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The Massacre at Glencoe - Part Three


The massacre commenced about five o'clock in the morning at three different places at once. Glenlyon, with a barbarity which fortunately for society has few parallels, undertook to butcher his own hospitable landlord and the other inhabitants of Inverriggen, where he and a party of his men were quartered, and despatched Lieutenant Lindsay with another party of soldiers to Glencoe's house to cut off the unsuspecting chief. Under the pretence of a friendly visit, he and his party obtained admission into the house. Glencoe was in bed, and while in the act of rising to receive his cruel visitors, was basely shot at by two of the soldiers, and fell lifeless into the arms of his wife. The lady in the extremity of her anguish leaped out of bed and put on her clothes, but the ruffians stripped her naked, pulled the rings off her fingers with their teeth, and treated her so cruelly that she died the following day. The party also killed two men whom they found in the house, and wounded a third named Duncan Don, who came occasionally to Glencoe with letters from Braemar.

While the butchery was going on in Glencoe's house, Glenlyon was busily doing his bloody work at Inverriggen, where his own host was shot by his order. Here the party seized nine men, whom they first bound hand and foot, after which they shot them one by one. Glenlyon was desirous of saving the life of a young man about twenty years of age, but one Captain Drummond shot him dead. The same officer, impelled by a thirst for blood, ran his dagger through the body of a boy who has grasped Campbell by the legs and was supplicating for mercy.

A third party under the command of one Sergeant Barker, which was quartered in the village of Auchnaion, fired upon a body of nine men whom they observed in a house in the village sitting before a fire. Among these was the laird of Auchintriaten, who was killed on the spot, along with four more of the party. This gentleman had at the time a protection in his pocket from Colonel Hill, which he had received three months before. The remainder of the party in the house, two or three of whom were wounded, escaped by the back of the house, with the exception of a brother of Auchintriaten, who having been seized by Barker, requested him as a favour not to despatch him in the house but to kill him without. The sergeant consented, on account of having shared his generous hospitality; but when brought out he threw his plaid, which he had kept loose, over the faces of the soldiers who were appointed to shoot him, and thus escaped.

Besides the slaughter at these three places, there were some persons dragged from their beds and murdered in other parts of the Glen, among whom was on old man of eighty years of age; in all, 38 persons were slaughtered. The whole male population under 70 years of age, amounting to 200, would in all likelihood have been cut off, if, fortunately for them, a party of 400 men under Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, who was principally charged with the execution of the sanguinary warrant, had not been prevented by the severity of the weather from reaching the Glen till eleven o'clock, six hours after the slaughter, by which time the whole surviving male inhabitants, warned of their danger and of the fate of their chief and other sufferers, had fled to the hills. Ignorant of this latter circumstance, Hamilton, on arriving at the pass, appointed several parties to proceed to different parts of the Glen, with orders to take no prisoners, but to kill all the men that came in their way. They had not, however, proceeded far when they fell in with Major Duncanson's party, by whom they were informed of the events of the morning, and who told them that as the survivors had escaped to the hills, they had nothing to do but burn the houses, and carry off the cattle. They accordingly set fire to the houses, and having collected the cattle and effects in the Glen, carried them to Inverlochy, where they were divided among the officers of the garrison. That Hamilton would have executed his commission to the very letter, is evident from the fact, that an old man, above seventy, the only remaining male inhabitant of the desolate vale they fell in with, was put to death by his orders.

After the destruction of the houses, a heart-rending scene ensued. Ejected from their dwellings by the devouring element, aged matrons, women with child, and mothers, with infants at their breasts and followed by children on foot, clinging to them with all the solicitude and anxiety of helplessness, were to be seen wending their way, almost in a state of nudity, towards the mountains in a quest of some friendly hovel, beneath whose roof they might seek shelter from the pitiless tempest and deplore their unhappy fate. But as there were no houses within the distance of several miles, and as these could only be reached by crossing mountains deeply covered with snow, a great number of these unhappy human beings, overcome by fatigue , cold, and hunger, dropt down and perished miserably among the snow.

While this brutal massacre struck terror into the hearts of the hearts of the Jacobite chiefs, and thus so far served the immediate object of the government, it was highly prejudicial to King William. In every quarter, even at court, the account of the massacre was received at first with incredulity, and then with horror and indignation; and the Jacobite party did not fail to turn the affair to good account against the government, by exaggerating, both at home and abroad, the barbarous details. The odium of the nation rose to such a pitch, that had the exiled monarch appeared at the head of a few thousand men, he would, probably, have succeeded in regaining his crown. The ministry, and even King William, grew alarmed, and to pacify the people he dismissed the Master of Stair from his councils, and appointed a commission of inquiry to investigate the affair.

As for the Master of Stair, at whose door the chief blame of the infamous transaction was laid by the commission of inquiry, and who is popularly considered to have been a heartless and bloodthirsty wretch, he could not understand the indignant astonishment expressed on all hands at what he considered a most patriotic, beneficial, and in every respect highly commendable proceeding. He considered that he had done his ungrateful country excellent service in doing a little to root out a band of pestilential banditti, whom he regarded in as bad a light as the Italian government of the present day does the unscrupulous robbers who infest the country, or as the American government did the bloodthirsty Indians who harassed the frontiers. Letters of "fire and sword" against the Highlanders were as common, in the days of the Stewarts, as warrants for the apprehension of house-breakers or forgers are at the present day. They were looked upon as semi-civilised aborigines, characterised by such names as "rebellious and barbarous thieves, limmers, sorners "etc.; and the killing of a Highlandman was thought no more of than the killing of a "nigger" was in the slave-states of America. In various acts of the privy council of Scotland, the clan Gregor is denounced in the above terms, and was visited with all the terrors of "fire and sword". "their habitations were destroyed. They were hunted down like wild beasts. Their very name was proscribed." We have already referred to, in its proper place, a mandate from King James V in 1583, against the clan Chattan, in which he charges his lieges to invade the clan "to their utter destruction by slaughter, burning, drowning, and otherways; and leave no creature living of that clan, except priests, women and bairns." Even Captain Burt, in the beginning of the next century writes of the Highlanders as if they were an interesting race of semi-barbarians, many of whom would cut a man's throat for the mere sake of keeping their hands in practice. In a letter of the 5th. March, 1692, after referring to the universal talk in London about the transaction, dalrymple says, "All I regret is, that any of the sort got away; and there is a necessity to prosecute them to the utmost." Again, writing to Colonel Hill in April of the same year, he tells him that "as for the people of Glencoe, when you do your duty in a thing so necessary to rid the country of thieving, you need not trouble yourself to take the pains to vindicate yourself. When you do right, you need fear nobody. All that can be said is, that, in the execution, it was neither so full nor so fair as might have been." Indeed we think that any one who examines into the matter with unbiassed and cool mind, which is difficult, cannot fail to conclude that neither private spite nor heartless bloodthirstiness actuated him in bringing about the transaction; but that he sincerely thought he was doing his country a service in taking the only effectual means of putting down a public pest and a hindrance to progress.

Had the clan been proceeded against in open and legitimate warfare, resulting in its utter extinction, the affair might have occupied no more than a short paragraph in this and other histories. There can be no doubt that what gives the deed its nefarious stamp, is the fiendishly deliberate and deceitful way in which it was accomplished, in violation of laws of hospitality which are respected even by cut-throat Arabs. And after all it was a blunder.

As to whether King William knew the full significance of the order which he signed, and what was the extent of his knowledge of the circumstances, are points which can never be ascertained. It is mere meaningless declamation to talk of it as a foul and indelible blot on his character and reign. "The best that can be done for the cause of truth, is to give the facts abundantly and accurately. The character of the revolution king is one of the questions which political passion and partizanship and not yet let go, so that reason may take it up. And with those who believe that, by his very act of heading the revolution which drove forth the Stewarts, he was the man to order and urge on the murder of an interesting and loyal clan, it would be quite useless to discuss the question on the ground of rational probabilities."

Though the nation had long desired an inquiry into this barbarous affair, it was not until the 29th. April, 1695, upwards of three years after the massacre, that a commission was granted. A commission had indeed been issued in 1693 appointing the Duke of Hamilton and others to examine into the affair, but this was never acted upon. The Marquis of Tweeddale, lord high chancellor of Scotland, and the other commissioners now appointed, accordingly entered upon the inquiry, and, after examining witnesses and documents, drew up a report and transmitted it to his majesty. The commissioners appear to have executed their task, on the whole, with great fairness, although they put the very best construction on William's orders, and threw the whole blame of the massacre upon Secretary Dalrymple.

The report of the commissioners was laid before the parliament of Scotland on the 24th. June which decided that the execution of the Glencoe-men was a murder, resolved nemine contradicente, that the instructions contained in the warrant of the 15th. January, 1692, did not authorise the massacre. After various sittings on the subject, "the committee for the security of the kingdom" was appointed to draw up an address to the king on the subject of the massacre, which being submitted to parliament on the 10th. of July, was voted and approved of.

No active measures in the way of punishing either principals or subordinates, however, were taken in consequence of the findings of the commission and the recommendations of parliament, except that Breadalbane, who they found had laid himself open to a charge of high treason, was imprisoned for a few days in Edinburgh castle. A curious and interesting incident came out during the sitting of the commission, tending to show that Breadalbane was conscious of a very large share of guilt, and was fully aware of the heinous and nefarious character of the bloody transaction. Some days after the slaughter, a person sent by Breadalbane's steward waited upon Glencoe's sons, and told them that if they would declare that his lordship had no concern in the slaughter, they might be assured that the earl would procure their "remission and restitution."

As the surviving Macdonalds, who on their humble petition and promise of good behaviour were allowed to return to the glen, had been reduced to great poverty and distress by the destruction of their property, and as they had conducted themselves with great moderation under their misfortunes, the estates solicited his majesty to order reparation to be made to them for the losses they had sustained in their properties. Whether the "royal charity and compassion" invoked by the estates in behalf of these unfortunate people were ever exercised does not appear; but it is highly probable, that this part of the address was as little heeded as the rest. In fact, the whole matter was hushed up, and it now lives in the page of history as a sad and somewhat inexplicable blunder, which has rendered the memories of those who contrived it and those who executed it, for ever infamous.


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