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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XVI. - Patriotism and Politic


"THE Children of the Gael" as they loved to call themselves had, from the days of their prehistoric wanderings, plenty of race patriotism and conquering ambition. They miserably lacked the blessed stolidity which anchored Saxons and other less imaginative races in the places which they had won. Stability, appropriation of other people's inventions and ideas, and the power of building up empires did not belong to world-teachers like the ancient Greeks, nor to world-roamers like the ancient Celtic swarms. But lost opportunities in the past haunted and still haunt the minds of the descendants of both the world-teachers and the world-roamers.

It was only when they proudly learned, as soldiers of the Empire, to call themselves Britons, that Imperial patriotism took a strong and lasting hold on the Children of the Gael. The last rebellion of sectional patriotism and politics was the rebellion of 1745, which, while far more picturesque and dramatic, was far less spontaneous and united than the rebellion of 1715. After Culloden, down to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, the Highland people left politics to their nobles, chiefs, and land- lords. Paper votes were made by portioning out superiorities generally on easy terms of revocation, by the manipulating magnates. So "barons" grew and decayed like mushrooms; the power of the magnates appeared to be established on sure and lasting foundations; and the whole commonalit contentedly looked on, especially after the restoration of the forfeited estates, thankful to enjoy peace under the combined rule of the Church and the landowners. They had cause for thankfulness. The combined rule was the best and cheapest that they could obtain, or, if they obtained, that they could use with advantage.

Outside the burghs, of which we had scarcely any in the southern Highlands, the Reform Bill agitation made little noise in Gaeldom. Whenever a little stir got up it was the work of outsiders, who, like our Glenlyon celebrity, the Father of Burgh Reform, had become reformers in Edinburgh and other towns, and wished to get Highlanders to follow their lead. When the bill was passed into law, the newly enfranchised tenants qualified by a 50 rent were not unduly elated by their political importance, for all but a very few left the registration of their claims to proprietors and their agents, who forthwith proceeded to act on the assumption that the tenant-electors would follow their lead, as in hosting and hunting did their fathers in bygone times. Landlord influence, through harmonious co-operation with the national Church, had wonderfully recovered from the blow inflicted on it by the abolition of heritable jurisdictions and the restriction or sweeping away of various old feudal privileges of a vexatious kind. Why should not the 50 rent electors buttress landlord influence even better than the former "paper-vote" barons did? Highland lords and lairds, who lived pretty constantly on their properties, were in close touch with their people, and usually worshipped in the same churches with them. Their people looked upon such as their natural leaders in politics, and followed them willingly without the least undue compulsion. Radicalism in the Highlands only grew rank when landlord compulsion by agents of non-resident landlords took the place of the former natural and kindly leadership.

From Dunkeld to the border of Argyll the people on the land watered by the Tay and its affluents had long been accustomed to form two political groups the Tory group round the family of Atholl, and the Whig group round the family of Breadalbane. Excepting Roro, belonging to the Earls of Breadalbane, all Glenlyon had been under Atholl superiority since the sale of the barony by Robert Campbell, of the unhappy massacre of Glencoe notoriety, to the Marquis of Atholl shortly before the Revolution of 1688. But when the 50 rent voters on the estate of Culdares were, in the election immediately following the passing of the Reform Bill, called upon to exercise their right, they asserted their independence by voting for the Whig candidate. That candidate was the heir of Breadalbane, who, when his father was created a Marquis in 1831, dropped his former title of Lord Glenorchy, and took that of Earl of Ormelie, which he would not have done had he consulted the Breadalbane people, who liked the title he dropped and superstitiously disliked the one he had assumed, because it was borne by Duncan, the eldest son of the first Earl, who, on account of imbecility, was displaced in the succession by his next brother, John. I was much too young when that first election after the passing of the Reform Bill took place to care for or under- stand political questions. But I well remember the fuss and discussions it gave rise to among the newly enfranchised farmers on the estate of Culdares. What they did in the end was to vote for Lord Ormelie, not because of his political opinions but because he was his father's son "Mac an duine fhiachail sin, tha sios an Caisteal Bhealaich," "Son of the worthy man who is east of us in Taymouth Castle." Lord Ormelie was triumphantly returned for Perthshire, but as his father died in 1834, he soon passed from the House of Commons into the House of Lords.

In 1822 Lord Ormelie married Eliza, daughter of Mr George Baillie of Jerviswood. It was at Auchmore, near Killin, that the new member of Parliament for Perthshire and his lady chiefly resided for the first ten years of their married life. And although, to the great regret of the people and no doubt their own, they had no children, their married life, in other respects, was all that such a life should be. They were in these Auchmore days a very popular pair, and they deserved popularity. The husband's personal character commanded respect even in the dark years to come when, as a landlord, he had lost all his early popularity, and his amiable lady remained popular till her death in 1861. Rejoicing gatherings and feastings to celebrate the Whig victory in Perthshire were held in various parts of the country. At Killin, near Lord Ormelie's residence, a big tent was run up close to the hotel, where many hundreds were to dine together and listen to speeches after feasting. In half-witted Willie Chalum, Killin possessed a fool of its own who kept the village and neighbourhood entertained by his sayings and doings, but who, from his prying habits and babbling tongue, could be a plague to those who had anything to conceal. Willie watched the setting up of the pavilion tent for the festivity, and, on the day appointed for the meeting, when those entrusted with the arrangements were busy laying the tables and fixing flags and decorations, he often stepped inside and was often turned out, but finally got in and out unobserved, with some- thing under his "ciotag," or short cloak. This something was a suckling pig roasted whole and now of course cold, which as a garlanded central ornament was to 1'ecall symbolically the Campbell tale of lineage and to represent the clan crest

Ceaun na muicc fiadhaich
A mharbh Diarmad 's a choill' udlaidh.

Decorated, spiced, cold-roasted pigling made Willie's mouth water. He could not resist the temptation of lifting it and running off with it. He got out of the pavilion unobserved, but outside he roused suspicions by running too fast to the bank of the river. He was soon followed. The weather had been hot for some time, and now suddenly, when Willie was being followed, a thunderstorm broke over Killin. He got into a snug place, under rock and tree shelter, with the pursuers, whom he did not notice, hard at his heels, when the second flash and crash came. Willie, who was preparing to dine, looked up at the sky and spoke out loud as if protesting that it was much ado about nothing "Ubh-ubha; Nach e sin an stairirich mhor airson uircean firionn muice?" "Oo-oo; Is that not the great uproar on account of the suckling son of a pig?" And poor Willie was deprived of his expected dinner.

The Fortingall blacksmith, George Drysdale, had no vote, but he had a tongue, which he used freely on behalf of Lord Ormelie, and against his opponent, General Sir George Murray, Wellington's old military secretary, during the election contest. George had been a soldier himself, and the General he wor- shipped above all others was Thomas Graham of Balgowan, Lord Lyndoch. George "came up the water" to Fortingall from the Lowland border, and I think it probable that he was born on the Balgowan estate, although I do not know it for a fact. At any rate George was well known to Lord Lyndoch, and there was apparently a feudal-clannish tie between the aged General and the ex-soldier. Not long after the election a tragic event took place on the moor of Fortingall between a poacher and a gamekeeper, neither of whom, as it happened, belonged to the district. The poacher was a journeyman-weaver who had been hired for a time to help the village weaver to get through arrears of work. The gamekeeper said that, when he had tried to catch him, the poacher had deliberately fired at him. The poacher said that his gun went off accidentally in a struggle, and that he had had no intention whatever of killing or maiming the gamekeeper. They were alone on the moor, and the gamekeeper was peppered by small shot in the legs, although not fatally nor even seriously wounded. The poacher said that, horrified at the accident, he had willingly carried the wounded man home. The gamekeeper said that, having got hold of the poacher, he compelled him to carry him home. The weaver was tried for attempted murder and sentenced to be hanged. The minister of Fortin- gall, Mr Robert Macdonald, wrote out a petition, which the people were signing, when one evening word reached them that the Home Secretary was to be at Tay mouth that night, but was to leave next morning. A meeting was hastily called, and it was resolved to send a deputation with the petition to the Home Secretary that night, although the deputation could not reach Taymouth before bed-time. Lord Lyndoch was in bed before the deputation reached the Castle, but George persuaded his valet to take in his name and mention his errand. He was readily admitted, and the aged peer, then over eighty, having found out that the Home Secretary had not yet retired, got up himself and introduced the deputation. He then took George back with him to his bedroom, and there the two fought their Peninsular battles over again till day-break. In parting Lord Lyndoch gave George a note, saying, "I understand that in your joy over the victory at the election, you broke all your crockery. See then that you give this to your wife to buy new crockery." But whether he had shillings of his own in his pocket or broke into the crockery fund, George did not pass the village of Kenmore without inviting those he found out of bed and house to drink with him in the Square, the health of the "Hero of Barossa."

The weaver escaped the gallows, but I think he was sent to Botany Bay.


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