchased from the Laird of Coull, proprietor of lands in Lochbroom (who caught and cured them), and from the Laird of gairloch; while the Beauly Firth also yielded a supply. Large quantities of cod were at this time sent from gairloch to the Continent. Barrels for all sorts of fish were furnished by the Bailie and his partners, who bought cargoes of staves from Norway and other parts of the Continent. But not withstanding an extensive trade for upwards of 50 years, the Bailie never made money, and was in great poverty before the end of his life. Numerous heartrending appeals to children and friends appear in his letter-book. In 1741 he was in great difficulties, being sued by various people, including the man in Edinburgh who sent him his newspaper, and his wigmaker. In December, 1741, he was charged with a horning, and caption threatened. In reference to this he writes that he can't possibly pay, 'was I to be hang'd as well as imprisoned. Still, I care not to go the a stinking gaol at this time of year in my old days.' Again, on 29th January, 1742 - 'All the diligence in Scotland cannot squeeze money out of me at present.' In July, 1743, he is 'prodigiously straited' for pressing demands, and for the maintenance of his 'swarms of small creditors on his back.' He was a Jocobite, but, so far as the letters show, he took no part in the Risings of 1715 and 1745."


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