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History of the Town and Castle of Dumbarton
Part V. History of the Town and Castle of Dumbarton


General Description of Dumbarton Castle—It became a Royal Fortress In 1238—The Armoury—The Magazine—the Lover's Leap—Interesting Legendary Tale regarding It—General Symeon's French Prisoner—Mr. John Cameron, a leather mss-chant In Greenock, and Radical Reformer, Immured In the Dungeon of the Fortress In 1819—Nocturnal Invasion of the Radical Village of Duntocher by the Dumbarton Volunteers—They Return to the Royal Burgh with Trophies of their Victory—Ancient manner of conducting Funeral Ceremonies In the Burgh.

THE CASTLE.—This strong natural fortress has been occupied with operations of a warlike nature throughout the different bygone ages, and through every succeeding dynasty, during more than eighteen centuries. It is the most ancient stronghold in the west of Scotland of which any record is preserved. In very remote times, on this craggy and very singular eminence, the earliest savages and semi-barbarians who first roved over the western wilds of Scotland established their rude defences. The Atticotti tribe secured it firmly, for a long period, as the grand seat of their desultory government. Toward the happy dawn of a more refined age, this Castle made a conspicuous figure during the troublous period of the Scottish succession, and the numerous wars with England, from the twelfth till the end of the sixteenth century. It is justly supposed to be the theatre of the early wars described by Ossian, in his tragical but beautiful poem, entitled "Carthon," as formerly alluded to in this concise treatise. From an early period till the year 1238, this stronghold was the principal residence of the ancient family of Lennox, when it afterwards became a Royal fortress. The adjoining lands attached to this ancient fortress were relinquished by government to the Marquis of Montrose in the year 1704—the Crown reserving to itself the entire Rock and fortifications. Throughout the reigns, and during the deadly and sanguinary conflicts of the heroic Bruce and Wallace with the English armies, who asserted at the points of their swords the noble independence of the Scottish nation, this Rock was then the grand arena of their bloody contests. There still remain many evidences of this very singular fortress being the fatal scene of their fearful strife, although very few traces of it are found inscribed on the page of history. The large two-handed sword of the latter warrior, and the remains of the "Scottish Maiden," with other rude relicts of former days, are still exhibited to visitors who frequent this romantic fort. Dumbarton Castle stands about an English mile south-east of the burgh, and is surrounded on the south by the river Clyde, and on the west and north by the river Leven. it is situated on a flat and level plain, forming a beautiful peninsula at the confluence of these two rivers. The general view of it from the Town is decidedly the most superior, forming at once an object both striking and singular to the eye of a stranger. Geologists have often closely examined this Rock, and found it of a basaltic nature--pronounced it a kind of volcanic irruption, and to have arisen from the centre of the earth, in all probability by some internal convulsions of nature, in the first ages of the world. In some places it rises almost perpendicular from the level of the plain to the height of 350 to 400 feet, and naturally divides itself into two equal parts—the eastern and the western rock. It is from 1800 to 2000 paces round the base, or little more than an English mile in circumference, and at flood tide is nearly three-fourths surrounded with water. All strangers, who daily visit it, generally allow that it is one of the most wonderful, picturesque, and extraordinary formations of the Great Creator in Europe, perhaps in the known world. Several huge pieces of rock have, at an early period, by some convulsions of nature, fallen from the northern side of the fortress, of from 50 to 1000 tons weight. Tradition says, that about 260 years ago the largest piece of rock, called the "Washing Stone," ascertained to be by actual measurement 3166 tons, parted from its parent rock, and fell on a woman who was milking a cow on the plains below. Whether there be any truth in this we cannot tell, but under its projecting canopy a large excavation has been made, at an early period, capable of protecting twenty to thirty men from the angry fury of the winter's blast; which circum. stance certainly does tend to impart some shadow of truth to the traditionary story. With other gentlemen of the Town and County, we are extremely sorry to observe that the Government has allowed a great many of these huge blocks, which through the lapse of ages have fallen from their parent rock, to be blasted and broken up. This is the more to be regretted, as these fallen fragments lying around its base added a beauty and grandeur to the fortress, of which it is now untastefully shorn.

The western compartment of the rock is the most elevated of the two, access to which is had by a long flight of narrow steps, leading from the Barrack Master's house upwards, towards the top, and substantially guarded by an iron railing on either band. On the summit of this division stands the chief signal post, or main flag-staff, supposed to be about sixty feet high, and there is also a low circular building from three to four feet high, which was probably an ancient Roman Pharos or Beacon, for the purpose of displaying fire-signals, if any enemy was in the neighbourhood, in these remote ages. Report says that the ancient main entrance to the Castle was from the north side, between the natural chasm of the two rocks; which entrance was shut up about two hundred and fifty years ago, and a commodious barracks erected thereon, fronting the Burgh. The Barracks, being a house of three stories, are capable of containing about two hundred men in any case of emergency. Round the whole circuit of the walls are planted twenty-five heavy pieces of cannon, of different calabre, and mounted on carriages, and every way ready for action. Immediately in front of the barracks, and under the guns and pavement, is the famed Dungeon, prison, or black-hole, where, in the earlier history of the Castle, state and other prisoners were confined at. and previous to the Reformation. The modern entrance is now from the south side. The spacious area within the entrance gate is partly occupied with very large dismounted pieces of cannon, and numerous piles of cannon shot. On entering the second gateway, and ascending a flight of steps, the Governor's house, of three stories, presents itself, surrounded with formidable pieces of mounted cannon, pointing their warlike muzzles to the main gateway, ready to repel the bold daring of any invading foe. This is called "King George's Battery." The following are the modern names of the other batteries in the Castle :—Prince of Wales' Battery, Duke of Argyle's Battery, Duke of York's Battery, the Spanish Battery, the Bower Battery, and the One-Gun Battery. In times of war, numerous sentries are stationed along the elevated walls, and at the outer and inner gates of the fortress, to prevent surprise by day or escalade by night. No person is allowed to enter and inspect the garrison unless accompanied by a soldier, to whom a small gratuity is generally given, for his own benefit or for some charitable purpose. The guard on duty generally calls a man from the guard-house, situated near the Governor's house, to conduct strangers up stairs, along the walls, and through the varied departments of the fortress. The ascent to the barracks is by an easy stone stair, laid on or through the natural and partly artificial fissure in the rock which separates the eastern from the western division. On the top of the eastern division of the fortress stands an extensive magazine or bomb-proof powder-house, encompassed by high walls: a lightning-rod, from the summit of the building, conducts the electric fluid into the bottom of a deep well adjacent: at present it contains from five to six hundred barrels of gunpowder. Adjacent to the magazine are ammunition stores, and an elevated stone watch-tower built on the wall, called "Wallace's Tower." To the north and west of this, the walls are all planted with heavy pieces of cannon. Three 24-pound carronades, from this elevation, point their muzzles to the very centre of our Burgh; and what is very singular, and of immense value to the Castle, there is a large spring of pure water at the very top, which supplies several tanks and wells throughout the fortress. Adjoining the barracks there is a strong building of two stories, in which there is a suit of rooms, with iron-stanchioned windows. In these apartments General Symeon was confined, an intrepid French officer under Buonaparte, taken prisoner by the British, under Wellington, at Waterloo. He was kept a close prisoner in the Castle for a considerable period.. He was vigilantly guarded by two soldiers with loaded arms and fixed bayonets, from the place of his confinement daily to the summit of the eastern rock, and his patrol was circumscribed to the circuit of the magazine. The British Government allowed him this recreation twice a-day—from ten to twelve A.M. and from four to six P.M. The regular undeviating track of the General's meridian and evening walks, being at first covered with soft and verdant grass, became at length a beaten pathway, a yard beyond which he dared not venture, by reason of the strict military orders given his accompanying guards. During the period of his long confinement, and his circumscribed march on the eastern rock, the "Scottish Maiden," an anelent instrument for beheading traitors, and somewhat similar to the French guillotine, lay dismantled at his feet.

The Armoury, situated near the barracks, contains at present from 1500 to 2000 stand of anus, arranged in neat order along the floors of a spacious hail. There are also about 200 swords and a few pistols, and other antique implements of ancient warfare, with some rude pikes seized at Duntocher during the modern Radical insurrection, which took place in the west of Scotland in the year 1819, and to which we shall have occasion shortly to refer. We have already referred to the magazine; some weeks ago curiosity led us to ask permission to visit its interior, which we did, accompanied by another gentleman and a lady: having entered into what may be called the lobby or vestibule, we were ordered to leave our walking-sticks and umbrellas outside, and to take off our shoes and adorn our feet with old carpet ones lying around us, which we did. We could not but say that we felt a kind of tremor come over us. The lady appeared, however, to possess a good deal of nerve on the occasion, till the Barrack-master told us that we were surrounded with as much powder, shells, grape-shot, rockets, &c. as would blow up almost all the capital cities in Europe, if properly placed. The lady then, we saw, gave an instinctive shrug to her shoulders and silently went out: afterwards she was gently twitted for want of fortitude. She, however, justly replied, that she believed there would be no safety within three or four miles of such an explosion, did it take place. Besides rockets, hand-grenades, grape-shot, canister-shot, and bomb-shells in thousands, there are also 10,000 to 12,000 bullets, or round shot, cased up in piles, in different places of the fortress.

We stood astounded to perceive that the vigilance of the British government had crowded our Castle so plentifully with such terrific and fearful munitions of war; insomuch, as we were told, that all the steamers that come into the firth of Clyde could be supplied and equipped with guns, stores, and other provisions, within two or three days' notice.

On the very summit of the eastern compartment of the Castle, and rather to the east of the magazine, stands an ancient rude wall or building covered with ivy, overlooking a tremendous precipice towards the main gateway below. This precipice is supposed to be about four hundred feet high, a glance over which appals the very stoutest heart. This fearful perpendicular has sustained, through the course of two or three centuries past, the very attractive appellation of the "Lover's Leap," from the following traditionary and romantic circumstances:-

In an early period of Scottish history, when a large detachment of English soldiers with their officers were stationed in this fortress, the sprightly and gallant Captain of the regiment fell in love with the young, very beautiful, and only daughter of the Governor of the Castle. The personal appearance of her lover was tall and comely—his bearing bold, dignified, and heroic, and altogether such as became a soldier. The gallant figure of her youthful admirer, and the very showy splendour of his gawdy military attire, combined with other attractions in charming the heart, the eye, and the affections of the much-loved object of his esteem. Although young, be was more than once or twice on the battle-field, in these early days of deep commotion and gory warfare. His manners were highly polished and refined; be was affable, generous, and kind; and, in matters of pure affection and love, he would have nobly braved the cannon's mouth. His tender attachment to the beloved object of his choice was strong, ardent, and unfaltering; and his attentions to her were at once unremitting, unceasing, and unalterable. She, the beloved object of his affections, was in reality one of beauty's children. Her person and figure were extremely handsome and pretty. Nature— or, I should rather say, the great Author of nature—formed her in his best mould, and led her forth to be generally, even universally admired. She was young, gay, and lively, and just emerging from her teens. Her soft rolling eyes were like the stars of the morning, and her white heaving bosom like the foam on the ocean wave. Her hair was dark as the raven's wing, and gently hung in flowing ringlets around her snowy neck, forming the beautiful side-drapery of her lovely countenance. As the poet most appropriately remarks,

"Her form was fresher than the morning rose,
when the dew wets its leaves;
Unstained and pure, as is the lily or the mountain snow;
Thoughtless of beauty, she was beauty's self."

Her affection to her lover was Strong, for she loved him with the disinterested fervour of a woman's first and early love. Such were the loving pair. Their attachment was reciprocal. Her's was pure, ardent, and unsullied, and even surpassed the love of women, as the following legendary narrative will testify Angelina—for that was the name of the governor's daughter _Angelina repeatedly stole from under her father's roof to meet her gallant lover in some retired and sequestered part of the ancient fortress, where they would often innocently indulge in all the soft and delightful, but airy reveries of lovers. Their private meeting-place was often some romantic and elevated pinnacle of the rock, where they would command the most extensive prospect. At one time they would ascend and seat themselves on the carriages of the great guns surmounting the eastern division of the rock, where they beheld afar the lofty Ben-Lomond lifting his stately head to the clouds, with his spacious lake and islands spread out at his feet. The beautiful river and vale of Leven also in the distance, with the ancient burgh and neighbouring landscape in the foreground, would in their eyes form a kind of fairy-land scene. In the calm summer evenings they would often ascend the steep stair to the "galleries" of the rock, where the flag-staff stands, and there, happily seated on the rude Roman circle or pharos, they would unitedly view from this altitude the slowly retiring king of day setting gorgeously in the west, far beyond the sterile and rugged mountains of Argyleshire. They beheld also for many a long mile the majestic windings of the River Clyde, on which numerous engagements took 'Place in bygone years, between the petty princes of Argyle and the ancient kings of the Britons, in their rude "currachs." Thus they would often spend their fleeting evenings, till the drum would beat the garrison to rest, or a female servant, by order of her father, sought among the clefts of the rock, or amongst the great guns of the fortress, for the long absent Angelina. The high-minded Governor, it would appear, was always sternly opposed to the attentions and overtures of the gallant young Captain, for reasons which always remained unknown, and he therefore sternly forbade his daughter to keep company with him; and, moreover, ordered Angelina never to cross the threshold of the house or go abroad, unless accompanied by her waiting-maid. She, notwithstanding, still stole now and then from under the parental eye, despite all the vigilance used to wean her youthful affections from her much-loved companion. However, it has been often observed that genuine love, when restrained, glows even more intensely than when allowed to have an honourable vent. Such was the case with Angelina. She continually thought on the attractive object of her long-cherished affections by night and by day. Frequently would she steal to the lattice of her window, and rapturously behold the comely person of her lover, as he every morning and evening directed the regiment through their several evolutions in front of the governor's house. In return, he as often stole a private glance of her lovely countenance as it beamed through the window, and would often heave a deep sigh, which the soft southern breeze could scarcely convey to the lattice, far less to the ear of his greatly-loved Angelina. The stern father, however, still remained inflexible: he put even closer restraints on his much-loved and half-idolised daughter. Time, nevertheless, quickly rolled on, and brought about an event at once singular and even partly miraculous in the history of lovers.

The gallant officer's regiment, by orders of the commander-in-chief, got the route to leave the fortress for another part of the kingdom, to suppress the marauding incursions of a rude, wild, and numerous banditti on the borders of Scotland. On the day appointed, preparations were early made for leaving the Castle, and all was hurry and bustle at the hour of dawn, even before the morning's sun had tinged with his refreshing beams the summits of Dumbuck, the Long Craig, and the tops of the other eastern adjacent mountains. Angelina's female attendant, when passing out at an early hour, overheard a soldier say that the regiment was to march in two hours thereafter.

These doleful tidings she privately communicated to Angelina, the report of which very much disconcerted her; and her feelings, her thoughts, and her determination were rapidly fixed, but she kept them sacredly hid in the repository of her own breast.

Her waiting-maid, who had all along watched with much interest and curiosity the growing affections of Angelina, seemed greatly struck with the apparent composure in which she received the first intelligence of her lover's march. She said but little, and frequently paced her own sitting room in the very deepest thought and reverie. She closely observed from the window, with very deep emotion, the regiment at the outer gate of the Castle forming their ranks and making preparations for marching. She also beheld. with palpitating breast, that more than half idolised form taking his position at the head of the ranks, and almost ready to issue the command of—march.

Her father, the meanwhile, had watched with all the tender solicitude of a parent the heaving emotions of his beloved child at this momentous crisis. But there was a stillness and taciturnity about Angeilna's whole deportment, which, in a great measure, betrayed all her inward feelings to her father. To escape from the house by the front door to the arms of her parting lover was impossible, from the extreme vigilance of the family, and also from the numerous sentries who were then posted at the several gates. With a kind of apparent solemnity she retired to her own private room, but she had no sooner entered it, than she unobservedly and gently glided out of the back entrance which faces the rock, ascended the long flight of steps that leads upwards through the chasm of the fortress to the armoury and barracks, and thence bounded like a young roe up the eastern compartment of the rock, past the magazine, and arriving at the old ivy-bound wall which there rudely adorns its summit, she then, calmly glancing her dark rolling eyes over the giddy precipice, and seeing her lover slowly marching at the head of his regiment from the Castle gates, bounded over, and in three seconds of time alighted, as an angel descending from heaven, at her Lover's feet, with, it is said, but trifling injury. The gallant Captain for a brief moment stood almost petrified. He flew, lifted her up, clasped her in his arms, and pressed her to his bosom. A vehicle with a few cordials and emollients were all speedily procured from the town for the relief of the daring and intrepid Angelina, and she got so far recovered from the effects of her elevated leap, that an hour scarcely elapsed till her and her lover appeared before the altar in the ancient Church, erected in the neighbouring Burgh by the munificence of the Duchess of Lennox; and there they were made "one" at the sacred shrine, ere the old Governor was aware that his beloved and only child had thus so miraculously descended and escaped from the fortress.

Closely connected with the history of the Castle, is an incident which took place in modern times, and which many of my readers may recollect; I refer at present to what was called the Radical Rebellion of 1819, and the imprisonment of a gentleman from Greenock, implicated with being accessary to that infatuated rising. At this period (1819) the west of Scotland seemed to be in a convulsed state of political fermentation. Many respectable gentlemen and merchants, who were greatly imbued with reforming principles, were torn from their business, their homes, and their families, by the iron rule of those days, and immured in prisons, in dungeons, and in castles. The writer of these pages remembers well the case of a merchant of Greenock, viz. Mr. John Cameron, currier and leather-merchant, who was suspected of being a chief leader of the Radicals and Reformers in that sea-port Town. He was a man of the strictest integrity and honour as a merchant and a gentleman; but he had unfortunately incurred the suspicion of the civic authorities of that town, was apprehended, torn from his numerous family, his home, and his business;, and the jail of Greenock being in their opinion far too insecure, he was therefore conveyed, under a strong military guard of dragoons, to the dungeons of Dumbarton Castle, as a traitor to his king and country. No access could be had to him, either by his wife, or any other member of his family, or by any of his acquaintances or friends. No communication whatever was allowed to pass the threshold of the Castle gates. Every military vigilance was kept over him; even his very food, sent into the fortress, was very strictly searched, in case it should have contained treason or sedition. In the course of a few weeks after his imprisonment, the editor of the Greenock Advertiser newspaper, a gentleman of high political honour, and an independent spirited writer, dared to pen a paragraph in his paper, containing a short eulogium on Mr. Cameron's character, as an upright merchant and an honourable citizen. As no communication could by any possibility reach him through common means, his loving wife in her own mind devised the very ingenious plan of cutting out the paragraph from the paper, and then inclosed the valuable slip between two half-slices of buttered bread prepared for his breakfast, which, when the husband opened and read in his dungeon, proved to him as a kind of life from the dead. He was thereafter liberated without any trial, having undergone a considerable period of rigorous confinement.

Just at this Radical crisis (which certainly was an era of alarming commotion and agitation) there occurred another incident in our local history deserving a place here. The fearful intelligence was everywhere spread that the Radicals were manufacturing great quantities of arms and pikes at the village of Duntocher, seven miles from the burgh—were mustering there in hundreds and thousands—and were contemplating the taking of Dumbarton Castle. The Dumbarton Volunteers were therefore, by the authorities, immediately called out to arms, and assembled so early as one o'clock on an April morning. Their marching out of the burgh at that early hour, to the music of the drums and fifes, greatly alarmed the sleeping inhabitants, and quickly roused them from the balmy arms of Morpheus. A party of the Volunteers went to reinforce the Castle, and, having arrived, they were told by the invalids stationed there "that if they were come to reinforce the garrison, they must needs do garrison duty;" they were then ordered to carry on their backs a waggon of coals up the Castle stairs of 365 steps, which lay emptied at the outer gate. We need hardly remark here that our friends the Volunteers did not altogether relish this first duty in their campaign against the Radicals. A party was left to guard the roads at Dumbuck, and to reconnoitre all strangers; the remainder marched off to Duntocher, to route the Radicals mustering so numerously in that village. Previously to entering on the theatre of their anticipated bloody conflict, they were ordered to load their guns with ball cartridge, twenty rounds of which had been furnished to every man before they left the town. One of the Volunteers, in relating this circumstance to me, said very adroitly, "Man, some of us took the shakers," that is, fear and trembling came over their whole frames; and he added, "some of my companions, from their nervousness and the shakers, had actually put the balls downmost in their guns instead of the powder!" Thus prepared, with fixed bayonets and drums and fifes, with the then County Fiscal at their head, they boldly and courageously entered Duntooher, and it was reported that the Radicals fled like hares before our loyal and gallant townsmen. The result of this campaign was the capturing of a few rude-made pikes, with two pairs of large smiths' bellows, which were carted through the burgh in triumph, at the head of the regiment, as the only trophies of their victory. This half-serious half-ludicrous affair was ever afterwards facetiously called "The Battle of the Bellows" by the Dumbartonians.

ANCIENT MANNERS OF CONDUCTING FUNERAL CEREMONIES IN THE BURGH—The following is a very brief account of the manner in which funeral obsequies were conducted in this burgh about a century or two ago. It was customary then, on the death of any friend or near relation, to send the public crier through the town, with what was called the Skellat Bell or Dead Bell, to warn the friends and acquaintances of the deceased to his funeral. The dead bell is still in the possession of the burgh, retained we suppose as a relict of antiquity. After solemnly ringing the bell, which has a very dolorous sound, the notification of the public crier generally run in nearly the following words:—"Brethren and sisters! brethren and sisters! I do you to wit! I do you to wit! that Thomas Ferguson, taylor, in the Crosavennel, died on Monday morning I*at, and will be buried this afternoon at five o'clock, and all his Mends and acquaintances are hereby invited to attends" In these early days, and even at a later period, when the family could afford it, there were three services of bread, wine, and spirits at funerals, or what was called three rounds, one of rum, one of whisky, and one of wine. But now, in modern times, it is judged more genteel to give only one service of wine; and, within these few years, the teetotalers aver that it is most genteel to offer to wine at all. An aged gentleman and burgess of the town, but who is now no more, used to tell a story, that he was once invited to a funeral in the parish of Drymen about sixty years ago. The corps was to be interred in Inchcalluech, an island in Lochlomond. The funeral party was chiefly composed of Highlanders, and from first to last they had from sixteen to twenty rounds of real strong mountain dew, which certainly proved them no teetotalers. The result was, that they almost forgot to bury the corpse!

It will be perceived, from the terms of invitation to funerals, as above given, that it was customary for females to attend in these early days; but the kirk-session of Dumbarton put a stop to this, on account of their doleful cryings, and making great lamentations—like the "mourning women" of old—in passing along our streets. Here is the prohibition of the kirk-session of Dumbarton, extracted from the session records:-" June 20th, 1624. This said daye, becaus of the misbehavior of sertain persones, by unmannerlie crying out and shoutting in ther weipping at the burieing of thos that are neir to them, as ther husbands, children, brothers, &c. it is hereby ordanitt that thel sail not aceompanie the foresaid persones neir unto them to the grave and burying-place, but sail abide at home in ther owne housis the said space, and behaive themaelvs there after a Christian manner."

In the chronicles of the Isle of Man, which are supposed to have been written by the monks of the abbey of Saint Ruffin in Man, and published by Cainbden in his Britaniarie, it is recorded, that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the women there never stirred abroad but with their winding sheets about them, to keep them in remembrance of their own mortality. If a woman was tried and received sentence of death, she was sewed up in a sack and thrown from a rock into the sea. In that island they had also an old custom concerning debts, which is now abolished.. When the debtor died and was buried, and there remained no writings to prove the debt, the creditor came to the grave of the deceased, and laid himself all along, with his back upon the grave, with his face towards heaven, and a Bible on his breast, and in this position he solemnly protested before God that was above him, and by the contents of the Bible then lying on his breast, that the deceased, buried under him, did owe him so much money, and then the executors were bound to pay him the specified sum.


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