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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XLVIII. - Proprietors


The Marquis of Breadalbane and the Earl of Moray, who had their residences elsewhere, were represented in Balquhidder by their factors, who were also residents elsewhere. There was, however, one occasion when the Marquis came in a hurry to visit his Lochearnhead land. This was when the report reached him that gold had been found in the bed of a burn on Leiter hill, and that hundreds, with pickaxes, spades, and shovels, were out digging for the precious metal. The discoverer of gold in this hill burn was a gold miner who had returned from Australia with a little pile, and who, therefore, ought to know what he was about. He probably did discover some grains of gold in the gravel of that Leiter burn, but as the gold-diggers found nothing on the hillside, they charged him with having perpetrated a wicked joke upon them. The heiress of the Buchanans of Arnprior was a minor, who was being brought up and educated in England; and had she been of age, and her estates out of the hands of trustees, her home would have been at Cambusmore, near Callander, and not at Ardoch, in Strathyre. Thus the three who represented the farthest back possessors of Balquhidder lands were constant absentees. The Macgregors were not considered absentees, for whenever it was possible for them they lived at Edinchip House. They were poor, popular, and energetic. Lanrick had left them, and so had half of the Balquhidder lands purchased by old Sir John. His son did not know how to keep what his father had won, and amiable Sir John, the grandson, was unable to retrieve damages. The great-grandson, Sir Malcolm, was a navy officer, who was always away on foreign service; but his mother and the younger members of the family lived at Edinchip one of the three summers I was in the parish. Two years earlier the eldest daughter had married Lord Stormout, the son of the Earl of Mansfield. Indeed they were connected by many marriages with several of the highest families in the kingdom. Not only their own clan, but Highlanders of all surnames cherished a feeling of hearty goodwill to the Macgregor chiefs and all their branches. In regard to all such families, Highlanders felt as if they had a right of common interest in them.

Mr David Carnegie of Stronvar bought the estate of Glenbuckie in 1846, when the last of its Stewart owners thought it safest to sell because he got into a panic about the ruinous effect which he apprehended Sir Robert Peel's free-trade policy would have on landed property of every description. He went away to act as the Duke of Argyll's factor at Campbeltown, and when the evils feared by him did not come to pass, he bought the Isle of Coll, which he left to his son. Mr Carnegie made his fortune in Scandinavia as the head of the great brewing firm at Gothenburg in Sweden. The Swedes elected the French Marshal Bernadotte to succeed the last king of their old dynasty. He reigned under the name of King John, and horrified at the excessive drinking of bad spirits distilled from turnips, potatoes, and raw grain, granted monopoly privileges to a British company for brewing porter and ale, in the hope that malt liquors would supersede illimitable drinking of spirits and so bring about comparative temperance. Teetotalism, shrewd King John knew to be out of the question. Prohibition of any kind would not be submitted to. But the temperate Frenchman expected good results through attacking the national social evil by the indirect method of giving the Swedes a choice of liquors. As the story was told to me, the Swedes were slow in taking to the drinking of malt liquors, and for some years the Company made more losses than profits. Such was the discouragement that some of the original promoters were glad to sell out at low prices, and Mr Carnegie's uncle, who had faith in the undertaking, bought their shares and introduced his nephew into the concern. With the advent of the nephew, prosperity set in. Mr David Carnegie was undoubtedly one of those clear-headed, high-principled, born-business men who gain honour for themselves and their native land throughout the world. He married his uncle's daughter and heiress, and, when his uncle died, became the head of the firm. Mrs Carnegie was very much admired and loved by the Balquhidder people, and her death was sincerely lamented. She and her sister-in-law, Miss Jane Carnegie, were constant in quiet works of charity and kindness, which were deeply appreciated and gratefully remembered. Mr Carnegie added to his first Balquhidder purchase until he left his son an estate which had formerly been divided among five or six owners. Although not a Highlander, he had the advantage of being a Scotchman who understood Scotch ways and habits of life and thinking. He saw through all things at a glance, and could not be imposed upon. But if a hard man in a deal, he was always willing to be just to his tenants. He kept a large part of his property in his own hands, and farmed it skilfully. His knowledge as a farmer taught him to understand farmers' positions, and that rents should not be run so high as not to allow of interest on farmers' capital, and a fair return for management and labour. He was descended from a landed branch of the Forfarshire Carnegies, and was connected with other landed families. He was manifestly ambitious of founding a county family with an undoubtedly genuine long pedigree, and that ambition gave a foreseeing character to what he did on the lands he purchased. He and his family spent the summers in Balquhidder. They were all lovers of rural life and enjoyments. Mr Carnegie built farmhouses and steadings on his estate, drained, fenced, planted in short, wrote his poem on the face of the land. He fought with the ferns which spread over fine-grass hillsides when sheep succeeded cattle and houses ceased to be fern-thatched. The fern-spread afflicted the sheep with trembling disease. By constant cutting Mr Carnegie nearly conquered it. As he lived to be an octogenarian, he saw something of the beauties which his improvements gave to the naturally beautiful scenery of a romantic district. And he gave so much employment by these improvements that day labourers from Strathyre and other places outside his estate found work and wages to support them. The old stock of tenants remained on the land which was not in his own hands, and if they had anything to complain of or any favour to ask, they could go to him with their complaints or petitions. Although Mr Angus Macdonald, bank agent, Callander, collected his rents and saw to it that the instructions he sent when away were carried out, he was practically his own factor. His large host of gardeners, shepherds, ploughmen, and day labourers grew grey and usually died in his service, except such of them as went off to better situations, which were easier for them to get because they had been trained in his employment.

The only one of the Balquhidder heritors who constantly lived on his property in the parish, summer and winter, year in, year out, was Mr John Macdonald of Monachyle. His estate of Monachyle had formerly been divided into the three small separate estates of Craigruie, Monachyle, and Glencarnaig. The three united extended to 5525 acres. It made a pretty brae estate with fine grazings and a small allotment of arable land, all of which Mr Macdonald farmed himself, as his elder brother had done before him. Their father, Mr Archibald Macdonald, with his wife, came from Glenlyon about 1780 to be tenant of Craigruie. They brought with them some Glenlyon cattle, from which came the famous Monachyle Highland cattle herd of the first half of the next century. Archibald Macdonald farmed the land carefully, and his wife and her servant maids were diligent at their wheels, spinning flax and wool. The flax spinning was then at its height. When Craigruie came to be sold, the tenant bought it; but I have heard that far more of the purchase money came from the "calanas," or spinning, than from the farm. After Craigruie was bought, things throve so well that the old people were able to place their son Donald as tenant in the much larger neighbouring farm of Monachyle. Mr Donald Macdonald was a leading stock farmer and breeder of Highland bulls and cattle in the first half of the last century. Another son, Angus, was an army officer in the great war with Napoleon, and when he retired he joined his youngest brother, John, in taking a lease of Lord Moray's 10,000 acres farm of Inverlochlarig, once tenanted by Rob Roy. Angus died unmarried, and John remained at Inverlochlarig as sole tenant until the death of his brother Donald through a dogcart accident, when he succeeded to the estate of Monachyle. He then gave up Inverlochlarig, out of which he came with a comfortable fortune, although the rent had been raised step by step much higher than can now be paid for it. He was by no means as well educated as were his two elder brothers. This was, I suppose, because he was a short-sighted, shy, and delicate child, and the Benjamin of the family. But he had learning enough for all his needs, and a great share of natural shrewdness, and keen observation, lurking under a genuine veil of simplicity. Some of his hit-the-mark sayings became locally proverbial. He was a saving man, but not at all mean. I was inspector of the poor as well as schoolmaster at Balquhidder, and once or twice in sad, sudden emergencies, I had to ask help for accidentally distressed families from Monachyle in the absence of Mr Carnegie, and although the distressed were not on his property, he always gave me more than I asked for. He never mentioned his own deeds of charity, which were numerous. He was a Gaelic-speaking Highlander who stuck to Highland habits and traditions, and readily recognised kith and kin near at hand or far off. One case was that of a brother of his mother, who, after having seen better days, came to the end of his means. He took this uncle of his and had him with him at Inverlochlarig as an honoured guest until he died there many years later. Two old sisters, born at Carie in Rannoch, paid him periodical visits. One, a widow with a weak-minded child, lived at Deanstoun, and the other an old spinster, lived at Ross in Glenlyon. The kinship between them and Mr Macdonald was real, but so remote that outside the Highlands it would have been ignored by the rich relative. Monachyle recognised it, hospitably received each kinswoman when she visited him, and sent her off rejoicing with a five pound note in her pocket. He was very content to live a yeoman- farmer's life at Monachyle, but was latterly induced for the sake of Dr Stewart, who was then the nephew that was to inherit his estate, to build a handsome mansion-house at Craigruie, and to let Monachyle to Duncan Stewart, the nephew who had been his right hand in farming, and whose son, as fate decreed, became the heir to the estate in the end, for Dr Stewart, after marrying, and living with his uncle at Craigruie, died childless. Monachyle stuck to the homely habits and saving ways in which he had been brought up. As a landed proprietor he was the least pretentious of the sons of men; but he took a great pride in his career as a Highland sheep and cattle farmer. That had been his life-long employment, and it was the life which he was eminently suited for and the only one he could thoroughly enjoy. Removed from the Balquhidder braes and transported to a town, he would certainly have found himself an exiled, lost, and miserable man. As he lived far within his income his money steadily increased. And he liked to see it grow, though it had no miser grip on his mind and he never spoke about it. While the three sons of his father, of whom he was the youngest and the longest lived, remained bachelors, the daughters all married and had families. It was a fixed idea with him, and with his elder brother before him, that the estate must go undivided to one, and if John, who was then well-advanced in years, did not marry and have children, it was arranged when Donald was dying that Dr Stewart should be the heir to the land. Fate set aside that arrangement, and John ultimately left the estate under trustees to the infant son of the nephew who had been for long years his faithful farming assistant. As for the rest of his wealth it was ever his intention to divide it equally among the other nephews and nieces, and years before his death it occurred to him that he should like to divide a large part of it among them himself out of hand, and that it would be good for them not to have to wait for their shares until he died. So he made his preparations for distribution secretly, and invited all his nephews and nieces to come to dine with him at Craigruie. They came not knowing what this novel gathering meant. He had the minister and his own cousin and banker, Mr Angus Macdonald, with him, and these were the only guests who knew what was going to happen. After dinner Monachyle handed a cheque for 800 to each nephew and niece. He distributed that night among them a total of 16,000. Perhaps he had a thrifty eye to the saving of legacy duty, but his chief motive was to benefit his relatives in his life time. When Monachyle died another sum about equal to this one he had distributed at his dining-table was divided among them.


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