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Deeside Tales
Note V


THE devotion with which the men of Highland Deeside followed the cause of the Stuarts was but poorly rewarded by Fortune. In the wars of the Covenant and Montrose the balance of loss and gain was much against them, while in the war of the Revolution they suffered perhaps more severely than any others, if we except the unfortunates of Glencoe. Inverey had his house burned and his lands wasted; and the whole country about Abergeldie and Strathdee was thoroughly devastated. The whig General complacently records that he “burned twelve miles of very fertile Highland country, at least 1200 or 1400 houses.” After the ’15 the common people seem to have fared somewhat better, the attention of the Government being directed more against the leaders, especially the Earl of Mar, whose estates were forfeited. A general disarming Act was indeed passed, but the execution of it was lethargic and inefficient, as was seen 30 years later, and such arms as were surrendered were, in General Wade’s own language,

“broken and useless and worth little more than the value of the iron.”

There was no danger, however, of similar leniency in 1746; England’s alarm had been too great for that After accounts had been settled with the Stuart forces at Culloden, the whole .fabric of Celtic feudalism was systematically attacked and destroyed The heritable jurisdictions of the chiefs over their people were abolished, and military tenure of land forbidden. These measures aimed at the landlords.

For the tenantry, Acts forbidding the carrying of arms and proscribing the Highland dress were passed. Even the bagpipe was declared to be an instrument of war. The terms of the oath administered were:—

“I, A. B., do swear 1 have not nor shall have in my possession any gun, sword, or arm whatsoever, and never use tartan, plaid, or any part of the Highland garb; and if I do may I be cursed in my undertakings, family, and property; may I never see my wife, nor children, nor relations; may I be killed in battle as a fugitive coward, and lie without burial in a strange land far from the graves of my forefathers and kindred.”

Some of the Hanoverian leaders in Scotland entered a protest against the needless severity, or rather brutality, of the Act; but they were disregarded, and against the rebellious clans in particular it was strictly enforced.

Mar Castle was acquired from Farquharson of Invercauld and a garrison established there; but, as it was considered necessary to keep an eye on the people in their remotest comers, posts were established also at Inchrory, Ribbalch-laggan in Glengaim, at the Spital of Glenshee, in Glenclunie, and at Dubrach above the Linn of Dee. From each of these, small detachments of soldiers patrolled the country, looking out for “thieves,” i.e., the professional caterans who were the last to give up their arms and accept the new rkgime, and spying for the forbidden tartan. Regular reports were sent up by the officers to the Secretary of State in London. A collection of these will be found in Col. Allardyce’s Historical Papers, giving a good idea of the state of the country at the time and the sort of duties that fell to the Redcoats. One would have expected that such policeman work would have been little to the taste of English officers, but such is not the impression that the reports convey. It may be, however, that a show of zeal was considered advisable in view of the sentiments at head-quarters. The feelings of the natives under the new dispensation remain unrecorded, except in tradition, which reports that the inevitable was for the most part quietly accepted, but that the humiliation was bitter. A picture of the situation in the years immediately succeeding Culloden can be formed from the more significant of these military reports.

"I beg leave to observe that 3 or 4 days’ patrolling wears out a pair of shoes . . . All is quiet: we have not seen one man in arms or in the Highland dress (Braemar Barracks, July, 1749). Two orderly men apprehended two Highlanders in kilts, but in passing near a village the inhabitants, mostly women, got hold of one of the soldiers and the prisoner made his escape (Loch Rannoch, July, 1749). 1 apprehended a man for wearing the plaid and sent him to Aberdeen. The Sergeant is now returned and informs me that he carr/d the prisoner before the Sheriff. The Sheriff said that it was only a dyed blanket and not a plaid. The Serg. asked the Sheriff if the people might wear their plaids if dyed, the Sheriff told him that the intent of the Act was not to oppress the poor, and dismissed the prisoner (Braemar Barracks, Aug. 10). Since my last I have taken up and sent to Aberdeen another Highlander for having a plaid of different colours, which I think the Sheriff cannot well call a blanket, as he was pleased to call the other (Aug. 1749). We had a race after a Highlander who appeared in Highland dress and completely armed, he fairly outran all the party, and as he was going into a wood we fired upon him but miss’d him, but I imagine we shall see him no more in that dress (Braemar, Sept, 1749). Lieut Moody at Corgarff has taken up 4 Highlanders and is to send them to Aberdeen (Oct, 1749). Nothing extraordinary has happened since my last, save only I seiz’d a Durk from one John Michy, forester to Lord Braco (Feb., 1750). A soldier found in a wood three french Bayonets, a Gun Barrell, and a dirk (Braemar). One of the soldiers of this garrison had his fingers cut by a fellow in the country on Wednesday last; the soldier says it was because he would not drink the Pretender’s health (Corgarff 1750). I understand there is a great many arms yet in this country. I have made all enquiry I can, but as yet have not been able to find any of them (Braemar, 1750).”

Even three years after Culloden the clansmen had not given up hope that the “ star of their fate ” and the Stuarts’ might rise once again. One July day the garrison were astonished to perceive a defiant, tartaned figure strutting past the castle in full view of all His name (which we could have wished to know) is unrecorded, but whoever he was, his object was unmistakeable. Seizure and swift dispatch to Aberdeen promptly descend on the culprit, but it is felt that there is something unusual in the air, and investigation has to be made. The officer in charge presently reports the explanation :—“The country people have good news, as they call it, amongst them . . . that the Pretender is landed in Long Island with 20,000 men, which spirits them up greatly.

The Murder of Sergeant Davies.—The report from the Castle for Oct. 1st, 1749, contains the first intimation of a tragedy, which led five years later to two men being tried for murder in Edinburgh before the Court of Justiciary. The proceedings at the trial were published in 1831 by Sir Walter Scott, who was acquainted in his youth with one of the counsel on the occasion. “The Sergeant of the party at Dubrach,” says the officer, “has been missing ever since Thursday morning. I am much afraid the poor man is murdered, as he was very active in his duty, and two days before that he was in pursuit of five men which appeared in arms and in the Highland garb.” Three days later he adds: “I have had a sergeant and 10 men in search of the missing man, but can hear nothing of him. My reasons for suspecting that he is murdered are as he was very alert and diligent in his duty and . . . .” The evidence against the two men who were ultimately arrested and tried was not strong enough to secure a conviction; and so the problem of the death of the Sergeant was never officially solved. There is reason to believe, however, that had the authorities been able to produce all the facts that were known among the people, the men could not have escaped. We shall first give the account of the murder that can be gathered from the evidence at the trial, and then fill up the lacunae from the traditions of the district.

Sergeant Arthur Davies, of Gen. Guise’s regiment, was stationed during the summer of 1749 with a detachment of men at Dubrach in Glendee. Twice a week it was his duty to patrol the hills to the south and south-east, and meet about the head of Gleney a similar party whose headquarters were in Glenshee. The route which he and his men were in the way of taking from their station at Dubrach struck south-east into the hills, crossed Glen Cristie and Glen Connie till Gleney was reached, and thereafter proceeded south to the top of the glen. Their beat thus traversed a wild and remote country. The Glenshee corporal testified that he would not venture on it alone, and that even with his party he was not without fear. To Davies, however, the solitude had a particular attraction as affording him the better opportunity of a shot at the deer, of which sport he was passionately fond. His practice indeed was to leave his men when they had got to suitable ground, and “follow his game alone.” At that time, and for nearly a hundred years after, there were some small farms in Gleney, the larachs of which may probably still be seen. The highest of these was Altalait, occupied by John Grant They were not far distant from the route that the soldiers took.

Besides being a sportsman, Davies was a considerable dandy. He was dressed in a blue coat and a vest of “stript lutstring,” wore two gold rings on his fingers, large silver buckles on his shoes, silver knee-buckles, two dozen silver buttons on his vest, and carried a silver watch with a silver seal, and a purse with fifteen and a half gold guineas in his pocket  "He used to take out his purse and show the gold, and even when he was playing with children,” according to his wife’s testimony, “he would frequently take it out and rattle it for their diversion.” Such a figure must have been something of a novelty on the hills of Braemar.

Thus accoutred, the unfortunate man left Dubrach before daybreak on the 28th September, followed soon after by four privates of the post He had his gun and ammunition with him, his intention being to keep at some distance from the men and “follow his sport.” All of them made for Gleney, and the rendezvous with the Glenshee party. Soon after sunrise John Grower, Inverey, came across Davies in Glen Connie, or rather Davies came across him. Grower “had gone out for his horses to lead in the corns and met with the Sergeant, of whom he had some acquaintance before, and he had at that time a good deal of conversation with him, particularly with reference to a tartan coat which the Sergeant had observed him to drop and after strictly enjoining him not to use it again, dismissed him.” Going on his way, Davies is next heard of at the head of Gleney, where he met the Glenshee corporal. After some talk, they parted, each of them setting out on the return journey to his headquarters. The four privates had completed the round by 4 o’clock, reaching Dubrach again at that hour, but Davies never returned, and, as far as his friends could learn, never was seen again.

The night before the day when he disappeared, two men, Duncan Terig alias Clerk and Alex. Bain MacDonald, had slept in the above mentioned John Grant’s house at Altalait in Gleney. Clerk’s father was farmer in Milton of Inverey not far off; Macdonald was forester to Lord Braco, and lived in Allanaquoich on the other side of the Dee. According to Grant, they rose early in the morning and set off to the hills (where Davies also was hunting) after deer. Both carried guns, though only MacDonald had permission to do so, and Clerk wore the forbidden plaid, a grey tartan with red in it Suspicion fell on these two as the murderers of Davies, but it was not till 1754, five years after, that they were brought to trial. The Crown relied mainly on the evidence of two witnesses and on certain suspicious circumstances. Clerk’s sweetheart was said to have been seen wearing Davies’s rings, and some of his property was traced to MacDonald’s possession. Clerk also, “though he was not possesst of any visible funds or effects which could enable him to stock a farm before the period of the murder, yet soon thereafter took a lease of farms,” for which he paid a considerable rental. But other evidence made out his father to be a man of means.

The first witness was a young man Macpherson alias MacGillas, in Inverey. The story he told was peculiar. About a year after the Englishman’s disappearance, he said, a vision of a man appeared to him announcing himself as the ghost of Sergeant Davies, and requesting him to go to the hill of Cristie in Gleney and bury his bones. On his asking who had committed the murder he got the answer that it was Clerk and MacDonald. At the specified spot he found human remains, which he recognised from the clothing and other things to be those of the Sergeant. The rings, silver ornaments, and money were all gone. With the help of one Donald Farquharson, the body was buried where it lay, the sentiment of those whom he consulted being all for concealment, because, “as it would not be carried to a kirk unkent, the same might hurt the country, being under the suspicion of being a rebel country.” On being asked what language the ghost spoke in, Macpherson replied, “In as good Gaelic as ever I heard in Lochaber.” The counsel for the defence elicited the fact that Macpherson had entered Clerk’s service some time after the ghostly visitation, and that certain financial transactions had taken place between them, as to the price of silence, which seem to have broken down.

The next witness, Angus Cameron, a man of Rannoch in Perthshire, had a more straightforward story to tell. In the year of the murder he had been living by the cateran trade. He belonged to a band which operated far and wide over the country. On the night of the 27th September, he and a companion had slept in Glenbruar braes, ten miles distant from the scene of the murder, had risen before daybreak, and made their way to the hill of Cristie, where they had arranged to meet their leader and others of the band from Lochaber. Whatever their business was (and though Cameron does not say, there is little difficulty in supposing that a cattle-lifting job was on hand), it required secrecy. They lay hidden for the day in a hollow on the hill, keeping a look-out for their expected companions. About mid-day, Duncan Clerk (whom Cameron was acquainted with) and another man passed so close to them that Cameron easily recognised them, but they continued to lie quiet in their hiding-place. Later in the day, about an hour and a half before sunset, they caught sight of a man in blue, with a gun in his hand, within gunshot distance of them. Cameron’s account of the scene that was then enacted runs as follows:—“That he saw Clerk and his companion meet with the man in blue; and, after they had stood for some time together, he saw Clerk strike at the man in blue, as he thought, with his naked hand only, upon the breast; but, upon the stroke, he heard the man struck cry out, and clap his hand upon the place, turn about, and go off; that Clerk and the other man stood still for a little and then followed after, and he saw the said Duncan and the other man, each of whom had a gun, fire at the man in blue, and immediately he fell.” This thrilling spectacle, thrown in such a surprising manner before their eyes, was too serious for the caterans; they immediately got up and bolted, leaving the two men handling the dead body.

In spite of this evidence the Edinburgh jury were not satisfied of the prisoners’ guilt The counsel for the defence fastened of course on the ghost story and made great play with the English sergeant speaking “ good Lochaber Gaelic,” though, as Scott remarks, there was nothing more ridiculous in a ghost speaking a language which he did not understand when in the body than there was in his appearing at all. Anyhow, Clerk and Macdonald were assoilzied simpliciter and dismissed from the bar.

Such were the circumstances under which Davies met his death, as far as they can be gathered from the published account A careful reading of the evidence, however, leaves the impression that more might have been produced against the prisoners. Tradition enables us to complete the story.

They were, as their advocate was convinced, guilty. Clerk, who was a determined and fearless man, was the prime mover; Macdonald, it is said, never fired at all. The people who were shearing their com in Gleney had seen them setting out with their guns, and the spot where the deed was done was at no great distance from where they were working; indeed the shots are said to have been heard by them. Macpherson, at any rate, who happened to be on the hill, heard the firing close beside him and thought the hunters had shot a deer. Running forward over a hillock which obstructed his view, he was horrified to find them engaged in robbing a dead body. Clerk immediately ordered him to take a share of the spoil and threatened to shoot him if he did not. Macpherson fled precipitately, and managed to escape owing to the fortunate interference of his dog, which seized and held Clerk.

Apart from the odium which his duties were certain to bring on him, tradition also says that the unhappy Sergeant had earned much ill-will from his needlessly provocative manner to the people. When coming from the Castle to Dubrach with his men’s pay, he would sometimes shake the bag in the faces of the natives and boast that it held as much as would buy up all the cattle in Gleney.

Scott’s explanation of the ghost story agrees with the account current in Braemar. According to the traditionary record, Macpherson bad tried blackmailing Clerk, and, whether it was on the failure of this or from a more worthy motive, he determined to reveal what he knew. He felt that the sentiment of the country, though it did not actively approve of the murder, was in favour of letting sleeping dogs lie. He therefore invented the story of Davies's apparition having visited him and ordered him to bury his bones, well knowing that according to current Highland belief a ghost’s commands must be obeyed whatever they might be.

In presenting the case against the men, the Crown put forward no other motive than robbery. The most charitable explanation, and also the one that perhaps best fits all the facts, would give a less repulsive character to the crime. It is allowable to suppose that Clerk and MacDonald had meant to devote the day to deer-hunting as they said; that Davies had met them in the afternoon and challenged Clerk for wearing tartan, as he had challenged John Grower in the morning, only that Clerk’s case was much worse seeing that he earned firearms; that in a moment of passion the Highlander struck at the hated Englishman, not with his hand as it seemed at first to Cameron, but with his dirk; and that, having by this act of violence forfeited his life if Davies escaped, after the few minutes’ hesitation which Cameron noticed, he made an end of the matter. This view finds some corroboration in the statement of Clerk’s father-in-law that he had acted in self-defence, and also perhaps in a remark which Clerk himself made on one occasion when declining a discussion of the subject with Macpherson, “What can you say of an unfortunate man?” And there we may fittingly leave the matter, merely adding that, whether Clerk’s conscience troubled him or not, he soon after took a farm in Gleney, within the bounds of which lay the hill of Cristie, and there passed the remainder of his life.

The Highland Dress.—With the complete suppression of the caterans soon after 1750, the work of the Red-coats was done, and the Highlanders of Deeside settled down to accommodate themselves as best they could to the new aspect of things. Still, the recollections of the stirring times of the past were hard to kill. There is a rather interesting statement in the minister’s account of Crathie and Braemar about 1795, which shows that the fires of the old clan spirit had not even then fallen completely cold. He tells again the story of the Fiery Cross and Cam-na-cuimhne, the gathering-place and slogan of the Farquharsons, as he may have heard it from old men who fought at Culloden, and adds that “ at this day, was a fray or squabble to happen at a market, or any public meeting, such influence has this word over the minds of the country people, that the very mention of Cam-na-cuimhne would in a moment collect all the people in this country who happened to be present, to the assistance of the person assailed.”

The law against the Highland dress was less rigorously enforced some ten years after it was first put in execution. By that time, however, the Highlanders of Deeside had reconciled themselves to the garments of the Sassenach. The Government were in an equivocal position in the matter. Owing to the outbreak of the Seven Years’ war and the urgent need for soldiers, they began to draw on the important military resources lying available in the Highlands. One kilted regiment after another was authorised and embodied. The same thing took place during the war of the American Revolution, twenty years later. The authorities were thus blessing and banning the same thing at the same time. It is not too much to say that but for the existence of these Highland regiments the national garb would finally have become as extinct as the toga. In 1782, when the fortunes of England had sunk to the lowest ebb, the Act against the dress was formally repealed, partly, no doubt, as an acknowledgment of the splendid services of the Highlanders in the war, but chiefly from selfish motives, with a view to promote further recruiting. Apparently the event was supposed to have some interest for the people of Braemar, as there is among the Invercauld papers a proclamation in Gaelic announcing that the Highlanders “are no longer bound by law to the womanly dress of the lowlanders. This is to publish to every man, young and old, high and low, that they may after this put on and wear trues, philabeg, short coats, and hose, and belted plaid, without fear of the laws of the Kingdom and notice of enemies.”

Other Changes.—The new lowland dress and the disuse of arms, though the most obvious of the changes that followed the violent disruption of the clan system, were not the most important. The altered relations of the peasantry to their superiors involved deep-reaching consequences. Gradually the lairds and chiefs withdrew from familiar intercourse with the people, and the gentry of middle rank—the tacksmen and duine-vasals of the clan—in course of time disappeared. It was the presence of this upper class that gave to Highland society its peculiar character. The common man was strictly dependent on the lairds and tacksmen for his little holding, but at the same time they owed their power and military importance to his goodwill and readiness in their service. Thus, the obligation being reciprocal, the dignity of the lower orders was preserved. “They were prompt to serve, without servility.” General Stewart gives a vivid picture in his Sketches of the manners of the Highlanders under the old rigime. “By habitual intercourse with their superiors they acquired a great degree of natural good breeding, together with a fluency of nervous, elegant, and grammatical expression. The Gaelic language is singularly adapted to colloquial ease, frankness, and courtesy. A Highlander was accustomed to stand before his superior with his bonnet in his hand, if so permitted (which was rarely the case, as few chose to be outdone in politeness by the people), and his plaid thrown over his left shoulder, with his right arm in full action, adding strength to his expressions, while he preserved a perfect command of his mind, his words, and manners.”

Another feature that struck strangers and travellers among them was their elasticity of body and freedom of carriage, due partly to the fact that they were rather herdsmen than ploughmen, and partly to their fondness for manly exercises and trials of strength and endurance, from which the modem “Highland Games” are directly descended. Capt Burt, an Englishman who wrote about 1730, says: “They walk nimbly and upright, so that you will never see, among the meanest of them, in the most remote parts, the clumsy stooping gait of the French paisans or our own country fellows, but on the contrary a kind of stateliness in the midst of their poverty.”

By the end of the 18th century all this was greatly altered. Observers who lived at the time and saw the passing of the old order have recorded that even the appearance of the people seemed quite changed. Instead of those martial figures with an erect and independent air and ease of manners they saw “only plain, home-spun folk.” It will be noticed in the account of Sandy Davidson that in many of the most striking peculiarities of his manners and character, besides his devotion to the chase, he belonged to an earlier generation rather than to his own.


 


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