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Significant Scots
Donald Cameron


CAMERON, DONALD, of Lochiel —This gallant Highland chief; who united such amiable manners and attractive accomplishments to the proverbial hardihood and valour of his race, that his name has descended to us under the title of "the gentle Lochiel," occupies the most conspicuous place in the history of the unfortunate rebellion of 1745, and may be considered as the fairest type of those chivalrous men by whom such a romantic lustre has been thrown over Jacobite loyalty and devotedness. He was grandson of that Sir Ewan Cameron, chief of Lochiel, of whom so many remarkable stories have been told, that he passes among Lowlanders as the Amadis de Gaul, or Guy of Warwick of the Highlands. Not the least remembered of these was his supreme contempt for Saxon effeminacy, so that in a night bivouac among the snow, he kicked a snowball from under his son’s head, exclaiming, "What! are you become so luxurious that you cannot sleep without a pillow?" John Cameron, of Lochiel, the father of Donald, for the share he had taken in the rebellion of 1715, was obliged to escape to France, and in consequence of his attainder, the subject of this notice succeeded to the estates of his ancestors, and chieftainship of the clan. On account of his father being still alive, he was commonly called by the Highlanders "young Lochiel," although he was of mature age when he entered the field; but the precise year of his birth we are unable to discover.

As the grandfather and father of Donald had been steadfast adherents to the cause of the Stuarts, and as the clan Cameron was both numerous and powerful, the Chevalier de St. George opened a correspondence with the present chief, and invested him with full powers to negotiate in Scotland for the restoration of the exiled dynasty. Such was the state of affairs when the young Pretender, accompanied with only seven attendants, landed upon the western coast, and sent tidings to all his adherents in the neighbourhood of his arrival and its purposes. They were astounded at the intelligence. Had he come at the head of a strong reinforcement of foreign troops, and supplied with money for the expenses of a campaign, the whole Highlands might have been armed in his cause, and the result would scarcely have been doubtful; but, on the present occasion, the Highland chieftains well knew that the hope of overturning three kingdoms by their own resources was utter madness, and that the attempt would only precipitate themselves and their followers into certain destruction. But now the Prince was among them, and all but alone: he had thrown himself upon their loyalty, and could they requite it with ingratitude? Such was the generous disinterested feeling with which the chiefs embarked in this desperate undertaking, and not from overweening confidence in their own valour, or hope of the rewards of conquest. They saw nothing before them but death on the field or the scaffold; and although their first successes tended to remove these gloomy forebodings, they returned in full strength with the retreat from Derby, and were confirmed upon the field of Culloden.

In all these fears Lochiel fully participated. As soon, therefore, as he heard of the Prince’s arrival, he sent his brother, Dr. Archibald Cameron, to warn him of the consequences of the enterprise. This the doctor did faithfully and earnestly; he even told the Prince that his brother could not and would not join him under such circumstances. But he spoke to the son of a doomed race, whom no warnings could enlighten, nor aid restore to their forfeited throne. Still, however, Charles felt that without the co-operation of Lochiel it was useless to advance, and he therefore sent Macdonald the younger, of Scothouse, requesting a personal interview with the Cameron at Borodale. Perhaps he was aware of the marvellous power that accompanies the petitions of a prince. The chief complied with an invitation which he could not well refuse, but he set out with a firm resolution to have nothing to do with the Prince’s undertaking. This he expressed to his brother, John Cameron, of Fassefern, upon whom he called on his way. As soon as Fassefern learned that Charles had arrived without money, arms, or troops, he approved of his brother’s purpose not to join the expedition, but advised him to communicate this by letter; but when Lochiel persisted in continuing his journey to Borodale, as the best opportunity for justifying his refusal, Fassefern replied, "Brother, I know you better than you know yourself. If this prince once sets his eyes upon you, he will make you do whatever he pleases."

In the interview that followed between the Prince and his chivalrous adherent, this prediction was too well verified. The latter stated, that as his royal highness had come without the promised supplies in men and money, the Highland chiefs were released from their engagements; and he advised Charles to return to France, and await a more favourable opportunity. To this the Prince replied, that no such opportunity as the present might again occur—that most of the British troops were abroad, and the few newly-raised regiments at home would be unable to withstand the army of Highlanders that could be brought into the field—and that a few advantages at the outset would insure him effectual assistance both at home and from abroad. Unpersuaded by these arguments, which were more showy than solid, Lochiel advised a middle course: this was, that the Prince should dismiss his attendants, and his ship the Doutelle, back to France, so that it might be thought that himself had returned with them; and that, in the meantime, his highness might remain concealed in the Highlands, where he would guarantee his full safety until the court of France could send over an armament to their aid. This, however, Charles rejected, declaring that the court of France would never believe he had a party in Scotland until an insurrection had actually commenced. Thus driven from every point of dissuasion, Lochiel had recourse to his last inducement, by entreating that his highness would remain at Borodale until the Highland chiefs could be assembled, when they might deliberate in concert what was best to be done in the present state of affairs; but this prudent proposal Charles also indignantly refused. "In a few days," he exclaimed, "and with the few friends that I have, I will erect the royal standard, and proclaim to the people of Britain that Charles Stuart is come over to claim the crown of his ancestors—to win it, or to perish in the attempt: Lochiel, whom my father has often told me, was our firmest friend, may stay at home, and from the newspapers learn the fate of his prince." This taunt, which touched so keenly the honour of the high-minded chief, decided him at once, and he cried, "No I’ll share the fate of my prince; and so shall every man over whom nature or fortune has given me any power!" In this way "the gentle Lochiel" was overthrown and taken captive by what many will reckon a mere punctilio. In his case, too, it was the more to be regretted, as not only his own fate and that of his clan were at stake, but the introduction of a civil war which, but for his influence and example, would either not have happened, or have begun and terminated in a petty skirmish.

Having gained over a chief so powerful and influential, the Pretender thought that he might proceed at once to action, and accordingly he announced his purpose to raise the royal standard on the 10th of August at Glenfinnan, where all his Highland adherents were warned to be in readiness. In the meantime, Lochiel went home to muster his clan for the gathering. When the period had arrived, Charles, who had now been three weeks in the Highlands without the secret being divulged, embarked from Kinlochmoidart, with twenty-five attendants in three boats, and reached Glenfinnan on the morning of the rendezvous. And dreary was the prospect that welcomed him to his expected kingdom; for he found himself in a dark narrow glen, bounded on both sides by high rocky mountains; and instead of the gallant muster of impatient clans by whom he hoped his coming would be greeted, there were no persons but the inhabitants of the few wretched hovels sprinkled at wide intervals along the glen, who stood at their doors, or among the distant precipices, to gaze at the arrival of the strangers. Dispirited at this appearance of remissness on the part of his friends, Charles retired to one of these hovels, where after two anxious hours of suspense, his ears were gladdened by the sound of a distant bagpipe. It was the clan Cameron hastening to the trysting-place, with Lochiel at their head. They were from seven to eight hundred strong, while in point of arms, discipline, and equipments, they formed the elite of that rebel army by which such singular successes were obtained both in Scotland and England. The Camerons also did not come to the meeting empty-handed, for they brought with them, as prisoners, a party of the royalist soldiers, who had been surprised in the neighbourhood of Loch Lochie. On the arrival of Lochiel and his followers, Charles, without waiting for the rest of the clans, proclaimed war in due form against the "Elector of Hanover," raised his silk banner of white, blue, and red, and proclaimed his father sovereign of the British empire. After this ceremony new volunteers arrived, by which the Prince soon found himself at the head of a little army of twelve hundred men. With such an army, where nearly one-half were very imperfectly armed, and with only one guinea in his pocket when he reached the fair city of Perth, the young Chevalier commenced his daring march for the overthrow of three kingdoms. It has often been reckoned one of the maddest freaks in military history—but how would it have been characterized had it succeeded, which it almost did! The wonderful successes of Montrose, with means as inadequate, were not yet forgotten in the Highlands.

The rest of the career of Lochiel is so closely connected with the events of the campaign of 1745, that a full detail of them would necessarily include a narrative of the whole rebellion. We can, therefore, only specify a few particulars. The town of Perth, which fell into the hands of the insurgents after they commenced their descent into the Lowlands, was taken by a party of the Camerons. On crossing the Forth, the great difficulty was to restrain the Highlanders from plundering, as they committed much havoc among the sheep, which they hunted and shot as if they had been hares, and cooked in their own rude fashion. A summary act of justice, executed by Lochiel upon one of these marauders, is thus described by Dugald Graham, the Homer of this eventful rebellion;—

This did enrage the Cameron’s chief,
To see his men so play the thief;
And finding one into the act,
He fired, and shot him through the back;
Then to the rest himself addressed:—
‘This is your lot, I do protest,
Whoe’er amongst you wrongs a man;
Pay what you get, I tell you plain;
For yet we know not friend or foe,
Nor how all things may chance to go."

It was a just and humane order, enforced by politic considerations, and as such, it must have greatly aided in procuring for the wild miscellaneous army that character for forbearance by which it was afterwards distinguished. On reaching Edinburgh, which had closed its gates, and refused to surrender, Charles, with the army of Sir John Cope at his heels, was anxious to place his wild followers within the walls of the ancient capital, but without the bloodshed of a storm, and the odium which such an event would occasion. This resolution, which was so congenial to the character of Lochiel, the gallant chief undertook to execute; and with a select detachment of nine hundred men he marched by night to the city gates, which, however, were too jealously watched to give him access. While he waited for an opportunity, a hackney coach, filled with deputies, that had been sent from the town-council to the Prince’s headquarters, and were returning home by the Canongate, suddenly appeared. As soon as the gate opened to admit them, a party of Highlanders rushed in, disarmed the guards in a twinkling, and cleared the way for their fellows. In this way Edinburgh was captured without shedding a drop of blood, or even making so much noise as to disturb the sleep of its inhabitants. Lochiel again appears on the very foreground of Prestonpans, the victory of which was chiefly attributed to his clan, by whom the dragoons were routed, and the royalist foot left wholly uncovered. In charging cavalry, which was a new event in Highland warfare, he ordered his men to rush forward boldly, and strike at the noses of the horses with their broadswords, without caring about the riders; and the consequence was, that these formidable-looking cavaliers were chased off the field by a single onset. In the unsuccessful expedition into England which followed this victory, the Camerons were always found at their post, while the conduct of their chief was distinguished throughout the advance and retreat by the same combination of prudence, courage, and clemency. Strangely enough, however, it happened that he, the "gentle Lochiel" was, on one occasion, mistaken for a cannibal or an ogre. In England fearful tales had been reported of the Highlanders, and among others, that they had claws instead of hands, and fed upon human flesh. On that account, one evening, when he entered the lodging that had been assigned to him, the poor landlady threw herself at his feet, and besought him, with uplifted hands and weeping eyes, to take her life, but spare her two children. Astonished at this, he asked her what she meant, when she told him, everybody had said that the Highlanders ate children as their common food. A few kind words sufficed to disabuse her; and opening the door of a press, she cried out with a voice of joy, "Come out, children, the gentleman wont eat you," upon which the two little prisoners emerged from their concealment, and fell at his feet.

At the winding up of this wild tragedy on Culloden Moor, Lochiel had his full share of disappointment and disaster. He was one of the advocates of a night surprise of the English army, and when the unsuccessful attempt was made, he was one of its principal leaders. In the battle that followed next day, the Camerons were described by eye-witnesses as advancing to the charge "with their bonnets pulled tightly over their brows, their bodies half-bent, their shields raised so as to cover the head and vital parts, and their broad-swords quivering in their nervous gripe: they sprung forward upon their foes like crouching tigers, their eyes gleaming with an expression fierce and terrific to the last degree." The whole front rank fell; and, in spite of their devoted efforts to protect their chief, Lochiel himself received several severe wounds in the legs, and was carried off the field. Such was the termination which his own prudence had apprehended from the beginning, without needing the predictions of "the death-boding seer," but to which he had committed himself from a mistaken sense of honour and of duty. After this defeat, by which all the adherents of the Pretender were scattered and hunted upon their native mountains, Lochiel, having skulked for two months in his own district, at last withdrew himself to the borders of Rannoch, where he took up his abode in a miserable hovel on the side of the mountain Benalder, to be cured of his wounds. Here, on the morning of the 30th of August (1746), he and his few attendants were startled by the unwelcome apparition of a party of men advancing to the dwelling; and thinking that they were enemies from the camp a few miles distant, who had tracked them to their hiding-place, they prepared to receive them with a volley of musketry. Their weapons were pointed for the occasion, and in another instant would have given fire, when Lochiel suddenly stopped them; he discovered that the strangers were no other than the Prince himself, Dr. Cameron his brother, and a few guides, who had heard in their wanderings of his whereabouts, and were coming to visit him! One moment more, and Charles might have lain stretched on the heath by the band of the best and most devoted of his followers. On discovering who his visitor was, the chief, who was lamed in the ancles from his wounds, limped out to welcome him, and would have knelt upon the ground, when Charles prevented him with, "No, my dear Lochiel; we do not know who may be looking from the top of yonder hills, and if they see any such motions they will immediately conclude that I am here." Seldom have prince and subject met under such circumstances of adversity. As the royal wanderer had long been a stranger to a comfortable meal, some minced collops were fried for him with butter in a large saucepan, to which the luxury of a silver spoon was added; and poor Charles, after partaking very heartily of these savoury viands, could not help exclaiming, "Now, gentlemen, I live like a prince!" Turning to Lochiel, he asked, "Have you always fared so well during your retreat?" "Yes, sir," replied the chief, "for nearly three months past I have been hereabout with my cousin Cluny; he has provided for me so well, that I have had plenty of such as you see, and I thank Heaven your royal highness has got through so many dangers to take a part."

Soon after this meeting, two vessels of war, despatched by the French government, arrived, and in these Charles and about a hundred of his adherents, of whom Lochiel was one, embarked at Lochnanuagh, on the 20th of September. Soon after his arrival in France, Lochiel received the command of a regiment in the French service, to which the young Chevalier wished a title of British nobility to be added; but this the Prince’s father refused, observing very justly, that it would create envy in the other Highland chiefs who might expect a similar distinction; and that Lochiel’s interest and reputation in his own country, and his being at the head of a regiment in France, would give him more consideration there than any empty title he could bestow. By this time, however, the mere question of a coronet was of little importance to the brave and good Lochiel, for he died in his place of exile in 1748. At his death, he left two sons, of whom John, the eldest, succeeded to his father’s regiment, but died in early life. Charles, the younger, who succeeded to the family claims of his brother, obtained leases from the British Crown of parts of the family estate upon very easy terms, and received a commission in the 71st Highlanders, to which regiment he added a company of clansmen of his own raising. On the regiment being ordered for foreign service, his Camerons refused to embark without him, upon which, though he was dangerously ill in London, he hurried down to Glasgow to appease them, but found that this had been successfully done by Colonel Fraser of Lovat, the commander of the regiment. This violent exertion, however, was too much for his exhausted strength, so that he died soon afterwards. Nothing, it is said, could exceed the enthusiasm with which the arrival of Charles Cameron was welcomed by the citizens of Glasgow, for it was their conviction that it was his father who had prevented their city from being plundered by the rebel army in 1745.

Another member of the Lochiel family still remains to be mentioned; this was Dr. Archibald Cameron, whose name has already occurred more than once in the course of this notice. After having endured his share of the hardships which befell the rebel army, and aided the Prince in his wanderings among the Highlands, he was one of those who embarked at Lochnanuagh, and reached France in safety. Some doubtful causes, however, not sufficiently explained, but which seem to have been altogether unconnected with politics, induced him to return to Scotland privately in 1749, and subsequently in 1753; but at his last visit he was apprehended, tried at London, and sentenced to be hanged at Tyburn, as one of the attainted persons who had been "out" in 1745. He was the last victim of the fears or the vengeance of government; and many even of its best friends thought that after so long an interval, and on account of his well-known amiable character, his life ought to have been spared.


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