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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XV. - Disappearance of Old Landed Families Much Regretted


IT is a far cry from Glenlyon to Glengarry, and there never had been race or historical connections, or even much direct communication between the two places; yet there was deep and general sorrow in Glenlyon when the debt-burdened property of the Macdonells had to be sold, and an English lord bought the chief part of it which, however, he afterwards resold to a worthy Scotsman, "although" this is how the Highlanders qualified their praise of him "he had the misfortune to be a Lowlander." When the landless Chief was making his preparations for emigrating to Australia, with a portion of his people, his proceedings were watched with exceeding interest every drover, pedlar, and travelling tinker or beggar from the north being closely questioned about him. On his departure, he and his party had the good wishes of all their Celtic countrymen. The news of their arrival in Australia and the welcome they got there excited hopes of success at home, which, while not totally realised, were not totally disappointed. Glengarry's emigration, with wooden huts and tents ready to be put up on landing, and with a company of clansfolk, caused Highland emigrants, including a batch from Glenlyon, to go to Australia instead of taking the customary route to Canada, or the United States.

The collapse of the Glengarry house was throughout all the Highlands felt to be a whole race calamity. The Seaforth earls, Chiefs of the Mackenzies, had passed away a little earlier, and the remnant of their property which was not sold went to the heir by the spindle side, who, although he claimed to do so, could not on clan principles inherit the chiefship. But Ross-shire was not left without many important landed proprietors of the house of Kintail. There was no such compensation in regard to the disappearance of the Macdonells, a main branch of the Somerled tree from Glengarry. That disappearance was like the fall of a fixed star from the Celtic firmament. It turned war-songs and proud piobaireachd into hollow mockeries or pathetic laments, and took the pith out of the oral traditions. The Huntly Seton-Gordons, who, as Earls of Huntly and Dukes of Gordon, figure so largely in the history of Scotland from 1400 down- wards, had wide possessions in the Highlands, and succeeded through marriage to give one of their off-shoots the Earldom of Sutherland. Able and ambitious as these Seton-Gordons were, and anxious as they were at times to act as Highland chiefs, and readily as they were taken for such at Court and in the Lowlands, they never in Highland opinion levelled themselves up to equality with a Macdonell of Glengarry, or a Cameron of Lochiel, or even a Keppoch Chief, who was only their tenant. The Duke of Gordon who died in 1836 was genuinely popular in the Highlands, for had he not by his mother's effective if unscrupulous method of recruiting raised the glorious 92nd or Gordon Highlanders? It was the minister of Fortingall's son, Sir .Robert Macara, who commanded that regiment when Napoleon escaped from Elba, and he fell as a noble warrior should fall, resisting Ney's charge at Quatre Bras. If not the fighting, the Duke of Gordon was the ornamental colonel of the 92nd, and on it he spent much care and money. This kindly man and generous landlord was the last of his race. Our Glenlyon men of age, who were wise and deep in traditional lore, while speaking very kindly of the last Duke of Gordon, did not regret his being the last, seeing that his heir and successor was a Stuart, and bar-sinister descendant of Charles II. Later on their calmness was disturbed by the sale to an Englishman of the lordship of Lochaber, and Inverlochy Castle and the estate attached to it. Transfers of properties by sales or devolution on female line heirs who were strangers and had residences elsewhere, furnished our aged sages of all surnames with causes of mourning and with auguries of evil to come. They were all admirers of the state of peace which was established throughout the Highlands within twenty years after Culloden. As soon as the forfeited estates were restored they thought good rule could be carried on for ever by Church and landlords working together in harmony, and truly between 1780 and 1830 that co-operation of the spiritual and secular powers was strongly in evidence and produced excellent results. But in course of time the lairds or smaller barons, who were the essential links for connecting the high aristocracy with the classes below, displayed inability to keep their footing. Main lines died out and side line successors had neither their knowledge nor sympathies. Other most popular families of small estates failed to live within their incomes, and their estates, on coming to be sold, were bought by strangers who might do temporary good by spending money on improvements, but who could not, in one generation at least, be such leaders of the people on their land as their impoverished predecessors had been. I question if any landowner in the southern Highlands could make out a longer claim for his own and his ancestors' possession of the same lands than Francie Mor Mac an Aba. But most of the lairds who were his contemporaries and neighbours or acquaintances, had two centuries of possessory history and had consequently acquired the position of natural leaders. This was not a position which in old Highland days could be gained in one generation by strangers. There was a curious form of stability in the seemingly hopeless instability of the times of ancient feuds, broils, rebellions and forfeitures; for the next up- set usually resettled what the previous one had unsettled.


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